by Mandy Hackland
He heard the postman whistle as he walked up the path. The letterbox snapped shut reminding him, as always, of a disgruntled dog nipping at fingers. The effort of pushing himself up made him groan as he struggled to his feet and limped into the hallway.
There on the mat, lay an extravagant, long, cream envelope. He groaned again as he bent to pick it up. The writing was strong and neat as if the penman had taken time over it.
So here it was.
The official, written invitation.
The one he had been promised so many months ago when the ‘Save this Date’ email blinked its arrival message across his screen.
Dean picked up the old-fashioned letter opener from the hall table and went back into the sitting room, sinking gratefully into his chair by the gas fire. He slit the envelope open and pulled out a card. Once again hand-written, the writing this time was curly and formal. It read:
The Class of 1990
Mr Dean Reynolds
to join them for their
25th Anniversary Celebration …
A whole weekend away. Dean tried to remember when he had last been away for a weekend. He had become something of a recluse since his retirement. As he looked at the date he realised it was the weekend he would turn seventy.
The first email had been followed by a second from a lady named Mary Dawson. She was, she told him, a member of the Class of 1990 and had been asked to invite him to join them. It was to be a time of reminiscing and they would be very honoured if he could attend. She and her classmates would cover all expenses.
He had taken a few days to answer. He didn’t want to be rude, but it all seemed such an effort. He couldn’t even remember the class of 1990 in the sea of faces which had passed in front of his teacher’s podium over all the years.
1990. It would have been the year he left Ranburne High.
It was the summer … His mind swung away from the thought, slamming the door shut on the anguish of remembering.
He read the email again and pressed the reply button. There was no reason for him to attend – he was just one of many teachers these kids would have had. He would make some excuse and refuse the invitation.
He began to type. But somehow the words of refusal would not form in his mind. After all, an all-expenses paid weekend was not to be taken lightly when you were living on a teacher’s pension.
So he had accepted – and then forgotten all about it until the invitation arrived on the mat. He felt a moment of regret that he’d said he would go. But it would have been unfair to change his mind when he had already accepted. He’d always kept his word to his students, and there was no reason to break it now.
Before he could think any more about it, he pulled pen and paper out of his desk and wrote a formal acceptance, as befitted such a formal invitation, put a stamp on the envelope and posted it when he went down to the local shop for his cigarettes and newspaper.
The level of excitement was high. Although some of them knew each other, having kept in touch via social media, photographs were few and far between and some of the group had been on-lookers rather than active participants. People had been arriving for the last hour and there was much exchanging of names and declaring how wonderful everyone looked after twenty five years. They had taken over the small hotel for the weekend. People were finding keys and taking luggage to rooms so all would be ready for the arrival of their Guest of Honour.
Mary had not been sure he would come. Even now she was not sure. He had taken ages to answer her original e-mail and it was with some doubt she had posted the invitation, which she had so painstakingly written out. It reminded her of being back at school, trying to do her best, wanting top marks for everything she submitted. She had laughed at herself. Well, he was one of her teachers, but it had surprised her that she still, deep down, wanted to please him.
She was glad to have been given the task of the invitations. She was not required to play a major role in the rest of the arrangements for the weekend.
She looked around the lobby of the beautiful hotel set amongst the hills of the Lake District. Lawns, framed on either side with still-blooming rhododendrons, swept down to the lake. A couple of boats were moored there and she could see one out on the water, scudding across the waves. There was a sharp wind, in spite of it being late June, and the boat was making good progress.
She greeted people as they arrived. Rob, with his charming smile, had to introduce himself. His thinning hair was a surprise and he laughed when she didn’t recognise him. Sandra, her best friend, needed no introduction. Mary hugged her with delight and relief. At least she could rely on Sandra if things became awkward at any time. Jonathan (never Jon) came across and shook her hand, as reserved and formal as ever. It must have taken some effort for him to come. He had never found groups of people easy.
Simon, Bekka, Rory, Gordon. They arrived one by one. Eighteen in all.
It said a lot for the man they had come to honour – and to thank. Mary wondered if Mr Reynolds had any idea of the impact he had made on each of his students that term when he taught them.
She checked her watch. How was he feeling now, as he travelled north on the train? She became aware she was gritting her teeth and made an effort to relax. Ridiculous, at the age of thirty eight, to be so nervous. She was an adult, and he was just another man. But he was still her teacher. She couldn’t think of him in any other way.