Take a Look at Me Now - Kendra Smith
Exeter University July 2018
Uni reunion. Class of 1998 – Faculty of Arts
The venue: The Great Hall, place of finals, end-of-year balls, graduation ceremonies, Freshers’ Week festival, and a moment etched into memory that can never be forgotten
The weather: chilly, dry evening
Feelings: nervous as hell
Hello, my name’s Maddie Brown. You might not remember me. I was the kid who had dreams and ambition and then blew it all with a—
No. She wouldn’t think about that. It had taken quite a lot of guts, two pairs of laddered tights, an hour at the hairdresser’s and an exorbitant rail fare to get there. This was the place she left behind in anguish. But it would be OK. She wouldn’t have to relive any of it. Liz had been so sure in her Facebook messages.
Just come, Maddie. You can’t hide forever.
And hiding’s exactly what she’d spent the last twenty years doing. Hiding those emotions, brick by brick, layers of determination, cemented with pain: a sturdy wall to keep those feelings out.
She pulled her shoulders back and hesitated, wondering which Maddie was about to walk up those enormous concrete steps. The twenty-one-year-old one with a life hopelessly unlived in front of her or the one who was actually there tonight? Forty-one, weary, teary, with an empty nest and a dog with halitosis.
She couldn’t quite believe she was about to step back into the Great Hall she’d done her final exams in. How terrified she’d been that week – and not just about her finals, but about the enormity of her situation. Her Sociology paper was first. She’d stared around at the windows, the parquet flooring in case any of it could give her some clues about the final question: ethnicity – it had been a twenty-five-mark bastard.
‘Maddie, there you are!’ She peered at the face. There was something about the green eyes. She knew those eyes… or at least she thought she did. Elliot had had eyes like that, Elliot who had studied first-year Psychology with her – he’d been such a laugh, but this…
‘You don’t recognise me, do you?’ The woman laughed. ‘I’m Ellie – you’ll remember me as Elliot.’ She winked at Maddie, batting down huge fluttery fake eyelashes. ‘But things change, you know?’ She turned her head coquettishly to one side, as if a new view of the thickly applied foundation would help Maddie absorb such a shock. It was, she had to admit, a great party-opener. Hey, remember me, that bloke you knew? Well, now I rock mascara and five-inch heels.
Ellie looked fabulous.
‘Right, Ellie, yes, yes of course I remember! It’s your eyes – beautiful eyes, you always had! You look amazing!’ And she leant over and kissed her on both cheeks, inhaling a very floral perfume. White Linen? And before her, Ellie turned deep red beneath her Max Factor. ‘Oh, that’s very kind, and I’ve found that if I use purple eyeshadow, a kind of mauve actually, it really brings out the green.’ Ellie winked at Maddie.
‘Spot on.’ Maddie grinned at her friend. ‘So, er, how are things?’
‘Well,’ Ellie began, as a waitress filled up their glasses and Maddie took a huge gulp, ‘a bit unsettled, actually, since uni – but I’ve found a new lease of life, found a new life, to be honest.’ She laughed again. ‘A new me!’
‘Well, it really suits you—’ And with that, there was a chink of someone tapping a glass and the room was told to hush.
‘Ladies and gentlemen…’ It was the University Chancellor welcoming them back to the campus, telling them that dinner would be served now and to look at the seating plan.
Maddie accepted a refill from another waitress and walked towards the dining hall. She wasn’t exactly scanning the room, but really, she realised, she was. Looking for a certain…
Maddie was suddenly accosted from behind by a shrieking noise. ‘Maddie! Maddie Brown! I knew it would be you! I would have spotted those legs a mile away. I remember them pedalling your bike around the place – always late for lectures!’
It was Liz – from Yorkshire. They’d done second-year Psychology together, sworn to keep in touch on graduation day, then promptly gone off and led very different lives. There was no Facebook back then to keep tabs on people or virtually stalk anyone. But they’d connected a few years ago and were now ‘friends’ on Facebook – hence the invitation to the reunion.
‘How are you, Liz?’ Maddie kissed her on the cheek and wondered quite how many foreign holidays she’d taken