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Rags to Reunions

Lily had her chance to escape it. To resist that seductive draw to revisit a past that she didn’t entirely like and flaunt her ugly duckling tale. She could have ignored the letter. The email. The Facebook invitation. Her flight was refundable and she could afford to lose the deposit on her hotel room.

As she stepped off the elevator and headed for the ballroom of the Marriott, she saw them staring — classmates who couldn’t connect the old Lily with the new, dates who wondered why she was there alone. She sauntered through the lobby feeling taller than her 5’2” frame, confident in her short green dress and sparkling clutch purse. Husbands earned elbows to the ribs. Wives vowed to start using gym memberships that had gone idle. And all of it fed an ego that Lily rarely acknowledged she had.

She ran her fingers through her loose, auburn hair, shaking it out around her pale shoulders. She felt the room arch and flex. So did her conviction. This was an unexpected turn on. Until that moment of revelation, she could have left it all behind and gone home. Now, she was caught.

“Welcome back to Good Shepherd High.” The woman seated behind the check-in table recognized her, adding a knowing wink to her jaunty smile. “Well, hello there, Lily Noland!”

“Hello, Suzy.” Despite the entrance, her enthusiasm was a little stiff. That would improve by the end of the night. Drinks would help. “You look good.”

Lily winced at the bald-faced lie, but Suzy seemed to take it in stride. The former editor of the yearbook and president of the graduating class, who’d put on a few pounds, just smiled and said, “You’ve never been a good liar. You, on the other hand, really do look good.” Suzy appraised Lily’s slender elegance and Lily felt oddly apologetic. She picked up Lily’s nametag, decorated with her senior yearbook photo and current profession (medical doctor), and smiled. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were an impostor.”

Cringing at the black and white image of her former self, Lily asked, “Why the old photos?”

“Oh, please. You know that’s why you’re here. Now go on and impress.”

“I–”

“Go on!” Suzy giggled, sending her through the double doors and into the high-ceilinged ballroom with an extra bounce in her step.

The ten-year reunion of Good Shepherd High School’s Class of 2001 was held at the same hotel as its senior year prom. This was done by design. The planners liked the symmetry involved. Two ceremonial nights on either side of their growing years, when teens became adults.

Unfortunately, Lily never made it to senior prom. She imagined what it would have been like, but only after the fact. She imagined going with Jack Waldrup, her childhood friend and unrequited crush. She imagined the dancing, the cheesy photo in front of the muslin-draped backdrop. The virginity-losing later that night.

Jack had taken a better offer: going to prom with the prom queen, Adele Blanchette. And from the way he’d raved about the crazy antics they’d gotten up to after prom, even Lily had to admit he’d probably made the right choice — from a strictly male teenager perspective, anyway. That was also moments before she’d made him aware of her feelings, slapped him, and told him he could go to hell.

Looking around that room was surreal. She recognized faces but couldn’t connect them with names. She remembered little things about them like details from a dream. The guy standing in line at the bar starred in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The fair-skinned blonde with a toddler clutched in her arms used to smoke cigarettes in the parking lot before school.

The déjà vu fog was universal. It was a speed-dating event with a bunch of people you already knew. The usual questions were asked: what do you do now? how many kids do you have? where do you live now? The inevitable judgments were made: he’s going bald already? she’s 28 and already been divorced twice? he came out of the closet?

 

The attention Lily got was also pretty universal. This time, she felt naked under the x-ray assault. Or, at the very least, stripped down to her lacy, ivory lingerie. Many didn’t connect the lithesome beauty with the nerdy valedictorian. It wasn’t that she was ugly back in school. Lily had always been naturally attractive with her thick hair and unblemished, porcelain skin. She just didn’t care enough to accentuate those qualities. She’d never put on make-up until her senior year and hadn’t really started to think about clothing style until she was nearly graduated. Ten years of experiences later and she’d swapped out her plastic-rimmed glasses for contacts and had her dark red hair cut to fall in loose, shimmering ringlets around her shoulders.

Lily scanned the crowd, wondering once again why she was here. She didn’t have a clique to reconnect with, or even any good friends. As she slipped her green eyes over the familiar-yet-unfamiliar faces, she realized she was looking for one person in particular and hated herself for it. Where was Jack? Maybe he hadn’t come at all.

A weird mixture of relief and disappointment filled her when she didn’t see him. Nerves a bit frayed, she decided to treat it with alcohol and headed for the bar. She didn’t quite make it when she finally ran into someone she recognized without a doubt. Unfortunately, it was the other person she’d been dreading to meet. Adele Blanchette.

“Lily, is that you?” the shapely blonde asked with a salesman-like enthusiasm. When Lily nodded, the blonde embraced her in a hug that completely threw her off balance. They’d never been friends back in school — the blonde was at the center of popularity and Lily was at the center of nothing — so at most she’d expected a quiet acknowledgement from the ex-cheerleader.

“I told you it was her,” Adele said, turning to the other blonde who Lily hadn’t noticed until after the hug. “You look amazing!”

Lily was half hoping that women like Adele would have let themselves go, carrying around the extra pounds of a couple kids and a fat ring that gave them the excuse not to work it off. Adele had no such ring and if anything, she was even thinner, her face maturing into a true Nordic beauty. And her body, showcased in a little strapless pink number, was still intimidating to Lily, despite the pride she had in her own.

When Lily didn’t answer immediately, Adele added, “We had a few classes together. I was the dumb blonde.” Adele hid her sarcasm well enough to avoid Lily’s searching gaze. Girls who transformed this much always came with a complex and Adele’s first instinct was to shut them down. But she reminded herself that she was going to be good tonight, and forced a smile.

“Adele! You… I never thought of you as the dumb blonde.” Lily decided to be nice, but they both knew it was a lie. Lily hoped she sounded genuine; Adele let her think she was. “We had Latin together. It’s so strange, seeing all these old faces, you know?”

Adele continued to bristle inside. You might look all shiny and new, but you’re still the same girl with a chip on her shoulder that you ever were… “Definitely strange to see the old faces.” She turned to her companion, who hadn’t said much of anything. “Do you remember Morgan?”

Lily did, vaguely. They’d never exchanged so much as a glance back in school, but she seemed nice enough now. “A little. Nice to meet you.”

“You, too,” Morgan said. “Doctor. Wow…”

“Thanks.” She started to return the compliment when she saw that Morgan had left her occupation blank. Not wanting to pry, she simply said, “You look great. Just like your picture.”

She realized how silly she’d been earlier. Girls like this didn’t let their beauty soften. They’d been so concerned with appearance in high school and that kind of thing didn’t just stop after graduation. Take Morgan. Lily was impressed by the vintage ‘40s look she’d created; it was Katy Perry complete, from the glamour of her wavy, golden hair to the open-toed Seymour Troy Troylings. Even her black dress, while considerably shorter than anything from the actual ‘40s, had broad, padded shoulders and a cut that emphasized her hourglass figure.

Looking around, though, she did realize that time had taken its toll on most. In the brief silence that followed, Lily added, “I can see that most can’t say that.”

The titter she got from the two women felt like hot coffee on a cold day and gave her a similar kick.

“Come on, let’s get drinks.”

“Let’s get shots,” Morgan suggested enthusiastically.

Turning to Lily with an arched brow and a smile from cheek to cheek, Adele asked, “You in?”

Lily looked from one woman to the other and smiled. Acceptance where she’d least expected it. “Bottoms up!”

****

A round of Jagermeister and a trio of Cosmopolitans later and Lily was beginning to wonder why she’d worried about coming in the first place. That was when Jack finally showed up. He spotted her first, weaving his way through the crowd. All Lily could do was brace for impact and curse him for still being good looking.

“Lily… wow… you look amazing.” She was hoping for slack-jawed speechlessness, so his happy-to-see-you smile made her a little upset. How dare he? And then, before her pithy response, his eyes acknowledged his ex-girlfriend and Lily wondered all over again why she was here. “Long time, Adele.”

At least her greeting wasn’t so chummy.

“Jack, how are you?” The blonde’s tone was cool. Lily liked that. It was good to be on this side of the fence.

“I’m good, actually. Moved back to the area.”

“You’re a teacher?” Lily couldn’t help checking out his nametag. She thought of Jack in front of a classroom, talking enthusiastically about Milton or Shakespeare. She always imagined he’d make a good teacher.

“Senior year English lit at Good Shepherd.”

“You’re a teacher here?” Adele asked, her tone thoughtful. Almost scheming.

“I also look after the library.” He looked up at the stage. “And, it seems, I’m to give the welcoming speech.” To Lily alone, he asked, “Catch up later?”

Adele answered for her. “We might be able to use you, after all your chores are done.” Suzy was on stage adjusting the mic. Lily just shrugged. What she said.

 

“Jack Waldrup on the reunion planning committee…” Adele shook her head and watched him leave. “I never thought he was such a boy scout.”

Lily looked at the blonde, who was still watching Jack’s pleasantly fit body ascend the stage, nodding at the band. The Jack that Adele knew was a much different one than the one Lily did.

“Welcome back, Class of 2001!” The murmur of the crowd died down as Jack’s amplified voice boomed, proceeded by just a hint of feedback. “Does that feel good? Yeah? Come on, let’s give it up for surviving.” His clapping prompted applause from the others.

Lily studied him. The cute young man she’d lived just a few houses down from had grown into a handsome young man. The sideburns were gone and his light brown hair was a little more tamed than it had been back in school. The scruff was new, but looked good on him, hardening his otherwise boyish polish. Again she thought of him in front of a classroom, inspiring young students — the female ones in particular — with his enthusiasm for iambic pentameter. That charisma translated well to the stage, in front of the returning class of 2001.

“I know what you’re thinking: what’s that ‘ruffian’ from public school doing up here, welcoming you back, right?”

