The Runner Tumbles


I wanted oblivion, the day to be wiped from the calendar. I longed to faint just so that I could shut out the reality of my situation, but I wasn't even allowed that solace.

After what seemed like a long time Roger came back into the office. I waited for the explosion, but it didn't come. Instead, speaking very quietly he said, "It's all right Jackie, she won't say anything."

" do you..."

"I promise you Jackie, every thing will be all right. Now, you look terrible, so I think I should take you home."

I had been so distraught that I hadn't even bothered to cover my breasts. He came to me and gently drew the remains of my torn blouse over them.

I couldn't believe it; no anger, no yelling abuse. Foolishly I began. "Don't you want me to tell you...?"

"No, not now, you're too distressed, just let me get you home."

Struggling to pull myself together I said, "I don't live far I can walk." I tried to stand with some rags of dignity only to have my legs fold up under me.

Roger stepped forward to grab me and for a moment I clung to him as the room seemed to spin.

"Come on Jackie," he said, "let me help you. I've got my car down below and we can take the back way out."

I was in no condition to argue and I even went so far as to let him touch me.

We made our way down in the back lift and out to his car. As we approached one of the staff was also heading for his car. He looked at us curiously, his eyebrows raised in an unspoken question.

"A bit too much to drink," Roger said.

The man laughed and called out, "Happy Christmas."

We drove off and within minutes were at my block of flats. He helped me as far as the lift and asked, "Will you be all right now?"

"Yes," I said, hoping he would not suggest that he come up to the flat with me; he might have decided to take advantage of what must have seemed to be my willing offer.

He didn't suggest coming up, but said, "I don't understand why you did what you did, but if you want to talk about it, then let it wait until after Christmas."

Why the hell didn't he berate me...hit me...anything but this...this acceptance...patience or whatever it was?

Chapter 4. Christmas Eve 2004.

Now I know.

I left him and entering my flat I burst into tears. Humiliated, filled with self disgust, and fearing that he, Tessa or both of them would after all report to the partners, I hardly slept all night.

That morning, about ten o'clock, a bunch of roses arrived with a note.

"I hope you are feeling better. I'll see you when we get back to work, and don't worry."

That's it, the old trick, he's going to be kind and understanding, heaping coals of fire on me.

I flung the roses across the room and broke down in tears again. Later I picked the roses up one by one and put them in a vase.

He had won.

I was due to drive to my parents to join them for Christmas Day. I telephoned them to say I was suffering from the flue. I can't face anyone, not even myself.

I don't know how I can go back to the office and face him...or Tessa, the bitch. I thought I would be the powerful one, but instead I had put myself in their power.

Chapter 5. 29th December 2004.

I'm back at the office today after spending the Christmas break on my own.

I thought Tessa would be all triumphant smirks, but she wasn't there.

Almost as soon as I got in Mr. Greenbaum called me to his office. I thought this was it. They'd given me away after all; but it wasn't so.

"Jackie," he said, "Tessa has asked for a transfer. It seems she doesn't feel comfortable working for you, so I've put her with Mr. James and you'll have Patricia instead. Is that suitable?"

"Yes, I suppose so, if that's what Tessa wants."

Thank God, I wouldn't have to endure her sneering look of triumph.

"And Jackie," Mr. Greenbaum went on, "try to be...a little less remote with Patricia; do you know what I mean?"

"Yes, I'll try."

So that was it. For whatever reason Tessa couldn't or wouldn't do what I knew she longed to do. Of course Greenbaum would fix things for Tessa the way she wanted, just so long as she "came across." I suppose that comes under the heading of "Office politics."

There weren't many clients; that's usually the case between Christmas and New Year. I expect they're all very busy spending the money I've helped them make.

I thought Roger would come to my office and at last demand an explanation, but he didn't.

By early afternoon with no sight of him I couldn't stand it any longer. I would go and face him and try and brazen things out.

I sailed past his secretary and straight into his office. He didn't look surprised.

"Well?" I said in a voice that was a bit more strident than I'd intended.

"Ah, I wondered if you'd want to have a chat, Jackie."

