Meet Dave and Rosie…
Rosie and I were friends all through school but we lost touch after high school graduation. So, it’s a bit of a surprise to suddenly run into her a few days before our ten-year reunion and find her all grown up and… gorgeous. Suddenly she’s all I can think about. I wonder if there’s a way I can convince her to stay in town and see where this could go…
In high school, I was madly in love with Dave, but he never knew. Since he clearly didn’t return my feelings, I figured it was smartest to just kind of fade out of his life after graduation. Now it’s been ten years–I should be over him, right? Wrong. Avoiding him while I’m in town would be smartest since I’m definitely getting on a plane to go home in a few days. But, hey, maybe hanging out together in the meantime will get me some closure
What could go wrong?
In this sweet, sexy romance, is a reunion a second shot at getting something exactly right… or just a chance to make a catastrophic mistake?
Read an excerpt of THE REUNION:
Ten years ago
There are only thirty-five minutes left in the exam period when I finish the trigonometry final. The room is almost empty, nearly everyone else having long since finished. It’s just me and the kids who have barely kept up all semester. Even Connor, who has the attention span of a goldfish, is gone.
If ever there was a clear indication of how much of a mess I am right now, this is it.
I close the test packet and sling my book bag over my shoulder before trudging up to the front of the room where Mr. Willoughby, our trig teacher, is behind the desk. He raises an eyebrow at me as he takes the packet.
“Everything go okay there?” he asks, his voice quiet so as not to disturb the other stragglers. “The test wasn’t that hard, was it?” He chuckles softly. It’s a joke.
I ought to laugh, too. I’ve had the highest grade in the class for the entire year. We both know that this was not a hard test for me. I ought to make a joke back but I sigh instead.
Mr. Willoughby’s brows turn down. “Seriously, Dave, are you okay?”
I manage to nod. “Yeah, fine. Test was fine.”
“I’m sure you aced it.”
I have no idea. I could barely focus. I just nod and give Mr. Willoughby a wan smile. He wrote me a really nice letter of recommendation and this is probably one of the last times I’ll ever see him. I should thank him or something. But I don’t. Instead, I shuffle out the door, leaving those other three saps to their last few minutes of test taking.
My feet carry me through the halls of Kilkenney Academy, the private school I have attended since kindergarten. Attending Kilkenney is practically a tradition in my family. My grandfather went here back before the school accepted female students. There’s a photo of his senior class on the wall near the administrative offices, along with pictures of all the Kilkenney senior classes since the advent of photography. They’re sitting in front of this very same high school building, a group of seventy-eight young men in sport coats and light-colored pants. My grandfather is third from the left in the second row, his grin lopsided. Twenty-five years later, my dad went here, though by then the school was accepting women. All the students, men and women, are wearing the school uniform of a blue sweater vest over a white blouse with a tan blazer. The women wear knee-length skirts, the men wear slacks, and everybody has goofy hair because it was the 1980s. Two weeks ago, my whole class lined up in front of the building, too, all of us wearing the current school uniform of a blue button-down shirt, a blue and green striped tie, and blue skirts or slacks for the girls and blue slacks for the boys. In twenty years, our haircuts will probably look absurd, too.
A week from today I’ll walk across the stage in Atteborough Auditorium and accept a diploma while my dad and all the other parents watch from the seats, and then I’ll be a Kilkenney graduate, too. Frankly, it can’t come soon enough.
I make my way down the stairs and through the back hallway, past the locker I emptied this morning, and out the back door into the senior parking lot. On the far side of the parking lot, I find four of my friends—Riz, Wayne, Rosie and Connor. They’re all sitting under the big oak tree, enjoying the gorgeous late May afternoon and, presumably, the knowledge that we are finally—finally—done with high school.
They all look up when I toss my book bag on the ground and have a seat. “Jesus, what took you so long?” Riz says. He and Wayne are sorting through decks of Magic: The Gathering cards. “The test wasn’t that hard.”
I shrug, pull a bottle of water out of my bag and take a long sip.
Rosie, who is leaning against the tree with a book open on her lap, looks up. She gives me a cool appraisal with her big, weirdly expressive eyes before she returns to her reading.
“Hey, has anyone seen Bekah?” Connor asks, apropos of nothing. “She said she might want to… hang out later.” He wiggles his eyebrows just in case there was any question of what he meant by hang out.
Wayne rolls his eyes and Riz says, “Nope, haven’t seen her.”
“Don’t be a pig, Connor,” Rosie says without looking up.
Connor just laughs. “What?” he says. “We’re done. With school. The end. Who can blame me if I feel like celebrating?”
“Can’t say I quite agree,” Riz says. He’s still flipping through cards. “Some of us are headed for college.” We all are, actually. All except Connor, who enlisted in the Army.
“Yeah, college,” Connor says meaningfully. “It’s going to be all keggers and banging hot chicks. Meanwhile, do you know how many dudes I’m going to be stuck with?”
