The Romance of Unconnected Lives
“You ready?” Anette let herself into the house. She’s not ready, Anette thought. And three, two, one.
“Give me five minutes,” a voice called from the top floor.
Anette made herself at home. It would be at least ten minutes till she’d be ready, but there was no hurry. The gala didn’t start for an hour, they didn’t have to be early, and it was only a 20-minute journey away.
That gave 30 minutes of buffer room.
Jane didn’t have a TV in her living room. Instead she owned a projector that Anette had bought for her a few years ago so they could watch movies on a giant screen. Jane didn’t really watch movies – partly because she never had the time and partly because she preferred reading (plus, when she did have the time she usually just watched them on her laptop), but once a month, as decided by the two of them on one of their many pseudo-official agreements, Jane and Anette would get together to watch whatever movie Anette chose. It was either of their choices, but Jane usually didn’t mind or didn’t know and so the choice of movie almost always fell to Anette. Last month it was Singing in the Rain, a classic if there ever was one.
Anette stood up as she heard Jane walking down the stairs. This was the first time the two ladies were attending a fancy social event without picking out the dresses together first, and a small part of Anette wondered if Jane was just going to show up in her normal business clothes.
“What do you think?”
Clearly Anette had nothing to worry about. Jane had on a bold, yellow, one-sleeve sheath satin gown that ran to the floor. Just above her waist on her right side was a small diamond brooch which seemed to divide the dress into two striking halves. Her hair, which was pulled back behind her ear on her left side so it flowed around her neck and down her right shoulder, was slightly curled. Anette noticed a pair of black t-strap high heel shoes. Jane often wore heels, but never more than two inches, occasionally three when Anette managed to rope Jane into going out in the evening with her. She looked stunning.
“I look ridiculous,” Jane said softly.
Anette took a moment to reply, suspended in the disbelief of what she was seeing, before quickly realising what her friend just said. “Au contraire.”
“Yes, really,” Anette was staring at the dress, following it up and down. “You look amazing.”
“Really?” Jane was far outside of her comfort zone with a dress like this. She had bought it because in the moment she let herself be taken in by it. It looked phenomenal on the mannequin in the shop, but on her she wasn’t so sure.
“Yes, really. You look beautiful.”
“Ok. If you say so.”
“I do. Wow. I’m surprised you went for it though.”
“Well, I wasn’t sure if it was too much or not. You said I should go for something a little fancier than I usually do.”
“And that you have. Wow.” Anette paused again to take in this wholly unexpected occurrence. Even when they went shopping together Anette could never get her to try on anything as elegant. “Where did you get this?”
“You know that place in the city centre, the one we sometimes walk past on our weekly coffee trips?”
“You went in there without me?!?! No fair.” Anette jokingly hit Jane on the arm, causing a startled Jane to jump ever so slightly.
“Er, yeah. It’s a really expensive shop though. This is like the cheapest thing they had.”
Anette laughed. “You run the most successful investment company in the city. If you had the salary that anyone else has at your position, you would think a place like that was cheap.”
“Yes, well that’s why I don’t have that salary. It’s a purposeful decision.”
“I know. Let me guess. Happiness fund?”
“Well,” Anette stepped back, “I approve. I just can’t believe you went for something like this.”
“Me neither. It was on a whim. It was actually the day after you took my laptop and forced me to sleep in. I was lulled into a false sense of rest-induced confidence.”
“Well, if this is what happens when you sleep in, we need to get you doing that more often.” She smiled again. “I love the fact that our CEO looks like this.”
“Why?” Jane’s face questioned.
“Because there are a lot of people in this world who assume that you cannot both look that good and run a company. You are a walking stereotype squasher.”
“A what?” Jane raised her left eyebrow.
“Shut up, you know what I mean. You’re a social juxtaposition.”
“I can’t tell if you’re insulting me or complimenting me?” Jane winked at Anette to let her know she was joking around.
Anette sighed an exaggerated sigh and turned around.
“Wait, wait, wait. Let me look at you.”
