Beauty and the Geek Ch. 01bysteamoil©
She was there again. I had seen her the previous year, and occasionally in the office. As usual, her long brown hair was slightly unkempt and she was wearing a dark sweatshirt, dark pants and dark trainers. Her face had that slightly shut in look of someone who doesn't want to be noticed. Indeed she was curled up on a chair in the corner of the room. I wanted to help, as I had helped others in her situation.
Earlier in the year there had been Joseph. He'd been looking for a job and unable to get any interviews. I had helped him with his letters and CV, gently drawing out his skills and experience and helping him to write it up. Then when he was called for interview, giving him interview practice. We'd been shopping too, and fitted him out in a suit and tie. He'd protested, but what else did I have to spend my money on? He didn't get the first two jobs he went for, but was successful on the third. His confidence has improved enormously so now he walks tall.
I had a good job as a web programmer. I was a geek. Here I was at my boss' Christmas party. I'd joined the firm a year ago, so this was my second time here. I don't like parties, but couldn't really get out of this one if I wanted to progress. I knew I was out of place. For heaven's sake, I had on a jacket and tie – the most formally dressed there. Years ago I had tried to dress more informally, but it was a disaster, so I stuck to what I knew. But I had a soft spot for and a desire to help lame ducks, I think because of my own feeling of being out of place.
I screwed up my courage and made slow progress across the room to the girl sitting in the corner. Her eyes flared slightly as I arrived next to her, and she looked down to try to prevent me talking to her. I folded myself up to sit on the floor next to her and looked up into her face. For a moment my breath hitched. Her alabaster oval face was beautiful, highlighted as it was by a very slight blush and a dusting of freckles. She was also older than I had first thought, perhaps near my 35 years.
She mumbled a response and coloured even more.
"So what's a beautiful girl like you doing stuck in a corner?"
She looked up sharply.
"Don't be silly."
I smiled at her. She looked curiously at me.
"Why are you talking to me?"
"I saw you here last year, and I've seen you around the office, and I wanted to find out what you did."
"Because I'm nosey."
She laughed, and my breath caught again. She had no make up, no pretence, but when she smiled I couldn't breathe.
"So what do you do?"
Her face shut down again and she looked down.
"I'm so sorry – I didn't mean to upset you." I was horrified that my simple question had caused her distress. "Let's talk about something else."
"What music do you like?"
She coloured bright red, and my heart sank that I had upset her twice in a row. I didn't hear her response.
"I'm sorry – I didn't catch that?"
I could feel my face light up – geek that I am. "My favourite."
She looked up sharply and frowned at me. "You're just saying that to humour me. What's your favourite piece?"
"So many depending on my mood, but I love the start of his Christmas Oratorio with the drums and trumpets."
Her lovely smile peeped out again. "It's really true," she said wonderingly, "you do like Bach. Do you play an instrument?"
"No, just sing. Bass is comfortable, but I can do tenor as well. It's really annoying being a baritone, good at neither." I had found the way in to draw her out. "What about you?"
She grinned at the baritone comment, but I noticed the sadness in her eyes when I asked about her. Perhaps she just listened to the music and wished she could take part. But I was wrong, and she surprised me.
"I play flute, piccolo, saxophone, and I get by on the piano."
"Wow. I would love to be able to do that. I tried to learn the keyboard, and gave up on the clarinet. Do you play now?"
"Yes, I'm in two orchestras and a chamber group called Rhapsody. We do both classical and jazz."
Her face was animated suddenly, but as she finished speaking, a cloud of sadness came in front of the sun. I reached out and touched her arm.
"Can you tell me?"
She knew what I meant, and for a moment I thought she was going to share the sadness, but an infinitesimal shake of her head told me I wasn't going to hear.
"Will you come to our concert after Christmas?"
She'd surprised me again. This was the opening I needed. I have to admit that my normal reason for wanting to see her again, so I could help, was overlaid by a completely new feeling that I wanted to see her even if I couldn't help her. Who was I kidding? She was just as unattainable as other girls I'd had crushes on. Memories of my two disastrous attempts to date girls flashed through my mind.
