Debbie Carver walks into Eckerd's and hands her prescription to the man behind the counter in back. He takes it, smiles, and says, "We'll get this filled right away, ma'am." Debbie nods and says, "Okay," and for the next five minutes has nothing to do but walk up and down the
aisles, looking at tubes of toothpaste, bottles of shampoo, and non- prescription medicines. She occupies her mind by counting how many different types of containers aspirin comes in: flat pill boxes, some plastic, some metal, some that slide open, some with hinges; clear bottles, most plastic, a few glass. She is up to twenty-three kinds before the man behind the counter calls her.
[quoteright]"Umm... Miss Carver? I'm afraid our pharmacist made a mistake, and it's going to be a while before your prescription is ready."
"I didn't think pharmacists made mistakes."
"Yeah, well, they must be pretty rare pills. What are they for?"
Debbie looks at him and says, "My doctor prescribed them."
The man puts his forearms on the counter, lowers his shoulders, and shakes his head, grinning. "Hey, I'm sorry. I guess that was kind of personal, huh? None of my business, I know. You'll have to excuse me, I'm new at this. I've only worked here a week, I just ring up purchases. I didn't stop to think it could be... Well, you know what I mean."
"That's okay," she says, looking at him and nodding.
He smiles. "I'm just curious. I got a friend that used to take pills that were supposed to keep his feet from stinking." He looks down at the counter and shakes his head, fingering an ear. "Sorry, lady. That's a strange thing to tell somebody."
She is not smiling. Her eyes look off to the right and she is chewing on her lower lip. "Is his name Mark?" she asks.
"What? Well, yeah, matter of fact it is." He knits his brows and chews on his lip, head cocked to one side.
"Mark Baker," they both say, and laugh.
"Yeah, good old Mark," she says. "A real nut, isn't he?"
"That's for sure. How do you know him?"
"We used to date, back in college. A long time ago."
"You're kidding! You — the Debbie Carver? Yeah, I heard about you! I was his roommate, back in our freshman year."
She looks sideways at him. "Jeff? Well, I'll be! After all this time, I finally meet you. Yeah, I heard about you, too." She steps forward and they shake hands.
"You know, I haven't talked to Mark in nine months," Jeff says. "I miss the old cuss."
"I haven't seen him in two years. I guess I miss him, too."
They stand there for a full minute, smiling and saying nothing. Debbie's prescription is ready; Jeff rings it up and she pays him.
"Say, Debbie... I was just wondering, what do you say we have supper together Friday night? We could talk about all the old times we had — I mean with Mark — and, well, you know."
"Sure, okay. Sounds good."
"Bagley's okay with you?"
"I've got Mark's number up at the University of Chicago, maybe we could give him a call. If it hasn't changed since December."
"That would be nice. I'd like to talk to him again." "Okay then, it's a date. How about I pick you up at six?"
She agrees, and gives him her Piney Grove apartment address before leaving.
* * *She is ready when Jeff rings her doorbell Friday evening. They get in his Mustang and are soon at Bagley's. They are shown to a booth near the rear of the restaurant and given menus.
"Let's see," Jeff says, opening his menu. "What looks good?"
"Gee, I don't know. I haven't been here in a long time. It's changed a lot." Debbie scans her menu, chewing on her lower lip. "They used to serve lots of seafood, but now they have mostly hamburgers."
"They've got a seafood platter. Down there, under the spaghetti. With hush puppies."
"Yeah. I guess I'll have that. But I could get hush puppies at Captain D's. What are you going to have?"
"The All American Cheeseburger."
"Oh," she says, looking at her sweating water glass.
"Well, it's just that I was going to order a drink, and if you're going to have a hamburger, well, that would be... Well, you know. I think of people having milkshakes with hamburgers, not drinks."
He laughs. "Oh, don't worry about that. Lot's of people get hamburgers and drinks too. No big deal."
They finally decide to get a pitcher of Coke, which is brought to them long before their food arrives. They sit quietly for a few minutes, Debbie with her hands in her lap, smiling at the surroundings, Jeff with his elbows on the table, looking around and bobbing his head up and down.
"So, you and Mark were roommates, huh?" Debbie says.
"Yeah," Jeff says, smiling.
"That must have been pretty interesting."
"It was an experience. He was quite a guy."
