The Soda Jerk


He steps out of the car and runs to the other side to open the door for Rachel. They are in the parking lot of South Newburg High for his thirtieth reunion. Class of 1955. He’s hoping someone saw the gesture but it looks like everyone’s already inside.

He almost didn’t get his invitation. June Hutton, class president in ‘55 and now Head of Alumni Affairs, said she mailed it. But she was lying. Stanley had to call her to say he’s coming, and that he’s a changed man and no one has anything to worry about. There will be no incidents, you can count on him. He doesn’t touch the stuff anymore and even if he did his wife would be on him like itch on a wool sweater.

Rachel said Stanley needs to make amends with the people he hurt years before. She’s referring to what happened at the party the week before graduation. After he saw Joe Kelly talking to Paula Lovelli even though Paula said she was going to spend the night talking with him. There was so much grape Nehi and you know how boys are. You should have seen Joe Kelly, so in love with his white sport coat, so in love with Paula Lovelli. So in love with picking on anyone smaller than him. What did Paula see in this jerk?

“Here’s a soda, Joe,” said Stanley as he handed him a grape Nehi. He gave a bottle to Paula, too, but he hadn’t shaken hers. Joe didn’t bother to thank Stanley. Without taking his eyes off Paula, Joe popped the cap and the great grape geyser erupted and drenched his face and immaculate white coat. But Stanley overestimated everyone’s loyalty. Paula didn’t jump into his arms and say Stanley you’re my hero. His friends didn’t lift him up on their shoulders and sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Instead, a needle on a fictional turntable scratched and everything went silent. Stanley was crowned the new jerk of South Newburg High.

The following Saturday Stanley graduated but with grape soda on his hands. No one could forget what he did to Joe Kelly. Summer came. He tried to find a job but no one would hire him. Even the bottling company on Spalding Street that hired anyone passed on Stanley. Who knew a prank could ruin a man’s life?

Years went by. Stanley was still an outcast. He couldn’t afford to move away. He missed his 10-year reunion. Easy to do when nobody tells you where it is. He also missed his 20-year reunion. Then one day he met a nice girl. A girl who didn’t care about a mistake he made when he was in high school.

Stanley and Rachel fell in love, got married and had kids. Rachel’s family owned a chain of appliance stores. She convinced her father to let Stanley run one of them. Stanley worked hard and made his family proud. He was making executive decisions he never thought himself capable of. He even opened a repair shop, fixing washers and dryers in addition to selling them. Profits nearly doubled within a 3-year time period.

Life was good. But what he did to Joe Kelly back in high school still haunted him. He heard through the grapevine they were planning a 30-year reunion. One day Rachel showed him the announcement in the newspaper.

“You should go.”

“Why should I?”

“Because you need to.”

“What makes you think I need to?”

“Because you have to face what happened.”

“Don’t you think I know that, Rachel. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about that night.”

“Yeah and it makes you sick to your stomach. You need to show them the wonderful man you became.”

“Nobody wants me there. If they did, I would’ve gotten an invite.”

“Who’s in charge of the reunion?”

“June Hutton.”

“The PTA president who looks down on my kids for wearing hand me downs?”

“Don’t forget class president and head of alumni affairs. She never left school, Rach.”

“Call her.”

“No way.”

“Then I’ll call.”

“Calm down, Rachel. I’ll call her tomorrow at work. But I’ll be wasting my time.”

The next day he called June Hutton as promised. She wasn’t thrilled but she agreed to let Stanley come.

“I suppose you’ll need an extra ticket for what’s her name?”

“Rachel. My wife’s name is Rachel, June. I think you know that.”

Which brings us to tonight. Stanley is still in the parking lot talking with Rachel.

“I don’t think I can go in there.”

“We have to.”

Stanley turns back wanting to make a run for the car. He sees who’s walking towards them. His heart quickens. It’s now or never.

“Hello, Joe.”

“Stanley! How are you?”

Joe seems warm and sincere, not like the old Joe.

“I’m fine. Listen, Joe.”

“Don’t say a thing, Stanley. I deserved it. I was a jerk back in high school. I think you remember Paula?”

“Hi, Paula. This is my wife, Rachel.”

“Nice to meet you, Rachel.”

“You too.”

“Oh, Stanley, I almost forgot! I brought you something.”

Joe produces a bottle of grape Shasta, pops the cap and lets it explode in Stanley’s face. Then he and Paula walk into the building laughing like it’s 1955. Rachel looks horrified. Stanley smiles, then chuckles.

“What’s so funny Stanley?”

“Was that a Shasta?”


Illustrated by Audrey Sajovie


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