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The Second First Time by mak14

© mak14

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I hit it off with Eric right from the start. We met during the interval of a production of The Seagull at the Edinburgh Festival. Standing at the bar, I caught his eye.
"Terrible, isn't it?" he said.
"Hard going," I agreed. "Why is it getting such rave reviews?"
"All that hype about reimagining Chekov, as if the original wasn't good enough." He said exactly what I’d been thinking. We continued discussing the play, I bought a round of drinks and we didn’t return for the second act.

It wasn’t like me to get on so well with someone I had just met. I was reticent and awkward around people I didn’t know and even those I had known for years. Eric had something about him, a likability and frankness that put me at my ease. We met regularly after that, drinks in The Bow Bar or The Blue Blazer, supper at the Malt Society, six nation matches in Murrayfield. I had him over for dinner at my house in Morningside.

Though Eric rarely spoke about himself, I formed the impression of a rich and varied life. His father was someone important in the Foreign Office and Eric’s early years were spent in different European capitals. He boarded at Fettes, got a first in History and Economics from Balliol and lived in the US for many years. There was mention of an acrimonious divorce but he didn’t go into the details. When it came to work, he would only say he earned his crust by the sweat of his imagination.

As for me, I had spent my entire life in Edinburgh and lived in the house where I grew up and which I inherited after my mother died. Resigned to bachelorhood, my three topsy turvy years with Julia and her final infidelity had hit me hard, leaving a lingering moroseness. She claimed my introspection had driven her to it, had forced her to be unfaithful. There was no question of forgiveness and I expunged her from my life. My career in academia had taken me to the pinnacle of an endowed Chair in Pure Mathematics and I was jaded and dissatisfied. The indifference of the students who attended my lectures was matched by my disinterest in teaching them.

One evening, we were sitting in my front room. Eric was going through the bookshelves and pulled out a copy of The Last Tycoon.
“Do you know the Fitzgerald line that there are no second acts in American lives?” he asked.
"What about it?” I knew the line well.
“I don’t see why there shouldn't be a second act."
“Do you mean a new beginning? I hope you’re not going to say something trite about re-inventing yourself.”
“What do you take me for?” He shook his head in mock offence. “Not a second act, more a second time.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Oh, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about.”
Eric leafed through the book and put it back on the shelf. The subject was dropped and we moved on to other things.

Eric brought it up again over Orange Pekoe and lemon cake in the Auld Reekie tea-room off Princes Street. It was a Friday evening and I was drained after a week of dreary administration and campus politics.
“Very pleasant surroundings.” Eric looked appreciatively at the crisp white linen, black and gold wall paneling and ebony chairs. Julia had liked coming here, said it had an elegance but I found it ostentatious. Appearance meant a lot to Julia, she hated anything banal or mundane. For a long time, I did what I could not to appear banal to her.
“Do you recall my reference to Scott Fitzgerald when I was at your place?” Eric asked.
“You mean the second act in American life,” I said.
“Thinking about it has given me an idea for a business venture.”
It was the first time Eric had ever mentioned anything to do with business.
“Really, and what might that be?”

He hesitated before answering, “I’m thinking of calling it The Second First Time.”
“What's involved?” I was curious to hear what he had in mind.
“Everyone has a first time that is precious to them. It could be an occurrence or a feeling that is repeated many times but never with the immediacy or piquancy of the first time. I propose offering a second opportunity to experience again the joy, the zest and zing of that first time.” Eric couldn’t suppress a smile when he said this.

“From my understanding, that’s not what Fitzgerald meant.” I knew I was being a wet blanket.
“Maybe not but let me ask you this." Eric leaned forward in his seat. "What event or emotion has remained with you as uniquely transformative, something you believe can never be repeated?”
I was too tired to give his question much thought but I answered truthfully. “I suppose it was the publication of my first paper, when I saw my name in print for the first time. Now, whatever I publish only brings a sense of failure.”

“And I would offer you the chance to relive that first moment.”
“How is that possible?”
“Logistics, the how is secondary. I’m trying to fine-tune the why. What do you think of my proposal?”
“It's an intriguing concept.” I was careful not to say more.
“And one I intend to pursue as a profitable endeavor.”
"The costs must be prohibitive." I was worried that Eric would act on any endorsement from me.
“And offset by a fee. The business case is sound. This is not intended for Joe Bloggs. We need to target sensitive men and women, people with disposable income who care more for their intangible essence than superficial frippery.”
I was uneasy with the way he used "we".

