The Romance of Unconnected Lives: Chapter Eight

The Romance of Unconnected Lives

Chapter Eight

Matt and Kyle worked the room like two parts of a well-oiled machine. For almost everyone Matt met with, Kyle had briefed him beforehand; many of the people he actually knew, but remembering the specifics was always Kyle’s forte.

During each conversation Matt and Kyle would switch between each other – Matt focusing on the more relaxed, friendly conversation and Kyle going a little more business.

Matt: “Hi, how are you? How was the trip to Maui you went on last summer?”

or

Kyle: “Oh my goodness, that’s so great. We should grab coffee sometime and discuss some of these ideas more. We’ll organise a time, and I’ll find a way to pull Matt away from the next book he’s working on.”

If things ever got too focused on the business, Kyle would just say, “Alright, we definitely need to meet up. But no business talk tonight. Tonight we enjoy ourselves before tapping the person on the shoulder, laughing, and handing them a business card.”

In this way, the duo slowly moved around the gala: meeting with different people, eating, drinking, and having a good time.

The gala was held in an art-museum-turned-mansion. Twenty years ago, the museum was losing money. It was further out of the city than the other public – and therefore free – museums and so nobody was visiting it, save for a small group of loyalists. Because of this it was bought by an extremely wealthy business man who promised to build another, better museum to replace this one. He did, and he built it within walking distance of this one.

Initially the loyalists were somewhat unhappy but when he filled the museum not only with some of the art from this one (he kept some of it for himself), but also with more pieces, they seemed to calm down. He knew the museum could not compete with the free, public museums, so he decided it shouldn’t. Instead he specialised the museum, finding rare and extremely expensive pieces from around the world. He had an Impressionist wing, a Cubist wing, a Renaissance wing – if you were to ever sit down with him it would not be long before he told you the story of how he almost, almost convinced Le Louvre to part with its beloved Mona Lisa. How true that story is remains a matter of debate.

The art museum he built was an art museum for the connoisseur; that’s how he kept it financially viable.

So this building that was an art museum became a mansion. Here he stayed occasionally and used it as a place to house his private collection. He was a somewhat private man and didn’t enjoy opening up his home to people, but he still hosted perhaps two or three events a year, the biggest being the JRR Investment Gala. An investor in the company, he was a huge fan of them and their approach to business.

He was also a fan of Victorian architecture and bought the museum partly because of its design. It was situated slightly higher than the surrounding land and so four sets of five steps greeted the visitors as they arrived. The steps led up to two sets of beautiful Western red cedar double doors, framed under an equally beautiful stone archway. The area just behind the doors was a sort of no-man’s land between the great outdoors and the building itself. Here were the areas to leave your coat, pay for your ticket (when it was an art museum), etc.

Beyond this were two giant, spiralling columns which announced your arrival to the rest of the building. Designed as an art museum, much of the mansion was giant open rooms, full of art and perfect for events such as this one. The owner’s living quarters were tucked away and – to be honest – quite difficult to find. They were also closed off during events such as this.

Kyle had met the man who owned this place, but that’s because Kyle had met practically everyone – he was very well connected – but few others actually knew him or even what he looked like. He was a very reclusive man and preferred his various homes around the world, filled with copious amounts of art, to the company of people. Only a select few ever got the chance to socialise with him.

“Isn’t it great?” Kyle said in a rare and treasured moment of calm among the storm of conversation. He was referencing the ceiling specifically and the whole place in general.

“Imagine living here,” Matt was also looking up at the ceiling. Neither noticed the woman in a black empire dress with three-inch heels and her hair pulled loosely back enter the room and look at the two of them.

“Ugh, what I wouldn’t give to live here.”

“Right? Although it might get really creepy at night.”

“That’s true. You could make up all sorts of amazing ghost stories about the artwork watching you as you walked down the corridor to go to the bathroom or certain pieces moving from one wall to another.”

“And now I won’t be able to sleep tonight,” Matt laughed. Both men were still looking at the ceiling. The woman in a black empire dress with three-inch heels and her hair pulled loosely back was walking towards them now.

