A Change of Heart
They'd been talking for a while now, passing messages back and forth on the antiquated messenger system on the website. Eventually she'd managed to create a message devious enough that it would allow them contact outside without being deleted by the Big Brother that oversaw all mail on the site.
He was very enthusiastic, single, handsome, clearly capable of all sorts of things, building his own home, fixing all sorts of machinery. She was surprised in fact that he was still single, he was only 32, and she had thought that every woman of his acquaintance would have been hurling herself in the path of such a good catch. It was a long term relationship gone bad, he explained, it hadn't been meant to be, but he stayed and worked at it, and he missed her, but understood why it could never work out. That satisfied her curiosity, certainly. After all, he couldn't be blamed if there was an incompatibility, could he? So she carried on talking to him, taking it step by cautious step until he disappeared one night.
And disappear was the word. His profile was still there, yet his mail went unread, the last visit date getting longer and longer. Her e-mails were not responded to, his messenger icon remained dormant. She couldn't understand it, she was genuinely hurt that this supposedly lovely man had done this, she couldn't think what could possibly have happened to him or what she could have said that would leave her beached like a dolphin, miles from the receding tide of his attention, gasping for air yet being crushed by the weight of the disappointment.
Three weeks later, to the day, she lost her nerve. A bottle of wine, an empty house and far too long spent brooding over his profile, over that particular photograph that made her go weak at the groin, took their toll. A kick from someone else that she had approached didn't help, either. It's not nice feeling too old or too young, or not blonde enough, not buxom enough, not fat or thin enough, not tall or short enough; it's hateful being rejected for that which is your lot in life and not something you can change. And so she sent him a message, a very short message.
"I don't know what I did wrong, but you hurt me and I didn't know that I felt anything for you. If you don't respond to this mail I'll never trouble you again."
She pressed Send and immediately regretted it. She was so weak sometimes, and it looked so bloody desperate, as though she had nothing and no one else in her life. She stroked the cat on her lap, drank her wine, listened to the wind echoing round the house and realised the irony of her own thoughts. As if to add to the misery the empty calendar on her desk seemed to wink at her and she slammed it shut. She knew what was in there for the foreseeable future, and it wasn't a lot.
* * * * *
The morning brought the hangover, the regret, the sheer embarrassment of having sent that damned mail. What did she think she was doing? Was she really so dependent on the attention of other people? There was a reason her diary was empty. In fact it wasn't empty at all, it was full of hard work, the work she had been dodging slightly by talking to him in the first place. It was better now, he was out of the way and out of her system, and she could get on with the writing, get her nose back onto the computer and her fingers back on the keyboards and start getting the book in shape for the now looming deadline. Taking a couple of paracetamol and brewing herself a cup of coffee she pushed open the French windows and breathed in the beautiful country air for a while before she turned to her office.
There was e-mail for her. She saw it flash as soon as she switched on the computer, an important message waiting for her. She opened it, not bothering to see who it was from and assuming it was a nag from her agent.
"I'm sorry, I've been away with work. I should have told you, but I thought I'd be able to get on line when I was there, turned out I couldn't. I didn't mean to hurt you. How can I make it up to you?"
She sat in shock, it wasn't what she had expected. At first she was angry, furious at herself for opening the door. Then she was angry with him, for assuming that she would believe such a lame excuse. Then she was numb and confused, not knowing what to think. A tentative reply was extended.
"Where were you working?" He came back immediately, no time to work up stories, he was right there telling her what happened.
"I told you I work in computers, and the company I work for sometimes freelance to other companies. In this case the Navy, they're trialling a piece of kit for us, and someone had to go with it to train the people to use it. I've been on a boat for three weeks and missing you like mad." How convenient, she thought, you just happened to come back today.
"I'm not sure what to do about your message, I wasn't expecting you to be hurt. I didn't think I meant anything to you other than a friend, we've only known each other a short while, and we haven't even met yet."
