It was late when Alex left the campus, she was exhausted after marking essays all evening and wondered whether it was really a good idea to be taking on all this extra work. It wasn’t as though she really needed the money but was worried that if she wasn’t seen as having to work to pay her way through her studies her friends might start to ask questions about how she afforded it all.
The day had begun in a very strange manner when she realised that her day was going to be disrupted by the student protests that were taking place throughout the city that day. So as Alex sat wading through the undergraduates’ rather torrid, and in all but a few cases, rather poor accounts of union and government relations during the inter-war years. It seemed as though everyone thought that they had something unique to offer to the tomes already written about the Jarrow marches while copy and pasting from Wikipedia.
Alex had put the final essay back on the pile and decided that she wasn’t going to head over to see Sam this evening. They had been due to meet at the church after he finished but she had to postpone as her deadline loomed, it felt to her as though she had not moved on from the last minute culture that had plagued her life to date.
Sam had been very understanding, but then, he always was understanding, she knew that he wouldn’t mind when she fired off the text, but also knew that should she choose to turn up later he’d also have the door wide open. The bus didn’t turn up for a while, and when one did it went via the church so as she jumped on she gave Sam a call.
“Hey Sam, are you still at church”
“No, I’ve just got home, are you coming over?”
“Maybe in a bit, I just jumped on a bus, I thought you might still be at work so I’ll be coming the long way round as I’m nearly at Holland Park.”
“Alex, could you do me a huge favour? I’ve left some stuff I need tomorrow morning at the church, the building should be still open, it’s Christianity Uncovered, there’s a brown paper bag with a bunch of paper on the desk”
“Okay, no problem, I’ll head over to yours when I’ve got it”
Alex jumped off the bus and headed into Holland Park Baptist Church (continuing), carefully avoiding the hordes of people now assembled in the main hall. She thought it strange that of all the things that Sam was involved with he didn’t have anything to do with the thing that he liked most. All the time they had known each other Sam was always looking for ways to talking to people about Jesus. And it was the thing that he was least looking forward to about working for the church, that he would no longer have contact with non-Christians.
She resolved to ask him about it when she saw him, because he’d not had anything to do with it so far, and this she thought was strange. Before she left the church Alex lingered around and talked and all in all delayed her inevitable departure and then arrival at Sam’s. Maybe because she felt guilty about bailing on him earlier, but more likely because he knew that he just wanted to talk about his blind date and all that had gone wrong.
It wasn’t hard to avoid leaving, there were people spilling out of the hall and she allowed herself to be held up several times. Including twice by someone she knew she shouldn’t stay near.
By the time she got to Sam’s house Alex had rotated the conversation and interaction that had just occurred several times in her head. She knew that she had be injudicious in her selection of conversation partner, but it hadn’t really been her choice. He had come over to her as she returned from the office and cut off her path to the door. He was as friendly as ever. But it was the way, after several other superficial conversations had passed by, that he had walked out of the kitchen, and clasping her elbow in his palm turned her around to face him and say goodbye. He was all too close, and has his had left her arm he flicked the hem of her sleeve with the lightest of intentional touches.
It was nothing, Alex told herself, it was nonsense, she was reading something where there was nothing to read, she was chasing phantoms in the dark, looking for a mountain where only molehills were present, she conjured clichés out of the air to dismiss her thoughts but still they prevailed. It was impossible, it was not going to happen.
As Sam started to regale her of his torment of waiting for Kathy in the crowded restaurant her mind constantly drifted, replaying in her head the split second contact that had gone before.
“It was absolute torture, I was sat there nursing my drink waiting for this girl I’m sure I wouldn’t recognise. I’ve never felt so self conscious, I’ve been left waiting for people – you most of the time! But this was a whole different level, I don’t like it ever, but when you’ve thrown everything on the line, when you’ve asked someone on a date and then they don’t show up.”
“Sam, you didn’t ask her on a date, your sister did.”
“Well I guess, technically, you’re right, but it was still a first date, and this was maybe even worse because I had nothing to go on, when I’m waiting for you I know you’re probably still coming. With Kathy I just had to wait, I didn’t even have her number and Emma was stoically refusing to pick up when I called.
“She says Kathy was delayed, and then when she got hit by a bout of nerves, and by the time she’d decided to come in she saw me sitting down to eat with another woman. I’m sure that’s not how it happened, reckon she just decided to go elsewhere and spare herself the agony she instead inflicted on me.”
“You were sitting down to eat with another woman? Did she see you? She must have been there.”
“Maybe, I guess she was, but then why didn’t she come in.”
“Because you were with someone else. Sam, when did you become such a player?”
“I’m not a player, it’s not like that, it’s not anything, it was nothing.” Sam felt it necessary to be emphatic with his denial, Emma had not seemed fully convinced, and now Alex was casting sceptical glances in his direction and he knew he would have to explain.
“While I was waiting at the bar, I got talking to a girl, she’d been stood up on her date, and we got chatting, really we just comparing notes on our derisory evenings, and the other parties who had dishonoured us.” Sam paused as he rued his melodramatic streak, but ploughed on regardless, “She was waiting for a guy she thinks likes him, but has been sending all the wrong signals, I thought it sounded like your situation, I could see that she needed the company. And it gave me the chance to have a bitch about Kathy.”