Ruffian, really? He might as well have called himself a knave while he was at it. Maybe held up a prop skull for good measure. Clearly Jack was still living a little bit in the illusion of the past. Transferring from public school to a Catholic prep school had certainly earned him a little notoriety, but no one but Jack took it beyond that.

“Well, this ruffian is reformed.” Lily rolled his eyes and caught Adele doing the same. Try a little harder, Jackie. “I thought I was hot stuff coming out of here. Got into UC Berkeley. Did pretty well there. Decided to do something in business. Did pretty good at that, too.”

“Someone’s excited about himself,” Adele snickered. Lily laughed with her.

“I don’t want to get into it, but circumstances led me back home and I started questioning a lot of decisions I’d made.” He paused, glancing around the room. “I took a job here, substitute teaching as I earned my certificate. Now, I teach advanced English lit, and while I don’t make what I did in San Francisco, or have quite the same lifestyle, I’m doing what I love, and that’s so rewarding.”

This was like an AA meeting for those still addicted to their 20s. Even worse, Lily found herself buying into it.

“So I want you to look around. Every one of us has a story to tell — and most are probably a lot more interesting than mine. Ten years is a long time. I task you all to put aside whatever biases that might still be lingering and get to know the men and women around you. Welcome back and have a great night!”

Applause thundered around him as he hopped off stage. Suzy took his place with some housekeeping announcements that no one cared about.

“He was pretty good,” Morgan said, looking to Adele for validation.

She shrugged. “You really think people change that much?”

“Lily did,” the Morgan pointed out. The blondes turned to the pretty doctor. Once again, Lily felt naked. She’d gone all out for the night, dressing herself in the slinkiest Italian lingerie she owned and spending the past week in and out of spas and salons. She’d come back not just to prove to everyone else that she’d changed, but also to prove it to herself. How could one flick of Adele’s blue eyes discredit all of that effort? And why did Lily care so much?

“I hope we find out…”

Something passed between the blondes and Morgan gave Lily a fortifying look. “I better get back to my husband. He’s going to wonder where I got off to.”

Morgan and Adele hugged. “I’ll find you later when we relocate. I have an idea…” Goosebumps sizzled across Lily’s flesh. They were gone as quickly as they came.

“Sounds fun! Nice seeing you again, Lily.”

“You, too.” Lily lifted her drink to her lips and realized it was empty. She definitely needed to remedy that if she was going to hang with just Adele.

As Lily went to refill her drink, Adele began to form a plan. Being good was getting old fast, and her mind was already working out a way to wrench her from this otherwise boring night. There were other experiences in her past she was much more keen on revisiting than old times with people she didn’t care about — as fun as it was to be fawned over.

Between Lily and Jack, she had a pretty good idea how to do that.

****

Adele Blanchette was the last person Lily thought she’d be sharing a drink with when she envisioned this reunion. She’d imagined laughter and hugs and what-have-you-been-doings, but looking back on it, when she tried to identify who those people were, their faces came up blank. Adele seemed like as good a companion as any, and remembering the challenge Jack had put forward, she realized that she didn’t have much to lose.

“So you’re a writer?” Lily asked, reading off the other woman’s nametag.

Adele pushed her long, blond bangs out her eyes with the tips of her French manicured nails. “Well, more like a novelist.” She swirled her Cosmo in its glass until the pink liquid nearly spilled over the lip. “I write romance novels. You know, paperbacks with covers of hunky, shirtless men, and women with eye-popping cleavage?” She laughed as Lily’s eyes automatically dipped to the hem of Adele’s dress, where her milky white skin was pushed up into a tantalizing display. Reality mirrored fiction. “I know, shameless. Anyway, I write what’s behind those covers.”

“Really?” Lily asked, feeling her brows rise into her hairline.

“Uh huh. Turns out I have a knack for writing about sex.” This time, Lily shared her laugh.

“I’ll have to look you up. You write under a pseudonym?”

Adele nodded, giving her the name as they settled into a table by the dance floor. She was single, although she alluded to being married once in bitter vagaries, and then moving to New York after her first bodice-ripper rose up the bestseller charts.

“So no men in your life?” Lily asked. She’d always been better at asking the questions, rather than answering. Even after she came out of her shell.

“Oh, I didn’t say that,” the blonde chuckled. “Can’t very well write about wild romances and hot sex without some inspiration. I just think relationships are overrated.” Lily again thought of the things Jack had described happening after his prom night. Things that involved more than two people. She still hadn’t gone that far in her sexual explorations…

“I’ll drink to that,” she agreed, clinking her glass with Adele. How crazy was this?

“No man in your life?”

“Not anymore.”

“Oh, do tell,” Adele asked, a glint in her blue eyes.

“Not much to tell.” But she found herself telling the other woman her life story like they’d been best friends back in school, not indirect rivals, connected by a boy who they both were over now. Or so Lily thought; Adele had a pretty good idea that Lily was not.

After spending so much of her life concerned with academia, Lily decided to make a change after graduation. She wasn’t going to miss out on her college experience like she had high school. She challenged her comfort zones. She joined a sorority. She dated boys. She had casual sex. After graduation, she went to med school, where she ended up falling in love with one of her professors (this earned her a pair of raised eyebrows of her own). That relationship lasted through her residency, until just a couple months ago, when she’d caught Craig sleeping with one of his new students.

“I should have known. Guys don’t change.”

“No, but they can be fun.”

****

Lily didn’t spend her entire night at Adele’s side — just the majority of it. She realized how few friends she had made back then. Seemed like most of the guys she chatted with were more interested in her chest than what she had to say, unless it had to do with getting her room number. And as fun as that was, it got old pretty fast.

Adele’s table, it seemed, was the nexus of the whole event. For a social butterfly, the blonde didn’t flutter about. People fluttered to her. Lily could practically feel the charisma radiate off of Adele. She realized that simply sitting by her side was ten times as validating as an ex-football player telling her how pretty her eyes were, while staring at her tits.

When Jack came over, Lily pretended he was like any of the other Adele admirers. She resisted the urge to catch up on old times. She didn’t even look at him, afraid that that would encourage him.

Jack stayed on his side of the table. He’d hoped that Lily had put the past behind her, but it was pretty clear that she hadn’t. She was entitled to that opinion and respected her for that. Together yet apart, they stole secret glances at one another when each thought the other wasn’t looking.

And Adele watched the exchange, growing more and more annoyed at the childish behavior. Even when she wrote characters as self-deluded as these two, it irritated her. If you like someone, tell them.

Others joined them. Adele’s old gang. Some of the guys had stayed in shape, some had put on weight. No one had a trophy wife. No one had made it particularly big in stocks or start-ups. There were a few other women like Morgan, with no occupations on the nametags, carting around beefcake husbands, but most of the women had turned into mothers and wives she wouldn’t look at twice in the grocery store.

And then there was Greg Monroe. Back in school, he’d been a tall and awkward kid, both physically and socially. And although his parents were wealthy, he’d never had the social cred to associate with Adele and her group.

Now, he’d rounded out his height with a body that appeared to fill his tailored black suit well, arrived with a girlfriend who looked like an Italian model, and exuded an air that screamed, ‘I belong here and I dare anyone to say otherwise.’ Lily immediately identified with that, and despite the aforementioned girlfriend (who was a model, although just one with Italian-American parents), Lily found herself spending most of the evening with him.

She also liked the jealous looks she was getting from Jack when she started flirting with Greg.

“You’re on Wall Street? Like those traders who nearly crashed the world’s economy?” Lily had had a few drinks in her, but the question had been dying to come out.

“Well, some of my less talented colleagues, maybe,” Greg laughed. “The media likes the idea of blanket villainy.”

Lily shook her head. Greg was certainly cocky enough to believe that. “Don’t you think it’s a cultural thing though? One guy makes a risky investment, gets away with it. So now, to keep up, everyone else needs to do it to stay competitive?”

Greg had beautiful eyelashes, dark and full — enough to make a girl jealous. And somehow, they made everything he said or did ten times more intense than he probably meant it to be. Lily had remembered that back in school, a trait that kind of creeped her out then. Now, it was oddly alluring.

“In a nutshell, you got it.” He held up his drink, tipping it until the cubes of ice rattled close to the lip. “But you’re placing the blame in the wrong place. You think it’s that first guy’s fault, when all he did was be brilliant. It’s all the followers who fucked up.”

“And you’re the first guy?” Lily couldn’t help the sarcasm.

“Well, I still have my job when so many others don’t. Come on, Lily, we’re not so different, you and I. We never did anything just because everyone else was doing it.” He gestured around. “In high school, that didn’t go over so well. But look at them now. They’re falling over themselves just to sit with us. This is our time.”

Lily took what he said to heart. She was no longer invisible. More than that, she was now a hot commodity. It felt like a victory.

****

It wasn’t long before things became unbearable for Adele. The blonde was over the hollow conversations about what people had done for the past ten years. That’s what Facebook and Google were for. She’d already caught up with everyone she cared about, and with the notable exception of Lily Noland, she didn’t really care about anyone else.

It was time to enact her plan.

“You know, I’m sad that we didn’t know each other better back in school.” She’d caught Lily alone, having fended off a drunk whose wife had already turned in.

“I’m pretty sure that even if we did, we wouldn’t have been the best of friends.”

Adele tilted her head and smiled. And unlike all those practiced ones from before, this was genuine. She surprised even herself when she realized she was actually enjoying Lily Noland’s company. It made what she was about to suggest that much easier.

“You’re probably right about that. I was kind of a bitch.”

“And I had a chip on my shoulder.”

“You sure did.”

“Hey!” Lily protested. She wasn’t supposed to agree with her.

Adele turned to the dance floor, where people were getting bolder as they drank. “I was thinking that later, we could move the party somewhere more exciting.”

“What did you have in mind?” Adele watched the excitement climb through Lily’s petite body.

