ADELE PARKS THE WAY WE WERE

Ah, re­unions – joy­ful and ful­fill­ing, de­press­ing and em­bar­rass­ing… or maybe a lit­tle of each?

My Weekly Special - - Fiction First Class - Big Name Au­thor

No way am I go­ing to a col­lege re­u­nion! That’s the way dis­as­ter lies. If you’ve left some­one be­hind, you’ve left them be­hind for a rea­son.

“A re­u­nion is just a night where I’m likely to drink too much and re­mem­ber too much, like all the rea­sons for run­ning away from old “friends’ in the first place.”

Laura, one of the very few peo­ple I stay in touch with from my col­lege days, stares at me, amused.

“No, Gina. Re­unions are where you re-con­nect, pick up old friend­ships and ex­plore ones that were never given air.”

“The place will be full of the same old ugly cliques,” I in­sist.

“I think we’ll have all ma­tured.” That’s an­other thing that hor­ri­fies me. When Laura says ma­tured, she means emo­tion­ally. I’ve ma­tured, all right. Like mouldy cheese.

Re­unions are rat­i­fied brag-offs. Those who’ve earned a for­tune or kept their fig­ures al­ways want to at­tend. The rest of us, those who have picked up the odd ex­tra pound – oh, OK, ex­tra stone – and earn just enough to get by, are less keen.

“How many par­ties were you in­vited to last Christ­mas?” Laura per­sists. “None.”

“My point ex­actly. What else will you be do­ing?” She’s dev­as­tat­ingly blunt. “Mick has the kids, I’m go­ing, you’ll be at home, alone. Swal­lowed in a big dol­lop of FOMO.”

Aged thirty-eight, I still suf­fer from Fear Of Miss­ing Out, which makes me no bet­ter than a daft teenager. In fact, my thir­teen-year-old daugh­ter would roll her eyes. Thank­fully, she’s grown up with oo­dles of self-con­fi­dence and does not suf­fer from fear of any­thing.

The in­vite cropped up on Face­book. Kathryn Cromp­ton and Stephanie Walker, the It Girls of my youth, have al­ready pressed In­ter­ested. Nat­u­rally, they have not com­mit­ted to an out­right ac­cep­tance: they al­ways kept their op­tions open, in case a bet­ter of­fer came along.

I used to long to hang out with them, but I wasn’t cool enough. They were leggy, with lush, flicky hair and an end­less trail of boyfriends.

“I won­der what Kathryn and Stephanie look like now?”

“Well, if you go to the party you’ll find out, although it’s pretty shal­low to care,” Laura mut­ters.

I press In­ter­ested, be­cause I sort of am. De­spite pop­u­lar myth, col­lege years were not the best ones of my life. I re­mem­ber them as a blur of bro­ken hearts and cheap cur­ries, es­say and con­fi­dence crises. I only re­ally have two true friends from that time – Jen­nifer, who lives in Aus­tralia and works as a high-end travel con­sul­tant, and Laura who is a copy writer in a small ad­ver­tis­ing agency but dreams of writ­ing nov­els.

I’m a re­cep­tion­ist at a mid-size IT com­pany. It’s dull, but the hours fit around the kids. Af­ter di­vorc­ing four years ago, I (se­cretly) dream about a knight in shin­ing ar­mour.

Laura read a statis­tic that said she had one chance in a gazil­lion of be­com­ing the next J K Rowl­ing (OK, maybe I’m not quot­ing that ab­so­lutely ac­cu­rately) but then she added – and this bit

I do re­mem­ber – my chances of find­ing true love are less. Some­times Laura’s in­sis­tence on keep­ing it real can be bru­tal.

Laura and I wrap up warm against the chilly evening and catch a train to Lon­don. We went to col­lege in the Mid­lands and we live in Manch­ester now, but the re­u­nion is in Lon­don be­cause Kathryn com­mented on Face­book, “Lon­don is the place where ev­ery­thing hap­pens!”

It’s flawed logic. If the re­u­nion had hap­pened in Coventry then by def­i­ni­tion not ev­ery­thing would be hap­pen­ing in Lon­don, would it? But I didn’t add this to the com­ments, I just posted a smi­ley face emoji.

I should be braver, be­cause the train fare cost about the same as my monthly mort­gage. Luck­ily, Laura has ar­ranged for us to stay at her brother’s in Clapham so we’re not shelling out for a ho­tel.

