One day, life catches up to you.
It had been a long day. He was in the red vest over his white broadcloth shirt with a
tie that next year would out of style, and had just finished typing the eighth draft of
a proposal he was now wishing he had never even made. He stood up in a his
office, one whole wall floor to ceiling windows, not realizing the bright afternoon sun
had started to edge towards the dusk, and printed up a copy to give to his assistant
to proof read. He’d stopped looking for own errors and missing words ages ago, and
reminded himself that he needed buy the man something for his birthday next
week. A glance at his watch told him he had a phone call to make in twenty minutes
to a client.
He breezed out of his office, across the small space that served as the focal point
for the suite and leaned out into reception, his arm outstretched with the pages to
be looked over. His assistant, a reedy thin man with mocha chocolate skin, hesitated
for a second then took the papers.
“You have a, um, …guest.” He said quietly, and rolled his eyes out into the
comfortable waiting room. There in one of the leather chairs, dressed smartly in a
business skirt and low heels, she sat. She looked like a older, still beautiful version
of herself. She stood up when she saw him, and he saw that other than the years
she hadn’t changed.
He’d stopped being scared years ago, usually he got paid in any circumstance. But
now he felt fear in the pit of his stomach like he hadn’t felt since,… since her.
“Hey, “ he said finally for the first time in a long time. He was usually all business,
being all business was simpler, but right now he wanted to wrap his arms around her
and never let go.
“Hey,” she said back. They stood their awkwardly for a second, until she dipped her
head just a little and gave him a grin that took him back to the nights they’d shared
what seemed like centuries ago, then stepped forward and hugged him.
In the little ante chamber he hesitated, then choosing the small conference room
instead of his own office or the larger meeting area. They settled into the
comfortable chairs next to the smooth polished tabletops and took each other in.
He’d lost weight over the years, from stress and not eating, and let his hair go all
gray because it seemed to impress his client base. He suits were tailored, with
colored vests suggested by his stylist, and he wore Italian loafers that usually
shined with a bright polish. The whole effect was that of an old man who ran
marathons and had a meticulous attention for detail, a confident, experienced and
professional appearance that his profession required.
She looked like an older version of herself. Before she’d been fit, a little dynamo of
activity and purpose in a caramel colored package. She’d always worn her hair
short and still did now, her earrings dangling to draw attention to her style. She
looked as though mother nature had gazed down upon her and decided a touch up
to show her age was enough.
They talked. Or rather she talked and he listened, in a the practiced professional
way that showed interest because to do it any other way he would have been
overwhelmed just have her there. He listened as she filled in the gaps in his
imagination of her life hadn’t wanted contemplate. She’d gotten married, was the
mother of two adorable boys and was a senior director at her firm. She did charity
work and coached junior basketball. She’d finally learned to cook something other
than macaroni. She taught Sunday School now instead of just attending. She’d
traveled the world, with work and for fun, to everywhere they’d once talked about
and more beyond. And now, since she was in town, she’d looked him up and was
wondering if they might go get something to eat, just like old times.
He wanted to go eat. Someplace funky or cool. He wanted to go drink. He wanted
desperately to get drunk. He suddenly wanted the world to stop, for time to stop, so
that he could just get out.
He wanted to tell her that this office was his life. That sometimes he worked here
twenty hours a day because going across the street to his sparsely furnished condo
alone hurt too much. He wanted to tell her that other than the occasional business
meeting or business trip, his world consisted of this office, that condo, the street and
lobby in between and the diner on the corner. He wanted to tell her that he’d never
married because he knew he’d never find anyone like her. He wanted to tell her he’d
stopped dating, he’d stopped going out, he wanted to shout that he’d stopped living
when he finally realized that they would never be together like he dreamed. He
wanted to patiently explain to her, in low even tones suggesting the gravitas of the
feeling, that even now he felt he was just going through the motions and despite the
trappings of success that it all didn’t mean a damn thing if she wasn’t there.
He said he was fine.
She asked what happened so long ago. She’d sent him an invitation to the wedding,
and she didn’t hear back from him. She’d been mad at him for a while, then she’d
missed him too much to mad at him, then life had happened, as it frequently does.
All those years ago he sat quietly crying without even opening the envelope, happy
for her and sad for himself, then simply faded from her life. He knew her well enough
to know that when she focused on something, all else would fade away and he
would eventually be a footnote in her past. Life would happen. At least for her.
He thanked God for years of practice in how to have a conversation and not say
anything. He mentioned his work and made a joke or two, which she smiled at. She
smiled at him, and he mentally beat down the warm fuzzy feeling that had formed
when her lips had formed that familiar shape. He could feel his blood pressure in
ears. He wanted to fall at her feet and beg her to love him. Instead he talked about
his stylist and the whole vest idea and then a couple of projects he was working on.
It must have been an hour later, as the conversation ebbed and flowed until he
realized he couldn’t take it any longer, so he pretended he still had work to do. She
understood, as he’d always been a workaholic. He walked her though the glass
doors with his name on them and to the elevators. They kept talking as they let one
car pass and then another. She thanked him, then gave him a long hug. He lied that
he’d keep in touch. A wave of sadness washed over him when the doors finally
closed, her smiling face and small hand waving as she disappeared.
He walked back into his offices slowly, his assistant watching him carefully. He could
sense the other man holding his breath with questions, so he stopped at the
entrance to the offices and glanced over to give assent to ask.
“That was her?” the assistant asked. The assistant knew her face well, for a large
portrait of her adorned the wall of his boss’s office, he had walked in on his boss
many times just gazing at it. The assistant had never asked directly about it, or the
other two that hung in the large conference room.
“Yep. That was her.”
“You didn’t say anything? You just let her go?” There was hint of surprise in the
younger man’s voice.
“I just let her go.”
“You should have said something. It’s not right.”
“It’s complicated. There’s no reason for both of us to be hurt.”
He went back into his office and closed the door. He thought about a drink but
instead just eased behind his desk and slouched in his chair, letting the enormity of
what had just occurred wash over him. He could feel the tears welling in his eyes
and finally they spilled out he stifled his sobs and curled up in the fetal position.
He would eventually get up and go down the diner and have his usual and then to
bed, after which he’d feign sickness for a week. Then he got back to work. One day,
life would catch him, and he wouldn’t be able to get up and pretend anymore, and
so that would be it.