This story is by Terra L. Walker and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ronnie lingered inside the doorway of the old gym. It had been over 20 years since she’d stepped foot inside Evarts High School – standing there now was like entering a time warp back to senior year.
“Lord Jesus, it even smells the same, like pinewood, sweat, and failure-” she mumbled, making her way to a table. She slid down on one of those orange, ‘scholastic-plastic’ chairs and scanned the room. Stenciled on one wall of the gymnasium was the word “WILDCATS,” while the Mascot, a ferocious fanged feline, adorned the opposite wall. Up front, people milled about the silent auction table – proceeds to benefit the scholarship fund, no doubt. God knows you’d need a lotta help to get outta this town. She spied a memorial; a necessary evil when your reunions encompass all classes back to 1925. Ronnie nodded. A decent turnout; but then again, what the hell else is there to do in Harlan County, Kentucky?
She looked closer at the faces in the crowd. “Don’t tell me I’m here and HE didn’t even show up?” She pulled out a mirror and checked her shoulder-length auburn tresses; still holding up in the heat and humidity. She didn’t recognize anyone standing around, waiting for the festivities to begin. “Guess it’s been a while since I’ve been home.” She checked her cell phone.
“Waitin’ on a call from Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now? HA!”
Ronnie almost dropped her phone on the old parquet-style flooring.
A man plopped down next to her. He was tan, too well dressed for the crowd, and reeked of Aqua di- something Italian and expensive. He smiled in a Cheshire Cat-like way.
“What year did you graduate, darlin’? Cause you look familiar, but, not too familiar, if you know what I mean, HA!” He grabbed his chest as if in cardiac arrest from his hilarity.
Ronnie rolled her eyes so hard she half expected him to fall like a 7-10 split. When she dared a peek, Mr. Tan-Man was still there, grinning.
“1997,” said Ronnie, without looking at him. On stage, the DJ was almost ready. “Testing. Can y’all hear me?” The mic squealed. Someone shouted, “DAMN, my ears!” and laughter broke out across the small group.
“Frankie boy, who y’all flirtin’ with?” A woman placed her hands on Frankie’s shoulders. She had bronzed skin, and long, manicured nails painted fluorescent orange.
“No worries Vera darlin’, this is…” he trailed off, staring at Ronnie.
Ronnie’s heart skipped a beat. She thought the woman looked familiar. The years, tanning beds, and recreational drug use had taken a toll, but it was definitely Vera Sutton. Head Cheerleader, Homecoming Queen, and Chief Gossip-monger. Would she recognize Ronnie?
Ronnie’s phone buzzed in her purse. Dammit, stop calling.
“Veronica Meadows.” Ronnie introduced herself. Vera looked her over like a farmer eyeing a prize sow. “Veronica?” Her eyes grew big as bowling balls. “GOSH! You don’t mean Round Ronnie?!”
And there it was.
Twenty years wasn’t enough time to outlive her infamous moniker. Growing up a fat girl in Harlan County, you endured your fair share of bullying. At the University of Michigan, Veronica purged “Round Ronnie” in pursuit of an Athletic Training Degree. She found confidence, her calling, and a cute husband.
None of it seemed to matter now. Ronnie flashbacked to Cheerleader tryouts Junior year. A summer of Slim-Fast and sweatin’ with Jane Fonda gave her the confidence to go out for the squad. She rah! rah! and cheered her chubby little heart out, and when they posted the Varsity roster, Ronnie was first in line. She stood, holding her breath, scanning the list- but her name wasn’t on it. Wait. At the end – oh no. Dear god, no. She spun and ran; girls in blue and gold uniforms shook pompoms and shouted, “Round Ronnie!” as she fled. She made it to Bell Street before collapsing. Sweet Baby Jesus it was August in Eastern Kentucky; she was seconds away from heat stroke or thigh chafe! She sat in the shade of the giant linden tree, black lines forming on her cheeks as hot tears melted her mascara.
“I remember now,” Frankie said, “They made you ‘Water Girl’ for the Cheerleading squad. Gave you a uniform – only yours said, ‘Round Ronnie’ on it, HA!” He grinned. “At least they can’t call ya ‘Round’ anymore.”
