I carried it around for a week, picking at the seal absentmindedly before setting it aside. I’d been out of high school for years. What could they possibly want? A list of things I knew it wouldn’t be: a lost report card dooming me to repeat senior year, a demerit, a job offer, a reminder to order or pick up a yearbook, a letter of recognition.
Finally, I ripped it open: cardstock. An invitation?
I read it several times. “Fuck. Ten years?”
What the hell had I done with ten years? Nothing.
I’d seen what my classmates were up to online. Giant accomplishments: Married, divorced, married again, one kid, two kid, three dogs, a house, career, second career, a start-up, playing for a band in Los Angeles, a golfing god shaking hands with Tiger Woods, new cars, as in “made-this-year” cars.
Me? Part-time, dead-end jobs in retail and fast food, sold plasma for groceries, lived out of my car for six months, finally clawed my way into a real, full-time job with benefits, a studio apartment. Alone. One-night stands, two- and three-night stands, a relationship that lasted a month. A fish that died days later. A freelance gig I ghosted, a failed overdose, fumbling to buy weed from kids half my age, swearing I wasn’t a narc, hoping they weren’t part of a 21 Jump Street reboot, punching in data sheets for some corporation.
A reunion. I laughed. Why reunite with any of them? Connected on every social media platform, yet none of them talked to me.
I opened my laptop. Who could I call about this? I scrolled through my friends list. Settling on Adam Whitesmith, I called.
Adam had been my art class friend; we’d collaborated on several dick drawings that had landed us in detentions. Surely, he’d answer.
“Hello?” His voice was deeper.
“Hey, is this Adam Whitesmith?” I wondered if I sounded different.
“Yeah, who is this?” He sounded guarded but not unwelcoming.
“Hey, it’s Blake Jacobsen. From high school. I was just calling to—” Why was I calling?
“Blake? The B to my A?”
I laughed. “Yeah.”
“Shit. We got into so much trouble.” His laugh was a real belly-laugh. “How you been?”
I pulled at my gauge. “I’ve been figuring out the bullshit high school didn’t prepare us for. You?”
He sighed. “Prepared us for fuck-all. Doing graphic design, hustle bullshit.”
Pacing, I paused. Another success after high school? Maybe calling was a mistake.
“I’m glad you called. Did you see about the reunion?” He chuckled. “What a fucking joke. Student council tried to slap together a five-year: absolute shit. I went, because I wanted to see popular kids get shit-faced and fight each other.
“Didn’t happen. Nobody showed. Well, that’s not true. I pretended I just happened to be there. Ran into this chick, oh fuck, what’s her name? I don’t know. She asked if she could hang until her friends showed. We chitchat, and nobody shows. I mean nobody: not her friends, not the people who planned it, nothing. We sat, shooting the shit for three hours before we realized nobody was coming.” He coughed. “Hang on.”
He muted his end; I took strange pleasure in his story.
“Okay, sorry, choked laughing about that again.”
“What a shit show.” I fidgeted with my ear gauge.
He yawned. “Think you’ll go?”
“I don’t know. Are you?” I rubbed my neck; a small laugh spilled out. “I haven’t really talked to anybody. Not in person.”
“Yeah, I kinda chalked it up to being busy. I feel like I’m always fucking busy. Is that what adulthood is? A never-ending list of garbage you have to do?” He exhaled.
I laughed. “Yeah.”
A comfortable pause. Clacking of a keyboard. He mumbled something.
“Sorry, trying to shoot this guy an email real quick.” He muttered something else, and then the noise stopped. “So, how’s everything? You got a girlfriend or anything?”
I sighed. “No, nobody. How about you?”
“Nothing. Freelance life is kinda lonely.” He sniffed. “Sorry, allergies.”
“Eh, it is what it is. I’m sure you can agree not having to navigate dating in the world of swiping right or left is nice; such a stupid game.” He laughed, but annoyance was in his voice.
“I’m surprised you don’t have anyone. I feel like you were always in a relationship.”
