Jennifer Boyce has Viewed Your Profile

There was no doubt: the ping of my instant message service always made my heart beat faster.

After more than thirty years in investment management, I’d grown tired of the chase: more money, more luxury, then emptiness. But every time I got an email, the whiff of a new deal got my blood up, even if I’d stepped back from my firm’s sharp end years ago. 

I stared down from my 27th-floor office into mid-town Manhattan, looking at nothing in particular. I surveyed the Hudson River; the bridges, wharves and the whole mess of humanity in between. I was fifty-seven years old and had some big-sounding job title in the firm I’d founded twenty years ago. 

I fished my mobile out of my pocket and looked at the screen: 

“Jennifer Boyce has viewed your profile.”

A message from LinkedIn, like so many others. Messages from consultants, PR flacks, charity bunnies who wanted my money or time or both. But this one was different. It carried the name of a woman I’d desired dementedly, beyond reason, in a time and place now lost to me. Found only in the palace of memory. And this woman’s name bubbled up from that memory – I could see her now, even though I hadn’t been near her for forty years.


Scotland in the 1970s – or at least, my Scotland – was as far away from bagpipes and tartan as it could be. Other men might get sentimental about life back then, but not me. They might remember fish and chips in newspaper, the contents sharp with salt and vinegar, crisp batter cloaking the fish; walking home half-drunk on bad ale in the freezing night, barely able to see under dull orange streetlamps; or football matches in the rain that always ended in fights.

But I remembered the cold. And the boredom: the factories closing, the stench of cheap tobacco, and the faces of the older men from my village. By ’75 the place was long since in decline, and men who’d served their country in World War II found themselves on the scrapheap, the only trade they’d ever known – fishing – stolen from them by vanishing stocks and an unsympathetic government.


I escaped all that, ending up in this glass-and-steel tower on the corner of Wall and William Street. New York, New York, USA. Mr. Graeme Henderson, Executive Vice-Chairman. I’d escaped from Scotland’s narrow beauty and trammelled people to the heights of Manhattan. To success, wealth – and a different kind of ennui

I clicked on the email from LinkedIn out of curiosity. This particular Jennifer Boyce was probably about to hit me with a message about alpacas suffering in the hobby farms of rich tech executives or something.

Before I could look at the email, my phone pinged. A text from Susan, my wife: I’d either forgotten some engagement, or I’d have to stop by the store and pick something up on the way home. Or something about one of the kids. Whatever it was could wait. 


Jennifer Boyce was the most beautiful girl at my school. My school was blessed with a lot of pretty girls – or at least, that’s how it seemed to an awkward fifteen-year-old from a fishing village. In contrast to Jennifer’s apparent confidence, I was frozen by my own sense of inadequacy. Bright and a loner, I was distant from Jennifer and her gang, who smoked and dated the boys on the football team or the hard men –  the loud, brash bullies. Outside this magic circle, Jennifer and her friends Leigh and Pippa were whispered to have already “done it” with their boyfriends. Evidence for this claim amounted to the occasional used condom in the school toilets – no evidence really, when I looked back on it, beyond the febrile imagination of frustrated teenagers.

I remembered standing next to Jennifer in a local shop at lunch-time. Back then, children were less inclined (though not totally disinclined) to steal. Gaggles of them would wait at the counter in bunches to be served. No “two only in the shop at a time”: more like you’d get a kick up the arse from the shop owner if you tried anything. And she must have been sixty at least. 

That day in the sweet shop, Jennifer wore the school’s regulation deep blue sweater and a white shirt underneath, tie carelessly knotted six inches below her neck, the top two buttons of her shirt undone. Standing next to her, I could see the uplift of her breasts under her clothes, smell the coconut oil in her hair, a hint of cheap perfume. She had china blue eyes and a full mouth with skin pinched pink by the cold Scottish spring. 

The queue moved forward. One of us had to go first. I motioned silently to Jennifer and she smiled at me.

“Thanks, Dave.”

Dave. I blushed. Jennifer Boyce obviously didn’t know who I was, even though she had my hormones – and thus, my mind and body – in a vice. I tried to counter the hormone rush by remembering rumours that Jennifer had once farted loudly in a Chemistry lesson, but it was useless. I wanted her, though I couldn’t get a word out. It was all just want. Useless want. 

