Welcome Back, Class of ’92

The lunch ladies at my old high school have not changed the menu for at least a decade. I know this because our ten-year reunion has been booked for the high school cafeteria, and the second I inhale after opening the door I am reminded that Friday is Sloppy Joe Day.

Balloons and confetti after the class reunion

“It’s like that nightmare, except I’m wearing clothes,” I tell Alicia. Then I feel bad, because she’s on the Reunion Committee.

She is not offended. “We could have had the Holiday Inn ballroom and the playlist on my phone, or the caf and a DJ. This’ll make more people happy.”

I can hear the DJ, and I consider telling her that he is not making me happy, but I stop myself. This is one night. I am determined to get through it. I step through the doors, “Life is a Highway” reverberating through my body.

The teacher who takes our tickets in the vestibule looks exactly the same. His name comes to me instantly. “Hi, Mr. Muchado,” I call over the music.

“Hello, girls,” he says. It is the only non-algebra-related thing I ever remember him saying. 

As we walk in, the song changes to something by TLC. No amount of DJ equipment or balloons — and, seriously, there are way too many balloons — can disguise the fact that this is a cafeteria. 

“Our old table!” squeals Alicia, grabbing my arm and dragging me across the fake linoleum squares. I was already depressed, but halfway there I am filled with dread: Sitting in his old seat is my ex-boyfriend. Even at a distance I can see the anticipation on his face. I don’t know why I even came here tonight.

Actually, I do.

Eddie stands when we reach him. Even though they both work in the same shopping plaza and probably see each other across the parking lot all the time, Alicia gives him a hug. He smiles at me over her shoulder the whole time. Then he reaches for me, and I put up with the shortest hug in history. “Hi, Eddie.” 

He is wearing an uncomfortable-looking shirt and a tie in our school colors. I, on the other hand, am wearing jeans and the same sweater I wore yesterday.

“You look great, Meg,” he says. “As usual.”

“Thanks, Ed. Is the bar open?”

“Let me get you girls a drink. Beer?”

“Thanks,” says Alicia.

“White wine, please. Or whatever,” I say. I hate beer, but I would request cup after cup of it if it would keep sending him away from the table. 

I look around the cafeteria while he’s gone. The only people I don’t recognize are a few spouses of classmates, although an alarming number of them seem to be married to each other. Alicia was engaged to a guy from the class below ours, but they recently broke up. I remind myself to stay positive for her. But oh my God, do I hate this town. 

A DJ in a Hawaiian shirt plays terrible music

No one is dancing yet, but there is a big empty space in front of the DJ, so I’m sure it’s a tragic inevitability. There is no stage in the cafeteria, so the DJ is set up on some of those riser things we used to have to stand on for the Christmas concert every year. The DJ is up there with what looks like an unnecessary amount of equipment, wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Also sunglasses, in a cafeteria. At night. He bobs his head as he tries to mix En Vogue into Brooks & Dunn. I’m pretty sure is the dad of one of my classmates.

“He’s only allowed to play music from 1992,” Alicia shouts over the terrible music. “I gave him strict instructions.” I nod.

A couple of the chairs at our table are empty. Alicia tries to text Lori and Matt, but she’s not getting an answer. Finally Rob, our class president, arrives. As he and Alicia hug hello I remember they had a thing for awhile. “Place looks great, Leesh,” Rob says. 

“No Cindy?” asks Alicia, sitting back down.

“Too pregnant.”

Alicia leans over and shouts in my ear, “Everybody’s pregnant except me.” 

Eddie returns with four plastic cups held together in his hands. He looks even worse than I remember him. It’s not that he’s aged especially badly, I just think I have spent the past ten years lying to myself that at least he was the hottest guy in school. As he hands me my cup he bows a little and says, “Your majesty,” because I was Prom Queen. He, of course, was Prom King.

We are the cool table. Cheerleaders and football players at the table next to ours. I was a cheerleader freshman and sophomore year, so I recognize most of them. Jenni is actually wearing her cheerleading uniform. Dan, whom she inevitably married, is wearing a letter jacket that appears to have shrunk. It seems like everyone is sitting at their same table —

I stop looking blankly at the crowd and look over by the trash cans at the Granola table. Where the hippies and artsy kids used to sit. And there she is: Stephanie Goyette. 

