The day I celebrated my fortieth birthday I considered myself a very lucky man. I lived with and was married to an extremely beautiful woman who had given me four lovely kids. I adored all five of them; they were my life and anticipated the next decade as much as I had relished the last.
By the time that next decade had passed, my life had changed dramatically and not for the better. My wife, who I had thought loved me as I did her, decided that she no longer did, in fact, didn't think she ever had. I had been her ticket away from a domineering mother. She liked me, even cared about me but definitely didn't love me. She told me this one evening during a minor argument and then she could not understand why I was so devastated. She was quite happy for our marriage to continue as before, understandable I suppose, as nothing had changed for her, well other than me knowing how she truly felt. The following year was a nightmare, easily the worst year of my life for me. Sadly I made it hell for my wife and the kids, as I tried and failed to come to terms with the sham my marriage was and apparently had always been. We split up after that year, as it proved that regardless of how much I still loved her, and I did, I could not live with her, knowing that it was not reciprocated.
There followed a brief period with lots of dates, always with considerably younger women, a few of whom shared my bed for short periods, as I tried to regain my self-respect in the misguided belief that this would a young woman would do that as well as prove my manliness. All it did prove was that I was not cut out for the swinging life; I am by nature monogamous and for me sex, as important as it was in my life, needed to be part of something greater. After one evening of sweaty sex with a twenty-one year old, followed by post coital conversation, I realised that there was more than just physical years between us. It shows how sad I had become because I can't even remember the girl's name. I love conversation and this girl, who was intelligent enough, just did not have the life experience to hold my interest beyond the initial 'courtship'. This led me to my current situation, one of celibacy.
At fifty-one my celibate life only occasionally got to me, but the previous month had been worse than normal. Hannah O'Connell was the main reason for this. She had started work in our office about three months earlier and I was immediately attracted to her, at least physically. This did not bother me at first, as there were many nubile women that attracted me but none enough for me to be tempted from my chosen path. I'd put Hannah in her mid thirties, a woman's prime in my eyes; she was petite, about 5'4" and just over 7 stone (about 100lbs) with long fiery red hair and a lovely freckled face.
It was only when she came to work on my team that I really got to know her; she was a Business Analyst and moved between various Development teams on a regular basis. As the lead developer it was my job to liase with the BA so we did quite a lot of talking and not all of it work related. It turned out that she had the same sarcastic sense of humour that I had and it wasn't long before insults were flying between us, much to the amusement of my team. I have always been like that, especially with my family and it was great to find that Hannah, like my own children, could easily give as good as she got. My type of humour needs to be two-way for it to work; if I insult someone and it isn't returned then it stays as just an insult and not banter, when the latter is my intention. I am usually pretty good at deciding who will react well and who will be offended, though I must admit to a few disastrous miscalculations.
It wasn't long before I started, first to look forward to our meetings, and then to plan a few that weren't strictly necessary. Initially I had no ulterior motive beyond her company at work but it wasn't long before I wondered about the possibilities of seeing her outside of work. I knew that she was single and currently unattached, though the latter situation amazed me. What scared me was her age compared to mine, and her beauty compared to my lack of it, to say nothing of the fourteen-inch height difference. Unlike Hannah I am far from petite standing at 6'6" and weighing about 18 stone (250lbs); too much of that weight was around my middle, testimony to poor eating habits and an even poorer exercise regime.
I was a little sad that Hannah had joined our team close to the project's completion as it wasn't certain that she would be involved in my next one. I did consider that it might be for the best if I wasn't tempted by her wit and looks too often. There was just that something special about the way we clicked and I knew that for the first time in many years I had met someone who could probably tempt me from my self-imposed exile.
As is usual in our company, when a project is finished successfully the company usually funds a night out for the entire team involved in its delivery. As our offices are in the middle of nowhere and its staff commute in from all over the area, the norm is for us to go into the nearest big city, which is Birmingham. Because of England's abysmal public transport and the company's strict drink rules they also offer subsidised hotel rooms as part of the evening's entertainment.
