Class Reunion Part 5

Melanie and the reunion committee got the reunion in order and went through the speeches that offered lots of congratulations to those in attendance. John got the most thanks as his decorating help saved them hundreds of dollars and hours of time. The fact that he also had two dozen students decorate for them while most of their classmates were busy was singled out with Melanie adding that they were all related to their group in some way.

Jaimie and Jake were thanked for the hospitality as well as for making the committee feel welcome despite the chaos it partially caused for the school. Speeches out of the way, they showed some memories of their school days. It was the usual publicity photos but also included a lot of rejected photos that were simply students enjoying themselves as well as the groups at their purest back in the day.

John had to cringe as Melanie gave him sly looks while Jaimie laughed and hugged him over some of the videos and images. John was in a lot more pictures, more so than anyone realized and always seen helping classmates especially Katie. At the end, Melanie hugged Jaimie and grinned at John who smiled back at her enjoying the subtle ribbing that only she could get away with while Katie had to fight tears at seeing the group being so inclusive towards her back then while she was locked in self-pity.

Louis got up and gave a typical Louis Reagan style speech that was inspirational, praising, affectionate towards certain people, and uplifting to all. He happily added "I am proud of all of you for becoming model citizens and parents. You tried to better your lives and in doing so you made both our city and your new hometowns all the better. I know I have a vested interest in several of tonight's attendees but as a representative of this city, as a graduate of this school(well the old one), and as a mentor to many of you from kindergarten through graduation I can say that all of you have done us, parents, proud."

Louis hugged and kissed Katie, Lindsay, and Alison as he sat down, smiling as all three hugged him deeply in return. The emotional moment wasn't lost on the crowd as Louis's point landed hard and was irrefutable that Katie was his daughter even if she wasn't his blood. Louis smirked to Jake who knew he was playing the proud papa just fine and despite the little subtlety he really did love three ladies.

Jake got up next and smiled at the crowd. He gave the usual spiel he gave the other reunions and added his own take on some of the events as he recalled them getting John, Willie, Paul, Juan, and Katie to blush and hide their faces in shame. As the crowd recalled Jake from school they had to laugh at the joker who turned into a serious person with a respectable job, getting applause from them as he passed the microphone on to Melanie.

Melanie then offered the token welcome to Jaimie who got up before the crowd and happily said "thank you, Aunt Melanie. I'll be sure to tell the others how much fun you had needling dad and Uncles Willie, Paul, and Juan as well as Aunt Katie. You know never to get into a reminiscing battle without your own funny events coming back. I believe the softball stories alone are worth the price of admission."

That got several in the audience to laugh and add "true" sending others laughing. Jaimie then started her speech, offering a welcome and hopes that her class was as successful as their predecessors and hopes that their 20th was as memorable as the assembled class's 20th. She had them enjoying the speech and offered lots of insights and wisdom learned from their teachers as well as their classmates, getting her a big round of applause as she finally sat down.

For most this was their first chance to see and hear the legendary Jaime Finn speak. She had created a stir six years before but even to that day, she was revered for her ability to win you over with her personality and her words. The crowd listened intently and were enthralled, even the most ardent bigots were stopped in their tracks as they listened to the silver-tongued lady speak her mind in front of them.

Jaimie was spent emotionally as she finally took her seat to a rousing applause. It was tough to get up there and speak knowing that most know what she was born as and having several who were eyeing her closely. John and Valerie hugged her tight, with Alison offering her some gentle words of encouragement as Jaimie calmed down. Melanie just smiled and moved on, letting Jaimie relax while the crowd settled down.

Melanie got back up and introduced their final speaker. She glanced at the nervous Katie and gave her a reassuring smile. Katie deserved the award, Melanie couldn't picture anyone else getting it other than her. Their rekindling of their relationship had shown she was the one person who had the biggest impact on the family after Valerie Finn and to her, that was enough to earn the award.

