Dean was stiff by the time the train drew into the station. He was grateful to the tall young man sitting opposite him, who offered to help get his suitcase down. It didn’t have much in it; just the stuff he needed for the weekend, but it was a bit too high for him to reach easily. The young man made it look as if it was light the way he swung it down and then carried it onto the platform. Dean thanked him. It was good to know there were still people in the world who were willing to help a stranger.
Outside the station, a driver stood holding a card with Dean’s name on it. Dean walked up to him.
“Mr Reynolds?” the driver asked, as he stepped forward to take his case and put it in the boot.
“Do you need anything before we leave, sir? The journey will take us about twenty minutes.”
“No, thank you.”
Dean settled in the back seat. He was surprised at the luxurious car they had sent. He’d expected something small and well-used. But this was top-of-the-range and very comfortable.
The driver pulled out of the station and wound his way through the town and out into the countryside. Dean looked around with interest. He hadn’t been to the Lake District for many years and he was pleased to see it was as unspoilt and beautiful as he remembered. For the moment it was a sunny afternoon with Lake Windermere sparkling in the sunshine, but he could see clouds gathering in the west, promising rain. He had wondered what memories the area would provoke.
It was twenty five years since he had come here and camped with friends one summer.
It had rained but it hadn’t mattered. Not until the fateful day when … Dean shivered and pushed the memory out of his mind. He didn’t need to remember that one. He had been reminded of it every moment of every day since.
He leaned forward.
“Where are we going?”
The driver glanced at him in the rear view mirror.
“The Sunnyside Hotel, not far from Grasmere, sir.”
Grasmere. Wordsworth country. Dean felt a surge of pleasure. As an English teacher, he had always loved Wordsworth. It had been part of the plan to visit the area all those years ago. But it hadn’t worked out that way.
Dean shuddered again. This would never do. He would soon be surrounded by people, many of whom would know him, even if he didn’t remember them. This morbid frame of mind needed to be shrugged off. He began to recite as many of Wordsworth’s poems, under his breath, as he could recall. He was still doing so as the car pulled into a neat gravel driveway and wound its way through tall rhododendrons which had obviously been there for years.
As it pulled up outside the grey stone building, a slender woman scurried through the glass doors and stood on the steps. She looked nervous, but her face lit up as she smiled her welcome. She ran down the steps as he got out of the car.
“Mr Reynolds. How wonderful to see you. We’re so pleased you could join us. I’m Mary Dawson.” She laughed. “Well, I was Mary Watts when we knew each other at Ranburne.”
She rabbited on and he lost track of what she was saying. Her nervousness made him reluctant to go into the hotel. How many people would be there? Would they all remember him? He couldn’t recall the name of a single member of staff from so long ago, never mind the pupils. He must have been crazy to accept the invitation.
But Mary took his arm and made sure he was steady as he climbed the steps. The driver had taken his suitcase out of the car and carried it through the doors into the foyer, so there was nothing to do but follow their lead and face whatever and whoever was on the other side.
Simon was pleased with the turnout. It was a miracle that everyone had managed to come. It said a great deal about their old teacher and the influence he had had on them all. Not one person had suggested another date or even said they would have to change their plans to be there. They had all accepted.
The only question mark was Reynolds himself. He must be retired by now. It had been touch and go whether he would come, but he had accepted both the email and the hand-written invitation, if not with alacrity, at least with politeness. Simon had a feeling he wouldn’t let them down.
However, it was still a relief to see Mary rush out through the doors and return a moment later with Mr Reynolds on her arm.
Simon was not sure what he’d expected but he was shocked. Mr Reynolds had put on a lot of weight and his face was lined with pain and grief. Simon was surprised to see him limping, leaning heavily on a sturdy walking stick.
The excited buzz of people catching up with one another fell away as, one by one, his companions realised Mr Reynolds had arrived.
Then somebody, Simon thought it might have been Bekka, began to clap, gently at first, but joined by all the others, till the foyer was full of applause. The old man stopped and looked around bewildered. Mary whispered something to him and he glanced at her. He was anxious, and Simon’s heart went out to him. This was not what they’d wanted. They wanted to celebrate; not make this man uncomfortable.
He hurried forward.
“Mr Reynolds! How wonderful to see you again. I’m Simon Fraser. I’m so pleased you could make it. Let’s get you registered then I’ll show you to your room. Perhaps you’d like to have a moment to recover from your journey – maybe a cup of tea – then you can join us again when you feel rested.”
The hum of conversation grew louder behind them as Mr Reynolds signed the register. He and Simon headed for the corridor which would take them to his room.