Kyle breathed an invigorating breath. “Alright man, duty calls. Let’s continue on with the night.”

“Who’s next?” Both Matt and Kyle took their eyes off the ceiling and were about to start walking forward when they stopped. The woman in a black empire dress with three-inch heels and her hair pulled loosely back was standing in front of them.

“I am,” Anette said, smiling. Matt and Kyle looked at each other slightly confused. Kyle was the first to compose himself.

“Hi, I’m Kyle.” He leaned in and extended a hand.

“Nice to meet you, Kyle.” She then turned to Matt and smiled again. “You too, Matt. I apologise for the random nature of this, but would it be possible for you to come with me? I have someone I’d like you to meet. There’s a small chance you might recognise each other.” As she turned to lead them, Matt noticed a smile spread across her face.

 

 

Jane smiled internally. This was the third time she’d been asked if she was here with her husband. ‘No,’ was always her answer, calm and controlled, ‘just me.’ It seemed Anette’s words earlier about looking like this and being a CEO had an almost prophetic element to them.

Jane, Anette and Tom worked the room slowly. They had nobody they needed to see nor anyone they should really talk to so they walked around in a sweeping manner, starting up conversations with the various guests, making sure to thank them for coming and telling them to enjoy the evening. This was an event of VIPs, but naturally some required more time than others for whatever reason, so some conversations lasted longer than others.

Often during conversations the trio would disperse slightly, so Jane would end up alone talking to a few people. As a trio it was clear they were here on business and that each held some sort of important role. Alone, if you didn’t know who she was, she was just another face in the crowd – albeit a face who moved in a manner of authority, a face whose calm and poise hinted towards a certain importance within the room.

When she wasn’t recognised, she never sought to correct the culprit. In fact she enjoyed the moments when she could be just another human being talking business with the others, feeling very much the king who dressed as the townspeople to see what they thought of his reign.

She’d have preferred to not be assumed to be with her husband, and with most who didn’t recognise her she was just assumed to be a woman of business, but the few times it happened were enlightening. It showed a side to this world Jane rarely experienced now. She had landed the role at JRR very early on in her career, and though many didn’t believe in her nor respect her, she made a point of attributing that to her experience, not her gender – whether or not that was the reason.

She still struggled with gaining respect from certain members of society and was still the subject of numerous cases of everyday sexism – she only had to think back to Mr. Jacobs, the man whose lecture she attended the night she… the night of the incident – but her status held a certain power and even if someone did feel a certain way, if they wanted money from JRR Investments they needed to follow a specific set of rules, most of which focused on equality: equality of gender, equality of race, equality of sexual orientation, etc. Because of this, she didn’t often experience what she was experiencing now.

The gala took place in several big rooms, connected not by doors, but by huge entranceways. This way the crowds could oscillate back and forth among the various rooms at will. All the rooms save for one had small standing tables, designed for groups of three to five to place their drinks and chat. There was a pop up bar in each room. Though each served the basics, one in the Main Hall was set up strictly for cocktails and was manned by one of the best mixologists in the city.

The Main Hall (it was called the Main Hall because it was bigger than all the other rooms) was the only room with big, circular tables surrounded by about eight chairs per table. At the end of the room was a small stage on which the band was playing. In front of the band was a dance floor occupied by a steady flow of people, some staying for multiple songs, some dancing one and then leaving, some spending half the song dragging their partner onto the floor and the other half trying to dance with them.

For the first hour of the party, a DJ played music throughout the whole place while the band set up. Now the band took the stage and their music was transported through the air and with the help of various speakers dotted around the place throughout the gala. It wasn’t a loud band, nor was it in any way jumpy. The band played a mix of classical and jazz, the perfect music to accompany an event such as this.

Though Jane and Anette (mainly Anette) had gone dancing numerous times beforehand, this was not the occasion, although Anette did lean in to Jane on two occasions and tell her to just find some guy and ask him to dance.

Jane would never do that.

About two hours into the event, when the band was in full swing, Anette whispered something to Tom and disappeared. Jane noticed her leave out of the corner of her eye, but was too involved in the conversation at hand to give it much thought. It’s not exactly like it was the first time in the night she’d done that either.

