Carbon Copy

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CC Image courtesy of M i x y on Flickr

I hit the forward button and type:

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

Beatrice comes back minutes later:

I wondered if you’d react.

Of course I’d bloody react!

Her advice is not to go.

*

Two weeks earlier…

The first thing I see is a status update: he’s leaving the company, leaving London, moving up north. I don’t know what he’s doing there (getting married and having babies probably) and it doesn’t really matter.

 

As the leaving date approaches, I think of him occasionally. It’s sad, the way things have turned out. Given what happened, I can’t but think badly of the guy, and I’d much rather think well of him.

 

The afternoon is busy, my inbox awash with emails. ‘Drinks tomorrow’ is the subject, but it’s the sender’s name which makes me stare. I open the message, read the farewell note to colleagues. He’s sent it to his whole office, and in the ‘CC’ field included just four names.

*

‘Hey!’

I run into Beatrice on the station side of the traffic lights.

‘Hey!’ she says. ‘What are you doing here?!’

‘Oh… I’m just going to a drinks thing before dancing.’

‘Oh! Right!’

‘Yeah. Where are you off to?’

A gallery opening. In fact she’d better go, she’s running late. We say a hurried goodbye.

 

I come to a standstill a hundred yards or so from the pub, make a meal out of turning off my iPod, bundling up the headphones. I check my phone, stow it in my bag, and look for traffic in both directions before crossing.

 

He looks a little awkward, which makes two of us, but pleased. Or relieved? He finds me a chair.

 

‘I think… the last time I saw you,’ he says when people have moved around a bit, and we have less of an audience, ‘was at the summer party.’

‘I remember.’

He laughs, a tad awkward. ‘I think I was very drunk that night.’

‘I think you might’ve been.’

He laughs again. I can’t think of what to say next.

 

A short while later, I get up to go. We hug.

‘Don’t let the man get you down,’ he says, with the same awkward laugh.

I don’t say that with him out of the picture I’ve a marginally better chance of following his advice.

CC Image courtesy of antony.howard 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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Let’s Dance (Part I)

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CC Image courtesy of Kikishua on Flickr

I remember everything he’s ever told me.  In fact, the whole time we’re talking, it feels like we both already know everything the other person is saying.  A smile plays around both our mouths.  We look out over the water.

 

The bit I regret most is, as I left, putting a hand on his arm.

 

Tonight I would ignore the guy.  Not in a rude way, just that I wouldn’t seek him out, strike up a conversation, or even be found in his general vicinity.  I spend the first half of the evening dancing with Ryan (and inevitably therefore thinking of Tristan who, true to form, isn’t there).  Matthew’s in the other room, drinking.  He might not even dance.  It would probably be for the best.

I see him enter the room, but pretend not to notice.  I feel his hand on my shoulder and feign surprise.  We’ve been here before.

‘Not since Christmas. I haven’t seen you – since Christmas!’ he says.

‘No.’

He’s pretty hammered, that much is clear.

 

We look out over the water.

‘So,’ he says, ‘you went to Oxford?’

‘Yes.  How did you know that?’

‘It’s on your Facebook profile.’  He laughs.  ‘I might have looked at your profile a few times.’

I give him a look.  It’s a running joke between VP and I – as much as anything can be a running joke between two people who barely ever see each other – the hourly sweep we make of each other’s profiles.  Of course, VP’s joking (I think).  Matthew – Matthew I don’t think is.

He laughs again.  ‘Fortunately I regularly delete my search history!’

OK, in hindsight, this is appalling.  He has a girlfriend, and when the power of speech comes back to me I remind him of this fact.  He doesn’t deny it, only smiles and changes the subject.

 

Back on the dance floor…

‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ he says.

‘No.  But you have a girlfriend.’

‘Yes.’

We dance on.  I can see Beatrice out of the corner of my eye.

 

‘What do I do?’

Matthew’s gone ahead for a smoke, cue summit meeting.

Beatrice, smiling, spreads her hands.  ‘Is he still with his girlfriend?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then…’

I have my answer.

‘You could ask how his girlfriend is.’

‘Did that.  What do I do?’

‘Well… you can get with him…’

‘No!  No no no.  That’s not even – no.  I shouldn’t follow him.’

I follow him.  Which is my first mistake.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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Wasted

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CC Image courtesy of francisco_osorio on FlickrThe Master of Ceremonies is wearing what looks like a high-end bin-liner.  ‘Turn to the person next to you,’ he says, ‘and share a story with the theme ‘Wasted’.’

‘I’m glad I’m next to the wall,’ I say, laughing.

Karl isn’t going to let me off the hook.  He goes first, with a story about how he wasted four months of his life working for an estate agents called Foxtons.  In that time he worked like a dog, to the point that he would get home to his girlfriend and be too tired to have sex.  ‘She used to beg me,’ he says, eyes wide with wonder, ‘but I just couldn’t!’  He shakes his head.  ‘It was such a waste.’

Now it’s my turn.  On reading the event description for the evening, I’d run a quick scan of the memory files for any relevant anecdotes.  Lately the saying ‘you regret the things you don’t do’ had been preying on my mind.  In Forget Me Not, the woman asks, ‘Any regrets?’  ‘Maybe,’ the guy says.  It’s a poignant moment.  Regrets, I realised, are something I never want to have and I don’t have many.  But there’s one I can’t seem to shake.  There it is, a wasted opportunity which fills me with feelings of regret.  It’s a trivial story, barely a story at all, but once lodged in my head, I can’t shift it.  And so, when Bin Liner invites us to share, it’s the only one that springs to mind.  I take a deep breath.

‘I should’ve gone to the ball at which I would have met the man I should marry but I didn’t because the guy who invited me I was still getting over and now the guy I should marry is going out with someone else….’

I said it was trivial, pathetic even.

Karl cuts in, ‘How do you know he’s the guy you should marry?’

I frown.  ‘Sorry?’

‘How do you know he’s the guy you should marry?’

I don’t, but the question is just annoying.  I mean, of course he’s the guy I should marry.

‘Because, when we did meet-.’

‘So you did meet him?’

‘Yes, we worked together…’

And if you’d let me finish the ruddy story, you’d have found this out!

‘… and we just got on really well.’

To the point that I was left in no doubt that he was the man I should marry.  Honestly, details.

‘But if you had met, you might have gone out together, and found it didn’t work.  I mean, you meet, you become lovers, and then you get to know each other, and then, if it works, it might become a relationship, but not necessarily.  More often than not, it doesn’t work.’

‘True.  But, well, I think it would work.  But anyway, now he’s got a girlfriend.  It’s such a waste.’

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The Voice Of Reason

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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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