“Forty Love. Match point,” John called out after his tennis partner on the other side of the net failed to return his serve.
He calmly walked back to his baseline and served his next ball. The ball fell neatly into the service box. His playing partner made a feeble attempt to get to the ball but fell short, again.
“Game, Set, Match!” John announced. He walked up to the net to shake his friend Peter’s hand.
“Pete, are you alright? You played like a tree this morning,”
Peter shrugged. John and Peter have known each other for decades. They met at university and they hit it off right away. Both chose a career in the finance industry with John becoming an IPO specialist and Peter leading the finance department of a large organisation. Despite their contrasting personalities, they remained great friends and confidant to each other. They had their arms on each other’s shoulders as they walked back to their bench.
“Sorry John, just a bit distracted today.”
“Year end issues for our city’s most dependable finance guru?” John wiped the sweat off his brow with his towel.
“Nah, nothing work related.”
“What’s wrong?” John frowned.
“I may be going through what others would call a mid-life crisis,” said Peter holding his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun.
“You already drive a stupidly expensive car that is totally inappropriate for you. You’ve had your mid-life crisis,” John let out a laugh.
“Come on, it’s really quite a practical car. It has a tonne of technology. It corners so snugly that you’ll never have to worry about skidding. I feel safe in it. I can park it in the tightest spot in the shopping centre car park. It’s also easy to spot in a sea of parked cars,“ Peter retorted.
“Precisely my point. Cars like that are meant to be on a race track, not in a Woolies car park. They are not designed for your type of utilisation. So, what’s your crisis?” John urged Peter.
Peter gave John a long look and then took a deep breath.
“I have a crush on someone half my age,” Peter buried his face in his hands.
John choked and spat out the water that he was drinking.
“Should I congratulate you for attaining the height of success that qualifies you to date the next generation? Should I start calling you Rupert?” John teased.
“Oh very funny. I know it’s ridiculous and it’s probably going to be tricky. But the feelings are real,” Peter shook his head and let out a sigh.
“Feelings? What, like a teenager’s? “ John rolled his eyes.
“Like a connection.” Peter looked expectantly at John.
“Are you sure that it’s not lust? It’s very natural to have these types of feelings, you know,” John smirked.
“No, I know the difference. This is why I’m worried.” Peter insisted.
“Oh man, you’re serious. So, who’s this crush?” John widened his eyes.
Peter hesitated. After a pause, he said, “its Emma. She works at the café near my home.” He closed his eyes tight to hide his embarrassment.
“Emma, Emma…” John searched his mind trying to figure out who was Emma. Then his jaws dropped.
“The one with the long brown hair, big eyes and pretty face? No, she’s not half your age. I don’t have to be good at maths to see that she’s not half your age, a third maybe. It could even be quarter. Where’s my calculator?” John couldn’t believe what was happening.
“Please John. I know, I know. She is way too young and this is crazy. But it’s also bloody real. This is not a regular perv and smirk. I feel a connection with her.”
“Pete, do you know what a DOM is? It stands for Dirty Old Man. This is how the world will see you and judge you,” John frowned at Peter.
“Like I said, I know. It’s ridiculous but I can’t get rid of that feeling. I’m totally obsessed with her.” Peter placed his hand over his eyes.
“What do you see in her? Well, apart from the oh so yummy youthful body…oh, I’m sorry. I can’t help myself,” John smiled.
“I don’t know. It’s refreshing when we interact, like a breath of fresh air. I feel optimistic and hopeful. I get a burst of energy when I see her,” Peter explained.
“Are you guys seeing each other already?” John asked.
“Oh no. I wish. I don’t think that she even noticed me. It’s just me, I think.” Peter shrank in embarrassment.
“Thank goodness. You haven’t made a complete fool of yourself yet. You said you felt a connection but it’s really one sided so far from your perspective. Do you have any idea on how she feels about you?” John squinted at Peter.
“I don’t know. I don’t think that she dislikes me. She smiles at me. But I do question why someone like her would be interested in someone like me. I could be his father. I creep myself out if I let myself think about it. Ugh, I’m in agony,” Peter looked up into the blue sky.
“Gosh, you sound like a hormonal teenager. I think I know what it is.”
“Well, what is it?”
“Male menopause! You’re going through male menopause. Are you getting any hot flushes?” John stamped his foot and laughed at his own joke.
“Oh shut up. I’m really bothered by this feeling.”
“I’m sorry. Okay, you know what, I do have a perfect cure for such a situation.” John wiped the tears from his eyes from laughing so hard.
“You do? Go on,” Peter looked curiously at John.
“This is true. The best cure for a crush is to simply get to know her better. In time, you’ll see that she is just as annoying as anyone else in your life. Remember the time when you first met your wife?” John smiled satisfyingly.
The pair laughed. John laughed a lot harder than Peter.