After that encounter in the local shop, we didn’t speak to each other for months. Despite being at the same school, we were light-years apart. Jennifer hung out with sportsmen, smoked and wasn’t interested in class. I was the opposite – mired in delusions of grandeur, hopelessly ambitious and committed to my schoolwork.

The months rolled by and became first one year, then another. I thought constantly about Jennifer Boyce, felt like throwing up every time I saw her. My heart beat faster when she was around – just as it did when, as an adult, I thought there would be another deal, another sale. 

As a boy, I had no understanding of desire, never having had it fulfilled beyond the odd clumsy kiss at parties with random girls who were a bit more drunk than me. At the end of year ten, I passed my exams and went into sixth form. Jennifer failed hers and had to repeat a year.


Leaning back in my leather office chair, which creaked gently as I tilted backwards, I dragged myself away from Jennifer Boyce’s profile on LinkedIn and glanced at the text message from my wife. She would make a Zen poet proud: “Toilet roll. Honey. Ground beef. Almonds. XXX.” I shot a quick text back to my wife with three kisses. A cursive means of saying, “Message received and understood. I will comply.”


As I neared the end of my time at school, I took up swimming to alleviate the stress of my final exams. By arrangement with the authorities, I’d been given permission to swim in the morning before starting revision at seven AM. At quarter to six, three mornings a week, I could be found ploughing up and down the tiny thirty-foot pool in the school’s sports complex. My parents let me carry on, supposing it better to swim and study than drink and smoke, habits to which many of my peers were already prone.

I heard that a group of girls also had swimming privileges. Apparently, they turned up later, just after seven, but I was usually long gone. I just left the key beside the door under a brick and headed for the library. 

One day close to my exams, I heard a noise as I was towelling myself off in the men’s changing rooms. I glanced over at the key, lying on top of my pile of clothes. Then I heard a voice. A girl’s voice, calling.


I wrapped my towel around my waist and stuck my head out of the changing room door. Jennifer Boyce stood in the corridor outside the men’s, dressed in a black swimsuit beneath an unbuttoned overcoat. She wore deck shoes, no socks, and had a towel and a bag tucked under her arm. She shivered a little. Her body showed tan lines on her neck from the summer sun, and her hair was a little longer than I remembered it, gold against the white flesh above the neckline of her swimsuit that dipped towards her breasts jutting forward under the suit’s thin material. 

She looked at me and I felt that by-now-familiar sickness well up in my gut. The sickness of want. Of need.

“I was looking for the key. Sorry, I’m a bit early.”

“Oh, no problem. I’ve just got it here. Hold on a sec,” – and I turned back towards my pile of clothes while holding the door open, not wanting to be rude. I reached for the key on top of my pile of clothes and grabbed it, then turned back to find Jennifer standing in the men’s changing room. I let go of the door, and we stood there looking at each other.


Jennifer held out her hand. I proffered the key, but she took my hand instead. Then she held it. Whether she stepped towards me or I towards her, I can no longer remember. We kissed, and I felt a burn from my groin through my guts and up through my pounding heart. I was emotion and chemicals, battering heart and open mouth, eyes wide shut. 

Jennifer knew what she was doing. She placed her hands gently behind my head and kissed me again. This kiss long and deep. Forty years later, I still remember the stench of the cheap bleach they used to clean the changing rooms. The showers that continued to drip because they wouldn’t turn on or off properly. The steam on the windows, the faint tang of piss from the urinals in one corner.

Jennifer took my hand and led me to a toilet. Inside, the cubicle was lit by a single, bare bulb, its weak light hardly enough to allow sight of what you were doing. She drew me in and closed the door, sloughing off her overcoat. Then she kissed me again. After that, she wrangled her arms out of her bathing suit, pulling it down to her waist. She slid a hand inside the towel around my waist and it fell to the floor as our bodies touched.


It was my first time, but not hers, and it was over as quickly as you might expect. I could still taste our last kiss afterwards in that stinking cubicle, how it seemed it might go on for ever, as if my tongue and hers were melded in some other universe. I remembered the dirt in the corners of the cubicle; the thin antiseptic toilet paper NOW WASH YOUR HANDS PLEASE stamped on every sheet. 

Then a door opening – her friends arrived for swimming. And she was gone, exiting the men’s changing room with the excuse to her friends that the girls’ toilets were out of commission. 

