Simon re-joined the others in the lounge.
“Tea, Simon?” Sally’s voice was bright and welcoming.
“Yes, thank you, although perhaps a scotch would be better,” he laughed.
“That bad, huh?”
“He’s not aware of the influence he had on us. We need to be gentle with him. He doesn’t understand why we’re here.”
Others had gathered as they saw Simon and Sally chatting.
“He seems sad,” Rob said. “I wonder what happened to give him that limp. But come on, don’t worry, Simon. We’ve invited him here so we can thank him. Everyone likes to be thanked and acknowledged. And once he realises that, I’m sure he’ll cheer up. I wonder if anyone has ever thanked him before. It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
“I hope so, Rob, I hope so.”
“How is the weekend going to run, Simon?”
Simon looked around the room. It was full of people many of whom had become dear friends. Family, almost.
“The only thing I want to sort out now, as far as the agenda is concerned, is when we’re all going to tell our individual stories. We’ve already agreed we’ll speak in historical order except for my story. I’ll go last and wrap it all up. But the actual time schedules need to be confirmed. Other than that, the weekend can almost run itself. I would like to factor in some free time too, to walk, or do whatever we want.”
“Whatever the weather permits, you mean!”
Simon joined in the laughter.
“Yes, but what else do you expect? We’re in the Lake District!” As the laughter died down, he continued.
“I have the speakers’ names on this list. Please write down which story you’ll be telling and I’ll let you know before dinner when you’ll be speaking. I don’t think we need to make the weekend too formal, but it will help all of us if we sort this out now.”
People came forward to complete the list. Simon glanced down it when everyone had finished. A surge of excitement swept through him. He couldn’t remember all the stories, but he knew every lesson had been remarkable. Hearing them all in the space of one weekend would be special. He had a feeling God had a purpose for this weekend, although at this moment Simon had no idea what it was. It was possible, of course, he never would know. But that was okay. God would sort it all out.
People went back to their rooms briefly and gathered again in the bar at about six. When Simon arrived, Mr Reynolds was already installed at a table with a Scotch. Sally and Mike were with him. As Simon waited for his drink, Jim joined the group at the table and sat down, introducing himself to Mr Reynolds.
Simon went across to sit with them.
“We’ve been explaining a bit about how Mr Reynolds’ classes touched us,” Sally said. Her eyes were sparkling with fun. “I wouldn’t have missed this weekend for anything. Just seeing everyone again is wonderful.”
“I must say, I’m surprised the class had such an impact. I had no idea,” Mr Reynolds said. “I thought it was just another class. I remember when I was told to teach it. Mrs … what was her name?”
“Colton,” Mike said.
“Yes, that’s it, Mrs Colton went on maternity leave and the headmaster told me I would need to step in and take the class. It meant I had to hand my tennis coaching schedule for the term over to another teacher. I’d just given in my notice and I think the headmaster was rather upset with me. He insisted there was no one else to take the class. I was unfamiliar with the Old Testament. It was all new territory for me. I had no idea how to go about teaching it.
“And then I had the dream. The first dream.”
It was all coming back to him now. He’d been so angry at having this class dumped on him. He was certain the headmaster was taking revenge on him for resigning. He loved teaching and enjoyed the interaction with the kids. He wanted to do the best he could for them in helping them achieve their full potential. But this school was stifling him and he longed for greater challenges and wider experience than Ranburne High could offer.
So he had resigned and the headmaster had given him the Old Testament class.
It wasn’t even as if the class was obligatory. It was an optional extra. He thought it could have been cancelled for that one term. He remembered there were five kids to start with but, for some reason, the class had grown through the term until there were about twenty or so. He could never understand it. When he talked there was silence and no one even fidgeted. He had never taught a class like it before or since. The kids were absorbed by every word he said.
But then, he’d never taught a class in that way before. Apart from the Bible, he had not used any other research material. Just the dreams. Those strange dreams he’d had every week before each lesson. They disturbed him, yet intrigued him. So he told the class about the dreams. They soaked them up like thirsty sponges.
Even he had almost been convinced.
It had all been very peculiar. He found himself looking forward to the classes, to the next dream. But surely this was just stuff for children? How could a reasoning adult ever accept the stories as the truth or even relevant in the modern world?
Something in him refused to accept any of it. It was a challenge, teaching something he didn’t believe in. It made him feel uncomfortable. In fact, every day the feeling had increased, as if he was being pursued somehow, until on the last day of the term he could not wait to get out of the place. Come to think of it, he had never been completely at ease since then. The restlessness still surfaced from time to time.
He had put it down to what happened later that summer. His whole life had been turned upside down. It was not surprising he forgot about the dreams. But why, then, did these feelings begin while he was still teaching – before the summer? Perhaps there was a connection with the dreams. No, that was impossible. Surely?
“Mr Reynolds? Would you like another drink?” Mike held his hand out for the now-empty glass on the table.
“Oh, no. No, thank you. I’ll wait until we eat before I have anything else, thanks.”
Simon stood up and tapped a pen against his empty glass.
“Friends,” he smiled at them all, “I have great pleasure in welcoming you here this weekend, and in particular, our special guest, Mr Reynolds.”
The applause was heartfelt, and Dean felt his eyes fill with tears. This was ridiculous! Why would he want to cry? He took a deep, surreptitious breath, to hold himself together.
“As you know, we have kept in touch with one another since that one term when Mr Reynolds taught us. Many of us have had some pretty amazing experiences as a result of that class. I suggest we have dinner now. Then afterwards, Sally will kick the weekend off with her story.”
There was a murmur of agreement as people finished their drinks and began to move through to the dining room. Dean was relieved to see the attractive room was well-lit. He couldn’t cope with dim lighting and candles. He liked to be able to see who he was talking to and what he was eating.
Simon led him to a table and pulled out a chair for him. Dean sat, smiling to himself at the old-fashioned courtesy this young man was showing him. He glanced around the room. Although most of the others must have been nearly forty by now, if not already in their forties, they were still young people in his mind. He had always thought of his students as being young – something it was getting more difficult to do, as he himself was now approaching seventy. Mary and Jim joined Dean and Simon, together with a vibrant young woman whom Mary introduced as Sandra. They took their seats and asked him polite questions at first. Where had he gone when he left Ranburne? Did he have a family? What was he doing now? He was reluctant to give too many details. Life had been hard and he didn’t want to throw a dampener on their high spirits. There was a sense of celebration, of – what word summed it up, this strong, underlying feeling which was so evident?
Joy. That was it. There was a sense of joy.
He was pleased people were so happy to be here for the weekend. He was still not sure why they were all here, but he was content to wait and find out. He turned his attention to the meal. He had ordered tomato soup, with just a hint of chilli; a Dover sole, cooked to perfection; and a chocolate fondant which was perhaps the most delicious dessert he had ever tasted.
As they finished eating, Simon stood and the conversation died down.
“If anyone would like a brandy or a coffee or something, I suggest we order and ask for them to be served in the lounge. I think it’s time we got this weekend under way.”
He turned to Dean.
“Is there anything you need from your room, sir?”
The term of respect slipped out as it would have done twenty five years ago.
The old man’s eyes widened in surprise. He chuckled.
“No, Simon, thank you. But I think you can drop the ‘Sir’ bit. How about dropping the ‘Mr Reynolds’ too? I think perhaps you are all old enough to call me Dean now.”
Simon laughed and nodded.
“Thank you. I’ll let the others know.”
It seemed as if it was a turning point. Perhaps it was a result of the Scotch and the wine Dean had consumed, but it was a relief. It would make everyone feel as if he was part of the crowd, one of them, rather than someone on the outside looking in.