The Romance of Unconnected Lives
“Hi,” Matt said with a smile, “It’s Matt.”
“Hi, Matt,” A laugh on the other end of the line. “You know I have caller I.D., so you don’t have to say it’s you each time you call.”
“Oh, well, you never know. How are you? You free to talk?”
“Yeah, I have a few minutes. I may need to rush off in about a half hour or so.”
“Oh, you expect this call to last a whole half hour?”
“Well, given our track record I thought it might.”
“Fair point. So how are you? How was work?”
“Great, actually. Well, today was really slow and boring, but we got good news.”
“Yeah. Our small team is being hired by someone, oh, I don’t know, you may have heard of him – Gavin Derale.”
“Not just ‘The Swimmer’, ‘The Swimmer pegged to compete in the Olympics’. We’re his official team of sports therapists for this year’s Championships. Pretty cool, right?”
“That’s brilliant! I’m happy for you. Also, are you impressed I knew who that was?”
“I am actually. He’s still a pretty small name, but he’s making waves – get it? – in the swimming world and he’s sort of the outsider predicted to do really well this season. And if he does, it could mean a spot on the Olympic team.”
“That’s so fantastic, apart from the pun. I don’t encourage that behaviour. Will you guys continue with him after the championships? If you’re with him and he makes it onto the Olympic team, this could be a huge contract for you guys.”
“Yeah, it could. Currently we’re just with him for this event, but we’ll see. Can you imagine me working for the Olympic swimming team? That would be amazing!”
“Ya, it would. I’m so excited for you. And a little self-conscious that I’m not as fit as I could be. Should I start swimming?”
“Sure! And if you ever need a therapist…”
“Oh, no thanks, I already have three of those.”
“Oh, yeah, right… I knew that.”
“Sure. I definitely wouldn’t complain if you started swimming.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. But seriously, that’s a huge achievement and I’m so excited for you. It’ll be really fun.”
“Thanks. Our little team here deserves something like this, so it’s exciting to see it come together. James almost lost it.”
“He’s the new guy, right?”
“Yeah. He started last week. We had to make sure and tell him this isn’t how it usually works.”
“Will he be joining you there?”
“No, actually, he’ll be here. In fact, it’s just two of us who are actually going to be at Nationals with Gavin. It doesn’t make sense to have all of us there when we’re just helping one guy.”
“True. Was he upset?”
“No, he knew that would happen. It’s so exciting though because our name will be out there and it has the opportunity to lead to bigger things that all of us can partake in.”
“That’s so great. Just remember me when you’re rich and famous.”
“No promises,” her voice smiled. “Hey, how’s Rex?”
Matt’s worries some weeks prior about whether or not he should call Kate after their ‘date’ were rendered moot when she unexpectedly called him. It was Saturday afternoon, two days after meeting – Matt was sitting at his table – when she called. She’d called, she said, to give him her number as he never asked for it when they were talking. Matt found this a little confusing as first – why does someone call to give a number? Surely the call itself is the giving of the number – until he realised she was flirting with him.
That was three weeks ago.
“Rex is going well. It’s moving along slowly, which is encouraging. It’s still a case of getting the basic plot sorted and the general arc of the story. I won’t be filling in any details until I’ve actually visited New Mexico.”
“That’s soon, right?”
“Less than a week.”
“Ahhh, I am so jealous you get to go. I would have loved to join you.”
“That would have been really fun. But this is, technically, a business trip. I’ll just be there a few days, visiting various places, going to a number of museums and such to try and get a feel for life back then. Oh, and I’m going horse-riding… not sure how I feel about that.”
“What?! Oh, please take photos. I really want to see you trying to ride a horse.”
“Trying to? I will succeed.”
“Whatever you say, cowboy.”
The second time they met was to go out for drinks. It wasn’t until a few dates later that both of them mutually decided it was that evening which was to be classed as the first official date. The group hangout arranged by Kyle didn’t count. Both Matt and Kate really hit it off that evening. Kate had a beer, Matt had an Old-Fashioned (a drink, which upon tasting it, Kate regretted not getting herself).
“Just wait and see. I’ll be the next Billy the Kid… he was a cowboy, right?”
“I’m pretty sure he was an outlaw and gunfighter. You sure that’s what you want to emulate?”
“I could be an outlaw.”
“Ok. Just make sure you spend a lot of time in the museums while you’re there. You’ve clearly got some learning to do.”
