When she signed in, Brandi made a conscious effort to not make the dot above her ‘i’ into a heart like she had up until last year when Jena had come home from her freshman year at the state school and good-naturedly made fun of her for it. Brandi knew she should have adopted a grown-up signature long before she was staring off the precipice of forty, but she had always used that heart and hated losing that little part of herself. They picked up their nametags which had their senior pictures on the corner. Brandi was happy that she still looked much the same. Matt had been right.
As they entered the hotel’s banquet hall, she scanned the room and caught a glimpse of Greg and Debbie cuddled in a corner table. She hurriedly pulled her eyes away and saw Courtney and Lisa wave at them from a table right near the front. Matt and Brandi joined them and their husbands. Courtney and Lisa had been cheerleaders on Brandi’s squad and while they had been friendly, they hadn’t really been friends. Brandi had always blown off their invitations to sleepovers and girls’ night at the movies to spend time with Greg. They seemed happy enough to see her now though and she and Matt made pleasant conversation with them. Brandi felt some satisfaction that while her cheerleader friends were now a bit plump, she had maintained her high standards. What a relief that she’d been able to get those highlights and nails done. She had recently picked up the odd habit of running her fingers over the wrinkle between her eyes and tried not to do it at the table. Surely by their 30th she would be in a better situation and would have that botox.
Their table was soon joined by another couple that Matt jumped out of his chair to hug and Courtney and Lisa greeted enthusiastically. Travis and Sandy sported nametags with their yearbook photos on them so they must have been part of her senior class, but Brandi couldn’t remember ever seeing them. She wondered if that should be embarrassing considering their senior class had been so small. Brandi gave a little wave and murmured how nice it was to see them again. Sandy asked how Jena was doing. Brandi politely faked her way through the conversation with Sandy. Matt smiled at her and she scooted her chair a bit closer to him.
Melissa from the reunion committee jumped on stage and welcomed everyone. She had always been so perky and enthusiastic that she reminded Brandi of a yippy puppy. “Let’s get this party started!” Melissa screamed into the microphone, making it squeak. “Are you ready for a blast from the past?” Melissa asked and pulled out their senior yearbook. She began inviting the couples from the “best” and “most-likely-to” photos on stage to recreate their yearbook photos. Brandi’s stomach started flipping around.
The conversation with Matt and the others at her table had seemed so easy moments before. Now, she was oblivious to everything but Jan and Ron joining hand and flashing their cheesy “best smiles” on stage and Heather and Mike, the funniest boy and girl, doing a double pratfall as they ran up to the stage. Had they rehearsed this? What had she missed?
She’d looked through the yearbook so often in the years right after graduation and certainly frequently enough since, that she knew she and Greg were the final picture: Most Popular.
Brandi and Greg were going to have their names called and there was no way this was going to end well. Had Melissa not heard that she and Greg were divorced? It was either a cruel joke or an epically awkward lapse in communication. Maybe she should have accepted that spot on the reunion committee when Melissa had offered it via facebook.
She hadn’t even seen Greg in three years. She used to drive Jena over to Greg’s house the next town over for the weekends, but after Jena got her license, she had been relieved to not have to. She knew Jena still saw him off and on and there had been a close call when she recognized his motorcycle in the lot of the Piggly Wiggly, but she had managed to avoid him.
Melissa made a little drumroll noise and announced, “And finally our most popular, Brandi and Greg Wilcox! Come on down you cuties!”
Matt lay a small hand on her shoulder and gave her a reassuring smile. Brandi told herself to just handle this with grace. Maybe she could march up to the stage give a quick nod and a wave. Maybe a self-deprecating shrug and she could march back to her table in those sexy heels she’d been saving for this night. From her table near the stage, Brandi stood up, adjusted her skirt and bee-lined for the stage, hoping to get it over quick.
She made it to the stage and turned around in time to see Debbie grab the sides of Greg’s face and give him a giant kiss. What was she so excited about? He’d won this award twenty years earlier.
Brandi stared a little closer. Was the woman even Debbie? Either she was sporting the worst dye job in history or Greg had dumped Debbie and was with someone new. She watched him jog up to the stage, high-fiving old buddies. His beer belly had expanded and that thinning patch on the top of his head had finally succumbed to baldness. Greg was definitely showing his age, but he hadn’t gotten the memo. He still had the same old swagger.
Brandi had been so concerned with how she was going to appear at the reunion, that she hadn’t given enough thought to what she would do if he decided to show up. Handle this with grace, she reminded herself--it will all be over in a few seconds.
He threw an arm around her shoulders and pumped the other arm in the air. Brandi’s entire body went rigid and the beauty pageant smile that had been frozen on her face quickly transformed into a grimace. Greg turned toward her. “Hey Doll, long time no see.” From his breath, it was obvious that he had been taking advantage of the open bar. “No hard feeling though, we’re just here to have fun—remember the glory days.”
She looked out at her classmates searching for some friends. Her social life had consisted mostly of Greg and feeling superior to and separate from most of the other girls. She scanned the crowd, trying to pick out some friendly faces. A lot of the faces were neutral, some were bored, quite a few sympathetic, and a few looked like they were gloating. Her eyes finally rested on Matt who was staring at her. She couldn’t quite read his expression. She was starting to feel light-headed.
“Hey, we should recreate that yearbook photo,” Greg slurred. Brandi’s mind flashed to the photo of their kiss on the last page of the album. She cringed as his sloppy lips loomed toward her. There was going to be nothing graceful about the next few moments.