Renee pulled down her visor mirror and refreshed her lipstick, careful not to get any on her teeth. The shade, “Please Me” by MAC, was probably a little too purple for her, but she liked it; it made her feel elegant. She pulled her wire bristle brush out of the Coach purse that she had borrowed from her sister Kate, and ran it through her hair, trying to make it shinier and less frizzy. She’d gotten it done that morning, so it looked the best it was going to look.
The hairdresser, Izzy, a girl with spiky ink-black hair and a tattoo of the quadratic equation on her forearm, had been incredibly sweet to her, complimenting her sweater and offering her tea and a neck message before starting her hair cut.
Renee loved the salon; it was the only place where she really let herself go, knowing she was safe in the hands of the accomplished stylists. During a rough financial spell a few years back, she’d once tried to go to one of the cheap chain places to save money. She sat for two minutes before she realized that she would rather wait for two more months to get her hair cut at a place she loved than take the risk somewhere else.
“So where are you going tonight,” Izzy asked conversationally. Izzy was Renee’s favorite stylist because she could always tell when Renee was in the mood to talk, and when she wasn’t.
“It’s my 15th reunion tonight,” Renee said. “For high school.”
“Wow!” Izzy said, gently tilting Renee’s head forward to make sure she was cutting evenly. “That’s so fun. Do you know what you’re wearing?”
“Just a black dress. The usual.” She didn’t mention that she’d spent two hours and a $150 finding the dress at Nordstrom Rack the weekend before.
“Are you meeting up with any old friends?”
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll see a few,” Renee said confidently. Izzy began to chatter about her own 5 year reunion (God she was young) and how she and a few friends had wound up stoned in the school parking lot, just like the old days. Renee followed along; asking a few questions, laughing in the appropriate places. She always felt intimidated by the stylists; she just wanted to fit in. Izzy picked up a hair dryer and ceased to talk as it roared to life by Renee’s head. She tugged on Renee’s hair, curling it slightly around the base of her neck.
“All done,” she finally said, handing Renee a mirror and turning her around so that she could see the back. Renee was happy with her hair. She hoped it would still be as shiny by that evening.
Izzy tucked a few little freebie bottles of Aveda conditioner and volumizing spray and one tiny little sample of a cream blush into Renee’s bag after she paid. Renee loved the little samples. She had a collection of samples in her bathroom medicine cabinet and she would try a new one every week until it ran out.
In the car, Renee pulled the cream brush out of Karen’s purse, and dabbed a little more of that on too. Between the lipstick, the hair, the dress and her new Michael Kors shoes, she’d spent a little over $1000 to look as good as she possibly could for the reunion. That plus the hotel room and whatever she’d spent in gas for the five hour drive made for an expensive trip.
Taking a deep breath, she stepped out of her car and headed towards the old familiar concrete building. She was still a little wobbly on her heels; she didn’t often try to walk in anything over two inches. They’d were zebra print though, and in her size, and she couldn’t pass them up.
A giant blue sparking banner hung over the doors, with the words “Welcome Class of 1997!” emblazoned in gold glittery letters next to a giant picture of Grizzly Bear, the school mascot. A little thrill went through her. 15 years changed a lot.
She walked into the hallway and was immediately hit by a sense of déjà vu. Even the smell was familiar. She could hear the bass of the music pumping loudly from the gym and headed down the corridor toward the registration table.
She paused by the trophy case, laden heavy with gold statues and signed footballs. There was a picture from each year that the football team had won the annual Milk Can game against Milton Valley, the rival high school. They’d won in ’97, and in the picture from that year, the football team knelt around the Cheerleader’s who were hoisting the Milk Can in the air. She located her face out of the group. She’d looked so impossibly young then. 15 years changed a lot.
She continued down the hall and planted herself in front of the registration table, recognizing the girl behind the table as Mindy Crane (nee Barton), their class treasurer.
“Mindy!” Renee exclaimed. “How are you?”
Mindy gave her a quizzical look, but smiled anyway.
“I’m good. Growing…” she said, gesturing to the baby bump that had been obscured by the table.
“Congratulations,” said Renee. The both stopped and looked awkwardly at each other.
“I’m sorry,” Mindy said, snapping back, “Can I help you find your name tag?”
She doesn’t know who I am, Renee realized. “No it’s fine, I can find it.” She looked down the orderly rows of nametags and snatched hers up, tucking it into her purse. “Thanks,” she said breezily, heading into the gym. She could feel Mindy staring at her back as she walked away, and tried not to trip in the heels.
“Praise You” by Fatboy Slim was blaring out of the speaker system and for a second, and Renee felt disoriented. Groups of her old classmates were clustered around the room, talking and laughing, some dancing. She recognized a few people who were standing by the door. Jim Canavoy, Edwin Pizetti, and Ralph Markson had been nerds in high school; the kind that got tripped in the hallway and had their cars hidden. Renee’s face flushed and her throat grew hot. She wanted to talk to them now, to explain her casual teenage cruelty, but she wasn’t sure how to begin. The three of them looked good now, or at least, they weren’t so obviously nerds anymore. They were all taller, and less acne-scarred. Jim was well-dressed with a gold Rolex clamped on his wrist, and Edwin had the nerd chic thing going on, a sweater vest, tight pants, and a little bow-tie. Ralph was holding the hand of a pretty little blonde woman, with red cat eye glasses. They looked like the kind of guys Renee would count herself lucky to date these days.
