Rickie Vasquez would be the first person to admit how glad he was when high school was over. His life might have improved exponentially after Mr. Katimski, Richard, and his boyfriend had taken him in, but it still hadn’t been exactly easy to be the only out-and-proud queer kid in school. The performing arts college in Chicago he attended after graduation had been simultaneously a safe haven and a revelation, when he’d suddenly been surrounded by young people who were as colorful and non-conforming as himself.
There was only one thing he missed, which was stupid, because it had been over long before he graduated. Still, even after years away, Rickie found himself missing that magical friendship he’d shared with Rayanne Graff. It had been his anchor all through junior high, and he’d never have expected the rift that opened between them.
Just as he’d started sorting out his life, Rayanne’s had fallen apart, and she’d pushed away everyone, Rickie included. These days, he heard more frequently from Sharon Vinnovic, née Cherski, than from his former best friend. Admittedly Sharon was the type of person who told herself that high school had been the best time of her life and thus religiously kept in touch with everyone. Naturally the 10-year-reunion was her idea.
“Everyone is coming, Rickie,” she chirped, undaunted by his marked lack of enthusiasm. “Even Rayanne Graff, and the two of you used to be so tight!”
“Rayanne is coming?” Now Rickie was listening. Last he’d heard, she’d been living in some sort of commune in Arizona. The information had reached him via the old Liberty High grapevine, and he had to admit that he was curious if she’d managed to find a place for herself. And it would be nice to visit Richard and Bob while he was back in Pittsburgh. So maybe going back to high school wouldn’t be all abhorrent. Still, although he’d already made up his mind, Rickie had one more question, one Sharon was sure to know the answer to: “And what about Angela?”
Their odd little threesome hadn’t lasted long, but it had happened during the most turbulent time of their young lives. And how young they’d been! Entering the be-ribboned gym of Liberty High to the blazing of 90s music, Rickie looked around the many familiar and not-so-familiar faces, and realized with a start that they were all well and truly grown-up. Himself included.
However, he definitely hadn’t changed as much as the man approaching him with an open, confident smile on his face, which was unobscured by curls. “Rickie Vasquez, all the way from Chicago - it’s nice to see you.”
“Wow, Brian Krakow, look at you!” Apparently calling people by their full name was contagious, Rickie registered with mild amusement. Mostly he was busy picking his jaw up from the floor, because wow indeed, at some point in the past 10 years Brian had left his dweebie teenaged self behind and turned into a right hottie. One that had no problems making easy conversation, and soon Rickie had learned that Brian headed his own IT company and was married to a lawyer, who was at home with their four-month-old baby girl.
Rickie was so busy wrapping his mind around this new, improved Brian, he almost jumped out of his skin when someone tapped him on the shoulder, a woman’s voice asking, “Rickie?”
He didn’t need to hear Brian’s delighted “Hey, Angela!” to recognize her, although it was funny to see a bit of the old Brian make a reappearance when the woman in question bypassed Rickie to embrace her old neighbor warmly, inquiring with genuine interest, “How’re Lydia and little Chloe? Thanks for the card, by the way - she’s really adorable!”
By the time she turned back to Rickie, he’d stopped feeling as if he’d stepped back in time, registering the differences in the familiar face. Angela Chase was still dying her hair, now cascading over her shoulders in soft waves, but it was a much more natural light-blonde that suited her very well, as did the pretty purple dress she was wearing. When Rickie said so, after hugging her tightly, she smiled that same old Angela smile, though, the one that transformed her face from pretty to beautiful, reminding him of the magical time when they’d been an inseparable threesome.
“It’s really good to see you,” he repeated, impulsively pulling her into another hug. “I missed you.”
“Me, too.” She folded into his arms comfortably, eyes warm. “It really shouldn’t have taken a fucking high school reunion for us to reconnect!”
Laughing, Rickie agreed and, with an apologetic wave at Brian, grabbed her hand and pulled her through the crowd, as if they were 15 again and playing hookie. “I need to know everything that’s been going on with you.”
