At least he wasn’t dead, that was the best that could be said so far since his decision to reply to the Facebook post. As a writer Nicholas had merely set out to do some research for his latest novel, how easy was it to find your old classmates on the internet? Typing in Clacket Lane Junior School had produced a screen page of blue headings, but he didn’t want to know about the latest Ofsted report or the summer fete. Typing in 1968-1972 narrowed the search considerably; there was a nostalgia group for the anonymous town where he had spent his childhood, a history page that celebrated a few tenuous links to national events and famous persons… he almost missed the reunion announcement.
Could it really be fifty years since that last summer; the celebration of the school’s centenary, prancing round the maypole dressed in Victorian clothes. His wife had been more excited than he was, urging him to attend, despite his pleadings that he just wanted to know if it was possible to meet up with the past, he didn’t actually want to meet his old class mates, he was appalled by the thought.
Old boys and girls could join the closed FB group, go on twitter, email or even phone the organiser Caroline Hepworth, nee Burton… Caroline Burton, it would be her, milk monitor, teacher’s pet. She was organising the get together at the Holiday Inn; that was a contradiction in terms, who would want to go on holiday to that God forsaken town, unless it had changed a lot.
Nicholas emailed her and got a reply ten minutes later.
Hi Nicholas, don’t remember you but please join the group, it’s really interesting hearing what everyone’s been up to in the past half century lol.
He groaned as his wife brought him a cup of coffee. ‘Does she have to rub it in, half a century?’
‘A good way for you to get more readers’ said his wife brightly.
‘I’ll join, but I’m not posting anything, let alone pushing my website.’
He read through the posts; memories of pranks played on teachers and each other, gentle teasing where once there had been bullying, tales of exotic travels, brilliant careers and wonderful children. No one had mentioned Nicholas. In some of the profile pictures he could recognise the child in the middle aged face, others had cheated by posting school pictures or snaps of their dog, cat, motorbike or grandchild. But with only some of the names could he conjure up a memory of the child.
The next day things took a sombre turn. Caroline’s post was pinned at the top of the page.
Martin Fletcher’s wife has emailed to say he passed away last November after a brave battle with cancer.
Nicholas recalled Martin well, though he was in the other class; top of the school for his sporting achievements, he could beat anyone in a playground sprint, scored most goals at football, whacked the rounders’ ball with a strength that gave a glimpse of his potential when adolescent testosterone kicked in.
Martin Fletcher had barely crossed his mind for fifty years, but the shock of his mortality was like a kick in the stomach. The comments scrolled down the page, people were still typing them in, but Nicholas the writer could think of nothing to say.
Incongruously the next post was up beat.
Hey guys, great to catch up with you all, bet you didn’t recognise me in Game of Thrones, well the name on my equity card says Zane Swartz, but back then I was Peter Potts.
Frail, pale Potty, who would have thought it? His profile picture was the last school photo taken at Clacket Lane, Peter with his hair combed neatly. It was unlikely that anyone would recognise him behind beards, shields and spears. Nicholas clicked the Like button, everyone was Liking each other. Nicholas decided it was time to join in, at least he was still alive.
Remember how Mrs. Walker always told me off in English for not writing enough, guess what, I write long novels now.
He paused then put a link to his new website. There was no way they could know he was self published and was never likely to give up the day job.
The next day no one had Liked his post, let alone left a comment, perhaps they were still overwhelmed by the latest bad news.
Susan Fielding, everyone remembered her, all the girls wanted to be her or at least be her friend. Not surprisingly she had gone on to be head girl at grammar school. Perhaps others would have remembered Nicholas if his father’s work had not taken him to the other side of the country soon after he left the junior school.
Still, mustn’t complain, his life had been okay, while Susan’s obviously had not, she had taken her own life. News had filtered through via someone’s aunty who knew the family. Caroline had posted a hasty comment pointing out that it was not helpful to debate how or when it had happened. She was going to remember happy days with Susan at grammar school.
A sad comment from Howard.
I’m gutted, she was my first love
Howard, he of the Adonis looks, probably be called a gay icon now, presumably not gay as he had ‘gone steady’ with Susan during their years at the church youth group. He had not seen her since she left for university. While Nicholas had been battling acne and crippling shyness, Howard was enjoying dream teen years with Susan.
Nicholas was lost for words yet again. Would he put a sad emoticon to add to the list of comments on Susan? He logged out, glad that he was invisible to the rest of his year at juniors.
He went a whole week without being tempted, then promised himself to just go on once more, to post an apology that he could not attend the reunion as he would be out of the country; he was tempted to say he now lived abroad, but in the unlikely event someone looked at his website they would see him described as living in the dead centre of the country. Unfortunate choice of words, perhaps they would think he was also dead.
New post from Caroline.
Amazingly, all except one pupil have been tracked down. What happened to Nigel Palmer, no one seems to have seen or heard of him since the last day of juniors. He was such an unusually talented boy, he could be anywhere in the world.
Nicholas logged out, but his brain had not logged out, his author’s mind was racing; every other pupil’s life was being recorded in more and more detail, but he was only interested in the missing boy. Nigel, a lively, entertaining, often naughty boy; Nicholas had admired his courage in the face of authority; who was the man he became? He was determined to find out.