The mo­ment we walk into the re­u­nion Laura starts wav­ing to peo­ple. She hasn’t even pinned on her name badge be­fore peo­ple greet her and yell ex­cit­edly. I thrust for­ward my left breast so that oth­ers have the best chance of

She hasn’t even pinned on a name badge be­fore peo­ple yell ex­cit­edly

read­ing my nametag and iden­ti­fy­ing me with least em­bar­rass­ment to all con­cerned. Although, ar­guably, thrust­ing my breast into peo­ple’s faces does cause an el­e­ment of em­bar­rass­ment.

We work our way to the bar and buy a cou­ple of bot­tles of red wine. I nor­mally drink white, but the sea­son de­mands some­thing weight­ier. Best to get two bot­tles be­cause if we find a ta­ble, we can of­fer peo­ple a drink when they join us – and they’re more likely to join us if they see there’s the chance of free vino.

“It is you, isn’t it?” I recog­nise Kathryn Cromp­ton’s voice in­stantly.

“Wow, Kathryn, you look won­der­ful,” says Laura. Kathryn looks us both up and down but doesn’t re­turn the com­pli­ment. I’m sur­prised when she sits down. I guess she’ll move on as soon as some­one more im­por­tant ap­pears. I pass the mer­lot and a glass. “I saw on Face­book you’re di­vorced, Gina. Met any­one new?” she asks, with all the sub­tlety of red, lacy un­der­wear.

The ques­tion is an­noy­ing, but I tell my­self I should be flat­tered that Kathryn fol­lows me on Face­book. Not that I an­nounced my di­vorce there, but any­one can gather I’m sin­gle. Week­end posts al­ter­nate be­tween pics of my kids and ones where I pre­tend to have hob­bies. Ac­cord­ing to Face­book I’m a de­cent cup­cake maker and some­one who re­ally likes at­tend­ing craft work­shops.

The truth is, when the kids are away I miss them, badly. I’ll do any­thing to swal­low time. First time ever that my Christ­mas cards are writ­ten in Novem­ber. I’m not dat­ing – not that I’m sug­gest­ing a man would solve all my prob­lems. He’d come with a stack of his own (smelly feet, hog­ging the re­mote, pos­si­bly an ob­ses­sive in­ter­est in Game of Thrones) but maybe he’d plug the aching hole I feel every time I hand over my chil­dren to my ex and his new wife. Kathryn con­tin­ues, “I’ve just cel­e­brated my tenth wed­ding an­niver­sary. We popped to the Mal­dives. Left the kids with the nanny, so we

could carve out some spe­cial time for one an­other. You know?”

She smiles, know­ing damn well that I don’t. That ex­plains why she’s here. To show off her out-of-sea­son tan.

“Have you seen Stephanie?” she asks, scan­ning the room.

“There she is,” says Laura, point­ing ex­cit­edly to­wards the door that Stephanie has just stepped through, a breeze chas­ing her in off the street. She blows kisses and flies to­wards us.

There’s no deny­ing it, Stephanie is still strik­ing even though she’s wear­ing her hair in a silky bob now.

She air-kisses ev­ery­one. I’m not a fan of air-kiss­ing, it lit­er­ally can’t be sin­cere. Stephanie sur­prises me by sit­ting down too. This free wine has quite the pull.

But then no, I soon re­alise ex­actly why Stephanie is tak­ing the time to chat. She’s just made part­ner at some enor­mous law firm. She doesn’t give us the ex­act fig­ure but makes it clear she earns about a zil­lion pounds per sec­ond.

I’m chuffed when she re­veals she’s sin­gle; how­ever she goes to some lengths to point out that it’s her choice. “I’m too busy for a love life.” I’d have be­lieved her if she hadn’t added, “Has any­one seen Phil Fal­lon? Is he com­ing?”

“He is!” says Kathryn. “I checked the guest list be­fore I con­firmed.”

Back in the day, Phil Fal­lon was the most cov­eted man in the en­tire col­lege. No com­pe­ti­tion. A six foot four, square­jawed, twinkly-eyed wall of mus­cle; he was heart-stop­pingly hand­some.

“What I wouldn’t do to him.” This com­ment comes from Kathryn.

“But you’re mar­ried,” I say.

“Mar­ried, not dead. Isn’t that the point of a re­u­nion? A bit of nos­tal­gic ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar?” Kathryn cack­les.

I can’t de­cide if she’s se­ri­ous. Wor­ry­ingly, I think she might be. Stephanie looks put out.