Melanie happily announced "these past five years has been one of many changes. Some of us have had additional children come into our lives. Some by a plan, some by luck, or sadly some by tragedy. One person has done so much that it can be argued that she is the glue that held together a strong family bond. She worked behind the scenes to help a friend not knowing that she was also helping people she knew and who cared deeply about her. These people have gone on to show their respect and thanks by helping her through a tough time and ensuring that no wrong came to her. She may not physically be the same person you knew growing up, but she is someone who has been a hero, mentor, role model, parent, sister, wife, and now a mother. Katie Eliza, you earned this award for excellence."

Katie walked up and hugged Melanie, trying to hide her tears. She sighed and confessed "three years and five months ago I was asked to help a friend with a custody battle. I didn't know who were the others involved, all I knew was that it was tough and losing would cost one child her life. It was only after a chance encounter and being forced to meet some old friends that I could see just who had been helped. From that one time, I was asked to help my friend with future tough cases. In the end, multiple children were saved from abusive situations, several with threats against their lives, one who was in imminent danger of murder."

She knew they didn't believe a word of it. She added "this sounds like a joke but it's serious. I did what I did and helped my friend because he asked me to, not knowing that some people I had grown up with and thought hated me were actually the ones being helped. They forced me to see they really did care and that what you thought about me was all wrong. As if helping them save children wasn't enough through fate or coincidence they unknowingly set me up with the love of my life, simply because they told a friend to get someone they cared about dating again. I owe everything I have to them, and although many of you may not like them they are the most amazing people you will ever meet. I owe them my marriage, my children, and my job. I just wish that we hadn't been so stubborn to one another to not have made an effort to become close. I am proud of the men and women they became and the children they raised and am happy to be their children's ‘Aunt Katie'. 20 years is a long time and a lot has changed but despite the passage of time, some people are still the same. It took me years to see that, but the great people never change and I am happy they didn't."

Melanie hugged her as she sat down. Alison kissed her lips and hugged her, showing her affection and making a point to others. Melanie closed the reunion and hoped to see everyone in 10 years, sitting down and talking while everyone left and their group cleaned up.

Their classmates walked out vowing to see one another at the 30th, one expected to be the showcase of grandchildren for most of those who had teenage kids. Melanie happily pointed out "John will probably have to beg his daughter not to be the one appointed as the speaker on behalf of the graduating class" getting a laugh. John shot back "keep it up and I'll have Daisy do it. You don't want her doing it."

Melanie stopped quick and apologized as Valerie explained "our niece Daisy is part of the same class. She's the only person who can ever top Melanie in a battle of wits and jokes, especially about John. Melanie bit off more than she could chew there." Melanie smiled and nodded, letting those know the little girl was someone who was a force to be reckoned with despite only being a 2nd grader.

At home, the group disbursed with Jaimie explaining what went on to the assembled kids. Michael and Miles stepped out to get out of the line of fire, followed by Reed, Stacy, and Rebecca. The teens knew that it would be a very trying night with their parents enduring a lot of unwanted attention. Logan, Ella, Willow, Trinity, Tyler, Kyle, Kylie, and Margaret were eager to hear and insisted on knowing everything. Jaimie told them a lot of what happened but left out some of the confrontations, the kids didn't need to know and didn't want them to get upset either.

Paul asked to speak with Kyle alone and sat him down in John's study for their talk. Paul sighed and announced "I met your birth mother tonight. She is the one person I hoped was not your mother but sadly, it's hard to refute. You have her eyes and face but everything about you is different. I didn't notice it before but it wasn't until I saw you just now that I realized it should have been clear to all of us from the time you were out of diapers. I'm sorry, son."

Kyle was taken aback, he softly asked how he found out. Paul explained "Louis Reagan told her about her son doing well after a rough start with a bad family and it wasn't hard to figure out from how he said it that he was referring to you. He didn't do this to upset you or make others realize that you exist, he did it to shut up a woman who wanted to break up and humiliate Willie and Kennedy. She needed a someone who she couldn't manipulate tell her off, but he may not have realized what he had said."

Kyle asked about her and her life. Paul didn't hold back, explaining "she has always been eager to be the top person in our city and dated a lot of gangsters and drug dealers. She got impregnated by one who ended up being deported back to his home country. I'm sorry but you are best not knowing who he was, for your own safety and your own mental wellbeing. You can thank your uncles for that information as I think Mike and Alex arrested him themselves."

