Adam had warned me the Welcome to Woodard event wasn't going to be fancy, and unfortunately, he was right. They hadn't done much to transform the gymnasium of the high school—public school budgets, I supposed. The bleachers were pushed to the wall like unclimbable ladders, and they'd arranged a mix of low-and high-top tables throughout the gym. Near the doors, a microphone and two bulky speakers had been set up for remarks. No mood music, unless you counted the squeak of the men's shoes on the waxy floor. The local community newspaper I'd worked for back in Philly had Christmas parties swankier than this, and those had been in the basement of a
chicken wings place.
It was as one might expect—lots of hellos and nice-to-meet-yous and handshakes and forgetting people's names as soon as they said them. Five hundred and fifty and this is my wife, Theresas. There were jokes about sports teams—"Coming from Philly, you know you can't be an Eagles fan anymore, right?" After a while I felt like my smile needed to be propped up by toothpicks. Much of the conversations were shoptalk about the school, the classes, the kids, and I drowned it out until I could finally excuse myself, feigning thirst.
The woman at the drink table appeared to be a parent volunteer, dressed as she was in a Woodard High T-shirt and khaki pants. Her shoulder-length hair curled with humidity, and her facial features naturally arced downward so that even when she threw a smile my way, it came off as defeated.
"You're Adam Wallace's wife, right?" she asked as I took a flat-looking Coke. There was no alcohol. "We're so excited to have him here."
I got a little thrill noting the clout Adam's name brought here.
"That's me," I said brightly. "Theresa Pressley." I held out a hand.
"Oh wow, it's so nice to meet you. I'm Georgeann. Georgeann Wilkins." She handed me a thin white cocktail napkin. "Do you need anything else?" We both glanced at the table—there wasn't anything else—and the woman let out an embarrassed chuckle. "Well, I guess if you need any help with anything, I've been here forever."
After all the polite small talk at Adam's side, Georgeann's awkwardness made it easier to relax. "Oh you just must know everyone then," I teased.
"I don't know about that," she said, but my flattery had pleased her. Her cheeks blotched red. "I mean, not everyone." Above us a section of basketball hoop netting had wrapped around itself, and I kept glancing up at it, wishing I was tall enough to fix it.
Georgeann busied herself rearranging soda cups. "Some of the folks here are more up on that stuff. I just volunteer where I can, help out. My son's on the swim team, so I go to the meets..." She trailed off, her eyes focused behind me.
I turned. She was staring at my neighbor, the blonde woman who lived across the street. The woman stuck out from the crowd in a chic plaid dress with a pretty fall-colored, striped scarf. Like she was going to a wedding shower instead of a meet and greet in a dumpy gymnasium.
"Who's that?" I asked.
Georgeann started waving in her direction. "Hi, Kendra!" she called, but the woman didn't notice her. Georgeann dropped her arm. "Well, that's your neighbor, Kendra McCaul. You're on Ivy Woods, right?"
"Their Halloween block party is famous, you know," Georgeann added.
"Is it?" I asked absentmindedly, as Kendra crossed the room in heels in a way that would've made my aunt Ruth—who could cover forty New York City blocks in stilettos—proud.
"Oh yeah. Hundreds of kids come by every year."
Kendra was greeting another woman, pressing her hands in hers,
air-kiss at the cheek.
"Hundreds?" I asked, facing Georgeann again. "Our daughter loves Halloween. That might make the move less painful for her." Adam would like it, too—he'd grown up in a big family and loved reunions and parties and socializing. Halloween was one of those holidays I could take or leave, but this year it sounded like I would learn to love it. Which was fine. If it was tradition, we'd be going all in as good new neighbors.