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Authors: Maria Murnane

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BOOK: Cassidy Lane
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Actually, who was
she kidding? Mostly in sweatpants or pajamas.

Tonight was the
most dressed up she’d been in months.

She adjusted the
strap of her purse over her shoulder and decided to change the subject back to the reason she was there. “I know everyone must say this, but it’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since we graduated. It almost feels like just yesterday, don’t you think?” She hoped her mom was right in predicting that conversation with her former classmates would flow more easily once she got some wine in her to soothe her nerves. Otherwise it was clearly going to be a long night.

Crystal’s eyes got
big. “I know! I was just talking to Stanley about that. Call me biased, but I think we all look exactly the same, just as fabulous as we did in high school.”

Cassidy pictured how
much thinner Crystal had been back then. A lot thinner. Like fifty pounds thinner. She opted for another change of subject, fearing the look on her face would give away what was really going through her head. “I’m guessing I’m the last one to arrive. Did a lot of people come? Looks pretty crowded.” She pointed through the windows.

“Oh yes, it’s
a full house in there. Go on inside and mingle,” Crystal said.

“You two aren’t
spending the evening out here, are you? It’s pretty chilly tonight.” One thing that hadn’t changed from their high-school days in Northern California was the cool—sometimes downright cold—evenings, even in the height of summer.

“Oh gosh, no.
We’re just waiting for a couple more stragglers to show up. We’ll be closing up shop and joining y’all soon, I’m sure. Go on in and have fun.” Crystal shooed her away.

“OK, thanks, Crystal.
It was nice meeting you, Stanley.” Cassidy hesitated for a moment, then took a step toward the entrance before pausing again.

Don’t be so
nervous.

It will be
fine.

She took a
deep breath and pushed open the door. As she walked inside, she immediately felt as if every eye in the room was staring at her, though in reality the place was so loud and packed it was unlikely anyone had even noticed her arrival. She scanned the crowd for Patti and quickly spotted her at a bar to the right. Thank God Patti was tall. Suddenly nervous in the company of so many strangers she used to see every day, Cassidy wanted to break into a trot but refrained. Instead she avoided making eye contact with anyone and walked quickly toward her friend.

She was halfway
across the room when a woman to her right backed up unexpectedly. She knocked an elbow into Cassidy’s stomach as she did so, spilling some of her drink onto Cassidy’s dress.

The woman turned
and looked at Cassidy. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, her words a bit slurred.

Cassidy recognized her
as Eliza Wood, one of the most popular girls in school back in the day, if not
the
most popular. Though they’d once had a class together, they had never actually spoken to each other. For four years straight, half the boys in school had chased the beautiful Eliza Wood. With her expensive clothes and perfectly applied makeup, each long eyelash expertly curled, her lustrous auburn locks cascading down her back, and a stream of would-be suitors constantly at her side, she was the epitome of the Popular Girl. Every day she appeared on campus looking as if she’d jumped right out of the pages of
Seventeen
magazine, and Cassidy had quietly envied her from afar, wishing she could be like that, wishing that just one boy would pay attention to her like that…just one. Eliza hadn’t been much of a student or even particularly nice, but none of the guys seemed to mind. And tonight, her slinky green dress clinging to every curve, a full twenty years later, she looked as stunning as ever, despite clearly being a bit drunk. Or maybe a lot drunk.

Cassidy dug around
inside her purse for something to use to blot her dress and found a small pack of tissues. “It’s OK, I’m fine.” Fortunately, her dress was dark, and the liquid was clear. It could have been much worse.

Eliza pointed at
her. “Did we have English together?”

Cassidy nodded, secretly
thrilled at the recognition. “Junior year.”

Eliza squinted. “You
were sort of dorky, right?”

Before Cassidy could
respond, Eliza spotted someone else and drifted away with nary a wave, leaving Cassidy standing there alone, holding a wet tissue against her chest. Her cheeks and neck suddenly felt warm. Had anyone heard that? She hoped not. She sighed and, keeping her eyes glued to the floor, made her way across the crowded room toward Patti.


