“Hey, Joe, you should come along to the Bryan Ferry concert”. Rosemary was standing next to my desk, and we had been talking about some work task I was finishing for Roger, our Managing Director. She suddenly changed the subject “he is on in town, I can get tickets and Gabrielle has also said she’d come along”.
I looked up at her eyes, trying to read her meaning in this extra tidbit of information she had just thrown my way.
“Gabrielle?” I asked, responding to Rosemary’s sly smile.
“Yes, you know Gabrielle, she’s just back from her holiday in Hong Kong.”
“Rosemary, I do know who Gabrielle is.” I looked at her suspiciously and asked, “are you setting something up?”
“Who me?” she responded with a laugh very common to Italian women where they lean their heads back and bellow attractively to the sky. Rosemary and I had danced together at an Agency Christmas party to Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. We changed the words to “Born in Italy” and sang them loudly.
However, the subject of Gabrielle was something different. When I spoke to her, which I had to do often, my voice spluttered, and my breath caught and lost itself. I would sometimes watch her too closely (no, not creepy). We had worked together for a year or so, and it felt like something was there. Or should I say, I thought there was something there.
I am never very good at reading this kind of thing, so I had been offered a position at a highly regarded agency and jumped at it. I was partnered with an art director with whom I didn’t get on. Gabrielle and I had met a couple of times since the move, just for a drink, to play pool, or for a swim during lunchtime.
She seemed fine. I was terrible. I was not enjoying work, but it wasn’t because of my partner or the fact that the new office had no lock on the toilet door. The new office was in stylish East StKilda in an old, recently renovated mansion. The trades had moved out just as the Agency had moved in, but it was obvious there were a few essential items that had been forgotten. The most important lock in any office was one of those items.
The toilet was part of what had been a large bathroom. It was positioned at the back of the room, in the open, and at the furthest distance from the door. With no lock!
Sitting there with your pants around your ankles, terrified someone would enter, it was such a stressful visit. Not good for those of us who prize the regularity of our bowel movements*.
Anyway, I don’t know how this all leads to “love”. It doesn’t, by the way. I am trying to say that even this lack of a lock couldn’t stop me from thinking about Gabrielle. Everyday. You know that feeling you hear about and see in RomComs; being overwhelmed with an embracing emotion, can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t concentrate?
That was me. And I don’t even like RomComs. I had always thought they portrayed love as an exaggerated emotion created to help endorse the commercialisation of St. Valentines Day. But I had never felt like this before. I had become so smitten (really? I can’t find a better word) it pushed me to leave the “creative” agency and ask Roger for my old job back. And was kind enough to hand it back.
I had spent a whole month away. Roger seemed quite excited by the return, and we agreed not to tell anyone, not even Gabrielle (And not Rosemary, as that would definitely get back to Gabrielle).
I walked in on my first day back and saw a shocked look on Gabrielle’s face. I am not sure how to describe it. I wouldn’t say happy.
“Anyway,” Rosemary was beside my desk again, “are you coming to Bryan Ferry?”
“When is it?” Would I ever have said no?
I can still remember the concert. Let me rephrase; I remember Gabrielle that evening. She and Rosemary had come together, and I first saw Gabrielle approaching out of a small crowd of people milling about.
The sun was setting. A warm breeze softly blew in from god knows where. She walked out of the shadow, and our eyes met. She smiled that Gabrielle-smile, a smile I have come to love even more over the years.
I have no recollection of what I was wearing or what Rosemary was wearing, but Gabrielle wore baggy, dark blue pleated pants that fell fashionably to her shoes. Accompanying this was a tight, white short-cropped sailor top with its long trailing rear collar bordered by dark blue lines.
Like too apprehensive birds, we fluttered around each other, carefully minding our distance, perhaps afraid that the wrong response would cause an unwanted outcome.
And, as I learned later, Gabrielle was thinking of other things. I had three children from a previous marriage. Gabrielle, for all her murmurings about living day-to-day and not planning anything, had the big chunks of her life well and truly mapped out (the Nuns at her Catholic high school had done their job well).
I was someone with a broken marriage and three children under ten. Wow, that is a big call and would never have been even in Gabrielle’s backup plan of the backup plan. I often wonder what I would have done if things had been reversed.
Back to Bryan Ferry and the evening of the concert. It was memorable. I say that, but I can’t remember a word I or anyone else said. I can’t remember getting there, or getting home, or if we had drinks after.
For a few months following this, we flew around each other, went out as friends, and worked together; Rosemary oversaw all this with her motherly instincts. But it just didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I am not sure if it was Gabrielle or me.
“So, you’ve got the kids this weekend?” asked Gabrielle late in the afternoon of an early December day.
“Yes, I do. We’re going to buy a Christmas tree and dress it.”
“That’ll be nice for them; they’ll have two Christmas parties.”
“I suppose. I am not really good at things like that,” I said apologetically. I don’t think I was very good at any fatherly behaviours.
“Oh, come on, I am sure you’ll be fine”, Gabrielle encouraged.
It rained all that week. Strong winds and soaked streets spread across the city. So much water fell that even the underground car parks of many office buildings were flooded.
As I exited the lift into the basement car park, I hoped our office building had been spared. I saw my yellow VW Golf off in the distance, dry and waiting in its bay. Relieved, I approached quickly. The car’s radio aerial was draped in something. The closer I came, the more the “something” glittered in the low overhead lights.
Wrapped around the aerial had been placed shiny Christmas tree baubles, little figurines of Santa, his reindeer, gingerbread houses, and little, wrapped boxes.
“Have a great weekend”, read the note I found. It was signed “Gabrielle”.