He shed a tear at telling the rest but he continued "after that, she was in a downward spiral and lived off sex and the influence of others. She used people to get ahead and never worked a day in her life. Her ‘job' was a glorified hostess for people who wanted to look like big shots but not pay for an escort. The worst part was despite her lack of any kind of job and a stable life she tried to demean Kennedy but was outsmarted then got taken to task by Louis.

He was on the verge of breaking down as he told Kyle the story. He continued "she doesn't care one bit about you, and if she knew you were my son now she would try to get you away from me so I would have to pay her off or dump your mom for her. I have no intention of doing either. I love you too much to ever let you get used as a pawn by her."

Kyle hugged Paul and happily told him "I know now. I don't have to find out who she is. She gave me up because she didn't want me so if she comes after me now she will show she only wants me for what she can use me for. I don't want her, I want nothing to do with her. I love you and mom."

He was nearly in tears but Paul kissed his forehead and told him warmly "we will have your records changed to show you never want to hear from her. She has to abide by it, and if need be I'll get a restraining order against her on your behalf." Kyle hugged him again, holding back his own tears but losing the battle.

Realizing something that had been said earlier to Amber Paul sat him down again and asked "you have a cousin close by. He is someone I believe you should know is related to you and it might help him out greatly. Would you be willing to meet him if he is alright with meeting you?" Kyle nodded, asking who the person was. Paul refused to say, only adding "I'll need to speak to him personally, if he doesn't know already he might take the news badly. But I trust him."

Once Paul and Kyle went downstairs Juan asked to speak with Michael privately, getting a nod from John who had to explain to the others what was going on. Michael was in his room and as soon as he saw Juan he blurted out "I'll buy it but I think it should be held off finalizing the sale until after graduation. I don't want the school to think it's my own sex house where they can go to get knocked up or cheat on their girlfriends while the rest of us are in class."

Juan grinned and added "it's fine, I'll have your dad do the paperwork with your aunt making the transfers. I want you to look it over and if you need anything done I'll have your uncle make the changes." Michael agreed, adding "she will be happy, it's close but far enough away."

Downstairs John explained "Juan is selling his house to Michael so he and Courtney can have their own place to live after they graduate. It's not going to be announced until after graduation, you know how your classmates are and I don't want them thinking they can crash there anytime they want to skip school. Courtney will be talked with and Gabby should be alright with it since it's right around the corner from her and Courtney is old enough to make her own decisions about her life."

The others looked in shock but John added a firm "they are adults now. They are old enough to deal with the consequences if they can't control their urges. They know what they want to do with their lives and have a strong foothold in their futures already. He won't risk her future by getting her pregnant, they may have sex but he won't want to become a father yet. We trust them, they have shown they can be trusted."

The youngest kids didn't hear any of that as Melanie discretely moved the seven youngest away. Kyle was cringing as he heard talk about sex while Kylie and Margaret snickered. Paul had a big grin, his son was a 13-year-old boy but a gentleman at heart with sex not even being on his mind yet. When the little kids came up Cat rolled her eyes at them being excluded from them talking about sex causing John to fight for words as Cat got him back for treating them like babies.

Jaimie was exhausted which prompted the others to call it a night. Paul and Juan gave her big hugs over being so mature and enduring so much that night but Jaimie just shrugged it off. She didn't care, it was something she had to do for her classmates even if she had to endure a lot of harassment.

In school the next day John received a lot of ribbing over his eventful night. Jake happily told the other teachers about John standing up to his longtime "rivals" for their childishness and about him taking down three bullies who had no business being at the reunion. Sean Kelly happily told John that it was just his luck that they decided to pick a fight that they couldn't win- one involving his kids.

John's students were grilling him for details but he didn't have much that wouldn't be in the Winnisimmet Free Press the following week. He kept everyone focused on schoolwork which they didn't want to fight him over. He hated to force things but the reunion was not what he wanted to talk about especially as it had taken a lot out of him overnight and Jaimie was still showing signs of being exhausted from the emotional ordeal.

