"Wait time is the worst
I can hardly sit
No one has the time
Someone is always late
I look for you, and you look for me"
-Call Me Back, The Strokes
Claire Standish never thought she'd find herself sitting in the school library, extra early, on the first day of school. This was not her normal back-to-school routine; not even close. Every year since 5th grade, she'd done the exact same thing on the first day. She and Annabelle (and later, Charlotte and Erica) would have breakfast at the country club on the first day of school with their parents and then would head to school together, making sure to be among the last kids to arrive, since they were always popular and expected to make an entrance.
Not this year, though. This year, Claire had breakfast with her three girlfriends on Sunday instead of Monday. Instead of riding to school with them, she'd promised to meet them on the lawn, where everyone would be hanging out, in the last fifteen minutes before classes started.
Because this year, she had other plans. Saturday night, she'd called everyone and arranged for the Breakfast Club to all meet up together as early as possible in the school library. "Just like before, only no Vernon." she'd said.
She was the first one to arrive. She couldn't help it. She hadn't seen Bender and Brian since pretty much the last day of school (she didn't know when either of them had gotten back into town, and she didn't want to seem pushy since she and Bender had left things on such good terms), and she hadn't seen Allison since her 4th of July party. There had been a few times she'd ran into Andy, but he had been busy so they hadn't talked much.
She couldn't believe how much she missed them all. It was strange, really—considering that she was the one who'd said they wouldn't be friends at all after detention. The truth was, even while she was in Paris she had missed them terribly. Claire and Erica has crossed paths during their travels, and it had amazed her that she barely even missed her girlfriends. At least, not the way she missed just hanging out with Allison, laughing and relaxing together. There were so many rules with her group (thanks to Erica) and with Allison there were no rules. She could just be herself. She could just…be.
Claire had no idea why she was nervous as she sat there waiting for everyone else to show up. What did she think was going to happen? Did she think the four of them had changed that much in just a few months? It was possible. She'd certainly changed since that detention (or, at least, she'd tried to.) Or did she think they'd show up all hating each other like they had in detention?
She didn't have time to worry about that question, because Andy walked in just then. She smiled at him and greeted him.
"Hi! How was your summer?" she said in the voice of the old girly Claire; the voice she always used on the first day of school when she reunited with her friends and asked them that question.
He gave her a small smile in return. "It was okay. It was more work than I've ever done even in sports. But I made a buttload of money, so …" and then he shrugged.
Claire nodded. "It must be nice to actually earn money of your own. Especially for you. With the scholarship you'll probably get, when you get to college you could be, like, the only kid with tons of money to spend how you want."
Andy looked down at the ground then. "Right. Scholarship." He mumbled. He'd never gotten to make his announcement that day when school ended. And now, he wasn't so sure if that announcement had even been worth it. Not since…
The library door opened with a loud bang just then, and in came Allison. She didn't look at all like the Allison who had opened up and blossomed before Claire's eyes by the time school ended. She looked almost exactly like she did when she walked into detention that day all those months ago. Her hair was back in her face, she was wearing a humongous sweater, and Claire was pretty sure…yep, she was back to the "black shit."
Come to think of it, Andy hadn't looked like his normal self either. One thing Claire had always noticed about him, especially after detention, was how he didn't carry himself the way most jocks did, and he didn't dress like one either. Sure, when it was cold he'd wear his letterman jacket to keep warm, but other than that, while most of the jocks donned the prep look or the macho look of tight t-shirts and well-fitted pants, Andy was normally a disinterested dresser. He was always in jeans horribly lacking in style and plain t-shirts that were ugly and unfashionable. But not today. Andy was actually wearing slacks and plaid shirt. And…shoes that weren't sneakers. What was going on?
Claire watched Andy and Allison. The two of them seemed to be doing everything they could to avoid eye contact with each other. She knew that Andy had spent almost all his time working before he left to go visit his mother (he'd only returned from her house that previous Saturday afternoon), so it was more than likely he and Allison had seen each other almost as little as she'd seen Bender. Why weren't they acting like a couple who'd just been reunited after months apart? She'd been hoping they'd be back together by this point.
While Claire was trying to read them (as best as she could considering she didn't have Bender's skills), Andy and Allison were both thinking back to Claire's 4th of July party.
