Copyright 2017 Mario V. Farina
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
Electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information
Storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the author.
Correspondence may be directed to:
Mario V. Farina
Email: [email protected]
“Hal, how would you feel if I told you I like you?”
Not fully understanding the why of the question, I said, “I’d be pleased! Isn’t that what you’d expect me to say?”
She didn’t respond to my question for a long time. I was silent also, thinking she might explain the reason for her question. Finally, I said, “Ellen, why did you ask me that? You’ve been working for me at the bookstore for over a year. There’s never been a question about like or not like. Your husband, Jim, and I were buddies in a war. It’s a given that all four of us, you and Jim, Janet and I would all like each other!”
“I know,” she said. “I was doing some research. I’m sorry I confused you.”
“Oh, research!” I exclaimed. Greatly relieved, I smiled. “Yes, I was confused,” I confessed. “Tell me more. What’s this all about?”
A word about myself: My name is Harold Wilson. I’m twenty-eight. I have a buddy named James Waters. He and I were in the army together and served in the same unit in Iraq for about two years. We’re both married. My wife’s name is Janet; Jim’s wife’s name is Ellen. It was Ellen who had asked me the question at the beginning of this story. At the moment, we were having a bite at the Bizzy Bee diner.
“I’ve been doing some thinking,” Ellen said. “I have a theory. It came to me that there are four stages of a relationship between two persons when it goes beyond that of being simple neutrality. The first is like. I simply wanted to see what would be your reaction if I told you I liked you! You and I have worked at the bookstore for a long time. I thought you’d be the ideal person to try out my theory.”
I laughed. “Jim’s your husband,” I commented. “Wouldn’t he be a better subject upon which you can try your ideas?”
“Of course not,” she retorted. “How can I say, ‘I like you’ to a man I’m married to? He’d wonder if I had gone daft!”
“I see what you mean,” I agreed. “But why did you ask me to come here to the restaurant. Couldn’t you have popped that question at the bookstore?”
“You know the answer to that,” she suggested. “It wouldn’t have made sense to do it there. You’re my boss; I’m your employee. My question had to be in a more realistic setting.”
I knew she was right. It had been closing time at the shop. She would have gone home, as usual. I had an hour of bookwork to do. She had said that she wanted to talk to me about a matter of importance to her and could we meet at the diner next door after I had finished my work? I had agreed because I thought what she had in mind was business oriented.
When I entered the Bizzy Bee, Ellen waved me to join her in a booth near the door. She was enjoying the last few nibbles of a piece of raspberry pie. She assured me Jim knew she would be late coming home. I ordered a donut and a cup of black coffee. After we had finished our meals, she and I left the restaurant. The meeting with Ellen had not been important to me and I didn’t mention it to Janet.
It was near closing time about a week later. Today the question was asked at the shop.
“Hal, how would you feel if I told you I’m very fond of you,” she asked?
Surprised, I took the time to lock the door to the store, then asked, “Ellen, is this about your theory again?
“Yes,” she said. “This is about the second stage of a relationship! Do tell me, how do you feel about being asked that question?”
“Besides being surprised,” I responded, “I’m flattered, but also mystified. How much of this is research, and how much is real?”
“A little of both,” she responded. “I am fond of you, but I’m also researching. Can you pretend we’ve been dating for a while and I’ve just asked you the question? What would be your reaction?”
“I’d be awed,” I replied. “I’d feel a mixture of puzzlement, shock, pleasure. I’d also be confused. Is there more to this than some sort of research on your part? I know I should have a reasonable reaction but I don’t know what it should be?”
“I’m really fond of you,” Ellen said. “I guess I was hoping you’d say you were fond of me too.”
“I am fond of you,” I said. “We’ve worked together a long time. It would be normal for me to be fond of you! But, that’s as far as it goes! You’re not thinking of trying the third stage of your theory on me, are you? I’m almost scared to think what that would be!”
“As a matter of fact, yes,” she said. The third stage would be to tell you I love you!”
I shuddered. “In theory?”
“No, really! I really do love you! Tell me what is your reaction. How do you feel hearing me say this? This the third stage. And the fourth stage is, ‘how would feel about being married to me?”
