This is the 2nd part of the story. Check the beginning here:
Looking from the outside. Part 1
John felt his mobile phone vibrating in his pocket while he was going down the corridor. He had just finished another round of important negotiations about quite a big deal. He just needs to give it the last push next week, and the contract will be signed.
He was thinking about his future bonus and what he will spend it for, answering the phone. He automatically shook hands with a couple of people on the way, he didn’t really pay attention to whom he really saw: they were all just some clerks, just cogs in the wheel. He was after big bosses, the steering wheel, so to say.
‘Hello honey, how are you?’ – he asked his wife with his well trained cheerful voice.
‘Hi John. I just wanted to remind you that I have plans for tonight so please, do not be late, ok?’
“Damn! I completely forgot about it” – he thought.
‘Sure, honey, I remember. I have only one short meeting left and then will go directly home’.
‘Ok, then see you soon. Bye!’ – she hung up the phone.
‘Bye’ said he while pressing the red button.
He didn’t lie, he had another short meeting. A coffee. Just not for work. Linda, his long-term special friend was in the city again, so they agreed to meet, as usual, in a café close to the main station. She was a woman he truly admired: always good looking, pursuing a stunning career, always having some new adventures, travelling the world, but most important – she was very intelligent and witty. That was what he liked the most about her. They were on the same level, if not to say that now she was on a higher one.
They used to date a hundred years ago. It was a relationship between two crazy teenagers experiencing their first loves to the fullest. But since they started college, their situation changed. John has become calmer, more serious and goal oriented. Linda didn’t want to grow up and continued her life as it was.
At some point John decided that it was time to think about the future and give up on parties and all that crazy stuff they did before. Linda wasn’t that determined to settle down or pursue a steady career path, so they decided to continue their lives separately.
Being a party girl didn’t stop Linda from building a career, though. It helped her create a pretty wide network of contacts in the entertainment industry and lead her on the top of it. Linda has become one of the best in her professional area and she earned a fortune. She made parties her job, but on a much bigger scale than in her twenties.
John was always waiting for their meeting as a breath of fresh air. Yes, he had a good life, who would argue? But sometimes it felt a bit boring. Like he was missing out on real life. He followed the plan: finished a university, found a good job, then a better one, made a career and now had quite a good wage and some social status. But he missed freedom.
His marriage was ok, even well. His wife was from a good family, classics. They had been dating for a year before he proposed. It was the right thing to do. He had reached the position when he would have better perspectives being a family man.
He found a suitable woman, they got along together well, so he didn’t contemplate for too long and asked her to marry him.
The wedding was classic: big white dress, an expensive suite with a tie that cost more than his first car, many guests, a semi-famous band playing live and a five-levels cake. After the party they went to the Caribbean sea for a honeymoon, where their first and so far only daughter was conceived.
Emily – that’s the name they chose for the girl. Blonde, blue eyes, just like his wife. A little angel, people said. He thought so too, sometimes. Many times he was scared of his own thoughts about this little angel, when she cried at night, or, again, in early morning, right after they fell asleep for forty minutes he had left to rest until he had to get up. That was a hard time.
John thought that his wife Mary was coping with it much better, so he decided to “compensate” (so he explained to Mary) her efforts as a mother with his earnings at work. So they could afford a better life. In fact, he just wanted to escape this little hell for a bit, to not lose his grip on life.
This was the time when Linda reappeared for the first time. Again, classics. He saw these situations on TV, in some average movies and shows: a bored husband meets his old crush and goes for it. He always thought it was a cliché, something too far-fetched to happen in real life. But here she was: in flesh and blood, fabulously looking, as if no time has passed since they met the last time.
John didn’t say anything to Mary, because she wouldn’t understand it. She would be jealous, invent something that never happened and it would create problems. John didn’t want to have problems.
Turned out that Linda moved to another city for work, but now she is involved in a project back in her hometown. Now she came here twice a month for two days.
By the moment when John left the office of Laura, they had met five or six times. He didn’t count. She came again today, and he was looking forward to it. Mary’s meeting with friends was so untimely! This time Linda told John that she had her plans cancelled at the last moment, so she had the entire evening free. He could not miss out on a chance like that!
John booked a table at a restaurant with a good reputation for keeping things private. They also had a very good chef and great wine from all around the world. He needed this meeting so much, to charge himself from her inextinguishable energy: the deal was almost closed, and he needed just one final dash. Linda would give it to him.
