Brownie
A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Descend"
Originally featured on 12-22-2006
As part of our series "Fall Stories"

Scott looked at himself in the living room mirror. He smoothed out his short brown hair and smiled; but it wasn’t a very convincing smile. He straightened his tie and picked up a small blue and white piece of paper on the table in front of him. In large letters it said “Class of ’86!”

As he got into his Lexus, he wondered, not for the first time, why he was going. He had barely thought about the five- and ten-year reunions, so why go to this one?

He sighed and turned on the small GPS system on the dashboard. Although he lived only about an hour away from his hometown, he hadn’t been back since his senior year of college. The reunion was at the new Grove Hotel and Scott was relatively sure he could find it on his own, but he still programmed the address into the system.

The fact that it was 20 years since graduation hadn’t even occurred to him until the letter came three months ago about the reunion. His parents had received it and his mom had sent it on to him, apparently unaware that if he had gotten it directly he most likely would have thrown it away. But for some reason he had opened it and read it thoroughly.

In the past few months he had really thought about high school. He was a good student but didn’t really like school, didn’t like the subjects he thought were meaningless, didn’t like the rich kids who ruled the hallways. He pretty much just kept to himself.

So why was he going again?

He had a few good friends in high school but he hadn’t really seen or talked to anyone since graduation. Maybe he could reconnect, find out what was happening in their lives.

As he pulled onto the highway, he realized that was bullshit. There was only one reason he was going, the only reason he thought was good enough to face that crowd again: He wanted to show everyone how successful he had become, that he hadn’t let the school and the people get to him, that he had actually made something out of himself.

The GPS told him to take exit 73, but he already knew that; the area was beginning to look very familiar and Scott started feeling a little nervous. The hotel was actually only a few miles from the high school and he found it easily.

The parking lot was crowded and he found a spot at the far end. He parked and looked at himself in the rearview mirror. He smoothed out his hair and took a deep breath. Walking up to the entrance he noticed a very pregnant woman trying to pick up a set of keys she had obviously just dropped. Two large men with similar receding hairlines passed by her without so much as a glance. Scott rushed over and picked up the keys for her.

“Oh, thank you,” the woman said. She looked at him. “Brownie? Is that you?”

Scott cringed but then smiled. “Uh, yeah, Scott. How are you? Susan, right?”

“That’s me. Well, I’m pregnant as you can see. Number six.”

“Wow, six. That’s great,” Scott said as they started walking up to the hotel.

“So, Brownie, it’s been a long time, how have you been?”

“I’ve actually been doing really well.“

“Did I hear you were doing something with computer programming?”

Scott smiled. “Well, sort of, I started my own software company and-“

As Scott opened the door, another woman was just coming out. When she looked at Susan she squealed.

“Susan! Susan Rogers! How are you?!”

Susan smiled. “Well, it’s Susan Mitchell now. Rebecca, it’s good to see you!”

Rebecca didn’t seem to notice Scott and he hurriedly walked past her. Ever since he had received the letter, he wondered what the reunion would be like. For some reason, even when he knew it was going to be at a nice hotel, in his head he always pictured it in the high school gym. He imagined blue and white streamers and saggy helium balloons and a large punch bowl. He even saw the gym mats rolled up in the corner. He thought the music, playing hits from the 80’s of course, would be way too loud.

When he stepped inside, he was surprised at what he saw. A big sign directed him to the ballroom and the doors were open. Several people were milling about in the large, very pleasantly decorated room. On the left side was a bar and next to that a table with some finger foods. In the back was a small stage with a microphone stand in the center. As he got closer he could hear the music; it wasn’t too loud, nor was it playing any annoying hits from high school. Maybe, he thought, just maybe this won’t be so bad.

“Brownie!!”

Scott cringed and turned around. Standing behind him were the two guys who had walked past Susan in the parking lot. They were wearing blue and white varsity football jackets that looked a little too small for their protruding bellies. They were both holding bottles of beer and it was obvious that those weren’t their first drinks of the night.

“I knew that was you!” the taller of them said. “Didn’t I say that was him?” he asked his friend.

“Yeah, you did.”

“Hey, Stu, hey Mark.” Scott said.

“We haven’t seen you in years, Brownie. What have you been doing? Did I hear you went to the community college?”

“Well, if you consider Yale a community college. I actually started my own company and that’s been going really-”

“I’m in the insurance game myself,” Mark interrupted.