She’s still an artist. I know this, because when I got the invitation in the mail, as I was going to throw it out, I flipped it over and saw that she had designed the little logo on the front. 

“Long time,” says Eddie. He has downed one of the cups of beer and is on his second. 

“Yup,” I say. 

Someone from the soccer team sits down at one of the tables between me and Stephanie — the hippie table is nowhere near ours — and I crane to see around him. 

To the rhythm of the terrible music, a big TV next to the DJ station shows photos from 1992. I vaguely recognize some of the pictures from the yearbook, and others are candids. Roughly every third one is of someone from my lunch table. Alicia is playing with her necklace and watching the images flick past. She flinches at one that includes her ex. I reach over and squeeze her hand.

“This is the best fucking music,” says Eddie. I can barely hear him, but I can tell he is drunk already. I find it highly unlikely he has been felled by the beer and a half I have seen him drink. “You been pregaming?” I ask him.

He smiles at me. “A little. I’ve got beer in my truck. We could go there, if you want.”

I ignore him. In the middle of the table, along with four thousand balloons, is a copy of the invitation. I pick it up and flip it to the back: Image by Stephanie Goyette Graphic Design.

“Sorry,” Eddie mumbles. “I’m nervous about seeing you.”

“Don’t be.”

He shrugs. “I haven’t seen you in ten years, Meg. I didn’t know if it would be the same.”

“Nothing’s the same,” I say. The soccer player finally gets out of the way, and I have a clear view of Stephanie now. She is looking amused at something one of the stoners is saying. She seems to have gotten her hair under control. I’m pretty sure she cut it herself in high school. It’s still short, but it seems a little more purposeful. She looks good. Really good.

The soccer player blocks my view again. God, I hate sports.

Rob calls across the table to ask me what I’m doing now. I tell him I work at a furniture store.

“Do they sell futons?” asks Eddie.

And even though I know he’s asking because this one time, we did it on a futon, I say, “Yes. We sell all kinds of furniture.” 

Alicia makes a heartbroken noise, and I follow her gaze to the TV by the DJ stand. It is just playing static now. People start booing. Stephanie gets up and goes over and talks to the DJ. She gets the remote from  him, and then she starts messing with the TV. I remember she was in the AV club. 

“Who’s that?” asks Rob.

“Stef Goyette,” Alicia says loudly.

“Is she the gay one?”

“Jesus Christ, Rob,” says Alicia. “Grow up. It’s not 1992 anymore.”

“I’m not saying there’s something wrong with it,” Rob says, misquoting Seinfeld, and I watch Stephanie aiming the remote at the TV. She starts pressing buttons and the TV screen goes black, then to silver static. She pushes more buttons, and channels start flipping past. Drowned out by “Baby Got Back” I see a newsman talking, a shot of a fleeing crowd, a female reporter in the street, holding a microphone and looking over her shoulder. 

“She did the reunion invitation,” says Alicia. 

Stephanie is still going through channels. A Pepsi Twist commercial, blurry footage of people slowly walking in a park, Barney the dinosaur, a woman holding a baby and sobbing into the camera — The guys at the Granola table cry out. They get up and gather around the TV. One of them wrests the remote from her hand, and turns it back to Barney. Stephanie appears to argue with them, but they are focused on the TV screen. She shakes her head and goes over to the bar.

“She’s actually nice,” Alicia yells in my ear.

I can barely hear her. I am thinking of that time in twelfth grade art class when I went into the little storage room and Stephanie was there, looking for something. I blushed the minute I saw her. I only knew her by reputation. I was queen of the school, but the art room was her domain.

Art supplies in a storage room

 “I’m just getting lefty scissors,” I said. There was enough room for two, but we seemed to be standing awfully close. 

I knew where the lefty scissors were — Mrs. Sinclair always forgot to put them out — but I watched Stephanie look for them. We’d never had a conversation. I hadn’t realized she had blue eyes. 

“Aha,” she said, reaching past my waist and pulling the scissors from the holder. “Here,” she started to say, but we just looked at each other. Then I pushed her back against the boxes of clay and pressed against her.

