“Hey Steph,” Josh began, jolting Stephanie back to reality away from her flurry of thoughts; “I want to tell you that I am actually happy to see you again. You are looking very stunning by the way” Josh said in a soft measured tone. It was as if in the stillness of that evening’s drive, Josh had begun to think seriously about his future with Stephanie. He took a sideways glance at her and smiled.
“Thanks, you are not bad-looking yourself. All you need is to take a shower after and you’d be as radiant as I used to remember” Stephanie said smiling.
The discussions flowed from there as they began to talk in somber and serious tones about their present lives. Stephanie spoke about her company dramatically downsizing and letting a significant number of former employees leave. She spoke about how her drive and work ethic were the only things that helped to persuade her employers to keep her even though she took a little pay cut to retain her position. She also wasn’t too happy with the fact that they moved her away from New York City. But with the spate of firings going on around her as businesses began to crumble and disappear, she thought it best to remain with a guaranteed job until she could find something better. After all, it wasn’t as though she was not earning enough money to be very comfortable. She suggested rather comically, while looking at Josh, that it was providence that brought her back to Indiana, for she queried, if she hadn’t returned, how indeed they could be having this date.
Josh listened attentively and smiled whenever Stephanie chuckled. In his mind, he was remembering the spontaneous and free-spirited woman he used to love. As the discussions carried on, it became clearer to Josh that she was still fun to hang out with.
He looked sideways again at Stephanie who had strangely fallen silent, staring intently, as he began to talk about himself. This was because the cute smile on his face had disappeared and was replaced with a sad, somewhat pained expression. It was as if he was having great difficulty expressing himself. That keen expression struck a familiar chord in her. It was that same dazed, innocent and painfully-obvious look that he had when she first met him in New York.
He began by narrating about the loss of his mother to cancer the year before and how it completely devastated him and his only sister. Then he recounted the stress of his job, and how it severely impinged on his social life. He talked about his desire to leave Indiana for one of the really big cities out there where he could actually get to enjoy life in between the hectic hours at his current job of saving lives. Then he spoke of a recent heart surgery that he and his medical crew performed which failed to save a young girl—how the loss of that poor girl’s life sent him into throes of sadness and guilt for many days. It didn’t even help matters that he did not have a serious dedicated woman in his life at that time to help him out in his time of great emotional distress.
As he spoke in such soft earnest tones, he struck a sympathetic figure that Stephanie’s heart went out to him. She fell in love all over again. Here was a man who is loved and respected amongst his colleagues, adored by many, and who could probably boast of having accomplished quite a lot in his life; here was a man who had many beautiful young women eager to date him—so eager in fact that they could practically do anything to curry his favor. Here was a man that was always full of smiles and laughter and an easy-going disposition as though he had no cares in the world! But despite all that anyone could have said about him positively, he was altogether vulnerable—behind the laughter and the chuckles was a man who had deep worries and concerns, and who was clearly in need of a good woman to love and support him when it mattered.
That at least was the impression that Stephanie got as she watched the keen face talking at length about his personal life. Suddenly overcome with great feeling, she gently placed a hand on Josh’s hand which was resting on the car’s gear.
“Look Josh, I have no right to suddenly appear out of nowhere to tell you what you should do with your life. However, I think you need a woman who cares for you to be by your side when it counts; someone to reassure you that everything is going to be okay” Stephanie said slowly trying to mask the depth of feeling she was experiencing.
“Thanks sweetheart” Josh began. What? He called her sweetheart? Stephanie’s heart skipped a beat because it was the first time Josh had used such an affectionate term to address her since she came back to home. As a matter of fact, Stephanie felt the sincerity in his voice at the moment, for it sounded not like those casual terms of endearment that people might regularly bounce around their supposed paramours.
“I agree with you Steph. I don’t know what I could have done if Katie was not around all this while” Josh said emphatically.
“Katie? Who is Katie?” Stephanie shot back quickly, slyly moving her hand away to her forehead as if trying to scratch an imaginary itch.
“What do you mean? Don’t you remember Katie? I was merely agreeing to the sentiment that I needed someone around when times were rough. Katie was there for me” Josh answered with an air of aloofness as though he did not realize what Stephanie was getting at.
“You must forgive me, but I don’t quite remember that you’ve ever mentioned this Katie to me. What, is she your girlfriend or something?” Stephanie asked trying to sound somewhat amused.
“Catherine—my younger sister Katie. She’s been living with me for a while” Josh replied with a smile.
“Ohh, you cheeky devil!” Stephanie shot back in relief as she playfully smacked his arm.
One evening, after a week of restless nights, Stephanie decided that she would ignore her fears and worries and call Josh. What’s the worst that could happen? At most, he’d politely decline and then I’d get some sort of closure here, she mused. Trembling with anxiety, she dialed his number and listened anxiously as the phone began to ring. Sweat beads were already forming on her forehead and she wondered if she was not really being silly in attempting to reconnect with a guy she had unceremoniously let go five years earlier.
