(This is Part Two of a two-shot. Please see “Convincing Francine” before reading this one. Thanks!)
Summary: A reunion of Lakewood’s favorite third grade class is about to take place. How much has everyone changed, and how many have been able to change for the better?
Can also be found here.
Francine walked through the walls of clothing with a slight smile. She’d found the perfect winter outfit earlier, but now she needed something that showed off her personality for old friends, though they weren’t exactly “friends” anymore.
Francine went through a list of names and tallied what happened to everyone:
She and Arthur went into business after high school, both of them picking up economics degrees and moving to a firm that handled stocks and bonds for people in the region. Francine was an analyst, producing reports for the brokers to follow, and Arthur was a contract negotiator for the company, helping them get better deals for certain stocks. Both jobs were fairly boring unless you liked that sort of thing. Both Arthur and Francine needed somewhere to start in the field, so they were somewhat happy.
Fern dropped out of school at sixteen to work on her novel. That apparently didn’t work out, according to the rumors, and soon she was getting her GED and working at the mall. A few years later, she had a published novel and a magazine deal for a short story collection she’d written. She kept her day job working at the mall bookstore, but she was fairly successful in the world of writing.
Brain graduated two years early, went to MIT, graduated from there a year early, and ended up at NASA as some big-shot scientist. He grew more arrogant with age, so most of his ties were cut before he even left middle school, and no one really knew exactly what he was due to his not-so-friendly nature.
Buster barely finished high school and spent the years between then and now doing who knows what; Francine only knew he’d been arrested for public intoxication a few times and that his mother had cut ties with him. He became a class clown in high school anyway, too much of one in everyone’s opinion, and most of his friends were people like Rattles and Binky, who were smart but liked goofing around.
The only different between Buster and Rattles and Binky was that Rattles and Binky actually did something with their lives. Rattles changed his name to Ryan and worked at a local clothing store, starting out as a stock boy while he went to community college and ending up as manager. Binky got a certificate to fix air conditioning and other mechanical objects, and now he had a successful fix-it business over a tri-city area.
Jenna had a nervous breakdown in high school and left, but Francine remembered from social media that she had recovered, finishing her GED and attending college for art and graphic design. She worked with a design firm downtown, a design firm that did a friend’s wedding invitations and another coworker’s business cards. Other than that, Francine didn’t know how she turned out; all of that was just hearsay.
George went to college to get a theatre degree and now worked at a local children’s museums designing educational plays and puppet shows.
Sue Ellen left in the ninth grade to travel the world with her parents; she hadn’t been seen in Elwood City since.
And Muffy? Francine had no earthly idea.
As she finished picking out two dresses, one for dinner with Muffy and Binky and one for the reunion-if she went-, the salesperson helped her pick out a new perfume with her craft skills. Francine wanted to look nice, so smelling nice fit her plan perfectly. As she smelled the perfumes, she felt someone tap her arm.
“I see we use the same boutique!” Muffy squealed. “So, what have you and Arthur decided?”
“We’ll be there,” Francine nodded, holding up a bottle to the salesperson, who nodded and got an unopened box from the display case. A register was nearby, so she was able to quickly pay her bill.
“Do you or Arthur have any allergies I should be aware of? Binky and I plan on cooking up a storm,” Muffy chuckled. Francine shook her head, “No allergies, but neither of us are that fond of Thai food.”
Muffy nodded, typing the response into her phone, “Got it! Now, I can’t wait to see you then. It’s been so long,” she smiled before leaving the store.
“Your bags,” the salesperson said. Francine thanked them, accepting the bags and her receipt. Before she left, the salesperson waved to her. Francine looked up. “I’ve never seen her before, Francine, not a day in my life.”
Francine felt floored. For one, Muffy lied, which wasn’t that unusual considering their past, but secondly, this was the most expensive boutique in the area that actually sold quality goods. Francine only started going there well after college, when she was finally finished paying off her car loan and student debts.
But Muffy had never had a money problem. Why wouldn’t she shop at such a store? And why did she even go inside in the first place?
Francine thought of telling Arthur, hoping to convince him to go her way, but she decided against it. Muffy would be expecting them now, and truly, after giving the entire idea some thought, she wanted to go. She had to see what else Muffy was hiding.
“Are you ready, Francine?” Arthur asked from outside Francine’s bedroom door. He was wearing a nice suit and carrying a small gift bag. Inside contained a very nice bottle of wine from his father’s collection and a small figurine from a shop downtown. Arthur thought it’d be a nice engagement present; Francine thought he was taking things a little too seriously.
But she remained quiet as she stepped out, ready for the big evening. Arthur whistled with a smile, and the two embraced and kissed gently.
