John starred down at his shoes. They had always made him smile. Converse, Chuck Taylor originals. In black. They went with his suit. But the magic effects of his footwear had worn off. Nothing could bring humour to his face.
He lifted his chin. She was walking away, potentially out of his life forever. He went to speak, to launch another appeal. But there was just silence. His voice box exercising some form of pride and preventing speech. He could not beg. Something he would look back on with a measure of relief.
Relief was not an emotion that greeted John readily in the coming weeks. He had only himself to blame. He had lost Sophie because of one cold, honest fact. He had cheated.
It began two days before at 6.10pm. He knew this because it was the ad break in The Simpsons.
''Why did you smile at that checkout girl in Tescos?''
Here we go. John could sense this was no innocent inquisition. He was in trouble. only the perfect words would prevent bloodshed.
''Because she smiled at me. I was just being friendly.''
There were not the perfect words. It's conceivable there is no such thing. But men will try. Men will fail.
"Friendly? Did you think she was attractive?''
Oh dear. He was dead in the water. It was just an utterance. For him, a pre-cursor to gathering his thoughts so he could venture the correct words of consolation. To her it was an admittance of guilt.
The early evening ontinued in this manner. The rest of The Simpsons, Hollyoaks and the beginning of A Question of Sport masked by a dispute which included several topics and various grievances from their past three years together. None of them seemingly related to a 'harmless' shopping trip to Tesco.
John left for his night out in a dire mood, unsure about what he was supposed to have done wrong but defiant in the belief he probably hadn't done it.
'She's a nutter' was the reassurance given by Chris. The only friend of his still listening by 10.30pm. Alcohol fuelled Johns need to be righteous. As he supped each pint, things became more black and white in his mind. No longer did he accommodate Sophies viewpoint. The simple need behind her line of questioning. To feel attractive. More attractive to John than any other woman in the real, non lads-mag based, world. If his tone had been more understanding and less defensive, he may have rescued the situation. As it was he was standing in a tacky nightclub at 12.05am. Hammered and angry.
Because of this he felt justified in approaching two young women he spied at the bar. Not without good looks and his own version of drunken charm, John got close to one of them; Heather. John felt justified in speaking to her because of how Sophie had treated him.
He had another pint. He bought Heather a VK. He now felt justified in taking her number. ''Sophie doesn't realise what she has. Other women find me attractive. She should treat me better.'' Johns thoughts betrayed his better judgement.
One more round. One pint, one VK and two shots of Sambuca. Heather invites John to dance. Cheesy ballads aren't his type of music, but it doesn't matter now. Alcohol has dimmed his keen sense of sound.
John barely noticed as Heather grabbed him close, or when she pulled down his head to hers. A kiss. The kiss. Three seconds later a moment of realisation.
John rushed off. Down the stairs and out of the club. He seeks solace on the bench in the old market square. As clubbers and party-goers pass by, he feels faintly ridiculous. Not so righteous.
The morning arrives and without the numbing qualitie of alcohol, John is ravaged with guilt. He cannot think straight. He pulls the covers tight around him but they offer no comfort. They can't mask the anxiety.
John spent the rest of the day lying in bed, trying to sleep. Trying to forget what he had done. He hoped it would just fade away but everytime he began to rest, reality slapped him in the face. He had done something wrong. He would either have to tell Sophie and face the consequences or make his peace with it and ignore the growing guilt.
John's annoying text alert sounded. He had always meant to change it but had never managed to. The dulcet roar of Mr T seemed slightly ludicrous when he felt this way. Low level hilarity was not high on his agenda right now. The text is from Sophie. She wants to meet. She wants to apologise. Sickness wells up in John. Guilt gnaws at his innards. Sophies relative crimes now seem so insignificant compared to Johns indiscretion. Petty drunken retaliation would likely lose John his relationship. All because Sophie had loved him enough to want him close.
But John couldn't handle that. He'd got offended. To see it and her as a threat to his freedom. These thoughts raced through Johns mind as he approached Manford Park. It was Sophies favourite place. It had always offered an escape. A place of calm away from the turmoil of city life. Sophie always met John there when she wanted to talk through serious issues. This thought filled John with trepidation as he neared a bench. Their bench. It sported both their initials. A primitive courting ritual conducted after a day at the fayre. Their first happy day together and the first time they realised they could be something more.
That memory was now distant. The aura of Manford Park had changed. It was now a place associated with their troubles.
John sat down. He had arrived first. He cursed this fact, as he had conceded the power. He was waiting and Sophie would now dictate the schedule. Within moments Sophie arrived. She was aware John disliked tardiness. Often she would turn up late just to wind him up. When she felt guilty she always arrived on time.