“Hello?” replied a female voice on the other end.
Stephanie felt like hanging up the phone immediately. This must be his girlfriend or fiancée, she thought. How incredibly silly she had been to call at this time of the day. She should have gone to his job—at least if he was there, and he recognized her, that would be better than having to explain herself to some random stranger over the phone. These thoughts were dashing around madly in her mind when she mustered the courage to speak after a long pause.
“Hi, my name is Stephanie. Please, I am trying to reach Josh. Is this his correct phone number?” she blurted out trying to sound as formal as possible.
“Hi Stephanie. Please if I may be so bold, what is this in reference to? He is a little occupied now” replied the female voice excitedly.
Stephanie could hear the pitter patter of feet scampering in the background. Then she could hear an unmistakable manly voice.
“Give me my phone now!” the male voice demanded.
“No, you come get it” the female voice replied laughing.
Stephanie could faintly make out that the lady on the other end of the line was running around the living room with the phone while the man gave chase. Stephanie could not take it any longer. She felt like she was an unnecessary intrusion into another man’s life. Then she sadly ended the call. After what felt like a long time (but it really was like five minutes), her phone rang.
“Hello”, she replied dryly.
“Yes, someone called my phone from this number a few minutes ago but my sister was toying with the phone and she made me miss the call. So who is this again?” replied the male voice.
“My name is Steph…” she started to say.
“Stephanieeeeeeeeeeeee. Is it really you?” Josh shouted.
“Yes! Long time Josh. How have you been? You sound happy” Stephanie replied.
“Of course I am. What did you think? It’s been five years!” Josh intoned.
On and on, they talked for well over two hours. At first, it was awkward because no sooner had they started to chat than memories of their painful breakup started to flood back to their minds. To make matters worse for Stephanie, Josh pretended that he was still bummed out by Stephanie’s rejection five years ago. He recounted the events as faithfully as he could remember; taking special delight, in between hearty chuckles, to remind Stephanie that she was the one who had ended the relationship earlier. Soon afterwards, they began to connect as the awkwardness disappeared. Stephanie felt more at ease when she tactfully asked and was informed that Josh was still single. She narrated her story, taking special care to omit her extensive dating history. Apparently, Josh was finishing up in medical internship and was thinking of moving to a big city to practice there. He was not currently attached to any girl even though he had a few close female friends. On and on and on….
They called each other several times over the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, Stephanie kept on wondering why Josh was not eager to ask her out on a date. He had not even as much as suggested that he wanted her to be his girlfriend again even though they now discussed the most intimate things. What’s more? He had not even thought of asking her to visit him at home, nor has he suggested that he would visit her. Why was he seemingly blinded to all the subtle overtures she had been making these past two weeks” She knew that she did not want to appear desperate, pushy or overly aggressive, but she knew she had to act fast while there was still time or their relationship would permanently slip into the friendship zone. She had to find a way to make a love connection, she thought, before it became virtually impossible to make him think or view her in any other light other than that of a long-lost but now thankfully recovered ex-lover. If she had come this far, and made these in-roads already, she would be very disappointed if she did not pursue this to its logical conclusion.
At any rate, what kind of guy was Josh? It is true that he was tall, athletic and handsome and seemed to have made something of himself professionally, but what sort of man was he? How did he regard the “fairer sex”? What was his dating life like before Stephanie came back into the picture?
The truth was that after Josh got dumped by Stephanie, something tender, naïve and innocent died in him. In its place was the wily wit and words of a seasoned car salesman, the most charming smile with which he effortlessly ingratiated himself to the bevy of ladies that seemed to run after him, and a manipulative, difficult-to-read exterior. He became the quintessential ladies man. And boy, did he leave a few women heartbroken in the past! Rarely does nature conspire to deposit in one specimen of the male species such physical attractiveness, such finesse and sophistication and such old-fashioned street-smarts. He exploited it to the hilt, having decided that it was probably impossible for him to ever fall in love again.
One day, as Stephanie and Josh were bonding on the phone, Stephanie casually remarked:
“Do you realize that we have been talking to each other for 3 weeks now and I don’t even know where you live?”
“I wasn’t aware that you wanted to know where I live. Who are you—the IRS?” he replied jokingly
“Joshhhh! Be serious. You play too much” Stephanie replied feigning annoyance at Josh’s antics.
“Hey easy tigress, it is not like you offered to show me your place and I declined” Josh said laughing.
“You didn’t ask for it. Ok, don’t you want to see what I look like now?” Stephanie queried.
“I think you have put on a lot of weight. Who knows, you might be walking with a limp these days. If you want to convince me otherwise, come and pick me up after work on Friday” Josh answered.
