Short fiction #40 “The Meeting”

The Meeting

Jane thought she was the first one there. She hesitated at the door. Did she have the right time for the meeting? Was it the right day? She had a habit of getting times and/or days mixed up.

In one classic example she had been an hour early catching the bus to keep an appointment in the city. The bus she should have taken had crashed, killing several on board. She felt relief – and a little pang of guilt. What if God had meant her to take the correct bus, and He had meant for her to die? What if now, as a result of that mistake, she was no longer in God’s will?

She couldn’t entertain that thought because it sent her head spinning. The logical extension of that was thinking about all those little decisions one makes every day. What if even one of them was not according to God’s perfect will for her life? Did that mean everything else was suddenly out of kilter? She blocked her mind of such thoughts, consoling herself with the thought that God had given her a free will to choose. All she had to do was to be prayerful, especially when confronted by big, important and life-changing decisions. That gave her a peace that calmed these troubled thoughts rolling around in her head.

Back to the situation facing her. She hadn’t seen anyone coming in from the car-park. She peered through the door; the lights were on. Good – someone was already in the building. She tried the door; it swung open easily and she juggled her way through it, balancing her briefcase, a few extra books she’d picked up at the last moment, her lunch box and the essential bottle of water.

The air in the entrance foyer was much warmer than the crisp, frosty air outside. Her heels clicked like gunshots on the hard floor. Jane continued along the corridor leading from the foyer, glancing briefly at the garish posters of coming events lining the walls. She stopped at the door announcing that it was the ‘Conference Room.’ She pushed open the door with her back, still trying to maintain some semblance of balance with the unwieldy load she was carrying.

She spun around to face the front of the room. She froze. Busily arranging items on the conference table was someone she hadn’t seen in years. Jeff looked up, surprised as she was.

‘Jane,’ he said. ‘How good to see you. How long has it been? Three? Four years? Or has it been longer?’ Arms outstretched, he was striding quickly over to where she stood glued to the floor.

‘Jeff,’ she croaked. ‘It’s been a while.’ The words almost choked her. How could she forget that momentous weekend in Sydney? Images flashed into her memory; scenes, thoughts and feelings she had tried to suppress in the intervening years.

Jeff’s outstretched arms embraced her, enclosing her in that unwelcome manner of a loathed relative. He gave her a generous kiss on both cheeks which by now were deeply flushed. It was not so much that his hug was unwelcome; it was more of a mixture of surprise, delight and discomfort knowing that all the stuff she carried prevented her returning the hug. Annoyingly, a small part of her desperately wanted to reciprocate, but a surging wave of anger made her just want to slap his face.

‘Let me help you.’ Jeff manoeuvred her gently towards another nearby table and helped her to unload. Always the gentleman, he helped as she took off her coat.

‘Thanks. I never thought you’d be here,’ she stammered. ‘Why are you here?’

‘Simple. The conference coordinator John is quite sick and couldn’t make it here today, so – ta da – you have me.’ He spread out his arms and Jane thought he was going to give him another hug.

She stepped back a little, nervously adjusting her top.

‘I must admit I was delighted – and a little surprised – when I saw your name on the list of participants. So what have you been up to?’

Ignoring his question she blurted out, ‘What happened to you after that weekend in Sydney? I never heard from you again, yet you knew exactly how I felt?’

Her outburst stunned him momentarily. His eyelids flickered a little and he took a deep breath. ‘Well, I know you must be disappointed, but you know how it is?

‘No I don’t!’ She knew she was getting in deeper than she had planned if they should ever meet again. ‘I don’t know how things could change so drastically from what we agreed to on parting.’

‘You don’t understand,’ he said. ‘I thought that…’ Before he could finish his sentence the door swung open and two more conference participants came into the room. ‘Welcome. Please settle in, get your name tags and make yourself a coffee.’ He turned back to Jane. ‘We will talk later.’ A warm smile and he turned back to welcoming more people into the room.

Jane felt like she had been dangling over the edge of a cliff with only Jeff’s firm hand-grip between her and certain catastrophe. Now it was more like just a fingernail holding her there. Jane found a seat towards the back of the room. Within minutes the room filled with chatter and movement until all settled down to listen. Jeff attended to the normal house-keeping announcements before introducing the keynote speaker. Jane saw the lips moving, but she didn’t take in more than a few words. She saw the images on the screen, but they were meaningless blurs.

Morning tea and lunch were crowded walls of noise. She longed to take Jeff into another, quieter place and continue their talk, but other people kept him occupied. Midway through the afternoon she saw him check his phone. She watched as he leaned over and whispered to someone before leaving the room.

She never saw him again.

All rights reserved.

Copyright 2015 Trevor W. Hampel

Read more of my short fiction here.

 

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