When Allison Reynolds pulled up in front of Shermer High School more than twenty-five years ago, it was because she didn't have a better place to go. She had spent one imperfect day with four of her fellow classmates and had left there believing that maybe she had made a few friends. However, in the days and weeks that followed, there was nothing more than a head nod in the hallway to acknowledge her existence as the the five members of The Breakfast Club went back to their cliques as if the day had never even happened. Even Andrew Clark, the golden boy and star athlete who had kissed her so sweetly, had been distant after that fateful day. The only souvenir she had from that day was a varsity patch pressed in an old book of poetry she had stolen from the library a few days before graduation.
But today, a few days before their twenty-fifth high school reunion, she had an entirely different reason for coming to the high school. She pulled the SUV into an empty parking lot beneath a tree and rolled down the window to gaze up at her old stomping grounds. Allison had been an entirely different person when she had been a student here, withdrawn but a total free spirit who pretended not to care what anyone thought but secretly just wanted to be liked. Now, she truly didn't care what people thought about her, and that seemed to make them want to befriend her that much more. As a music editor at one of the country's foremost entertainment magazines, she was forever surrounded by the so-called beautiful people. Whether she was hanging out backstage at a major awards ceremony or just dancing with kids in a mosh pit, she had found the place where she belonged.
Allison had considered not showing up when she had received the email from Brian Johnson. She hadn't heard from him in more than two decades, so the last thing she was in a hurry to do was reunite with four people who she had spent eight hours with twenty-five years ago. It didn't matter that she had bared her soul to them. The past was the past, and she was fully content to leave it there. However, the more she stared at the invitation, the more her curiosity was piqued and she found herself wondering how they all had turned out. Was Bender still a criminal? Was Claire pregnant like he had predicted all those years ago? Was Brian some important professor at an Ivy League college? Was Andrew coaching somewhere? The sheer need to have some of those questions answered finally drove her to shoot off a two-line reply to Brian, promising to show up on March 24, exactly twenty-seven years to the day when they had first become The Breakfast Club in their high school library.
Her cell phone buzzed from the depths of the designer handbag she had stowed beneath the seat of her rental car. She rarely came back to Illinois these days, only when her mother had died a few years ago and then again last year when her younger sister had given birth to her first child. She lived a fast-paced life in New York City and often found herself jetting halfway across the world to check out the band of the moment. Her passport was filled with page after page of stamps, outlining her career from London to Rio, Sydney to Hong Kong, Vancouver to Cape Town. The only real consistency in her life was her job, a close-knit circle of friends in the city and her now-former boyfriend of five years, Jared. While they may have parted ways a few months prior, he was still living in their shared townhouse in Manhattan and taking care of Zep, their three-year-old Jack Russell.
"Hey, J," she answered the phone once she managed to find it buried beneath a pile of notebooks inside her oversized black leather tote.
"Did you get there safely?" he asked, his voice oozing with sarcasm. He knew better than anyone how much she hated coming home and had been visibly surprised when she had announced that she was going back to Illinois for a high school reunion. Their arrangement was amicable and Allison still counted the bassist as her best friend. "How are things back in the Shermer? See the old gang yet?"
Allison snorted sarcastically as she drug her fingers through her hair. It was no longer the messy mop of fried dark locks. Instead, she kept it neatly cut in a blunt bob and dyed a deep mahogany that made her hair shine and her eyes sparkle. Gone also were the oversized bag-lady clothes, replaced by a wardrobe of smartly tailored skinny jeans, vintage tee shirts, cropped blazers and black leather boots. "No, I haven't seen the old gang yet," she replied. "I guess I'm the first one here. I don't know, maybe I shouldn't have come. It's not like these people were my friends. I'm just curious how they ended up. Maybe if I had come back for any of the reunions before this, I wouldn't have had to cancel my interview with Sting to return to the sticks."
"He rescheduled and even invited you to come visit him and Trudy in London. I think that actually worked out in your favor," Jared reminded her pointedly. "Just try to have some fun, yeah? You never know what you might find out about yourself while you're there. If nothing else, you'll have a great story the next time the lot of us get together for drinks."
