Joey has died.
No one has kept in real touch with him (or each other) over the last 10 years, but he was a significant crew member back then. He dated most of the girls in his set. Four were seasonal: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.
Joey was James’ best mate by default because Joey was sociable, whereas James is not a people’s person. He waits at the funeral for the others to arrive. Will they have changed? Grown into themselves?
They were easy-going when he was young; you just hung out with them for different reasons. If two turned up at the same time, you could have an unexpected sort of night out. But you never noticed them. You never said to yourself, ‘Wow, I’m hanging out with Summer. Hope she sticks around a while longer.’
James operates outside of traditional signifiers. He dislikes ‘limiting constructs’. He eats lamb, and cream eggs, in August. He wore shorts in Reykjavik at his cousin’s stag do.
He sees a figure coming towards him through the church door wearing Russell & Bromley flats and dark glasses. Winter. She’s aged.
‘Joey’s gone. It’s unbelievable.’
‘Well, he was ill for ages.’
‘I feel devastated.’
‘When did you last speak to him?’ asks James.
‘Graduation,’ replies Winter.
They sit there a few minutes.
‘I would have visited him, only I don’t like to leave the house much. I do all my shopping in Westfield, straight from car to store. I’d shop online, if they weren’t spying on me.’
She pops a pill in her mouth, nervously. James thinks better than to ask. No more fondue habit, he notes.
‘Now, here’s a pair of reprobates.’ It’s Autumn, recherché in smudged red lipstick and a camel coat, buttons deliberately misaligned.
‘Death makes angels of us all,’ she offers wearily to no-one in particular, seating herself next to Winter who turns to James, undelighted. He pulls an I-thought-you-were-friends expression.
‘She’s two-faced. And changeable. In Pinter’s pocket one minute. Then Frostrup’s. I don’t trust her.’
A heaviness settles on James. They’re an intense presence, these women. Light on laughs. Where’s Spring? he wonders. Suddenly, he’s desperate to see her rosy cheeks, her curls.
And here she is. She’s more petite, and plainer, than he remembers.
But it’s such a relief to have her around, James finds everything she says jollier than he knows it to be.
‘I’ve bought a starter home in Milton Keynes,’ she stage-whispers to the threesome.
Autumn and Winter stare at her, waiting for better news.
‘Brian’s been promoted, and we’ve got one of these on the way.’ She pats her tidy bump.
James hears Winter make a sound like a sneeze.
Autumn peers through her prescription-less, horn-rimmed glasses. ‘Sounds very…’ she searches for the right word, ‘…hopeful.’
The congregation settles. Thoughts turn to Joey. The first hymn strikes up.
But James can hear something inbetween the organist’s chords. An insistent ‘psst’ sound, coming from the end of the pew. He looks over. Summer. Beckoning at him wildly, her spidery blue mascara lashes reaching out their legs. That isn’t… is that… a jump-suit?
Summer has broken her ankle and wants James to help her to the pew, even though that’s presumably the role of the crutches he’s now carrying. She squeezes her way in, leaning excitedly to micro-wave at the others. James sees she enjoys an easy relationship with her cosmetic dentist.
‘I’ve had a TERRIBLE decade, guys’, she shouts over Jerusalem. ‘It’s been non-stop. You have no idea what I’ve been through.’
Autumn, Winter, and Spring now gawp at her, as at a Towie star who has crashed the funeral. Autumn re-folds her hair into its vintage clip. Winter turns the collar up on her wool coat. Spring crouches to poke around for a Jacob’s cracker in her faded Next handbag.
‘Bitches,’ seethes Summer to James, shifting her weight onto the good leg. ‘Let’s you and me drink Aperol Spritzes afterwards.’
The service wraps.
James pays his respects to Joey’s family. Skips the wake. Slinks home.
In line with the run-up to all reunions, he’d been worried he wouldn’t measure up.
But, in line with their playing out, he concludes he’s doing life better than everybody else.
In fact, he’s never felt more anti-social, a-sexual, and a-seasonal, in all his days.