A floating mass of colorful streamers was arched across the ceiling of the high school gymnasium, partially obscuring the metal rafters above to give the room a more festive look. The late afternoon San Jose sky glowed blue through a small row of windows looking into the well lit room, windows built near the ceiling high above the polished hardwood floor. The gymnasium was filled with music as people moved through the crowded room, laughing, talking, dancing, getting re-acquainted with old friends who had inevitably become a little older. Around the perimeter was a ring of food and tables. And above all a mirrored ball spun slowly, sending specks of light spinning around the bright room, barely visible.
Claire entered through the open double doors with Frank on her arm. She smiled slowly and looked up, her eyes glittering. Her old school was just like she had remembered it, as if this place existed somehow outside of time. But everything seemed smaller as well, almost like an echo of it's former self. As she stood there on that floor, her thoughts raced back to her senior prom. Marissa, Patty, Geena, Joanne, all of her friends had been there with her. She remembered later that night finding Heather crying out in the parking lot and talking with her for hours as she tried to comfort her. In the end they had gone off for french fries, and somehow that had made Heather feel better. She wondered if any of them were here this year.
It had been a strange experience walking through the hallways of her old school, remembering. Realizing how much time had really passed and how different she was now than she was back then. She was like the school around her, inexplainably different, yet the same. Some things never changed.
Frank stood beside her, holding her arm as Claire took it all in. He was dressed in a rich, dark suit that made him look very, very attractive. Smiling at him with excitement, Claire reached out and adjusted his tie, thinking to herself that he was the most handsome man in the room.
"You look really great, Frank." She said with a smile as she pulled her hands back. "I'm sure every woman in the room is wondering right this moment who that handsome hunk is that just walked in."
Frank smiled back at her. "Or... they're wondering who that lucky bastard is who just walked in on the arm of Claire Allen."
"He's my lucky bastard. My lucky bastard with the silver tongue." Claire pulled his face to hers, kissing him. "And I'm not sharing him with anyone."
Suddenly two women came screaming out of the crowd, crying out with glee as they approached.
With a good natured smile, Claire reluctantly broke her kiss and dropped her head, sighing at having been interrupted. She turned away from Frank as the two women finally reached her and pulled her out of his arms, hugging her tightly.
"Claire! I'm glad you made it!" a short woman with reddish brown, curly hair said. "We haven't heard from you since Chicago. How have you been?"
"Hello, Marissa." Claire said, happy to see her. She turned to the other woman too, a slender brunette with blue eyes. "Geena, hi. How are you? It's been too long."
Geena smiled as she hugged her. "It has been too long, Claire. Since the party. But, hopefully this time we'll meet under better circumstances. That Bachlorette party you threw was... something else."
Marissa laughed, her curly hair bouncing. "That's putting it mildly. Wasn't that a disaster..."
Nodding, Claire pulled back from Geena. "Yeah, it was rough. But maybe it was for the best. Getting it all out into the open when it did. Is... Joanne here?" She asked softly.
Geena nodded. "Yes she is. Hopefully she's gotten over the whole failed engagement thing. But that might be a little hard, since..." She looked over at Marissa.
"What?" Claire asked. "What is it?"
"Heather and Ben are here," Marissa said. "...together."
Claire winced. "Ouch. Well. I guess they were bound to run into each other eventually."
Geena scowled, obviously not as forgiving. "I'm surprised Heather and Ben even had the nerve to come at all..."
Claire spoke calmly, defending them a little. "Maybe they just don't want to hide any more."
Geena wasn't convinced. "Still..."
Claire brightened. "Still, we should move on to happier things. I don't see Patty? Is she here? Did she make it?"
Marissa nodded. "She's around here somewhere, showing off her new British boyfriend. But I'm definetly more interested in talking about other things..." She pushed past Claire to walk up to Frank, a sparkle in her eyes. "Who is this total babe that you came with, Claire? Is this you're pulitzer prize? Is this Alex?"
Claire seemed embarrassed. "No, Alex is long gone. This is Frank."
