The Alumni belongs to a posh private club, and wants to host our next alumni event there. He messages me several times, and finally, one Monday, I drive into Seattle for a drink and a tour. As I arrive in the lobby, my phone rings.
The Drama Teacher at The Child’s school is calling. She’s supposed to be helping on the backstage crew at the school play, but got upset and stormed off. He doesn’t know where she is; he’s worried. Rehearsal has come to a halt as he searches for her.
The Alumni waits by the elevator bank as I call The Child, who answers, crying. A boy on the stage crew was teasing her; it was more than she could take, and even as she quit and left, he continued his attention, sending mocking texts.
Why didn’t you ask the Drama Teacher for help? I ask. You need to tell him what happened.
I don’t want to be That Kid, she says. I’m done. I’m in the after-school study hall. Come get me at six.
I can’t, I’m nowhere near the school. You have to go back to the theater, even if you just sit on the side.
I call the Drama Teacher back, and he thanks me and says he’ll go talk to her.
The Alumni and I head up to the top floor, where the club is, then order drinks and survey the spectacular views, picking out the Space Needle – tiny and lost at this height – while the decrepit bridges have become dazzling rivers of traffic set against the lightless lake. We wander through the lavish facilities, discussing what our fellow alumni might enjoy most.
At the self-serve wine-sampling station, my phone rings again, so I step in the hall to talk to The Child’s Drama Teacher. Again, the Alumni waits, patiently.
I explain that I can’t come get The Child, just at this moment – even if I left now, I wouldn’t be back in less than an hour. But more to the point, I say, how is this okay? That she is bullied off her favorite activity, but the bully stays on?
I’ve spoken to the other child, he says, and we’ll have a meeting with the school head tomorrow. I’ll email after the rehearsal. He hesitates, then offers: They say there’s no bullying at this school, but I’m not so sure.
He assures me there’s no problem with The Child just hanging out in the theater until the time I originally planned to pick her up; he’ll go get her so there’s no more confusion.
I head back to The Alumni and my drink, and as we resume our tour, he is more relaxed than I remember; I find myself laughing as he shows me every detail of the facility, including the ladies room. He doesn’t go in, but tells me what I must look at when I do.
I’m having fun.
A text arrives: The Drama Teacher, apologizing for worrying me, letting me know where The Child is. He’s happy to discuss things with me further, if I want to.
The tour is complete, so The Alumni and I look for the manager, but can’t find him, can’t actually schedule an event. The Alumni has idea: It’s a little out of the way, but he knows where we can get real New York pizza.
It’s worth the drive, he says, and since he promises to deliver me back in time to pick up The Child, I agree that New York pizza is a fine idea.
We hop in his car, a different, newer Audi than I remember seeing last summer, so I ask about it, and by the time we’re in West Seattle, I know every detail about the car’s engine and features, how he knows the guy who sold it to him, and why the guy was selling it. He leaves nothing out, carefully reciting the particulars as the Audi hurtles up the freeway, weaves through slower-moving traffic, and finally stops abruptly on a street where young men loiter outside a porn store with papered-over windows.
He parks, then points to the rebellious-looking pizza joint next door to the porn store. That’s it. Just like home.
Texts arrive from The Child: When can you pick me up? Are you almost here? The Alumni orders a beer for himself and a large pie for us to share; I perform quick mental calculations of how little time we have to eat before I really, truly, have to go, and reply to The Child’s texts, whose frequency increase in direct proportion to her exhaustion and boredom.
We have arrived just at the time I calculate we need to leave, if we drive back at any speed up to and including the speed limit, but The Alumni has done his own calculation, and it leaves him sufficient time to sip his beer. The pizza doesn’t arrive quickly, though, so he finally concedes defeat and asks for it in a to-go box, and while we wait, we admire the photo booth and Donkey Kong machines, both of which require actual quarters to operate. Neither of us carries cash.
When the pizza arrives, we leave, each taking a slice for the road, but with the first bite, my journey is complete: I am 16, eating a folded slice on the street amidst crackheads and cross-dressers, trying to drip the oil on the sidewalk instead of my clothes, on my way to somewhere else. I want to savor it all; I don’t have time.
Back at my car, he insists I take the box – an entire pizza, less two slices. The Child will be hungry, he says, and I bet she’s never had Real New York Pizza.
She pronounces it The Best Pizza I Ever Ate as she eats it in the passenger seat of my car, after I pick her up just a few minutes late.