“Would you be willing to invest in this if I got it up and running? Of course, I’d come in with the same amount. We’d be equal partners.”
This caught me by surprise. Eric had seen where I lived and knew I was financially secure. Whenever I thought of my savings, I pictured bundles of money stacked on a shelf in a locked safe.
“You’ve really sprung this on me, I’d need more details.”
“Tell you what I’ll do,” he said. “I’ll put together an advertisement to test the market.”
“That seems like a good idea.” Once I said it, I was angry with myself for not doing more to put him off.

“I’m sure the demand is there," he continued. "There’s no shortage of introspective types who’ve reached a certain age and level of disillusionment and are ground down by the hum-drum of life. Whenever they look forward, they find themselves returning to the past. These are people who will pay well for a return, however brief, to a particular moment when life was worthwhile and offered hope.”
Intentionally or not, Eric had described my own situation.

I wasn't expecting him when he showed up in my office, brandishing a magazine. He pointed to an advertisement on one of the back pages.
"What do you think?"
The heading read: “The Second First Time”. Underneath, there was a block of text: “Do you find yourself thinking about a treasured moment from your past, an instance of love, adventure or success. How you wish you could feel that way again. Let us make it happen for you at The Second First Time. Don't turn down this unique opportunity. Don’t deny yourself the chance to relive your precious moment. Money back guaranteed if not satisfied with the result.”

“Isn’t the money back guarantee a little risky?”
“We have to engender confidence in the client. They'll be knocking down the door to take up this offer.” Eric was looking at me expectantly. “Are you still prepared to come in with me on this?”
“Let’s see what the response is to the advertisement.” I was buying time, hoping there were no takers and Eric would drop the idea.
“You’re right of course, that’s the best course of action.” He didn’t seem discouraged by my reaction.

Afterwards, all I could think of was Eric’s advertisement. I forced myself to focus on the minutes of the quality enhancement committee. One of the endless round of soul-destroying meetings in sterile rooms, hours spent quibbling over the wording of the university mission statement, arguing over funding strategies, discussing student fees, student engagement, satisfaction questionnaires, raising the global profile, education for the market-place and spin-out opportunities. I was sick of the whole rotten business.

Eric telephoned me later that week.
“Good news, we’ve received twenty five responses.”
“To what?” I asked though I knew what he meant.
“To the advertisement, twenty five declarations of interest. Ten at least are worth following up. It’s a much better response than I expected.”
“Really.” I tried to sound indifferent.
"Look,” he said, “I have to know if you can make a financial commitment to this.”
“How much do you need?”
The amount was roughly a tenth of my savings. In my mind’s eye a bundle was removed from the virtual shelf. The loss was barely noticeable.
“I suppose I can manage that.”

Refusing Eric was never an option. He was a friend and I couldn’t let him down. My breakup with Julia had left me with something worse than pessimism, a sour satisfaction in failure. Defeatism was doing me no good and I had to change my outlook. So what if I knew nothing about business. Look at what university life had become. At least what Eric offered was authentic business and not the disgraceful sell-out of education. I was stuck in a rut and needed to try something new. Not just that, I liked Eric’s idea. It was high-minded, not crude buying and selling. “This is an opportunity,” he had said, “to undo the recalcitrance of life. Why should we be satisfied with a single moment of euphoria followed by interminable decline?”

Eric wasted no time, keeping me updated daily.
“We’re ready to roll,” he declared. “Four of the applicants are definite goers.”
The first one to consider was Frank Poll, senior partner in a large financial company. “We need a kick-off meeting,” Eric said, “to set objectives and agree on deliverables."
He gave me an address in the New Town, a street I associated with banking and insurance offices. I met him in the lobby, we took a lift to the top floor and went down a corridor to a door with a brass plate bearing the name: "The Second First Time". Eric gave me a look that said, “See, it’s really happening,” and I felt a rush of excitement.

We went into an outer office lined with shelves filled with box files and folders. A young man sat staring at a computer screen.
“This is Garrett,” Eric said.
Garrett pushed his round glasses up his nose and adjusted the fringe of his floppy hair. In a moment of alarm, I was sure he was a student from one of my classes but he showed no sign that he recognised me. I joined Eric in a larger room dominated by a floor to ceiling window and an unobstructed view of Salisbury Crags. Four leather armchairs were arranged around a coffee table.
“Is this yours?” I asked.
“Ours,” Eric answered, “This is The Second First Time office.”
“You're using the money to pay for this?”
“Of course, you hardly expect us to conduct business in the street.” Eric directed me to one of the chairs and sat across from me.

