Author's Note: Hope you enjoy - again, the technicalities are Soleil Antoinette-ized - so may I recommend to take the facts with a pinch of salt and and a dash of spice...
Summary: Dana has recently returned to her home town working hard as a journalist while trying not to be seduced by the ever handsome Gene. As she searches for the best story for her article, she uncovers a secret that will turn the town upside down.
An off-white Honda accord cruised west on Highway 55. The sun was out and brightly shining that Saturday, making everything seem almost in a dreamlike state. As the day progressed, fewer cars could be seen on the road. Twenty-seven year old Dana Holliston pulled off the highway at dusk, finally reaching her destination: Waterside. The town was small, only about 20,000 residents strong, without the usual thousand or so tourists that arrive and stay in the summer cabins near the lake during the year.
Ah, the lake, she thought. It had been a long time since she had been back to her hometown, and now, being the only car on the road, she was tinged with a bit of guilt for staying away for so long. She frowned as she tried to remember why she had never returned. As she drove by the town's book collection that they passed off as the "Waterside Public Library", she vaguely remembered. When she graduated from high school, her dream was to become a journalist. Waterside never had the resources needed to accomplish that dream, and so she moved to a bigger and larger city – Pontoon - to attend university. Her parents moved out of Waterside shortly afterward, and she guessed that she just never had reason to come back. She was never close to her high school buddies, and she did not have any ties to the town save being born there.
After living six years in Pontoon, working as a top rated journalist, the place was just not working for her. The city was overcrowded, smoggy, and the crime rate had sky-rocketed in the past two years. There was, though, the exciting life of fast-paced journalism and a wild night life of clubs and concerts, but to Dana, the cons far outweighed the pros. She decided last year to finally move out, to find a smaller place where she could continue her journalism in a smaller town. She began looking into the newspaper of other areas, and just happened to stop at an ad looking for a journalist. She expected it to be in the city, but she almost choked on her soda when it mentioned the name of her hometown. She quickly jumped at the chance, and before she knew it, after sending them her résumé and an over-the-phone interview, she was hired. A few days later, after some searching through the newspaper, she found a one-room apartment up for rent in Waterside.
Dana was ecstatic. Not only did she have a new job, a new start over on life, she was also back in her hometown. Even though high school was one of the most difficult stages of her life, the town still held a sort of child-like wonder for her.
She entered a residential area in town, and turned right onto Maenad Boulevard. According to the instructions the landlord had given her over the phone, farther down the street was a five story apartment building. Within a few minutes she saw the set of apartments. The building was nicely kept, with a small garden in front, and a small porte-cochere by the glass doors of the entrance. The building's name was "Mahogany" from the sign as she parked the parking lot. She had three suitcases full of things from her old home, with the rental truck with her furniture coming tomorrow, but for now she just locked her car door and entered the apartment building.
It was past seven o'clock and no one was behind the information desk. Dana assumed the receptionist had gone home for the day, and she sighed in frustration. Now what was she supposed to do? She turned and was about to exit the building when she saw an old man on a walking stick walking towards her.
"Miss Holliston?" he asked. He had grey-white hair and a voice like he wouldn't give up without a fight.
The man smiled. "Welcome to the Mahogany. I am the landlord here, Russ Tulsan. Glad you could make it – it was becoming mighty dark out there, and sometimes it can be a lot confusing in the night to find this place." He held out his hand to shake.
Dana shook his hand and nodded, "Pleasure to meet you Mr. Tulsan. I hope this is not an inconvenience?"
The old man scoffed. "Inconvenience? To rendezvous with a pretty lady like you? My, this is the highlight of my day," he chuckled.
She chuckled along with him – the old man was hard not to like.
"This way please, and I'll show you to your new home," he said, hobbling along on his walking stick towards the elevator. It surprised her how quickly and almost smoothly he walked with a walking stick, especially for his old age. The elevator was quick, leading them to the fourth floor in less than a minute.
"Do you personally own this building, Mr. Tulsan?" Dana asked as they walked down the hall.
"Yes ma'am," he replied strongly. "Big corporations wanted to buy the land from me because of its prime location, but not a chance."
