The Encounter

The Encounter

This story is a sequel to The Reunion

At a cafe in Henrietta, New York...

“Excuse me, Miss? I think you dropped your change purse?” The man stood at the table where Perry sat, holding a large coffee mug.

“Oh, gosh, yes. Thank you.” She looked at the man’s face and her own grew hot and red as she recognized him.

“You know it’s not polite to stare,” he laughed, lightening the mood only a bit.

“I’m sorry…you just look like someone I used to know.” Perry frowned and quickly replaced her expression with a half-smile.

“I suppose you could say that about a lot of people you meet or see, but sometimes it happens that you meet someone after a while that is a good friend, yes?” He pulled the chair out next to her and sat down.

“Joey….but I’ll bet you don’t use that name any more.” He smiled again; he always was such a welcoming person.

“It’s…it’s Perry now.” She said meekly, as if she had to apologize.

“Listen, Perry….I’m ….I’m different now.” He looked down at himself as if to examine his heart. She tilted her head slightly, hoping that her old memories wouldn’t cloud her vision now.

“I wish things hadn’t been so…abrupt the last time we talked. I’m so sorry, but I have to look at what we were back then…young and impressionable…and I was so friggin’ pig headed. When I heard you…what you planned to do….I…”

“It hurt me, Jason…it really did. Between you and Jimmy Parker, you were my best friends. I ran into Jimmy last year….he’s still Jimmy, but I’m not Joey any more. Can you understand that?”

Jason nodded, and his facial shade seemed to grow red just as Perry’s was returning to normal.

“That’s what I want to talk about. I’ve done a lot of thinking…and a lot of praying over the years, but it took losing my best friend due to my own ignorance. I’m sorry…so sorry that I hurt you.” It almost felt like things were oddly acceptable; Jason seemed to be apologizing, not to Perry, but to Joey, his best friend and prayer partner in Bible School. But things changed quickly.

“What you did was a brave thing. Of course they didn’t talk about it openly, but some of the preaching at chapel seemed to ratchet up the spiritual rhetoric, you know? Sheep falling away from the flock….hate the sin but love the sinner? It got to where you were the topic of conversation for a whole week at morning meeting. What to do with you, as if you were a problem instead of a brother in the lord….sorry, but that’s how they viewed you. Deceived and self-deceived.”

Perry put her head down; remembering the old saying about gossip going around the world before the truth gets out of bed. She felt a soft touch, first on the cheek and then as Jason’s hand lifted her chin slightly.

“You’re not my brother! But you are my sister; I suppose you’ve always been. I remember the talks we’d have in the coffee shop after class. How you’d be so much more sympathetic to people we thought were….” It was his turn, but he took it further as he began to tear up before putting his head down in shame. A second later he lifted it.

“Now…seeing you? I was already convinced quite some time ago that I had been wrong about a lot of things, but looking at you now? Like Beth and Trish and some of the other single girls we knew? Women of god, we called them. Little did I know I was best friends with one of them?”

“You think I’m in their league?” Even after years of therapy and a wonderful marriage to a great guy, Perry still remained insecure and filled with doubts. Cut off from two families as her parents practically disowned her. The school, ostensibly her spiritual family, had actually requested that she return her diploma, insisting that she had earned it under false pretenses. One board member had actually called her a liar in a meeting.

“I can’t think of anyone who fits the title better than you. Especially with what you do now. When I talked to Danny this morning he told me you were counseling…that was always your heart…”

“You talked to Dan?” Perry was surprised that Jason had already been in touch with her husband Dan.

“I called up after finding his name in the directory; he’s sorta persona non grata for marrying you, but they haven’t gotten around to jettisoning him from the directory. I had heard that you two were married, and I figured it was the easiest way to contact you..”

“You wanted to contact me?”

“Yes…he told me you’d probably be here; a place to unwind after your recovery group.”

“So you just didn’t happen to be here?” Perry half-frowned, still feeling vulnerable and insecure.

“What I have to say to you cannot be just brushed off with a phone call." Perry turned toward the front window of the café and blew out a breath. He put his hand on her arm and she turned again to face him.

“I’ve…Listen….I was wrong, but talk is cheap. You don’t go through life just watching things happen, you know, and sometimes it takes action to put some sort of credibility to your words.”

