“Name?” Meredith Skinner asks me as I approach the check-in desk. Of course, she would be the one bossing everyone around, still. She wears a placid smile, no recognition in her eyes. She’s probably already dismissed me mentally, reasoning if she doesn’t remember me, I must not have been worth knowing. Not much has changed.
The color drains from her face as she looks down at the basket full of pre-printed name badges, fumbling through them with none of the grace she always pretended to have when we were in school.
“Errr…I don’t…uhhh…see you here…” she stammers, her breaths coming quickly.
“It’s fine.” I pick up one of the blank badges probably reserved for spouses and plus-ones and quickly fill in my name, sticking it to the front of my red dress proudly. “Good to see you, Mer.” I smile at her before entering the ballroom. I think she’s on the verge of hyperventilation.
No one recognizes me at first, but I know them so well. There’s Tommy Frazier, the former jock, standing next to Laura Brooks, well, it’s probably Frazier now too. I read on the alumni website they’d gotten married right after high school. There’s Tiff Stanton and Delia Jones, the party girls, out on the dance floor with guys I’m assuming are their husbands, but with Delia and Tiff, who really knows. In the corner of the room, nursing a drink, is Cat Fiore, my high school bestie, who I hear is some do-gooder type now, running a charity that gets clean drinking water to people in third-world countries. Penance.
I decide I need a drink if I’m really going to do this and head straight to the bar. I haven’t even signaled the bartender yet when greasy Charles Macklin takes a seat next to me. He was a player in high school, always chasing girls. I don’t see a ring on his finger, so he must still be up to his old ways.
“Hello.” He adds 100 L’s. He smells like too much cologne and I wrinkle my nose, stifling a sneeze.
“Are you here with someone? I’m sure I would have remembered you if we were in school together.”
“You don’t remember me, Charlie?” I ask, enjoying his look of confusion.
“Should I?” He motions for the bartender. “I’ll have a beer and she’ll take a…”
“Martini. Dry. Extra olives.”
He turns back to me proudly as though I should be grateful. It is an open bar.
“So, why don’t I remember you? Were you one of those late-bloomer types? A wallflower?” He chuckles.
“Well, I was a bit shy, but I’m sure you remember me, Charlie. It’s me, Casey.”
I see him mentally scrolling through a list of all the Caseys he knows, having already decided I couldn’t be THAT Casey.
The bartender returns with our drinks but he doesn’t notice. He mumbles some excuse about needing to talk to someone and rushes away, nearly knocking over a stool in his wake. I notice he makes a beeline for Cat, whose eyes widen in surprise as he whispers in her ear urgently.
Of course they’re all shocked and running scared. These people all thought I was lost forever, which is to be expected, since they left me for dead.
Read Part 2 – Smoke