Obsessive compulsive but personable – part 7

The fine drizzle that had started just before the end of the fireworks was turning into a steady downpour and temporarily put a dampener on any passion.  Rich grabbed Julia’s hand and they ran in through the nearest patio door; managing to avoid most of the would-be gamblers and finding themselves in a deserted lounge.  Julia sat down on a high-backed chair, determined not to get into another clinch, Rich grinned and lounged on a small sofa opposite.

“So, what are we talking about then?” he asked.

Julia shrugged, “We don’t have to talk.  We can go and spend money that we haven’t got or dance to music that we don’t really like, or …”

“,,,or?  What do you want to do Julia?”

At that moment, she really wasn’t sure.  There was a part of her that wanted to throw caution to the winds and drag Rich up to her room, but at that point the fantasy changed into a reality and she started to think of the practicalities: which bed would they use?  Would Rich rather they went to his room and would he send her back to her own room afterwards because he wanted his own space?  If he decided to stay the night with her, would he stay in her single bed or move into Angela’s?  Would he need to have a shower immediately afterwards?  Would he think her disgusting if she didn’t have a shower immediately afterwards?  Whilst she felt she had a grasp of most of Rich’s compulsions, the complexity of his disorder could spring any number of surprises and she began to wonder if she wasn’t too old and set in her ways to cope with anything as new and unsettling as embarking on an affair with a man half her age and with enough compulsions to satisfy the research needs of all the crusty academics at the conference and still have some left over.

Undoubtedly Rich had already thought of all these things, but would he have come up with solutions or was he waiting for her to come up with them? Julia suddenly felt tired, very tired and very middle-aged. Had she completely lost the knack of all this flirting business, was she just woefully out of practice or was it just that her current lifestyle was far more appealing?

Rich had been waiting patiently for some kind of a response to his question but his paranoia began to creep in.   He leaned forward and tapped her gently on the knee.  It made her jump and brought her back to reality.

“Sorry Rich.  I was turning things over in my head.  What is it that you want to do?  I don’t want to impose myself on you.”

“You aren’t.  Let’s go upstairs to my room and talk.  All the time we’re down here there’s a possibility that scary Amanda will come and talk to me about a friend who washes her hands at least a hundred times a day and is therefore just like me.”

He had a point.  Julia laughed and stood up.  She felt that Rich had sobered up enough to be rational about whatever he decided to do.  The hotel lobby was empty save for the night porter behind the reservations desk.  He was engrossed in a book and barely acknowledged them as they walked past.  Rich counted the stairs on the way back up and seemed gratified to find that no one had added another step during the evening.

It took three swipes before the key card unlocked the door to Rich’s room, he stepped aside and ushered Julia through.  Once inside she put her bag down precisely on the coffee table, waiting to see if he would put it somewhere else that felt was more appropriate to him.  The bag stayed where it was.    She watched him going through the ritual of checking that the door was shut properly and that the card was placed, together with his car keys, in the ornamental ashtray on the dressing table.  That done he turned back to her and took her in his arms once more; not kissing her yet but holding her very closely.

“I still want to know why you can know what I want to do before I do it.  I know you said that you’d read my book and seen me on the television but so have a lot of other people and they don’t seem anywhere as empathic or understanding as you.”

She could feel his lips against her neck; soft butterfly kisses that were making her stomach flip.  She shivered and tried to keep some hold on what she thought was reality.

“My parents were devoted to each other and that made it much easier for my father to function fairly normally.  My mother had a stroke though and died shortly afterwards.  Losing her made his world fall apart.  My kids were still young then but they were out at school all day, Andy works in promotions and was away most of the time.  I became my father’s carer and had to learn how to deal with his compulsions.  I have a few of my own – as do we all and probably as a consequence of all the time O spent with Dad, and I must admit some of my compulsions are bothering me right now.”

“Should we compare compulsions?  Mine are rearing their ugly heads too.”

Julia smiled and broke away from him, seating herself on the winged armchair by the window.  Rich perched on the bed, watching her intently and absent-mindedly pleating the green floral cover between his fingers.

“Who’s going first?  This could be excruciatingly painful.”

