My head was bent over the crowded library counter as I concentrated on checking in a batch of new books, when a polite voice interrupted my chain of thought.
“Hello, it’s Helen isn’t it?”
I looked up into a face that I thought I would never see again. Robert Brown, the heart throb of the upper fifth at school. I blinked. I could not believe that he had remembered my name, let alone recognised me after all these years. I stared blankly at him.
“You don’t remember me do you?” he said, “Robert Brown, we were at school together.”
As if I would ever forget.
“It’s a long time I know, over ten years,” he paused and looked around him at the crowded library. “I can’t believe that you are working in the library, last time I saw you after our exams, you said you were headed for a modelling career in London.”
The penny dropped, of course how stupid of me. He had always been making eyes at my namesake, Helen Graham. The only thing we had in common was our names and the colour of our hair. She had been sensational looking even at sixteen, while I had been exceedingly overweight, had been forced to wear awful horn-rimmed glasses and was ignored completely by the opposite sex and if I am honest most of my class mates as well.
Don’t ask me why I did it. Just put it down to a desire for retribution for all the sleepless nights I had spent daydreaming about the day Robert Brown would flash that wonderful smile of his at me.
“Robert, how lovely to see you again,” I said demurely, “It has been a long time hasn’t it?”
Four hours later, I was staring at my face in the mirror. Many changes had taken place in the last ten years. Gone were the thick, unsightly glasses, replaced by contact lenses that showed off my green eyes off rather nicely. Three stone had melted away and even though I say so myself, I was now passably attractive. In fact, if I squinted my eyes a little even I could see more than a vague resemblance to the envied Helen Graham.
This little exercise however, was not going to solve my problem. I was actually contemplating getting all dressed up and meeting Robert for dinner at the smartest restaurant in town. I had been the one to suggest La Petite Auberge in a childish desire to exact the most out of Robert before he tumbled to the deception, but now I was wondering if I had enough nerve to carry it through.
Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained I thought as I slipped on the very expensive and daring dress I had bought for the occasion over my head. I flicked a brush through my freshly highlighted, shoulder length hair and headed for the door.
I really don’t know how I got through that evening without giving myself away. Thankfully, we certainly had a great many memories in common. Most of the incidents he talked about I remembered vividly. I used to watch him and the other Helen like a hawk whenever I could and I only had to sidestep once or twice when he started to get onto things a little more intimate. Unfortunately, assignations behind the bike-shed were not stored in my memory banks.
Apart from these slightly embarrassing revelations, the evening passed very quickly and pleasantly. All too soon he was dropping me off at my front door and a desire to make some revelations of my own swept over me. I had just parted my lips to drop the bombshell of my dishonesty on the unsuspecting Robert when he kissed me.
Oh boy, who ever imagined that I would be spending another sleepless night, tossing and turning as I obsessed about Robert Brown. Not only had I not spilled the beans, I had actually agreed to meet him for a drink on Saturday lunchtime. It was the kiss that had undone my belated resolutions to be honest about my identity. I had enjoyed a number of relationships with boys since school but there had never been anything serious. I certainly had never been kissed as thoroughly or had experienced such knee trembling desire as I had in that few minutes on my doorstep. I normally dismissed the love stories in women’s magazines with cynical detachment but for the first time in my life, I finally understood what they were talking about. However, burning desire aside, I had to do some fast thinking before Saturday when I was likely to have to do some fast-talking.
I sipped my glass of white wine and looked across the table where Robert sat talking about his job and how wonderful it was to have bumped into me again.
“I thought that we might go up to Cambridge and hire a punt for the afternoon, unless you have anything else you would like to do today?” He smiled at me and my stomach knotted as I screwed up my courage.
“Robert,” I breathed deeply and looked him squarely in the eyes, “there is something I have to tell you.”
“It isn’t another man is it Helen?” He looked decidedly and satisfyingly worried. “Of course I would expect it, a beautiful girl like you, please tell me you’re not engaged or even worse married?”
The first compliment he has ever made me and I am just about to make sure it’s the last.
“No Robert, there isn’t another man,” I paused, waiting for some inspiration. He looked at me expectantly and there was nothing for it but to dive straight in.
“I was in your class at school with Helen Graham but I am Helen Jett…….”
He looked at me with horror stamped all over his face.
“Not Jumbo Jett, you couldn’t be?”
My goodness, so that was what they had called my behind my back and even after all these years I felt the prick of ashamed tears in my eyes.
“You are joking aren’t you?” He was looking for reassurance where there was none.
“You couldn’t be that huge lump of a girl who was always sneaking around watching every move I made including stalking me after school.” He shook his head in bewilderment.
Being called a stalker was the last straw despite there being a very strong element of truth behind the allegation. I realised that my recent behaviour was not likely to disabuse his memories of our last two years of school, but I was desperately hurt and embarrassed.
I stood up, raised my half-finished glass of wine and threw it all over him. I then burst into tears much to the interest and amusement of the crowded public bar and raced for the door before I heard any more of those scathing home truths.
Apparently, he was as intent on revenge as I had been, because he was right behind me as I reached the pavement. Neither of us saw the pushchair, the two toddlers hanging onto each side of the very plump and tired looking young mother or the dog on the lead.
She blinked myopically at us through her horn-rimmed glasses as we lay sprawled and entangled at her feet.
“Gosh, I am so sorry, I just didn’t see you, are you both alright?”
We stood up and glared at each other, battle not forgotten.
“Excuse me, but aren’t you Robert Brown?”
He turned to look at the woman, an angry frown still on his face.
“Yes,” he said rather abruptly, “I’m sorry but do I know you?”
Her rather pleasant chubby face creased into a smile.
“It’s me, don’t you recognise me?” She looked at Robert expectantly, as I did.
“Helen Graham, you must remember all the fun we had at school together?” She giggled self-consciously as she tried to smooth her wrinkled skirt into place.
Robert and I stared at her utterly stunned. How the tables were turned and I am ashamed to say that a little smugness softened the edges of my anger. This was the woman who used to ignore me at school and call me Jumbo Jett behind my back.
“Well, I can’t stop to chat now.” She indicated the restless brood hanging onto her skirts and the dog that was leaping up and down with impatience.
“Must dash, I’m meeting my husband at the supermarket but it would be lovely to meet up with you again and have a chat about old times. My husband’s name is Darren Fraser and we are in the telephone book.”
She glanced at me without the slightest hint of recognition. Was it my jubilant imagination but was there a slight touch of envy in those pale green eyes?
With a wave of her hand she and her family were gone and Robert and I were left standing on the pavement, staring at each other in bewilderment.
Suddenly he started to laugh, holding onto the pub wall, tears pouring down his cheeks. I glared at him frostily for a moment and then felt my own sense of humour take over.
The two of us finally walked over to where his car was parked. Still wiping the tears from his eyes, he opened the car door for me. As I slid into the seat, he leant across and gently touched my lips with his own.
“Where did you say we were flying to today Jumbo Jett?”
©sallycronin Flights of Fancy
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