"I'd love to come. Are you doing any Bach?" I realised that I didn't sound hesitant, and my voice had reflected my genuine interest in the music. Now there's a first.
"Yes we are! But we intertwine it with jazz. The pieces are usually in pairs, first jazz, but reflecting Bach's music, and second baroque, starting with Bach and showing how jazz and baroque have similar traits." She was animated again. "It's been really interesting working on it and putting it all together. Because we play both types of music, we've explored it in a way I think few others have. Of course there are superb musicians like Jaques Loussier and the Swingle Singers, but playing native jazz and comparing it to Bach and his contemporaries is not something we've come across. I'd love to discuss it with you afterwards."
It was lovely to hear the words tumbling out, to see her leaning forward and making gestures, and to watch her suddenly come alive.
"I would be honoured to discuss it with you. I'm a mere amateur, and you are obviously a professional."
To my horror, her face crumpled again. What had I said? The shut in look was back, and I was devastated.
"Tell me when the concert is. I'll come, but you don't have to discuss it with me."
"Oh, I'd like to talk about it. But just don't call me a professional."
Ah – maybe that was what this was all about? I'd have to see if she would open up after the concert.
"Have you got a pen, and I'll give you the date and time." She requested.
I handed her my pen and one of the cards I kept in my pocket. One of the advantages of wearing a jacket.
"Why do you carry these cards?" she asked.
It was my turn to blush. "I sometimes think of solutions to work problems, and if I don't write them down I forget. It used to be frustrating, because I would know that I'd solved it, and couldn't remember what the solution was. It happens most frequently at night when I'm going to sleep. I think of the solution, which means I relax and sleep, but the sleep means I forget the solution. So I try to write it down."
She laughed. "It sounds the same as worrying over a piece of composing. It's a good idea. I'll have to keep pencil and manuscript by the bed."
I grinned at her. "I've not eaten yet. Would you like some food?"
She hadn't eaten either, so I unfolded myself from the floor and offered her my hand to get up. She took it – a nice firm grip I noticed – and uncurled from the chair. To my surprise – this girl seemed to surprise me a lot – she was almost as tall as me. I didn't know, but I also had the impression that, under her concealing clothing, she was slim. We edged our way through the throng of people to the food.
I could see a few people glancing askance at us. I had to admit we must have made a funny sight. Me with my jacket and tie, and her with her dark, baggy clothing and trainers. To my surprise, I didn't hear any ribald comments. We filled plates, and she led me through to another room where the music was not so loud. It was easier to talk in there, and we discussed music and making music. Time flew by, and before I knew it people were leaving.
"Can I give you a lift anywhere?"
"Kind, but not necessary. I'm fixed up thanks."
Oh well. Trust me to latch on to a girl who already had a boyfriend. My hopes of mixing my philanthropy with a little personal pleasure died stillborn, and I said goodbye with a heavy heart. I would still go to the concert – I liked the music and it would be a pleasure to watch her play it. I would also continue my efforts to help her.
The concert was electric. The chamber group, Rhapsody, were so talented, and the juxtaposition of jazz and baroque, carefully chosen to show the relationships, really made you think, showing up the similarities as well as the differences in the styles and counterpoint. It was also a pleasure to see her face animated all through the evening. She was alive with the music, with no sign of the shut in girl I had observed. All the players, men and women, wore evening dress, and the male clothes suited her admirably. I had been right – she was tall and slim. And her brown hair was clean and brushed to a shine, hanging in waves down her back.
At the end of the concert I was slightly embarrassed, but I hung about to see if I could meet her. I couldn't see a boyfriend, although she was obviously friendly with a number of the members of the group. To my relief, she came down and greeted me – all animation and smiles.
"Did you enjoy it? We had such fun playing – it was a blast."
"I loved it. Your group is really talented. I've not been much into jazz, but that was a revelation. You'll have to give me some recommendations or loan me some CDs."
"Will you discuss it with me as you promised?"
My hopes leapt. Then I chastised myself. Don't be a fool. You cannot break up a relationship. Then I laughed at myself. Who was I kidding? What chance did I have of forming a relationship, let alone breaking one up?
"I'd love to. It is so interesting. It's a bit late now, but would you have dinner with me tomorrow while it's fresh in our minds? There's a lovely place just round the corner."