Julia shook her head.  “It doesn’t need to be.  If we can be honest with each other there won’t be a problem – or not as much of a problem anyway.  This is what I meant by damage limitation.  Tell me what you want to do Rich?”

He took a deep breath and got to his feet; walking slowly towards the window before stopping and turning to Julia.

“If you’ve read my book you’ll know how crap I am at relationships.  You’ll also know that I haven’t been in a relationship with anyone for some time and that I have an uncanny knack of screwing things up before they even begin.  That said, the people I meet usually see me as an oddity, they’re often initially attracted to me by the celebrity thing, but ultimately annoyed or repulsed by the level of my compulsions.  You’ve almost made me feel normal today – or at least acceptable anyway.  Not only that but I’m very attracted to you and if I wasn’t such a neurotic mess I would have dragged you into bed by now and we’d be making mad, passionate love – probably.”  Rich gave a nervous laugh and Julia could see that he was afraid he’d said too much and offended her. She looked down at her hands; trying to focus on something in the room that wasn’t part f the fantasy.

“Does it help if I say that the feeling is mutual?” said Julia.   “I’m very attracted to you and it has nothing to do with the celebrity status.  I can’t deny that your compulsions fascinate me but they certainly don’t repulse me.  I wish I could allow myself to be dragged into bed without any thought for the consequences of my actions but that’s an area where my own issues lie.  My mind is currently so occupied with practicalities that I’m almost as stressed as you are.”

“Tell me about the practicalities then?”

“Okay.  I’m too old to go ripping off my clothes in hotel rooms.  If I’m going to do anything in a bed I like to have brushed my teeth, had a quick wash and be wearing the appropriate apparel.  Anything other than sleep also demands a dab of Chanel No 5 behind each ear and at least a trace of lipstick.  You have a king size bed, I have two singles.  Your room is more suited to mad passionate love-making but I can’t even think about anything like that when all my belongings are next door?”

“We could bring them in here?”

“We could but we’re still both a bit drunk and things look different in the cold light of day.  Do either of us want to experience that awful feeling of regret tomorrow?  Do I want to find myself curled up in a strange bed with a man who feels embarrassed by his indiscretion of the night before and is inwardly cringing?”

“You’re doing both of us an injustice now.  Do you think I’m that shallow – or that I would find you unattractive when I’m sober?  I was sober this morning when you rescued me from the receptionist, and when we had lunch together.  The alcohol this evening has made me more brave but not foolhardy.”

“I’m too old for one-night stands and too wise to expect anything more.”

“I’m too insecure to risk getting into relationships that I know will be doomed by my own issues.  That’s why I’ve spent so much time avoiding them. You’re the first person for such a long time that I’ve actually relaxed with. Perhaps you can save me from myself? Or am I asking too much?”

“Oh Rich.  Life must be so easy for people who can be spontaneous. “

“Messy though.”

“Yes, messy.  I agree but at the moment we’re both tiptoeing around each other.  We’re both scared of committing to anything that might disrupt our nice ordered lives, to causing offence to each other by saying or doing the wrong thing and at the same time we’re both desperate to be held; to be wanted by someone else for however brief a moment that might be.”

Rich sat down on the bed again, his head in his hands and Julia had to fight very hard against the impulse to go to him and push all the fears and compulsions aside. Somebody had to make a decision and however hard it was, she knew it had to be her. She stood up, a little unsteadily.

“Thank you for inviting me into your space Rich, but if I share it with you tonight you’ll have nowhere left to go but home.  I’m going back to my own room now.  I’m going to get changed for bed, have a wash and clean my teeth. I may watch a little late night TV.  I’m going to leave Angela’s key card next to the phone here so you won’t get it mixed up with your own.  If you feel the need for company, for someone to hold you or you find a spider in your bath, feel free to use it.  There’s a spare bed in there and no one has slept in it so you can still have your own space.  I won’t be offended if you stay where you are and I’d love to have breakfast with you in the morning if you want me to.  I’m very much looking forward to hearing you speak again tomorrow and the time we’ve spent together has been a delight.“

Stopping briefly to drop a kiss on top of his head, she left the key card by the phone and returned to her room without waiting for the response that she knew he was trying desperately to make.

