Nobody goes to high school reunions.
All of the successful people had better things to do. High school reunions were for the sentimental people who thought if they went they could relive the glory of their four years of high school. It was for all of the old the rich popular kids like Jase Worthington to again lord over the same people who they`d bullied and ruled for all the years of public schooling.
High school reunions were for the type of people who went to prom.
I spent the night of my senior prom in an abandoned mini-mall.
But Ben and Radar weren't hearing it.
"Come on, Q, we missed graduation for you. You owe us that. Besides, little Marcus hasn`t seen Radar`s parent`s house yet."
"I vowed ten years ago not to ever set foot in that school, Ben. Besides, do you think that it`s the best idea to bring him there? You know how it traumatized Radar."
"Don`t you miss everyone?"
"Oh, yeah. Every morning, I wake up and think to myself, 'Gosh, I really wish Chuck Parson was still in my life. He was such a swell fella, what with his evil homicidal eyes and those nonexistent eyebrows-"
Ben cracked up, and I could hear a woman`s laughter in the background of the call. "Hi Lacey." Lacey and Ben had dated on and off since high school until one day Ben proposed, and that was that. I was the best man, but they`d named their oldest son, their third child, after Radar.
"Anyway, Ben, I don`t want to see anyone from there except you and Radar, and I see you all the time." Even though we lived far away from each other, what with Radar in California, Ben in Orlando, and me in New York, we saw each other at least three times a year.
"What about Margo?" Lacey`s voice rang out.
I pulled on to Jefferson Way and my eyes instantly flew to the Spiegelman`s driveway. There was a Honda in the driveway, but it was black, not sliver. It had been ten years since I`d last seen Margo`s car, enough time for her to have gotten a new one, so I hoped.
My mother was the one to answer the door. "Quentin! Come in, sweetie. Radar just called to ask if you`d gotten here yet." I stepped inside to hug her, and as soon as she released me my mother`s eyes flew to the girl behind me. "Oh, and you must be Alice! I`m so glad Quentin finally overcame his introversion and decided to bring you along to meet us!" She engulfed Alice in a hug.
Hoping to avoid the embarrassing introductory scene my mom was sure to cause, I quickly asked, "So did Radar say where he wanted to meet up before the reunion?"
"He`s staying at the Jefferson Jefferson Bed and Breakfast, and he wanted you to meet him there after you were done unpacking."
"Great. Thanks for letting us stay here for the reunion, Mom." I rescued Alice from Mom`s arms and quickly retreated back to the car.
"That wasn`t so bad." Said Alice. "She didn`t try to analyze me at all."
"Yeah, just wait till dinner. Then you`ll be glad I pulled you out of there this afternoon."
"So," She said, putting her hand on my right arm, "When am I going to meet Margo?"
My pinky twitched. "I don`t know. I haven`t seen her for ten years."
"How are you sure she`s coming? From what you`ve told me about her, she doesn`t seem the type to waste her time at her old paper high school."
Alice was right. The Margo I had thought I had known ten years ago would have never gone near the reunion. Neither would the Q of ten years ago. But Lacey was also right. The Q of Ten years ago and the Q of now both would go to the reunion if there was even the smallest chance that Margo Roth Spiegelman would be there.
We pulled up to the bed and breakfast and saw Ben and Lacey climbing out of the Dreidel, which I`d given to Ben as a wedding present after RHAPAW had finally given out and gone to car heaven.
"Benners!" I said, running over to help him get the twins and Marcus out of their booster seats.
"Hey Q. I`m glad you showed up. Radar had ten bucks on you not showing."
"Uncle Q!" Nicole hugged me as I tried to unstrap her. Her twin, Juliet, ran up behind me and jumped on my back, adding to the impossibility that was getting Nicole out of the grasp of her car seat.
"Uncle QQQQQQQQQ!" Shrieked Juliet. I jumped and ducked and shook, but there was no getting the rambunctious five-and-a-half year old off me.