She'd looked slightly wary when I suggested dinner, but her face cleared again when she realised it was dinner out. "That would be great. Can you meet early so that we've more time to discuss? How about straight from work? I could meet you there."
"Wonderful. I'll make sure I'm out at six."
I couldn't keep my mind on my work. It kept jumping forward to six o'clock, and backwards to the music the previous evening. In the end I gave up, and did some mundane tasks re-organising my filing. I think I made more tea and coffee that day than in the rest of the week put together. And how the time dragged. Normally the day flew by and I ended up working late.
Finally six o'clock came, and I made a B line for reception to meet her. She was back in camouflage in her dark clothes, but her hair was still shiny from the concert. I took her hand, and she blushed slightly, but didn't pull away. Suddenly I thought that was a good sign. Surely if she had a boyfriend she would have pulled away? I didn't know, but it cheered me anyway.
When we went into the restaurant she seemed slightly nervous, and this intensified when the waiter handed her the menu. Suddenly I realised what it might be.
"Please don't worry about the prices, it's my treat for the pleasure you have given me with your music." It wasn't that expensive, but it wasn't cheap either.
She looked at me, and I couldn't decide if she was angry or about to burst into tears. Then I had the strange impression I recalled from the party that she was on the verge of confiding in me.
"Thank you." She looked down, a slight blush on her cheeks.
Oh well, maybe she'd open up later.
After we'd discussed the menu and ordered, we started on the music. There was no restraint between us and the animated conversation flowed back and forth. I learnt so much about both types of music, and began to find jazz performers that I wanted to listen to. She offered to lend me a couple of CDs to get me going.
She put her knife and fork down with a satisfied sigh, sat back in her chair and looked me straight in the eye. "Thank you so much. That was lovely – the meal and the conversation. I don't know when I've felt so happy, apart from when I'm performing."
I couldn't help smiling at her. I think my grin must have been as wide as the ocean. "I'm so glad. I've had a ball. Thank you."
She was just about to speak again when the waitress came up to clear the table and give us the sweet menu. The moment passed, and we went on with the mundane process of deciding and ordering sweets and coffees. There was a lull. Not uncomfortable. More of a sort of pregnant pause. We both started together and blushed.
"I wanted ......."
"Would you ......"
Neither of us seemed to want to continue.
After a pause, I tried again. "Would you come out with me again?"
She looked up sharply. "Why?"
That floored me. How could I explain that I fancied her? It had taken all my courage to ask. "I ... I ... I've had such fun that I want to do it again." I prevaricated.
I couldn't read her reaction, but knew I'd not been open with her. That made me feel bad.
"You didn't tell me what you really thought." She accused. Then, wonderingly, "You're afraid?"
I blushed. I suddenly felt I needed to tell her everything, and the flood gates opened.
"I'm 35. I've never had a serious girlfriend. I tried with a couple of girls, but made such a mess of it that I've only ever worshipped from afar. You are so much more – more talented, more beautiful – than them and I really like you, but I'm afraid to drive you away by telling you." My face heated and I looked down as I admitted it.
I felt her hand on mine.
"Look at me." She demanded.
I looked up slowly. She was concerned and embarrassed.
"I'm 35. Boyfriends don't want someone like me. I dress to hide because I don't have any confidence, except when I'm playing. I finished my music studies ten years ago. I can't get a job and I haven't worked for ten years. I don't have any money, and what my parents give me for a week would be all gone if I had to pay this bill."
"What a pair we are!" I mumbled.
"You feel it too?"
It was my turn to look up sharply. "What do you mean."
Her colour heightened slightly. "I like being with you. I want to see you again."
My heart sang. I couldn't believe my luck. "I would be so flattered if you would. My feet won't touch the ground for hours knowing that." I picked up her hand and gently brushed my lips on the back.
It was not what I expected. She looked at the back of her hand as if it couldn't possibly be there. Then she smiled shyly up at me, and my heart turned over.
"I think I must be dreaming. For the first time in six years I feel as if happiness might be possible."
"What happened six years ago?" I reached out and held her hand, half afraid she's stop talking.
