The only reason Zack agrees to it is because he doesn't know what he's agreeing to at the time. He's absorbed in the basketball practice in front of him when Screech poses the question and Zack responds,
"Yeah, sure," mostly just to get Screech to shut up so he can finish watching the game.
The only clue he gets that he might have said something dangerous is Screech's reaction; a hearty, "You will?!" uttered in a tone that still, fifteen years after he left adolescence, demonstrates the accuracy of Screech's nickname.
"Whoa, back up," Zack says, turning away from the court to look at Screech, who is making faces at the little girl standing on his knees. She's holding onto his hands for balance but still appears to be very impressed with herself. "What did I just agree to?"
Screech hesitates just a second. "Nothing."
"Nothing? That I doubt," Zack says, reaching over to tickle his daughter's belly, which gets a nice hearty laugh from her. "Seriously, what did I agree to? Because if it takes you much longer to tell me, you know I'm reneging."
Screech stares at Zack in utter shock. "You would never."
"Oh, I most definitely would," Zack says. "Have we met?"
Screech shakes his head. "Fine. It's just a small thing. A tiny thing, really, given the history of our friendship. I thought maybe you could sign the invitations to the high school reunion coming up this fall."
"Why? High school reunions and all things Bayside High are totally your thing, man," Zack says. "I left that place and never looked back."
"You came to the last reunion."
"Because so few people RSVP'ed that the bartender was going to keep your deposit if we didn't go."
"I still don't get why more people didn't come," Screech says, shaking his head in an exaggerated way, which makes Olivia laugh and grab at his nose. "The theme was awesome: The future is now!"
"I don't think it was the theme, Screech. More the costume requirement."
"Oh, come on! That was the best part," Screech says.
"For the people who showed up," Zack says, remembering the two full and twelve empty tables in the gym. The ones who showed up were all people Zack remembered as being on the fringes of his acquaintance, people Screech knew from Math Club, or Chess Club, or the AV Club, or (most often) all three. "Most people don't have a spare Star Trek jumpsuit in their closet, so you seriously limited your pool of responders."
"You found something to wear," Screech says. "Even if it wasn't completely appropriate."
"What? How was my costume not appropriate?"
Screech sighs. "The Star Wars opening narration clearly states that the story is taking place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Your costumes actually resembled the past, when the theme was 'the future.'"
"Well, it was the best I could do," Zack says, watching Olivia swat Screech on the nose two, three, four times, all without Screech's expression of amused interest changing. Screech is good with kids, great with Zack's, and always willing to babysit. These were the reasons Zack had put together something resembling Han Solo five years ago, and why he'll probably do it again this year, if Screech asks, which Zack really hopes he won't. "No costume requirement this year, man."
"Is that a condition?" Screech says, turning away from Olivia to look at Zack. "Implying that the deal is on its way to being done?"
Zack watches Olivia lean in and hug Screech around the neck, resting against his body, tired of standing for so long. "I guess so," he said.
"Great!" Screech says, patting Olivia on the back. "Zack, look, it's Maddie."
Zack looks in the direction Screech indicated, and sees a sturdy seven-year-old with brown hair and a mournful expression walking through. "Looks like detention."
"No doubt," Zack says, waving his hand to catch Maddie's attention.
"I can't believe she still has it out for you," Screech says. "It's been, what? Twenty-five years?"
"Yeah, well. You know what I did to her. I can understand it."
Screech squints. "I can't remember - did you convince her you were an exchange student from Germany and couldn't speak English? Or was she the one whose desk you filled with snakes?"
As Maddie makes her way up the bleachers, Zack lowers his voice. "Both. But in my defense, most of those snakes were fake. And none of the live ones were poisonous," Zack says, and then raised his voice. "And that's why I always listened to the teacher, right, Screech?"
"What?" Screech says, incredulous, and then, off of Zack's pointed look. "I mean, absolutely, Zack! Hey there Mads, how's it going?"
Maddie sits down with a heavy sigh between Screech and Zack, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees. "Fine."
"Fine," Zack repeats, looking thoughtful. "The last time I remember you being fine, you'd just been assigned lunch detention for the rest of the month."
"That was totally unfair!" Maddie says, sitting upright, with fire in her eyes.
Zack agrees, but knows Kelly would kill him if he said it, so he just shrugs and said, "Well, them's the breaks, kid. What happened now?"
"Ms. Coulter hates me."
"Ms. Coulter does not hate you," Zack says. "How could anyone hate you?"
Screech nods in agreement. "That's right! You're most definitely unhateable, Mads. The one who Mrs. Coulter really hates is -"
"-people who interfere her valuable teaching time," Zack interrupts, sending Screech another warning look. "Was that what happened?"
"I was just trying to help Monica," Maddie says. "She didn't know what page we were on, so I was helping her find it, and Ms. Coulter said I was talking and I said I was helping and she said not to argue with her and I said but you're wrong and then Ms. Coulter said excuse me? And-"
Zack winces. "Maddie, see, this is the point where you should have apologized."
"But she was wrong," Maddie says. "And she's mean."
Zack can't argue with either point. "Yeah, but she's also the teacher."
Maddie sighs. "She made me stay after class and I had to clean all of the desks, which took forever."
Zack looks at the clock; Maddie has been out of school for forty-five minutes at the most. "And yet somehow you survived."
"Hmph," Maddie says, and then leaned forward again to glower at the basketball practice in front of her. "She kept saying I should be more like my sister."
"She shouldn't have said that," Zack says, feeling a flash of anger on behalf of the little girl sitting beside him. He looks down at the court where his oldest daughter was wrapping up basketball practice, her dark blonde hair back in a neat ponytail. Sarah arrived before Zack and Kelly were planning to have kids, and somehow the universe had known how unprepared they were and given them a break by giving them with a daughter who was easy-going, patient, and more likely to give up an assist than make the last big shot herself.
Zack looks over at his younger daughter's slumped-forward shoulders; she is the one in whom he saw his own impatience and youthful energy, his disrespect for authority, tempered by Kelly's good heart. Zack puts the palm of his hand flat on Maddie's back and feels her sigh again.
After a minute or two, she sits up, then reaches over to tug at Olivia's hand to say hello. Maddie gets angry quickly, especially at a perceived injustice, but she also calms down quickly, and rarely holds a grudge. "Is it almost time to go? I'm hungry."
"Almost," Zack says, looking at his watch. "Mom's making dinner, she should be home now."
"Are you coming over, Uncle Screech? Is that why you're here?"
"Sure," Screech says, and then looked at Zack. "That's all right, isn't it?"
"That's fine," Zack says. "Hey, how did you find me here?"
"Well, I called your office and they said you left. And I tried you at home, but you weren't there, so I figured you were here, so I stopped by."
"Most people would have left a message," Zack says.
"I did that too," Screech says. "And you know, this works out, because I have the invitations and stuff in my car, so you can just sign them after dinner and put them in the mail tomorrow."
"Awesome," Zack says, in a tone that implied just the opposite, and then got up because he sees that the girls on the court are moving toward the sidelines, picking up their bookbags and lunch totes. He holds out his hands for Olivia and sees her respond in kind, a gesture that never gets old for Zack, and as he hitches her up on his side and pats Maddie on the shoulder, he says, "Let's go."
"Okay, what really puts this over the top is the envelope. Most definitely," Kelly says, hours later, after the kids are in bed and Screech on his way home. She holds up one of the envelopes, which has a black-and-white version of Zack's senior photo to the left of the address, with the words A Special Message from Zack Morris running below it.
Zack slides another invitation down the table toward Kelly so she can put it in an envelope, and picked an unsigned one out of the box. He lays it flat on the table and reads, "'Many a time I have sat and pondered the halcyon days of Bayside High' - seriously?"
Kelly shakes her head, grinning, but keeps stuffing envelopes, because he signs faster than she stuffs and she has a serious backlog piled up. "Do you want to know what halcyon means, Zack?"
"I know what it means," Zack saus, thwapping Kelly on the top of her head lightly with the now-signed invitation. "Or at least I think I do. What I know is that it's a word I'd never use. And why do I have to sign these, anyway? Why couldn't he do it?"
"I'd tell you, but it would only inflate your ego," Kelly says.
"I like the sound of that."
"What a shock," Kelly says, rolling her eyes. She stuffs another envelope and puts it on top of one of the three unsteady piles in front of her, and pulls her hair back into a ponytail. "The truth is, back in high school, everyone knew Zack Morris's signature. Every girl wanted Zack to sign their yearbook."
"Every girl?" Zack asks.
