Chairman, ladies and
gentlemen, fellow educationalists.”
Stephen looked out to his audience. Not
a bad turnout for day one of a three day conference.
knew almost two hundred pairs of eyes were looking at him, their owners
hanging on his every word – waiting for him to say something
could praise or something they could jump on, and argue about.
“You don’t need me to tell you that bullying takes
forms, and has become part of our everyday lives – and not
in our schools.”
He was off, supremely confident in what he had to say, delivering it
with both confidence and style. From the first ten seconds he knew he
had them in the palm of his hand.
“I can vividly remember during my second year at secondary
The fact he spoke from personal experience was one of the things that
made Stephen such a compelling speaker. He was so familiar with his
topic that he was on autopilot as he spoke. He moved from the rostrum,
a caged lion prowling the cage that was the small stage, unable to stop
his arms waving, fists clenching and his flashing blue eyes pinning his
audience to their seats.
there’s Ted and
Freddy from the DfES, and another couple of familiar faces
that’ll be propping up the bar tonight. Could be quite a good
“…but whilst the kind of direct bullying we are
familiar with potentially leads to physical scars, the psychological
scars of indirect bullying can be much more damaging in the long term.
These scars are typically ….”
Before he moved on to the heart of his talk – Cyber Bullying,
wanted his audience to examine themselves, to think about the times
when they had been involved in indirect, social aggression bullying. At
some time almost everyone has been part of a gang or group that had
criticised, picked on or gossiped about someone to the point where that
individual had become socially isolated. In other words, bullied.
Stephen was speaking more slowly now, a little more than a whisper,
forcing his audience to concentrate; to look at him – to
his lips. As he spoke his eyes could see the realisation in many of the
people watching him. He could see them starting to squirm on their
seats, understanding that they had at sometime, in one way or another,
been involved in bullying.
As his eyes had roamed the room they had been momentarily dragged back,
doing a double take.
who the hell is she?
Whilst he would never know everyone at these conferences, there is a
certain hard core of regulars. She wasn’t one of them. As he
a breath between sentences, his mind absorbed and stored the image.
Short, blonde, immaculately styled hair. Gold and was that glint
earrings with what looked like a matching necklace. White silk blouse
unbuttoned just enough to show she was sexy and confident –
was definitely not a tart. Peach coloured summer two piece business
suit – expensive, tailored, perfect for her colouring. From
vantage point on the low stage, the skirt showed a hint of thigh.
Enough to raise the age old question in any man’s thoughts
“ … is really no different to indirect bullying.
gives bullies an extra, and an all pervasive, set of tools to enhance
the misery ….”
Stephen was approaching the climax of his talk. The whole timbre of his
voice was evangelical. Exhorting his acolytes to examine themselves,
make sure they avoided hurting others, no matter how innocent it may
seem. But more, encouraging them to be vigilant and to use the tools
and techniques he’d mentioned to help remove bullying from
educational establishments and the workplace.
“… So, there you have it. Thank you for your
hope it was an hour of your time well invested, and that
put into practice some of the techniques we’ve discussed to
our schools happier environments – for us all. Thank
The applause was louder and more enthusiastic than most at such
conferences. Stephen acknowledged it with polite nods, but stood that
bit taller on the stage, with a little boy grin. The chairman
officially thanked him, referred to a couple of key points, asked
Stephen a pre agreed question to get things going, and then threw the
It was lively and the audience’s attention stayed focussed
throughout. As did Stephen’s attention – on the
the peach suit. He was almost having to force himself not to make eye
contact. Whenever he did, her shining eyes and glossy lips (not bright
and red, but soft and perfectly matched to her outfit), were smiling
back at him.
During the coffee break Stephen found himself surrounded by people who
had wanted to ask him a question, or get his advice on a particular
situation, but had either been too shy or not had the opportunity to do
it in the Q and A session. All the time he was answering questions and
listening, he was aware that his eyes had minds of their own, as they
scanned the room for a peach coloured business suit. If she was around,
she was nowhere near him.
As the second session was about to start, the delegates filed their way
back to the main conference room, Stephen hung back a little whilst his
eyes darted around the crowd to see where she was. With just a handful
of people left he was just about to enter the room when she hurried in
through one of the other doors. Stephen held the door open, and she
flashed him that smile – that smile that had almost stopped
in his tracks in his talk. She nodded a “thank you”
went in to take her place. Stephen had tried to look at her name badge,
but was so self conscious about not wanting to seem to be staring at
her breasts that all he’d managed to do was to get the vague
shape of the letters and words - a short first name: Ann or Pam? And
the surname looked like Pinch.