She turned and saw some of her old crew hanging out near the buffet table at the back of the room. Doug Trumble and Shana were still together, he wore his letterman’s jacket and she had on a slinky purple dress that was a little too much for a reunion in a gym. Bethany Coles and Heather Goldberg (nee Rosenbaum) were clearly already a little tipsy, laughing too loudly at each other. Renee’s heart began to race as she recognized Matt Johnson talking to a group. He was still as handsome as ever. He was tall and fit. He’d gained a few laugh lines around his eyes, but otherwise he looked almost exactly the same. He saw her staring and smiled slightly as if he couldn’t quite place her face.
Renee walked over to the buffet and picked up a plate, surveying the greasy chicken wings, mini eggrolls, and fried shrimp available. She delicately selected a few pieces of celery and scooped up some artichoke dip, then turned to find Liz Middlestone staring at her.
“You look so familiar,” she said, looking into Renee’s face. “Did we have math together?”
I dated you, Renee wanted to shout, but held back. “Probably,” she said instead. “It’s all such a blur,” Then Renee laughed, and it came out high-pitched and strange. Liz frowned. “I’m sure we knew each other but I just can’t place you. Where’s your name tag,” she asked, gesturing to the tag she had clipped to her hip.
“Must’ve fallen off,” Renee mumbled. “I gotta go find some friends.” Liz shrugged and wandered off. It had been a mistake to come see everyone, Renee though. She’d been so curious. But she couldn’t stay. She turned to go and bumped into Matt.
“Hi,” he said, looking into Renee’s eyes. His eyes were blue and flecked with gold. She felt herself sticking out her chest, and corrected herself. I loved you so much, she wanted to say. “Do I know you?” he continued. “There’s something about you… I don’t know.” Renee had dreamed about this moment night after night in high school, hoping that he would one day look at her this way. Instead, she’d been his best friend.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I should be going.” She walked away from Matt Johnson knowing that he was watching her walk away. She was trembling all over; all she’d wanted out of the whole night was to look him in the eye and say hello, and she hadn’t been able to do it. By the time she got into the parking lot her hands were shaking and she felt like she was going to vomit.
“Are you okay?” came a voice from behind her. She turned to see Edwin Pizetti leaning against the wall of the school, looking completely cool as he smoked a cigarette. He saw her staring at it. “It’s nostalgia,” he said. “Something about being here…” He reached in his pocket and pulled out a little gold cigarette case, and held it out to her. “You want one?” he asked, holding out the box. Renee took one gratefully, and he lit it for her, cupping the flame against the wind. She leaned against the wall next to him and took a long calming drag.
“I don’t recognize you,” he said. “Are you here with someone?”
“No, I went here,” Renee responded.
“Did we know each other?” He asked. “It was a small school, I’m sure I would have…”
“I was horrible to you,” Renee interrupted. “Really fucking horrible. The worst.” His face contorted.
“What are you talking about,” he asked.
“I’m sorry,” I said passionately. “I’m so sorry. I was such an asshole back then, if I could take it all back I would. There’s no excuse…”
He was really staring at me now. “There was only one person who was awful to me in high school. I mean, yeah I wasn’t popular, but there was only one person who seriously made me consider killing myself.” Renee nodded, wondering why she was encouraging his train of thought.
“But he was…” He stopped speaking, staring at Renee.
“Robert.” He said.
“In the flesh,” Renee said, suppressing the urge to vomit once again.
“Hol-eee shit.” Edwin said leaping back nearly a foot. “Whaaat the hell is going on.”
“Robert Samuelson,” he said. “Robert Samuelson who hid my car.” Renee nodded again. “Robert Samuelson who shoved me in a locker. They guy who pulled my pants down at homecoming. You’re Robert Samuelson.” Renee stared at her cigarette.
“This is so fucking rich. Are you fucking kidding me!” Edwin peered into Renee’s face. “It is you. Oh my god.”
Renee dropped her cigarette and stubbed it out with her Michael Kors shoes.
“Why did you come tonight?” He asked, “Does anyone here know?”
“No,” Renee said, her voice thick with emotion. “No one.” Edwin was beginning to calm down. “How long have you, you know, known that…”
“Forever,” Renee answered. “My dad used to beat the shit out of me because I’d wear my mom’s shoes.” He shook his head, still in shock. “That must have been awful,” he said dropping his head to his chest. “I can’t believe I just had a moment of sympathy for Robert fucking Samuelson.” Renee pushed herself off the wall and turned to face him.
“There’s no way I can explain how many times I’ve wanted to apologize to you, and Jim and everyone else.” He stared at her in disbelief.
“I’m sorry,” she said again lamely, hitching her purse up onto her shoulder. “I wish I could go back and fix it.”
Edwin was staring at her hard. “You know, Jim and I used to think about killing you.” A chill ran over Renee’s body. He continued, “But this is so much better.”
He stood up, stubbed out his cigarette against the wall and walked back inside where he would probably tell everyone about their conversation in a matter of minutes.
Renee watched him go and then walked back to her car, knowing already that she would drive back home tonight. There would be no hotel for her. No special moment with Matt Johnson. She had a lot further to go.