Geoff pushed up his tie and sighed at the sight of his reflection in the mirror. What was the point? He’s merely be spending the night with a bunch of people he cared nothing about, confirming that they had been right nearly fifteen years ago – he was a freak. He tried straightening out his jacket, smoothing away non-existent creases in his shirt. No, he wasn’t going. There really was no point.
“Honey, what are you doing?” his wife frowned when she entered their bedroom to see him removing the jacket and loosening the tie. “The taxi is going to be here in about five minutes and you’re...” She trailed off, a slight frown still present on her otherwise flawless face. She looked dazzling her long brown hair a perfect contrast to her blue dress. Geoff loved the way she could get ready so quickly and effortlessly and still take his breath away. “Second thoughts?” she asked.
“I don’t know why I decided to go in the first place,” Geoff grumbled. “They’ll all be saying, ‘Oh, I have my own business’ or, ‘I’m an engineer’ or accountant or whatever – normal jobs. Can you imagine the amusement on their faces when I tell them, ‘Hey, remember me? The freak at school? Yeah, well now I’m an act in the fucking circus!’”
“Geoff, look at me. Look at me.” He locked eyes with her; the blue pools washed over him with love. “You are an acrobat in the circus – so what? It’s a job you enjoy, and that’s all that matters. Plus the pay is good, which is an added bonus!”
He couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped his lips before sobering up again. “But what if some of them have seen me perform?” he asked anxiously.
“Then they will most probably be awestruck by your talent – just like I was when I first met you.” How did she always know the right thing to say? “Come on, let’s sort that tie out and loosen the hold on the demons of the past and stop being silly, okay?”
“Okay. Yeah, let’s go.” She gave him a gentle peck on the lips before leaving him to it.
The lady at the desk looks down her nose when addressing them, her beady eyes watching them, judging them.
“Geoffrey Pinall,” Geoff replied coolly, “and this is my wife, Sandra.” He took the stickers with their names on and, squeezing Sandra’s hand momentarily, walked through the double doors to the hall. “Like a lamb to the slaughter,” he grimaced. A huge banner hung from the ceiling with the name of the school and the year they graduated. He looked to his left and saw notice boards up with high school photographs pinned to them, and to his right a buffet. He took his wife’s hand and led her to the buffet. He could do with the distraction of food right now.
“Wait!” Sandra laughed. “I want to see pictures of little nerdy Geoffrey!”
“Later,” Geoff blushed.
“No, come on, Geoff! Food can wait!” She knew food made him feel safer, calmer. Why was she being like this?
She dragged him to the notice boards and instantly went to work searching for her husband’s younger face. It wasn’t long before Geoff was cringing at the little shout of shock and laughter that came from his wife and he forced himself to walk over to her and meet his former self again. God, no wonder they always thought he was a freak – what the hell was he wearing? His eyes were framed with black eyeliner, and his hair was black with a blue tinge to it. And his clothes! They were so...
“Wow!” Sandra chuckled. “Your fashion sense was, ah...a lot different to the way it is now.”
“Yeah,” was all that came out of his mouth for a while. And then, “God, I really was a freak!”
“You were different,” Sandra corrected him, cupping his cheek with her hand, “and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
“Why if it isn’t Geoffrey Freak-all’,” a familiar voice came from behind Geoff. He turned around to come face to face with an older version the former football captain who had always talked down to him at school. “How’ve you been, Geoff? I must say you’re looking good.”
Geoff accepted the outstretched hand and made sure to shake it firmly. “Thank you, James, and very well. How about you?”
“Good,” James smiled. “Great actually. I was recently hired as a commentator for the local sports in Gloucester last month so I’m one step closer to the Premiership.”
“That’s great,” Geoff smiled, despite the fact that the 17-year-old part of him was disappointed that the man before him was doing so well. He remembered his manners quickly when he felt his left hand being given a supportive squeeze. “Forgive me, this is my wife, Sandra. Sandra this is James.”
“Nice to meet you, James,” Sandra gave her best smile as they shook hands.
“Likewise,” James smiled before turning his attention back to Geoff. “Look, Geoff,” he cleared his throat, frowning at the floor. Was the tension between them really that thick? “I know that I was a real arse to you at school...”
“Yeah, you were,” Geoff deadpanned.
“I want to say that I’m sorry for that. Because I am, really.”
Geoff smiled and offered his hand which James readily clasped in his own, nodding his sincere apology. It was...nice. Geoff finally felt accepted.
“So anyway, what do you do now?”
Why? Why did this have to come up?
