I had a landmark high school reunion this summer and have been looking at the pictures posted by my former classmates on Facebook. I did not attend, but thanks to the wonders of social networking, I was able to catch up with everyone. It was wonderful to get back in touch with people I cared about back then and see how their lives have been.
But every time I read an update from the guys organizing the event, the germ of this story took firmer root. I finally succumbed and wrote it. Just in time to squeeze it into Just Another Day in Paradise.
I hope you enjoy it. (And in case you're wondering, I did go to the prom--with an interesting boy who became an interesting man.)
AULD LANG SYNE
I got a few jealous looks when I signed in. It’s possible some of the women working the registration desk remembered me but I doubted it. Back in high school I’d had lank brown hair, bad skin and had carried an extra 30 pounds. I’d spent my four miserable years at Woodrow Wilson High School dreaming of better times to come. And they had. I looked good for my age.
I spotted Alicia Cooper almost at once. Alicia Womack, that is. Everyone had expected her to marry Tommy Womack and she had. They’d been king and queen at our senior prom.
I hadn’t gone to the prom. I wasn’t asked. I’d spent that night sobbing in my room while my poor mother tried desperately to distract me with homemade vanilla milkshakes and offers of shopping trips. I was inconsolable. But I drank two of the milkshakes. I did things like that in those days.
I never really thought I’d come to a reunion but as the years slipped by, the notion of making an appearance at my 50th began to seem attractive. I’d long ago lost touch with everybody, but the reunion committee had set up a group on Facebook, so I was able to get all the information I needed. I sent in my reservation, made my travel plans, and bought a new dress.
A cocktail party at the Sheraton was just the first of many activities planned over the weekend. The banquet room was decorated with huge black and white photographs blown up from our senior yearbook pictures. There were black borders around the edges of those who’d died. The only one I remembered was a girl who’d been in a car crash two days before graduation; hit by a drunk driver on his way back from a lost weekend in Myrtle Beach.
I drifted around the ballroom, staying at the edge of the knots of couples and just observed. A few people glanced my way and smiled, inviting me to join their conversation but I kept moving.
I saw Anne Todd and her husband talking to Harvey and Henrietta Martorelli. I’d liked Anne. She’d been nice to me in a way that didn’t feel like charity. She’d aged gracefully and the way she and her husband stood shoulder to shoulder told me that she was loved. I was glad. As for Harvey and Henrietta? They looked more like siblings than spouses; both had evolved into sexless, blocky creatures with the same graying skin and thinning hair. Henrietta had been in my honors history and English classes. She’d been an earnest grade-grubber. Her brothers had all gone to Yale and she had the GPA and SAT scores to qualify but back then, Yale didn’t accept women, so she’d settled for Bryn Mawr instead.
Finn Johnson had come with a woman half his age. His hair had turned white but it was full and he wore it longish, much as he had back in high school when he was our resident bad-ass, sneaking cigarettes in the rest room and taking shop and auto mechanics instead of calculus and biology. Nobody thought he’d amount to much, not even me. He had joined the Marines a week after graduation and five years later was part of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, the first American combat soldiers sent to Vietnam.
Finn came home with a case of PTSD, an addiction to heroin and a 600-page manuscript in his duffel. That book, Chrome-Plated Dream, was the best-selling book of 1970, beating Jonathan Livingston Seagull by approximately 10 million copies.
Finn knew how to make an entrance and by the time he reached the bar, a little buzz had gone around the room. Tommy Womack was looking at him with the feral gaze of an alpha male who’s just sensed a challenge. The women were looking at him too, perhaps thinking about lost opportunities, perhaps wondering if Finn needed the little blue pills the way their husbands did.
I caught Alicia looking too. Back in high school, she could have had him. She could have had anyone she wanted with her pale skin and her auburn hair. She had the figure of a beauty queen when the rest of us were still stuffing our bras with Kleenex. In fact, she had been a beauty queen, snagging the title of Miss Talbot County when she was 16 and reigning over the Talbot County Fair that fall.
