ADELE PARKS THE WAY WE WERE
Ah, reunions – joyful and fulfilling, depressing and embarrassing… or maybe a little of each?
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.
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?”
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.
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