“Well...” Swallow. “Well...ah...” Swallow. “It’s funny you should ask that...”
“James Hicks, is that you?” A woman came scurrying up to the trio, her stout little arms held up as if she was rollerblading and surrendering at the same time. “It’s me, Ashley. Ashley Peters? We dated for like a year or something.”
Geoff’s jaw dropped. Last time he’d spoken to Ashley Peters it was during their last week at high school. He’d given her some grand speech about how much of a bitch she was and that he would get somewhere in life while she’d end up sitting on her fat arse all day watching as friends became former friends and boyfriends became ex-boyfriends. It seemed that was exactly what had happened to her.
“Ashley,” James gasped. “Whoa, hey, how are you?”
“I’m good, I’m good. You?”
“Yeah, not bad thanks.”
She nodded awkwardly before turning to Geoff. “And you are...?” She squinted at his name sticker. “Geoff.” She frowned as she tried to remember him; her eyes widened suddenly. “Geoffrey Freak-all? Oh my God, you turned out to be so hot! I knew behind the blue hair and tragic makeup you had potential to be a total girl magnet.”
“Thank you, Ashley...I think.” She smiled at him, fluttering her eyelashes flirtatiously at him, just like she used to in high school. That bad, huh? She was the tragic one now, wearing an unflattering dress smiling that unflattering smile that reeked of unflattering desperation. Geoff almost felt sorry for her. “Ashley, I want you to meet my wife, Sandra.”
He watched as the grin slipped slightly from Ashley’s face as she shook hands with Sandra. “How long have you two been married?” she asked.
“Nearly six years,” Sandra smiled. “Six in February.”
“Wow,” was all she said for a while. It was pretty awkward, just standing there, waiting for the conversation to take the turn it eventually would. Ashley finally asked the question: “So what are you guys doing with your lives?”
“I’m currently a commentator for the local sports in Gloucester,” James informed her proudly.
“Oh my God, James! That’s amazing!” She positively beamed at him; Geoff wasn’t sure if it was in the hope that he was single and still finds her attractive or genuinely because she was happy for him. Maybe both. He visibly jumped out of his pondering when Ashley then turned to him and asked, “What about you, Geoff? What do you do?”
Geoff felt his heartbeat start to race and Sandra’s hand slip slightly in his due to the thin sheen of sweat that had quickly formed. Why did he still care what these idiots thought of him?
“I, ah...” he swallowed. “I’m actually a...”
“He’s an acrobat,” Sandra finished for him. “And a damn good one at that.” She smiled proudly up at him.
“An acrobat?” James repeated incredulously. “As in, what, the circus?” He laughed out loud, making Geoff flinch and a red flush creep up his neck. “The circus!” He began to shout for the attention of everyone else in the hall. “Hey! Hey! Geoffrey Freak-all is now an act in the circus!”
Everybody was laughing. Geoff just wanted the tiles on the floor to open up and swallow him whole.
Except that didn’t happen.
“An acrobat?” James asked incredulously. “As in, what, the circus?” He paused and thought about it for a moment. “That’s good going, mate. I could never do any of that stuff.”
“I thought I recognised you,” Ashley exclaimed. “Like, okay, we went to school together, but what I meant was I took my kids to the circus on the outskirts of town last week. You were one of the acts weren’t you? You were amazing! My kids loved you!”
Geoff blushed modestly. “Thank you,” he said softly.
“Say, acrobats earn a lot of money, don’t they?” Ashley asked. “You must be minted!”
“I wouldn’t say we’re loaded,” Sandra told her, “but we live comfortably enough.”
Geoff couldn’t get over the reaction he had just received. James and Ashley were now asking him questions about how he got into the circus and if they moved a lot, and he just couldn’t help but think that this was a hopeful dream he was having right now. He caught his wife looking at him with a knowing smile and shot one back at her.
“You know what. How do you think it went?”
Geoff chuckled and wrapped his arms around Sandra’s waist. “Much better than I thought it would,” he admitted.
“I told you. I said that you were being ridiculous, didn’t I?” she teased.
“I guess you were actually right.”
“Don’t sound so surprised!”
“I’m not.” He paused, frowning slightly. “It was so weird how much everyone had changed. They weren’t trying to shoulder barge me every chance they had, nor did I get bog-washed… I didn’t even insulted once. It was nice.”
“So, now what?”
“Now… I never have to see those people again!” They both laughed. “No, now I feel at peace with them. I never thought I would receive a sincere apology from the most popular guy at school – that was a shock! I feel like I have finally – as you put it – ‘loosened the hold on the demons of the past’.”
And with that he kissed her.