Julia got ready for bed; enjoying the softness of the old blue cotton nightshirt she always took with her when she went away.  She looked in the mirror after brushing her hair and removing almost all of her make up and didn’t feel too disappointed by what she saw.  A faint wisp of hope made her pick up the perfume bottle and dab it in the appropriate places.  Most of her lipstick had gone but there was still enough to prevent her from looking thin-lipped and washed out.

Her own damage imitation system had set in now; weighing up all the cons that might be involved in a relationship with Rich.  She’d spent years having her life dominated by her father’s neuroses and her husband’s infidelities. Her life now was what she had built for herself; rules set by her in accordance with her own wants and needs.  A home of her own with all her books and precious things, a front door that when locked kept the world outside away from her, a job that fulfilled her, good friends and a loving family who knew when to visit and when to leave.  Spike was the only unpredictable force in her life and provided he was fed, watered, walked and cuddled regularly, he didn’t really present a problem.  Did she really need any complications in her life right now?

Half an hour of waiting was enough; Julia turned out the bedside light and rolled over onto her favourite side clutching a pillow instead of the lonely, lovely man next door.

On the other side of the wall Rich sat in the bath.  There was no water.  Just Rich, wrapped in a dressing gown, in a foetal curl with a bath towel over his head to block out any outside intrusions.  He often sat like this for hours at home.  It felt safe from everything in the world that bothered him.  But Julia hadn’t bothered him.  She had understood him and made sure that so many of the things in life that irritated and disrupted him on a daily basis were taken care off.  Even his mother didn’t have as much insight into the devils that ruled his life.  He weighed up the pros and cons of his situation.  He liked Julia.  He enjoyed her company and she seemed to enjoy his.  She had her own life, she must be successful in whatever it was that she did – or she wouldn’t be able to afford to employ Angela as a PA.  She had salvaged his weekend and made him feel that perhaps there might be someone there who could do more than just tolerate him. But what did he have to give back?  A picture rose in his mind of a relationship with Julia that consisted of him visiting her but always going back to his own house, his own space.  Would that be enough?  It would suit him surely but would Julia want more than that?  Would she be able to tell him or would their relationship be doomed to more endless pussyfooting around for fear of offending each other.

At exactly three o’clock in the morning Julia heard a noise that made her stomach flip and dispelled every con she could think of.  She smiled sleepily as she pictured Rich slipping into Angela’s bed only a few feet away and she was happy that he felt safe enough to leave his own space in order to share the room with her.

There was a slight draft however as the duvet moved and she felt his body, slightly chilled and not very relaxed, climb in beside her.   The last of the cons flew out the window, to be replaced by the discovery that their mutual need seemed to have triumphed.  Things would never be the same again but nothing else mattered when she turned to him and he kissed her.

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Obsessive compulsive but personable – part 5

The talk and subsequent discussion on the role played by religion in mental health issues turned out to be quite lively, although some of those bursting to put their point across evidently had more than a few issues of their own already.  Julia sat toward the back of the room and watched mostly, realising that for some of the people present, this was the main reason for attending.  She had a moment of guilt thinking of her own more selfish motivation but that passed.  She had put her phone on silent but kept checking to see if there was a message from Angela.  The discussion drew itself to a natural close when afternoon tea was brought in and a number of tables and display boards were set up at the far end of the room.

Julia stocked up on Christmas cards by mouth-painters, bought some hand-made wrapping paper and made a hefty donation.  Desperate to escape the gushing pseudo-sympathy portrayed by the designer handbag ladies who were hell-bent on out-buying each other in an effort to appear altruistic, Julia slipped quietly out of the door and was about to go upstairs to the peace of her room when she was stopped by one of the organisers.

“Have you seen Rich at all?  He’s disappeared and we were a bit worried that he might have left.”

“No, “ said Julia, “as far as I know he’s gone for a lie-down in his room.  He’s asked me to have dinner with him so I’m assuming he’ll be around this evening.”

“That’s a relief although he’s rather picky about his food I understand.”

“Compulsive, not picky.  What are we having for dinner?”

“Oh we’ve got a variety of dishes on offer; some of them quite unusual.”

