“Now you’re not alone,” Logan said to her calmly. Celeste felt her nerves quickly calm at the sound of hearing his voice. It was soothing and reassuring.
Logan walked over to Celeste who stood uneasily in her white, pink-stained dress. Her lips curled tight to fight the urge to completely break down. She looked at his suit jacket and shirt, bearing the same pink stain. Logan swiftly took her face into his hands, stared deep into her eyes, and kissed her. Logan felt a warmth drape all over his body. Celeste felt the same. She returned his kiss and took his face into her hands to pull him closer.
Who does a 10 year high school reunion? Logan Carver asked himself as he stood in front of a mirror in a questionably clean restroom. The sickly incandescent lighting did nothing to make Logan feel better about the restroom’s cleanliness.
“Ten years and this is how she’ll see us,” he mumbled.
Logan wanted to vomit. His hair was in a coif that resembled a wave that surfers would rush into the water to tackle. This was his sister Lisa’s idea. She said it made him hipper and a lot less like an accountant, which he took as an insult. She insinuated that accountants weren’t cool. Also, he had a degree in accounting but he wasn’t an accountant. He was a bookkeeper for a small Italian foods importer where he shared an office with an old high school friend he had gotten the job for. In fact, it was Damian’s idea—between drags of a cigarette in perpetual defiance of the office’s No Smoking policy—for Logan to attend the high school reunion.
“Second chance, man” Damian told him, whose beard was riddled with crumbs from his breakfast sandwich. It was a Thursday so Logan guessed that it was bacon, egg, and cheese.
“I was talking to a buddy of mine–remember Memphis? The three of us had AP Euro together–well, he told me it’d be good for you to go. He’s got it on good authority that she’s gonna be there.”
That was all Logan needed.
His mind jumped back to the restroom and the man in the mirror. There was the matter of the light blue dress shirt and white khakis combination, huddled beneath an oversized gray sport jacket that was almost as long as a winter coat. It hung on him loosely and made him look like a kid playing dress up in Daddy’s clothes. The theme was the 1980s even though the class of 2011 wasn’t born in and thus knew nothing about the 1980s. Apparently, what Logan wore was consistent with what kids of that era wore. Lisa, who was 15 years older than him, lived through the period and was the expert. On his way in, he saw many people adhering to the theme so he felt a lot better about not standing out. Even one of the ladies at registration got into the spirit.
Logan took one last look at himself. He stared into his own eyes. He’s waited 10 years for this opportunity and now it was upon him. And with that, Logan tore himself away from the mirror and marched to the exit.
Before he could walk out, the door swung inward and Byron Drew stormed in. Byron was a six foot tall mound of muscle. When he walked into the restroom, he slammed his 230 pound frame into Logan and knocked him against the wall. In Byron’s defense, it wasn’t purposeful. He didn’t see Logan fast enough. What Byron was pissed about now, Logan didn’t know.
Byron growled, “The fuck out the way” and was about to walk off until it registered in his head who he had just run into and stopped.
“You mother—“ he began to say before three of Byron’s friends who were right behind, grabbed him before he could do any damage. They pinned him against the wall opposite of Logan, who watched as the three struggled to hold Byron in place. They began to whisper calming words into his ear, which seemed to work. Byron’s clenched teeth relaxed and slowly transformed into an evil thin smile.
Logan was confused as to why Byron was upset with him. Maybe it was from early on. The three guys—who Logan recalls are Steven Beck, Donnie Yates, and Carter Collins—eventually eased off their friend. They all felt a bit better and began laughing. Logan didn’t hear a joke but it didn’t matter.
“We just saved your life, Logan. Get the fuck out,” Carter said to Logan.
Confused, Logan pushed the door to the restroom and walk back out to the cafeteria.
Celeste Donati kept her head straight and facing forward. Her mom always said that it was a sign of confidence. Look down and you’re avoiding, hiding something. Look too high up and your nose is pointed into the air and you’re, “an arrogant piece of shit” is what her mom said flatly. Celeste’s mom had given this bit of advice when Celeste was eight years old. What a third grader could do with such wisdom was questionable. Celeste was a shy girl who preferred to recede into the background. She wasn’t one to make a spectacle of herself. Rather than be assumed to be arrogant or confident, she would rather be invisible.