Anette put on her best ‘I’m frustrated with you’ face, stepped back, and stood up straight. She was wearing a black empire dress with slightly capped sleeves and a belt only a hue lighter than the dress itself. The belt, which was situated just above her waistline, had a thin diagonal line where the buckle would have been. The rest of the belt was a sort of matte and Jane didn’t notice it until Anette turned, and the subtle glint as it reflected the light drew in her eyes. Like Jane’s, Anette’s dress flowed down to the floor and hid her heels. Anette was shorter than Jane and frequently wore three-inch, often higher, high heels. They were also black.
Anette’s hair was pulled back loosely.
“Eh, you look alright.”
“Alright?!” Anette retorted. “Girl, I look good.”
Jane smiled. “Come on, I’ll call a taxi.”
“But we’ll be early.”
“Not that early. And we can just hang around.”
“Hang around? Do you hear yourself? You clearly don’t go to many parties. No, we’re relaxing here until we have to leave.”
And that’s exactly what they did. Both women sat in the living room and talked and laughed. The event didn’t change anything; the dresses didn’t change anything. Whether it was archery in the local gymnasium or an annual gala hosting the wealthiest of the wealthy, Jane and Anette were the same two people, going through life the best way they knew how, trying to make the most out of everything that came their way.
By the time they looked at their phones, realised the time, called a taxi, put on their jackets because it was cold outside, got in, and got to the event, they were late.
“I told you we’d be late,” Jane elbowed Anette in the ribs as they walked up the path to the arched front doors.
“Please. In that dress, you’re never late.”
“What does that mean?”
“Shhh, we’re mature, remember?” Anette smiled at the doorman as he let them both in. They didn’t need invitations; it was their event.
“Here, I believe this is where we drop these off.” In between the entrance and the party itself was a coatroom with a very friendly gentleman behind the counter. The mansion where the gala was hosted was of course heated, so the jackets needed to brave the cold served no purpose in here, though that didn’t stop Jane from protesting slightly.
As they entered the main hall, Tom was there to greet them.
“Good evening, Tom.” Anette remarked cheerfully, beating Jane to the greetings. She held out her hand.
“Good evening, Tom.” Jane was right behind her. No handshake. Handshakes become one of the first formalities to go when two people work together all the time. Just the usual smile of appreciation.
“H… Hi,” Tom stuttered. He wasn’t quite used to seeing either of these two women in anything other than work clothes and it took him a moment to readjust himself. He cleared his throat slightly. “Mr. Smith is here, as is Mrs. Jenson. I’m told Mr. Alvi is on his way. And unfortunately Mr. Silva couldn’t make it, but he said he will be sending a check.”
“Thank you very much. As always, you are a saving grace. Now take the rest of the night off.”
“Tom, this is a party. Relax. Grab a drink. Eat something. You aren’t working this evening.”
Tom laughed awkwardly. “I’m not sure I know how to do that.”
Jane paused for a second before responding. “Then stay with us. But don’t feel any pressure. You have the option to work tonight or not.”
“But what if you need a reminder about anybody’s name or any details like that?”
“That’s what Anette… who is no longer here, is for. Maybe you should stick with us,” Jane looked around for Anette, but couldn’t find her.
Anette had slipped away and headed back to the door. She approached the doorman holding the clipboard of names and introduced herself with a smile. “Hi, do you mind?” She pointed to the list of people who would be attending the event.
“Certainly,” he handed it over and took a step to the side.
Anette sifted through the names, nodding in approval in places, pausing hesitantly in others. She wanted to know what she was getting into tonight, who would be there, what to expect. She left Jane as she was telling Tom he had the night off and, even though she knew he would never take the night off, she wanted to make sure she was prepared just in case. Tonight Jane had two personal assistants.
It all looked really encouraging. There were a lot of important people showing up tonight, and Anette was excited to see what could come of the night.
Wait a minute. Anette looked over towards the doorman. She stepped over to him and handed him the list, pointing to one of the names. “He’ll be here?”
“Yes, I believe so.”
“As in the author?”
“Yes, I believe it’s him. You might have to double-check with the planners, but I believe he’ll be here with his agent, this man here… Is that a problem?”