Jaimie had a tough day as she was grilled harder than John by her classmates. She told everything she could without saying anything about Kyle or the confrontations. Stacy, Miles, Michael, Reed, and Rebecca got the gist of what she was doing and moved things around to other things with Rebecca making it clear that it wasn't right to talk about certain things at the moment. She did happily talk about the dress which got the guys groaning and trying to focus on something "manly" as the girls teased them and focused on their prom dresses.

Over at the middle school, Paul asked the Pierces if they could take Kyle for a while. He didn't give a reason but they surmised that it was important and agreed. Paul then asked to speak with Ian Bailey. Ian was surprised that Paul needed to speak but was glad to do so. Paul asked that they do it in private, then told him to come by his house when he got off work to which Ian nodded at.

At the Douglas home two hours later Ian was seated next to Paul and Rachel then told: "last night you said that Amber Turner was your aunt, is this true?" Ian nodded reluctantly, adding "she is an embarrassment to our family and has fought me for years over my parents' estate as well as the money I received from my grandparents. She has no scruples, you know she is a liar, a cheat, and will sleep with anyone to get what she wants. It's no different at home than in school, she is a terrible person."

Paul asked what he knew about his cousin to which Ian shot back "she gave him up for adoption immediately after he was born. I know that his father is dead, he was killed in his home country when the gangsters that he was hiding in the US from caught him as soon as he set foot off the plane. I hope he never learns who his biological parents were because he deserves better than them."

Ian was concerned and asked "why are you asking me this? Aunt Amber isn't worth thinking about. She treated you like garbage and tried to break up your best friend's marriage. You are better off forgetting about her, everyone will eventually."

Paul sighed and explained "we found out just who her son is. Kyle is her son. He is the boy she gave up for adoption because she couldn't be bothered to act like a normal human being and be a mother. He knows about Amber and is going to take precautions to prevent her from ever contacting him but I asked if he would be willing to know his cousin so he knows that he has blood relatives close by."

Ian smiled at hearing that then laughed. It was a perfect irony that the woman who had lusted after Willie and who had coasted by through sleeping with anyone who could give her something had given Paul what he always wanted. It sucked that he was not adopted by Paul from just after his birth as Paul's brother and sister-in-law had done but he ended up with the right family in the end.

He happily told Paul "if he is willing to meet me as his cousin I'll be happy to let him know we are blood. He deserves to know, and I am happy that he is with you. As much as I hate to admit it, the only parents who I would have wanted him with more are Uncles Willie and John. Hell, it's a miracle that he didn't end up being the son of Roland Finn the way Aunt Amber was always around him, but he had his sights on the easier Celeste Campbell."

The two were so engrossed in their discussion that they never noticed Rachel trying desperately to get their attention. A chance looked by Paul towards her caught the reason for her frantic motions- Kyle was listening to them talk. Margaret had to be moved away while Kyle calmed down from the shock and Ian gathered his thoughts.

Kyle wasted little time and asked if Ian was his cousin. Both reluctantly stated "yes" with Ian adding "I didn't know until your dad asked to talk with me. You deserved better than Aunt Amber."

Kyle sat down and looked over to Ian then smiled. Ian was what you wanted in a big brother even if he was only his cousin, it was the best possible outcome for a relative. Coming off his emotional high Kyle sighed and asked if he had a picture of her so he knew what she looked like.

Paul got up and got his yearbook with Ian texting his wife Sheila to take a picture of the only pictures he had of his aunt. Sheila came by with the pictures instead, knowing that there was something else going on that could use her gentle touch. Ian explained that the pictures were taken two years ago before his parents died at his parents' 23rd wedding anniversary but it was enough to satisfy Kyle's curiosity.

Kyle looked at the pictures that Sheila handed him and shook his head in disappointment, she was a nice looking lady but she was clearly drunk and showing more cleavage than she should have for that kind of event. Paul showed what she looked like in school with Kyle seeing the same woman, just aged. No change in personality, simply acting like a child. He shed a tear then looked over at Paul and Ian and hugged both.

Ian let him hug him while Paul carefully moved off to give the two space. Kyle looked up and angrily told Ian "I am glad that you at least turned out well. I hope grandma and grandpa taught you to be different." Ian laughed at that, nodding at the memories of them.

