I’m sorry if anybody is disappointed, but SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING, my science fiction comedy of bad manners, is only set on the planet Marner for about half its length; the rest is set on future Earth. And the main character is Cornelia (Connie) Phelan, who hasn’t even appeared in any of the Story A Day in May stories this year.
So here’s a story about Connie at the twenty-year class reunion she mentions in the first chapter of SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING. The Jane mentioned in the story is THE Jane, although the real Jane didn’t go to the same high school we did. Paula is the name of a friend Jane introduced me to in college. Beth and Kathie really were my friends in high school, really were part of a ring of “dorks” along with me, who wrote and passed fan fiction in the hall but (as far as I remember) didn’t act it out.
My high school wasn’t like Day High, by the way. We had cliques, but the cliques all mixed, and nobody was snooty. Sounds like fantasy rather than history, but them’s the facts.
The Old School Tie
by Marian Allen
I had just finished filming that mini-series that TerraNet Holovision still calls its “crowning jewel,” that biopic about the life of Bette Midler, the one that made her a household name again. It broke me out of being “just” a comedienne and shoved me up the acting hierarchy from zany laff riot into the ranks of critical respectability.
It hadn’t aired yet, but the PR department had been working overtime, leaking clips to entertainment news outlets and generating buzz about a sure nomination and possible win at the 3D Awards. Me, Cornelia Phelan from Hell Alley, with a Threedy on my mantlepiece.
So of course I went to my twenty year class reunion. It was a bust. I had not been a popular kid in school, and nobody was going to give an inch on that now. You know, not going to compromise their prejudice against poor kids just because one had grown up rich enough to buy and sell them and their daddys and their mommas put together. They hadn’t mixed with me in school, and mixing with me now would, I guess, have retroactively tainted their sacred high school experience.
They talked to me, which was different from Way Back When at dear old Day High, but only to pass mild, semi-amusing condescending remarks about entertainers and clowns, show business and new money. Anything blatant enough to warrant it got a put-down in return, but they were practiced at the side-swipe, and their targets had two choices: suck it up or bring a semi-automatic laser gun to the party.
One exception: one of the middle-class kids, one of the few kids who ever gave me the time of day. She was the only one of that socio-economic level at the reunion, just like I was the only one of the poor kids and the only one of the troublemakers.
“Hel-LO!” She stood before me, a big smile on her face, her arms away from her body but not quite poised for a hug, signaling a willingness but not an expectation.
Even though, half an hour into the shindig, I was fully loaded with poison, I hugged her with a couple of long-time-no-see pats on the back for good measure.
“I’m Beth,” she said. “You probably don’t remember me. I know who you are, of course! I mean, I’d remember you anyway, but e-EV-rybody knows you now!”
“Of course I remember you. You and Jane and Kathie and Paula and I used to improvise dialog from That’s What She Said in the halls.”
Beth threw back her head and laughed freely, one of the things I had always liked best about her.
“We were such dorks!”
That made me laugh. Beth had picked up a boatload of slang from her great-grandfather, who passed it on from his grandfather, and had shared it with anybody who wanted it. I had forgotten it as soon as I left school, but it came rushing back to me now. As soon as I left the party, I would record all of it I could remember and work it into my next series for TerraNet, currently under development.
“So how’s it going?”
“It’s great! I love reunions! I just wish there were more of us here.”
I knew what she meant by “us”: non-assholes.
“So where is everybody?” I would have said, in advance, that I asked just to be asking, that I didn’t really care, but I suddenly and unexpectedly did.
“It’s kind of pricey. I plan for it and earmark a certain amount every month for it so I can come. It’s probably down-scale for the people on the Reunion Committee and for you, but it’s out of most of us’ league.”
That was another thing I liked about Beth: no pretension, no bullshit.
She said, “A lot of people came to the five-year. They all asked about you. That was before you got famous. Then a mostly different bunch of us came to the ten year, and we talked about you – in a good way, of course.”
Of course. Beth was a great communicator, especially with what she didn’t say. What she didn’t say was that, by “a lot of people” and “a few more,” she was talking about the kids who made up most of the student body at Day High, the kids below the upper crust and the upper crust’s hangers-on and suckers-up. What she didn’t say was they had missed my elbow accidentally-on-purpose digging into the metaphorical solar plexus of the social bullies.
Well, here I was, and my own cronies had given up and stayed away, and my elbow wasn’t going to make much of a dent in all that padding, anyway.
Beth said, “Paula’s had a bad time of it. She married a boy from Morrisette High.”
“No! Traitor!” Morrisette being our traditional football rivals.
“I know, right? But, no, they had a good marriage, but he lost his job last year and he’s really down about it. He tried to start a catering business, but it’s hard. Paula’s working double shifts at the hospital to support it, but they’re about to give up.”
“Hey, you know what? Let’s call her!”
“Right now. We’ll go to the upstairs lounge so we’ll have some privacy.”
Yeah, you can see where this is going. And before you get all warm and fuzzy about my being Lady Bountiful or something, let me point out something you might have already spotted: I was showing off. I was flashing my cash and tossing coins to the peasants gathered below my balcony and fishing for admiration and gratitude. The rock-like superiority of the Day High social mountain had proved too slippery for me to climb; if I could make the grade of As-Good-As, I’d settle for Better-Than.
I called Paula on holo (which was wasted, since her unit was only 2D), then I called some more people, then I called her back, then I had her talk to Beth about how much fun the reunion was because the big, steaming plate of admiration and gratitude I’d ordered up was disagreeing with my stomach.
Paula now had a job as Nurse Practitioner with my personal physician, and Mr. Paula was my personal chef on retainer, with permission to cater for anyone else when I didn’t need him.
Paula and Mr. Paula thanked me again before they disconnected.
“Don’t thank me,” I said. “I’m getting the better of this deal. No, it ain’t no thing. Day High! Day High! Rah! Rah! Rah! Yeah?”
Beth gave me a major-league hug and wiped a couple of tears from her cheeks.
“That was so beautiful! Gosh! That was just like you think things ought to work!”
Although my motive had been to show the First-Tier assholes who it was who put the class in classmate, I said, “If you even think about telling anybody, I will end you.”
True to form, her mouth opened and the truth fell out. “You were never modest.”
It would be too much trouble to explain that it wasn’t modesty, it was self-disgust, so I just pocketed my phone, draped an arm around Beth’s shoulder, and said, “Well, we live and learn, my friend. We live and learn.”
MY PROMPTS TODAY: high school reunion, budget shortfalls, high school friend