"Just about," Kelly says. "I remember in tenth grade Bio, Clara Jones and Beth Wasliewski got detention after they got into a huge argument over which of their messages was more meaningful. You told one to have a great summer and you told the other to have an awesome vacation. There's no way Screech could fake your signature because many girls spent many hours studying those messages. Hard to believe, but true."
Zack watches Kelly stuff a few more envelopes, and remembers how many times he read the note, "Zack, We R 2 Cool 4 School, have a great summer! -Kelly!" during the summer after ninth grade. Trying to figure out if the 'we' actually meant something, why she used a heart instead of a dot in the exclamation point at the end of her name. He looked at it twice a day every day that summer, and can picture clearly where she signed (in the top corner of the second-to-last blank page in the yearbook).
"Yeah," Zack finally says, smiling. "Hard to believe."
Gloria is supposed to put messages from the Washington office on the top of Jessie's incoming mail, but when Thursday's pile arrived on Jessie's desk, there's no DC postmark in the upper-right-hand corner of the envelope to catch her eye; instead, Zack Morris stared up at her.
"High school reunion time," Gloria says in a sing-song tone while Jessie takes the envelope off of the pile and examines it. "Are you going to go?"
"Doubtful," Jessie says, putting the envelope aside. "I'd have to fly out to California, and since my folks don't live there anymore, it seems like a waste."
"Come on, it's not a waste," Gloria says. "Seeing old friends, seeing old non-friends, seeing people you hated and looking down on them - it's a time-honored American tradition. And come on, you look great, you've got a very impressive job, you live in a great place, you've got - you've got it all."
Jessie gives Gloria a doubtful look. "Including a pending divorce."
"You're better off rid of him," Gloria says, with impressive conviction.
"Yeah, well," Jessie says. Four months after she came home to find his things gone, and still the unexpected mention puts her off-balance. She picks up another piece of mail and looks up at Gloria again, this time all business. "Did we hear from the state party on McClenehan?"
Jessie ignores the invitation for the rest of the day, and for a while after that, looking at it only when she moves a pile of files off of her desk and sees it lying there underneath. She hugs the files closer to her chest and looks down at Zack's face, at his familiar, slightly smarmy smile, and feels a surprising rush of homesickness.
After dumping the files on Gloria's chair, she comes back into the office and picks up the envelope. Enough time has passed that the reunion is probably over, which somehow makes it easier for Jessie to consider opening the envelope. Her name and office address are handwritten on the front of it in careful cursive she recognizes as Kelly's handwriting, memorable from all the notes she'd been tossed in study hall, like
after school? Kelly!
Max after school?
Jessie sits down in her office chair, trying to remember the last time she spoke to Kelly. Right after she eloped with David, maybe; she remembers sitting up late in her old apartment's tiny kitchen, listening to Kelly tell her what married life was really like. After that, she always meant to keep in touch - had promised to - but didn't.
The invitation inside the envelope doesn't have Kelly's handwriting on it. Zack's signature is at the bottom-right-hand corner of the card, and the blank, left side of the card is covered with his messy print.
am your oldest friend, which is something you should think about when
you consider this invitation Basically, if I have to suffer through
it (which I will), then you should, too. If a reference to our
long friendship doesn't work, I also urge you to remember the
considerable blackmail material I have at my fingertips. See
you next month- Zack
I am your oldest friend, which is something you should think about when you consider this invitation Basically, if I have to suffer through it (which I will), then you should, too.
If a reference to our long friendship doesn't work, I also urge you to remember the considerable blackmail material I have at my fingertips.
See you next month-
The right side of the card consists of the advertised special message from Zack Morris, which Jessie can tell at a glance he didn't write, and the date and time of the reunion: tomorrow, 7PM. Bayside High Gymnasium.
She can still go, if she wants to, which she doesn't, she immediately decides. Too much work, too many files to review, too much research to-
"Hey, did you hear?"
"Hear what?" Jessie asks, looking up from the invitation. Gloria stands in the doorway with Jessie's files in her arms, which are so huge in relation to Gloria's petite frame that she almost disappears behind them.
"Marcia got the rug guy to agree to come in this weekend, so everyone has to be outta here all weekend." Gloria shifts her weight and the files tilt one way, then the other, but ultimately stay in Gloria's arms. "I think you may actually be forced to enjoy yourself this weekend."
Jessie feels a rush of panic. "The office is completely closed? All weekend?"
"All weekend," Gloria says. "And don't even think about taking work home, because I'm going to hide these bad boys where you will never find them. We assistants have our tricks and secrets, trust me."
"Seriously, Jessie, I know you're my boss and all, and I guess in the end I have to do what you tell me, but please, I'm begging you. Take a day off. Or even two! I hear some people do this regularly. They call it a weekend," Gloria says, backing out of the office and turning down the hall.
The office being closed for the weekend isn't a big deal. Jessie can and does work from home a lot, she just likes working in the office better. Her office computer is better, there's an excellent library at her disposal, and the occasional colleague around to ask for advice or input. Most importantly, there are no reminders of David anywhere at all, as long as you don't count the place on Jessie's hand where her wedding ring used to be.
Jessie unfolds the invitation again, reads Zack's note another time. I am your oldest friend. They'd become friends by necessity, their bond formed by geography more than anything else, since Jessie and Zack were two kids in a neighborhood of aging families. Still the friendship had survived past the first summer after his family moved in; Jessie remembers her second-grade surprise over the fact that Zack sat next to her at lunch, even though he'd heard all day the way the other kids laughed at her for having bushy hair and being too smart.
Zack sat down at lunch with her that day and every day in Bayside after that. Other people would join the table later; first Lisa, then Screech, later Kelly and Slater, but it began with Zack and Jessie. Thinking of it reminded Jessie of other things, like the view of Zack's bedroom from the tree outside his window, which she'd climbed to go visit him more times than she can count, and how he always got the bus driver to hold the bus for her when she overslept.
"Seriously, Jessie, they're coming in here in like twenty minutes," Diana announces from the doorway. "Marcia wants everyone out, you included, so if you really want me to pull some files for you to work on this weekend, now would be the time to tell me."
Jessie looks up into Diana's worried face and thinks of the files she should request, and is about to rattle them off when she thinks of the weekend in front of her: hours working at the desk that used to be David's, sitting on a couch he picked out, trying not to notice all the places where his things used to be.
"No need," Jessie finds herself saying. "Looks like I'm getting out of town."
Jessie's confident pronouncement almost doesn't make its way into reality; flights are booked, traffic is terrible, and she barely makes her way onto the last direct flight with an open seat available. She sinks down into her seat, pushes her hair off of her face, and leans back, eyes closed, while she listens to other people settle into their seats and secure their luggage.
Suddenly there's a hand on her arm. Jessie's eyes fly open and she finds herself looking at the most attractive man she's ever seen in person.
"You are Jessie Spano?" he says, in a European accent Jessie can't identify.
"What? I mean, yes," Jessie says. "Who are you?"
"That is not important," he says, waving his hand in a dismissive way. "I have a friend, she wishes for us to switch seats. She is in first class."
"Who-" Jessie leans into the aisle, looks toward the curtain to the first class section, and sees a familiar face peeking out at her; a face she recognizes from years of childhood friendship and her recent appearance as a guest judge on Project Runway. "Oh my God, Lisa?"
The first thing Lisa notices about Jessie is her tragic outfit, which doesn't get better upon closer scrutiny: an oversized, shapeless gray suit with a white button-down and - most tragic of all - no accessories at all. The second thing she notices is Jessie's face, which is familiar in a way her face will always be familiar to Lisa, who spent hours of every day for something like ten years hanging out with her, but also changed by the time that's passed. Her face is thinner, her hair straightened, both of which are fine, but what really gives Lisa pause is the expression on Jessie's face: exhaustion mingled with a sadness that doesn't quite go away even when she smiles and greets Lisa with a hug.
"I can't believe it's you," Jessie says.
"Same here!" Lisa says, pulling her out of the aisle to sit next to her. "Kelly said you didn't RSVP-"
"It was a last-minute thing," Jessie says, pushing her hair behind one ear. "I thought I didn't have time in my schedule, but then this weekend opened up, so-"
Jessie cuts herself off to listen to the flight attendant, who's directing them to watch the pre-flight security announcements. Of course Jessie listens with her full attention, leaning into the aisle to see the way to the nearest exit. Lisa never pays attention to these things, and watching Jessie nod at what the flight attendant on the video is saying, and then check under her seat for the flotation device, makes Lisa grin.
"What's the smile for? You find potential air disasters amusing?" Jessie asks, leaning back against her seat.
"No, it's just - you're still so you," Lisa says. "You know?"
