During my time at university, I would often work or intern during the summer months. One year, I was working at a cancer research facility, it was just a student admin job but I loved it. On my first day, I walked in and noticed a rather handsome Brandon Boyd circa 2002 looking boy peeling off his bike leathers and settling in at his desk. Aside from the likeness to the frontman of Incubus, something about him was so familiar to me. As the day wound on, and we all made the usual introductory small talk, it transpired that I did know this person after all. His name was Henry; and he was the reason a random girl I went to school with hates me to this very day.
When I was seventeen, a friend of mine, in a different social group, wanted me to get to know her friends a little better. She arranged a night out with a few of her girlfriends and one of their boyfriends, a boy named Henry. Now, this group of girls were incredibly introverted so, during our evening together, there were quite a few painfully awkward silences. At one point, Henry resorted to "guess the theme tune", (anything to break another chasm of silence we'd fallen into) he started singing the intro to an obscure animated show that was on when we were kids and I jumped in at the end hoping someone else would join me, they didn't. So, him and I just carried on with gusto and went for a big finish. He started laughing, looked over to me and suddenly shouted across the table, in the very crowded bar,
Wow, you're so funny,
YOU SHOULD BE MY GIRLFRIEND.
So, with everyone still staring at me, I raised my hand in the international "stop that please" gesture and very slowly, but very loudly said, "NO THANK YOU, HENRY". Then we all finished our drinks in absolute silence.
I will never forget the way his girlfriend looked at me, like I had waded right into her life and shit on her chips.
I ran into Rebecca in the school nurse's office shortly after this incident, she took one look at me and said, "So, Henry and I broke up. You can ask him out now, cant you? To which I replied, "Oh no, I'm sorry to hear that. No thanks, I don't like him that way". She snorted derisively at me and shook her head. Jeez, I thought, I only came in for some ibuprofen, how has this turned into an episode of Sweet Valley High? Rebecca then told me I looked like a man and scuttled off into the shadows (much like that Gollum creature from Lord Of The Rings). From that moment on she never spoke to me again and, as we weren't in the same friendship group, I haven't really seen her in the years since.
Apparently, she's been very busy trying to stop some midgets getting into Mordor.
Aaand back to the present:
Four years later, Henry and I find ourselves working together. He has matured, and appears to own a motorbike (or has developed a fancy for leather onesies). As soon as I realised who he was, I berated him for being such a douchey boyfriend and for getting me into so much trouble with his humiliated ex-girlfriend all those years ago. We shrugged it off and marvelled at how much we'd grown, he told me him and Rebecca were even friends now. Over time, Henry became one of my work friends, during this period, both he and I were in long term relationships so we would often gush over our other halves. He kept saying how happy and settled he was and how much he'd changed as a person since 'Munchiegate'. He even mentioned wanting to propose to his girlfriend and we'd talk at length about how and when he wanted to do it.
Then one day, we were alone together in the office. He was filing and I was sat at my desktop, typing up some medical notes. Conversation flowed as usual and there was banter, as there often was. I can't remember what we were talking about but I remember laughing and saying, "You're such an idiot Henry.." at which point he blurted out,
I completely froze. Seriously? This again? His sentence just hung there in the air while I searched for a viable response. As was often the case in my young adult life, I had absolutely no idea what to do with this so, naturally, I just stared at my screen and wiggled my mouse around as though I hadn't heard a word he'd said. This ought to work, I thought. We're British, we can just ignore this thing until it grows legs and walks itself away, out of our lives forever. For a second there, I thought my cunning plan had worked until:
"Don't you want me to think about you?"
Bleeeeeeeeeeeeurgh. No, I don't want you to think about me. I want you to think about your poor girlfriend, you fucking muggle. Why do you keep doing this? What exactly do you hope to achieve here?
It was at this point I realised that, despite some pretty fervid inner monologuing, I still hadn't actually said anything. How does one respond to a clumsy quadrennial seduction, anyway? And how on earth did he think this would work? Does he do this in other areas of his life? Perhaps he just walks into rooms announcing his every feeling, willy-nilly. A million thoughts were racing through my mind while Henry stood there, poised and calm as ever, staring at me expectantly.
It appeared we were at a stalemate. After a number of painful seconds staring at our respective desktops, and brown women staring intently at desktops, I decided it was time to take control of the situation. After all, one of us needed to be the adult here and, today, that adult was ME. So, like the mature, dignified modern woman that I am, I began randomly banging keys on my keyboard in a loud, frenzied, pantomime fashion, so he could see I was otherwise engaged in some life changing research and hadn't heard a word he was saying.
"Get ahold of yourself, man. There are lives at stake", I suggested as my fingers tap-tapped away on the keys. Was it working? Was he getting the message? And, more importantly, had he buggered off yet?
Back to Plan A.
I couldn't really tell what was happening after this because I was doing my best impression of the bear attack from The Revenant on my keyboard but, whatever it was seemed to be working. When I looked up once more through my squinty side eye, Henry's head had lowered slightly. "Oh." he said, dejectedly, "Ok then". With that, he picked up his stack of files, turned away, and slowly shuffled off to the other side of the building. We never spoke of it again.
Now, I realise I probably should have taken him aside and had a polite word with him about boundaries like my old friend Cameron, the kamikaze of love. But, there is something specifically about people with wives / girlfriends who speak to other women this way, that just makes my skin crawl. So much so, that my brain hits a giant douche emergency button and refuses to engage with any of their BS.
I moved on from the cancer research facility rather quickly after that. Unsurprisingly, I haven't taken any steps to stay in touch with Henry, largely because he probably thinks staying in touch involves actual touching. As for Rebecca, I'd forgotten all about her until Mr Imposter's friend brought her up a few years ago. Apparently, she'd "warned him" about me and "my ways" when Mr Imposter and I first started dating.
I'm not sure where life led her but, my goodness, I do hope she's happier these days. Last I heard, she'd outed a trans boy we went to school with to all his work colleagues for no reason so, I'm guessing, the answer's a resounding no. So much bitterness and intensity. Why lady, why?
Rebecca, wherever you are, I mean this truly and sincerely:
Would you like to borrow my beanbag unicorn, Betty? She's very squishy and takes all your troubles away. I like to sit her on top of my head like a hat when I'm down, but you don't have to, you can just hang out with her if you like.
There's a lot to be said for a bit of unicorn therapy.