THE ROADS RECONVERGENT
AUTHOR'S NOTE: What can I say, the world of Shermer, Illinois was too appealing for me not to come back to one more time in the end. And so, I proudly present this essential coda to all I've written concerning the Club-as this story does continue the continuity previously established in First Prize, Two Brains, One Heart, One Last Hurrah, and the other stories I've written based on John Hughes' films over the last few years-and everyone else in the "Hughesiverse," both canonical and of my own creation. This, however, will likely be where I do finally leave the quintet and everyone else for good-although one should never say never, as I originally did not think this story would come to fruition, but yet here it is.
This story is additionally dedicated, somewhat belatedly, to the memory of Nancy Ludwig Hughes, wife, mother, philanthropist, and someone who clearly made her life count to the fullest.
The Breakfast Club and all related characters and indicia are registered trademarks of Universal City Studios and the John Hughes estate, or whichever similar entities may apply. All additionally appearing Hughesian characters are trademarked by their own relevant movie studios and the Hughes estate. All lyrics are trademarked by their respective copyright holders. And now, sit back and enjoy what will likely be one final trip to that special town on the North Shore...
TEN YEARS LATER...
"You're absolutely sure we have time for this right now? We're expected there in about an hour..."
"It's just a little trip out of the way, Melissa-and look, there it is right up the street there."
"Well...OK, I guess. I can visit my grandparents in here too, as long as they're close to him."
"Here's hoping. Here we go..."
The car turned off of North Lake Road in Lake Forest through the gates of Lake Forest Cemetery. It slid to a stop in front of the office. A blond-haired couple, both formally dressed, climbed out. "Well, here we go, I guess. I was so sad to hear he was dead," the woman said to her husband with a sad expression, "I never got to thank him for what it looks like he did for me up at the lake back then..."
"He knows, Melissa. Somewhere, I know he knows," he told her, "And believe me," he pulled her close, "I'm glad he was able to do everything he did, so I could still be with you today, Melissa Winters Johnson."
"So am I, Brian Johnson," his wife grinned, planting a kiss on his cheek. The two of them entered the office. "Uh, excuse me," Brian said to the woman behind the counter, "I'm, um, looking for a grave here: William Stanpovalichki. I've asked around, and I heard he was buried here."
"Stanpovalichki...give me a minute here..." the woman dug out a records book and leafed through it, "Stanpovalichki...here it is. Section Two, Row Eighteen, Grave Fifty. Would you need a map?"
"Uh, OK, sure."
"Right here, then," the woman took a cemetery map and marked the location of Stanpovalichki's final resting place with a yellow marker, "Turn left at the fork up ahead, then go right; he's in the back."
"OK, thank you," Melissa thanked her. "That's pretty close to my grandparents, actually," she told Brian as they walked outside to their car, "So that'll work out; you can pay your respects, and I can visit them."
"Sounds good," Brian started the engine and drove up the road. He checked his watch. "We probably have about twenty minutes; as long as we find them right away, that should be plenty of time." He exhaled softly. "I'll be so glad to see them all again. It's been so long. Claire, she deserves this moment..."
"I'm sure she does. And I'll be glad to see her too. After all," a grin crossed Melissa's face, "it was almost certainly the ten million dollar grant her father insisted our department have as a reward for you saving her life at Lake Olafsson that got the project over the hump."
"I'll have to thank him for that at the wedding. Anyway, how does it feel, knowing that the rockets you spent all that time designing in your room are going to take the first humans to Mars?" he asked her, patting her hand affectionately.
"It's just...even now, it hasn't really set in yet," Melissa confessed, her eyes moistening, "As much as I wanted to be a rocket designer since I was a young girl, I never imagined it would actually...that I'd actually get to make them and see them used like this."
"Well you should be proud, Melissa. You're an inspiration for young girls everywhere. You show them that they can accomplish what they dream too," Brian told her with a deep smile. Melissa returned it and slipped an arm around him. "It's your triumph too, Brian. We were a team in actually designing them," she reminded him.
"Well, they were your rockets; I can't take the credit for that..."
"But to be honest, I couldn't have done it without you. I checked the mathematics again after the prototypes rolled off the assembly line, and I realized that my original thrust calculations had been off; it never would have made it close enough to Mars under that schematic. Your adjustments in the design phase corrected that. So they're our rockets, really."
"Well, if you say so," Brian squeezed her close. "This should be it," he pulled to a stop in front of the section in question. "But of course," he told his wife after they climbed out, "What's most important is that I have you, Melissa. You'll always be more precious to me than anyone or anything else in the world, or any world. We could be flat broke and living on the street, but as long as you love me, I'm the richest man in the world, and I don't need anything else besides you."