“Comfortable isn’t it but that’s the point, to make our clients comfortable. Remember, we’ll be delving into their deep-seated wishes. Professionalism and efficiency is paramount, which is why I hired Garett.”
How much was this costing? I had expected Eric would have employees of his own but I hadn't given it much thought.
“To the matter in hand and this Poll chap. A relatively easy case to start with, Mr. Poll wishes to relive his first kiss.”
Eric said it so straight-faced that I wondered if I heard him correctly. “How is that easy?"
“We just have to reproduce the physical environment and the ambiance surrounding the moment and let the client take it from there.”
Any further discussion was interrupted by a knock on the door. Garett announced, “Mr. Poll is here for his appointment.”

Eric took control, shaking Poll’s hand vigorously, drawing his attention to the view before introducing me. Up close, Poll was older than I first thought, well into his sixties. A sober business suit hung on his stocky frame, striped shirt straining against his paunch. His skin was blotchy, the legacy of acne from his long distant adolescence. My eyes were drawn to the first line of carefully arranged hairs oiled in place to maintain an intricate comb-over. What did someone like this want by repeating his first kiss? Eric was expounding on the principles of The Second First Time. Garrett sat with an open pad balanced on his knee.

“Can I ask when the event occurred, when did you experience your first kiss?” Regardless of how matter-of-fact Eric sounded, it was a strange question to ask this man.
“Oh some time ago, when I was twenty two.” Judging by Poll’s expression, the memory pleased him. “A little late in the game but I’ve made up for it since.”
“And where was the kiss applied?”
“On the girl’s lips.”
Eric offered the client a brief smile. “By where I meant the physical location.”
“At the cinema.”
“Excellent and what was the film, I’m sure you remember?”
“It was Last Tango in Paris.”
“And the girl’s name?”
“May, she was eighteen, a secretary at the firm where I was a trainee accountant.”
It dawned on me then that it was a joke, Eric was playing a prank. Had the romance blossomed, the girl would have gone through life with a ludicrous married name.

“Very good." Eric maintained a serious expression. "Can you provide a detailed description of May as she appeared to you that day, at the moment when you first kissed?”
Poll seemed annoyed by this. He was clearly not used to having such demands made on him. I knew then it was no joke, Poll really did intend to repeat his first kiss.
Eric was quick to react. “Not here and now of course. Please take your time to remember. It’s essential we recreate the moment so it matches your memory of it. You can liaise with Garrett on this.”
Garrett was busy writing on his pad.
“And particulars regarding your interests in books, music, whatever is evocative of that time. What you were wearing, what the girl was wearing, as much detail as possible on what you did that day.”
I couldn’t help thinking that Poll had never paid much heed to music or books. At the moment of his first kiss, he must have been a soulless bore.

Eric started talking about a contract. Garrett handed me a document and the fee jumped off the page; it was more than twice the amount I had invested. Poll stood up and was shaking hands.
“Money back guaranteed, I hope you gentlemen know what you’re doing.”
When he left, Eric sat back in his seat. “I think that went very well.”
It was not what I thought. “I can’t see how this is going to work. The man is emotionless. He’s looking for a cheap thrill.” I remembered the size of the fee. “Or something different to spend his money on.”
“I’m sure Poll is sincere in wanting to relive his first kiss." Eric was calm and reasonable. "We shouldn't judge on the basis of appearance. The Second First Time is concerned with what is in the client's heart and mind.”
It was a rebuke that left me feeling small and petty-minded.

I didn’t hear from Eric for some time after that and worried it was because of what I had said about Poll. When he did get in touch, he seemed distracted. Poll had been slow to respond to requests for information.
"Don’t worry, everything is still on track," Eric assured me. “The client has approved the photo-fit of May as an eighteen year old.”
Apparently, Poll was submerged in the ephemera of his past, listening to the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Bay City Rollers and The Carpenters. He promised to re-read Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Garrett was busy generating a list of headline sporting, political and cultural events, supplemented with material from the internet.
"The web," Eric enthused, "is an invaluable resource that we must exploit."

