Sep 6, 2010
Eric Sands was more than a little shaken and surprised when, turning from a discussion with a business colleague and heading slowly toward the bar across the grand ballroom styled meeting space booked by his company for the glitzy meet-and-greet, he spotted his ex-girlfriend, Shauna Morgan, in animate conversation with some men in expensive and well tailored suits similar to his own. She seemed to be making her point successfully as two of the three gentlemen were nodding their heads vigorously – either that or they were just repeatedly checking out the very pleasant curves of her body. She was turned partially away from him and so he did not fall into her line of sight but he wondered if, earlier in the evening, she might have seen him just the same.
Of course, he knew that he had no right to be surprised at seeing her and, truth be told, it was particularly likely on this occasion since they worked for allied companies. That reasoning, however, was of little assistance in the face of the thoughts and memories which flooded when so stimulated by the sight of her after he had spent so long trying to remove her omnipresent image from his consciousness. He continued nonchalantly across the floor in the direction of the bar but, now, instead of considering more schmoozing, he was wondering what to do about her.
He arrived at the bar and ordered a Manhattan.
“Make it a little 'heavy',” he suggested to the pretty girl behind the bar. She nodded and complied, smiling openly at him as he slipped a fiver into her tips jar.
“Hello, Eric,” said Paul Fields – an Area Manager – stepping up to also get a refill. “Are you enjoying the party?”
“Hi Paul,” he answered, “very much so.” He wasn't sure if he sounded entirely convincing so he beefed up the compliment. “They really went all out this year and it's fantastic to meet so many great people that I don't normally deal with.”
“Well, that's the point of the whole thing,” responded Paul indicating scotch to the barista.
“Say, where's Emily? I haven't seen her.”
“I think my wife hooked up with Frank McCloud's wife and they're off gossiping somewhere,” answered Paul and accepted the drink across the bar. He smiled broadly at the girl and took a sip, nodding satisfied. “Speaking of which, I assume we can expect you at our Christmas party this year?
“Are you kidding me? With all the great fare that Emily dishes up, I wouldn't miss it for the world.” Eric's enthusiasm was honest but clouded by a shadow of recollection.
“Excellent,” responded Paul. “Will you be bringing that delightful girlfriend of yours ... what was her name? Emily thought she was just the bees-knees.” Paul laughed at his own use of the silly term.
“Um, Shauna and ... no, sorry. That didn't quite work out.”
“Well, lots of fish in the sea, as they say,” quipped Paul, recovering quickly from the gaff and making an exit. “I better go see what trouble my wife is getting in. You have a great night, Eric.”
“You too, Paul. Give my best to Emily if I don't see her.”
Paul nodded and 'cheers'd Eric with his glass before turning purposefully away.
Eric was wishing that the coincidence had not happened but, there it was and there was nothing he could do about it. He took a deep swallow from his drink and wondered what to do. He knew, or he thought he knew, that he should just man-up about the situation and go over and say 'hello' to her but, then again, what if she wasn't interested in having him say 'hello'? Maybe, he considered, he should remove himself from the situation altogether – just leave – and try to forget that it had happened. That solution, however, smacked of habit forming – too much forced forgetfulness.
The Christmas party at the Fields' had been near the end of their relationship but, at the time, they were both still putting on a brave face while not sure of their own future together. It had been very difficult and he supposed that no one was truly at fault – what use is laying blame, anyway? It was more a case of career and life priorities not quite coinciding until, in the end, all they had seen were more problems than solutions.
Still, standing at the bar, frozen in his own thoughts, he was aware of the sadness that the recollection stirred in him. He had always clung to an idea that they had been truly great together; each having their own strengths and weakness which were reinforced and buttressed by those of the other. He had thought they could, wishing it, take over the world because that was how he felt with her – incredibly empowered, solid and - he had to admit it – desired. Who doesn't want that? He was, however, uncertain if his presence in her life had the same effect.
