Out of a group of sixty, only fifteen of them returned. The fifteen sat in silent groups around the perimeter of the room, each looking warily at the other.
A few of them had gravitated into small uneasy groups of two’s and three’s, but the atmosphere was tense.
At least three of them were totally unrecognisable to their former friends and allies, so changed were they and it had taken the bravest of them over two hours to even approach people they did recognise.
As the hours went by, a low murmur developed in the room as some of the group recovered enough to recount tales of misery and horror.
There were some success stories but not many and not enough to lift the depressive pall that lingered over the gathering.
As one of those relative success stories, Stella was feeling buoyant enough to move amongst the sad collection of people in the room, and some of the angst-ridden tales pulled at her heart-strings.
So saddened was she by these disastrous accounts, she played down her own good news so as not to cause undue suffering to these people, people she had known and - in some cases - loved, before they had, reluctantly, gone their separate ways.
She looked around her. John Brooker. He had been such a strong, handsome healthy guy before. Now he looked all washed-up, a broken man.
Stella listened and watched. A veteran at the game, Stella knew that was the best way of assessing a situation and knowing when to get out while the going was good. It had saved her several times.
Obviously this was something that Donna Morris hadn’t learnt. She was a wreck, her face was mutilated and her body - well, the sight of her poor body caused Stella to wince on her behalf.
Peter Kramer - he had been a bull of a man, but now... Stella could have wept for him.
She didn’t know how long she could stand this, it was much harder than last time, so hard. But she couldn’t just go, just leave these people, could she?
And then she saw him. The face she’d been scanning the room for! He was here and he looked the same!
“Oh God!” Her breath caught in her throat as she moved towards him..
Would he still want to speak to her after all they’d been through? After what she’d found out about him?
Jeff Grant and she had made a pact to be here, had promised each other they would survive, that they WOULD succeed and that they would be here for each other tonight.
Well, here they were.
Suddenly, she saw his eyes settle on her, saw the uncertain smile of recognition and then they were in each other’s arms.
“Oh Jeff! You’re really here!”
“Stella! You’re okay! Thank God!”
“Did you see...?”
He nodded, “yes, I saw Donna.” He shook his head as if to deny the reality., “such a tragedy. She was so beautiful.”
“Yes. But then so many of them here...Well, what can you say...?” Stella’s voice held a note of emotion.
“It’s so sad Stella,” Jeff agreed, “But I don’t suppose everyone can age as well as you and I have, and it is thirty years since we all graduated. I don’t think I’ll come to another re-union though - it’s too depressing! All these old people!”
“Now, now Jeff, just because we have a better cosmetic surgeon than Donna...””
“My God! Did you see the face-lift? She looks permanently surprised! And one boob bigger than the other too!”
“Your hair implant has taken well though. You’d never guess! Well, I only know because your brother told me when he was doing my eyes.”
“For a plastic surgeon, my brother has a big mouth!” Jeff looked around the room, “but he’d do some good business here... I think we should mingle. Coming?”
They crossed the room to the Anniversary Waltz.