Alicia had not aged well. Her hair was now the color of white zinfandel, a pink candy floss that only ever really looked good on Lucille Ball. That porcelain skin was ravaged with deep ruts like a dirt road after a hard rain. Her boobs had sagged and her decision to wear something low cut had been a mistake. Despite the deep décolletage, the dress was matronly and designed to hide her thick waist and heavy bottom. She wasn’t truly fat but it wasn’t going to be long before she would need more than Spanx to fit into a size 16. Keeping the weight down after menopause is a bitch. But then, so was Alicia.
I saw her eyeing the platters of hors d’oeuvres being circulated, saw her decide against tasting even one as she looked over at Tommy holding court with Rob Dennehy and Nelson Brandt and Tad Grainger, his former teammates on the Woodrow Wilson Bulldogs. They were all glancing at Finn’s arm candy and trying not to drool. I’d always thought of the school’s football players as the Woodrow Wilson Woodies, and it didn’t surprise me that they were all still horndogs.
Tommy looked good. He’d gone bald, but with style, shaving his head like Yul Brynner and embracing the inevitable. His suit was tailored, not off the rack, and his shoes looked handmade. Tommy Womack had done well for himself. He’d taken over his father-in-law’s business and turned it into a multi-state franchise. That he was still married to Alicia told me that either he was very discreet about his affairs or Alicia had an iron-clad pre-nup. He wasn’t even glancing in her direction as she stood alone, smiling stiffly, looking around vaguely for someone to come up and talk to her.
Bird-like Cindy Renfrew-Cheung patted her arm fondly as she passed by on her way to refresh her drink and Alicia recoiled slightly. She and Cindy had never run with the same crowd in high school and Alicia probably didn’t even know her name.
Cindy had been a free spirit, a good-time girl who had to drop out for a year when she got pregnant. During that year, she taught herself Fortran and COBOL. By the time Fortran 66 was released, she’d created ALLI; a programming language meant for kids that she’d named after her daughter, Allison. Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, the inventor of COBOL, was Alli’s godmother.
Cindy was now on her third husband, a Hong Kong businessman 23 years her junior. I’d overheard her telling someone that Gordon Cheung was in Singapore on business and that she’d brought her daughter along as her “date.” It wasn’t hard to spot Alli Renfrew; she was a 40-ish version of her mother and just as lively. All the waiters were flirting with her, even the gay ones.
Alicia’s eyes followed Cindy as she trotted across the room in three-inch heels as if she were still a teenager, her turquoise Vera Wang a bright spot among all the little (and not so little) black dresses. Alicia’s own shoes were sensible low heels, made more for comfort than style.
I saw Alicia head for the bathroom and followed, pushing open the door soundlessly. The overhead lighting was harsh, falling on Alicia’s dyed hair like a spotlight; revealing a patch of naked pink skin on the top of her head.
“Hello Alicia,” I said as I came up behind her. She spun around, startled. She hadn’t heard me come in as she rummaged in her bag for her lipstick. It was a deep burgundy red that was all wrong with the hair.
“Hello,” she answered. Seeing no reason to engage in any further conversation, she turned back to the mirror to fix her lipstick. And then she gasped.
Because of course, I no longer cast a reflection; hadn’t since I was 23 years old and turned into a vampire.
“Who are you?” she managed to stammer and I gave her points for that. Most people usually say “What are you?”
I smiled, showing my fangs, which terrified her. “Suzy Wisnicki,” I said. “Remember me?”
She looked at me, at my golden hair and my clear skin and my slender body and saw no trace of the mousy fat girl she’d tormented so long ago. She didn’t recognize me but she remembered my name. The memory made her go pale. Alicia had been a mean girl before the term was ever coined. She’d reveled in her beauty and the power of her popularity. She had hurt people just for fun.
I could see all her emotions flickering across her face and not one of them was shame.
“But you’re young,” she finally managed to say and that made me smile wider.
“Yes,” I said. And then I bit her. Her blood tasted of nicotine and diet pills and diabetes. It tasted nasty, so I rinsed my mouth out at the sink before leaving her on the floor.
I paid a maid to post an “out of order” sign on the door. She was only too happy to help after I looked deeply into her eyes. Later, she would remember nothing.
No one saw me leave the hotel except the valet who delivered my car. I tipped him well. I was feeling good.
Alicia would rise in a couple of hours. Immortal like me.
But unlike me, she would live the rest of her very long life in the shell of a wrinkled old woman. Vampirism is a youth culture. I gave her six months before she walked into the light.