Ben looked up from reading a pamphlet, his eyebrows already raised. He had just finished with the registration desk for the four-day training course he was attending for work, having just flown into Sydney this morning. The hotel lobby was crawling with people. It took him a while to figure out who had said his name, his gaze landing on the girl standing a few feet away.
But she smiled when Ben finally met her gaze. Her eyes were narrowed too. “You don’t remember me, do you? It’s me, Marga Daniels,” she gestured to herself. “From Lincoln High.”
Ben blinked, a faint shadow of recognition crossing his face. “Oh right,” he said. Her face threw him straight back into the memory of being within the walls of Lincoln High school, in little old Port Lincoln halfway across the country. That was over ten years ago. Although having said that, there wasn’t much to catch up on.
Ben hadn’t exactly moved in the same social circles as she had in school. Ben had been one of the most popular, arguably the most popular, jock in school. And Marga—well, Marga had been, for the lack of a better term, kind of a nerd. Not that he personally thought anything was wrong with that – to each his own and all. It’s just that the plain fact had precluded any sort of acquaintance between them.
“Are you here for training?” Marga asked, with a friendly tone.
“Oh, yeah,” Ben replied, holding up his pamphlet. “I’m here for the Leadership training.”
“I’m here for training too,” she held up her own orientation pamphlet with what, to Ben, looked like a bunch of technical gibberish.
“Wow,” Ben’s eyes widened slightly, “good for you.” He didn’t know why he was surprised about that. Then again, he did hardly know her.
For some reason, Marga was staring at him. “S-sorry,” she shook her head to clear it. “It’s just…very bizarre to see you here. Do you live in this area?”
“No,” he chuckled lightly. “I actually flew in from Brisbane this morning. My company put me up in the hotel.”
“No kidding. I just flew in this morning too—except for, international flight,” she relayed. “I live in L.A. now.”
Ben whistled, somewhat impressed. “It’s nice of your company to send you off to training out of the country.”
“Well, nobody else was qualified to take it,” Marga shrugged, half-kidding.
Somehow, she had said it without sounding condescending or conceited. No doubt it was just plain fact, Ben thought. Not that he himself wasn’t used to conceit, of course he was. But he laughed anyway, taking the joke for what it meant.
“Well…” Marga cleared her throat after a pause, looking up at the lobby clock and moving to walk away, “I guess I better leave you to it.”
“We should get a drink some time,” Ben spoke up. It was only polite, he thought. One of those things people said to casual acquaintances, on which they never intended to follow through.
But he could tell Marga knew exactly what he meant. She nodded slowly, as if in thought. “Sure, some time.” She gave him a brief wave, “It was uh…good to see you, Ben,” then walked away.
Ben raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement. That was a strange blast from the past, he thought once she was gone.
In fact, that was probably the longest conversation he had ever had with her. He’d hardly said ten words to Marga in high school. Back then, they had been too different. If someone had told him that he would run into Marga later on in life, he wouldn’t have believed them.
Ben’s forehead creased as he walked into Orientation Theatre A and he spotted Marga again. He figured the company giving his training course must have been the same one giving hers. She was sitting about halfway down a row of seats, her nose buried in a book. Despite the fact that he hardly knew her, the manner looked completely familiar. She seemed to be in her element.
He tilted his head to try to read the front cover of the book she was reading “Inertial navigation (Accelerometers)“. His eyes widened, suddenly remembering how smart people tended to make him feel – dumb as a brick. But he approached the row of seats anyway.
Marga looked up and met his gaze again. “Ben Hamilton,” she said, as if slightly confused, looking around her shoulder. “Are you—following me?”
He laughed. “No, I think that’s my seat,” he pointed to a few seats down from her, labelled with the name of his company.
She looked down at the label, then up at him again, and blinked. “Oh, sorry,” she mumbled, moving to let him pass.
“No worries,” Ben made himself comfortable in the chair and looked around. “There’s a lot of people here, isn’t there?”
Marga did a casual sweeping glance around the room. “They’ve divided the theatre into three sections,” she relayed. “This is the largest section of it. It’s for housing the bigger conferences. It can probably seat about a hundred or so people…” she paused, meeting his gaze, “but I guess your intention wasn’t to discuss the dimensions of the room, was it?” She chuckled to herself, “Sorry, force of habit.”
Ben grinned. He didn’t figure Marga to be quite so ‘on the nose’. He wondered what else about her was different from what he figured. Thinking back, high school had seemed like a whole different lifetime ago. It certainly was for him. Funnily enough, he was pleased to realise that he could well be satisfied with how he had grown up and changed since.
Certainly when he was younger, all he had been concerned about was getting out of school and when the next football match was. Of course, he was going to be a famous athlete when he grew up. Now, ten years later, his goals had leaned a bit more to the realistic side. He’d managed to get a business degree from university, had a good job going at the moment, paying taxes and rent – granted, sometimes not exactly on time – but he’d been kicked around enough by life to learn which stuff to sweat.
Ben was a firm believer that you only find out who you really are once you get out in the world. And just then, he thought it might be interesting to find out who Marga really was outside of the Lincoln High science laboratory.
“Hey…since we’re both stuck here today, do you want to get lunch with me later?” Ben offered.
Marga gave him a look that he initially read as a ‘no’, before she replied, “It’s a fully catered training.”
Ben blinked, slightly disoriented, but then laughed. On the nose. “I knew that. I meant maybe you wanted to sit together at lunch. I—didn’t know anyone else here.”
Marga rolled her eyes, as if in relief. “For a moment there, I thought you were asking me out,” she chuckled to herself.
“No!” Ben replied, but it must have landed too forcefully and she shot him a pointed look. His eyes widened, “Oh no, that’s not what I meant—I mean, of course, I think—I mean I didn’t mean it that way. I just,” he coughed, self-consciously. It wasn’t like him to be flustered. “All I meant…was that I have a girlfriend,” he finished, regaining his composure.
But she seemed to accept that explanation, before prompting. “It’s still Andrea, isn’t it?”
Ben shot her a curious look but nodded. “Yes, that’s right.”
“Wow, you guys have been together since high school. That’s impressive.”
He smiled. “Thanks. Andrea’s doing her residency back in Brisbane,” he relayed.
“Wow,” Marga said again. “Good for her.”
Ben tilted his head, only now noticing the glittering rock on the appropriate finger. “What about you? I see someone’s made a claim—that thing is massive.”
“Oh, yeah,” she smiled tentatively, gingerly thumbing the ring, self-consciously. “His name’s Oliver. We just got engaged a few months ago actually.”
“Hey, congratulations,” Ben said.
“Well…” Ben cleared his throat good-naturedly, after a pause, “that was sufficiently awkward. I’m glad we got that out of the way.”
Marga chuckled, “Right.”
The speaker on the stage begins to fiddle with the microphone, sending a feedback beep into the speaker – typically a sign that the orientation was about to begin.
Marga straightened up in her chair, as if alert and ready.
Ben watched with a small grin, before leaning over slightly to ask under his breath. “So, lunch with me?”