“… Yeah. Maybe I do.”
“You definitely do. Hey, I’m really sorry but I actually have to go earlier than I thought. I just got a text from my mum saying she’s ready.”
“Oh, you’re spending time with your mum? That’ll be fun.”
“Yup. She’s attending her friend’s 60th later this week and we’re going to find her an outfit for the occasion. Then we’re getting dinner.”
“Well, have fun. It was nice getting to talk to you – and look, it wasn’t even 30 minutes.”
“Yeah… sorry I have to leave.”
“Don’t be. Have fun, and I’ll talk to you soon.”
As Matt hung up, he sat down on the sofa in the front room – he had a thing about walking around the house when he talked on the phone. If he wasn’t, he felt like he wasn’t doing anything and got really anxious. He liked talking to Kate. She was nice.
New Mexico was sooner than Matt realised and talking to Kate brought it sharply back into focus. He wasn’t sure he was ready. Practically he was – Kyle had made sure all the details were sorted out. But mentally, Matt wasn’t sure. New Mexico was different from this big city he called home.
“Who’s there?” Matt answered before he realised what he was doing. Kyle was at the front door, shouting through the mailbox.
Matt got up and left the room to open the door.
“Good News Gareth!”
“… Kool News Kyle?… with a K.”
“Ok, open the door.”
Matt opened the door to a grinning face. “Kool News Kyle? Really?”
“Well,” Kyle said, “I thought of Kommendable News Kyle, but that didn’t really work.”
“So you went with Kool News Kyle?”
“Yeah. Kool with a K.”
“Oh, I see. Well that makes it better. Come on in.”
“Of course it does. Aren’t you going to ask me what the good news is?”
“I don’t know if I want to.”
“Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. You have been invited to the prestigious, the esteemed, the illustrious…”
“The Annual Charity Ball put on by JRR Investments. It happens every year, and everyone who’s anyone is going to be there! This is going to be so good for your PR.” Kyle handed the invite to Matt and continued on into the house. “Since your last book didn’t do as well as the others – hush hush – you need to get out there and show your face. Spruce yourself up, eat fancy food you don’t know the name of, drink fancy cocktails named after people you don’t know.”
“Like Rob Roy?”
“Yeah. Who the hell is Rob Roy?”
“He’s an outlaw known as the Scottish Robin Hood, immortalised in the novel Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott.”
“However, the drink is named after the operetta Rob Roy which was opening around the time the drink was created. It was common back then to name drinks and such after performances and shows.”
“Oh. Well, you’ll drink fancy cocktails named after people that most people don’t know.”
“I don’t know.”
“But you do know.”
“What? No. I mean I don’t know about wanting to go.”
“Come on. It’ll be fun. Only a select few get invitations to this thing, and you don’t say no. It’s happening in two months’ time and you are going.”
“Do I have to give a speech?”
“What? No. Why would you have to give a speech?”
“I don’t know. I thought because I was invited I might have to.”
“No. And don’t flatter yourself. You’re invited because your fantastic and ludicrously attractive friend named Kyle knows who to talk to.”
“Look, this is going to be good for you. You need to get out there, remind people that you still exist. You’re a brilliant writer and you have tons of fans, but that doesn’t stop you from needing to do things like this every now and then. No offense, but you aren’t enough of a hotshot to stay in your house all day and expect everything to come your way.”
“Oh. Then what do I pay you for?”
“You pay me to find these events and get your butt on the invite list.”
That makes sense, Matt thought to himself. He didn’t particularly enjoy social gatherings, but the realisation that he needed to, that it was purely for work and promoting his name and his books, made it easier.
“Alright, fine. I guess I’ll go. Why haven’t I heard of this event before?”
“Because you live under a rock and prefer letting me explore the world outside that rock instead of doing it yourself.”
Matt ignored that comment. “Don’t JRR Investments do, you know, investments and stuff like that?”
“Nothing gets past you, does it? Yes, they do, but they also do this charity event once a year to raise money for various, well, charities. As far as I could tell through my research it’s not run through the main hub and is more of a side thing, a way of bringing various people in the company together with potential investors… I think. It’s all rather confusing. But it’s a big event, and one that a lot of people want to go to. And don’t worry, I’ll be going with you, so you don’t have to worry about remembering names or navigating various social situations. I’ve got your back.”
