If ever I needed a reminder that my understanding of women was appallingly bad, was after I took Jennifer Eccles home.
Of course, I didn’t read the signals, that the invitation to come in for coffee was an invitation to explore where a relationship might go.
Instead, I dropped her off and said I would see her in the morning. It was an informative if not frosty day and in the end a nice enough parting, but not one that I interpreted as an opportunity to move forward.
Friends, I’d said, and friends of a sort it was.
Because she was in sales and I was in marketing, our paths crossed constantly, so there was no room for animosity or regrets. If things didn’t work out, if that is, things were to ever to progress.
And to be honest, I was careful not to let romance rule what happened at work. My father had made a mess if his life with an improper office romance, and I was determined not to let it happen to me.
So, after the tour date, if you could call it that, we reverted to being just colleagues, but it was evident we got along very well, to a point where it had been noticed, and asked to work together, side by side, rather than in different areas.
Something else I’d noticed about her, she toyed with all the boys, some might say she was a teaser, but I think it was her manner to be extroverted and flirt. It was on us not to misinterpret her actions and act accordingly.
And, after about six weeks, relaxed in each other’s company, there was a slight shift in the relationship, where for a moment, our eyes met and lingered.
I blinked first.
“Would you like to go for a bite, talk about something other than work?” I asked.
I was not sure what to make of her expression, but it went from perhaps slightly puzzled, to a wry smile.
“I’d love to, thank you. I’m a bit guilty myself with the all work, no play…”
“It’s why we’re here, I guess.”
I offered to pick her up from her place and take her to dinner. My choice! I suspect she would be happy with a hamburger, but that was not what she would expect.
There was something else, I was going to see what she wore, having had one girl base what she wore on where I was taking her. For that reason, we only went to a nightclub once.
Jennifer had a long, flowing dress that suggested somewhere formal, so it was going to be fine dining. Something else I noticed, once removed from the office, and taking leave of her work-based demeanor, that she was almost someone who was barely recognizable from the woman I worked side by side with up to 12 hours a day.
I had to wonder for a moment if the girl I was seeing now was Jennifer’s twin sister, or simply an alternative ego. And there was the issue I had with dating at work, that it would be easy to fall for this version.
But we were both in agreement this was not a date, just two colleagues having dinner, and not talking about work.
The question was where we expected to be in five years’ time.
It was a question that I’d not normally think about, but it was one of those questions people who were interested in other people liked to ask.
I delivered my answer with usual candor. By now she had a good idea of what she could expect, and I wasn’t going to change, or surprise her.
“Not here,” I said.
That was the one thing I was certain of. Whether we succeeded or failed, we will have all moved on to someplace else. Very few were asked to remain, either as an ordained executive on the way to the top or in a training capacity.
Was she interested in staying, or did she have an indication she might be one of the ordained executives? It was a nice city, smallish enough to have the best of both worlds, and the countryside was not far away. That begged the question of whether her aspirations were based on being safe, rather than taking risks.
Ambition is one thing, but real ambition always came with taking a risk or two. I knew from the outset I was not the overly ambitious type and being surrounded by a group that had only made that abundantly clear.
But that didn’t mean I didn’t have a clear idea of what I really wanted out of life. I was less sure about my ideal partner to spend the rest of my life with.
“I always wanted to live near the ocean, not necessarily in the city. In my mind’s eye, there’s a large house on a cliff overlooking the ocean, the aroma of salt water when the breeze is blowing in odd the sea. Not far from the mountains, hiking in summer, skiing in winter.”
“And work-wise, where do you see yourself?”
“Preferably not in an office. The idea of working eighteen hours a day for someone else doesn’t hold much appeal. The point is, only a few make it to the top, but I have the fear if I did make it, it wouldn’t last, because you have the expectations of many on your shoulders, and you only have to make one mistake…”
“But isn’t that the reason why you aspire to get to the top? You don’t want to think much beyond that, or, as you say, you wouldn’t necessarily do it.”
A point, and a good one. Most people never think of the consequences of being so driven that everything ends up being sacrificed for what is only an ideal. I saw that happen with people close to me, and I vowed I would not be that person.
And yet, I was going down that path. It wasn’t something I’d expected to discover about myself.
All of this soul searching had been going on alongside a three-course meal with wine and topped off by French champagne, what I could only describe as a gastronomic triumph.
That voyage of self-discovery had come to the end with coffee, and Jennifer explained what her ideas were for the figure, which, like me, having put it into words, had caused moments of pause.
In the end, she stood, and it was time to go. It had been an experience, but the idea before the evening started that I would walk away with a different perspective was entirely unexpected. And that I could reach those conclusions with her, well, I never expected that.
By the time we reached the car we were holding hands, a subconscious action, I was sure, on both our parts.
It was a clear, cool night, clear sky, and almost a full moon making it lighter than normal. It was almost as if the moonbeams were directed at us.
I had only one thought.
There was a wan smile as if she knew what I was thinking.
“Right idea, but bad timing. But it’s the best non-date date I’ve ever been on. It’s going to be hard for you to top this.”
A kiss on my cheek and the moment was over.
© Charles Heath 2022