“And I’m sellin’ tires, took over for my old man,” Stu said.

“Uh, that’s great,” Scott said.

“Holy shit, Brownie, I never thought I’d see you at one of these things,” Mark said.

“I actually thought you were dead,” Stu said. He laughed loudly and put one large arm around Scott’s shoulders. “C’mon, let’s get in there. Hey, do you remember that time in Spanish when I called Mrs. Ramirez, Senora Loco? That was great! So what are you driving these days?”

After some more forced reminiscing, Scott managed to get away from Mark and Stu and made his way over to the bar. Standing there eating some pretzels was a short man with red hair. Scott looked at him and smiled.

“Utie?”

The man looked at him and after a second, grinned.

“Hey, Scott, how are you?” he asked extending his hand.

Scott shook it. “I’m good, Utie. How about you? It’s been a while.”

“Yes it has. I’ve been really good. I’m actually-“

“Brownie! There you are!” Stu said wrapping his arm around Scott’s shoulders again. “What are you doing talking to Utie? C’mon over here.” He started leading him away.

“No, that’s okay Mark, I mean Stu.”

“That’s fine, Scott. You go ahead,” Utie said.

“It was really good seeing you, Utie. We’ll have to talk later.”

“Definitely.”

Scott and Stu walked over to a table near the stage where a few people were sitting.

“This guy,” Stu said. “This guy, do you remember this guy, Brownie?” he asked to no one in particular. “Brownie hardly ever said anything to anybody. Isn’t that right, Brownie? This guy is the only reason I passed Chemistry. If he had covered his tests better I’d probably still be in 11th grade!” He laughed. “Hey, Brownie, do you remember that time in Spanish I called Mrs. Ramirez, Senora Loco?!”

Just then the music died down. A woman with long brown hair walked out to the middle of the small stage and stood in front of the microphone.

“Uh, hello, hi, everyone,” she said. “Can everyone hear me?” A few people in the crowd yelled that they could.

“Well, okay, great. Hello and welcome to the 20 year reunion for Maple Grove High School!” There was some applause.

“Maple Grove!!” Stu and Mark yelled at the same time.

“For those of you who don’t remember me, I’m Katie Martin, now Katie Stiver! Cheryl Richards and Megan Humphries and I organized this tonight.” There was some more applause. “So just everybody have a good time and we’ll be giving out some fun awards a little later, so just have fun!”

The next couple of hours Scott talked with a lot of his old school mates. Apparently almost the entire class was there and from what he gathered, he was one of the few people who hadn’t made it to the other reunions. He thought it was weird at first seeing people he remembered at 18 now middle-aged. He was surprised at how many people he recognized. Sure, hair was graying or thinning (or completely gone in the case of John Hart), and waistlines had expanded, but they were still the same people he went to high school with.

When he sat down at a table to take a breather, an attractive woman with short blonde hair sat down next to him and started fiddling with one of her red high-heeled shoes. Scott recognized her right away — Beth Jacobs. For all four years of high school her locker was right next to his. He had had a serious crush on her but was always too shy to act on it. After a moment she looked up to see Scott watching her.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I must look like an idiot, I think I just got a shrimp tail in my shoe.”

Scott laughed. “No, that’s fine. Beth, right?”

She looked at him for a second and then smiled. “Yes. Brownie, is that you?”

Scott’s smile wavered. “Uh, yeah, Scott.”

“Wow, Brownie, you look great.”

“Thanks, you do too.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you since the night we graduated. I think I heard you were working as a pharmacist, right? How’s that going?”

“Well, actually my company does a lot of work with pharmaceutical companies, maybe that’s what you’ve heard. We’re really involved in trying to find a cure for-“

A woman sitting at another table started signaling to Beth. “Oh, I have to go,” Beth said standing up. “But it was nice seeing you again, Brownie.” Scott sighed and watched her walk away. He looked at his watch and decided it was about time to go.

Just as he got up, Katie Martin, now Katie Stiver walked on stage again, this time accompanied by a chubby woman Scott recognized as Cheryl Richards. Cheryl was holding a basket of small shiny objects.

“Okay, hello,” Katie said, grabbing the microphone. There was a squeal of feedback. Stu and Mark laughed.

“Well, okay. Hello again, everyone. I hope everyone is having a good time! Now it’s time to hand out some awards with my lovely assistant Cheryl helping me.” She glanced down at a paper she was holding. “The first award is for most kids. And the award goes to Susan Mitchell, formerly Susan Rogers!”

