The Fall

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‘He told me to move,’ Ryan says. ‘He said, ‘I want to talk to Anna’.’

‘Oh!’

I look over at the man who supposedly wants to talk to me. This is surely what my mother and flatmate would call a clear sign of… not interest – that wouldn’t fit in the circumstances – but something. I pick up my things and go over to him.

Once seated I become the sole focus of his attention. It’s wonderful. We talk about everything: pets, smoking, Woody Allen films, Cate Blanchett, online dating

‘You’re on Tinder?’ he says, surprised.

‘Yes, well, everyone is – aren’t they?’

‘Well, I’m not, but I’m married…’

 

The previous autumn there was a leaving drinks for one of our colleagues. Cheesecake was served.

‘Who made it?’ I say, taking a slice.

Tobias‘s wife.’

 

‘What?!’

Colleague looks disbelieving when I tell her. Her funky dairy-free diet doesn’t permit cheesecake, but even harder to digest is the news that Tobias – elegant, stylish Tobias – has a wife.

 

For six months or so after finding this out I was invincible. No matter that his gaze made me weak at the knees or that we crossed paths in the kitchen too often for it to be a coincidence. The guy had a wife, and one who baked decent cheesecake at that.

I was invincible when he told Ryan to move in the pub so he could talk to me; when he brought in a DVD of one of the films we’d talked about for me to borrow; when he told me about his family’s history of divorce, about his father’s second marriage to a much younger woman. I was even invincible when he offered to relieve me of some of my workload.

Then, one day, he came over to talk to Gus at the neighbouring desk.

He has a strange way of walking: hurried, impatient, not quite graceful. His hair sticks up a bit at the back and his eyes have this intense, brooding expression.

I look up from what I’m doing and meet his gaze. And that’s when it happens. I fall. Fuck, do I fall.

CC Image courtesy of Kheel Center, Cornell University on Flickr

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Let’s Dance (Part II)

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(Continued from Let’s Dance (Part I))CC Image courtesy of Quite Adept on Flickr

‘I got you a prosecco,’ he says, wielding a glass.

I take it in my free hand, drink from the beer bottle in my other.  We… ‘talk’ may be an overstatement.  We say words, which roughly make sense.  I don’t mention the girlfriend, though I am thinking about her.  I wonder if he is.

I look at my watch.  ‘There’s not long left – I’m going to go dance.’

He drains his drink.  ‘Am I the one you’d choose to… dance with for the last half an hour of the party?’

I give him a look.  ‘It seems to be a tradition.’

‘Yes.’  He laughs.  ‘I look forward to seeing you at Christmas!’

‘Y-es.’

‘I – I would very much like to see more of you before then.’

I turn to face him.  ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea, is it?’

‘Why not?’

‘Because….’ I glance in the direction of the dance floor.  ‘Oh, let’s dance.’

We danced to Bowie’s classic at Christmas and I listened to it for weeks afterwards.  They’re yet to play it tonight.

 

Matthew and I are dancing.  Nothing untoward.  He’s spinning me (he was complaining earlier about how his girlfriend doesn’t get it when he attempts to turn her) – it’s basic rock ‘n’ roll.  I don’t see it coming.  An older colleague I don’t know very well passes by, engages him in conversation.  They start dancing.  I’m doing a solo spot.  In my naivety I think, he’ll be back in a second.  Seconds become minutes.  I see Colleague on the balcony, go over to her.

‘We need to have a word, missy.’

‘It’s fine!’ I say.  Which invariably means it isn’t fine at all.  ‘He’s got a girlfriend, and I’m emotionally distanced.’

I am, in a way.  Since VP appeared on the scene, I haven’t once looked at Matthew‘s profile.  And tonight I couldn’t be more on my guard if I tried, to the point that I’m not even sure I’m feeling it.

‘Ooook.’  She doesn’t look convinced.  ‘What are you doing then?’

‘What?!  We haven’t kissed or danced in a grinding way – it’s fine!  He has a girlfriend!’

In the space of the next, what, two minutes, my mood undergoes a startling transition, from light and cheerful to blind rage.

I glance in the direction of the floor.  They’re still dancing, Matthew and Older Colleague.  ‘What’s he fucking doing?!’

Colleague gives me the most annoying look of sympathy.  ‘He’s so drunk.’

‘That doesn’t make it OK!’

The next time I look, he’s nowhere to be seen.  I entreat Colleague to join me on the floor.  Just as she does, the song changes. I try not to listen to the words, try not to scan the room for someone who isn’t there.

‘I think I might cry!’ I say.  ‘Mattthew and I danced to this at Christmas!’

We laugh and she hugs me.