"I don't know what I'd do without you either, Brian," beaming gratefully, she leaned forward and gave him a passionate kiss, one that was just as wonderful to him as all the others they'd shared over the last ten years. He simply couldn't imagine life without Melissa. And to think, he realized, that he had almost killed himself before they had met...
"You know, I can't help wondering, though," Melissa broke off the kiss and glanced around the cemetery, "Standing here now, looking back: when we met, I wanted to die so much, thinking I'd never be able to handle life as an adult. If we hadn't crossed paths at the Simmons competition in senior year, I'd probably buried here now. Instead, it feels so great to alive right now, having the most wonderful husband any woman could ask for, two great kids, my dream having come true to be a successful rocket designer-I'm glad I lived to see all this. Well, shall we find him?"
"Looks like it's over that way," Brian consulted the map and pointed. The two of them walked through the grass, scanning for the grave in question. "There it is," Melissa pointed straight ahead after a minute or so. Sure enough, a gray tombstone with the name STANPOVALICHKI on the top stood underneath a tree in front of them. "Well, we meet again, Mr...however you pronounced it," she said somberly, approaching the tombstone, "I just wish I...hold on, wait a minute here," she frowned in confusion, bending down to examine the tombstone more closely, "This can't be right. Died March 4th, 1979!? That's a good five years before..."
"Oh, yeah, I, I see that," Brian said quickly, seeing the death date himself, "I, uh, guess they accidentally mislabeled him somehow."
He bent down and put his hand on top of the tombstone. "He had a rough life towards the end," he said out loud sympathetically, "I got in touch with some people who'd known him in life, and they let me know how hard he'd had it. Lost his job at Marshall Fields, then his wife and parents died in a car accident," he gazed to the other side of the tombstone, where the name ROSEMARY MARGARET stood next to her husband's, with the years 1949-1977 underneath it, then to an adjoining tombstone also labeled STANPOVALICHKI, this one with the names ARCHIBALD and MAUDE engraved on it, "He loved her and them so much, I've heard; losing them took a lot out of him. He lost his house after he fell behind on the bills; he was homeless for his last few years. He died alone in an alley in the city, forgotten."
"That's just horrible," Melissa shuddered in grief, "I'll bet everyone scorned him since he was homeless too. Why can't people look past what's on the surface?"
"I've wondered that myself, Melissa," Brian shook his head, "I'm glad I learned that in detention with everyone else."
"If only I could have told him thank you more definitively when I had the chance," his wife shook her head. She sighed softly. "Well, you can pay your respects; I'm going to visit my grandparents. They should be right over there," she pointed to where they were buried.
"OK, take your time," Brian told her in parting. Once Melissa had disappeared from earshot, he sat down in front of the tombstone. "Hey, it's me, Brian Johnson," he told the stone slab with tears in his eyes, "Glad i was able to find you in here; I asked around and found out where they'd laid you to rest. Anyway, I'm...I'm back in town now...Claire's getting married, and I was invited to be in the bridal party, but I wanted to stop by and just say...just say..." he fought to keep from choking up, "...just say, thank you. For everything you did for me ten years ago, and what you did for Melissa too. I'm so glad you stopped me from killing myself then, and that you brought her back when she might have...if I'd lost her then, I don't know where I'd be now, maybe wherever you are now..."
He took a deep breath before continuing, "If you haven't been looking in on me since then, it's been a wonderful life since we last saw each other. I married Melissa four years ago, we have a son and daughter already, and her rockets...well, our rockets now...are going to Mars real soon. When I look in the mirror now, I love everything I see about myself. And I wouldn't have any of this if it hadn't been for you..."
He wiped his eyes clean, then glanced around, as if half expecting Stanpovalichki to be standing behind him. No one was visible nearby, however. "Anyway," he turned back to the tombstone, "Thank you for everything. I hope everyone else has done well since then-if you have been keeping track of all of us, I hope you helped pave the way for them to have good lives too. Since...since it looks like you didn't have any family left when you died, I guess a lot of people don't come around here too often, so, I'd, I'd like to just leave my token of appreciation..."
He dug out a pair of roses from under his suit and laid them atop Stanpovalichki's grave. "I...I hope this suffices for everyone who did care for you and Keema in life," he said, rising back up, "Say hello to him for me, too; hope he's doing well too. Whenever I do go from here, you'll always be with me in spirit, and I hope that's something you can take to heart. Even after you were dead, you made a big difference in so many people's lives. So be proud of yourself."