Jessie doesn't say anything at first, but the way she's staring at Lisa reminds her of what she's wearing: a purple sheath dress that matches the purple hairpiece she clipped into her sleek, angled bob, and knee-high boots with transparent heels. "I think I do."
Lisa pats her hair. "I assume you're referring to the fact that I have not aged a day since we left Bayside."
"Of course," Jessie says. "Speaking of ages, how old is your boyfriend?"
"Massimo? Twenty-five," Lisa says, sighing. "Ah, Massimo."
"Lisa. He is-" Jessie doesn't finish the sentence, appears lost for words. "Wow."
Lisa pats her on the arm. "I know. He gets that reaction a lot. It's a shock he's still as sweet as he is, given the fact that he's ridiculously beautiful. I mean, he actually asked to come to the reunion with me. He said he wanted to see my 'place of origin' and seriously, I was not going to turn down the opportunity to show up with him on my arm."
"I don't think anyone would."
Lisa nods, and watches Jessie's face, which has frozen up a little in the last few seconds. "You're here on your own?"
"Yeah, just me," Jessie says, and then after a long pause. "David and I are divorcing."
Jessie waves away Lisa's words. "It's fine, it's absolutely fine, I mean, we got married right out of law school, were practically kids. And I'm very lucky. Financially, I'm fine, and he's not being acrimonious with the divorce proceedings, so it should be pretty painless."
"That's good," Lisa says, remembering the last time she saw Jessie, how she had leaned on David's arm on their way out of the benefit they'd all been attending, one of the rare times Jessie and Lisa's paths had crossed in New York City. It was only a year and a half ago, and Lisa remembers being jealous of their casual intimacy as she left the benefit alone. "Still, I'm sorry."
"Thanks," Jessie says, with a tight smile that says that the topic is off the table.
"So, let's get to the important stuff," Lisa says. "What are you wearing tomorrow night?"
Jessie blanches. "I actually didn't have time to pack, so all I have is my gym bag and what I'm wearing, so I guess I'm wearing this."
"Oh, honey," Lisa says, pressing her hand against Jessie's arm. "No."
The problem with finding something for Jessie to wear isn't that nothing looks good on her - most things do - but because she's so picky, a fact Lisa had forgotten.
"I'm remembering why Kelly was my shopping sidekick in high school," Lisa says, leaning against the wall outside the changing room. "You are impossible."
"I am not! I just know what I like."
"Which is nothing short, nothing bright, nothing ruffled, nothing with sequins, nothing fitted - "
"Nothing tight," Jessie corrects from within the changing room.
"Jessie, you have a killer bod, it's criminal to hide it in a sack of fabric," Lisa says, and then sees a salesgirl approaching with a black dress over one arm. "Oh, you found it?"
"Found what?" Jessie asks.
"Not you," Lisa says, and then smiles at the salesgirl. "Thank you, this is great."
The girl flutters her hand and says, in a breathless way, "Can I just ask - are you Lisa Turtle?"
Lisa feels the same rush she always does when someone asks the question. "I am."
"Oh my God. I, like, love your stuff. I bought a T-shirt that's just like one of yours at Steve & Barry's because I can't actually afford your stuff, but I totally absolutely LOVE it and the first thing I'm going to buy once I save up enough is your signature purple sweater dress. You are, like, the best."
"Aw, thank you," Lisa says, leaning over to give the girl a hug. After the girl leaves, Lisa tosses the dress over the door to Jessie and says, "Did you hear that? I am the best, which means that when you put this on, you are coming out here to show it to me even if you don't think you like it. Okay?"
"Fine, all right," Jessie says, and continues in a slightly-muffled way as she changes out of one dress and into another, "I can't believe I'm actually shopping with the real, infamous Lisa Turtle."
"Shut up," Lisa says, leaning against the wall again.
"Oh, come on, you love it."
"I do," Lisa says, smiling. "I won't lie about it. I was meant to be fabulously famous. Or maybe famously fabulous. Either one."
Jessie opens the door and steps out into the hall, saying, "Clearly, because-"
Lisa cuts her off. "Oh my God. This is the dress. This is most definitely the dress, and I'm not giving you any time to think about it, or consider it, or even finish what you were saying, because I am getting you to the register and out of this store as quick as I can, before you change your mind-"
"I haven't even decided to buy it!"
"Oh yes you have! Don't you remember saying, 'Lisa, this is fabulous, thank you SO much for your help and expertise, I couldn't have done it without you?'"
"Well, that's what you should be saying," Lisa says, pushing Jessie back into the changing room. "Now, get back into your regular clothes, and let's get that dress bought. You are going to turn some heads."
There's a pause long enough for Lisa to think Jessie isn't going to respond, but then she does, with a quiet, "You think?"
There's a hesitance in Jessie's voice that cuts Lisa to the quick.
"I know it," Lisa says, when Jessie opens the dressing room door, back in her sweatpants and T-shirt, dress hanging over one arm, her hair a mess from changing so many times. She looks younger dressed like this, reminding Lisa of all the nights they spent sleeping over at each other's houses, staying up all night, watching scary movies and talking about boys. Well, mostly Lisa talking about boys, and Jessie listening and then telling her that she should focus on non-boy-related goals, like picking a college and focusing on a career.
"Let's get out of here," Jessie says, striding toward the exit. "These places give me hives."
"Why were we ever friends, again?" Lisa asks, walking speedily to catch up with her.
When they're standing at the cash register, Jessie looks over at her. "How big are those heels? You're almost as tall as me right now."
"These?" Lisa lifts one foot and examines them. "Four-and-a-half inches, I think."
"Have you read about what those things can do to your feet?" Jessie says, and then starts digging through her purse. "I heard this segment on NPR about the relationship between ultra-high-heels and Chinese foot-binding, and I know it sounds ridiculous on its own, but when you consider-"
Jessie goes on, but Lisa doesn't listen, because she's distracted by something she sees in Jessie's purse: an eyeglasses case embossed with a familiar silver turtle, the trademark of an authentic Lisa Turtle design. Jessie's rants have never bothered her because even in high school, when it counted, Jessie came through for her: proof-reading her application for FIT, taking her out to dinner the night she got her first job in a showroom, referring her to a lawyer who specialized in contracts when she closed her first big deal as a designer.
"Hey, where'd you get these?" Lisa interrupts, pulling the case out of Jessie's purse.
"Bloomingdale's, I think," Jessie says, signing for the purchase. "I really like them!"
Lisa opens the case, takes out the sunglasses, which are the most expensive pair she designed: teal plastic, with asymmetrical frames. Totally amazing, and totally not Jessie's style. "You are such a liar."
"I am not!"
"You so are," Lisa says, taking the dress bag from the salesgirl, and waiting for Jessie to get organized so that they can leave the store. "These are so far from your style, they're not even in another zip code, they're in another area code. That's the bigger one, right?"
"Yes," Jessie says, snatching the frames back. She carefully folds them up and puts them back in the case. "And I think they're great, which is why I bought them."
"If you say so," Lisa says, and doesn't press the matter any further, because she knows the real reason Jessie bought them, even if she won't admit it out loud.
The DJ cancels at 3PM the day of the reunion, and Screech is so convinced that the stress is inducing a heart attack that he goes on WebMD to search for the symptoms. When he becomes reasonably convinced that he's going to survive the day, he picks up the phone.
"Hey Screech," Kelly says, in her familiar cheerful voice.
"Kelly! Oh my God. The DJ canceled, and I can't get a replacement, and I don't know what I'm going to do. We can't have an event with no music! I specifically designed the layout of the event to include a dance floor, and we can't have a dance floor with no music and we can't just use the radio because who can agree on a station? Not to mention the commercials, and -"
"Screech!" Kelly interrupts, her tone of voice soothing with a note of amusement that Screech is too overwrought to be offended by. "You need to relax. It's going to be fine."
"It's NOT going to be fine, there's no way it will be fine! The whole event is ruined!"
"It is not ruined," Kelly says. "The point of the reunion is to get us all together in one room again, so whether there's music or not, as long as that happens, it's been a success. And you did make that happen, Screech."
Screech pauses. "I did?"
"You did," Kelly says. "And I'm glad you did. Zack is, too, though he won't admit it. And don't worry about the music, I'll bring my ipod and we'll hook it up to something. You can do that, right?"
"Absolutely," Screech says, already breathing easier as he figures out the best way to arrange the technology. "But the thing is, the music was all supposed to be from our high school years, you know? A blast from the past."
"I'll use my running playlist. It's almost all that kind of music. But don't tell anyone I still listen to it!"
"Your secret is safe with me," Screech says.
