A Shade of Blue- Part I

Philadelphia PA, 1996

The fantastic illusion of falling in love “at first sight” seemed feasible in my twenties. Those were the days before my rose-colored view of the world turned a shade of blue. Instantaneous love was the only explanation I would accept for what happened to me the moment I met Nolan.* He was the tallest, most handsome and most impeccably dressed man under the age of thirty that I had ever seen in my life. I was a sheltered young woman from the suburbs and rarely crossed paths with slick, professional men in my age group who wore fancy business suits. Perhaps I was a little too impressionable.

That day I had ventured into the city for a presentation on financial planning. I was toying with the idea of quitting my dead-end job, so it seemed like a good idea to create an emergency safety net first. Investing some of the cash that remained from my broken engagement seemed like the most logical place to start. In my twenties, I was a hopeless romantic when it came to relationships, but I was far more practical when dealing with my money.

By the end of Nolan’s presentation, my interest in investments took on an ulterior motive. I coolly checked his left hand for a wedding band, and then accepted his business card like a gracious, wide-eyed debutante receiving an invitation to her very first ball. In a bout of sheer boldness or absolute naïveté, I called his office the next morning to set up an appointment.

Nolan’s intimidating office complex was located in the affluent section of the city Philadelphians called The Main Line, but I was too determined to allow such details to thwart me from my mission. I checked in at the front desk, took the elevator to his floor, and announced my arrival to his secretary. Then he appeared, just as handsome as I remembered, and greeted me with a welcoming smile. He took confident strides as he led me down a hallway to an empty conference room with a long table and several sleek leather chairs. As I passed by him through the open door, I caught the scent of sandalwood mixed with the fine Italian wool of his suit.

“Did you say you were at that presentation I gave last week? I hand out tons of business cards at those things, but most people don’t have the money or wisdom to call me.” He beamed a ten-thousand-megawatt smile. “So tell me, what can I do for you today?”

“Well, I’ve been able to save up a decent amount of money over the past few years. I’m contemplating buying a condo or going to graduate school, but I want to invest about half of it for now. I’ll be turning twenty-six this summer,”( I emphasized my age to confirm what I thought was an indication of maturity) “and I need to start thinking about my future.” I smoothed my soft, velour, aqua blue t-shirt over my black flared mini-skirt, an ensemble I had selected after much deliberation. Then I crossed my legs for his perusal.

He appeared to be adequately impressed. Then he rolled his chair a little bit closer to mine. “Good for you. There aren’t a lot of people your age who are concerned about investing any of their income.”

“Is that so? Well, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here either if I didn’t have a future goal in mind,” which technically was true. I saw no need to expound on my broken engagement or the details of my dead-end job.

Fortunately for me, we needed to meet at least two more times: once for him to present and explain my prospectus, and then again so I could sign all the necessary documents. Even if I couldn’t finagle a date by the end of our meetings, I was proud of being so fiscally responsible.

Our next meeting took place in Nolan’s office. I was relieved to see no pictures of a wife or any children on his desk or walls. He entertained me with stories about his humble beginnings and the competitive atmosphere at his office. His predominantly female clientele was earning him a reputation as a ladies’ man among his co-workers, but he was quick to defend his honor.

“I came in here as the newbie and managed to pull in accounts from a large network of women that most of the other advisors were ignoring. Now, of course, they want to credit that success to my looks. Sure, I have been on the receiving end of a few propositions, but the relationships I have with my clients are all strictly business,” he assured me. “It’s nothing more than jealous gossip. Don’t listen to a single word they say.”

Nolan was a terrific conversationalist, and I became addicted to his playful, easy-going manner. As our third meeting came to a close, I decided not to be discouraged by his “strictly business” policy. After signing what felt like an endless succession of documents, I seized the opportunity to make my move.

“I may be a low-risk investor when it comes to my money,” I began, “but I’m about to take a large risk right now and ask you to have dinner with me sometime. What do you say?” It was undoubtedly the worst pick-up line he had ever heard, but it sounded very clever while I was rehearsing it in my head.

He must have found my ineptitude completely charming for him to answer, “Yes.” As promised, he checked his calendar and called to make dinner plans with me for the following week. Huzzah! My ingenious plan to capture his heart was working! Everything was going exactly the way I imagine it — everything except for one minor problem.

“So you see,” he began explaining once the hostess had seated us at our table, “my situation is rather complicated. I’ve been in an on-and-off relationship for the past five years with the mother of my child. We make great parents, but our relationship has never worked for very long. She sometimes makes it difficult to see my daughter just for spite. When we argue she threatens to take my daughter, Allison and move away. If she did, there’s nothing I could do to stop her — other than starting an ugly custody battle I would probably lose. I’m in no position to start dating someone, and you seem too nice to get caught up in all of this.”

Nolan elaborated on the details of his dilemma as he walked me to my car. “Well, I guess this is goodbye for now. Unless. . .” he took a dramatic pause for effect and looked at me sideways, “unless you’d be interested in being my plaything? You wouldn’t be interested in something like that, would you?” The dusky night did very little to hide the mischief glinting in his eyes.

“Nooooo,” I responded slowly, unsure how much that he was joking, “I would not be interested in something like that.” He was standing far too close for me to open the car door and escape, and so I kept talking to avoid a potentially awkward silence. “I appreciate you being upfront with me. . . It’s been nice getting to know you. Thanks for dinner all the same and for helping me figure out what to do with my money. I hope it all works out . . . With your daughter and stuff, I mean, not with my money . . . of course, I hope that all works out too. Well, anyway, I guess I’d better get going. . . Good night.” My ears were pleading with me to stop rambling, but my mouth just kept on moving. Avoid awkward silence: mission accomplished.

