The Best of Times

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CC Image courtesy of Ibliskov - Flucтuaт Nεc Mεяgiтuя on FlickrI’d been looking forward to the party. Tristan would be there, and Tobias. We’d demolish the canapé supply and drink too much cheap white wine. Tobias would make a passing remark about clothing, sparking a fit of anxiety from Tristan about his branded jumper, and I’d reassure him it was fine. Twice.

 

We’d cross the road to the neighbouring pub. Tristan would order doubles in place of my usual single. We’d bump into someone I went on a couple of dates with once and Tristan would ask, ‘What’s the deal with that guy?’ Twice.

 

I’d say or do something daft.

‘You’re really great,’ he’d say, laughing and clinking glasses.

 

We’d hug and I’d say:

‘I’ll miss you when you go to New York!’

And he’d tell me to come visit.

 

Out on the pavement, we hug again.

‘I always want people to be more like you,’ I say, ‘cos that makes them a better person.’

‘You’re really great,’ he says again.
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Later, in the casino, over champagne, we lose money and laugh about it.

 

Later still, in the crowded bar, he kisses me. Light, tender and unexpected.

‘Tristan…?’

I meet his eye. He looks happy and drunk and takes my hand, tight, beneath the table. We rest our heads together.
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Resolution and Independence

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CC Image courtesy of comedy_nose on FlickrBasically you’re fucked, is the gist of the Wikihow article, ‘How to get over a crush on your coworker’.

Friday I go into work with a slight hangover and a firm resolution. The night before was the work summer party, which meant two hours of trying not to make eye contact with either Tristan or Tobias. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it was.

I keep my eyes fixed on the screen as Tristan chats to a couple of colleagues sitting close by. I hear him say he’ll get his exam results that evening, but don’t look up. I am not going to end up in one of those conversations with him where we’re laughing so much we can’t breathe. I am–

‘Anna.’ He’s coming over. ‘Hey. So, did you go to the club afterwards?’

‘Yes.’

‘You did?!’

‘Yes.’

‘Amazing!’

He puts out his hand to high five me and meets limp fingers. If this whole not meeting him halfway thing is supposed to make me feel better, it isn’t working.

I think he’s about to leave but then he steers the conversation in a different direction. Minutes later we’re laughing so much there’s no point trying to continue and he does leave.

Later that night I’m on a train homeward bound, catching up on phone admin. The message I sent Tristan the night before asking if he was still at the party is before my eyes. A thought occurs to me and I start typing. Moments later, a reply: he passed his exams with flying colours and is out celebrating. I send back congratulations, stow my phone away and stare out of the train window, feeling my eyes prick with tears.

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Carbon Copy

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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.

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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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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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