~ June 1999 ~
The football stadium was packed with parents, extended family and friends. Today was the graduation ceremony for Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School. It was early on a Sunday afternoon, and luckily enough, the temperature would not get too hot, and the humidity would be perfect. No rain in the forecast, so it would be a bearable day to sit outside for the graduation ceremony. The graduating class was relatively large, but Celeste was ever thankful that her last name was Carpenter. She had made it clear to her parents that when the ceremony was over, she didn’t want to wait around for pictures with anyone, she just wanted to leave. She had never shared with them how bad things were in school, but they did know she didn’t have many friends.
Celeste had moved to the Boston suburbs at the beginning of her sophomore year. She quickly learned that almost everyone in her class had known each other since kindergarten and were not fond of newcomers and outsiders. It was hard for her to fit in and make friends. Almost overnight she went from the outgoing and friendly teenager she had been in her Freshman year, to a shy, introverted teenager for her Sophomore year. It didn’t help that she was a nerd with braces, thick-rimmed glasses, and a love for reading science and history books. Her penchant for sports and sports statistics and her inability to play due to being uncoordinated, chubby and asthmatic didn’t help her cause, either.
She had hoped that her love of sports and sports stats would endear her to the boys, but it didn’t. It did land her a spot managing several of the school’s sport’s team, though. The coaches loved her, the female players thought she was a kiss-ass, and the male players just thought she was a sports nerd.
Her favorite team to work with was girl’s lacrosse. However, this put her in the crosshairs of her primary nemesis, Elizabeth “Liz” Bagley. Celeste wasn’t sure what she had done to Liz, but whatever it was, Liz hated her. She would routinely whisper vulgar things to Celeste on the bus to and from games. She would call her fat, tell her she looked like a pig, remind her that no one liked big girls and she would spend her entire life alone. Liz would always make sure she said these things when no one was around, she didn’t want to risk her reputation of being one of the popular girls in school. Liz and her group of friends would say things that were directed to Celeste, but would not call her out directly, that way they could say they never picked on her. It was all about their reputation and how things looked.
During her sophomore year, things got worse. Someone came up behind her and attempted to stuff her in her locker. Of course, she didn’t fit and then they would make pig noises about her size. A feeding trough was put in the lunch room. While they didn’t put her name on it, Celeste knew it was meant for her. She vowed not to cry, although it was difficult to keep the stiff upper lip. During her junior year, while she was swimming during gym class, her locker was emptied, and her clothes were thrown into the hallway. She was so self-conscience and hated to be seen in a bathing suit, but now she had to go out into the hall to retrieve her things and then go back to the locker room to get dressed. She was late to her next class and had to endure being reprimanded for that as well.
The ultimate humiliation came during her senior year. They were at an away game, traveling with the boys’ lacrosse team. She was standing on the sideline talking to the ladies’ coach when a ball was hurled at her, striking her in the inner upper thigh. She fell to the ground immediately in severe pain. She could barely walk, and she had to sit with ice in her lap during both games. The pain was so bad she could hardly concentrate on the games or keep score. No one fessed up to throwing the ball, which meant no one had to apologize for hitting her. Instead, she was made fun of during the entirety of the game and the bus ride home. The bruise that was left behind was horrific and took almost two weeks to go away.
The humiliation of being hit with the ball was made worse because Celeste had a crush on a classmate named Chris Evans. He was on the boys’ lacrosse team, he wasn’t the greatest player, but he tried valiantly. While he didn’t join in on the name calling or the teasing, he had a front row seat for it. She had hoped he didn’t know she existed, but alas, there was no way he didn’t know who she was. The problem was, he had a thing for Liz. He tried valiantly to get Liz’s attention and it finally worked, getting her to take notice of him and agreeing to go to the senior prom with him.
