Hindsight: A Novel of the Class of 1972

Hindsight: A Novel of the Class of 1972

by Barbara Rogan


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439101308
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 05/09/2008
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Barbara Rogan is the author of six previous novels, including Suspicion and Rowing in Eden. She teaches creative writing at Hofstra University and the State University of New York at Farmingdale. She lives with her family on Long Island, New York. Visit her web site www.barbararogan.com.

Read an Excerpt


June 1972

In the beginning was the dress, and the dress was beautiful: a shimmering concoction of black and silver, strapless, formfitting, the sexiest item Willa Scott had ever owned in all her seventeen years, thanks to Angel, who'd taken her shopping and made her buy it. She'd had to smuggle it out of the house and change in the car, but it was worth it if only for the expression in their eyes as they looked up from the rocks and saw her coming. Patrick and Angel were there, Vinny, Travis, Shake, and Nancy. Two missing: Jeremiah, who wasn't expected, and Caleb, who was. Patrick untangled himself from Angel and rose from the rocks, lurching toward her like a marionette. "Jesus Christ, girl, are you trying to break my heart?" She laughed and offered him her cheek. His lips brushed her neck instead, descended to her bare shoulder, and remained there until she gently pushed him away. There was beer on his breath but he wasn't drunk yet.

A hot afternoon, late in June, sun streaming down on Beacon Hill. Unencumbered by houses or roads, its crest reachable only by a footpath that wove through dense, fragrant mats of low-growing juniper, the hill was their private spot, their place to hang out after and, often, during school. An outcropping of rocks overlooked the high school football field. Other kids knew about Beacon Hill, but they didn't go there without an invitation, and few were forthcoming.

Below them, on the field, Willa saw parents and teachers gathering. "Where's Caleb?" she asked.

"Who cares?" Patrick's arms enfolded her. "I'm here, you're here..."

"And I'm here, or did you forget?" said a sultry voice. Angelica Busky -- Angel, they called her -- pinched his ear between two scarlet-tipped fingers. "Down, boy," she said. Patrick obeyed meekly, and Angel turned to Willa. "Foxy!" She unstrapped the camera attached to her wrist and snapped Willa's picture.

"Look who's talking," Willa said, for Angel had somehow poured her bounteous self into a ruby-red flamenco dress, flared at the thigh and cut to flaunt the famed Angelic bosom.

Angel shimmied and the boys on the rocks let out a collective moan. She thrust her camera at Patrick. "Take us both."

He staggered, clutching his chest. "You have no idea how long I've waited to hear those words."

"Our picture, wiseass. Like you could handle the two of us!" She flung her arm around Willa's shoulders; Willa stiffened for a moment before encircling Angel's waist. If ever there was a time to let bygones be bygones, surely this was it. They vamped for the camera and for the boys, well aware of the pleasing contrast they presented: Angel of the wild red hair, green eyes, and voluptuous body; Willa tall and slender, with dark blue eyes and golden hair that flowed like honey over her shoulders.

The others, too, had dressed for the occasion. Shake -- John Shaker -- and Nancy Weston were dressed alike as usual, in matching white bell-bottom pantsuits. Her hand was in his hip pocket, his in hers. Travis Fleck, in a sports coat and tie but no shirt, clambered monkeylike over the rocks and, under the cover of a congratulatory hug, rubbed his tall skinny self up against Willa. She shoved him off. Willa was no prude, no matter what Angel thought, and never minded the occasional friendly squeeze or hug; but Travis was always so sneaky about it. Vinny, looking after Caleb's interests as usual, shambled over and removed Travis by his scraggly ponytail. He offered Willa a joint.

"Those your graduation duds?" she asked, accepting a light. Vinny wore jeans and a tie-dyed Grateful Dead T-shirt with the left sleeve rolled up to hold his Camels and reveal a pumped bicep.

"Hey," he said defensively. "It's a new shirt. Where the hell's Caleb?"

"Dunno. I thought he'd be here."

"They're starting," called Patrick, and they joined him on the rocks to watch their class graduate without them. Two by two, they marched onto the field, the class of '72, ushered in by the high school band. As strains of music wafted upward, Willa glanced at Shake, who played first sax. He was watching the band with an unguarded, forlorn look that disappeared the moment he caught her watching. "Man," he said, flashing his dimples, "look at those turkeys. Best part of busting outta this joint is never having to wear that fuckin' band uniform again."

"Fuckin' A, man," said Nancy, his loyal acolyte. Angel and Willa exchanged glances, allies still when it came to Nancy. Girlfriends came and went, but Angel and Willa were the only girls who belonged in their own right: a crucial difference, in their eyes.

