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“Mom? Could you give me a ride to the party?”

“Hmm?” Sharon mumbled, absently poking through the box labeled SPORTS EQUIPMENT. She tried not to make it too obvious that she was looking for something, but she couldn’t help it – ever since finding that photo album from high school, she’d had a sudden urge to dig up all of her memories of Stoneybrook.

She had come back of her own volition, but it had been tough. She felt like a failure: for her marriage breaking up, for running home to her parents like a little girl in search of solace. As soon as the ink on her divorce papers was dry, she’d packed up her kids and left, with only a destination in mind. She didn’t have a job; if her parents hadn’t scouted out the farmhouse before their arrival, she and her kids wouldn’t have even had a place to live.

Coming back like this had been hard enough –she wasn’t sure she could’ve endured the indignity of moving back in with her parents.

But, somehow, things were settling into place. She’d found a job fairly quickly. Dawn and Jeff were in school, and both had made friends already. Slowly but surely, the multitude of moving boxes were being unpacked. Stoneybrook was beginning to feel like home again.

“Mom? Mom!”

Sharon startled from her reverie, blinking rapidly when she realized Dawn was standing in front of her. “I’m sorry, honey,” she apologized sheepishly. “What were you saying?”

Dawn rolled her eyes, but a smile crept along the contours of her mouth. “I was asking if you could give me a ride to the party this afternoon,” she repeated in an overly patient tone. “You know, on your way to pick up Jeff?”

“Jeff!” Sharon breathed, abruptly dropping the eggbeater she was holding back into the box. She thought frantically. “He’s at – ?”

“Hockey practice,” Dawn supplied.

“Yes,” Sharon murmured, “that’s right. Hockey practice.” She fumbled with one of her earrings as she moved away from the counter, heading for the big calendar Dawn had posted next to the kitchen door. (Her daughter was so organized that sometimes Sharon had a hard time believing they were related.) She scanned the boxes with one finger, finally finding the date, with her son’s childish scrawl noting his practice, and Dawn’s neat print right under it: Party at Mary Anne’s, 5 –8 pm.

Sharon’s heart skipped a beat. “Your party is at Mary Anne’s?” she asked lightly, turning to face Dawn once more.

She nodded happily. “Yeah,” she replied. “She wants me to meet the other girls in the Baby-sitters Club.” She tucked her hands into her back pockets. “Maybe they’ll ask me to join.”

Sharon smiled. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Dawn was very headstrong and independent, but she knew her daughter well enough to know she’d like to have more than one close friend. She’d had four or five, back in California.

Dawn shrugged nonchalantly, but her excited expression gave her away. She glanced at her watch. “Wow, we need to leave right now,” she exclaimed. “I don’t want to be late!”

Before Sharon could respond, Dawn was tugging her outside towards the car. She barely had time to stop and lock the door (she congratulated herself on remembering to do that, since she had a terrible habit of leaving things unlocked all the time) before Dawn’s excitement got the best of her. She slid into the car and buckled her seatbeat while Dawn fiddled with the radio; when she backed out of the driveway, she asked Dawn for directions to Mary Anne’s.

She had to ask twice, because her mind was half-set on driving across town to where he used to live, a route she’d long ago memorized. She’d never admit it to anyone, but after she found the old prom picture, and Dawn casually mentioned that Richie was still living in Stoneybrook, she’d swung by the old Spier residence on her way home from work one evening. She knew in an instant that the Spiers no longer lived there; the crumbling but cozy house of her memories had been remodeled, with new butter-colored siding and dark green shutters.

“Mom, you’re going to miss the turn!” Dawn yelped, jarring Sharon back to the present. The tires squealed as she took a sharp right; from then on, Sharon vowed concentrated on the road – this was a new car, and she couldn’t afford to have another accident on her record.

They made it to the Spiers’ residence on Bradford Court without further incident. Dawn unbuckled her seat beat and glanced back at her mother. “Why don’t you walk me to the door?” she suggested casually. “Maybe Mary Anne’s father is home.”

“Okay,” Sharon managed, flipping down her visor and giving herself a quick look in the mirror. Good, she thought, surveying her reflection: her earrings matched, she didn’t have any lipstick on her teeth, and her hair looked okay – nothing a bit of finger-combing couldn’t fix. From the corner of her eye, she noticed Dawn’s amused expression, but decided to ignore it.

It wasn’t everyday that a woman ran into her high school sweetheart, after all.

She stepped gingerly out of the car, following Dawn up the front steps of the house and waiting as she rang the doorbell. Her heart began to thud heavily in her chest as she contemplated the front door. It was a nice door, she considered, fairly nondescript, painted a neutral shade of brown. Richie had always been practical, never one for ostentatious decoration – so yes, this fit him…or at least, the memory she had of him.

The door swung open with a whoosh of warm air, the frame almost immediately filled by a tall, thin man.