The break-up had not been long or particularly hard. Being business people, there had been a more or less simultaneous declaration of 'this isn't working out' and they had got down to separating their affairs. However, and as is the usual case with relationships ending, there had been the spats even though, he was certain, they had both intended to exit with a friendship or, at least, speaking-terms intact. That had not been successful and, even at a distance of many, many months, he knew that he missed her presence in his life, her calm reasoning and occasionally colourful humour. Nevertheless, the distance had built, the rancor had instilled and some things were said which, likely, neither of them had ever intended to say. Such are the ways of human emotions when, in truth or in perception, a hurt is received.
Eric finished his drink, feeling the waves of emotion subsiding as he emerged from his thoughts to find Shauna standing in front of him at the bar.
“Hello, Eric,” said Shauna. “I saw you standing here in your own little world and thought I'd come over. If I'm intruding, I'll go and leave you in peace.” She blinked, gaging his reaction and held out her hand.
Eric caught himself staring at her a little too wide-eyed. In his mind, he berated himself: 'If you are not sure you want to meet someone, never, never, hang out at the bar'.
Shauna Morgan had, very nearly, lost her train of thought when, in the periphery of her vision, she had recognised her ex-boyfriend, Eric Sands, conclude a friendly exchange with another man with a quick handshake and then turn across the expansive ballroom toward the bar on the other side. Losing her footing at that particular moment would not have been optimal since, standing before her in rapt attention were two influential Area Managers and an Executive VP listening while she expounded on a leverage model of her own that, despite previous attempts, had never made it past her own manager who, evidently, had lost whatever originality he ever had along with his hair and body tone.
The VP was the first to speak after she concluded her pitch.
“I can see that you've put some considerable thought into this, Ms. Morgan ...”
“Very well. Shauna, it is. There are also some points that ally significantly with this company's market model. I'll tell you what I'll do.”
Shauna held her breath, hoping against hope, that she would get more than a passing consideration. He continued and quickly took what breath she had left, out of her.
“I have a meeting first thing on Monday morning with Bill Geddy. I'll put this on my list of things to raise and float it past him. If he thinks it has merit, as I do, I'll be in touch with you about firming up a proposal. Does that work for you?”
That her idea would be 'floated' past the CEO of the company was almost too much to bare.
“It works for me in every way, Mr. St. James...”
“Call me, Tony,” he said and smiled. Then, with well wishes and handshakes all around, he excused himself and walked off.
Shauna received two simultaneous claps on the shoulders of her business suit as she struggled to recover from what had just occurred.
“You did it, Shauna! You've been going on about this thing for months!” said her friend, Finn O'Neil.
“Girl, you were smokin',” rejoined Tim Alexander and grinned broadly. Finn nodded his head vigorously in agreement.
“If you can put this baby to bed, we are taking you out for dinner.” Now both men were smiling at her amicably.
“Thanks guys,” said Shauna, graciously accepting their accolades. “You were really great with your pointed questions, too.”
In the midst of her elation, Shauna felt a familiar tug – one that she remembered from long ago. She glanced cautiously across the room and noticed Eric at the bar in conversation with Paul Fields.
“If you guys will excuse me, I'll catch up with you a little later,” she said. Both men agreed and, as she walked toward a relatively unpopulated corner of the room, they fell into excited discussion.
The name and the presence of him were causing her thought processes to run into one another. She extracted a compact from her purse and quickly checked her make-up. Everything seemed to be in place. She touched up her lips with a subtle shade and stowed the paraphernalia.
It was true that, with time, the anger had faded to – what would you call it? A sort of nostalgia, perhaps. That did not, however, negate the time that she had spent getting over him. That had entailed a lot of take-out Chinese food and evenings alone watching sappy films on TV in the dark. And crying. For a period of about two months, she had avoided even the calls of her best friend, Stefania, who, in the end, had practically staged an intervention to get Shauna out and talking. It had also affected her work performance and, she knew, she could not allow that to happen ever again.
That she had been in love with him, she was quite certain. Now, however, with him standing just across the room, she was entirely uncertain what she was feeling. Her first impulse was just to talk to him. Paul Fields shook Eric's hand and walked away, his head pivoting as though searching for someone. Eric stood alone, absently staring into space. The girl behind the bar studied Eric for a moment, a look of cool evaluation on her face, and then, apparently satisfied or disinterested, returned to stacking glasses.
