Authors: Diane Hall
Ben arrived at Susanna’s flat at 7.30 pm precisely, as agreed. He knocked nervously on the door, fully expecting her to open it wearing an elegant evening gown, looking perfectly made up and possibly smelling of Coco....Chanel rather than Cadbury’s. Instead, she was wearing a bathrobe and slippers although, he thought she
have already applied her make-up, but if so, it was
subtle. Her long, blond hair was pinned up into an attractive chignon, which he assumed was a part of the evening’s effort, but taking it in, along with the severe juxtaposition of the bathrobe-and-slipper ensemble, he couldn’t be entirely sure.
“Hi!” he said, a little taken aback, as she carelessly wrestled with a few stray strands of hair.
“Hi, sweetie, come in” she said looking more than a little stressed. Ben kissed her on the cheek, gamely. Always best to keep an open mind, no point getting sucked into the mysterious anxiety, himself. This could still be okay. He followed her into the disastrously messy living room with some trepidation and watched with dismay as she grabbed one sequinned heap after another from a large armchair and piled them onto the dining room table to make room for him to sit down. “I just got a little caught up with work. I’m sorry sweetie, I’ll be ready in ten minutes.”
“Okay,” said Ben, suddenly not feeling incredibly special. He tried not to dwell on the fact that he – a guy – had spent a whole hour getting ready! He refused to sit down, on principle. Instead, he looked around the room and took in the colourful spectacle. Eventually, his eyes rested on a drawing board, weighed down under several pages of drawings, which were recklessly pinned to it with a large bulldog clip.
“Those are some of my new designs and some ideas for an ad campaign, sweetie. I’d love to know what you think...” Her seemingly disembodied voice called back from the hallway. She briefly appeared at the door, fiddling with her earrings. She obviously felt no compulsion whatsoever to reserve an air of mystery or glamour for their date. Once again, Ben didn’t know whether to be insulted that she hadn’t made any real effort for him, or flattered that she valued his opinion so much as a coach. She obviously felt so comfortable with him that she had no reservations, whatsoever, about disregarding formality entirely. Perhaps this was a good thing. Perhaps it meant they were moving on to the next level in their relationship. But after, just, two dates?!!!! No! He decided... he
like it. It was
when people made an effort for each other. Wasn’t dating
to be a bit nervous and tentative and mysterious and ever-so-slightly-glamorous and scary, for a while at least? Was he the only one who still thought so? Where was the feminine mystique, here!!? There wasn’t even a whiff of mystery
, just spray-starch and ...ironing smells and yes, that was definitely cocoa a whiff of of the Cadbury’s variety...
“Actually, I really think we should get going.” He called back. And right there and then, he confronted himself with a half-buried question that just, might hold the secret key, that could turn the lock in his mind that would, finally, open a rusty, old, door, which might begin to finally let love in: Real love, true love, the two-way street, self-respecting kind of love he so craved. There it was... awakening suddenly, somewhere inside his tired mind, the stirring of a tiny seed, the rousing of a lightening flash, the clanging of a summoning bell, calling him uncompromisingly into a stringent re-appraisal of the meaning of ‘self-love’.
Thoughts of Geraldine and everything he had said to her earlier that evening replayed themselves in his mind, as the question suddenly rose up unexpectedly, in a tidal-wave of awakening. Why did he feel that he was only worth loving when he was helping someone or fixing them in some way? “Wow!” He whispered to himself as the question flew into his heart from, seemingly, out of nowhere.
“Do you like them!!?” Susanna asked, from somewhere on the edge of his consciousness. But he was only half aware of her presence and the squealing that followed, as he struggled to keep his agonising eleventh hour re-appraisal at the forefront of his mind. "Oh I can’t believe you like them... This is so great!! Don’t be afraid to be honest with me sweetie... I can take it. I need the feedback.”
“Susanna,” he said, without even making eye-contact. “I need to make some quick calls. I’ll wait for you in the car,”
It was cold, brutal and it felt bad, but it was a cry from the heart.
“Oh...okay...” ...She sounded disappointed, and for a moment, he was almost ready to produce a notepad and pen, and slip seamlessly into coaching mode, but he resisted. Was he being mean? He wasn’t sure. All he wanted was to take a nice woman out on a nice date. Was that too much to ask? Ben told himself he was being too touchy, but nevertheless, he settled himself into the car and took a few deep breaths just to see how it would feel. Just as he was beginning to stare at his watch and tap his fingers nervously on the steering-wheel, Susanna suddenly appeared at the door, looking gratifyingly stunning. He smiled and got out of the car to meet her. She kissed him on the lips, as he held the car door open for her. “I’m so, so sorry about that, Ben,” She said shyly.
“That’s okay,” He said, smiling warmly. “You look beautiful.” Susanna blushed as she gracefully entered the car, smelling of roses. Perhaps it was all going to be okay. Perhaps he
progressing after all. “Okay, then...let’s go.”
Geraldine decided she didn’t want to play games. Why was everyone so caught up in all these silly games and rules and all these ridiculous dating ploys and protocols!
did she have to wait for Toby to call her? She knew how to use the phone. She had eight, fully operational digits and opposable thumbs. She was tired of everyone trying to manipulate every one else all the time to get what they wanted. That wasn’t love! That wasn’t who she wanted to be! In fact, it, actually, made her feel a bit depressed, just thinking about it. Why couldn’t people just get on with loving each other? Why did something so natural and beautiful and transcendent have to be so, contrived, prescribed and thoroughly thought out? Surely all these silly rules just didn’t apply to someone like her or the kind of man she was looking for. She wasn’t looking for what everyone else seemed to be looking for: a hollow sham of a relationship based on lies, pretence and endless power-play. She was looking for a true, deep and lasting connection with her truest soulmate, the other half of her very own being. Surely, when she found him, when she really,
there’d be no
for any games. And
what she wanted, what she truly,
wanted, in her heart of hearts, and with every fibre of her being was to have a deep, honest and meaningful connection of heart, soul, spirit, body, mind and consciousness, then surely the creation of that union could only be born out of an honest and meaningful beginning. Something deeper than all that, he-said-she-said stuff that regular 3D people got themselves mixed up in.