Great, now he was going to beat her over the head with common sense to compound the misery she was feeling. He was right, of course, they hadn't met. What had she assumed in his absence? Had she taken everything he'd said out of context? She was starting to feel like a fool and found herself apologising for her own confusion.
"I'm sorry, I suppose I didn't realise I had the feelings myself until you disappeared."
"Don't worry", he replied. "No harm done, nothing to apologise for. Are you ok? What are you up to?" And from there her descent began, the slide down that slippery slope of familiarity into forgetting his abandonment, into dismissing his absence in favour of the enjoyment of talking to him, of being the subject of his interest and attention. She liked being under that lamp, its glow warmed bits of her that had been dormant for the past couple of years while she had worked. It was what she had been seeking when she posted her profile on the website; and so it made it easier to relax into the state of forgetting and forgiving and getting on with feeling valued.
Needless to say this whole incident highlighted for both of them that they needed to meet, and the sooner the better. Sure enough, it was soon arranged. A friend of hers, Sophie, was having a birthday party in a town near where he lived, and she was due to go up early to help with the organisation. So she booked a room in a cozy local inn, good food, chilled wines, a nice atmosphere, oak beams and a comfy bed, and she invited him over to dinner her first night there.
The sexual tension between them was unbelievable, and their compatibility so very obvious. They finished each others sentences, they spoke the same words at the same time, and they couldn't keep their hands off each other. If people in the restaurant were embarrassed the couple didn't notice, because their eyes were fixed the one on the other. Neither had much of an appetite, and after a quick salad and a glass of wine they went by mutual consent to her room, where he took her into his arms and made perfect love to her. She felt beautiful under his gaze and his touch, and it made her want to cry with happiness.
They came back to sip from each others bodies during the night, neither fully sleeping, but napping a little before rolling toward each other and starting all over again. The simplicity of a closed mouth kiss or the touch of fingers on skin ignited their passions repeatedly, and as dawn crept over the horizon on their last night together before she went home she said those dreaded words.
"I love you." She didn't mean to hear them back, she didn't need to, they both knew the score, that monogamy wasn't for them, that they needed greater freedom to form a family of like minds and bodies, but she now hoped they could do this together and he had agreed when they spoke, this was a mutually achievable aim. Their discussions had involved a lot of very precise terms to preclude the possibility of misunderstanding and feelings being hurt. After all, when two people have contrary aims there is no basis for a relationship and to pursue one in the face of opposing destinations would lead to pain and hurt all round. Yet he nuzzled against her, his face lost in her neck as he whispered back.
"I love you, too."
The journey home was a heaving morass of emotions for her, the swelling of her love and joy, her heightened perception born of the sex they had shared, the hope for the future that he had given her when he said those words, when he had gone on to tell her that he knew already that he wanted to share his home with her. All too quick, obviously, and she knew that she would have to focus on caution, because she couldn't just throw away her home as it was on knowing someone on line for a few months then spending a few nights and days with them, mostly in bed. And so she advised herself to be cautious, even as her heart flew way above her head, tickling the tops of the trees that she drove past on her way back to her normal life.
* * * * *
Once she was home she worked with a greater fervour, wanting the book to be out of the way now, wanting to get her diary back so that she could arrange more meetings with this wonderful man. So they could spend time together, get to know each other more, to continue to consummate their relationship. Yet his work meant he was travelling all over, and hers meant she was anchored to her office chair. Yet they spoke often, by phone or IM, and still there was that buzz, that frisson of sexual excitement that spurred her into loving him more and more, craving him like a drug she couldn't live without. A little part of her knew she was being foolish, but the rest of her told it to shut up, to learn to enjoy the heady mix of hormones and emotions that buoyed her spirits and kept the smile on her face.
He told her what he was doing with their mutual friends, friends they hadn't been aware they shared until the party. He told her of his desires for a fully polyamorous family, of an extended emotional and sexual family that would support and nurture all its members, which would allow for play, growth and change within it, and it was as if he was reciting her own dream, playing it back to her in perfect harmony with her thoughts and beliefs. Her faith in this man became stronger and stronger. So much so that she dismissed the first question as being nothing relevant to her or him, a simple question from Sophie.
