Prologue

At 6:12 am in New York City, a Mrs. Rita Fiorelli Peterson was standing outside in a dark, snowy Rockefeller Center hoping to get a standby ticket for Saturday Night Live. At 5:12 am in Chicago, the retired schoolteacher Mrs. Betty Sorenson turned the water on for a shower. At 4:12 am in a small town in northern Montana, a Mrs. Diane Phelps slept peacefully in bed beside her husband. At 3:12 am in a city near Palm Springs, California, a Mr. Abram Roberts sat in a bar between to ladies he'd never met before. At 6:12 am in Erie, Pennsylvania, someone died.


Chapter One

Saturday - 9:30 am - Chicago

Dick Sorenson was looking up movie times in the newspaper when the phone rang. He waited for two rings to see if Betty would get it, but she didn't, so Dick rumpled up his newspaper and reluctantly answered the phone. It was a sad voice on the other line. It only said three words, ("Is Betty there?") but Dick could tell the person on the other side had been crying, and it was a man's voice, so he probably had just cause to grieve. "Yeah, just a second," Dick said to the grieving voice on the other line, and went upstairs to give the phone to his wife.

Betty took the phone and answered, "Hello?"

"Betty, it's Mike," said the voice. "Mike Meier."

"Ooh, hello Mike," said Betty smiling. Mike had taught school with Betty back when she lived in Erie. She hadn't seen him for several years. Well, he was sort of weird. But he was nice, and the thought of hearing from an old acquaintance was nice for Betty. "How are you doing?"

"Well, not so good, actually," Mike replied. "This is going to come as a shock to you, but one of our good friends and colleagues just died this morning."

Betty sat down on the bed for fear she would faint. Her mouth hung open. Dick, who had been standing in the doorway now walked fully into the room and sat on the bed beside his wife. "W-who?" Betty's voice trembled as she asked this question, though she already knew, somehow, 'who'.

"Patsy," replied the sad voice of Mike Meier in Erie. In Chicago, a tear rolled down Betty's face. "The funeral is Tuesday. At St. Michaels." St. Michaels was the church that belonged to the school where Betty, Mike, and Patsy had all taught. "I got a call from Patsy's family awhile ago. They said she wanted her last class to come to the funeral."

"The class of '82," Betty whispered. "The Best You Ever Knew." Betty and Mike repeated the class of 1982's slogan together. They truly were the best you ever knew. "You know, Mike," said Betty. "They have to be turning forty now."

"It's kind of funny," replied Mike. "Doesn't it make you feel old?"

Betty laughed and said, "They should feel old. They're the ones turning forty."

"Yes," said Mike. There was a pause in which neither one of them spoke. Then Mike said, "And they wanted one of them to speak. We can only guess which one."

"Rita," said Betty.

"Yes," said Mike. "The famous one."




Saturday - 10:30 am - New York

Rita the famous one stepped off of the elevator on her floor and walked to her apartment. She put up her black-gloved hand and knocked on the door of 217. The door was opened by a smiling man in his underwear who was her husband. "Rita, what were you doing this whole time? I thought you were getting me some tickets for SNL."

"I was," said Rita, removing her coat and gloves, "but I couldn't get them. Sorry Ted."

"Well, that still doesn't explain why you came back so late."

"Well, after it became apparent that I wasn't going to get you tickets, I walked over to the Today Show, which was conveniently not very crowded. If you had been *watching* - " Rita motioned toward the TV which was playing reruns of standup comedy on HBO, " - you might have seen me! I waved to you. And then I went and got some breakfast because I was *freezing* and just couldn't see walking home in the weather, and that took awhile, but now I'm here!"

"Ah," said Ted, turning off the TV. "I see." He kissed Rita good morning and then said, "You got two calls."

"Really?" asked his wife. "From whom?"

