Breakfast, or thoughts of breakfast, must be a current preoccupation, because this is my second story having a cereal (as opposed to serial) theme. Although because there are two, I guess they're serial as well. Hopefully, crisp, not soggy.
The other influence for this story is a series of get-togethers Mr. Marcus has with former school classmates, happening with increased frequency. Perhaps as he gets older, he looks back a bit more.
In this tale, Mr. Marcus examines the life of one of his former classmates. Oh yes, and the women with which he was involved. A very close examination, indeed.
Somehow, I got on an email distribution list containing members of my high school class. Maybe I'd given my email address to a former classmate and they'd done what they thought was a good deed and passed it along to one of those goody two shoes self-appointed class secretaries. About once a week, I'd get some drivel about a get-together at a local bar (for those still in the vicinity or willing to fly in for a beer), or scanned clippings from old issues of the school paper, or some brag about how a former classmate saved the world. I had very little interest in most of these folks. After all, if I had been interested, I'd have expended some effort to keep in touch. And I hadn't.
That fateful week, I got an email: one of my former high school classmates had died. Leonard "Goat" Humphries. His nickname "Goat" wasn't because he was the "butt" of our jokes. It was simply that Leonard was always horny, and I mean always. From the first time he got intimate with a female classmate - I can't remember who I heard it from, maybe Leonard himself - he was always with some girl from our class, or when we were juniors and seniors, perhaps a freshman or sophomore. Outside of school, he'd be seen with girls from other schools. If anyone at our high school was getting significant action, it was Goat.
I avoided him because, to be honest, he wasn't very interesting when he had a girl on his arm. Depressingly dull, to put a fine point on it. With a sullen expression, as if his house had been robbed and all his prize possessions stolen, or some other emotionally catastrophic event. Despite that aura, his current squeeze would be glued to his side. He was a different person when it was just him and the guys, or him and me. He was energetic and friendly, someone you could have a good time with. I never did figure out why he was like two different people. Maybe it was hormones.
In our senior year, Goat stopped playing the field and went steady with our classmate Gloria. She was smart, and kind of pretty in a plain way. She must have seen something deeper in Leonard and roped him in before he knew what was happening. A couple of years later, I'd heard in passing from a mutual acquaintance that he and Gloria got married while in college, pissing off both their parents. A year after we all graduated college, I'd read an article in the local paper about Leonard moving to Arizona for an important job. It must have been important, because the paper didn't publish stories about folks getting menial labor gigs. Until his death notice, that's the last I'd heard about Leonard.
We weren't best friends by any means, but we'd sometimes hang out at each other's houses. Anyway, my heart pinged a little with the notice of his passing. Memories of double dates, where his then current girl had an unattached friend, got me out of the house on Saturday nights. Sometimes we'd have a daytime date at the beach. Leonard loved the beach. Oak Street. North Avenue. Sometimes we'd slum up at Foster, just for a change of scenery. And on double dates, we'd park there for "submarine races." Most times, my fix-up and I sat in the back seat, watching Leonard and his gal go at it, hot and heavy. Goat never minded that I'd peek over the front seat and watch. Most times, his girlfriend was way too occupied to notice. I'd get horny, too, obviously, and turn to my date for some action. The cooperative ones would let me touch them, but only in certain places on their bodies and with our clothes on. No matter where we went, girls would be attracted to Goat. Animal magnetism, maybe. I was grateful for the leftovers, many of whom where plenty attractive, even if I only got kissing and an occasional grope.
The mass mailing about Leonard's death included an email address, so I sent my condolences. It was the proper thing to do. The next day, the reply was a sincere thank you from the Webb family, plus directions to meet a private jet at Midway Airport for attending the funeral. Huh? I was flabbergasted. Someone wanted me at the funeral so bad, they'd offered to fly me there? I guess old Goat had made it big, or at least connected with some dough. Were they making this offer to other classmates?
