Chapter 1 - She's Coming Home

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Part One

Maria finished serving breakfast orders and topped off drinks. Returning to the kitchen of the newly renovated café, she left them to their discussions. It would be a while before Maria checked on the group again. She was a sweetheart and had an infectious laugh. However, if she heard the news brought up for discussion this morning, she'd have someone by the balls.

The group of men gathered like this since high school. Maria's Café had been the spot for getting together monthly to keep up their friendships. Sometimes, the guys used the monthly gatherings to irritate their girls.

Conversation in the private dining room was full of lighthearted grousing about the last game of the baseball season. The local high school team played well the night before. The umpire had a couple of calls the guys were still sore about, though.

Everyone in this group had been part of the same group of friends since high school. Most of them had been in Scouts and sports together even longer than that. Tim was the group's only outsider. He had known them since high school, but he didn't join their ranks until after graduation, bonding over a mutual affection for high school athletics. To say the group knew each other well was an understatement. It was more like a brotherhood.

"Any word on where the reunion is going to be this year?" Bradley asked, turning the conversation to a new topic of discussion.

As part of the planning committee, Aidan had the inside information. "Top of the Tower."

"Aidan, that's fucking epic!" Bradley interrupted.

"Yeah, well, the years need to be marked well. I've also been tracking down those who moved away to let them know." Aidan looked around the table and saw the curiosity on every face there."Carmen's coming home."

The table erupted as if a bomb had dropped on it. Carmen had been the little sister, girl next door, and yet one of the guys. Intelligent, she had tutored many in the group in all manner of subjects. She supported them in all their endeavors, academic or extracurricular. In return, they had attended her choir concerts, competitions, and musical productions. She was also the fantasy of their wet dreams.

Paul dropped his coffee like the cup just burned his fingers. "I'll be fucked."

"Hot damn," Nicholas roared. "Where is she? How'd you find her?"

Steven flinched. "Are you sure she's coming back?"

Everyone had questions. The excitement and disbelief on all the faces around the long table proved Carmen's importance to them.

Maria heard the private dining room section exploding with noise. She grabbed a coffee pot and raced over to make sure a fight wasn't brewing. Appearing in the doorway, they noticed her as a deafening silence descended. "You guys ok?" she asked with evident suspicion.

Tim was the first to find his voice. "Yeah, Maria, a bit of a shocking piece of news. Mind closing the door on your way out?"

Not convinced all was well, but not seeing proof of trouble, Maria topped off their coffees. She walked back to the kitchen and closed the door behind her. Carmen was the glue that had secured these friendships growing up, and everyone missed her terribly.

Everyone looked at Aidan, waiting for him to continue. "Remember how she and Cora were good friends with Maria back then?" Nods and affirmations acknowledged the detail. "When Marc passed away, I saw Carmen had posted a picture on his memorial page. I've tried to locate her for a couple of years, but it was like she had dropped off the face of the planet. I couldn't find any social media.No LinkedIn, no contact with the school or even mutual friends. When her parents moved to be near her, that was the last I had heard anything about her."

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