Finally
,” Patti said
as Cassidy approached. “I was about to call the police.”

Cassidy nodded. “I
know, I’m sorry. I was moving in quicksand getting ready tonight. Fear and inertia teamed up to get the better of me.”

Patti picked up
a full glass of red wine and handed it to her. “Don’t sweat it. Kevin and I have been having fun catching up. Remember Kevin Tyson?” She gave Cassidy a subtle c
an-you-believe-i
t look as she gestured toward the tall man standing next to her.

“Yes, of course.
How are you, Kevin?” Cassidy tried to mask the shock she felt upon laying eyes on him. Back in the day, Kevin Tyson had been the captain of the Palo Alto High School baseball team, tall and ruggedly good-looking, with an athletic build and a thick head of wavy dark hair, the kind of guy who could probably go camping in the woods for a week and be even more handsome on the way home. Nearly every girl Cassidy knew—including herself and Patti—had secretly been in love with him at one point or another. He still had a nice face, but now he wore glasses and was balding, and he appeared noticeably soft despite his tall frame
.

He shrugged. “I’m
hanging in. I was just telling Patti about my arthritic knees. Very painful.”

“I’m so sorry
to hear that.”
Arthritis? Already?
Cassidy buried her face in her wineglass and tried not to stare at his bulging midsection. First Crystal, now Kevin? Only five minutes into the reunion and she was already getting a bit depressed. At least Eliza still looked gorgeous, though she was still sort of mean. Why were the bitches always so pretty?

He frowned. “It’s
not fun. Makes it hard to work in my greenhouse. I was also telling Patti about that.”

“Kevin’s really into
horticulture,” Patti said.

“Is that so?”
Cassidy tried her best to sound interested but wasn’t sure how successful she was.
The guy’s not even forty and he’s talking about arthritis and gardening?
In a repeat of her encounter with Crystal, she smiled and hoped he couldn’t read her mind. She already felt mean enough. This reunion was clearly bringing out not only her insecurities but also her most judgmental side, and she willed both to make a quick retreat.

“Yep,” he said
with a resigned sigh. “Definitely hard with the arthritis, though.”

“I can imagine,”
Patti said.

“That’s too bad.”
Cassidy glanced at Patti, whose eyes sent an urgent
we’ve got to escape!

“It was nice
seeing you again, Kevin, but I just spotted Krista Nelson.” Patti smiled politely and pointed across the room. “We’re going to make our way over there to say hi. Good luck with your knees. And your plants.”

Before Kevin could
even reply, Patti grabbed Cassidy’s arm and pulled her into the crowd. When they were a safe distance away, she spoke under her breath. “Holy sweet mother of Jesus. I like Kevin, I really do, but I was going to light myself on fire if I had to talk to him for one minute longer.”

Cassidy stole a
peek back at the bar. “What happened to him? I had such a crush on him at Paly. I remember him as being much more fun than that, not to mention way cuter.”

“Apparently he grew
up and became boring. I know it’s mean to say, but I think I almost fell asleep for the last part of that conversation.” She tapped the side of her head, pretending to wake herself up.

Cassidy pressed a
palm against her forehead. “How did he get so old and depressing? Are we that old and depressing?”

Patti squeezed her
arm. “Stop it. We’re not old
or
depressing. We are youthful and lively. Or so I choose to believe. My children might tell you otherwise.”

As they walked
through the crowd, Cassidy scanned the faces around them, a blend of familiar and unfamiliar, together creating a literal memory lane. Some faces looked fresh and vibrant, others faded and weary, and she wondered how much of the difference was due to genetics and how much to life itself.

Marriage.

Kids.

Homeownership.

Divorce.

Arthritic knees.