This was when the icing was put on the “I hate Liz cake.” Unbeknownst to Chris, she was using him to get the attention of another guy. So, in the middle of the prom, she broke up with Chris and hooked up with the other guy. Chris was now the one who was humiliated, not to mention heartbroken. He left the prom and went to one of his friend’s house for the after-prom party and proceeded to get drunk. Celeste didn’t see it, she wasn’t asked to the dance or the parties. She just heard the story as it made its way through the school on Monday morning. She felt sorry for him, but she wasn’t about to tell him that. She just added it to the laundry list of reasons she hated Liz.
Celeste had done well on her SAT and ACT tests and had been accepted into an Engineering program in the Midwest. She didn’t tell anyone where she was going to school or what she was studying. She was vague in her plans in the yearbook, figuring she would never see any of these folks again. Her best friend, Erik and Chris, those would be the only two classmates she would see again. Erik, she would talk to and see in person. Chris, well, she would see him on the big screen when he became an actor and made movies in Hollywood. But everyone else, she was done with. She stood at the base of the steps, waiting for her name to be called. Praying that as she walked across the stage she wouldn’t trip and fall, or that Liz and her friends wouldn’t throw something at her. Instead, it was worse. As her name was called and she walked across the stage, she heard ‘moos’ in the audience. It was faint at first, and then it got louder. She knew who started it, but she kept her head up, not giving in and not letting them see her cry. Instead, as she walked off stage, she confronted a counselor who allowed her to take off her cap and gown and get her diploma so she could leave and not endure any further torment. At that moment, her high school torture was over.
~ January 2017 ~
The auditorium room was stuffy, and the speaker was monotone and boring. Celeste was ready to poke her eyes out, and she had only been sitting there for fifteen minutes. The symposium was supposed to be informative, and she knew she should be focused and taking notes, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. Honestly, none of this actually pertained to her or her job but she had been roped into attending. She had her computer with her and figured she could try to pass off that she was electronically taking notes while she was actually checking her email and surfing the internet. She knew that there had to be others in the room doing the same damn thing! Luckily, she was sitting in the last row, and she didn’t have to worry about anyone being behind her to peek over her shoulder.
Celeste pulled up her email and scanned through the junk and stopped when she saw an email from Erik Lawson. He was the only person she went to high school with that she kept in touch with after graduation. He lived in New York and worked with different stylists for some of the hottest actors in New York and LA. He loved to send her emails and rub it in, but he would share some awesome behind the scene tea and pictures of fittings. Recently he had been featured in a few magazines, and his name was starting to garner more attention. He deserved it, and Celeste was happy for him. However, her excitement for the email waned when she realized he wanted to talk to her about an upcoming high school reunion.
“I know, it is an off year, only our 18th reunion but it seemed like one that we should celebrate. Maybe an off year would get people to come and celebrate more than a milestone year like 15 or 20. God knows that no one showed up to the 15th! Anyway, we are just starting to put the plans together, and I wanted to make you aware of it. I’m running the committee for this one, and since we’re friends, I’m making it my mission for you to attend. You should probably start coming up with your list of excuses now because I’ll shoot each one of them down by the reunion in June. The best revenge, buttercup, is to show up and show off. I’ll even design your dress!”
Celeste tried not to let out an audible groan. This was her worst nightmare coming to life. Erik knew how miserable she was in high school, how could he do this to her? He was her only friend in high school; the only guy brave enough to talk to her. Of course, he was gay, so he had no interest in her romantically, but he had tons of advice for her. He was well aware of her crush on Chris, and while he wished she would either make a move or give up the ghost, he didn’t tease her about it. He did, however, make sure she didn’t do anything to out herself or make a fool of herself. He always had her back. She knew the idea of going back to a reunion was ridiculous, they hated her in high school, there was no way they would want to see her years later. She had to admit, she would love to see Chris, but he wasn’t going to be dying to see her.
