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The Relationship That Never Was

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VICTORIA TEMPLETON WAS angry and confused. She considered herself intelligent, well-educated, fun to be with and good-looking, yet here she was approaching the end of her thirties and still single. The closest she had come to marriage was in her late twenties when she lived with her boyfriend for five years, but he turned out to be a waste of time. She moved to a larger town, hoping to improve the odds of meeting Mister Right, but instead ended up meeting a string of Mister Wrongs. The last straw was seeing on Facebook that her ex-boyfriend was getting married and starting a family.

Then she met Marcus Standing. He was at a book launch organised by the publishing company she worked for and there was an instant click. He was a tall man in his mid-forties, and Victoria found him intelligent and not unattractive. Okay, in her twenties, she would have passed and she didn’t like the fact that he had a kid from a previous marriage, but in recent years meeting an available man with a working brain was such a rare event that Victoria felt she had to adjust her standards. Besides, she thought, an average-looking man like Marcus would probably appreciate an attractive woman like her more than a good-looking man. When she suggested they exchange phone numbers and go for a drink, he responded with enthusiasm.

‘I’m glad to see you’re not threatened,’ said Victoria.

‘By what?’ said Marcus.

‘My taking the initiative and suggesting a drink.’

‘Do men find that threatening?’

‘Many of them, yes.’

‘I see,’ said Marcus. ‘Well, apparently I’m not one of them.’

Victoria went home that night pleased with herself. She wanted a relationship with a man who respected her as an equal, and this seemed like a good first step. However, the days passed and Marcus didn’t call. At first, Victoria told herself that he didn’t want to be pushy, but after a week it dawned on her that maybe he had taken the whole initiative thing too literally. Men were like that. You tell them you want something and they think that’s all you want. When radio silence reached Day Ten, Victoria picked up the phone and called him.

‘Hi there!’ said Marcus, sounding genuinely pleased to hear her.

‘So you remember me?’ said Victoria, aiming for playful irony.

‘Of course! Victoria Don’t-call-me-Vicky from the book launch last week.’

‘Um, two weeks ago, actually.’

There was silence on the phone. Victoria had a mental image of Marcus frowning at her implied criticism. God, why were men’s egos so fragile?

‘Look, it doesn’t matter,’ said Victoria quickly. ‘I just wanted to know if you’re still interested in going for that drink?’

Marcus replied in the affirmative and they arranged to meet on Friday evening. Victoria made a point of getting Marcus to choose the location and he suggested a wine bar close to where she lived. She had spoken of her neighbourhood during the book launch and Victoria took it as a good sign that Marcus had been paying attention.

It also meant it was easier to go back to her place at the end of the evening, which is what ended up happening. Victoria hadn’t intended to sleep with Marcus on the first date, but after two hours of intelligent conversation, she realised she was hooked. Victoria knew from painful experience that a decent man did not necessarily translate into decent sex, so if Marcus was a crap lover, she thought it better to find out sooner rather than later. Fortunately, he wasn’t. In fact, he had a sizable cock and knew what to do with it. He also scored points for taking the initiative when it came to wearing a condom. Afterwards, as Victoria lay naked in his arms, skin to skin, she put a hand on his chest and let out a deep sigh.

Finally, she was in a relationship.

***

Victoria had two wonderful weeks. Marcus was a freelance writer, which meant he could work his schedule around her, a perfect arrangement. The sex got better as she grew more comfortable with him, and she loved conversing with such an attentive listener. The only thing she dreaded was his upcoming weekend with his son, during which she wouldn’t see him. She was afraid she might be jealous, but it turned out that having a weekend alone provided a nice break. Plus, when Marcus came around on Sunday evening for dinner, the sex that night was all the sweeter. This relationship was showing real promise. Who knew where it might go?

Victoria awoke early on Monday morning. On Mondays, she didn’t have to be at the office until lunchtime. Marcus was already awake, lying on his back in her bed, staring up at the ceiling. Victoria snuggled up to him and let out a deep sigh. Marcus gave her body a friendly squeeze and moved his leg so she could get closer. They lay together in blissful silence.

‘Isn’t this wonderful?’ said Victoria.

She felt Marcus hold his breath. His thumb, which had been stroking her shoulder, stopped moving. Victoria twisted her head to look at him. Marcus looked at her.

‘I güvenilir bahis know what you want me to say,’ he said. ‘But I’d prefer to keep quiet.’

