Author's Note: Mainly Elizabeth/Todd, but includes mentions of Elizabeth/Max, Todd/OFC and Bruce/Lila.
She absent-mindedly played with one of her pigtails as she wriggled in her desk. The new shoes that her mother had picked out for the first day of school were uncomfortable, to say the least. She was excited about school though – she had pestered Steven for days asking him about school. She had gone to kindergarten last year, of course, but this was the big kids' school now!
Looking around the classroom, she saw some of her neighbors, including Caroline, and she remembered Lila from kindergarten. And there was Winston, talking animatedly with a boy she had never seen before - at least, he wasn't one that she remembered.
At recess later that day, the mysterious boy came up to her. "Hi, I'm Todd," he said. "You're pretty."
She grinned. "I'm Elizabeth. Let's play on the jungle gym."
"Okay!" They ran over to the jungle gym. Elizabeth knew that when she got home, Jessica would tease her for not only talking to but playing with a boy, but for now, she wasn't going to worry about it.
She's seven. She's seven years old, and has a new friend.
The courtship rituals of sixth graders were completely lost on her. While some boys were still figuring out that a frog in the locker vent was not the best way to get a girl's attention – at least in a positive way – others graduated to slightly more sophisticated tactics. Thankfully, Todd
Jessica said that it had probably cost no more than ten dollars, fifteen at the very most – Janet had told her so, in that dripping, condescending tone that she was ever so famous for – but that at least Todd was paying attention to her. Elizabeth didn't care, though.
He gave her a necklace, a silver pendant with a small heart dangling on the end. "It looks good with your eyes," he said, with that earnest smile. And she thanked him by putting it on and they shared a brief kiss by the lockers before the class bell rang, scattering them to opposite ends of the building.
She walked off to class with a broad grin on her face and a tiny silver heart lying against her shirt.
She's twelve. She's twelve years old, and thinks this might be love.
The flu bug was going around Sweet Valley High. Attendance was down, but no one that Elizabeth personally knew was afflicted until one morning, Todd wasn't in class or at lunch. When she got home, she called his number, and his mother answered. "Todd came down with the flu," his mother said, and Elizabeth almost felt as though she could hear a trace of the flu in her voice. "He's resting."
She prepared a thermos of chicken noodle soup and drove the Fiat – thankfully Jessica wasn't around to protest - over to his house, parking out front and hoping that his mother would let her in. That much, wasn't a problem.
"I brought you some chicken noodle soup," she said, holding up the thermos and smiling. "I also have your homework." He grimaced slightly at the mention of homework. "Yeah," she continued. "I'll just put it over here."
He gingerly ate the soup, unused to the possibility of chicken broth in his bed sheets, while she sat back and watched. After he finished, they carried on a quiet conversation before his mother came up to kick her out, saying that he needed more sleep.
A few days later, when the situations were reversed, he stayed by her bedside for hours, smoothing her hair back from her face and whispering kind words to her. She slept peacefully while he was there watching over her.
She's sixteen. She's sixteen years old, and knows that this is love.
Everything had changed between them the past few years. It wasn't either of their faults, she reasoned, just a natural separation after too much time together, knowing too much about what made each other tick. They were at different stages, different forks in the road.
Sometimes, the wisest thing a person can do is know when to cut their losses and run.
She drove away into the night, blinded by hot tears. It hadn't been one huge blow-up between them; it was more like a series of small little mishaps that led up to the camel's back being broken. If it had been a large fight, she knew there would be a make-up, once they had simmered down. It wasn't, though.
Maybe they'd be better together when they were older, more mature, less clouded by hazy judgment calls. Or maybe this was the end of Todd Wilkins having a starring role in her life story.
She's twenty. She's twenty years old, and is moving on with her life.
She sat in a booth at the refurbished Dairi Burger, her three year old daughter Katherine sitting next to her, gnawing happily on a French fry. Max was out of town, again, so the two of them had done a little shopping for the new baby – she rubbed her stomach and took another bite of her hamburger – and they were getting a small lunch before Katherine had to take her nap.
They were nearly about to get up, when a voice called out from across the restaurant, "Elizabeth!"
She turned around, grasping Katherine's hand so that she wouldn't wriggle out under the booth while she was turned away. At first, she couldn't tell who had called out her name, but then, she saw him striding toward her table. "Todd," she said with a smile. They hadn't seen each other in years – probably not since she attended Jessica's graduation and saw him idly standing by. "What brings you by the Dairi Burger?"
"Came back to town for a few days, visiting my parents, my wife wanted to 'try the local cuisine,'" he said. "Since apparently you can't get fast food hamburgers back home."
Elizabeth laughed. "They taste the same basically everywhere," she said.
"They really do," he said. "So, who's this little girl?"
"That's my daughter," she replied. "Say hi to Todd, Katherine."
"Hi, Todd!" Katherine chirped. "Are you mommy's friend?"
"Mommy is sad when daddy's away," she said, holding out the last French fry to him. "You make her happy?"
"I haven't made your mommy happy in a long time," he said, a tinge of sadness covering his voice – something Elizabeth picked up on.
Just then, a tall brunette walked up and began tugging at his arm. "I thought you were going to order our food so I didn't have to wait!" she exclaimed, dragging him away from the booth and toward the counter.
Elizabeth turned back to Katherine, wiping the stains of ketchup off of Katherine's chin and cheeks and the mysterious ketchup stain on her forehead. He was married; she was married; he had a life; she had a family. But she found it hard not to feel a pang of nostalgia. After all, if one had asked just about any of their high school classmates, they would have said that the two of them would be sharing that future.