Well, he still has time and will think something up. He opened a chat on his phone and sent a message: “Hi Linda, I just wanted to confirm our meeting later today. At 4 p.m. at the Gordon’s”. She sent back “Yes”. No emojis, no details. So they agreed to not create any unwanted problems.
John was thinking: “Mary has her meeting at six, so I have two hours to spend with Linda. Everything will be ok”.
He went out of the building, came to his car and told the driver to take him to Gordon’s.
Ten minutes later John was entering the doors of the restaurant. It didn’t have any big sign, no advertisement. Just an elegant door with a nice employee at the reception. It was a young man, who knew how to keep an imperturbable face expression when he saw some famous people with whoever else, but their spouses.
John said his name, and a waiter showed him the way to his table. It was a private cabin on the second floor with a nice view of the river. Private was the right word for it: it was closed enough from others, divided by a wall of plants that created a nice live atmosphere and served as a protection from curious visitors.
John sat down at the table, ordered red dry wine, looked at his watches and dived into pleasant anticipation.
‘Good afternoon Mister black’ – Linda was looking at John with a playful smile. She was perfect, as always: tight black dress, perfect brown hair, cherry red lipstick, high heels shoes – classics.
‘Good afternoon, Miss Parker’ – he was smiling back. He helped her sit down at the table.
‘It was hell of a day!’ – Linda said. – ‘I could use a couple of glasses of some nice dry red wine. How about you?’
‘Sure, I had quite a day too.’
They ordered wine and a nice dinner. The conversation was going smoothly, as always. It was full of Linda’s achievements. She told John another story of her getting on the top of the world again: organizing big celebrations, dealing with celebrities, helping the government to prepare a city festival. He was listening carefully, as usual. However, this time he could not get that boost of energy as before.
After a while of pouring her information on John, Linda finally asked him how he had been doing. John smiled, lowered his eyes, looked somewhere inside his soul for a second, took a heavy breath and said:
‘You know, I don’t know. I got kind of lost.’
Linda didn’t expect to hear that. Usually John looked very inspired, enthusiastic, ready to fight and conquer the corporate world. She liked it in him. This day John indeed looked a bit lost. Linda thought that probably it was something insignificant, maybe he slept badly. She smiled cheerfully and joked:
‘Well, if you need some hint on where you are, I can give it to you. You are a successful manager of a big company, making his way on the top of your business. You are still young, attractive, charming and smart. Isn’t it what a dream life looks like?’
John smirked and looked through Linda. He said slowly, emphasizing every word:
‘It very much depends on whose dream it is.’
Linda looked at him with suspicion:
‘Are you telling me it is not what you wanted?’
‘What I wanted – maybe. But possibly not what I want now.’
A waiter came to their table to pour some wine again. Linda was looking at John and thinking that she didn’t like his mood.
‘Come on, John. You have a nice work, you get a nice paycheck every two weeks. You have an apartment in a good district, a good car,’ – she contemplated for a second. They usually didn’t speak about his family, but Linda decided to remind him of it. – ‘You are happily married, you have a nice daughter and a pretty wife. What’s wrong?’
‘Exactly. You see? The general picture is great, but just from the outside,’ – he sipped some wine. – ‘I don’t know when all these great things turned into an unbearable routine. I work in sales, it is a well paid job. But what will I leave after myself? Piles of paper with signed contracts? A bunch of invoices? I do not create anything myself. And you remember, I wanted to have my own company, NOT to work for some big corporation. Where did it go?’
“Nice,” – Linda was thinking. – “The boy reached his middle-age crisis a bit earlier than he is supposed to.” She was not really in the mood to comfort a whining man who has no real reasons to complain.
Complaining in general annoyed her. Linda believed that everyone can achieve whatever they want if they only lift their ass up and start working on it. She hoped to have a nice and light conversation with a touch of flirting to keep her woman’s charm in good shape. The nice evening was under threat. She decided to distract him from it.
‘Well, darling, why don’t you take a couple of days off to clear up your thoughts a bit? I am sure, a weekend at a SPA hotel would only do you good. By the way, I have a membership in a five star SPA complex just outside the city. Hm?’
John shook his head.
‘No, I don’t think it would help. I need to seriously think about everything I do now.’ – he made a sign to the waiter to come. – ‘A glass of whiskey with ice, please.’
Linda sighed disappointedly and said:
‘Well, if wine does not help, I’ll go for something stronger, too.’ – she turned to the waiter. – ‘A glass of cranberry vodka with ice, please’.
