There was a general requirement that people be at least visibly sober when entering the ball venue, and so I was serving as barman, handing out drinks only to people who looked like they hadn’t had one yet. It had taken three days, but James eventually talked me into wearing the bow-tie as a badge of office, too.
“Come on, man, you can’t be worried about hurting your chances!” he finally told me, with characteristic tact.
“Uh... thanks. For the ego boost.”
“I mean it, you must have found a ball partner by now.”
“Well... I’ve had seven girls approach me. Each of them asked me, with almost exactly the same wording, if I knew of anyone who still didn’t have a partner. After the third, I pointed out that I didn’t have a partner, to which the candidates replied, with stunningly similar phraseology, that of course they couldn’t take me, it would be like going to the ball with your brother. Or your father, that was another popular comparison. I’m thinking of getting a set of t-shirts printed with ‘I’m not related to you’ on the front and ‘Seriously, you’re probably more closely related to the last guy you slept with than you are to me’ on the back. What do you think?”
“Wouldn’t work. Everyone knows your mother's mother was a Swney, and the three Swney families are related to just about everyone within fifty kilometres.”
“Not closely. I mean, my great grand-father on my dad’s side was a Sweeney, and I don’t have webbed feet.” 1
“So did you find those girls partners?”
“Oh, yeah. Turns out half the soccer team had been too busy training to ask around, so I made a few connections.” That was my place in our social ecosystem. James was the one everyone listened to, and I was the one who listened to everyone. Between us we had so far managed to keep everyone fairly friendly and avoid most of the worst-case scenarios I could think of, and if anything really nasty occurred...
Let’s just say we looked after the people we cared about, and right now that meant providing closure to Hannah, while teaching Mike the valuable lesson that you can’t hurt someone like that without dire consequences, in this case in the shape of a tankard of Waikato Draught (the cheap beer having been bought in cans to avoid wasting any of the better stuff in the keg), with a nip of cheap scotch to top it up and, more importantly, to hide the taste of the agent of retribution.
1 See, the Swneys settled with two other families, a long way from anywhere else. Whoever went to town first after a birth registered it, which resulted in a family of more than ten children, roughly divided into Swneys, Sweenys and Sweeneys, depending on which neighbour it was trying to spell it or, for a lucky few, it being the father himself. The Swneys, however they are spelled, being a fertile clan, the three newly coined branches came to marry into just about every family on the Hauraki Plains and along the path of the Waihou river, though generally at such a remove that it is possible for two Swney descendants to be no more than fifth cousins, avoiding the whole “six fingers” problem.