“Ah.  He’ll prefer to eat something he’s familiar with, and if you can do without him at the top table he’d rather eat somewhere quieter if possible.”

The organiser frowned, then realising that they had pulled of quite a coup getting Rich to do two sessions without having to pay any extra, decided to go along with what Julia requested.

“I’ll sort out a quiet table for you both and get a scaled down copy of the menu.  Will that be okay?”

Julia beamed.  “Absolutely wonderful.  He’ll definitely be on good form tomorrow then.”

She decided to use the stairs rather than the lift and was tempted to put her ear to the door and discover whether Rich was asleep and snoring as she went past but decided that this was a little too much like stalking.

She called Angela and left a message saying that she’d had a lovely lunch with Rich and was meeting him for dinner too. Boasting, but she couldn’t resist after Angela’s comments earlier on. Deciding that a gentle nap in front of the evening news would be therapeutic, she turned on the television, taking care not to have the volume up too loud. Curled up on the bed with Angela’s pillows as well for extra luxury, Julia leaned back and closed her eyes having turned the volume back on her phone and set the alarm for six forty-five.

Her much-needed slumber was disturbed thirty minutes later by a text from Angela.  Rod was home and what had appeared to be a heart attack turned out to be indigestion.  Angela was staying put however as Rod was still traumatised by having been rushed to hospital in an ambulance and having to undergo a battery of tests.  Sufficient to say Angela was green with envy about Julia’s acquaintanceship with Rich, but took full credit for it because it had been her idea to go away for the weekend anyway.

Julia snorted in response to this comment but sent a warm and loving message back, hoping that Rod felt better soon.  She performed a cursory wash and brush up in the bathroom to wake herself up properly and having decided that her serviceable black linen trousers were still in reasonably good order, she took off the comfortable red shirt she’d been wearing all day and changed it for the more dressy black velvet tunic she’d bought on impulse the day before.  The neck was low enough to enhance what she felt to be two of her best assets, but not too plunging.  She pinned her long dark blonde hair up into a loose chignon, refreshed her make-up and decided that she didn’t look too bad really.

Just as she was debating whether to go and knock on Rich’s door, there was a gentle tapping sound that she knew could only be him.    Quickly putting the pillows back on Angela’s bed and shoving her red shirt into the wardrobe, Julia checked round the room to make sure it would be tidy enough to pass muster.  Not that she was entertaining any thoughts of having Rich spend any time in her room but she knew that if it was too untidy he would be compelled to come in and straighten things up before he could go for dinner.

With one last look in the mirror she picked up her handbag and walked to the door.  Rich had also changed for dinner and the dark blue cord shirt suited him better than the polo shirt he’d been wearing with his jeans earlier on.

Julia smiled. “Did you get some sleep?” She watched Rich’s eyes dart round the room checking for flaws before she joined him in the corridor and closed the door.  His shoulders relaxed and she felt a frisson of pleasure that her standards of tidiness had obviously met with his approval.

“Yes. Thank you , I slept very soundly considering.  What time did you come back to your room?”

“About an hour ago, just to watch the news and get changed.  I had a text from Angela as well. She’s not coming back.”

“Is she okay?”  Rich’s shoulders were beginning to rise again and Julia felt quite flattered that this might be in response to a concern that she might go home now that Angela definitely wasn’t returning.

“She’s fine.  It turned out that her husband had indigestion but he can talk himself into any illness when she isn’t there to keep him in line so she’s decided to stay home and pamper him.”

“But you’re staying aren’t you?”  His anxiety was audible now as the pitch of his voice rose a few notes.  Julia smiled and touched his forearm gently.

“I’m staying.  Angela is very jealous that I’ve already had lunch with you and now I’m having dinner too.  She’s decided that she is entirely responsible for my good fortune however.”

Rich smiled, “And mine.  I dread the evening dinners even more than the buffets, especially when they decide to have loads of different dishes that I’ve never heard of let alone tasted.”

“I don’t think you need to worry about that.  I asked if you could be excused from the top table too.  I hope that was alright?”

Rich’s smile widened into a grin and he looked the most relaxed he had all day.  They walked down the corridor and as they passed the lift she instinctively turned toward the stairs.