* * * * *
If I can only find this as funny as John did.
Peter went home to his solid, beautiful and spacious full brick four bedroom house with a yard and pool in a nice suburb. Not being able to take his mind off Emma, he went directly into his study. He sat down at his large mahogany desk, turned the desk lamp on and then googled “Emma Fictional” on his computer.
A list of images came up instantly. Peter was taken aback by how many Emma Fictional there were and how differently they all looked. They were complete strangers to him however. He scrolled down the page and then there she was. He clicked on the link and it took him to her Facebook page.
Peter’s heart pounded as he suddenly found himself in her space. It felt intimate. This was she and her private life. He had entered her life without her knowing that he was there, looking, probing. He felt like an intruder
This feels creepy. I don’t want to sink that low. Maybe I shouldn’t do this. I should stop now.
But this is public information. If she has put it out there, it means that she doesn’t mind people seeing them. I’ll just take a quick look and stop at that.
Peter clicked. There were pictures of her with friends in a restaurant, in a park and in some parties. Then there was a picture with just her and a guy. The guy had his arms around her. They looked intimate. They looked happy. Peter’s heart sank.
This must be her boyfriend.
Peter drew his attention to the guy. He focused intensely on the photo. He was young, handsome, tall and athletic. He was stylishly dressed.
Peter trolled through the album to find other photos of the pair in different settings. Some were taken with them alone and some were taken with groups of friends. He looked great in all of them. He looked confident.
Jesus. He’s probably from a rich family to look so comfortable and entitled. Some guys have all the luck.
There’s another photo of him and Emma. This time, he was in a crisp white shirt and a tie. The sleeves were rolled up. He beamed in the photo with a smile showing off a perfect set of teeth. Part of his hair was blown out of place by the wind only to make him look competent, a man of action.
Damn it. He looks so smart. Maybe he’s some tech whiz. This makes it worse. A self-made man who knows what he wants. She’s smitten with him.
“Peter, what are you doing?”
A voice suddenly came from behind his head followed by a hand on his shoulder. Peter froze. He had been so absorbed in the photos that he hadn’t heard his wife coming. His felt his blood drain out of him.
“Nothing. Just browsing,” Peter managed to get these words out of his mouth.
“Who’s that? Oh, the girl looks familiar. I’m sure that I’ve seen her before,” Peter’s wife asked.
“Her? That’s Emma from the coffee shop,” Peter offered.
“Oh yeah, now I recognize her. She looks different when she is not wearing her coffee shop uniform. Why are you looking at her photos?”
“Oh, she mentioned that she went to this place on the weekend and it was really beautiful. I thought I would check it out to see if we could visit the place for ourselves.” Peter fumbled for a reason and hoped that his wife would buy it.
“Alright. Dinner in ten minutes.”
“Okay, be right there.”
Peter went limp after his wife left the study.
That was close.
* * * * *
Peter sat opposite his wife and daughter. The dinner table was filled with three types of salads, a roast giving off the aroma of rosemary and thyme, and a bowl of steamed greens. A basket of crusty bread roll sat on the edge next to a small tub of butter.
“Peter, there’s something wrong with the washing machine. The water is not getting heated up. I hate it when things break,” Peter’s wife complained as she passed one of the salads over.
“Call the service centre and they should be able to organise a repair,” Peter passed on the salad after taking his share.
“I really hate having tradies over. You don’t know who’s coming and when they’re coming. You’ve got to work around their schedule and then wait around all day for them. More often than not, they leave behind a mess,” Peter’s wife said.
“Oh Peter, can you let Robert from next door know that he shouldn’t be placing dirty pizza box in the recycling bin? He should know better,” she continued.
“Right,” Peter responded with a reluctant tone in his voice. He picked up his knife and fork and started to cut into his food.
“They’ve also been parking at the visitor car park again. They’re treating common property as their own private space. It’s not fair. Can you talk to them about it while you’re at it?”
“Okay,” Peter sighed.
“Dad, you need to drop me off tomorrow morning to school. I have a bunch of things to carry and I can’t catch public transport with so much stuff,” said Peter’s daughter.
Peter looked at his wife and daughter as they now ate silently whilst scrolling through their respective phones. He remembered how they were once his pride and joy. He recalled the wonderful feelings that he had for them.
His favourite memory was getting into his car at the end of his workday. The exhaustion and fatigue that had clung to his body only a moment ago would magically dissipate. They were displaced by a strong sense of excitement and anticipation. He couldn’t wait to see them at home again. He couldn’t wait to see them beam at him when he entered the house.
Peter tried hard to replicate those feelings at the table. But nothing came.
I can’t feel them anymore.
My wife and daughter were what I had lived for. I worked hard for them to build a career even when I hated my job. I did it for them, so that I could provide a comfortable home, holidays and dining at famous restaurants for them. For years and years, I did this.
