The wind swept across Samuel’s face as ducked beneath the vaulted roofed atrium for protection from the elements. His eyes crossed the myriad stalls which mirrored what he imagined might be a Morrocan bazaar, he saw the cafe and decided to linger outside rather than head in. He hung back from the stalls and their wares, backing himself into a corner where he forced himself to chose whether to enter the Sushi restaurant, or at least pretend to be interested in the hand painted tiles on sale before him.
Fortunately before he found himself having to purchase some pointless item to justify his continued presence Emma emerged from Leon and he moved to intercept her as she made her way to the street. Why was she in such a hurry, and on a day when the rain descended in sheets, drenching you twice, on the way down and on it’s return as it flew off the ground with such force? Samuel found the crowds conspiring to block his way as Emma started to drift out of sight, her hair only marginally visible among the flocks of tourists and businessmen.
He backed out of his current silo and slipped out the back of the market and sprinted round three sides of the square to catch his sister just as she was crossing the road towards the tube.
“Sam, what are you doing here?”
“I said I’d meet you after the interview, I was waiting outside but you sped off before I could catch you.”
“Oh, sorry, I can’t of got the message,” Emma tentatively plunged into her bag searching for her phone to find the unread message from her brother. “You look exhausted, are you sure you’re okay?” This was Emma’s diplomatic way of pointing out his breathlessness as well as the damp patches that formed across his t-shirt as it betrayed the sweat that dripping from his chest.
“It’s just, I had to run all the way round to catch you, I thought I’d never get to you. The blasted crowds!” Sam breathed deeply, “Shall we head off, or do you need to go home first? Actually we could do with popping into the shop, I need to pick up some noodles.”
Sam was pleased that Emma had come round. He was glad he didn’t have to talk to Alex about this. Emma also grabbed the shopping, raided the fridge and started concocting dinner. He slunk into the chair in the corner and tried to work out how he was going to say this.
He’d made the tea, and washed up. He even thought about starting the ironing, but that would be a procrastinating step too far. So instead he begun, “Emma, I think I need some advice.
“I’ve got a bit of a dilemma. I’m not sure what to do. A few weeks ago I met someone.” Emma’s eyes suddenly burst to life with this revelation, maybe this evening would be more interesting than she had expected. “Don’t get too excited quite yet.” But that ship had already sailed. Emma had never met Alex, but had picked up enough from her brother’s carefully enigmatic statements to know enough of their friendship, and she hadn’t thought Sam was even vaguely over her.
“Alex persuaded me to go to this thing run by your church.” Emma recoiled even further in shook at the thought of Sam in St Bart’s as he continued this monologue. “It was really quite odd, I’m not sure what I think to a church running a dating service but anyway I met someone and we agreed to meet up again.”
“And, what happened?” Emma was sufficiently fascinated in this most unusual turn of events that the noodles had over cooked and she plonked them onto the plate without her customary grace.
“Well, we’ve met up a couple of times, and it’s all fine, and it’s great, and to be honest, I was a bit shocked that it seemed to be going so well. Yesterday we spent the day at Hampton Court, and it was surprisingly easy. I’d been a bit worried that spending the day together would be tough. That we’d run out of things to talk about, and the day would be marred by awkward silences, or I would mistakenly try to fill the void by postulating about why Henry VIII had the fountains built, and their probable intended usage as an aural distraction to cover his carnal indiscretions.”
“But none of that happened. The day was fantastic, it went quickly and smoothly. And I turned around in the middle of the Georgian state rooms and had to pinch myself as I realised just how much I liked Grace.”
Emma had eaten her way through most of the food as Sam became increasingly animated. And this was what she couldn’t understand. He paused from the flow of speech to take a few mouthfuls, and Emma anticipated that there was still much more to say so let him enjoy the food for a moment before helping him move the tale on. “Sam, this isn’t where the story ends is it?”
