“You seem much better lately”, Melanie commented to Caroline as they were filing reports in the cabinets. “I bet it has something to do with Daniel. You two really seem to get along”, she continued teasingly to her friend.
“He’s a very sweet, nice man,” responded Caroline, “but at the moment, getting involved in a serious relationship is the last thing I want to do. But you’re right, I feel stronger and more confident. The worse is behind me, I will survive”.
So much had happened since Caroline arrived from England. She and Michael had come to New York a year and a half ago to live the American dream before getting married and starting a family. An administrative secretary in a medium-sized office in London, it was not long before she found a job in an accountants’ firm. She was still enjoying the excitement of her new life when suddenly, six months later, her world collapsed. Michael told her one evening that he had fallen hopelessly in love with one of his colleagues. “I’m really sorry Caroline”, he had told her, “I know this is a terrible blow to you, but I can’t help the way I feel about Karen. You’ll find someone else. You’re young, beautiful and intelligent”. For a moment, she almost fainted. She wanted desperately to believe she was having a nightmare. Their two-year relationship could not end just like that! What had happened to all the dreams they had shared?
As if it was not enough, a month later, her baby sister telephoned from London, announcing in tears that her boyfriend had ended their relationship, that he had met somebody else too. Annie was now facing a second separation. It had been very difficult for her since Caroline’s departure. They had lived in the same building and had met every day for tea. “This is not one of your best ideas”, Annie had said, after learning about Caroline’s decision to move to New York. Consequently, needing consolation and unwilling to disburb her parents who were travelling in the south of France, she came to New York for a month. After her departure, Caroline felt a deep void and had to fight hard against depression. If it had not been for her faith, she wonders how she would have gone through this difficult period. Faith had always given her resilience and hope. She had started to pray the Rosary five years ago. She had never stopped. In difficult times she recited it morning and evening.
The only social life Caroline enjoyed was with her co-workers. In order to know each other better and to create a friendly atmosphere, the staff went out for an extended lunch once a week. The last several times, she and Daniel had sat next to each other. The two of them exchanged daily, because he was in charge of the department Caroline mostly worked for. Tall, dark-haired and solemn, he reminded her of Heathcliff, the famous brooding character of Wuthering Heights. When she told him that, he said gravely, “I hope I won’t be as doomed as he was.”
“I have two great tickets to see Chicago next Saturday evening. Would you like to come with me?” he asked her on Tuesday during their weekly outing while everyone around them was engaged in conversation.
“I don’t know”, stuttered Caroline, somewhat surprised at this sudden invitation. She didn’t know how to get out of this without hurting his feelings.
“Let me know by Thursday. If you’re not free, I’ll ask my sister, she loves musicals”, he said after a brief awkward pause.
Caroline more than liked Daniel. She found him good-looking, cultivated and intense, but her emotions were blocked. She missed Michael less and less every day, but it was as if he had taken her heart along with him.
“Did you make up your mind if you are going out with Daniel Saturday night?, Melanie asked Caroline during lunch the next day. “You two will finally be alone.”
“This is what scares me.”
“It’s normal to be afraid after what you went through” Melanie said, “but at a certain point, you have to turn the page”.
“I know, but I feel stiff, I can’t loosen up. What if he hopes for something serious and gets disappointed? I don’t want to ruin our work relationship. Everything was running so smoothly”, she sighed.
“You’re putting too much pressure on yourself. Take it one step at a time. And Daniel is a smart guy. I’m sure he doesn’t want an awkward situation at the office either.”
“You’re right. I think too much. After all it’s not really a date, it’s just an evening out with a co-worker.”
“If you put it that way”, Melanie retorted, getting up to return to the office, “but I really feel this guy is right for you.”
Caroline reflected for a few moments about what her friend had said. How can we really be sure someone is right for us? Michael had everything she wanted in a man. He was handsome, had a great career as an architect and was reliable. Yet, he had left her for someone he hardly knew. I have to stop thinking about him, she thought. He’s not worth it. Caroline informed Daniel on Thursday morning that she would accompany him to the musical.
He came to pick her up at five o’clock on Saturday. They went to eat at a nearby restaurant.
We have the same taste for food, she thought as they started their meal. They had both ordered “crepes suzettes”, a specialty of the French cuisine.
“Do you still feel homesick?”, Daniel asked a little later, while they were savoring an exquisite piece of strawberry cheesecake. For the first part of the meal, they had mostly talked shop.
“Not anymore. I seldom saw my parents, because they have been travelling extensively since their retirement three years ago, but I miss my sister. However, there is a good chance Annie might come to live here in a few months. She’s going to start by taking a year’s leave of absence from her job in London. If she finds a good employment in New York, she’ll stay.”
“She’s very wise and prudent.”
“Yes. I was too naive.”
“Don’t blame yourself. You could not have predicted the outcome. Life is full of surprises, good and bad ones, “he said bitterly.
He then became silent for several minutes, staring at his plate.
She waited, sensing he was about to make a confession.
At last he spoke. “I noticed you were unsure when I asked you out, but don’t worry, it was not my intention to pressure you. I realize you still feel scared, vulnerable and numb”.
She nodded, amazed and touched that he had so clearly perceived her inner emotions.
“Yes”, he continued looking at her intensely, “I know how much it hurts when someone you love and trust falls for someone else. “
Why would someone leave such a caring, sensitive man?, she thought, feeling for him.
“How did it happen?”
“Denise and I had been together for three years when she fell in love with a married man. She was so good at deceiving me that the affair continued for three months before I learned the truth. Or maybe I did not want to face it.”
“You probably invested so much of yourself into the relationship that you wanted to make it work, even if you knew deep down it was beyond repair.”
He gazed at her with a mixture of surprise and delight. “You are starting to know me.”
“From your dedication at work, it is easy to deduce you must take your commitments very seriously. “
“You flatter me, but I was also a coward for not leaving sooner.”
“I hope I haven’t disappointed you,” he added with a grin, as she stared at him sympathetically.
She loved the way his smile illuminated his serious face.
“No. I admire your sincerity”, she said, feeling more comfortable and self-confident by the minute.
He looked at her, relieved.
“It’s very romantic and old-fashionned and probably foolish, but I always wished to spend the rest of my life with only one man. It’s certainly the result of reading too many English novels”, Caroline then confessed.
“We need dreams, they keep us alive, they give us strength, but we must also change them when they end or don’t get fulfilled.”
“Do you think real love, finding your soulmate is an illusion, Daniel?”
“No, I believe it’s a heavenly gift most of us hope for.”
“I agree. I am convinced we must trust fate or God, who knows what is best for us.”
“We must also leave the past where it belongs, something Heathcliff should have done”, he added mockingly.
She giggled softly.
“Are you saying you are over Denise?”
“Completely. How about you? Do you still love Michael?”
“No. He doesn’t deserve I give him another thought”, Caroline answered spontaneously.
“Well, in a way I am grateful to him, “Daniel said, gently reaching for her hand across the table. “Without him, you probably would not have come to America”.
She smiled warmly, squeezing his hand. Melanie is right, she reflected. It is time for a new beginning.