Anette scanned each room of the party looking for the man she knew only from a small, passport-style photo she saw some time ago. There were a lot of people to go through and she was going to have to concentrate. She calmed her excitement as she walked. They weren’t in the Main Hall. They weren’t in the West Wing. They weren’t in the – what room is this? – well, they weren’t in that room. Anette walked through two more rooms before stopping just past the doorway.

She saw two men drinking beer and looking up at the ceiling. It looked like him, but she wasn’t sure because he was looking up. She watched for a little while. Boy, this probably looks really creepy, she thought.

Wait, his face dropped down for a second to take a swig of his beer. That’s got to be him. And the man next to him must be his agent. What was his name again? Kyle, something. Who knows.

Anette started to walk towards the two of them. She wasn’t really sure how to introduce herself, but she thought she’d just wing it. As she got to them, the two men shifted as if they were getting ready to leave. She heard the one she assumed was Matt say, “Who’s next?”

Well, if that wasn’t a brilliant opportunity for an introduction, Anette didn’t know what was.

“I am,” she smiled, holding in a laugh as both men sort of jumped. She realised she probably startled the two of them as they came out of their trance. The one she guessed was Kyle was the first to compose himself.

“Hi, I’m Kyle.” He leaned in and extended a hand. Bingo, she had the right duo. She probably should introduce herself, but she was having too much fun.

“Nice to meet you, Kyle. You too, Matt,” The shock on Matt’s face when he recognised his name was enough to confirm fully that it was the two of them she was after. “I apologise for the random nature of this, but would it be possible for you to come with me? I have someone I’d like you to meet. There’s a small chance you might recognise each other.”

Anette turned around quickly, unable to hide the smile any longer. This is going to be good, she thought. As she meandered back through the gala, both men in tow, she searched for Jane and Tom.

The way she came wasn’t the quickest way back, but the truth was she wasn’t 100% sure she knew any other way, so she led the two men around the various halls and eventually found her way back to Jane. As she walked through the entrance to the hall, she looked back to make sure both men were still there. They were, though both looked a little nervous, staring at the floor. That’s fair, she thought. They’re probably pretty confused too. But they won’t be, soon enough.

Anette led the two men over to where Jane was standing. She was just finishing up the conversation she was having – perfect, Anette thought – and the man turned to leave.

“Excuse me, Jane.” Anette moved herself to where the man was standing so that Jane’s eyes didn’t direct themselves towards where Matt and Kyle stood. “Isn’t that a lovely painting?”

She positioned herself so that both her and Jane were looking away from Matt and Kyle, seemingly towards a painting on the wall. Anette couldn’t risk Jane recognising him before she made the great introduction.

“Why are you smiling?” A curious expression spread across Jane’s face. She was intrigued.

“Well,” Anette paused for a moment before saying calmly, “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

 

 

Who is this woman? Matt thought as he and Kyle blindly followed her around the gala. And where is she taking us?

They were walking through the various rooms of the mansion as if retracing a very random set of steps. Interesting. This whole time Matt and Kyle hadn’t ventured into the West Wing. So that’s what it looks like, he thought.

The West Wing wasn’t a big room, and it had been named so as to sound fancy, but really there was nothing special to it. It wasn’t even the most westerly wing of the mansion. It was, however, in one of the corners – the north-western corner to be exact – and that’s why it was named that way. The room just south of it was named the Thinking Wing after the sculpture in the middle modelled to be a twisted metal version of the Thinking Man.

The band were just finishing a slow, bluesy version of Al Green’s “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” as Matt and Kyle, led by the still unnamed lady, entered the Main Hall. Matt felt his phone buzz in his breast pocket and pulled it out to check it.

Fifteen new texts!

All from Kate. Was everything all right? Maybe he should check them.

No, he’d wait until he had a moment of silence and then step out to check. Now he was busy, though with what he still didn’t know. They were halfway through the Main Hall. The people started clapping as the band finished the song. Matt put his phone back into his trouser pocket.

He never wore suits and so was in the habit of putting his phone in the pocket of his right trouser leg.

