Location: Ba Na Hill, a lonely little Vietnamese restaurant that's just struggled through its opening week.
The Manatary has splashed into town.
Now, the 'Manatary' is not to be confused with a 'manatee': the former being a male secretary, and the latter an adorably plump aquatic mammal.
I spotted Manatary in my first year at the law firm. We were sometimes in the lift together and I couldn't help but notice him. Amongst the pack of boys, my peers, who looked straight out of private school, the Manatary was taller, rougher around the edges, scruffier. He had a few gray hairs, though he couldn't have been more than 30. I wasn't the only one to notice him and the lightning-fast exchange of gossip that happens about attractive people (/partners up to no good/slutty summer clerks/the occasional mental breakdown) in law firms soon informed me that he was a secretary in the intellectual property team, and that he was dating one of the pretty girl secretaries in the corporate team — and that it was serious. They had moved down from Brisbane together as a couple. The didn't stop me walking a little quicker to catch a lift with him, letting my finger just hover over the life's 'close door' button when he was a few paces behind me. Though, it should have.
Then, of course, one of my graduate rotations dropped me in the intellectual property team.
The junior lawyers in the team would step out for our morning coffees and Manatary, having far more in common with us than the other secretaries (him not being a middle-aged woman with a bad perm, orange nails and photos of his ungainly child/pet strung out over his desk like fairy lights) would join. His snarky sense of humour found mine and, before long, we were stepping out for our morning coffees without inviting any others. I'd find reasons to perch in his desk and give him instructions. He'd find reasons to send me funny emails. When we had a trademark infringement case involving polar bear soft toys and thousands of 'infringing' bears arrived at the office as evidence, we each appropriated one. Pete and Polly. Pete and Polly had a tendency to go missing. Photos of the Arctic kidnap victim in life-threatening situations — in the microwave, on the printroom guillotine, between lift doors — would mysteriously appear in the owner's inbox, along with a ransom note: 'Buy me lunch, or Pete gets it'. It was juvenile, sure, but, the work was boring and still the days flew by. I soon moved teams and our friendship only intensified. At firm events, I clustered with the other lawyers, he with his girlfriend. Texts zapped between us. We were behaving badly.
Nothing ever really happened, but it was clearly about to.
Very late on a summery December night, I stepped out of the after-after-Christmas-party, onto a balcony high above Melbourne. We'd been drinking magnums of Moët & Chandon, some lawyers who ought to know better were inhaling clouds of coke in the bathroom, the boys were splashily showing off in the rooftop pool, the dark dance floor was slick with expensive spilt champagne. I needed air. He found me and we drank gin and watched lights twinkle in and off to the dulled thud eighties hits. He told me he was going to kiss me. I went home.
Soon after, he moved home to Brisbane with the girlfriend, to be closer to family and old friends. They promptly broke up.
Now, a year later, he's in town for the weekend and we're going to breakfast. Just like old chums. We hug and have coffees, he bemoans the lack of good coffee in Brisbane, we talk about London and travel dreams, his job, his German Shepherd, what his German Shepherd would do to my cat. We order eggs and talk about love and relationships, trust and being satisfied and true to yourself. We order more coffee and we talk about regrets. We hug, and say goodbye.
Breakfast over, I walk home happy, dizzy and a little sick.
PS. Bad Alex. I took him to 50 Acres and was inappropriately gratified when a certain surly barista set down my coffee with a grim expression.