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October 1, age 30
"You will never know/ The one who loves you so/ Cause you don't know me."
-- Cindy Walker
-- Cindy Walker
Christopher Magnusson – Mudskunk.
The whole time, he knew...
“Hey GW, come meet August and me,” he said.
It's the day after the Local Band Review. I still can't believe he threw me on the stage, and I still can't believe I didn't throw up. I wasn't sure I'd had enough high-sugared tea this morning to go out into the world.
“Christine will be there, of course. August and me are meeting up with some old musician friends.”
“Because we like hanging out together.”
I sighed. “No, why do you want me to come?”
“Are you busy?”
“As a matter of fact – no. I’m having a girl’s night with my friend Beth, but, unfortunately, I’m not busy right now.”
“Will try not to take offense at that, and I will see you in an hour,” and he gave me the name of the restaurant.
I put on what Beth dubbed my “trauma-armor.” Some people prefer to wear sweats and hoodies the day after a traumatic event; I prefer gray Chucks, a black t-shirt and a leather bomber jacket that had belonged to a cousin.
“Bit overkill with the glasses,” Beth remarked the first time she saw this outfit, but the aviators help. One pleasant memory salvaged from a mostly unremarkable childhood was my dad wearing aviators religiously.
At the restaurant, August holds up a hand. I sit deliberately in the chair before taking in the faces around the table. Chris and Christine are on one side of me while August sits on the other. And across from me – the tall, dark stranger from the night before, with his arm around his Natalie Wood look-alike girlfriend.
“That was you last night, yeah?" I say to the stranger across from me. "The one Kyle and I ran into, literally.”
“That was me. You knocked me right off my feet.” He grins, and the school girl within me twitters. The girlfriend flashes a fake smile.
Chris makes introductions around the table, reaching last the handsome stranger across from me.
“And this is Sebastian Haepst and his lady Gwendolyn Motts.” All of my insides have disappeared.
Chris, you dirty, filthy, rat mudskunk. Be cool, GW.
“This is Ginnie Wood. If you’re nice, she may let you call her GW.”
“Gin Wood?” Sebastian says.
August and “Mudskunk” exchange a look and get ready to crawl under the table for cover. No one calls me "Gin."
“No. Well, I was at one time, but, no. I’m Ginnie or GW now.”
The boys relax.
“It is you. When they said your name last night, on stage, I thought it was familiar.”
I feign a quizzical look. “Sebastian Haepst…from Hardy Road Elementary?”
“Wow. How the heck are ya? What happened to you?”
His family moved a lot. After he’d completed first grade, they moved for the third time, and they’d moved one more time before finally settling in the house where his parents still live. Though his older brother, Elliott, still moves around a lot, Sebastian was thrilled to lay roots somewhere.
While Sebastian recounts this story, his ridiculously pretty girlfriend shifts to lean closer to him, rests her hand on his arm and interjects a few comments.
Gwendolyn. Or Gwen, which is what people around the table call her. Horrible name, poor child. Though I’d never been fond of the name Gwen, it is kind of medieval, like a King Arthur or Robin Hood character. Sebastian had been seriously into knights and dragons and swords and castles when we were kids. I guess he still is.
The Magnusson cousins have been friends with Seb since college, when, as a bassist, he had played with them every now and then. So Chris has been friends with Seb since college, which means Christine knew Seb since Chris’ college days. Et tu, Christine?
Someone else pulls Sebastian into a new conversation.
Sebastian and Gwen act like any close couple. There isn’t anything off, yet, I can’t put my finger on it, but I get the feeling they no longer make each other happy.
Members of the table slowly leave for other engagements.
“It was good meeting you again, Ginnie.”
Sebastian and Gwen exit, his arm over her shoulder and hers around his waist, smiling and lost in their own conversation.
Only the Magnussons and I remain standing at the front of the restaurant. August splits leaving “Mudskunk” and his wife to wither beneath my glare.
“What?” Chris says. Christine remains silent, but then, she usually allows her husband to take lead in conversation.
“You know him," I say. "You force that story out of me, I confess his name, and you know him and said nothing.”
Chris stares blankly at me.
“You know Sebastian Haepst,” I whisper, almost in a hiss, “but you don’t bother saying you know him?”
“What are you talking about?”
I slap my thigh. “I told you he is my ideal.” So it was three years ago I had told Chris that Sebastian Haepst is my ideal, but still, the whole time?
“Oh, that conversation.” He chuckles. “I didn’t know he was the same guy.”
I scoff and turn to exit saying “Mudskunk” under my breath.
“What is a mudskunk?” Chris says.
“It, apparently, was the ugliest name my four-year-old self could come up with to call my mother when I was mad at her.”
I turn abruptly on my heel to face him.
“Woah, GW. Are you mad?”
“’Didn’t know if he was the same guy’? How many Sebastian Haepst’s have you heard of? How many Sebastian’s for that matter?”
“Yeah, well, the whole story was weird. Okay? I didn’t want to say anything, but it’s weird.”
“It’s not weird, it’s roman--.”
Christine is staring hard at the “Please seat yourself” sign.
“Oh fine,” I say and shove the aviators on my face.
Chris snickers. “Later, Gin.”
“Such a punk,” I say before pushing open the door and leaving.
I am at Beth’s recalling the story to her while she places a jar in front of six-month-old Emma and a plate of food in front of three-year-old Paul.
My best friend knows about my “If ever I were to marry someone” thing.
“Wow, so you actually met him again after all these years? That’s funny. Paul, you throw more peas and no Daniel Tiger after dinner. Okay, Em, here we go,” and Beth swoops a spoonful of mushy something claiming to be green beans into Emma’s mouth.
“How are you not appalled? It’s awful?”
“What, was he a jerk? Justin! I thought it was just the idea of him you were into anyway. Justin! Can you grab my sweater on your way down? It’s on the foot of the bed!”
“No, he’s fine. I meant Chris having known him the whole time and not telling me.”
“Oh. Yeah. Well, maybe he doesn’t know him that well. Thanks, sweets. Okay, you finish this.” She stands and hands her husband, Justin, the jar of green mush. “And if Paul throws peas again, no Daniel Tiger. Mommy loves you. Bye, sweets.”
“They’ve been friends since college.”
“What movie are we seeing again?”“Oh, fine.”
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