School Re­union

The People's Friend - - Contents - by Glenda Young

MUM, can I bring Me­gan home for tea one day?” Rosie asked. I glanced across to the kitchen ta­ble where my daugh­ter sat, her head bent over school books and her phone.

She looked up at me, wait­ing for my an­swer, al­ready know­ing that her re­quest was un­likely to be de­nied.

I’d heard a lot about Me­gan since Rosie started sec­ondary school, and clearly the two of them were be­com­ing firm friends.

“Of course you can,” I replied. “How about this Fri­day?”

“That would be great. I’ll ask her to­mor­row,” Rosie said, pick­ing up her book again.

“I should ring her mum, too,” I added. “To ask her what time we need to get her home.”

“OK,” Rosie replied. “I’ll text her now for her mum’s num­ber.”

A few mo­ments later I found my­self on the phone to Me­gan’s mum, Mrs Carlisle. She came across as friendly and warm, and was as de­lighted as I was that our daugh­ters had be­come such close friends.

There was some­thing al­most fa­mil­iar in Me­gan’s mum’s voice, but I couldn’t quite say what it was, not then.

Af­ter mak­ing ar­range­ments for Fri­day, I hung up the phone.

“That’s sorted then,” I told Rosie. “Her mum sounds nice.”

“She is nice.” Rosie smiled.

“Is she very old?” I asked in­quis­i­tively.

“About the same age as you, I think,” Rosie said, then started to gig­gle. “So yeah, she’s old.”

“Is she from round here?” I en­quired. Rosie nod­ded.

“She works in town.” “Is there any­thing else I need to know about her?” I laughed.

“You’re so nosy!” Rosie chided. “She went to Burn­hill school, I think.”

“Burn­hill? But that’s the school I used to go to! Rosie, what’s her name?” Rosie shrugged. “Mrs Carlisle.”

“You don’t know her first name?” I asked. “Or the sur­name she had be­fore she was married?”

Rosie shook her head and turned to con­cen­trate on her book.

****

On Fri­day af­ter­noon I was work­ing in my study up­stairs when I heard the front door open and slam shut again.

“We’re home!” Rosie yelled up the stairs.

I walked to the land­ing and looked down to see my daugh­ter kick­ing off her shoes.

Be­side her stood a blonde girl, her hair tied in plaits.

“Hi, Rosie!” I said as I walked down the stairs. “And you must be Me­gan,” I said, ad­dress­ing the back of the blon­de­haired girl. “It’s lovely to meet you.”

Me­gan swung round and ex­tended her hand to me. It was an old-fash­ioned ges­ture from a very po­lite teenager and it took me by sur­prise.

“Hello, Rosie’s mum,” Me­gan said as she shook my hand.

“Please, call me Sally,” I told her.

I took a good look at Me­gan. There was some­thing about her that un­set­tled me, but I couldn’t say what it was at first.

Me­gan had beau­ti­ful blonde hair, she was dressed well and her shoes weren’t as scuffed as the ones Rosie wore for school.

She was po­lite, but there was some­thing about her face, the way a dim­ple in her cheek ap­peared when she smiled.

It was like look­ing back in time, meet­ing a ghost from my past that I thought I’d rid my­self of a long time ago. The anx­i­ety build­ing within me threat­ened to spi­ral and I tried my best to shrug off the un­ease.

“We’re go­ing up to my room un­til tea’s ready,” Rosie said, scam­per­ing up the stairs with Me­gan be­hind her.

I laid one hand across my stom­ach to steady my­self as I breathed slowly, try­ing to calm the trou­bled feel­ing in­side.

“Me­gan?” I asked qui­etly be­fore the girls reached the top of the stairs.

I had mostly en­joyed my years at the lo­cal comp – but there was a time I pre­ferred to for­get . . .

She turned and smiled.

“Is your mum’s first name Anne?” Me­gan nod­ded. “And was her maiden name Ferry?”

The girl nod­ded again, then turned to fol­low Rosie to her room.

“My mum’s so nosy,” Rosie said, then I heard the two girls laugh­ing be­fore the bed­room door closed shut.

I sat on the bot­tom stair in shock.

****

Anne Ferry. They had been the two most feared words in the English lan­guage dur­ing my first year at Burn­hill com­pre­hen­sive.

I was one of the first years, try­ing to fit in, when Anne Ferry joined our class. She joined our school sev­eral weeks later than the rest of us, but we never found out the rea­son why.

I’m not sure why she made a bee­line for me and tried to be­friend me back then. At first I let her sit next to me in class, and she would bor­row my pen­cils but never gave them back.

It was when she started kick­ing me un­der the school desks that I moved to a dif­fer­ent desk, as far from her as the class­room would al­low. But she fol­lowed, and if she couldn’t hit me or call me names, she’d steal from my bag.

I started to avoid her as best as I could. I al­tered the route I walked to and from school, and kept my friends close as pro­tec­tion.

Af­ter weeks of bul­ly­ing from Anne, I came home in tears one day and my par­ents had a meet­ing at school with my teacher.