“I have an idea, but we need Jack’s help.” Lily pulled a face. “I know, I know, but it’ll be worth it. Thing is, what I have in mind, he’d never do for me. Hell, he probably wouldn’t hold the door for me if the building were on fire.”

“So how are we going to get him to help?”

Adele’s smile set her high cheekbones off. “He won’t do it for me, but unless my instincts are off, he’ll do it for you…” And as Adele watched her new friend blush, she knew she had the girl.

“So you want to use me.”

Adele grinned. “I do, yes. But it’ll be fun. Trust me.” And maybe you two will stop acting like kids and realize you want each other, she didn’t add.

She guided Lily over to Jack, who was looking at his watch, ready to leave. “So Jack, you’re in charge of the library now?”

Jack knew something was up almost immediately. Adele wouldn’t waste her breath making small talk with him. She had something in mind. “Yes…” he said slowly, half in question.

“And you have keys?”

Comprehension finally dawned on him. “Oh, no. No, no. I don’t think so, Adele.”

“Please? For old time’s sake?” Adele looked over her shoulder. Looked right at Lily. “And if not for me, how about your old friend?”

For the first time that night, Lily was looking right at him, listening for his response. Jack sighed and looked back at Adele. She was biting on the tip of her tongue as she smiled, an expression he recognized: I got you.

He had two options. He could either tell his prissy former flame exactly where she could go and what she could do when she got there, knowing full well that she’d already dug her claws into Lily and would take the sweet young woman down with her. Or he could play along just so he could stay by Lily’s side. He chose the latter.

“OK, Adele. For old time’s sake. But if we get caught, I’m going to say you ruffied my drink and tricked me into doing it.”

Adele batted her eyelashes dramatically and put a hand to her chest. “You forget, Jack, I’m a reformed ‘ruffian’ now.”

****

Lily felt like she’d been caught up in something. It had snatched her up the moment she walked into that ballroom in her short green dress and spiky heels — and now it wasn’t letting go.

Things were moving faster. In fact, they were literally moving. She was squeezed into the back seat of Jack’s little Honda, packed tight enough that she felt her dress ride up her legs and couldn’t maneuver enough to pull it down. A whisper of lace peeked out from under the hem, betraying her nude stockings. Greg, crowded in next to her, raised an eyebrow at the discovery and she blushed.

“So what’s your story with Jack?” Greg asked as the car pulled out of the hotel’s lot.

With Morgan and Mitch in the passenger seat, Greg’s girlfriend Vivian in his lap, and Adele squeezed in somewhere on the opposite side of the car, Jack’s A/C had to work overtime to cool things down, and that question wasn’t exactly helping matters.

“Well, uh…” Lily glanced into the rearview mirror, where she caught Jack watching her before his eyes flickered back to the road. “We kind of grew up with each other.”

Greg nodded thoughtfully. “So you were friends in high school? I don’t really remember that.”

Lily soured. “Me either.”

“Oh, come on, Lily. You’re not exactly being fair.”

“Don’t whine, Jack,” Lily snapped. “It doesn’t suit you.” She heard Adele’s laugh.

“We grew up on the same street. Went to school together until high school. Lily’s parents put her into Good Shepherd. I went to West Fairfield…” Greg watched Lily as Jack rattled off their history like he was a PowerPoint slide. “My parents got divorced. My dad moved away…” Greg’s hand climbed up the inside of Lily’s knee. Her breath caught. She glanced up at Vivian, who was sitting in his lap, and the woman’s roguish smile set Lily’s face on fire. She looked out the window, biting on her lower lip. “My little brother started acting out. Got himself expelled…” Large fingers tickled across the inside of her thigh. Streets flew by; familiar houses. She didn’t see any of them. “And my mom moved us to private school.”

Greg stopped just short of her dress, resting on the lacy edge of her stocking. Lily felt a cry build in her throat. She stopped it before it could escape. “And you were all excited to have a friend move to school with you, but it didn’t work like that,” Greg said to her.

“No…” It was the only word she could manage, and she was pretty sure she didn’t convey the bitterness behind the word. She was too busy thinking about Greg’s hand — or rather, trying not to think about it.

“He thought you were too nerdy for him,” Greg finished for her.

“Yes!” There was that connection again. The social rags-to-riches story that they shared.

“Look at you now.” Greg’s voice made her tremble. He pushed his hand a little higher. The dress receded, unveiling the champagne-hued strap of her garter belt. His dark eyes flashed with approval.

“That’s not really fair.” His anger seemed more directed at Greg than at Lily. “My life was a mess. When my mom enrolled me at Good Shepherd, I saw it as a chance to start over. New school. New pool of friends. I could be a new me.”

The anger finally broke through her heady daze. “You didn’t have to be such a douche to me!”

Jack’s lips thinned out into a perfectly straight line, but he said nothing.

“She has you there,” Adele said. God, that felt good, Lily thought — having Adele’s endorsement.

“Children, children,” Greg soothed. “The past is in the past, right? Isn’t that what you said, Jack?”

The car was still. Silent. Memories overwhelmed her. For a moment, even Greg’s furtive touch was forgotten. She remembered sitting at home, the night of her prom, crying every time she thought of Jack out with someone who wasn’t her. Funny to think that that someone was Adele. It felt incongruous. It reminded her that no one in this car was the same person.

The seven of them arrived at the school before anything more was said. The doors opened and they poured out like an exhalation.

The faculty parking lot looked different at eleven at night. No kids on the dark fields behind them. No sound of cars on the road.

As the group picked their way to the double doors leading into the back of the school, Jack tried to imagine what was ahead. The library was large and labyrinthine and full of little places to duck into and be bad. He watched Lily ahead of her, chatting with Greg. Even in those heels and that short dress, Lily was not prepared for this.

Jack didn’t like Greg. He hadn’t back in school, and he certainly didn’t now. He saw the pattern in school all the time. Kids who were picked on now only to pick on others later in life. It was a viscous cycle and he didn’t like the way Greg was leading Lily down that road.

He caught up to her, touching her shoulder to hold her back for a moment. Her skin felt soft and warm under his fingers. “Hey, you don’t have to do this. You have nothing to prove.”

She turned her head enough that he could see her eyebrows go up and her pupils drop to where he touched her. It was a warning shot. He retracted his hands immediately.

“Let me worry about that, Jack. If you haven’t noticed, I’m all grown up now.”

****

They entered through a back door of the school, which opened onto the senior-year lockers. Even cast in just the soft glow of the emergency lights, the group was immediately transported into their past. Same beige walls. Same ultramarine blue lockers. Even the smell of fresh paint and cleaning chemicals felt wistful.

They proceeded like adventurers down the halls of a long abandoned crypt. The glossy sea-foam green linoleum stretched into the gloom, amplifying the clatter of stiletto heels.

“No security?” The question was whispered because it didn’t seem appropriate to use a daytime voice.

“Are you kidding? This is Fairfield. We have two stoplights,” Jack explained. His voice echoed down the hall and the others winced.

Lily watched him carefully. He moved with purpose. Like a leader. They were on his turf now and Adele didn’t seem as polished and commanding here. She deferred to him.

One-by-one, they passed their old lockers, each person left glassy eyed and thoughtful. Memories rose like ghosts around them, some benign, others terrifyingly painful. Lily thought of her eighteen-year-old self, crying next to her locker after she’d learned that Jack and Adele were officially dating. She remembered taking down a photo of the two of them, holding it in her fingers, and finding herself unable to tear it in half.

She felt a hand slip into hers and for a moment, she thought it was Jack’s. Still in high-school-Lily’s frame of mind, she shivered. It was nice. Looking to her left, she realized it was Greg who held her hand, although his haunted eyes were lost in a memory of his own. Lily squeezed it, breaking the trance, and they shared a smile. He didn’t let go.

They turned at the end of the hall, finally escaping the tomb-like lockers, and ascended a short flight of slate steps that led to the library. Jesus, even these steps looked the same, worn down at their centers and in desperate need of repair.

Jack hadn’t escaped the curse of memory, despite walking these halls every day for the past couple years. He’d done some things that he wasn’t very proud of, and hurting Lily was at the top of the list. The car ride hadn’t been good, and walking the halls with this lot made it worse.

Jack hesitated at the doors to the library, his key jingling as he searched for the correct one. He glanced back. The group pressed around him like caged animals about to be released. Lily looked tiny standing next to the larger-than-life frame of Greg, her hand swallowed up in his huge grip. She was thin and beautiful and very much a woman, but in that moment, she reminded him of the girl who’d once asked him for help building a trap for a monster she was convinced came as soon as her parents fell asleep.

Are you sure you know what you’re getting into? he pondered. He wasn’t going to leave until he was sure that she was. Whatever was going to happen in the library, she’d be tested. They both would.

So at last, the doors of the library were opened and the pack of seven swarmed in.

After the spookiness of the halls, the library felt warm and welcoming. Lily had spent a lot of time in here, stationed at one of the tables with old books spread across it, armed with a pen and a legal pad covered in notes. Here, Dickens and Kierkegaard and linear algebraic theory were all at the ready. Even the advent of Google hadn’t recaptured that giddiness.

For the rest of them, the library meant something else, thrilling but for very different reasons. Jack still remembered the first time Adele had led him into the back of the stacks and gave him a blow job next to the treatises of St. Thomas Aquinas.

His eyes met hers. She widened them playfully as she read his mind. Christ, she was attractive. He thought of the way her apple blossom cheeks hollowed when she’d suck him and the things she could do with her tongue. Even after ten years of new experiences, she was one of the best.

Lily saw the exchange and melted into Greg’s dizzying height. He led her past the long tables, which were now stacked with chairs for the cleaning crew. They passed the yearbook shelf where Suzy had pulled their old faces for the name badges, and descended into the library’s lower level.