Poll had been given a folder of images; Watergate, terrorist attacks, workers’ strikes, moon landings, the first digital watches and hand-held calculators. He was watching DVDs of popular TV programmes.
"The client has been transported back to the time of his first kiss."
I wasn’t convinced. It was too artificial, not so much secondhand but at too far a remove. It depended on Poll’s sensibility and imagination, which I doubted were up to the task but I held my tongue.

I didn’t have long to wait for Eric’s next call.
"Things are really moving now,” he said with infectious enthusiasm. “Garrett has found an actress from a repertory theatre who could be May’s twin. Poll can't see her until the day the first kiss is to be re-enacted so we preserve the immediacy of the moment."
This was followed by news that was not so good, additional running costs, the expense of renting a cinema for a showing of Last Tango in Paris and the extras required for an audience kitted out in bright polyester and flares. Further investment was necessary, the same amount as before. I agreed, there was no backing out at this stage.

Eric had come to a decision. "We should move on to the next client, Isobel Mathieson.”
A meeting was arranged in The Second First Time office. This was a chance for me to get more involved in our joint venture. Though concerned about the money I had invested, I still welcomed the implicit risk and sense of freedom it gave me. Julia would have called it foolhardy, complaining at the same time that I closed myself off to new experiences. Not that it mattered anymore what she may have thought, Julia meant nothing to me.

Isobel Mathieson was a plump South Edinburgh matron in her fifties. Her pelican neck was ringed by a necklace of what I supposed were pearls and not paste. She wanted to relive her first memory, which was as a baby lying in a cot that had been positioned so she had a view of a light hanging from the ceiling in a fabric lightshade with tassels. She remembered cupping her hands to frame the light and dragging it from the ceiling down to her. It was the moment that she was first aware of her own being, when her existence was a tangible reality and she wished to experience it a second time.

Eric waxed lyrical about the value of such formative sensations. He didn’t tell her it was unworkable, that it was an impractical longing for a time when she was barely sentient. I had an image of the chubby Ms. Mathieson lying helplessly on her back in an outsized cot with Eric on a ladder, adjusting the position of a lightbulb dangling in its tasseled shade. Garrett passed me the contract that Ms. Mathieson had signed. The fee was greater than Poll had been charged.

“How do you plan pulling this off?” I asked Eric.
“I have some ideas, rest assured I am formulating a plan.”
“Would you care to divulge any of it to me?”
“All in good time. There are some medical people I need to consult.”
It didn’t surprise me that Eric had professionals to call upon but I felt aggrieved he hadn’t asked for my assistance. Not that I had anything meaningful to suggest but I didn’t like being sidelined. I held back, deciding to wait for Eric to reveal his plan.

I waited but there was nothing from Eric. The longer I waited, the louder was the silence. Then, I received a text to meet him in the Auld Reekie tea-room. I found him sitting with Garrett at a window table.
“What’s happening with Ms. Mathieson?” I asked as Garrett poured the tea.
“She has provided us with more impressions relating to her first moment,” Eric began. “A very astute woman with a clear vision of the experience we can provide her.”
I could tell he was holding something back. “Just what are you planning?”
“I’m picking the brains of some leading child psychiatrists and will be discussing her case with a neurosurgeon. There is a course of drugs that can return her to the level of infant perception and cognition but nothing is decided yet.”
Mention of drugs set off warning bells. I couldn’t believe Eric would be so reckless.

“I realise now I underestimated the time required to get each project off the ground and I take full responsibility for this oversight.”
Eric was stiff and formal. I expected this admission was leading to further complications.
“We need to register the company, which will mean engaging an accountant and tax adviser.”
Garrett wrote on his pad, it was all he ever seemed to do.
“Can't you use people who already work for you?” I asked, but my heart wasn’t in it, my brain clogged with the university committee paperwork I had been reviewing that morning. The Second First Time was supposed to have been a release from all that.

Eric said something about a dedicated administrator, keeping different activities separate and safeguarding my interests.
“What with these and the current running costs, more investment is required.”
Garrett handed me his pad where the sum of money was written. It would reduce my savings by almost half. The shelf in my mind’s eye was severely depleted.
“We're at a critical juncture.” Eric was watching me closely. “One faced by every successful business where the outlay reaches a maximum. The returns have yet to accrue but that will happen soon. Poll’s second first time is only a few weeks away.”