Lacey came over and undid Nicole`s straps. Unfortunately, this allowed Nicole to join her sister and use me as a human jungle gym.
"Get `em off me!" I ran around, trying in vain to free myself as Ben, Lacey, and Alice laughed and looked on. Two year old Marcus grabbed on to my left leg.
"Quit running around, Q. Come on inside." Radar called from the door of the bed and breakfast. He was holding back laughter as well. I managed to drag my way to the front door. Soon eight year old Ally was on my right leg.
Lacey finally called off the attack children, and we all sat around on the couches in the front room.
"Hello Uncle Q." Said Ally. She was small and serious, with Angela`s eyes.
"Hi Ally. Where`s your mom?"
"California. She couldn`t get off of work." She glanced over at her father. "Can you pleeeease ask Dad not to make me go over to Grandma and Grandpa`s while he`s at the reunion? The house gives me nightmares."
"It builds character." Radar replied, rolling his eyes. "Besides, it`ll make you appreciate where you live. I had to-"
"-Live there for eighteen years. I know. But I have plenty of character!"
Juliet tapped me on the shoulder. "Psst."
"What is it?" I whispered.
"When you and Alice get married, can I be the flower girl?" She whispered conspiratorially.
"Hey!" Nicole cried, over hearing us. "I wanna be the flower girl!"
"They`re not even engaged yet!" yelled Ally, "But when they are, I`M the flower girl. I`m the oldest."
My face went red, and Alice laughed.
Marcus broke free of his mother`s arms and crawled over to me and climbed up until he was on my lap. "Can I be your ring bear?" He whispered, his chubby hands around his mouth.
I leaned down and whispered back. "Of course you can, buddy. Don`t tell your sisters."
He smiled widely, showing his tiny teeth.
The morning of the reunion, I woke up uncharacteristically early, before everyone else in the house, and drove to Winter Park High School.
The campus was vacant, as it was summertime and also a Saturday. When I pulled into the lot though, I reflexively , out of old habit, looked over at the parking spot that had once been Margo Roth Spiegelman's. Of course, there was no silver Honda parked there, but I was still disappointed.
The band room doors, which I`d spent many hours stilling outside, doing my homework and waiting for Radar and Ben, were weathered. I pushed, trying in vain to open them. Knocking a few times, I suddenly realized the flaw in my Margo-like plan to wonder the halls one last time; no school was going to leave their doors open all summer, and a janitor wouldn`t let some random guy in to reminisce. I didn`t have the Margo-drive in me to pry open a window (Plus, it would be breaking and entering), so I just leaned against a tree under which Lacey, Radar, Ben and I had often contemplated Margo and watched the sun rise.
The summer after graduation, Margo and I had emailed semi-frequently. After a while, I was caught up in work at Duke, and she was caught up with running around the world and being Margo, so we gradually fell out of touch. Before the reunion, I`d thought of posting on the paper towns Omnictionary page, but I couldn`t get up the courage to indirectly ask her if she was coming.
Eventually, I went to the grocery store, bought some muffins to make it look like I had a productive morning, and drove home.
Mom and Dad were up when I got back.
"Interesting choice in bakery goods." Dad said. "Did you pick it for the symbolic value?"
"The muffin is an uncommon representation of the restless human spirit. Notice how the top breaks the mold by refusing to stay within the boundaries of the muffin wrapper." Mom jumped in. "Were you feeling particularly adventurous this morning?"
"Not really anymore." I mumbled, ready to get out of this conversation. I grabbed a muffin and took the stairs two at a time.
Quietly, I pushed open the door of my room and tiptoed across the floor.
"Wake up, sleepyhead." I said teasingly and slowly pulled the blinds open on my (screenless) window.
Alice rolled away from the window. "Mmmhph."
I put the muffin down on top of the lump of tussled hair that I presumed was her head. "I got you something."
"What kind of food?" She asked sleepily.