"Well, no one important, really," said Ted, sarcastically. He was always trying to act as though the calls famous people would make to his wife we just ordinary calls and he was just an ordinary husband informing his wife of them. "Tim Russert called; he said he can't have you on Meet the Press tomorrow, so that's good news. You won't have to fly into Washington."

"Well that part of it's nice," said Rita, sitting down on the couch in flicking the TV back on. "I'll be able to watch SNL on TV with you tonight since I couldn't get you a ticket. But how rude is that? I mean, I could have already been on a plane to Washington, and then what would I have done?"

"Come on, Rita," said Ted sitting down beside her. "Don't get all 'famous' on me. You're not a movie star, remember? You're a writer who talks about politics on television. There's a big difference there, Honey."

"I know," said Rita. "So, who else called?"

"Oh yeah, some guy named Mike Meier."

"Mike Meyers!" shrieked Rita, jumping up from the couch. "*Austin Powers* Mike Meyers?!"

"Uh, no," said Ted. "This was a Mike *Meier*. He said he used to teach at some school."

"Oh," said Rita, clearly disappointed, but almost somewhat excited at hearing that a Mike Meier had called. "He was my teacher in 7th and 8th grade. He probably wants me to mention him or something because he believes my political career actually started in his class. Which, I'll admit, it did, but one does not bring up - "

Ted interrupted his wife. "No, Rita. He didn't sound at all like that. He sounded sad or something. He said to call him back as soon as you got home. Here's his number." Ted held up a pad of paper that was sitting on the coffee table. Rita didn't even bother to get up and get the phone. She pulled her cell out of her pocket and dialed long distance to Erie.

"Hello?" answered the voice of Mike Meier on the other end.

"Hello, Mr. Meier, this is Rita Fiorelli..." Ted had the urge to add 'Peterson' like he always did, but he could tell that this call was serious, so he didn't.

"Rita," said Mr. Meier, "something has happened."

"Uh, yeah," said Rita, "I can kind of tell. What's wrong?"

"Mrs. Miller, she -" Rita looked up at Ted and made a drinking motion like she wanted her husband to make her a drink. Ted stood up immediately. "She passed away this morning."

Talking was the one thing Rita was best at, but at this moment she could find nothing to say but gasp, "Oh. Oh my God, I -" She put her hand up to her face.

"Her family called me this morning," Mr. Meier started slowly. "They requested that the class of '82 -" "The Best You Ever Knew," Rita finished, "come to the funeral on Tuesday. The funeral parlor is on Monday night." Ted arrived at Rita's side with a drink which she accepted gratefully. "And," continued Mr. Meier, "they wanted you to speak."

"I couldn't do a eulogy," said Rita, swirling the ice around in her drink. "But I could say something..." There was a pause on the other end in which Mr. Meier listened to the ice in the glass making noise. "Yes," he said. "That would be good." There was another pause. Rita could think of nothing to say.

"Can you come?" Mr. Meier asked. Rita took another sip of her drink and said, "Yes, I'll get on a plane first thing tomorrow. I'll give you my cell number so you can call me..." She then proceeded to give her teacher her cell phone number. "Goodbye, Mr. Meier," she said, and then she hung up.

Rita set her drink on the coffee table and turned her tearful face towards her husband. "It's a good thing Russert canceled," she said. "I need to go home."



Saturday - 8:30 am - Montana

"What do you mean you're going to Phoenix!" Diane Phelps shrieked into the phone. "You can't go to Phoenix, you have CHILDREN! And a WIFE! But of course, THAT doesn't matter much to you, does it? Mr. Filthy Rich chauvinist ASS HOLE!"

Diane stopped a moment and looked at her four year old who was smiling and saying, 'Ass hole.' "Patrick, we don't say those words!" she said to her kid.

"But you did! Who's on the phone? Is it Daddy?"

"No, Patrick, it's not Daddy," Diane lied. "Why don't you go in the other room and watch television with Stephen, OK?"