"Right," Kelly says, sounding a little unconvinced. "See you tonight, okay? I'll get there a little early, help look things over before the event. How does that sound?"
"Great. Thanks, Kelly," Screech says.
"No problem. See you tonight."
Kelly arrives as promised, twenty minutes early with Zack in tow. They both stop short a few feet into the gym, staring around themselves in shock. Screech looks around the room himself, at the maroon color scheme, the blown-up pictures from their yearbook placed carefully in different parts of the room, the smaller-than-usual dance floor near the front of the gym, with the same kind of hanging disco ball they had at their senior prom. Everything looks just about right to Screech, but he can't help feeling a rush of nerves just before he turns to look back at Zack and Kelly.
"Screech," Kelly says, and then pauses for a moment. The pause doesn't carry much suspense, though, because she's wearing her familiar, wide grin, the one that won her Best Smile their Senior Year. "This is amazing!"
And then she walks over to him, gives him a hug. He folds his arms around her and looks over at Zack, who's smiling, too, and nodding. "You did great, buddy."
Two people's opinions shouldn't be enough to put all the anxiety and nerves Screech had been feeling to rest, but one of those people is Zack, and Screech has been looking to him for approval since elementary school, a habit he's never been able to completely break. He finds himself relaxing for the first time all day, and when Kelly steps back and looks around the room again, Screech is able to finally begin to enjoy his night.
It only takes a few minutes to set up the speakers, mostly because Screech is good with computers and Zack has never gotten over his love for gadgets, so the two of them handle that while Kelly makes sure the welcome table is set up the way it should. A moment after Screech has found a plug for the last speaker, Kelly walks over to him.
"Screech, people have started to arrive," she says, and she has one person in particular in hand. The woman is blonde, with thick-rimmed red glasses and a pretty smile. She's wearing a polka-dot blouse, a pink skirt, and a nervous expression that is familiar to Screech, but which he can't quite place. Her face is a little red, almost like she's too warm, but Screech had been very careful about the air conditioning, so that can't be it.
And then Kelly says, "You remember Violet Bickerton."
Suddenly, Screech does, sees the girl this woman used to be: braided pigtails and braces, and the first and only girl at Bayside who'd been genuinely happy to be his date. "Violet!" he says, and hears his voice rise embarrassingly on the end, something that really should have gone away in the last fifteen years.
"Hello, Samuel," she says, holding out a hand. "It's so good to see you."
Screech reaches out to shake it. It's small and warm and a little sweaty, but his hand is sweaty too, so he's relieved rather than grossed out. "Wow! Violet! Wow!"
Her smile gets a little less shy and more amused. "It's me," she says.
"But you didn't even graduate with us," Screech says, remembering that awful night she'd told him of her father's job being transferred. "In junior year you had to move to -"
"Fresno, I know, but when I got the invitation, I figured, why not?"
"But how did you get -" Screech cuts himself off, looks over at Kelly, who's looking innocently at the ceiling.
"Screech, these streamers are awesome! How on earth did you get them all up there?" Kelly says. "Aren't they great, Violet?"
"Yes, they are," Violet says, her cheeks getting even redder, and Screech realizes why in that moment: she's blushing.
"You know," Kelly says. "I better get back to that table. Slater's supposed to be coming and I'd love to see him when he gets here. Why don't you show Violet around? I think I saw a picture of the two of you on the collage by the speakers. You should start there."
Screech clears his throat. "Would you like to do that?"
"I'd love to," Violet says, reaching up to adjust her glasses.
Screech looks up at Kelly, who winks at him before turning around to head back to the table at the front of the gym.
Screech takes Violet on a tour around the room, showing her all the pictures he'd picked and explaining why, listening to her own stories from her time at Bayside when they found some taken before she left. It's awkward at first, but they settle into easy conversation after a bit, finding a common interest in their appreciation for Linux.
"Is it true that you sold something you designed for your undergraduate thesis to Microsoft?"
Screech shrugs as if it's no big deal, but secretly he's thrilled that she knows, that he didn't have to brag and tell her. "Well, they made the best offer."
"That's amazing," Violet says. "Are you working on other things?"
"Just as a hobby," Screech says. "I actually work here at the school."
"You do," Violet says. "That's - wow. Can I ask why? You have such a talented scientific mind."
Screech shrugs. "I only like doing scientific stuff for fun. I started working here when I was in college as an assistant to Mr. Belding - you remember him - and after I graduated I got a job teaching Physics. I'm happy here."
"Well, that's what matters," Violet says. "And I'm glad to hear it."
"So," Screech says, doing his best to remember all the tips Kelly told him the last time he went on a blind date. "What do you do, Violet?"
Violet's smile is so pretty that Screech doesn't hear the first few things she says, and then she stops talking, her expression surprised and nervous.
"Is something wrong?" Screech asks, stepping toward her.
"No, no, I'm fine, it's just-" she says, sighing and then gesturing to the door. "Lisa just got here."
"Lisa?" Screech says, and looks over his shoulder so quickly that he kind of hurts his neck. Lisa is standing in the gym doorway, and she looks different to Screech - her hair straight instead of curled, bobbed short instead of shoulder-length - but is still the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. He finds himself turning completely to see her, watches her hug Kelly and laugh at something she says, and then introduce the person with her, a tall man who's the kind of handsome Screech has never seen in person.
Screech watches Lisa lean over the table and pick up her nametag, which has her senior picture on it (which Screech can remember even now: she wore a turquoise bow in her hair that day, off to the side of her head). When she picks it up, she laughs at the picture and shows it to her date, and then starts looking around the gym. She catches sight of Screech, and the happiness in her expression upon seeing him makes some part of him feel complete in a way it never was when he was in high school; even though he knows it's ridiculous, that his crush on her had been as futile and hopeless as it had been heartfelt and true, there's a wave of vindication in seeing that she's happy to see him.
He lifts his hand in a wave and sees her move around the table to come toward him. She's still a good distance away when Screech hears Violet's voice.
"You know, I think - I'm going to go use the ladies room."
Screech turns around, feels embarrassed because he'd forgotten she was there. "Oh, uh. Okay."
Screech watches her leave, swinging her pink purse in one hand. She walks slowly to the side entrance to the gym and runs the last few feet, which makes Screech want to go after her, but before he can, he feels a hand on his shoulder and has to turn around.
"Screech!" Lisa says, and gives him a quick hug. "It's so great to see you! Did you really put all of this together? I have to say, apart from the color scheme - which you had no control over, of course, whoever picked maroon, anyway? - this looks so, so great. Very retro-hip, you know?"
Screech has no idea what she's talking about. "Most definitely!"
Lisa laughs. "So, tell me, was that your girlfriend?"
"Oh, no, that was Violet Bickerton."
"Who transferred out our Junior year? Who you went out with before she moved?" Lisa asks, showing that her encyclopedic knowledge of Bayside High student body had not deteriorated with age.
"Yes, that's her."
"Are you two reconnecting?" Lisa says, placing an emphasis on the last word.
"I don't - I mean, we were just-"
"I'm just teasing," Lisa says. "You really are a sweet guy, Screech. You should go for it. Who knows what could happen?"
Screech looks down into her face and sees nothing but warmth and kindness there. Gone is her ever-present annoyance with him, replaced with a fondness for him that he's genuinely surprised to see. Also gone is the ache he always felt when he didn't see his feelings for her mirrored in her face, because now their feelings are the same: affection and fondness, nothing more and nothing less.
"Thanks," Screech says.
"You're welcome," Lisa says, and then smiles in a way his high school self had always hoped for, but as usual she's looking at someone else, at the man she walked in with, who just walked up to join them. "Screech, this is Massimo, my boyfriend."
"Ah, Screech," he says. "Lisa has said many things about you."
"Of course I have," Lisa says. "Anyway, Massimo, Screech was just going."
"Of course you were," Lisa says. "You were going to find Violet."
"Oh. Right," Screech says. "I was."
"Go get 'em, tiger," Lisa says, with a smile that has so much confidence in him that Screech can't help feeling some of it himself.
It takes Screech a while to find Violet. He spends some time lurking around the ladies room, which earns him some curious looks from women who used to be his high school classmates, most of whom never spoke to him in high school and don't recognize him now. After a while, he realizes that Violet either isn't in there anymore or never went there at all, and tries to think of places she might have gone, other than home, because that option is too depressing.
Finally, he remembers: the Math lab, where she'd worked on fractals in an independent study she'd had in Math her sophomore year. When Screech looks inside, she's sitting at one of the tables, using the geometry blocks to build an unsteady tower. Her expression is so sad that it makes Screech regret even more sharply the way he'd behaved before, and it takes him a second to work up the nerve to say, "Hey."
