Gazing at falling leaves

Short Stories & Poems

Category: Obviously hidden

Obviously hidden (page 11)

“So you said that you were going for pedicure? That’s painting the toe nails right?” Greg asked, not sure if he should have broken the tranquil silence between them.

“Yeah, it is!” LL laughed. “Maybe you should go for a pedicure with Alison. You know they have these couple packages. So, have you settled into your new place? You know I can bring Alison around if she needs to do any shopping or yeah, maybe a pedicure session”.

“We’ve set up the house and everything and I’ve been working and she’s been working. So well, things are kinda back to normal, things have settled, I guess. But you know, I think this place is new for her and maybe the unfamiliarity is getting to her. I don’t know. She…,” Greg paused not sure how much about his relationship he should share with LL. Of course, he wanted to tell her everything. But would it be too obvious? “I mean, she’s busy with work. Well, everything is okay. We’re going out for dinner tonight at this place a few blocks from her clinic. Tapas Tei. They serve Japanese and Spanish fusion food. Keith recommended it, he said it was good.

“Yeah, I’ve heard rave reviews about it. Mikey and I have also wanted to try but he’s busy, travelling so often. Hmmm, maybe I should just bring the kids, they would enjoy it too”. LL wanted to comment on how Alison was feeling after relocating. After all, she has counselled many students who were adjusting to a new place. But she has already forgotten the first part of what Greg said.

As LL turned her head to dust off a fallen leaf on her right shoulder, Greg looked closely at her and averted his gaze the moment she turned back. “Do you want to join us at Tapas Tei?”

“Oh of course not! Please enjoy your date night! I really appreciate your offer. I was just saying that we’re meaning to try it, as if I was thinking out loud. Greg, you’re always so nice and considerate to EVERYONE”.

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Obviously hidden (page 10)

“How do find the coffee? Pretty smooth and crisp tasting, right? I’ve always wanted to ask what beans and machine they used but yeah, never got down to it,” LL said after she took a sip of the coffee and a bite of the donut. “Mmmm, the donut goes really well with the coffee. The coffee brings out the burnt taste in the caramel, well, in a nice way”.

“You should be a food critic,” Greg teased. He liked the way that she enjoyed her food. What would life have been like if he never left Verbena.

They just sat on the ledge, drinking their coffee and watching a few people form a short queue at the food truck. A comfortable, almost comforting silence settled between them amidst the shady spot in the afternoon sun.

LL was really enjoying this moment, sipping hot coffee in the cool shade and munching her salted caramel donut. It’s been a long time and she had forgotten about this sensation. When was the last time, she wasn’t busy running around or thinking and planning furiously?

Obviously hidden (page 9)

“So no classes this afternoon?” LL hazarded a guess. “What would you like? Long black as usual?” There were three people before her at the food truck.

Greg was surprised and delighted that she remembered how he liked his coffee which was the same as how she liked hers. “Mmmm, sure,” he replied, trying to be nonchalant, as his eyes betrayed his true emotions. Sometimes over the years he would think about what to say to her when they meet. The funny thing is, now that they have finally met, first at the supermarket and then here, none of those rehearsed conversations mattered. They just talked so easily, erasing the twenty years between them.

“Two cups of long black, please. Large please. Oh, and a salted caramel donut. Thank you,” She turned to smile at Greg as she ordered the donut. “The coffee is on me. Welcome back to X. Everything looks the same, right? They’ve built a new wing to the school of engineering but I think that’s it”. LL paid and handed a cup to Greg. She pointed to a low ledge on the left that was partially shaded by the trees and they walked towards it.

“Yeah, it sure looks the same, man,” Greg agreed. LL looked the same too. And this moment was deja vu. He watched her a little more closely as as she put her cup of coffee down on the ledge. Greg was almost certain that this entire scene has been played out before- sipping a cup of long black with LL in the late summer afternoon.

Obviously hidden (page 8)

LL closed the door to her office and took her mobile phone out of her bag. No messages or missed calls meant that all was well and she could proceed with her pedicure appointment. Her daughter had her swimming lessons and her son was at his friend’s house so she had the afternoon off.

She’s not sure whether she liked or disliked these relaxing afternoons. She enjoyed being busy, running about, doing things and getting things done. When she stopped moving, her mind would start to wonder. Maybe her mind wouldn’t wonder too much today during the pedicure. She’s too tired this week. Mikey was travelling for work again so that was her excuse for being tired. The fact was that her workload and household chores load were the same as before.

Maybe the pedicure would be a nice distraction for her tiredness. She reached for the glass door handle but someone behind got it before her. LL turned her head to thank that person and said in surprise, “Oh hi, Greg! Oh thanks for getting the door”. What was he doing at this side of campus?

