Dean woke as his alarm went off. It took him a moment to work out what the noise was and where he was. He was not used to setting alarms these days. The strange room was darker than his bedroom at home. He checked the time. Seven o’clock.
He heaved himself out of bed and limped to the windows to open the heavy curtains that had kept the room dark. He blinked as the dazzling light flooded his room. The sun was shining. It was a bright and beautiful day. The world had been washed clean by the heavy rain the previous evening. The lake was calm, with the hills and tiny, puffy clouds reflecting on its surface.
He stood for a moment looking out at the view, then made his way back to the dresser. He turned on the kettle and waited for it to boil. The resulting coffee was fragrant and delicious. He sat in a comfy chair gazing out over the garden across the water to the hills beyond, thinking about the events of last night.
He was still amazed at the impact his stories had had on these people. Why hadn’t he been influenced by them? Perhaps he would have been if things had turned out differently for him. If the events of those summer months immediately after that term had not happened.
He became aware of the familiar nudge of disquiet which was so much part of his life, but he ignored it as he considered his part in the Class of 1990. In spite of himself, he found he was looking forward to hearing more stories.
He also hoped for a bit of free time. He might enjoy a slow stroll down to the lakeshore. Or would he? He shuddered at the memories such an idea brought rising to the surface of his mind. He tried to bury the persistent thoughts, but they insisted on making themselves conspicuous.
He closed his eyes and let them come. For the first time in twenty five years he did not shut them off, but allowed himself to remember.
Barry and Greg, his old school friends and hiking companions, had suggested they hike to the top of Hellvelyn – not the highest peak in the area, but a challenge, nonetheless. They thought it would be good practice for the sponsored walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End the three of them were planning for the following summer. He had agreed and they had worked out the day’s route.
They would catch the bus from their campsite in Keswick to Glenridding. From there they would take advantage of as many of the surrounding hills as possible. Their route would take them along Swirral Edge, to the summit of Hellvelyn and then along Striding Edge and back down to Glenridding. Then they would continue down the road, along the edge of the lake to Patterdale. Last year, Barry had visited a great pub there which served a generous Ploughman’s lunch with a local brew which he recommended.
They had set off in good spirits, teasing one another about the stiff climb ahead and how each would cope with it.
The day had been fresh after the night’s rain. It was clear and they checked the weather forecast before they left. No problem with the weather closing in. The hike had been exhilarating, and the panoramic views over Lake Ullswater and Lake Thirlmere were breathtaking. They stopped at the top and sat for a while, just drinking in the scene below them where Red Tarn sparkled in the sun. The morning was imprinted in Dean’s memory.
But not for the right reasons.
They had descended back to the road with no problem. It had been a good distance and now some lunch and a drink were uppermost in their minds.
Dean had not heard the car behind him as he took one step out into the road to avoid a thistle which looked too prickly to brush past with his bare legs. The car had been speeding, the others had told the police, and it had not stopped. It had flung Dean up into the air and he had landed on the road in a crumpled heap. His two friends had stood there in shock and the car was round the corner and gone before either thought to look for a number. In fact, they had never even agreed on the make; it had all happened so quickly.
They had not wanted to leave him and had managed to flag down a passing car within a minute or so of the accident. The driver had taken Barry to the first house in Patterdale where he had been able to phone the police and an ambulance. None of them possessed a cell phone in those days.
Dean shivered as he sat in his chair looking over the lake. He did not need to remember any of the rest of it. The shock and the agony; the operations and the long stay in hospital; learning to walk again – these were all memories best pushed to one side. Pain was a constant reminder of that day. No, he thought as he sat and sipped his coffee, it was not surprising those classes had slipped out of his mind, tangled up as they were in such a devastating time of his life.
He finished his coffee, had a shower and dressed, ready to go along to breakfast. He thought back to that distant summer again. One of the reasons he had never returned to the Lake District was because he had not wanted to face the memories. And yet this morning, as they had swept over him, he had been able to remember and think of that time, or at least some of it, without getting upset. Usually, he ended up with a migraine when he allowed himself to think.
He stopped before he opened the door to check how he was feeling. A flush of warmth seemed to flow through him.
That was strange.
But otherwise he felt fine.
No sign of a migraine.
Good. Perhaps allowing himself to remember was not such a bad thing after all.
He walked along the corridor to the dining room which was already busy.
Breakfast was a buffet – something he hated. It was difficult with his limp to keep a plate on an even keel and his stick meant he didn’t have a spare hand to help himself.
But on this morning Sally came to his aid.
“Can I help you? I can hold your plate while you help yourself.”
Her eyes were kind as she smiled at him.
“Thank you. That would be helpful.”
He chose bacon, eggs, sausage, tomatoes and, throwing all caution to the wind, a hash brown. He had been trying rather half-heartedly to lose some weight, but an opportunity for a breakfast like this came very rarely. He was going to take advantage of everything the weekend offered.
Sally led him to a table where three people were already tucking into their breakfasts. One of the men rose to his feet, closely followed by the other, as Sally introduced them.
“Dean, have you met Rory, Gordon and Sandra?” Dean shook their hands. The pretty girl, whose face was familiar, smiled up at him.
“Good morning, Dean. We met last night. Did you sleep well?”
They exchanged pleasantries as they ate breakfast. They all seemed to be taking advantage of the wonderful food. Dean relished the two slices of toast with chunky marmalade he had allowed himself to be persuaded to eat, after his bacon and eggs. The coffee was also good. He enjoyed the lively conversation which developed between his four companions. He listened to their banter, not joining in, but content to just be there. It was obvious they knew each other quite well.
Others around them began to leave the dining room as Sandra checked her watch.
“We’ve got ten minutes before the morning session is due to start. I have to go back to my room. I’ll see you guys later.”
Sally jumped up.
“Me too,” she said and hurried off.
“I’ll see you soon,” Rory said as he too pushed his chair back and wandered away.
“How about you, Dean?” Gordon said. “I think I must go back too. I’ve left my camera in the room and I fancy taking a couple of photos during the course of the day. Are you alright if I leave you?
“Yes, yes, fine. I need to go and fetch my glasses. I left them by my bed.”
Dean hobbled back down the corridor, grateful his room was on the ground floor. His glasses were an excuse really. He only used them for reading but these small intervals of solitude were precious to him. He didn’t want to be late though and he only spent a moment or two in his room, relishing the silence.
People were still arriving as he went into the lounge area where they had met last night. Simon came across to greet him. They had not talked to each other at breakfast.
“Good morning, Dean. How are you? I hope you were comfortable last night? We didn’t tire you out too much, did we?”
“I slept well thank you. And I enjoyed breakfast!”
“Good. I’m pleased. Well, I see Jonathan’s here. He’s going to tell us his story first this morning. Where would you like to sit?”