Did I really do it for them, or did I do it for me? The monetary reward, the perks and the sense of accomplishment were pretty good too.
I don’t know. I’ve been so preoccupied with my career that I didn’t see them change.
Did I change too?
My heart used to be so full. Filled to the brim with nectar.
Have I let the little stings of injuries and hurts nibbled at it for too long?
What am I doing? What am I going to do?
Peter felt sick to his stomach. He left his dinner unfinished and went back to his study. He told his family that he was not feeling well and had to finish some work for tomorrow.
* * * * *
Peter grabbed his phone from his desk and SMS John.
“John, coffee at my café tomorrow at 6:30am? I need to talk.”
A few seconds passed.
“Oh God. Alright.”
* * * * *
“So Pete, figured it all out?” John winked at Peter after joining him at the café table where two coffees sat. Peter had already ordered a coffee for John. The cafe had only one other table that was occupied since it was still early.
“She’s got a boyfriend. Quite a specimen as well,” Peter said.
“I’m not surprised. She’s an attractive girl. How did you know?” John sipped his coffee whilst looking around to survey the quaint environment and soak in the peaceful atmosphere at that time of the day.
“I googled her last night,” Peter looked at John to catch his eyes.
“Of course,” John returned to gaze to focus back on Peter.
“It’s not about Emma or my longing for her. She barely noticed me, and she’s already got a hunk of a boyfriend. It’s just my wishful thinking. She is a symptom of something else,” Peter said.
“I know. I told you yesterday. A symptom of your male menopause.” John chuckled.
“You don’t have any new jokes?” Peter retaliated.
“It’s too early,” John put his hand up to apologise.
“The problem is where I’m at with my own family. I used to love them and I’m sure that I still do. But something is missing. I don’t feel alive. Not anymore. I fear that I have gone down the wrong path and worked for the wrong things.” Peter shared his experience last night with John.
“Pete, everybody feels this way at some point in their life. You can’t expect your family to make you happy. It’s not their job. It’s not them, it’s you,” John said while eyeing the people who started to queue up for coffee.
“Whoa, it’s a bit rich coming from you who has married more times than I can count. How many times? Now, where my calculator?” Peter felt that he could dish one back at John.
“I’ve been married three times. It’s precisely my deep personal experience that makes me credible. It’s a shame that so few people appreciate these valuable insights,” John was unfazed by the Peter’s dig.
“Alright, do explain to someone with considerably less experience what’s going on,” Peter said.
“Alright, I keep getting re-married because I can’t stand being alone. I need somebody all the time. If a relationship works, great. And if it doesn’t, I move on. But I need someone with me. This is my need. Do you know what your needs are? ” John looked into Peter’s eyes.
“…hmm…” Peter muttered. He was not expecting this. His mind drew a blank.
“I don’t know. I just know that something is missing but I don’t really know what I’m seeking,” Peter confessed.
“You need to figure that out. You already have a family, a career and a life that many will die for. They’re not the problem. Maybe go on a solo trip or jump out of an airplane if it helps you with your discovery.”
“Are you asking me to go find myself? Should I bring a guitar with me?” Peter smiled.
“Only if you can play.” Peter laughed.
“Maybe you’re right. I’ve been on the treadmill for too long. I need to get off to regain my sanity. Oh, how about a safari? I’ve always wanted to see the wild animals roam free in the savannah. But it’s been too far, takes too long and too expensive. The wife wants the five star treatments and I want to rough it out, get dirty and get close to the animals. We never made it beyond a thought.”
“If this can get your mojo back, it’ll be worth it,” John smiled.
“You know, I’m getting excited actually,” Peter closed his eyes and felt a wave of relief wash over him with this revelation.
“Good, I’m really glad that you’ve come to your senses. I need to go. Take care mate. Remember that you’ve got a lot at stake and don’t do anything stupid,” John gave Peter a pat on his back and left the café.
“Another coffee?” A voice that made Peter’s heart jump came from behind. Peter spun around to see Emma smiling at him. He suddenly felt shy like a schoolboy.
“Ah yes, another coffee would be nice. A cappuccino please?”
Emma took the order and left.
Peter was surprised at his own reaction particularly after he had just figured it all out.
Drop it Peter. Drop it. Don’t even think about it.
“There you go. Here’s your Cappuccino,” Emma bent over to place the cup in front of Peter.
Just go book that safari trip. All will be well.
“Thanks!” Peter pulled his coffee closer and started to sip from it.
Don’t go there. Stop the fantasy right now. Just breathe.
Emma remained standing. Sensing that she was not moving away, Peter looked up.
Oh God. She wants to talk to me?
“Hey, this is going to sound a little strange and awkward. But I wonder if you’d be interested in having a drink with me after work?”
Stunned with the question, Peter said after a long pause, “Have you been to a safari?”