"Are you and he an item?"
"Well, don't be silly, of course we are, we slept together all that time I was over for your party, but you know I don't do ownership as such."
"I only ask because I saw him in town buying a girl dinner last night."
"Yes, that's right. It's a friend of his."
"They looked like a lot more than friends."
"What are you trying to say?"
"I'm not trying to say anything, I'm just telling you what I saw."
"She's a friend of his, and he flirts with his friends. So what?"
"Ok, as long as you're fine with it. How's the book going?"
And the conversation moved on. He'd told her about the friend, she was the one that suggested he buy her dinner for her birthday, because she'd been dumped by her boyfriend and was feeling blue. She thought it would cheer her up and let him spend some time with his old friend. What could be wrong with that? But she couldn't resist mentioning it to him, saying they'd been seen. He'd laughed it off.
"Well, it wasn't as if we were hiding from you, was it? You even told me which restaurant to take her too!" Of course she had, there was nothing to concern her in this, it had been exactly as she thought it had. Damn Sophie for trying to twist it into something ugly. She wasn't a jealous or possessive person, she was a modern girl who grew up believing that one man and one woman weren't necessarily the perfect combination, and that it was often better to have a larger family. She was the product of a hippy upbringing, and all the freedoms that it espoused.
Hi there, you busy?" He popped onto her IM screen.
"Not overly. How are you?"
"Exhausted, I stayed over at Ellie's last night."
"Ellie? Who's Ellie?"
"Oh, she's the girl I met at a club last week. Didn't I tell you about her?"
"Oh, well, she's a drama student and she has pc problems, so I said I'd come over and fix her pc, and it got late, and then I ended up staying over because it would have been a bad idea to drive that late at night when I was tired. So I did. But now I'm tired, because it was uncomfortable at her place, the sofa's lumpy."
"Serves you right. Tell me about Ellie." And she'd smiled at him on the IM, she'd been happy for him to have a new friend that he could help, and he'd enjoyed telling her about fixing Ellies computer. She asked if he was flirting with Ellie and trying to get her into bed, and he said it would be nice. He asked if she minded, and she said no, she didn't mind. Sex was sex, love was love and that was ok, she didn't need to tie him down. It was against her beliefs.
It turned out that Ellie had beliefs of her own, beliefs that included not keeping him around after he had managed, a week later, to talk his way into some heavy petting with her. He told her all this on IM, saying that he'd enjoyed playing and flirting with Ellie, but that she wasn't keeping material.
"Not like you. I didn't love her. In fact she annoyed me more often than not." She paused. If the girl had annoyed him, why had he tried to have sex with her? But it wasn't down to her, she was miles away, they'd only slept together a few nights, she had no claim to him or ownership rights to dispute, it was up to him how he conducted himself.
"I've got a launch party coming up, in London. Are you going to come down for it?" She was eager to be with him, to be in his arms again, kissing those soft lips, feeling his hardness within her.
"When is it?" He asked.
"That's a long way away. I'll need to check my diary."
"I thought you'd be pleased to be seeing me?"
"I am, it's just that it's over a month away and I need to see if there's anything that would stop me coming down that day." Something rang cold to her.
"Would you rather not bother?"
"Don't be silly, I'm happy to be coming to see you. I want to come and see you. I want to share a bed with you again. But I have work commitments, and it's an awfully long way off and I guess I'm a little disappointed that I have to wait so long."
"I know, I'm disappointed too, but it's the book, I can't just stop work and not go to the meetings, I've already had the advance and they can sue me if it's not ready, I have to be here working."
"I know you do. But a bit of me wants to say damn the book, come here, move in with me and let's go find our own life together, make our own extended family and let's not waste time so far apart." A little voice inside her told her that it was what she wanted, too, and she realised how stupid she had been, how possessive, how idiotic it was to think that he would just drop everything to be with her on her schedule. That was wrong, no matter which way it worked.