At present, it seemed rather contradictory as she walked through the hallway of Lake Springs Senior High for her 10 year reunion dressed in a white spaghetti strap dress that stopped just above her knees. The “dress” featured a lace-patterned white bustier that certainly wasn’t something in her closet. The overall ensemble showed more skin than Celeste was comfortable with. Oddly, the white lace gloves that ran from her fingertips to just beyond her elbows provided a bit of comfort and much needed cover. Overall, Celeste figured she would be lost among the hundreds of other people dressed far more elaborately and were far more popular than she was to even notice what she wore. Or even notice her. That would be perfect.
Keep your head straight and facing forward, she heard her mom say. The words echoed in Celeste’s head as she made her way to a registration table at the end of the hallway. There were people she vaguely recognized giving her looks that she assumed to be of shock. She tried to ignore their stares and tried to block out the analysis of their stares spinning in her head.
A relatively long line of people waited to check in. Up ahead she could hear yelling. It was a man and he sounded like he was having a fit like a three year old.
“Stop being a dick!”, “Guy’s always been a dick!”, and “Once a dick, always a dick!” came out in rapid fire.
Celeste pulled out her phone and looked at the time: 6:35 pm. She took a look at the long line. It wasn’t moving. On cue, her stomach give a little bit of a warning rumble. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast in order to guarantee that she’d be able to fit into the tiny white dress. Celeste then remembered a row of vending machines a while back when she entered the building.
Taking one last look at the line, she decided to quell the beast in her stomach and head towards the vending machines.
“You’re gonna lose your spot,” a woman with frilly hair with streaks of pink said to her.
“It’s ok. Oh, and I really like your hair,” Celeste said to the woman before heading towards the vending machines. The woman smiled proudly.
Despite the growing volume of chatter in the hallway, she could still hear the clacking of her heels on the hard floor. It felt like it was the only thing making noise at that very moment. After noticing the sound she began to notice the throbbing pain in her ankles. She hardly ever wore heels and now she knew why. They were medieval tools of torture.
She reached the vending machines and gave the three a look. One was strictly beverages. The other two were a mix of salty snacks and candies. Celeste immediately ruled out Cheetos or anything with a cheese dust that would be attracted to her white dress. Definitely nothing chocolate either. Her stomach gave another rumble. The stains would certainly call too much unwanted attention. She saw a pack of peanuts. That seemed stain safe. Celeste reached into her purse and pulled out a couple singles.
“There’s food inside and the line is moving pretty good now,” a man in a suit said to her as he passed by. He smiled. She recognized him as the school police officer. Even he was able to attend? Or was he officially working the event? Regardless, he was right. The line was moving pretty good. Why not save the $2 for the small bag of peanuts and instead have something more filling inside?
Celeste decided to head back to the line. She pictured pizza and hot dogs and popcorn. That was fine by her.
Celeste reached the registration desk and looked at the two elderly ladies who greeted her with smiles.
“And you are?” asked the one with an oversized imitation pink flower over her right breast.
“Such a lovely name,” the oversized flower lady remarked, looking through the rows of name tags arranged on the table in alphabetical order. She located Celeste’s tag and happily handed it over.
“That is certainly from the 1980s!” noted the other woman, who wore her hair large and wavy to where it resembled a lion’s mane. Celeste gave her a smile as well.
“Love your hair,” Celeste noted. The woman was certainly keeping with the spirit of things.
“Well, this one–” big haired woman nodded to her partner. “--for some reason didn’t get the memo.”
Big flower lady recoiled at the insult and playfully swatted at her friend.
“This was a flower that I wore in the 80s!” she retorted with an exaggerated air of annoyance.
“What? The 1880s?”
The two laughed heartily. Celeste found them charming.
“Have a great time!” they chimed in unison. Celeste thanked them and headed towards the entrance.
The music was seeping through the gaps between the double doors that attempted to hold it all back. The playlist was certainly composed of hits from an era that nobody from the 2011 graduating class would recognize.
Celeste took a deep breath and adjusted her hair. Normally it was a straight dirty blonde but for her “look” she had her hair slightly curled to appear wavy. Celeste thought to herself that perhaps she would hang onto the hairstyle even after the high school reunion. It was growing on her.