Rosie raises a disapproving eyebrow.
Riz sweeps a pile of cards into a stack. “Yeah, something tells me it’s not going to be all keggers and hot chicks for us, either.”
Much as I would like to disagree with Riz, I’m pretty sure he’s right. We could have partied in high school. Plenty of kids at Kilkenney do. It’s just that me and my friends were all more inclined to stay up late playing Dungeons & Dragons or a video game, or watching a cult classic movie marathon than we were to get drunk or high. Me and my friends, we are nerds. Complete and total nerds.
“Whatever, dorks,” Connor says. “I’ve seen Animal House.”
“Who are you calling dork, dweeb?” Riz says, throwing a handful of grass at Connor.
Some good-natured ribbing follows, with me and Wayne getting drawn in, and even Rosie a little, although by virtue of being a girl she never gets the worst of it. It’s familiar and fun, this joking around out here and I feel myself starting to relax, feeling a little less destroyed by my recent heartbreak. But just as I start to really get into the swing of the trash talk, the school door bangs open and the source of my misery emerges.
Kayla Vanhoorne looks as beautiful as ever carrying a box full of the contents of her locker, heading for her car. She looks up and sees us all looking at her. Her face turns red and she grimaces, embarrassed. I’d bet that my friends are glaring at her, trying to be loyal to me, but she looks so upset that I want nothing more than to go put my arms around her.
But, of course, the point of a break up is that I can’t do that anymore.
Kayla lowers her head and hurries toward her car. We watch her start to walk away.
Connor sighs. “This is bullshit,” he says finally.
“Connor,” Rosie says, a warning.
“No, this isn’t fair. Kayla is our friend. We’re just never going to hang out with her again because she and Dave broke up?”
Riz sighs. “Connor, it hasn’t been that long,” he starts to say, but Connor isn’t having it.
He turns to me. “Look, Dave, I’m sorry you’re sad but we can’t boot Kayla over this.”
“We’re not booting Kayla,” Rosie says. “We’re giving Dave some time, that’s all.”
“We don’t have time, Rosie,” Connor says. “We graduate next week. I leave for basic training in three weeks. Wayne has a summer job. You’ve got your internship. Before you know it, the summer will be over. So exactly when can we all hang out as a group again?”
None of us has a good answer.
“Hey, Kayla, wait up,” Connor says, trotting after her.
As soon as he’s gone, my friends rally around me. “Are you okay, Dave?” Riz asks.
I swallow hard. “I’m fine.” I have to be. Connor’s right. Kayla has been one of us since she started at Kilkenney freshman year. I may have had an enormous crush on her since the moment I laid eyes on her that first day but, in the end, we only dated for a few weeks. She doesn’t deserve to lose her closest friends just because it didn’t work out. I need to be a grown up about this. “This isn’t her fault.”
This would all be a lot easier if I didn’t still think she was the most beautiful girl, the most perfect girl.
We watch as Connor talks to Kayla for a few minutes, gesturing occasionally toward us. She looks over, biting her full lower lip.
I’m still so in love with her, I think. I’m a little worried I’ll be in love with her forever. God, that would be awful, wouldn’t it? Feeling this way forever? This can’t-sleep-can’t-eat-can-barely-concentrate feeling can’t last the rest of my life, can it? Because it’s the worst. I’d usually say that people who claim they’ll die from a broken heart are being overly dramatic, but this really does feel like something I could die from.
After a few minutes, Kayla shrugs and nods her head and then she and Connor are walking back toward us. Kayla looks like a woman going to the gallows.
Rosie puts an urgent hand on my arm. “We can go somewhere else, Dave,” she says. “We don’t have to hang out with Kayla if it will make you uncomfortable.”
It’s definitely going to make me uncomfortable but, watching her walk toward me, I kind of welcome it. It’s like when you can’t stop touching a sore in your mouth with your tongue. I sort of want to feel awful about seeing her because it will make me remember when seeing her was so good. Or it will punish me for whatever it was I did that made her not want to date me anymore. Regardless, I can’t look away as she walks over, even as my heart pounds and I kind of want to go puke in the bushes. “It’s fine,” I say.
All three of my friends frown at me.
“Hey, guys,” Kayla says quietly when she reaches us. Then, even softer, “Hey, Dave.”
“Hi.” I somehow manage to make my voice sound normal.
My greeting seems to give everyone permission to mumble a hello. After that, an awkward silence descends.
“So,” Kayla says finally. “What are you guys doing today?”
You guys. Like she doesn’t expect to be included in whatever we’re doing, even though for four years she’s been as much a part of our merry band of nerds as anyone. I wince, but I don’t think anyone notices.
It’s Connor who once again saves the day. “We’re going to celebrate the end of high school the right way. All of us.” He drapes a friendly arm around Kayla’s shoulders as he looks meaningfully at the rest of us, daring us to argue about the guest list.