"You've got something you want to say to me?"

"There's something I want to ask you."

"Well ask then."

I sat very upright on the chair, forcing myself to look straight at him.

"Why are you so unhappy, Jackie?"

"I...I...what...what makes you think I'm unhappy?" (What the hell do I have to do to provoke this guy?).

He sat back looking relaxed.

"An intelligent and attractive woman like you doesn't behave as you did unless she's unhappy about something."

He reminded me of that trauma counsellor in the hospital.

"It must be something about me, Jackie. I must have hurt you in some way, but I don't know how."

He wanted to know so I told him.

"You're trying to manoeuvre me out of this place."

"What are you talking about?"

"Ever since you got here you've been taking over."

"Taking over what?"

"My place, my relationship with the partners."

Even as I said it I could hear how utterly pathetic it sounded.

"I don't understand, Jackie, what I'm doing has very little bearing on your work and relationship with the partners. I'm here to try and expand the base of the business, not to try and take over your place...or your relationship with the partners."

Feeling utterly foolish I tried another tack.

"Why didn't you report me to the partners, and how did you stop Tessa doing what she was longing to do?"

He laughed gently and said, "Tessa has got too many little secrets of her own she doesn't want brought out. I just reminded her of that.

"You know about her and Mr. Greenbaum?"

He laughed again and said, "Come on Jackie, everyone knows about her and Greenbaum, but what they don't know, and what Mr. Greenbaum doesn't know, is about Tessa and Mr. Norris. I wonder how long Tessa would last if Greenbaum and Norris knew they were sharing her?

"How do you did you find out about...?"

"When I first came here, as you know, I had to collect a lot of data and information. I was coming to see you in your office one morning. Tessa wasn't in her office so I knocked on your door. I didn't get an answer so I just looked in. You must have been out. Tessa and Norris were using your office, and it doesn't take much to work out what's going on when you see two people, one trying to pull his trousers up and the other her knickers."

"She was what," I gasped, "in my office...?" I knew exactly the day he meant. Greenbaum had sent me to see a crippled client who couldn't make it to the office.

"Afraid so, Jackie. Look, what Norris and Tessa do is up to them. Greenbaum and Norris employ her and if they think its worth paying her while she's not actually working – well I suppose in a way she was working - and she's happy to secure her job that way, who am I to complain?"

"So you blackmailed her to stay silent."

"Not really, I simply told her that we all have times when we do odd...irrational things, and she got the message."

"But why did you stop her, I was doing the best I could to compromise you...would have got you chucked out, and you've done even sent me flowers."

If you're unhappy...hurting over something, why should I go out of my way to make it worse?

"But you heard what Tessa said about me. Nobody here likes me, I'm just a good profit maker, and the rest of the staff would be only too pleased to see the back of me."

"Yes, and leave you feeling more bitter and hurt than ever."

"Why should you care?"

Strangely that seemed to have him puzzled.

"Do you know, Jackie, I don't really understand why. I've never stopped to ask myself that question. Perhaps I just don't like to see a bad situation made worse; especially if I can do something to help make it better."

Out it came unbidden; "You can't make me better."

He looked at me thoughtfully for a few moments then said, "No, I don't suppose I can, especially as I don't know where your hurt is coming from, but in the end we all have to heal ourselves. Others might be there to help, to listen, but healing comes from within us."

I knew he was right. Mummy and daddy had been there for me; they had helped me part of the way, but obviously not all the way.

"What are you doing on New Year's Eve?" he asked.

"Nothing, I never do anything; I don't like crowds and don't much care for parties."

"No, crowds and parties are pretty mindless, so why don't you let me take you out for dinner; we don't have to stay out until all the noise and nonsense starts."

Ah, so that was it. This was his way of trying to get into my knickers. I played it very carefully in case he changed his mind and reported me.

"That's very nice of you Roger, but you see, I prefer to be on my own New Year's Eve."

He smiled and said, "All right Jackie, I just thought you might like an evening out."

Chapter 5. 30th December 2004.

After I left Roger I couldn't get his invitation out of my mind. A woman who had tried so hard to bring him into disrepute, and he sent me roses and invited me out to dinner!