Violet jumps at his voice and knocks over the tower she'd been building, and as she tries to gather up the pieces, she says, "Oh, hi."
"I remembered you saying this was your favorite place."
"It was," Violet says. "It's changed since I was here in some ways, but in others -"
"It's the same," Screech finishes. "It's like that all over the school."
Violet nods and finishes putting the pieces back into neat little piles, which Screech guessed was how she found them. "So, um. How's Lisa?"
"She's good," Screech says. "I'm - I'm sorry for how I acted before, it was really rude."
"It's fine," Violet says, and it sounds like she's trying to convince herself as much as anyone else. "I understand."
"It was just - I hadn't seen her in a while, and it was kind of a surprise, and-"
"Screech, don't worry about it, I totally get it," Violet says, sighing. She stands up and pushes in her chair, tucks her hair neatly behind one ear. "I know what you're feeling."
"What do you mean?"
Violet shakes her head, like she can't believe she has to spell it out. "I get how you feel about Lisa, because it's the same for me. Only you're my Lisa."
It takes Screech a second to understand what she's saying, and when he does, he steps toward her, says, "But it's not the same."
"Listen, Screech, I know you liked Lisa a lot, for a long time, and you didn't even know I was alive, but trust me, I know how much I liked you, and how happy I was to see - anyway," Violet says, tucking her hair back again. She's blushing again, and rushes the last sentence out. "I know how I felt."
"That's not what I meant," Screech says. "I meant it's not the same because Lisa doesn't feel anything for me. She never did."
Violet's brow furrows, in the same way it did whenever she got a tough question when it was her turn on the Academic Challenge team. "Wait, do you mean -"
Now Screech is blushing. "Yes, I - you know that I liked you in high school, and tonight, you know, you look really pretty and I like your polka dot blouse and it was nice talking to you and I was thinking maybe we could get dinner sometime, if you wanted."
"I think that would be lovely," Violet says.
The welcome table is unattended when Slater arrives, but he's able to find his nametag pretty easily. He picks it up and stares at it for a few seconds; he'd kind of forgotten just how awful his hair used to be, and he'd like to forget again, if possible. He's about to put it back and pretend he never saw the table when he hears his name being called from across the room.
He looks up to see Kelly hurrying towards him. "Don't you dare put that nametag back. I'm wearing mine."
"Ah, but that's different. No one ever took a bad picture of you, Kapowski," Slater says, and hugs her hello. When she steps back, he hands her his nametag. "It's not possible."
"It's Morris now, as you know. And thanks for the cheesy compliment," Kelly says, smiling at his nametag. "Brings back old times."
Slater puts a hand to his heart. "You're killing me, Kelly. I'll have you know that line has worked on many women."
Kelly shakes her head and attaches Slater's nametag to his lapel, patting it down before stepping back. "Slater, it's not the line that works on those women, it's the smile that comes with it."
"Now I feel like I'm the one being fed a cheesy line."
"What can I say, I'm out of practice," Kelly says. "Fourteen years of marriage will do that to you."
"Where is he, by the way?" Slater asks, looking around the room.
"Over by the bar, I think," Kelly says. "Go say hi, I told Screech I'd sit here for the next few minutes in case any latecomers arrive."
"So these were his big idea, huh," Slater says, gesturing at his nametag, which he frowns at again. "And I guess he picked the music, right? Can you believe we listened to this garbage? I mean, who is this, anyway?"
"Color Me Badd," Kelly says, without hesitation, and then, "I mean, I think it is."
Slater gives her a curious look, but before he can ask a question, a group of people arrive and Kelly turns to greet them. Slater scans the room, which looks almost identical to the layout of their senior prom, with the notable (and welcome) exception of a bar. Zack stands by the bar surrounded by a bunch of women, some of whom he recognizes: Ginger, Heather Brooks, Margo, Rhonda Robistelli. They're all leaning toward Zack, whose height is the only reason he doesn't disappear completely.
Slater makes his way over, and isn't noticed by Zack or any of the other women until he's reached the edge of the group.
"And this one," Zack is saying, "was taken when Olivia first started walking."
"Oh, she is adorable," Ginger says, looking more at Zack's face than the camera as she pushes closer.
Zack doesn't look up from the camera. "I know, isn't she?"
There's something in Zack's smile that Slater is almost embarrassed to see, and so he clears his throat, says, "Really, Preppie, using baby pictures to draw in the chicks? That's the oldest play in the book."
Zack looks up, and now his smile is familiar, the old hey-buddy-good-to-see-you grin. Zack pushes through the crowd and shakes his hand, slapping him on the shoulder. "You want to see any-"
"I doubt I can avoid it," Slater says.
"You're probably right," Zack says, and cues up another picture. The crowd of women disperses, and Slater looks down at the tiny picture frame, and makes appropriate noises of appreciation about each picture, though he knows that Zack is seeing something different in them than he does; to Slater, it's just a series of shots of kids who are pretty cute. Zack seems to feel like he's revealing some newly discovered treasure.
After he finishes, Zack puts the camera in his pocket and gets a funny look on his face. "I've become that guy."
"Suburban loser guy?" Slater asks. "Very possible. I'm pretty sure you're wearing Dockers."
"What's wrong with Dockers?" Zack asks, and then shakes his head. "Don't answer. But seriously, did I just spend ten minutes torturing you with pictures of my kids?"
Slater opens his mouth to answer, but his intermittent manners step in to save him. "Well, I don't know if I would call it torture."
"Most people would," Zack says. "You deserve a drink. Come on, Kelly's driving, I'll have one, too."
They do, leaning against the bar, Zack telling him about everyone who's shown up, a group that includes Violet Bickerton, Mr. Belding, and three of Slater's ex-girlfriends, including Jessie.
"Jessie's here? I didn't see her," Slater says, scanning the room again.
"I think she and Lisa left for a minute, but - there she is," Zack says, pointing to the front of the room, where Jessie stands next to a graying older man Slater takes a second to recognize as Mr. Belding.
"Is that Mr. Belding?"
"It is," Zack says. "He came all the way from Tennessee for this. He's the Dean of Students at a college out there."
"Wow," Slater says. "I always thought he hated us."
"Not all of us. Me, maybe," Zack says. "No, definitely. He definitely hated me. Most of the time."
"He always liked Jessie," Slater says.
"All the teachers liked Jessie. She was a curve destroyer."
"He's still pretty smitten with her now," Slater says, watching Mr. Belding's excited expression as he leans in to say something else to Jessie, who is wearing her best imitation of interest. Slater recognizes it from all the times he tried to explain the rules of football to her when they were dating. "She's dying over there. Well, you know how a lady loves a knight in shining armor."
Zack nods. "Yes, definitely go in with that attitude. It'll be fun to watch from over here."
Slater smirks and finishes his drink, pushes off from the bar, but before he can get more than a step away, Zack stops him with a hand on his arm. "Hold on a second."
"Just - don't ask her about her husband or anything."
Slater feels something inside of him go still. "Why?"
"Because I think she's getting divorced. She told Lisa who told Kelly who told me, and when I talked to her before, she seemed kind of quiet."
Slater isn't sure why the news feels so significant to him, since he can count on one hand the number of times he and Jessie have spoken since high school graduation, and almost all of them were during their college years. All he says to Zack is, "Okay."
"Good," Zack says, leaning against the bar again. "Now, go on over there. I'm looking forward to seeing this."
"Seeing what?" a familiar voice asks, from behind Slater.
He turns around to see Lisa standing behind him, a friendly smile on her face. Slater hugs her while Zack says, "Slater's going to rescue Jessie."
"Ooh," Lisa says. "I want to see this, too."
"What, don't you want to say hello, see how I'm doing-"
Lisa interrupts him with a wave of her hand. "Oh, I can find that out anytime. This I'd like to see right now."
"Well, I always aim to please," Slater says, straightening his tie.
Zack and Lisa roll their eyes, but it doesn't dampen Slater's confidence. He knows what he's doing. He walks across the room slowly, angling so that he comes up behind Jessie, in Mr. Belding's line of sight and waits, eavesdropping.
"-and Mrs. Belding, she just loves the country. She couldn't make it out now because it's the fall, you know, and she's got a variety of fruit preserves and jams she likes to make. I know I told you about her raspberry jam, but did I tell you about her strawberry preserves?"
"No, you didn't," Jessie says, in the weary voice of a polite person who's used every weapon at their disposal to escape a boring conversation and still found themselves trapped.
"Well, the funny thing about strawberry preserves is - " Mr. Belding cuts himself off, having caught sight of Slater, hovering behind Jessie. "Well, as I live and breathe. Could it be?"
