Sam scrambled through the carriage searching for his seat, he’d desperately been hoping as he stumbled onto the train that the reservations were in operation. The last time he’d got on a crowded train he ended up in an argument with the passenger in his seat and starred up to see the flashing display board kindly informing him that reservations had been cancelled. Heading all the way to Liverpool crouched in the aisle or sat by the toilet did not fill him with glee. Fortunately this adventure provided no such torment, as his forward facing, window seat, at a table and with a power point. It was the little things in life that provided the greatest pleasures he thought as they pulled out of Euston station, well maybe not the greatest pleasures, but in the grand scheme of things they rated pretty highly.
Ever since he had started working at Holland Park, this was what he had looked forward to. Although teaching had given him his fair share of challenges, Sam reflected that it did not stretch his brain. Now he would get to study again, each month he got to spend a few days away from the tedium of mundane tasks that filled his day, directed at the whim of the Reverend Doctor. He pulled out his notes and started going through the reading he had rushed to finish last night.
While the theology was the best bit of his work, it was also the most anxiety inducing. He didn’t like to think like other people thought, he had a penchant for the provocative, enjoyed sparking a lively debate. It gave him the chance to hide his uncertainties behind the role of Devil’s Advocate, with everyone else assuming he held to the same views as everyone else but was sufficiently confident to play with alternative arguments to test the strength of other people’s beliefs.
In actuality Sam did not think the same as everyone else. He was not wedded to the same doctrines, or at least he saw no reason why he should be if he felt that they did not stand up to scrutiny. He pondered the questions to be discussed over the next two days, and wondered whether he could get away with advocating some of Rob Bell’s views without everyone realising how close they came to his own. On the first day at the church he had read over the church compact with a heavy heart before placing his pen to paper to cement his deception. He could not say with all integrity that he agreed with all the statements, but nor did he have the courage to speak out and lose his job.
He thumbed through Love Wins and found the pages he would need in his arsenal when assumed his now expected position of provoker in chief. He almost wept as he realised he would have to lie through his teeth to retain any credibility.
Kathy realised he had no idea who he was sat opposite, obviously he hadn’t made as close a study of her facebook page as she had of his. But she wasn’t going to say anything, they had several hours of close confinement ahead and if he was in blissful ignorance who was she to shatter the illusion.
She hated trains, almost swore to herself and out loud as someone barged past and their coffee lurched dangerously close to coating her with steaming liquid. Kathy had tried to persuade her parents to let her take the car, it would be cheaper than the train she pleaded, until they booked her tickets and disputed that claim, it is more convenient, it is safer, but her request fell on deaf ears.
It had been a very impetuous thing to do. And strangely ironic now Sam sat across from her, but the night after their ill fated and never requited date she had decided she was going to be a missionary and head to Africa and escape having to deal with the never ending quest to find guys who liked her and were not freaks. Benin she picked, and not without good reason, there had been a fascinating feature on the country in that week’s Sunday Times magazine. And they spoke French which was an advantage.
What she had not expected was the interrogation from first her parents, then the church, and now she was on her way to Liverpool for the official interview. Kathy thought they would be crying out for people to go and help in one of the most deprived countries in the world, but it seemed they just wanted to throw obstacles in her way. She could speak the language, and she wanted to help, what more could they want?
Kathy tried to partially shield herself behind her notes as she finished her preparations. She didn’t want to give Sam any more chance than he had already garnered to establish her identity. She would then have to plead ignorance to recognising him, because why else had she said nothing. Then she recalled that she had told Emma about seeing him and mystery girl in the restaurant and was sure the message had been passed on because she had come back with his absurd tale of miscommunication and misunderstandings.
What had shocked Kathy was when he pulled out Love Wins from his bag. From everything that Emma had said Holland Park was a stickler for correct doctrine and couldn’t imagine that they would tolerate that sort of reading material. She was pondering whether to strike up a conversation about the book, but realised eventually she’d surely need to disclose her identity, or would so accidentally somehow. And well she weighed her options her phone nearly vibrated off the table.
“Hello, it is Sebastian,” the heavily accented voice at the other end of the line responded.
“Um, who is this, I think may be you have got the wrong number?”
“Is this Kathy? It is Sebastian from Avignon.” As Kathy heard these words her heart filled with dread, her palms started sweating and she prayed for a tunnel to approach which would terminate her dilemma.
“Hello Sebastian, yes I remember, do you want to speak in French?”
“No, I have been learning English, I must practice.” Kathy sensed the pause before it materialised, and wondered where this was going. “Kathy, would you like to have brunch on Saturday, at near Waterloo, I would very much like to see you again and get to know you better.”
Kathy now was the one to pause, she leaned out the window and no tunnel was in sight to rescue her in time, she could fake it and just end the call, plead ignorance if he every called back and pray to God that he wouldn’t. But that would not really match up would it, asking God to cover over her deception, Kathy thought.
“Er, I, er, I’m not really able to talk right now.” Remembering that he must have got her number from the card she had so stupidly handed him as she tried to get away from him when they waited for their flight. “Er, email me.”