Susan waddled up the stairs and onto the stage. Cheryl handed her a small trophy. “Wow, Susan,” Katie said. “It looks like your working on getting this award for the next reunion, too!”

As Scott slowly made his way to the door, he heard a couple of other awards announced. The one for most hair lost of course went to John Hart. Most divorces went to Jessica Milton-Gutierrez-Norris.

“And the next award is the ‘Success’ award,” Katie said. “We thought long and hard about this one and had a lot of people to choose from, but we decided after much consideration to give it to Brownie!”

People started applauding. Scott looked startled and turned around. Had she really just said “Brownie”?

“Well go on, get up there!” Mark said shoving Scott toward the stage.

Scott hesitantly walked past the people clapping and went up on stage. Cheryl held out a trophy for him and he took it.

“Congratulations, Brownie!” Katie said.

“Uh, thanks,” Scott said.

“So, Brownie, from what I hear, you’ve done pretty well for yourself. Something in electronics, right?”

Scott looked out on the applauding crowd and smiled. Maybe it was worth coming here after all, he thought. Maybe with this small gesture, these people are finally recognizing me for some real accom-.

“Yeah, Brownie!” he heard Mark or Stu yell from the crowd. Scott’s smiled suddenly disappeared. Someone else yelled “Brownie!” too. Soon half the crowd was chanting “Brownie! Brownie!”

Scott grabbed the mike from a surprised Katie, and took a step forward. “Please,” Scott said. “Could I say something, please?”

“Shut up! Brownie’s tryin’ to talk!” Mark yelled.

Once the crowd quieted down, Scott began again. “Um, you know, I almost didn’t come here tonight. I kept thinking about it and thinking about it and finally just decided why not?” He paused and looked out over the crowd. “But it’s funny and kind of sad at the same time, but tonight I realize that what they say is really true — the more things change the more they stay the same.”

Mark and Stu cheered.

“Let me tell you what I’ve been up to, just in case you’re interested,” Scott said a little harshly. “After high school I went to Yale where I got my masters and then a doctorate in engineering. But here, among my former school mates, am I known as a doctor? No. After college I started my own company that has become very successful. But am I known as an entrepreneur? No. I’ve given away millions to several charities, helping countless amounts of people. But am I known as a philanthropist? No.” He chuckled and looked down at his shoes. After a moment he looked out onto the crowd again.

“But in third grade I come down with a case of violent diarrhea, and for the rest of my life I’m known as ‘Brownie’.”

Mark and Stu giggled.

“For those of you who don’t know, my name is Scott Jervis, not Brownie.”

He thrust the mike back into Katie’s hands and quickly walked down the stage steps.

“Hey, Brownie, I mean Scott, where you off to?” Stu asked as Scott hurriedly walked past him and through the silent crowd. Scott ignored him and headed for the ballroom doors. He walked out of the room and didn’t stop until he was out of the hotel. He exhaled as the door shut behind him. After a moment he noticed the trophy in his hand and tossed it into a trashcan.

“Hey, Scott.”

Scott looked to his left and saw Utie sitting on a bench holding a drink.

“How’s it going?” Utie asked.

Scott laughed. “Wonderful. I think I just made an ass out of myself,” he said sitting next down next to him. “I don’t know why I came to this thing.”

“Yeah, me neither. I liked your speech, though. The only interesting thing that happened at the last reunion was those two idiots Mark and Stu head-butting each other until they passed out.”

Scott smiled. “So, how have you been, Utie?”

“Good. I’m married, a couple of kids. I’m working as a bookkeeper over at the hospital. Things are going really well.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Listen, I think I’m going to take off.”

“Well, okay,” Utie said getting up. “It was nice seeing you again, Scott.” He extended his hand and Scott got up and shook it.

“It was good seeing you, Utie.”

“By the way,” Utie said opening the door. “My name’s not Utie, it’s William.”

Scott looked confused. “What?”

“Yeah, I don’t know if you knew but when I moved here in seventh grade it got around school that I had a little medical condition and people started calling me ‘Utie.’ That came from ‘U.T.’ which stood for undescended testicle. Good seeing, you, Scott.” He went inside.

Scott stood there with his mouth open. After a moment he turned and quickly headed for his car. Why had he come to this reunion again?

Read More By Tim Josephs

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Portland Fiction Project

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