“I can do lifts,” said Rich “but it’s only one flight and if you don’t mind…”

“I don’t,” said Julia as she opened the door to the stairs.  They walked down in what seemed to be a companionable silence but out of the corner of her eye she could see him counting and it was a relief when they reached the last one and Rich nodded in confirmation that the number of stairs was even.

The reception area was busy with hotel residents heading toward the restaurant and coming out of the leisure spa.  Julia was fascinated by the juxtaposition of the dressed-up, the overdressed and the extremely underdressed; self-conscious in their slightly too short towelling robes and flimsy freebie slippers.

As they entered the restaurant, the organiser that Julia had spoken to earlier waved vigorously and came over to them.

“We’ve put you on a small table to one side of the main group; it shouldn’t be so noisy there.  I’ve asked the waitress to leave both menus on the table. If there’s anything else you want, just call me – and I’ll sort it out for you.”

“Thank you – um – uh…”

“Amanda.”

“Yes, Amanda.  Of course.  I’m not very good with names I’m afraid.” said Rich.

Amanda rushed back to the top table and the waitress showed them to the more secluded and quiet alcove where their table had been set up.  It was actually in a very good position for both of them to watch the other guests without too much danger of making eye contact.  Rich looked happy and his smile grew even wider when he picked up the menu that the waitress had left for him.

“Rack of lamb – nice but fiddly, lasagne – okay but ordinary.  Lancashire hotpot with red cabbage. Now that’s what I call soul food. Did you want a starter?”

“No, I’ll go straight in for the chicken and chorizo salad.”

Rich looked puzzled.  “Have we got the same menu?”

“No, you have the simple no-messing-about menu and I have the fancy lets-see-how-many-different-cultures-we-can-cram-in menu.  Do you want to have a look at mine? I warn you, there are at least three misplaced apostrophes.”

“No thanks,” Rich shuddered, “although the salad sounds nice, I’d rather have the hotpot.”

Julia smiled and sent up a silent prayer of thanks as Rich ordered a bottle of red wine.  Once the waitress had taken their orders and moved away, Rich straightened up his cutlery, ensured that the pepper and salt mills were symmetrically placed, lined his water-glass up so that it mirrored Julia’s then relaxed again and leaning back in his chair looked quizzically at Julia.

“Okay.  So you seem to be second guessing me about everything at the moment, are you a particularly intuitive person or have you been stalking me?  In which case – should I be afraid?”

“I’m too old to stalk anyone.  I haven’t the time nor the inclination.  I’ve read your book however and seen you perform several times – not live – just on the television.  I find that as I grow older, serious things just make me feel anxious and I prefer to laugh rather than be made unhappy.”

‘”That’s a good philosophy, I wish I could adopt it.  You aren’t old though.”

“Thank you for the compliment but I think you’ll find that your mother and I are probably contemporaries.  My children are only a couple of years younger than you.”

“You have children?  So I suppose you have a husband too?”

“A boy and a girl.  Twenty three and twenty-six years old with their own homes and their own lives. I had a husband but he’s been an ex for the past seven years.  I live alone with my dog Spike and value my space after having had other people occupying it for so many years.  I love it when my children and their partners visit but I’m equally relieved to see them go.  My ex-husband pops in but never stays long.  It’s usually when he’s in-between young models and needs some reassurance.  He’s just married for the third time and I’m hoping that this one keeps him busy because she has more money than any of the others had.”  Julia finished defiantly and took a reassuring sip from the glass of wine that the waiter had just poured for her.

Rich raised his glass in salute. ”If you’ve read my book, there’s probably not much about me that you don’t already know then.  So, are you a glutton for punishment or do you have an affinity for obsessive compulsives?”

“Possibly closer to the latter. My father had many obsessive compulsive tendencies; he was never formally diagnosed but the behaviours got worse as he grew older and by the time he died it was almost impossible to even get him out of the house. His rituals got longer and longer until they took over and the smallest of actions had to be repeated at least fifty times.  So you see, by comparison, you’re much easier company.  We all of us have some element of obsessive compulsive behaviour; it just gets more developed in some than in others.”

