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Carol yanks the keys out of the ignition and drums her fingertips against the steering wheel. She looks down at the black and white sheet of paper on the passenger seat and wonders why she drove through traffic on a Friday night. She wonders why she sat in the parking lot with her engine running for the past ten minutes, staring at the lights inside of McKinsey High. A sense of nostalgia floods her, but it’s more bitter than sweet.
She finally wills herself out of the Camry and up to the main doors of the building. Music drifts out through the windows. It must be a throwback playlist, featuring The Cure’s distinct sound muffled by a crowd of voices. Carol pushes through the entryway and up a flight of steps. A few unfamiliar faces stand on the staircase making important business phone calls. One woman checks up with the babysitter at home to make sure the kids are in bed.
The gym is packed tightly. Streamers dangle from the rafters and banners scream “Welcome Back, Class of ’96!” Carol makes a beeline for the banquet table, filling up her plate with grocery-store bought cookies and coffee cake that tastes like absolutely nothing. She fills a Dixie cup with fruit punch, the kind with chunks of fruit floating around at the bottom. Most of the tables are all filled up with men and women dressed nicely, but somehow all managing to look the same. Towards the stage, Carol recognizes Susan Laflame, head of student government, resting her hand on Andrew Bennet’s shoulder. She’s laughing at something he said, which is funny, because Suzy never laughs. She’s too busy planning prom or getting someone in trouble to be having fun. Carol seats herself by the wall as the lights begin to dim.
A balding man holding a microphone walks onto the stage and clears his throat. “Welcome, everyone!” he says, and all the voices blend in a garbled greeting. “Hope you all are having a good night so far. It’s so strange to see all these familiar faces in the crowd…” He squints against the spotlight and points at someone sitting in the front. He makes a remark about attendance, and a history of never showing up for class, and everyone laughs. A pang of regret hits Carol, a strange guilt for not understanding the reference. Behind her, two people enter the room and pull up chairs. She glances back as the earthy stench of marijuana fills her nostrils.
Beverly Moss elbows Christopher and whispers something into his ear. His bloodshot eyes wrinkle at the corners with laughter, tears beginning to form as he covers his mouth. Carol smiles, wishing she could join them. She was vehemently straight-edge as a high-schooler, but age dulled those passions. College was a time of experimentation, mainly with psychedelics. She wondered if maybe Bev and Chris were just mentally ahead of the others.
A new voice comes over the speakers, and Carol looks back at the stage to see a beautiful brunette. Stephanie Aubin speaks so eloquently and seductively, it’s hard to believe she and Carol are the same age. “I now have two kids of my own,” she says, flashing a set of blindingly white teeth. God, how is she so skinny? Carol sucks in her stomach and looks down in regret at her empty plate. “It’s so nice to see how everyone’s changed,” Stephanie says, “Just twenty years ago, I was this awkward little girl in braces, trying to find my place in life.”
There were nods of agreement in the crowd, but Carol felt queasy. It was like she was sitting in a TED talk. “How to Still Feel Like S*** About Yourself After a Decade and Realize That You Might Possibly Never Reach Your Full Potential” it would be called. Inspirational. Someone sits beside Carol and says, “This is f***ing painful.” The woman with a black bob and too much eyeliner pulls a flask out of her purse and pours it into the punch, then offers it to Carol. She accepts, but instead drinks right out of the container.
“They’re acting like they never called her a slut in Junior year.” Carol laughs and a few people turn their heads to glare. The woman with vodka breath says, “You wanna ditch and give Ted Bunsley a flat tire?” Carol smiles. She couldn’t think of anything better.






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