Marissa looked him over with a slow appreciative gaze. "Hmm. Not bad at all. Leave it to Claire to move from one gorgeous guy to another. Hello Frank, I'm Marissa. It's nice to meet you." She extended her hand and he took it.
"It's nice to meet you too, Marissa," he said politely.
Geena nodded, standing beside Marissa. "He is a looker, Claire. Speaking of which, you didn't happen to bring that gloriously built bald man with you from Chicago, did you?" She looked around.
Claire laughed softly. "No Geena. No strippers this time."
"Damn..." Geena sounded disappointed.
"Frank, in case you haven't figured it out yet, this bag of hormones standing beside Marissa is Geena," Claire said. "Along with Joanne and a few others, Geena and Marissa were some of my closest friends in high school."
"The pleasure is mine, Geena." Frank said, shaking her hand.
Geena looked down at her hand as he held it. "I'm about to say the same..."
Claire looked into the crowd, and saw another woman heading towards them. Her face brightened even more. "And quickly approaching is a fourth, perpetually tardy and obviously inebriated, member of our little troupe. Patty! Hi! It's good to see you!" Claire laughed like... well, a schoolgirl.
A blond woman with brown eyes joined them, holding a drink in one hand as she hugged Claire warmly. "Stop telling stories like that about me, Claire. People will believe you."
"Only because they're true." Marissa teased.
"Patty, this is my boyfriend, Frank."
"Wow." Patty said when she looked at him.
Frank smiled at her nervously, starting to feel very much like some raw meat that had just fallen into a lionesses' den. "Umm... hello Patty."
Patty looked him over. "Claire did always get the cream of the Y-chromosome crop. So Frank. What do you do for a living?" She asked.
Claire lowered her eyes and rubbed her neck slightly, knowing what was coming. Out of the corner of his eye, Frank noticed her reaction, but he continued.
"I'm a carpenter."
"Perfect," Geena purred excitedly, waving herself as if cooling off. "I think my fantasies just skipped a beat."
Behind Claire and her small group, Mara and Trevor finally walked into the gymnasium, arm in arm. Mara was dressed simply but beautifully, looking very attractive. Trevor watched her, realizing how true that was. He was dressed well too, but like Mara, not excessively formal, maintaining a casual but elegant air. That he and Mara shared the same sensibilities in how they dressed was a pleasant surprise.
As Trevor looked down at her arm on his, he couldn't deny that he liked it there. He was genuinely attracted to Mara. And since Mara and Claire had been avoiding each other like pariahs all day, he'd been lucky enough to have her company. All the time he had spent with her over the past few days was finally affecting him. He was starting to see things in a new light. Like how it was ok to enjoy having Mara on his arm.
Mara smiled at Trevor affectionately, not really paying attention to anyone else in the room. She had been thinking about him all day. Trevor was like no one she had ever met. Her interest in him was far more genuine than just an easy excuse to annoy Claire. She had felt it from the beginning. She couldn't deny it. There was something else there. She liked him more than she wanted to admit to herself. But in that moment, she wouldn't have traded places with anyone in the room.
Trevor looked at her. "You look beautiful, Mara."
"Thank you, Trevor. Coming from the god of love, that's quite a compliment."
Trevor looked around as she said that. "You're not embarrassed by that?"
"Trevor, I've seen what kind of person you are. You're more genuine in your delusion than most people are in their 'realities'. I'd never be ashamed of you, Trevor."
As they stopped, just beyond the entrance, Mara and Trevor noticed Claire nearby, surrounded by her friends. Claire looked over and unexpectedly caught Mara's gaze, but she turned angrily away as if not wanting to look at her.
Claire's friends were still cooing over Frank.
"So, dating a carpenter. That's sort of a switch for you, isn't it Claire?" Patty asked.
"Yes it is," Claire said softly, but she couldn't help but touch her neck again, uncomfortable.
"Claire," Geena said excitedly, getting an idea. "Can I borrow him sometime?"
"No, Geena. You may not." Claire said.
"Oh come on! I have some things I'd really like him to fix." She grinned at him seductively.
