The Romance of Unconnected Lives
Matt woke up refreshed. During the taxi ride home he had realised how tired he was, and when he got back to the house all he did was change out of his suit and fall into bed.
The gala had tired him out – any social event always did – but the real event that took it out of him was the phone call with Kate.
She was off to Switzerland with the Olympic snowboarding team. From there, the Winter Olympics itself. From there, who knows. Apparently – Kate had told Matt – a spot had opened up for her very last minute when one of the other therapists couldn’t go. It was all quite sudden, and she’d be leaving in a couple days and would be spending the time until then packing and organising everything here so she didn’t leave any work unfinished; and hanging out with her mum.
Kate also asked if she could see Matt one last time before she left.
She was going to be at a coffee shop this afternoon, working from her laptop on all the loose ends she needed to tie up before leaving. It was here that Matt could meet her if he wanted to; she’d understand if he said no, but she wanted to see him one last time before she left; for closure.
As Matt’s conscience rebooted itself after the restful night, the reminders of yesterday evening came flooding back. He lay in bed for a while, thinking, wondering what to do.
It was weird. He wasn’t sure if he was 100% invested in this relationship – he’d just sort of fallen into it – but it still hit pretty hard when he hung up the phone last night. He wasn’t even sure if they were exclusive or not, if they were at the stage of ‘breaking up’. Did people his age break up? It had been about a month and a half since they’d met if he remembered correctly. Was that enough time to get to a place where you could break up?
Matt wasn’t the most well-versed about the dating game.
And that is putting it lightly. There were so many rules and regulations to the game and these rules and regulations changed depending on who was playing. He just sort of went with the flow, playing it by ear. They had been on a lot of dates, so maybe that meant they were dating. And it was still early in their relationship, but he did like her. Maybe things could have progressed.
I guess that’s life, he thought as he sat up. It was less of a shrugging it off and more of an attempt to shrug it off. He didn’t know if he’d go to the coffee shop this afternoon. He wasn’t sure if it was best to leave it or to have the closure Kate talked about.
Matt got up and went straight to his laptop. It was too late for breakfast so he figured he might as well do some writing for an hour or so and then have some lunch. He’d slept in way past when he thought he would.
When he opened up his laptop it started immediately – he never really shut it down, only closed the lid – showing the half-written Rex. It was the last thing he’d worked on before closing the laptop, and so was the first thing to pop up.
Matt was just in the process of sitting down and almost fell over as he went to stand back up again. What on earth was that noise?
“Why did you put your chain up?” Kyle shouted through the two-inch open front door.
Matt laughed as he realised what happened. Trust Kyle to assume the door was open and then walk right into it. “Just a second.” Matt walked up to the door, closed it, undid the chain, and opened it again. A rather sheepish-looking Kyle stood outside. He was holding his nose.
“That hurt,” he said, wiggling his nose to see if there was any damage.
“That was hilarious,” Matt responded, still chuckling inside.
Kyle paused as he looked at Matt. “Did you just wake up?”
“It’s almost noon.”
Matt just shrugged his shoulders.
“How’re you feeling?” Kyle walked into the house. “Any better since last night? You looked like the news hit you pretty hard,”
“Yeah, I’m alright. It was just weird, you know? I wasn’t expecting it.”
“Yeah, I get that. From the sound of things, she wasn’t either.”
“No, it was all really sudden for her. She leaves in a couple days, I think.”
“Wow. Are you gonna see her before she goes, or was that the final goodbye?”
“Not sure. She said she wants to meet if I do. She’ll be down at Coffee Shop Lane all afternoon working, so she said I could drop by whenever if I wanted to. I just don’t know.”
“You should. It’ll be good to end things well. You know, closure and all.”
“That’s exactly what she said.”
“She said ‘closure and all’.”
“Ok, it’s not exactly what she said.”
Kyle smiled. “You should. I think it’ll be good for you.”
“Yeah, I’ll think about it. One sec.” Matt disappeared to close his laptop. He wouldn’t be writing now. “So,” he asked when he re-entered the front room, “Did you come all this way to tell me to go get a coffee with my ex?”
Kyle looked at Matt with humorous frustration. “No, I did not. I came here to take you out to lunch, or I guess brunch in your case. We need to discuss the doings of last night – the gala – and make a plan for moving forward. We made some good connections and need to capitalise on them.”
“Always the businessman.”
“That’s what you pay me for. So, brunch?”
“Two guys going out for brunch? You sure people won’t get the wrong message?”
“Psht. Let them think what they want. We’ll give them something to talk about.”
Matt raised his eyebrow slightly. “Alright, whatever you say. When do we leave?”
“Right after you get changed. I will not be seen in public with you looking like that.”
