She paused, and turned to sit astride him, cupping his disappointed face with her hands. She bent and kissed his forehead.
‘Okay, I’ve just said that I’ll want to change you,’ she said, ‘but I won’t let you change me. That sounds unfair, but most men come with almost innate cultural expectations of superiority. You must have heard the expression “glass ceiling”. It’s a fact. Women have fewer chances of succeeding at interviews, getting promoted or being paid equally. Lots of men seem to feel that it’s okay to grope women, to mentally undress them or to leer at other women than the woman they’re supposed to love.’
‘I’m not like that, Mel,’ he insisted.
‘I agree, from what I’ve seen of you so far, ‘she said, ‘but what would you be like once your ring is on my finger?’
Jamie sat up straight, propping himself up on his hands and facing her as she still sat astride him. He pouted, looking offended.
‘Okay, Jamie, what would you expect from marriage? Babies, a housemaid, a sex partner, arm-candy? Suppose we did get married and that I had a baby – I would probably hope for a child sooner rather than later. Who would stay at home to look after it? It wouldn’t be fair to expect your Mum to step-in. She’s not getting any younger and she’s already doing her stint with Elaine for Tracy. Children create demands for care until they’re in their mid-teens.’
Jamie looked stunned both by the question and by the implications of what she was suggesting their future could be like.
‘Oh!’ she said, ‘You think that it would be my job to do all that? I should just give up my career, should I? That you’d carry on as if nothing had happened? Think again, mister.’
Now there was fire in her eyes.
‘Okay. I hear what you’re saying.’ He said, ‘Obviously, you’ve thought harder about this than I have. We don’t need to get married if you don’t want to. I’d just been thinking about what you asked about where we go from here. If snatched weekends with you are all that you’re offering for now, I’d rather have that than having no relationship with you at all.’ He looked at her, his eyes beseeching hers.
‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘I honestly don’t know, but if we are going to have any sort of future together, I still need to know a lot more about you. I couldn’t stay with you if you were to let me down in a key area. If I’d married Craig, for example – God forbid – and I only found out afterwards what a control freak he is, I’d have left him like a shot.’
Neither of them spoke for a minute or two – both were lost in their quite different thoughts. They got off the bed and sat side by side on the sofa.
Mel changed the direction of the conversation, seeking a clue to their conundrum elsewhere.
‘Why are you still single anyway Jamie?’ she asked, ‘After last night I find it hard to believe that you’re gay. You’re twenty-seven aren’t you?’
‘Being single doesn’t necessarily mean that someone’s gay, you know. For the record, I’m not gay,’ he insisted, ‘and I know that it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true,’ he said, ‘Until you, I’d simply never met anyone that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.’
‘There you are again,’ she said, ‘the rest of your life! Jamie, will you still love me when I become old, fat, grey, wrinkled and my main assets have moved south?’
‘“In sickness and in health,”’ he said, ‘Mel, you have a beauty that, as they say, is more than skin deep. You’re a lovely person at every level – your honesty and the way you treat everyone the same. You don’t hide your feelings – you tell it like it is – there’s no bullshitting or pretence. I love that about you – even when it hurts to hear you tell me how I wrong I am in my thinking.’
‘I don’t think that you have any idea, even yet, Jamie, what an out-and-out bitch I can be.’
‘Let me ask you then,’ he said, ‘Why are you still single? You’re the most desirable woman that I’ve ever met. I’d walk across broken glass, across coals of fire, if that’s what it took to get you to marry me.’
‘You still don’t get it, Jamie,’ she said, ‘I have a real problem with the whole idea of unbreakable commitment. It frightens me.’
‘Then I don’t see a solution to your “what next?” question.’
‘We’re still young,’ she said, ‘this is our first chance to get to know each other properly. I don’t regret a second of it. I hope that we’ll have lots more times like this when we can explore our options in our changing mutual understanding. When we know each other better – perhaps in a couple of years – if, we’re still together and if we still love each other – I’ll think differently. Perhaps we’ll both think differently. You say that you’d walk across broken glass – I’m not asking you to do that, but can you just give us more time?’