“I know you’re more experienced than me in these matters.” As I spoke, Eric nodded and smiled modestly. “But I don’t seem to be serving any function.”
“Don’t say that.” Eric raised a hand to placate me. “It’s my fault, I’ve been too caught up in the preliminaries and didn’t want to bother you with tedious details. We’re almost at the stage where your knowledge and expertise will be crucial.”
The tea-room was busy, a background burble of voices and tinkle of teaspoons on saucers. This was not the place to cause a scene. I wondered if that was why Eric arranged to meet here. Garrett handed me a document, authorising a bank transfer and I signed it.

“We should push on with other second firsts. There’s one that will take no time to complete and the client has agreed a substantial payment.” Eric was back to his breezy self. “Neil Brophy is a retired banker and golfing fanatic who wants to relive his first and only hole-in-one.”
“Surely it was never your intention to deal with something so trivial. What’s happened to the grandiose plans to elevate the human condition?” I was aware of the looks we were receiving from other tables.
“And we will once we're properly established. These early cases are part of the learning curve.” Eric helped himself to some tea and smiled at a passing waitress. I felt powerless, unwilling to argue with him and dreading the paperwork waiting on my desk.

Eric didn’t return my calls. Garrett was no help and I could see he was covering for Eric who was either meeting clients or travelling or simply unavailable. Then Garrett informed me that Poll’s second first time had failed. I refused to be fobbed off any longer and demanded a meeting at The Second First Time office.

This time I wanted answers. I refused Garrett’s offer of coffee and got straight to the point. “What went wrong with Poll?”
“It was something of a comedy of errors.” Eric tried to make light of it.
“I don’t find anything funny here.”
“Unforeseen circumstances then.”
“Very little seems to have been foreseen in any of this." I saw the surprise in Eric's eyes and pressed on. "What happened, did Poll have second thoughts?”
“No, he entered wholeheartedly into the spirit of the re-enactment. The build-up at the cinema exceeded his expectations. Brando loomed large on the screen and Poll was in the moment. He put his arm around May as he had done forty years earlier.” Eric couldn’t resist the dramatic pause.

“What happened?”
“May recoiled, Poll’s halitosis was overpowering and she flinched at the critical moment. The kiss failed.”
“So there was no second first time?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“And Poll refuses to pay.”
“He’s insisting on the money back guarantee.”
“What about the contract?”
“If anything it protects him but that will change. I’ve had our lawyer draft a revised version that will ensure all costs are covered by a sum paid up-front.”
“But we've lost the money spent on Poll.”
Eric winced at that. “We should chalk it up to experience and learn from it.”

“What about the golfer?”
“Mr. Brophy requires additional lessons if he’s to get the ball anywhere near the hole.”
“And what if he doesn't?”
“No need to worry, it's all in hand. The client is very enthusiastic and will be happy with the result. I've seen him play and can only assume his hole-in-one was a fluke, if it ever happened.”
Eric's blasé manner was galling. “You mean there may never have been a first time for Brophy?”
“That's not the point, what matters is what the client believes. In Brophy's case, the second time will surpass the first.”
“And we’ll have a happy paying customer.”
“Exactly.” Eric was emphatic.
“And the customer is always right.”
“That’s the first law of retail.”

“What about Ms. Mathieson?” I was going to clear it all up, here and now.
“A few hiccups there, she’s concerned about the medication to bring her to an infantile state. We just have to be patient. I will convince her it's necessary if she’s to achieve her second first time.”
He took a folder from Garrett and waved it at me.
“I have to tell you about this application. The client wants to relive a night of poker that cleaned him out, forced him to start from scratch and amass his millions. He craves a repeat of that night, the mad energy and crazed abandon when he risked everything. The feeling as he describes it of letting go and surrendering to the sweetness of ruination. He has agreed that we keep the money he lost, which is five times what was spent on Poll.”

Garrett whispered something in his ear. Eric nodded and leafed through some pages.
“I really hate to ask but one final investment is required. I don’t blame you for being wary but this will pay off."
“Come off it Eric, there’s a limit to my credulity.” It was outrageous, actually looking for more money. “The bank is shut, no more funds.”
“Hear me out, there’s one more project we can't pass up, a one-off opportunity. The client is stinking rich. If we deliver on this, The Second First Time will be set up to tackle the things we really want to do.”
I didn't want to hear any more, I was sick of listening to him.
“The money will see us in the black. It’s nothing like Poll’s first kiss, which I accept was ill-conceived. This client is very clear on what he's looking for. He's even drafted a detailed outline of what should take place including dialogue.”
Eric let that sink in. This must be his trump card but all I could think was how wrong I had been about him.

