May The Best Team Win – Episode 26

Gerard Fay © Neil and Rachel meet outside pub Illustration: Gerard Fay

Rachel grinned as she entered the pub. She still couldn’t believe that the Smarty Pints were through to the Quiz Quartet final.

This evening, they would celebrate.

She had dressed in a skirt and heels for the occasion and felt a sense of anticipation as she made her way over to the bar.

She’d arrived early and the pub was still quiet.

Rachel wondered what amazing decorations she and Brad would come up with for the final.

“Evening Rachel, love. Congratulations again! What can I get you?”

“Thanks, Maeve. I’m going to treat the team to a bottle of champagne tonight,” she said.

“A lovely idea. I’ll see what I can find.” Maeve grinned and disappeared.

Rachel’s phone pinged and she picked it up.

Immediately, her smile was replaced with a frown and her excitement with a sinking sensation.

“Hi, Rachel! How brilliant is this? We’re in the final!”

Dawn was coming across the room, closely followed by Graham.

“What’s the matter with you?” Dawn asked, as she noticed Rachel’s glum face. “It’s celebration night.”

“I know.” Rachel sighed. “The trouble is, we should be celebrating two events.”

“Two?” Dawn was confused. “I thought we were meeting to enjoy our moment in the sun, our first final!”

“We are,” Rachel assured her. “But it’s Neil’s birthday! I forgot all about it. I’ve just seen a reminder. I haven’t got him a gift or anything!”

Dawn’s smile fell from her face and her hand flew to her mouth.

“Neil’s birthday. Oh no! Graham, why didn’t you remind me?”

Graham shrugged.

“I thought you knew! I’ve brought a card with me.”

“A card! That’s not enough.”

“We don’t need to make a big fuss, do we? I can buy him a beer.”

“Graham!” Dawn turned to Rachel in frustration. “Well, at least that’s one card. I hope someone else has remembered.”

“Remembered what?” Maeve reappeared with a bottle and some flutes.

“Thanks, Maeve. That’s great, but did you know it was Neil’s birthday?”

“His birthday?” Maeve gasped. “Why didn’t anyone tell me? I’d have organised something!”

“We forgot all about it.” Rachel blushed. “I feel terrible!”

“Right. We’ll have to see what we can do. I can manage a piece of cake and a candle and we might have some bunting left…” Maeve stood hands on hips, deep in thought.

“Evening all. Give me a hand here, please.”

Rachel was surprised to see Priscilla who was usually the last to arrive.

She was trying to negotiate the door whilst carrying a large white box.

“Allow me.” Graham relieved her of her burden, placing it gently on the bar. “What’s all this in aid of?”

“It’s Neil’s birthday cake, of course. Now, hurry up. I need help to bring the rest of the things from my car.

“Someone will have to blow the balloons up, too. I can’t do that at my age.”

The others leaped into action. For the next 15 minutes, they worked flat out to prepare the pub.

Balloons and streamers were hung from the ceiling, and confetti was scattered.

Champagne was poured and Maeve displayed Priscilla’s cake on a large board, and found candles.

They were ready just in time.

“For he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow!”

Neil stood in the doorway with Apollo and turned crimson, but his whole face was alight.

“Thank you so much.”

“Happy birthday, Neil!” Rachel kissed his cheek.

Priscilla had saved the day again.

“Would you like a glass of champagne, Neil?”

“That would be lovely.” He smiled at Rachel, his eyes glowing. “What a wonderful surprise.”

Priscilla raised her glass.

“I’d like to make a toast. Here’s to a happy birthday, and an exciting final.”

“A happy birthday, and an exciting final!”

“Now, Neil, you must blow out your candles.”

Everyone sang and Neil did the honours.

“Thank you.” Neil beamed. “It’s an amazing cake.”

Priscilla really had done them proud. The cake was beautifully decorated with an image of Neil and Apollo, surrounded by pictures relating to darts, the quiz and mathematics.

Rachel turned to Priscilla.

“Thank you for making this a special day for Neil.”

“There’s no need for thanks.” Priscilla gave Rachel a penetrating look.

“It’s my pleasure. Neil is a lovely man. Even Barry is coming down later to buy him a drink.”

It was very rare that Priscilla’s husband deigned to darken the pub doors, but Priscilla was right – Neil was a wonderful person.

Rachel had one more thing to say before she could relax and enjoy the evening.

“Neil,” she said. “I’m so sorry but I’ve left your card and present at home. I’ll have to give them to you next time I see you.”

Neil gazed at her, his expression intense.

“Rachel,” he said, “I don’t care about a present.

“What I’d really like for my birthday is for you to come out for dinner with me.”

Rachel stared. Was Neil asking her on a date? What should she do?

To be continued…

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