‘Okay, Mel,’ he said, ‘I’ve listened to everything you’ve said, and what you’ve said makes good logical sense. Please don’t hate me, but there’s something that I have to ask.’
‘Oh, God!’ she said, ‘That sounds ominous. Go on.’
He sighed, his head in his hands for a moment while he plucked up the courage to proceed.
‘I’ll just say it straight out – is your unwillingness to marry – your excellent logical objections – they’re nothing to do with how close you and Marcus are getting are they?’
Mel gasped, her mouth and eyes wide open as she stared at him.
‘I don’t know whether I should laugh that off or slap you,’ she said. ‘Are you serious?’
‘I dreaded asking,’ he said, ‘but I see you two so often with your heads together, laughing. You seem to get on with him so well. I admit it – I’m jealous.’
Mel shrugged her shoulders.
‘Jamie, you’ve just proved my point perfectly. You are too easily hurt. You simply don’t understand banter. Me and Marcus are merely good workmates and we’re probably better at what we do because we can banter and enjoy a laugh with each other.’
It was Mel’s turn to put her head in her hands.
‘Listen, I don’t find jealousy attractive. Perhaps some women find it reassuring – I don’t. To me it’s a sign of possessiveness. If you’re going to get jealous every time I smile at a man or joke with him, Jamie, marriage isn’t going to be on the cards at all.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘It’s just that I love you so much, and I’m scared that you’ll find someone that you feel that you can relate to better. I realise that jealousy isn’t nice, but I was worried, and I felt that I had to ask.’
She thought about what he’d said for quite a few minutes. He didn’t dare break the silence.
Eventually, she looked up.
‘Okay,’ she sighed, ‘You’re a dope, but you’re my dope. You were right to ask – but you should have asked sooner. I don’t want you to have worries festering in you. However…,’ she paused, ‘Did you really not know?’
‘Know what?’ he asked.
‘Marcus is gay. He has a husband who works for the Council.’
She laughed at the horrified expression on Jamie’s face.
‘Come on,’ she said, ‘It’s not illegal – and you can’t sack him for it.’
‘How could I not know?’ he asked.
Mel moved closer to him and put her arm around him.
‘Oaf!’ she said.
He nodded his head.
‘Am I forgiven?’ he asked
She pulled his head to hers.
They kissed with a deep longing for each other, gasping for breath when their faces parted, and laughing happily’.
Later, they strolled to a restaurant in the town and walked back to the lakeside after donning some warm outerwear.
They sat on a bench, their arms around each other and watched the Sun set over the lake, the trees in their rich autumn colours and the facing mountains. She shivered and cuddled into him as they exchanged words of love. As if by telepathy, their heads parted, they looked at each other and laughed.
‘I’ll race you back to the lodge,’ she said, ‘Winner gets into the hot tub first.’
After a second night of energetic lovemaking, the following morning they reluctantly faced up to the knowledge that they didn’t have much time before they’d have to check-out of the holiday park.
They sighed, showered, dressed and packed before they went for another cooked breakfast to prepare for the long drive home.
Her final words before they left the lodge were,
‘I should have brought my camera, if only to photograph that stiffy, so I could remind you of this weekend when you’re old and bent.’
I continue with another of the architecture shots that I took on my afternoon in Liverpool a few weeks ago. For today’s photo, I’m using an image of India Buildings in Water Street Liverpool. I remember when I first started work in a bank, after leaving school in 1960, this building was directly opposite the bank and we used to pop into the basement Mecca café at morning break time for a coffee. The building is now being refurbished for future occupation by HMRC staff – Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – as a regional office.
For all the street shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens at an ISO of 100. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/200 secs @ f/5.6 and 16 mm.