Stephen sat himself down in a vacant seat near the back. He was leafing
through the Conference pack, half paying attention to the next speaker
who was talking about bullying with specific reference to special needs
Ah, that’s what I was looking for!
He slowly worked his way down the delegate sheet, ignoring the men and
discarding the women whose names didn’t fit.
Ann Finch –
Education Consultant. Finch! Now there’s a nasty coincidence.
With an ironic shake of the head, Stephen whipped out his iPhone.
Google – and there she was at the foot of the first page.
hit the link and scanned. Psychology degree, short teaching career,
went to do a Masters in Education, stayed on at the University to do a
Bright girl then – but her eyes had shown that. While he was
online Stephen checked his e-mails. Work,
work, work – Christ I need to get a social life. It had been
many months? since he and Laura had parted their ways.
had all just spiralled to nothing really. Both had agreed it had been
good, and fun, but just not going anywhere. He had seen her a couple of
times since – they’d even had a very memorable roll
sack – but it was over. They both knew it, and had no regrets.
Lunch came and went. Stephen had kept a look out for the peach suit
with the flashing smile, but Ann was nowhere to be seen. The afternoon
saw several workshop sessions, and she was obviously in different
breakout groups to those that Stephen was in. At the end of the
day’s scheduled events Stephen went to his room, and decided
session in the gym before dinner.
He completed is usual warm up on the bike and did his ten minutes on
the rowing machine before moving on to the treadmill. The
gym wasn’t too bad, and as Stephen passed five kilometres of
10k run, he looked up at the big window overlooking the typically small
hotel pool. She looked jaw droppingly stunning, so much so that Stephen
stumbled on the treadmill, and very nearly lost it. He heard sniggering
from the next treadmill and looked over.
“Yeah, she’s bloody gorgeous, isn’t
Stephen grunted some vaguely agreeing response. His co-runner continued:
“I thought she looked good in that outfit today, but seeing
in a bikini! Bloody Hell!”
Stephen couldn’t help but agree. He decided that
the weights a miss, and after he’d done the next 5k, he would
instead go for a swim. As he beat out the kilometres, he watched as Ann
ticked off lengths of the pool with a degree of ease that would have
impressed Mark Spitz. At last the machine beeped, and he slowed down
– not a bad time, but he wouldn’t be troubling any
athletes. He changed into his swimming gear, showered off the sweat and
tried to look casual as he entered the pool area. The surface of the
pool was a sheet of smooth glass. There were no swimmers to disturb its
surface – especially no swimmers of the blonde, bikini clad
why did I bother
with that last 5k? Stephen
almost reluctantly disturbed the
sleeping pool and did a few lethargic lengths before getting out
– still mad at himself for missing an opportunity.
Stephen was late down to dinner. He glanced round the bar –
DfES crowd were nowhere to be seen, but neither was Ann. He walked into
the restaurant and looked round – a few groups he recognised,
no-one he knew that well. Ah well,
looks like you’re dining alone.
He told waitress there
would be just him, and she found him a table by the window.
“I hope you’re going to eat properly after all that
Stephen looked up from the menu to see those eyes smiling at him as
they seemed to have done all day. Before he could respond, she gestured
to the chair opposite:
Stephen stood up and said that of course she could join him. He smiled
“I think I’m not the only one who’s
worked up an
appetite. You pounded out a fair few lengths in the pool.”
“Hmm, anyone would think we’ve been spying on each
Her eyes and smile were saying “Yes, I know you’ve
looking for me all day”. God,
are women really that good at reading us or are we just crap at hiding
it? Or maybe she’s saying that because she knows that every
at the conference had noticed her. Whatever, the game’s up!
As she sat down, he looked at her. She was obviously one of those
people that would look great dressed in a sack tied with string. Her
third outfit of the day (if you could call that bikini an outfit) was a
plain white shirt and jeans that had been sprayed on. She wore the same
gold and diamond earrings and necklace that she’d worn
But Stephen’s heart sank when he noticed the other items of
jewellery – a simple solitary diamond engagement ring and
simple gold band. So, she’s
married. It wouldn’t be the first married woman
shared a bed with. But
Stephen knew that downstream was all
complications, guilt and heavy decisions.
They talked fitness, swimming, gym and dancing.
“Though I don’t get much opportunity for that these
days”, she said, with a rather sad, faraway look in her eyes.
When Stephen asked why, she just shrugged.
“I bet that’s because your husband keeps you tied
home. I know I would.”
She smiled a forced, weak smile:
“Something like that.”
pretty raw nerve you just hit, dude!
