The remedy for a bruised heart may be closer to you than you think. Are you ready to let love have a second chance? (This could be a "George"-story, but only the rose - the Christmas rose - has a name.)
"You have a lot of kids, don't you?"
The question came out of the blue and out of the darkness. I was working late on a Tuesday evening in November. I thought the place was deserted; the car park was empty apart from my car. The cleaners and the watchmen on their rounds wouldn't be here for hours yet.
So I leapt a foot from my chair. Well, it felt like a foot. "Huh?" or "What?" or something similarly intelligent may have escaped my lips.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," the youthful voice laughed.
I turned around to identify my intruder. The daylight had been gone for hours so the only light was that coming from my desk lamp - and my computer screens. But I recognized her at once. It was one of our graduate students. We may be a University department these days, but originally we did pure research. We are located hundreds of miles away from the main campus - although only 30 miles from the capital - so we don't have all that many students. Only the very keen. And the very bright. This one was both.
"Hi Katrine," I replied. "You sure succeeded anyway! How come you're here so late?"
"I have to get my mid-term report finished," she said darkly. "It's due next week and my model calculations are playing up."
"Poor you," I said with sympathy. Her department was notorious for allocating next to no funds for the students' computers. I knew Katrine's workstation was almost bin-fodder.
"Poor me if my report is late," she agreed. "My grant will be suspended until I get the report approved."
"What's the matter with your calculations?" I asked. Modelling is not my area of expertise, but I do know a fair bit.
"Oh, I had problems making it converge," Katrine replied. "I've cracked that and set it running. Or crawling - it goes so slowly on my workstation that I don't think I will have enough material by the end of the week."
"Perhaps I can help," I said. I connected to a new super host that I had just installed. It was going to boost our virtualization environment, but so far it hadn't been deployed. The only guest it had was a Linux test-server. "What's the name of your workstation?" I asked
She told me and I connected to it. "Where's your code?" I asked.
She directed me to it. I copied it to the new machine and recompiled, then I set up pointers to her input and output folders and started the job. Katrine's eyes were nearly popping out of her head - the new machine ran more than a 15 times faster than the crap on her desk. When I told her that we had only used an eighth of the host's capacity and we could simply clone the virtual server she was ecstatic. "Jeez! With that machine I can survey my model with all the scenarios and run a selected one in high resolution - and still have it ready in time" she exclaimed.
"Well, do it then!" I said.
"Can I? I mean, doesn't this belong to somebody else?" she asked.
"It does, but they don't know that it is ready yet," I replied. "I shan't tell them until next week. You prepare 8 input folders and I will make 7 clones of the test-server. Then we'll set it cracking and you will have your material by Friday.
30 minutes later the new host was getting a serious work-out on all cores. "You won't get into trouble with the owners over this, will you?" she asked.
"No little love, I won't," I replied. "I will tell them that I ran a 3 day burn-in test at maximum load to get realistic performance numbers. They will even appreciate that."
She had looked a little sceptical when I called her "little love", but I got a blazing smile anyway. "You're sweet," she said and rushed out into the darkness to catch her bus.
I resumed my work, finished up in an hour or so and drove home to two of those "lots" of kids
"You never told me about all those kids, did you?"
Katrine was there again the following Tuesday. I was working late again as I usually do on Tuesdays.
"Hi Katrine, how is the mid-term report coming along?" I asked - not quite so startled this time.
"It's finished!" she said with the blazing smile. "I have just put a copy in my supervisor's pigeon hole and sent a PDF to my external supervisor."
Katrine looked little-kid happy. Although in her mid twenties, she does look childish in some respects. She is not tall and her body is very slender. Her angular face is not beautiful in a classical sense, but when she is animated her face comes alive. I find that attractive. And her eyes are always alight with intelligence.
"That's great," I said. "Right on time. Your grant should be safe."