Greg and Lily dawdled behind the others until the group turned a corner and Greg held her back. She felt disobedient — she’d never cut class or called in sick, but if she had, this is how she imagined she’d feel.

“What are we…?” Her voice died as Greg turned her toward him. A lick of heat traced up her spine when she looked up into his eyes.

He brushed a strand of auburn hair from her face and tucked it over one dainty ear. “Shh… let’s give them their past for a moment.” She thought she detected sarcasm, but was too busy swooning to really tell. Like Jack, Lily recognized what Greg was: a grown-up bully. And, caught alone with him, her heart was in her mouth. Trouble was, like everything about this out-of-control night, she kind of liked it.

His hand lingered, fingers caressing the soft lobe of her ear. He thumbed her cheek, brushing feather-light down to the corner of her lips. She drew a ragged breath, then immediately blushed at being so obvious.

“All of them are living in the past. Every one of them.” She watched him talk through her long lashes, happy for the little bit of cover they afforded. Her next breath was steadier. “Even Adele. That was her peak. Tonight had a kind of circus show curiosity, don’t you think? Only in there, everyone was the freak show oddity for each other.”

Something about the way Greg looked at her frightened her. She took a step back, running out of room. Greg pursued. His thumb carved lower, caressed the skin just below her mouth. “Tonight, they’re all trying to capture something they once had.”

They were… she thought.

“Not us.”

Not us…

 

Greg stepped closer, trapping her against the shelf of books. His hand circled into her silky hair, behind her neck. He pulled her up to him as he leaned in. She felt the backs of her feet slide out of her heels as she stretched to meet that hard and tempting mouth.

His tongue pushed forcefully between her lips and she felt his free hand roam down her side. She clutched the swath of shirt beneath her palm, twisting it to hold on. She felt the tails pull a little from his trousers. She sweltered. To just tear a man’s clothes off and be taken… how long since she’d done that?

“Ah…” Her moan tumbled out as Greg’s lips grazed across the union of her neck and the back of her jaw. He ran the wet plane of his tongue across it and her knees nearly buckled.

She felt his hand creep up the inside of her thigh, edging up under her dress. She needed to stop him before she completely lost her mind. She felt like a rebellious teenager — loved that feeling — but was beginning to realize that that this wasn’t her. Greg was right about one thing: while Adele and the others were busy reliving their youth, Lily was pretty happy with her present. She had no regrets.

And while the thought of losing herself in a man was so appetizing, she wasn’t sure it was Greg that was making her mouth water.

“We better… we better get back before they, you know, say, erm, something.”

“They’re not missing us. Trust me.”

Lily ignored him, yanking on the hem of her dress and wriggling out of his arms. Greg sighed. He rested his head against the bookshelf, took a deep breath, and regrouped. “Later then.”

Lily was feeling generous, so she didn’t correct that assumption.

The others were definitely not missing them. Lamp light and laughter filtered through the bookshelves. So did the sweet aroma of marijuana.

****

Jack resisted every urge in his body to get up and go look for Lily. He didn’t like the thought of her with Greg. His protective instincts prickled across the surface of his skin, causing his hair to stand on end. What were they doing?

Someone’s jealous… something deep down in his psyche snickered. It wasn’t the first time. It wouldn’t be the last. And it was easy to deny. To say that he was just concerned, like a brother to his sister. He’d been making that claim so long that he almost believed it. Almost. If it wasn’t for that dress and the way her dark auburn hair cut across her forehead…

The library was sprinkled with little study nooks like the one they were sitting in: a couple of chairs and a table, sometimes a small sofa, sometimes an actual study table. This one was the most secluded, way in the back of the lower level, consisting of an easy chair and a love seat. He’d taken the easy chair, hoping to be able to sit alone. Unfortunately, Adele had planted herself into his lap almost immediately.

“Relax, Jack,” Adele comforted. “Are you sure you don’t want some?” She held the joint before her, pinched between her thumb and forefinger, a tendril of smoke dancing off the glowing tip.

Jack stared at it. He knew where this night was headed. He wasn’t opposed to it, really. The baser synapses of his brain pulsed brightly at all that lurid possibility. Dolled up like they were, Morgan, Adele, Vivian, even Lily all looked like models — hell, one of them was a model. But even sitting here, he felt a little silly. Their idea of fun was now vastly different than his. The last time he sat in this chair, earlier that week, he’d been grading papers on Shakespearean sonnets.

“I’m sure.”

Adele shrugged. “Suit yourself, Mr. Teacher-of-the-Month.” She took a deep drag off the joint, crawled off his lap and right into Vivian’s. Holding the smoke in her lungs, she pulled the model’s face to her. Their noses brushed as their lips locked. The smoke passed between them and when they pulled away, it was Vivian who had a lung-full. Draping an arm around Vivian, Adele raised an eyebrow at Jack. Well?

 

He started to feel the pressure in his pants, that was for sure. Any red-blooded male would. Vivian relaxed her lungs and breathed smoke, her eyes glazing over. She turned to Adele and nibbled along the blonde’s neck, who shut her eyes in pleasure and twisted in Vivian’s narrow lap. The strapless dress had pulled dangerously low across her breasts. The hint of coral nipple peeked out.

“Uhg…” Mitch grunted next to the women. Morgan and her husband were nuzzling their heads against one another, watching the exchange between the women as keenly as Jack was. He couldn’t see one of Morgan’s arms as it disappeared between them, but when Mitch groaned again, there was little doubt what was going on.

“You two sluts are becoming a growing problem,” Morgan said. Adele and Vivian cracked up at the joke you had to be stoned to find funny.

“So why don’t you handle it?” Adele suggested through giggles.

The rasp of a zipper cut through the little nook. “Don’t worry. I am.”

Mitch was a solid man, all rigid muscle and hard angles. His squared face looked like it had been carved out of granite, and he’d spoken so little that evening that Jack had started thinking of him as European, even though he was pretty sure that he wasn’t. So it was odd to see the man come alive at whatever Morgan was doing to him.

She slithered from his lap, sinking to her knees between his thighs. Like the rest of him, his cock was stony and enviously large. Morgan wrapped both hands around it as her lips descended. She twisted her grip in opposite directions and began pumping her head.

A gasp rang out — not one of their own. Lily had finally joined them.

Jack looked up. She stood demurely, slightly pigeon-toed, her purse clutched in both hands. Her hair was a little mussed and her nipples pierced the top of her green dress. Behind her, Greg’s large body loomed, a behemoth to this innocent young woman.

“Glad you two could make it,” Adele said, her voice lazy. “Sorry we started without you.”

Lily took in one last sweep of the room. If it hadn’t been for Greg and his unwanted advances in the dark, she wondered if she would have succumbed to the debauchery of the scene. She saw the half-spent joint on the coffee table, thinking of the times she used to get high back in college; that would have helped. Next to it sat a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black with a lot of damage already done. Only this bunch of upper-middle-class reunionites would get drunk off a bottle of $50 whiskey.

Jack sat alone and she was grateful for that, although that bulge in his pants wasn’t exactly innocent. Not that she could really blame him. This scene was as hot as anything Adele could have come up with in one of her romance novels, and Lily wondered if her next would be about a reunion.

Lily almost went to him. Almost. If she were to ever get mixed up in group sex, doing it with Jack seemed like the only way. But she wasn’t going to go there. Not today, and certainly not with this bunch.

Greg nudged up behind her, but she deftly sidestepped him. Keeping her eyes on Jack, she announced, “It’s been a lot of fun, guys, but I’m taking off. See you at the 25-year reunion.”

And then she left. Kind of.

****

A moan floated through the dusty stacks before Lily made it halfway to the stairs. Even with her resolve back on track, the things she’d seen that night were undeniably a turn on. She was already considering a long, steamy bath — a bath with roaming fingers — before tucking herself between the luxurious hotel sheets.

But the moan stopped her. She was proud of herself for leaving. For maintaining her dignity and self-discipline. But it couldn’t hurt to watch, could it? If they didn’t know…

Lily slipped out of her heels and crept back, conscious of every little sound she made: the whisper her nylons made on the short-pile carpet, the cough that so desperately wanted to escape. She didn’t have to worry. As she got closer to the corner nook, the moans grew louder.

She found a spot along the wall at the opposite end from where they’d entered. Here, the shelves were built right up to the walls, creating narrow aisles that dead-ended in shadow. For her purposes, it was perfect.

“Uh!” The man’s groan was sharp. He was close.

Light leaked from the alcove between the books. She caught movement over the tops, but nothing distinct. She wished that she was a little more buzzed — it would have helped quiet her thundering heart. All those analogies about skipping class or robbing banks seemed paltry. The real danger was now.

Her hands shook as she cleared a larger opening in the shelf, lifting each book out as if it was a volatile stick of dynamite.

A feminine whine joined the man’s groan. Lily saw a woman’s tanned leg, Morgan’s black dress pooled on the ground, a glimpse of nipple on breast. Lily’s pussy quivered, demanding she stop being so cautious. She closed her eyes and took a moment to push a silent lungful of air through her lips. Feeling better, she finished her task.

Going back to work, she tried not to focus on the image materializing on the other side of the shelf. She kept her eyes on the titles of each volume. When she’d built her ragged window of books at last, she shrank into the dark away from the shelf and allowed herself to look.

From her angle, she could see the shabby end table between the love seat and chair. A half-empty bottle of whiskey sat next to the reading lamp. A man was occupying the armchair, although she could only see his trousers. If she got closer, she could see more, but didn’t dare — one stray look and she’d be caught. That thought had her shivering all over again. So she shifted laterally until her back was against the wall that made up the dead end of this aisle.

A full view of the love seat slid into view and Lily’s mouth dropped open.