Claire smiled. "He's already spoken for, Geena."
Marissa grabbed Frank's arm and began to drag him away. "Not for this dance, he's not. Come on Frank. Let's do a different type of wood-working on the dance floor."
Wondering what he was in for, Frank looked at the women with a concerned expression as Marissa pulled him away. They all playfully waved goodbye to the condemned man, before turning to talk some more. Patty and Geena were already laughing again, but Claire didn't notice. She tried to glance back at Mara and Trevor again, to see if they were still arm in arm. But she looked quickly away before they could see her doing it.
Trevor was facing Mara. "You know, you were right."
"About what you said, when you invited me to come. I'm having a great time with you."
Mara smiled and looked down as she leaned into his shoulder for a second, before looking back into his eyes. "That's a good thing, Trevor. Maybe now you'll realize that not all the Allen women are just carbon copies of Claire."
Amused, Trevor nodded. "I'll keep that in mind."
He looked up and saw that Claire was watching them, having seen Mara lean closer to him. Claire turned her head and pretended that she hadn't been. Trevor sighed, wondering when this argument between Claire and Mara was going to end.
"You know," he said to Mara. "You and Claire didn't really have to come in separate taxis."
Mara shook her head. "We did if we wanted to get here in one piece, Trevor."
"But who knows what would have happened if you had," Trevor said. "You might have worked it out. You and Claire should really try to get along."
Mara was silent for a moment.
"Never happen," She said simply.
He couldn't help but chuckle. "Never say never to someone who's immortal."
"Trevor, I just think it's better if we steer clear of each other for awhile. Or at least for today. And... if that has the added benefit of me spending more time with you, then maybe it's not such a bad thing." Mara placed her hand on Trevor's forearm, and for once he didn't mind.
"More time with me?" he asked. "Didn't you come to catch up on any old friends? Aren't they here?"
Mara looked around. "Maybe one or two. But most of them aren't. The crowd I hung around with in high school was more of the, shall we say, fringe types. The types who don't come to reunions. And unlike Claire's friends over there, my friends are friends for life. Not just every five years. We all keep in touch at least once or twice every two weeks. So anyone one who I'd be interested in seeing here, I already do. In fact when I was in Chicago, I was having second thoughts about coming to this reunion at all."
Trevor blinked, not understanding. "If you don't have friends here, why did you come?"
Mara smiled. "That's easy. To bring you with me."
Patty laughed as she spoke with Claire. Geena was right beside her. Frank was nowhere in sight. Marissa hadn't bothered to bring him back yet, the two of them still dancing on the dance floor.
"So Claire," Patty smiled. "You go from a career driven, prize winning, yet very hunky writer who's good with his words... to a hard working, nail driving, yet very hunky carpenter who's good with his hands. Not bad. Such strong... masculine, skillful hands. I'm so jealous. Have you seen the size of his hands Claire?" She teased good naturedly.
Claire interrupted harshly, feeling overly defensive. "Look, I'm not ashamed that he's a carpenter, ok?"
Patty and Geena shared a look, surprised by her reaction. Cautiously, Geena spoke. "No one is saying you should be, Claire."
"Oh," Claire realized she had misunderstood. "Oh, right. I'm not saying that either."
Marissa finally dragged Frank back to Claire with a happy smile on her face. She was out of breath. "Wow, Claire. Does he have a brother?"
Frank seemed tired himself, but was being a sport about it. Before he could rest for more than a few seconds, Geena handed her drink to Marissa and grabbed Frank's arms. "Hey, not so fast, pretty boy. It's my turn next."
As Geena dragged him away, Frank moaned and gave them all a pained look. Marissa, still tired and thirsty, chugged the drink Geena had handed her. Patty watched Frank walk away from them, appreciating the view. "Not bad at all Claire. From any angle. He's sure got my Nigel beat."
Claire didn't seem to hear, looking absently into the crowd as she whispered to herself.
"I'm not embarrassed he's a carpenter," she said softly.
Behind the three women, Mara was trying to get Trevor to go onto the dance floor.