"You mean you run this all on your own?" Dana asked, surprised.
He nodded. "Well there is a staff to take care of maintenance problems, but I've made enough of a profit over the years to be running this. I enjoy my job," he said proudly. Then they reached an apartment number 447 and he stopped to take out some keys from his pocket.
"And there you go – one bedroom, one and a half bath apartment, floor four," he said, opening the door.
Dana stepped in, and loved the apartment on sight. The kitchen was just the perfect size for her, considering that she didn't cook often and it was just her alone. The living was nicely sized with a crème coloured carpet. The bedroom was also made for her.
She turned to the landlord, beaming, "Wonderful! Absolutely wonderful."
He chuckled, "Glad you like it. If you need anything, my apartment is on the first floor, number 196."
He exited, hobbling towards the elevator, and she was left with her new amazing apartment.
The rest of the weekend passed uneventfully with her quickly settling in and the truck arriving with her furniture. She left Monday morning to her new job at the local newspapers.
Waterside Daily was located in the heart of town in a two story building attached to a larger plaza. The editor, Scott Lapps, a nice but down to business man, greeted her with a strong handshake, a quick tour of the building, and had her working half an hour later.
As he showed her to her desk, she asked how busy the place usually gets.
He thought for a moment, then remarked seriously, "Well, considering you used to work in Pontoon, this may seem as busy as a pee-wee Sunday golf tournament."
She laughed, and he gave her a quick chuckle before returning to his office.
The work day went quickly for her – she was doing small tasks to get her caught up on the news of the town, and editing local articles was her main job for the day. Next week or two, when hopefully she became a bit more familiar with the town, she would start scoping the area for news and she would be writing the articles – the job that she loved. A little before six in the evening Carlene, another journalist she had met, came up to her.
"Are you a workaholic already on your first day?" Carlene asked, laughing. She was a thin woman with short brown hair and a very friendly personality. Carlene was the sports editor for the newspaper, and Dana saw the first day that her whole team was friendly with Carlene, and what more, respected her.
Dana stopped typing on the computer and looked at the wall clock. "It's six o'clock already? Where did the day go?" For such a small town, she was surprised at the amount of events and articles that could be produced.
Carlene shook her head. "Come on and pack it up. It's not too good to get addicted to work so soon. We might have to cut back on your intake."
Dana smiled as she headed out the office. The office was full of nice people – it was Dana's first day and already she liked the job. The drive from work to home was only fifteen minutes on the two-lane highway. She smiled as she reached to the apartment – her new home. It felt good to be back, almost like travelling into the past. The centre of town had become a bit busier, with a few more office buildings and houses, but other than that, the town was almost the exact same as she left it.
Before she entered the building, there were some mail boxes before entering the building on the left hand side in the wall. She looked for her apartment number. As she looked at the key ring the landlord had given her, she saw a second, smaller key than the one for her apartment door. Using it in the mailbox number 449, she opened it. There were two letters in there and she grabbed them. Closing the mailbox, she headed inside the building.
In her apartment she set the keys on the counter, and was as excited as a child opening a Christmas present at getting two letters so soon after moving into her apartment.
Dana opened the first letter, addressed from R. Tulsan. It was a short but pleasant letter from the landlord welcoming her to her new home. Dana smiled, and put it aside. The second letter was marked from a person who she didn't know, a Rita Vestavia from an address somewhere in Waterside. She quickly opened it, and inside was a letter in flowing script, although obviously typed from a computer:
Dear Ms. Dana Holliston,
You are courteously invited to the ten-year reunion for the Class of 1994 from Waterside High School on the 1st of November. The reunion will be held from 7:00pm that evening until midnight in the gymnasium at Waterside High School. Cocktails will be served, and the attire is formal. Transportation for yourself and your vehicle is available afterward free of charge.
