Kat Bailey crumpled the invitation in her hand. She put her head in her arms and reflected on everything that had happened in the last eleven years.
She had never been the girl who’s name everyone knew. At the beginning of junior year, she had started dating Jordan Bailey, the bad boy from the nearby state college. A few months later, Kat was pregnant. She had her daughter, Kenzie Bailey, when she was seventeen.
Kat started skipping school to take care of Kenzie and work at a local retailer. She graduated from high school and immediately moved into an apartment with Jordan, who was halfway through college, and Kenzie, who was now a year old. Kat had struggled with online college, juggling two jobs and Kenzie.
After Jordan graduated college, they had gotten married and moved to another state so Jordan could accept a job offer as a marketing director. Kat had managed to get an undergraduate degree in law, and started working as a secretary for a small law firm.
Then, when Kenzie was five, she had had another baby, a boy named Michael. Jordan had insisted on moving again, so he could get another promotion. They actually started doing pretty well. Kenzie was a model child, earning straight-A’s and qualifying for all of the elementary school honor’s programs. Michael was very high-energy, and loved to run around for hours in the tiny backyard of their flat. Jordan was making enough money for them to actually be able to pay the bills and treat themselves once in a while.
Then, three years ago, everything crashed and burned. Jordan started working more, saying he had to go to the office late at night. At first, Kat had thought nothing of it, a mere disadvantage to climbing the executive ladder. Kenzie was the one who first suggested that he might be cheating. She was a very wise and observant child, for eight. She had the calmness and demeanor of someone ten times her age.
After a while, Kat began to see what Kenzie meant. So one night, she followed Jordan to see what he was up to, and had regretted it ever since. Kat had followed him into a rich neighborhood, with houses three times the size of their flat. He had pulled into a long, winding driveway and was instantly greeted by a young, eighteen year old girl. Blonde, curvy, and beautiful.
Kat had leapt out of her car and started chewing Jordan out. She didn’t let him or the girl get a word in otherwise until she burst into tears and ran back to the car, driving home and collapsing in bed. Jordan hadn’t come home for three days before he had the audacity to use his key and enter the house, uninvited. He didn’t say anything just slapped divorce papers over the file Kat was reviewing.
The divorce had been rather easy, Kat got main custody of Kenzie and Michael, while Jordan got visitation rights and child support. Of course, that was two years ago. The law firm that Kat had worked at for six years shut down, and she had trouble finding another job. She had packed up the kids and moved back to her hometown, finally finding another secretarial job. Jordan had moved in with Morgan, the blonde beauty, and they had had Stella, who was now a year old. The three of them were living in luxury while Kat was having trouble paying the bills on their small unit.
The lock on the front door clicked, and snapped Kat out of her memories. She hid the wrinkled invitation underneath a pile of work files as Kenzie, now eleven, and Michael, now six, walked into the kitchen.
“How was your trip to see Dad?” Kat asked, trying to hide her distressed look and putting on a smile for her kids.
“It was nice,” Kenzie replied, rolling her suitcase into the living room and coming back to sit at the table with me. “Dad took us to the beach. And Stella’s getting really big.”
Kat could tell that it wasn’t actually that nice. Kenzie was good at painting things in a good light, making them seem better than they actually were. Although she never said it, Kat knew that Kenzie hated her dad as much as she did. Kenzie was always like this when she got back from visiting her dad.
She would take the kids to the airport and watch them board the plane, giving Kenzie the emergency cell phone just in case, and to call when they landed. They spent a few days with their dad, and he dropped them off at the airport on their way back. At first, Kat wasn’t sure about them being unaccompanied in the airport, and after Michael got hurt by a luggage car, she braced herself and called Morgan to ask if she could accompany them in the future.
“That’s good,” Kat said, keeping all of her thoughts to herself. “Are you guys hungry?”
“No,” Michael yawned, already falling asleep on the sofa.
“Yes, please,” Kenzie sighed, rubbing her eyes and resting her chin in her palms.
Kat put Michael to bed and came back out to prepare a sandwich for Kenzie, who was sitting at the kitchen table doing homework.
“Why don’t you make some space,” Kat told Kenzie, finishing the sandwich and grabbing a glass for orange juice.