Stephen changed the subject.
They ordered their food and ate as they talked about
presentation that morning. She had clearly thought about it a lot. Her
sharp brain posed Stephen some deep questions and challenged some of
the things he’d said. Christ!
Beauty and brains – this is one hell of a woman!
“So come on, enough work – tell me about Mrs Ann
“God, you’re good. A natural at putting people at
know. You’re a great listener and so easy to talk
Stephen smiled and shrugged like a naughty little boy.
“See what I mean?” Ann shook her head, and started
about school, university, teaching, her love of physical sports, her
post grad work. She talked about meeting her husband –
come into school to teach the kids rugby. Stephen felt his throat dry,
and his stomach tighten. No, it
can’t be…Finch AND rugby. Oh my God!
Stephen took a deep breath and in as matter-of-fact a manner as he was
able to muster through his dry mouth, and with his heart pounding, he
“So, where was the school which you taught at when you
“Oh David was a community coach at the local rugby club
the school was ...”
Stephen hardly heard the end of the sentence. As soon as she said
“David” he knew. He knew where the school would be.
last piece of the jigsaw fell in. David
Finch. David Fucking Finch.
He made a rather hurried grab for his wine and took rather too big a
swig. He coughed.
“Are you okay?”
“Sorry, just went down the wrong way.” It was his
raise a weak smile.
She reached across and touched his hand, concern replacing the smile in
As he reassured her that he was fine, he turned his hand over and held
her slender, elegant, immaculately manicured fingers in his. She
didn’t try to pull her hand away, and her eyes returned to
twinkling, smiling best. It was at that point he knew they would sleep
together – if not tonight, then sometime. He knew it, she
He looked at her. Bright. Very
bright. Beautiful. Stunningly beautiful. How could the bastard that
tormented me through my teenage years have persuaded her to marry him?
Stephen wanted to understand the relationship between Ann and
“that bastard” for two reasons. He wanted Ann, but
that to do that he’d have to get any guilt associated with
cheating on David out of her mind. To do that he’d need to
understand their relationship. But he also wanted to know how
he’d done it. This woman was far from stupid, so how had he
conned her? And did he bully her? Once a bully …
They kept holding each other’s hands as they talked. Stephen
gently stroking and caressing hers like it was made of some precious,
delicate porcelain. They laughed together, they were serious together,
they argued and they agreed. And they were growing closer with every
sentence they spoke. Then, as Stephen brought her hand to his lips and
gently blew on it and kissed it, he heard an “Ahem”
across the room. They both looked round; the restaurant was empty, the
tables set for breakfast. They had been so engrossed in each other they
hadn’t noticed everyone had left ages ago.
They headed out of the restaurant towards the lifts arm in arm; like
lovers who’d known each other for months. Stephen asked if
she’d like another drink, saying he had a very nice mini bar
his room. She stopped and turned to face him, and took both his hands
“You’ve no idea how much I’d like that,
I…I just can’t. I’m sorry.”
The lift “dinged” and took away whatever
response was going to be. They got in – he pressed 10, she
pressed 6. The doors closed and he pulled her gently into his arms,
brushed his lips against hers and the kiss was everything he knew it
would be. As the lift came to a halt, she broke away from him and
grinned. Stephen stuck his foot in the door to stop it from closing.
“Breakfast at eight?”
She lowered her eyes, then locked her eyes on his and smiled:
“What do you think?” Then she quickly stood on her
kissed his cheek.
“That’s to say thank you for a wonderful
and she turned and left, leaving the lingering smell of her perfume
swimming in Stephen’s head.
Stephen was down at breakfast at eight on the dot. He spotted her at a
small table by the window. As he walked towards her, he decided she was
even more gorgeous than he’d thought the previous day. She
wearing a pink blouse and blue trousers – obviously the
half of a business suit. She spotted him a few yards off, flashed her
Blackpool illuminations smile, stood up and kissed him on the cheek:
“Good morning, Doctor Barnes!”
Her perfume filled his head as he responded with a “Good
He sat down, instinctively reaching for her hand across the table:
“Looks like we’re continuing where we left
He nodded agreement, and smiled at her. Breakfast flew by in easy
conversation and smiles. As they were leaving he casually suggested
that instead of eating in the hotel tonight, why didn’t they
For a few seconds that slightly haunted, wistful look returned:
“I’d love to, but I’m sorry I
leaving at lunchtime today – I have to get back I’m
The bottom fell out of Stephen’s world.
“B..But you can’t go!”
“Sorry, but I really do have to leave.”