As she put the phone back down Kathy saw Sam looking at her inquisitively. She returned to the guide book to Benin as she tried to swot up on the political and social history of Benin. Kathy was immediately embarrassed by the conversation which she became convinced that the entire carriage had overheard both sides of. What had she been thinking, she rebuked herself,what sort of response is ’email me’? Kathy was furious that she could have found the words to be articulate in her rejection, clear and compassionate. Leaving him knowing in no uncertain terms that she would not go on a date with him, but at the same time letting him know what he was missing, detached but alluring, that was the pitch she was going for. But she knew she has missed by a long shot, soon her phone would bleep with the email which would necessitate the requisite rejection, exposing the frailty of her postponement only moments earlier.
But for know that wasn’t the principle concern that Kathy encountered, that would wait for another time, it would creep up on her unaware, but it didn’t need her attention this moment. What did need her attention was Sam still staring straight through her guidebook which failed to cover her face as it had sunk into her lap from lack of attention. May be if the book had been the right way up the cover might have been a bit more convincing. He knew, she was certain of it.
“Sam Engle, I think I should introduce myself, I’m Kathy, I live with Emma.” The immediacy of her intervention had caught him unaware, it seemed he had been caught in a cycle of deliberation about whether to speak up and discover if his suspicions were correct, or stay mute and endure continued ignorance.
“Er, yes, I was just wondering if it was you.” He knew she had known who he was all along, but any attempt to address it would seem overly confrontational. “I’m sorry for not being very observant, I didn’t notice until you were on the phone just then, for some reason I knew I knew you, but couldn’t quite get it. I think you look different than the photo’s I’ve seen.”
That sounded weird Sam decided, “Photos of Emma, that you happen to be in. It’s not. I don’t. You know, I don’t make a habit of looking at photos of you, because that would be, well, that would be a bit weird.”
Kathy felt sorry for Sam as he stumbled into and out of that particular hole. “Don’t worry, I had a look at your facebook before we were supposed to meet, I wanted to recognise you.”
“Oh, that would probably have been a good idea, I didn’t really have any idea who I was looking for. I spent a while wondering if it was this girl sat along the bar, but she was from New Zealand and I knew you weren’t.”
“What happened Sam?” Kathy decided once again on the blunt approach. “Last month, when we were supposed to go on that date, what happened, I was just about to come into the restaurant when you turned and walked from the bar to the tables beside another woman.
“I’m sorry but in just about anyone’s form book that’s pretty off colour behaviour. You were supposed to be meeting me for a date, and you ending up with someone else. I’ve got a pretty bad view of men, but that’s just crazy. Emma said you were a quiet kind of guy but turns out you’re a complete arse!”
“I waited for you for over an hour.” Sam didn’t like the fact that he was the one that was considered at fault when she had stood him up. “And I wasn’t hitting on anyone else, I wasn’t ‘with’ them, and if you’ve got a bad view of men then it’s probably because you few them with the same default suspicion and interpret their action as the worst possible scenario.
“It might suit you to think of us all as jerks,” Sam couldn’t bring himself to swear with the same casual abandon Kathy showed, “but to be honest, if you always think of guys like that what about being innocent until proven guilty.” Until same drew the sentence to the close he thought he was on the cusp of a profound and thundering point that would make Kathy change her view of men, but in the end it all rather petered out.
“I wasn’t with that girl, we had coalesced around a shared experience of being stood up. We chatted and decided we both needed to eat, there was nothing else too it, it was as simple as that.” Sam waited to see if she was going to come back at him, he braced himself for the torrent of anger he anticipated. He knew that it might have looked a bit dodgy, but he couldn’t stand being misunderstood. He hated the idea that this girl’s first impression of him was based on such a false premise.
But no response came, it was as though she was waiting, wondering, perhaps she was as confused as he was. “I’m sorry Kathy,” and as he said it realised it was the first time he had spoken her name to her, “I shouldn’t have had dinner with Talitha, it was the wrong thing to do, and I’m sorry that when you saw us you got the impression that you did. There is nothing between her and I, she’s interested in someone else.”
“And you, are you interested in her, or in someone else?”
Sam decided to deflect that one, not willing to open up to another stranger after the trouble that his loquaciousness with Talitha had caused. “After the stunning success of Emma’s first effort at finding me a date, and my conspicuous failure on my own to date that’s not much of an issue.”
Kathy swallowed hard and knew she had to reciprocate the apology, “and I’m sorry too. I waited outside while I watched you sat at the bar on your own. I walked around the building and you were still alone, on the third time you were talking and on the fourth as I finally mustered the courage to come in I saw you walking to your table.
“I was furious, furious with you for stealing this from me. Furious with myself for waiting until it was too late, if I had come in just as you were walking out it would have been just as bad, you’d have given up on waiting, and I was waiting for I don’t know what. I’m furious for getting mad at you, and I’m furious that you had dinner with a beautiful woman, who has found some place in your head, even if not where you expect.”
During the patient silence between them Sam saw Talitha had replied. They’d been in touch a little over the weeks, and today was the day she had decided to tell Theo how she thought. This most recent communique was short and to the point. ‘Done it, he thought the same’. And Sam wondered if it was worth giving this blind date a second chance in the light of day.