"Come on, Trevor. Let's dance." She took his hands and began to lightly pull him with her as she backed up.
Trevor seemed reluctant. "I don't know, Mara."
"Sure you know Mara." she teased. "I'm right here. You've seen me naked. Come on. It'll be fun."
Finally, she convinced him and they moved slowly onto the dance floor, slipping into each other's arms as some slow music played. They swayed back and forth and held each other close. Specks of light from the mirror ball above flowed over them.
Across the room, Claire was still talking and laughing with her friends, until she looked up and saw Mara and Trevor dancing slowly. She fell silent, watching for several moments before she looked away. Across the room, Frank was dancing with Geena, but he was watching Claire. He followed her gaze to Trevor and Mara, before looking away too.
Trevor held Mara close, his arms on her waist, feeling her near. Dancing with her felt comfortable to him. Maybe too comfortable, and he began to have second thoughts. Suddenly he smiled as he considered that. Exactly why didn't he want this? Mara was a great person. Why did he keep pushing her away? Before he could come up with an answer, he looked into the crowd, and suddenly saw something that made him do a double take.
"Well, I'll be a griffin's manicurist..." he said, surprised.
"What is it?" Still in his arms, Mara looked in the direction he was staring.
"I think I just recognized someone." Trevor smiled.
"But there's no one here that you would know, Trevor..."
"Don't be so sure. Could you hold on for a minute, Mara? I've got something I need to do."
"It'll only be a second, I promise."
Mara seemed skeptical, raising an eyebrow. "Trevor, this isn't some excuse to get out of dancing with me, is it?"
Trevor shook his head. "No. No, of course not. Umm... there's a guy I've got to talk to. Honest. You know that reunions are like fish in a barrel for setting people up. All these old flames, new flames, shared flames, down in flames. How can a god of love pass all that up?"
"Ok, Trevor. But don't think that our dance is finished."
"Sure. I'll be back."
Trevor came out of her arms and walked eagerly across the room towards the man he had spotted. Mara watched him leave with a smile, standing alone on the dance floor for a moment as other couples swayed all around her. She turned happily and walked away.
Trevor walked up to the man he had seen, standing in front of him and spreading his arms out to either side. "SureScore! Imagine this! First Chicago, then the plane, now here. Small world. Especially when you see it from really high up. What are you doing here?"
The man with the thick black glasses that Trevor had talked to on the plane pushed the glasses back up the bridge of his nose. They had a habit of slipping down, it seemed. His hair was slicked back, but still as rumpled as his suit. Still, he had made an obvious attempt to look good.
"Hello, Mr. Hale," the man answered. "This is the function that I told you I was attending in California. I graduated from this high school. And I'm here to win my true love!" He said it proudly, but his voice still seemed nervous.
Trevor smiled. "Really? She's here?"
"Yes. We used to go to high school together. I knew she was coming, so I followed her."
"Hey, careful studly." Trevor said. "There are stalking laws in this state." Trevor threw an arm enthusiastically across the man's shoulder. "What are the odds of you, your true love, and the god of love all being in the same room, huh?"
"Well..." The man pulled out a small palm-top computer, ready to do the calculations.
"No, put that away. Please... Put it away." Trevor looked around. "Bit of advice. Calculators? Not sexy."
"It's not a calculator, it's a-"
"Hey, glad to know it. Ok, tell me about this dream lover of yours. Maybe I can help."
The man took a deep breath. "Maybe you can't, Mr. Hale. Now that I'm here, I'm not so sure that I can go through with this."
"Sure you can! What's stopping you?"
"Well," the man paused. "Everytime I consider doing this, I feel just like we're both in high school all over again."
"That's... sorta what a reunion is."
"No, Mr. Hale. What I mean is that I'm not so sure that she's attracted to me."
"What gave you that mistaken impression?"
The man paused. "When she... told me she wasn't attracted to me?"
"So we work around it," Trevor said, trying to sound encouraging. "I know exactly what will make you more attractive to women. Lots and lots of lying."
"Maybe I just need to be more... confident?" the man offered hopefully.
