Tick. Tock. With every cigarette puff he drew, Victor was reminded of the passing of time by the mechanical ticking of his watch as his wrist got sufficiently close to his ear for the sound to be audible. He could have gone without these steady reminders; it was about time he invested in a smart watch instead. Analog was being phased out for a reason.
Ten seconds had passed since the cigarette had been lit. How easily seconds turned into minutes, he thought. Minutes just as easily turned into hours, and hours into days, weeks, years. Just like that, ten years had passed – yet it felt like the prom was yesterday.
From the back of the parking lot, the school looked exactly the same. It stood silently in the night, its windows mostly dark across the board. The warm light filtering through the gym entrance was the only sign of life. Behind these doors, a wild party surely raged on. A bunch of Peter Pans who refused to age were mingling and reminiscing. Had things been different, his heart might have been in it, but it wasn’t. His eyes drifted towards the forest. That’s where his last high school memory was, frozen in time.
“Still smoking after all these years?”
While the voice startled him at first, fear quickly gave way to excitement once he realized to whom it belonged. There she was, leaning against the side of his car, the same mysterious smile on her face. Her raven hair flowed in the evening wind, just like it did that night. All of a sudden, his heart was pumping blood again, and life was worth living. She was the only reason he had come.
“Hey Tegan,” he uttered. “Long time no see.”
In a way only an old lover could, Tegan approached Victor and pulled the cigarette straight out of his mouth, throwing it on the ground.
“Enough with the bad boy image,” she whispered to him. “We’re not in high school anymore.”
“Are we not?” replied Victor, a hint of sadness in the depths of his pupils. “Sometimes it feels like we never left.”
Knowing very well what he was referring to, her eyes also gravitated towards the dark forest.
“We did leave,” she assured him. “We moved on. A reunion doesn’t change anything. The past stays in the past.”
Understanding passed between them. They hadn’t spoken since graduation, but their chemistry was such that a stranger could not have guessed. Victor felt magnetically pulled towards her, the burning desire from his teenage years springing back into his body with a vengeance. He slowly reached forward, ready to reach for her lips.
“Honey, did you bring my wallet?”
A tall athletic man joined their ranks and put his arm around Tegan, prompting Victor to quickly withdraw.
“Hey, Vic!” he exclaimed, a lot more enthusiastic to see Victor than Victor was to see him. “You haven’t aged at all, I see.”
“Hey Leo,” replied Victor. “Neither have you.”
The love triangle from their youth had been reborn. While Tegan and Victor had experienced a brief but passionate romance in sophomore year, everything changed when Leo came along. The former lovers became “just friends” in junior year, and Leo took over as Tegan’s high school sweetheart. Naturally, there was bound to be animosity between them, as in all great love triangles. Nonetheless, they remained partners in crime, for Leo was there that night too and the three youngsters were therefore bound together forever. He also fleetingly stared at the forest, and a shadow seemed to cross his face before he jumped back to being his usual cheerful self.
“We should go in,” asserted Leo. “Knowing these guys, the party must already be going strong.”
“You’re right,” agreed Victor. “Let’s make some good memories in this place for once.”
The trio was barely within reach of the golden entrance light when two drunken women got out, bumping into them and almost knocking them over. Victor chuckled. Clearly, Melanie and Sophie were still the party girls they were back then.
“OH – MY – GOD,” yelled Sophie, in disbelief. “If it isn’t THE love triangle everyone was waiting to see. The whole class was wondering if you would show up.”
“Looks like we did,” said Tegan, uncomfortable. “It’s not like you just made things awkward at all or anything.”
“Forgive her,” interjected Melanie, laughing hysterically. “Fifi just had a little too much of that poison. You should totally come with us!”
“Where?” asked Leo. “Aren’t you going back in? Last time I heard, the party was in the gym.”
“The party is wherever we go,” said Sophie, ecstatic. “And we’re going to dig up the time capsule in the woods.”
The trio’s blood ran cold. They had come here to escape, yet the very thing they were running from was pulling them right back to where they were.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” insisted Victor. “It’s dark now. They say there might be wolves in the forest.”
“Don’t be such a downer,” said Melanie. “I’m not waiting another ten years to unearth my purple atomic lipstick again.”
Both girls headed towards their car.
“We should follow them,” said Tegan.