He snorted. “Not a chance. Just hook ups; none of them met the parents.”
I nodded. “Oh, that makes sense.”
“That’s probably why we got along.” He laughed. “I remember the girls and guys who’d meet up with you. You never seemed too attached.”
I laughed. “I mean, there was one, but she was committed until we were in public. I wasn’t into being someone’s secret. She was the only one I had real…real anything for.”
He sighed. “That sucks. You still bi, too?”
I laughed. “Yeah, not a phase, didn’t become a lesbian.”
“Not a phase here, either.” He chuckled softly.
In high school, he was the only one I’d ever felt comfortable talking to about bisexuality. Some of my friends knew, but when school ended, so did our friendships. I wondered how or why or when Adam and I had stopped checking in. I swallowed.
“Hey, sorry I lost touch. Shit got weird after high school.” I cleared my throat.
“It’s cool. I figured you had shit going on. I’m glad you called.” A door opened and closed on his end of the call. “We should go to the reunion. It could be fun. I hear a lot of them fake how perfect their lives are online.”
“Cool. It’s this Saturday.”
We made plans and hung up. I stared at my unmade bed. What the fuck was I doing?
Saturday came too quickly. I stood outside of the high school, looking for Adam. Did he know what I looked like? He’d probably looked at my recent profile photos. The fleeting thought he might bail on me crossed my mind. I spun around, determined to face that humiliation alone in my car.
I walked into a wide chest in a nice dress vest. “Shit, sorry.”
I put my hands up to put distance between us, and he caught my hands.
“Blake!” Horror ran through my body. Someone recognized me, and I’d just run into them.
I looked up. “Adam.”
“I was going to hug you later, but now is fine.” He laughed, hugging me.
It’d been a while since I’d been hugged; it felt nice.
He gestured to the doors. “After you?”
I inhaled deeply. He ran a hand through his shoulder-length hair; his online photos hadn’t shown this. I straightened my dress and grabbed the door.
Jazz music radiated from the auditorium; electronic pop emanated from the cafeteria. We shared a glance.
We both turned to see Jesse Hellier, smiling, waving. Jesse: the biggest bitch. She’d flirted with Adam; he’d laugh at her and share stories with me about how stupid she was.
He looped his arm through mine, winked, and smiled at her. “Jesse. So good to see you. You remember Blake?”
Jesse’s smile fell, assessing our linked arms. She quickly had her shit-eating smile back in place. “Oh, my goodness, yes! Blake. Couldn’t forget you if I tried.”
I got the impression she had definitely forgotten me. “How long have you been together?”
Adam laughed. “Oh! When you’re together so long, you lose track.” He looked at me. “Do you remember?”
My smile matched his; I laughed the same pretend-laugh. “Of course. Eight years!”
“Oh! Right!” Another fake laugh.
Jesse’s eyes glazed over. “Mmhm, that’s so great.” She waved beyond us. “Emma! I know you’re not going to sneak in here without saying hello.” She looked back at us. “So great to see you.”
She hurried away.
“She’s a coke fiend now. She went to jail; she’s such a ditz, got caught with some in her carry-on at TSA.” Adam said this quietly outside the cafeteria: double doors propped open, allowing both the heat of many bodies, light show, and music to spill into the hall mixing with the jazz music from the auditorium’s propped open doors. The amusement in his voice didn’t get lost in all the sound. He smiled, wiggling his eyebrows. “Coke fiend, can you imagine?”
I wondered what other secrets he had; Jesse had failed to mention that online. I wondered if her post about “taking a social media break for six months” had been jail or rehab. I pictured running into her later, in the bathroom, doing a line.
Everyone was talking over the music in the cafeteria, animated in the way only performance enhancers accomplish. I wondered if it was spiked punch or if they’d brought their own. Or if they’d pre-gamed in the parking lot.
Adam nudged me, nodding at a group of former football players. “Two of them are on the gay dating app I use to hook up with guys; both have messaged me begging me to keep their secret. The other three are all fucking the same woman, but they don’t know it.”
