The Class Reunion
by Bronwen Welsh
it had been an all boy’s school.
My mother sent the letter on to me. I looked at the old school crest and address, and immediately thought 'This has to be a request for a donation'. To my surprise though, it was an invitation to a ten year reunion of the Class of 2000.
Well, it would certainly be interesting to find out how my old classmates had progressed. Who knows? Some of them might be CEO's by now, and some might be in gaol! Some might even have not survived, and some like me - well their lives might have taken paths that no-one expected.
I was in two minds about accepting, so I left the invitation on my desk and every couple of days I looked at it. Should I or shouldn't I? Was it best to leave things as they were? Eventually I spoke to a girlfriend Suzie, about it. She had been with me every step of the way, and I valued her judgement.
“It's your choice of course.” she said. “I see the invitation is extended to wives and partners too — very progressive. What I mean is you won't be the only one in a dress.”
“Well, I'll be the only ex-pupil in a dress.” I responded “After all it was an all boy’s school.”
“As I said — your choice. How would the people where you work think about it?”
“They know all about me, so they're fine. You know, I think I will go after all - sort of striking a blow for equality and understanding don't you think?”
The next day, I replied, accepting the invitation. Despite my best efforts, Suzie refused to come along, saying they might jump to the wrong conclusion. I did change the spelling of my name — Toni instead of Tony, but I wondered if they would notice.
My home town was about 200 miles away, and the reunion was being held in the best hotel there, so I booked a room for the night. As the date approached, I had to think of what to wear. The invitation said 'black tie', so it was fairly formal. I had recently bought a beautiful gown. I had seen it in a window on my way to work, and had desired it for a week. Finally I went inside and tried it on.
“It was made for you,” said the assistant, but then she probably says that to every customer. In this case I believed her. A beautiful claret colour, it had a velvet bustier, and a skirt of multiple layers — two of chiffon with gemstones and heavy satin beneath, then tiered mesh tulle and a flowing silk underskirt. It came with a three-hooped petticoat and looked quite divine. I was itching to show it off, and this was the perfect occasion. I had considered a stylish pant suit, but thought that might indicate I lacked the courage of my convictions. I was a woman now, so I should dress like one! I carefully packed it ready for the trip, together with a change of clothes for the drive back the next day. I was starting to feel quite excited about it.
I'm a careful driver. I didn't come all this way to end up wrecked by the side of the road, so I allowed plenty of time for my trip. I also phoned my mother and arranged to call in the following day. It had been hard for my parents accepting the path their only son had taken. My elder sister was more understanding, having caught me trying on her clothes when I was twelve. They all thought it was a phase I was going through, and for a while I even tried to convince myself that's what it was, but in the end I knew I was lying, and what's worse, to myself. I didn't see my family for about two years while I was transitioning, and the day I finally arrived on their doorstep as a woman was very traumatic. They knew I was coming, but when my mother opened the door she looked blankly at me for a second before recognition dawned. There was a lot of crying on both sides that day, but finally they grew to accept that I was still their child, and they now had two daughters.
My parents lived on a small farm about twenty miles out of town, and I had studiously avoided the town centre during my years of transitioning. It was hard enough without enduring the stares of people who had known me. Now, as I drove through it for the first time in about eight years, it was a surreal experience. Many of the buildings I knew so well were still there, but others had gone, replaced by larger modern ones. Distracted, I nearly drove through a red light, and decided it would be more prudent to check into the hotel and continue my viewing on foot.
The hotel was only a few years old and large for the town, but it seemed well patronised. I checked in and was shown to my room on the fifth floor. It was pleasant enough, and I unpacked my clothes and hung up the dress which had survived the trip without being crushed. It was still hours before I had to get ready, so I stepped out into the street. As I walked along, checking the familiar and the new, I suddenly realised that an elderly man walking towards me was once a teacher at my school. I almost greeted him, but he passed me by without a second glance. It was a strange feeling, almost of invisibility. I walked into a small cafe and ordered a salad and a mineral water. There would be a meal in the evening, and a girl has to watch her figure!
My grandparents had always promoted the virtue of a siesta before a big night out, and so I returned to the hotel for a short nap. I awoke again at 4 o'clock with plenty of time to get ready. I luxuriated in a warm bath and then set about doing my hair and make-up. I had packed some pretty lingerie, stockings and some fabulous (and expensive) shoes. Like so many transgendered women, I spent more than I should on clothes, and rarely wore pants unless it was necessary. I'd had more than enough years of that already, and had plenty of dress-wearing to catch up on! I finally stepped into the gorgeous dress I had bought, and pulled up the zip. Examining myself critically in the mirror, I was pleased with what I saw. My only concern was that it might be too dressy for the occasion.
All this took time of course, and picking up my clutch bag I left the room and descended to the ground floor. Signs pointed to the reunion and a table was set up in the lobby outside the restaurant. As I approached I saw the men in their black dinner suits, and their women in gorgeous gowns to rival my own. I needn't have worried after all! Seated there was Harry Watson with name-tags and a list. I confess my heart beat a little faster as I walked up to the table and picked up my tag. I was pleased to see that they had spelt 'Toni' correctly. Harry was busy filing in something on his papers when I said.