Beyond the doors was the cafeteria she had not seen for over a decade. She never ate there, instead choosing to have her lunch in one of several stairwells. Celeste didn’t have many friends. Clarification: Celeste didn’t have any school friends. She had people she knew, but they were classmates. And now she was to walk into a place that was essentially foreign to her, to mix with people she had very little fondness for.
Celeste pushed the doors open to make her grand entrance. Keep your head straight and facing forward, she heard her mom say before being engulfed by a tidal wave of music and lights.
Irene and Esther had worked 13 high school reunions together. If a class didn’t want to handle all of the logistics that go with organizing, communicating, marketing, and negotiating to put together a reunion, they hired the company that Irene and Esther worked for. One of the tasks the company provides is for people to work the registration desk to check-in attendees. The company will normally hire recently retired folks to perform such easy jobs. Enter Irene and Esther.
Esther was the more responsible of the two. She normally arrived early and had the registration table already set up and ready to go before Irene arrived. Irene made up for it by bringing her a caramel macchiato from Starbucks. The hot drink was her favorite. As for Irene, she didn’t do the job for the money or even out of boredom. Her first high school reunion was her youngest daughter’s, who actually volunteered to spearhead the entire event. She asked Irene for help with a variety of tasks such as manning the registration desk where attendees came to check-in. Irene agreed. The following year, Irene’s daughter launched a company that focused on organizing high school reunions and she brought her mother on board. Her next hire? Esther.
“You do know this is supposed to be an 80s theme, right?” Esther asked, upon seeing her friend.
Irene put a Starbucks grande caramel macchiato in front of her friend.
“Yes I do,” Irene said, pretending to sound annoyed with her friend. “And you?”
Esther cupped the edges of her oversized hair, emphasizing the volume. She was extremely happy with how it turned out.
“Oh, act your age!” Irene laughed, playfully punching her friend before taking a seat next to her.
As usual, Esther already had everything ready. The name badges were already organized in alphabetical order and several stacks of event programs were spread out. Esther had the attendee list and several red pens for them to cross off names as people checked in. She had already checked in a handful of people.
“Well hello!” Esther smiled cheerfully.
“Byron Drew,” the big burly man said in a monotone. He didn’t give Esther’s greeting a chance to sink in.
There was a certain edge to the man. He was a shade over six feet tall and looked to be in tremendous shape. Esther could see the outlines of his muscles in the sleeves of his white sport jacket as well as his bulging chest, testing the strength of the buttons of his bright blue dress shirt.
“Let me see,” Irene started to scan the name badges.
The man gave a long, annoyed sigh. Esther looked at Byron and gave him the widest, brightest smile to hopefully melt away the man’s iciness. He only looked back at her blankly. Esther surrendered and tucked her bright smile away. No sense wasting it on this man.
“Well this is odd. I can’t find it!” Irene said with a forced giggle.
“Well this is bullshit because I went to this school and this is my graduating class and I RSVP’d to this thing over a fucking year ago so you need to fucking find it,” Byron said in one, long take. Every curse word was soaked in vile contempt.
“I-I-I–” Irene stammered, still looking at the name tags hoping that Byron Drew’s name would appear.
“I-I-I-,” Byron began mocking Irene.
“Perhaps we can find you in the program–” Esther began to speak, trying to take the heat off of her friend.
Esther put on the widest smile she could humanly stretch across her face, which was more a mask to hide her own rising tide of fear. She tried to flip to the page in the program that listed the entire graduating class.
“So instead of a name tag I wear a fucking book on my chest?” Byron snatched the program from Esther whose mouth fell open. “If someone asks who I am, I just tell them to turn to page thirty fucking three?”
Byron tossed the program back at Esther, hitting the woman in the chest. By this time, a line of people began to form behind him. They were watching every second. A few had their camera phones filming the entire episode. The two women looked past Byron and saw the crowd of onlookers. They were completely embarrassed.
“I want my name tag. I paid for this bullshit. And I don’t want a blank one that has my name hand written in marker. I want a printed name tag like the rest of them,” Byron growled in anger. “What’s your name flower power?”
“Irene,” Irene said softly and in fear. Byron looked down at her own name tag, nicely printed and not hand written because someone made an unforgivable blunder.