“Same here - I hear you’re an actor now.” Angela followed him easily, and they ended up sitting side-by-side on the steps leading up to the podium, half-hidden from the rest of the peers and giggling giddily.
Catching his breath, Rickie pressed his shoulder into Angela’s and happily began telling her about his life in Chicago in general, and his last role - one of the leads in Spring Awakening - in particular. “It was great because Ben was in it, too, so we had the same hours for a change.”
“Ben, huh?” Angela teased, immediately picking up on the fond smile Rickie had been unable to suppress. “Is he gorgeous?”
This led to him showing her some of the photos on his phone, before putting it away with a rueful laugh. “Sorry, I’m afraid we’re one of those couples - if we had jobs with more regular hours, we’d probably adopt a puppy that we’d dress up in embarrassing outfits for holiday cards.”
“I guess that means no kids planned yet either?” Angela asked, before catching herself and apologizing, “Sorry, I don’t mean to pry, it’s really none of my business.”
“Hey, if you can’t be nosy during a high school reunion, when can you be, right?” They shared another laugh, and Rickie added with a wink, “But enough about me, I want to hear about you now! Are you still out in L.A.?”
“San Francisco,” Angela corrected, surprising him when she blushed seemingly out of the blue. Before Rickie could inquire into the reason, she quickly continued, “I’ve been doing freelance writing, mostly for online magazines, and I’ve got a part-time marketing job, mostly to pay the bills.”
“Yeah, I hear San Francisco is expensive. But you like it?” Rickie asked, trying to imagine Angela, prone to daydreams and flights of fancy, in an office. Still, there was no denying she seemed happy, and he prodded her teasingly. “Anyone special in your life?”
Much to his surprise Angela had stayed with Jordan Catalano until graduation, which Rickie had taken as proof that teenage girls were just as hormone-driven as teenage boys. Still, he hadn’t been shocked in the least when Angela broke up with Catalano before going off to college. Now she was blushing, her fair skin betraying her answer even before she spoke, “Well, maybe…”
Despite her previous openness, she seemed reluctant to share details, so Rickie decided to let her off the hook - for now, at least. The night was still young, after all. Smiling knowingly, he changed the subject, “By the way, have you seen Rayanne?”
“Ray… Rayanne?” Much to his surprise, his admission made her flush even harder as she stumbled over the name of their old friend. “Why?”
Rickie gaped at her before explaining with a certain amount of confusion, “Sharon told me she’d be here. It’s one of the main reasons I’ve come; she’s someone else I wish I’d stayed in touch with. Don’t you?”
The last came out a bit more accusingly than he’d have liked, but he was still trying to figure out why Angela had such a strong reaction. She was studiously avoiding his gaze, staring at the people milling around on the gym floor and sitting around the tables - nicely decorated in Liberty High colors, doubtlessly thanks to Sharon’s efforts. Still, Rickie doubted this registered with her, judging from the way Angela was worrying her lower lips between her teeth. She looked remarkably like her teenage self like this, despite the new hair color and grown-up dress, her mind far away.
Rickie began to wonder if he should apologize, although he wasn’t sure what for, just to break the weird silence, when Angela came back to herself with a shrug and fumbled her phone from her purse. Shooting him a look that begged for understanding, she said apologetically, “Sorry, I just-- I need to...”
Fingers flying over the screen, she sent off a message that Rickie made a point not to peek at. Once she was done, Angela took a deep breath, visibly steadying herself, and turned back to him. “I am incredibly sorry for being so weird. I’ll explain, I promise. I just need to check in with her first.”
“Her?” Tilting his head, Rickie clucked his tongue consideringly, as at least some puzzle pieces began to fall into place. “Ange, did you just text Rayanne? I’m not quite sure why you’re being… weird about it, to use your own expression. So you guys stayed in touch, that’s great.”
“We didn’t, not really,” Angela offered like a peace offering. “You know she had problems, already back in high school but also after.” Rickie nodded, aware that problems was something of an understatement, and Angela continued, “I don’t think she really stayed in touch with anyone from here. We only… reconnected a few months back.”