She thanked him before ending the call, tossing the phone back inside her bag before relaxing into her seat. The weather was still cold as it so often was in Illinois at this time of year, in those days where winter and spring collide and struggle for control. She was just back from two weeks in Miami where spring was in full bloom. It would be another week before she was home in New York again, and she was looking forward to spending a solid month in the city before she would have to head back to Paris for a series of spring concerts in one of her favorite cities in the world. She was still thinking about her hectic spring schedule when she pulled her wool peacoat from the backseat and climbed out of the car to make her way toward the school. She tried the door but found it locked, so she instead opted to huddle up on the bench in the entryway. Humming happily to herself, she watched a group of kids playing soccer in an empty field across the street and wondered if there had ever been a day when she had been so carefree.
Allison was just about to head back to her car for her phone a few minutes later when a sleek sedan turned into the parking lot. She tried to guess to herself who it could be, immediately settling on Andrew or Claire. The car pulled in next to her SUV and idled momentarily before the driver killed the engine. She pulled her coat around her tightly before standing up, straining her neck to see if she could make out the shadowy figure through the rear window. Her question was soon answered, however, as the door swung open and the driver emerged.
"Allison!" A wide smile unexpectedly crossed her face as she spotted Brian jogging across the school lawn toward her. Clad in a designer suit and a messenger bag slung across his chest, he looked every bit as young and innocent as he had at seventeen. He grinned boyishly toward her as he slowed his gate to a quick walk, stopping just short of her. She held his gaze for a moment before leaning forward to accept his hug. "Well, Ms. Reynolds, time has certainly treated you well."
She squeezed him tightly before pulling a way, making no attempt to hide the fact that she was checking him out. He was still on the smaller side, but his skinny frame had been replaced by a lean, toned body that had obviously seen its share of hours in the gym. "Brian Johnson, I can't believe that the basketcase beat you here," she teased as she led him back toward the bench. Brian shrugged and told her that traffic had been hell coming out of Chicago. "So you're still local then?"
"I run a big hedge fund in the city, so I guess you could say that," he answered. He took off his messenger bag and stowed in under the bench. "I went to college back east and then came back here when I was offered a job in Chicago. Twenty years later, I guess I'm kind of the guy in charge. I keep thinking that they'll figure out that I have no clue what I'm doing and send me back to the mail room. Turns out, though, I'm actually kind of good at it. It's not what I saw myself doing, but that's how life goes. Speaking of which, I see your byline all the time! I always make sure to check out your reviews so I know what music is cool. I have to have something to impress the junior brokers with at our staff meetings."
The two of them made small talk about work and where they were living and what they had been up to for the next several minutes. Allison learned that Brian had married his college sweetheart and was the proud father of a five-year-old little girl named Brianne. She did the obligatory fawning over the photos in his wallet, and he did the same when she proudly showed him a few of her own of Zep. He told her about his college years at Yale and she talked animatedly about traveling all over the world. Allison found herself being thankful that he was the first one to show up because he was the one that would make her feel the most at ease. If it had been John or Claire or even, God forbid, Andrew, she just would have been awkward and silent. With Brian, she actually felt comfortable opening up her life and even excited to see him. It was surprisingly nice.
Brian was just telling her how Mr. Vernon had died of a heart attack two years ago when another car pulled into the parking lot. This one was another luxury vehicle, a cute silver convertible that Allison immediately knew belonged to Claire. She wasn't at all disappointed to see the redhead jump from the car and head toward the school. The two women exchanged a polite smile before Brian stood up from his seat and walked ahead to meet her halfway. "Hello, Claire," Brian greeted her warmly, brushing a chaste kiss on her cheek. Claire smiled up at him as he led her back toward the entryway and out of the chilly afternoon air. "How was the flight from out west?"