“I just had a couple of donuts from the food truck, my students recommended. It’s pretty good, the salted caramel one especially,” Greg smiled, not sure if it was because he was recalling the donut’s taste or because he saw LL.

“I’ve have about half an hour before my pedicure appointment, do you want to have coffee? The donut food truck serves pretty good coffee too,” LL suggested.

Greg agreed and they walked out of the glass door into the courtyard towards the food truck.

Obviously hidden (page 7)

Was she unnecessarily blaming their jobs and the long hours? Maybe they didn’t share the same values or life goals in the first place. She wanted to focus and excel in her career as well as to travel the world. He wanted to settle down and have children. Perhaps he even expected her to raise these children that he always wanted but never had. Maybe it wasn’t any of these. Maybe he still wanted to be with LL.

There were many times over the years of their marriage that she felt that they have drifted apart. But she was easily distracted with her work and ambition. They both moved ahead with their careers. It was motivating and exhilarating to be recognised for the expertise in their fields. This meant that they were paid well too and had the means to enjoy all the finer things in life- going on overseas holidays, travelling on business class, staying at fancy hotels and dining at equally fancy restaurants. Now she’s not sure if these material trappings and a successful career satisfied her. Perhaps it was the move that threw everything upside down. She just needed to settle down, get her practice thriving again which she was confident of and to start her teaching at X, something she was terribly excited about. Yes, that was what she needed. She didn’t need to quarrel with Greg and make it uncomfortable for each other.

Obviously hidden (page 6)

“Here, try one piece,” Alison said sticking a slice of peach into Greg’s mouth. She saw him winced. “It’s not that sour, right? And why do have to work on a Saturday? Since we moved here, you have been working almost every weekend. Is that what I came here to do? Watch you work every weekend? I gave up my successful practice and travelled across the country to be with you. I’m new here and every weekend, you are working”.

Greg sighed a little. “I’m sorry, baby. Can you give me an hour and let me check the figures tabulated by the other researchers? Then we can go for lunch, okay?”

“If I knew this, I would not have moved. I had a thriving practice and now I have to start all over again. And do I get appreciated for my sacrifice? You just sit behind your computer and work all the time”.

Greg cannot remember how many times they had this conversation over the last week. “You know, we talked about the move and we made the decision together. You agreed to it mostly because you could teach at X. Isn’t that your dream too? It’s perfect for you now, baby. You can combine academia with your practice”. Perhaps it was his fault for neglecting her since they moved here. She was right. It was a new place for her. She had only him.

Alison turned around, walked off and out of the room. Lately she has been doing that ever so often. Has she always been so unhappy? What happened to them? They were so good before. Greg had always been there for her, even supporting her through medical school. They lived frugally on his meagre pay check from his part-time work at the downtown book store. They were hungry sometimes and often very cold but they were happy and in love. Perhaps the years have changed her. They have changed them. Long hours of working have driven them into their separate lives.

Obviously hidden (page 5)

He couldn’t stop thinking about her. What was the big deal? She was just an old flame from a long time ago and they hadn’t really been in touch except on Facebook. Of course he thought about her every now and then over the years but after their meeting at the supermarket, he just could not get her out of his head.

But he had to because he had a research paper to complete before Monday morning. And as he started his MacBook Air, his thoughts of LL shifted into something that felt like melancholy- a little sad, a little longing, something wistful and something wishful. It was quite palpable and he thought maybe he was having some heart problem. He keyed in his password, it was an alphanumeric one consisting of his and Alison’s birthdays. Alison was his wife and he loved her. But now he wished he was with LL, just talking or listening to her or simply looking at her. Maybe it was just a mid-life crisis.

As Greg opened up his research document, he thought that he should tune into Spotify to get himself to concentrate. Any club or chillout playlist would do just fine. Once he started on his paper, everything would be fine. His work was his sanctuary. Thank goodness for that. He was passionate about his research on integrating telematics on land, sea, air and even outer space, particularly in the field of defence and surveillance. It was this study that led him to X and needless to say, he has already received some hefty funding.

“Peaches for you?” Alison came into the study just as he was about to delve into his work. She didn’t understand why he had to work on Saturdays. Maybe she should do that too since they were not going to be spending time together.

“No thank you, baby,” Greg replied. He was quite sure the peaches were sour. Since his concentration was broken, he could feel the little wistful feeling resurrecting. Greg wanted to see LL now. He picked up his phone and whatsapped Keith, reminding him to fix the brunch.

 

Obviously hidden (page 4)

“Hey, let’s catch up over brunch really soon. It’s time for me to pick the younger one up from his Chinese class. See you real soon. It was so nice catching up,” LL said and waved cheerily as she turned her back to Greg and Alison. She was relieved to leave the conversation. Obviously, Alison didn’t like her. What did she have to worry about? She had a successful career and was married to a sweet and intelligent guy. In fact, LL was quite struck with Alison’s looks which reminded her of Kate Beckinsale.