“You’re right about that. We sat on the train coming back and I was trying to work out how to take the next step. I couldn’t quite work out what was appropriate, whether to ask her to dinner, or just explain, right there how much I liked her. I even thought of just leaning across and kissing her. But that didn’t outlive the heartbeat in which I entertained and rejected such a rash response.
“As we pulled into Waterloo I knew my time was up, so while I was still floundering around in how to respond I thought there was a chance that this wouldn’t be the end of the day, that I might get an extension on needed to know what to do next, so I asked her what she was up to that evening.”
Sam paused again to wind the noodles round his fork which had kept slipping back onto the plate as he had told the story. “Grace obviously didn’t think I was asking to do something with her. She grabbed her bag and coat and wistfully spun around and said she was going on a date.”
Emma kind of knew that something like this was coming. She didn’t know Grace, but from the short time she’d been at St Bart’s she knew the type. While trying to work out what words formed the appropriate response she tidied off the rest of the food and let Sam settle into eating his.
“I’m sorry Sam. That’s rubbish. Did she say anything else, did you get a chance to talk about it. Does she know how you feel?”
Sam didn’t feel ready for this sort of inquisition but he knew Emma was just trying to be helpful. “I thought we were both on the same page. I thought we were dating. So when she told me I just swallowed hard and said have fun, and vanished through the doors to catch the bus. I’ve tried to work out what to do next. Do I just leave it, walk away, and pretend that there was never anything, or do I find a way of confronting her, of telling her how I feel. I must have written about 13 texts which I deleted and never sent.”
“In the end I just asked if we could chat. And we met up this morning.” As Sam went on with this tale Emma just wished he could put him out of his misery. She wanted to tell him to be done with her, to walk away and not to worry about her. To remove any vestige of feelings that he might have, and move one. She knew that it was not as easy as that in real life, and she had a hunch it was about to get a whole lot more painful.
“I could muster none of the usual easy small talk when we had met up this morning. I’d been waiting for a while, and when she arrived, all the awkwardness that I fear came back. I had nothing to say, so I just went for it.
“I said to Grace, ‘I was a bit surprised when you said you were going on a date last night’. It took her a while, but just as she was about to respond, I carried on, ‘I really like you, and I, well, I kind of thought that we were, you know, almost dating.’” Sam caught his breath before he continued to retell his tale of woe.
“She had this guilty look as she started to answer me, she said: ‘I shouldn’t have said I was going on a date yesterday, it wasn’t very discreet, it had been arranged for me, and it is nothing to do with you and me’, I almost got made then, but somehow I mustered the restraint to let her go on. ‘I like hanging out with you, you’re fun, and interesting, but, it’s just that I don’t fancy you in the secular sort of way.’”
“What’s the secular sort of fancying someone?” Emma asked the inevitable question, “does it mean that she loves you as a Christian brother?”
“She actually started to say something like that, but managed to stop herself, perhaps as she realised how ridiculous it would sound. I probably shouldn’t of, but I kept asking her questions, I wanted to get to the bottom of how she was thinking. I asked if she’d have said yes if I asked her to hang out again, to do something together, just the two of us, and then she said yes. But then I said, well, can I ask you out on a date, and she said no, she ‘thought that was perhaps not wise’, so what’s the difference? Just because you call something a date, it doesn’t suddenly make it any different.”
Sam looked at Emma as she started to collect his plate despite the remnant of food that remained. She smiled and raised her eyebrows and walked towards the sink, and as she returned sat back down. “Sam, the thing is, it seems like Grace didn’t realise that you like her in the way that you do. She was quite happy to hang out with you. Had you done anything to let her know that you liked her?”
“We’d hung out a few times on our own, and yesterday had been specifically organised for just the two of us, I thought I was being pretty clear in my attention towards her, I thought my intentions were clear, but it seems that she just thought we were friends.”
“Bloody friends.” Emma’s language shocked Sam, “They get in the way of everything. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s worth having friends of the opposite sex, maybe it just makes it all a whole lot more complicated.”