Sheila had the bright idea to have Kyle go with them for a bit so the two could talk. Kyle looked up at Paul who agreed, adding that he'd tell his friends to give him some privacy. The couple led Kyle out with Kyle having a big smile on his face at what Ian was doing for him.

Margaret was finally told what was going on. She looked concerned for Kyle but Paul explained the significance of what was happening to her, getting a somber expression. She went upstairs to talk with her best friend Nichole Smith, getting Nichole to put it into perspective for her and relieving a lot of tension that she had built up over her fears for Kyle.

For Kyle, the evening was informative as Ian told him stories about their grandparents and his aunt and uncle. He loved hearing about the fun they had and what Kyle missed out on. Ian sighed heavily and told him that he had something that he needed him to take, his share of their grandparents' estate.

Kyle looked at him shocked while Sheila made a quick phone call to Greta Nelson to confirm what Ian said. Ian refused to touch the estate money, his grandparents said it was for their grandchildren and as he wasn't the only grandchild he couldn't stand to allow Kyle to do without his half. Kyle tried to refuse but Ian was adamant that he deserved it just as much as Ian did.

Sheila could tell that Ian was trying to show he was family to Kyle but the boy didn't want to accept it yet. She carefully explained that he was doing what was right and Kyle should accept the money and put it away for his future, just as his friends were doing with theirs. It hit hard but he knew she was telling the truth, there was no way around it.

When he got back home he told his parents what to do with the money. Ian explained just how much was in the will and the shocked looks on their faces caused Ian to smile while Kyle tried again to tell him it was his money. Ian just grinned and added "it's yours too, and just so you don't fell like your sister is missing out you could give her your uncle's trust fund so Margaret has one to match the girls' trust funds. It's not as much as Kylie, Nichole, or Mia's but it's something to stop kids from making fun of her about."

Kyle felt a lot better about what Ian was doing for him especially as his sister was directly benefiting. He never wanted the money his former parents set aside for him, it was only done because it was what all of their friends had done for their kids. If it meant that Margaret would feel less inadequate around the girls then it was worth it, she already had a budding interest in Dante Kelly but that wouldn't stop others from making her feel bad because she didn't have the millions that the others had.

The Winnisimmet High group wasn't the only reunion occurring the previous night. Over at the grand ballroom at the Winnisimmet Arms hotel, the regional technical high school held their own reunion. Gabby Bollinger and Lilly Peterson were set for a night of long-winded speeches and seeing people who had ignored them for 20 years.

The only bright spot was that Zeke Bollinger was with them to take some of the stings out of the evening. It was one of the few nights that Gabby and Zeke had spent away from their infant son Walter and both had enjoyed the short bit of alone time before meeting up with Lilly. Their son Donald had taken charge at home and gotten Walter settled then gotten their daughters Amy, Jessie, and Courtney to give the two brothers some alone time so they could enjoy a girl's night out with their friends.

Lilly had gotten her daughter Claire to go out with her boyfriend Will Bollinger and younger daughter Daisy to go with her cousin Faith Jones which allowed her to enjoy some quiet time before she had to meet with Gabby and Zeke. She sighed and thought about her husband Jerry and how he would have loved the reunion but knew it wasn't worth the self-pity to think about him telling off people for thinking the worst about Gabby. He loved her unconditionally and she missed him, but she couldn't bring herself to date again, especially not with Daisy at home.

Lilly didn't get a chance to say anything as they were joined by a fourth person, Vance Taylor. Zeke sighed and explained to Gabby "I asked Vance to come as your date because I know damn well you are going to have a lot of people insulting you behind your back. He isn't trying to date you, he's simply your escort for the evening. Please don't get angry with him, it was my idea."

Gabby hugged Zeke then smiled at Vance for giving up his evening for his friend's sake. She was fine with Vance as a person, he had shown he was a great person from when her sons had him as a teacher. John spoke highly of him, as did their nieces and nephews who had him as well.

Gabby and Zeke could see that Lilly was doing alright and ushered them into the car to leave. Vance being there sparked Lilly's neighbor Avery James to text her boyfriend and Claire. They were shocked at Vance being there but were happy that Lilly was dating someone who was known to them and who wasn't trying to take advantage of her.