Geraldine sighed. Everyone had made love so complicated now. And, at the same time, everyone complained that everyone
had made it that way. That everyone
was just too calculating, controlling, manipulative and dishonest and everything, nowadays, was just so contrived and controlling and crap. It just didn’t make sense. Who
this ‘everyone else’, that everyone else was always talking about? If
wanted to be really honest and spontaneous and loving and guileless, then who
other people who were causing them to be otherwise? And
everyone else was only doing it so they wouldn’t be made a fool of
everyone else, why didn’t someone just realise that
were, in fact, everyone else and just stop it?!!! Set a trend...be real and make
the truth, the new truth, the truer truth. Geraldine signed deeply. The truth was a very, very... funny thing...
She thought about Ben and all his theories about dating. Yes, he was an absolute genius in the field of human behaviour, and yes, he knew
people that is... but now that she really came to think about it, in terms of being able to really open his own heart, all these people-skills had gotten him precisely nowhere. Geraldine decided that this was probably the
reason Ben was so unsuccessful with women... He simply knew - or thought he knew - way too much about them. He was a victim of his own brilliance. Why couldn’t he just relax and let love happen?
was he so afraid of? Geraldine deeply suspected that all of Ben’s plotting, scheming, knowledge, learning, training and observation skills were just another very clever way he’d found to avoid emotional involvement and the risk of possible disappointment and pain.
Eight O’clock on a Wednesday evening seemed as good a time as any to call someone. No games, no forward planning, no Ben-rules. She picked up the phone and was just reaching to press the buttons when it vibrated playfully in her hand and suddenly, Toby’s name was flashing on her screen. A sign if ever there was one!
“Toby, Hi,” She said, somewhat breathlessly. “That is
I was about to call you. How
“Wow,” said Toby, “How’s that for synchronicity?” It turned out that Toby had been meaning to call all week but had been caught up in endless meetings and issues at school. Geraldine had to admit that from the account he gave of his week so far, his life did sound, uncannily, like Ben’s description of it. He even mentioned something about the special needs coordinator asking to take some time off for a while, due to work-related stress. Ben was spooky. The only difference was that, in reality, Toby seemed to have a little more time to spare than he had in Ben’s extreme scenario and, apparently, plenty of it for her.
By the time she came off the phone, twenty minutes later, her head was swimming and she couldn’t stop smiling. Speaking to Toby had put her in a magical place, and the fact that they had a date this coming Saturday only added to that magic. She called Brogan immediately.
“Oh my God, that’s great!!!” She squealed. “I knew he’d call ya. He really liked ya. Have you told Ben yet?”
“No, Ben’s out...on a date, I think.”
“Well don’t sound so amazed. He does go out sometimes.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know darlin’. It’s just...well anyway... good for him, huh?”
for him.” said Geraldine a little too enthusiastically. “He
to be happy.”
“Yeah, sure, I know that darlin’...” Brogan just couldn’t figure out the deal with these two. The chemistry between them was practically volcanic, and so obvious to everyone
them, it seemed. “Anyway, are we still on for tomorrow?”
“Er...I don’t know. I don’t know what to think now.”
“It’s up to you hon, I’m up for it if you are but I completely understand if you’re not so into it now.”
“Okay well, yes. I mean, I
really glad he’s called, at last. But I did promise Ben I’d stick with it ...you know the whole,
thing. And I can tell you’re really looking forward to going.” Geraldine didn’t really feel a burning desire to go, but it seemed so unfair to just back out, now that she had a date, and even though she was just too nice to say it, she could tell Brogan
still want to go.
“No, seriously, sweetie, yeah, sure, I was really looking forward to it, but I’m totally okay with whatever you decide.”
“Ah, cool. What time are we meeting?”
“Eight 0’Clock, Leicester Square tube?”
“Brilliant! Is Ben coming?”
“Yeah, Ben’s soooooooo sweet!! Isn’t he?!”
There was an uncomfortable pause, as Brogan hovered momentarily on cusp of saying more about Ben, and then through better of it. “Okay then darlin’, gotta go. See ya there. Can’t wait!”
Geraldine spent the rest of the evening imagining Toby in a variety of dating situations and trying to meditate on how things might have been between them in some of their previous lifetimes together. Toby's solid, gym-honed physique drifted effortlessly through her mind, playing the starring role in a mental montage of possible past and future Toby moments. Toby taking her out dancing, Toby ordering wine in a variety of romantically-lit restaurants, Toby sitting next to her on a Jamaica-bound flight, off to visit the birthplace of her parents, Toby meeting her family, out jogging with Toby, in the Park, on a Saturday afternoon, Toby meeting her after work...and then, Oh God, she still hadn’t told him, yet, what she did, for a living, Toby rubbing her tired shoulders at a book-signing. Toby in Rome, Toby in ancient Egypt, Toby in the French resistance...On and on it went until she finally heard a key turning in the lock. It was Ben and the mystery woman. She recognised the voice. She could hear them discussing something at the door. It sounded very intense. She quickly gathered up her things and scurried off to her room. It was what they did for each other in these situations, just a part of the way they functioned, getting out of each other’s way when the need arose and completely being there for each other when that was what was called for.