"There has to be a trick in this somewhere, something devious, but what?" I thought.

I heard the office people talking about their plans for New Year's Eve. Patricia my new secretary, who is quite sweet and nothing like that sex hungry bitch Tessa, asked me what I was doing.

Normally I would have told her what I had told Roger, "Nothing," and said it in such a way as to close the subject. Instead I replied, "I've not really made up my mind yet." I even went on the ask her, "And what will you be doing?"

"My boy friend and I are going to his married sister's place for the evening," she replied.

Her words, simple and unaffected as they were, had a profound effect on me. I suddenly felt the yawning emptiness inside me. So many people would be with someone on New Years Eve, but I would be alone. I knew that there would be many people who would be alone and I wondered if they feel the same emptiness.

Suddenly I didn't want to be on my own and I had been given the opportunity not to be. I realised that nobody had ever asked me to be with them before, except mummy and daddy, and now an invitation had been made, and that from a man I had tried to destroy.

The thought of being on my own gnawed away at me; for once I didn't want to be on my own. I thought about going to be with mummy and daddy, but it was too long a drive for such a short time. By mid afternoon I could stand it no longer. I'd had an invitation, and despite the fact that it might mean he would try something on with me, I rang Roger on the in-house telephone.

"Roger, is that invitation for dinner still open?"

"Yes, of course; you've changed your mind?"

"Yes, if that's all right."

"Where would you like to go?"

There followed arrangements – time and place, and just as we were about to ring off he said, "Thank you Jackie."

I wanted to ask him what the hell he was thanking me for, but he had rung off.

Once I'd made the arrangement I started to regret it. If it had been with a woman – just so long as I was sure she didn't want me in her bed – it would have made sense; but to be going out with a man? God help me, I hope he keeps his hands to himself.

Chapter 6. 31st December 2004 to 1st January 2005.

I went to dinner with Roger. I could hardly believe that I'd agreed to go with him. It was amazing, my first date ever with a man and I was twenty nine – nearly thirty. Other women I knew had started dating when they were sixteen!

All day I was in a highly nervous state. He had to want something, but what? I had let him touch me on that terrible day of the Christmas lunch, but then I was feeling too ill to protest. I determined that if he tried to touch me during the evening I would walk out on him.

I couldn't understand why he wanted me to have dinner with him after what I tried to do. I started to wonder if he was some sort of religious nutter who was playing Jesus Christ to my fallen woman; showing how forgiving he could be.

I even caught myself making a special effort, trying on various items of clothing. I settled for a pant suit because this offered a bit more protection than a dress or skirt; besides, it was dark green and I always think that colour goes well with my auburn hair.

I made sure I wore bras that gave the least emphasis to my breasts because I know that breasts can turn a man into a ravening sexual beast. I never wear much makeup and for the dinner I made sure I wore none at all, or any perfume; there was no point in courting trouble.

He was due to pick me up at seven and he was there at the door of my flat at five minutes to seven. I was ready so I didn't need to ask him in.

We walked to the lift and went down and to the car, I making sure I kept some space between us.

He had chosen a small restaurant up in the hills. It occurred to me that on the way back he might be planning to detour on to one of the lonely hill roads and try to get me into the back seat. "What the hell have I got myself into," I thought.

It was fortunate that Roger had made a booking because all the tables in the restaurant were taken. It was a small place and there weren't many tables and so not many people. The waiter showed us to our table and presented us with a wine list. I felt a bit doubtful about this because I knew what alcohol can do to men. Nevertheless when Roger suggested Shiraz I agreed. I decided that I would drink very little so that I could keep my head.

I have to admit it was a pleasant evening. Roger brought the conversation round to his parents and mine, and we talked about out childhoods, but of course, I said nothing about the horrific fog episode, and nothing further was said about that ghastly incident in my office.

I had grown used to deterring people who showed an interest in me and my life, but somehow Roger drew me out. He was gentle and managed to inspire confidence, even in me. Once he got me talking about myself, my family and life, I didn't want to stop. It was strange for even as I prattled on I wondered why.

