October 2008, the end of friendships…

Kamran took him and John out for lunch. They were in a Japanese restaurant having a bento box. The restaurant was in Mayfair; it probably cost a fortune and was a nice gesture for Amyas’s last day at work. But it was still an effort for Amyas to eat anything. He was sure it tasted amazing – he had been taken to this restaurant once before at the start of the year when a sales team at one of the investment banks had taken them out for dinner. He had been in awe of the food, the only sushi he previously had having been of the takeaway variety which cost four pounds for a few squares. They then stopped at Selfridges for ice-cream on the way back – the ice-cream at Selfridges food court was Kamran’s guilty pleasure. It had been an Indian summer that year as they walked in bright sunshine back to the office. All in all, it was a lovely way to finish his time working at the company.

Amyas went to the pub after work with the rest of the office. It had been a deliberately quiet affair. There were to be more redundancies, and Amyas’s friend Donny Tabasco was one of them. “Not too surprised. Andrea thinks they’re cutting her too. Dan in stock-lending, Gerry in trading, Joao from the equity team, all off.” Amyas was standing with Donny at the bar ordering a round, just out of earshot of the others. “They had to stop my meeting as Andrea burst into tears. I felt really bad. Thing is, I was going to hand in my notice in a few months anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I love the team but I’ve got my final exams coming up and I want to do a bit more than accounts. You’re coming to my leaving drinks, right?” Amyas said he would, though any plans going beyond that evening were not his priority. When he finished in the pub he would be back at home doing what he normally did on an evening: sitting at his laptop looking at Hannah’s Facebook page, double checking his messages, calculating how many days since she had last contacted him. He had meant to have been meeting Nick and Kate that night, but had cancelled. His night was just for him and Hannah.

33. July 2008, the return to London Bridge. We weren’t anything…

“So how’s your love life?” were the first words Hannah said to him as she pulled up a bar stool and sat down, her smile bubbly.

“Well, it could be better.” Amyas gave a small laugh. It was not what he expected to be the first thing she would say to him after two weeks. He also did not expect her to be so chirpy, so unscathed. His two weeks had been marked by a consistent, hanging regret, outwardly appearing patient, giving her time and waiting for that meeting. In answer to her question, he wanted to say the woman he loved was sitting opposite him. And he had not stopped thinking about her since her last words to him those fifteen days ago.

They were inside the London Bridge pub that she had taken him to when she had told him she had stopped seeing Raj and finally let him into her trust. He thought two weeks apart would do them both good. She said she needed to focus solely on her family, that her mum needed her around, so did her brothers, and she realised how much she needed them too. All the emotions buried after her father’s death had risen to the surface and she needed time to finally face them all.

Amyas also saw how he had let his own life revolve around Hannah. The whole of that year had seemed to be about her. He had friends, a good job, a really nice life. He needed to cement those wonderful things and decide where he wanted his life to go, independent of Hannah. In case it had to be independent of Hannah.

On a set of high stools Hannah sat with an orange juice about to start another night shift. “Yeah, it’s been really good thanks,” she said when Amyas asked how the last two weeks had gone. “A lot of time with Mum, my brothers, Mary, Carl and Raj. A bit of a Shepherd’s Bush love-in.” Raj… Amyas did his best to let the name go by, looking passive. “Sam’s going to move in with us down in Streatham, we decided. Well, him and Mum decided. All three Chambers kids under one roof… Could only end in trouble if you ask me. And I lose my dining room. But it gets him out of the squat and that makes Mum happy.” She gave that small smile of hers. He missed that smile. She was playing with the straw from her orange juice. “And we’ve convinced Mum to take a holiday. She got asked to supervise a school trip to South Africa. It’s actually a bit of a big deal as her class had won some kind of award. I forgot she’s actually a star at her job despite everything else. Shows how much I’ve been around recently.” In fact, Amyas thought, it said more about him as he had no idea her mum was a teacher. He gave Hannah his own encouraging smile. He felt this bittersweet warmth running through him: she did seem to be carrying less of a weight, albeit without the aid of him. “It’s her first holiday without my dad. It will be sooo good for her. And while she’s there I’m getting away too. I haven’t had a holiday in ages. It’s only Cambridge and just with friends from when Raj and I were together but he’s being a gent and driving us down and we’re going to have a long weekend.” Jesus, Amyas thought. He was too late. He tried to keep focused, let the wave of hurt pass unnoticed.