Matt turned around and disappeared into his room.
“Oh, and one more thing,” Kyle shouted through the walls.
“I figured out the identity of that woman the lady in black was going to introduce us to.”
“AND I figured out who it was you bumped into on the street. Your fellow partaker in ‘The Incident’.”
Matt’s head popped around the door.
“I thought that might get your attention. Well, they are one and the same,” He paused for dramatic effect. “The CEO of JRR Investments.”
Matt’s face was shocked.
“That’s right,” Kyle smiled. “You were going to meet the boss.”
Over the last two or three weeks, Jane had decided to embark on a radical new plan for her life. The plan – of which Anette greatly approved – was to attempt to honour what was known among many as ‘the weekend’. Though she recognised the arbitrary nature of what would develop to be known as ‘the weekend’ among much of the working world, she had decided after a glorious Saturday morning lie-in a few weeks ago to give it a try. Perhaps it wasn’t for her, but who knows; you can’t knock it till you try it.
So when Jane woke up the morning after the gala – the morning that also happened to be a Saturday morning – which just so happened to be the day commonly chosen as the first day of ‘the weekend’, she smiled at the notion of a whole day of rest and relaxation. She had recently learnt of the phrase ‘shoot the breeze’, and she thought she’d give it a try.
Truth be told, the gala had taken up some time over the last week, so she would most likely have to work on Sunday to catch up for the next week. But she was new to this radical idea and she knew she had to take it one step at a time. Very few people can quit cold turkey; baby steps, Jane, baby steps.
After drifting in and out of sleep for half an hour, she sat up in bed and proceeded to stretch the sleep away. She was never one for sleeping in late; even a lie-in was only till around 8:30am.
As she sat there, waiting for her body to catch up with her mind, she thought about what she could do today. She could do some archery. She’d missed a few lessons but had jumped enthusiastically back on the bandwagon last week.
‘Archery?’ she texted Anette. Jane’s phone was charging across the room. She would set it there every night so as to try and unplug from her electronic devices. But that meant having to walk over to it, and now that she returned her phone to the table, she looked back at her bed, realised she was well and truly up, and decided to get on with the rest of her day.
Jane’s breakfast – a smoothie, made yesterday and stored in the fridge – was delicious. As she sat at the kitchen table, slowly drinking, she thought about the day ahead of her. She thought about last night, about the last week. Jane often used these quiet moments to plan for the day ahead and reflect on the days past.
Last night was a success. It was a lovely event, and nearly everyone who they hoped would attend, did attend. There were a handful who were unable to, but they had all sent cheques which would be added to the charity.
What the final figure they had raised was, Jane didn’t know. They wouldn’t know for certain until Monday morning, as a few had said they would send their cheques via express either over the weekend or on Monday morning.
They also wouldn’t know for certain until Monday morning because neither Jane nor Anette worked on the actual development and planning of the gala. That was run by a subset within JRR. The Monday morning meeting would be where the heads of the company – which naturally included Jane and Anette – met with the committee that created the gala. Here they would debrief, learn how much was raised, and begin assigning it to its charity destination – or destinations.
Her phone buzzed loudly against the wooden bedside table – it wasn’t actually beside her bed, but Jane still called it her bedside table because it looked like it should be a bedside table.
Jane could hear it all the way from the kitchen and went to get it and bring it over to where she was enjoying the last remnants of her breakfast.
‘YES’. Anette was in agreement.
‘When does it stay?’ ‘I meant start. When does it start?’ She put the phone on the table and after one final gulp of smoothie got up to rinse the glass out in the sink.
The phone buzzed again, this time with less elation. The kitchen table had a thin cloth covering it that really took the zing out of a buzzing phone.
‘Nice. It starts at 4:30. Coffee beforehand?’
‘I thought you’d never ask.’
Jane left the kitchen and went to sit down in the living room. Still wearing her pajamas, she knew she didn’t have to start the day anytime soon and wasn’t about to start it voluntarily. Reading for an hour or three curled up on the big, comfy chair in the living room sounded like the perfect way to blur the lines between now and the future.
She looked at the small bookshelf next to the chair she planned to sit on. There were only three shelves, not too wide, packed with books. She enjoyed reading but felt weird keeping books she had already read – unless of course she loved them – so most of her books ended up either with friends or at charity shops. Or at Anette’s. Anette took most of Jane’s books. Anette had three giant shelving units around her house full of books.
Jane’s eyes scanned the books; Hidden Figures; Sapiens; the first three of the Sansom Dissolution series; a couple Dickens; The Mayor of Casterbridge; Crownless Kings; Catcher in the Rye; Long Walk to Freedom; The Fate of Chances.