Simon smiled at him as they left Reception, the carpeted corridor cocooning them in silence.
“How are you, Mr Reynolds?”
“I don’t understand. Those people – who are they? Where are the rest of the class; and the other teachers? Where are they?”
Simon’s heart sank.
“We are the Bible Study class of 1990,” Simon said. “You taught us for a term. Do you remember?”
Perhaps the old boy had Alzheimer’s. He couldn’t have forgotten that class. They had never considered he might not remember. It had been such a watershed moment in all their lives; they thought it would have been the same for him.
They walked slowly down the long corridor, Mr Reynolds leaning heavily on his stick.
Simon felt a pang of sympathy for him. Perhaps it had been too much to ask of him to come into this crowd of strangers. They had kept in touch with one another, fascinated to discover what happened to each of them. But Mr Reynolds had left the school at the end of the term and had walked out of their lives. It had taken a great deal of research to find him. The man seemed to have just disappeared. Simon remembered the excitement when Mike had emailed the group.
“I’ve found him! I checked the Government Pension site – don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. But he’s on the list. And I’ve discovered his address …”
Simon glanced at his companion. Mr Reynolds looked at a complete loss. It was obvious he didn’t remember the class as they did. Simon wondered what he was thinking.
Dean was confused. He was aware of Simon watching him. What was this weekend all about? He vaguely remembered teaching a Bible Study class that summer. But subsequent events had wiped out any recollection of why it would be considered special enough for this elaborate weekend. And anyway, he didn’t even believe in the Bible, really. It had never done anything for him.
This corridor seemed to be never-ending. He couldn’t wait to get to his room and take the weight off his feet. Perhaps a cup of tea would be a good idea too as he tried to work out what was happening.
“Here we are. Room 120!” Simon tried not to sound relieved. The long walk had ended in an awkward silence.
“We arranged for a view of the lake for you. I hope that’s alright?”
“That’s nice, thank you.” Once again Dean was surprised at the trouble they’d gone to for him.
That applause as he walked in! As if he was a hero. What was all that about?
He was grateful the young man was carrying his case. What was his name again? Cedric? Steven?
Aah, Simon. That was it.
Simon opened the door with a flourish and ushered Dean into the room with the lakeside view.
It was beautiful.
Dean was not in the habit of noticing such things, but even he could see the care that had been taken in decorating the room. And the view was astounding.
Without a word, both men moved straight across to the window and gazed at the panorama spread out before them. Green rolling lawns led down to the lake. It was grey, the threatening rainclouds rolling in. But one sunbeam streamed through a small gap in the clouds, illuminating a patch of water that sparkled and danced in the golden light, stirred up by the rising wind.
“It’s lovely, Simon. Thank you.” Mr Reynolds turned and smiled.
Simon grinned back in relief.
“I’m glad you like it. Now, we’re gathering in two hours, at six, in the bar for drinks before dinner. It would be great if you could join us. In the meantime, make yourself at home. This weekend is for you. You look a little tired. Can I make you a cup of tea before I leave you to rest?”
“Oh, yes, thank you. That would be very nice.” The old man nodded and sank into a chair with a sigh of relief.
“Yes, Mr Reynolds.”
“Please explain to me what’s going on. Why am I here? Why was that class so special to you all? What was the applause about?”
Simon dropped the tea bag into the mug then turned to face his old teacher.
“We wanted to say thank you. The class you taught for that one term changed our lives. None of us has ever forgotten it. We wanted you to know the impact it had on us.”
“What impact? I don’t understand.”
The kettle whistled as it came to the boil, but Simon turned it off and let it stand.
“You opened doors for us we didn’t know even existed.”
Mr Reynolds looked dazed and exhausted. His face was grey with pain.
“Have a rest and a cup of tea. Then please join us and we will explain it all, over dinner.” Simon finished making the tea, adding milk and sugar at Mr Reynolds’ instructions.
“Here you are. Is there anything else you need?”
Mr Reynolds shook his head.
“Would you like me to come and fetch you at six?”
“No, thank you. I think I’ll manage to find you. In the bar, you say?”
“Yes. I’ll see you later, then.”
Simon closed the door behind him and sighed. This could be an awkward weekend unless something happened to improve things.
Dean also sighed – with relief. It was good to have some time alone. He sipped his tea and gazed out of the window. It was raining now. Soon all he would be able to see would be raindrops on the windows. Putting his mug down, he lay back in the chair and closed his eyes. Ah, well, he could cope with forty eight hours. Perhaps he would spend a lot of time in this room …