 

The next time I see Matthew, he’s on the balcony, smoking with Older Colleague.  I’m fuming to a wasted Ryan, then I’m fuming to Colleague (‘They say that,’ she says, ‘then three years later they have a baby together!’), then I’m leaving.  Matthew is standing near the exit.  I could have ignored him.  I should have.  But instead, for a moment, I put my hand on his arm.  I want him to see me, and once he’s seen me, to say something, to apologise, to vow to leave his girlfriend.  Yes, probably that.  I think he turns, but I’m not sure.  He doesn’t come after me.  My last view of him is cycling away – incredibly in a straight line – down the road.  I get out my phone, say a little prayer that there’s a message from VP waiting for me.  But instead there’s a weird screen I haven’t seen before, some kind of system error.  I turn the phone off and back on.  ‘I really need you to be here for me!’ I say.  Yes, I’m talking to my phone.  There’s nothing.  I’m not surprised, or particularly sad.  It feels like a punishment of sorts, for following Matthew, for dancing with him, for not walking away when he spoke about his girlfriend the way he did.  For letting myself believe, just for a moment, that it was real.

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CC Image courtesy of Andre Benedix on Flickr

I hear a step and turn in my chair.  It’s Tristan, holding a piece of paper.  He puts it down next to my keyboard.

‘Here you are.’

‘Oh!  But…’

It only means one thing.

‘…are – are you sure?  Because I – I don’t have anyone for it – I mean, I can probably find someone, but I don’t have anyone at the minute, and… don’t you want it?’

‘N-o.’

‘Oh, OK, well, thanks.’  I look down at the ticket, frowning.  ‘Are – are you sure there’s no one else who wants it?’

‘No.’  He looks puzzled.  ‘I got it from the design guys, so I don’t think any of them need it.’

In the top right-hand corner someone has scribbled his name: TRISTAN.  He won’t be there.

‘OK, well, thank you.  I’m sure I can find someone for it.’

 

Yesterday, over lunch, Tristan had mentioned that he might not make the gig as he had to pack for the weekend.  I’d then enquired casually of the assembled company if anyone knew of a spare ticket going and Tristan immediately volunteered his.

‘Well, I don’t have anyone at the minute,’ I mumble, ‘but there might be someone…’

The night before, I’d got a message from Viable Prospect.  He’s in London, well, Oxford, but the point is, he’s in the same country as me and has suggested a repeat of herbal tea.  Not knowing this was going to be the case, I’d given my spare gig tickets to my brother.  Now I’m a bit peeved that I can’t ask VP, not least because he’s actually a fan of the band.

 

I keep glancing at the piece of paper next to my computer, at the name scrawled across the top.  I’d known from Tristan’s tone at lunch that he wouldn’t come, but still, it’s a pity.  I was looking forward to spending some time with him outside of the office, and now he’s gone and dropped into my lap the means to enable me to invite VP.  Tristan had been the one big reason against asking the guy, so there’s a neat irony to this turn of events.  Not that I expect VP to come.  By half 4 I’m certain he’ll say no, it’s too much hassle etc.  That’s the cut-off I’ve given him.

At 16:36 I notice, out of the corner of my eye, my phone blinking.  I’ve been on edge ever since I first texted him the suggestion, three hours before.  What’s new is that now, for the first time, I’m certain: I want him to be there.  I know he’d be brilliant company, that I’d laugh all night with him.  It would be wonderful.

‘You’re on’

Shit.  That’s my first thought.  SHIT!  And that’s my second.  (My third is obviously, full stop???)  I fire off an email to Colleague who is excited in the way only a person who isn’t currently facing a clothing/make-up crisis of gargantuan proportions could be.

 

Grey eye shadow – or anything darkish?’

‘I’ve got this.’

Zoe holds out what can only be described as pale pink shimmer.

‘Errr…’

Colleague comes in. ‘You OK?’

‘Er no!  I am not prepared for this!’

She laughs.  ‘Can I help with anything?’

‘Err… make-up?!’

‘What do you need?’

‘Everything!  Eye shadow?  Grey?’

Zoe reoffers pearly pink. ‘It’s kind of shimmery.’

And still pink.

‘How about this?’

I take Colleague’s grey eyeliner pencil and set to work.

 

I leave through the main entrance, which takes me past Tristan’s desk.  I remember, as a child, always reading the phrase ‘he gave her an appraising glance’ in books, and never quite knowing what it meant.  What Tristan gives me is undoubtedly appraising, but it ain’t a glance, it’s a look.  I flash a smile.

‘Thank you for the ticket, Tristan.’

‘No worries.  Have fun.’

I don’t catch the last words.  ‘Sorry?’ I say, coming to a halt.  The effect is entirely ruined.

Too late I realise what he said.

‘Oh – thanks.’