There was more to Erik’s email, something about a Facebook group and he would add her to that discussion. He really wanted her to attend, blah blah blah. He knew she was probably apprehensive, but they had been out of school for almost eighteen years, and she needed to get over it. She rolled her eyes at what she was reading and hoped that no one saw her. She quietly typed out a short response to him, letting him know that she was in a meeting and couldn’t fire off the rant she wanted to so he had no idea how lucky he was. She would give him a call when she got home from work, and they could have a discussion. Thanks for thinking of her. She hit send and then closed out her email, afraid he might send a message back right away. She spent the next two hours trying desperately to follow the meeting and not to think about Chris and high school and what the implications might be if she were to find out if he were actually going to attend the reunion.
~ March 2017 ~
Celeste sat at her home computer reading through the Facebook messages for the reunion. She was shocked to find that no one thought it odd that it was an ‘off year’ reunion. Instead, everyone was excited and quick to sign up to attend. Erik had arranged for the event to be at a private country club, an exclusive location.
Celeste had clicked ‘tentative’ on the invite. Several people voiced their disappointment in her hesitation in attending. They mentioned how they would love to see her and hoped she would change her mind. They seemed to forget they never spoke to her in high school or they were mean to her. Of course, their comments could have been out of extreme curiosity.
Her phone began to buzz, she checked the caller ID, and it was Erik, “Are you stalking me?”
“You better change that tentative to attending. Don’t make me come down there and hurt you, because you know I will.”
“Work is crazy, I’m not sure if I can make it,” it was one of the excuses on her list, and if she had to guess, he already knew that.
“Ah, you’ve pulled out the list I see. Girl, it’s March, and the reunion is in June. Whatever is on your desk now, you’ll have it wrapped up by June, put in for the vacation.”
Shit, she pulled that excuse out too early. “You aren’t going to let me out of this at all, are you?”
“No, I’m not. And another thing, you need to put a fucking profile picture up on your Facebook page. Show off how beautiful you are. You’re not the same girl you were in high school, and these people need to see you! Hell, for that reason alone you need to come to the reunion and blow them all away.”
“Ah, yes, so I can be the typical ugly duckling. I can be my very own lame Hallmark Channel or Lifetime movie. I swear Erik, you get a charge out of this, don’t you?”
She heard him starting to laugh, “You are not an ugly duckling,” his laughing continued. “Ok, well maybe you are. But you are beautiful, and you need to rub it into those bitches. Especially Liz, because I know she will be there.”
“She will?” Celeste’s breath hitched, suddenly the idea of revenge was starting to sound pretty good. She hadn’t looked Liz up on Facebook, she had been scared to. But maybe she should, just to see what the ‘competition’ looks like now.
“Yeah, and there is someone else who will be there,” Erik said tentatively. He had not been sure if he was going to tell her about this or not but wondered if it would help push her in the direction of going. “CeCe, Chris is going to be coming to the reunion. I’ve got it on good authority that he’s making arrangements to get home that weekend.” Erik was met with silence on the other end of the line, Celeste didn’t say a thing. In fact, he wasn’t even sure she was breathing. “Celeste, did you hear me? Chris is coming to the reunion; don’t you want to see him?”
“Oh, um, hey my washer just went off Erik. I need to go. I’ll talk to you later, okay?” She quickly disconnected, not even waiting for him to answer. Her concerns about the reunion and attending had all centered around Liz and the mean girls. She had never even considered a scenario where Chris would show up. After all, he was now a big movie star and would never worry himself with attending a high school reunion. From everything she had heard, he hung out with Josh, one of his best friends from growing up. He was still best friends with Tara, another high school classmate. He came home to Boston frequently and went to dive bars and restaurants to see old friends. A reunion wouldn’t be necessary for him. If he was coming to the reunion, it was settled, she couldn’t attend.