“No, no.” Anette was gazing absently into the distance. Interesting, she thought. “Er, thank you. This all looks good.” She said goodbye to the doorman, but quickly backtracked. “Would you mind terribly if I ask you to let me know when he arrives?”
“Certainly,” the doorman smiled, making a mental note to do just as she asked. Anette thanked him again and walked back into the party.
Jane and Tom were over by the bar. Jane was engaging in the first of many polite conversations for her this evening. This conversation was with a member of the JRR Investments board and was nothing more than a friendly bout of small-talk. It ended with him excusing himself to find his other half just as Anette arrived.
“Where’d you run off to?” Jane asked with a comedic frown.
“Just making sure everything is shipshape.” Anette replied as she positioned herself toward the bar. Along with Jane, she decided on a glass of red wine. This was no place for either lady to be trying fancy cocktails – though many of the guests would be.
Tom, who wasn’t much of a drinker to begin with and had decided against an alcoholic beverage, had fallen comfortably into the familiar role of assistant and was more than happy to continue that particular role throughout the entirety of the evening.
Jane and Anette were also in the mindset of work. Though this was a social occasion and a party, for these two it was work. One could not be the CEO – or CFO – of a company like JRR Investments and be expected to be able to relax at an event such as this.
And so the trio of Jane, Anette and Tom, possibly three of the most powerful people in the room, began the night. They ate, they drank, they laughed; but they ate little nibbles here and there, they drank little sips during the conversation, and they laughed when social convention told them they should.
As far as any of these three were concerned, this was just another day at the office.
Matt stood in front of the semi-decagon of mirrors. The man he saw in the five separate mirrors in front of him was not the man he was used to seeing in the mirror.
“Well look at you, hot stuff.” Kyle wolf-whistled as best he could.
“Keep it down. This is a public place.”
“It’s a clothing shop at 10am. Who’s gonna be here?”
“Just keep quiet.”
When Kyle found out Matt didn’t actually own a suit, he insisted on taking them both down to the haberdashery to get fitted. Kyle always liked a good suit. In his own words, a suit was ‘a picture frame on which to display the man’. Plus – as Kyle had pointed out many a time when he suggested they both get new suits – and when he insisted they both get new suits – and when they were on their way to both get new suits – and when they were actually getting new suits – one does not attend a gala without a new suit.
Matt, who had no idea as to the etiquette for such things, was inclined to agree. It wasn’t that he didn’t like suits, it was just that he never wore them. And he tended to give away the clothes that he never wore. His wardrobe consisted of about six t-shirts, one nice but casual shirt, and one white dress shirt. He also had a blazer hanging up collecting dust, but the only reason he hadn’t gotten rid of it was because Kyle had followed him to the charity shop and bought it back when he did try and get rid of it.
“Hmmmm,” Kyle was flicking through the various ties on offer to find something suitable. “Which one, which one.”
“How about just a black one?” As Matt said this, he knew he’d made a mistake. Kyle’s head turned on a swivel to face him.
“Don’t be so obtuse. Everyone will be wearing a black tie. You want to stand out.”
“What about a bowtie?”
“No,” Kyle continued flicking through the options available. “Everyone who wants to try and stand out will be wearing a bowtie. You need something else. Something that says, ‘I’m a writer. I’m an arteeest.’”
“Yes, an artee – I’ve got it. Excuse me, fine sir,” Kyle turned towards the tailor. “Do you happen to stock any cravats?”
The tailor smiled. “Ooh, good choice, Kyle,”
Matt learned when they walked in that Kyle and the tailor were already well acquainted and Kyle had bought several suits here in the past. “I believe we might. Give me one moment.”
The tailor, named Gary, disappeared into the back room for a few minutes. He had just finished measuring up the suit jacket Matt was wearing when Kyle asked about the cravat. The jacket was a good fit for Matt already, but Gary wanted to trim the sleeves slightly and bring in the waist a smidge. Matt could see the chalk marks Gary left on the suit where the cutting would be.
“Isn’t ‘cravat’ just French for ‘tie’?”