She looked beautiful. John knew she would. A stark reminder of what he could lose. Sophie started to speak. John was numb. How could he tell her what he'd done? He had to tell her. He couldn't live with the guilt. He knew himself and he knew the only way he could get beyond this was honesty. In this respect he was not like most men. If he kept it to himself he would become someone he wasn't prepared to be. A peddler of secrets and lies. From somewhere John found the words. He stopped Sophie mid-speech. He needed to confess.
John skipped many of the details, but the deed was in there. That was enough.
That wasn't enough for her. And she was gone.
John was woken the next morning by his alarm at the usual time. Three ten minute snoozes later and it was clear he wasn't going to work. At the best of times data analysis meant nothing to him. With so much on his mind, it meant even less. He had thinking to do. John had never been this wrong before. He'd never been the bastard. He had to work out how to make it right in his mind. None of it sat well with John. He had always succumbed to the narcissistic tendency to over self-analyse. To look so deep into his own thoughts as to exclude those around him. He would never let anyone else be part of the process or share his true thoughts and feelings.
John had forgiven himself this self obsession because his action had largely been pure. He had made enough altruistic gestures to make it ok that he was often distant.
Now it was different. He knew he would have to atone. The only thing he knew was that he had wronged Sophie. She didn't deserve that. He would have to make that right.
As the afternoon turned to evening, John pondered his options. He knew Sophie would be devastated. This wasn't an arrogant view of self importance. Sophie always felt everything so deeply and this will have hit her hard. She was vulnerable and had given John a level of trust. John had betrayed this. He now knew he could not win her back. He, in truth, did not have the inclination. John was gifted with enough self perception to realise the difference between guilt and love. One he felt in abundance. The other, needed for the long haul of reconciliation, was sorely lacking in the quantities needed. He needed to do something special for Sophie. She deserved to get over him properly. And, if he were to give the usual post relationship spiel, she would have nothing but questions. He had to tell the truth.
John started to write a letter. It was cowardly compared to meeting Sophie face to face, but this way he could compose his thoughts without a bundle of emotion in front of him.
Johns letter went like this......
I could say sorry, but the word wouldn't mean anything. It's a sentiment I feel, but it's just a word. We are judged by actions, and my actions are what has neccessitated this letter. I can't take back what I've done; the damage I have done to your trust. But I can give you one thing right now. Honesty.
By telling you it's all my fault wouldn't be entirely right. We live in an adult world, but adult conventions seem to be suspended for relationships. People look for black and white situations and answers, but there are always shades of grey.
I cheated. That was wrong. But I got to that point because of a grievance. One that, when mixed with alcohol, went too far. But it is still relevant. Your insecurities led you to question your trust of me. In the light of recent events I can't voice this issue with a reputation to back it, but I had never been the type of person who cheated. But when someone is constantly told they are something, they begin to believe it. Then they become it.
You're a beautiful girl. And again, while our relationship doesn't provide the best evidence of this, no-one would leave you based on looks. That insecurity of yours is a waste of time. It has no basis in fact.
The reason I went with someone else was because in my drunken logic I was being offered an easy life. She didn't nag, she didn't judge. In my mind she even let me watch football and Doctor Who. She was perfect because there was still an idea of her. Not a reality. No responsibilty. No truth. That is my failure. A belief that the grass is always greener.
In truth it is doubtful such a concept even has an inkling of reality. Whatever decisions we make we are always destined to face consequences and responsibility. I know I've not had the most grown up of attitudes, but perhaps the life should fall somewhere in between. Perhaps we can be too grown up.
I think this brings me to one more of our failings as a collective. I know you are reading that last paragraph with a screwed up face. It's your look that's half confusion, half 'shut up you idiot'. Our life perspectives are different. I can't switch off like you. I don't have your innate belief that everything is going to be ok. That's why I am not the most diligent worker. I'm tortured by thoughts that it's all a waste of time. You can get past that. You believe in the status quo. Because I don't, I never felt you were on my side. And because of that, I couldn't offer you simplicity. I could never come home and just say I'd had a nice day. I could never reassure you as I was too distracted to think of the right words.
So this is the truth. Well, not THE truth, but a truth. My truth. I hope you understand that I never wanted to hurt you.
I hope you find what you are looking for. What you deserve.
John never heard from Sophie after that. But he did hear about her. Six months later she was engaged. When he heard this news, John smiled. He hadn't damaged her. She had been able to move on.
He felt righteous once more.