She hadn’t experienced
any of those things yet, but she imagined that collectively they could add a lot of city miles to one’s appearance. She furrowed her brow in thought. A twentieth high-school reunion? Maybe that could spark an idea for her next book. She was a tad more than halfway through a novel right now, but she’d been dragging her proverbial feet a bit, and her editor was pressuring her to finish it.

They were en
route to Krista when Patti whispered under her breath. “Abort! Abort!”

Cassidy turned her
head. “What are you talking about?”

“Curses, too late,”
Patti whispered.

“Hello again,” a
male voice said.

A tall, skinny
man wearing a sport coat and an equally skinny tie approached them. His blond hair was pulled into a ponytail.

Cassidy had no
idea who he was.

“Hi again,
Trent
.”
Patti turned to Cassidy. “Do you remember Cassidy Lane?”

Trent gave Cassidy
a quick once-over, then squinted at Patti. “I can’t say that I do, but I
would
love some weed. Do you got any?”

Patti held her
free palm up. “Sorry, Trent, fresh out.”

He looked at
Cassidy. “You got any, Cathy?”

“Cassidy,” Patti said.

“Yep.” He turned
and wandered away. “See ya.”

“What was
that
?”
Cassidy whispered to Patti when he was out of earshot.

“I told you,
witness protection,” Patti whispered back. “My money’s on informant for some huge drug bust.”

“Ladies!” Krista suddenly
emerged from the crowd and gave them each a hug, standing on her tiptoes to do so. “How are you? You both look amazing! You always did, though. Two of the cutest girls in school.”

Patti waved a
hand in front of her. “Stop it. We look our age and you damn well know it. You, on the other hand, still don’t have a line on your face. What’s your secret?”

Krista patted her
tiny cheeks. “What can I say? Black don’t crack.”

Cassidy laughed and
glanced around the room. “Did Andre come too?” Krista and Andre had been together since ninth grade and had been voted cutest couple their senior year. They’d gone to different colleges but dated long-distance all four years and married shortly after graduation. Now they had three adorable daughters, all spitting images of their mother. If Krista weren’t so darned nice, Cassidy would probably be jealous of how her life had worked out. But it was simply impossible not to like her.

Krista pointed toward
the far corner of the bar. “He’s getting me a drink.” She lowered her voice and leaned closer to them. “Did you hear about Eliza Wood?”

Cassidy and Patti
both shook their heads.

“Apparently her husband
left her…for their twenty-five-year-old nanny.”

“No!” Patti covered
her mouth with her hand.

“Yes,” Krista said.
“Some young hottie from Sweden. Huge scandal.”

“Hotter than Eliza?”
Patti raised an eyebrow.

“I think
younger
is the operative word,” Krista said.

Cassidy frowned. “I
can’t believe we’re old enough to be having this conversation.”

Krista shrugged. “Forty
is just around the corner. We might as well face it.”

Cassidy tapped her
chest. “Eliza ran into me when I first got here, as in
literally
ran into me. She spilled her drink all over my new dress.”

Krista lowered her
voice. “She’s schnockered off her firm little butt and is in oversharing mode. Sounds like it was a pretty messy divorce, although my sources tell me her drinking like a fish had as much to do with the split as the hottie nanny.”

“This is truly
like being in high school again,” Cassidy said. “You still have the best gossip.”

Krista snapped her
fingers. “It’s a gift, what can I say?” She leaned toward them again. “Speaking of gossip, have you seen Kim Harvey yet?”

Cassidy and Patti
again shook their heads.

“She looks
a
…ma…zing
. Lost a hundred pounds.”

“Wow, that’s incredible!”
Patti said. “I can’t even lose five pounds without them immediately reappearing somewhere else on my body.”

Cassidy glanced in
the direction of Kevin Tyson and lowered her voice. “I prefer more uplifting reunion stories. Not to sound like a teenager, but finding out that people are getting divorced and going downhill physically is bumming me out.”

BOOK: Cassidy Lane
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