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Kurt always carefully reviewed junk mail before deleting it. Watching for the latest scams had become kind of an occupational obsession. Being in IT meant he had the latest protections on his personal laptop. Most scams were just absurd, but he noticed some were getting sophisticated, with clever counterfeit headers and links to cyber back alleys he knew better than most.

Four months ago, he ran across an intriguing, unexpected subject header:

Subject: Pennfield High / Class of 2013  –  Where Has The Time Gone?

Pennfield High. A place Kurt couldn’t quite forget.

This email was legit. There would be a high school reunion in Des Moines in late June. He counted 127 email recipients. The message came from a Gmail address of what appeared to be  Kelly Bordenaro, the editor of the school newspaper and the yearbook. A few mouse clicks revealed her IP address. Kelly was nice enough and still lived in Iowa. How easy it would be to pinpoint anybody on that list. His mind raced.

Kurt filed memories of high school people into three mental directories: the tormentors, the tormented, and those that played the middle. Kelly knew who Kurt was back then because it was her business to know who everybody was. But she also knew. She used to seem like someone with empathy. She could have spoken out, or even written about it. Playing the middle must have been exhausting.

For him, being marginalized meant never having to prove yourself. Just cling to a few of the other disenfranchised misfits and steer clear of the rest. But that was long ago.

He slid the message into his inbox.


Kurt plopped onto the living room couch opposite his fiancé.

Julie was engrossed in yet another book. He marveled at her attention span, flipping pages in one hand while scrolling her phone in the other. He flipped open his own book.

Julie looked up. “Whatcha got there?”

“Something I thought I’d never dig up.” Kurt flashed the cover of a high school yearbook.

“Horror. Not my genre.” Julie closed her book and scooched over, smiling. “Hey, I’ve never seen that.”

“Only if you show me yours.”

As Julie tucked into his side, he opened the musty blue and white hardcover. “What possessed you to…”

“I got an email. My ten year reunion is in June.”

She sat up straight.  “Are you seriously… uh, are we going? To Iowa?”

Kurt stared into the first pages. “I don’t know. It never occurred to me.” His dad passed away in 2015. Mom remarried and moved to California. There was nothing in Iowa for him. Julie had never even been there.

He felt self-conscious.

She’d seen a few childhood pictures of him before. Bottom ten percentile for height. Rail thin. Raging acne. Puberty felt as emotionally violent as a space shuttle reentry. But Kurt had made it through to the other side, and the ride since had been pretty nice.

Julie pulled the book closer as Kurt considered whether he really wanted this trip down memory lane. But it was too late now. Julie was giddy.

“I wanna walk through this page by page. I wanna hear everything.”

Kurt slowly flipped the pages, lingering on a few particularly memorable ones.

Ben Cavanaugh –  Most likely to succeed * All-State Tight end * Gifted Singer * Bully

Once wrote a disparaging song parody about Kurt and a few other disenfranchised classmates. He then co-opted the acapella group to perform it in the cafeteria. It got so popular they performed it impromptu by popular demand at class events. Someone always hummed it whenever Kurt stepped into class.

Mister most-likely-to-succeed never left Des Moines. Divorced.  Figuring out whatever pathetic thing he does and where he does it. Child’s play.

Jackie Landreaux –  Sexiest * 5K District Champ * Debate Team Captain * Class Bitch

Convinced one of the strivers (Lynn Hobbs) to act interested in him. The two played the long game. One day Kurt finally bit the hook. Went to meet her at a local restaurant, but she never showed. Then a video of him getting stood up went viral on YouTube. They’d gone to a lot of trouble… the skillful editing, the cruel narration. He can still hear the overdubbed song – “Astronaut” by A Simple Plan  ♫♫♫ Can anybody hear me / Or am I talking to myself / My mind is running empty / In the search for someone else ♫♫♫  Lynn sure made her bones on that one.

