He was so easy to love, both physically and emotionally. Rachel loved the feel of his body and the embrace of his arms. He was so easy to read – his face could not hide his feelings and he never made any attempt at disguise. He was what he was; he was who he was. Put plainly and simply, he was kind, thoughtful and gentle, and more intellectually able than he recognised, which gave him a self-deprecating attitude, usually enchanting and occasionally irritating. Rachel saw so many wonderful qualities in this one man, when she was with him. But buying gifts for him is another story altogether today, but until today, she had never had a problem selecting gifts, which had always been well received. She wandered up and down the High Street staring into shop windows and wandering around stores seeking inspiration. She had already spent any spare time in the evening trawling the internet, looking at various websites for the perfect gift for him, feeling disappointed that their content did not deliver their promises. Her friends had offered advice and suggestions but nothing was ‘right’ for him. Tired and feeling somewhat frustrated, she went into a coffee shop, ordered a large latte and sat in the window nursing it between her gloved hands, while she stared at the people passing by.
Guy was absolutely lovely. Rachel thought him to be the most handsome man of her acquaintance; she loved his face, his patrician profile and sensitive eyes. In the two years since they had been together she had always longed to spend more time with him. He had always been so present in her thoughts that she seemed always to be seeing gifts for him. Every opportunity she had, she had spent with him. He said he wanted to be with her too. As her latte cooled slightly, she contemplated how much time she had spent thinking about Guy, wishing for Guy and wanting Guy. He had distracted her for almost two years. She thought of the gifts she had given him for Christmases past, birthdays and ‘just because’. It had always been so easy. But they were not dating. They were not a couple and this stark reality was causing her discomfort. They were together, when they were together, but otherwise they were not. It was a bizarre and complicated arrangement but against all reason, Rachel had for two years believed he was worth the complexity. What was more, he was worth the loneliness when they were apart for the days, weeks and sometimes months when he did not communicate with her.
Guy smelt perfect and his beautiful eyes melted her heart every time Rachel looked into them. She loved being held in his arms, inhaling his aroma, gazing into those mystical and magical eyes. Her head told her he was not perfect, he was flawed, like everyone else. When her head was in charge, she could list his faults and they were numerous. Her head also told her he was not ‘the one’; he was not going to be her happy ever after. But her heart longed for a different story... That was the reason why buying a gift this year was so important.
Rachel had gazed at bottles of his favourite single malts and gins, but that was a gift which would be enjoyed and would then be gone. She was looking for something with some longevity. She had handled every book in the large chain book store in town, looking for a special book but found nothing appropriate. She had wandered through a couple of antiquarian book shops and still not been able to find the right book – no first edition jumped out at her as it had done before. Cufflinks were for her father, shirts or festive jumpers were for her uncles and funny ties were for her “seen once a year” cousins. She had looked at board games, electronic games and walked away, feeling bamboozled and irritated. This was something which she didn’t know enough about to make a purchase for Guy – no one wants a game they already own! Toiletries were not an option! She would leave that to his sister.
Rachel sipped her latte. The view in front of the window was of a stream of shoppers, carrying packages and parcels. Rolls of wrapping paper poked out of the top of the bags, bundles bulged and ballooned through jolly Santa decorated bags and tinsel flapped in the breeze. Children were either over excited; bouncy, noisy and joyous, or fractious and bawling. Everyone seemed to be able to find gifts for family, friends and colleagues; Rachel alone felt incapable and upset as she glanced down at her latte. She drew a deep breath and pondered.
“This is an impossible mission” Rachel said aloud.
“I don’t know that I agree with you.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but really I have to disagree with your remarks. Of course it is none of my business and I realise you were not speaking to me.”
While Rachel had been watching the people passing by an elderly lady had sat at the neighbouring table. She was dressed in an old but immaculate suit; her coat was folded neatly on the chair opposite and on it rested her gloves. Her steel-coloured hair was drawn up into a French pleat and she wore gold framed half-moon glasses. Her appearance reminded Rachel of a school mistress as portrayed in old films. The lady smiled stretching out her right hand in introduction.
