The door to the library squeaked open, just as it had—he had to stop and count—six years ago. Had it really been that long? John Bender entered the empty space, surveying the area. Nothing had changed. He had, in fact, made it out of detention and Shermer. In record time, too. He and Claire had lasted just long enough; they’d split right about the time he decided college held a lot more appeal than prison. Or an eternity of detention. “Bonehead,” he admitted to himself.
Claire, despite her Bender bender (or maybe because of it, she was never sure) managed to reign supreme throughout her days at Shermer. Princess? She was the fucking queen. Sure, she hated it at times—living up to everyone’s standards but her own—but she was royalty at that school.
However, that changed when her designer-clad feet stepped foot on the college campus. She knew no one and no one knew her. For the first time in almost four years, she was a nobody.
Allison emerged considerably after that first Saturday in detention (which, admittedly, wouldn’t have taken much). Until she got a little too much attention and retreated back into her shell. Not to mention that Claire had cornered her in the ladies’ and told her in no uncertain terms that she better make-under some. She liked that black shit better anyway; but she did keep the headband.
Andrew never warmed back up to sports. In fact, he quit cold-turkey. Not long after which he moved out of town to live with his grandmother.
He and Allison were the surprise couple of the year. They faired better than most everyone else. Until he left her to fend for herself over parental drama. She “mourned” for her remaining years, wishing he had taken her with him.
Brian didn’t surprise anyone. He was on the honor roll every year, graduated with honors, and was valedictorian. His speech was truly inspired—it reflected his four years of hard work and dedication while it avoided being boastful or supercilious. He used the ACT words with flourish.
What was surprising was Brian’s impulsive decision to be spontaneous for once in his life and streak across the stage to get his diploma. Many girls (and boys) wished they had treated Brian a bit differently over the years...
John couldn’t not come to the retirement party. He had grown leaps and bounds, but he wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to tell the old bastard off one last time. Neither could he resist the path his feet traveled. Once upon a time, way back when, more than six fucking years ago, he and Claire used to sneak in after school. They had done things all over the grounds—under the bleachers, in supply closets, on desks, in Vernon’s office—but they always came back to the library. It was where they started and—the doors squeaked again. She was taller and had definitely filled out in the few years since he had last seen her. Her bright copper hair had darkened to a rich auburn.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone was—”
“Claire?” It was undoubtedly Claire.
Claire turned back, unsure, and slowly approached John. He heard her small gasp as realization hit. “John! I never imagined you’d be here!”
Was that why she’d come? He breathed her perfume deeply—it, too, was the same—as she rushed in for a hug. When he released her after what seemed like hours, but could have been only seconds, he replayed the interaction. Had he held her too long, too tightly? If either was the case, she gave no indication.
Claire was smiling at him openly. “John, you really look wonderful. How have you been, what have you been up too?”
He imagined her voice was a little too bright or too cheery. He was sure there was hidden meaning in something she had said. “School’s going well, thanks. Not much news other than that.”
She stepped closer, elbowing his side. “Yeah, but I know you. You’ve probably got at least three girlfriends.”
“Claire, I’ve—” He stopped, shocked, as she reached into his pants pocket. Belatedly, he realized she had gone for his wallet—which she was now taunting with as she skirted the desks downstairs. “Claire!” They were circling, cat-and-mouse; nothing had changed. “Claire. This is ridiculous. And childish. Give. It. Back.”
Claire smiled wickedly and, he could have sworn, batted her eyelashes. She held it close as she threatened to open it. “Come on, John. What are you afraid of? How many are you keeping these days? Three? Five? More?”
He’d imagined meeting her again. This wasn’t what he’d planned. “Claire. You’re being immature, really.”
She stopped and raised one of her perfectly arched eyebrows at him. “Me? I was never immature!”
“Oh, get real, honey!” This tête-à-tête was enough to distract Claire long enough for John to catch her and pin her against the wall, her hands holding the wallet trapped between them. “Now,” John began, in his most determined voice, “may I have that back, please?” She didn’t move or acknowledge his request. His hands skimmed down to rest at her waist. “Claire?” She finally looked up, meeting his eyes. “Claire? What is it, what’s wrong?”
John moved back an inch or two to give her some space. Then he noticed that she had, somehow, managed to open his wallet during the chase. He wasn’t afraid of her discovering condoms or a fold-out string of girlfriends. It was worse.
“John, why—” He pushed away from the wall—away from her. This was not how this was supposed to happen. And damn, if Claire didn’t follow him! “John. Surely you didn’t...I mean, we weren’t...” For once, she was at a loss for words. “John, why?”
She’d caught up to him, sitting atop one of the desks. Claire approached slowly, wary. She offered the wallet back to him, holding it open to a picture of them from one of those photo booths. He shrugged, accepting her offer. Then, taking her hands and squeezing gently, he looked her in the eye. “I guess I never throw anything away.”