For One Night Only

Written by Jean Roberts

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From the front the school, it looked exactly as it did back in 1984 when Trish left. As she walked through the doors into the main foyer, never in a million years did she think she’d be back here. Least of all for a reunion. Multi-coloured bunting had been draped around the walls, and a banner welcoming the class of nineteen-eighty-something (the banner had started to come away from its anchor on the right hand side, making the last digit unreadable). She could hear music coming from the main hall, and flashing lights pulsed through the glass panels dividing the foyer from the hall. Closing her eyes, for a moment she let the music wash over her and it took her back to those far-gone Christmas discos. There had been some good ones. She was deep in her thoughts, reliving the slow dance with Rob Harris. Her thoughts were broken by a vaguely familiar voice.

‘Trish. Trish Evans?’

The voice came from behind her. Trish turned.

‘It is! Oh my good God how long has it been? It must be, what, twenty five years?’

It was Buddug Hughes who, in her wisdom, had organised this "let’s meet on our fiftieth birthday reunion". In a bear hug of an embrace, Trish’s arms were pinned by her side as Buddug screeched in joy.

‘Buddug, this looks fantastic.’ Trish nodded towards the decor.

‘Oh shucks, it was nothing. Listen, come and meet the others.’

She grabbed Trish’s arm and began moving her towards the double doors which lead down into the hall. ‘Colin, Mary and Claire are here, and oh do you remember -’ Buddug paused and moved closer ‘Paul Wilson?’ she winked.

Trish’s heart sank. She remembered Paul Wilson only too well. The word "narcissistic" was made for that man, and she dreaded the thought of seeing him.

‘Before we go in, I need to pop to the loo, back in a minute.’

Walking down the corridor to the toilets, it struck Trish how faded the place was. It all seemed a lot smaller, the high ceilings weren’t so high, the corridor down to the Head's office wasn’t as long as she remembered it. It was ordinary. Very ordinary. Even the toilet block seemed smaller. Trish smiled at her reflection in the cracked mirror above a basin, remembering how her best friend Emma would drag her in here for a ciggie before French. It was a shame Emma wouldn’t be here tonight but who in their right mind would want to leave a two week holiday in the Maldives for a night at a school reunion.  Before coming here tonight, she’d remembered school as huge and, at times, intimidating and, if she were honest with herself, she had not been looking forward to this reunion. But school wasn’t big and scary, it was just a building. And even if Paul Wilson was still a narcissistic prat, he was still only just a narcissistic prat. And it might be good to see the old crowd. Ha! Who am I kidding? She said to herself as she pulled on the heavy green door and walked back up the corridor.

Along the wall there were photographs of Head Boys and Girls from over the years, as well as the other high achievers. The various sports teams and individuals that had won things were up there too; smiling holding their various trophies and certificates. She knew the names and faces, but didn’t know the people. Not in her circle of friends. She’d never been sporty, or a high achiever. Not really. And the thought of her face being on this wall sent a shiver down her spine; it had been known as the wall of shame to Lesser Mortals. Then she saw a face that reminded her of how feisty she’d been in school: Mr Bryn Edwards, or "Joe 90" as he was known by the Lesser Mortals. Gerry Anderson must have modelled his puppet character on Bryn Edwards they were so much alike. Mr Edwards was head of the Lower Sixth form and if ever two people had a clash of personalities it was Bryn Edwards and Trish. He liked to think he reigned supreme, and that no one should question his authority. And for the most part, no one did. But when he accused Trish of skipping classes in the middle of a common room of people, and walking away from her when she was explaining she hadn’t, it was a step too far. She marched after him to his office and said her piece. It turned out it was another girl, Trisha Everett that had been skipping classes. He never apologised. So they never spoke to each other for the rest of her time in school. His loss, she smiled.

‘There you are!’ Buddug was blustering down the corridor towards her, ‘You’re missing all the fun, come on.’    

As they entered the hall, the mix of heat, sweat and strong perfume almost sent her reeling backwards but Buddug held tightly on to her arm so there was no escape and led her to a small table just inside the room. She could feel the blood rushing through her veins again as Buddug released her arm and turned to the table. Scribbling something on a small piece of paper then turning back to face Trish and placed the sticky address label on her chest with such force she was sure she’d have a bruise tomorrow.

For the next fifteen minutes or so Trish moved around the hall, squinting at the name badges, smiling whilst trying to reconcile the face above with the squiggle of ink.

‘It is you, isn’t it? I’d know that hair anywhere.’ The voice came from over her right shoulder, the first thing she noticed on turning around was the glare of a disco light bouncing off a bald head, and below it, a round, red, sweaty face grinning at her.

‘Yep, I knew it was you. The hair, that’s what did it. That mass of red hair.’

As he moved in closer for a hug, Trish noticed the buttons of his shirt straining over the large beer belly.  Who the hell are you? Went through her mind. She was aware that his mobile phone was ringing, though it only just audible over the sound of the music. 

‘Your phone is ringing.’ She pulled away and pointed towards his trouser pocket. He nodded and smiled as he took the phone out, glanced at the screen, pressed the answer button, and mouthed "the wife" as he turned away.

‘He’s already on his third.’ The voice came from her left, and had a familiarity to it. When she looked to see who it belonged to, she smiled, seeing the face of one of the Old Gang.

‘Lenny! Good God!’ The hug was more than welcome this time. ‘You were the last person I expected to see here, I thought you lived in Oz now.’

‘I do, but they they have these things called planes you know.’’ He smiled and pulled out of the embrace, but still held her hands. ‘You don’t know who that was, do you?’ he nodded towards the man still on his mobile phone.

‘Not a clue.’

‘Paul.’

‘Paul?’

Lenny nodded, waiting for the penny to drop.

Trish looked at the man on the phone, then at Lenny. ‘Wilson? That’s Paul Wilson?’ She hoped that her reaction didn’t betray her slightly unkind thoughts too much.

Lenny smiled. ‘That’s what three wives and seven kids has done to him.’

She hadn’t seen Lenny in almost twenty years, and it was as though they hadn’t been apart for a single day. For the next few hours the two of them chatted and danced and laughed. You could always make me laugh, she thought as they mockingly did the moves to Adam and the Ants’ Prince Charming and chatted to others neither of them had seen for years, with Lenny being a bit of a novelty having come all the way from Australia. He didn’t have the heart to tell them that the trip coincided with his nephew’s wedding.

It was a little after 1am when she arrived home, and as she sat in her living room with a mug of tea, the evenings’ events ran through her mind. Seeing some of the Old Gang was lovely. Colin and Claire still together, after however many years since we were fourteen, she thought. and Claire, still as scatter-brained and sweet. And Mary, of course, the eternal hippy. Her corkscrew hair still as wild as ever, the grey somehow suiting her wacky personality. Paul Wilson though. Although never one of the gang, he was a surprise, 'or more of a shock.' she heard herself saying to the empty room.

The biggest and best surprise was seeing Lenny. He hadn’t changed. A bit older yes, and the hair was a bit shorter, but he still had that glint of defiance in his eyes, and that wonky smile. He’d been her first big crush, and seeing him tonight reminded her of that, and gave her a warm glow inside.

She’d swapped mobile numbers with Lenny, and they’d all promised to seek each other out on Facebook, and keep in touch. And, maybe, just maybe they would.