Eight years I'd known Joey. We'd been roommates all through college, even stayed in touch afterward. Hell, I'd been considering inviting the guy to my wedding when I saw it in the obituaries last week: “Joseph Oglethorpe Grant, 1987-2011.” Cause of death was unlisted, the only information was a brief description of Joey's relations and hobbies (guy loved collecting pogs), and the date and time of the funeral. I canceled my appointments, asked Janice to record the match for me, and rushed out to be there in the only way I could for my closed-casket compadre.
Now I was looking at right at his grizzly mug.
“Hey, Terry,” he said before taking a bite out of his pizza. Grease rolled down his chin.
The call had come in this morning while I was in the shower. When I listened to the message I almost had to take another bath to clean myself up again: “I'm not dead. Meet me tonight at Guido's Pizzeria. Tell no one.” That was all it said, and I don't mind admitting that it scared the bejeezus out of me. I played the message back a few times, making sure I'd heard right. Yeah, I had, it was Joey.
“So, how's things?” Joey asked through a mouth full of cheese and pepperoni.
“Not too bad,” I answered, trying to sound as normal as possible. “Yourself?”
Joey chewed his food pensively for a moment. He sighed, wiped the grease from his face, and said, “I've been better.”
I nodded. A guy, reported dead, eating pizza. Circumstances could be better.
“How's that girl of yours, Janice?” he asked, resuming his eating.
Needless to say, Janice wasn't happy about me suddenly running out again. She gave me the third degree, and started complaining that my canceling plans on the fly was not good for a healthy relationship. I told her it was a family emergency, that my brother was in a jam and needed my help, that it was a male sibling thing, and that I'd make it up to her. She sighed, smiled, and let me off the hook. Janice is an angel. I hate lying, especially to angels, but when a guy who was supposed to be dead calls you and tells you not to tell anyone about your meet-up, you do it. Well-reasoned? No. Understandable? Yes.
“She's all right,” I answered. “How's...your mother?”
“Same crazy old hag as always,” Joey replied, finishing his last bite of pizza. He clumsily wiped his face one last time with the paper napkin, then balled it up and tossed it at the trash can. He missed, horribly. “Damn,” he muttered, shaking his head. “I never was too good at that.”
“Joey,” I interjected. I opened my mouth to ask the question, but no words came out.
I looked at Joey, who stared at me expectantly. It was the first time I'd really looked at him since meeting him in the place. He was the same old Joey I'd roomed with, but he was also different. I don't know what it was. Something about him. He looked paler, older than he used to be. Not that he'd ever taken care of himself, but he looked even worse than he had back in the day. Part of me held back, not quite wanting to ask for fear of what he was going to say, but the look in his eyes told me I should. Ask me, they said, ask me the question.
“What's the deal, man?” I exploded. “What's with me reading about...that in the paper last week, and now me seeing you here now? What gives?”
Joey sighed and looked down, nodding his head. “Yeah, I figured we'd get to that eventually,” he mumbled. Then, looking back up at me: “Terry...we're no strangers to love.”
“You know the rules, and so do I.”
“You faked your own death just so you could finally 'Rick Roll' me?”
The music on the jukebox kicked in, as Rick Astley's voice filled the diner. I whipped around as all of the patrons jumped up, dancing and joining in the chorus: “Never gonna' give you up, never gonna' let you down...” I turned back to see Joey, grinning smugly at me. I sighed and nodded, a smile creeping its way up my own face. After eight years, he'd finally gotten me back.