It was one kiss, but it was a long one, and she was breathing hard afterwards as she rubbed her black lipstick from my mouth with her thumb. We grinned at each other for a second, and then she handed me the scissors. “See ya around, Lefty,” she said.

“I know who she is,” I tell Alicia. I get up and walk over to the bar.  

This is not the first girl I’ve approached at a bar, but it feels more scary, even through the pervading Sloppy Joe smell and the Ugly Kid Joe blaring over the speakers. “Hey, Stephanie.”

She turns, and I watch her face as she recognizes me. She smiles, and it doesn’t look fake. “Megan. Hey.”

“You look great.”

She tosses a smile at the bartender, who appears to be twelve, then looks back at me. “You, too,” she says. “What are you doing now? I heard you moved to the city.”


“Brave,” she says, tipping her plastic cup of wine at me. 

Not Out in High School brave, I think.

“What do you do there?” she asks.

“Get ready for glamor.”


“Are you ready?”


“I am assistant manager of a barnwood furniture store.”

She laughs. “Do you like it?”

“Yeah, actually.” I start to say more, but looking at her so close, watching me, reminds me of what happened after the storage room: Nothing. I ignored her for the rest of the year. I would pass her in the hallway and snuggle closer to Ed. If I saw her in the cafeteria I would refuse to meet her eyes. Eventually, she did the same. 

I did it all wrong, and then I ran away.

Stephanie is watching me, and I make myself smile and say, “And you’re a graphic designer, right?”

“Part time. It doesn’t make any money yet. I also work in Appliances at Home Depot..”

“Not a lot of demand for graphic design around here?”

“My big client,” she says, “is a Girl Scout troop.” 

I laugh with her. “You were always so talented. I would have guessed you’d be in New York by now.”

And I can tell from her face that this was the exact wrong thing to say. Her smile grows tight. “Well, we can’t all be big-city girls.” 

I am fucking it up. Again. I start to apologize, but “Jump” by Kriss Kross drowns me out.

She picks up her wine and steps away. “Take care, Megan. See you around.”

I down a plastic cup of white wine at the bar while signaling to the bartender for another one. As I carry it back to the table, the people I pass are singing along to the music. I pass Jenni, in the uniform I always loathed. “We’re going to do some cheers later, right?” she calls to me.

I smile brightly. “I’d rather die!”

She nods, smiling, and bounces on. I get back to the table and slump into my seat.  

I drink wine — Eddie gets us more — and watch Stephanie ensconced at the Granola table. Alicia, who has a few empty plastic cups on the table in front of her, points out the classmates of ours who have kids now. Out of nowhere she says, “There’re going to be rewords. Rewards. Awards. Best dressed, like that. Yooou might geeet one,” she sings.

“I don’t want one.”

“Toooo baaad.”

At the cheerleader table, Jenni and her husband Dan are fighting. He gets up and goes outside with half the football team. All of them are balding, which lends credence to the steroids rumors I remember. I down my wine and avoid eye contact with Eddie and think about these people who haven’t changed since high school. 

Alicia has moved a seat closer to Rob, and they’re talking in a way that looks like a really bad idea. The DJ puts on some Right Said Fred, and they play-fight about which of them is too sexy for what.

“We’re going for a walk,” Rob calls over the music. “We want to see the library.”

“Do they have a futon?” Eddie asks, putting his hand on my thigh. 

I grab his wrist. “Get your fucking hands off me –” 

And then the song ends, and the next part rings out through the cafeteria: 

“– or I will punch you in your miniscule dick.”

I throw his hand back in his own lap. “Tears in Heaven” starts playing. I throw a glare at the DJ. Why would anyone play this song? I sit there and regret all the wine I’ve been drinking. I am too drunk to drive away.

I tell myself that I have changed since high school. For example, I’m sulking instead of acting happy. I don’t pretend to like things I hate anymore. I glance around at my old classmates and think, I will never see any of you again.

Stephanie is sitting alone, playing with her phone. Everyone else from her table is gone, presumably off smoking somewhere. She probably doesn’t even remember the storage room.