"OK," replied the agreeable Patrick, who hopped off into the next room with his brother. On the other end of the phone, however, Mr. Phelps wasn't being quite so agreeable. "What do you mean, 'It's not Daddy'?" he asked.

In defense of herself, Diane replied, "I didn't want our son hear me call you 'ass hole'."

"Why?" asked Mr. Phelps. "You seem to think I am, so everyone deserves the right to know. Even Patrick, YOUR son!"

"Aaah!" screamed Diane. "Who's son? Excuse me, Steve, WHO'S SON?" She paused to take some breaths. "You know what, GO to Phoenix! I don't care if you go and never come back, because I still have the house and I still have the kids and I still have -" What am I saying? thought Diane. She immediately hung up the phone, threw it as hard as she could, and knelt down, crying.

That had been a bad morning for Diane. Sometime between 4:12 am and the present, she and her husband had got into a horrible fight. The third big fight that week. Diane lit a cigarette and proceeded to go over that morning's events in her head. She had said that she wanted to go to Las Vegas and visit her family. She wanted to go by herself. Then Steve went ballistic and started yelling at her for being a horrible mother and neglecting her children. She started to cry, and Steve got hostile. No, he hadn't hit her. He never hit her. But he was mean, and Diane felt scared in his presence.

'Good,' she thought, as she walked into the other room. 'Let him go to Phoenix, and I'll take the kids and go to Vegas. We need some time a part.' "Stephen?" she called into the next room.

"Yeah, Mom," came the ten-year-old's reply.

"Can you watch Patrick for twenty minutes? I'm going to take a shower."

"Sure Mom," said Stephen. "We're just watching TV."

'Good boys,' thought Diane, as she turned on the hot water. 'They'll never grow up to be anything like their father. They're too good.' She stood in the shower for twenty minutes and let the hot water fall down around her. It felt so nice, and helped to calm her down.

When she got out of the shower, she went downstairs to find the phone. She found it in a rhododendron plant. "Are you going to call Daddy again?" asked a small voice behind her. Diane turned, and was surprised to see little Patrick had snuck up on her.

"Um, no, Patrick. I'm going to call Grandma. We're going to visit her!"

"Yay!" exclaimed Patrick, jumping up and down. "I'll go tell Stephen!"

Patrick ran in the room and Diane reached into the plant for the phone. But before she could turn it on to dial Las Vegas, it rang.

"Hello?" she said into the phone.

"Hey, Diane, it's Nora," said the voice.

"Nora... Nora Connors?" asked Diane, excitedly.

"Yeah," said the tired voice. "Nora Murray, now, but yeah, it's me."

"Hey Nora!" Diane went over to sit in an armchair, where she lit another cigarette. "How are you doing BFFL?" She laughed at the sophomoric acronym which meant 'best friend for life'.

"I - uh. Have some news." Nora's voice started to break. "How about - can we have lunch Monday?"

"Lunch? Monday?" asked Diane, confused. "In Erie?"

"Uh, yeah," said Nora, who had now started to cry again.

A concerned look crossed Diane's face as she asked, "Nora, what's wrong?"

"Mrs. Miller died." Then silence. Dead silence. "This morning." Sobs in Erie, more silence in Montana. "Meier called me this morning. He was calling the whole class. They want us to come to the funeral."

"Monday?" was the only think Diane could bring herself to say.

"It's Tuesday morning. The funeral parlor is Monday night. They want us all to come."

"I can come," said Diane. "Tomorrow though, not today. I have to call my mother and see if she can take care of the kids -."

"Doesn't your mother live in Vegas now?" asked Nora.

"Yeah."

"What about your husband?"

"I- " Diane came to a halt. "I'll see you tomorrow Nora," said Diane sadly. "And we can have lunch on Monday. Goodbye." Diane hung up the phone and sat in silence for a few whole minutes before setting the phone back in the plant.



Saturday - 11:00 am - Erie

"Have you called everyone from out-of town?" Frank Bishop asked Mike Meier.