In the past I have always either missed the functions altogether or just stayed an hour or so before heading home. Most of the team are under thirty and much of the activities have little appeal to me, especially the main one of getting drunk as swiftly as possible.
I had already told our Project Manager that it was my intention to give this one a miss too and she told me that she had kind of expected that that would be the case.
What changed everything was when Hannah came over to me one morning a few days before the planned celebration. This was very unusual, as her desk was nowhere near mine and all other meetings involved preliminary emails or Sametime (internal IM).
"What's this I hear about you not going the party?" She asked as soon as she was within hearing range.
I nodded and explained my position.
She then asked me a very surprising question. "Will you change your mind if I ask you to?"
I thought by looking at her and from her tone that the request was genuine, but given our mutual insults and wind-ups I wasn't positive. I thought about her question and quite quickly knew that I would. I still asked her why would she want me to change my mind.
She looked me in the eyes and I felt faint. Hannah has emerald green eyes, she says to remind her of her motherland, and when I looked at them this time they seemed to drag me into them. She answered with a simple sincerity I could not doubt. "Because I want you to go."
I knew that I was beginning to have feelings for her before this but from the moment I stared into her eyes I was confident that I could easily love this woman, in fact I was sure I already did, not the all-powerful love that I had for my wife, but a tender love that I wanted to cultivate and grow. As usual I tried to use humour to hide these sudden emotions surging through me.
"I didn't really want to go but I can't compete with witchcraft or magic, so if the little Leprechaun demands my presence then so be it!" I answered with a grin, using one of the pet names I had for her.
She lit up the room with her smile and said simply without any of our usual repartee "Thank you!" before heading back to her desk.
I spent the rest of the morning thinking about Hannah's request and just what I should read into it. By lunchtime I had managed little or no work but had reached the monumental decision that I needed to ask Hannah out. If there was even the slightest chance that Hannah felt something for me beyond friendship then I had to find out. I would forever regret not doing so. She would be the first woman that I'd asked out for nearly a decade and my nerves were tense to say the least. I also knew myself well enough to know that I needed to do it today before I managed to convince myself that it would be a big mistake.
I quickly fired Sametime up and asked Hannah if she would meet me for a quick coffee as soon as she had chance. After a few question marks as her initial response she agreed to meet me in the cafeteria in ten minutes.
Typically I was waylaid by one of the managers on my way out and ended up about ten minutes late. I grabbed an espresso and headed towards Hannah. Her smile lightened my soul and I immediately felt more at ease than I had a few minutes earlier.
"So what's with the clandestine meeting?" She asked with a grin knowing that no meeting in our busy canteen could ever be thought of as clandestine.
I'd made my mind up not to beat around the bush so I said. "For the first time in ten years I've met someone that makes me want to give up being a hermit." Hannah was well aware of my chosen lifestyle.
She grinned and asked. "What poor woman will have to put up with this new David then? I suppose you want me to smooth your way."
"Poor woman is right, but she is a real Celtic witch and merits someone as bad as me. Besides, I'm doing the rest of mankind a favour by offering myself as her victim."
"Celtic witch eh? There is only one woman around here that matches that description and I hear that she has taste. What makes you think she'll lower herself that far?"
She was still smiling as we continued talking in a similar vein and I felt that everything was going fine when for no apparent reason my nerve went. I felt insecure, that I had made a mistake.
Hannah, like all women, found it simple to read my face, and seemed to instinctively know my doubts.
"David, this Celtic witch was beginning to think that she'd lost the ability to cast spells over poor defenceless men. I've been waiting for a while for you to ask." She really grinned at that point before adding, "Normally I'd have taken the initiative myself but knowing your history I felt you needed to make the first move."
We joked a bit more before making a date for the following evening. The rest of the day was wasted work wise, as I spent it in a mixture of relief and anticipation.
The following day I did manage to do some work. Due to various meetings the only chance I got to see Hannah was lunchtime when we exchanged mobile numbers and decided that a Thai meal should be our first date.