‘What are you saying?’

‘I’m saying that I don’t want to say anything.’

Victoria pulled away and sat up. She grabbed a pillow so she could cover herself while she glared at him. Marcus pushed himself up to a sitting position, his back against the headboard. He still wore a stupid half-smile and Victoria wanted to slap it off his face.

‘Marcus, have you any idea how vulnerable I am right now?’ she said.

‘Yes, I think so.’

‘Then how can you say that?’

Marcus frowned and gave Victoria a serious look.

‘Do you want me to leave?’ he said.

‘Is that what you want?’ said Victoria.

‘Not particularly.’

‘Not particularly?’

‘Look, I’d rather stay. But if my being here upsets you, I don’t want to impose myself.’

‘What upsets me, Marcus, is that you clearly don’t want to be here!’

‘That’s not true. I just don’t want to endorse the word “wonderful”.’

Victoria couldn’t believe her ears. Here was an average-looking man who should consider himself lucky she was consenting to have sex with him acting as though she were the lucky one! Who the hell did he think he was?

‘Marcus, on second thoughts, I’d like you to leave,’ said Victoria.

She was glad to hear her voice sound crisp and in control. Marcus held her gaze for a moment. Victoria maintained eye contact. Marcus gave a nod and climbed out of bed. Victoria pulled the cover over her shoulders and watched him get dressed. He did it like a man going to work, detached and unhurried. Finally, he was dressed except for his bare feet.

‘Nothing to say?’ said Victoria.

‘Not really, no,’ said Marcus, looking around for his socks.

‘Not even an apology?’

Marcus turned towards her. After a moment, he sat back down on the bed and looked at her across the bedcovers.

‘You said, “Isn’t this wonderful?” ‘ said Marcus. ‘And I was supposed to answer, “Yes, Victoria, this is wonderful, isn’t it?” Right?’

‘You make it sound like a… an obligation.’

‘Well, it kind of is, isn’t it?’

Marcus was half turned on the edge of the bed so he could face her. Victoria dreaded what he might say and tightened her grip on the pillow which covered her. Marcus saw the movement and contempt flickered across his face.

‘Are you too vulnerable for this conversation?’ he said.

Victoria glowered at him, furious. Marcus nodded, unsmiling.

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Then here’s the truth: Being with you is not a wonderful experience, not for me. You claim to want an equal relationship, yet it’s perfectly clear that you consider you’re doing me a massive favour by inviting me into your bed. You act as though I should be on my knees with gratitude and that’s very unpleasant for a man.’

Victoria swallowed. She wanted to deny it, to tell him his male ego was distorting his judgement, but before she could, something inside her cracked and she burst into tears. Within seconds, the pillow was pulled from her arms, strong hands were lifting her bodily onto his lap and she felt a man’s strong chest against her cheek. She had a flashback of her former boyfriend sitting next to her as she cried, asking, ‘Would you like me to give you a hug?’ and Victoria held Marcus tight and cried her heart out.

***

Victoria experienced two more happy weeks. It was great to be with a man who could handle her when she was upset. It made her realise how emotionally inept the men in her past had been. And, paradoxically, because Marcus could handle her anxiety, she became less anxious. People at the office noticed a change in her. Victoria found herself admitting that she had met ‘someone special’ and when people asked if it was serious, she’d say: ‘Not at present… but who knows where it may go?’

It was a Thursday evening when it all came crashing down. They were in her apartment preparing a pasta meal together–Marcus chopping vegetables and Victoria at the cooker–with glasses of red wine in easy reach. Marcus laid the table while Victoria finished cooking and the two of them sat down to eat. There were candles on the table, her favourite music played in the background, and the atmosphere was so romantic that Victoria reached across the table and took Marcus’s hand.

‘Marcus, I am so enjoying this,’ she said.

‘So am I,’ he said, squeezing her hand.

‘Glad to hear you say that,’ said Victoria, taking back her hand. ‘And who knows where this may go?’

It had sounded light and playful to her ears, so at first Victoria didn’t understand what was happening when Marcus stopped eating and carefully laid down his cutlery. He looked at her with his serious face and Victoria’s heart began to race.

‘I didn’t mean anything by it,’ she said.

‘Yes, but it’s not the first time you’ve said it,’ said Marcus. ‘In fact, this is the third time in the past güvenilir bahis siteleri two weeks.’

‘Are you keeping count?’

‘I have a good memory. Of course, if you think I’m mistaken, you’re free to correct me.’

