Old School Tie

Entry by: Paul McDermott

9th July 2015
Reunion Day

Paul coasted to a halt on the school car park. As always, he was early. As far as he was concerned, arriving late for anything was bad manners, nothing more.
"Never late in eight years as a pupil: I'm not going to get myself a Detention now!" he thought to himself, with a wry grin. A vivid image blossomed in his mind of Fr. "Butch" McMorrow SJ, standing at the school gate to record the names of the latecomers. Repeat offenders could expect a painful appointment with the Ferula swaying ominously at his hip, looped to the rope ceinture around his waist.
This would be his first Old Xav Reunion: he'd spent most of his thirty-plus years teaching a long way from Liverpool, and almost all of them abroad. He eased himself out of his Motorbility car checking from habit to be sure that his Blue Badge was correctly displayed. The discreet logo identifying the Disabled bay was the only difference he could see in the Car Park, compared to when he'd been a pupil.
He caught himself caressing the bare toes of the statue of St. Francis Xavier, keeping a careful watch over the outdoor Chapel. Although he'd seen visitors do this many times, it hadn't been a conscious decision on his part to copy them - at least, he didn't think it was. He glanced swiftly to all sides, and breathed a sigh of relief. There was nobody else in sight.
But there was another vehicle, and the massive jolt of adrenaline unleashed as he recognized the personalised number plates almost stopped his heart. After so many years, could it really be ...?
SMC 1D Bold, clear and unmistakeable, front and rear on a flawless 1966 MGB GT convertible, separated from Paul's modest runabout by two empty parking bays.
It had been a seven-day sensation when School Captain Steve McVeigh turned up with the birthday present his father had given him the day after they'd all finished their "A" level exams. Steve had already had acceptance letters from Oxford and at least two other universities: his future seemed assured.
"That's got to be worth gazillions!" Paul thought, but without envy or bitterness. Had the popular Head Boy managed to cossett, maintain, repair and insure the same now-classic car for almost thirty-five years? The insurance alone must be a killer was Paul's next thought. In the late evening sunlight, the flawless, pristine paintwork looked as if it had been freshly applied that very day: the MG coupé simply glowed health and opulence.
I'll enjoy a good natter with Steve, assuming he remembers me, he thought. His ear caught the rumble of more cars arriving, distracting him from the simple pleasure of appreciating the MG's elegant lines. He straightened his perfectly-knotted Old Xav tie as he waited for the new arrivals: he felt too self-conscious to enter on his own.
Steve McVeigh seemed to have discovered a magic elixir granting him the fabled gift of Peter Pan. In Sixth Form he'd been tall for his age, and there was still barely a wrinkle on his features. His mid-length blond hair still flopped rebelliously over his left temple: he had the lean, athletic look of a man in his mid-twenties. He stood with a couple of soutane'd teachers, greeting everyone who arrived with a genuine warmth. His female companion had a similar deceptively youthful appearance.
"He's married someone who's lasted the course just as well ..." was Paul's first thought, but a split-second later he was rocked by another hormonal thunderbolt. She wasn't married to Steve, she was ...
"Nuala? Really? After all these years ...!"
Paul couldn't help himself. His exclamation was muted, but only because the shock had kicked the breath out of his lungs and almost paralysed his vocal cords.
Steve turned and smiled.
"You've not changed that much then, Paul! Physically, maybe: but you were always sweet on my sister. Both of us knew that, of course ..."
" ... and I always hoped you might, you know ... " Nuala added, shyly.
Paul looked from the one familiar face to the other, dumbfounded.
" I never really thought ... " he began, but was unable to construct a coherent end to the sentence.
Steve murmured a few words to the priests welcoming a steadily increasing number of Reunion guests and led Nuala and Paul into the main Hall. Several groups were forming and reforming as memories and anecdotes were shared.
Although St. Francis Xaviers had been an all boys school, there were a number of female guests in the room. Paul assumed that these were the 'plus One' partners of returning Old Xavs, but Nuala smiled at his comment.
"The last few years, the Reunion has been run jointly with St. Julie's Girls ..."
"Which was how our paths first crossed!" Paul found his voice and his nerve simultaneously. "It was the first time Poppa Doyle allowed us to have Girls singing in the year's G&S production: you were Yum-Yum to my Nanki-Poo in The Mikado!"
"And yet you didn't have the nerve to ask her out?" Steve teased. "Because I can tell you, a love-struck kid sister isn't funny to be around ...!"
Nuala poked her brother in a not-too-ladylike fashion.
"Bossy big bruv's are no laughing matter, either! I can't even begin to count the number of blokes I might have dated if you hadn't scared 'em off!"
The exchange of sibling banter was halted (at least temporarily) by a general invitation for the guests to be seated for the meal. Nuala made a demonstrative point of linking her arm with Paul's, not Steve's.
"I'm not ignoring you, brother o' mine, and I sincerely hope you'll sit and share our table while we enjoy the meal! And although I love riding in your car, it's a bit cramped for me when I'm wearing a 'posh frock'."
" Also," she added, with a smile which was unquestionably mischievous, "I'm guessing Paul and I have a lot of catching up to do. If he has no objections, this Cinderella would prefer to ride home from the Ball with her new-found Prince ..."