The waiter nodded his head and disappeared.
‘Maybe you need to talk to a psychologist?’ – Linda asked.
‘I don’t really like the idea of talking to a stranger about my personal problems. Also, it would take quite some time, and I need a solution soon.’
‘Then my option is better,’ – Linda was smiling with her charm, but John seemed to not be very responsive.
Linda’s phone rang. She excused herself and answered. John was looking at her and not understanding what changed. She was still her stunning self, still on the top of the world, but somehow it didn’t resonate with him anymore. She was sweet and nice talking with someone, but was it really her? Or was it just a mask she was wearing? Who was she talking to in this manner?
She finished her call and said:
‘Sorry, just another client whom we need to get this year.’
‘Do you like him?’ – John looked at Linda closely. She expressed incomprehension on her face. – ‘I mean as a person. Whoever it is.’
‘Well, I don’t really care about him. It is just a client. Work. I like the number I will see on my bank account after getting this client,’ – she grinned like a Cheshire cat.
‘Yes, but… How to explain..’ – John stumbled. The waiter brought two glasses with drinks. – ‘I mean, you don’t want to be so nice with him naturally. You do it out of your duty. You spend your energy on being nice to someone who does not mean a thing to you.’
‘Well, not really,’ – she objected. – ‘This man means a five number bonus which will give me a nice opportunity to regain my energy spent on him in some sunny place with a sandy beach and a great bar,’ – she was smiling, but her eyes were looking cold. ‘Besides,’ – continued she, – ‘being sweet is what I do the best. Do you agree?’ – she threw a playful glance at him.
John took a long sip from his glass, held a burning liquid in his mouth for a while, then swallowed it and breathed out.
‘How are you, Linda? I mean, honestly. Are you happy? Apart from the numbers that you see on your bank account, does your job give you anything else?’
Linda raised her eyebrows.
‘Well, it gives me confidence about my future. That’s already not bad.’
‘What future?’ – John looked a bit agitated.
‘Well, my future,’ – she looked at him blankly.
‘And what is there, in your future? What is it like?’ – John continued asking.
Linda slowly lifted her glass, took a sip of cooling and at the same time burning vodka, looked into the glass, smirked, put it back on the table and replied looking at John:
‘Bright. Colorful. Fun.’ – She said it slowly, each word clear and loud. Then she smiled again and took the last sip of vodka getting a piece of ice in her mouth like a candy. John felt a little temptation to get distracted and switch to flirting (who knows, maybe it would grow into something bigger that night?), but since he felt not really well today, he stayed focused on his idea.
‘What does this bright and colorful fun include? Party every day? Eternal vacation in Caribbean after pleasing people you don’t know and don’t like? Is that really what you want?’
‘John, I do not really understand all these questions,’ – Linda looked annoyed. – ‘I am only thirty five years old. I haven’t got my share of fun to the fullest yet. What do you want me to do? To settle down, marry some boring clerk, give birth to a socially acceptable number of kids and give up on my own life? Well, no, thank you. I do not want it. Not now, and most likely not ever after. You have to accept that people are different, and not all of them want the same perfect family life like yours!’ – She was annoyed.
‘Nobody tells you to give up on your life,’ – John objected. – ‘And my life is not as perfect as you say,’ – he finished his whiskey within one big sip and showed a sign to the waiter to repeat both drinks. After a short moment he continued:
‘What I mean is that you pay for the money you get with wearing a mask on a daily basis, hiding your true self, going against your own heart to get a contract. And then you need to go somewhere far, spend the bonus you’ve got to get yourself restored – these are your own words.’
‘Bullshit! I didn’t mean it!’ – Linda was getting angry. ‘You created this story just to show off how much better you are than me, that’s it! And you’ve always been like that! You always thought I was not good enough. You were smarter, funnier, nicer, people liked you more than me. Even my own parents. And now you just want to drag me into this shit again, but not this time: I have made my way to the life that I want and I am happy about it. I don’t need your family shit to compensate for my shattered dreams: I live my dream life, and you are nobody to judge it!’ – She exhaled heavily. Her eyes were sparkling with anger.
John was sitting silently. He was processing the information that Linda had just revealed to him. Then he asked with a little resentment in his voice:
‘Do you really mean what you’ve just said?’
Linda was looking through the window. She was calming herself with slow breathing.
‘What exactly?’ – she asked without turning her head to him.
‘That I always thought I was better than you.’
The waiter brought the drinks.