“I think you can have opposite sex friends, Alex and I are friends, well, now we are, it took a while to get it all ironed out.”
“Grace probably saw you as a safe person to hang out with. Girls like to have guys who they can get a bit of attention from without it needing the commitment, and guys can be like that too. Honestly, Sam, you’re like that with Alex, you like the fact that you can hang out with an attractive girl, you like the fact that you can offload your problems. You like the emotional support that it provides. Even though you know that it’s going nowhere. Or maybe you don’t maybe you are holding out that at some point in the future it will all be different, that her affections will have changed, that she will have been moved towards you. Her satisfaction with friendship replaced with an attraction not present before.
“But is that going to happen right now? She can get as much of you as she wants, and you’re going to carry on giving it to her, because think you are honoured by the fact she chooses to use you as her emotional dumping ground, that’s not a privilege, it’s borderline abusive behaviour.”
Emma finished the flush of anger fuelled rhetoric that had been building up Sam had laid out is misadventures. She knew that she’d just thrown a lot of things out at Sam, and most of it was anger towards Alex. She’d seen how her brother screwed himself up over her, how he desperately wanted her to want him, so took the meagre scraps off the table that she offered.
“I know you don’t like Alex, but this is not about her, it’s about Grace.”
“No it’s not, it’s about you. It’s about how you try to get close to girls but cannot convey your interest so you end up being a basket case.
“This is harsh, but no one else is going to say this to you. You need to stop letting your self be used, you need to know what you want and decide to get it. If you really like Grace, then you need to man up and ask her out, and be completely up front about how you feel. But if you’re really still cut up about Alex, if you’re not ready to define your affections toward anyone else because somewhere in the back of your mind you are hoping that things might be different between the two of you. Then that’s what you’ve got to sort out first.
Sam was shell shocked. He loved his sister, the two of them had become particularly close after they both became Christians, it was a minor source of solace in a family that didn’t really understand. He also knew she had a bit of a temper, and that she was silver tongued when she needed to be. But he’d never been on the end of it. He felt drained from the barrage of words and ideas she had hurled at him. Yet he wasn’t inclined towards being defensive, because a lot of what Emma had said made sense.
He slowly begun to respond. “Alex is complicated, and yes it affected how I thought about Grace. Not really on the surface, but I think somewhere, somehow I was holding back. But I don’t think I want to pursue anything with Grace, she doesn’t like me like I like her.” Sam gasped at how pathetic he sounded, “I think I just need to move on.”
Something had been troubling Emma throughout this tale, Sam had never been very proactive when it came to pursuing relationships, yet here he was in the vortex of two complex and dysfunctional arrangements. “Sam, what’s prompted all this? You suddenly seem pretty keen to have a girlfriend.”
“Well, I’ve always been on the lookout, but I’ve probably become a little more attuned to what’s going on. Also, Holland Park are pretty keen that their leaders are married. I hadn’t realised, but they only let married couples lead their Bible study groups.”
“So what happens if you don’t? They can’t just get rid of you for not being married?”
“No, but I’m only the apprentice, if I want to work for the church longer term and have any sort of responsibility it’ll be a bit of a problem. Adam made this pretty clear last week when I sat in on the training for the Bible study leaders, that it was a privilege to be allowed to observe.”
Emma had been toying with a thought for at least part of the evening, she couldn’t decide if it was fair on Sam, or fair on Kathy, but she decided it was time to intervene. “Why don’t I set you up on a date? You know Kathy don’t you?” Sam didn’t actually, they had never met, but he’d heard plenty about her. “I think the two of you should go on a date,” Emma declared.
“Does Kathy know anything about this?”
“No, but I’m sure she’ll be interested, she’s generally pretty easygoing.” Emma perhaps should have checked before she made the grand offer but she reckoned the chances of Sam taking her up were pretty slim.
Sam shrugged his shoulders and with a resigned expression nodded,”Why not, you set it up and tell me where we’re going. Maybe all dating should be done this way, takes a lot of the stress away.”