“Well, what’s the difference between a tie and a cravat?”
“You’ll see. Just think of a cravat as an old-style tie.”
“Then won’t I look old-fashioned?”
“Please,” Kyle looked at him. “I’ve got this.”
Gary walked out of the back room. “Here you are. 100% silk cravat.”
“Perfect,” Kyle took it from Gary. “This will do nicely. How’s he looking?” he gestured to Matt, still standing there by the mirrors.
“Everything is coming along nicely. I want to take in the jacket just a hair and I need to hem the trousers, but other than that everything fits perfectly. Shall we try the whole ensemble?”
“I think we shall.”
“I feel like a display piece,” Matt said as the two men walked towards him.
“You are,” Kyle quipped. “Oh, what shirt were we thinking of?”
“How will the cravat be worn?”
“Gary paused for a moment. “Standard buttoning, French cuff, side pleated, no pockets, and… abbreviated spread. I’ve got just the shirt. Won’t be a moment.” He disappeared into the back room again.
“Did you understand any of that? I got French cuff.” Matt was looking with confusion at Kyle.
“Most of it,” he laughed in response. “The side pleated refers to the back of the shirt where it’s sewn, and the abbreviated spread is a type of collar design, but I forget which one. I think it’s more relaxed. And the no pocket means, well, there won’t be any pockets.”
“Thanks. I figured that much. How do you keep track of all these different styles?”
“You need a hobby.”
Gary popped his head back around. “I lied. Abbreviated spread was too much. I’ve decided on the standard spread. I was going to go with the English, but when unbuttoned I believe the standard will look more dashing.”
“Well, Gary, you are the fount of all knowledge, so we are going to go with whatever you say.”
“He should have white shoes.”
“I kid. A nice pair of black Oxfords would do nicely. Would you like to see the selection?”
“No, that’s alright. I bought him a pair just last year. He’s only worn them once.”
“Ah, well those will work perfectly.”
Matt took off the t-shirt he was wearing and put on the shirt from Gary. He was already wearing the trousers so he tucked the shirt in and reached for the jacket.
“Don’t do the shirt up the whole way,” Kyle remarked as Matt was doing up his shirt. “Leave two buttons undone.”
“Lovely,” Gary turned to his desk. “Now, I have a couple of simple gunmetal cylinder cufflinks which would work marvelously. Nothing too fancy. But if you have your own, then I’ll leave these here.”
“No,” Kyle interjected. “We’ll take those. Matt doesn’t have any cufflinks.”
Gary nodded and moved in to put the cufflinks on Matt and straighten out the shirt and jacket. He then grabbed the cravat from the table where Kyle had placed it. It went around Matt’s neck, under the shirt, and was tied ever so loosely, as if a man began tying his tie and then quit before chasing the rabbit down the hole. Here it was again tucked, ever so loosely, under the front of Matt’s shirt so it replaced the part of his chest that would have been showing where the two buttons rested undone.
Gary stepped back and both he and Kyle admired their work.
“Perfect,” Gary clapped. “Kyle, you’re a genius.”
“Me? This was all you, my friend.”
“But you had the cravat, the pièce de résistance.”
“Nonsense. The pièce de résistance were the cufflinks.”
“Ah, you’re too kind. I’ll have to accept defeat on this one.” Gary stepped forward and brushed the jacket on Matt’s back one more time. “What do you think?”
“I like it. I’m not sure I can pull it off though.”
“Nonsense. You are the only one who can pull it off. You’ll be the most noticeable man there, yet nobody will be able to tell why. Subtly bold.”
“Subtly bold. I like it,” Kyle chimed in.
“What about your suit?” Matt asked as he stepped down from the slight platform he had been standing on.
“Please, Gary will sort that.”
“I will indeed.” He disappeared into his office again, but not before asking Matt to change again into his street clothes. The suit needed tailoring and Gary promised to have it ready tomorrow. He would keep a hold of everything so as to ensure it was all in its right place.
