May The Best Team Win – Episode 20

Gerard Fay © An old colleague visits Brad in the pub Illustration Gerard Fay

“Here, Rachel. These are for you.” Neil was back and he was handing her a bag of prawn cocktail crisps.

The pub filled up and the quiz began.

The Smarty Pints enjoyed themselves, but it wasn’t their evening. Rachel wasn’t on form.

Neil also seemed a little distracted, busying himself finding a cushion for her and keeping everyone supplied with drinks.

They lost by five points.

“Well, I don’t know what’s the matter with you this evening,” Priscilla declared, as the Master Minds came to join them.

“A very poor show indeed. After your recent performance, Neil, I would have thought you’d get all the geography answers correct.”

He smiled.

“I shall put in more study, Priscilla.”

“And what’s happened to you, Rachel? A hurt ankle shouldn’t affect your quizzing ability.”

Rachel shook her head.

“It seems that it has. Tonight, at least.”

Priscilla pursed her lips.

“Well, let’s hope for better things at the Quiz Quartet. The reputation of the Flying Duck is at stake.”

“Perhaps Rachel should give up dancing.” Ewan had been silent, but now he looked up.

“It’s clearly not safe for older women.”

The others stared at him and Rachel was indignant but, before she had time to speak, Priscilla leaped in.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Ewan. Rachel is a young woman and it’s important to keep fit.

“What’s more, I can’t see any reason why one shouldn’t pursue any hobby at any age, can you?”

Ewan got up, his colour heightened, and stalked over to the bar.

There was an awkward pause.

“Are you all right, Rachel?” Dawn whispered.

“Absolutely fine,” she replied. “Ewan and I are no longer an item – if we ever were – that’s all.”

“I see.” Dawn nodded, her expression inscrutable, and beside her Rachel could feel Neil’s eyes boring into her.

“Let me get you another drink,” he said.

Maeve hummed as she wiped down the bar and brought some more bottles up from the cellar.

She was looking forward to the evening.

She’d always enjoyed her job – Frenton was such a friendly place – but, since that night when Anthony had turned up, she’d felt truly loved and supported.

Maeve smiled. They had been gripped by a cold snap recently, so Brad had lit the fires and the room was warm and welcoming.

Maeve gave the ducks on the wall a quick dust, then surveyed her domain, hands on hips.

“Hi, Maeve. How’s things?”

Ali and Cam entered the pub, their cheeks pink from the cold, eyes sparkling.

They began to remove scarves and gloves as Maeve bustled round behind the bar.

“I’m very well thanks, love, and how are you?”

“Really good.”

“Your usuals?”

“Oh no, just a Coke for me tonight, please.”

Maeve looked at Ali in surprise.

“No pink gin? Are you sure you’re all right?”

Ali laughed and Cam put his arm around her.

“Absolutely fine,” she beamed. “I’ll take a bag of crisps instead, please.”

Dawn and Graham were next to arrive. As soon as Dawn saw Ali, she dashed across to sit with the young couple, and Graham strode across to the bar.

“Evening, Maeve. You and Brad well?”

“Fine thanks, love. What can I get you tonight?”

“One pint, please, and a glass of wine.”

“You look well.”

Graham nodded.

“I think I’ve finally recovered from the Ofsted inspection.”

“And, how did it go?” Maeve really admired anyone who could teach.

“Not too bad. We’ve had the report now and the school’s received a ‘Good’, so all is well.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

He picked up the drinks.

“Thanks, Maeve.”

“Can you manage?”

Maeve looked up to see Neil holding the door open for Rachel.

“Yes, thanks. I’m fine.”

She came in, still hobbling a bit, but she was only using one crutch.

“How are you, love?”

“A lot better, thanks, Maeve. It won’t be long before I can give up the crutches entirely.”

“That’s great news.” Maeve was relieved.

Poor Rachel had been in pain and it was a real inconvenience not being able to drive.

“Did Neil bring you?”

“He did.” Rachel turned to smile at the tall man, who was letting Apollo off his lead. “He insisted.”

“Why don’t you sit down and rest?” Neil asked her. “I’ll bring the drinks over.”

“You can carry the drinks if you like, but I’m paying.”

He tried to refuse, but Rachel insisted.

“It’s a thank you for the lift.”

“That was my pleasure.”

Rachel turned to Maeve.

“You’re not to take his money,” she said, grinning. “He deserves a free pint.”

“Right you are.” Maeve laughed and produced a beer and Prosecco, which Neil carried to the table while Rachel paid, then went to join the others.

Ali came up to the bar once again.

“Maeve, do you have a minute? We’ve got some news and I’d like to share it with as many friends as possible.”

“Of course.” Maeve was intrigued.

She followed Ali to the table and drew up a chair with the others.

To be continued…

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