Jackie had moved to Philadelphia. Two kids. What if her husband really got to know the Jackie I knew? Tracking down the track star and making her single again.  Breakin’ sticks.

Jeff McKnight Most popular * #1 Boys Tennis * Mock Trial Lead * Liar

Negotiated a secret deal with Kurt for physics tutoring in exchange for getting his friends to stop the daily ransacking of his locker. The deal came with a gag order. The attacks slowed during the tutoring. Jeff got an A- in the class, then Kurt’s locker devolved into a daily crime scene.

His IP address was in Kansas City. On a track to make junior partner, his whole career résumé was out there. How would some good old adverse information impact that? Discovery phase already complete here.

Random unpleasant memories trotted across every page. They finally got to the last of the seniors.

Kurt Zembeck  –  Science Fair 

He stayed quiet as Julie considered the photo lovingly. Being honest, it looked as brutal as he’d remembered. But she had the perspective of what Kurt had become. Handsome, much taller now. Incredibly smart. So giving. Open enough to share this difficult backstory. And every day, growing more and more self-assured. Given his past, she marveled at the young man she loved so much. She studied the face of the future father of her children, who was staring blankly at the last page.

“I know what you’re thinking.  Don’t.

“Don’t what?”

“You know what. Don’t cyber-torture these assholes. They’re not worth it.”

Julie knew him well enough to know Kurt’s mind was probably conceiving something.

Recalling her own memories of high school, she herself might have been accused of playing the middle. But hyper-awareness of her own imperfections back then kept her near the bottom on the social ladder. So much so that she’d never even picked up her 2014 graduation yearbook. Vanderbilt made it easy to just forget high school ever happened.

Kurt closed the book. “Call it prework.” He planted a kiss on Julie’s lips. “I do want to go.” He stood. A smile finally formed. “It’ll be so great catching up.”


Iowa in June was hotter than Kurt remembered. Maybe it was hotter everywhere.

They followed makeshift paper signs in the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn to a ballroom with opened french doors. Kurt checked himself in a full-length mirror. Yoga and Bowflex had transformed his much stronger, leaner frame. Julie convinced him to let his wavy hair grow a bit longer. The new tan summer sports jacket and jeans suggested a casual sort of uber-confidence he momentarily questioned. Julie always looked great, but particularly so tonight.

She squeezed his hand as they approached the entrance table. Kurt picked up his name card and laughed a nervous laugh. Even the table seating maintained the old social order.


The round tables were set for ten places.

Theirs was closest to the entrance, furthest from the stage. Kurt and Julie sat down at their empty table and took in the scene. The DJ had picked songs from their era. Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” backdropped a quarter-full room of twenty-somethings mostly hanging out near the bar. Kurt considered approaching the DJ. He prayed no one would ask him to play “Astronaut.”

He felt a hand rest on his shoulder.  “Kurt? Is that really you?”

He and Julie both stood. Finally, a friendly face. He smiled. “Beth Mills.” She had come alone. Mindful of Kurt’s attractive guest, Beth’s hug was restrained.

The evening’s introductions, reintroductions and ice breaking at table 10 began in earnest as the forgotten faces arrived, the band of misfits had all done hard time at Pennfield. While never close back then, they shared a common experience that would bond them tonight.


Julie returned from the bathroom and navigated past two loud drinkers, approaching the bar.

“Glass of pinot. And can you make an Aperol Spritz?” The males closed in, the bigger one tapping two empty shot glasses on the bar.

“Again… here… oh, and hers.” He grinned, now commanding their shared space. “And who’s drinkin’ the spritz?” Before she could speak, his arm playfully found its way around her waist. “I don’t remember you.” Her mind returning to Kurt’s yearbook, she thought she had him pegged, correcting the mental image with added poundage.

“Not unless you’re from Nashville.” Twirling deftly out of his arm, she scooped up the pinot. “Thanks.”