They both laughed about his last comment. Stephanie knew that he didn’t actually mean that last comment. In any case, if he did, then he would be pleasantly surprised when he sees her because she had managed to keep her figure; she was still attractive by any standard.
“Ok, deal! See you on Friday” she said.
She knew that she had to look even more ravishing than she currently did if she was to make a lasting first impression. Stephanie was not dumb. She knew that she faced a very stiff opposition from other women who wanted Josh—if not for the fact that he was a medical doctor, then for his boyish good looks and his superlative sense of style.
Friday came, 2 days later, but it was ample time for Stephanie to have visited her beauticians or to have gone shopping for clothes and accessories. She was looking remarkably elegant when she drove up to Josh’s workplace. Work over, exhausted and in need of a shower, Josh grabbed his things to go home when he remembered that he had a date with Stephanie. He fumbled in his pocket for his phone as he walked down the hospital stairs towards the exit. His aim was to call Stephanie and ask her to delay her coming so that he’d have enough time to go home to freshen up. As he came to the main entrance lobby, there standing in elegant and effulgent apparel was Stephanie with a half-amused expression on her face.
Josh stood still as if he was struggling to absorb the glorious spectacle that confronted his eyes. In his mind, he was trying to remember if at any time in their past, he had ever seen her as dazzling as she was today. He whistled in surprise, but rather than stretch out a hand for a handshake, or go for a hug, he just stood transfixed to the spot staring at her. He slowly started to smile, and Stephanie who was suddenly feeling self-conscious because Josh’s inexplicable motionless paralysis had started to draw attention, asked:
“Like what you see? My car’s outside, but gosh, you look really worn out”
“Actually, I was going to call to ask you to come later after I might have freshened up. Seeing you now, I really feel terrible that I had not adequately prepared myself for the date” Josh said as they walked to her car.
Stephanie looked at his face and seeing the handsome earnestness in his eyes, was touched by the simple sincerity of his apology. “How keen those eyes were!” she thought. It was a Friday, and if things go according to her plan, she would be with him for the whole weekend. That was a good way to start rekindling amorous fires.
“All right. But you owe me one. Hop into the car, Doc” she said matter-of-factly, trying hard to disguise her excitement.
“No, I’ll drive” said Josh with an air of finality.
A few minutes later, Josh and Stephanie, were driving—not to Stephanie’s place, like was previously agreed but to Josh’s house.
What sort of riotous weekend would this be? What lies in store for me? Would I find myself falling back madly in love with him again? Could this really be the beginning of something new and beautiful? What if his sister was at his house? What if she doesn’t like me? What if….
A thousand thoughts chased themselves around in Stephanie’s mind as they drove on that summer evening to Josh’s house.
“Life is not always a bed of roses”….. “Despite our best laid plans, things always happen to throw our lives into a tailspin”…… “It is better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all”. These and many more thoughts raced through Stephanie’s mind as she lay on her bed wondering her next course of action.
Five years ago, in New York City, Stephanie was dating a tall, handsome and laid back guy called Josh. Stephanie was 22 years old—vivacious, bubbly and eager to experience more of life. She was attractive by NYC standards; she had an amazing sense of fashion. She was also very kind and generous especially to people in need. She was one of those people who loved to be the life of a party.
It was therefore very odd how she got romantically involved with Josh. One day she was walking through the aisle of a grocery store when she saw this tall, handsome but passive man approaching in the opposite direction. Their eyes met briefly and they continued past each other till they got to the end of the aisle. As they tried to turn the corner, they stole glances at each other again and their eyes locked again. Obviously, there was some physical attraction between them. They started walking to different parts of the store. Unfortunately the fire had been lit. Josh fumbled around for a crate of eggs and a gallon of milk. After a while, he started tracing his way to Stephanie’s direction. At last he came very close to her and pretended to be examining the different cereal boxes sitting on the shelves. This, he did, as he sought an opening line.
Josh, 26 years old, was a very laid back and self-effacing character. Despite his imposing physical attributes—his height and his looks—he was the sort of old-fashioned gentleman one might read about in books. Josh was from a little town in Indiana and had just come on a visit to his sister in the Big City. This explains why he still had what one might sneeringly call his small-town values. Unlike the alpha males that run around in the big cities who seemingly have no problems talking to and wooing women, Josh was rather respectful of ladies to the point of shyness. If it were just about a show of brute strength, Josh would easily prevail but when it came to the issue of women, he was still one to open doors for a woman, help a lady carry heavy groceries to her car or just address a girl as “ma’am” until they were on a first name basis. Stephanie was the exact behavioral opposite.
Stephanie must have sensed Josh’s quandary. After what seemed like an eternity of suspense, Stephanie turned around and faced him.
“You are not from around here, right?” She asked curiously.