Despite my trepidation the meal was a great success; the food was delicious and our conversation eclectic and at times offering great insight into my beautiful dining partner. As it was early in the week the restaurant was almost empty so, unusually for these kind of places, we were put under no pressure to leave, instead we ordered more wine and the conversation flowed accordingly. I believe I held up my end quite well despite spending an inordinate amount of time staring into her eyes and admiring her beautiful features. Only once did Hannah ask what I was staring at. I told her the truth but not before I got a punch on my arm for saying that I was counting her freckles. She'd blushed at the truth and hit me again when I told her that made them easier to count.
A brief cuddle and a sedate kiss ended the evening before we each took a taxi home. I went to bed with her picture in my head as sharp as any award-winning photograph.
The rest of the week passed in a blur with everyone planning for Friday's party. Because of that event we had made our next date for Saturday evening.
Friday evening was as boisterous as I remembered similar events to be, but with Hannah spending most of the time with me, this time I found it immensely pleasurable. At the end of the evening those that were staying in the hotel headed back to the hotel bar to continue the revelry. The hotel was small as was its bar; taking up just a small corner of the room and serving mainly spirits, I'm sure it was because there is a lot more profit to be made from shorts. There was an attractive young girl running the bar and she seemed quite pleased with the attention she got from the young men in our group; before long she was spending as much time on our side of the bar as she was on the business side.
It was after about forty minutes of this that I got my reality check. Hannah had gone over to talk to some of the other women and I was in conversation with Alan one of the DBAs on the team. Like me Al was a biker and a photo, on the wall behind the bar, of an American bike had us arguing the merits of different bikes; he loved the American style of cruiser though preferred the reliability and quality of Japan whilst I loved my Triumph sports bike. Even though I had spent a lot of the evening with Hannah I still could not help but keep looking at her. She was wearing a plain emerald green dress, almost identical in colour to her eyes, which came down to her knees. A simple braid belt highlighted her slender waist also helping the top to hug her small breasts to perfection. Her long red hair shined like freshly polished copper and framed her beauty. I though she looked divine especially on the occasions that she caught me looking and sent me one of her heart-stopping smiles.
It was a laugh come scream that made me look up. Sean Williams was standing in front of the bar with his shirt unbuttoned and half off. Sean was one of our young developers, a lad with great ability but also an arrogance that I didn't like. I don't mind confidence, after all I'd always been very confident, man and boy, except of course around women. Sean believed, and told anyone who would listen, that he was God's gift to women, regularly regaling his fellow programmers with in depth stories of his latest conquest. I found out early in adolescence that girls preferred bad boys to nice boys. This continued, as young women also seemed to prefer the bastards of the world. So maybe my feelings towards him were tainted with a little jealousy as even I could see that he was a good-looking young man and I knew that he spent most lunchtimes toning up his young body at the local gym.
Seemingly encouraged by the women in our party Sean was showing off his well-prepared body, posing as if he was a Chipperfield. I mentally compared his hairless chest and well-defined torso with my hairy and flabby one. I suppose I could forgive him for wanting to show it off. Normally I'd have blamed the alcohol for the show, but with Sean I wasn't sure.
I started to smile when I noticed that Hannah was amongst the more vocal of his fan club, in fact she was the first to go up to him and stroke his chest before turning to her female friends with a look of sheer lust.
I felt as though I'd been hit in the stomach. I quickly excused myself from Al and ran up to my room. Once inside I lay on the bed calling myself all the names under the sun. Although I didn't particularly like Sean, I had to admit that he could and obviously did attract the women. From what I'd been able to make out, Hannah's petite frame was every bit as well sculptured as Sean's. What on earth made me think that I, with my overweight and totally untoned body, could attract a woman like Hannah? I looked back to our single date and realised that nothing romantic had actually happened, it had really been like two good friends on an evening out. I had been reading way too much into it and had seen what I wanted to see rather than what was actually there.
Some time later I heard a gentle knock at the door, which I ignored, preferring to wallow in self-pity. Tears rolled slowly down my face as I tried to find sleep and a way to save face when I went back to work on Monday. I even considered looking for another job I was that embarrassed.