“So instead of having dinner with someone who had been waiting outside, you were inside with another girl, giving her advice, and tearing shreds out of the poor girl’s character?” Alex felt that this flush of managed anger was acutely appropriate to the insensitivity and relational blindness of the guy sat opposite.
“Something really strange happened tonight when I went into church to pick up your stuff.” Alex decided to change the subject before she could cause any more offence and decided it was about time some attention was paid to her rather than the pity story which Sam had written himself into.
“This guy at church has been pretty friendly with me recently.” As Alex went on Sam internally wearied as he anticipated a severe encounter of de ja vu. “It’s not the same as before,” she immediately corrected, “I’ve never been more sure that someone is interested in me, but I know it’s trouble.
“He’s just not the sort of person that I need to be with, I know that he can’t give me what I want.”
Sam was getting more and more confused, “Can you stop talking in circles, who is it? And what’s wrong with him?”
“I shouldn’t say, we’ve just been flirting with each other. This evening the way he took my elbow, was so sensual.” She could see Sam wince at the mention of the word. “I just wish we could be together.”
“How long has this been going on with the mysterious man, you seem awfully sure that it’s so perfect, yet oh so wrong. Sorry to put it bluntly, but it rather sounds like we’ve transported into the set of Eastenders.”
“It’s not perfect, otherwise we would be together. It will never be perfect and we’ll never be together.”
“If he’s interested in someone else that he’s a tool for flirting with you, and to be honest, so are you for letting him.”
“I know, I know, that’s why I dreaded it when he cut me off at the bottom of the stairs, I’d seen him and I tried to avoid eye contact and make a quick exit. But he lured me in with his charm.”
“Is he going out with someone else Alex, because maybe someone needs to have a word with him?”
“In a way he is, he’s certainly not available.” She withdrew from the room to get a drink, or some food, or to go to the toilet, Sam wasn’t sure as he shock his head in bewilderment at this enigmatic turn of events.
Sam sat and decided that maybe there was a way of addressing it without finding out who the person was. Perhaps a sermon, or a discipleship course. People in the church, or so he had heard, kept saying how they wanted more teaching on relationships. And if one self-evident pointer – not trying it on with someone when you’re taken – had gone amiss then this shouldn’t be left to chance and the awkward spoils of fate and occasional indiscretion to determine the potential future happiness of the congregation’s eligible young bachelors.
While his mind had gone off on countless tangents Alex reappeared, “Tell me a little more about this girl you met on Saturday, do you think there’s any chance the two of you could, well you know, have something going, they say ever cloud had a silver lining?” Alex made a mental note to brush up on some new phrases because too many she was currently deploying were far too tired and stale.
“I doubt it, she is totally hooked on this guy Theo, she’s been out of the country for six months and the pair of them seem like love struck teens who just can’t quite get it together. Basically I told her that if he’s not manning up then maybe she will have to.”
“I think you’re covering. You like her and you’re smitten with her, and there’s just this little thing in the way called her supposed ‘friend’, she could have made it all up you know, just to seem less threatening.”
“I doubt it, not sure she seemed the mendacious type.” Sam suddenly was examining his motives and was now doubting his earlier confidence that he wasn’t interested, or was he just thinking that because Alex had planted the thought, and before long he was doubting his doubts and convinced only that he was over thinking the whole malarkey.
“Have you got her number? Give her a call.” Alex fully expected him to say no, it had taken him six months to work out how to get hers without it sounding like he was interested. By that point Alex was sure that he was fixated on him, and was nearly cruel enough to give him a wrong number.
“Yes, it was really strange, I asked without thinking about it, then realised, and almost tried to stop her.” This certainly sounded like Sam to Alex, managing to make a smooth and slick move into the epitome of awkwardness. “She’s from a Jewish family.”
“You mean she’s Jewish, and what’s that got to do with anything?”
“Well it’s yet another reason, as if I needed to keep listing them for you, why there is nothing between me and a girl I met for the first and in all likelihood last time on Saturday.”
“Jewish, you say, that’s not like being an atheist, she’s more like us than most people.”
“For centuries we collectively held her people responsible for killing Jesus, and in case you have forgotten it was in the name of our God, in however distorted and mediated a manner, that a psychopathic dictator rounded up and killed millions of Jews. I hardly think that the threshold between the two religions is inviting. Turning up at a synagogue with a rainbow guitar strap and hand printed copies of Shine Jesus Shine is not going to go down to well.”
Sam relaxed and realised that although with a hint of inquisitive seriousness Alex had been stringing him along. “It’s so much fun to watch you squirm, if you’d actually liked her I don’t think you’d have been anywhere near as good company, I’ve not heard you as animated in ages.”
After what seemed like an age Alex asked the question that had lingered in the air, “Do you think you’re going to give the date with Kathy another run?”
“Emma would like us to, and maybe I would be seems like I’ve permanently blotted by copybook with Kathy, so don’t think I’ll be seeing her any time soon.”
When Alex had left Sam pulled out his phone and found Talitha’s number. ‘Hey Talitha, it’s Sam from Saturday, hope everything is well, how are things with Theo?’