He grabbed her hand and turned her to face him, but when he saw the
look in her eyes what he was going to say went out of his head. He just
looked back at her and nodded.
Stephen couldn’t concentrate at all in the first session
he just kept thinking about the previous evening. At the coffee break
he was ambushed by a group who wanted to discuss his presentation, and
Ann was nowhere to be seen. As with the previous day, she came in as
the break ended, putting her mobile phone away as she hurried to take
The final session before the lunch break was a panel discussion.
Stephen was up front, on the panel. As the questions were asked, one or
other of the panel members would answer. All the time it
him, Stephen’s eyes were drawn to Ann, who he invariably
was looking back at him. Those eyes, that smile made his stomach ache.
“… so what do you think about that then
“Oh er, sorry, can you repeat that? I was a little distracted
still thinking about the previous question.”
He caught Ann giggling out of the corner of his eye and damn near
missed the question a second time. In the end he made a spectacular
recovery and was back on form.
As the session closed he was again surrounded by people wanting to
discuss some of the points with him. What’s
the bloody matter with these people? There’s free food here,
don’t they want to eat?
In truth, he didn’t want to
eat. He just wanted to say goodbye to Ann.
After excusing himself, he made his escape. He glanced round the dining
not here! He
skipped down the stairs to the lobby, just in time to see the wheels of
a small overnight case, being pulled by that blue business suit,
disappearing through the front door. He got to her as she was opening
the taxi door.
“Not going to say goodbye?”
“You were surrounded, and I have a train that won’t
“Can I see you again?”
She looked at him, and her head tilted to one side, and the smile was a
“You’ve no idea how much I’d like
that haunted look came back, and she looked at her shoes,
Then in an echo of the previous evening, she went up on her toes and
kissed him on the cheek and turned to get into the taxi. Stephen never
acted on impulse, but there’s a first time for everything. He
grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him. Their lips met; he felt her
body tense, and he thought she was going to pull away from him. A
moment later her entire body relaxed into the kiss. After half a
lifetime she broke away from him, touched his cheek, and without saying
a word, climbed into the cab. Stephen watched it disappear towards
Euston. His mouth was dry, and the emptiness inside was a cavern.
Every time Stephen checked his e-mail in the days after the conference,
he hoped he would find a note from Ann. Nothing. Of course he could
have e-mailed her (he had acquired her e-mail address from the
conference organisers), but no, the contact had to come from her. Then,
a couple of weeks later, he was putting together a presentation when
Outlook pinged, and the box on the bottom left of his screen told him
he had an email from “Finch, Ann”. Stephen read it
times, each time increasing his confusion.
the hell is this
about? She said how much
she’d enjoyed his talk, and
meeting him. She asked him about something they’d discussed
length, and they’d agreed on. She said she very much hoped
she’d get to hear him speak again soon. The whole thing was
– friendly, but formal. She knew he’d remember the
conversation, they’d even laughed about it over breakfast. This is a code,
she’s just saying
“Hi, and I haven’t forgotten you”.
added fuel to Stephen’s suspicions about Ann and David Fucking Finch.
Twenty-four hours later, almost to the minute, another e-mail arrived.
Stephen almost ignored it. Almost ignored the mail that would change
his life. It wasn’t from Ann, but someone whose name he
didn’t recognise, which was why he’d almost ignored
the thing that had reprieved the e-mail from the ignominy of his
“Deleted Items” folder was the title: Reminder:
He vaguely recalled an e-mail arriving several weeks ago, but at that
time he had no desire whatsoever to go back to meet his GCSE
classmates. But now… now there was a very good reason to go.
Revenge. He was going to go! He was sure David Fucking Finch would be
there showing off his gorgeous, long-suffering wife. And he, Stephen,
was going to go and take his wife from right under his nose. That kiss
had not been faked. He knew she had feelings for him. And the coded
e-mail just proved it.
Stephen read the mail, just a few days off. In a few days he would
change everything. Revenge. Payback for years of being down-trodden.
Stephen was deliberately late arriving. He didn’t want to be
hanging around waiting for Ann (and David Fucking Finch) to arrive. He
wanted them to be there. His senses were bombarded with noise from the
dancefloor, and smells of perfume and aftershave (some cheap, some very
expensive). As for his eyes, well his former classmates had all
changed, some recognisable and some definitely not!
Tension grabbed his chest in an ever tightening fist, his mouth was
on! For the past ten years
you’ve been preaching about standing up to bullies. Now
it’s your turn it’s not so easy is it? Get a bloody
scanned the room for her face – too many people!
“Hey, Steve isn’t it?”