The football team comes back inside, their voices and laughter louder than the music. Two of them are carrying Dan between them. They bring him to the cheerleader table and lower him into a chair. 

“KO’d,” bellows one of them.

Jenni runs back to the table and starts shrieking. I can’t hear her words, but I can hear the football players answering her: “He got in a fight with some rando in the parking lot.” “Classic Danny.” “Like old times, huh?” Jenni turns and yells at her unconscious husband hard enough for her ponytail to bob. 

The song changes to something by Celine Dion. I will myself to sober up and get the fuck out of here. 

Eddie is still sitting next to me. He leans over and says something I can’t understand, but I think it’s ‘You’re always like this.’

“You don’t know what I’m like,” I inform him.

He says it again, enunciating this time.  “You were always like this.”

I watch the Granola kids come inside and stand in front of Barney again, but I’m wondering what Eddie means. I was always what? Drunk? Bored?

He leans back over. “A quitter.” I stare at him as he begins clumsily counting on his fingers. “You quit cheerleading, you quit softball, you tried out for that play and decided you didn’t want to do it…”

I can feel myself blushing. 

“You quit us,” he says. He leans toward me again. “If you hadn’t left town, we coulda been like Jenni and Dan by now.”

“Jenni and Dan hate each other,” I say, but he doesn’t hear me, because that’s when the screaming begins.

There are so many people standing around the cheerleader table that at first I can’t tell what is going on. They’re all making noise and Celine Dion is still playing, so I can’t tell what’s happening until the football players start running away. I am on my feet by now, reaching for my phone, ready to call 911 if someone is having a stroke or something. When the football players peel away, I see Dan and Jenni.

All of this happens in an instant: Dan is still in the chair where the football players dropped him. He looks terrible. Jenni is lying across his lap, and at first I think they are awkwardly making out — he is devouring her neck. And then I understand that she is covered in blood.

One remaining football player is still beside them. I can see his lips moving. Dan gets to his feet, Jenni drops to the floor, and Dan grabs the football player. This guy is bigger than Dan, and Dan jumps on him like a fucking spider monkey, and they both fall down behind the table.

“What,” Eddie mumbles. I can feel him standing behind me. I look away from the scene for a second and see the other football players running out the door to the parking lot. The table nearest the door watches them go, but no one else notices. Everyone else is still talking, holding their plastic cups of alcohol. A few people are dancing. A balloon pops. 

I look back at the cheerleader table, and just then Jenni stands up. Her cheerleader uniform is wet with blood, her neck is torn up, she looks dazed. 

“You’re ok,” I call to her, swiping my phone screen to call 911.

A female zombie stares hungrily

Then she looks in my direction, and I can tell she is not ok. Her eyes are unfocused and filmy. Her skin is grayish. She is not her perky self.

Two things happen then: Dan stands up on the other side of the table, gore dripping from his mouth. And then Jenni takes a step towards me. 

I jump back instinctively. She moves closer, swiping with one of her arms, and I back up into Eddie. He grabs at me, taking hold of my bicep, and starts running for the door. I let him drag me, trying to make sense of this — Jenni has veered towards the soccer table, and Dan has hold of someone else. The people behind us are screaming. The people in front of us are oblivious. 

Before we reach the vestibule I yank my arm away from Eddie. He looks back at me, and I shake my head. His expression turns to disbelief as I start backing away, and then I turn and run back into the crowd. There is only one person I want to be with now.

Stephanie is sitting alone at the Granola table when I run up to it. “We have to go,” I tell her. “Right now.” She opens her mouth, and then she becomes aware of the screaming over by the popular table. As she gets to her feet, mouth open, she reaches out for me. “Now!” I shout. I grab her hand, and she runs with me to the vestibule.

“Wait,” she says when we reach it. There are big windows in the doors, and I look out them with her at the parking lot. In the halogen glow of the lights I can see others out there among the cars, but they are not running away. They just look like they’re milling around. Some of them are from the reunion, but I think I recognize one of my mother’s friends and I see someone in a Pizza Hut uniform.

“What is going on?” Stephanie says.

“Zombie outbreak,” a guy beside us says. I can’t remember his name, but I remember he was valedictorian.

“What do we do?” I ask him.