Although I slept little and poorly I was still up and checking out of the hotel before eight o'clock Saturday morning. Besides being an early riser by nature I wanted to be out of the hotel without meeting anyone I knew. By nine thirty I was home and to try and keep my mind away from Hannah made a start on the mundane weekend jobs that we all have. By lunchtime most of the self-pity had gone but the anger I had at myself was still there; that I had allowed myself to fall in love with Hannah caused the anger; that that love was lost caused the pain.
I was feeling predictably low when Tina, my eldest daughter, called around to see me as she did most weekends. Tina knows me better than anyone else and even though I tried to pretend otherwise she saw almost immediately that something was upsetting me. As we spoke most days she was aware of my date with Hannah and probably had an idea of my feelings for her, so explaining was easy, if somewhat painful, and embarrassing to admit such a stupid mistake to one of my children.
Tina was not in the slightest bit sympathetic, which actually surprised me. She told me that I had acted like a spoilt kid and that Hannah had done nothing wrong as far as she could see. I tried to explain that it wasn't that I thought Hannah had been in the wrong but that I saw the type of man that Hannah was attracted to and that I was angry with myself for falling for her rather than angry with her for any of her actions.
"I give up with you Dad! You wait ten years to find someone then give up at the first hurdle. Anyway as you are no longer going out tonight how do you fancy having Sophie so that me and Jake can have a night out."
Sophie was my nine-year-old granddaughter and the apple of my eye. I was sure that Tina wanted me to have her daughter more for my sake than her own. I quickly agreed, as I knew that she would stop me moping about thinking about Hannah.
"Thanks Dad! Can I borrow you phone and ring Jake?" The look of raised eyebrows got the expected explanation, "I've got no credit left on mine."
"Nothing knew there then." I said smiling.
"Any chance of a cuppa for you guest then?" She asked cheekily.
"I suppose so." I answered before heading off into the kitchen.
We talked for about another hour, with the usual insults flying between us, before Tina headed off to do some shopping.
"I'll bring Sophie around about seven. Is that ok?" She asked as she left the house.
"Whenever!" I replied before retreating inside.
I decided on a leisurely bath and ended up taking a lot longer than normal as I actually fell asleep in the relaxing heat. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing odd jobs and feeling miserable.
About five to seven the doorbell rang. I assumed that it was Jake as Tina had her own key and used it, whereas Jake had a key but invariably rang the doorbell and waited.
I opened the door and was amazed to find Hannah standing there. I just stared numbly before finally inviting her inside. I played the host on autopilot as question after question went through my head. 'What is she doing here?' 'How does she even know where I live?' 'What does she want?' I admit that most were repetitive
I looked closely at my uninvited guest and was not certain exactly what I saw; she certainly didn't look happy, the nearest I could guess was determined.
I led her into the living room and watched as she sat down and looked at me. Other than the 'come in' I'd muttered nothing had been said. To try and give myself time I offered her a drink.
"No thank you David. I'm not sure if that is appropriate, at least not yet anyway." The last few words were said with the hint of a smile, although it never reached her eyes.
I sat down opposite, still trying to figure out the how and why of her visit.
"What happened to you last night?" She asked with a touch of anger.
"I was suddenly tired and decided to go to bed." I lied, not wanting to tell her the truth.
"Bullshit! I'll ask you again. What happened to you last night?" She asked with now more than a touch of fire.
'Ok!' I thought feeling a little irate myself for being put into this position, 'if you really want to know then I'll tell you.' Even with the irritation I felt the words came out with a feeling of sadness. "I watched you with Sean. He loved it and I could tell you did too. It was obvious that you fancied him. I know we've only been out once but I was quickly falling for you and watching you made me realise that I was just kidding myself." I looked at her but she made no reply so I just kept talking. "I may not like Sean but even I have to admit that he looks after his body and is a good looking lad. I'm not blind and I do have a full-length mirror. I'm nothing to savour and even in my prime I wouldn't have been able to compete with Sean. I know I have no rights over you but I couldn't bring myself to watch you lusting over another man so I went to bed."
"And switched your mobile off too!" She stated.
There was a long silence before Hannah started to talk.