Kyle got up from the sofa adjacent to the one Matt was sitting on and headed towards the kitchen.
“Hey, you want a beer?” He shouted towards the front room.
“No, I’m good. I’ll have some water though.”
Kyle came back a minute later with a cup of water in one hand and an open beer bottle in the other.
“Do you even drink beer?”
“Not really. All the beer that’s ever been in that fridge has been bought and consumed by you.”
“But I don’t buy this type,” Kyle looked at the drink in his hand.
“Oh yeah, that’s Kate’s favourite kind. I bought some to try.”
“Kate! I totally forgot about you guys. So how’s that going?”
“Yeah, it’s good. We talk a lot and she’s really interesting. We’ve been on a few dates which have gone really well.”
“You kiss her yet?”
“What are we, fifteen? Who asks that?”
“I do… So, you kiss her yet?”
“You’re ridiculous. Yes, we have kissed.”
“Bro, I’ve seen you more passionate about a book of maths problems.”
“Hey, 50 Maths Ideas You Really Need to Know is incredibly interesting and you know it. Even you found some of that stuff fun to read.”
“See? Now where’s that passion for this girl? Do you like her?”
“Of course I like her! She’s really cool and interesting and I love talking to her.”
“You said love that time.”
“I’m serious, man.”
“So am I.”
“Look, you know me. I don’t rush into things.”
“It’s been a month. At this point you’re walking slowly into things.”
“I just take my time. We’re still getting to know each other.”
“Yeah, I get it. Just… don’t invest in this if your heart isn’t in it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, when a buddy of mine met the girl he’s now married to, he wouldn’t shut up about her, and whenever they were going to meet he got all giddy, like an excited puppy. I know you’re reserved and quiet, but some version of that passion should still be there. Just make sure you like this girl before continuing things.”
“I do. But we’re also just seeing what happens. She has a life. I have a life. If it works, then great, if not, then that’s fine too.”
“Well aren’t you a romantic.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I guess you do seem to have your head screwed on straight. Just be careful.”
“Hey, you want to play some video games?”
Jane didn’t like working from home. She wasn’t technically at home; she was at a coffee shop. But she didn’t like it. Her floor, and specifically her office, was having work done in it, and she figured working from ‘home’ would be best.
But she didn’t like it.
She had taken a corner table in the furthest corner she could find. It was a four-person table, but the coffee shop wasn’t busy so she didn’t feel guilty taking up the space. A group of teenagers had just come in and were chatting about teenage things. She didn’t mind them or their chatting.
She even laughed inside a few times as she overheard the various problems and gossip that was being shared. She remembered when her teenage problems were the biggest problems in the world. Nothing else mattered. She remembered when she was in her early twenties and her problems were the biggest problems in the world. She was sure in ten years she would remember her problems now as being the biggest problems in the world.
Well, maybe not. She had problems that she had to sort through, whether business, relational, or whatever, but she always took them with a grain of salt, a realisation that these problems weren’t the be all and end all. She’d be fine.
However, she was trying to work and the teenage talk was distracting. Earlier there was a couple sitting close to her whose talking distracted her. She didn’t usually get distracted easily, but she wasn’t used to working from ‘home’.
She didn’t like working from ‘home’.
‘Buckle down and work, Jane,’ she thought to herself and she leaned over the laptop.
Two hours passed before she looked up again. And as she did, Anette sat down in front of her.
“Hi, beautiful.” The cheery voice of her friend brought Jane out of her focus.
“I don’t like working from home.”
“But you aren’t working from home. You’re working from a coffee shop.”
“Um, I’ve been to your home, Jane. They have a better selection of pastries here. Do you want anything?”
“It’s been a couple of hours, so I probably should. I’ll have a tea and some of those twisty pastry things. The chocolate one.”
“That sounds interesting.”
“Yeah. It’s like a pain au chocolat that they wrung out.”
“… Okay now it sounds less interesting.”
“Or I could just try yours.”
“Um, excuse me? That’s mine.”
Anette left to get the drinks. There was nobody in line so she was back soon enough.
“How’s the daily grind going? Missing your office yet?”
“I was missing my office the moment I left it.”
Anette smiled at her friend across the table. She was a workaholic. This company was her social life, save for maybe once or twice a month when Anette could get Jane out of the house and into the outside world. Jane wasn’t antisocial in any way – and she enjoyed the times she met up with friends and family – but the company was her focus, her passion, and it often consumed her entire waking life.