They were exiting the Main Hall and continuing through the gala. They continued through two other rooms when the lady who was leading them purposefully scanned the room, saw what she wanted, and turned right towards a cluster of people. Most were men wearing black suits. One man wore a navy-blue suit and held what looked to be a clipboard. Next to him was a woman with a bold yellow dress.

They followed the lady to this group, which turned out to be two separate groups: one with the lady in yellow, the man in blue, and a man in black; and one with everyone else.

As they walked up to the first group, Matt remembered that phones don’t go in trouser pockets when one wears a suit and reached into his pocket to switch it back. As he did, it started to ring. It was Kate.

What should he do? He looked at Kyle, but Kyle was looking at the lady, following behind her as instructed. He looked at the lady, but she was now where she wanted to be and had her back turned to him. She was talking to the lady in yellow.

What did I do? he thought. Something was clearly happening. But if he took the call, that would be rude. Matt didn’t know what to do in social situations like this.

Kyle looked at him and shot him a ‘what’s going on?’ look before seeing the phone in his hand and the words ‘Incoming call: Kate’ on the screen. Matt looked at Kyle, looked down at his phone, looked around him, looked at the mystery woman and the lady in yellow, looked back at Kyle, mouthed ‘sorry’ and answered the phone, walking off as he did.

Kyle was left standing there. It all happened so fast – what should he do? It only took him a split second to realise he was never going to turn his back on Matt, and he too spun on his heels and followed quickly behind Matt, trying to catch up to him.

 

 

 

Anette led the two men over to where Jane was standing. She was just finishing up the conversation she was having – perfect, Anette thought – and the man turned to leave.

“Excuse me, Jane.” Anette moved herself to where the man was standing so that Jane’s eyes didn’t direct themselves towards the direction of Matt and Kyle. “Isn’t that a lovely painting?”

She positioned herself so that both she and Jane were looking away from Matt and Kyle, seemingly towards a painting on the wall. Anette couldn’t risk Jane recognising him before she made the great introduction.

“Why are you smiling?” A curious expression spread across Jane’s face. She was intrigued.

“Well,” Anette paused for a moment before saying calmly, “there’s someone I’d like you to meet.” Anette turned around with a smile, sweeping her arm in a grand fashion that she thought was rather sophisticated. “Jane, you remember…”

Where was Matt? Anette looked around confused. They were here just a second ago. She checked. Her eyes scanned the room quickly to see where they could have wandered off to, but nobody was there besides the people who were there before, and she had no interest in those people.

“Anette? Are you all right?” Jane laughed slightly, not sure if it was nervous laughter or genuine. She’d never seen her friend do this before. “Who do I remember?”

Crap, Anette thought quickly. Her eyes had scanned the room and had determined that neither man was still in it. She now had to think of an explanation for her behaviour. Should she tell Jane who she was just with? If she did, then the question of where they went would be raised and it was a question she couldn’t answer. If she didn’t tell her, then she’d look weird. But she also liked the idea of the big surprise, and telling her now was just lame.

“Er, never mind. They must have left.”

“Who must have left? There was nobody here but us.”

“Yeah… never mind. That’s weird. Anyway, so how are two doing? Anything interesting happen since I left?”

“You mean besides your random arrival?”

“Yeah. Don’t worry about that.”

“Alright,” Jane laughed again. “Well, nothing really new happened in the last few minutes since you left. I just realised that painting though. The one you pointed out.”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah. What do you mean you just realised it? You’ve been standing ten feet away from it for twenty minutes now.”

“I’ve been involved in conversation. And it hasn’t been twenty minutes.”

Anette turned her attention back to Jane, Tom, and the developing conversation about the painting. It was a Berthe Morisot, though exactly which one she didn’t know. Jane’s gaze was now on the painting, but Tom was still looking confused at Anette. He had vaguely seen the two figures standing there, but was focused on the conversation at hand in case he was needed so he didn’t fully see them and he definitely didn’t see where they went.

Anette gave him a brushing off wave and a face that said ‘I’ll tell you later’. This was clearly enough for him and he too turned towards the painting.