"Nah," Patrick said. "Best part's never having to deal with that asshole Grievely again." It was Donald Grievely, Millbrook High's principal, who had barred Patrick from the graduation ceremony, ostensibly for his little prank with the audiovisual projector -- a cut from Deep Throat spliced into a ninth-grade sex-education filmstrip -- but actually because Grievely had been spoiling for one last shot at busting his balls. Of course once Patrick was banned, his friends were bound to boycott. All or none, that's how it was for them, with Jeremiah as usual the exception.

"Hell yeah," Vinny said, "but I gotta tell ya, my mother was pissed. She was looking forward to seeing me graduate."

Patrick peered up at him through a shock of black hair. "What you talking about, man? They were never gonna let you graduate."

"So? She didn't know that."

Travis laughed, spraying beer through the gap between his front teeth. "Your mom didn't notice you were failing every subject?"

"Fuck you, man." Vinny stepped back from the spray. "You think it's easy flunkin' all your subjects?"

"Quit yer bragging," Angel said. "You passed shop."

"Couldn't help it, could I? I'm just too good with my hands." He reached for Angel, who evaded him easily and went to sit with Patrick. Willa peered down the hill. Where was Caleb, anyway?

"They should've given you a special award," Travis said, "for the lowest GPA in school history. You should've been the countervaledictorian." A joke, but he kept his distance. Vinny was the reason no one ever messed with them or invaded the hill, his friendship their collective umbrella; but it barely stretched to cover Travis Fleck, designated hanger-on and purveyor of essential substances.

"The retrotorian," Willa offered. "You could've made a speech like Jeremiah, only everything he says, you say the opposite."

Vinny struck a valedictory pose. "Ladies and gentlemen, teachers, parents, and fellow students, fuck you all very much for coming."

Below him on the field, Jeremiah Wright was striking a similar pose at the podium. When Patrick had gotten banned from graduation, Jeremiah pled his case to the principal and, when that failed, gamely offered to join the boycott. He knew, of course, that they wouldn't let him, and they knew he knew, but he'd done the right thing by offering and they accepted that, as they accepted and forgave so much for Jeremiah. He was the valedictorian of their class; he had earned the right to speak for all of them, the bad boys and girls on the hill as well as the good ones below.

They nestled in among the boulders and listened in a haze of weed, the sweet hot whisper of summer on their necks, freedom's nectar on their lips. But the same breeze that so faithfully delivered the scent of juniper from the hillside scattered Jeremiah's words like dandelion seeds. Only a few reached them, high on their hill. Future. Promise. Never forget. At the end of the speech, he turned their way and raised his arm in a closed-fist salute: for Jeremiah, a gesture of the utmost defiance. Patrick leaped to his feet and waved back, and the others followed. The seated graduates, following this exchange, spotted them now for the first time, silhouetted against the setting sun. A murmur ran through their ranks; a few brave souls cheered, while, scrunched in his seat on the makeshift podium, the principal fumed. Willa threw kisses, Angel snapped pictures, and the boys saluted their classmates with beer cans.

A rare moment, charged with magic; even as it unfolded Willa knew that it would stay with her forever. All that was missing was Caleb, and suddenly he was there, striding gracefully up the crest of the hill, tall and lean, in a white shirt and khaki trousers, a headful of amber curls. He walked straight to Willa and kissed her on the lips, a long, soulful kiss. Now Willa's happiness was complete. She looked at Angel from the shelter of Caleb's arms and when their eyes met, she smiled triumphantly.

The others reacted to Caleb's arrival as they always did, by grouping themselves around him. If Jeremiah was the star atop their Christmas tree, Caleb was the trunk that held them all together. And he'd come bearing gifts, two bottles of champagne and a bag of clear plastic cups. Vinny uncorked the first bottle with a pop that could be heard down on the field. They drank to each other, to good times and undying friendship, to the past and the future. They finished one bottle and opened the next; they drank and grew merry, while below them on the field, the ceremony droned toward an end. Patrick turned on his radio and "Sympathy for the Devil" drew them to their feet. They began to dance. Willa danced with every one of the boys, each dance a good-bye, because tomorrow, much against her will, she was leaving on a summer-long trip to France. The boys were going on a cross-country jaunt in the '57 Chevy that Vinny and Patrick had spent two years rebuilding. Willa had begged her parents to let her go with them, but of course they couldn't wait to tear her away from her friends -- as if physical separation could make a difference to what they meant to each other. Her only consolation was that Angel wasn't going either.

After dark, Jeremiah turned up with another bottle of champagne. They danced on. The hill was lit by a full moon and the gentle strobe of fireflies. Willa tried to save the slow dances for Caleb, but Patrick claimed one and would not be denied. Patrick was wiry and strong, not much taller than Willa. He held her close and it was obvious what he was feeling.

"Willa," he said, slurring slightly. "I've failed, Willa."

"How have you failed?"

"The one thing I promised myself I'd do during high school, the thing I wanted most, I didn't get."

"Oh, really? What's that?" They'd been flirting forever, she and Patrick; only this time, he wasn't playing.