Jane looked up from taking a bite of the chocolate twist and noticed Anette looking at her.
“Nothing. You’re just a peculiar species, that’s all.”
“I try,” Jane smiled back with a mouthful of pastry.
“That’s attractive. You should probably hurry up and finish that; you have a meeting soon.”
“What? With who?”
“Me. And it’s a walking interview. It starts in five minutes.”
“Because you’ve been sitting here for too long, and because this is one of the last warm – ish – days of the year before winter sets in and it gets cold and rainy and depressing.”
“You’re cold and rainy and depressing.”
“I try,” She smiled at Jane.
Both women finished eating and started packing up Jane’s stuff. It wasn’t much and soon they were outside. The air, warmed by the sun but cooled by the coming winter, promised not to stay lovely for much longer. The cups of coffee and tea counteracted the oncoming chill.
“So what’s this meeting about?” Jane turned in the direction of the nearest park, unconsciously leading the way.
“Nothing in particular. I just thought I’d take this time to see how you’re doing, how the leadership is going, things like that.”
“Ah. A standard TLC meeting.”
“Yeah. Just making sure everything is operating smoothly and there aren’t any kinks we aren’t fixing. This is part of my job, remember? Keeping you from a mental breakdown.”
Jane smiled a thoughtful smile as she walked. Both women knew how important that particular job of Anette’s was.
Jane thought for a while before answering. The walk made the tone of the meeting relaxed and friendly. That’s why Anette chose it. But Jane also knew of the serious undertones regarding these meetings, the necessary undertones to ensure a successful and healthy company. Anette was balancing the roles of friend and business colleague here, and Jane needed to take a few moments to readjust herself.
“From a business standpoint, things seem to be going really well. You were at the meeting where we discussed the slump in the last quarter and what we can do to stop it happening again. I guess my main concerns are those – that they actually get accomplished and don’t just fall by the wayside.”
“I understand. But that’s being worked on. What I want to know is how you are, and whether or not there’s anything I can do to help amend any issues you’re having.”
Jane looked at Anette. There was no way around this conversation and she knew it.
“I’m not sure. Everything seems to be going well at the company. We’re operating smoothly and we’re making all the right decisions moving forward.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. Things are going really well.”
“But I don’t know.”
“Fine. If there is something, which you clearly think there is, it’s that I’ve just not really been with it as of late. I guess I’ve just felt scrambled. Do you know what I mean? Things have been so busy that I haven’t been able to gain control of any of my thoughts. I mean, don’t get me wrong, things are going really well at work and as far as kinks in the system go I can’t really think of anything. Oh, we do need to bring in an investment analyst to go over some of our new investments coming up to make sure things are still kosher. I liked the person who did it last time. They did a fantastic job. And it couldn’t hurt to get another analyst to look over some of our investments last quarter that didn’t do too well. I know Mark was compiling a list. But don’t get the same person to do both, we need a different one. We need to check there wasn’t anything specifically wrong with last quarters loses outside, well you know, outside the fact that sometimes we lose money. I didn’t see anything, but it’s good to get a pair of outside eyes on these things. And we’re going to need to go over…”
Jane went quiet again. There is something definitely wrong here, Anette thought. She’d seen it for a while. The trouble was even Jane didn’t know what was wrong. She was just not with it. Scrambled was the only way to describe it.
“Are you still doing those breathing exercises before getting to your office? Remember why I told you to do those.”
“Yes. Not every day, but yes.”
“You need to do these things every day. It’s things like that, routines, that keep us grounded and able to cope with an incredible workload like the one you take on leading this company. When was the last time you had a day off?”
Jane laughed. “Because I can do that.”
“I’m serious. Even on weekends when you aren’t supposed to work, you do. I know you do. You’ve cancelled archery on me these last two weeks. I know how much you enjoy doing that. You need to get out of work. When was the last time you read a book?”
Jane didn’t answer. She knew. She knew she needed to focus on life outside of work, life outside the office. But it was harder than it looked. And Jane loved the office. She loved her job.
As if following her train of thought, Anette broke the silence. “I know you’re passionate about this company. I know you love what you do and you couldn’t see yourself anywhere else. You’re doing some serious good here and that’s what keeps you going. But you need a break.”
“When? What time do I have?”