~ May 2017 ~
Celeste pulled into her driveway and stopped at the mailbox. She had a crisp beige envelope with the school emblem embossed on the upper left corner. Obviously, this was the official reunion invitation. She tossed it into the passenger seat, continuing up the driveway and into the garage. She made her way into the house, poured herself a glass of wine and opened the invitation. She had to keep from throwing up at the fake sentiment declaring the desire for attendance at the reunion in June. Well, Erik wanted to see her, but that was about it.
He had texted her earlier in the day asking if she had received the invite yet. He also wanted to remind her that he would make her dress, but she needed to get the ball rolling because she was cutting his creativity short. She logged into the Facebook group and turned her tentative response to attending and then dialed Erik’s number.
It barely rang before he answered and his voice came bellowing through the phone, “Hello, cupcake! Please tell me you’re calling me because you’ve received your invitation and you’re going to come to the reunion.”
“Don’t call me cupcake, you know I hate it.”
“Sorry, I wasn’t being nasty, you know I meant it as a term of endearment. So, really, what’s the scoop?”
“I got the invite, and I’ve officially accepted on the Facebook page. You’ve guilted me into going to this damn reunion. So be my Gus-Gus and make Cinderella’s dress.”
“Are you calling me a fat mouse?”
“He’s my favorite character in Cinderella, consider it a term of endearment,” she snarked back at him.
“Touche my little friend. You need to come to New York so I can get your measurements and we can do a design and all that fun stuff. You know these dresses don’t just make themselves, I have to put some magic into them.”
“Oh, bullshit, Erik. You’ve already got a plan for me, and you know it. What color are you planning on having me wear?”
“Do you think I would do that?” He was met with silence. He waited a moment before letting out a huff, “Fine, I am putting you in black. Your coloring is perfect for it and lets’s face it, you can’t go wrong with a black dress.”
“Am I going to a funeral or a reunion? Oh wait, they’re the same damn thing!” She snarked at him, but he didn’t laugh, “I’m sure you have the design done, and all you need are my measurements. Don’t you still have them from your sister’s wedding last year?”
“Have you not changed at all? I am sure you’ve changed in the waist and hips, but since you won’t get the girls worked on, I know your bra size.”
“Fuck off!” She said with a snicker, “I can come up there this weekend if you’re available.”
“I will make myself available for you,” he declared. The two of them finalized a few plans, and then Celeste hung up. Erik was so excited to know that she had agreed to come to the reunion, he pulled out the sketchbook that he has been working on for the last few days. He had several dresses already started for her. He wanted something striking and fashion-forward. More than that, he wanted to design something that would be eye-catching without being trashy or slutty.
Two days later, Celeste stepped off the plane at JFK, her overnight bag slung over her shoulder. She quickly scanned the crowd at the arrivals area and found Erik waiting for her. She made her way to him, and he pulled her in for a quick hug and did the European kiss on each cheek.
“Girl, I swear you look like you lost more weight, stop it! But you do look fantastic,” Erik gushed as he rushed her out of the airport and to their waiting vehicle.
“I haven’t lost more weight you goof. You just haven’t seen me in a while, so you forgot what I looked like. Is George around this weekend?”
“No, he’s out of town, he sends his love, though. He told me that I need to send him a picture of you in this dress. He can’t wait to see you in it!”
“Ha, so you do have one already made! I knew it, you are such a sneaky bastard!” Celeste playfully punched him in the arm, “So, then why am I here?”
“I sketched a dress and made a mock up, but if you don’t like it, no big deal. I have several designs we can work off of to come up with something for you. George likes this one, he said you would look beautiful in it.”
“Well, George is always right. You, not so much, so I’ll trust what he says,” she winked at him and then rested her head on his shoulder, “Erik, why are you so insistent on me going to this stupid reunion? I mean, it’s ridiculous for you to make me do this.”
“CeCe, you know you have never gotten over how you were treated in school. You are brilliant, and you have a kick ass job. Noe one gave you credit for how smart you are. So, you need to go and knock them off their feet.”
“You gave me credit,” she said meekly.
