So last week, I went off to the Peak District with team leaders from our Glasgow and Manchester offices that were part of the election events that we were involved with, to talk about what went well and what didn’t and how we provide an even better service in the future.
In addition we ran some obligatory team building exercises as well. I didn’t have to take part in those but the last one was a midnight walk from A to B with just one map, a compass and a couple of torches. After a fabulous dinner and a few drinks in the bar, I decided I would join them as it was a great group and we were all having such a laugh. It wasn’t too arduous. Several bottles of wine between us all took away any fear of the dark!
As we were ambling along, I was enjoying a chat with Michael from the Manchester office when he suddenly asked me if I could hear what the others were talking about in front of us. He said it was good gossip material and he was surprised it had taken this long to come up and then he shouted over to the girls from the Glasgow office, “Is he still seeing that pretty young thing with the long red hair?” and the girls dropped back and said “No. It’s another broken heart. This one has taken it so bad that she’s leaving and going round the world on her own.” And they started giggling. Bemused, I asked who they were talking about and Michael simply said “Chris Cooper”. It came completely out of the blue and felt like a hard punch in the stomach...
I have done a good job of keeping Chris out of my head all these years. Given that he works for the same organisation as me, it is inevitable that I hear his name at various meetings or see his name on the odd group email but I have never had need to speak to him since…well, since he dumped me. I have sometimes wondered if I might meet him at an event, especially when I’m up in Scotland, but I usually know by the time I go that he is not involved which makes it safe for me to attend. Although deep down at some level, I suppose, I have been wishing I might see him again, even now, after all this time.
Anyway, everyone on this black walk was now talking about him. “You know him, don’t you?” said Michael. I almost wondered then if it was a cruel joke that they had come up with because they had somehow found out about our relationship and were trying to find out more. I stammered that I hadn’t seen him in years but that we had worked together in Australia back in 2004. “Did he try it on with you” asked Heather . “ No !”shrieked Zoe “He wouldn’t. Selina’s well out of his league…..although hang on, he did have a thing with Iona didn’t he....years ago?” “Well that was never proven” said Ben “although it does beg the question why did she then ask him to go to Australia.” “Did they keep sneaking off together?” Eddie asked me as they all laughed loudly.
Suddenly I felt ill. There was a bench nearby and I had to sit down as the others gathered round, concerned. I told them I had a stitch and needed a second. If I wasn’t terrified about making it back alone in the dark, I would have told them all to go on as I didn’t want to hear their idle chatter anymore but as it was, they were all quite happy to plonk themselves on the grass around me and carry on revealing what they knew about Chris’ sordid life.
Over the next half hour, I listened to the group talk about him and I learnt such a lot.
He clearly had got it on with Iona many years ago. Then there was a young Muslim girl who worked briefly in the office and who left broken-hearted and feeling violated because she didn’t even realise he was married and he had promised her all sorts. Then there was a woman he met in New York when he was out on a job there. And then he had a very “serious” relationship with Katie, from our office in London.
And at once, I remembered having a long conversation with Katie in the ladies’ loo a few years ago when I found her crying and it all spilled out that she was having an affair with a married man and that it was made doubly difficult because he lived so far away and that he was going to leave his wife but he just needed to see his daughter into her new school because he was such a loving father but his wife was a bitch and he deserved someone who truly loved him and that’s why what she was doing wasn’t wrong.…….When I caught up with her a few months later she said that it was over as he had dropped her, saying that he loved his wife and couldn’t leave !
And then lately, it had been the girl with the long red hair who had caught Chris’ attention. And now it seems he’s on the prowl again as a young Italian girl is due to start in the Glasgow office for the summer. She’s a real beauty apparently and the group were laughing and taking bets on how long before he managed to bed her.
During the barrage of revelations, Michael did say that he had a drunken conversation with Chris a few years back when he admitted that he was seeing someone and that this one was different and not like any of the rest and that the sex was like nothing he had ever experienced. I sat up then, wondering if maybe, maybe that was me. That I wasn’t one of this long list of conquests but someone important in his life. Because what we had didn’t match what was being talked of here as cheap, nasty gossip. Zoe and Heather asked all the questions that I wanted to know in a bid to find out who it was and it transpired it was ....... Katie. Katie with her short skirts and very high heels. Yes, of course it was Katie. Katie would be very good at the whole sex thing.
As we walked back, I did a brilliant job of pretending to be interested in what the others were saying and laughing loudly so that they would have no suspicions that the Chris talk had so upset me. But as soon as I got into my room, I burst into tears. I think I cried all night as I remembered that time in Australia and how he had played me so perfectly.
I had always thought we had something so special and yet all the time I was just another in a queue of stupid, pathetic women ready to fall for his practised lines. I can’t put into words how I feel at the moment.
I know I’m not deserving of any sympathy as I chose to jump into bed with him, knowing full well I had a husband and family waiting for me at home. But what lured me into his bed, was the pretence that he wanted to be my friend and the promise of his friendship seemed so true and so enticing.
I also know that I am a prize fool and the pain of that is palpable.
Cooking for One
2 weeks ago