“I don’t know how many ways I can tell you about feeling shocked,” I stammered. “Ellen, you know I’m married, and deeply in love with my wife. I know Jim loves you very much! I can’t speak for how others might feel with your question, but I feel stunned, upset, and troubled!”
“Darling, I’ve loved you ever since you and Jim returned from Iraq. I kept it hidden, but can’t anymore. Do you feel any love for me at all,” she asked?
“Of course, I feel love for you, Ellen; the kind of love that’s described in the Bible!”
“But no romantic love?”
“No, I’m very sorry, Ellen, not that kind! I’m in love with Janet. You know that from you and Jim having visited us, and from us having visited with both of you!”
“Now, I’m worried, Hal! Are you going to fire me from my job?”
“No,” I responded. “You’re too important to me in this job. I’d be lost without you. I don’t know if it’ll work out, but I’d like to keep you, despite this conversation.”
“You don’t feel it will be awkward?”
“It may be for a while,” I said, “but, with time, I think we could get back to normal.”
“Whatever normal means,” murmured Ellen.
That night, I felt I couldn’t withhold what had transpired between Ellen and me from Janet. I told her about our conversations and how they had ended. Janet seemed as bewildered as I had been. “You’re keeping her on,” she asked?
“Yes,” I said. “I can’t run the bookstore by myself, and it would take a long time to find someone who could take her place.”
“I see,” she said after a few moments of silence. “I’m not sure I like your decision, but I understand why you’re making it. I hope it works out.”
“I do too,” I muttered.
Working with Ellen during the next several days was not as difficult as I had imagined. There was nothing said about her theory of stages, or of love. She and I went about our duties as we had always done, with friendship, respect, and understanding. I began believing that what we had said to each other was on its way to being laid aside and forgotten.
It was on a Saturday morning that I received a phone call at the shop from my buddy, Jim. Ellen was at lunch. I was manning the phones.
“Is Ellen there,” he asked? “Just say yes or no.”
“Ellen is at lunch,” I said. “What’s going on?”
“She’s been acting very strangely,” he said. “I just wondered if you could shed some light on why that is.”
“She’s acting strangely,” I asked? “How strangely?”
“For some weeks, she’s been cold toward me, standoffish. I thought she might be going through a phase of some sort, but I’m sure now there’s something else causing this. Whatever might be the problem, she’s been discussing it with Janet, but not with me!”
My wife, Janet! Why Janet? I didn’t know exactly how to respond. Obviously, Jim did not know about Ellen’s so-called stages of relationships. A phone conversation was not the right way to tell him what had happened between her and me. “Jim,” I asked, “are you free today? Can we meet at the Bizzy Bee in about an hour?”
“Of course,” he responded. “See you then.”
When Ellen returned and had begun her normal duties, I told her I was going next door for a bite to eat, and would return in about an hour. She nodded her understanding and returned to her work.
Jim was already at the restaurant when I arrived. We sat in a booth, and ordered hamburgers, with fries, and coleslaw.
“I don’t know how to begin, Jim,” I said. “This has all been bewildering to me, but I’ll explain it to you as clearly as I can!”
“Before you do that, Hal,” he interrupted. “Speaking of puzzling, I got a weird phone call just before leaving to come here. I think we need to discuss it first!”
“Yes, you couldn’t possibly guess from whom.”
“You’re right,” I agreed with a grin. “I can’t guess. Who called?”
“It was your wife,” he stated in hushed tones. “I was Janet!”
“Janet?” I gasped, “What in heaven’s name for?”
“That’s the weird part, Hal” he said. “When I answered the phone, I was surprised to hear her voice. I must’ve said something, but don’t remember what. Then she said, ‘Jim, how would you feel if I told you I like you?’”
What Jim said stunned me! I must have taken on a monumental look of astonishment, and was not able to formulate any words of comment.
“Hal,” he repeated, “Janet said, ‘Jim, how would you feel if I told you I like you?’ What would possibly have been the reason for her asking that?”
Ellen Waters had formulated a theory about how relationships start from ground zero. She had decided to test it on me, her employer. "Hal," she had asked, "How would you feel if I told you I like you?" The question was perplexing, but it led to further perplexing questions. She must have discussed her theory with my wife, Janet. I was told by my army buddy, Jim that she had asked him a question!