Morgan was naked save for her heels and a delicate gold necklace that dangled between her pendulous breasts. No, not just naked. She was perched on the edge of the sofa, her legs spread wide as a very large cock stretched her bare shaven pussy. It was the most hardcore thing Lily had ever witnessed, and if she wasn’t so compulsively turned on, she might have bolted for the exit.

And yet, that wasn’t all.

Next to her, Adele was splayed out, one leg looped over the armrest of the sofa as the other was planted flat on the floor. Crouched between her open thighs was Vivian, her dark, silky hair shimmering as she bobbed her head furiously. Adele bent over the back of the couch, running the fingers of her right hand through her blonde hair as her other hand did the same to Vivian.

As she watched, Lily’s hands moved. She touched her stockings and the clips of her garters. Remember when you put those on and felt so naughty? she thought comically. She leaned back against the wall as her hands climbed higher. She pushed both hands into her thong and teased her fingertips along her swollen sex. She had to bite her lip when she reached her clit, suddenly hyper-aware how close she was to her own orgasm.

Lily thought of unzipping her dress and joining the group in their near nudity. She was burning up.

But she didn’t want to miss a second of the viewing.

Voyeurism was a side of Lily she didn’t know that she had, but in the relative safety of the dark, she was excited to explore. Obviously this bunch wasn’t shy; they wouldn’t mind being watched — although the thought of being caught mortified her. No harm, no foul. And most importantly of all, no one had to know.

She hiked her dress higher and eased in a couple fingers of her left hand, all the while staring at Mitch and his monster and wishing she had one of those handy.

Vivian reached up with a free hand and clawed the strapless top of Adele’s dress away from her tits. Lily repressed a twinge of arousal at the sight of those coral-capped swells, then immediately unrepressed it. If she couldn’t admit it to a little healthy curiosity as she secretly spied on four former classmates fucking, when could she?

Adele lifted the foot she had on the ground and hooked it behind Vivian’s head, over her shoulder. Squeezing with her calves and thighs, she trapped the brunette against her pussy as she ground out the first orgasm of the foursome. It issued from her throat, high-pitched and a little girly; clearly the woman loved sex.

Before she had even fully recovered, Adele sat up enough to grab Morgan, who looked on the cusp of her own climax, and yanked her back for a searing kiss.

Watching the women’s mouths collapse against one another was more erotic than watching one perform oral on the other —  for Lily, anyway. It was a soft, beautiful thing that she kind of wanted to feel, especially if she was also skewered on the end of that intimidatingly girthy cock.

She put herself in Morgan’s place and her orgasm wasn’t far behind.

Mitch grabbed the hard-bodied blonde from behind, squeezing her tawny breasts — Lily imagined being groped like that. Adele reached out and drummed her fingers across Morgan’s glistening pussy — Lily felt that, too, at her own hand. But most scintillating of all was the thought of something hot and hard inside her. She added a third finger to the two pumping already, watching Morgan ride Mitch’s cock to release.

It was like Lily had unfastened herself from reality. Darkness closed in around her, blotting out the lewd vision on the couch. She couldn’t see, but she could hear. Morgan went off, her howls defying the sound-dampening quality of the library. Mitch joined her.

The self-discovered voyeur jammed her fingers deep between her pussy lips and twisted. Her other hand was parading lightning fast pats up and down her hooded button. Tap, tap, tap. It was wet and naughty. They might hear. She didn’t care. She needed to get off harder, harder, harder…

 

She crawled up the wall behind her, imagining it was a man. She wanted to be enveloped. To feel hands squeeze her tits and tweak her nipples through her dress. To feel the rigid press of a cock nail her to the wall.

The darkness was suddenly bathed in a galaxy of stars, twinkling along the perimeter of her vision. She couldn’t breath. Couldn’t suck enough air to satisfy her floundering lungs. She arched back and opened her mouth. She felt a moan build. It was inevitable. In her softened state, she wasn’t going to be able to stop it.

Something clapped over her mouth. It was warm and suffocating. Her breath went from a struggle to strangle.

Someone was there. In front of her, pinning her in place. Lily’s panic vibrated like a struck gong. Instantly, the fog of her orgasm cleared. She squirmed, wanting to lash out but unable to with her hands trapped.

Hot air blew across her ear. “Shh, shh.” Something was familiar about that shushing. An association to a more innocent time. Returning to her senses, she opened her eyes and saw Jack standing there. At last, certain she wasn’t going to cry out, he removed his hand and let her breath.

“Jack?”

****

Even in the dark, Lily’s huge eyes shimmered, as though they cast their own light. She looked up at him — her ‘savior’ — and her mind already started to zigzag away. To her anger at him earlier. To the mortification of being caught playing with herself. To not having the strength to actually leave.

But before she could do any of that, he kissed her. Hard.

The popping effervescence that had been rolling through her all night long intensified. Her body felt like an uncorked bottle of champagne that refused to settle. And when Jack pushed his tongue past her lips and they frolicked, the sensation drowned out everything else. Even in heels, she felt tiny in his arms. She squeezed herself against him, lamenting that she couldn’t feel his skin on hers — knowing that later, she would.

When she was a girl, she’d dreamt about her first kiss with Jack so many times. She’d imagined what the lean-in would be like, the way she’d lick her lips just before they touched. She’d thought about how timid they’d be in those first explorations.

This kiss was nothing like that. Nothing timid. Nothing explored. It was hot, swift, and forceful, and if she had a moment to reflect, she would have admitted that it was better than anything she’d ever imagined. But she didn’t have that moment. She had no time at all. Jack didn’t give it to her, and she didn’t want it.

She ran her nails up under his chin and stroked his jaw with her thumbs, feeling the blond scruff that was nearly invisible to the eye. Sliding her hands higher, she combed her fingers into his hairline, feeling the stiffness of whatever product he used to tame the brownish-blonde curls.

His tongue plunged through her lips. She greeted it, swarming and fending it off, and all the while, her heart exalted. She had to pull back when her smile overwhelmed the kiss and her lips pulled taut. Seeing her exhilaration reflected in Jack’s face made her want to do it all over again.

“Let’s get out of here,” Jack whispered. He’d just walked out of the start of an orgy and was now keenly aware of what it meant to be “drunk with lust.”

When Lily had left, it took him all of a minute to follow after her. His reason for staying was gone, and now that Lily had come back into his life, everything else felt shallow. He’d made it all the way to the stairs when he caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. Following it, he realized it was Lily, circling back. Curious as to what she was doing and whether she’d decided to jump into the fray after all, he followed her back and watched her.

He’d wanted to stay a gentleman. He’d escorted her here, he wanted to be the defender of her honor, and even as he watched her clear a spy hole in the bookshelf, he’d intended on maintaining his noble intentions. Then she’d gone and lifted her silky green dress to show off the tops of her stockings and he was lost.

As she pulled back from the kiss and stared up at him, her chest heaving, Jack wondered, ‘Who is this woman?’ The Lily back in high school didn’t wear stockings. She didn’t own thongs. She didn’t pull hair when kissed. Or watch others have sex. She’d never slide her hand across his cock, or start to unbuckle his pants when she found him hard. And she sure as hell never would have looked up through batting lashes and whisper, “I want to stay. I want to watch…”

But this Lily did.

He grabbed for his belt, ready to tear it off, bend this woman over, and take her. His metal belt buckle clattered and they froze, ears perked to see if the sound had betrayed them.

Sound returned like the comedown of a gunshot. The wet sound of people kissing. The rustle of clothes being shed and the soft murmur of laughter. No one stopped to investigate. No one noticed. They were too busy arranging themselves in escalating degrees of debauchery.

Lily took the initiative and sank to her knees. She had to cover her mouth with her hand to quiet her breathy laughter as Jack’s eyes bugged out. He no longer saw her as the little girl who lived three houses down, that was for sure. Fucking finally, she thought.

They breathed as one as Lily rubbed her hands up Jack’s thighs. Still cycling, Jack? she wondered as she felt the thickness of his hamstrings. Her hands passed across the front of his pressed chinos. She outlined his bulge and felt him squirm. The belt had to go!

“Oh, so full!” Adele’s voice cut through the syrupy air. It drew Jack’s attention. He looked over his shoulder and between the books. Adele was stretched across the love seat as Mitch fucked her from a half kneel. Long and lean met hard-bodied masculinity in explicit profile. With his deep tan and her milky translucence, they looked good together. Adele looked even better naked than she had in that flirty pink dress.

Setting the noisy belt on the floor, Lily stood, rubbing her buzzing body along his. Jack turned back and realized that no matter how hot Adele was, it was Lily that he craved. It just took him this long to figure that out.

Lily glanced through the window long enough to see the supine Adele gasp on the end of Mitch’s cock. She grabbed Jack’s head and dragged it down to her again, kissing him. She was grateful to have him there, a co-conspirator that somehow made everything feel safer and much more naughty.

“Oh, my God. Oh, my God!” Adele groaned, wedging her head into the corner of the love seat. Her full tits overflowed from her hands as she squeezed them. Everything writhed beneath Mitch’s assault.

Breaking free, Lily bit the corner of her lower lip and blinked at Jack innocently. He gasped as she pushed her hand into the front of his boxer-briefs and gripped his swollen cock. His eyelids tightened to slits.

“Vivian, babe, you’re the only one still clothed.” Greg’s voice sounded so close. Lily saw a shadow pass through the books to her immediate left. He must have been right there, no more than four feet away. Her heart crawled up her throat. Could he hear the kick drum racket it was making? She shrank back as far as she could go, pulling Jack with her until they were squeezed into the back corner of the aisle.

Jack ran his hand up under her dress, merciless. She opened her mouth to protest — to tell him this was too risky — when his hands tickled across the bare skin of her thigh. His eyes glimmered in the dark, boring down into her as his fingers slid higher. Her body tittered. Was this really happening? She glanced over his shoulder at that rippling profile of Mitch and Adele.