At one point I happened to mention how I liked to walk in the city gardens and he said, "New years Day tomorrow, could we walk together," and damn it I agreed.

We stayed longer at the restaurant than I had intended, but the time seemed to pass unnoticed. When we left the restaurant he didn't head for one of the back roads but as we approached the point where the road dropped down into the city he pulled the car over and stopped.

I was immediately on my guard. Was he going to attempt something even here with passing traffic?

"If we wait for a while we shall see the fireworks display over the city," he said; and that's exactly what we did.

When the display was over we drove down into the city where revellers were still thronging in the streets, noisy, many of them drunk, and all no doubt hoping for a better year than the one they had just experienced, and probably full of good resolutions that would last for a few days.

He again came as far as the lift with me and said, "Thank you for spending the evening with me, Jackie, if I call for you tomorrow we can walk to the gardens from here, is that all right."

"Yes," I said, "and thank you Roger."

Now I'm confused. I enjoyed yesterday evening so much, and when I got back here to my flat I suddenly realised how alone I had been all these years. I felt as if I didn't want to be alone again. I had a bit of a cry; I don't know why.

As the time came for him to arrive I was feeling nervous and uncertain again. It was a warm day and not one for wearing pant suits. He didn't touch me last night so I decided to risk a skirt and shirt; I thought should be safe because on New Year's Day there would be lots of people walking around or picnicking in the gardens.

I liked him; I knew I shouldn't, but he was so warm. As nervous and uncertain as I was, I wanted to see him, to be with him.

Why was I breaking all my rules about relationships with men?

Suppose he did touch me, would I mind? If he held my hand would I repel him? I don't know. God I was behaving like a moonstruck teenager.

He's arrived and I was trembling. What was the matter with me?

Chapter 7. 2nd January 2005.

When I answered the door he looked at me and said, "That looks very attractive, Jackie."

I felt my face starting to flush and I wanted to make some barbed response as I usually do when men pay me a compliment. The words almost came out, but before they were spoken I looked at him; he was smiling, there was almost something boyish about him and he was happy. He was happy and it must have been because he was to be with me, and I couldn't take that smile away from him.

We walked through the city. It was Sunday and it was quiet. Only when we got to the gardens did we see the people starting to arrive to enjoy the day. Families; young couples walking with their arms round each other; people walking their dogs; elderly people sitting on the seats charring or gazing out over Torrens Lake; people in little paddle boats, and for once I really felt part of it.

A young couple standing by the equestrian statue of George the 5th were in each other's arms kissing.

Roger glanced at them and said, "Those two look as if they're in love."

Until a couple of days before I would have found the sight of the couple kissing and embracing – and in public – nauseating. Why did I now feel tenderness for them, those two lost in each other, their bodies pressed close together as if they were one?

That had never – could never – happen to me. I was apart from that world where people loved like that; but then, it couldn't be love, it was lust.

I glanced again at them. The girl was whispering something to the boy. I wondered what it was. What did couples say to each other in those circumstances?

I looked quickly at Roger. What would it be like, how would I feel if he took me in his arms and kissed me, held me close, what would I whisper?

He broke into my reverie.

"Shall we go as far as the Botanic Gardens; they should look beautiful just now?"

"Yes...yes, that would be good."

We wandered among the shrubs, flower beds and giant trees. Everywhere there seemed to be families, and as if to mock me, more young couples, hand in hand, arms round each other. The world suddenly seemed to have become lovesick.

We lunched at the Botanic Restaurant. We had spoken little during our wandering but now Roger began as he had during the evening we spent together at Christmas. His subject was music.

"Do you like music?" he asked.

"I...I...don't have much time for music," I replied.

It was true. My life had been almost totally focused on my work, getting on and upward. That was me; that was my life. I had no time for such superficial things as music, the arts or even sport.

"Would you make time and come with me to a concert?" he asked.

"I don't...I don't think...I..."

"I really would enjoy your company, Jackie."

Why, why would he enjoy my company? What could he possibly be getting out of being with me, a near silent companion; someone who would never let him get near her – not like those couples wandering around embracing?

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