The reunion was a letdown as the two couples were the only ones not entrenched in their chosen trades that they went to school for. Lilly was a business track graduate while Gabby was a computer programming track graduate, none of their classmates had anything in common with them anymore and didn't want to socialize with someone that they didn't have much in common with. Vance sensed their disappointment and kept their spirits up that it might get better but neither held out hope.

Zeke felt bad for Gabby particularly, her classmates were great to her in school and jealous that she had a boyfriend where they couldn't land a girlfriend. There was a dozen that she was friends with but none of whom cared about her anymore once they got rich through some form of employment or another. Gabby was seen as a disappointment, she may have been one of the best network administrators around but she didn't have their high earnings or trophy spouses.

The truth was they were upset that she was off the market. She was beautiful, brilliant, and had a chance to make millions with her ideas but her heart wasn't in it. She enjoyed computers but she was more of a people person who loved helping others, she would rather show someone how to fix a simple problem than building an operating system from the ground up despite having the ability to do so.

Gabby was polite to them then introduced her husband Zeke. Zeke intimidated them, he didn't say anything to them as he had nothing to add to their conversations but Gabby could tell that they were upset that she had married the tall, well muscled, and polite Zeke rather than someone like themselves. Zeke chalked it up to them expecting her to be awkward, nerdy, and anxious but she was the opposite of that and showed great love and no timidity around others, a huge reason why her daughter Courtney was madly in love with Michael and vice versa.

The group got to talking about kids with Gabby being shocked that only a couple of them had kids but among the group, most of those were with ex-wives who had divorced them when they lost interest in the guys. It pained her to tell them about being the mother of eight, six being biological children including the infant Walter. She happily told them about her five younger kids, glossing over the fact that she was pregnant when they graduated and had to delay her studies by a year due to the eldest kids' birth.

The guys listened to Gabby out of respect. She detected disappointment over her giving up programming in favor of networking but had to respect that she had turned her training into a lucrative job that paid her $500,000 a year after taxes. The fact that she cultivated an interest in computers in several younger teens as well as her own son soothed over some bruised egos but for most, it was an issue as she simply gave up what was her calling for the "easier" job of networking.

The talk about kids got several flustered and clearly upset. Gabby offered a sympathetic ear and the name of several good lawyers, ones who would get their kids back and ensure that the gold digging women got their just desserts. This won over several of them and started to make Gabby into a more sympathetic person, with Zeke adding that the guy who would lead the charge was the father of their daughter and who had done that sort of fight multiple times before and had the best interests of the kids in mind and didn't care about making money, only that the kids had their fathers back.

Lilly fared little better. Her business track colleagues were all middle and upper managers with most having six-figure jobs. Lilly hated to admit but she earned her degree after spending a year and a half out of school due to her daughter's birth but did not regret missing out on the business world due to being a mother.

They looked her with pity and disgust, but she countered with telling them that she was part-owner of a manufacturing company that she inherited from her husband. She was the silent partner, a minority owner whose shares were equal to those of her niece Sheila but only equaled about 20% of the company. It was enough to pay her a yearly payment of $100,000 with most going towards her kids' trust funds as she owned her home outright through her husband buying it outright early on.

Despite barely making a dent in the business world Lilly was actually doing better than any of them. She admitted that her husband had been the one to earn the stocks as the son of the previous owners with Lilly inheriting his shares when he was killed in a car crash. She then added that she looks after her niece's shares and is the largest shareholder in the company with the 60% being owned by a larger corporation.

She was an "owner" but didn't do much more than showing up at annual shareholders' meetings and vote on key issues such as members of the board of directors. None of her classmates had even gotten close to one of the board members let alone voted for them, Lilly had managed to shut up several who had looked down on her simply by admitting the truth. Lilly did love to add that she was being groomed to take an active role in the company when her daughter graduated high school and her other daughter was entrenched in the elementary school with close relatives around her allowing Lilly more time to finally become the businesswoman she always wanted to be.