The two of them didn't speak after Allison had ended their relationship. Sure, Andy had tried to call her, and had even showed up at her home (her real home) a few times, but to no avail. It had taken everything in Allison to not give in to the desire to talk to Andy, but she had fought it as best she could. She'd avoided talking to him because if she explained the real reason why she'd broken up with him (not just to make his life easier, but for the sake of him not jeopardizing his future for her), she knew he'd just be able to talk her out of it. She couldn't let him do that; she wanted so much better for him. She cared about him that much.
Frank had actually been called to a work emergency, so it turned out that he and Allison weren't going to be able to leave for Florida until July 15th, instead of leaving at the beginning of the summer like they'd planned. So Allison was going to be in town for Claire's party after all.
She'd been packing for her trip to Florida on July 1st, when it dawned on her that she couldn't avoid Andy forever; not when they had three great friends in common and were destined to run into each other sooner or later. Allison had already sacrificed Andy for his own good; she wasn't about to give up Claire and Brian, or even the irritating Bender. So she realized she'd better try to smooth things over with Andy for the sake of the group.
She'd finally called him on that first of the month. Luckily, he'd just gotten in from work.
"Andy, it's me. Allison." she said softly.
"Allison? Hi! I was hoping you'd call me eventually. Though I am kind of surprised."
"Um… I thought we should talk. About Claire's party."
"Oh." Allison could hear in Andy's voice how deflated he was.
"I'm going to go, since I promised her I'd try to. I was wondering if you were going to go? Just… as a heads up? So it wouldn't be weird."
"Oh," Andy said again. "I mean, yeah. I- I guess I'm going. I was actually hoping you might want to go together? After I'm done with work?"
"Don't, Sporto. Um, what time are you leaving work that day? Because I can go earlier, and then you can go after you're finished work."
Andy had been shocked by Allison's cold nature at first, but then he had become angry after talking to her. Allison was unique; she was her own person. But at the same time, she was kind and gentle. There was no way she'd have to be worried about things being awkward with Andy if the reason she ended things with him was because she just didn't have feelings for him anymore. She'd have just done something crazy to make Andy laugh so that they could be friends again. No, there was more to this story. There was another reason Allison had dumped him. He was so angry that she could dismiss him like that, without even caring about his feelings, and without thinking he at least deserved an explanation.
He had been so angry, in fact that he was determined to move on. As quickly as possible. Which explained why, as Allison was leaving Claire's family's party, she had opened the door to find Andy coming in with some blonde cheerleader on his arm. Allison hadn't said anything; she'd just walked out the door and right past them, leaving Andy to explain to Claire why he was at her party with someone other than Allison.
Needless to say, Claire hadn't been able to believe it when she'd heard. She chalked it up to just Allison being weird Allison. Surely Allison and Andy would be back together before long, right? They were supposed to be the loving, normal, happy-go-lucky couple. Surely they had more of a shot than Claire and Bender. Claire had to believe that they'd get back together. If they couldn't work it out, then surely there was no hope for her and Bender.
"So, Allison? How are thi—I mean, um, how are your brothers?" Claire asked.
Allison laid her head on the desk and shrugged. Claire and Andy eyed each other the way they had when Allison had first walked into detention. But there were no smiles and giggles this time. Just curious, intense stares. As if they both realized the same thing at the same time. She's retreating.
"Um," Claire said, scrambling her brain trying to find something to fill the silence. "So, Andy, how are things? With, like, your mother?"
"She's… she's Mom. I guess…she's happy. I mean, why shouldn't she be, right? She got out. New home, new husband, new son, new life. It was nice to get away from my dad for a while. Not that Mom is perfect. But I guess I'd take her over him any day. Great choice, huh? The non-existent parent or the overbearing controlling one." Andy's eyes looked down at the ground. Claire could tell Allison was listening. She could see that dark, sympathetic look in the basket case's eyes.
Leave it to Bender to save the day. His arrival couldn't have been more perfectly timed.
Bender came barreling through the door, as boisterous as to be expected, with Brian on his heels, laughing. "Look who followed me to school today," Bender said, patting Brian on his back. "Hi, guys,"
Brian said smiling.