“Irene, since I’m a nice guy and you’re a fucking idiot, if you can’t find my name tag I’ll let you hand write my name,” Byron was leaning closely to where a few inches separated their faces. “You can write in big bold letters, ‘Irene is my bitch’. How about that?”
“Sir, this isn’t necessary–” Esther again tried to intercede. Instead, Byron, not looking away from Irene, held the palm of his hand up to Esther’s face as a signal for her to be quiet. And she did.
“So, what’s it going to be, Irene?” Byron asked. “Are we gonna play these fucking games? There’s a nice cup of jell-o for each of you in this.”
Suddenly, a name tag with the neatly printed name BYRON DREW was thrust between him and Irene. Byron looked to his left and a guy in a ridiculously oversized gray sport jacket stood there holding the name tag.
“Here. She was looking under ‘B’ for Byron instead of ‘D’ for Drew,” the man explained calmly. Byron snatched the piece of paper from his hand and stuck the tag on his shirt. “No need to be nasty.”
“Stop being a dick!” a voice called from the crowd of people waiting to check in.
“Guy’s always been a dick,” another voice chimed in.
“Once a dick, always a dick!” added another.
Byron focused his gaze on the man before him.
“I always fucking hated you. Always,” Byron said to the man. He gave the two women one last condescending look before heading through the double doors and into the school cafeteria.
The man looked over at the women and gave them an apologetic look. Their expressions of fear were replaced by the same sunny demeanors they had prior to the Byron Drew run-in.
“Well that was really weird!” Irene said in a dismissive, uncomfortable giggle.
“Sure was!” Esther concurred.
The man smiled warmly and began to walk away and towards the back of the line.
“Wait, wait!” Esther called out. “While you’re here, we might as well check you in!”
The man nodded. “That’s ok. I don’t wanna jump the line. Wouldn’t be right. These people have been waiting here for a while.”
The two women smiled broadly. It was all they could do to thank the man.
As he reached what he thought was the end of the line, he pointed to a little gap in the line between two sets of people.
“Go ahead take it,” said a girl with big frizzy hair with streaks of bright pink. “Girl stepped out of line for some reason.”
The man nodded as a means of saying, “Thank you” to which the girl with the frizzy hair smiled then returned to her conversation.
The line began to lengthen and also began to move. It took several minutes but he eventually made it to the registration desk and the bright smiles of Irene and Esther.
“Logan Carver,” he said with a smile.
“And that’s under ‘C’,” Irene said cheerily, equaling Logan’s smile.
Even Logan had to laugh.
Esther handed him his name tag and event program while Irene waved him on. Before he pushed through the double doors and into the cafeteria, Esther called back to him.
“Have a good time, Mr. Carver,” she said. Logan nodded and stepped inside.
Byron Drew leaned against the wall. He didn’t look happy. He was surrounded by three women whose names he couldn’t remember. Their names all began with the letter ‘T’. He chose not to remember much more. They were talking and squealing about something. He didn’t know and didn’t care. Instead, Byron watched the dance floor, which he found more interesting. The music was from the 1980s, which matched the theme of the reunion. Eddie Money’s “I Wanna Go Back” played loudly through every speaker. Byron thought the song was one of Money’s better hits. But nobody here even knew or could appreciate it. What he found hilarious was that the music didn’t match the dancing. The Eddie Money song was mid-tempo at its fastest while everyone danced as if hopped up on Red Bull and cocaine.
Suddenly Byron spotted her. The first thing he noticed was the lacy white dress with the funky top. Then he noticed her wavy dirty blonde hair. He noted how she had developed over the last 10 years. He liked what he saw. Byron watched her walk through the crowd of people chatting and laughing. Some turned to look at her. A few squinted as if thinking, “She looks familiar”. Others just rolled their eyes.
Byron broke free of the trio of ‘T’ girls and tore through clusters of reunion revelers. He crossed part of the dance floor, bumping into several people. They gave him dirty looks but he didn’t care.
“Celeste Warren!” Byron called out. Celeste turned in the direction of the person calling her name. “It’s still Warren, right? Unless you got married.”
Celeste turned to see Byron, a hulk of a man in a white suit and light blue shirt. After registering it was Byron, she turned and began to head towards one of several tables full of food and punch bowls filled with a Pepto-colored pink liquid. Byron was close behind. He could smell her perfume trailing her.