“Cynthia” she said simply.
“Rachel” was the reply. “Why are you so sure I can find a gift?”
“Oh that’s simply. You are giving a lot of thought to the gift, so you are shopping for someone for whom you care, someone to whom you wish to give the ideal gift, not the easy gift. A pair of pyjamas or a bottle of favourite aftershave would be the easy option. You are looking for something special, so you care about the man.” said Cynthia smiling.
“Man?” queried Rachel.
“A guess! But I’m right?”
Rachel nodded in the affirmative grinning bashfully.
“What would you like to give him?” asked Cynthia, “If you could give him anything at all.”
“Well, that’s just the problem, I really don’t know and I have looked everywhere trying to find something. I want to give him me, but I don’t think he wants me.”
“Tell me about him. Perhaps I can help.”
Surprisingly, the usually reticent Rachel began to talk about Guy. She started with the elements of him which she adored. She spoke with more freedom and candour than she had ever spoken with anyone about Guy, smiling as her eyes shone. She found herself telling how he made her feel loved and appreciated when they were together, progressing to say their time together was less than she wanted and less than he said he wanted. But when they were together the rest of the world seemed not to matter. Yet they were never together for long and the intervals between their liaisons were lengthening. Unconsciously she clenched her fists as she spoke. Her face reddened and she grew flustered. Rachel had spoken for some time, uninterrupted by this stranger when unexpectedly, she began to cry.
“There, there, my dear. That’s enough talking. You know this man is not the one for you. The way you speak tells me he is not your prince on a white charger. You are expending a lot of time and energy on a relationship which is giving you moments of immeasurably joy and hours of pain. The scales are out of balance, my dear. It seems neither of you are committed to the relationship, or you would find ways of spending more time together. I do not know why but I can guess – one of you is not free to pursue the relationship?”
Cynthia sat quietly holding Rachel’s hand as she nodded and wept.
“Then give him his freedom for Christmas and give both of you a lasting gift this year. You will benefit as much as he will, trust me. Stop pursuing a dream which cannot, or at least will not be realised, as it seems neither of you is sufficiently committed to make it a priority. Are you using one another perhaps to create an unreal and intermittent security? Sometimes things of pleasure are best let go, you had a moment, but now perhaps it needs to stop.” Her tone was gentle and non-judgemental.
There followed a long pause. Rachel dried her eyes on the handkerchief proffered by Cynthia. She knew this stranger was correct, she had known for some time that she had to let go of Guy. He was not and never had been hers. She touched her wedding ring and hung her head, blushing.
“We all make mistakes, my dear.” Cynthia intoned softly “The thing is not to let it damage your future. I’m sure he is a remarkable man but I suspect you do not want to give up what you have for him?”
Rachel’s reticence flooded back. She gave half a smile towards Cynthia. Finishing her latte, she turned to speak to Cynthia, but the elderly lady had gone. It was as though she had never been there, no empty cup, no indent in the chair. Rachel looked at the handkerchief she was still holding, scrunching it in her hand she pushed it into her pocket, stood up and returned to the counter. She asked the girl serving if she knew the old lady, or where she had gone so she could return the handkerchief, but the response was only a questioning as to which old lady. The girl added there had been no one sitting in the window except Rachel herself. Rachel felt confused and as her hand reached for the handkerchief she discovered her pocket was empty. Bewildered she went out into the street. She breathed deeply as the cold, winter-fresh air hit her, she felt abruptly alert and her mood lightened. Christmas shopping was at an end. It was time to go home, and definitely time to leave her longing for Guy behind. Her gift to Guy, would be to let him go, and end the two years where she felt distress had outweighed the exquisite moments of joy, where loneliness extended beyond times of security in his arms and where their ‘not an affair’ had consumed hours of thinking and dreaming and wishing. A new year beckoned and a fresh start… without Guy.