"I talked to Ms. Fiorelli, and I think Nora Connors called Diane Bizzarro."

"What about Abram?"

"Abram Roberts?" Frank listened over the phone as Mr. Meier shuffled through some papers he had. "Uh, yeah, I couldn't find Abram. Do you know where he is?"

"Yeah," said Frank. "He's in California now. I have his phone number; do you want me to call him?"

"That would be good," said Mr. Meier. "I still have a whole list of Erie people to call."

"Alright, Mr. Meier, I'll do that then. And I guess I'll see you Monday night at the funeral parlor."

"Yeah," Meier replied. "At the funeral parlor. Bye."

"Bye," said Frank.

He hung up the phone and began digging in a drawer for his address book. It was a flowered address book, and Frank had always been ashamed of it, but for awhile it was the only one he had, and when he had the opportunity to buy another one, there were so many phone numbers in the flowered one that he didn't want to have to copy them all again. So the flowered address book remained beneath a pile of bills and tax returns in the bottom drawer of Frank's desk. But the flowered address book would emerge this day so that Frank could find the phone number of one Abram Roberts of Palm Springs California to tell him the news of their dear teacher's passing.
Frank found the number and dialed. He was surprised to hear a woman pick up, because last he had heard, Abram wasn't married.



Saturday - 8:04 am - Palm Springs


"Sorry Fred, he's asleep. Can he call back later?" a nameless woman said into the phone.

"It's Frank," replied Frank Bishop in Erie, Pennsylvania. "And no, this is kind of an emergency. Can't you wake him up?"

"Uh, no," said the woman. She looked on the bed where Abram was passed out on his back. "He's not feeling well right now."

Frank was beginning to get irritated at this woman, because, for some reason, he knew that she wasn't Abram's wife. He knew, for some reason, that she wasn't even in a relationship with Abram. He knew Abram so well. "What's wrong with him?" he asked the woman, irritatingly.

"He's, uh," said the woman. She whispered, "Hung over."

"Ah," replied Frank. "Well can I pleeeeeease speak to him?"

"Uh, no."

"Wake him up, damn it, this is important."

In California, Abram rolled over and moaned. "Honey," the woman said to him. "The phone's for you!" Abram looked up at the blurry woman standing in his bedroom wearing his New York Yankees T-shirt, and had no idea who she was.

"Who are you?" he asked groggily. The woman giggled and said, "It's a guy named Fred." ("Frank!") "No," Abram said, standing up. "You. Who are you? And who gave you my shirt?" "I'll take it off for you," breathed the woman. "Not now," said Abram, and snatched the phone and took it into the bathroom.

"Hello?" he answered.

"Hey, man, this is Frank Bishop."

"Frankie, what's up?" Abram asked.

"Who was that woman?"

"I – uh, I don't know," said Abram. "What possessed you to call me at this hour of morning? I've only been asleep three hours!"

"Uh, really?" asked Frank. It took him awhile to realize that where Abram was it was three hours earlier than where he was. "Oh, right, time zones."

"Yeah."

"Well, I have some not-so-good-news." Frank waited for a reply, but there was none. He took a deep breath and continued. "Remember Mr. Miller, our 8th grade English teacher?"

"Yeah," said Abram, "How is she?"

'I was afraid he was going to ask that,' thought Frank. "She, uh," he started to say. "She just passed away this morning."

"Oh my God," said Abram. "I'm so sorry." He paused, and then said, "What do you want me to do about it?"

'What a horrible thing to say,' thought Frank. "There's a funeral on Tuesday. Our whole class got invited; do you think you could come?"

Abram thought a minute. He got up, flushed the toilet, and wandered over to the mirror where he looked at himself. 'I'm a train wreck,' he thought. "Yeah," he said. "I can come." 'The sooner I get out of here, the better,' he thought. "I'll call you when I get to Erie, Frank. Bye."