“You remember me,” he smiled. Byron tried to put his hand on Celeste’s shoulder but she capably brushed him away.
“I’m happy you showed up. We never got any…closure,” Byron grinned. Celeste wasn’t comfortable and Byron could tell. She had her arms to her sides, her hands were balled up in fists. Celeste noticed Byron looking at her hands. She released them as if she was embarrassed that he noticed.
“So how’s things?” Byron asked as if he didn’t notice that Celeste was still uncomfortable. He grabbed a clear plastic cup and used the ladle to scoop some liquid. He gave the drink a smell. There wasn’t a scent but he acted as if he was inspecting a fine wine. He filled a cup and offered it to her. Celeste crossed her arms. It was a signal that she declined.
“Suit yourself,” he said, taking a sip of the drink. He took a moment to try and identify the taste. It was familiar. Then it struck him. “Fuck, it’s like they melted a bunch of Mentos and mixed it with whole milk.”
“What do you want, Byron?” Celeste asked. Her tone made it clear that she didn’t want him around.
“Like I said, we never had any closure,” Byron said slowly. “Like the song says, ‘I wanna go back’”.
For some reason, Byron was always attracted to her. He could have any girl in school. But why her? It was graduation, the ceremony was over, and Celeste was walking back to her car. She was to drive to Dragon’s Garden for some celebratory Chinese food with her mom, aunt, and cousin Janice. But she would be late. Just as she was about to open the door to her car, Byron’s hand came over her and pushed it shut. A lot of the following moments were a blur. She only remembers his hands moving all over her body and the horrible smell of his cologne. He squeezed. He pulled. He probed. She couldn’t scream but she did try to push him away. It was like trying to move an immovable object. So many things were running through her mind. One of them wasn’t the directive to scream. The assault came to an abrupt end after someone yelled Byron’s name. He had done enough to her. She got in her car, not wanting to hear anything from anyone. The next thing she recalled was sitting at the table with her mom, aunt, and cousin ordering appetizers, while pretending that nothing was wrong.
“Yeah, you remember,” Byron chuckled to himself.
Celeste looked around for an escape. She could easily step to either side and be on her way. But Byron was just so large and intimidating she felt cornered. He could tell by her darting eyes that she was nervous.
“I like what I see. You’re fucking hot,” Byron began to thrust his hips towards her. Celeste took a step back.
The music continued to play Eddie Money. The gravelly voice booming and reverberating louder as Byron seemed to close the gap between him and Celeste.
“See those chicks over there?” he asked, urging her to turn around and look at what he was referring to. She did not. “They would love to do a lot of things to me. And I would do a lot of things to them. But I’m not there. I’m here…with you.”
The lights cast menacing shadows upon Byron’s face. It’s not as if he needed them. Celeste looked around frantically. It seemed that there were a handful of people looking on, curious about what was happening between the two of them. Byron ran his fingers along the side of her arm. His touch on her skin made Celeste want to vomit whatever she had in her stomach.
“Leave me alone you asshole!” Celeste yelled, her hands back to clenched into balls of fists. It seemed that everyone had heard her as they turned to see about the commotion.
Byron started to take a few steps in retreat. He watched Celeste tremble and try to calm herself by taking several deep breaths. He enjoyed seeing her so vulnerable. It turned him on. But he didn’t like how she was behaving. She needed a lesson.
“Fucking bitch,” he said to her in a forceful and violent whisper so that only she could hear his anger. Then, without warning, Byron tossed the pink liquid from his cup onto her white dress.
All who were watching the scene unfold took a collective gasp as Celeste’s dress bore the stain of the mystery pink punch. Nobody made a move other than to record the moment on their camera phones. Nobody even asked if Celeste was ok or offered any assistance. Celeste, bergan to tremble. She could barely contain it, which meant that she was visibly shaking as the tremors coursed through her body. It wasn’t because of what Byron did. It was because it seemed like everyone was looking at her. And she didn’t like to be the center of attention. There was a feeling of claustrophobia taking over her. The walls began to close in and the crowd seemed to inch closer and closer. Even Eddie Money’s husky voice had a heaviness to it that seemed to crush Celeste’s insides.