The Fate of Chances.
Jane chuckled slightly inside, ‘Yeah, why not’ she thought. She’d read another of his books and had been meaning to read this one for a while.
The book had the thinnest layer of dust developing on it, a sign it needed to be read. As Jane reached for it, she casually fell into the chair, curling up in the process. In this chair particularly she had a tendency of pulling her legs in and sinking as far into the back of the chair as possible, as if afraid of the floor around her. Here she would sit and read for as long as she wished, disappearing into the novel.
Three hours and many pages passed before Jane decided she should probably finish waking up. As she closed the book and let her feet touch the carpeted floor again, she looked around, blinking and trying to adjust her eyes to long-range vision.
She got up and stretched. Instead of putting the book back on the shelf, she left it on the arm of the chair, a conscious reminder to return to it later in the day. She found she was actually really enjoying this one; more so than the last. She would return to it after archery. Well, most likely after dinner as Jane knew Anette would want to go out to dinner after archery, and if Anette wanted to go out to dinner after archery, then Jane would find herself going out to dinner after archery. So the book was left to be returned to after the dinner which was sure to follow archery.
The rest of the morning and early afternoon played out as normally as it could have. Jane ran to the gym, worked out, and then ran back. She had a late lunch, nothing fancy, just a sandwich and salad. The reading had taken up more of her morning than she thought, and after lunch she got ready and went out for coffee.
It wasn’t far from her house to the meeting point, and although it was cold it wasn’t raining, and Jane loved the late autumn weather. Before she knew it, she was standing outside the coffee shop. It was three o’clock, the designated meeting time, and Jane was waiting for Anette, who had just turned the corner, so she could give her a big hug before the two walked inside.
The street that housed the coffee shop Jane and Anette were currently visiting was called Peabark Road; however, this particular stretch of Peabark Road, to anyone who frequented it, was known as Coffee Shop Lane.
For several blocks, coffee shops of all shapes and sizes lined the streets. They were by no means the only shops to set up here, but they were the most abundant. Some were tiny, little, family-owned things that had been there for years and whose loyal band of hardcore followers kept them in business. Some were small-to-medium, artsy, hipster places with all sorts of exotic and trendy styles of coffee. And some were the standard, giant chain shops who had nothing in particular in terms of note other than the promise of familiarity when one saw the same logo dotted around the country; and in some cases the world.
Most of the business here went through the giant chains, but customers were often indiscriminate, sometimes going here, sometimes there. Each shop had a glass front, and if one seemed to be busy, another was frequented. In this way, and because of the abundance of coffee drinkers in this particular part of town, each coffee shop remained more or less successful.
Jane and Anette were now second in line. There was always a wait for one’s coffee this time of day and the two women were content to begin their conversation within the line for coffee.
“Next, please.” First in line.
“Next, please.” As often happens when two people work the counter, both baristas finished almost simultaneously and it was time for the two women to order.
“I’ll have a latte, please. Medium.”
“Me too.” After each reached for their wallets and protested slightly, it was decided Anette would pay.
“Oh, and two chocolate twists, please. Sorry.” Anette had caught the barista just before she started punching in the order. He smiled, said it wasn’t a problem, and went over to the pastries.
“Hey, look. Now you don’t have to steal mine,” Jane turned at Anette with a cheeky grin.
“Oh, these are both for me,” The look was repeated back to Jane.
The coffee shop was rather crowded, but a small, two-person table opened up right in the back corner just as Jane and Anette picked up their order and headed further in to investigate. Perfect timing.
Jane manoeuvred her way to the chair closest to the corner and sat down. She enjoyed sitting in the corners like this. This way she could see everything that was going on around her and have her back protected in case of marauders – her words.
“So,” Anette sat down opposite her and took a sip of her latte. “You recovered from last night yet?”
Jane shrugged her shoulders. “More or less. My throat is a little dry from all the talking. Either that or I’m coming down with a cold.”
“I’d imagine it’s the talking. Never really stopped last night.”
“I couldn’t really, could I? How do you think the whole thing went?”
“I thought it went brilliantly. A few hiccups, but that’s to be expected.” As she said this, Anette thought primarily about the writer and his friend randomly disappearing. Something had clearly happened because she saw Kyle not thirty minutes after they disappeared. He looked a little out of sorts and apologised profusely for suddenly disappearing. Unfortunately, Matt had to leave the gala.
When Kyle pulled Anette aside, she was trailing Jane lackadaisically and wasn’t near enough to introduce her to him. He wasn’t Matt, but at least she would have been able to explain her random behaviour earlier. But she wasn’t next to Jane, and Kyle – Anette could tell – wasn’t in the mood to hang around. It was sweet, really. She could tell how much he cared for his friend by the way he was talking. A business partner would apologise and then stay at the gala, milking the situation for anything else they could get. A friend would quickly race around and apologise and/or say goodbye to those there, but they would be heading out straight afterwards, their mind preoccupied by their friend’s wellbeing.