“Not too much,” Francine warned with a sultry smile, “I don’t want you to stain my lipstick. Are you driving?”
Arthur nodded, helping Francine into his car and moving into traffic. The two said nothing as Arthur followed the directions Muffy gave him. Both were nervous as the city scenery of Elwood City faded, giving way to a woodsy suburb about thirty minutes out of town. Neither expected such a long drive, so they arrived late to the smell of food and the sound of Muffy and Binky arguing.
“Ring it again,” Francine whispered, seeing that Arthur’s first attempt at ringing the doorbell went unheard. He pressed down the button again, listening to the chimes echo through the two-story ranch-style house. Still neither stopped yelling to answer.
“Well, they invited us here. Let’s step inside,” Arthur said, turning the knob. It was unlocked, and as the two entered the entryway, their eyes moved to the living room, where Muffy and Binky stood at odds with each other. A pan of spilled food littered the kitchen, and Binky’s face was fire engine red with anger.
What happened next wasn’t what Arthur or Francine expected. As if they weren’t even there, Binky reeled back his right arm. The blow landed with a whip-like crack, and Muffy crumpled onto the couch with tears streaming down her face, her hand keeping the two from seeing the red mark on her cheek.
Before Binky could turn around, Arthur dropped the bag. Glass broke, and as Binky registered the sound and turned, Arthur’s hands were around his muscular left arm.
“GET OUT!” Arthur screamed. “Come on, I said GET OUT!” Arthur demanded, tugging him towards the door.
“You heard him, Binky,” Francine said coldly, opening the door and letting in the cool night air. “Get. Out.,” she said firmly.
“You don’t know what you’re getting yourselves into,” Binky muttered coldly, tugging his arm away from Arthur and disappearing into the night.
Francine immediately went to comfort Muffy as Arthur moved into the kitchen to find cleaning supplies. After mopping up the wine and sweeping away the glass, he moved into the kitchen to clean up the spilled food. He grimaced; it was Thai food, fairly authentic, and the spices made his nose itch. He wondered if that was their dinner as he tossed the remains into the trash. The bag was full so he switched it out, replacing it with a new bag and putting the old one with two others in the garage.
When Arthur returned to the living room, Muffy and Francine were catching up with each other, and Francine was comforting Muffy about her problems with Binky. He’d never done that before, she said, but Francine knew from numerous classes and movies and novels that this would not be a one-time experience.
“I just wanted to have a nice evening,” Muffy sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m glad you two found each other. You’re so assertive now, Arthur. You stand up for yourself and for others, and I like that. And Francine, your so sympathetic. I know you don’t know anything about things like this. You look so innocent. I wish I had that innocence. I never had it to begin with; I simply never cared about anyone else, and I guess that’s why I’m here and you’re there, happy,” she smiled weakly. “I think I want to go to bed now.”
After helping her into the bedroom, Arthur and Francine had no choice but to leave. Arthur dropped off Francine, walking her to the door for the first time as if trying to protect her from a hidden danger. Then he went home, wondering if Francine had been right all along.
It was ten in the morning when Arthur and Francine pulled up to the old Lakewood Elementary school. The parking lot had been recently repaved, and lack of use gave the entire blacktop a faded grey bleach from the sun’s powerful rays. Other cars were there now, including Binky’s work truck and a small yellow car they’d seen at Muffy’s house the night before. Others belonged to the other former classmates, most of them cheap or midrange in value. The once exception was a very nice sports car at the end of the lot. Judging by the various identification stickers, it was Brain’s.
Once inside, Arthur and Francine saw Mr. Haney and Mr. Ratburn again. After some light chitchat, they moved to the brunch buffet for some fruit before sitting down at a table near Muffy and Binky. They acted as if everything were fine, but the bruising on Muffy’s cheek could almost be seen through her makeup.
“I don’t like this, Arthur,” Francine whispered. Arthur tensed as he bit through a strawberry. “What, you were thinking the same thing? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I told you to stick it out, so I’m going to do the same,” Arthur murmured, looking up as Fern joined them. After discussing their lives, she moved to Muffy’s table. Binky was gone now, but Muffy remained, her loud voice booming happily through the gym, echoing off the glossy wooden floors.
“Well, at least others are here,” Francine sighed. “Brain and Jenna seem to have hit it off. Let’s go say hi or something,” she offered. Arthur shook his head. “Why? What’s the matter?”
“I have a bad feeling. I just can’t explain it, but I have a bad feeling about this whole thing. What we saw last night wasn’t a first time affair, but…I feel like Binky’s last words had a point,” Arthur whispered, shifting to block his words from reaching Muffy’s table. “What if she started everything? You remember how she was.”