But Claire hadn't noticed Brian or heard him. From the second she looked up and saw Bender walk through the door, her heart had been beating so fast she was almost sure she was going to die from it.
She couldn't believe it. She hadn't even thought it was possible. But she had been wrong, so very wrong. She'd thought there was no way Bender could have looked any better than he did that day in detention, or the last day she'd seen him. What a gargantuan miscalculation that had been. Because Bender looked absolutely gorgeous. He was even more tan than he had been before, slightly taller (at least it seemed that way to Claire), and his hair was even a little longer. He, like Allison, was wearing almost all black—black jeans, black and white flannel, and a black jacket.
As she stared him down, he was greeting the others. "Nice to see good old Klepto is back. Sporto. I'd ask what's with your getup, but I guess it was only a matter of time before all that rolling around on the floor with other guys got to you."
Andy's whole demeanor had changed at the entrance of Bender and Brian. He was smiling now, and trying to appear as confident as possible. "Shut it, Bender. You're just jealous."
They pretended to punch each other, and then Bender turned to Claire. He took her in with his eyes and had every intention of saying some smartass comment about princesses returning to their castle, except that Claire was all over him before he could do much of anything. She was kissing him with all the intensity one would expect of a lovesick teenaged girl who hadn't seen the object of her affection in months.
Claire was shocked when Bender actually blushed as she pulled away from him, realizing that three people were watching them as if they were watching some pornographic movie.
"And welcome back to hell to you, too, Cherry." Bender said, covering with a smirk.
"Geez, get a room you two." Andy said. Brian laughed, and said, "Well, I guess I can't expect that same hello."
Claire blushed as she turned to give him some faux offended retort.
But all coherent thoughts went out of her head when she actually finally took notice of Brian Johnson. Her jaw dropped, and she almost didn't recognize him.
Brian Johnson: stick thin, braces-wearing dork, was gone. In his place was an even taller, thin but slightly meatier young man who had the beginnings of what looked like actual muscle. This Brian was without braces, had even more noticeable (it seemed) eyes, and had grown his hair out some, in an actual style that made him look both attractive and semi-cool. He wasn't wearing a dorky sweater and boring khakis that were too small for him. He was wearing a black Ramones T-shirt, denim, and black Chuck Taylors, the same as Allison's. He was actually sort of cute.
"Brian! Look at you!" Claire said, fawning over him like a proud big sister. "You look great." Even Allison had to smile at him.
Brian blushed, but Bender was all smirks. "I guess I finally rubbed off on the guy." He said, putting his arm around Brian as the two boys proceeded to fill the Club in on their summers.
"The road trip? Fucking awesome. Until me and Freddie almost got arrested for causing a riot…" Bender smirked.
Freddie and Bender had been in New York (after visiting Freddie's "comfortably situated" grandmother in Pennsylvania who, because she rarely saw her grandson, had a tendency to spoil him and had given him $200 towards his road trip with "that cute, handsome Bender boy") and were attending a party with one of Freddie's old friends from when he lived in New York. Freddie had a little too much to drink, and a fight had broken out, which led to Freddie and Bender almost getting arrested for "back talk" to the cop, who'd been called to break up the party.
Brian's summer had been rather unexciting, prior to his return to Shermer. In Indiana, Brian and Emma and Kendall had spent their days swimming and playing video games. Kendall had an older sister who had been particularly helpful to Brian this summer. He'd told her about how he wanted to look different when he got back to school, and when she and Kendall had come back to Shermer with Brian and Emma, she'd helped him, giving him a complete makeover.
Brian and Bender laughed at Claire's jealousy upon hearing that someone else, even Brian's own cousin, had given Brian a makeover. She'd had loved to be assigned that task.
Kendall's sister had cheerleading camp, and Emma had begun spending her days playing softball with the neighborhood girls. So Kendall and Brian were on their own. With nothing to do in Shermer, the boys grew bored, and started just aimlessly walking around town.
That was when they'd run into Bender and Freddie, who'd just returned from their road trip. Brian knew he could count on Bender to show Kendall any fun that could be had in Shermer. And if loitering, making a game out of trying to see who could sneak into the most pool halls, and general rambunctious behavior were "fun", then Kendall had more fun than he'd had any other summer in Shermer.
