Summary: Some people lead average lives. Get over it.
Disclaimer: Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
I'm eating a salad. I once read that no great story ever begins with someone eating a salad. I guess that great stories that start with copious amounts of food and/or alcoholic beverages sell better.
And that's unfortunate for me of course, because it means that my life is not a great story. Unfortunately, that would be a right assessment of my life, so I can't really disagree with the theory.
I'm eating a salad, because I'm trying to follow this very strict diet. It's the second day of the diet, but I already screwed up the first day with a non-prescribed chocolate-bar.... And vanilla ice-cream.... With chocolate sauce... And an Oreo-cookie?... Two... Alright, seven! There! I admit it!
So, sticking to the diet is an absolute must today. How am I holding up so far? Not great. Not great at all. And those words would be my life in a nutshell.
Oh, I wouldn't say it's bad, but it's not exciting either. I mean, look at me. I'm an average 45-year old woman, with average blue eyes and average blond hair of an average length, living in an average town, eating an average salad in an average restaurant.
My job is an average one. Just a bookkeeper in a company. One amongst others. Not special enough to be noticed. I can't say I mind, because I wouldn't want too much responsibility on my shoulders either, so I can live with it. There are no feelings of 'regrets', as if I'd be missing out on something, so to say.
Let me see, what else can I tell about myself? I drive an average car. Chocolate-brown, 7 years old, dependable, due to the once-a-year-on-average check up.
I'm in an average marriage with an average guy, who works as a mechanic. He's nice. He's a good provider. He doesn't exactly look a male model, but he's no Quasimodo either. He's good in bed. Nothing sensational, I mean it's not like I'm screaming for mercy whenever we have sex, but it's ... okay? Yes, okay would be a good word for it. I have no reason to complain.
Between us we have an average of 2.5 children. That is: he has five children from his previous marriage (though I have my doubts about the youngest kid being his, not that I would ever tell him!).
He never sees them though, only pays alimony. They blame him for the destruction of the marriage. I know that 'mommy-dearest' is not as innocent as she claims to have been, but what do the children know about these things? Nothing, right?
I have no children. Never wanted them. I have a dog though. Just an average mix of different breeds. Sweet, but stupid at times. And totally useless when it comes to burglars. He'd probably cheerfully show them where the safe is... If I'd have one.
I also have a cat. An average grey one. Nothing special. Cuddly when she wants food, showing you the back of her tail, once she's fed. The dog and the cat never fight. They're too smug to do so. Average.
So, is nothing out-of-the-ordinary? No. Everything is good on average. Sometimes a bad day, sometimes a good one. Sometimes rain, sometimes sun. I can't complain that I'm bored, because I always have something to do.
I have every reason to be 'happy'. I have no financial problems, my job is steady, my marriage moves along nicely. I have no enemies.... Okay, I don't have many friends either, but those friends I do have are people who I depend on and who can depend on me. 24/7.
So, why am I sticking my average fork in my average salad as if I averagely want to stab it to death? Because that's just it, isn't it? I have no right to complain.
There's starvation, war, drought, abuse, injustice, deadly illnesses and natural disasters in the world. And I'm feeling sorry for myself because ... well, I'm 'just fine'. Big deal! Let's start a fund-raiser for that poor woman. Stupid, right?
And yet, I continue to have this feeling that I'm not alive. I'm not dead either, I'm not some of zombie who goes through life without emotions other than hunger for brains. I laugh, cry, eat, sleep, pray.. have I touched every cliché? Good. That's just it. I'm a cliché. An overweight cliché who's dying for a big piece of apple-pie.
I sigh and I grab my purse, ready to leave, when a shadow falls over me.
"Please, tell me you're not leaving." A warm voice speak to me and I look up to see the most beautiful green eyes ever. The man's mouth begs to be kissed and his hair... OMG! It's a bit too long, but I just want to run my fingers through it, grab it and just.... Wake up! Snap out of it!
"You want the place?" I assume he means that he wants me to leave.
"No. I want you to stay seated."
"Why?" I ask, slightly flabbergasted.
"I'm meeting my ex. And I need a woman.. To pretend that she's my new girlfriend." He answers.
"What does have to do with me?" I ask, still not getting it.
"I want you to be my girlfriend?" He answers.
"Say what?!" I ask, my jaw dropping.
"I want you to be my girlfriend." He answers again, very slow, as if I'm stupid.
"I heard you the first time." I snap back. "Why me? ... Go play a joke on someone else."