Slater steps forward, holding out his hand. "Is that you, Mr. Belding?"
"It sure is," Mr. Belding says, shaking Slater's hand enthusiastically. "A.C. Slater. Here you are."
"Here I am," Slater says, taking his hand back. "I heard you were telling Jessie about your wife's preserves."
'You're right, I was," Mr. Belding says, and opens his mouth to continue the story, but before he can, Slater interrupts.
"You know, it is so funny that you were talking about that just as I walked up, because I was just over there, with Zack and Lisa?" Slater says, pointing to where Zack and Lisa are leaning against the bar with grins on their faces. The grins disappear when they see Slater point at them and Mr. Belding notice them. "And they were just talking about how they've always wanted to know how jam and preserves get made. Isn't that a crazy coincidence?"
"Well, you know what they say. There are no coincidences," Mr. Belding says. "I guess I'd better get over there."
"You do that," Slater says. "I'll have Jessie fill me in on what I missed before I got here."
Mr. Belding nods and turns to make his way over to the bar; Slater lets himself watch for a moment to see Zack and Lisa's amusement turn to unease when they realize that Mr. Belding is heading for them, and then something like panic when Mr. Belding makes it impossible for them to escape by holding up a hand and calling out, "Zack! Lisa! So good to see you again."
Slater turns back to Jessie, who's watching Belding approach Zack and Lisa, too. She laughs at something she sees, and in that moment she's the same girl Slater took to prom and spent most of his high school years arguing with. She turns to look at him, eyes bright. "I suppose you're looking for a thank you?"
Slater shrugs. "I think that would be appropriate."
"Part of me hates to have to thank you for saving me, but most of me is just glad to be out of that conversation," Jessie says. "So thanks, Slater."
"Glad to do it," Slater says. "So, what's shaking, Mama? You are looking good, by the way."
Jessie rolls her eyes. "And there goes the goodwill you just earned."
"I wouldn't know what to do with it, anyway," Slater says. "But really, you do look great."
Jessie pauses before saying, "Thanks."
"So, what are you up to these days? I know you went to law school."
"I work for an organization called Emily's List, which-"
"I know what Emily's List is," Slater says.
Jessie pauses. "It's not a list of people named Emily."
"Funny," Slater says. "It's an organization dedicated to getting women elected to political office."
The whole trip to Bayside, the cost of the plane ticket and the hotel room and all the boring conversations he's sure are in front of him, all of those are worth it for the look of astonishment on Jessie's face. Slater grins, leans close enough to Jessie that he can smell her perfume, which is different than what she wore in high school. He says, "You know, I'm more than just a pretty face."
"I know that," Jessie says. "I'm just surprised that you know that particular thing. Or - wait, did Lisa tell you?"
"Lisa did not tell me," Slater says.
"So you just-"
"Hey, I am an educated man. I read. I follow the news. I know things."
"Okay, tell me the current prime minister of the United Kingdom."
Slater thinks for a moment. "Tony Blair."
Jessie shakes her head.
"Seriously? That's not him? I could swear that was his name."
"He used to be the prime minister. There's a new one, now."
"Oh, I get it. Elections in November and all that."
"England doesn't have elections in - oh, never mind," Jessie says, sighing in an exasperated way that makes Slater smile. "I still think Lisa told you."
Slater shakes his head, because Lisa didn't tell him. He knew about Emily's List because of a class on second- and third-wave feminism he took in college, one of a few electives he took out of the women's studies department. He'd signed up for the class to meet girls, but he'd actually enjoyed it once he realized how well-prepared he was for it simply by having been Jessie Spano's boyfriend. One of the secrets he's kept the longest and best is how much he enjoyed the class, and he's not about to reveal it to Jessie now.
"Well, enough about me. What about you? What do you do?"
"Me?" he says, to buy time and then inspiration strikes. "I work for Maxim Magazine. I'm their, uh, cover editor. I come up with the concepts and arrange for the photographers, all that stuff."
Slater can see the battle between good manners and personal outrage play out in Jessie's mind. It takes her a few seconds to say, "Well, I. I hear that magazine has - very high circulation."
"That's not all it has-"
Finally, the forces of outrage win out. "Slater! I can't believe you work for that magazine! It is so demeaning to women, a knockoff of Playboy for guys who want to pretend they're above pornography when really all they're doing is-"
She cuts herself off when Slater starts laughing. "Don't laugh at me. You may find this funny, Neanderthal, but the plight of women in modern society is the furthest thing from a joke, and -"
"It was a joke," Slater says. "I was kidding. I don't work for Maxim magazine. I can't believe you fell for it - when did I ever show any interest in journalism or photography or anything that would make that believable?"
"You've certainly shown enough interest in objectifying women."
"Oh, come on, Mama. When did I ever treat you like that? And the whole 'Mama' thing doesn't count, it's a term of endearment," he adds, when he sees how quickly she opens her mouth to respond. "Kind of like you calling me Neanderthal, or Pig, or any of the other great names you had for me."
"It was a long list," Jessie says, but her expression has softened a bit. "So, what do you really do? Or is impersonating the Maxim editorial staff a full-time job?"
"I own some gyms," Slater says, and tells Jessie a little bit about them: the features they offer, how many classes they have, the new locations he's thinking about opening.
Jessie asks a few questions that show she's listening and imply some interest, and then she says, "It sounds like you're doing pretty well for yourself."
"I get by," Slater says.
"I bet you do more than get by," Jessie says. "And I'm not surprised to hear it."
"Thanks," Slater says, and then it's been quiet between them for a few seconds, and then it's quiet for a few seconds more, but it's not awkward or uncomfortable. Slater is willing to let it stretch out if it means he can spend a little more time focusing on Jessie's face, which is prettier than he remembered, mostly because he hasn't really thought of her that often. He should have, of course; she was the one who set the expectations he'd have for all his future girlfriends, the one who made it impossible for him to date seriously anyone who couldn't beat him in an argument or keep him guessing about what she was going to say next.
Like right now, when she breaks the silence by saying, "My husband left me."
"What?" Slater says, and then, before he can think better of it, "Why?"
"He met someone else," she says. "Someone at work. It's a familiar story, you know?"
"Well, he's an idiot," Slater says.
"Lisa really didn't tell you?" Jessie asks.
"What, the Emily's List thing? Seriously, Jessie-"
"No, about me getting divorced," Jessie says.
"Someone told me. Zack," he says, when Jessie gives him a questioning look. "Lisa told Kelly who told Zack who told me, just before I came over here. He was just looking out for you."
"No, it's fine. I knew telling Lisa was like issuing a press release. Why did you pretend to be surprised just now, then?"
"I wasn't pretending," Slater says. "I knew you were getting divorced, but I figured you were the one who broke it off with him."
"Because that's what I do?" Jessie says, and Slater can see that she's getting defensive, sees the familiar stiffness of her posture, the way she slightly tilts up her chin. When he started boxing in college, he thought of Jessie when the teacher warned them about tells, the risk of small gestures indicating what punch you're about to throw.
"No, because I can't imagine a guy letting you go and thinking he'd find someone better. He's wrong, if that's what he's thinking," Slater says. "Trust me, I know. Not that I've been pining for you all these years-"
"-I can't imagine you pining for any woman, Slater," Jessie says.
"Not sure if that's a compliment or an insult," he says, feeling the old tension between them picking up.
"Both, I think," Jessie says, pushing her hair back behind one ear; it's straight, now, and Slater finds himself wondering if it feels as different as it looks. "Listen, you don't have to keep going at this, I'm fine. I really am. And I know how impossible I was in a relationship -"
"You weren't impossible," Slater says, and yes, it's the same as when he was a teenager, that mix of irritation and attraction that drove him crazy. "You were great. I mean, sure, we had our moments, but -"
"We had more than moments, Slater, and you-"
"Will you stop interrupting me?" Slater leans in, close enough to smell her perfume again, which he decides he likes better than what she wore in high school. "It's really irritating."
"Only if you stop patronizing me," Jessie says, crossing her arms across her chest.
"I am not patronizing you!"
"You are! You're creating this whole alternate history because you think I'm some pathetic loser, which I'm not, so, hey! Hey, let go of me."
"In a second," Slater says, tugging Jessie along as he walks to the side of the gym that faces the outside and pushes against the door marked EMERGENCY.
"I think that has an alarm," Jessie says.
Slater shrugs, kicks the bottom of the door a few times and then tries again. "It never worked when we were here, I swear they just painted that on there to keep people from escaping gym class."