Again they talked, the conversation soothing ruffled feathers, she put her fears all down to the distance, the need for him that went un-assuaged in his absence, the fact that he had never been down to see her, that previous dates she had suggested had been impossible because of his work, and his suggestions impossible because of hers. She was doing it again, building problems in her head where no problems existed, seeing phantoms where there were none. Yet this was so unlike her. She never got jealous, she never got possessive, she never worried or stressed about her partners being far away; and she wondered what it was causing the disquiet this time? Why now, why with him, what was it in her that had changed? It didn't occur to her to wonder if it had anything to do with him.
* * * * *
Roses arrived the next morning, a huge bunch, wreathed in tiny white dots of babys breath, two dozen perfect, blood red roses. She read the card that came with them.
"I'm sorry if I upset you, I didn't mean to. Of course I'm looking forward to seeing you again. I can't wait! I love you."
She found a vase and settled the flowers on her desk, where she could touch them and smell them, a substitute for his presence as she worked even harder, trying to ensure that when he arrived there would be as little as possible to get in the way of their time together. She booked a car to take them to the party, she booked a posh hotel to stay in, one with a Jacuzzi in the room, room service, a four poster bed. She spared no expense as she planned her outfit for him. Not for her, she didn't count any more, she planned it for him, for his pleasure, knowing that she wanted to be the centre of his world that evening. She added him to seating plans, wrote his name on one of the gilded invitations so that he could feel part of the whole thing, she even helped him pick out his evening dress for the event and ordered a buttonhole of a perfect red rose bud for him, all to be delivered to their hotel suite.
A week before the event and he bounced on to her IM as he did every morning now when she signed in.
"Hi! Had a wonderful evening at the club last night. Your friend Sophie was there, and she had her cousin, Maria, with her, drop dead gorgeous and all of 20 years old. I'm afraid I drooled a lot and offered to stop in at her place to check out her home network problems." He finished the message with a big grin.
"Oh, I see, you're chasing 20 year olds now are you? Trying to make me feel old?" She flirted with him, comfortable in the knowledge that she was seeing him soon and could patch up her own feelings of poor self worth that had begun to develop as he told her about a new group of friends, going to a new club that had opened, meeting other women and flirting with them in her absence. She really meant the wink emoticon that she put at the end of the sentence, yet something at the back of her mind started to whisper to her.
"Not just 20 year olds! There were lots of gorgeous totty there last night, and I had great fun dancing with them, and snogging a few, too."
"Careful, you'll start to get a reputation if you don't watch out."
Nah, nothing to worry about there. I'm just flirting, having fun, being me." Again he smiled through the IM and her concerns bit their lip. Another window popped up on her IM, Sophie.
"Hi, I met Steve last night when we were out clubbing."
"I know, he's just told me."
"He was all over my cousin."
"He said he was dancing with her."
"Did he mention that he bought a bottle of Champagne before leaving the club with her in a taxi?" She went cold. Someone had just poured a bucket of ice water over her. Champagne. What did that mean? It was Champagne, wine, that was all. He left with her in a taxi? What was she supposed to assume from that? Maybe the girl lived near his house and they were sharing a taxi? How odd.
"What are you trying to imply?"
"Nothing. He bought a bottle of Champagne for her, they got a taxi away together, I don't know who stayed where, but she's been on the phone this morning, he sent her roses. Two dozen. Red ones." She didn't even sign off, she just closed her IM. She didn't want to talk to anyone, she needed to think, to get her head straight. Why did she feel like this? Why was she suddenly concerned that this guy had shared a cab with a girl? Why did she care if he bought her Champagne or not? As for the roses, so what? He was given to expansive gestures, she knew that. Hell, she'd encouraged it! So what was her problem? Why was she getting twitchy like this?
She'd been working too hard, obviously. A bottle of cold wine, an afternoon in the garden watching the cats trying to decimate the local wildlife and she'd feel better. It was warm enough that she'd even dip her toes in the fish pond and put all of this out of her mind, it was silly.