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The Stage Whisper
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Jennifer Green

Romantic Fiction

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Having got myself a cup of what passed for coffee from the machine I plonked my laptop bag down on a vacant hot desk. There were a couple of other people there, a salesman on the phone, complaining about something or other, and a woman, with grey hair sitting at her pc. Neither looked up as I plugged in my laptop, and I didn’t really pay much attention to them either. I’d arrived half an hour early so I could brush up on my strategy for the meeting. Little did I know that half hour would do far more than reshape the project I was working on, it would reshape my life.

This was just my type of meeting – finding a good compromise between two seemingly diametrically opposed groups. Then having achieved that minor miracle, finding resources to implement the compromise solution. Having worked in the industry for over twenty-five years, I don’t get nervous at these sort of meetings. They are the fun part of the job - breaking problems down, getting agreement bit by bit. But most of all, I enjoy working out the people, reading their body language and understanding where they are coming from.

 “Looks like we’re going to the same meeting.”

I looked up at the grey haired woman who had the same set of notes on her screen as I was studying.

“I’m Kate Wheldon,” she smiled.

“Keith, Keith Evans.” We shook hands. She grinned.

“Nice to meet you Keith Keith Evans.”

“Ah, always nice to meet another ’Hitchhiker’s Guide’ fan.” I grinned back.

So this was the Kate Wheldon I’d been told about – very sharp, very tough, and a good manager but with a strong desire to do the right thing. But what they hadn’t told me about was her looks. When I’d first spotted the grey hair I’d assumed someone older looking. But I thought she was stunning. God knows what her age was – she could have been anywhere between thirty five and fifty five. Probably early forties – her skin was too good for her to have been much older. Her shining pale blue eyes smiled at me from behind silver rimmed glasses. If she had any make up on, I couldn’t spot it. She didn’t need it.

We talked about the meeting, about the project that had brought us here and about our respective journeys – I’d driven, she had come on the train. For some reason, I was becoming more and more attracted to her. I’m sure that looks-wise she wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there was something. We chatted amiably until the meeting start time arrived, and in the meeting room I found myself sitting opposite her. As I said, I don’t get nervous at such meetings, but today was different. I felt myself desperately wanting to impress Kate. To show myself to be as sharp and professional as she was. I felt myself constantly looking at her for approval – something I hadn’t done with anyone for years. But the chatty, friendly colleague from the Hot Desk area had been replaced by a hard-as-nails Ice Maiden. This new Kate took great pleasure in pointing out my little gaffes, though as she did so on one occasion I thought I detected the merest hint of her friendly smile. Somehow I managed to get the compromise and the solution I wanted. Kate had dug her heels in, but conceded enough for me to think of her as still being a good guy.

As the meeting ended I packed up my things, and started to make my way to out, and back down the motorway to home. Kate and some of the others were in reception, waiting for taxis to the station. She smiled at me and asked if I’d mind doing her a favour. It seemed there had been a train accident of some sort and trains were being cancelled left, right and centre. As she only lived a few miles from me (we’d discovered that in our chat prior to the meeting), would it be possible to cadge a lift.

I hope my eyes and voice didn’t give the game away too much. It would be a genuine pleasure. As we cruised along the motorway we discovered we were in similar situations – failed marriages after one child, and both hadn’t bothered to marry again. She had thrown herself into being a single mum, and into establishing herself in her key role in the company. Me? Well, once bitten – a hundred times shy. Confident and in control at work, I am anything but in relationships. My marriage break up had hit me quite hard, and so I have avoided the risk of another injury. Like Kate I threw myself into my job. She also said she had got used to being her own boss socially, and would find it really hard to get used to having someone else around again. This was definitely something that resonated with me

I dropped her off and she smiled and thanked me profusely. I told her she could buy me a coffee sometime. In the few miles from her house to mine I thought about her, and realized that whilst not out of my league, she was not someone I could ask out. The fear of rejection from anyone is hard enough to contemplate – but being rejected by someone like her would shatter me for ever.

A couple of weeks passed and the project was going okay – not great, but moving forward. I had just come out of the weekly project meeting with my Project Administrator, who has worked with me for over three years and who is now more friend than subordinate. I noticed Kate at one of the Hot Desks and went over to say “Hi” and ask how the work she was doing on the project was going. I introduced Jenny, my Project Admin and we talked for a few minutes. Kate said that things were going pretty well. As she enthused about the team that was working on it, she played with her hair, so I could see the occasional sparkle of some expensive looking earrings. She smiled a lot and was friendly Kate, not hard as nails Kate. After a short time, Jenny and I moved off. As we walked away I whispered to her:

“God, I fancy her like mad, and I’m not really sure why.”

Jenny stopped dead, and looked at me.

“That was a really loud whisper…”

“Really loud?”

“REALLY loud!”

“Bugger” I mouthed to myself. Jenny grinned:

“Don’t know what you’re worried about. You’re the body language expert – didn’t you catch the signals?”

“Doesn’t matter, I would never ask her out. She’s a confirmed single woman, and definitely in control of her life.”

Jenny just shook her head in disbelief and we went back to work.

After a couple of minutes my mobile vibrated – text message. My heart was in my mouth when I pressed VIEW and my phone declared the message was from Kate Wheldon. I took a deep breath and read on…

I owe you a coffee. Downstairs in 5 mins. It may give you the chance to work out why you fancy me like mad. :-)






© Ken Orford, 2008



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