CHAPTER ONE

Gil Davis couldn’t believe it had been ten years since he’d last walked through those doors. Where had the time gone?

When the invitation to his class reunion had come, he almost tossed it out, just as he had with the notice of his fifth year reunion.

He was not into reliving his high school years.

No way, no how.

But something on the invitation had caught his eye… this time they were holding it at the school. So instead of immediately pitching it, he had thrown the invitation on his kitchen table. Unfortunately, Katie, his best friend and roommate, found it and hounded him relentlessly until he agreed to RSVP.

And, of course, Katie insisted on being his date.

Which thrilled him to no end… Not.

Now he wasn’t so sure if he wanted to go in.

He wasn’t sure he was ready for a night of teasing from his former schoolmates.

Yet, here he stood, just inside the double doors of his old high school staring at the registration table by the gymnasium doors.

Someone grabbed his elbow. Firmly.

“You’re not chickening out are you?”

Gil just shook his head and swallowed hard. “Did you find the restroom all right?”

“Fine,” Katie said in her little no-nonsense tone. “Let’s go.”

The harder she tugged on his arm, the more he dug in his heels. He didn’t want to leave his little corner of safety yet. “Hold on.”

“No, Gil. It’s not going to get any easier. You look fine. We’ve – okay, I’ve worked really hard to get you to this point.” She smoothed the hair back from his eyes. Gil was surprised she hadn’t spat on her fingers first like a hovering mother hen.

The problem was, he was still a nerd at heart.

“Now, get your shit together and let’s go!” She gave his arm one last hard yank and dragged him over to the table.

Sucking in a breath, he steeled himself for what was to come.

The two women sitting at the table wore big predatory smiles.

“Gilbert? Gilbert Davis is that you?” the toothy piranha on the right asked. “I swear I didn’t recognize you without your bottle-bottom glasses and pocket protector.”

Those glasses were long gone thanks to Katie dragging him years ago to the optometrist for contacts.

Gil leaned forward to read her name tag. Bonnie (Trusk) Smith.

Bonnie Trusk. He remembered her. She had been part of the Homecoming Court their senior year.

And had accidentally run over his foot one day in the parking lot with her Eddie Bauer Explorer. Why? Her excuse had been she hadn’t seen him. Yeah, he had been the invisible man, “invisible” to all of the popular kids.

“Just Gil,” he corrected her.

She laughed and waved a hand toward him, clearly dismissing him.

The other woman, Patti Petroski-Harrison, shoved a “Hello! My name is… Gilbert Davis” sticker at him. “And your hair! It looks…” Gil expected the next word out of her mouth to be “normal.” Her face showed her internal struggle. “Nice.”

He was a geek. He knew it. He had been one ever since he could remember. And his classmates had always teased him about it.

She sized up Katie. “Are you his wife?”

Katie laughed and patted Gil’s arm. “Oh, no.”

Gil gave her a quick warning look.

Katie just gave him a sugary smile and a noisy kiss on the cheek.

“Well, then,” Patti said. “When you go through the doors, Gilbert, there will be a table with place settings. Find your name and that will tell you where you’re seated.”

“Just Gil,” he corrected again, but by then both women were flashing their beaming smiles at another couple who had come up behind them.

Katie tugged him to the side to avoid being crushed by the new arrivals’ hugging and squealing. Gil didn’t recognize the newcomers. But then they had probably been a part of the “in” group.

Gil had been a full-fledged member of the “out” group, but not the “out of the closet” group.

A woman’s shrill scream shot a bolt of pain through his head.
“Did you hear Rip Cord is going to be here? Can you believe it?” the one called Patti asked, her question ending in a squeal. She looked as if she would bust a vein.

Gil stumbled back a step from the table, barely avoiding Katie’s toes.
Holy hell, he never should have agreed to come to this thing. Especially if he’d known Rip would be here.

Gil had a crush on Rip since high school. Unfortunately, Rip was definitely of the heterosexual persuasion. Being captain of the football team, he’d had every girl in school chasing after him, one way or another.
So he’d admired the well-built, handsome jock from afar. Very afar.

Hearing Rip’s name brought all those old feelings back to the surface.

All the insecurities.

Gil certainly had never expected his secret crush to come back to town for a ten-year class reunion. Rip had become way too famous for that.

Gil grabbed Katie’s arm and, with her squeaky protest, dragged her through the double doors into the gym.

“Jesus, Gil. What’s going on?” she asked as he pushed her against the wall just inside the doors.

“Did you hear that?” He struggled not to hyperventilate.
“What?” Katie peeled the backing off of Gil’s name tag and slapped it onto his chest. Not so gently either.

“Rip is going to be here.”

“Rip?” She wrinkled her nose. “What the hell is rip?”

“Not what. Who!” Gil swallowed hard and blew out a long breath. He realized then he was squeezing her upper arms. Way too hard. He relaxed his fingers.

“Okay, okay. Calm down. And let up a little more please.”

He released her and wiped his sweaty palms along his slacks. He never should have worn slacks. Slacks were nerd-wear.

Why didn’t Katie talk him out wearing them? He should have worn torn jeans or leather pants or --

“So is Rip a band? I would have thought they just would have hired a DJ. It’s cheaper.”

“Wait. What?” Gil shook his head. “First of all, why would they need music?”

Katie pointed a finger upwards. “Hear that, nerd-o? Music. You know, it creates atmosphere and gives you something to dance to.”

“Dance?” Gil swallowed hard. He cocked his head. He did hear music. He hadn’t noticed it because he’d been too panicked about Rip being there. “Okay, just don’t ask me to dance.”

“No can do, Gilly. We will be dancing. I didn’t come along to be a wallflower.”

“Katie, you know I can’t dance,” he hissed inches from her face.

She had the nerve to laugh. As if his lack of rhythm was something to laugh about. His coordination left something to be desired. Gil considered it a handicap – maybe not one recognized by the government. But no one should make fun of the handicapped!

Gil frowned. “I didn’t see anything on the invitation about dancing.”

Katie sighed. “Gilly, don’t worry, we’ll fake it.”

“Don’t call me Gilly here. It’s bad enough people will be calling me Gilbert.”
“Okay, Gil. So if Rip isn’t a band then who or what is it?”

A low murmur throughout the room behind him caused Gil to look up. Coming through the doors…

Gil pressed a hand to the wall to steady himself. His legs had suddenly lost all strength.

Coming through the doors was…

“Him,” was all Gil could get past the lump in his throat.

“Him?” Katie turned the direction Gil was staring and her mouth made a little “o.”

Gil had expected Rip to walk in with a tall, leggy blond on his arm – one who was enhanced in various places. He hadn’t expected Rip to come… alone.