“Oh, I’m sorry for how we left things,” she said matter-of-factly. “I can’t believe I did it by phone! You must have thought I was terrible.” He half expected her to slap him on the arm and start laughing, she was being that jovial. In those opening exchanges, telling him of the recent events in her life she was relaxed, confident and witty, eager to relay her news with no sign of hardship or discontentment. It was as if she was speaking to a friend she had not seen for years and sharing anecdotes of old times. Not like two weeks ago she had broken his heart and could herself not stop crying.

“So, I got you something,” Amyas said. He knew the evening was over. He only had her company for an hour before she would have to leave for work, but they had hardly sat together ten minutes. He had been so eager to see her he had arranged the first opportunity. There was so much he needed her to know. But as they sat together in a, even for a Sunday, soulless empty pub where they could hear the wind as someone opened the door and the clinking of glasses at the bar, he knew he might as well get their meeting over and done with. She obviously was only there on obligation. From at his feet he picked up a small yellow hard-paper Selfridges bag. “Actually it’s a few things.” The most prominent item that could be seen was the top of a book. Hannah had this big curious smile, like it was Christmas for her. Amyas felt sick.

“I still haven’t finished the book you lent me,” he said, taking out the book out of the bag. And then he saw it. A wince? A flash of pain? Whatever it was, the smile that had been so fixed and prominent suddenly vanished. She looked hurt, as her eyes shifted away from him.

“… so as I still have your favourite book, you should have one of mine in return.” The book he handed her had a goldfish jumping between two bowls on the cover. It was John O’Farrell’s The Best a Man Can Get. He gave it to her because it always cheered him up and as such kept it on his bedside table. He noticed a similarity in its cover to the Douglas Coupland book Hannah had given him. She just held the book, staring at it. She then smiled, a very different smile to the one before. It was softer, less intensely cheerful, and more natural.

“Thanks. I really like this book,” she said. “I kept reading parts when it was by your bed.” Amyas then pulled out a black plastic cassette tape. In his handwriting on a white label were the words ‘For Hannah’. “A throw back from the Eighties I know, and I had to get Nick to set up his old hi-fi system, but if you are going to make a mix tape you might as well do it properly.” Hannah laughed. Each night they would spend in his flat he would play songs on his iPod that he hoped she would like. “It’s lucky for you retro is the in thing at the moment,” she said, smiling down at the tape. “Everyone seems to have a Walkman at work. I’ll be able to listen to it tonight.” Then out of the bag then came a series of sheets of folded writers’ paper.

“It’s a letter. Or more accurately four or five letters. There have been so many things I’ve been wanting to say to you these past weeks but couldn’t. I needed to give you space and wait so while I couldn’t see you and could not tell you everything I wanted to, I wrote it all down.” Hannah looked down at the letters. Her smile had faded again but this time she had the look of someone a little lost. She began to unfold one of the sheets and when she saw words quickly folded it back again.

“Actually, if I read this now I think I will cry. I better read it at home or if I get some private time tonight.” Hannah suddenly looked so tired. The bubbly, unscathed, carefree girl who had entered the pub had gone. She just looked at the letters and then at Amyas’s hand as he took hers, slowly rubbing his thumb along the side of his fingers. He then took her other hand. Her eyes were glistening, he noticed.

“I knew you needed space but just because I was not around did not mean that I was not thinking about you. There have been so many things I needed to say to you. So many things I still want to say.”

“What would you like to say to me now?” she said. He paused to look at her. Her head was still down but her eyes looked up at him. He gave a small, ironic laugh.

“That I wish I was there. That I wish I’d been there for you from the start and wish I could be there for you now, even just as a friend.”