Finally it opens and he and Jessie are outside; he picks up a rock and uses it to prop the door open and steps a few feet away from it, still holding Jessie by the arm, who's complaining about him manhandling her but isn't doing too much to fight him off. His fingers are only loosely closed around her wrist, and she could break away easily. She doesn't, which he's glad about, because the first thing he does once he's sure there's no one around is lean in to kiss her, before she finishes her most recent complaint.
The thing about Jessie was that Slater was never quite sure of her, which hasn't changed. In the moment after he leans in, he's not sure if she's going to slap him or kiss him back, and the relief he feels when it turns out to be the second option makes him turn what was meant to be a quick kiss to end the argument into something more.
Her hair does feel different, still soft but somehow slippery, but not in a bad way, a good way, and she kisses the way he remembers: aggressively, almost fearlessly, tempered by how gentle her fingers are on his neck, how soft her skin is, how -
Jessie breaks the kiss, leans back, and says, "You're trying to distract me."
"Is it working?"
"Kind of," she says, and leans in closer to him, but stops short of kissing him. "Wait. Do you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Slater says, willing himself not to hear anything at all, and then he does. He can hear the music from inside, which is familiar for a reason he can't pin down since it's not a singer or group he recognizes.
"That song," Jessie says, holding still in that way people do as if not moving makes it possible to hear better. The lyrics carry out into the night air:
your mind to it, go for it,
Get down and break a sweat.
Rock and roll, you ain't seen nothing yet.
"Oh my God," Jessie says, pushing away from Slater.
"What's the big deal? It's just a song," he says, trying to get her to come back by grabbing her wrist again, but this time she breaks away.
"It's not just a song," Jessie says, as she pulls the emergency door open again. "Thank God you don't remember. Maybe no one else does."
"What is it? I know the music sucks, but - oh," Slater says, as they walk back into the gym. "Oh, wait a minute. Is this from that exercise video thing you guys did back in high school?"
"They better not show the video, I swear I will kill Screech if he does," Jessie says, changing direction when she spots Kelly and Lisa, who look as or more embarrassed than Jessie. She picks up her pace and Slater lets her reach the two of them first, watches them put their heads together in a way they used to at the Max when he and Zack walked in late.
"Look at this," he says when he reaches them. "If it isn't Hot Sundae, reunited."
"Shut up, Slater," they say in unison.
The Hot Sundae incident is annoying for many reasons, not the least of them being the fact that Kelly is forced to reveal that the songs playing all night have been coming from her ipod.
"It's my running playlist, okay?" She pushes the button to advance to the next song, which turns out to be Marky Mark's Good Vibrations. "Screech borrowed my ipod because the DJ canceled, and he wanted music from when we were in high school, so I brought this."
Lisa shakes her head. "That still doesn't explain why our song was on there."
Kelly sighs, looks at the baffled faces around her. "Zack found an old tape of it and put it on a CD a while back. I put it with the rest of these songs, because it's up-tempo, kind of catchy, you know? Good stuff."
"Catchy doesn't necessarily mean good," Slater says. "Smallpox, for example, is very catchy."
Jessie holds up a hand. "I happen to know that you bought the single of Kris Kross's Jump, so you don't have much room to criticize, Slater."
Slater looks uncomfortable. "That was supposed to be in the vault, Mama."
"Well, I guess the vault's locking mechanism deteriorates over time. Do you want me to keep talking, or are you going to keep your mouth shut?"
Slater considers. "I think I'll go with the second option."
"Good choice," Jessie says.
Slater looks around. "Where's Zack? Or even Screech, I'm feeling seriously outnumbered here."
"They're giving Massimo a tour of the school," Lisa says. "He's never seen an American high school outside of TV shows and movies, and you know how totally inaccurate and ridiculous they are."
"Massimo seems pretty interested in your history, Lisa," Kelly says, watching Lisa's expression carefully as she begins counting examples off on her fingers. "Traveling all the way out here to see your hometown, making small talk with your boring small-town friends, taking a tour of a high school with Screech and Zack. How serious is it?"
Lisa laughs, but it seems more like an excuse to buy time than a sign of genuine amusement. "With Massimo? Come on! He's practically an infant."
"Now that you mention it, I seem to recall you having a fondness for younger men," Slater says. "Senior year, didn't you invite a freshman-"
"That was one time! One time," Lisa says, holding up one finger for emphasis. "And I thought he was a senior, too, I didn't realize he was a freshman when I invited him to the senior dance."
"That is what you said at the time," Jessie says, looking thoughtful. "But presented with this new evidence, I don't know. I think I'm reconsidering."
"I did read an article in Oprah Magazine that said that the drive for a younger mate could be pathological," Kelly says.
"You guys are being ridiculous," Lisa says, huffing a sigh. "I do not have a thing for younger men, I just happen to like Massimo! He's a great guy and we've been dating for four months and I'll have you know that he is mature, and thoughtful, and kind, and - you guys just walked me into that one, didn't you?"
"I knew that you really liked him," Kelly says, grinning.
"Oh, be quiet," Lisa says. "And don't mention this to Massimo, this all started as a just-for-fun thing and I'm not going to be the one to start the conversation."
"Sweetie, I don't think you need to have the conversation," Kelly says. "He came to your high school reunion with you. I think that says it all."
Lisa turns her head sharply to the side, which brings her hair swinging forward, but Kelly catches sight of her embarrassed smile before her hair hides it completely. The moment brings out such a rush of affection for Lisa that Kelly wants to reach out and hug her, but before she can even consider it, Lisa tucks her hair back and her expression is composed again. "Hey, looks like they're back. Seriously, guys, don't you dare-"
"We won't," Slater says. "And you know I speak for all of us because I'm the only one you'd really worry about. I'll be good."
"You'd better," Lisa says, raising her hand to wave them over. "Because Jessie's not the only one with incriminating information, Slater. I just need to make one phone call to my good friend Screech here and I bet I can get pictures from that dance contest you entered with Kelly."
"No need to call Screech, I'm pretty sure I still have pictures myself," Kelly says. "I think we both looked rather fetching in our red leotards."
Slater blows out a sigh. "You know, it's a good thing I didn't bring a date to this thing."
"You have a girlfriend?" Jessie says, a little sharply.
"What? No, I meant a date - a date is not the same thing as a girlfriend," Slater says, in the patient tone of one explaining a difficult concept to a child.
"Of course not," Jessie says. "Now tell me, are the women aware that they're not your girlfriends?"
Kelly watches Jessie and Slater fall back into the old, familiar pattern of a mostly pointless argument; something almost as familiar as the sight of them a few minutes ago, walking into a room looking slightly disheveled.
Kelly shares a look of amusement with Lisa, who rolls her eyes after a few seconds and says, "Oh, will you two just go outside and make out some more? Clearly you've still got stuff to work through."
Slater and Jessie both stop talking mid-sentence, and stare at Lisa with matching expressions of total shock, but before they can say anything, Zack, Massimo, Screech, and Violet join them.
"Hey, what's going on?" Zack says, coming up alongside Kelly.
"Nothing," Jessie and Slater say at the same time, and then self-consciously step aside to create more distance between them.
"I'll tell you later," Kelly whispers to Zack, who nods.
"Your school is very interesting," Massimo says, smiling at all of them in turn, telling them about all the different things he saw during the tour. Kelly can't help noticing that the person Massimo smiles at the longest and speaks to the most is Lisa.
"The one thing I did not see, that very much interests me, is this place called the Max," Massimo says. "A restaurant, I think? Is it still open?"
"It is," Kelly says. "I haven't been in there in years, but it still does good business. It's close to the school, so kids are always stopping by."
"We should go," Zack says.
"When?" Jessie asks, looking at the clock above the basketball hoop by the front door. "It closes not long after this is over."
"So let's go now," Zack says.
"I can't leave," Screech says. "I arranged the reunion! I can't abandon it! What if there's a crisis?"
"The only crisis that could emerge would be a shortage at the bar, Screech, and that's well-stocked, so no worries," Zack says. When Screech doesn't look convinced, he adds, "It's not like we were the only people who went to this high school, the reunion will go by just fine without us."
Screech considers for a few seconds. "I've been too nervous to eat all day, so I am pretty hungry."
"Then let's go, buddy," Zack says, which seems to decide it.
The Max doesn't just look the same as it did the last time Kelly was there, it smells the same. She takes a deep breath after stepping inside and says, "Oh my God, their french fries. I forgot how much I love their french fries."
"I'm not even going to make sure they don't use animal fat to fry them," Jessie says. "That's how much I love them."