“What’s that?” Riz asks.
“We’re going to go to Rosie’s house and watch Dave Saves the World, of course.”
Dave Saves the World is one of our favorite movies. It’s an inexplicably bad straight-to-video film that stars a few actors who went on to become moderately famous. There are whole internet forums devoted to how awesomely bad this movie is. The special effects are ridiculous, the plot is indecipherable, and the dialog is stilted to the point of absurdity. Parts of it are so boring that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t intentional. We must have seen it a thousand times. Definitely, we’ve watched it enough to quote lines of it back to each other, which never fails to crack us up and baffle any observers.
“Nice of you to volunteer my house, Con,” Rosie says, tucking a chunk of her dishwater brown hair behind her ear and looking moderately aggrieved.
Connor grins at her. “Oh, come on, Ro. Be a buddy.”
She sighs and rolls her eyes. “Fine. Whatever.”
But the idea of sitting on the couch in Rosie’s basement while Kayla avoids eye contact with me sounds awkward as fuck, and I’m suddenly not sure I can do it. “You know what, guys?” I say, and apparently they all know what’s coming because there’s a chorus of Nos and Aw, mans. Even Kayla purses her beautiful lips and looks pained.
Connor steps forward to take my face in his hands and look deeply into my eyes as he says in an overly dramatic stage whisper, “Dave… the world needs you. I need you. So much.”
At that, everyone—Kayla included—breaks into giggles because not only is that an absurd thing for friends to say to each other, it’s also the line that Dave’s love interest says near the climax of Dave Saves the World, right before basically sucking his face off and with exactly that level of ridiculous overacting. It is one of our favorite lines to quote to each other, particularly for them to quote at me. It isn’t lost on me that one of the reasons my friends love this movie so much is that so many of the lines have my name in it.
I sigh. “Okay, fine. Let’s go watch this really stupid movie.”
We all pile into Kayla’s and Rosie’s cars. A week ago, I would have ridden in the passenger’s seat of Kayla’s car, the site of a few fumbling encounters early in our relationship, encounters where I was fairly sure I was going to either die or come in my pants. Jesus, I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.
If only I’d known how briefly that luck would last.
I slide into the back seat of Rosie’s car when Riz calls shotgun. Wayne and Connor ride with Kayla.
At Rosie’s house, we all say hi to Rosie’s mom. She asks how our exams went and congratulates us on finishing our senior year. She tells us to get sodas out of the fridge in the garage and promises that she’ll heat up some boneless chicken wings and bring them down to the basement. We all troop down the stairs. I flop down on the couch next to Wayne while Rosie gets the movie from the cabinet. Connor, who has trouble sitting still for more than a few minutes, convinces Riz to play a game of pool at the table behind the couch. Kayla takes a seat at the far end of the sectional, basically as far away from me as she can get without going back upstairs. I feel a little bit more miserable, and even the ridiculous opening scene of the movie with credits that look like they were created in Microsoft Word can’t improve my mood.
We watch the movie and shout our favorite lines (”The rice is gone, Dave! Don’t you understand?! They’ve taken all the rice!” and “Well, Melvin, if I had to guess, I’d say it was aliens” and “Suck it, Sharon!”). Rosie’s mom brings down a couple plates of sticky, greasy boneless chicken wings for us to devour. I feel marginally better right up until we get to one of my favorite parts of the movie, a fight scene so confusing and bad that several of the stunt men just fall down for no apparent reason. Just at that moment, Riz sits down on the couch next to Kayla and says something to her. I look over in time to see her throw her gorgeous head back and laugh. She puts her hand on his shoulder like she needs the stabilization because the joke was just so funny.
In that moment, I see exactly how this is going to be. She’s going to go off to college and she’s going to go to parties and there will be guys there. Other guys. Guys who aren’t me. They’ll flirt with her and she’ll laugh. They’ll get her drinks. Some other guy will kiss her perfect lips. Some other guy will get to see her nipples which I have painful firsthand knowledge are exactly as awesome in reality as they were in my fantasies. Some other guy will get to be her first. And it won’t stop there. Some other guy will marry her and they’ll have kids together. If she winds up coming back to town to visit or to live after college, I might run into them. I’ll have to see some other guy put his arm around her and smile at her and while she holds their baby. I know that all I’ll be able to hear are the words she said when she dumped me: “Dave, you’re so great but I just don’t think we’re right for each other. I think we need to break up. I’m sorry.”
The room suddenly feels airless. I can’t stay here another second, can’t listen to her laugh, can’t live with her being down the other end of the couch, can’t know that I’ve had my shot with her and blown it in some way I don’t even understand. I have to get out of here. So, even as my favorite scene of my favorite bad movie is playing on the screen, I get up and walk stiffly out of Rosie’s basement, up the stairs, past Rosie’s mom, and out the back door onto the porch where I throw up soda and boneless chicken wings into the backyard.
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