"Yes. Strut your stuff like you own the room! Walk like you rule the roost! What we need is something to motivate you."
"Well," the man seemed embarrassed. "There is a little something I use to motivate myself-"
"Careful, I don't really need the sordid details. Who am I kidding? Ohhhh-kaay I do. Spill it. What do you use?"
"Umm, just a song. A mantra. It makes me feel taller. Makes me feel like I can do anything."
Trevor nodded. "A song, that's perfect. Now take that and use it. Hear it in your head. Here's what I want you to do. That song is your fuel! You're rocket fuel for your guided missile of love."
"Yeah." The man smiled, more enthused.
"So you're ready?" Trevor prodded.
"Yeah!" The man's voice grew louder, restless with anticipation.
"You've got your rocket fuel?"
"So let's hear it!"
"Ok. Here it goes, Mr. Hale." The man took a deep breath as if preparing for a sprint, before he bagn to chant. "Hungry like the wolf, hungry like the wolf..."
Trevor blinked slowly, surprised. He swallowed down his immediate response and tried to be polite. "Right. Umm. Duran Duran's your mantra. That's not... so completely dorky. We'll just have to go with it. Now. Point out your target to me."
The man's eyes were already locked across the room. "Her..." he said eagerly.
Trevor's eyes widened when he saw where the man was pointing. "Her...?"
The man nodded, laughing, his eyes bright. "Yeah. She's why I went to SureScore in the first place. But for some reason, it really didn't seem to work on her." He began to whisper the words 'hungry like the wolf' again, saying it over and over to psyche himself up.
Trevor still couldn't believe his eyes. "Her?" He asked incredulously.
"Oh yeah." The man said eagerly, eyes still locked on her as he pushed his glasses up again.
Across the room, Claire was momentarily standing alone in the crowd. She was waiting for Frank to come back from yet another dance with one of her friends. She was totally oblivious to the fact that the man in the glasses was looking directly at her.
"Claire Allen?" Trevor asked in disbelief.
"Oh yeah. We went out once in high school."
Trevor tried not to laugh. "Really? Uhhhh... Still worth a shot I guess. I mean, you never know, right? But I've got to warn you missile man. She's a tough nut to crack. A problem she definitely doesn't seem to have. OK. Now you're target's acquired and in the clear."
The man nodded, still trying to build his courage. He whispered his mantra over and over.
"Hungry like the wolf. Hungry like the wolf..."
Trevor nodded. "Hungry like the wolf. Right. The launch window is open, all systems go."
Another nod from the man.
"Now blast off! Go get her, spaceman!"
Nervously, the man closed his eyes and stepped forward as he bee-lined his way across the room towards Claire, whispering his mantra the whole time. Trevor wondered if he should close his eyes, not really sure he wanted to see what was about to happen. Suddenly, he noticed a woman wearing thick black glasses of her own walking up to where he and the other man had been standing. Her eyes were closed as she approached, and she was whispering softly to herself, over and over again.
"Eye of the tiger, eye of the tiger..." she whispered, trying to motivate herself.
The woman stopped and cautiously opened her eyes in front of Trevor. She was taken off guard when she noticed that the other man was gone. Looking around for him, she quickly lost her nerve. Without a word of explanation, the woman looked at Trevor once, then turned and fled, deeply embarrassed. Trevor watched her leave, smiling when he began to put two and two together, seeing what was going on. He turned back towards the man in the thick glasses who was still approaching Claire.
The man in the glasses opened his eyes as he came closer, only to see Claire glaring directly at him, apparently all too familiar with exactly who he was. She didn't show him a very welcoming look on her face. If fact, it would have stopped an avalanche cold. The man tensed suddenly and veered off when he saw her expression, losing his nerve. Still whispering his mantra, he dissapeared into the crowd
"Ouch," Trevor said softly. "Shot down on final approach." Trevor scanned across the room and found the woman in the thick black glasses again, being comforted by a friend for her own attempt. It was obvious the woman had wanted to speak with Claire's doomed suitor, and Trevor knew it. His mind started working as he considered it. He would have to do something about this.
