We trudged up the hill on the unshaded side of the road, the sun shining directly on us. Just before the turn into Halifax Road, I stopped, suddenly nervous.
'I don't want him to see me,' I said. 'Are the blinds drawn?'
John said that they weren't.
'I can't do this. This is stupid. What am I doing?'
Being the great friend that he is, John said, 'I'll do it for you.'
He tried, but couldn't find the correct letterbox, and came back to me with the item after his second attempt; said that the slot at the door did not open.
I thanked him and said I would figure something out. We parted ways when he crossed the road to go back to Fitz.
I walked down the hill, mulling it over. Maybe I should just mail it, I thought; but I didn't want to spend money on postage, and I didn't have his postcode anyway. Or maybe I could leave it at the Punter and tell the guys there to give it to him the next time he goes there; but I wanted to be sure, absolutely sure, that he receives it.
It was just after 5pm on Sunday. I remembered that I saw him at the Punter the previous Sunday, at around 6pm, when I was walking back from the tennis club. On a whim, I decided to walk by the Punter to see if he was there.
He wasn't at the table where he'd sat the last time, and when I was there with him. I didn't want to look inside the pub, fearing it would be too obvious; so I gave up and walked back to college. While walking down Northampton Street, I casually glanced across the road and saw a man in a shirt and trousers, with sunglasses on, carrying a backpack, walking in my direction. He registered in my mind; he stood out for reasons that I didn't dwell on and so didn't internalise. I didn't think further about him...until, for some reason, I looked back at the man - and immediately recognised Gareth from his back view.
A few seconds later, I made the decision to turn around and follow him to the pub. I felt my heart race, my breath shorten, as if in fight-or-flight mode, torn between the two. He entered the pub before I could catch up with him, and when I entered after him, he was at the till, ordering something. I knew that it was him even as I didn't quite dare to look too long at him to confirm that it was him. The confirmation came when he spoke to the guy at the till: that accent, that voice. I lost my nerve.
Flustered, I stepped outside with the intention of waiting for him to come out; I didn't want strangers to be witness to my awkward situation. I stood around in the sun, his book in my hand, feeling absolutely stupid, as if the situation had spun out of control. What if he'd seen me? I thought. What if he'd seen me and chose to go into the garden by the back door, or chose to stay inside, to avoid me? If he'd seen me, what must he be thinking now - that I was pathetic, a stalker, following him to the pub after he'd already cut off communication?
I stood outside in the sun with those thoughts, trying to act casual but knowing that there was nothing casual about the situation and so I couldn't pull off a casualness that didn't exist. And so I seized control, walked purposefully back into the pub.
He was still at the till. I tapped him lightly on the wrist. He looked over; surprise on his face, surprise which I couldn't tell was genuine or not. He must have seen me from across the road when he was walking here; or maybe he didn't recognise me in shades, the way I didn't recognise him in shades.
'Hey!' he said. The appparent enthusiasm in his voice was jarring, but I pushed that aside.
I held out the book. 'This is yours,' I said.
'What is it?'
He took it. 'Oh cheers.'
'See ya,' I said.
And then I left. I left, walked back to college, feeling as if a weight had finally been lifted, feeling like I could put this behind me, now that I'd got rid of the book, of the letter, delivered the words that I wanted him to read, the thoughts that I wanted him to know, the feelings that I wanted him to know that I'd felt. What was the purpose? For closure, catharsis; I needed to do it, needed him to know that he'd hurt me, needed him to know that I forgave him because I could never know what it is like to be him, and so I didn't hold it against him. The last word that I wrote in the letter before signing off was: goodbye. Before that: I wish you all the best.
I didn't expect to hear from him; and if I did, I expected something rather vitriolic. And so when I checked my phone at about 9pm to for the time, after a long tennis session with Jay, it was with some annoyance that I read his message. It read:
Thank you for the letter. I feel flattered that you would spend so much time and thought expressing these things. It illustrates both your kindness and why I do not deserve your time. With love. Gareth.
It puzzled me for two reasons. First, what was this 'it' that he referred to? Was it my spending time and thought expressing my feelings, or was it the letter simpliciter? Second, why would he feel flattered? That suggested to me that he didn't think that I would view my time with him as important enough to spend time writing that letter.
Sometimes, I think I am too soft. My soft-heartedness was what kept me going with him for so long, even when he'd given me all the reasons to stop seeing him way earlier than what had happened. When he told me that he's bipolar, I felt a tenderness towards him that made me feel protective of him; and it was this tenderness that was engaged whenever he did something (or failed to do something, i.e. communicate) that upset me. I didn't feel sorry for him, exactly; it was more akin to compassion, I think.
And that part of me was engaged once more when I read his message. I wanted to say, 'Why would you feel flattered? Did you think that my time with you meant nothing to me? Didn't you know that I had feelings for you? I sensed an insecurity in you that is again suggested by your feeling flattered. Don't think that you are unloveable; you are not. We just weren't compatible.'
In the end, I said nothing, and I am not going to reply. I have said all that I have to say to him in that letter. I didn't even have anything to say to him in person. I replayed in my mind the things that I would say to him if I saw him in person, days after he sent me that message; but none of it mattered anymore. The end was inevitable. I was upset only because of the way that he did it. But he's not a normal person, and so I couldn't hold him to ordinary standards of reasonableness. If I didn't matter to him that much in the context of his life, if not seeing me and cutting communication was the only way that he could deal - then so be it.
That was essentially what I told him in the letter. Maybe that was what he meant by my kindness. He was being generous with that word, but I guess that can't be helped if he'd never really known me anyway. I wonder if he still would've said the same if I'd told him that I changed his name in my phone to 'Unmitigated Asshole'. (This was days after that text message; I don't think he's one anymore, but I haven't been arsed to change it back.)