We hope you are able to attend. Please R.S.V.P. as soon as possible by calling the number below or by e-mail
A telephone number and an e-mail address were listed. Dana's eyebrows shot up in surprise. High School reunion - had it been ten years since high school? Was it that long ago? She plopped down on the couch. That had come as a complete surprise – a ten year reunion, she didn't even know her old high school had ten year reunions! She re-read the letter again, and realized that the reunion was two weeks from now on a Saturday. She frowned for a bit, wondering why they had sent it so late, and realized that she had had her mail forwarded from weeks before she moved so that she could have everything by her new home when she arrived. Sighed in exasperation – it was so soon! After already moving back to her hometown, now she is invited to her reunion.
It was an overload if nothing else.
She put the letter aside, and did not think about it until the next week.
Dana was enjoying work more and more with each day. She arrived home late from work Thursday, as she was behind in her editing. At least, she thought, Lapps said he was giving her the road by next week. By the road, he meant he was letting her explore the town, looking for newsworthy articles. She couldn't wait, but for now, she was still behind a desk all day proofreading and editing.
The phone rang as she was preparing a small dinner in the kitchen. She turned down the heat on the pot, and picked up the phone. She expected it to be Carlene, maybe making plans for this weekend.
"Hello?" asked Dana.
"I'm looking for Ms. Dana Holliston?" a woman's high pitched voice came from the other end.
"Yes," she replied. "This is her."
"Oh, good! You're home. I've been trying for the last week to get a hold of you, but you obviously don't have an answering machine, and that is quite an inconvenience," the young woman said. It was a slightly annoying voice.
"How can I help you?" Dana said, getting irritated at the voice and the woman. She made it sound like a misdemeanour for not having an answering machine!
"Well," the voice continued, "I am Ms. Rita Vestavia from Waterside High School. We here would like to know if you were planning on attending your ten year reunion coming up this Saturday. Ahum, we were supposed to get an R.S.V.P. as soon as possible…" Rita Vestavia trailed off.
"Oh yes, I forgot about that," Dana said. "You see, I had just moved and my mail was already forwarded to my new address weeks before I arrived."
"Yes, well, this is a very important night for a lot of people, so of course we have not forgotten you," Vestavia said cheerfully, although there was an underlying hint of sarcasm in her voice.
Dana was becoming quite tired of this woman and her voice. "Yes, I will be attending this Saturday."
"I'll see if we can fit you in so late in the plans then," she replied. "We are just so busy here, and so many people are arriving, gosh," she said, and this time Dana picked up on the sarcasm, "I really hope we can fit you in sometime. We will inform you if you are able to attend. Good night, Ms. Holliston." And she hung up.
If I am able to attend? Dana slammed down the phone. She didn't know who this Rita Vestavia was, but she could tell they would not be friends. Who could tell her whether or not she could attend the damn reunion? She shook her head, trying not to get angry, and continued cooking.
The next evening, as she was sitting down to eat the phone rang again. She expected it to be the lady of the reunion, but it was Carlene.
"Hi Dana, I hope I'm not interrupting you?" Carlene asked.
Dana shook her head, "Not at all."
"Oh good, I caught you before you were sitting down to eat," she replied. Over the last two weeks, Dana and Carlene had become quick friends, both different, but both finding common grounds and interests. "What are your plans for Saturday night? The girls and I were thinking of just going to a restaurant and just having a nice dinner."
"Sounds great," Dana said. "What time – Oh, wait a minute," she said, catching herself, "that's the night of the reunion. Sorry, I'm going to have to take a rain check on that."
Carlene laughed. "Has the woman with the high pitched voice called you back?"
Dana laughed too. She had told Carlene about the phone call the previous night, and both had shared a good, long laugh. "Actually – oops, hold on a moment, I'm getting another call."
Dana switched to the second call. "Hello?"
"Ms. Holliston?" came the voice of Rita Vestavia.
"This is Ms. Rita Vestavia here. I just got a call that we can accommodate you for the reunion on Saturday. Are you still able to make it?"
Dana rolled her eyes. It sounded as if she were booking a hotel room. "Yes, I can. Thank you very much," and this time she hung up before the high pitched voiced woman. She switched back to the other call with Carlene and related the phone call. Both laughed and said their good-byes afterwards.