She had done well for herself despite Jerry dying young. Before he died she ran his office as his personal assistant and had a hand in many of the aspects of the business but wisely hired people who could run it without Jerry. She hated that she had been isolated from Jerry's sister and brother-in-law but they ran different divisions and later different subsidiaries making them lose contact years before she lost Jerry then her in-laws.

Lilly's windfall brought a lot of attention to her now. The vultures started to circle, she was seen as an easy lay and a way of getting a quick buck for themselves. It was simply business, she was a means to an end and through her, they could get access to other businesses and better jobs.

Vance watched as Lilly grinned and set them up for a tough fall. She told them that she was just a humble stay-at-home mom now with a bubbly eight-year-old, beautiful 18-year-old, and two amazing married sons and while being groomed to return to the office she wasn't sure she would take them up on the offer to work again. She could see that Vance was enjoying the show as the single guys were trying to jockey for a shot at her while counting their millions that they were going to get from bagging Lilly.

She had finally had enough fun and told them that she was in a committed relationship with Vance and he had been a knight in shining armor to her. Vance played the partner and let her kiss him as the men looked on disappointed. She happily added that Vance was a teacher and that he had been a great friend of her deceased husband, which wasn't entirely the truth but not far off.

Vance was actually Jerry's assistant for two years as he saved up for college, having first won the job due to hard work as a summer intern. When Jerry went back to school to earn his master's degree Vance had to earn his bachelor's degree. When Vance graduated he actually found a new love in teaching and passed the job on to Lilly, unknowingly helping Lilly ensure that the Peterson fortune stayed in the family as Lilly was better than him at managing Jerry's office and his plans for the company than Vance had been.

Vance and Lilly sat down with Zeke and Gabby to await the reunion formalities. They noticed that throughout their time talking with the classmates they were being watched by others. It didn't take much to figure out that they were blamed for one of their classmates not being there, but her absence wasn't missed by any of the four.

Penelope Clarence was popular when she was a student. She was talented and found the perfect man in Kevin Clarence. She wowed you then made you feel like a friend before you willingly paid her a hefty price for her great hairstyles and the right to have her do your makeup.

Her sweetness hid her dark side. She was bossy, vain, manipulative, and insulting when customers weren't present. She was also incredibly racist, homophobic, and later transphobic to everyone. It was a great irony given those very people were the biggest source of income for her shop.

She fought against changes to the city over the years, from being friendly to the non-English speaking people to the inclusion of those with disabilities into regular classes. She ruled over her little fiefdom with an iron fist until she had run out all of the families that didn't meet her expectations. Those that replaced the families displaced due to her mob mentality were "good" families in her view despite many having criminal and delinquent children in them and in turn caused a vicious cycle of constantly changing families as newcomers saw the neighborhood for what it was- her little play area.

Her classmates didn't know about that side of her, they only heard what Amber Turner told them. Those who did know her didn't believe that she was capable of the crimes that she was convicted of. What was worse, several blamed the children for the abuse and believed they were out of line in getting social services involved.

Gabby had to fight her anger while Lilly fleeced the complainers for information. It was all the same, they were responsible for Penelope going to prison for abuse. They didn't know the facts, only that Gabby and Lilly had been involved in some way thus were deserving of the attitudes towards them.

Zeke grinned then told those complaining "you were being told a sack of crap. She was caught red-handed abusing her son and daughter. Her own words were her undoing as she ranted in court about it. I am sure Amber left out that information on purpose, seeing as she had to be removed from court twice in handcuffs for assaulting her lawyers and court officers."

They were listening to him now, with others starting to take an interest. Zeke shook his head and continued "she systemically tortured both her son and her daughter for three years before she abandoned them to their own devices. She left a 14-year-old and eight-year-old on their own for three months! She left them to themselves after she henpecked her husband and sons into trying to murder a teenage girl simply because she was transgender. The attempted murder failed because that girl's younger cousin stepped in front of the blade, taking the bulk of the assault that ended up mutilating her genitals forcing her to undergo a sex-change 10 years before she would have had one."