“No way,” muttered Leo, trying not to attract any unwanted attention. “I didn’t come here to relive this.”
“Tegan is right,” exclaimed Victor. “We need to make sure they don’t dig up the wrong time capsule, if you see what I mean.”
The trio caught up with the girls just as they were pulling a shovel out of their trunk. All five of them headed into the dark forest, a couple of flashlights in hand.
“It should be right here!” drunkenly yelled Sophie.
After about five minutes of walking along the beaten tracks, Sophie spotted a tree with a “Class of 2010” carved into the bark. They started digging right in front of it as Leo, Tegan and Victor held their breath. The time capsule had been buried at quite a shallow depth. Melanie quickly pulled the wooden chest of the ditch and feverishly started to parse through its contents.
“Look at that!” she exclaimed. “It’s Linda Blake’s lipgloss. And is this…”
The sight of the object made the trio’s hearts collectively skip a beat. Melanie had just pulled out a silver bowtie from a corner of the chest.
“It’s Tyler Lowe’s bowtie!” she said. “Whatever happened to Tyler? I never heard of him again after prom night. Wasn’t he super tight with you guys? Didn’t he complete your square or something?”
“Yes,” said Tegan bitterly. “He did.”
“Then what happened to him.”
“We lost touch,” bluntly declared Leo before anyone else could answer. “Stuff happens. You can’t keep track of your high school friends your whole life.”
“Don’t worry Mel,” said Sophie, on the verge of passing out. “I’m never going to lose touch with you. NEVAHHH.”
“Aw, thanks Fifi! And is that… my purple atomic lipstick!”
Just as she pulled the item out, the inevitable happened: Sophie barfed all over the time capsule.
“Fifi! Look at what you did to my lipstick. I can’t use it again now.”
“It’s been buried for ten years,” pointed out Tegan. “Maybe it’s for the best.”
“You should bring her back and help her clean up,” insisted Victor. “Take care of her, we’ll close up the hole.
“Thank you so much you guys,” Melanie said as she shook off the vomit from her lipstick and helped Sophie to her feet. “You’ll have such good karma after this.”
Both girls vanished down the beaten tracks towards the school.
“I doubt it,” said Tegan somberly. “We can never have good karma again.”
Leo picked up the shovel and patched the hole in no time.
“Alright, let’s go. No time to waste.”
“Wait,” said Tegan, just as Leo was starting to walk back. “Don’t you want to make sure it’s still here?”
“Hell no!” he screamed. “How could you say that?”
“I do,” said Victor.
He grabbed the shovel from Leo’s hands and headed for the opposite side of the tree, then started digging. It didn’t take long. Beneath the earth, bones started to appear. Soon, the whole skeleton was visible down the shallow grave, lying in the exact same position they left it in back when it had skin. Even without flesh, they could have recognized their friend's body amongst a thousand. Tegan started to sob uncontrollably.
“I’m so sorry Tyler,” she whispered through her tears. “So sorry.”
“Saying sorry won’t do much now, will it?” said Leo aggressively as he took the shovel back and patched the soil over the skeleton. “Let’s go.”
He walked down the beaten tracks towards school, leaving Victor and Tegan behind. There it was. The prom night secret they had tried to escape. Except they would never escape it. Leo could try to pretend like it never happened. Tegan and Victor couldn’t. Their love might be no more, but their guilt was.
“Will we ever be able to live again?” she asked, her voice still shaky.
“I guess we’ll find out in ten years,” he answered.
“I don’t want to come back in ten years. I don’t want to come back ever again.”
“Don’t be silly.”
The wooden chest’s handle was still protruding from the ground. He pulled it out with all his strength and opened it again as Tegan stood confused behind him, then reached into his pocket for a cigarette.
“Really?” she said, outraged. “You’re thinking of smoking now?”
He tossed the cigarette into the chest, then buried it again.
“I’m giving us a reason to come back. Don’t you want to know if thirty-eight-year-old me still smokes?”
Tegan’s mouth twisted into a faint smile. Victor got closer to her, even closer than he had been before their almost-kiss.
“Besides, don’t we owe it to him?” he asked. “It’s rude to visit your friend’s grave less than once every ten years.”
The young woman wiped her tears. Together, they followed the light of the gym doors in the distance, leaving the ghosts of their past behind and walking towards the ghosts of their future.