"After four years of toil over applications and attending loads of auditions, I gave up on serious job hunting. After that I just applied for one here and there."
"Tell me about the serious job hunting." Her hand trembled in mine.
"I scanned all the musical papers, kept my ear to the ground, pestered friends, searched the internet and applied for anything anywhere. Music is very competitive, and I kept coming in the last three or four."
"Wow, you must be so good."
She smiled her thanks. "That's as maybe, but not good enough. It was time consuming – involved loads of travelling – expensive – and very disheartening. Eventually it got to me and I couldn't do it any more."
"Can you bear to tell me about the people who beat you?" I squeezed her hand.
"I found them quite intimidating. Apart from a very few who were obviously outstandingly talented, they were immaculately turned out. I think that's why I've reverted to camouflage!" She laughed at herself.
"What did you wear?"
"Clean, smart clothes." She whipped back.
"I'm not being critical." I pressed her hand again. "I'm just trying to work out if you were at a disadvantage. Could you have done immaculate?"
She considered my question, head on one side. "Perhaps."
"Do you think it might have made a difference?"
There was a long pause. "Reluctantly, I think you might have a point. I hadn't really analysed it. How do you, Mr Geek, know all these things?" She laughed at me to take the sting out of her question.
"I make a bit of a science of helping lame ducks." I knew it was dangerous, but I had to tell her the truth.
She looked affronted, then sad. "You think I'm a lame duck? Yes I suppose I am." She started to pull back, but looked up when I started speaking.
"Initially I came over precisely because I'd seen you this year and last at the party, and occasionally in the office. I wanted to wipe the defeat from your face and posture. When I sat down on the floor and you looked at me, I no longer cared. I wanted to see you again whether I could help you or not. Now I know you're the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I'm desperate not to lose you, either by being dishonest or by being honest."
There was a pause. It seemed like an age, although I'd bet it was only a few seconds, as I waited for the words I thought would kill my dreams.
"I thought that was the end of us. But you've just said about the only two things that could have changed my mind – that you care about me, not the lame duck, and that you were honest, knowing being honest might lose me."
Thankfully, the waitress came back at that point. We needed to disengage for a moment. I was equally thankful we hadn't been interrupted earlier, or the outcome might have been different.
It was a mutual decision to order more coffee. I think we both felt the need for more talk on neutral ground. After we'd recovered our equanimity, the conversation revived without any awkwardness.
"I still want to help you, as well as see you again."
"And I still want to take advantage of that."
"So what does immaculate look like then?"
She went on to describe the kind of chic outfits that these talented people had worn, how they had done their hair, and the impractical shoes.
"And what's your style?"
She looked at me, head on one side, considering. "I'm not really sure."
"May I hazard a guess?" She nodded. "Clean lines. Dark with a splash of colour in an unexpected place. Mischievous."
She was grinning. "How did you do that?"
"Observation. Your menswear at the concert. You looked so comfortable in it. Everyone else with black socks. Yours were red and matched your bow tie." I grinned at her. "I bet your underwear matched too." I blushed, and so did she. But she laughed too.
"Spot on. One day when I know you better I'll tell you." But she wouldn't be drawn on what.
"So, want to join me at the weekend to shop for chic?" Her face fell. "And before you blow me off, I need to tell you about Joseph."
She looked shocked. "So you're gay?"
I laughed. "No, I'm not gay and neither is Joseph. He's important because I need you to understand what I'm doing." I related the story of Joseph. I watched as a myriad of emotions passed across her expressive face – sympathy, horror, embarrassment, joy and finally tears. "So you see, it's what I do with my money and my time."
"I can see why you wanted to tell me. I wouldn't have let you buy me anything otherwise. I can't believe the number of happy endings you must have generated over the years."
"It's why I do it." I said simply. "So will you come with me on Saturday?"
"But what do you know about chic women's clothes?"
"Nothing." I grinned at her. "But my cousin Angela runs a boutique, and a friend of mine, Julian, runs an up market women's shoe shop. Now he is gay." I warned her, laughing.
She grinned back. "You are full of surprises. I will."
"And will you help me look for jobs for you?" I asked.
"You know what – I think I might just start that on my own."