Penelope and Amber had neglected that part of their stories. Zeke shook his head and added "she wasn't some mistreated women, she was an abusive monster. She allowed her daughter to be sexually abused by her teacher causing her to be scarred emotionally and physically. She left her two kids to fend for themselves almost leading to their deaths in a fire. She even led on a man she was shacking up with to believe that her youngest child was his own when he was her husband's son, a kid born while she was on the run for police and charges stemming from her abuse. And yes, she knew damn well that she was going to prison for her abuse. It's why she fled- she couldn't face justice!"

Most were now starting to think that they had been lied to and what they believed wasn't what happened. Some though had other ideas and complained that Penelope didn't have any daughters, only sons. Zeke shook his head at the stupidity and had to calm himself before he told them off.

Vance didn't hesitate, he angrily added "her daughter is transgender. She was abused by Penelope because she was transgender. She didn't deserve any of what happened to her and sure as hell didn't deserve to get sexually assaulted because she wasn't born a girl physically. That woman tortured her son because he protected his sister from much of their mother's abuse. No child deserves to be abused let alone tortured by that monster."

Vance went for the throat and added "I am not the least bit shocked that she probably didn't tell you that she tried to frame an innocent man for sexual assault, a crime that was alleged to have happened to his own niece. She set that whole cockamamie plan up and failed miserably when her son failed to tell her that the man never teaches without cameras on him or that his and his niece's relationship was completely normal and one that is well known to every teacher she has had since she started school. Penelope earned herself a lifetime ban from all city schools and an arrest record, along with her son. So save the speeches, she was no angel. She is just a monster best forgotten by all of you."

When he realized who was the go-between for Penelope and the outside world Zeke added "her little toady Amber is feeding you bull simply because the kids ended up being adopted by a man she has always wanted to nail, Chief Wilfredo Pena. Amber is a lying skank who is using Penelope to get into your lives so you can help her. Think long and hard at what she has done for you vs. what you have done for her. I'll guarantee that she has never done a thing for you but has either seduced you into helping her or manipulated and extorted you into helping her. Either way, think about what's in it for you vs. what's in it for her. I'll guarantee she moves on to others once you see the truth."

The four knew that Zeke had finally laid down the gauntlet and anyone going further would get hit hard with reality. Gabby had to wonder how any of them had managed to stay in business but realized that only a couple actually owned their beauty shops and the rest rented chairs from owners. She knew that at least two worked alongside Riley Pierce at her shop, with Riley complaining about their quality issues. After that night, she would send them packing in favor of better stylists.

Zeke, Gabby, Lilly, and Vance turned to talk to one another, tired of the focus and not wanting to dwell on Penelope any longer. The four had a rough go, it was boring the rest of the evening and the whispers were wearing them down. After the second hour they finally had enough and walked out, saying goodbye to the few who were on good terms with them while ignoring others, they didn't need to see anyone again and wouldn't hesitate to tear up their 30th reunion invitations.

The night was still young so the two couples went for walks. Vance and Lilly started to talk and lost track of time, not noticing the subtle glances from Gabby and Zeke who had big smiles on their faces. Their plan was working, Lilly needed a companion and Vance was the nicest guy you could ever encounter and one of the few who was comfortable being around their friends and family.

After a good hour, the couples parted ways with Lilly and Vance setting up another outing, albeit one without Zeke and Gabby. The two didn't say anything as they dropped off Lilly, simply saying goodnight and driving on. Lilly had to explain her smile to her neighbor Ruth James but a quick explanation and grin from Ruth stopped all questions as she respected Lilly's privacy but was glad that she had found someone to possibly be her companion if not her lover.

Vance called the next day and took Lilly out for lunch, with Lilly getting to know the other side of Vance that nobody had been able to see before. After school, she and he talked with Daisy and Claire and endured an awkward interview as Daisy tried to ascertain his true motives while Claire tried to come to terms with her mother dating again after 10 years of being a widow.

Things were tense as Lilly's sons and daughters-in-law came over then did the usual inspection of Vance while Lilly had to entertain her granddaughter Sophia. Emma Peterson gave him a critical look while Deborah Peterson tried to cause a slip-up but both were satisfied with Vance's intentions. After a private discussion Daisy, Claire, David, and Patrick gave their blessing on the pair dating but added that they better not give Daisy any younger siblings, something that caused both to blanch as the boys grinned.

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