So that concludes the Gareth saga. I will now move on to another saga, one that has been going on for almost a year: Matt.
I'd actually texted him on Friday night, thanking him for a lovely afternoon: his heroic effort in removing the water from the punt, and his punting for 1.5 hours. I appreciate it, I said.
He didn't reply to that. I found it odd, considering he'd always replied to my messages, all of them, no matter how inane (until, that is, there was clearly no need for a response). I was a bit perturbed at first, thinking maybe I did something wrong, or he thought I was too much of a princess when I didn't help him to rid the punt of the excess water. But I decided, fuck it, I'm not going to let this bother me; I don't know what I want with him anyway so I'm just going to leave it, not pursue it, just leave it.
He was off on Saturday. I saw him on Sunday. I was there in the morning, wanting to read a novel but I ended up working on my chapter instead (and was surprisingly very productive). I said hi to him at some point. Then I was there again in the afternoon to take away an iced black coffee for my walk with John. He came over just as I was about to cap the coffee and leave, stuck a straw in it.
'Thanks,' I said. He said that he was just tasting it. 'Oh, then no thanks!'
I asked him about his shoulder (permanently injured due to bartending; the punting triggered some pain); he said it was fine, but he was knackered because he'd woken up too early and couldn't go back to sleep. So all in all, it was pretty normal.
The next day (Monday), I worked on my chapter in the morning again. I was in my gym clothes and he asked if I was going to play tennis. We made small talk about how he was offered a discounted membership price at the Varsity gym (how?!?!) but didn't bother taking it up as he wouldn't go anyway. In the afternoon, I went in for my second fix, this time wearing normal clothes: light green denim short shorts, a white tie-front blouse. I was there with Barry. I noticed that he came over to us and greeted me first. (I know, I can't believe I noticed these things, too.)
Up to that point, he still hadn't replied to my message, and I'd given up on hearing from him, so I wasn't expecting anything at all. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw this from him at about 5pm:
Heya, I think I saw that message and forgot to reply! Oops! I had a lovely time too. You looking very pretty today :)
I was not only surprised, but I was kind of ridiculously happy. But I tried to contain it and tried to focus on finishing my chapter, before replying 1.5 hours later something about how it was very sweet of him to say that, blah.
THEN, HE DROPPED THIS BOMBSHELL ON ME:
Also I have to be honest, I'm not really sure where things are between us but I totally wanted to kiss you the other day but I was way too shy and didn't know if you wanted it :O
Or maybe I've taken it [completely] the wrong way
I said, 'Haha! Well[, I] invited you to my room, and we sat next to each other on my bed; and so I wouldn't have pushed you off if you had kissed me. I was surprised you didn't but I figured you were just shy.'
I was about to say that I liked him and something else along those lines; I was hesitant on whether to express the 'but' now. I was saved from it when Barry came back in and started talking to me about what I was going to say. I thought maybe I wanted to be more upfront with my thoughts, and so I said, 'Hold on I'll write more in a bit.'
I changed my mind though. The rest of the conversation went like this:
Him: Damn! I missed my chance! Yeah sorry I've been shy. I know it's not the most attractive thing in a man.
Me: I actually think it's cute. It's refreshing. Men are too full of themselves these days. Also, you might just get a second chance. ;)
Him: Oh really? [smiling/slightly blushing face emoji]
Me: Yes, if you play your cards right ;)
I nearly used the kissy-face emoji but I thought that was too flirtatious.
For the record, my message about playing his cards right was my indirectly saying to him, 'ASK ME OUT ALREADY OH MY GOD.' What is he doing?! I suppose I should've been more explicit, considering he wasn't sure if I would have been receptive to him kissing me when we were sitting next to each other on my bed. I let him into my room, didn't move away when he sat next to me, didn't flinch when he touched me, pretty much put in place the perfect conditions for him to kiss me...and he didn't know if I wanted it? DUDE, COME ON.
Okay, to be fair, I didn't know if I wanted it either. I know that I wouldn't have pushed him away; but I definitely could have done more to signal that he should be kissing me if I was sure of it. But my hesitation had nothing to do with whether I liked him; it is clear that I do. It had more to do with my chronic over-thinking and the weird place that I am in and how he makes me smile and my wish to preserve that, to not inflict myself on him, to not lead him on...
Maybe I really shouldn't go there. I want to, but maybe I shouldn't. But fucking hell, I really want to. I couldn't stop myself from asking for his number; I couldn't stop myself from reciprocating his recent show of interest; and I wouldn't have been able to stop myself if he'd kissed me on Friday.
I really like him as a person. I like talking to him, I like spending time with him, I like that he takes me out of the Cambridge academic bubble and reminds me that there is a real life outside of all this. I like that he's shy, not flirtatious, that he's sweet. I like that he remembers things about me, things that I told him two months ago, things that he's observed about me whenever I go into the cafe. I like that he was interested in my pictures; and although it was slightly frustrating, I actually really like that he was too shy to kiss me.
The time that he's chosen to resurface in my life as a romantic interest is truly uncanny. He sent his first reconnective (let's pretend this is a word) message on the same day that Gareth dumped me with his text message. Then he chose a day after I had more or less made peace with the Gareth saga to tell me that he thought I looked really hot in my tennis outfit. He'd always been kind of just there, making me smile after some guy made me cry. He made me so happy two days after things ended with Bruno when he gave me a cake for no reason.
Maybe I just want someone who makes me smile. Can't it be as simple as that? Am I not capable of being uncomplicated?