“Hi, Mr. Spier!” Dawn greeted him with a smile. “Can I come in?”

It was so strange to hear her Richie being addressed by his father’s name.

It was even stranger to hear him talking to her daughter.

The daughter she’d had with another man.

“Dawn,” he managed, sweeping his eyes from the preteen to her mother. “Of course – please, come in. Mary Anne is in the kitchen,” he added, stepping aside to allow her entrance.

Sharon took the opportunity to study him. He was still tall and thin, like he had been when they were teenagers, but age had been quite kind to him. A soft thatch of brown hair replaced the crew cut of her memory; wire-framed glasses now sat upon his nose, instead of the thick tortoise-shells of his youth. He was no longer rail thin, she noted with a flush, covertly admiring the way he filled out his three-piece suit. When he turned to face her again, he smiled, the lines of his face disappearing, revealing the soft, youthful expression that she remembered – and loved – so well.

When her eyes met his, she was instantly mesmerized, gazing into the chocolate-colored depths. For a single, unbroken moment of time, they simply stared at each other, remembering the old and taking in the new.

“Dad,” a new voice piped up, “this is Mrs. Schafer, Dawn’s mother. Mrs. Schafer, this is my dad, Mr. Spier.”

No, Sharon thought dazedly as she stared at Richard, Mr. Spier was your guff old father. You…you are…

“I think you two know each other,” Mary Anne added after a moment.

Richard blinked first. “Yes,” he murmured, “yes, of course we do.” His eyes swept over her frame. “Sharon, it’s wonderful to see you again,” he added warmly. “It’s been years.”

Sharon flushed with pleasure under his appreciative gaze. “It’s good to see you, too, Richie,” she replied, unable to quite disguise the dreamy quality of her voice.

Richard smiled again. “Please, come in,” he invited, taking a step back and gesturing inside.

Agreement bubbled up within her, but before she could accept his invitation, she spotted Dawn in the corner of her eye. “I’d love to,” she finally said, “but I can’t stay. I have to pick up my son from hockey practice.”

“Ah,” Richard nodded, his hand falling back to his side. He shifted his weight, leaning against the door, looking anything other than like he was ready to say goodbye to her.

Sharon smiled. She wasn’t ready to say goodbye to him, either.

“Dawn,” Mary Anne suddenly said, “there’s a huge mess in the kitchen. Come help me clean it up.”

“Oh, sure,” Dawn replied hastily, quickly following Mary Anne down the hall and into the kitchen.

Richard relaxed incrementally as the girls left, offering Sharon another smile before speaking again. “I’m glad you’re back in Stoneybrook,” he said.

“I’m glad our daughters became friends,” Sharon replied cheekily, feeling her palms grow clammy as she clutched the strap of her purse. She felt like a schoolgirl with a crush, dancing around a conversation with the fleeting hope that the object of her affection would notice her and ask her out. It was a silly way to feel – she was a grown woman, after all, old enough to have her own school-aged children – but she couldn’t help herself. Being in Richard’s presence again made her feel light and giddy, all the innocence of youth rushing back to her.

She knew better than to expect more than pleasant conversation, though – it had taken him nearly a year to work up the nerve to ask simply her to study with him when they were in high school. He was methodical, yes, but he was also adorably shy.

Well, the Richie Spier of her youth had been, at least.

“Would you like to have dinner sometime?” Richard blurted out, his cheeks coloring slightly.

Sharon’s heart skipped a beat. “I’d love to,” she answered, perhaps a bit too quickly (and eagerly). “When?”

Richard looked just as surprised as she felt. “When?” he echoed nervously. “Well – how about tomorrow night?”

Sharon grinned. “Wonderful,” she breathed, unable – and, quite frankly, unwilling – to hide her excitement at the idea. “It’ll be really nice to catch up with you.”

“Great,” Richard said, his expression a mixture of happiness and boyish relief. “I’ll call you tomorrow, to work out the details.”

“Wonderful,” she said again. She glanced down at her watch. “Well, I need to get going if I’m to pick up Jeff,” she apologized. “I don’t want him to wonder where I am.”

“Of course,” Richard nodded, standing tall once more and taking another step back into the house. “Well. I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

“See you tomorrow,” Sharon echoed with a smile. She turned away as he began to close the door, and was startled when he suddenly called out to her again.

“Oh, and Sharon?” he said, capturing her attention once more. She half-turned, gazing at him over her shoulder. “I’ll drop Dawn off tonight – no need for you to make another trip.”

She smiled at him and, on impulse, turned back, reaching for his hand and giving it a squeeze. “Thank you, Richie,” she replied warmly. “That’s very kind of you.”

“My pleasure,” he murmured, his hand lingering in hers for a long moment before he pulled away.

No, she thought as she turned back towards her car, the pleasure is all mine.