‘Well, that’s why we broke up. I was not good enough for your life plans. Not steady enough, not educated enough. I gave up the college after all. How could you build your future with a woman like me?’ – she was not looking at John. Linda was drumming with her fingers on the table. John was staring at her.
‘Linda, that is not true. I never thought like that. I swear.’
Linda smirked bitterly and replied:
‘You are a very good liar, Mister Black. You manage to fool even yourself.’
Linda smirked again and turned back to her professionally sweet self.
‘Darling, enough of flashbacks. We met to spend some nice time, but it seems to not work today. I think I am the wrong person to ask for advice about your situation for the very simple reason that I am happy doing what I do. Even if you think otherwise.’ – she smiled like a Cheshire cat. No doubt, she gained control of herself again.
‘Yeah, you probably are the wrong person to talk to. That’s right.’
In his mind John was thinking: “You still are too crazy and talk nonsense. Complete nonsense. I guess I made the right decision to not carry on with her. We would fight all the time. Linda is nice as a temporary effect: cheers you up, pleases your view, sweetens your imagination, but applied too often it gets you allergic.”
Looking at John Linda proved herself being right about John. It was a short moment, just a half of a second, but she noticed arrogance in his eyes. As a professional seller he trained to have an appropriate facial expression, but as a human he fails sometimes, and this half a second was enough.
‘Ok, darling. Since we are on the same page, I will move to a place with more fun. I don’t want to spend a Friday night in heavy talks about the middle-age crisis. Especially since I don’t have one.’
John looked at his watches. It was almost six. He checked his phone that was on a silent mode and saw several missed calls from his wife. He smiled with his professional charming smile and said:
‘Indeed. I didn’t want to bore you to death. I apologize for my stupidity and promise you to have a better topic to talk about next time.’
They both were smiling at each other, but they both knew they would not meet anymore. At least in the nearest time.
‘So cheers then,’ – Linda raised her glass.
‘Cheers!’ – John raised his, and they finished their drinks in one big sip.
John accompanied Linda to the taxi, they said goodbye and kissed each other on the chicks. Once she left, John got into the metro and ten minutes later he entered his apartment.
Mary was all dressed up. Her dress was a bit too tight for the body curves that she had. She never made it to lose those last several pounds she gained after giving birth to her daughter. Emily was playing with her countless dolls lying all over the room.
Once Mary heard a key turning in the locker, she grabbed her shoes and coat and started dressing to go out.
‘Sorry, the meeting was a bit too long then I expected’ – he said closing the door behind him.
‘You know, I am in a rush too much to tell you what I think about it. Save your apologies for later, ok? Or better keep them to yourself, because I don’t care what reason stopped you from delivering your promise. I asked you once in months to come home on time, so you could spend some time with your daughter (if you still remember that you have one) so I could finally go out and have some time for myself.’ – Mary was super angry, but not surprised. John sighed and looked to the room with Emily, his daughter, searching for a nanny.
‘And where is Ms. Roberts? She was supposed to come today, right?’
Mary was putting on some lipstick and spraying some perfume on herself.
‘I told you yesterday that Ms. Roberts can not come today, so it is crucial that you come on time. I cannot make my friends waiting for me, we haven’t met for almost a year!’
‘Oh no, Mary, how am I going to deal with Emily? Why didn’t you call someone to replace Ms. Roberts?’ – John was nearly desperate.
‘You are her replacement, dear. It’s time to get your daughter to know a bit better than just saying good night and good morning. Use your chance.’ – she was sarcastic.
Emily saw her mother going to leave her and started crying and asking her to stay in her badly recognizable child’s language. John anticipated a stressful evening with a crying child, and he felt a strong desire to get another drink.
‘She is crying, Mary! You will just leave the poor kid suffering?’
Mary laughed out loud.
‘For God’s sake, john! She is crying because she spends all her time with me! Of course she is not used to my absence, but she has to start at some moment, and this moment is NOW.’
Mary took her purse, sent a message to her friend that she’s leaving her home, lifted Emily, kissed her and passed her to her not very enthusiastic father.
‘Bye-bye sweetheart. I will come back soon. Enjoy your time with daddy.’ – She took a deep breath, smiled and left John dealing with a two-years old child, reaching all humanly possible decibels.
When Mary went outside the building, it started raining. It was refreshing. She smiled and felt happy: several hours of freedom! Awesome!
She ran to the metro station and fifteen minutes later showed up at the café, where her friend was waiting for her.
The next part of the story is here:
Looking from the outside. Part 3