Disclaimer: It's probably obvious, but I don't own any of the HSM characters or their related elements.
Author's Note: This story was written originally to fulfill the reunion theme of the HSM Romance Challenge, but I liked it too much to leave it as a oneshot. Because they're older things get a bit more explicit, hence a rating of M.
Chapter 1 - The Invitation
I snatched the phone up as it rang, balancing the receiver on my shoulder. "Hello?"
"So. Did you get it this morning?"
Taylor never said hi anymore. Investment banking made her even more blunt and businesslike than she used to be. Plus she called me so often at work, I already knew her voice instantly. We'd stayed close after high school and got even closer when I moved to New York last year.
"Tay… I don't know what you're talking about." I swiveled on my chair, reaching for the stack of mail I picked up from my slot near the secretary's desk.
"The invitation, Gabi." She sounded mildly irritated. Taylor never liked to explain things more than once. "I got it in my mail this morning and I'm sure you did too. I mean, you were valedictorian after all."
I flipped absently through the mail stack, picking out the invoices and pitches I wanted to deal with in the morning. "Valedictorian? That was back in high school…"
But I trailed off. There it was. The white envelope with the red E for East High on it. And a bright red stamp diagonally across it: 2017 – Your 10-Year Reunion!
"No no no no no." My stomach did a weird twist, and I tore the envelope open, scanning the details of the event. "No way, Taylor. I can barely cover my rent on what they pay me at the magazine. And there's no way I can take a four-day weekend off…."
"Don't be ridiculous," she said briskly. "You loved high school. I know you're dying to go. And don't worry, it's all taken care of."
I switched the phone to my other ear. "What?"
"I booked us plane tickets already." She let out a chuckle. "You don't need to thank me. We'll be in coach all the way. So now all you've got to do is get the time off work."
I fumbled for the words. "But I can't…"
"The reunion's in a month, so of course you can." Her keyboard clicked in the background. "OK, I gotta go. Conference call with Japan in ten. See you."
Damn. I put the phone down, my heart sinking. My boss wasn't going to like this. But I guessed I had no choice.
"God… I can't believe it took us twelve hours to get here."
I grabbed my bag out of the overhead compartment and walked unsteadily off the plane. Somehow Taylor still looked refreshed, pulling the handle out of her miniature carry-on case and dragging it behind her on its wheels. "I told you not to thank me," she said. "A four-hour layover in O'Hare made the coach tickets an even better deal."
I rolled my eyes. "Well, thanks for the heads up, anyway."
We followed the signs to our baggage carousel, blinking in the bright New Mexico sunlight. I could see Mom standing there among the crowd with her hand on a luggage cart, her face already breaking out into her familiar smile. She always looked the same, except for a few more grey strands of hair every time I saw her.
"Gabi!" She wrapped me up in one of her huge hugs. "And Taylor! You look more beautiful every time I see you."
Even prissy old Taylor couldn't resist my mom. "Hi, Ms. Montez." She hugged her warmly. "You look wonderful too. How's Gary?"
"Fine, fine," said Mom, beaming. Gary was my stepdad and a pretty nice guy. They got married during my senior year and had been going strong ever since. "He's at work right now, so you only get me to pick you up." She patted the cart. "So get your luggage, girls! I'm ready."
I laughed, kissing her on the cheek. "OK… I think I see mine coming there, actually."
I ran over to the carousel and grabbed the red suitcase by the handle. But it seemed heavier than I remembered, and I couldn't get it off. Bracing myself, I pulled harder. But this time, it was too hard. I got the suitcase off the carousel but stumbled back with its weight, bumping into someone walking by with another luggage cart.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa there."
There was something about that voice that sounded familiar. I turned around and looked into a pair of unmistakable blue eyes. My knees suddenly felt weak, something I never knew could really happen outside of romance novels. It was… Troy.
"Gabriella?" He looked at me incredulously, that grin of his spreading on his face. He looked just the same… just a little bit older, a little more wear and tear about the face and the eyes. But he still stood straight and tall and strong, with that same mop of shaggy hair, and the same ability to make my heart do backflips just by looking at me.
He stared at me, definitely smiling now. "So… I guess you're here for the reunion?"
"Yeah," I choked out. My mouth suddenly felt dry. "You… too?"
"It's tough not to." He grinned. "When Jack Bolton says jump, you say how high. And when it comes to East High, he's pretty clear. He spent his whole career at that school, so he loves the place. If I didn't show up, I'd never hear the end of it."
A smile crept onto my face. I'd forgotten his dad had coached basketball here. Slowly, the memories of high school were seeping back into my head. Especially the ones involving… Troy.
"Are you staying at your mom's while you're in town?"
I blinked back to reality. He was looking at me warmly. I still felt dumbstruck. "Yeah, for the weekend while I'm here. I've still got the bedroom with the balcony, right."
I clamped my mouth shut quickly. The bedroom with the balcony? What the hell was I saying?
But he was looking at me with a slight wistfulness. "Yeah… I remember." Then suddenly it seemed as if he jerked back to reality too. He seemed disoriented, but he hadn't taken his eyes off my face. I felt my cheeks turning red. "Gab… I'm sorry. My dad's waiting… I've got to get my luggage and get out of here." He grinned sheepishly. "He's really excited. I don't know. But… I'll see you later, hey?"
He looked suddenly hopeful. I nodded. "Tonight at the dinner?"
"Definitely." He grinned again, his eyes lingering on mine for a beat, and then he turned to a different carousel, chasing his luggage down.
"Hey… was that…?" Taylor's voice was suddenly in my ear. I turned to her, nodding silently.
"Well, you look all hot and bothered," she said, giving me a teasing look. "Maybe the twelve hours in transit was worth it after all."
"Nah," I said. "He's probably happily married with two perfect kids and a white picket fence somewhere. Troy the basketball star always came out on top."
I pushed her arm jokingly, but somewhere inside… I kind of hoped she was right.
"So Gabi… what happened with you and Troy anyway?"
Mom looked at me as I shut the car door behind me. We had just dropped off Taylor at her parents' place. I knew Mom had been dying to ask since she found out Troy was at the airport.
I didn't know how to explain. We made it all the way through high school… and then he was at UCLA, and I was at Harvard for my chem degree. It got murky then. I felt completely absorbed into a new world where he just didn't seem to fit. Our phone calls got farther and farther apart. We said we'd visit, but never did. Then he forgot my birthday the next year, and I didn't really mind. Eventually, I called him to tell him we were in different places, we needed to let each other go. He agreed, but I think we both knew we were already long gone.
But I had to admit… some sliver of me always thought about him. Through Harvard, through my grad studies at MIT, through the run of boyfriends I'd had since. Late at night, I'd sometimes dream about the time when we were together. His body against mine. The way he always made me laugh. His quiet confidence in himself… and in me.
I always woke up feeling safe and happy.
In the car, Mom looked over. "Was it a bad breakup, Gabi?" Her hand reached for mine. "Really, you don't have to tell me if it's too hard."
"No, Mom." I shook my head, looking out the window. "Me and Troy… we just lost touch."