“Do it,” she mouthed, lifting her right foot onto the first ledge of the shelf next to her. Jack pushed her panties to one side and plunged two fingers into her snug, wet embrace. They kissed to keep quiet as Lily felt her world crumbling around her. Jack kept stroking her silky hair, again and again like she’d evaporate if he stopped. She didn’t mind. It felt good.

Clicking heels drew her eyes back to the scene. Lily broke the kiss, although she kept herself in the corner, between the wall and shelf. Vivian walked out into the room, blocking the view of Adele and Mitch for a moment. Jack turned to watch, too, and Lily felt jealousy sizzle through her. Vivian was the type of woman who could pull off the one-strap silver lamé dress without looking forced. With her shimmering dark hair and those endless legs, her beauty was like a glossy magazine. She was hot in an airbrushed way — too made-up, too perfect.

Lily hated women like her. Hated the way they wrapped men like Jack around their fingers. Reaching between them, Lily slipped her hand inside his boxer-briefs and did just that. She squeezed him, temporarily bringing his focus back to her. She smiled when his boyish face tightened.

Vivian peeled the clingy outfit off her sleek body. The dress hadn’t left much room for imagination, but even still, in just stilettos and a black g-string, she had even Lily tingling. Perfectly proportioned breasts. Perfect olive skin. And when the tiny panties slipped over her narrow hips, her audience was treated to a perfect little pussy, adorned by a little patch of dark hair.

“Time to return the favor,” Vivian said to Adele, who was still getting used to Mitch’s size. Before the blonde could protest, Vivian crawled up onto the couch and lowered herself onto Adele’s face.

Lily watched, wide-eyed, as she clung to Jack. He’d lowered his trousers down around his knees and opened enough space between them so they could play with one another and still watch.

On the other side of the bookshelf, Vivian showed her true form. “That’s it, you slut. Eat my pussy.”

“Told you she’d be good, baby,” Greg laughed. After shrouding herself in quiet haughtiness all evening, only Greg wasn’t surprised by her mouth.

God, he was right there! both Lily and Jack thought as they watched the shadow shift and grow. The bookshelf creaked as Greg leaned against it. The subsequent grunt gave Lily and Jack an idea of what was happening, but they didn’t need to guess for long.

“Oh, yes, honey. Suck me nice and hard…” Greg said. Only Morgan hadn’t been accounted for. And now she was.

Jack slowed his stroking assault, although his thumb kept wreaking havoc across her clit. He dipped forward and nuzzled kisses into her neck. Lily gasped, wanting to close her eyes and let her orgasm take her, but refusing to miss a thing that was happening. Every time she thought about how they were shielded by just a tenuous row of books, she felt herself inch closer to release.

Over Jack’s shoulder, Lily saw Adele twist under the dual onslaught. She felt a little sorry for the blonde, and a little envious. Vivian wasn’t making things easy for Adele, smothering the blonde between her thighs as she twisted her nipples. Mitch was a machine, having already cum in his wife, and looked like he had the stamina to last indefinitely.

“Alright, baby, time for Greg to rock your world.” Of all the things she’d kept quiet through — the initial orgasm, Jack’s discovery, getting finger-fucked against the wall — it was that lame line that almost blew their cover. She looked at Jack, who’d pulled away from her neck to give her a screwy face, and choked back a laugh. That, in turn, set Jack off and they had to fight back the giggles.

They were jolted from the mirth when Greg decided to “rock Morgan’s world,” pushing her against the bookshelf and ramming into her. A couple books pushed through, clattering to the floor with a peal of laughter from Morgan. Light seeped into their shadows. They could see more through the new opening: Greg’s naked collarbone and his matted chest hair, Morgan’s smooth shoulder and a brush of her golden hair.

Jack’s hand froze. Morgan reached through the shelf, one hand grabbing at the top ledge for support. God, Greg must have lifted her up, using her like a pendulum. All Greg had to do was drop his head a little lower and glance through the bookcase and the amateur voyeurs would be exposed. She should have been hitting the ground out of fear, but all she could think was, I want that…

 

Jack tried to withdraw, but Lily stopped him, squeezing his shoulders until he winced.

Greg never saw them. He was too busy with the hot blonde suspended between the shelf and his cock. He punctuated each lunge with a loud exclamation: “Oh, yes!” The shelf creaked. “You like that?” Another book fell to the floor. “You like the way Greg fucks you.” Morgan’s moans offered a suitable soundtrack to Greg’s pornographic dialogue.

Staring up at Jack, white and hot, Lily deftly eased her panties off. Another book fell, but Jack didn’t wince this time. He studied her, puzzled by who she was. And when she pulled him close and placed him against her tender pussy, he didn’t hesitate. She stood up on her toes as he thrust forward.

It was like she’d never known what sex felt like until Jack sank into her. She felt herself open and stretch with each thrust. Felt his neatly trimmed pubic hair graze her as they rested. She felt the ridge of his glans on each withdraw. She felt every fucking thing.

Lily had come back to the Good Shepherd reunion for one reason — she just hadn’t realized it until now. It was this moment. To watch Jack Waldrup kick himself for wasting the last ten years without her.

They were slow at first, hyper-conscious of the other couple just a few feet from them. Lily hooked the leg not already up on the shelf behind his back, each move deliberate. It was torture: death by drowsy screw. Aside from the whisper of clothing here or a muted gasp there, they were noiseless. This was how ghosts fucked.

“Fuckfuck — fuck me!” Morgan screeched, her imminent orgasm buried beneath Greg’s. Lily wanted to climb the wall as the orgy next door crashed like a wave up the beach.

Jack nearly lost it. Lily did, the walls of her cunt quivering agonizingly around Jack’s buried cock. Again they had to kiss to stay quiet.

Lily felt disoriented when she came out of her orgasm. Things lacked contrast. They’d gone all two-dimensional.

“Now, slut, let’s see if you can revive me.” The alcove next door was on the move again. Jack and Lily felt the floor vibrate as furniture was rearranged. They wondered what was planned next. “Swing her around here, Mitch. That a boy.”

Lily glanced at Jack. She felt good having cum. Felt bold. He set her down on her rubbery legs. The gaps that Morgan had shaken loose were vacant now. The danger had passed, and Lily suddenly wanted to regain it.

She slipped by him, offering her hand. “What are you…?” Jack mouthed as she floated over to the initial opening she’d made. A few books had fallen, shaken out of place by Greg and Morgan, providing a wider view than before. Lily steadied herself, bracing her hands on the shelf. Her lean forward, ass out pose was obvious.

The invitation killed any prudence he might have had. He sidled up behind her, pushed her dress over her hips, and entered her from behind.

Lily was at arms length from her ragged window. Jack was a little behind. And there was Adele, getting double-teamed.

Light bled through, staining the skin of Lily’s arms yellow. She could see her little hairs stand on end. Looking over her shoulder, Lily mouthed, “Oh my God!” And then she lost herself in the show.

Greg was lounging back on the low-legged table, propped up on his elbows facing away. Mitch was now centered in the love seat. And they had Adele between them, Mitch in her pussy and Greg in her mouth. Her unblemished skin glowed bright and wet, her blonde bangs sticking to her high forehead.

Morgan and Vivian were accessories to the orgy, each stationed next to their men, kissing and caressing and encouraging. Greg whispered into Vivian’s in ear and received a squealing laugh. “You’re so dirty,” she said and frenched him forcefully.

“You love it.”

The brunette just wiggled her eyebrows as she slipped off the table and disappeared under Adele. The blonde ripped her mouth off of Greg’s cock and moaned. He didn’t stand for that, grabbing the pretty ex-cheerleader and stuffing his wet member back down her throat.

“Oh fuck…” Mitch stuttered, his stony face tightening. His hands squeezed Adele’s hips and he emptied himself himself in her womanhood. She tried to pull away again, but Greg held her in place. She screamed around his cock.

Jack and Lily were now on borrowed time, in more ways than one. It was all he could do not to cum. And he knew that if they stayed long enough, they’d be caught. “We should go,” he whispered against Lily’s neck. Lily didn’t reply, fixated as she was on the Good Shepherd alumni creatively pushing the limits of depravity.

Adele remained at the center of it all — as she was used to. Greg had moved to the couch and Adele had straddled him. Morgan rode Greg’s face as she made out with her best friend, and Vivian was behind her, kissing her neck and massaging her soft tits. Mitch sat off to the side, spent.

Lily had some pretty standard fantasies. Roses and chocolate-covered strawberries. Making love beneath a waterfall. If she was stretching herself, she had one that involved a stranger and a broken elevator. But none of the stuff happening in front of her had ever entered her mind. That girl-girl curiosity that guys all thought women had? She didn’t really have it. Group sex? Not ever.

Craziest thing about it all was that, even as she watched Adele taken to some corrupted form of nirvana, Lily’s path to bliss wasn’t on some deeply repressed fantasy coming out, but that she got to witness all of this with Jack.

She looked back and was surprised to find him looking at her, not at Adele and company. He’d been looking at her all along, wishing he could see her face.

“Stop holding back.” Her whisper sounded loud after all that silence, but she didn’t really care. Who would judge her if she was caught? The three horny women undulating on Greg’s splayed physique?

Mitch had joined the party once again, climbing in behind Vivian, who had her fingers dancing across Adele’s oily cleft. With a thrust, he was inside the dark haired model and the fivesome was officially achieved.

Lily reached between her thighs, where everything was a balmy fever. She felt him rut, swollen and so filling, and canted her hips back until each thrust caromed across her g-spot. There. There. Sweet Jesus right there…

 

“Uhgod… uhgod…” Adele groaned, stumbling, stumbling, and, “Oh my god!”