She smiled again. "Yes, thanks to you. Anyway, what's the deal with all those kids?" She was studying my notice board. There were twenty or so A3-sized photographs. Unlimited access to a colour laser printer is a great thing.
"There are actually only 3 of them," I said. "But the pictures go back over many years." I pointed out who was who.
"Gosh, she has changed a lot, hasn't she?" Katrine said. She was referring to my middle child.
"Did you never have a 'black period' soon after you discovered make-up?" I asked
"God yes!" Katrine laughed. "I used it by the bucket."
"Well, there you are. Realising that 'less is more' takes some time. You'll agree that she's developed a more restrained style since," I said and pointed to the latest picture.
"She has, and she's very pretty," Katrine agreed. "How old is she?"
"19," I replied. "Her sister is 22 and their brother is 10."
Katrine looked sceptical. "Your oldest is only two years younger than me," she said.
I didn't get it. "And?"
Katrine looked mysterious. Yes, mysterious. That was new. "Oh, nothing," she said and rushed out into the darkness to catch her bus.
"Is that your wife?"
Katrine was there again the next Tuesday. In a mild way I'd been hoping she would be. I couldn't really explain why. But the question threw me a little.
"Yes. No. That's my ex-wife," I said - possibly with a sigh.
Like everyone else, Katrine consider most IT-staff social misfits and borderline autistics. People never miss an opportunity to say so - all good natured fun, they think. It can get a little tiring. But Katrine was clearly genuinely astonished. "How come you have a picture of your EX-wife on your desk?" she asked in a tone of voice almost dripping with incredulity.
"Well, it was her that stopped loving me, not the other way around," I replied - holding Katrine's gaze with an effort.
She blinked first and looked away. "Sorry, I didn't mean to pry on your private life," she said miserably.
"That's OK," I said - as one does. "Besides, you have a point. After nearly two years it is fairly obvious she isn't coming back."
"Do the kids live with her?" Katrine asked.
"No, we don't know where she is," I replied. "My oldest has an apartment in town; the two younger ones live with me. But I dare say my middle one will move to town when she starts uni next year."
Katrine may not even have heard the second part of my reply. Her eyes had opened wide at the first bit and she was gaping at me. "What do you mean you don't know where she is?" she asked. "What happened?"
"She grew up in an abusive home and struggled with depression and low self-esteem for the nearly 25 years we were together," I replied. "I tried to help her, but 2-3 years ago it got so bad I feared she would harm herself and I finally got her in therapy. The therapist told her to 'break free' and one day she was gone after having emptied our bank accounts. By way of explanation there was a brief note telling me to phone the therapist."
"Did you?" Katrine asked.
"I did," I replied tersely. "And how! I now have a court-order against me forbidding further contact."
Katrine smiled wryly. "I don't blame you. Personally I would have strangled the therapist."
"That's exactly what I told her I intended to do," I said with a reluctant smile. "Thus the court-order."
"How do you work out practical things?" Katrine asked.
"We don't," I replied. "What little contact there is goes through lawyers."
We were silent for a while. "What do your kids do when you work late?" Katrine asked.
"They are with my oldest in town every Tuesday when I am here late. In that way I can have shorter days during the rest of the week and make things work," I said. "Or at least function after a fashion."
"It can't be easy," she said.
"Thousands and thousands of single parents do it," I countered. "Most of them are women, but there are actually also a fair few single fathers around. And in a way I was used to it already - my wife's career had her away quite frequently. Besides, my daughters are so old they've been a real help. I could really feel it when my oldest left home and it will be difficult when her sister follows suit, but so be it."
She was looking at me in a strange way. I think she was just about to say something, but then her eyes flickered to the clock on the wall.
"Blast!" she exclaimed. "I've missed my bus, and thus my train - I can't make it even if I run."
"I can drive you," I said. "I am going into town tonight to have dinner at my oldest daughter's place and then drive her siblings home. Where do you live?"
.... There is more of this story ...