Ronnie’s cell vibrated. She excused herself to the back of the gym by the risers. Six missed calls, damn.
“Never thought I’d see you again,” said a man in a low, sweet, drawl.
“You gonna say ‘hi’ or have you forgot your manners?”
Ronnie clutched her purse to her body. She had to face him.
This would be difficult.
She turned around.
Jerry Wynn – Class President and Captain of the football team. The QB who threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to win the big Homecoming game against Hazard High. Golden Boy of Evarts. Perfect in every way. Well, except one.
Boy was dumb as a box of rocks.
Gifted as Jerry was on the gridiron, he struggled in the classroom. He breezed through most classes due to his last name – “Win.” But Mrs. Carlton’s English class didn’t have a separate grading scale for NCAA Division I college-bound athletes.
A few weeks before District finals, Jerry got the worst news of his life; either pass his English midterm or lose eligibility to play for the rest of the season. He begged, even threatened Mrs. Carlton, but her resolve was iron-clad.
“Mr. Wynn, might I recommend a tutor?” She peered up at him through her thick glasses.
As a straight-A student, the first name Mrs. Carlton suggested was Veronica Meadows. Imagine the surprise when ‘Jerry the Hero’ knocked on her door begging for help. Of course, it didn’t take much to convince Ronnie – she’d had a crush on Jerry since 7th grade – what girl in Harlan County hadn’t?
“How’ve you been Ronnie?” Jerry leaned in to hug her. As his arms wrapped around her, Ronnie stiffened. She tore out of his grasp and jumped back, gasping for air.
Jerry raised one eyebrow. “What’s wrong with you?”
Ronnie glared up at all 6’5” of him. “As if you don’t remember.”
It didn’t surprise her. Jerry never cared about anyone but himself.
Their private tutor sessions soon became not-so-secret. Jerry made excuses to ‘run in’ to Ronnie at the Library, the Corner Cafe, and the Park, but it wasn’t long before word got around; Superman was Super-dumb. Ronnie did her best to cram information into Jerry’s brain, and Jerry used the Rumor Mill to deploy countermeasures to save face.
Ronnie narrowed her eyes. “It’s all your fault.”
Once Jerry was back on the team, Ronnie expected flowers, a card, a simple ‘thank you.’ But Jerry never said a word. Instead, one morning, Ronnie opened her door to find her entire house covered in toilet paper. A huge sign that read, “Round Ronnie Gets Around,” stood tall in the middle of the yard. She’d never been so embarrassed; she sprinted upstairs to her bedroom and locked the door.
Ronnie never went back to Evarts. She couldn’t show her face. She owned being a fat girl – but a whore? No one could live that down in Evarts, no one.
Jerry stared at her, mouth wide open. “Get over it!” He laughed out loud. “People thought you were loose, and we got it on. In your state, you should have appreciated my efforts…” he shook his head as his laughter trailed off.
“No!” Yelled Ronnie. “You ruined my life, you inconsiderate asshole! Everything changed – because of you I missed out on so much…”
She opened her purse, reached past her phone with messages from her husband;
Don’t do this-
I love you-
It’s not worth it-
and put her hand on the cold metal of the Beretta pistol at the bottom.
Without warning, long orange fingernails wrapped around her wrist. “Honey, I know what you want to do, and believe me he ain’t worth it,” said Vera.
Ronnie, her hand shaking but still on the gun, glared at Vera.
“You see Dear, he might have faked a reputation with you, but he gave it to other girls.” Vera’s voice broke. “…along with some unwanted gifts too.” She swallowed hard as a tear let loose from her eye. “But we Hillbillies endure – and baby-girl; you know you can’t run from your past, it’ll catch you someday.” She scowled at Jerry. “It’ll catch him soon too; but let’s not get the Sheriff involved, okay?”
Ronnie nodded at Vera. She let go of the gun. Her phone buzzed. It was her husband. She bolted to the doorway of the gym and answered.
“Honey? I’m sorry, my ringer was off. Yes, I’m at the reunion. No, I never did see him. I guess I didn’t need to- Anyhow, I love you. See you soon.”
Time to go home.