“It concerns the death of his father, a return to the deathbed scene but with a different outcome. The first time ended with certain unresolved issues. The client has rewritten the ending, not the actual end of course, which can’t be changed."
"I'm surprised you haven't promised to bring the dead back to life." I sounded foolish; any outrage now was pointless.
Eric hadn’t finished. "Certain things were said that the client regrets. We recreate the event and the client enacts the modifications. Garrett has been in contact with a hospital and we have a terminally ill patient who can stand in for the client’s father.”

“What are you thinking of?"
Eric and Garrett exchanged looks. We were no longer on the same side, it was them against me.
"That’s not a second first time but an attempt to rewrite the past. I don’t care how much this lunatic is willing to spend. You can say the customer is never wrong, the first law of retail or whatever but what about your noble intentions.”
“When we have money in the bank and space to breathe we will return to the core principles." Eric said it as if it was patently obvious. "All ambitious schemes have a teething period. The death bed re-enactment will recoup the investment to date and more.”
“The only thing that seems to matter is that your so-called clients have the money to pay for these sordid games.”
“So you would denigrate their wealth.” There was a change in his tone, an element of aggression creeping in.
“Money seems to be your sole motivation.”

Eric looked me in the eye. “You don’t know the ones I turned away, the ones who begged me to reconsider, offering crazy amounts of money. The client who asked to relive his first murder.”
“So you’d do business with killers?” I was playing into his hands, this was Eric’s show and it always had been.
“I rejected the application out of hand. The same with the paedophile, looking to repeat his first tentative encounter and glory in destroying innocence one more time. And the victims who wanted to relive their nightmares. You can’t begin to imagine the people who answered the advertisement. What's more, you don’t want to know because you hide from life. Elevate the human condition you say. Don't make me laugh, humanity is a sick business.”

“It doesn't matter what you say Eric, it ends here.”
He stood up and leaned over the table. “I gave you a chance to achieve something, to leave a mark but you’re too empty for that." He was off the leash now and his invective cut like a razor. “The air must be rarefied in that ivory tower of yours. Poor you, the innocent party, perched on your moral high ground, a third rate academic wallowing in self-loathing.”
“That’s it Eric, we’re finished.”
I left The Second First Time office and never returned.

Of all the things that were said, I kept coming back to Eric calling me a third rate academic. It was the most pointed barb of his lash and caused me the greatest pain. I didn't believe he spent a penny of his money or that he had any money to spend. I should have seen the signs, spotted the chancer, the snake oil salesman but I was blinded by Eric's huckster charm and confidence. The truth was, I never actually knew him. I didn’t have it in me to be a businessman. Nor, for that matter, did Eric or not a very good businessman. Losing all that money reminded me of Eric's poker player. If nothing else, I had to keep going to restack my virtual shelf. Maybe it was the jolt I needed.

There was a final telephone call from Eric. He offered no apology and wanted to know if my decision to withdraw from The Second First Time was final. I told him it was.
“Brophy will be disappointed, he was looking forward to his hole-in-one.”
“My heart bleeds for him.” If Eric was trying to make me feel guilty, it wasn’t going to work.
“And of course there’s Garrett, I’ll have to let him go.”
“He’ll find something else.”

I pictured Eric in the office and the view of Salisbury Crags.
“It would have worked you know, we tapped into something different.”
“No Eric, the whole thing was dishonest." I wasn’t going to give him an inch. “It was only ever going to lead to disappointment or worse.”
"It’s a pity you think that way.” Eric sounded wistful but I knew it was an act.
I hung up the phone, there was nothing more to say.

The self-recrimination, anger and shame faded with time to a dull disquiet. What was more disturbing and what wouldn’t go away was the realisation that all along I had been repeating an episode from my past; my first experience of being let down. The business with Eric mirrored my time with Julia and my disenchantment. The same initial uncertainty and restraint, then the thrill of the unknown, of being carried along in the wake of another, the hope and promise that could not last and the ultimate deceit. As with Julia, I was the one who ended it, implacable after the act. Deep down, in the murk of my subconscious, it was something I wanted to relive, to suffer one more time. It was my own second first time.

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