“Yeah, and we’ve all changed somehow, but we still have our old ways. Why do you think him and Molly didn’t work out, huh? He’s a brute, Arthur, pure and simple.”
“I want to know more, but at the same time, I want to keep my distance. Sitting here allows us to do both. The others might not even want to talk to us. Let them come over here if they really are interested,” Arthur said, shifting again and tossing a pineapple chunk into his mouth.
As they sat, music started over the speakers, and soon most of the group had moved onto the dance floor. Arthur abandoned his plan and led Francine out, but after a few minutes, most women were grimacing because of their heels, including Francine. Jenna and Fern sat down first, then Francine joined them, leaving Arthur to catch up with the late-arriving Buster.
“So, how did Muffy contact you?” Fern asked with a whimsical smile. “She went into my office and nearly made a scene to get to me.”
“She just called me,” Jenna shrugged. “My studio doesn’t allow visitors. And someone else answers my phone. I can’t handle people, but they like my work. I only came because I knew everyone would be nice here,” she said, staring in Muffy’s direction.
“I wonder where Binky got off to,” Francine whispered to herself. She then told them how she was contacted and they looked to her with wide eyes. “What? Is it something I said?”
“You had dinner with them last night? Oh what was it like?” Fern exclaimed.
“Sh, sh, keep your voice down,” Francine whispered. “It was…eye-opening to say the least,” she said, looking up as the music stopped. All eyes were on Muffy as she tried to change the song, angering the young DJ. When he didn’t obey her order, a limping Mr. Ratburn approached and hissed for her to stop making a scene.
Muffy exploded, ranting and raving as she let the DJ have it. An underlying respect kept her from yelling at the limping Mr. Ratburn, but the DJ meant nothing to her…and neither did anyone else. This was her party, her attempt to make good, and everyone was ruining it for her. She called people names, and slowly the gym emptied, with Jenna dashing outside first.
Only Mr. Haney, Arthur, Francine, Binky and Muffy remained when Muffy finally collapsed into sobs on the stage. She was too breathless to finish her thoughts, but Arthur could hear her muttering. She was starting to threaten harm on people, and Mr. Haney noticed as well. He slipped away to join Mr. Ratburn in calling for help.
Arthur and Francine stayed to be witnesses, and after their interview concluded, the two joined Binky outside, who was across the street smoking a cigerette.
“You two see what I mean now, don’t you? She’s been acting like that for months. They only let her do this to please her, and look what she did,” Binky said, shaking his head firmly. “I didn’t want to hit her. I told the police that in case they saw the bruises, and in case you mentioned it.”
“I didn’t,” Arthur said. Francine smiled softly, “It slipped my mind too.”
“Well, if they ask again, feel free to tell them. Last time I had to drag her away from a night club in front of a bunch of people. I lost business for that,” he sighed. “She lied about how we got together, you know? She lives in that house because her mom still supports her. She makes up things, and well, she found me in the book and requested my services. She threw herself at me, and I thought it was fun at first. I didn’t know she was crazy,” he shivered, stomping out his butt and kicking it into the grass.
“Is she going to get the help she needs now?” Arthur asked. Binky nodded, sighing heavily. “If you need help keeping away from her, I know some people. I’ve had some crazy exes before.”
“Wow, you never told me about that,” Francine smiled, holding his hand gently. “I’ve had some experiences too, Binky. We’re here for you, and I’m sorry about last night. I know you tried your best.”
“Yeah, well I hope I get to Jenna to make sure she’s okay,” he sighed. “I’ll fix her damage then get to my own life. Thanks for helping. I really didn’t expect you to, Francine. This whole thing won’t be forgotten though,” he smiled. “They know the truth about Muffy now, and hopefully she’ll get the help she needs so she’ll stop doing things like this.”
The three nodded, going their separate ways. The following Monday, Muffy’s antics made the paper, and a few classmates even gave comments to the paper. It was a party they would never forget, a reunion they would never forget, and luckily, some of the good parts were remembered too. People complimented Francine and Arthur for their respective roles in helping Binky following the incidents, and the class felt more unified again, even though they were all adults going their separate ways.
Francine eventually moved to Metropolis to take her dream job, and she and Arthur decided not to try a long distance relationship. They remained friends, but they found their own lovers in their own cities. And both went on about living, their strong adult selves making them both very, very successful.
Theme 016: Redeemed, Theme 020: Party of a Lifetime, Challenge: Complete a two-shot
I feel these themes say a lot about the piece. Lately, I’ve made older Francine out to be some monster, but I see this scenario could work as well. She and Arthur both picked up some personality traits they didn’t have as children: He once followed others a little too much, giving in at the least amount of pressure-usually pressure applied by the bossy Francine. They both reached a good middle road here. And yes, this party will never be forgotten.