Byron laughed to himself. He was actually enjoying watching Celeste begin to fall apart in front of him. He turned and began to walk away. He still had a smile on his face but he wasn’t satisfied with what he had done. He was actually burning with anger. She embarrassed him. There was something he wanted and she didn’t give it to him. Byron wanted to smash his fists into the drywall. He wanted to yell out loud and release all of his anger.
“Cool off, Byron,” someone in the trio that followed him said.
Cooling off was what he needed to do. Byron headed to the restroom and shoved the door open. His eyes were filled with red. How could she? Bitch.
In his blind rage, Byron didn’t realize he had bumped into someone.
“The fuck outta the way,” he growled.
Then he noticed the person out of the corner of his eye. He fucking hated this guy.
The cafeteria was different. Everything was off. There was a different energy than the one he experienced prior to walking into the restroom. Logan felt it all the moment he stepped out of the restroom expecting to be hit with loud conversation and laughter. Eddie Money was still playing loudly, but just below the music he could hear whispers. He looked over across the dance floor and noticed a small congregation of people. Heads turned to one another and whispered, fingers pointed, and hands were placed over mouths. The gathering called to him and said it was urgent. His first few steps were a hurried walk but quickly turned into a frantic sprint. When he arrived he saw Celeste standing in the same puddle of pink liquid that stained her white dress. Her face was decorated with terror and pain.
“Oh no…” Logan said under his breath.
Logan took a step towards Celeste who immediately raised her hand and ordered him to stop. He did. She looked around her and still saw a sea of curious faces with camera phones documenting every moment. The people whispered to each other. She didn’t know what they were saying but she assumed it wasn’t anything kind. The collective weight of their stares began to suffocate her and she felt like she couldn’t breathe. Then, without a word, Celeste ran away from them. She tore through a sea of people still trying to dance to Eddie Money. The crowd parted like the Red Sea and then slowly reformed behind her like a wound healing itself.
Logan was stunned. He had been looking for Celeste the entire night and when he finally found her, she was distraught. And he couldn’t do anything about it. He turned to a girl with big frizzy hair and streaks of pink who was popping gum and flipping through her phone.
“What the hell happened?” Logan asked.
“Diane,” the girl said, not looking up from the phone.
“What?” Logan asked incredulously.
“My name is Diane. Diane Nowak,” she said, continuing to pop her gum.
“Hello Diane–” Logan started.
“We had Chem and Trig together–” Diane started.
“Yeah I remember, Diane–”
“--and you were always nice to me, sharing your notes and shit. You were kind of a dork but sweet. But here we are and you don’t even remember my name,” Diane continued.
Logan was beginning to lose his patience but knew he needed to cling to what he had left just long enough to get what he needed from Diane.
“Sorry Diane. The important thing is I need to know what happened to Celeste. She–”
“Byron dumbfuck was talking to her and looking all creepy and shit. Then she calls him an asshole and next thing you know, he tosses that nasty ass pink shit on her. Nice dress,” Diane said, as she typed the last bit into her phone.
Logan nodded and thanked Diane. His mind was spinning and anger was coursing through his veins. He began to head towards the restroom where he had last seen Byron. Just steps away from the door, Byron happened to walk out trailed by his three stooges. Logan clenched his fist and threw all 165 pounds into a punch that tore through the air and successfully connected with Byron’s face. In Logan’s mind, he pictured Byron falling to the ground, out cold. He would stand over the unconscious bully and rain a series of equally powerful punches. Unfortunately, the punch wasn’t nearly as potent as he was hoping it to be. Byron was unmoved and certainly unhurt. He looked at Logan who was readying to throw a second punch. Before he could do so, Byron rammed both his fists into Logan’s chest. The impact was so powerful that it knocked Logan to the ground and sent him skidding across the dirty cafeteria floor and into a crowd of people. It was like a bowling ball hurtling into a set of pins. He felt an intense pain like his chest had caved in.
“You wanna fuck with me?” Byron screamed over the music. “I’m gonna fuck with you!”