"I'm not joking." He quickly says and, strangely, I have the feeling that he's telling me the truth.
"Why me?" I look around. "There are plenty of girls, skinnier and prettier than me." Yes, like 97% of the other women, including those grannies in the corner.
"Yes, but you are a woman."
"What are the others? Male Venusians?" I ask. He smiles.
"I like you." I'm not sure if he's joking or not, but his smile looks kind and not cruel. "I'm sorry, I got it all wrong. I started this wrong. May I?" He points at the seat next to me and I wave my hand to show him that I have no issues. "Let me introduce myself. My name is Richard Benedict..."
"... Nice to meet you..." I say softly. Then I see the questioning look on his face and I find myself volunteering... "My name is Jacqueline Espen. But everyone calls me Yaya."
"My grandmother, my aunt from my dad's side and my mom are also called Jacqueline, so I became Yaya when I was a little girl. In highschool that was an other girl in my class who also had the name Jacqueline. So I became Yaya there as well.
And when I started working for the company I work for now, it turns out that we have two other Jacquelines at the office as well, now I'm Yaya there too." I shrug as if it's the most logical thing in the world.
Richard laughs softly. He has an amused look on his face, that fades only when he focuses back on his reason for talking to me.
"My ex-girlfriend Talitha called me last night, out of the blue. We broke up 6 months ago, because she was cheating on me with another guy ... You know, younger, more athletic, more attractive and, well, I'm sure that his bank-account played an important role as well."
More attractive? Who is this Talitha shagging? Brad Pitt? Because Richard looks amazing and his smile is to die for. What could possess a woman to cheat on a good looking guy like him?
"What is wrong with you? ... Are you gay?" I have to know... Luckily my question makes him laugh out loud.
"No. Definitely not. My brother is, but I'm not."
"Phew." I whisper and he laughs even harder. "Please, go on, sorry, I interrupted." I say more serious this time.
"... So, I had her cried out of my system, ate the chocolate ice-cream, watched the terrible movies about heart-break and disastrous love..."
"You're sure you're not gay?" I ask.
"... that I borrowed from my brother..."
"Ah. Please, go on.
"So, I'm done. I'm back to picking up my life and ... she calls me. Wants to talk to me. Wants me back."
"Did she actually say that or is that your assumption?" I ask. He gives me a surprised look as if he hadn't expected this question.
"Ahm... yes... well. Good question." He answers. And he's quiet for a few seconds. "No, she actually said that she realized that she had made mistake when she left me. That she misses me and ... She wanted to make things right."
I nod. That seems like a 'I want you back' to me as well.
"What does any of this have to do with me?" I ask.
"I don't want her back. Like I just said, I was all done, all cried out. It's over."
"Tell her that."
"Can't.... I'm afraid that if I'll see her... I'll change my mind. The thing is.. she's lovely and funny and pretty and she knows exactly how to make me change my mind. I don't think I could ever trust her again, but... she could get me right back if she wanted. I need someone to ..." He hesitates, looking for the right word. "... protect me?" He eventually tries.
I look at his broad shoulders. He's taller than me and I'm pretty sure that with those biceps he could squash my head, if he set his mind to it.
"Right.... Protect.... You." I repeat slowly. By now my disbelief must be written in hieroglyphs on my face.
"I know... I sound like a wimp..." He sighs. "I'm so pathetic.... I'm sorry to have bothered you." He gets up, clearly upset, and I roll my eyes. I grab his arm.
"Sit down." I say, I hope it doesn't sound too unkind. People sometimes tell me I'm rather bossy. "One thing at the time, please, I'm feeling rather overwhelmed at the moment."
He nods. He waits and he bites his lower lip, (which, by the way, looks soooo sexy!!) looking at me with expectation is his eyes. "I'll help you ... as a buffer between you and your ex..."
"You will?" He asks.
"Yes, sure." I answer. "Tell me a bit more about yourself though. If I'm supposed to be your girlfriend I must know a few things about you. Like work? Family? Favorite food? Favorite books? Which side of the bed do you sleep on?..."
And what do you look like underneath those clothes? No, I can't very well ask for more information on that topic, can I? "... And such." I therefore end up saying.
"I work at a bank. I manage one of the departments there. I work 50 hours a week. It earns good, but I'm not home often. I'm an only child, parents are dead. No family. So I'm mostly alone. Which is why it so tough to find out that Talitha had cheated on me. I thought she would become my family. I always wanted a family..."