“Shauna! Hey!” said Eric, stumbling over his words. He made an awkward movement toward her and stopped, checking himself. “How are you?”
His hand extended quickly, professionally, to shake hers. They shook hands but they both realised that the clasp extended beyond the customary time. Their hands parted but not without an extra, little squeeze that was a subconscious attempt at retaining physical contact where nothing more overt could be permitted.
“I'm fine, good – excellent, actually,” answered Shauna. She tucked a stray wisp of hair behind her ear. “How are you doing?”
“Busy, busy,” said Eric. “Just being a successful 'whatever it is' that I am.” He smiled, glanced at the bartender, and away. His fingers toyed with a button on the front of his jacket. He looked at the floor and then up, framing Shauna in his field of vision.
“It's nice to see you, Shauna. You look great as usual.”
“Thanks, Eric. You're not doing so bad yourself.”
There was a weighty silence. The bartender came to their rescue.
“Can I get you folks a drink?” she inquired politely. Eric looked at Shauna and raised his eyebrows in question. Shauna shrugged her shoulders. One drink and then she would excuse herself.
“Could I have a white wine spritzer, please?” The bartender nodded.
“For you, sir?”
“A Manhattan, please – easy on the Manhattan,” joked Eric nervously. The bartender busied herself and the drinks were served. Eric and Shauna turned away from the bar and began to walk, slowly, aimlessly; each occupied with their own thoughts and wanting to look at the other but not for too long.
Eric's cell phone vibrated in his inside, breast pocket.
“Oh!” he exclaimed. “Geez, I always do that.”
“When my cell vibrates, I think I've caught a bee inside my jacket. I think I just got a text.”
“Aren't you going to see who it is? And how in the heck are you going to catch a bee in your jacket in a Hilton ballroom?” Shauna felt a giggle rise and stopped herself.
“No, it's not important. I'm talking to you right now,” he said with seriousness. “But anyway, it did happen.” He grinned and shook his head in mock chagrin.
“What do you mean?”
“It was back in the Spring, I think. I was walking to the Subway. I put my hand in my jacket pocket to fetch a token and there was a bee there.” He stopped and faced her, imitating his own surprise.
“Did it sting you?” Shauna couldn't help smiling. He had always seemed to get himself in ridiculous situations.
“No, surprisingly,” he commented. “It just flew away but it didn't sound very bloody happy!”
“I should think not!” rejoined Shauna and, before she could check it, the laugh escaped her.
There was a pause and they exchanged smiles. The pauses were when the other thoughts filled their minds – the thoughts about the past, about words spoken or unspoken and the heavy space which divided them. They sat and continued to share stories, consciously keeping it light and relatively impersonal.
“So that was the end of my disastrous trip to Acapulco with Stefania,” concluded Shauna, laughing openly and relaxed.
“Well, thank God for Stefania, eh?” quipped Eric. “She's a good girl, that one. I know what a good friend she is to you. Give her my best, will you, please?”
“I will. Thank you, Eric.”
Eric sighed and glanced sidelong at his watch. They had been talking for over an hour and he knew he couldn't keep her but, at the same time, he did not want her to go. Shauna watched the movement of his eyes and saw his wrist extend from his jacket. She wondered if he was uncomfortable or, worse, just wanted to leave. She had enjoyed it. It had be easy. Almost too easy and, after the initial shyness and awkwardness, all of the problems had just seemed to evaporate. She wondered...
“Shauna?” His voice intruded.
“Hmm?” She sipped the last of her wine. He made an unsure movement with his mouth and continued.
“Do you think you'd like to get a coffee together some day?”
“I don't know, Eric.” The response exited her mouth too quickly.
He nodded emphatically. Accepting.
“I know,” he answered. This time his smile was open, appreciative. “I get that,” he added. He fished in his pocket and produced a card, handed it to her.
“Just in case you've lost my number,” he said, still smiling.
They stood in unison. The gulf was bridged but not yet traversed.
There are many times in life when reactions can be over-wrought in the face of contemporary circumstances but, when viewed from a distance of time or space, those merits which, at the time, seemed so very important, also seem to fade to insignificance. So it is with Shauna and Eric. When last seen, they embraced briefly, tenderly and parted.
What happened to them is their own story.