Victoria dropped her cutlery into her plate with a clang. He was referencing a previous argument and she did have the stomach to repeat it.

‘Marcus, don’t do that.’

‘Victoria, you were the one who told me not to assume my memory was perfect.’

‘Yes, and you’ve made me regret saying that ever since! You’re right, okay? Your memory is correct! I acknowledge the accuracy of your recollections! Happy?’

Marcus sighed, sat back in his chair and said nothing. Victoria drank her wine, emptying the glass. She let the alcohol seep into her system and looked up at the man across the table.

‘Marcus, when I said, “Who knows where this may go?” I was feeling close to you. I was feeling romantic. And when I feel like that, I say things. Things which reflect how I feel. Do you understand?’

‘Yes, I think so,’ said Marcus. ‘You’re saying that you’re “in the moment”. In the emotion, so to speak. You don’t literally mean: “Who knows? We may end up getting married and having children.” Right?’

‘Of course not!’ said Victoria. ‘We’ve only known each other a month!’

‘Good,’ said Marcus. ‘I mean, as long we’re clear that marriage and children are off the table, we’re fine. And I apologise for misunderstanding you.’

Marcus refilled Victoria’s glass and topped up his own. He put down the bottle and looked at her. Victoria was staring at him. He nodded to himself, took a sip of wine and returned her gaze. Victoria shook her head slowly.

‘Why did you have to say that?’ she said.

‘About marriage and children being off the table?’

‘Yes.’

‘Because “Who knows where this may go?” implies that they are on the table. And I wanted to be sure there were no misunderstandings.’

‘But you can’t say that, Marcus! You don’t know what might happen in the future!’

‘Not true, I’m afraid.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Listen, Victoria, when I was with my first girlfriend, I knew right from the beginning that I just wanted her as a girlfriend. Whilst with Lizzie, I knew from Day One that I wanted to marry her. Deep down, a man knows.’

‘That’s not true! I know plenty of men who don’t know what they want!’

‘Yes, so do I,’ said Marcus. ‘But even those men know what they don’t want. Of course, a woman can use guilt to get a man to marry her, but that’s not what we’re talking about, is it? You want to be with a man who not only satisfies your criteria, but who also chooses you. You want him to want you. Am I right?’

Victoria stared at Marcus, fighting the urge to cry. Her food grew cold in front of her and the wine tasted sour in her mouth. The romantic evening they were having felt like it happened a year ago. She cleared her throat and spoke, forcing herself to sound calm, controlled.

‘Marcus, is this your way of telling me that you don’t want me?’

‘No, I’m telling you that I’m happy being your boyfriend,’ said Marcus. ‘But if you’re looking for a man to be your husband or life partner or whatever term you want to use, then I’m telling you: I’m not that man.’

‘But how can you know?’ cried Victoria, tears now coming. ‘We’ve only just started! How can you know we’re not going to grow closer together? Love is something that happens over time, Marcus!’

‘Yes, that can be true.’

‘So, how can you say that and still think you might never want to marry me?’

Marcus blinked. He frowned.

‘That’s a good question,’ he said. ‘Just give me a minute, would you?’

Marcus sat back, glass in hand, and stared into space. Victoria watched him, mouth open in surprise. Had he just paused their argument? Victoria thought back to previous relationships and realised that this was exactly what he’d done. Past men had either stonewalled or kept fighting until she walked out or caved in, but this hitting the ‘pause’ button was new to Victoria. He was genuinely considering her question, and she realised that she respected him for it.

‘Oh,’ said Marcus to himself.

Well… she had respected him for it. Until that moment. But when Marcus gulped down his wine in one go and put the empty glass on the table, all the while avoiding eye contact, Victoria felt sick. Marcus took a deep breath.

‘I have an answer to your question,’ he said.

‘I’m not going to like it, am I?’ said Victoria.

‘No. You’re not.’

Finally, Marcus looked her in the eye. He looked sad and that sadness hurt Victoria in a way she didn’t even understand. It was like stomach cramps of the soul. She took a huge gulp of her own wine and gestured for Marcus to bring it on.

‘It can’t be worse than you not wanting to marry me,’ she said.

Marcus stared at the table with a look of utter misery. Victoria wanted to run from the room.

‘Marcus, please! Just iddaa siteleri get it over with!’

‘Okay.’

He took another deep breath and began.