“Yeah, well we outsiders stuck together. Look, Liz and her band of mean girls were horrible to you and did not help your self-image or self-worth. That has stuck with you and still causes issues, CeCe. You’re gorgeous, you’re highly respected, you’re on TV regularly, and you’ve repeatedly been interviewed for magazines. You don’t look your age and men stare at you when you walk by. Girl, have you seen some of our classmates?”
“Ok, I’ll admit I Facebook stalked a few of them. Shit, they didn’t age well. It’s kinda scary If I’m honest about it.”
“Yep, and have you seen Liz? Oh dear God, that woman did not age well at all! If we’re really honest, you’re coming to this reunion to flaunt it in her face that you are hot and she is not!”
Celeste sat up and gave him an incredulous, if not shocked look, “That is so shallow, Erik. But so fucking spot on!” She then burst out into a fit of giggles. “I want all of those mean fuckers who thought I would amount to nothing to see that I did pretty damn well for myself.”
“That’s the spirit! Now, let’s get to designing this dress and showing off this rocking body of yours.”
~ June 2017 – The Friday before the reunion ~
Celeste arrived at Logan Airport in Boston and made her way to the rental cars. She had reserved a fancy sports car for the weekend, just another way to show off. She had wanted to drive up from Florida, but the idea of dealing with that much traffic would have put her patience to the test. It was not something she was willing to deal with on top of the stress of the reunion. As she was preparing to pull out of the rental lot, she texted Erik to let him know she was at the airport and on her way to the B&B where she would be staying.
Erik texted her back to let her know that he had arranged for them to have dinner with Tara and her husband, Jason. Immediately the butterflies began to flutter in Celeste’s stomach. Tara was one of Chris’ best friends, so it was conceivable that if he was in town, he might show up. Crap, she wasn’t ready for this. It was enough that she was nervous about the reunion but to add this stress was going to drive her over the edge. It was as if Erik could sense her trepidation, he texted her back and let her know that Chris wasn’t going to be there, he would explain later.
She took a deep breath and left the parking lot and drove off toward Concord. The drive was not bad, while there was traffic, she had something to focus on that was not the reunion and not Chris. Thirty-five minutes later, she pulled into the parking lot of the B&B where she had booked a room. The restaurant where she was meeting Erik and Tara, was just down the street from where she was staying. It was a pleasant evening, and walking would do her good. She was dressed in a blue and white chevron print maxi dress with a white linen blazer and white, high heel sandals. Dressy and dignified, yet not formal. Erik was already seated with Tara and Jason, he waved her over as she entered the restaurant. Celeste did notice that Tara did a double take when she approached the table, though.
“Wow, CeCe, is that you?” Tara asked as she stood up to greet her, “I’m glad Erik waved you over because I don’t think I’d have recognized you,” she admitted sheepishly.
Celeste gave her an awkward hug and then shook hands and introduced herself to Jason Bidwell. Erik held out the chair for Celeste and then gave her a peck on the cheek. “I apologize for being a few minutes late, I miscalculated how long it would take to walk here.”
“No need to apologize,” Tara offered, “It gave us a little extra time to finalize our game plan for tomorrow night. We just need to make sure we didn’t forget anything.”
“Oh, are you on the planning committee as well?” She asked, looking back and forth between Erik and Tara.
“We are the entire committee,” Erik laughed, “I didn’t tell you that? I must have left that important detail out of our conversations.”
Celeste could feel her face beginning to blush. The idea that her best friend was planning the reunion with Chris’ best friend was a little scary, to say the least. The fact that Erik had been so insistent on her attending made her think he had something up his sleeve and she was now terrified to attend. He wouldn’t do anything to embarrass her, would he? Surely with all that she endured in high school, he wouldn’t do that to her. “No, you didn’t tell me that. What a massive undertaking for the two of you.”
