[This is part two of the four part Gamboling Christmas story. If you haven’t already you may want to see part one (You may have seen a cakewalk, but have you seen plenty of this (9)).]
In all towns there is one bar which is the coolest bar to hang out. This is true everywhere even in the big cities – especially in the big cities. You might think there are several or that it all depends on your individual taste, but in that case you’ve sadly – tragically almost – missed the point. Cool isn’t about what you think it’s about, it’s about what other people are doing all the time when you’re having a rest. But in a small town it’s easy. It’s clear. And in a small university town it’s so easy that even deeply uncool people can figure out where it is. And this was what Tom was thinking as he watched Jenny walk in to the bar.
Jenny was wearing thick rimmed glasses and had her jet black hair tied back in such a way that Tom was sure that later in her particular story she would take off her glasses, and let her hair fall to her shoulders in a moment designed to make the viewer say, “oh she’s actually beautiful”. But actually Tom could see perfectly well that she was beautiful now. But he could also see, as she dropped a small bag of tangerines on to the table and they all started rolling off in different directions, that she was an embarrassed klutz.
The two of them had been kind of avoiding each other since the beginning of the year. They had ended up at the same uni by accident. And really the only tension between the two of them was that they had once, when too young to know what it really meant, said that they would get married. They had just come off stage from being Mary and Joseph in the school nativity and they had been asked one of those fake adult questions that no child has ever really thought about. The adult asked if they had ever thought he they could be married and that is when it happened.
They had said that they would definitely get married and that they would be best friends forever. And that had been all that it took. The adult mentioned how cute this news was to all of the other adults and from then on they could never really escape from this thing that they didn’t ever understand.
Jenny, who had thought about this lots, had decided that it was this reason that they hadn’t been able to stay friends when they hit puberty. This, she reasoned, was not something that would have happened if they had simply been friends. In that case it would have been easier. But being betrothed to somebody who is changing that fast is tricky. Especially when you’re changing just as much. Tom just thought they’d drifted apart.
They’d been going to the same university for a year and a half now and still they hadn’t really acknowledged each other’s existence more than a quick nod or hurried “hi”. And Tom had noticed and logged in the back of his mind with a sense of embarrassment that he had had another different girl with him every time they met. And Jenny had logged in the back of her mind that she had been alone every time that they met. She was alone again now she noticed.
Tom wasn’t, however, with a girl but neither was he alone. He was with some guys. They had just come from a lecture and had folders, books, scarves and beer bottles littered around them. He looked over to Jenny who had every thing neatly packed away and on her table in front of her was a glass of white wine, a coaster, a pen and a newspaper.
Tom got up and walked towards her. As he made his way over he realised that she was deep in thought and probably wouldn’t notice his arrival. She was looking down at the paper and a lock of her hair fell off of her forehead and down in front of her eyes. She pushed it back up and then ran her fingers along to tips of the section and then tucked it behind her ear.
Tom arrived at the table and pulled out the seat opposite her. She suddenly looked up with a panicked look in her eye and almost started to say something before she realised who it was and changed her mind. So instead of the probable complaint she simply said, “Tom”.
“Hi Jenny,” he responded, “how are you?”
“I’m okay. You?”
“Yeah I’m fine.”
“What made you come over?”
“Well I just saw you there and I thought I’d say Hi.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well we’ve seen each other a million times and you’ve never come over before.”
“You weren’t alone before.”
“I actually was.” Actually, this was the moment that Jenny softened to him because although she’d been obsessing about this information clearly it hadn’t been important to him. But then she also thought badly of him again because he hadn’t been properly paying attention to her.
“Oh,” he said, “well I wasn’t alone probably. And so… Yeah…”
He took this moment to actually sit down on the chair he’d been gripping on to during the conversation so far.
“Okay,” he said, “it was the newspaper. That’s what made me come over.”
“No! No. I meant something better than that. I meant that well it reminded me of when we first met. And I suddenly thought that it would be so much better if we could just first meet again. And pretend that there wasn’t any of that history there. That I could just kind of come over and as friends we could work on the crossword together.”
“Yeah, that’s all I was thinking. I mean it’s not as if we ever did the crossword together again after that very first day, so it wouldn’t be something from the past or anything. So what do you think Jenny? Couldn’t it work.”
“Well I’ve actually only got one clue left. But maybe. Maybe that could work. But…”
“You can’t call me Jenny anymore because that’s from the past too. Everyone calls me Jen now.”
“But… Couldn’t I just have that as my pet name for you?”
“Well maybe… Oh damn you!”
“That’s it! You just got it. The clue was Love Handle (3, 4) and it’s Pet Name! That’s what you just said.”
“Well in that case you’ll have to let me call you it!”
“We shall see.”
And at that moment, as a waitress walked past and Tom ordered a bottle of whichever white Jenny had a glass of her, she felt that feeling again. And it was delicious.