Jan Wilson attends her high school reunion and gets even with a student who snubbed her and her kind.
MY FAVORITE SPEECH
By Bob Liter
I attended my ten-year HicksonHigh School class reunion even though Audrey Sinclair, the chairman, scheduled the dinner at Monica's Restaurant, Central City’s finest and scene of my worst humiliation.
Audrey had been homecoming queen, a cheerleader, and an A student. Her father owned Sinclair Classic Furniture, her mother was Women's Club president, and her little brother was an unrestrained champion spitball thrower.
During high school and junior college I survived by waiting on people at the restaurant. When Audrey and her family ate there they landed at one of my tables too often.
I heard her tell her father once, after I’d run my legs off trying to do a good job, “Don’t tip her too much. She'll just give the money to her drunken father."
She was wrong about that. I saved nearly all of my earnings toward college, but it was a scholarship that got me through. Our high school sophomore year she stuck her nose up at my attempts to be friendly during study hall or lunch. No daughter of the poor was good enough for her or her group. Her boyfriend, tall, dark-haired Rob Vanders, the muscled football star, went on to State College on a football scholarship. When he graduated they were married. I’d heard they were divorced.
Now, as I entered the restaurant, memories of my waitress days flooded back. Since then I had interviewed the governor, covered major news stories in the state and nation and received several journalism awards. I was speechless when Audrey marched up and said, “I’ve seated you at the speakers’ table. You don’t mind giving a little talk do you?”
I thought of a little talk right then, but I didn’t give it. I turned away and walked to the speaker's table without commenting. After all, I had no reason to be nervous. I was Jan Wilson, famous girl reporter.
At the speaker's table I sat next to an empty chair. The nameplate there said, "Dr. Charles Andrews." Was there a Charles Andrews in our class?
The choice was chicken or steak. I chose steak and ate with relish. That's one thing I could say for the restaurant. The food was always good. Audrey nodded at me when she sat down. She nibbled at her chicken, and I was pleased to see she had gained at least ten pounds since we graduated.
Eventually she tapped a water glass with a spoon, got the divided attention of the class, and thanked all those who had been privileged to serve under her on the class reunion committee.
While she talked of how hard she worked to arrange the reunion, a tall man in a dark, silk suit strode past the tables, nodding at many of the occupants, and landed like a kid late for supper, on the seat next to me.
"Sorry I'm late," he said, speaking to Audrey.
She gave him a sickeningly sweet smile and said, “Oh that’s all right, Charles. We all know how busy you are.”
A waitress put a large steak, baked potato and a salad in front of him.
"Excuse me," he said, talking directly to me. "I haven't had a chance to eat since breakfast. Come to think of it I may not have had breakfast. Anyway I'm starved."
He chewed with enthusiasm, downed a cup of coffee, got a refill, and made the ample servings on his plate disappear.
I stared straight ahead, wondered why I had come. If Audrey was envious of my career, of my tailored business suit or my still slim figure, she hid it well. She didn't even comment on my hairdo that cost more than I used to make in tips in a week.
Oh well, I'd sat through many a boring dinner during my reporting career. Why not one more?
The man next to me wiped his mouth with a napkin, leaned back, pushed a hand through his dark, wavy hair, looked at me and said, "Hello."
"Doctor Charles Andrews I presume," I said.
He smiled, settled deep blue eyes on me, and said, "And you're Jan Wilson, the Chicago reporter. Shame we didn’t get to know each other in high school."
Audrey, still standing and still talking, looked down on us and frowned. Doctor Andrews leaned toward me and whispered, "She used to look down on me when we were in school. Here she is doing it again."
“And now,” Audrey said, “Janet Wilson -- you all remember her I’m sure -- is going to speak.”
She gazed down on me like a cat above a mouse. I put my napkin aside, stood, placed the microphone at the proper angle, and said, “I doubt that many of you remember me from school. I’m a reporter now for the Chicago Times.”
I looked out at the audience. They didn’t look any different than other audiences I’d faced. I sighed and launched into a talk about my career as a reporter.
When I finished, a smattering of applause waved across the audience and then, after Doctor Andrews stood and applauded vigorously, the applause increased. My heart was in my throat when I sat. Gone was all pretending that I didn’t care.
“You’ve given that talk before, I’m sure,” he said. “I hope I do as well.”
People raised their hands.
“We don’t have time for questions now. We have another speaker. Our own Doctor Andrews,” Audrey said.
He stood and said, “I don’t have anything interesting to say. Ask your questions of Miss Wilson. I’ve got some of my own.”
Audrey thumped down on her chair and pouted. I had heard most of the questions before so there was no difficulty in answering them.
It was nearly the next day when I entered Doctor Andrews’ waiting room. I was the only one there until Audrey came from a hallway followed by the doctor. She spotted me and said, “I thought you’d be back in Chicago by now.”
Doctor Andrews said, “You take those pills now, and I’m sure you’ll feel better.”
“Are you sick, too?” Audrey asked me.
“No, I feel fine,” I said.
“She may be tired from my bending her ear last night,” Doctor Andrews said, “but I’m glad she’s not sick. I’m taking her to lunch. And dinner too, I hope.”