I frowned and shouted close to his ear. “How do you know this?”
He laughed. “The woman is my upstairs neighbor.”
I studied them: the golfing prodigy, the drummer from LA, the third had just bought a second new car, the fourth had two kids and a dog, and the fifth had some kind of tech start-up company. Adam had just dismantled those personas: none as cool as their online lives suggested. And they’d all gotten fat, or at least they no longer had their footballing, teenage bodies.
My eyes landed on her. She lit up.
I grabbed Adam’s arm. “Fuck. We should go right now.”
His eyes scanned the room, but he realized too late.
I cringed and turned around.
“Shiloh. Hey.” I fumbled with the gauge in my ear. “How are you?”
“I’m okay. I was hoping I’d run into you. Could we talk talk for a minute?” She smiled. “Hi, Adam.”
Adam smiled the same fake one he’d given Jesse; his eyes flitted to me, waiting for a cue to extract me. He raised an eyebrow.
I leaned into him, hoping the music was loud enough she wouldn’t hear. “Five minutes. If it’s less than five, even better.”
Pulling away, he spoke over the music. “Drinks! Shiloh, you want anything?”
Her eyes flickered from me to Adam. I could see the question forming. “Water, please.”
Adam gave a set of finger guns and disappeared into the crowd.
Once he was gone, she turned to me. My smile was tight, but I hoped it wasn’t rude. “Can we go somewhere quieter?”
I glanced in the direction Adam had gone; I sighed. “Sure.”
Others milled about the hallway, talking somewhat more quietly. She picked at her suit jacket buttons. She looked as stunning as I remembered, if not better than when we were teenagers. She smiled. Her eyes kept darting from my face to the rest of me.
“What’s up?” I tilted my head.
“I wanted to say.” She took a deep breath.
“Blake? Shit, how are you?” We both turned. A guy I didn’t recognize with a weird smirk.
“I’m great. How are you?” I grabbed Shiloh’s hand, using Adam’s trick from earlier. “You remember Shiloh, right?”
He scowled. “Nice seeing you.”
After he left, I let go of her. “Sorry. You were saying?”
Shiloh’s face was red. “I don’t know.”
I laughed. “I think you do. My guess is you’re either here with your husband and you wanted to apologize for being an asshole, or you’re trying to hook up with me. Is that it?”
She frowned. “Fuck, you’re horrible.”
“Hey, there you are. Drinks all around!” Adam had materialized.
She waved away the water and turned to leave.
“Shiloh, wait. I’m sorry. That was—you’re right.” I sighed and mouthed ‘five more minutes’ to Adam. “Let’s go outside?”
Her eyes narrowed; her open, excited nature was now guarded distrust.
I bit my lip. “I’m sorry. Start over?”
She nodded. “I guess I have a question.”
I followed her outside where we sat side by side on a bench.
I sipped my drink: spiked punch.
She stared forward. “Why were you such an asshole after agreeing to talk to me? You could’ve said no.”
I ran my hand through my hair. “I saw the way you lit up, and I didn’t want to fuck you tonight.”
She frowned. “Why would you think that when you’re here with Adam?”
“As friends.” I swirled the contents of my cup around.
“Oh.” She messed with her buttons again. “Why’d you grab my hand and introduce me to Glen like that?”
“Who? Oh. Glen? Shit.” My hand covered my face. “I’m sorry. I panicked. I swear I didn’t recognize him.”
Glen: the boyfriend she’d chosen over me. I drank most of my drink; she watched.
“You looked genuinely confused when he spoke to you. I guess I’ll believe you.”
I nodded. “I swear. I’m not that horrible.”
“Right.” She nodded, but her eyes were still cutting into me.
“So.” I gripped the cup. “Before I was a complete jackass, you wanted to say something.”
She inhaled. “I don’t know if I want to say that anymore. I thought—I don’t know.” She shook her head. “I’d had this image of you in my head.” She cleared her throat. “I thought you’d still be that way.”