“Okay,” Kenzie replied. Kat heard her chair scraping against the tile, and the rustle of papers.
Kat whipped around. Kenzie was holding the squashed invitation in her hand.
“Nothing for you to worry about,” Kat snatched it out of her hands and tucked it in her back pocket.
“Here,” she handed Kenzie her sandwich and juice. “Eat,”
“That was an invitation for your ten year high school reunion,” Kenzie said, neglecting both her sandwich and her homework. “Why don’t you want to go?”
Kat sighed and stared out the dark window.
“I didn’t really care for my high school years much,”
“But this is a chance to sort of start over,” Kenzie argued. “You’ve changed since high school, and this is a way you can show your classmates just how much.”
“I don’t know,” Kat groaned.
“Please,” Kenzie pleaded. “For me.”
Three weeks later, Kat stood in front of her bedroom door, staring at herself in the full-length mirror on the back. Kenzie stood behind her, fluffing the back of the dark pink cocktail dress.
“I’m not so sure about this,” Kat said, checking her makeup nervously. “Maybe I shouldn’t go.”
“Yes! You should!” Kenzie insisted. “If you don’t like it, you can come straight home. Just give it fifteen minutes.”
Kat sighed and adjusted the straps on her sling-backs. She walked to the front door and put her purse strap over her shoulder. Kenzie handed her the invitation, which she had flattened out, and pulled the door open for her mom.
“Alright,” Kat kissed Kenzie’s forehead. “There’s pasta in the fridge. Make sure Michael brushes his teeth before you put him to bed.”
“Okay,” Kenzie smiled.
Kat walked out to her car, looking back at Kenzie, who was standing on the doorstep.
“Goodbye! Have Fun!” Kenzie shouted after Kat, as she backed out of the driveway.
It was a warm summer night, but Kat had goosebumps on her arms as she parked her car in the high school parking lot and walked up to the open gymnasium doors.
She handed her invitation to one of the two teenagers, probably students, standing at the door.
“Katrina Goodman?” the boy asked.
“Yes, that’s correct.” Kat replied. After the divorce, she had changed her last name back to her maiden name.
“Here you go,” the boy handed her invitation back and checked her name off of a list. “Have fun!”
Kat sighed and stepped inside. The gym was covered in crepe paper and balloons, with a small stage set up in one corner. Long tables lined against the walls, full of food and drinks, while round, white tables spread out across the rest of the open space.
“Kat?” A voice behind her called.
A tall, thin woman with reddish hair sat at one of the tables, staring up at her.
“Mandy!” Kat exclaimed, draping her coat over a nearby chair.
Kat only had one close friend in high school, Mandy. She had been on the basketball team, and had befriended Kat after she saw her sitting at one of the games doing homework. They still kept in touch, especially after the divorce, but hadn’t seen each other in-person in years.
“How are you doing?” Mandy asked.
“Good! Good! How’s Katie?” Kat said.
Katie was Mandy’s three year old daughter, whom she had named partially after Kat.
“She’s doing well, very hyper. How are Kenzie and Michael?”
“They’re doing fine, still trying to grasp the whole situation. “
“I would say so,” Mandy put a shocked hand on her chest and the other on Kat’s shoulder. “Those poor kids.”
“Kenzie’s not really fond of visiting Jordan, although she does like taking care of Stella.”
“Aww, that’s nice,” Mandy smiled.
Kat sat down next to Mandy, completely forgetting about the fifteen minutes. Kenzie would be proud. Eventually, Mandy stood up and said,
“I’ve got to go soon, it’s a three hour drive back and I paid my thirteen year old neighbor fifty dollars to babysit until eleven o’clock.”
“Oh,” Kat replied, a bit disappointed. “Well, it was really nice seeing you again!”
“You too!” Mandy gave Kat a hug. “We should do this again sometime.”
Kat smiled and waved as Mandy walked out of the gymnasium doors and to her car, until she vanished out of sight. Kat sighed and looked around, she picked up a little cookie off of her plate and nibbled on it gently.
Ten minutes passed. Then twenty. A few people came up to say hi to her and make small conversation.
Sophie from book club, Alison from the swim team, Leigh from the debate team, Josie from the drama club, Keith from the chess club, Andre from the track team.