This time it was Anette who remained silent for a few minutes. The two women were in the middle of the park now, walking slowly down the middle of the gravel path big enough to drive a car down. On either side of the path were mini-fences holding in flower gardens, interspersed with various trees and tall-standing plants. The flowers themselves were all but tucked in for the winter and most of what the passers-by could see of them were stems, leaves, and seedpods – flowers preparing for hibernation.
The small flower gardens ran alongside the path for a good 30 metres or so and Anette didn’t say anything until they were once again walking alongside the green spaces that made up most of the parks in the world. Save for a roller-skater or two, several cyclists and the odd couple, Jane and Anette were the only ones utilising the park this time of day.
Anette finally broke the silence. “In four days’ time you fly to Brussels to meet with two new potential business partners. I’ll talk to Tom and change your flight to leave in three days’ time. It’s not much, but it should give you a day in Brussels to relax, recuperate and most importantly, read. You know how you get without a book.”
“But I can’t. I have work to do.”
“This isn’t up for debate. I am exercising my power as COO of the company. We need a fully focused Jane to lead us where we need to go. We need a fully focused Jane to successfully balance the challenges that we face. We need you to make wise, ethical business decisions. Without you at the helm, this whole thing changes and we have worked too hard turning this company into the pioneer that it is for it to be derailed because you aren’t making the right decisions. You’re taking a day off; you’re spending half the day in Brussels exploring the city and you’re spending the other half of the day in bed, reading and resting.”
“Fine,” was all Jane could respond with. She knew she had no choice and she knew it was a good idea. The conversation was truly over. “So you’re upset with me that you haven’t been able to go to archery, huh?
“What are you talking about? I’ve still gone to the classes.”
“What? But I thought you said-”
“You cancelled on me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t go. In fact, it’s actually helped me. It means I’ll be that much better than you when I challenge you to archery tag.”
“Oh, you think you can take me?”
“I know I can take you.”
The meeting was over, and Jane and Anette made their way back to the coffee shop as friends so Jane could continue with her day’s work. When they got there, Anette turned to Jane.
“I’m going to call Tom right now. Have fun working from ‘home’.”
She then turned back around and walked away, leaving Jane to the rest of her day.
Matt and Jane both woke up early on the morning of their flights. Jane’s flight left slightly earlier than Matt’s and so she left her house slightly earlier too, but they were both held up in the same traffic, both a part of the same mass of cars slowly meandering their way towards the airport and the rest of the world.
Jane was no stranger to flying; her job took her all around the world. She didn’t wait in the long line of passengers making their way through security. She had a pass that took her straight through the fast lane and into the boarding lounge. She found her gate, Gate 41B, then headed back to grab some food before settling into a seat at the gate and waiting for the flight to board.
Matt did have to wait and journey through the long line towards the security checkpoint. He had flown enough times before to be comfortable with the process, but he definitely wasn’t a fan of the long lines and the waiting.
Please have your tickets and boarding passes ready.
When he did finally emerge on the side of the boarding lounge he went for the first coffee shop he could find, grabbed a ready-made sandwich from the refrigerated area, grabbed a yogurt and a drink too, paid for them, then headed to his gate, Gate 42A, to sit down.
His gate was on the end of a semicircle comprised of three gates: 40, 41, and 42. All the seats were scattered around with no specific areas for each gate, something Matt found stressful. He chose the one closest to his boarding doors, sat down, and began to eat.
All the other flights were to Europe. Was he in the right place? Yes, he was, he checked the ticket again. And besides, the screens said Albuquerque International Sunport, New Mexico 7:45am. Right next to the other screen that said Brussels International Airport, Brussels 7:20am. The Brussels flight was beginning to board, Matt noticed. All the fancy people with priority boarding were getting up and heading towards the man by the boarding doors. A woman seated right behind Matt got up, giving him a little bit of a shock as the chairs moved slightly. The seats were five in a row with five more directly behind and facing the other way. As she got up, her hair flicked the back of his neck and startled him momentarily.
But only momentarily. He then remembered his yogurt that he was looking forward to so he reached for his bag, pulled out his headphones, plugged them into his phone, put on some music and tucked into his pot of yogurt. This one had little chunks of strawberry in it.
Just as Jane was about to walk through the tunnel to her plane she looked back as she always did. This is it, she thought. It was the same thought she thought every time she flew. It was the idea of a new place, a new city. It was a this is it full of equal parts melancholy and excitement, anxiety and anticipation.
This is it.