“I cannot believe I let you talk me into this,” Rodney grumbled.
John reached out, patted his knee. He kept his gaze on the road. “I’m a lawyer. I can be very persuasive.”
“But...law school reunions? Seriously?”
“Come on. We’re going to Stanford next week. We can go surfing. It’ll be great.”
“But...Harvard.” Rodney slumped down in his seat. “Boston. I just -”
“You were there for MIT too, weren’t you?”
“I was. There. For a long time. And it’s a great city. But I…” Rodney sighed. “My ex. Teaches there now.”
“Peter Kavanagh,” Rodney said. “He was into IP like me, hard science undergrad. Smart enough. Also just kind of an ass, but it was law school and we were stressed out and we put up with a lot of crap from each other. And now all that’s left is...crap.”
“Pretty sure I could take him in a fight,” John said, grinning.
“Yes, cavemen squabbling for my affections, so attractive.” Rodney rolled his eyes.
“It’ll be fine. You’re working for a great law firm, and you’ve been onboard with patents for some of the most ground-breaking technology in the last couple of years.” John patted his knee again. “You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Rodney slumped in his seat. “Actually, when I was rushing for the law fraternity, well...all of my law school classmates call me Meredith. Just so you’re prepared.”
“Oh?” John raised his eyebrows.
“Tell me something embarrassing about you just so we can be on even ground,” Rodney said.
John cast Rodney a sidelong glance. He was pale, looked really stressed out. “Listen, if you don’t want to go, we don’t have to. I just thought it’d be fun, seeing where you went to school, showing you where I went. We’re successful adults, Rodney. We should be proud of the work we do.”
“I’d rather go to a high school reunion, honestly,” Rodney muttered.
John spotted an exit sign, changed lanes, pulled onto the exit and then off to the shoulder, cut the engine.
Rodney blinked. “What are we doing?”
“Be straight with me, Rodney. Do you want to go to this reunion?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.”
“Would it help if I told you I brought that three-piece Armani to wear to the cocktail hour?”
Rodney sat up straighter and said, “Drive on.”
As it turned out, Rodney need not have worried about how his classmates would receive him, because they had heard about his patent work, and they were impressed, had lots of questions about how the tech itself worked. A good chunk of his classmates also looked impressed when he introduced John, who looked delectable in one of his best suits. John turned up the charm, smiling, telling witty anecdotes, and keeping one hand in the small of Rodney’s back, a constant reassuring presence.
What Rodney wasn’t prepared for was one of his old professors walking past him and going straight to John, saying, “John Sheppard, came to see what you missed out on?”
“I was just the spare,” John said easily. “All the world needed was the heir, right?”
“Dave didn’t say much about you during his last reunion,” Professor Sumner said, and suddenly Rodney realized that John was one of those Sheppards, who’d gone to Harvard since time immemorial, and were the named partners of Sheppard & Sons out of Virginia.
“Dave’s very busy with his practice,” John said. “I’m sure you remember my partner, Rodney McKay.”
Sumner’s eyebrows went up. “Law partner?”
“We’re senior associates at the same firm,” John said, smiling.
“Mr. McKay.” Sumner looked Rodney up and down. “I see you’ve done quite well for yourself.”
Rodney suspected Sumner didn’t mean professionally, and he wasn’t sure if he ought to be flattered or insulted.
Rodney and John got through the evening surprisingly well. Kavanagh had barely acknowledged Rodney, holding court with some admirers who thought he was a brilliant educator. Dinner was delicious, and Rodney was glad to catch up with Tunney and Grodin and some of his other old cohorts from the IP section.
But afterwards, when Rodney couldn’t take it anymore, John loosened his tie and collar and dragged Rodney out to the car.
“Where are we going?” Rodney asked.
“Candle-pin bowling,” John said. “I know a place nearby. It’ll be fun.”
Rodney, as a physicist, was excellent at bowling. “How do you know that?”
“My older brother came to law school here,” John said. “I rebelled, went to Stanford after Cal Tech, and my father cut me off when I refused to join the family business. But I used to come up here all the time to visit my brother.”
“You don’t talk about your brother - ever.”
“We’re not close, but after Mom died, we were all we had.” John shrugged. “Now come on - they serve the best beer at this place.”
Rodney nodded, and they spent the rest of the evening drinking beer and trying to teach teenagers the finer points of bowling and getting made fun of for their not-townie accents and their fancy suits, and even if the rest of the reunion was a disaster, Rodney would remember this.