But he’s already looked away.  Or has he?

Standing on the landing, waiting for the lift to arrive, a scene plays out in my head.  It’s a cross between the moment in The Office when Dawn comes back to the party and kisses Tim, and something altogether more dramatic.  It involves Tristan rushing towards the doors, pushing them open, starting to say something, only to break off and kiss me.

The lift doors open, and close on me.  I hit the button for the ground floor.

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‘I heard from Germany today.’CC Image courtesy of mira d'oubliette on Flickr

This is what I’ve taken to calling him, him being Viable Prospect.  Never has a pseudonym seemed more ironic.

Colleague looks excited.  ‘Ooh you should have heard just now what Zoe was saying, about you and Tristan.’

Zoe is a colleague of ours.  I frown.  ‘Huh?  What was she saying and when and why?’

‘It was just now and like, half an hour ago.  She’s always talking about it.  She was saying how she thinks you’re such a good pair and she’s sure you’ll end up together.  Y’know, she’s got a sense about these things?’

‘He has–.’

‘She knows he has a girlfriend,’ she interrupts, ‘but she still thinks – you should have seen her!  She was getting so excited, saying how he clearly really likes you, how he takes every opportunity to come over and see you, and–.’

‘He doesn’t.  I mean, I know when he emails me rather than coming over, and – he doesn’t.’

‘He and his girlfriend need to break up,’ Colleague mutters, as if she hasn’t heard a word I’ve been saying.

It’s weird, being the voice of reason.

Something occurs to me. ‘I remember Zoe saying she loves romantic stuff, so I wonder – it might be that she’s looking for it.’

‘P-ossibly, but she’s usually right about these things.’

Colleague has a point.  There was the time Zoe guessed that Beth was pregnant almost before Beth knew it herself, and there are other examples.  But still…

‘I loved what you said, the other day, when I showed you the photo of his girlfriend!’ I say.  ‘When I asked what were you expecting, and you said, ‘I think I was just expecting to see you there, Anna’.

We laugh.

‘It’s so annoying,’ she says. ‘They need to break up.  When’s the office party?’

I laugh, thinking of Matthew.  They’re so different.

‘The thing is, Tristan’s so decent, he would never cross the line.  He wouldn’t even flirt.’

‘No?’

‘No.’

It’s weird.  He’s funny, hilarious even, but it never feels like he’s leading you on, not really.  Which, let’s face it, is a bugger.  There’s too much about the guy to admire.

I pretend to do some work for a bit.

‘Do…’

Colleague looks up.

‘… do you honestly think he fancies me – I mean, finds me attractive?’

‘Yes.’

‘But, really?’

‘Yes, and Zoe’s convinced of it.  He clearly likes you, and you get on really well – and you’ve got loads in common.’

‘Yes, it’s a bit unnerving how much we have in common.’  I frown.  ‘Now I’m annoyed.  I wasn’t annoyed before!  It’s your fault!  And Zoe’s!’

Colleague laughs.

I shrug.  ‘But… there are other people you have lots in common with.’

Germany, for instance.  He loves poetry, and music, and we have the same sense of humour.  And… Tinder.  We have that in common.

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I hear from Perky who has just cracked and texted the guy she’s been waiting to hear from.

‘Don’t judge me!’

How can I?  I’m exhausted and instead of doing the sensible thing and crashing out on the sofa and ‘watching a film’, I’m baking.  Why am I baking?  Because with one eye on the scales, there’s only so much time I can spend staring at my phone.

‘Bother.’

I’ve added the flour before the butter and melted chocolate, which reminds me of a post I wrote.  The first ever post, in fact.  Like I said back then, it’s because my mind is elsewhere, thinking of the person I hope will eat these.  It’s not VP because VP isn’t in London.  It’s not Tristan either.

*

‘Try one!’

‘Ooh thank you!’  Colleague takes a piece.  ‘Yum!  Did you make these last night?!’

‘Yep.’

‘What’s in it?’

I hear a familiar step.  The man responsible for my re-writing the rulebook on baking walks past.  Our eyes meet for a moment before he turns the corner, out of sight.

‘Was that…?’

‘Yep.’  I lower my voice.  ‘Could you do me a favour and in a moment say how delicious it is or something?!’

She rolls her eyes.  He comes into earshot.

‘What’s in it?’

‘White chocolate, and cranberries…’

‘Mmm it’s delicious!’

She’s a bloody good actress.  The tub is still in my hands.  He glances at it as he walks past, cafetiere in hand.

‘If I’d thought faster I could have given him one!’ I say, doing a little skip on the spot.

Colleague gives me a pitying look.

‘OK, OK,’ I say, gathering up my things, ‘I’m going to lunch.’

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