 

 

Kyle didn’t fully catch up with Matt until both men were outside. Matt had stopped moving in any particular direction and was now pacing, not speaking save for an occasional ‘hmmm’ and an ‘okay’ and a ‘yeah’.

Kyle hung back at the door. He was ready for when – hopefully if – Matt needed him, but he wasn’t about to move in and infringe on Matt’s space. He had no idea what was happening and so simply watched and waited, occasionally glancing back into the party to see if the mystery woman in a black empire dress with three-inch heels and her hair pulled loosely back was looking for them. If she was, she wasn’t looking outside.

It was a good ten minutes before Matt pulled the phone from his ear, hung up, put the phone into his pocket, and turned around. Kyle had started to step forward when he put the phone down, so both men were standing maybe three feet from each other.

Matt looked at his hand. “Um, Kate and I just broke up.”

Kyle relaxed his frame. “What? Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh man, I’m so sorry. What happened? Don’t say if you don’t want to.”

“No, it’s cool. It’s not exactly like we were that serious or anything.”

“That doesn’t matter. It still sucks.”

“Yeah.” Matt’s gaze was empty and looking off to the distance.

“I’m really sorry about this, man.”

“No, it’s cool.” He looked back at Kyle and straightened up. “She’s heading off to Switzerland for a couple months and then South Korea for the Winter Olympics and then who knows. So it makes sense, really.”

“Wait, what?”

“Yeah, she got a gig working with the Olympic snowboarding team. Apparently, they’re going to be training in Switzerland for a couple months before the games to really build up their performance. I don’t really know anything about this, so all I know is what she told me.”

“But I thought she worked with the swimmers?”

“She does, or her company does, but that’s not actually for a while. I thought it was sooner. She was requested for this after a spot opened up, so she decided to take it. It was all pretty last minute.”

“Oh.” Kyle didn’t really know what to say. He’d never had the ‘I’m leaving you because I’m leaving the country’ breakup before and didn’t really know what to say. “I’m really sorry,” was all he went with.

“Yeah, me too. But it’s awesome for her, you know? She’s doing what she loves.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

“And hey, judging by how tonight went things could be going well for us soon, so it’s not too bad.” Matt took a deep, controlled breath and forced a smile. “Sorry I walked out so suddenly. What was all that?”

“No idea, I left when you did. There was no way I was letting you go through this yourself.”

Matt smiled. “Well, sorry I ruined the mystery meeting. Come on, let’s go back inside.”

“Hell no,” Kyle stepped in front of Matt. “You’re going home.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Look me in the eyes and tell me you’re fine.” Kyle knew Matt. He knew when Matt needed people and when he needed himself. For most people, a distraction was what they needed, something to take their mind off what just happened. But Matt wasn’t most people, and this situation wasn’t like most. Kyle knew going in there would only wreck Matt for the next few days. His best bet was to go home. Kyle would chill with him if need be, but most likely Matt just needed to sleep and wake up tomorrow a new man.

Matt looked at Kyle. “Ok, yeah, maybe I’m not fine. But leaving would be so rude.”

“No, it wouldn’t. I’ll go in there and explain. You go home. You’re in no mental state to start socialising again. And besides, we talked to pretty much everyone we needed to. I’ll make the last few rounds with one or two people if I have to. Hey, be honest, do you want me to come by the house when I’m done? We can just chill and play video games.” Kyle knew Matt would be honest.

Matt thought for a few seconds. “No, I think I’m fine. I’m tired and it’s late, for me at least, so I’m just going to go to sleep.”

“Alright, man, I’ll swing by tomorrow.”

“Sounds good.”

Kyle walked down the steps with Matt to get him a taxi home. He paid the driver in advance and told him to keep the change. When the taxi drove off, Kyle turned around and headed back up the stairs. He was only going to be here for a few minutes, say goodbye to a few people – he might try and find that mystery woman – and then head on home.

For Matt and Kyle the night was officially, and abruptly, over.
*

If you would like to read more by William Potter or find out more about the author, please visit his website here. Alternatively, if you would like to read previous chapters from The Romance of Unconnected Lives, please click here.