I had no expectations to hear from Nolan again, so I was pleasantly surprised when he called me at work a couple of days later. We frequently spoke on the phone for a few weeks until he finally asked if he could see me again.

“Could you come by my office tonight? There’s something that I’d like to show you.”

“Ah, sure,” I said blithely, not at all sure what I had just agreed to do. As soon as I arrived, Nolan led me back downstairs to the lot where he had parked his new Mercedes Benz, a purchase that marked a milestone in his career. Once I understood its significance, I made sure that I ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ sufficiently before we went for a ride. Like teenagers, we cruised down to the waterfront, permitting the clear, starry night to provide the backdrop for our imminent romance. I slipped off my sandals and irreverently placed my bare feet on his dashboard, playfully mocking his newly acquired prized possession.

When we returned to his office building, Nolan got out of his car and walked over to open my door in a stately manner. “Thanks for coming out tonight. It was nice seeing you again. Good-bye.”

Now he was just toying with my emotions. “Stop being such a gentleman. Aren’t you even going to kiss me goodnight?”

“Uh-uh,” he scolded with the wag of his finger, “we’ve already crossed the line. You’re one of my clients now, and as I said before, I keep my relationships with all of my clients on the level. Drive home safely now,” he offered with a smile before he walked away.

After that, we exchanged a few more calls before he summoned me to his office once again.

“Come here,” he commanded as soon as I walked over towards his desk. “Last time I saw you I made a mistake. When a beautiful woman asks to be kissed, a true gentleman should always oblige.” Then he pulled me close and kissed me as if I were a dream come to fruition. Like the tufts of a dandelion released by a sudden gust of wind, I felt all my apprehensions drift away.

From that moment on, each one of our rendezvous was more wonderful than the next. Spending time with Nolan was exciting and adventurous. It made me feel special in ways I had never known before. Our romance was beautiful and passionate. It was meaningful, intimate, and pure. It was poetry and music, summer rain, and Sunday morning coffee. It was everything to me.

It was everything but love.

Love didn’t fit you into the small cracks of time left available in its daily planner or hide you away after hours in dark places where no one else would see you. Love most certainly did not live its own separate, exclusive life while showing no signs of making you a part of it. It was not love, but I simply could not bear the thought of losing him, and so I chose to stay. I blindly forged ahead propelled by misguided hope and a desperate heart that was too afraid to set any boundaries. For six long months, I refused to see the truth even when Nolan refused to give me his home address or his home telephone number. **

“I think you know that I’m in love with you,” I confessed to him one night at his office. “I wish you would let me meet your daughter.”

“And I love being with you, but you know I can’t take that kind of risk.”

“Oh. You love being with me.” I repeated so that he understood I caught the slight. “I get it. You like having me around as long as Allison’s mother doesn’t know I exist.”

“You know the kind of position I’m in. To tell the truth, I want you to move in with me, but I don’t know how that can ever happen.” Nolan looked at me with disheartened resignation. “I can’t give you what you want.”

“Well, you can’t have it both ways. It’s not fair. If you won’t let me in, then you’ll have to let me go.”

I gave that ultimatum feeling secure in my assumption that Nolan would break down and call me in a couple of weeks. After a couple of months passed by, I managed to stay functionally miserable until the holidays. I missed him so much, and I wanted to hear the sound of his voice. I swallowed my pride and dialed his office number once again.

“Hey. It’s me.”

“Hey! Hey, how have you been?”

“Oh, I’m okay, I’m fine. I just wanted to say, ‘Merry Christmas.’ I get sentimental around the holidays I guess.”

“Merry Christmas to you too. Listen, I really need to talk to you. Can I meet you for lunch sometime this week? I’ll come out and pick you up from work.”

I had to assume his unprecedented request to meet on my turf was a very bad sign. “Can it wait until after New Year’s? Getting through the holidays is hard enough as it is.”

“Sure. I call you later. Happy New Year, then?”

“Yeah. Happy New Year.”

Once we took our seats at the café, he removed his gloves to reveal the gold band that now occupied the ring finger of his left hand. His carefully orchestrated public setting suddenly all made perfect sense. My eyes welled with tears. I felt my heart sink deep into my chest.

“So, I guess you’re here to tell me about that ring.”

Nolan let out a heavy sigh of desperation. “I wanted to tell you sooner — before it happened, but if I did, I don’t think I would have been able to go through with it. I’m sorry. I never wanted to hurt you, but you forced me to choose. She finally gave me the chance to put our family back together for good. I had to take it.”

And just like that, it was over.

Right there.

At a café in the suburbs.

In the middle of my work day.

When he dropped me off in front of my building, he took my hand in his. I tried to cradle his palm to the side of my face so we could share one last intimate moment, but he pulled away, unable to provide me with comfort or bear the burden of my anguish any longer. “Didn’t I mean anything to you? At all?” I searched his face for some sign of reassurance or a modicum of regret.

“I’m sorry,” he uttered as he gathered the broken pieces of my heart with the rest of his belongings, “but I have to go.”

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

*In 1996, nearly everyone still had a home telephone. Anyone unwilling to share that number with you was probably up to no good.

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