“Toni Marshall, Harry.” He looked up and his eyes widened.
“Err, yes.” he finally got out.
“Good to see you again,” I said as I walked towards the drinks tray, knowing his eyes were on my retreating figure. I almost burst out laughing. This could be a fun night.
Despite staying at the hotel, I had deliberately left my arrival until I was sure many of the others would already be there. I entered the restaurant. It doubled as a ballroom, and the round tables surrounded a small dance floor. At the far end was a raised stage for a band. I looked around, recognising most of the faces despite them being ten years older. Then my heart skipped a beat. At the far end of the room was Derek. Ten years had only made him more impossibly handsome. He was talking animatedly to a pretty blonde woman, and I felt jealousy hit me like a dart. Of course he would have a wife by now. Handsome, intelligent, athletic, women would have been irresistibly drawn to him.
'Stop being stupid' I said to myself.
At that moment there was an announcement over the loudspeakers. It was Phil Davis at the microphone — of course, it wouldn't have been anyone else. Strange how characteristics they'd displayed as boys had followed them into adulthood.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Newman High School's ten year reunion of the class of 2000. It's so good to see such a great attendance. I have apologies from Brian Davis who is doing missionary work in Africa (this raised a laugh — he was always in trouble at school), and John Fletcher who is travelling overseas. On a sadder note, Morris Freeman passed away from cancer last year.” I was saddened by that, I'd liked Morris.
“Apart from those absences, I think everyone else is here, and it's great to see you. I'm sure we all have a lot of catching up to do.” he continued. “Now I'm going to ask you to come up one by one, in alphabetical order of course, and tell us how you have been doing — in three minutes or less.”
I expected this of course, but I confess I felt that slight nervous shiver everyone gets when public speaking, even when you have to do it as often as I do. This was different though. One by one the men walked up to the microphone. There were some brilliant success stories and some not so good, but with a positive spin put on them. Most were married and quite a few had children. Finally it was my turn.
I lifted the hem of my gown slightly to negotiate the steps, and there was a slight murmur in the crowd as I walked to the microphone.
“Toni” said Phil. He'd obviously been warned by Harry. “You look stunning.”
“So do you Phil.” I replied and that got a polite laugh. Phil was caught off-balance by my riposte, but soon recovered.
“So tell us about your life in the last ten years.” he said.
“Well, after school I went to Broughton University where I studied Biology and Biochemistry and took my honours degree. I'm still there as a lecturer and studying for my Ph D, and that's about it” I dead-panned.
“Oh, there was one other thing,” as though it had just occurred to me. A murmur of amusement went through the crowd.
“When I told a friend I was coming here tonight and would probably have to give an account of myself, she said (and she's a very forthright) 'I hate public speaking. It takes real balls to do that.' And I replied 'In that case I have a problem.' “
There was real laughter this time. I went on.
“Tonight isn't the time or place to give a speech on the rights of the transgendered, but I hope by coming here tonight I've proved that you can be true to yourself and live a successful and fulfilling life.”
I left the stage to wild applause, and when the next ex-pupil took the microphone, his opening words were.
“Wow Toni. You're a hard act to follow.”
With the speeches over, we sat down to dinner. I sat next to Laura, the charming wife of one of my classmates and we had a great conversation, but my eyes kept drifting to the table where Derek sat with his back to me. The pretty blonde woman was sitting beside him. My companion kept up a lively conversation, but my mind kept drifting back to the single most exciting event of my school years,
Being a boys' school, sport was very important — and compulsory. I was short and skinny, features that enabled me to be a good runner, but certainly not suited to the rough and tumble of team sports. The sports master, something of a sadist, insisted on picking me for the soccer team, although I was hopeless at it. I think I was the fall guy to demonstrate every mistake in the book. I spent nearly every match on the bench, usually reading a biology book.
There was a grudge match each year between our school and St Kevin's, and I knew I would not be selected for that — it was too important. However, one week before the match a flu epidemic swept through the school and many of the regular team members succumbed to it. For some reason, I did not catch it, and so, much to my surprise, there I was on the bench for the most important match of the year. The match started well, with a goal by our side, but a short while later, St Kevin's equalised.
Derek was the team captain and playing a great game, but some of our team were not too well, and it was a struggle for them. In the second half, our side scored again, and it looked like we might win, when ten minutes before the end, St Kevin's scored an equaliser. I was hoping we might at least have a draw, when in quick succession, two of our team limped off with injuries, and in desperation the coach sent me on.
'Just keep out of the way.' was his terse instruction.
Our side was mostly gathered around our goal, desperate to stop St Kevin's scoring again, and I was standing up forward, close to the St Kevin's goal, when suddenly I realised to my horror that the ball was heading straight towards me. Not only that but two giants from the opposing team were in hot pursuit. Terrified, I kicked out wildly at the ball, hoping they would run after it and leave me alone, but too late. Crunch! I found myself face down in the mud.