When Kyle arrived at Matt’s house on the evening of the gala, he was wearing a slim-fit black suit with a slim black tie, marble cufflinks with a tie-clip to match, and a white pocket square folded fedora-style. Matt had asked why Kyle’s suit was so much like the others while Matt’s had to be different, to stand out.
Simple, really, was Kyle’s answer. Kyle needed to look good, sharp, on form. But his purpose was to make connections for Matt. So Kyle needed to look the part, but he couldn’t outshine Matt. And the best way to do that, and to strengthen Matt’s own image, was to have Matt’s suit be different. Not oh-wow-yeah-no-that-doesn’t-work different, but why-am-I-still-looking-at-him different. To expand on his analogy: Matt and his suit were the painting, Kyle and his suit were the gallery.
After exchanging pleasantries, both men sat on the sofa for a while playing video games. Matt was never one to be late, in fact only once was he late before in his life and he hated it. Because of this, and because Kyle knew it was best to arrive at an event such as this at least thirty minutes late, Kyle told Matt it started forty-five minutes later than it did. It didn’t, but Matt was always fifteen minutes early and fifteen minutes early from forty-five minutes late would be thirty minutes late, the appropriate time to arrive.
So they chatted and relaxed until the time came for them to hail a taxi and the two of them made their way to the gala. They were, as Kyle guessed, fifteen minutes early, making them thirty minutes late. Matt found out that Kyle had lied about the start time, but was too impressed with his reasoning to be angry for too long.
Plus, Matt had an event to focus on.
Matt wasn’t particularly fond of social interactions – he was somewhat awkward – and the thought of this made him quite uneasy and required a great deal of his focus. Once they began, he often enjoyed himself and found in the event a certain energy. But this energy was not one that fuelled him. No, it was more a case of him connecting into the overall energy of the room, as if he were connected into a blood transfusion where his changed state into a social creature caused the transfusion to begin, slowly sapping his energy until the night was over and his reclusive state was re-attained.
This was in no way a bad thing. Matt often enjoyed these events. But he needed time before to build up the energy and time afterwards as well to refuel.
Kyle knew this and so acted as the stoppage valve on the transfusion device, able to slow the rate of energy loss by providing direction to conversation and helpful hints like names and information about the person Matt was conversing with.
By the time they arrived, checked their names off the list (the doorman seemed really nice and genuinely interested in them as they walked up), dropped off their coats, walked to the bar, got a drink, and surveyed the room, the party was in full swing – well, full swing for a gala. There were lots of people mingling and socialising.
“Right, game plan.” Kyle put his beer down on one of the standing tables. “Tonight is about people remembering that you exist. It’s about being social and having fun. We aren’t selling anything, we aren’t making any deals. Tonight is all about networking.”
“So, here’s how we’re gonna play it. Boundaries are down tonight so if you’re in talking distance, people are going to go straight to you and avoid me. That’s fine, but it’s something we want to avoid. If I see someone that we should talk to, I’ll tell you and you walk up to them and begin the conversation. If you’re talking to someone else, then someone wanting to talk to you is going to have to go through me first and that’s what we want. My entire job tonight is to keep you sane and make you look good. How does that sound?”
“Fine with me.” Matt and Kyle had been in this situation so many times before that the two roles fell comfortably into place. Kyle had a knack for instilling confidence in Matt, so when the two got like this there was no stopping them.
“Let’s start with Mr. Grady over there. He lives in London, but you met him once before at a book fair in New York three years ago. He mentioned how his wife loved your first book. She couldn’t make the fair because she was pregnant with their first child when you spoke to him last.”
“Got it.” Matt walked ahead of Kyle towards the man aforementioned.
“Hi. Mr. Grady, right? I’m Matt. I’m not sure you remember me. We met at that book fair in New York.”
“Matt! Of course. Nice to meet you again.”
“Likewise. Hey, if I remember correctly, congratulations are in order since we last spoke. Didn’t you say that your wife couldn’t make it because she was expecting?”
“Yes, she was! Wow, good memory. I’m impressed. Our son’s three now.”
“That’s so great. I bet he’s a handful.”
“Oh, he’s great. Excuse me one second – Lily, come here a moment. I’d like you to meet Matt…”
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.