By Nicola Mabbott
The dream was always the same. He was standing in the hallway of his old flat; the flat his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer, now shared with her husband. First the voices outside getting louder, then the key turning in the lock. The door about to open.
And then the terrible feeling he was about to be found out.
Each time he woke, alone, in his large empty house, his heart was still racing. Some details in the dream changed, but never the way he felt: empty, alone, like an outsider, like an intruder in his own home, except it wasn’t his home now. Jennifer had told him to leave two years before. She said he couldn’t give her what she wanted.
Now she was married to another man, and they were expecting their first child together.
But why was he having these dreams? When they were together, he had ignored her hints about getting married and starting a family together. He deliberately avoided places related to weddings and families - wedding dress, boutiques, jewellers’, children’s shop, even playgrounds …
He just wasn’t interested in marriage and kids. These were things other people did. Not him. So, when after seven years together, she told him their relationship was over, he hadn’t protested. Nor had he felt jealous when he found out about her new relationship. And when she told him she was expecting the baby, he felt relieved that she had found what she wanted with someone else.
It was a beautiful summer’s day. so he went for a walk in the park during his lunch break. It was busy, but he found a free bench. He sat down to eat his sandwich. He had nearly finished when he started to have the feeling that someone was watching him. He looked up and across the path was a woman of his age that looked strangely familiar. Their eyes met briefly before she looked down and pretended to read the book she was holding. Her long straight blonde hair danced in the breeze as he tried to remember where he had seen her before. Their eyes met again and they both smiled silently. He wanted to speak, but for a moment the words wouldn’t come out.
“Alex?” she asked hesitantly. “Yes”, he replied, as he realised where he knew her from. Her name was Matilda and they had been at the same school. Her brother Charlie had been Alex’s best friend. If he was honest, Alex had often visited Charlie’s house, just to see Matilda. Of course, he had always been too shy to actually start a conversation with her, and he certainly hadn’t had the courage to ask her out.
“So, what are you doing now?” he asked.
“I’m a physiotherapist”, she replied. “‘I’ve just had a job interview. I’ve been living in London, but I split up with my partner last year. I didn’t have any friends there, so I came back to Nottingham to be near my family”.
“Sorry to hear about that”, he said. His heart was beating very fast.
“We wanted different things from life”, she said, “at least we never had any children. Anyway, what about you?”
“Quite boring. I’m an accountant”, was his reply, “I’ve been working for the same firm since I qualified”.
She thought bitterly about her ex-partner’s inhability to keep a job and the frequent discussions this had caused. “Are you still with Jennifer?” she asked.
“No, we split up two years ago”.
He wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw a twinkle in her beautiful green eyes when she heard this.
“What about your brother?” he asked.
“He’s working in the USA”, she replied.
As the conversation started to dry up, he looked at her and thought how beautiful she still was. He’d always been shy, but now he knew he had to do what he hadn’t the courage to do 10 years earlier: ask her out on a date. If not, he knew he would regret it all his life.
“So”, he began, trying to sound confident, “as you’ve been in London, you won’t have tried that new Italian restaurant. If you like, I could take you on Friday”.
“Actually, I’ve tried it”, she replied, “but I liked it so much, I’d love to go again”.
For the first time Alex could remember, he made a special effort with his appearance. He had been with Jennifer so long that he felt he didn’t need to do anything special to impress her. His heart was racing when Matilda walked into the restaurant. He felt so proud when she walked over to him.
That night he had a different dream. His ex-girlfriend was in the hospital giving birth. When the baby boy was born, Alex was shocked to see that he looked just like him. Then he realised that the girl in his dream wasn’t his ex-girlfriend, but Matilda.
Alex realised why he had felt so indifferent about splitting up with Jennifer, even after so long together: he had never had the courage to ask out the real girl of his dreams.
[SpeakUp, giugno 2014]
Argomenti: fiction, nicola mabbott, the girl of his dreams
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