May The Best Team Win – Episode 08

Gerard Fay © Priscilla makes her presence felt Illustration: Gerard Fay

“Ewan, stop talking and turn the music down. Also, I shall need the microphone. We’re going to do the quiz.”

As Priscilla picked up the question sheets from behind the bar and sat down with Ali and Cam, Maeve’s heart sank.

She hoped that an evening with Priscilla at the helm wouldn’t drive everyone crazy.

She didn’t want to lose all her customers!

Neil wandered along the supermarket aisles wondering what to buy for his supper.

He’d already loaded the trolley with dog biscuits and a bone that he’d got from the meat counter.

Perhaps some fish tonight, or pasta? He paused by the salmon and scratched his head.

Everything came in packets of two, but he could always have some in his sandwich tomorrow.

He was just trying to make up his mind when he heard a voice behind him.

“Evening, Neil. All right?”

It was Graham. He was a tall man with grey hair and, as usual, was wearing tracksuit bottoms and trainers.

“Work going well?”

Neil nodded and adjusted his glasses.

“Yes, thank you. It’s busy, but all well. How about you?”

Graham’s cheery face clouded.

“Well, I love working with the kids, but it is very challenging at present.”

Not everyone was cut out to be a secondary school teacher. It was a stressful job, but Graham loved it.

He and Dawn were both fantastic with children. Neil really admired them.

They had been unable to have a family of their own but it hadn’t stopped them from helping others.

He knew they had supported Sophie during Rachel’s divorce and they’d been a tower of strength for Kirsten, the barmaid, whose father had died when she was only twelve.

He smiled at his friend.

“Have you got time for a cuppa?” he asked. “You could tell me all about it.”

Graham glanced at his watch and nodded.

“That would be great. I’m sure Dawn can manage without me for half an hour. I’ll meet you at the café in ten minutes.”

The two men finished their shopping and it wasn’t long before they were sitting at a table with mugs of coffee. It was quiet this evening.

“So, what’s the problem?” Neil asked, taking a sip.

Graham sighed.

“I suppose it’s nothing new, really. So many of the students have difficulties – problems at home, learning challenges or mental health issues.

“It’s becoming increasingly hard to support them.”

Neil nodded. It was a difficult world to grow up in.

“There’s one new student,” Graham continued, “who’s particularly challenging. It’s not that he’s any trouble, but he has anxiety issues.

“Sport is often great for helping kids like that, but I can’t seem to reach him.”

Neil felt for his friend.

“You mustn’t beat yourself up about it,” he told Graham.

“You and Dawn are fantastic with youngsters. I know you’ll do everything possible.”

“We do our best for all our students. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem enough.”

Neil shook his head. He wasn’t sure what to say.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” he said. “I’m just going to check on Apollo.”

The golden retriever was waiting patiently outside the supermarket. He got up as Neil approached and wagged his tail.

Neil patted his head and gave him a handful of biscuits. The bowl of water that was always outside was still full.

“I won’t be long, old chap,” he told him, fondling the dog’s silky ears.

Apollo looked up at him with huge brown eyes. It was amazing what a blessing a pet could be.

“Hey, you’ve given me an idea!” he said. “Got to go.”

A moment later, he was back with Graham.

“What do you think of this?” he asked excitedly.

“You know there are charities that take pets into residential homes and hospitals? How about I bring Apollo to school?

“You know, pet therapy for some of the students. I could come once a week. What do you think?”

“It’s a fantastic idea! I’ll need to clear it with the head, but let’s try it.” Graham beamed.

They discussed the details for a time. Graham would talk to senior management and Neil would get DBS checked, but overall it seemed like an excellent idea.

“I really appreciate your help,” Graham told Neil, patting him on the back. “Can I get you another drink?”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“OK, then tell me how things are with you. Any news?”

Neil shook his head and there was silence for a moment. Then he cleared his throat.

“The quiz went well in the end with Priscilla at the helm, didn’t it?”

“She has a commanding presence!” Graham laughed.

Neil grinned. In fact, when Priscilla had got into her stride, she’d made a rather good quizmaster, he thought. Then he frowned.

“Rachel and Ewan seemed to be spending a lot of time together,” he added, as nonchalantly as he could.

An expression that Neil couldn’t quite pinpoint passed over Graham’s face.

“I didn’t notice,” Graham said, watching his friend closely, “but Dawn did comment on how much they were talking.”

“Do you think there’s anything happening there?” Neil asked, avoiding Graham’s eye.

Graham shrugged.

“You know what Ewan’s like. I wouldn’t set much store by it. I can’t imagine that Ewan is Rachel’s type.”

Neil didn’t really think so, either, but he was in no doubt they’d been flirting and he didn’t like it one bit.

To be continued…