His arms tightened around her, hands splayed across her back. He kissed the hollow behind her ear, heedless. "I think you know."

Angel was dancing with Jeremiah. Jeremiah was talking earnestly, but Angel wasn't listening; she was staring at Willa, who felt the heat of that scorching gaze. If Patrick made a fool of himself tonight, Angel would blame her; she would think it revenge. "Come on, Patch," Willa murmured, removing an exploratory hand from her ass. "I thought we were past this."

"How could we get past what we've never gone through?" -- a pretty nifty notion for someone as drunk as he was acting.

"Have you forgotten Caleb and Angel?" Willa said.

"This is bigger than all of us," he said. It felt bigger, she thought, suppressing a giggle. Angel said he was hung like a bull, and she ought to know. Patrick's hand dipped downward once again, and suddenly Caleb was there with Angel at his side. "Wrong girl, pal," he said, not unkindly, and extricated Willa from Patrick's grasp. With the ease of long practice, Angel latched on to Patrick and bore him away.

When they could dance no more, they flung themselves onto the rocks to catch their breath. An outsider, had one been present, might have been reminded of seal pups exhausted from playing in the surf. Jeremiah opened the last bottle of champagne and poured it ceremoniously, serving the girls first. "Here's to the three most beautiful women at Millbrook High. Ladies, it's been a privilege."

Then Angel stood and raised her glass. She was a sight to see, a flame on the hill topped by a blazing cloud of hair and a pale face awash in moonlight. "I have a toast," she said with a faint, inward smile, looking from one face to another. "Here's to doing the right thing."

There was a moment of silence. Willa was struck by the oddity of such a toast from Angel, who prided herself on never doing the right thing. She glanced at Caleb, but his face was turned aside.

Jeremiah was the first to speak. "Here's to knowing what that is," he said, and their laughter dissipated the tension that had sprung up from nowhere. Angel sat back down beside Patrick, who put his arm around her. Shake produced his harmonica and started playing a blues tune, sweet and sad; and Angel, recognizing the song, joined in.

"'Frankie and Johnny were lovers

O Lordy, how they could love

They swore t' be true to each other

Just as true as the stars above

He was her man but he done her wrong.'"

Angel had a husky, tuneful, been-there-done-that sort of voice informed by her idol, Janis Joplin. Shake's harmonica alone was pleasure enough; many of Willa's finest moments had been played out to its music. But combined with Angel's voice, the classic folk ballad of unfaithful lovers brought tears to her eyes. Never again, for as long as she lived, would she hear that song without remembering this night. When the last notes died out, there came a silence, and in the silence an acknowledgment that this was how it had to end. For end it must, their time together, this private good-bye. June nights were chilly in the hills of northern Westchester. Other parties beckoned, other people; and there were couples among them who craved a private hour in between.

"All good things come to an end," Jeremiah said. "So they say; and I'm beginning to see it's true."

"This isn't the end," Angel said. "It's the beginning."

"It's the end of the first stage and the start of the second," Caleb said. "We build on this. What we have together, no one can take away. This is the foundation." He raised his glass. "To all of us, till death do us part."

"To us," they echoed. It was the signal they'd been waiting for. One last round of hugs and farewells as they gathered their belongings and then someone -- later on, no one would ever agree on who it was -- someone said, "Let's make a vow: Twenty years from today, wherever we are, whatever we're doing, we meet again, right here on Beacon Hill."

Given the prevailing state of maudlin drunkenness, this was a proposition that could not fail to persuade. And so it was solemnly resolved and sworn to over a layering of hands, Vinny's proposal for a blood oath having been overruled by Jeremiah, who wanted none of his blood: Come what may, come heaven or hell, they would all meet again in twenty years.

Copyright © 2003 by Barbara Rogan

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Hindsight: A Novel of the Class of 1972 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
On the night of their graduation in June of 1972, a group of students, nine in all, watch the proceedings from their hangout in Beacon hill. The tenth member of their group is the valedictorian. After the ceremonies the group vows to have a reunion twenty years from that date. In January of 1992, Willa is in Manhattan doing a book signing when she sees Patrick for the first time in twenty years. He¿s a professor at NYU and wants to help her find the old gang for the promised reunion. They search out and find seven members of the group but nobody has seen or heard from Angel since the decade they graduated. Will hires a detective to track her down but it¿s as if she disappeared off the face of the earth. At the reunion, there¿s an undercurrent of tension in when one of the guests winds of dead. The police think it is linked to Angela¿s disappearance two decades ago. HINDSIGHT is a masterful work of suspense filled with characters that are very different than the way Willa remembered them. Far different from THE BIG CHILL, the protagonist¿s growing fears clue the audience that one of the old gang is a killer. Barbara Rogan is a talented storyteller who keeps the tension at a high level and leaves the audience wondering what is really going on. Harriet Klausner