Perhaps life is like that, she thought fleetingly. Insecurity and comparisons are just parts of it.  Alison was so accomplished- private practice and lecturing at a prestigious university. Very often she wondered if she could have done more for her career. It was crazy of course. Her life was so meaningful.

She picked up her shopping bag and as she looked up, her eyes met Greg’s. She smiled widely and waved. Greg was still the same sweet guy and it felt so good to see him again. She had always enjoyed being with him. She could always tell him everything- her hopes and fears. There was something about him that made her feel that everything would be alright. Even when she was dating Mikey, she would still confide a lot in Greg. He was also seeing someone else but LL couldn’t remember her name.

LL felt it was quite futile and silly thinking these thoughts. Greg and her had separate lives for twenty years and she had her own life now. So after picking her son up from class, she promised the family a paella lunch. Yummy, she thought and almost laughed out loud for relishing her own cooking.

 

 

Obviously hidden (page 3)

“I do counselling for students at X and psychotherapy for teenagers at the hospital. But it’s only for the first half of the day when the kids are in school,” LL replied, still smiling. “It’s really great to finally meet you Alison and of course, Greg, it’s been so long. Welcome back! I’m sure I’ll hear from Keith about the brunch. He plays golf with Mikey at least once every fortnightly and his son and mine are classmates.”

“Oh, how many children do you have?” Alison thought LL had a pretty good body for a woman in her forties. She didn’t know that she was giving LL a once-over again. Alison suddenly realised that the loose-fitting tee was actually hiding some great curves and LL’s butt looked super perky even though she was wearing flat sneakers. Well, she worked part-time so she probably had all the time in the world to workout.

“I’ve got a daughter who’s twelve and a superb swimmer, and a son who’s ten. He’s the most gentle soul,” LL replied as her eyes lighted up and danced with pride.

Greg now understood why she was so beautiful and so happy. The longing eased into a palpable aching longing. He loved Alison dearly, she was his wife. But LL was a dream and his youthful past. Seeing her in the flesh amplified so many thoughts and feelings. He loved and wanted children, Alison didn’t want any. She loved her career. There was a time when anything was possible, when LL and him were at Verbena. He often thought back to those days, sometimes more often than others. Seeing her just brought these reminiscing to ‘live’ and technicolor.

He knew what Alison was doing and wished that she would stop. His eyes fell on the peaches in the shopping basket and suddenly he caught himself wondering how it would taste and what to do if they were sour like the last batch. Perhaps he could make some peach flan with it?

(to be continued)

Obviously hidden (page 2)

“You should definitely post on Facebook that you’re back here. Let me guess, you got a job at X?” LL said. She was right about Greg’s move back. She was intuitive like that.

“Yeah, I got an offer, a tenure actually,” he said a bit shyly. “So yeah, I’ve met up with the guys, you know, those I used to hang out with, Keith and James and a few others. They were helping Alison and I set up our place so yeah. I mean I was meaning to contact you too, you know,” he wasn’t sure where this was heading and felt a little silly saying that he had contacted the rest but not LL.

“Congrats on your tenure at X! Another feather to your cap, huh? Heard that you have been receiving many awards lately.” She looked so happy. And he thought that the last twenty years must have been good for her. He has heard about her every now and then from Keith, especially who golfed often with her husband.

“Keith is trying to arrange a brunch. He tells me that he plays golf with your husband, Mike right? So-”

“I was looking all over for you,” the Mrs appeared suddenly. “Hi, I’m Alison.” Alison gave LL a subtle once-over. The Mrs thought that LL was pretty plain- straight, brown hair at shoulder length. She was wearing a pair of skinny, faded, blue jeans with a loose-fitting blue and white striped tee, finished with a pair of navy Adidas sneakers.But there was something magnetic about LL, plain but sweet and attractive. No wonder, Greg was having an engaging conversation.

“Hi, I’m Lillian. Everybody calls me LL. Greg’s wife, right? I see you in his profile picture on Facebook. I go to school with Greg at Verbena and then at X. But I was doing psych. Heard you guys just moved here. You let me know if you need anything although Greg is probably familiar but you know some things have changed. There’re like these awesome cafes and tapas bars coming up at downtown. You should totally check them out.”

“So you’re a psychologist?” Alison wasn’t sure if she wanted or needed to match LL’s chirpiness. She was more of a dead-pan, low-voiced kind of person. She is not unhappy, she just wasn’t sure if she was happy or satisfied with her life. “I’m a gynaecologist at the clinic downtown. So I’ve seen those tapas bars. They are pretty packed all the time, who are these patrons anyway? I wished I have the time but there are just too many patients”. Out of the corner of her eyes she saw what looked like embarrassment on Greg’s face.

(To be continued)

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