Before Kendall got on the plane to go back to Indiana, he'd said to Brian, "This was the best summer ever." Then he'd added, shaking his head, "Although I have to say, I'm surprised we didn't get arrested."
Andy smiled and said, "So, Bender, I'd ask you about taking me along to some of your, um, venues to introduce me to some of your, um, girlfriends, but it looks like you're the one doing the whole 'steady dates, lovers' thing now," Andy said, eyeing Claire, who would be in Bender's lap if she got any closer to him, "so I won't even ask. Not that I need it or anything. I had my share of make out parties over the summer. "
The other three looked at Allison at Andy's words, to see how she took them (with Claire, word travelled fast. She'd told both Brian and Bender on the phone about the breakup).
Allison had buried her head in her sweater and pretended not be paying attention.
Bender again to the rescue. Or so he tried. "So, Klepto? How's old Frankie boy? Did your parents know you were travelling with him all summer?"
Allison didn't pull her head out of her sweater completely; just enough to shake her head at Bender's words.
Then it was Andy's turn. "So, Claire, what about you? How was Paris?"
And that was it. Claire could have cursed Andy for bringing that up. She had been enjoying so much just being this close to Bender, and existing in the little cocoon that only contained the five of them. The cocoon where she and Bender could be the same and in each other's worlds where differences not only didn't matter, but didn't exist. But as soon as Andy mentioned Paris, it was as if he'd destroyed that little cocoon, that little bubble. That word was basically a trigger word that would only remind Bender of who Claire was, where she came from, and the places she could afford to go that he couldn't. And Claire didn't need or want him reminded of that so that he could pull away from her.
Claire just smiled her teen queen smile and said diplomatically, "It was fine. Great to get to, like, spend time with my brother. But I missed all you guys the whole time." Then she looked at her watch. "Oh my gosh! I'm going to be late! I'm supposed to meet my friends, my other friends, on the lawn!" she began gathering up her things.
"Yeah, I guess we better all go." Andy said, as they all gathered their stuff.
As they walked out and the other three separated (Andy and Claire headed back outside, and Allison headed to her locker), Brian said to Bender, "I'm not sure where my new locker is yet. But if you want to meet me back here at lunch, I'll give you your lunch."
Bender didn't have time to respond. Not that Brian would have been paying attention if he had. Because behind Bender stood Saidie Heyer, who had only gotten back to Shermer on Friday night. This was the first time she was laying eyes on Brian since the last day of school in June.
Bender didn't even have to look to see who Brian was staring at. He could already tell by the two shades of red that Brian was turning. Bender whipped around to greet his friend, who'd been walking and talking with Freddie until she laid eyes on Brian. She was now standing still, grinning from ear to ear, looking right past Bender and directly into Brian's eyes.
His perfect, cloudy blue eyes. She had never noticed just how beautiful and misty they were before. She took a deep breath and inched closer to him. She was so short, and he'd been tall before, but now he practically towered over her. He was looking down directly into her shiny, practically black eyes.
"Hey." She practically whispered.
"Um, hi," Brian said, turning even more red.
Bender stepped toward Freddie and grabbed the collar of his shirt. "Come on, numb nuts. Let's leave these two love birds alone." He said. Freddie smiled as Bender dragged him down the hallway.
But Saidie and Brian hardly noticed that they were gone, or that they'd even been there. Brian's brain was too flustered to allow him to say anything. How was it possible that he'd forgotten how gorgeous Saidie was, in her own, unique way? Her hair was down again, and she was actually wearing makeup. Not that she hadn't been beautiful without it. But she was wearing it in a way that it didn't cover up anything, it just highlighted what was already there. Like how her eyes brightened and then darkened and flickered so much, and the lipstick that drew Brian's attention to her enticing lips and pretty smile.
Saidie smiled and touched her hair. "You look absolutely hot." She said softly, in a confident way she could have only picked up from years of hanging out with the likes of John Bender. When Brian blushed even more in response, and tried to say thanks but no words came out, Saidie leaned forward and pulled him toward her. Then she stood on her toes, gently pushed the hair back out of Brian's eyes, and kissed him for the first time.