Saturday afternoon came, and Dana was a bundle of nerves. She was pacing up and down the kitchen for half an hour. She looked at the clock, and was shocked to see it only to be 1:30 pm. She let out an exasperated sigh, picked up her keys, and headed to her car. She might as well explore the town some more if she was planning on pacing the kitchen for the rest of the day.
As she pulled out onto the main road, she took a good look around. The town was different than she remembered it, but she just couldn't place what the difference was. She drove for another hour around town, taking new roads she had never seen before. Driving back to her apartment, Dana came up to a deserted intersection with a green light. She lightly accelerated and was a quarter the way across the intersection when out of the corner of her eye she saw a semi-truck barrelling towards her. She gasped, and slammed on her brakes and honked her horn, skidding more into the intersection. The trucker honked his horn repeatedly and drove right through his red light, missing her bonnet by less than two inches.
Dana heart had stopped, but she quickly recovered and tried to get the licence plate of the truck. The truck was going too fast to get the numbers, but she did catch a word of the name on the side of the truck: Phillip's. She shook her head and continued through the intersection slower. It was a small town, there couldn't be too many company's with semis with the name of Phillip's on it. She decided that she would check it out.
That evening, Dana dressed in a sleek black cocktail dress, with high heel sandals and a pearl necklace. As she looked into the floor-long mirror, she thought that she looked nice. She wasn't ever a skinny kid, nor was she now thin. But she did have curves that she thought the dress showed off nicely. She didn't have a tan, even though it had been pretty warm for the past couple of months. She was one of those people that burned as soon as they stepped into the sun. She pulled her black hair up into a simple yet elegant style, and she was ready to go.
Dana left the apartment ten minutes before seven, still feeling a few butterflies in her stomach. At seven ten she turned onto the parking lot of the school and realized that she felt the same trepidation as she felt when she was in high school. She scoffed at herself and parked the car near the entrance. As she walked toward the building, she saw that half the spaces in the parking lot were full. She didn't realize that there were going to be so many people.
She entered the school and looked around. She felt a wave of deja-vu slip over her. Lockers lined the hallway and the classrooms were on both sides. It all looked so familiar, but even though she remembered the school, there was again that sense of something being different. She followed the signs that pointed towards the gymnasium.
The gymnasium doors were wide, with two attendants standing on either side to greet the 'guests'. Both boys looked like they were still in high school, and even though they were smiling and pleasant, they looked like they would rather be out partying on a Saturday night than have to greet strangers at their school.
Dana took the invitation out of her purse, and showed it to them. One of the boys took a piece of paper and put a line through her name, and then started into the gymnasium to show her where she sat. She discreetly looked around, trying to remember any faces, but the lights were dim, and it was difficult to see. The boy led her to a table in the middle row with a young couple already seated there. She thanked the boy and sat down. The woman sitting across from her was approximately her age, but her partner looked old enough to be her father.
The couple giggled at each other, and then turned their attention towards her. "Hi," the woman said, holding out her hand, and Dana immediately saw the huge diamond on her third finger, "I'm Jasmine Jackson, and this is my fiancé Rob." Rob nodded his head, but didn't bother to say anything. His grey hair made him look old, but as Dana examined him more, she realized that he couldn't be more than 45.
Dana shook her hand. "Pleasure to meet you. I'm Dana Holliston." They shook hands, and the couple went back to whispering among themselves and giggling, ignoring her. Dana scowled – this is why she had looked forward to getting out of high school. She guessed some things just didn't change.
Another woman was introduced to their table ten minutes later. Dana introduced herself and shook the other woman's hand.
"Hi," the woman said shyly. She was a bit plump, with rosy cheeks and a shy attitude. She looked like a nice woman. "My name is Karla Wheaten."
The woman was shy, and kept to herself as she fidgeted with her napkin.
"Do you live here in Waterside?" asked Dana, after a few minutes of silence between them.
Karla looked up, startled. "Were you talking to me?" Dana nodded, smiling. "Y-yes, well, n-no, not really, no. I used, but moved out last year." She nodded, as if agreeing with herself and then looked back down, not wanting to engage in anymore conversation.