“Hi, yeah. Err … sorry …”
“It’s Alan, remember? Didn’t have a beard
when I was
sixteen! Great to see you!” And Alan wandered off to surprise
Stephen looked at the people dancing. No, not there. Then the groups
clustered round the bar area. Nope. Not near the food either. He knew
it was her although she had her back to him. The group of half a dozen
were sitting round a table. Stephen took a deep breath, exhaled, and
set off to cover the few metres to meet his nemesis.
David FF was sitting opposite his wife, facing Stephen. He looked up as
Stephen approached. A smile, or was it a sneer.
“Hello everyone! Remember me?”
Ann’s head jerked round as if someone had yanked a string.
mouth was an oval. The two other men seated, stood up to shake
Stephen’s hand. Fucking David Fucking Finch didn’t
Ignorant bastard! Stephen looked into his eyes, and held out his hand.
“Hello David. I …” and then he saw the
“Hi Steve. I’m really glad you’ve come. I
know Ann.” He laughed, a genuine laugh of amusement, not a
“Though I can see she had no idea we knew each
Stephen knew his face must look a bit like Ann’s had a few
minutes ago. He was, for the first time in many years, absolutely
“Come on, Steve, or is it Stephen now? Come on,
you a drink.”
Ann got up, but David shook his head:
“It’s okay, Stephen can push me through the crowd.
advantage of being disabled – people do tend to avoid
Stephen didn’t need to push, David’s upper body was
probably a match for anyone else’s there that night, and he
handled the wheelchair with ease. They got their drinks but instead of
going back to the table, David headed outside:
“We need to talk.”
The cool air, mixed in with the smell of smoke from the outcast group
of smokers, helped Stephen to round up his stampeding
First things first:
“So, what happened?”
“Rugby scrum collapsed. Everything, and I mean everything,
the waist…” David shook his head. “Gone.
Stephen shook his head. The number of times he had wished for something
like this to happen, and now here it was …
“Don’t be. Shit happens. But it’s me that
apologise to you. I wish I’d been man enough to do it years
when I realised what a complete bastard, a real shit, I’d
you – and some others, but you were the easiest target. And I
truly sorry. At first I thought this was a judgement on me for not
seeking you out to apologise.”
“We all do stuff we regret.”
“For fuck’s sake Steve. I was a complete arsehole.
give me the satisfaction of hating me a bit!”
Stephen laughed, and nodded:
“Yep. Yes you were. And I hated you more than you can
“Thanks for that.” David held out his hand and
couldn’t quite believe the warmth he felt as he took it and
the hand of his tormentor.
“There’s something else though –
Stephen sat down on the low wall that surrounded the car park. Their
eyes were now level:
“Nothing happened. We met, got on well together.” A
“She really likes you, you know. She’s probably
you a hundred times in the last three weeks. Must admit I was stunned
when I realised who the ‘Stephen’ was.”
“David, nothing happened.”
“Oh I know that. She is wonderful and I don’t
She’d never, ever do anything to hurt me. But I know her well
enough to know that she really likes you and …”
“Hi. What’s going on?”
Both men had been so absorbed by the conversation they hadn’t
noticed Ann come out. David held out his hand and she took it.
“Good timing, babe. Steve, sorry – Stephen and I
talking about you. I was just about to ask him to do me a favour, so to
speak. And as it involves you, maybe it’s a good thing
my God! I know what
he’s going to say! Oh Christ!
David looked into his wife’s eyes:
“I know you love me. I know you would never do anything to
me. But I know too that you’re a young woman. A woman with
… how do you say it politely? A woman with needs that this
useless husband can’t fulfil.”
“David….” Ann cut in, but David held up
is hand and
“I’ve really been thinking hard about this since
back from the Conference and mentioned my old schoolmate here. I know
you like Stephen and I know that you would never be unfaithful.
It’s just not in your nature. But you aren’t being
unfaithful if it’s with my permission, and I know about
Ann shook her head. Stephen looked at his nemesis. Talk about heaping
coals of fire on your enemy’s head. Ann and Stephen looked at
each other. For the second time in a short space of time, he was
“Look you two. I’m not assuming you’re
going to jump
into bed tonight. But if you want to, that’s cool. Just
don’t be afraid of seeing each other, and letting whatever
Stephen spoke first.
“I, I just don’t know what to say.”
“I know you like each other. Just get to know each other and,
know, if in two years she wants you rather than me, then hey,
that’s life. Like I said, shit happens. There’s
just MY happiness at stake here. There’s Ann’s and
And I gave you seven years of absolute hell.”
David shrugged and smiled:
Ken Orford, 2010