“My God! You haven’t aged a day. What’s your secret, you absolute cow?”
Alex and Belinda screeched like tickled parrots. They hugged, pecking at the air inches from each other’s cheeks.
“You’re the cow,” Belinda countered. “I bet you could still fit into your old school uniform.”
Alex smirked. “It’s not that kind of party.”
They gazed around the function room. The DJ was playing the Top Twenty from their last year at school two decades ago. It was strange to be there, back among people they hadn’t even thought about for twenty years. And it was kind of sad, to see the ravages of age on what had been taut young bodies. The thinning hair. The thickening stomachs. The stoops, the wrinkles, the crows’ feet…
“Here we go!” Melissa returned from the bar, bearing three glasses of sparkling wine. “Cheers!”
They raised their glasses and then took hefty swigs. They pulled faces.
“Doesn’t get any better,” Melissa observed. “Remember when we used to sneak in here when we were supposed to be on study periods?”
The other two nodded. They crossed to a table in a comparatively quiet corner.
“Come on, then,” Alex nudged Belinda. “Out with it. The secret of your unfading youth.”
Belinda shook her head. She kept her gaze fixed on the tiny bubbles rising in her glass.
“Well…” she began. “If I tell you, it must go no further.”
Alex and Melissa crossed their hearts and adopted solemn expressions.
“It’s a glamour,” Belinda’s hand circled her face. “I can change my appearance, or at least get you to see what I want you to see.”
“I don’t get it,” frowned Melissa.
Belinda leant over the table and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “Can I trust you? Well, I suppose if I can’t, I can always cast a spell of forgetfulness and it will be like this conversation never happened.”
“Binny, what the hell are you going on about?”
Belinda told them. She spoke of her adventures after leaving school How she stumbled across a secret society running in parallel to our own, a society of magicians, and how, through a strange quirk of fate, it transpired that she, Belinda, was the Chosen One, and it was up to her to defeat the ultimate enemy and save the world. Both of them.
Her story told, Belinda sat back to judge the effect it was having on her former classmates.
They seemed to be taking it all rather in their stride.
“Something similar happened to me,” said Alex. “Only it wasn’t magicians. It was a secret society of alien hunters, running parallel to our own. Through some strange quirk of fate, I turned out to be the Chosen One, the one who could crack the code, deter the fleet of extra-terrestrial destroyers, and face down the ultimate enemy, and save the world. Possibly the universe too.”
Belinda pouted sourly. She despised one-upmanship. Unless she was the one doing the one-upping.
They turned their attention to Melissa, who got to her feet.
“Excuse me,” she said, nipping into the crowd of disco-dancing revellers.
She returned a couple of moments later, a little dishevelled and breathless. She gulped her sparkling wine, then became aware the others were staring at her.
“Sorry, sorry,” Melissa blushed. “Had to be done. One of the barmen. Bloodsucker.”
Two pairs of eyebrows raised.
“You may as well know,” Melissa shrugged. “When I left school I stumbled into a secret world of vampire hunters that runs parallel to our own. It turns out I’m the Chosen One, blah, blah. You know how it goes.”
“Impressive,” said Belinda.
“Cool,” said Alex.
“Does your world have a council of elders?” Belinda ventured.
The other two nodded.
“They love their hierarchies,” Melissa nodded. “The bloodsuckers, I mean.”
“So do the alien fighters,” said Alex. “Bureaucracy like you wouldn’t believe.”
“It’s the same in the magical world,” Belinda sighed. “You’d think magicians, alien hunters, and vampire killers would do things differently.”
“Hey up, ladies!” A male voice intruded. The beaming face and ballooning beer belly of Barry Shelton loomed over the table. “It’s mad, isn’t it, this? All these old faces. Listen, I’m compiling a newsletter we can send out to those who couldn’t make it tonight.”
He produced a pen and notepad and stood poised. The three women avoided his gaze.
“Just a few words,” Barry prompted. “Even if you’re just at home, bringing up the kids. Which is a full-time job, I appreciate that. Probably the most important job, if you ask me. So come on, who’s going to get the ball rolling? Binny? Surely you’ve made something of yourself, of all people.”
“No, but I could make something out of you.” Belinda’s hand twisted in an arcane gesture but Alex and Melissa bundled her away to the Ladies.
“Nice to see you again, Barry,” Melissa called over her shoulder.
They shut themselves into a cubicle and laughed. It was like being back at school, bunking off Maths for a cheeky cigarette. Back before they had responsibilities, before they were Chosen, before they were clichés.