There was a strange pause before reconnected, but before Rickie could react, Angela’s phone buzzed. She checked it, only to get up and crane her neck searchingly. Without thinking, Rickie followed her example, and they both saw Rayanne at the same time, weaving her way towards them and leaving excited whispers in her wake.
She’d always had that gift, where people couldn’t help but notice her, but her light had been dimmed when Rickie had last seen her. Now a happy thrill ran through him when he realized that it was back, from the confident way she held her body to the short hair on her head, dyed a cheerful purple. While most people at the reunion had chosen to dress up - Rickie himself included - she had paired patched jeans with a t-shirt featuring a cartoon cat. It was rather different from her grunge-punk look in high school, but somehow it was completely and utterly Rayanne, and Rickie couldn’t help but smile widely.
It was a smile Rayanne mirrored, and suddenly Rickie felt 15 again, and without hesitation he pulled her into a tight embrace. He’d missed her so much, he could feel tears pricking behind his eyelids as he pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “It’s so fucking good to see you!”
“You, too. Shit, I missed you,” Rayanne replied, lifting her head, making it easy for him to read the unspoken apology for the years of silence in her expressive eyes. “And yes, I know that’s my fault. I wasn’t sure you’d want to hear from me, even after I got my crap together.”
“I told her you’d be glad,” Angela chimed in, her smile so wide it threatened to split her face in two. Impulsively Rickie lifted one arm and beckoned towards her. Huffing a laugh, she joined them, and for a moment they stood wrapped around each other, all of them overwhelmed with emotion.
Finally, they separated, but when Rickie sat back down on the stairs, it was the most natural thing in the world to pull Rayanne down to settle between his legs, the way she had so many times when they were younger. Grinning, she leaned back against his chest, her fingers immediately beginning to tap out the rhythm of the 90s song that was playing on his knee. She looked content, unburdened, and Rickie pressed an impulsive kiss to her forehead before ordering cheekily, “Now, tell me everything.”
He didn’t miss the quick glance Rayanne exchanged with Angela, who nodded encouragingly and sat back down next to Rickie, leaning her head against his shoulder. Clearing her throat, Rayanne began to speak in her throaty, low voice, explaining that she’d gotten clean two years ago, living in a hippie commune in Arizona. “But I was stuck in a bad relationship, and it took me a while longer to realize that I could never be truly healed until I broke that off. So I packed up my shit and moved to California.”
“She found me on Facebook and wanted to make amends,” Angela took over, voice gentle, as was her hand around Rayanne’s. To Rickie’s surprise a blush crept into Rayanne’s cheeks, and things slowly began to fall into place. “I let her crash on my couch - and somehow, she never left.”
The two women exchanged a warm glance, as if nothing else in the world existed. Huh. Rickie quirked an eyebrow and asked in a deliberately light tone, “I take it, she’s not on the couch anymore?”
Both of them blushed at that, a giggle escaping Angela. “No, not the couch.” Sobering, she met Rickie’s gaze and added apologetically, “It was really entirely unexpected. I hope you don’t think we kept this from you.”
“Of course not,” Rickie replied adamantly. “I can’t say I expected this, but I’m really, truly happy for you guys. And in hindsight, it’s really not such a stretch.”
The last he said with a grin, and the last of the apprehension left Angela and Rayanne, who were still holding hands. It was only half a lie, because now that he looked back, there had been something simmering between the two of them in that intense, albeit short-lived friendship. They fit together surprisingly well for two people who were so fundamentally different, and they were obviously good for each other.
Clearing his throat, Rickie shook off his contemplative mood. “And now that we’re all caught up, I suggest we rejoin the party.”
Joining in his laughter, Angela and Rayanne let themselves be pulled onto the dancefloor. Taking them each by a hand, Rickie twirled them easily, his heart bubbling over with a happiness he saw reflected in the two faces whirling around him. High school was a long time ago, but for tonight, the three of them were back together, and Rickie no longer missed a thing.