“Well, you’d have to climb over me first. I bagsie him be­cause I’m sin­gle.”

“Laura and Gina are sin­gle too, so you can’t bagsie him,” snaps Kathryn.

“She can’t bagsie him be­cause he’s a per­son and we’re not six,” I say but no one is lis­ten­ing.

Laura says that as we haven’t laid eyes on Phil for a cou­ple of decades, he’s prob­a­bly lost his hair and teeth, piled on the pounds and had a per­son­al­ity by­pass.

“I don’t care about his per­son­al­ity,” in­sists Stephanie. Yup, I’m re­mem­ber­ing why I wasn’t friends with these two. It wasn’t the swishy hair, it was their empty heads and hearts, their lash­ing tongues.

I mum­ble some­thing about go­ing to get an­other bot­tle of wine. The first one slipped down eas­ily. Stephanie tells me to “get some­thing de­cent this time” but doesn’t of­fer any cash.

“It’s rude to carry on be­ing so per­fect when the rest of us mun­danely age”

At the bar I find my­self stand­ing next to the famed Phil Fal­lon. I recog­nise him in­stantly. Be­cause, con­trary to Laura’s pre­dic­tions, he is still ridicu­lously beau­ti­ful. There’s some slight grey­ing around his tem­ples but that just adds to his per­fec­tion as it proves he’s not vain and dye­ing his hair.

I have never in my life spo­ken to Phil Fal­lon, but it turns out drink­ing most of a bot­tle of red, on noth­ing more than a cheese sand­wich, means I lose all sense of deco­rum.

“Did you put your­self on ice or some­thing?” I mut­ter.

“Sorry?”

I con­sider pre­tend­ing I just asked the bar­man for ice but can’t be both­ered. I blurt the ques­tion again.

“What do you mean?” he asks, smil­ing. “You haven’t changed at all,” I say with some in­dig­na­tion. “It’s rude to carry on be­ing so per­fect when the rest of us mun­danely age.”

“Flat­ter­ing but not true.” He flashes a charm­ing smile. “So, Gina, how are you?” “Wow, you have good eye­sight.” “Sorry?”

“I didn’t even have to wave my boob at you.” He looks con­fused. Blush­ing, I clar­ify, “To help you read my name tag.” “I know you ‘cos you’ve not changed.” “That’s just a big lie. Not ac­tu­ally flat­ter­ing be­cause it’s ob­vi­ously un­true.”

Phil starts to laugh. “OK, you’ve changed to look at – a bit – but I mean you’re just as funny as you al­ways were.” “Funny?” Me?

“Al­ways. You used to in­tim­i­date me. My one re­gret of col­lege is that I never plucked up the courage to have a con­ver­sa­tion with you.”

“I in­tim­i­dated you? Where, ex­actly? In the gym? On the run­ning track?”

He laughs again, although I’m not try­ing to be funny. We both seem to have our drinks now. Me a bot­tle of wine, him a bot­tle of wa­ter.

“Not drink­ing?” I ask.

“I thought I’d share yours,” he says, as he pays the bar­man. What the heck? Phil Fal­lon has just bought me a drink! It’s a bit sur­real. “Shall we find a seat?”

“I’m with Laura, Kathryn and Stephanie. Sort of.”

“Laura was al­ways pleas­ant but I wouldn’t mind avoid­ing Kathryn and Stephanie. Does that sound dread­ful?” “It sounds sen­si­ble.”

He leads me to a quiet cor­ner, I feel Kathryn and Stephanie’s glares burn my back, and Laura’s beam too.

“We stud­ied the same course, so we were of­ten to­gether, but they’re not re­ally my type,” he con­fesses.

“What’s your type?”

“I like women who make me laugh.” He gives me what can only be de­scribed as a mean­ing­ful look. Which causes me to blurt, “Are you sin­gle?” “Yes.”

“Why?” I ask sus­pi­ciously.

“I was en­gaged, years ago. She died.” “Oh… how sad. I’ve lit­er­ally noth­ing funny to say about that.”

“No, I don’t ex­pect you have. So are you sin­gle?”

“Yup. Di­vorced.”

“Oh, good.”

Well, it has never seemed so, up un­til now, but maybe. What was it Laura said re­unions were for? Ex­plor­ing re­la­tion­ships which were never given air. That’s the thing about my old­est friend, she talks some good sense.

Turn to page 59 for our ex­clu­sive au­thor in­ter­view

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.