Kyle managed to somehow strike a middle ground, not fully friend and not fully business partner either. Although I guess, thought Anette, he’s his agent, isn’t he, so without Matt there’s no real point in hanging around.
“How were your conversations?” Anette finished her sentence after a microscopic pause to reflect on the author and his friend. “I caught some of them, and Tom filled me in on some. Anything promising that we should press forward with?”
“Yeah, there were some really promising ones. I’ve talked to Tom about them, and we’ve written down the details we need. I feel like this is verging on work conversation. And you’re supposed to be helping me avoid work on Saturdays?”
“You’re right! You’re right! Please accept my humblest apologies.” Anette smiled to Jane and lifted the plate with the two pastries. “Twist?”
“I’d love one! Apology accepted.”
As they changed subjects away from work or any work-related themes, Jane thought about asking Anette about the strange behaviour she had witnessed for the brief moment last night. It looked like she was expecting someone to appear, like she was readying herself for an introduction. But nobody was there. Jane wasn’t sure if she should bring it up – she didn’t want to push it – and she knew if it were important Anette would have told her or would get to telling her during this conversation. Plus, that was related to work, and there were to be no work conversations today. ‘The weekend’ must be recognised.
So Jane ignored it, adding it into her memory banks as just another thing that occurred last night.
Thirty minutes of conversation later, both Jane and Anette decided they should stretch their legs and walk around a bit. In the early hours of the morning – after the gala was over – it had rained; not heavily, but enough to clear the air. The cleared air (as Jane had found out in the morning during her run to the gym and her walk around the park to the coffee shop) was lovely and refreshing, though slightly colder than most would care for.
A coffee in hand fixed the temperature dilemma and a walk was decided upon as a lovely idea.
Outside the coffee shops, Jane and Anette strolled. They were aiming for nowhere in particular, just heading in the general direction of the gym where the archery would take place. They had ample time to get there and their stroll was slow, deliberate, mellifluous.
Jane looked around, people-watching. She gazed curiously into the various coffee shop windows they passed, watching the life of those inside. She couldn’t really see much and, to be honest, had Anette been one of the people on the other side of the window she probably wouldn’t have registered that it was her, but the looking was the fun part, watching life as it unfolded like a movie in front of her; a group of friends here, one solitary soul drinking mysteriously by themselves there, one – oh, that looks like a sad conversation that couple are having. If you ever wanted to view life in the city, Jane thought smiling, just pop over to Coffee Shop Lane.
Archery was good. Until the instructor asked her out.
Well, he didn’t really ask her out. He asked her if she wanted to get coffee. It was a polite way of saying he was interested, but also testing the waters.
It wasn’t so much that he wasn’t her type, she didn’t really have a type, knowing only that she knew when she liked someone and when she didn’t. The men she had dated in the past, however few they were, were all different and there seemed, at least to Jane, to be no defining type.
Anette, though she knew Jane made the right decision – instructors should not date students – used this opportunity to tell Jane she should start dating again. It had been years, Anette pointed out. In fact, it wasn’t since the start of her leadership of JRR Investments that Jane had been involved in a serious relationship.
Jane pointed out that she was otherwise preoccupied and had no real interest in acquiring a significant other. Plus, JRR Investments was her serious relationship.
If someone came along and they both found they enjoyed each other’s company and were attracted to each other, then she would re-evaluate her stance. But for now she was focused on life, not on love.
Oh, how romantic, Anette retorted.
Shut up, was Jane’s reply.
Fine, Anette refused to recognise defeat. If you don’t want one, don’t get one. But it wouldn’t kill you to be more social.
I am social.
No you aren’t.
Am so. I go out occasionally.
Only with me.
And the group.
(“The group” were a selection of people who were friends of Jane and Anette and who would join the two women on their social jaunts occasionally. The Group, also known as “Bravo Team”, were classed as such by Jane because they were friends, but not terribly close. Anette was Jane’s “Alpha Team”, The Group were Jane’s “Bravo Team”.)
Anette retorted, Jane rebutted, and the two kept the debate going, rather half-heartedly and in between bouts of real conversation, throughout dinner and until they bid each other adieu for the night. It was decided that Jane and Anette would still attend the archery lessons, there were only a few more left anyway. They were both adults and above awkward, teenage problems such as this.
Besides, Jane still really wanted to learn archery, and she wasn’t about to let someone asking her out stop her in her quest.