"Guess." I sat down on the edge of the bed and stared out the window. Margo`s window shade was up. Her room looked the same as ever, as far as I could tell.
"Cupcake?" I scooped up the muffin and rolled her over, so she was facing me, and flopped down next to her.
"Close enough." I said, breaking off a bit of the muffin and popping it in her mouth.
When glanced out the window again, Margo`s blinds were closed.
I looked around the golf club that was hosting the reception one last time, just to be sure.
Unfortunately, it was inevitably true.
No Margo. Why had I expected any different?
The reunion was only an hour in when Radar pulled me aside. "Any sign of her?"
"None at all." I replied, melancholy. I had been right about my initial impression of the reunion. At this point, I was tired and ready to leave, while Ben was at the bar, ready to get his party on. Lacey and Alice were with him, introducing Alice to everyone.
"I`m gonna head out. Can you or Ben drive Alice back? I don`t want to stop her from having fun, I`m just really tired."
"Alright, see ya tomorrow Q."
Mom and Dad had gone out to dinner and wern`t back yet, so when I pulled up in the driveway, the house was dark. I shuffled upstairs to my bedroom and laid facedown of the bed.
Pink. Pink Pink. Pink.
The noise was coming from behind me. The window.
I rolled over and saw a shadowy figure at the window.
My heart started pounding faster.
Pink Pink Pink. Pink.
I turned on the lights, opened the window, and stared out into the darkness. The bold blue eyes of Margo Roth Spiegelman stared back at me.
"Where have you been?"
"Here. There. Everywhere. I wrote a book, a real one this time, went to England, Germany, and Australia for a bit. Oh, and I spent a year in Alaska."
"Why did you come back?"
She shrugged. "So what`ve you done, Q? Graduated from Duke and settled down? Bought a nice house and decided to burn the future away for a while? Came back here for the reunion, to see if I`d be here?" She raised an eyebrow.
"I rebuilt the Agloe General Store."
"Will you go with me to the reunion? Everyone misses you."
She shook her head and expelled air though her noise. "Why would I want to go to that? To see some people I left behind years ago? I`m not going to rebuild Paper Margo from the ashes I left her in years ago."
"Lacey misses you. One of her daughters is named Juliet Margo after you."
She stared back at me, unblinking.
"She`s staying at the bed and breakfast around the corner. Go by tomorrow. Please."
"Maybe." She said finally.
We sat there for a while before she spoke again. "It`s great, traveling the world and having all these great adventures and all, but it gets lonely. Do you want to come with me? We`ll go around the world, righting the wrongs, wronging the rights."
I glanced back at my bedroom. Alice`s favorite pack of playing cards, the ones she used for magic tricks, was on the computer desk.
I turned back to Margo and took a deep breath.
Q of ten years ago wouldn`t have hesitated to join her.
"I can`t. I`ve too many people depending on me, and my heart is here now."
She nodded. "I understand. You found your place."
Margo and I sat staring at each other, eye to eye, like we had the night after we`d found Robert Joyner. I thought about what she`d said, with the ashes. She`d burned her bridges and started a new life. I knew that there were some bridges I couldn`t burn. I wasn`t Margo, but did that make me paper?
After what seemed like an hour, she turned to go.
"Good luck, Margo."
"You too, Q."
The next day, before Alice and I left, we got a call from Lacey saying that she`d had lunch with Margo.
I asked Alice if she wanted to meet Margo, who I`d long ago told her all of the stories about, and she said yes, so I drove her over.
I was no longer in love with Margo Roth Spiegelman, the person. I had moved on long ago. When I looked over at Alice, with her beautiful blonde hair and big brown eyes shining back at me, I knew that for certain. Margo may not be the girl in my head anymore, the girl I`d idolized for so many years, the girl for whom my best friends and I had skipped graduation to find, the girl I`d fallen in love with, but I still had my Margo, my mystery, in my memories. I knew somewhere deep down that though I had long ago stopped loving the girl, I would never stop loving the mystery.