“I’m Ben.” He eyed the room, forgetting his wingman. “Where’s the lucky spritz guy?”

“Julie.” She smiled, turning toward the room. “Over there.” They all watched the social energy rising around table 10. The tall guy telling an animated story drew all eyes. “That’s Kurt.” She looked right at Ben Cavanaugh. “My guy.”

“No way. Zembeck?” He looked Julie over. They lifted fresh shots off the bar.

“Salut, boys.” Julie clinked their glasses, deciding to play. “So what do you do, Ben?”

The shorter, stocky other man finally spoke. “I’m Eric, by the way.”

Ben reached into a chest pocket of a too-tight blue polo short, producing a card, reading Pride Ford-Hyundai

“Hey, Julie… while you’re in town, why don’t you stop on by? Maybe take a test drive.” He actually winked. “My cell’s on the back.”

Julie studied the card and smiled. “So you sell cars? I didn’t know people still did that.” The boys looked at each other. “Kurt and I just bought an IONIQ 5. Love it. Actually, Kurt bought it. Got it fully loaded for just under forty.”

Ben shook his head. “NO freakin’ way.”

“WAY. Everything you could possibly need to know is online. Kurt had it delivered to the house.” Julie took a long sip of pinot. “You know, now that I think about it, I’ve never actually been to a car dealer. Did not know they still did that.” She smiled, waiting for a snappy reply that never came. “You should stop over and say hi to Kurt.” She collected Kurt’s free spritz and left them.

A very short, very pregnant woman stood in her walking path. Her eyes rose to meet Julie’s.

“Are you Kurt Zembeck’s wife?”

“Well, almost.” She reflexively exposed her ring hand and smiled sincerely. “September… we’re doing it in Florence… I’m so excited, I can’t contain myself.” The pregnant stranger listened intently. “I’m sorry. I’m Julie.”

“Lynne.” She rested a hand on her tummy. “I used to be Lynne Hobbs.”

Julie raised an eyebrow. “Oh. Come on over and say…”

“It’s late.” She motioned to a non-descript man carrying a leftover bag. “I just wanted to… well… I wanted to say…” They both looked over at table 10. “Please tell Kurt I said hello. And… congratulations. To you both.” The man with the bag then led his tired wife out.

Kurt and Julie said their last goodbyes in the lobby. They again caught their reflection in the full-length lobby mirror. He stopped and hugged her. “Honey, don’t forget to upload me those pictures.”


The morning sun poured into the room as Julie awoke.

Kurt sat at the desk with his laptop, one earbud in, tapping away. A hot coffee awaited her on the nightstand. She reached for it, warm in her hands. The cool sheets felt good. The sense she had that her fiance had come full circle felt… fantastic.

Julie sat up in bed. “I’m proud of you.”

He glanced over, then back to his screen. His smile never left.  “Why?”

“A lot of reasons.”  She rolled over to put the coffee down. “Did you ever even talk to some of those assholes last night?”

Kurt sat back, reaching for his own coffee. “You know, I had so many, like, rehearsed things I wanted to say to some of them. But after a while, I just kinda forgot about… all of it.”

“Did I tell you Ben Cavanaugh tried to sell me a car? Kurt just smiled.

“Oh, and your old viral girlfriend got a very good look at you. She congratulated us, and she really meant it.” Julie paused to admire her own shiny ring. “She’ll probably never see Italy.”

Kurt was putting the finishing touches on something. “You know, this was gonna be a permanent screen saver for some of those people. But, after last night…”

He turned the laptop toward her. A picture of the five misfits, smiling side by side, arms intertwined, filled the screen. Genuine happiness beamed from each, like a string of Christmas lights.

“I’m just gonna send it just to these guys.”  He’d added a header across the top….


Devin Householder

Devin is passionate about writing, reading and remaining in emotionally harmful relationships with losing sports teams. He suffers quietly (except on Sundays) with his loving wife and daughter in Rhode Island.

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