"Oh," Dana answered. It was all she could say. The poor woman was a nervous wreck. And she thought that she was bad pacing the kitchen. She decided just to leave Karla alone, just so she would put her into cardiac arrest with any more fidgeting.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome!" a voice boomed over the speakers. Everyone hushed, and paid their attention towards the stage. "Welcome to the ten year reunion of your class of 1994!" the man exclaimed. The audience clapped. He was a short, balding man with quite a loud voice. "Tonight we have speakers that you might not, but hopefully, remember from your high school years. Later on, we will also be having a tour of the school – join in for some fun memories!" More clapping. "And I am Henry Wayde – some of you may remember me – I was vice principle ten years ago, and today I am now the principle of this fine school." He nodded as there were a few more claps. "Alright, let's begin this evening with a speaker. This woman has put so much work into making this reunion happen, and through her have you all been able to be reunited with old friends. Ladies and Gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Rita Vestavia!"
There was a loud round of applause as a petite woman with blonde hair made her way to the podium. So this is Rita Vestavia, Dana thought. The woman on stage was around Dana's age, and her skirt was dangerously short for being on stage.
The same high pitched voice came through the speakers amplified. "Oh, thank you so much, Mr. Wayde." She gave him a wink that Dana thought could mean a lot more than a thank you.
For the next hour and a half, Dana listened to Vestavia's voice almost scream through the speakers. It was giving her a headache. The speech was foremost about Vestavia's achievements and accomplishments through high school, and then later on in life. Dana didn't know how she stayed awake, but managed to at least keep her eyes open, even though she wasn't paying attention.
"And so, that brings me to today, where I am now working at Waterside High School as a counsellor and activity director," Vestavia continued. "Thank you very much," and she walked off to the side of the stage where some seats were situated.
Wayde came to the podium again, "Well, thank you very much Ms. Vestavia, and now the buffet is open to all. Please – enjoy."
With that, he walked off the stage to join Vestavia. Dana shook her head, wondering why she even came. As she walked to the buffet, a short woman with curly brown hair touched her on her sleeve.
"Excuse me, but are you, ah, Dana Holliston?" she said politely.
Dana turned around, and nodded. "Yes, I am."
The woman smiled brightly, clasping her hands together, "I knew it was you! I'm Tara – Tara Ustatia."
"Tara! Tara – my goodness!" exclaimed Dana gleefully, and they both hugged. "I haven't seen you in years!"
Tara laughed. "Yes, I know! I knew it was you as soon as I saw that thick, beautiful black hair of yours!"
Dana laughed. Out of all her friends in high school, Tara was the one she was the closest with. Even though they had not kept in touch after they graduated, they were still on good terms with each other. "How have you been? It's been so long!"
"I'm doing great – really great," Tina replied. Both women dished their food and went to sit at an unoccupied table, catching up on old times. Within minutes, it was as if they had never lost contact with each other.
An hour later, still laughing and chatting at the table, Tina glanced at her watch. "Oh, wow, look at the time, I've got to get going," she said standing up. "The babysitter probably wants to get home."
"You have a child?" Dana asked surprised.
Tara smiled and nodded. "Four and a half years old boy. Highlight of my life."
Dana smiled. "He sounds like a wonderful son,"
Tara nodded and sighed, "Wonderful and sometimes a bit too smart. Anyways, it was great seeing you again!"
Dana stood up and nodded. "It was great seeing you too. We should keep in touch." She hugged her, and they both exchanged numbers and good-byes.
Dana returned to her table to get her jacket. But as soon as she was about to put it on, Wayde came to the podium again, announcing the tour of the school was beginning and to meet him at the front lobby. Everyone voiced their cheers, and started to get up and head to the lobby. Dana wanted leave, she had had enough of high school to last her an entire night. Except for Tara, the whole evening had been too long, and meeting people she vaguely remembered that pretended to like her, even though she knew it was just for show, only succeeded in irritating her more. She didn't like them in high school, and they didn't change as they grew into 'mature' adults.
