"Oh, yes they did," said Matt. Damn.
Turns out, Erik wasn't even in the room when Casey made our scandalous announcement. Maybe he was in the bathroom or in the main hallway admiring the infamous rocket...either way, someone had to go and tell him what happened. Millions of minutes later, he walked back into the room. I noticed when he did--I always noticed when he did. Like riding a bike.
He slowly made his way over to our side of the dance floor, and Jim Scott intercepted him. Leave it to Jim: he was not going to let this evening end without an encounter between the three of us. I jabbed Casey in the side again and pointedly looked behind her to where he was standing. Time to face the music.
Erik met us with a smile, and put his arms around both of us with casual ease. "Twenty years," he said, "and this is the first I'm hearing about this? You were the smart kids."
I'm not sure if he meant that we had been dumb for keeping it a secret all this time, or if he was pointing out how impossible a match between our two strata would have been. Casey must have had the same dilemma -- she admitted to me later that she almost responded, "But you were the beautiful kid!" Instead, I answered with, "Oh, come on. It's not like it was much of a secret."
We confessed about the notes and the codes, this great and secret show we had put on for years with him as the unwitting hero. Margo joined in at that point too. When we put it into words the whole fiasco became a hilarious story of schoolgirl smitteness, and I hope if anything that he was flattered by the attention.
We proceeded to catch each other up on our lives since then, undoubtedly the longest conversation any of us had ever had with Erik in the whole of our young lives. Thanks to Casey's mother's diligent examination of the social section of the paper, we knew that he had married another girl we had gone to school with: Amy Sunshine, the dentist's daughter. (I swear to god. If I wrote this in fiction, you'd never believe me.) Erik and Amy have three children now--I told him to please buy AlphaOops and send me a copy so that I could inscribe it to them. Casey assured him that when it was time for them to choose a college to go to, she'd be happy to put in a good word for them at Winthrop. It was a lovely ten or fifteen minutes, and when we said our goodbyes we exchanged big hugs and cheek kisses.
If I could have gone back in time and told my twelve-year-old self that in twenty years I'd share deep dark secrets and then get kissed on the cheek by Erik Younginer, I would have fainted. Dead away. Even after he left us there on the dance floor, Casey and I were giggling like mad.
Josh was not so amused. "Seeing you and Margo and Casey simpering over Erik Younginer just now...wow. That was possibly the saddest thing I've ever seen." He frowned. "You never simpered over me."
I punched him on the arm. "I haven't spent the last two days straight with Erik Younginer either. His loss. So shut up."
None of us wanted to leave. We had been invited to an afterparty at another friend's house, but we knew that Casey and Todd wouldn't be joining us. Chris started making his way toward the door, and Casey and Todd admitted that it was time to pull the plug. I still hadn't talked to everyone in the room, but it didn't matter. The whole night, the whole day, the whole weekend had been like a movie already. A movie that was about to end with the perfect scene.
Arm in arm with Josh, just as we were all walking back across the dance floor to leave, the band started to play "At Last." My breath caught, and I turned to see Todd spin Casey around and sweep her up in his arms for one last dance. My heart was tight in my chest, so full of love that I thought it might burst. "At Last" was their song, the song they had played at their wedding, their first dance as husband and wife and their last dance that night. I stopped to snap a quick picture and then ran to catch back up to Josh. I will cherish that moment for the rest of my days, my hand in the crook of Josh's elbow, walking out the door, looking back over my shoulder at two of my very best friends dancing to their song. The director could have yelled "Cut!" and rolled the credits right then.
And then there's that bonus scene...the one after the credits have finished, the one that only the most dedicated film watcher will still be hanging around in the theatre to see while the ushers pick up cups and wrappers and sweep up popcorn around him. Josh and I caught up with Chris in the lobby, and as we waited for the rest of our party to congregate, I looked out the window and gasped. "Oh, Josh! We forgot!"
Josh's eyes went wide; he swore, turned, and dashed headlong back into the ballroom. I was hot on his heels. He waited patiently beside the stage for the song to end, and then grabbed the microphone from the guitar player.
"Chris McCormick," he said in a deep voice, "Chris McCormick. Please meet your party at the rocket."
Casey, Erik, & Alethea
Their first dance...and the last song.