“No ma’am. How could you tell when I have not even said anything yet?” he asked.
“Well, I know this neighborhood very well. Besides, something about you is different. My name is Stephanie” She replied
“Thanks. The name’s Josh. I am just visiting my sister from Indiana” Josh volunteered.
“Oh my God. I am from Indiana as well! I have been here in NYC for a long time though. Someday I’ll be back . What a coincidence!” She exclaimed.
From there, they chatted animatedly till they paid for their groceries and left the store. They eventually hooked up and began to see each other. There was something about the earnestness with which these two souls pursued their relationship for the three weeks that Josh stayed in NYC. They seemed to complement each other perfectly. It was with a bit of sadness that Stephanie eventually had to say goodbye to Josh when he left for home. They promised to keep in touch with each other.
After 2 months of their long distance relationship, Stephanie began to show signs of frustration. She was no longer just content with the long and passionate phone calls they shared, or the countless hours they spent together on the internet messenger. She yearned for his touch; she wanted to go out on dinner dates or to the theatre or to concerts with her boyfriend by her side. She wanted to show him off to her friends; she wanted to have all the ‘fun’ people usually have in serious committed relationships.
When she expressed her angst to Josh, he suggested that she could move back to Indiana so that they can be together. Stephanie was devastated by what she considered to be Josh’s reckless answer because she had expected that Josh would try to abandon his life to come and be with her in New York. Besides, Stephanie never wanted to leave NYC for a number of reasons; chief amongst which was the active dating scene. She wanted to have a full social life and to keep her options open because of the vast number of potential love interests in a big city like New York. She was completing her studies in Business Administration as well, and what better city than New York was there for her to seek employment in?
So she went ahead and broke up with Josh and forgot all about him. Years passed—Five years to be exact.
In five years, Stephanie had grown a lot wiser. She got a great job after school and was financially buoyant. Her romantic life was however in shambles. To make matters worse, her company started downsizing because the economy had gotten very bad. She was offered a position with slightly less pay at the company’s Indiana office or given the option of tendering her quit notice. Many of her colleagues were not so fortunate as they were unceremoniously let go. After long deliberations, she decided to continue working for the company at their Indiana office. In no time at all, Stephanie left behind the beautiful city she had grown to love (and now to hate) and moved back to her hometown.
At this point it is necessary to recount all the woes that Stephanie suffered at the hands of the smooth city slickers she dated in New York. She was fatally attracted to the dashing, smooth-talking alpha males that were simply out for an adventure. She loved the posh cars, the free flowing drinks, the dancing and grooving in swanky clubs, the endless parties—all the unmistakable attributes of the New York night scene. She was a social butterfly. Nevertheless she was never truly lucky with men, love or relationships.
One by one, she dumped or was dumped by the men she met. One was dumped for deceiving her into his bed when he already had a wife, a girlfriend and a child; another dumped her for another gorgeous St Lucian who might have been a model of some sort; another still dumped her because he claimed she was just too bossy; she dumped yet another when she discovered that the guy was bisexual; she dumped another man whom she called a witless workaholic; and on and on and on. In the end, she became very disillusioned about men in general and began to seriously question whether she was ever meant to find true love.
It was with her sad history of failed relationships that she came back to Indiana to start another chapter of her life. She remembered Josh and the careless, mean manner with which she broke off their relationship five years ago. She wondered what Josh might be like now and whether he was seeing someone now. To say that Stephanie seriously regretted the way she treated Josh is to say it lightly. In five years, and having dated as many men as she did, she had come to regret bitterly her unwise choice. If she could turn back the hands of time, she would never have treated Josh the way she did. For many weeks since she came back to Indiana, she tossed and turned around on her bed each night restlessly wondering what she should do.
At long last, she did some private investigations and discovered that Josh was still in Indiana and very much single. She even managed to get his phone number. On many nights, she would pick up the phone to give him a surprise call: her courage would fail her and she would drop the receiver.
Stephanie was still attractive. If anything, she had more to offer a man now. She had her gorgeous looks, a great career, rare and uncommon street smarts, a radiant personality and above all, humility and modesty which come from having experienced the harsh and painful lashings of Life’s lessons. She was no longer the thrill-seeking 22 year old of yesteryears. But she was still very indecisive concerning her past flame. What should she do? Should she call him? If yes, what would she say when she calls him? Should she send him an email telling him that she is now closer to him? Should she just pop up at his house to see whether he’d be excited that she was back in town? Or maybe show up at his workplace thus being a welcome distraction in an otherwise busy and stressful work day? Should she just count her losses and move on? Should she just call him, monitor his vocal inflections on the phone and possibly save herself the embarrassment of an awkward physical meeting if he sounded like he was still bitter over the past? What on earth should she do?
“Life is not always a bed of roses” she mused once again.