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The Hotel South Dakota
However nonchalant you might think you are, now, about the collective experience called high school, everything you are, or might have been, has roots in those years.
A good many otherwise intelligent people waste their entire lives trying to reinvent themselves, either in the exact mold of their youth, or into the exact oppositeneither of which can be easily accomplished under the gaze of Those Who Knew Us When.
The disaffected leave, usually at the first opportunity, swearing never to return. But the siren call of Hometown whispers a taunting melody, drawing them back, sometimes to dash them on the rocks of their own dreams.
It's interesting to observe the flailing of those who thought they'd reached escape velocity, only to discover the irresistible pull of Delphi's gravity field.
On the other hand, if you never left, you're not allowed to stand on the sidelines and watch.
"I don't get it," Del said, handing me an open envelope. "What do they want us for?"
We were past the mid-morning rush. Aphrodite's Delphi Cafe was moderately full of locals looking for an excuse not to go back to work between coffee break and lunch. None of us had any meals up, and Rhonda was making the rounds with the coffee refills, so I stood behind the counter, warily eyeing the stack of mail Del had brought over from our trailer.
It was mostly bills anyway, mostly having medical return addresses-radiologists, orthopedists, consultants. There was an ominously thick packet from the hospital in Aberdeen, Though none were addressed to "Tory Bauer, middle-aged, overweight,widowed waitress," the bright red URGENT messages stamped on the outsides of the envelopes were, a clear indicator of my status as one of America's working uninsured.
Del's mail, however, consisted of cheery predictions from Publishers' Clearing House, her bimonthly copy of the Elvis Sightings Newsletter (motto: "Elvis is alive, and we've see him"), and the letter she held out.
The return address listed the "Delphi Float/Reunion Committee," and it was addressed to "Ms. Delphine Bauer" and "Mrs. Tory Atwood Bauer." Inside was an invitation to all members of Delphi High School classes of 1965-1975 to work together to build a float for the town's Seventy-fifth Anniversary Football Homecoming Parade/Game in September, and to help plan our portion of the All School Reunion that would follow. The committee sincerely hoped each and every DHS alumnus would pitch in "for the greater glory of the school" in general, and our decade in particular. To that end, a general meeting was planned for the following evening. The letter was signed by reunion chair Debbie Wetzler Fischbach, wife of the current high school football coach, ex-cheerleader, and member of the 1969 Delphi Homecoming Court.
"Looks to me like they want volunteer labor and donated supplies to enter a float in the homecoming parade," I said, stuffing my unopened bills in a drawer behind the counter.
"I realize that," Del said, exasperated. "I wasn't asking what they wanted with us. I was asking what they wanted with us."
I fished a knitting needle out of the drawer, turned around and scrunched down a little so as not to disgust the patrons, inserted the pointed end inside the short-arm cast I was now wearing, and scratched vigorously. "Aah," I said quietly.
"Will you please not do that in here?" Aphrodite called from the kitchen where she was smoking a cigarette over the grill. "Makes us look bad."
"I can't help it," I said, grinning. "The cast is hot and it itches. And besides, no one would know I was doing this if you didn't make a special point of announcing it."
"Is Tory scratching inside her cast again?" Rhonda called from the other side of the cafe. "Gross."
"I could go home and do this in private, and let you serve the public without me," I threatened, though of course I didn't mean it. I had already been off work far longer than I could afford. The healing broken arm was the last remnant of some nasty injuries I'd received a shade more than a month ago. I was counting the minutes until the cast could come off, though the resultant unpaid medical bills provided a discomfort that outweighed the deep itch of reknitting bones.
"Never mind, scratch all you like." Rhonda laughed.
"I don't know about that," Ron Adler said, from his regular booth by the window. "The idea of Tory's dead skin flakes floating through the air kinda gives me the willies." Small and neat, with thinning hair and a face that receded sharply from nose to Adam's apple, he blinked furiously, an unconscious tic that accented his every word.
"You be good or I'll come over there and scratch right over your coffee," I warned.
"Watch out, she means it," Del said loudly to Ron, for the benefit of the rest of the cafe crowd, who was, as always, listening in. "An injured, hot, and itchy Tory is a crabby Tory."
"Yeah," I growled in agreement.
"You got that right. In fact, the only time Tory smiles these days is when Stu McKee comes over," Rhonda teased, also for the benefit of the crowd.
This month she was playing Earth Mother, in allnatural fibers, flowing, floor-length skirts, long blond hair braided down her back. A nineteen-year-old vegetarian newbie, aiming for wise and worldly. Last month she was a hippie. Next month, maybe a space alien. We do not try to predict Rhonda Saunders's fashion statements; we go with her flow.
I busied myself by swabbing the countertop, avoiding eye contact with everyone.
"Actually," Rhonda said, flipping her braid over one shoulder, "I think it's nice that Tory cheers Stu up a little. He's been so sad lately."
Del snorted. "He looks pretty chipper for a man whose wife left him . . ." She paused. for another state."
Minnesota, to be exact.
Renee McKee had returned to her home state last month, and speculation was rampant as to whether South Dakotan Stu would follow his wife, or stay here in Delphi, perhaps to embark on a new relationship. Since Delphi was officially insulted by Renee's desertion, the cafe straw poll overwhelmingly favored the latter...The Hotel South Dakota. Copyright © by Kathleen Taylor. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.