“Friends,” she said, letting the word hang and looked at him with damp eyes. “I don’t know if I can do that right now. I still like you.” And as she looked at him, suddenly their eyes were closed and their faces moving together. He felt her kiss his bottom lip as he kissed her softly back. And then she was looking down again at her lap, his hands holding hers and him with his lips on her forehead until she brought herself closer to him and placed her head against his chest so he could hold her.

They had reached an impasse. The evening, their time together, had been emotionally exhausting and they left the pub together walking back to London Bridge station.

“I’m down there,” she said as they reached a set of arches.

“It was good seeing you,” she said and as they embraced he felt the softness of her hair against his cheek. He closed his eyes, holding her, hoping the moment could stretch on as long as possible. But as she let go and stepped away he felt a tearing at his chest. She turned and walked through the arches, disappearing into the dark and never looking back.

34. August 2008, we were parted…

Amyas tried to bury himself in work so as not to think about Hannah. He would succeed for an hour perhaps but if in a conversation with Donny Tabasco, or listening to Jordan and John Stamler bantering, he would suddenly have a sharp realisation of something missing. What should I have done differently? What should I do now? Was it a definite ending or was she having the same feelings for him as he was having for her? She said she still liked him. She had kissed him. The only thing he knew for certain was that he still wanted her. Nick had taken him for a beer and Amyas did his best to relay the positives saying they were just taking a break and Hannah needed time. Kate seemed genuinely upset when he told her. Amyas thought it would be a case of I told you so but she seemed childishly heartbroken. Nick even put his arm around her as she said, “she really liked you though.”

Even Joan was sympathetic when the four of them met for a pub dinner. “Sorry to hear about you and Hannah,” he said as they were ordering at the bar. No quip or joke. “Here, I’ll get it,” he then said as Amyas was about to pay for his food. The only person who didn’t seem to be outwardly melancholic was Amyas. He had formulated a plan. He would take it slowly. He would be positive and supportive to Hannah, sending her messages he hoped would cheer her up – not too frequently as to overwhelm her but just so she would remember why she had chosen to be with him in the first place. It could take weeks if not months but he needed to rebuild her trust. Slowly.

One thing that did irk him, however, was Hannah’s weekend away in Cambridge. And who she was going with. Raj was back in her life. He knew that was significant but he did not know what it meant for him and Hannah. Did she need Raj as a friend or was it more? That weekend she would be with her Cambridge friends, being driven there in a Porsche, probably mingling with people whose parents owned half of Surrey or did impressive, important jobs, like Raj did. In Amyas’s head Raj was luring her away with the promise of wealth and excitement. Amyas loved his own job but he was still relatively new to the world and it would be some time till he got to John Stamler’s level, let alone Kamran’s. He suddenly felt so ordinary compared to this Iago.

Amyas was sitting at John Stamler’s desk watching him value a company. His boss Kamran was taking a call from one of their bond salesmen, Andy Youngs. Kamran then looked over to them, muted his phone and asked if they could both join the call. Normally when dealing with sales people at the big investment banks, Kamran would handle the large trading deals or have high level conversations on the future of the market. John would talk to sales about potential companies they were looking to invest in, like any good analyst. And Amyas would be there covering for John and Kamran, information hunting on their behalf or following up on a trade one of them had initiated. It was rare for all three of them to be on a call with a salesman at the same time. The first voice they heard was Andy’s.

“Guys, I wanted to confirm it was alright with Kamran first. I have two tickets to the Joe Calzage fight in Vegas this weekend. We’re doing a client trip: it will be you and a few more hedgies, all good lads. We’ll pay for the tickets – six hundred dollars each! – plus two big nights out at the Vegas clubs. All you have to pay for is your flight and hotel room. How ’bout it?”

“Accepting the tickets shouldn’t be a problem as far as the gift policy goes,” began Kamran after Andy had rung off. “It’s nothing compared with what the equity guys get. The flights and hotel though… I doubt you would be able to claim them on expenses. You’ll probably have to pay for them yourselves.” John’s face immediately fell. John, who was not a boxing fan and notoriously frugal in any personal spending, looked to Amyas, expecting the junior and lesser earning member of the team to agree the trip was too decadent. John was used to flying around the world but normally with expense claims safeguarded in his wallet to be charged against some conference or business meeting. Even the gum he was currently chewing had been paid for by the company under some pretence.