‘When I met Lizzie, I genuinely thought I was in love,’ he said. ‘That’s why I asked her to marry me. But what I realise now is that it wasn’t love — it was lust. And, although I felt lust before, Lizzie was the first woman I lusted for to actually have sex with me.’

‘Are you saying that, before Lizzie, you had sex with women you didn’t feel lust for?’

‘Kind of…’ Marcus struggled to think. ‘I mean, Lizzie was the first woman where the sex was really Sex with a capital S. Do you know what I mean?’

Unfortunately, Victoria had the horrible feeling she did. Lizzie was clearly an amazing shag, which meant…

‘Are you saying I’m crap in bed?’ said Victoria.

‘No!’ said Marcus. ‘I would never say that!’

‘But you think it?’

Marcus hesitated.

‘I don’t like the phrase “crap in bed”,’ he said. ‘I mean, sex is not just about–‘

‘Get out!’ cried Victoria.

There was a moment of stunned silence, like after an explosion. Victoria’s hands were bunched into tight fists. She glared at Marcus as though his very existence offended her.

‘I said get ooout!’ she cried, her voice ending on a screech.

Marcus gave a small nod and calmly pushed his chair back. Something about his calmness infuriated Victoria and–to her horror–she found herself on her feet, hair over her face, screaming like a madwoman.

‘Now! I want you out now! Get out! Get out! Get out!’

Marcus grabbed his jacket and backpack and was out of the apartment in under three seconds, closing the door quietly behind him. Victoria listened for the sound of his feet on the stairs, but there was a pause — probably to put on his jacket. She wanted to rip open the door and tell him to put on his fucking jacket in the street. Then the footsteps came, swift and unhesitating, and at the end the closing of the main door. He was gone.

Victoria went over to her couch and spent the next two hours crying.

***

Marcus sent Victoria a text message the following morning: ‘I’m sorry if I hurt you. Let me know if you want to talk. Marcus’ Victoria wanted to text back, ‘Burn in Hell, Fuckface!!!’ but she resisted the temptation. No, ghosting him would be far more devastating.

Except it wasn’t. After a week, Victoria felt like she was the one being ghosted. She was too embarrassed to share details of the Marcus situation with her friends and colleagues, so she kept it to a vague ‘He showed his true colours’ and ‘He’s still in love with his ex’. Most people, especially male colleagues, accepted her version at face value and it was nice to hear them say, ‘You deserve better, Victoria.’ But a couple of her female friends had dug a little deeper with their questions and their refusal to condemn Marcus, even after getting the answers, troubled Victoria a great deal.

Finally, she couldn’t take the silence any longer. Victoria sent Marcus a text back, telling him she wanted to talk and naming a time and place. It was only after she sent it that she realised it was Day Ten after the fight.

‘Shit!’ she said.

***

Victoria was free on Wednesday and she had suggested an afternoon meeting in a coffee shop; the evening felt too much like a date and she wanted the morning to mentally prepare. She did a Pilates class at the local gym and treated herself to lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, so by the time she walked into the Freedom Coffee House, she felt refreshed and confident.

The Freedom Coffee House was open plan and large enough to accommodate a balcony floor which overlooked the clusters of tables and chairs below. Victoria arrived ten minutes early, bought a cappuccino at the counter and went up the curved wooden staircase to claim one of the tables with a view. Her intention was to watch for Marcus from above. Unfortunately for her, he was already there.

Marcus sat in a leather armchair next to a sofa away from the balcony. There were printouts and folders on the coffee table before him, along with a large mug and empty plate, and Marcus was reading from an open laptop perched on his leg. As Victoria viewed him with displeasure, he looked up.

‘Victoria!’ he said cheerfully. ‘I was just doing some work.’

He closed his laptop and stood up, ever the gentleman. But he clearly still expected Victoria to come over and sit on the sofa next to him.

‘I’d prefer to sit there, please,’ said Victoria, pointing to a vacant table next to the balcony.

Marcus shrugged and began packing his stuff into his backpack. Victoria sat in the chair facing the sunlit glass shopfront and put her shoulder bag and coat onto the adjacent chair so that Marcus would have to sit opposite her. She wanted this to be as business-like as possible.

Marcus came over holding armfuls of his things and paused, looking at the setup. He smiled and took the chair intended for him, hanging his jacket over the back and stashing the backpack under the corner of the table. He had left the empty plate where it was but brought the coffee mug with him. Victoria looked down at it and saw it was empty.

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