As he struggled, Logan could see Byron approaching, a booming thud with each step he took. Several people tried to stop him, but he tossed them aside. Logan found it difficult to get to his feet and found it even more difficult to breathe. He got onto his hands and knees, hoping it would be easier to stand. It only left him vulnerable. Byron leaned over and grabbed him by the jacket, actually lifting him off the ground and standing him back up on his feet. Even Logan was impressed if only for a tenth of a second. Logan decided to throw as many punches as he could. He threw wildly and without any attempt at aim other than to throw in Byron’s direction. Whatever connected felt like punching a brick wall.
“I’m gonna love this,” Byron growled.
Byron spun Logan around to face him, then punched him in the stomach. All of the air in Logan’s lungs rushed out like water from a firehose. If he wasn’t struggling to breathe before, he was certainly struggling now. People clawed and grabbed at Byron but were unsuccessful. He easily broke free and shoved each person away. Byron grabbed Logan, who hung in his hands like a lifeless doll, lifted him in the air and slammed him onto a table. The pain from Logan’s gut immediately shot to his back. He would definitely be feeling this in the morning. Byron lifted him into the air again and slammed him onto the table a second time. The man was a beast. Logan knew he didn’t have a chance. That night after graduation, when I stopped Byron from raping Celeste, he had taken a bit of a beating. It was a couple punches and a body slam to the ground before Officer Price saved him by subduing Byron from doing any more damage. Logan wouldn’t get that now. This was going to be the ass kickings of all ass kickings.
Byron pulled Logan within an inch of his face. Logan could smell the man’s foul breath.
“Why–” Logan struggled to speak. “--why did you have to hurt her?”
“Why do you keep getting in the fucking way?” Byron shot back. “Every–” a punch to the ribs. “–fucking–” another puch to the ribs. “–time.”
A rib or two was definitely broken. Logan could feel it. Then again it was hard to pinpoint what part of him was hurting the most because all of him hurt.
“Because I love her,” Logan struggled to respond, grabbing Byron’s shirt trying to choke the man. Byron grabbed Logan by the hair and slammed his head into the table. Logan’s vision darkened like someone dimming the lights in the room.
“That’s it?” Byron asked, laughing and out of breath. “That’s it?”
Logan threw whatever strength he had left into his right knee, which he thrust into Byron’s crotch with all his might. It connected solidly. And unlike his other punches that seemed to hit an impenetrable wall, this was definitely a vulnerable spot. Byron grabbed his crotch and crumpled to the floor where he writhed in pain.
“I love her,” Logan yelled and threw his fist into Byron’s face. It still didn’t do a thing but Logan felt good. It felt so good that he threw another punch. “Now, that’s it.”
Nobody tended to Byron. They continued to film with their phones. The evening was surely already up on someone’s social media feed. Celeste, Logan thought to himself. Before he could begin another thought, he heard a roar that did not at all sound human. He turned around and saw Byron get to his feet and charge. Logan readied himself, anticipating that he would be taking another hell of an ass kicking. But before Byron could reach him, Byron’s body came to a complete stop, suddenly became rigid, and dropped. Logan looked up beyond his two raised fists to se a gray-haired Officer Price holding a taser, whose probes were embedded into Byron’s back.
Irene came over and placed her hand on Officer Price’s shoulder.
“And you said I didn’t need to be here, Aunt Irene,” Officer Price said to the woman with the oversized flower over her right breast.
Officer Price knelt beside Byron and patted him on the shoulder.
“We meet again, Byron Drew,” he said in a calm gravelly voice.
“That’s Byron Drew, with a D,” Irene said as she and Esther walked past them and towards one of the remaining tables of food and drink.
Celeste couldn’t believe that she had dropped her purse. As she stepped back into the cafeteria, a man was right there with her purse. She nodded as a form of, “Thank you” and he nodded back in an unspoken, “You’re welcome”. She noticed a look of pity in his eyes and it made her feel even worse.
“Are you ok?” the man asked. He was dressed in a simple green sweater and a pair of gray pants that looked too short for his long legs. Celeste, looking down at her feet, nodded that she was fine.
“You know, Logan’s getting his ass beat right now,” he said to her. Celeste looked over at the crowd of people across the cafeteria. She could hear yelling but the words were hard to make out.
“It’s like that time at graduation,” the man continued.
Celeste looked at the man in shock. “How–”
“Logan was the one who found you and stopped Byron. Well, he stopped him from going any further. You peeled out of there and didn’t see Byron give Logan an ass kicking until he got hit with a taser by the school cop. It was kind of funny to see, actually.”