She's twenty-eight. She's twenty-eight years old, and wonders what could have been.
The phone rang in the middle of the night, stirring her from a deep sleep. Turning over in bed, and praying that the ringing wouldn't wake her daughters – who had insisted that because their father was out of town for one more night, that they could all sleep in the same bed together – she picked up her phone and walked out of the room. "Hello?" she whispered, attempting to keep her voice down.
"Mrs. Pennington?" the voice on the other end of the line said – clipped, with the vaguest hint of a British accent. Or perhaps it was just her imagination, from being pulled out of a good night's sleep.
"Yes," she replied, glancing back into the bedroom. "This is she."
"Are you able to get down to the airport?"
"My daughters are sleeping and my husband is out of town – I can't leave them here. Why do I need to go to the airport at three in the morning?"
"We're calling all the families together, Mrs. Pennington."
"The families of the passengers on your husband's flight. He checked into Heathrow to board Flight 261 home, correct?"
She nodded, remembering him calling her when he was waiting at the gate, since his flight had been delayed, him telling the girls good-night and that he'd be home by the time they got home from school – before they left, if they were good girls. "That sounds right."
"Then we need to see you down here at the airport. It's important."
"Okay." She walked back into the bedroom and gently shook the girls' arms. "Katherine, Danica, wake up."
"But it's not morning yet," Danica said with a whine, rubbing her eyes open. "Can't we go back to sleep?"
"No, sweetie," Elizabeth said, turning on the bathroom light and fumbling around for a comb and a pullover jacket. "We need to go to the airport."
"And pick up dad?" Katherine said while throwing on the shirt she had worn the day before.
"I'm not sure," Elizabeth replied, looking at herself in the mirror, seeing the first shadows of fatigue crossing her face. "We'll see when we get there."
It's never good news when the airline calls.
She's thirty-five. She's thirty-five years old, and her life has just been turned upside down.
She smoothed her skirt over her legs and sipped her drink, scanning the room. Twenty years removed from high school, and they're reduced to making idle small chatter over mixed drinks, old The Droids music playing in the background. The planners had dropped the ball on this one.
"Is this seat taken?" a voice asked. She'd recognize the voice anywhere.
She looked up and shook her head without saying anything.
Todd eased into the seat next to her. "I'd have thought your sister would be here."
"She's around. You're asking about my sister?"
"It's not a Sweet Valley party without Jess and Lila."
They shared a laugh, and Elizabeth took another sip of her drink. "I think I saw Lila heading out back with Bruce twenty minutes ago."
"We won't be seeing them any time soon."
They fell silent, Todd's gaze catching her bare ring finger – of course he had known, gossip spread like autumn wildfires in Sweet Valley, and his mother had told him all about "poor Elizabeth Wakefield, having to raise two daughters all on her own." The mysterious yet lavish arrangement of flowers that arrived at her house the next day had come from him, a small gesture to say that he was thinking of her in her time of grief.
She caught his glance and met it, blue eyes meeting brown. She hadn't felt this fluttery feeling in her stomach in some time. With Max, it was love, and without Max she wouldn't have Katherine or Danica; they're a family, the three of them, and tragedy had only knitted them closer together. With Todd, though, it was different. They had a history together; they had known each other since they had matching gap-toothed smiles and skinned knees, learning together how to write in cursive and about the life cycle of the butterfly and everything in-between. He had been her first kiss, her first love, and no matter how many years it had been since they had an uninterrupted conversation, some part of her would always be his.
Looking down, she caught a glimpse of his ring finger, as bare as her own. "I thought you had a wife," she said in a quiet murmur. "The one from the Dairi Burger?"
"Irreconcilable differences," he said with a hollow laugh. "Key word being 'differences.' Dee's long gone."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean –"
"You didn't know."
She frowned, sloshed the ice in her glass, and sat the glass back down on the armrest next to her. Everything had been moving smoothly, and she screwed it up by bringing up his divorce.
"Liz?" he said, inching his hand closer to hers. "Is everything okay?"
"I ruined our conversation."
"You deserved to know."
She forced a wane smile. "I still ruined it."
"No, you didn't." He picked up her hand and as she drew in a sharp intake of breath at the proximity they shared, he pressed his lips to the tips of her fingers. In the suspended moment when everything was hanging in the balance, a silent shared plea being exchanged across not only a few inches, but twenty years of "what could have been," he took her hand, pulled her up from the chair, and like two high school students caught in time, ran out into the star-speckled California night.
From across the room, Jessica laughed into her drink and turned to Dana Larson. "Figures that going back to high school again for one night means they're attached at the hip."
She's thirty-eight. She's thirty-eight years old, and knows that this is love – again.
The early morning sun filtered in through the curtains, highlighting her hair splayed against the pillow. She opened her eyes and blinked rapidly. It'd be a bright day today.
The sheets next to her were rumpled, slept in, but empty. A brief moment of panic flooded over her – what if all this was just a dream, what if she had only imagined the night before– before she heard a floorboard creaking outside, followed by the door swinging open.
"I made us breakfast," he said, carrying in two plates of pancakes and what appeared to be a pitcher of orange juice. "Or we can forgo it –" A small smirk flashed across his face as he set the platter down on the nightstand and turned to face her.
She grinned. "Breakfast can wait," she said, waving her hand in the air, the gold of her wedding ring catching in the sunlight. There would be no interruptions, not today; this would be the culmination of everything she'd wanted her entire life.
She's forty-two. She's forty-two years old, and wonders why it took them this long to get this far.