“I…I’m not sure I understand, Jason…”

“I turned my back on the best friend I ever had; I hurt you more than I can imagine, and I am so sorry. Would …Jeez, Joey….sorry…Perry….Dear god in heaven I’m so fucking sorry and angry at myself….what I did to you. Please forgive me.” He began to cry; evidence of a healing that started the first day after he had turned his back on her, but finally coming to fruition. She put her hand on his face, feeling his tears. She recalled a time when she…when Joey had consoled Jason after the death of his brother; too young to drive and never old enough to drink. She felt his tears that day as well, wanting so badly to kiss the pain away but held back by convention and ignorance.

“Jason…honey…” A term of affection that had always been stuck safely in the back of her throat, now coming from a woman who was finally free to be herself, she repeated,

“Jason, honey? Of course I forgive you….I’m so sorry….” As if it had been her fault all along, she spoke,

“I should have kept in contact…please forgive me for being angry all these years.”

“You…have nothing to apologize for. It’s all my fault that you were hurt so much.” There was more than enough regret to go around.

“I…I prayed…..have been praying for quite some time about what my next step is. I talked with Wally and Cindy when I went to preach…we both feel something needs to be done to show the school how wrong they were about you. He's supporting me and I hope you'll understand and not feel responsible. I’ve turned in my credentials and I’ve left the fellowship. Gisele and I have taken a position as house parents at a home for girls in New Mexico. We’ll be moving in a few weeks.”

“But…you…your calling …you wanted so bad to be a pastor.” Perry gasped at the revelation, and the impact of her best friend’s commitment to her was almost overwhelming as she began to cry.

“I wouldn’t be a shepherd if I abandoned one of the flock, would I? Besides, the calling of God is irrevocable, remember. Just a tad modified, is all. Wally turned in his as well, by the way.” He smiled through his own tears. She shook her head in wonder; it was all too painful and sweet at the same time. A moment later a girl of about sixteen or so came up to the table.

“Dad…. Mom wants to know when we’re going to dinner?” The girl turned and shook her head before continuing.

“Oh…Excuse me, Ma'am. I’m Gwen…You must be ….Oh gosh, Dad, I forgot the name. Please forgive me, but for the longest time…maybe since I was in elementary school, Dad’s been talking about what a good friend Joey was, but I know that’s not your name now, right?” Perry wiped her face with her blouse sleeve before offering her hand to the girl.

“I’m Perry. Nice to meet you, Gwen. You look a lot like your Mom.”

“She should…she has my genes,” a voice came from behind the girl.

“Gisele…oh gosh…it’s so good to see you again.” Perry once again began to tear up

“I know…after all these years. Well…I see life and time has been kind to both of us. It’s…” Gisele choked up, but still was able to embrace Perry.

“I’m so glad for you. Dan Buonofede? Wow…I can remember the girls in the dorm drooling over him. It was so sad to hear about Carmen, but I can’t think of a nicer person to follow her. Dan’s very lucky.”

A soft and healing torrent of words flooded Perry’s heart, and she began to sob in Gisele’s arms. The girl behind the counter shot them a look of concern before Jason nodded and smiled. He sighed heavily and Perry reached out blindly to grasp his hand.

“I’m so glad we hooked up before our move. You and Dan should come visit, if you’d like. I want you to meet our son as well….he has a soccer tournament with his traveling team, and we’re off after dinner to meet up with him tonight at the motel by the soccer complex in Geneva. He left early for practice this morning. We’re really proud of him. He's got a scholarship to U of NM in the fall.” Gisele beamed even as she blinked back some tears of her own. So whatya say? Dinner on us?"

“That’s …I...We’d be happy to. I’m sure Dan will want to catch up with you."

"Oh, we know he will...he's meeting all of us at Domenico's in about a half hour." Jason laughed. It had turned out to be a wonderful encounter.

"Guess what our son's name is." Gisele said softly as they walked out of the cafe. They stood by Perry's car and she tilted her head, thinking.

"Oh, I don't know....Vito?" Perry laughed; she and Jason both had grandfathers with the same name. Jason shook his head.

"Is he a junior…Jason Calabrese the third I’ll bet?”

"Nope...that name stops here; at least for the time being. Guess again!" Gwen's eyes widened, but her mother put her finger to her lips to shush her.

"Oh, god, what am I thinking." Perry looked into Jason's eyes and nodded.

"Peter, right? After your brother?"

Jason shook his head once again; he tried not to, but he began to tear up once again as he replied with a smile,

“No…that's his middle name.” Gisele stepped close and hugged the woman who was her husband's best friend. She kissed her on the cheek and said finally,

"No other name would do for our boy; he's named after someone we knew a long time ago and are glad to know once again. His name is Perry."

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This story is 1996 words long.