"Did he ever tell you about the time he mixed up some chocolate Ex-Lax with some real chocolate, poured it in Easter egg molds, and sent them to the dean?"
"Yeah," she says, smiling, looking down at the table and shaking her head. "Yeah, I remember that. Those were my egg molds."
Their food arrives, and they finish half of it before saying anything more. Debbie's fish is greasy but she says it's good anyway; Jeff's burger is thick and juicy, but just overdone enough to keep it from being perfect. There are fries on his plate, crisp and ridged and golden, and he eats them without ketchup.
"So what do you do?" Jeff asks, pointing a fry at Debbie.
She laughs at the fry and he takes a bite of it. She says, "I'm a secretary at AIS. Boring job. What about you?"
"I worked at the paper for three years, and got sick of it. So I'm going back to Sabre to get my Master's degree. I guess I'll teach. I hope it pays better than Eckerd's."
When they leave, Debbie says, "Hey, I've got an idea. Let's go back to my apartment and call Mark."
"Sure, okay. I'll pay half the bill."
"Oh, don't worry about that."
Jeff has to go by his apartment to get the number, and they decide to make the call from there. They position themselves at the phones, he in the bedroom and she in the kitchen, and he dials.
"Hello, Mark? Hey man, how ya doin'?"
"Fine, I suppose," a voice says through static.
"This is Jeff."
"Oh, Jeff. Yes, good to hear from you."
"Yeah. And guess who's with me on the other phone."
"It's me, Mark," Debbie says.
"Oh. Well, hello, Me."
She laughs. "Debbie."
"Uh-huh. The one and only."
"Well, I'll be. I didn't know you two knew each other," Mark says.
"Well, we didn't," Debbie says. "But the other day I went into Eckerd's to get a prescription filled, and Jeff was there. He works there. Your name came up, and we realized who each other was, and we decided to get together. All that time we were friends with you and we never knew each other."
"Jeff's working at Eckerd's now, huh?" Mark says. "How about you, Debbie? Still a secretary at the insurance company?"
She lets out a gust of air that over the telephone sounds like a mild explosion. "Yeah."
"Hey, Mark," Jeff says. "Remember that time you mixed up a batch of Ex-Lax Easter eggs and sent them to Dean Bishop?"
"Oh, that was a scream," Debbie says.
"Actually, looking back, it wasn't that funny," Mark says. "There was an entire box of Ex-Lax in those eggs, if he'd eaten all of them it probably would have killed him. Induced a heart attack, or dehydrated him."
"Oh, wow," Debbie says. "As it was, we were lucky he only took one bite. If he'd eaten just one whole egg it would have made him very sick."
"Yeah. Man," Jeff says. "Good thing his secretary threw them away."
"Uh-huh," Mark says. "Well, listen, it's been good talking to you again, but I've got a class in half an hour. I'd better go."
"Yeah, okay. Bye."
They hang up and reconvene in the living room. "That's pretty wild, isn't it?" Jeff says. "We could've killed the dean, and we didn't even know it."
"Yeah, that's kind of scary. I feel bad about it now."
"Yeah." Jeff nods, looking at the floor and scratching his nose. "You know, Mark's changed a lot, hasn't he?" he says.
"Yeah, he has. He sounds so... different."
Jeff laughs. "He sounds sedate compared to how he used to be. Mark the Wildman is gone. I almost didn't know him when I talked to him in December. He's a completely different person than the guy I knew in college."
Debbie nods. "What's he doing at the University of Chicago, anyway?"
"You didn't know? He's a medical student."
"You're kidding! Mark Baker, a doctor?"
"Uh-huh." Jeff nods. "You never would've guessed it, would you?"
They stand in Jeff's living room for a few more minutes, Jeff with his hands in his pockets, Debbie looking at the floor and smiling. She is still shaking her head in disbelief.
"Mark, a doctor," she says. "If I'd only known I might of hung on to him."
Jeff laughs and nods. "Well, it's getting late," he says. "I guess I ought to take you home now, huh?"
Jeff drives her home. When she gets out of the car, she says, "See you later."
"Yeah," he says. "See you later."
CHRISTOPHER BURDETT makes the job of writing this page easier by sending us an official biographical note: "Short-story writer Christopher Burdett is not at work on his first novel."
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