There was a moment of awkward silence and Julia wondered if she might have said too much and made Rich feel like he was building up his compulsions in order to enhance his comedy role.  She took another sip of wine but when she finally looked over at him, he was still smiling..

“I thought I might have upset you – but you don’t seem to be too perturbed?”

He shook his head, still grinning, “I almost feel normal.  Most people think I’m totally weird and I’m more used to that kind of reception.  I can’t say that I feel totally comfortable at the moment but that’s me – not you.”

Julia snorted and nearly choked on her wine.  Rich’s face was initially deadpan and then he laughed too.  The waitress arrived with their meals and the awkward silence passed.  The other occupants of the restaurant were growing more rowdy as alcohol levels rose, but for Julia and Rich in their hidden alcove, their fellow diners seemed totally removed.

Obsessive complusive but personable – part 4

Julia closed her eyes for a moment; torn between concern for Rod and Angela, disappointment that their weekend away had been so suddenly curtailed, and experiencing a moment of blind panic at the thought of staying on at the hotel on her own.

The touch of a hand on her arm brought her back to reality and she opened her eyes to see him standing in front of her. “Are you okay? You look a bit upset.”

“I’m fine. My friend Angela has had to leave suddenly and I’m debating about whether I should go too. I’ve seen the main attraction after all.” She smiled.

He gave a comedy groan and shook his head. “Not quite the main attraction if you’re talking about me. I’m told that they have a hypnotist tomorrow who makes people act like chickens.”

Julia raised her eyebrows. “And that’s supposed to persuade me to stay?”

“No,” he shook his head and chuckled “but they’ve asked me to do another spot to round things off after lunch tomorrow – different material but along the same lines as today.”

“Does it help? Baring your soul to us all?”

He took a deep breath and looked upwards, marshalling his thoughts with care. “I think it does. I’m a total basket case beforehand but I do feel more relaxed and kind of cleansed after a performance. The laughter, the applause, the standing ovation, it’s all a kind of validation that maybe I’m not so weird after all. I hope you were crying with laughter though not sympathy for the pathetic wimp before you?”

Frowning, Julia folded up Angela’s note and put it in her handbag. “If you’re staying on, then so am I. The weekend has been paid for, there’s no washing up or having to shop for food and best of all you’ll be there to make me laugh again tomorrow. How could I go home under the circumstances? ”

“Thank you. I mean good. I mean – would you have lunch with me? Please? If it wasn’t for your intervention this morning I would probably have made a run for it and had to pay back my fee – plus compensation too.”

Julia looked around the entrance hall, aware that they were attracting some attention, particularly from a group of very pretty, very young girls who were doing their best to get him to notice them. “You’ve a bit of a fan club over there. I think I already know your answer but are you sure you wouldn’t like to?…it’s okay, I can see from the look of sheer terror in your eyes that lunch and adoration don’t mix. I’d love to have lunch with you and I promise not to fawn or drool.”

She watched as the tension dropped from his shoulders and his smile returned. “It isn’t the adoration, I don’t get much of that, and it’s usually just curiosity to see if I’m as neurotic as I say I am. Buffets are extremely difficult for me though. I don’t really like eating food after other people have touched it; well I don’t mind chefs and waitresses but some people are so messy and pick things up then put them back on the plate again.”

“You could ask them to put something on a plate for you straight from the kitchen? Come on, let’s have a look at what’s on offer and then have a word with the organisers. After the success of your performance I would lay money on it that you could ask for anything and get it.”

Leaving the giggling girls behind them they walked the length of the now devastated buffet table and came to the conclusion that there was nothing edible left anyway. Julia waved at a waitress who looked vaguely sympathetic and explained the situation . Fortunately she’d been one of the staff who’d been doubled up with laughter at the back of the room earlier on. She motioned them to a table set apart from the rest of the room and went into the kitchen.

She returned very quickly with two plates of bread, cheese, salad, pickles and a bowl of fresh fruit. “Chef had a couple of Ploughman’s ready to go out but he says you can have these and he’ll make up some more. He watched you too and says he hasn’t had such a good laugh for ages. Also says he doesn’t blame you for not wanting to touch the buffet after that lot have been at it. Those girls have been double dipping the crudités. Disgusting! Would you like fruit juice or water?”