It was the match on the proverbial powder keg. Morgan threw back her curled, golden hair — now damp — and ground out her orgasm on Greg’s tongue. Greg capitulated next. And that was all the concealed lovers saw.

Lily’s head drooped between her shoulders as she squeezed her eyes shut. The fingers gripping the shelf began to twitch and scratch the old wood, ghosting the rapid thrumming she was giving her abused clit. Lily came like a collapsing star. Everything shrank and tightened, squeezing Jack as he completed his final, deep thrust. And then, together, they went supernova.

It was beautiful. Glorious. Jack lifted her into his arms, twisting her enough to close his mouth over hers and revel in the glow of their union.

Things were hazy after that. Lily remembered feeling dizzy with happiness. She remembered giggling as she searched for her panties. She remembered holding a finger to her lips in a shushing pantomime, but not really caring. She remembered leaving the library with her hand in Jack’s, their fingers braided and strong.

****

They walked back to the hotel, leaving Jack’s Honda behind. It wasn’t a long walk and things felt too monumental for the little Japanese import.

Lily held her heels as she strolled along, not caring what the sidewalk did to her expensive stockings. She felt like that girl again, the one who had a crush on a boy on her street but never had the guts to admit it.

“I’m glad you came back to Good Shepherd.” Jack’s voice was filled with the same fateful happiness as hers.

“Me, too.”

“I feel like George Bailey coming back from the dance.”

“Should I start singing, ‘Buffalo Gals’?”

“No, but you can get naked and jump into a bush if you want.”

Lily laughed. “I think I’ve had enough of that kind of excitement to last the rest of my life.”

“Me, too.”

That had an air of finality to it. Neither of them liked it, but neither of them said anything about it either.

“Have you ever done anything like that?”

“Well, there was that thing after prom.” He scratched the back of his neck, worried about old wounds. He needn’t have worried. He’d given his apology tonight and she’d accepted in spades. “I suppose I’ve lived a pretty full life. But you know what? The best part was that you were there.”

“So if I had jumped in there and started making out with Adele?”

“Now that would have been hot.” She slapped him. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t have been happy with it, but what can I say? You’re not mine to control.”

“Good answer.”

“I’m glad that you didn’t. Adele and Morgan are one thing, but Vivian and Greg are predators.”

Thinking back on what Adele had said to her earlier, how Jack wouldn’t have opened the school without Lily asking, she wondered if she’d been used. “And Adele’s not?”

Jack looked out into the night. It was calm here. “I think Adele sometimes thinks she is, like she’s still Miss Popular, and maybe tonight rekindled that, but she’s not.”

“Or maybe you still have the hots for her and are making excuses again.” Lily didn’t put the same passion behind the words she had earlier in the evening. He had his chance to be with Adele and had chosen her instead.

“You know, you’re right. Come on, maybe we can make it back to the school before round three is over.” They squeezed their hands together and kept walking.

“I’m sorry about the way I acted, back in school. You know, I knew you liked me? I kind of just ignored it.”

“I know, I was the nerd. I couldn’t compete with someone like Adele.”

“No, it wasn’t that.”

“A sisterly thing, then? Like quasi-incest?”

Jack laughed. “Not that, either. You scared me. I knew I wasn’t right for what you wanted, and didn’t want to hurt you.”

Lily nodded thoughtfully. After all that had happened in the last ten years, between college and her relationship with Craig and how that fell apart, she wasn’t sure she would have been ready for someone like Jack, either. That younger girl probably would have stayed in the library and regretted it later.

“Where are we going?” Lily realized that they weren’t headed back to the hotel. Or if they were, they were taking a shortcut that Lily didn’t recognize.

So much had changed in the town of Fairfield in ten years. Since her parents had moved away when she was still a freshman in college, she hadn’t been back to watch the slow modernization. What had once felt like a sepia-tone photo was now colorful and glossy. New condo buildings. New storefronts.

“You’ll see.”

They cut down a cul-de-sac that hadn’t existed in 2001, lined with swollen homes too big for their plots but not big enough for their owners. Walking down the street, Lily felt the dark houses watching her like a pride of fattened lions freshly fed.

They pushed on, sneaking through the subdivision via a wooded path. This felt vaguely familiar to Lily, yet still all wrong — spatial déjà vu. Jack keep looking over at her, checking to see if she’d figured it our yet. She heard the gurgle of a brook that she couldn’t see in the dark, yet instinctively pictured in her head. Shallow, sandy banked with little minnows and water gliders and the smell of mud.

The street they emerged onto seemed untouched by time. The old Victorian homes marched up and down the lamp-lined street, a diorama of a quaint American town in life-sized scale.

“Now you know where we are?”

“You’re taking me to meet your parents? Moving pretty fast, don’t you think?” Lily teased.

“I’m not the one that ordered you to fuck me.”

Lily giggled. How bold of her.

 

They walked by the home she’d grown up in. The eaves had been painted blue and the driveway was lined with a couple of BMWs, but otherwise it looked the same. “The Mitchells live there. Nice enough couple. Their two teenage daughters are another matter. Not looking forward to getting the oldest next year.”

Lily just nodded, watching her history slither by.

“My parents actually moved down to Florida. About five years back. I bought the house from them when I moved back to Fairfield.”

They stopped before another large Victorian, similar to her own. She remembered playing on that porch and running through the large front yard. The swing Jack’s dad had built was still hanging from the old oak, and all the other trees around it, which had looked so small before, had grown. She could hear their laughter. Hear her mom yelling from three houses down to come home for dinner. And she realized why her parents had stayed in this sleepy town for so many years.

“You live here alone?”

“I do. For now, anyway.”

She looked at her old friend. He was a catch, and she was a little surprised he wasn’t taken already. She said as much as they walked up the familiar path to the house. “Do you know why I moved back here?”

Lily started to reply before realizing that she didn’t. “You lost your job?”

He unlocked the front door. It swung open silently. “That would have been easier. No, my wife left me.”

“You were married?”

“Yeah. I’m surprised you didn’t see it on Facebook or something. I didn’t exactly go down quietly.”

“I never added you.” If seemed foolish now, but at the time, she’d made a conscious decision not to add Jack. It was her passive-aggressive cold shoulder.

He hit a switch and the lights came up on a smooth dimmer. “Anyway, point is, I didn’t come back here to start meeting new people and settling back down.”

Lily wondered if there was a cute teacher just waiting for Jack to be ready. She felt jealous, and then foolish. She looked around to get her mind off those thoughts. “Wow, Jack, you sure this was your parents’?”

“Well, I did some renovating before I took it over.”

That was an understatement. He’d completely gutted the place, replacing nearly everything but the original exterior walls. Even the glass in the windows was new. “I’ll say…” She set her heels on the walnut flooring and stepped in, feeling the solidity of the boards beneath her feet. She always associated these homes with creaking floorboards and antiquated decorations. This felt mid-century without the kitsch. “Where are your mom’s Santa Clauses?”

Jack wanted to kiss her again. “Boxed up in the attic with Dad’s cartoon tie collection.” He took her hand. “Want a tour?”

****

It was an abbreviated one. She was particularly impressed with the open-format kitchen with its slate flooring, and the master bath and walk-in steam shower. That was, until they finally entered the master bedroom.

“You changed the floor plans around.” She was finally realizing the full extent of the renovations. The thick champagne carpeting squished beneath her toes. “You pay for this on a teacher’s salary?”

Jack waved it off. “I said in that speech that I did pretty well for myself before coming back here.”

“Yes you did…” The hall of the master suite opened into the bedroom where a four-poster king sat, better adorned than her bed at the Marriott. She looked around for a photo of a family, or a girlfriend at the very least. “You swear you’re single? Because I’m pretty certain that you’re not gay, and this feels like the set of an HGTV show.”

He stood back and watched Lily take a turn through the room. In actuality, she was his first visitor to the house since he’d moved in, aside from his parents.

With her dark auburn hair still in a ponytail and without her heels, she looked more like the Lily of old. Well, with the exception of her shapely legs he’d never noticed and her painted lips that couldn’t have been so full…

“I promise, there’s no one else.”

She smiled. Reaching behind her, she pinched the zipper of her dress. “No girlfriend with a key who’s going to walk in here?”

Jack grinned. “All keys are accounted for.”

“Good.” She tugged the zipper down and let the dress fall around her ankles. With all that had already gone on that night, it was crazy to think that this was the first time he’d gotten an unobstructed view of her. She was all petite curves and fair skin and a body built for the lacy lingerie she wore.

Jack followed her lead, pulling off his sport coat and peeling away his t-shirt. Lily finally laid her eyes on the trim upper body she’d felt beneath her fingers. Unlike Greg, who had dark hair covering his body, or Mitch, who was all straining muscle, Jack’s broad shoulders and sculpted torso were refreshing. He was hot in a ‘normal’ way, and right now, Lily welcomed normal.

“This looks comfortable,” Lily said, turning away and brushing her hand across the bed’s embroidered duvet. He drank in her round ass, bisected by her thong. Without quite knowing how he got there, he was behind her, reaching out to touch those heart-shaped curves, full and aerobically firm.

Lily turned and stretched up to meet him, kissing from her toes. She looped her arms around him and pulled. Together, they tumbled back onto the bed.

They undressed each other with barely checked excitement, like they were the last presents on Christmas morning. They didn’t need to rush. They didn’t need to be quiet. They reveled in each exposed layer. The way that Lily’s buoyant breasts perfectly filled Jack’s hands. The V that formed along Jack’s hips and disappeared beneath the band of his boxer-briefs. The faintness of her tiny freckles that dusted her pastel complexion.

Lily rolled each tattered stocking down her legs, one at a time as Jack watched on his side, resting on an elbow. He couldn’t resist running his hand across her stomach as she did so, feeling her muscles tense and relax.