He shrugs. “Hide in the bathroom.”

He slips away as four shrieking theater girls run past us, through the double doors. Stephanie and I step to the side as they pass. I can hear more screaming from the caf. I realize I left my cell phone on Stephanie’s table. “Should we go?” I ask. 

We watch through the window as the thespians get to the cars. Everyone who is wandering around out there veers towards the girls, surrounding and catching them instantly. Stephanie makes a choking sound as the group of them pull the girls down. Just past the swarm I see another figure in an uncomfortable-looking shirt: Eddie. I feel a vague sense of regret as I watch him lumber back and forth between a pick-up truck and the food source, never reaching either of them. 

“I got a ride here,” says Stephanie. “Which car is yours?”

“Nissan over there.” I point.

“We’ll never make it.”

Four zombies approach

She is right; there are too many of them. They have wandered away from the girls now and are back in their holding patterns. We watch one of the theater girls pull herself to her feet. She immediately starts doing the same thing.  

I keep my keys on one of my belt loops. Now I press the button and set off my alarm. For a second I think I’ve found the solution: several of the zombies look startled. But they don’t run towards or away from my car; they just continue standing around. I turn the alarm back off and shrug at Stephanie. 

We are still squished into the corner of the vestibule. She looks like she’s trying not to smile. “Is that a carabiner?”


A guy from my history class runs through the doors at full speed. “DON’T!” we shout, but he is gone. They take him the second he reaches the parking lot. 

Stephanie points at the cafeteria. We move back inside.

She grabs my wrist and pulls me away from the vestibule. We sneak through the caf, keeping to the perimeter of the room, moving silently and swiftly. God, they are so close. 

Do they sense us by smell? I wonder. By sight? Sound? I am trying not to hyperventilate as I tiptoe behind her. 

The music has stopped playing. I see the DJ crawling across the dance floor towards a twitching guy. There are only a few bodies sprawled on the fake linoleum; the rest are shambling around, just numbly searching. 

As we pass the bar the one closest to us, one of the soccer players, is shuffling towards the trophy case, but he suddenly turns in our direction.

Stephanie pulls me behind the bar and we crouch there. The bar is open on either end, so it’s not much protection. I’m sure he can smell me — I can smell me — and this is it. I try to think comforting thoughts. The scent of barnwood. My bed in my little apartment. Not getting eaten by a soccer zombie in my fucking high school.

Stephanie pokes her head around the corner, then ducks back behind the bar. He’s gone, she mouths. Then she gingerly reaches up to the shelves of wine and takes down a bottle. I figure we’ve had the same thought — it’s better to die drunk than sober — but as she hands it to me she mouths, Weapon. I nod like I had the same idea.

She takes another for herself and mouths something I don’t catch. I shake my head. She tries again. Nope. She leans forward and puts her lips beside my ear, and I blush as though she is whispering something other than, “DJ Station.”

I follow her out from behind the bar and along the wall to where the DJ’s tables sit on the risers. I hold the wine bottle by the neck, ready to swing it like a baseball bat, hyper-aware of the sloshing sound that accompanies my every step.

We pass the stoners, who are standing in a vague circle. At first I think they’re ok, but the set of Stephanie’s face tells me they’re not. As we get close I can see they are just dully standing there, swaying. One of them jerks an arm. Another flicks a foot.

The DJ was set up at what looks like a folding table with a black cloth thrown over it. We climb onto the risers and crouch down on the floor behind it. I lift up the tablecloth to make sure nothing is hiding under there, but all I see are plastic tubs and cords. The tables form an L; we’re in a dead-end space. “We’re trapped,” I say.

“We’re just buying time,” Stephanie says. “Let’s figure out what to do.”

“Look for the DJ’s phone,” I say. I reach up and start patting the equipment on the tables, feeling for the familiar little rectangle. 

“To call who?”

“The police!”

“In the parking lot? That wasn’t just the Class of ‘92,” she says gently. “It’s not just here.”

I stop feeling around for the phone. I listen to the uneven footsteps from the other side of the table. Someone lets out a toneless groan.

“Maybe we can get out the front door,” I say. “Or by the gym.”

“We still have to get to your car,” Stephanie says, gnawing one of her cuticles. 