Tara smiled, “Well, luckily the decorating is being done by the country club. They are very particular about certain things, so we are doing minimal decorations and having them do what we wanted. It helps us on some of the stress, actually.”
“Are you still apprehensive about going?” Erik asked, the concern evident in his voice as he noticed the ashen look on Celeste’s face.
“Yeah, I’m just not sure I’m really up to seeing certain people. I think I had grand ideas about confronting certain people, but now that I’m here, reality is sinking in,” she began looking around the restaurant as if she was looking for someone. “I’m just not sure I can do it.
“Why not?” Tara asked, a little confused by her comment. She didn’t know Celeste, so she wasn’t familiar with the pain she had endured and what was at stake for the reunion.
Celeste didn’t look up, she kept her eyes downcast at the table, her hands playing with the roll of silverware in front of her. Her voice was flat as she began to speak, “I was tortured in high school; picked on mercilessly and wanted to come back and get my revenge. Kind of a ‘look at me now’ sort of thing. I’m no longer chubby with glasses, and I have a great job, and I’m well respected in my field. All those people who made fun of me, I could yeah tell them to fuck off.”
Jason let out a laugh, “That’s the spirit! The ultimate kiss off. So, why don’t you want to do it?”
“I think I’m still meek and afraid of them and what they might say to me. Words are powerful, you know,” she looked up at Tara and Jason. She then looked over at Erik, he had that look of pity on his face, she hated that. She took a deep breath and then continued, “And I had a massive crush on someone, and he didn’t know I existed. I think I wanted to have him see me for once. But who am I kidding? He’s famous, and I still wouldn’t be able to turn his head.”
It was as if a lightbulb went off over Tara’s head. She had to hold back from gasping out loud. Erik was shaking his head and trying to not let Celeste see him. He gave Tara a look, without words being exchanged, and hoped she understood that he wanted her to go along with him. He realized he was about to out his best friend, but it was necessary at this point.
“Sweetie, I am sorry to have to tell you this, but Chris isn’t coming after all.” Tara’s eyes went wide, and Jason was about to say something when Erik gave a quick flick of his head.
Celeste’s head snapped up and she looked over at Erik, “He’s not?” She tried to damp down the disappointment in her voice, “I guess the movie shoot got in the way after all, huh?”
Tara quickly spoke up, “Yeah, yeah, he called me and said that he’s really upset about missing it. He had been excited about attending.”
“Oh, that’s a shame,” Celeste hung her head and could feel the tears being to prick her eyes.
Tara quickly stood up, grabbing her cell, “Excuse me for a minute, I need to use the ladies room,” and she scurried off towards the back of the bar. She quickly dialed Chris’ number, when he answered she barked into the phone, “Where are you?”
“Hello to you, too, Tara. So sweet of you to call and check on me, sure, I’m good, and you?”
“Cut the shit, Evans. Where are you?”
“Getting ready to walk into the bar, why? I’m not that late, so you didn’t need to call and bark at me or anything.”
“Don’t come in, turn around and go home. I repeat, don’t come in here, I’ll explain later.”
“Are you fucking serious? I’ve been looking forward to this all day. I’m hungry, and I need a beer.”
“I know, I’ll make it up to you. Go find Josh and go somewhere and I’ll reimburse you for it, I’ll explain it all later, I promise,” she waited for a minute, knowing this wasn’t working and she would need to do some further groveling. “Trust me on this, Chris. Lay low tonight, it’ll make sense tomorrow.”
“It better, because it doesn’t make sense right now. You owe me, Bidwell.”
Tara hung up the phone and breathed a sigh of relief. It appeared they had just dodged a bullet. If Chris had walked into that bar, the jig was up, and there would have been no way to explain their way out of it. The question was, how was this going to work for tomorrow? They had to work on getting Celeste to agree to come to the reunion. She needed to realize that her ‘revenge plot’ against the mean girls was the reason for her visit. Don’t worry about Chris, just get the revenge on the ones who ruined high school for her.