Kelly looks around the table after everyone has settled in at their booth, which has been expanded with the addition of a table on the end. Lisa leans across the table to point out different things she thinks Massimo would like on the menu, comparing them to things he's had in New York that Kelly knows must cost ten times as much. Screech and Violet are sitting very still, pretending to study their menus when it's clear that all they want to do is look at each other. Slater is leaning over to read off of Jessie's menu, and saying something that makes Jessie look up sharply and mutter something out of the side of her mouth at him, which makes him laugh. Finally, Kelly looks across the table at Zack, who's been watching her.
"What are you getting?" he asks.
"Grilled cheese and fries. How about you?"
"Cheeseburger with onion rings. The classic," Zack says.
Kelly makes a face. "The last time you got onion rings-"
"That was different," Zack says. "Those were from Burger King. These are quality onion rings."
"Well, I warned you."
"You just want me to order fries so that you can eat half of them."
"I won't even dignify that with a response," Kelly says, with a lofty sigh.
The waitress comes to take their order, a cheerful girl who can't be older than seventeen. She pulls a pen out of her apron, tossing a look over her shoulder at a group of teenagers by the front door before smiling and taking their order.
"Grilled cheese and fries," Kelly says, when the waitress turns to her. After the girl nods and gathers their menus, she walks over to the kids by the door, leaning against one of the boy's chairs. "God, can you believe we were ever that young?"
"You still look that young, Kelly," Jessie says. "I can't believe you have three kids. How are they, by the way?"
"Great," Kelly says, and does her best to stop at that, really she does, but she can't help adding a little bit about Sarah being on the basketball travel team, and how Maddie tests off the charts but can't stay out of trouble to save her life, and how advanced Olivia's vocabulary is for her age, and maybe a few other things. Zack adds some stuff as well, and passes around his camera, which everyone takes a turn with.
Lisa has it last, and hands it to her with the last viewed picture still up on the screen, which was taken on Halloween. The rest of the group has moved on to a debate over the greatest moments in the Max, which is taking a while due to there being so many contenders. Kelly half-listens and she clicks back through the last few pictures. Maddie grinning in triumph as she holds up their cat, who she'd managed to dress in one of Olivia's old bonnets; Olivia herself reaching toward the camera in fascination; Sarah cartwheeling across the grass in bare feet. Finally she turns it off, looks up at the group and finds that Lisa has been watching her.
"They seem like great kids," Lisa says.
"You're talking to some slightly biased sources," Kelly says. "But they really are. We got lucky."
"I don't know. I'd say that they did, having you for a mom," Lisa says, and then, before Kelly can thank her, turns back to the conversation at the table. "I don't know, you guys, I still say you can't beat the dance contest."
The Max finally closes down two hours after their arrival, and when they get back to the school, the parking is almost empty.
"Looks like it's over," Slater says. "I guess they really stuck to that timeframe."
They stand around in an awkward circle, no one willing to make the first move to leave. Finally Lisa clears her throat, and says, "Well. I guess we'd better get back to the hotel. We're supposed to meet my parents for brunch tomorrow, so."
"Oh, right, of course," Kelly says. "Tell them I say hello."
"I will," Lisa says, and then reaches out to hug her. Kelly hugs her back, and it's a stupid thing to cry over, saying good-bye to someone you've lived a happy life without seeing for years, but Kelly's got mascara running down her cheeks by the time she's finished hugging Lisa, and then Jessie, and even Violet.
"No tears for me, Kapowski. We talk to each other plenty," Slater says when she looks at him. "Same for you, Preppy"
"I'm doing my best to fight them off, but it's tough," Zack says.
"See you, Slater," Screech says. "I'm glad you could come."
"You did a great job, Screech," Slater says, which reminds Kelly of the inside of the gym, all the decorations to put away and the mess she's sure people left behind.
Kelly looks at Zack and then says, "Screech, it's got to be a mess in there. Zack and I can help-"
"No need," Screech says, with a wave of his hand. "I have some kids coming in for weekend detention tomorrow. They'll clean up."
"Crafty," Zack says, in an approving tone. "I'm proud of you, Screech."
"Thanks," Screech says, and then gets a worried look on his face. "But the electronic equipment - I should probably make sure it's all properly taken apart and everything. So, uh, Violet-"
"We can do it," Zack says. "You did enough for tonight. I know how everything should be."
"And anyway, I still have to get my ipod," Kelly says, glad to have a real reason to have to go inside, because she's pretty sure that Violet and Screech, and maybe even Slater and Jessie, if she's reading the signals right, would like some time to themselves.
They walk back into the gym, which is dimmer since most of the lights have been turned out. Zack flips a switch to light up the back part of the gym, where he set up the audio equipment, and goes over to start taking apart the audio system they set up.
Kelly walks around, taking one last look at the decorations, at all of the pictures of their high school years. There's more of her there than she should be.
"Why did Screech put so many pictures up of me? It's kind of ridiculous."
Zack's voice carries easily across the gym. "I think he just pulled all of the pictures from the yearbook. You were just in a lot of them."
Kelly walks over to another picture, of her in her track uniform. "That can't be it."
"Kelly, you were the best-looking girl in school, and you were in almost every activity there was. I mean, look," Zack says, pointing at one picture, which shows Kelly holding up a muffin tray. "Baking club."
"That was a very practical club," Kelly says, walking over to the picture. "My mom always liked it when I brought stuff home from there."
Kelly looks at herself holding the muffin tray, remembers being that girl: always eager to please, trying to do the right thing, be the right thing. Thinking that if she did everything right then things would be okay for her, for her family. For her future, too, which was something she never had as clear a sight on as Jessie or Lisa, who were always determined and sure of themselves in a way Kelly envied.
Kelly walks over to a pair of pictures, set up under the title Class Couple. One looks like it was taken during their freshman year, and in it Zack is leaning up next to Kelly's locker with his best charming smile, and she's wearing an amused expression and pulling out a textbook. Zack has nothing in his hands, which is fitting since he never showed up fully prepared to any class Kelly ever took with him.
Kelly looks over at Zack now, remembering how he ended up getting fries with his cheeseburger at the Max earlier because he knew she wanted them. For a moment it's hard to believe he used to be the skinny boy in the picture.
"What's up?" Zack asks, when he catches her smiling at him.
"Just reminiscing," Kelly says, walking closer to him. "It's been fifteen years since graduation, but almost twenty since that picture was taken. Can you believe it?"
"I can't," Zack says, squinting to look over at the pictures. "What's the other one from?"
"I'm not sure," Kelly says. "We're seniors, though, I can tell by my hair. It's as accurate as carbon dating."
Zack grins at her, and walks over to look at the picture more carefully. "Oh, I know, this was that career day thing we did. We had to write letters to our future selves. I think it was supposed to get us focused on our goals or something. Remember?"
Kelly does, now. She remembers staring down at her sheet of paper and having no idea what to write, remembers the awful moment when Jessie turned her sheet over to the other side for more room to write when Kelly hadn't even started. "Oh, I hated that."
"Really?" Zack says. "I thought it was kind of fun. It definitely beat class."
Kelly shakes her head. "I remember really freaking out. I couldn't think of anything to write."
Zack gives Kelly a funny look. "You were always really focused in school."
"I know, I always wanted to do well," Kelly says. "But I didn't know what I wanted to do after. I always knew I wanted something different, but I didn't know what, and I don't know if I ever came up with anything."
She remembers sitting there and thinking, I want a life I can be sure of. She had been so frustrated by the uncertainty in her life at that point, how one minute she'd been accepted to a great school and the next told she couldn't afford to go there. She'd been so afraid that she'd end up like her parents, and so the futures she wrote out were as different from theirs as she could imagine, all of them far from Bayside.
Kelly looks at herself in the picture, and she can see how scared she was, even though in the picture she's smiling. She wants to reach out to the girl she used to be and tell her, it's okay. You'll be fine. You have a job you're good at and a husband you love and three kids you can't get enough of, and you won't be rich but there's enough money to put some away every month. You'll figure out soon how strong you are, and see that the one thing you can be most sure of is yourself.
"Do you remember what you wrote?" Kelly asks, turning away from the picture.
Zack shrugs. "I wasn't exactly goal-oriented. I was just hoping to make it to graduation."
"I don't know if I'd say that," Kelly says. "I think you were actually very goal-oriented, it was just that your goals were always changing depending on the day."
"I had varied interests, that's true," Zack says. "But there was one thing that always stayed the same."
Kelly looks up when Zack doesn't continue, and he's looking right at her. "What?" she asks, even though she knows the answer.
"You, of course," Zack says, and Kelly believes him. She knows that whatever future Zack came up with that day, she'd been in it, the same way he'd always been in hers, even if she hadn't known it at the time.