“Can I have some orange juice and some sparkling water please? And for you Julia?” Julia nodded her assent and the waitress hurried off again.

“So are you Rich or are you Richard?”

“Depends on whether I’m being a stand up or sitting at my Mum’s for dinner. Mum is the only person who calls me Richard but I answer to both. Rich will do – although I’m not – rich I mean.”

Julia nodded, pleased that she wasn’t being classified with his mother at least. The waitress brought two bottles of sparkling water, a carafe of orange juice and two very clean glasses. Rich held his up to the light and smiled. “This is one advantage of being famous for a cleanliness compulsion. People go over the top in trying to make sure I don’t find any dirt on their glasses.”

Mindful that he had already expressed his dislike of chattering meal companions, Julia kept the conversation to a minimum until they’d finished eating; covertly watching as Rich identified the best parts of his Ploughman’s lunch and put them to one side to save till last. There were still a few grapes and slices of apple left in the bowl at the end of the meal and Rich lined them up in order of size and with a precision that made it a shame to eat them and spoilt the symmetry

“What do we have in store for us this afternoon?” he asked, moving an apple slice to make a new pattern.

“A contortionist, an illusionist and a man who makes animals out of balloons.” said Julia consulting her agenda.

“Really? I was going to crash out for a couple of hours but maybe …”

“I was lying. This afternoon we will be having a talk on religion and its impact on mental health issues. This will be followed by a display of craftwork made by leprosy victims who have lost their limbs. Stop smiling, that is not a joke. This weekend is billed as an ‘alternative experiences’ weekend. Angela felt it would be good for me – for us both.”

“I think I prefer your agenda, although I’ve always been a bit worried by balloons, unexpected bangs and all that. Can I ask you something please?”

“Ask away – unless it has anything to do with my age or my weight.”

“Neither. Will you still be here when I wake up?”

Julia smiled at the childlike honesty of his question. “I’ll still be here – well not here exactly – I expect they’ll want to clear this table soon. If the religious guy gets too much I may sneak back to my own room this afternoon and give Angela a call.”

“So if you’re staying, can I ask you another favour? Will you join me for dinner?”

“That’s not a favour, but shouldn’t you be sitting at the top table with the organisers?”

“Do you think I’d enjoy that?” “Not much. If you’re really sure, then yes, I’d love to. Having been abandoned by Angela, dinner with you is a far more agreeable prospect than being droned at by some dry old academic whose theories were all disproved years ago or having to make polite conversation with the Cheshire Set.”

“I’m renowned for my droning too. I’ll try not to though. If you change your mind and have to go home would you me let know? I’m in room 28.”

“I’ll bang on the wall, I believe we’re next door neighbours then. I’m in room 27. You’ll still cope if I’m not here though. You’ll be just as funny tomorrow – if not more so because you’ll inevitably get irritated by something in this hotel and have brand new material as a consequence.”

Julia stood up and went to pick up her bag. Rich was on his feet immediately, picked it up and passed it to her with a shy and hasty peck on the cheek. She smiled to herself as he hurried off to his room; it was a bit of a maiden aunt kiss, perhaps even a Mum kiss but a kiss nevertheless and more than any of the giggling girls had got. Double dipping in the crudités indeed!

Obsessive compulsive but personable – part 3

The conference room was filling up when they arrived; and half a dozen waiters and waitresses were circling the room with silver coffee pots, and salvers loaded high with a variety of bite-sized pastries.  Julia accepted a cup of coffee and one pastry, watching in amusement whilst Angela tried to juggle with her impractical designer handbag, coffee cup and four pastries.  Putting her cup down beside her, she rescued Angela’s bag, guided her down onto a chair and allowed herself a few moments to indulge in scanning the room to see what kind of people might be attracted to what was advertised as a ‘weekend of alternative experiences’.

Of the twenty-five or so people attending the event Julia had already separated the professionals from the interested amateurs and the anything-to-get-away-for- the-weekend women. She thought she recognised a couple of people from a conference she’d attended in the summer and was pleased to receive some smiles of recognition back.

