Jory wore a screaming-orange sweater when he left for Bali. We took pictures at the airport, our little gang of thirty-something theater majors. Returning students we were called. Each of us wore something zany. I sported an oversize, multicolored beret. Around her neck, Susan wrapped an angora scarf—six feet long, lavender and softer than a cotton ball. Ted wore a lime-green ascot and tweed jacket with holes at the elbows. Brian pranced in cowboy boots trimmed with mother of pearl. All were flea market finds. Jory insisted they were talismans that protected us from the traps of ordinary concerns. We believed him, cheering to that notion nightly over beers at the Rite Spot.
The vacation of his dreams is what Jory called it the June day he departed. Six weeks in paradise. Then he'd be back to enchant us with stories as we readied for a new semester. But he didn't return as planned. He sent us a postcard instead. He declared his life was now a theater performance. How could university classes compare?
No matter how much we rehearsed after that, our scenes on stage were flat as blank paper. We gathered a few times at the Rite Spot, laughed at things we no longer found funny, confided how empty classes were without him, how suspended our lives. We tucked away our dreams along with our flea market clothes—temporarily, each of us said, certain he’d come home soon to ignite and unite us again.
Living in separate cities now, we keep in touch on Facebook. Ted saw it first: a video gone viral of an expat in Bali who stepped in front of an oncoming truck to push a fallen child to safety. The man was wrinkled with scraggly salt-and-pepper hair, his neon orange sweater unmistakable as the bumper thrust him into the air. Our talisman gone.
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