All people she had never really spoken to before. Kat smiled, talked, and obliged to each, but felt her shyness creeping back up, her voice getting smaller and smaller with each sentence.
Kat started making her way to the door, stopping for some punch, to talk, and to pull her car keys out of her purse.
Kat looked up from the jumbled contents of her purse and whipped around. Cory Ballard, one of the most popular kids back in high school, was leaning against the wall.
“It is Kat, right?” he asked.
Kat’s face was frozen.
“Uh...yes,” she stuttered. Why was one of the former most popular kids standing alone?
“Cool. So, how have you been?”
“Uh, good, I guess,” Kat replied, fingering her purse strap.
“You were the girl who had a baby junior year, right?”
“Yeah, Kenzie,” Kat pulled up a chair and sat down.
“Did you end up marrying the father?” Cory questioned, pulling up a chair of his own.
“Yes,” Kat responded. “He graduated college, we got married, we moved, I finished college, we both got jobs, and had a son, Michael. Three years ago I caught him cheating, we got a divorce, he moved in with his mistress, I had to get a new job so I took the kids and moved back here.”
Kat felt uncomfortable telling Cory all of this, nervously tugging at her dress.
“Oh,” Cory looked stunned and put a comforting hand on top of Kat’s folded ones. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Kat sighed and rubbed her temple. “How about you?”
“Oh, good, good.” Cory answered quickly, the words rushing out of his mouth.
Kat looked at him, searching for the problem, and found it in his eyes.
Sadness. Grief. Frustration. Tiredness. Stress.
“Are you sure?” Kat asked kindly, and patted the hand on her lap.
Cory’s eyes started to water, threatening to spill over and stain his clothes. Kat rushed to get him a glass of punch, which he took gratefully, taking a gulp.
“I married Lindsay Rhodes, the cheerleader. Remember her?”
“Yes,” Kat replied softly. Lindsay was one of the most popular girls, and was very opposite the stereotypical mean girl. When Kat had first come back to school after having Kenzie, Lindsay had given her the notes on the homework she had missed, along with a little “It’s A Girl!” cupcake.
“We got married right after college, and had Reese, our son, he’s six now, the same year. He’s...he’s had some mental problems. It interferes with his learning.” Cory continued, sniffling.
Kat scooted her chair closer to him and took his hand.
“I got a job as an engineer. Lindsay was a personal trainer. Two years later, we had Lola, she’s four. She has COPD.”
“What’s that?” Kat asked.
“It’s a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it difficult to breathe.” Cory choked out. “She could have it for years or for life.”
Cory’s tears finally spilled out of his eyes, trailing down his cheeks and into his lap. Kat squeezed his hand even harder.
“About three ago,” he said between sobs. “Lindsay was diagnosed with colon cancer. We tried everything. Chemo. Surgery. All of the available treatments. None of it worked. She died two years ago almost to the day.”
Kat gasped quietly. She gently rubbed Cory’s back as he tried to collect himself.
“I’m so sorry,” Kat comforted. “If there’s anything I can do, really, please just ask,”
“Thanks,” Cory smiled through his tears.
“What kind of problems with learning does Reese have, exactly?” Kat asked.
“He has problems comprehending and understanding,”
“I used to have a neighbor, when we were still living in an apartment, who had learning problems too,” Kat said. “She was a sweet little girl, and her mom was an overworked single parent. I used to go over twice a week to help her with homework and tutoring. I could try and help Reese?”
“Really?” Cory sniffed and wiped his tears.
“Really. Where do you live?” Kat asked.
“About a half hour west,” Cory said, futsing with his glass of punch.
“I live about fifteen minutes away. I can come over tomorrow, if you’d like.” Kat offered.
“Okay, that sounds great!” Cory said hopefully.
“Alright, well I better get going,” Kat fussed, looking at her watch.
“Can I give you a lift anywhere?” Cory proposed, grabbing his coat from the back of the chair.
“It’s not necessary,” Kat replied, jangling her keys. She nodded her head in the direction of the main chatter. “Why don’t you take a break and socialize, just for tonight?”
“Kat?” Cory stood up and paused. Kat stopped and turned back to face him.
“See you tomorrow?” Cory smiled.
Kat feeling better and happier than she had in a long time, answered,