He falls silent for a moment as sadness comes to his face, but then he composes himself again. "My favorite food is... spaghetti. I love anything by Stephen King in particular, but anything horror, fantasy and science fiction gets my attention... I prefer to sleep on whatever side the door is on...."
His answers make me smile. I can work with that.
"Like to watch movies?"
"Yes." He answers breathlessly. We both fall silent, then we begin to laugh. It's a weird conversation to be having.
"I think that this is what speed-dating must feel like." I eventually manage to say. Over his shoulder I catch a glimpse in the mirror of him and me at the table. We look like a couple. Laughing and looking at each other with the interest of two people newly in love.
I can't remember the last time my husband smiled at me like that. He used to. But not anymore.
"Never been on one, but I guess you're right."
"When will she be here?"
"There she is. Don't look back. She's coming at us." He whispers suddenly.
"Laugh! .. as if I've said something extremely funny. Don't look at her, only at me. Ignore her approach and pretend you don't see her until she reaches the table." I order between clenched teeth, while I quickly put a broad smile on my face.
Richard throws his head back and his laughter bellows through the place. I can't help it, I start to laugh as well. His laughter is contagious.
"Hhhello, Richard." The voice of the tall blonde woman is sweet as honey. She looks like a Swedish model.... I hate her already.
"Tal! I hadn't seen you coming." Richard fakes his surprise well and I grin. "We were so lost in our conversation... I'm sorry... Oh, by the way, this is Jacqueline. The woman of my dreams."
Talitha flashes me a look as I'm a bug on her windshield. I smile at her as if she's a cockroach on my freshly cleaned bathroom-tiles.
The tone is set.
"Dahlin, you didn't tell me there was someone else." Seriously? Dahlin? Too lazy to use your 'r'? I smile and answer for Richard:
"From what I understand you didn't ask. You merely assumed he was still alone. It's why I thought it better to come along. So there'd be no misunderstanding or wrong assumptions." My grin is so cute that it would give any Disney-character a tooth-ache.
I'm sure that if her smile gets any bigger her lipstick will crack, fall to pieces and smash the table. She sits down between Richard and me.
"Oh, that is such a good idea. Men can be so... forgetful?... when it comes to love." Good one, girl. But I won't let you get away with that one.
"I'm sure that there are quite a lot women too, who forget that they are with one guy and then accidentally end up in bed with another." I reply.
Ouch! That one hits the target apparently, because for a moment, the smile fades, but then immediately reincarnates into an even bigger one. How does she do that? Is there a form of yoga for the mouth? Or can one do lip-push-ups? Lip-aerobics?
My mind conjures up a pair of lips in leg-warmers and I can't help but nearly choke on my laughter. I pretend it's a cough.
"Are you okay?" Richard asks, looking slightly confused and worried.
"I think I caught a bit of a cold." I answer. "Yesterday, when we...?" I cough again.
".. Told you it was too cold for the beach..." He improvises. "... but that hot chocolate hit the right spot, didn't it?"
"Yes. It was lovely." We smile lovingly at each other as if we share a special memory. Kind of funny in you realize that all we do is make things up as we go along.
"That is ... sweet." Talitha says coldly, but then, wham!, the smile is back. Is she really that fake? I look at Richard and I see him wonder the same thing... Or so I think.
"How..? Where did you two meet?" Talitha now asks and I swallow hard. Okay, this was not the question I expected to be next, though maybe I should have. Ahm... Talk yourself out of this one.
"At the video-store." Richard answers. I cover my mouth for a second. Seriously? Video-store? Do those still exist? Right, I remember there's one on ... "... the one at Queen Street..." Richard adds. That's the one I was thinking of as well.
"I wanted to hire 'It'. You know, that miniseries based on Stephen King's book..." I add.
"... and I said to her that the book was better..." Richard picks up flawlessly.
"... And I agreed... And he suggested 'Stand by me', but I went for 'Shawshank Redemption' instead..."
"That was always your favorite." Talitha sighs at Richard, casually caressing his arm, which he pulls away from her touch.
"I know. I told Jacqueline all about it." Well, that was a lucky guess! It's actually my husband's favorite and I'm not entirely indifferent to it myself.
"And I said that, in hind-sight, it wasn't a good idea to go for 'It'. Somehow that movie doesn't go to well with a delicious plate of spaghetti.... And then..." I don't finish my sentence and, as if we've been rehearsing this for months, Richard picks up immediately.