He stood there for a moment, watching the grave reverentially. Then a new voice could be heard not far away, and a very familiar-sounding voice at that: "...just wanted to drop in and give you my regards, Dick, for what it's worth." Brian's head shot up. He stepped forward towards the bushes at the edge of the section and glanced over them. Sure enough, a figure about his height was standing by a flat headstone amid some rather high weeds in an overgrown part of the next section over-a grave on which the name RICHARD P. VERNON could be clearly seen even from where Brian was standing. He glanced up at the figure, who was wearing the uniform of a Green Beret. The hair was much shorter than he'd once remembered, but it looked so much like...
"I'll give you some credit, Dick; you lasted longer than I thought you would," the figure said in a very familiar voice that made Brian smile in recognition, "I would have guessed you'd have lasted two years tops in maximum security. Six years was pretty impressive in the end. But deep down, I just knew you'd hang yourself in the end like I heard you did. People like you can dish it out, but you can't take it. And I'm sure you appreciate the irony of it: you dragged Johnson into that detention for wanting to kill himself, but in the end, you're the one that ended up committing suicide. Well Dick, for almost killing Claire in the North Woods, and trying to kill the rest of us too, it's exactly what you deserved: the coward's way out for the biggest coward I ever knew."
He laughed triumphantly. "Oh, and as for me, since I know you asked me where I was going to be however many years it was you gave back then, let me answer your question. Behold, Dick: Sergeant John Bender, Green Berets," he bowed contemptuously to the headstone, "Recently decorated for courage under fire," he thrust a medal on his chest forward towards the grave, "Earned for taking out a terrorist leader in Yemen last month. Real nasty guy who was using women and children as human shields; probably your long lost brother or gay lover. And I got to fire the shots that took him out. How'd I do it? Really simple, Dick; I thought back to what you put Claire through when you beat her almost to death, projected your face onto his, and it was an easy kill to make."
He laughed again. "Yep, life's looking up for me now, Dick," he taunted his former detention nemesis, "As for you, clearly not so much. Alone and forgotten way in the back of the cemetery here, no one at your funeral, no one coming to mourn you here. And unlike with Scrooge, Dick, this ain't no vision of the future. You're not going to be waking up on Christmas Day with a new chance at life. You blew all your chances, and you're not getting them back. So, I'd like to give you a nice parting gift to say thank you for all the mean things you said to me in all those detentions over the years...
In a flash, he unzipped his trousers and proceeded to relieve himself on Vernon's grave. Brian couldn't help bursting into laughter, which prompted Bender to spin around. "Oh my god, Johnson, speak of the devil, is that really you?" he inquired, quickly zipping his pants back up.
"Sure is, John," Brian stepped over the bushes and shook the former criminal's hand, "It's so good to see you again. So you joined the army? I would never have thought it."
"Well, I wanted out of town, wanted to be more than my old man ended up, and I could tell Cherry wanted me to consider military service, so I took it. And it worked out better than I thought it would."
"Great to know. How is your father, any better?"
"Not really, Johnson; in fact, he's dead now too," Bender shook his head, "Got drunk out of his mind after I started basic training, stumbled up to the roof, fell off, and broke his neck."
"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that. Do you try and make up with him?"
"I tried. He was just too far gone, though. But you know, Johnson, I feel some sympathy for him nowadays. I found out his old lady molested him when he was a kid. So that probably short circuited his mind into doing...everything he did to me. I still say good riddance to him, but now I do feel sorry for him. How about your family?"
"Well, better. My mom and dad are still working; I don't know how Mom manages to keep her bookstore open these days, but she makes it work. My sister's in her senior year in high school, although she's failing a number of courses right now..."
"Well, your old man and lady'll kill her if she doesn't shape up, I'll bet."
"Ten years ago they probably would have, Bender, but they've wised up and mellowed out a lot since then. I guess almost losing me made them see the error of their ways; nowadays, they're content to just let Mary do what she can. If she misses out on college, that's the way it'll be; they're going to let her chart her own path, and I think she'll be grateful for that."
"Probably. And you and the Winters girl...?"
"We married four years ago. Best day of my life. We have two kids now, Nicholas and Marie," Brian dug out his wallet and showed Bender a picture of he and Melissa with their children. "Wow," Bender exclaimed, nodding in approval, "Quite the love machine to have them that quick, Johnson. I'd've thought you'd be the last one of us to have kids..."
"Bender, if you thought I was a celibate virgin in detention, you had the wrong image of me," Brian raised an eyebrow at him. "So, anyway," he glanced backwards, "I see you were visiting Mr. Vernon. I heard he was dead; did he really hang himself?"