“Oh!” I say. “The library! Alicia and Rob are there. Maybe we can barricade ourselves in until help arrives.” 

Stephanie’s face jerks up and over my shoulder with an expression I read immediately. I jump to my feet, grab my wine bottle, and spin around in one motion. I can tell from the zombie’s moustache that he used to be Mr. Muchado. He slurs something that sounds like, “Errro, grrrss,” as I slam him beneath the jaw with the bottle. He falls backwards off the riser, swiping with his arm as he goes. Stephanie yanks me out of the way, and instead of grabbing me his fingers hit the stand for one of the big speakers. I bury my face in Stephanie’s shoulder as the heavy speaker falls on him. I hear it land with a splat.

Zombies near the DJ Station

I lift my head but don’t move away from her as we look around the cafeteria. Our dead classmates stagger among the balloons. They are not heading for the door, and they haven’t detected us yet. 

I recognize Alicia by her clothes. If she’s back in the caf, that means the zombies have gotten into the library. I feel a lump in my throat as I watch her hover by our old lunch table.

I look up at Stephanie, who is watching the ring of hippies randomly kick out feet and elbows. “They think they’re playing hacky-sack,” she says sadly.

It’s true. And Alicia found the cool table. 

“They’re still the same,” I say.

 I look around at the zombies of all these assholes, and for the first time I feel hope. I grab Stephanie’s arms. “They’re dead, but they’re still the same people.”

Stephanie nods.

I look out over our classmates. I hate all of these people. But I know them.

I look down at the mixers or whatever that the DJ was using to play his terrible music. An idea is sparkling at me. 

“Hey, AV club,” I say. “Can you make this stuff work?”

She looks at me. I can tell that she doesn’t know what I mean yet, but she trusts me. Even though I’m surrounded by zombies and grinning. 

It takes a couple of minutes, which we spend crouched behind the DJ table. Our dead classmates are not that smart; I can hear them nearby a few times, but they can’t seem to find us. The worst is when they groan. Some of them, I think, are trying to form words. One of them grunts rhythmically enough that I bet it’s Jenni trying to do a cheer.

“All right,” Stephanie finally says. “I think I got it. Ready?”

“Play it loud,” I say.

She shifts a couple of things on the equipment, and then we wait a second. Even though I’m expecting it, I wince when the music starts. I haven’t thought of this song in years, but the familiar guitar and predictable drumbeat bring me right back to 1992. 

The music is too loud for me to hear groaning or footsteps anymore. Stephanie taps my wrist and points up. Slowly we raise our heads above the DJ table to look at the room.

At the sound of Billy Ray Cyrus’s voice, our former classmates have stopped their aimless staggering. Now they are stumbling from side to side like bears on their hind legs. I watch them shuffling their left foot to various spots on the floor, trying to clap their hands together. A few of them get distracted part way through, and I see at least one of them fall over, but on cue about forty percent of them turn to the left in unison. 

In one ear I hear Stephanie yelling, “It’s working!” In the other, I hear Billy Ray Cyrus singing about his achy breaky heart.

“Is it on repeat?” I shout. She nods.

I take her hand, and we head for the door.  

We skirt around Mr. Muchado, who is wiggling beneath the speaker that has crushed his head, and we stay to the edge of the room. When we reach the bar most of the zombies are facing us. We freeze until they shake their hips and turn again, then we run the last few steps to the vestibule.

The ones in the parking lot are still wandering around. (Not poor Eddie — he is off to the side, patting the door of his truck with an open hand.) There are at least three of them between us and my car.

The music seems deafening to me, but as I push the door open a crack I worry it’s not loud enough for them to hear. 

But the song wafts like a scent through the parking lot. One at a time, each of the outside zombies freezes, then starts to move from side to side. Even Eddie moves away from his truck. Stephanie and I watch them all gracelessly line dance.

Even over the music I can hear her say, “Man, fuck this town.”

We are still holding hands. “Red Nissan,” I say. “Ready?”

She takes a deep breath. “Let’s go, Lefty.”

We grin at each other. Then we start running.

A Steve Ryder drawing of a zombie from the waist up

Drawings by Steve Ryder

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