Lily did the honors of removing Jack’s underwear. Black and stretched tight along his cyclist thighs, she peeled it down and released his hard length. She couldn’t help herself. She took it in her hand, feeling the cropped hairs prickle beneath her palm, and took it into her mouth.

Jack’s cock swelled, filling Lily’s small mouth. She turned her head and he watched the bulbous impression carve along her cheek. She took it deeper, tasting their earlier adventure — it stoked the heat between her legs. She swallowed him until her nose was nestled in his pubic hair, and then languidly pulled back, tonguing the lip of his glans. She smiled as she watched it lurch. She folded herself between his thighs and took him all the way in again, massaging him with her throat muscles. Do you like that, Jack? Not your little Lily anymore?

 

She worked him enthusiastically, reaching beneath to tug at his balls as her auburn hair bounced. “That feels so good…” he groaned, tugging at her hair. “But come up here. I’m ready for more.”

Lily gave him one last staggering suck and eased up along his svelte body. She dragged his cock through the valley of her décolletage and fixed him with a lingering arch of the brow — maybe later, you could try my tits? She’d only felt this brazen with her ex-boyfriend, Craig, and with Craig, she’d always felt a little tainted afterwards. With Jack, she just felt like she was herself.

He collected her garter belt — now hanging useless and decorative — and thong in one motion and edged the soft lace over her hips. His breath caught at her aching beauty. He wanted to sink his teeth into it, but restrained. She stretched out along his side. “I want you on top,” she whispered before kissing him.

“A traditionalist, of course,” he said, kissing her back.

His hands felt large and warm as they spread her. “Well, I don’t want you to think I’m some kind of freak on our first night together,” she laughed musically.

Jack mounted her, stroking his rigid member along her moist opening. He teased, hard flesh meeting slick and smooth. He felt her clit quiver as he passed his crown along the knotted folds, titillating himself with her bare shaven womanhood. Their groans cascading into one another, he pulled back to look down at her. Her green irises dilated beneath her heavy lashes. Do it…

 

He sank into her like he was meant to be there. She tightened under his body, bowing backwards as a keen slipped from her throat. He captured her neck between his lips. The vibrations of her moans encouraged him. He licked higher. Along her jaw. To her ear. “You feel so good…” The arc of her back grew more extreme. He held her at the base of her spine and rose to his knees, taking her hips with him.

He tried to be gentle. He wanted to capture the tenderness of the moment. He tempered the urge to take and take and take, but in the end, he couldn’t help himself. Her rippling body was too much of a temptation. He watched her undulate against his cock, her body dappled with sweat, and lost himself.

Guided by hands that didn’t yield, she broke against his strength. Their bodies played percussion to each other, wet and moist and rattling loud. Lily planted one foot on the quaking mattress as she dug the other heel into the base of his spine. He drummed harder and his balls clapped against her ass.

“Oh, fuck!” Lily cried as an orgasm smashed through her.

Incredibly, Jack didn’t cum. He reached down and lifted her writhing body into his arms, holding her against his still-kneeling frame. He nuzzled his forehead along hers until her eyes fluttered open and they could stare at one another. No sound came out but a huff, but she understood. “You’re incredible…”

Lily’s forehead creased again as another orgasm stretched her thin. Or maybe it was the same, pulling and pulling. She felt a mouth on hers. She opened up and felt Jack’s tongue flood between her lips. It was loose and lazy and perfect for moaning around. And then it was gone. She looked up at him through the fog of lust long enough to watch his boyish face grow tight, wrinkles shattering the corners of his eyes.

“Cum, baby. Cum!” she pleaded, even as he obliged. She clung to him as he exploded in a riot of liquid heat. She held him and kissed him and ran her fingers through his curly hair until it stood up wildly.

He collapsed onto the bed, smothering her as he fought to fill his lungs. “Nothing traditional about that,” she giggled when he finally rolled away.

He washed his hands over his face and shook his head. “I’ll say.”

Lily stretched out beside him, her thick hair the tangled halo of a less than holy angel. They were silent for a long stretch, enjoying each other’s comfortable nakedness. At last, Lily sighed, closed her eyes, and sank her head back into the pillow. “God, I can’t believe this night. It’s been crazy.”

“You mean the library?”

She stared up at the ceiling, wondering if it would be too chilly if he turned the ceiling fan on. “Hell yeah, I mean the library! But also the walk home. Your home. This. Us.”’ She grew self-conscious before she was finished. “You aren’t going to get in trouble for that, are you? Letting us into the library, I mean.”

“Other than that I’ll never be able to grade papers in that corner, no.” His fingers tickled a little as they stroked the curve of the lower half of her breast. “You OK with what happened?”

“Jack, I’m not a little girl anymore.”

“Don’t worry, there’s no confusion there.” He pinched her nipple, watching it tighten like a pulled knot.  “But I didn’t realize you were in the practice of watching others have sex. Or secretly joining them.”

“Well, maybe that was a first.” She thought a moment. “You’re always talking about how people grow and change. How we shouldn’t judge people on their past. But eventually, Jack, you have to stop thinking of everything in terms of the future and where you’ll be. You know? Eventually, you need to say, ‘This is me, take it or leave it.’ Well, Jack, this is me.”

He draped an arm around her and kissed her cheek. “I’ll take it.”

****

In the morning, they took a shower together, deciding to get a little dirtier under the spray before getting clean. Lily didn’t have anything to wear other than her cocktail dress, although as she walked into the Marriott’s lobby with Jack on her arm, her walk of shame didn’t feel very shameful.

Last night’s gala was being dismantled and carried out by sleepy looking students from the current crop of seniors. Lily thought they looked so young.

A couple waved to Jack, their eyes going wide at the pretty woman at his side. Lily blushed but couldn’t help but edge closer to him. The guys nodded at Jack. You go, man.

 

“That was slightly embarrassing,” Jack murmured as they waited at the elevator banks. Lily squeezed his arm.

The doors slid open and a fresh looking Adele Blanchette stepped out, designer sunglasses holding back her golden blonde hair like a headband. “Jack. Lily,” she greeted, completely unsurprised to see them together in such an incriminating way. “I’m so glad I caught you before I left.”

She pulled her roller bags out of the elevator before hugging them warmly. Lily envied the woman’s resiliency. No way she’d look so bright after a night of booze, drugs, and sex like she’d had.

“I hope we didn’t freak you out too much last night,” Adele smiled.

“I should be mad at you, you know. You used me.”

Adele put a finger on her lips and gave the matter a moment’s consideration. “Yeah, I did a little, didn’t I?” Then she spread her hands out to encompass Jack and Lily and added, “But it had a happy ending.” Lily couldn’t stay mad at Adele. Not with that excellent point. “Also, I hope you guys enjoyed the show last night.”

Adele recollected her bags as Jack and Lily comprehended what she was saying. The blonde let out a belt of hearty laughter as she watched Lily and Jack go white and sickly. “Don’t worry. Pretty sure I’m the only one that saw you, and, well…” Her tongue darted out the corner of her mouth. “…I enjoy an audience.” She handed Lily a business card, printed with heat-raised pink script. “If you’re ever in New York, give me a call.”

On the elevator up, it was Lily’s turn to say, “That was slightly embarrassing.”

****

They hadn’t really had the “what’s next” talk. Jack wasn’t going to pressure her and Lily still wasn’t sure how she felt, beyond wanting to be with him.

She packed her things as Jack watched television, his face expressionless. It was crazy to think how much he was already missing her, and not just because she could fill out her tight jeans. He’d turned down more than a fair share of dates with other teachers and friends of teachers because he was waiting for someone to come along and blow him away, and here she was, packing her bags and maybe never coming back.

On the way to the airport, Jack announced that he needed to grab something from the house. A parting gift that Lily couldn’t fathom. “Wait here,” he said as he jumped out and headed inside.

She watched him walk down the flagstone path and imagined herself at his side, her hand in his. Then she thought about her life back in the city, and her small apartment that she barely knew. When she caught Craig and moved out, she hadn’t bothered to set up a new place of her own. She lived more at the hospital, anyway, but more than that, she just couldn’t do it.

She looked up at the storm shutters and the peaked roof. She thought of the widow’s walk and how they used to sneak up there and talk about the future — how Jack was going to be an astronaut and Lily was going to be a doctor (even then, she knew what she wanted in a career). You’ve got it, girl, now what?

 

Jack returned, his hands shoved into his pockets, his face drawn yet hopeful. “What did you get me?” she asked, hoping she sounded cheerier than she felt.

He started up the engine. “Always thinking about you.” It was a joke and was intended to be, but it echoed again and again in Lily’s head as they made the trip to the airport. It wasn’t true, right? Just because a woman is career driven it doesn’t make her self-centered, does it?

Jack parked and helped her with her bags. He waited patiently on the opposite side of the queue for her to check in, then walked her to the security terminal. As they approached, holding hands, she realized how wrong this felt. “Jack, I don’t want to go.”

He turned to her. They shared a hug that went on and on. “I don’t want you to, either, but you know you have to.”

How did he not tear up? she thought begrudgingly as her vision grew watery.

“Jack, I think I’m in love with you.” You never stopped…

 

He reached into his pocket and withdrew a simple, brass key. “I want you to take this.” He pressed it into her hand and closed her fingers around it. He kissed her knuckles.

“What is it?” she asked, but knew the answer.

“My promise to you that if you ever decide to come back, my door will be open to you.”

“Oh, Jack…” She could barely see through her tears.

“But first, you need to figure out if that’s what you want. And, at the very least, finish your residency.” When he smiled down at her, everything felt so right. She squeezed the key until its dull teeth left her palms pink and sore.

“Thank you.” They kissed, putting everything behind it. Last night. The last ten years. All the ones before that. Past, present, and a bright future were squeezed into that kiss.

As Lily walked along the tarmac of the tiny airport, she knew she’d be back. And she knew Jack would be waiting.

The End