"Good," she answered him before turning to Allison. "Hello, how are you?" Allison chuckled as the two exchanged a hug. "I can't believe I'm back here. It feels kind of like no time has passed, you know? But then again, it feels like a million years ago."
"I know exactly what you mean," Allison agreed, happy that someone else mirrored how she was feeling inside. It was still hard to believe sometimes that she wasn't the invisible mess she had been when she was sixteen. "So you're out west now?"
Claire smiled broadly and tucked a strand of her wavy red hair behind her ear. She was still as beautiful as she had been then, dressed immaculately in a black sheath and cashmere cardigan sweater. An expensive black leather satchel was tucked under her arm, the keys of her rental car hanging off her perfectly painted index finger. Allison noted the rather generous diamond ring on her left hand. "I have been living in the San Francisco area for about ten years now," she revealed. "Brian said on the phone that you were living in New York. I can't say that we were at all surprised to hear that you were living the glamorous life of a writer in the city."
Claire reached down and twisted her wedding ring out of habit, just as she always did when she talked about her husband of twenty years. Most everyone from her high school class knew how her life had turned out, but Allison had stayed as far away from Shermer High School as possible starting the day that she had graduated from high school. "My name now is Claire Standish-Clark," she told Allison. "Andy is my husband. We got married right out of college. We have twin boys that are fifteen and a twelve-year-old daughter."
Allison felt her heart sink for a moment before painting a smile on her pretty face. In the grand scheme of life, it made sense that Claire and Andy ended up together. They were the homecoming princess and star athlete, and Allison had known that they had dated off and on throughout high school. Still, she liked to pretend that day – that kiss – had meant something to Andrew. "Wow, I had no idea," she said brightly, hoping that her sarcasm didn't show through. "Where is Andy?"
"Oh, I dropped him off earlier with the kids at his parents house," Claire answered happily. Allison could see the sparkle in her eyes as she talked about her family. "He is going to bring his dad's car. I had to take the rental across town to visit my mom in the nursing home."
"I see," Allison retorted. "So what do you do out there in sunny California?"
"Andy actually coaches wrestling at Stanford," the redhead replied. "I am a buyer for a chain of boutiques in the San Francisco. I just went back to work a few years ago after being off for awhile with the kids. When Sydney started middle school, Andy and I thought it would be a good time for me to get back to work. Syd is our daughter, the spitting image of her daddy and definitely the apple of his father's eye."
"Just like her mom," came a deep voice from behind them as Andrew Clark magically appeared. Allison looked over his shoulder to see an older model pickup truck parked beside Claire's rental convertible. He was as muscular and fit as ever, smiling adoringly at his wife as he wrapped his arm around her waist. Claire leaned into her husband, visibly relaxed at his mere presence. Allison admired the comfort between them, missing Jared briefly and that safety she used to have with him. "Brian, how are you doing? Claire mentioned that you are still in Chicago..."
"Working hard and raising a little girl," Brian said. "I had no idea that the two of you even got married until Claire called me last week to confirm plans. I was kind of surprised but I guess it makes sense."
"The golden couple indeed," Allison echoed, suddenly feeling shy and out of place. "Hello, Andy."
"Allison," he smiled warmly, that familiar twinkle coming back much like it had that day. Claire didn't seem to notice as she started to talk to Brian. "You look terrific. How have you been? Where are you at? What are you doing?"
The wave of questions washed over her all at once. "Thanks," she said softly, looking up from her feet and meeting his eyeline again. He was a married man, but she still felt the adolescent in her get just a little weak in the knees. This was the first boy who had ever looked beyond the surface and really saw her, if only for a brief moment. She unconsciously touched her lips before shaking her head. She wasn't that girl anymore. "I'm good, great actually. I live in New York and work for a magazine as a music editor. I travel a lot."
"That seems fitting," he nodded, wiping his hands absently on his jeans. He was wearing a dark red hoodie with Stanford embroidered across the chest. His hair was a little grayer and little wrinkles had formed at the corner of his eyes. Other than that, though, he still looked like he had on graduation day so many years ago. "I guess Claire told you all that we were married and living in California."