The organisers sat at the front of the room facing the attendees, and clutching his coffee cup and looking very self-conscious, so was the guest speaker.  There was no sign of a pastry in his hand; he wouldn’t have risked it in case it made him cough or choke, or even worse, left him with a smear of syrup on his face.  He glanced around the room at that moment and caught Julia looking at him.  His smile, genuinely warm and spontaneous, made her feel quite peculiar and she found herself blushing and making a ‘thumbs up’ gesture to him.  Most unlike her.  It made his smile broaden even further however and he made the gesture back, more covertly than she had but then everyone was looking at him, not at her.

Angela had finished her pastries at last and stood up to brush the crumbs off onto the floor. Julia pulled her back down onto her seat again as one of the organisers got up and walked over to the microphone. The next ten minutes were taken up with the usual effusive welcomes, domestic explanations and a run through of the agenda.  The first speaker was a rather dry academic who talked at length about his theories on sociopaths.  Julia would usually have found him quite interesting, if only for the fact that most of his hypotheses were taken from research already carried out by far more respected psychologists and psychiatrists than himself.  Had she been organising the event, she would probably have put him on first as well, and noted with relief that he wasn’t giving any more talks over the weekend.

People were beginning to shuffle their feet and there was much clinking of coffee cups as the audience looked for distraction.  The speaker would have gone on obliviously if it hadn’t been for the timely intervention of one of the organisers, who got to his feet and very gently reminded him that he’d gone over his time.  The academic looked a little bewildered but thanked the audience and sat down to a gratefully enthusiastic round of applause.

The waitresses took the opportunity of the hiatus to retrieve the coffee cups and pastry plates; most of the audience dashed out for comfort breaks; some to the lavatory and others to the smoker’s gazebo at the end of the building.  Julia stretched her legs and arched her back wondering why conference chairs were always so damn uncomfortable.  Perhaps it was to stop you nodding off in the dull bits.  The dim receptionist wandered in waving a piece of paper and made a beeline for Angela and Julia.

“Mrs Price?” she gabbled “there’s a message for you.  I think the lady said she was your sister or something?”

Angela took the paper and went outside onto the terrace, having motioned for Julia to stay where she was.  People were filing back into the room now and Julia could see that her guest speaker was on next. Blast Angela!  She’d disappeared from sight now and although Julia felt she should go out and see what was wrong she really didn’t want to leave and miss what was probably the high point of the weekend.

He started with an energy that belied his shyness, and within moments his candid stand up routine had the sluggish audience roaring with laughter.  His humour was raw; cruel and personal about himself and his failings and neuroses. Whilst most of her was laughing and she was glad she’d worn waterproof mascara, Julia saw through the humour and empathised with the obsessive compulsive within.  Listening to him lay himself open to a bunch of strangers made her wonder if this was his therapy; the only way he could cope with the compulsions that dominated his life.  Well-used to the stringent timings of the comedy circuit and possessed of extreme self-discipline, his routine finished on time and brought the agenda back on schedule with a standing ovation from the audience, the organisers and the staff who had sneaked in at the back of the room when they heard the laughter.

He sat down, flushed and breathless but smiling and as Julia wiped the tears of mirth from her eyes with a slightly sticky napkin that Angela had left behind, she saw him give her a small but very definite ‘thumbs-up’.  Pleased that he was happy with his performance, Julia couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed that Angela had missed out on seeing it.  People were gathering up their belongings prior to going into the adjoining room for a buffet lunch so Julia went in search of her friend and walked into the entrance hall just in time to see a small pink car hurtling up the driveway.  The receptionist thrust an envelope into her hand.  Inside was a note in Angela’s unmistakeably loopy hand.

“Dear Joolz, Have to go home.  Rod’s had another of his little turns – nothing serious but he’s been to hospital and needs some TLC. PLEASE stay and enjoy your lovely man.  Gutted that I’m going to miss him but you can buy me his DVD when it comes out and I promise I’ll read his book if you lend it to me.  Hell, I may even buy my own copy.  I might learn something.  Wish your patients were as gorgeous as he is.  I’ll text you later.  Loads of Love Ange.”