Dana exited the building. The cool night air swept over her, feeling refreshing. No one was outside but herself, and it was nice not to be in a stuffy room filled with insecure adults. As she was about to take another step, Vestavia came up to her with a drink in one hand. She was dressed in an almost inappropriate short skirt and a dangerously dipping top. "Why hello. You must be Dana Holliston. I've been searching all over for you." She smiled, but there was an air of arrogance around her that rubbed Dana the wrong way.
Dana tried not to show her displeasure. "Yes I am. How did you know?"
"I just know these things," and she laughed. The laugh made her sound like a hyena. "So how are you enjoying the reunion? Marvellous, isn't it?"
"The buffet was nice, yes," Dana replied coolly. She did not want to be rude, but she did want to go home and especially get away from this woman. Vestavia was almost like a leech, draining all her energy.
Vestavia didn't seem to take offence, or if she did, she didn't show it. "Do tell me," and she flipped her hair over to the other shoulder, "how long have you been in town?"
"A few weeks now, almost a month," replied Dana. She was fishing in her purse for her car keys, giving the hint that she was ready to leave.
"Would you care for something to drink?" Vestavia asked, in an arrogant tone. "Looks like you could use one."
Dana didn't know if she meant that offensively or not, but decided to ignore it. "No, thanks. I'm driving home."
Vestavia shrugged and took a sip of her drink. "Pity. You might actually have a good time if you had one."
Dana glared at her. "Excuse me, I must be going." With that, she turned on her heels and left. She could feel Vestavia's eyes boring into her back, but she didn't care. Let the woman think her rude, she thought, she deserved it after treating me like cattle. As she turned the corner out of sight from the entrance and especially from Vestavia, she put her hand against the wall and closed her eyes and let out a long sigh. She really wanted to get home and just forget about this night, forget about the people-
"Long night?" a deep voice drawled from behind her.
Dana's eyes flew open and she quickly turned around, looking for the origin of the voice. It came from somewhere in the shadows. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," a man said, coming out from the shadows. He was smoking a cigarette, and blew the smoke behind him.
"I…you didn't," Dana replied, not knowing what to say. It was dark, but she could still make out his strong jaw line, and his tall, muscular stature. He was at least a good half a foot taller than her.
His face was too much in the shadow, but she could almost feel him smile. "Enjoy the evening?" She felt like the prey before a shark.
She didn't know who he was, but she got the feeling that he wasn't like the rest of the people – not stuck up, arrogant, conceited or fake. She mentally shook her head – how could she know these things for sure? She sighed. Dana was just too tired to play these games. "It was… interesting."
She heard him chuckle. It sounded like the deep rumbling of thunder, and it sent shivers down her spine. "I'm sure it was," he replied. Dana wondered, embarrassed, if he heard the exchange between her and Vestavia. She hoped not. The last thing she needed was for people thinking she was just another rude outsider to the town.
Steadying her nerves, she asked, "Did you attend Waterside High School?"
He nodded, "Yes," and dropped his cigarette, grounding it with the bottom of his shoe.
She held out her hand, "I'm Dana Holliston."
He hesitated for a moment, and then shook her hand. "Gene. Gene Bryce." His handshake was warm and firm.
Gene Bryce – why did that name sound familiar? She tried to place the name, but couldn't think of where she knew it from. He was in her graduating class, but she didn't remember most people's faces, far less for their name.
"What brings you to town?" he asked. His voice brought her out of her muddled thoughts.
"I, ah, I just moved back," she replied. She paused, "How did you know I was new here?"
"I've never seen you around before," he answered simply.
She still couldn't see his face. It was a bit unnerving that he could see hers though. She licked her lips, and pulled her coat closer around her. Her skirt was not the best dress for the cool, windy night. "Nice meeting you Mr. Bryce. Have a good evening," she said, preparing to go.
"Leaving so soon?" he asked, and she could almost hear him smirking.
"I have places to go," she replied nonchalantly, although her heart almost skipped a beat. She turned and walked quickly towards her car. She did not want to hang around that man any more. For some reason, she found his presence unnerving.
Author's note: Good morning, good evening, and good night to everyone depending in which part of the world you are at. First chapter is up, and I'm hoping to update in a week or so. Cheers.