“He–Logan?” she asked the man.
“No! Byron got tased. Shit, it’s the only thing aside from a bullet or an F-150 that would’ve stopped that asshole.”
Celeste slowly headed towards the crowd.
“You know he’s always had feelings for you,” the man called out to Celeste. She stopped and looked back at the man, giving him a weak smile. “My buddy Damian told me the only reason he came here was because of you. He was hoping you’d be here. Damian told me that he happened to be there–you know, the graduation thing–because he wanted to kind of let you know how he felt. He always had a thing for you.”
“I kind of have a thing for him too,” Celeste replied. “What’s your name?”
“Memphis,” he said with a smile. “We had AP English together.”
“Memphis…” Celeste said with a smile.
“My mom called me Memphis–” he began to explain.
“--because you were born in Nashville,” Celeste finished with a tearful laugh. She remembered him and the story.
Memphis laughed until he heard a very audible thud over the Eddie Money song, which was, mercifully, finally coming to an end. He and Celeste looked over towards the crowd.
“I think you oughta go to him,” he said to her.
Celeste gave Memphis one last smile and headed over to the crowd. The music came to a complete stop and only the collective murmurs and whispers of side conversations filled the cafeteria. She began to cross over the dance floor when the crowd parted and Logan stood before her. Celeste took a step towards Logan when suddenly a spotlight fell on her and she froze in place, unable to move. Celeste could feel the eyes of hundreds of people staring at her and the sudden feeling of claustrophobia began to rear its head. She didn’t like to be the center of attention.
Logan took a couple steps towards her, their eyes locked. He watched as she continued to tremble, uneasy with all of the attention. Over a decade of waiting and wondering had led him to this moment and now there she was standing before him looking every bit as amazing as he remembered her to be. In the months and days and hours leading up to when he would first see her, Logan imagined a fairy tale ending where he would confess his love for her and she would confess her love to him. But this is where he was.
The room either fell silent. Logan’s mind searched and searched until an idea came. He walked over to a table and poured himself a cup of the pink drink. Celeste eyed him nervously. Logan walked towards her and gave a warm, heartfelt smile before pouring the pink drink onto his jacket and shirt.
“Now you’re not alone,” Logan said to Celeste.
Following the high school reunion, Logan and Celeste dated for six months. Their first date was at a restaurant that was the converted home of the city’s first mayor. They sat at one of several tables that were tucked away in the property’s sprawling garden so as to provide some privacy. On the seventh month together, Logan proposed. Celeste accepted and they were married a year later. They settled on a nice two bedroom two bath home with a large yard. A little over a year later, Celeste gave birth to a little girl named Landyn. Three years after Landyn, Celeste became pregnant again and this time gave birth to a little boy who they named Cameron. Logan knew their current home was too small to accommodate their family so he bought a much larger house in a more desirable school district. Cameron wasn’t even a year old when Logan and Celeste were invited to attend their 15 year reunion. The approach was much different. Rather than hosting it at the high school’s cafeteria, a committee decided to have an outdoor picnic complete with games and activities for the kids and the adults. The reunion was much more jovial and inviting. And the weather was perfect. Byron didn’t attend. He was in prison for committing some form of fraud, which is what Logan gathered from a quick internet search. The committee had long decided not to invite him anyway. Logan and Celeste had a much easier time speaking with their old classmates, many of whom had children the same age as theirs. Even Memphis and Diane—whose relationship also began at the 10 year high school reunion—came, along with their three children. As before, Iris and Esther would be there to work the event. They were giddy to see young Landyn and Cameron. This would be the final high school reunion the ladies would work. Iris passed away a year later and Esther followed four months after. Logan and Celeste visited them each year, placing fresh flowers on their gravestones. Two years after the 15 year reunion, Celeste gave birth to their last child, a boy they named Camden. On their fiftieth anniversary Logan and Celeste told their story to their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. They ended with a kiss and were showered with a rousing applause. They both looked at their large family who didn’t care that they were bunched into a room that was too small to accommodate them all. Their long road together led them to this moment. Celeste, tears of joy filling her eyes, leaned over to Logan and whispered, “We’re not alone.”