".. I told her l agreed and that I loved spaghetti..." Richard smiles again as if we share a wonderful and absolutely delicious memory.
"I know it was stupid. I mean, he could have been a serial killer or something... But he looked lonely and I felt lonely and..." I flap my hand about.
"... 'why not be lonely together?' That's what you said." Richard finishes my sentence again.
"And he was flabbergasted." I never knew I could be so fake! This is so much fun.
"But I followed her home. I should have said 'no' of course, but... there was something so right about her, like I could trust her and that I was safe with her..." Richard almost seems to apologize for this little fantasy.
"We never really watched the movies, we just... talked..." Slight emphasize on 'talked' to make it sound as if there was more to it than that.
"And ate spaghetti." Richard finishes his sentence with a longing sigh. I have to agree, it sounds like it would have been a wonderful date.
"I see." Talitha's voice is cold. "Well, can't see what I can do with this much happiness... You're a lucky girl." The looks she gives me is definitely vitriolic.
"I know. I will never let him go." I add some acid to my own smile.
"You'd better not. I'll swoop right in and steal him back."
"Not a chance." I'm surprised by how certain I sound. Talitha leans over to Richard and for a moment I think she'll have the audacity to kiss him on the lips, which force me to slap her face and make a scene.... but then he turns her his cheek and the kiss safely lands there.
"Goodbye, dahling." Wow! Talk about a bad imitation of Marilyn Monroe! She reaches out to me. We shake hands. I want to slap her face regardless of whether she would have kissed Richard or not. Clearly the feeling is mutual.
And just when I think she'll challenge me to a duel over Richard's love, she lets go of my hand and she leaves. And I breathe out like I've been holding my breath for hours.
With Talitha gone, I suddenly feel rather stupid for the possessive way I had reacted, but Richard takes my hand and places a kiss on it.
"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." He says with relief. "In hindsight, I hadn't needed this, because, ... I never realized she was this fake, but I'm glad you went through this with me. I can't thank you enough for your kindness."
"It was nothing." I reply. "So, what will you do now?"
"I think, it's back to work. Then back home. Microwave some food, watch television and ... be bored. On my own." He shrugs. "But it beats being lonely with her by my side."
It's a sobering thought. I never feel alone when I'm with my husband. He loves me to death and he treats me like a princess. He never complains about my looks, only tells me that there's more to cuddle and to love. There's nothing he loves more than fall asleep on the couch, his head in my lap. Fighting for his place with the dog and the cat.
I look at Richard. He doesn't seem unhappy, just accepting. And he's good-looking, true, but I suddenly long to see my husband's smile and hear his voice.
Nothing has happened between Richard and me and yet... I've come to realize that my relationship with my husband is more than precious to me.
"I have to go now. I'm already late as it is." I say as I get up.
"Hope you won't be in trouble?" Obviously Richard hadn't thought of it before.
"No. I won't be. My boss is usually not fussy anyway. As long as the job gets done."
"Good." We both seem to have trouble to say goodbye and we awkwardly stand opposite each other. "Jacqueline? I just have to know.... Shawshank redemption?" Richard asks.
"My husband's favorite movie." I say it with a little smile. Then, from out of nowhere, I find the courage to ask: "What will you have for dinner tonight?"
"Don't know yet."
"I'm making spaghetti. Care to join my husband and me for dinner?" In my mind a mantra starts: He's going to say no. He's going to say no. He's going to...
"Yes, I'd love that." He laughs nervously and I, equally nervous, join him.
"I'll give you my address." I quickly write it down, hoping he can read it. "Six o'clock?"
"That would be great." He nods. We shake hands. And when he finally lets go of my hand he turns away to go in his direction, but then he turns back to me.
"Jacqueline, you're the most amazing woman I've ever met. I can't remember the last time I had this much fun. I know you're taken. You're husband is one lucky bastard... Don't ever change. You're perfect."
And with those words he leaves me. For a moment I'm too flabbergasted that anyone would be so impressed with average little me. Then I see my reflection in the window as the sun shines on my face and lights up my hair until it looks golden.
Yeah. Maybe I'm not so average after all. This afternoon I had improvised in a way that would make James Bond jealous and I had 'saved' a man and perhaps gained a friend.
I smile at my own reflection. I'm suddenly proud to be me. Surprised by my own thought, I immediately try to wave it away, but it doesn't work. I feel too fabulous.
So, I guess, that leaves me with one option. Be my own fabulous self and get back to work... And pick up some pieces of apple-pie along the way.