Under usual circumstances Amyas would not have considered spending hundreds of pounds on a spontaneous weekend’s entertainment. Holidays with his friends usually never went further afield than Germany and he was on a budget, so where was the appeal in travelling halfway around the world to watch a boxing match with people he hardly knew?

Hannah would be in Cambridge that weekend, he suddenly thought. With Raj and all her Cambridge educated, over-privileged friends. Jealousy, resentment, betrayal, whichever emotion he felt he simply could not bear the vision of her laughing with them while he was stuck at home. But it was only Cambridge, it then occurred to him. Hannah had said she had not been abroad in years so if Raj would only take her as far as Cambridge what would she suddenly think if she knew he was able to go to Las Vegas for a weekend, on a whim? Suddenly the whole weekend seemed to have a lot more promise. This is what you’re missing, Hannah Chambers.

“I’m in,” said Amyas. “I’ll book my flight now.”

Amyas spent the flight reading the book Hannah had given him, Eleanor Rigby. As he read it he regretted not making more effort to complete it before. Hannah said she had re-read it countless times and when she gave it to him he could see how important him reading it was to her. It was about the reappearance of a child, now an adult, and the retelling of the mother’s pregnancy, how she had given the child away and how the rest of her life up until that point was one of isolation and loneliness. As Amyas finished the last page he suddenly felt haunted by the poignancy of it. That the most confident, vibrant person he knew would empathise with such a lonely woman. However, as the plane approached Nevada he knew he had to put such thoughts to the back of his mind and just live for the weekend ahead of him.

The first night in Vegas was a blur. He and John rushed to drop their bags at the hotel before practically jumping into a yellow taxi cab that took them to the arena. Andy Youngs met them outside with their tickets, rushing to get them both inside. “Shit, lads, what kept you?” he slurred. Amyas’s and John’s flight had been delayed when they transferred at Chicago so they had missed all the warm-up fights on the card. Andy said he and his clients had been drinking since they arrived in Vegas that morning, though with Andy’s inability to walk straight and bright pink face it hardly needed explaining. Amyas could not help a smirk. Not at Andy’s drunkenness. But how he used the word client. It made him sound like a prostitute.

The fight went all fourteen rounds and was decided on a split decision. Joe Calzage had won to the roars and exultation of the travelling supporters. After returning to the hotel to change into smarter clothing, Amyas found himself eating sushi at what looked an incredibly expensive restaurant where nothing had a price tag and the waitresses were all tall, blonde, beautiful and served food in stunning figure-accentuating dresses. He was then being poured glasses of vodka at a large reserved booth and sofa area in a Vegas club, The Venetian. The alcohol was flowing and that brought intoxication and groups of women.

“Are you from England? Oh I love your accent,” was said repeatedly to them by pretty American girls, who they in turn poured drinks and ordered champagne for.

Amyas kept drinking, listened to Andy’s slurred conversations, met Andy’s other hedge fund clients and smiled at the pretty girls. The club was loud and big, the music was thumping and suddenly the girls around them wanted to dance. The big dancefloor was crowded so one girl kicked her shoes off and climbed up onto the sofa, encouraging her friends to do the same. Amyas then found himself too on the sofa and using the top of the booth as a podium. He had forgotten how much he loved dancing and feeling the beat of a tune, no matter the style of music. And being surrounded by girls was a bonus. He had no idea how much vodka he had consumed. Every time he had been halfway through a glass it got topped up. And he was feeling happy, merry and every bit at one with the music as one girl turned and smiled at him, and he put his hands on her hips dancing close up and then having her turning back to him as she bent gently forward, grinding into him.

He woke up at midday, his head pounding and memory hazy. He tried to think back to why he felt so hungover. Then he remembered. He had stopped dancing with the girl to get some fresh air. Outside the club he realised he had left his shoes by the sofa when he had climbed on it to dance. The doorman would not allow him back in. In a taxi back to the hotel he received a call from Andy.