The music was echoing out into the hallway as Claire walked slowly away from the gymnasium, alone. She searched along a row of lockers, reading the numbers. Finally she found the locker she was looking for, placing her hand on it as she remembered. Claire opened it with a smile. It was empty inside, since school was not in session. She looked at it fondly, swivelling the door in her hand.
Suddenly she felt someone behind her, and she turned to find Mara walking towards her. Claire's good mood evaporated quickly. Her face became angry as she turned away, not looking at her.
Mara came up next to her. "I thought that you might come out here, Claire. Revisit old haunts. Look at that. The prodigal locker returns." Mara motioned at Claire's old locker.
Claire tried to keep her voice calm. "It's been painted over. Several times by the looks of it."
Mara nodded. "Haven't we all."
"I really don't think I'm in the mood to talk to you, Mara."
Mara sighed. "Well you're definitely not in the mood to look at me it seems."
"That's because you're not my favorite person right now."
"What else is new. What is it this time?"
"Nothing." Claire shook her head, voice hard as she looked at her locker. "Nothing at all."
Mara sighed and took a few steps towards the far side of the hallway, turning and leaning her back on the wall across from Claire. Claire began looking at her locker door more closely, as if searching for something. Their two bodies framed the distant reunion at the end of the hallway.
"What are you looking for, Claire?" Mara looked up, introspective, not talking about the locker.
Claire continued to search, misunderstanding. "Nothing. It's nothing. Some old scratch marks. Back when I was in high school, I scratched my name here. But it's gone."
"Let me see," Mara stepped across to her.
Claire exhaled, annoyed, but she stepped aside to let her see. Mara looked carefully, and began scratching at the paint, tearing away paint flecks with her fingernails.
"Mara!" Claire whispered, looking around.
Mara didn't stop. "You can report me to the principal later, Claire. Just wait a second. There. See? It's still there. Under the paint. Right where you left it. Looks like my name's there too. But apparently you scratched it out."
"I wasn't too happy with you for a while back then either," Claire said coldly.
Mara nodded. "I guess some scratches never heal..."
Claire slammed the locker door shut, not turning. "I can't believe you slept with him."
Mara blinked. "Who?"
Claire couldn't look at her, fuming. "I can't believe that you slept with Trevor. You've only known him for a few days, but then again, that's never stopped you before. You just jumped right in. That's so, so... YOU!"
Angry now herself, Mara countered back. "Look, before you paint a big red 'A' on my chest, let me let you in on a little secret. We didn't."
Claire turned on her. "What?"
"We didn't sleep together. Trevor slept out in the hallway all night. You almost caught him this morning."
Claire was shocked, still angry but not knowing what to say.
Seeing Claire's expression, Mara agreed. "Hey, believe me. It wasn't my idea. I've still got a few bruises from how hard I threw myself at him. I left nothing to the imagination. He rejected me flat out. But on the other hand, there's always tonight." Mara smiled, getting the desired reaction out of Claire. "Who knows. Maybe Trevor will change his mind..."
Claire threw her hands up. "I can't believe this! You won't let him go, will you? Same old Mara!"
Mara seemed insulted. "Wait, I won't let him go?"
Claire didn't seem to hear. "You know, it's appropriate that we're having this argument here, Mara! Since it seems nothing has changed since high school."
Mara shook her head. "Nice to know you still see me through the same low standards."
Angry, Claire looked at her. "There's still one thing I don't understand. If you threw yourself at him like you say you did, then why didn't the two of you... I mean, why didn't you-... You know."
Exasperated, Mara rolled her eyes. "How blind are you?"
Without another word of explanation, Mara turned angrily away, having heard enough. Her footsteps echoed in the hallway as she left Claire and walked back towards the reunion, not looking back.
Claire watched her leave, disappointed in herself for getting so angry. She opened her locker again slowly, looking at the scratches on the inside. Her fingers touched the partially exposed metal, rubbing softly across Mara's crossed out name. It seemed some things from the past couldn't be painted over.