"She mentioned it," Allison nodded. "Have you kept in touch with people?"
"Oh, you know, just a few friends here and there when we're in town to visit our folks," Andrew told her. "We're pretty busy back home now that the kids are older. The boys both play football and baseball, and Syd cheers in the fall for football and plays tennis in the spring."
"Sounds like a busy life," Allison said as Claire and Brian came back over to join them. Brian stood beside Allison while Claire tucked herself back into Andy's side. Andrew glanced down at his wife and winked, a secret smile passing between them. "Wow, I can't believe it's been so long."
"I know, right?" Claire chuckled. "So, Brian, did you talk to John?"
John Bender was the lone member missing from their dysfunctional group. Allison had actually spoken to him once since high school, though it was just a faint memory now. He had called her late one night a few years after she moved to New York, babbling drunkenly about something he had read of hers in the newspaper. She had laughed and listened to him for awhile until he had fallen asleep or passed out. It was the days before Caller ID, so she hadn't gotten his number. He had never called back, and Allison had eventually forgotten the incident altogether until now.
Brian shook his head. "No, he just sent me an email a couple days ago saying that he would be here," he revealed. "It took me awhile to track him down, but my assistant was able to dig up some information on him."
Claire and Andy nodded, and Allison wondered if Andrew felt any insecurity about seeing Claire with Bender again. Then again, why would he? Sure, the two of them had shared a flirtatious moment or two that day, and John had worn that diamond earring proudly for at least a month after their day in detention. However, he had eventually faded back into his boisterous crowd and had taken up with Tanya Mills, someone well known for putting out at the drop of a hat. Allison had lost track of him after that until a few days before graduation when it was announced that he had somehow miraculously managed to graduate with the rest of the class. They had shared a cigarette behind the weights room during graduation practice, silently nodding to each other as they parted ways for good.
Then, as if on cue, a vintage muscle car roared into the parking lot, pulling around Andrew's truck and heading for the spot on the other side of Allison's rented SUV. Loud music poured from the open windows, a cheesy 80s song blaring so hard that the windows rattled. Allison recognized the song and smiled to herself, knowing that it was the same song they had danced to that day in the library. She jetted across the yard, leaving the others behind, just wanting to be near someone who would get how messed up this all was.
"Basketcase," he oozed as he hopped out of his car. He leaned against the door and grinned at the brunette before gathering her up in his arms. He was sturdier than the last time she saw him, those his eyes were still as dark and mischievous as ever. Gone were the earrings and long hair, replaced with messy bedhead and a crisp black button-up shirt. "How are you, Allison?"
"Glad to see you. Those three are still as square as ever," she joked, nodding over her shoulder to where their brain, princess and athlete were watching their reunion. "Andy and Claire are married, and Brian is some successful power player. Could they have been more predictable?"
"So says the music writer," he teased her, elbowing her gently in the ribs. She was very surprised at how familiar and relaxed he seemed. "I read your stuff every week, and I even usually agree with you!" She grinned up at him, a faint blush spreading across her cheeks. "Are you still in New York?"
"So you remember?" she teased him lightly. It was his turn to appear sheepish as he nodded. "Yup, still living the life of a writer in New York. Where the hell have you been? No one has heard a peep from you. In fact, according to Brian, you were hard to track down."
"In due time, Crazy," he promised before winding his arm around her waist. "In the mean time, why don't we go congratulate the golden couple and the nerd? After our little reunion, we can ditch the good kids and knock back a few."
"Deal," she agreed as Brian, Claire and Andy met them halfway across the lawn.
Brian and John shook hands before Andy bumped his fist against that of his old nemesis. Claire stepped forward hesitantly before standing on her tip toes to hug Bender. Andy watched the exchange before glancing over Claire's head at Allison. She returned the gaze with a smile before turning to Brian.
"Alright, Johnson, you said that you had an important reason for wanting us to be here," Bender announced once the small talk was through. "It's been awhile, so what could be so important that we had to come back? Why are we here?"