“I don’t talk to people anymore. I’m probably out of practice.” I finished my drink. “I’m sorry if I’m disappointing you.”
I licked my lips. “I really am sorry for being horrible. How have you been?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. It’s been a weird decade. We’re going to be thirty soon. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything.”
I laughed. I wondered if she’d slept in her car for six months or sold plasma for food. I studied her face. Even in the dim light, she looked tired. The excitement I’d registered when our eyes met in the cafeteria had vanished. My shoulders fell; the advice of “don’t meet your heroes” danced across my thoughts. I shook it away. I wasn’t a hero, and I definitely wasn’t her hero.
“You were so okay with being you.” She looked up. The sudden eye contact startled us both. “And I wasn’t.”
I looked away. “High school’s hard.”
She exhaled heavily; her lips pursed. Her eyes zeroed in on me again. I tried to will whatever she was looking for forward so she could find it easily or to stop her from finding whatever it was; I wasn’t sure which.
“Are you seeing anyone?”
I opened my eyes. “No. You?”
“No.” Her answer came out strangled.
I’d fantasized about this moment for a few years after high school. Meeting later, both available, ready for whatever this could be. And yet, I knew what should come out of my mouth next, but I couldn’t find the words.
Neither of us breathed.
I wondered what Adam knew about her; was she a heroin addict? What did she hide from the internet? When would Adam appear with what she wasn’t sharing?
“Do you still live here?” Her voice had returned.
“Yeah.” I took a breath. “You?”
She shook her head. “No. Nashville, but I visit often. Would you want to get dinner some time?”
The door squeaked: Adam.
“Hey, are you ready? We’ve got reservations.” He smiled and looked from me to Shiloh.
This time, it wasn’t a fake smile, and this wasn’t some bit. We really had dinner plans.
I smiled. “Yeah. Just a second.”
He nodded. “Nice seeing you, Shiloh.”
“Yeah, good to see you.” Shiloh smiled. She watched him head to our cars. “Are you sure you’re just friends?”
I laughed. “Yeah. So, Nashville?”
“Yeah. I work for TV; it’s not as cool as it sounds.” She waved it away. “But you want to get dinner?”
I shrugged. “Sure.”
She gestured to Adam’s silhouette. “I don’t mean as friends.”
She studied me. “And just so you don’t have to worry, I’m out.”
My eyebrows lifted. “Oh.”
She smiled. “Is your number the same?”
“Yes.” I shut my eyes, exhaling. “Yours?”
“Yeah.” She laughed. “You didn’t delete my number?”
I opened my eyes. “Shiloh, I loved you.”
“I thought if you needed me, you’d call.” I shook my head. “Out loud, it sounds stupid.”
She stood. “Adam’s waiting. I’ll be in town until Monday if you want to hang.”
I brushed the back of my dress. “Yeah.”
She smiled. “Walk you to your car?”
I let out a small gasp; that never would’ve happened before. “Sure.”
Our heels clicked and clacked across pavement. We made it to my car too fast.
“Have fun. I’ll call tomorrow.” She gave my hand a light squeeze.
I watched until she was in her car, headlights on. “What?”
Adam leaned against his car. “Damn.”
“Was that the play?” He smiled. “Did you know she’d be here?”
“No. I swear.” I held up my hands.
Adam laughed. “You were in love, right?”
I ran my hand across my forehead. “I accidentally reminded her; she still wants to get dinner. I don’t know what’s happening.”
He clapped me on the shoulder. “Good job.”
“What dirt do you have?”
He shook his head. “Nothing. Dated a guy; he was on pills; she left for college in New York? Now she’s executive producer in Nashville.”
“Fuck. I haven’t done anything. She’s not going to be interested.”
Adam squeezed my shoulder. “You might not talk to anyone, but that doesn’t mean people don’t know things.”
Goosebumps; I shivered. “What do you mean?”
“I know things about you.” He shrugged. “It’s okay. It’s been a shit decade anyway. Let’s go eat.”