The Hotel's lobby was quietly cool, the soft piano music in the background unobtrusive, almost imperceptible, as smooth as the evening's velvet darkness.
The Middle Aged Alpha Geek walked in, his suit and tie uncomfortable after the day's proceedings, though not as uncomfortable as they were when he'd put them on that morning. Both had a nice, rumpled look now, lived in, to match his personality. And it had pockets, lots of them, now stuffed with a hundred business cards, some from suits, some from colleagues, some from friends, and some from rivals. Networking, they called it. Not the frantic linebuzz of TCP/IP, the you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-stab-yours world of rustling up venture capital, sailing through fleets of corporate buccaneers hunting for the treasure that was the Next Big Thing.
A necessary Evil. Not His Scene. Something you had to do at any HiTek Convention though.
He spotted her, across the room. A few other women had just left in a group, leaving her in relaxed solitude, comfortably enveloped in a black lounge chair, legs demurely crossed, studying the next morning's programme.
No-one could have mistaken her for a suit, or an advertising dollybird. Not for her, the power trouser suit, the immaculate makeup and thousand-dollar coiffure. Some sort of black silk top, and an ankle-length dress denim skirt, neat but understated. Besides which, she'd given a presentation that morning on lifecycle models, risk analysis, and the impact of team personalities on software design that was as intriguing as it was unconventional.
He'd wanted to speak to her about that, despite his natural shyness around the females of the species. The project that would make or break his firm was just ramping up, and she might just hold the key to its success.
He would have just marched up to a guy and introduced himself, but now he was acutely aware of his bald patch, his over-ample belly, and the salt-and-pepper 5 O'Clock shadow he'd forgotten to scrape off in his hotel room. But what the heck. His divorce was well over a year ago, and it was time he did some socialising. Of course, with his luck, she'd be Lesbian. No matter, her ideas really could make a big difference to The Project, and that's what his life revolved around now since Sandra left with the kids.
"Hi" Oh great line, Joe. that will work wonders he thought. I'm out of practice for this kind of stuff. What was I thinking?
The Geekette, what was her name, Phoebe? sat up a little straighter, tensing slightly, then favoured him with a raised eyebrow that could only be called "quizzical". She could have been any age from her late thirties to early fifties. A bit statuesque for his tastes, almost Amazonish now he was close to her. Broad shouldered. Nice rack though.
Her voice sounded a little huskier than it had over the PA system.
"Hi-I'm-Joe-Macennerny-and-I'd-like-to-speak-to-you-about-your-presentation" the words came out in a rush.Oh God Please Let the Floor Swallow Me Up Now
Her face lit up, a slight smile magically appearing, as she held out her hand and replied.
"Phoebe Dawson. Now what was that again?"
Slowly, he repeated his introduction, and she gestured for him to sit in the overpadded lounge chair beside her.
Soon they were engaged in that intimate intercourse of tech-talk common amongst geeks of every stripe and nationality. When taking tech, her enthusiasm was contagious, her hands weaving patterns of thought, invisible diagrams on a virtual whiteboard that communicated more than mere words could say. He ordered a double bourbon from a passing waiter, she a vodka and lime, and soon they were sharing war stories, tales of spectacular management ineptitude, and even the odd truly foetid pun.
He found himself opening up in a way he never did before, talking about his family, and showing her the pictures of his two daughters. And of his son, his boy who had gone off to war and come home under a flag of honour. Killed in an automobile accident while delivering mail on a poorly surveyed road.
He looked up, fighting off the wateriness that always came into his eyes when he told that story, and saw tears falling down her cheeks. Without prompting, she took his hand, and just held it, her soft skin gently pressing against his, speaking without words a message of comfort, and sympathy, and shared sadness.
"So", he said eventually, "Do you have a family?"
"A boy" she said brightly. "Nearly twelve now. He's staying with my best friend."
"And his father?"
Her whole body seemed to diminish, her face which had been bright and lively dimming and grey, and he knew that once again, he'd blown it. Like he'd blown it with Sandra. Like he always blew it.
"My son's father is.... no longer with us."
"Divorce?" The word just spilt out, he'd been thinking of his own situation, and now he was just making it worse. But she seemed not to notice his gaucherie, nor take offense.
"No, it's a long story. He was born with a rare congenital condition. Neurological. Some die with it, without ever showing symptoms. Some have years, even decades of increasingly bizarre behaviour before the end. It puts a strain on any marriage."
She took a paper handkerchief out of her bag, wiped away her tears, and continued. Now her grief was in full flood, and all he could do was listen.
"Oh, it's not genetic. My son's OK. And his father didn't suffer much, except at the end. Many sufferers suicide, their whole life is one of misery. He didn't have it too badly, till January of '04. He got acute symptoms in January, February was full of medical tests, the typical bizarre behaviour started in March, and in early April, he was gone. Just. Like. That. Leaving us to cope."
"Could nothing be done?"
"No, it's incurable, and still not well understood. The first signs show up at about age 5, you know? Oh, Palliative care can help reduce the agony, but that often hastens rather than delays the end. Oh God, it's a blessed relief to them when they go, he said it was the best thing that could ever happen to him. He was so sorry to leave his family in such a mess, but he said he had no choice, and he was in so much pain...."
Now she was gently crying, her whispered voice choked with low, feminine sobs.
"He tried so very, very hard to be a normal man, and a good father. But he just couldn't do it any more..... So. Here I am. Picking up the pieces of my shattered life."
Not knowing what to do, the Alpha Geek somehow did exactly the right thing, took her hand, and gently held it.
When the waiter came by a little later to freshen their drinks, the pair were once more in animated conversation, sprinkled with laughter and garnished with smiles. Talking an incomprensible private language larded with acronyms like "SLCM", "CMMI", and "J2EE". He sitting a little taller, she absently twiddling her long dangly earings.
The two lonely people conversed long after midnight, and left together, sharing the same lift.
The waiter had bet five bucks those two would be sleeping together that night, but the cynical bartender refused to pay up.
"No open diplay of affection, they could have been going to separate rooms" he said.
"You can never tell by outward appearances."
(c) 2005 Zoe E Brain