Her mind, Jamie understood, was not her strongest feature. She knew that sunlight traveled at around 186,000 miles per second, but how she knew it or where she heard it, she couldn’t remember. When she wanted to feel smart, or to appear that way, she would tell people that it takes eight minutes and eighteen seconds for the light of the sun to reach the Earth’s surface. Someone could turn off the sun, she would say, and we wouldn’t know about it for over eight minutes.
“Isn’t that something?” she would ask. “Isn’t that something?”
“Good God, Jamie, would you stop saying that,” her husband would say. “You sound retarded. Nobody can turn off the sun.”
Jamie spun gravel on Sand Hill Road leaving their trailer later that night. She wouldn’t go far, she knew. But she was tired of being called a retard by Sam. She drove to the Honey-Do-Stop and bought a Diet Coke and a Snickers before driving the strip. Past Ballard Mansion. The old 7-Up bottling plant. She was about to go home when she saw the crowd gathered at the Jubil. A good crowd for a Thursday.
She walked into the bar and headed for the pool tables in the back. Stonie Marshall pinched her as she walked past and she absently slapped his hand. Shooting 8-ball was a face she hadn’t seen in years and hadn’t expected to ever see again.
“Hi, handsome,” she said, interrupting a shot. “Buy me a drink?”
“Jamie,” the man said. “Jamie Fisher. I didn’t expect to see you here. I heard you were settled down out in Prospect.”
“Just because I’m settled down doesn’t mean I can’t have a beer with an old friend, does it?”
“I guess not.”
He turned to his brother and handed him his cue.
“You go on,” he said. “Jamie and I have some catching up to do.”
They walked together to the corner and he motioned for a round to be brought to the table.
“Why didn’t we ever get together?” Jamie asked after an hour or so of catching up.
“I tried, Jamie, many times. You remember out at the Tucker Dam spillway after the Senior bonfire. We were drunk on Mad Dog or Boone’s Farm, I don’t know which. You let me unhook your bra, but then as I worked my way around to the front, you put your hands on top of mine and stopped me. We were lying there face-to-face on a sleeping bag in the bed of Shane’s big red pick-up and you squeezed my hands and looked me in the eyes. You told me to kiss you. And for a second it seemed odd to me that I had my hand in your shirt but had never kissed you. Your breath tasted like cigarettes.”
“Then what happened?”
“You rolled over so your back was to my chest. You held on tight to my arms around you and I knew that was as far as we’d ever go. And then you asked me something.”
“You said, ‘Tell me something I don’t know.'”
“What did you tell me?”
“I told you all about the sun. How hot it was. How fast its light traveled to the Earth. Everything I could think of. But then you were asleep and, then, so was I.”
“You thought I was a slut, didn’t you?”
“I knew you were more experienced than I was. I was hoping you could teach me a thing or two.”
“Those other boys. Spreading my legs was all I had to offer them and it’s all they wanted. But I didn’t have to control you that way. You didn’t know it, but not sleeping with you was my gift to you on your way out of town.”
“But now I’m back in town.”
“Yes you are. And I’m married to Sam and he’s probably out looking for me already, the bastard. I should get going.”
“So it never is going to happen, is it?”
“I don’t think so. And I guess I won’t be coming back to the Jubil again anytime soon.”
“Another gift for me?”
“Yes,” she said. “Just think of this as a gift. But I do want you to kiss me one last time.”
Jamie leaned forward and for a moment the two recaptured seventeen.
“And now,” she said. “I want you to tell me something I don’t know. Something I can say at parties and sound smarter than I am. Something that I can say to piss Sam off every chance I get.”
He thought about it for a while, then smiled.
“The sun,” he said, “is immensely hot. At its core it ranges around 27,000,000 degrees, but gets cooler as it approaches its surface. There it’s a mere 10,000 degrees.”
“Is that it?” Jamie asked.
“No, not quite,” he said. “The weird thing about the sun is that the temperature drops as you leave the surface and into space as you might expect. But then as you go even farther from the sun it starts to heat up again and gets hotter–several million degrees hotter. So there’s this ring around the sun–not of fire–but of cool. Scientists can’t fully explain it, but without it the sun wouldn’t work quite right and we wouldn’t be here at all.”
“That’ll do,” Jamie said as she stood up and slung her purse over her shoulder. “Thanks for the drinks.”
As she walked to the door she thought about Sam and how mad he was going to be. She thought about what she wanted to do with her long-lost friend. She thought about the sun and the ring of cold.
As she put her hand on the knob, and didn’t look back, she chuckled.
“Isn’t that something?” she said. “Isn’t that something?”
Jason Stout lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and five children. His works have appeared in: Every Day Fiction; Flashquake (Editor’s Pick); Shine!; and Pequin. He can be contacted through his website: http://jasonstout.jimdo.com.
This story was sponsored by Flash Fiction Chronicles. Flash Fiction Chronicles is the best site online to discuss flash fiction with top authors in the field.