Harriett was unusually solicitous about the news, and my boss was gracious to give me time off, despite the short notice. To be honest, I think he was more jealous than anything else. Our company had a private jet, which none of us peons ever got close enough to see, let alone ride in. I was sure he'd want the details after I got back.
I drove down to Midway early the next morning. The private facilities for corporate jets are on a road that runs behind the public airport. I parked at Odyssey Aviation as instructed and entered the small one-story building, essentially a waiting room. There were a couple of other people there, in suits and ties, huddled in some serious business discussion. I didn't recognize any of them from school. A chalkboard, hung behind a typical airline counter, announced the scheduled flights, but they were all in code.
A man in blue blazer and khaki pants came out of a small office behind the counter, "How can I help you?"
"My name is Harvey Marcus. I'm here for a flight to Nebraska." I almost said it as a question instead of a statement of fact. "I don't know who-"
"Yes, Mr. Marcus. Their crew is preparing the Groatz corporate jet for your trip."
Groatz? That's the healthy cereal they give out free samples of at the grocery store. Not like other cereals I've eaten, this stuff is chewy and doesn't get soggy in milk. But you've got to really work in order to swallow it. The last sample made my jaw ache. How was Leonard connected with them?
The whine of a jet engine revving up broke the silence. Through the glass wall, a plane taxied into view. The Groatz logo and marketing phrase, "Great oats! Great taste!" adorned the entire side. The passenger door slid up. A woman in a beige jumpsuit flipped out a staircase and crossed the empty asphalt. When she entered the building, she headed straight for me. "Mr. Marcus."
She knew who I was. "Yes."
Her long brown hair had been blown into a tangled mess by the jet's turbulence. At close range, I examined her face. Very pretty. A bit lower, the jumpsuit bulged, so the Groatz logo stood out prominently on one side. Yuli, her name, was embroidered across the other breast. "We're ready for you now." She took the handle of my roll-on bag and led me from the building. When she pointed towards the stairs, I walked up. The pilot's cabin door was open. Two smiling men, also in jumpsuits, grinned broadly. "Welcome aboard."
I nodded and then turned to the right. Swivel captain's chairs lined both sides towards the front, with plain seats behind, along the walls. One flip-down flight attendant seat was mounted to a back divider. At the rear, I guessed a small galley and a bathroom.
Yuli came up the aisle, minus my bag. Must have been stowed below. "May I take your coat?" She put her hands on my shoulders.
She slid the jacket off my arms and carried it away. I chose a seat on the left side, so I could see my car in the lot and the waiting room building.
One of the male pilots walked the length of the plane either to check things out before takeoff or to use the bathroom. Yuli's jumpsuit was a much tighter fit than his. Perhaps Groatz management was sexist, or maybe just their private flight management. Or a simpler explanation, that Yuli had shrunk hers in the dryer. Questions buzzed in my head, but neither the pilots nor Yuli were likely sources of information. Was I really going to be the only passenger? And what was Goat's relationship to Groatz? Had Goat been a highly valued employee? Maybe even a member of senior management? I'd never have figured Goat for an executive suite.
After both pilots were back in the cockpit, one of them announced immanent departure. Yuli came back to make sure I was buckled in. She took a long look at my waist. Was she checking me out? Even if she wasn't, I noticed that she'd unzipped, just a couple of inches.
It was odd, being alone in a plane. Normally, I'd be wincing at noise from uncooperative children or playing dueling elbows with a burly guy in the next seat. Not this time, just the sound of wind rushing past the fuselage.
Takeoff was the closest I'd ever come to being an astronaut. Almost vertical with g forces that plastered my tongue deep in my mouth. When we tapered off a bit, the flight attendant climbed uphill from her back seat. The zipper of her jumpsuit had traveled a few more inches down from the collar. "It might be too early in the day, but may I offer you a cream soda?"
Damn. How did they know I'm a cream soda freak? Must have been Goat. Who else? How many details about me had he shared? "Thanks."
She returned with a tray and poured the premium Doctor Brown's beverage into a chilled mug. No ice to water down the flavor. Perfect.
.... There is more of this story ...