The referee blew his whistle and awarded a penalty as I staggered to my feet. The ball was placed, and Derek lined up to take it. He blasted the ball into the corner of the net, and three minutes later the final whistle sounded — we had won! For the first and only time in my life, I was lifted onto the shoulders of my team mates, including Derek, and carried off the ground to the cheers of the school.
In the dressing rooms after the game, someone had smuggled in some beer and we drank to our victory. After a while, not being used to alcohol, I started to feel a bit unsteady, and still covered in mud, aching from the collision and feeling dirty, I excused myself and headed off to the showers. I was standing there, my eyes closed, letting the water wash away the dirt from my body, when someone else came in and stripping off, stepped under the shower next to me. It was Derek. I tried my best not to look at his body, but my eyes seemed to have a mind of their own. I'd rarely spoken to him at school, always feeling intensely shy and blushing which caused me further embarrassment. I'd certainly never seen him naked before and it was causing the strangest feelings in my mind. He turned to look at me and grinned.
“The match winner!”
I felt embarrassed, not just by his closeness but an undeserved accolade.
“You scored the winning goal.” I protested
“But you made it possible” was his response. “O.K., the two match winners.” and he turned and punched me lightly on the arm. I winced. It was where I had collided with the ground and it was badly bruised.
He was instantly contrite.
“Oh I'm sorry.” he said, “I didn't mean to hurt you.” He was very close to me now and looking down at me with an odd expression on his face, the strangest thought came into my head, ‘He’s going to kiss me — I want him to kiss me.'
Then we heard the sound of other team members beyond the door and approaching, and we stepped away from each other, the moment lost. They burst through the door still whooping and when they saw us in the shower, started to cheer. I finished off as quickly as I could, dried myself and left.
That was my final year at school, and there was scarcely a spare moment with all the study. Occasionally I saw Derek in the distance and from time to time we exchanged a smile and a 'Hi', but that was all. I was fortunate to be successful with my final exams and the following year moved away to go to university.
I was suddenly aware that Laura had said something to me.
“I'm so sorry.” I stammered.
“That's alright,” she replied. “You were miles away. Well maybe not miles.” She smiled and glanced across to where Derek was sitting and I realised I must have been staring at him.
“He's very handsome.” she said softly. I knew I was blushing and I couldn't find anything to say in response, but thought to myself 'and married'.
After the meal was over, people started to get up and circulate among the tables, catching up with particular friends from their school-days. I sat where I was, staring at my glass of wine, thoughts whirling through my head. Should I try to get drunk and forget the whole night? It had started with such promise, but now it was a disaster.
“I have to talk with you — please!”
I started at the voice beside me. I knew instantly that it was Derek. I turned slowly to look at him. There was such an intense look on his face.
“Alright” I replied slowly, wondering what all this was about.
“Not here — too noisy, too public. Please come out onto the balcony.”
I rose and followed him outside. The air was cooler here and the noise of the gathering subdued. The air was cool and a full moon was rising. There was just one other couple in the corner, engrossed in each other.
Derek turned to face me.
“Stunning?” I said sarcastically.
“I was going to say — so beautiful.” he replied slowly. I knew I was blushing. It had been a cheap shot. My heart was beating faster, I couldn't help it. Up close he was more devastatingly handsome that ever. The sort of man who makes women go weak at the knees. I knew that because it was exactly what I was feeling that moment.
“Do you remember that football match where you were knocked over and I scored the penalty goal?” he asked. Remember it? I'd never forgotten it.
“Yes.” I said slowly.
“And afterwards in the shower. It was so strange. I hurt your arm and then I wanted to kiss you and I didn't know why, but now, seeing you tonight, it's suddenly clear to me. I was seeing the real you for the first time.”
I could have stood there and listened to him all night, but a cold shock of reality hit me.
“This is lovely, talking about old times” I said “But what would your wife think? You and me alone out here?”
“Wife?” He looked puzzled.
“Yes? The pretty blonde woman you're with, remember?”
His puzzlement changed to a smile. “Oh you mean Sally! She's Ben Jeffrey's wife. She's planning a surprise birthday party for him and asked for my help, to take him golfing while she gets the house ready. We've been friends for years”
I knew I was blushing deeper still. I felt so stupid. I tried again.
“Derek, you're smart, successful, some might even say handsome. So why aren't you married?”
He looked at me very seriously. I suddenly realised he was holding both my hands, but I didn't pull away. They felt warm and strong as they engulfed mine.
“There's a reason,” he said “And it's not what you're thinking. I only ever truly loved one person - loved and lost them.”
He looked so sad my heart went out to him.
“Then tonight a miracle happened, and she - that is you - came back into my life,” he hurried on, words spilling over each other “And suddenly everything became clear to me, the way I felt that time at the football match; why I could never get you out of my mind, and now I'm scared, because if I lose you again.....”
His voice trailed off, and he looked so vulnerable. I stepped closer to him and looked up into his eyes.
“Everything's clear to me too, Derek. We've waited ten years for this,” I said softly. “Kiss me now, please.”
As his lips touched mine, and his strong arms enfolded my body, I knew that we would never be parted again.
and to Andrea Lena DiMaggio for her great help in enabling the posting of my story.
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