"Sure did; made a noose out of his bedsheets and hanged himself from the ceiling of his cell four years ago, a coward to the end," Bender gave Vernon's headstone an obscene gesture, "I just knew he'd meet his end like that. As for Eddie, no word on him, so he's probably rotting in maximum security somewhere, hopefully with a lot of big, amorous hairy guys around him. So that'll make Bueller happy at the reunion."
"Probably," Brian chuckled again, "To be honest, although I usually respected all my teachers, I never liked Mr. Rooney myself. He was way too much a hard case for me." He checked his watch. "Well, I'll probably be heading off soon...I guess you got invited to the wedding too?" he asked Bender.
"Yeah, I did; I'm in the groom's party too. But to be honest, Johnson, it's...it's bittersweet for me, knowing it...it could have been me...should have been me..." Bender's expression dropped; he was visibly fighting to keep tears back, "She always meant something to me; I'd always think of her when I was on a tour of duty. Part of me had been hoping she'd be waiting for me somewhere, but then when I got the invite...yeah, O'Connor turned out to be a nice guy, even though he two timed her at the lake, but...maybe if I hadn't punched him out, it would have been me walking down the aisle with her instead of him..."
"John, I know you care for her a lot," Brian comforted him, "And she knows it too; that's why she wanted you in the wedding. As for Jeremy, yeah, he was seeing the other girl at the lake, but when he came looking for Claire afterwards, I could tell he was genuinely sorry he'd hurt her, and that he did really love her. And from what I've heard, he's redeemed himself for that mistake with her a hundred times over since then. Now I'm sure you want Claire to be happy, right?"
"Of course I do, Johnson, more than anything."
"So, let her have the moment she's earned, and be there as her friend. She'll really appreciate that."
Bender cracked a small grin. "Good to see you're still the good-hearted kid you were back then, Johnson," he commended the brain, "I'm glad you didn't change. So, anyway, what brought you here?"
"Oh, uh, I was just visiting someone I knew that's buried over there," Brian told him, pointing towards Stanpovalichki's grave behind himself, "I wanted to..."
"Brian, it's almost time," Melissa appeared behind the bushes. "Oh, John, fancy seeing you here," she noticed Bender.
"Hey again, Winters. Congratulations on the kids," Bender commended her, "I had no idea Johnson was that big a love machine..."
"Bender..." Brian gave him an annoyed look.
"Just saying. Uh, anyway, since you're here, would the two of you be willing to give me a ride to the church?" the Green Beret asked them, "I took a cab directly from the airport to here to take care of some business, and I don't have a car at the moment..."
"Well, I guess that would be fine, John," Melissa nodded, "You going like that, though?"
"I'm not a suit and tie, person, Winters, you know that."
"Right. Well, we'd better get going, then," Melissa checked her watch again.
"Right. Give me one minute, though; there's one more thing I'd like to do," Brian turned his gaze to Vernon's grave. He started walking towards it. "Go get him, Johnson," Bender gave him an encouraging pat on the back as he followed Melissa through the bushes. Brian cracked another small smile. "Hello, Mr. Vernon, and also goodbye," he frowned down at the former detention overlord's headstone, "While I'm here, I just want you to know, I have a successful job, and a loving family. Everything I could have ever wanted out of life. So I more than outdid your expectations, just like Bender really outdid yours of him. And I'm sure the others are just as successful too. So you were dead wrong about all of us. I'm sorry you chose the paths you did, but they were your decisions alone, and you only have yourself to blame for it. I gave you every chance I could to get you to turn around, but you ignored me and everyone else who tried to give you sound advice. So, here you are now, alone, despised, forgotten, and like Bender just told you, you can't change that now. You called all of us failures with no future at the lake. Look around now, Mr. Vernon; who's the failure now? You'll mean nothing further to me after I leave here, and I hope that has some resonance with you wherever you are now," he glanced up, almost expecting to see Vernon's ghost nearby, but only Bender and Melissa could be seen, walking towards the car, "You'll have a whole eternity to think over your mistakes, and how you could have made your life count for so much more, unlike me, unlike Bender, unlike the rest of us. Goodbye, Richard, and think over what I said, even if it's too late now."
He turned and walked away, not looking back at Vernon's grave. The man meant nothing to him anymore, just as he likely meant nothing to anyone else anymore-which, he knew, was the worst punishment any human could receive, more than any detention. In the meantime, he had more important things to look forward to, of old friends he'd waited ten long years to see...