I begged my mum not to say any­thing about Anne at school, know­ing it would only make things worse, but the meet­ing went ahead any­way.

Things did get worse. Anne Ferry started to use me as her punch bag ev­ery chance she had. I tried to fight back but I al­ways came off worse.

In the end I learned to run – fast.

When I saw her wait­ing for me to come out of school, I ran in the other di­rec­tion, hid­ing in the lo­cal shops un­til I saw her walk past.

The bul­ly­ing con­tin­ued for months. But just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, Anne Ferry left the school. One day she didn’t turn up, it was sim­ple as that.

I never saw her again, and her ab­sence was never ex­plained. In the years that fol­lowed I never thought about her once. Un­til now.

****

“You’ll like Me­gan’s mum,” Rosie said when I told her I’d ar­ranged to meet Anne in town. “She’s sweet. Although I think you’re only meet­ing her be­cause you’re be­ing nosy.”

“Well, some­thing like that,” I replied.

Rosie slammed the front door be­hind her on her way out to school and I glanced at my watch. I had just over an hour to drive into town and find the café where I’d ar­ranged to meet Anne.

Be­fore I left the house I took a long look at my­self in the hall­way mir­ror.

I squared my shoul­ders, took a deep breath and headed out to the car.

****

I or­dered my­self a frothy cof­fee while I waited for Anne to ar­rive. Be­cause Rosie was in­tent on be­ing such good friends with Me­gan, the air had to be cleared be­tween Anne and me.

Ev­ery time the cof­fee shop door opened, I glanced over, my heart in my mouth, but­ter­flies in my stom­ach, ready to meet my neme­sis again.

My cof­fee cup was al­most empty by the time I saw a wo­man shuf­fle into the café. She was hud­dled up like a hedge­hog in a brown hooded coat and she walked di­rectly to me.

“Hello? Are you Rosie’s mum?” she asked, push­ing her hood down. She reached her small hand to­wards me.

“Anne?” I asked, stunned at the sight of her. She had aged badly since I had last seen her.

She sat down heav­ily in the seat op­po­site me and slowly took off her coat.

“It’s nice of you to of­fer to meet,” she said fi­nally. “Me­gan re­ally en­joys spend­ing time with Rosie. The two of them are as thick as thieves. Rosie’s brought a lot of sun­shine into Me­gan’s life.”

I took a good look at Anne. She’d once had beau­ti­ful long blonde hair that she wore in plaits for school.

Her hair had been the only thing I’d ad­mired about her back then, and she now wore it cropped.

Un­der­neath the brown coat, I saw she was dressed well, neat as a pin. But there it was – in her eyes and in the way a dim­ple in her cheek ap­peared when she smiled.

The ghost from my past had not only re­turned, but was now sit­ting op­po­site me in a cof­fee shop.

“Me­gan’s told me we used to go to the same school to­gether,” Anne said, smil­ing at me. “Old Burn­hill, eh? Mind you, I wasn’t there for very long.”

“I know,” I said coldly. “I re­mem­ber.”

“I can’t say I re­mem­ber you from Burn­hill, though,” Anne con­tin­ued. “But it was a dif­fi­cult time for me back then. I was in and out of care homes un­til I was six­teen and . . .”

Anne glanced across the ta­ble at me.

“Sorry. You don’t want to hear me go­ing on about all of that, do you?”

“Ac­tu­ally, Anne,” I started to say. “You could tell me about it. I mean, if you’d like to. I don’t mean to pry, but it might help ex­plain a few things that hap­pened back then.”

“What sort of things?” she asked, puz­zled.

“You re­ally don’t re­mem­ber me from school?” I asked her. Anne shook her head. “I don’t like to re­mem­ber too much,” she ad­mit­ted, glanc­ing down at her hands. “All I know is that af­ter Mum left us, I went off the rails as a teenager. Dad was al­ways drunk.

“I got hauled into the head’s of­fice more times than I care to men­tion at ev­ery school I was at, but I don’t re­mem­ber any­one from Burn­hill.

“There’s a lot I’ve had to blank from my mind from back then in or­der to keep my­self sane.” Anne low­ered her voice as she con­tin­ued. “A lot of the coun­sel­lors I have been re­ferred to over the years have tried to get me to open up, but . . .”

I watched as Anne wrig­gled in her chair and tried to sit up as straight as she could.

“Any­way,” she said brightly, “we’re not here to talk about my life. All the things I never had, I now make sure Me­gan gets them now, es­pe­cially hugs and love and a sta­ble home.

“I give her all that I can and I do my best for her. That’s why I’m over the moon she’s made such good friends with Rosie. The two of them are great to­gether, aren’t they?” “They are,” I agreed. “Per­haps we might be­come good friends, too.” She smiled hope­fully, then glanced at my empty cup.

“Here, let me buy you an­other cof­fee,” she said, slowly ris­ing from her chair.

Just then my phone buzzed into life with a text mes­sage. It was from Rosie, ask­ing if she could bring Me­gan for a sleep­over at the week­end.

“All right.” I smiled to Anne. “Cof­fee would be a good start.”

Anne had aged badly since I’d last seen her

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