The next Monday, I heard a rumour that Jennifer had been snogging a guy from the West of Scotland Schools Select Football XI at a weekend party. Ten days after that, I finished my exams and left school to take up my first job at a broker/dealer in Edinburgh. I never saw Jennifer Boyce again.


I put my phone down, lifted up my tortoiseshell glasses, and rubbed my eyes. Then I replaced the glasses and looked at the LinkedIn page on my desk monitor. It was her all right: Jennifer Boyce. Business Psychology, Consultancy, and Communications. Glasgow, Scotland. I peered at the profile photograph, trying to read some life history into what little I could see of her from the posed, yet curiously blurred, picture. 

That she had aged went without saying – so had I; so had the world. Her hair was shorter, but still the same colour, tastefully dyed mid-summer blonde, as if she had never wanted to let go of being young – but who does? Her eyes looked the same. But was she married? Divorced? Happy? Lost?

I scrolled down, looking for some clue in her employment history as to who the woman I’d loved so briefly had become. Almost nothing bar the usual litany of companies, some of which I’d heard of. No mention of interests or a family.

I looked down at the mobile phone on my desk with that message from my wife. I killed the message app and put the phone back in my pocket. Then I moved the cursor over the button marked “Connect with Jennifer” and clicked on it. The desk phone rang – my assistant, with a request for me to come down to the lobby to glad-hand some new clients.

I got up from my desk and headed for the door, feeling the blood pump in my veins. The sickness of memory. Why had I wanted to contact her? Desire had never diminished in me, just cloaked by bitter experience and distance. That she had looked at my profile suggested she remembered me – but maybe my name and profile had been served up to her like a sick joke by some warped algorithm.

As I walked out the door, I heard an email ping. I checked my handheld: “Jennifer Boyce accepted your connection request.” I put the phone back in my pocket and pressed the DOWN button on the elevator, trying to remember this client’s sector of activity. Some Life Sciences investment vehicle or something. I’d run our Life Sciences book for a few years, so I knew a bit about the sector. And it was a decent mandate – about half a billion. That should buy a few portfolio managers on the floor below me their Lamborghinis. Good luck to them.

The elevator doors opened and the receptionist showed me into the meeting room. As I walked in, the three people around the table stood up to greet me and my heart gave a twist. There, on the far side of the meeting room, was Jennifer Boyce. If anything, her profile photo had not done her justice: incredibly, she was more beautiful in her late fifties than as a teenager, her features ripened, her figure as lithe as I remembered. 

Jennifer wore a deep red, thigh-length jacket trimmed with black and a filigree gold chain round her neck, a pendant studded with tiny diamonds. Her bobbed hair’s golden tones now richer than I remembered from our teenage years. Jim, one of our portfolio managers, introduced me to her colleagues, then:

“… this is Jennifer Boyce, representing the Association of Scottish Pension Funds…”

I took her hand, my heart cantering as if forty years counted for nothing and I was back in the men’s changing room at school. I noticed the clarity of those china blue eyes, her perfect teeth as she smiled. 

“Graeme. How nice to see you again.”

“So you two know each other?” Jim was incredulous. “I mean, Scotland is a small country, but what are the chances…?”

“I know,” Jennifer smiled again. “Graeme and I were at school together.”

I listened as Jim began to outline our firm’s understanding of their objectives. High-growth opportunities to offset the impact of low interest rates over a long period on returns. The investments had to be early-stage with good longer-term potential. I remembered our tongues meeting in those filthy school toilets, her body as she peeled down that swimsuit. I felt that sickness I hadn’t felt in more than forty years. 

As Jim talked my phone buzzed in my breast pocket. I noticed Jennifer had been fiddling with her phone and asked Jim to excuse me, saying I’d be back in a minute.

I went to the men’s room and splashed water on my face, drying off with a paper towel. I breathed deeply and wanted to slap myself, telling myself to get over it. Then I fished my phone out to look at the e-mail that had buzzed. Another from LinkedIn: 

“Jennifer Boyce has sent you a personal message.”

I clicked on the link and LinkedIn’s Messaging opened. Inside the little box were five simple words: “I never forgot you, Graeme. X” Then I checked my look in the mirror, straightened my tie, and walked back to the meeting room where Jennifer held the floor:

“… historically, Scottish Funds have been too conservative. We need a manager to open up new areas like personalised medicine and in-vitro cell reprogramming. I understand your firm has a good pedigree. And, of course,” – Jennifer looked at me, and I saw the diamonds glinting in the V of her blouse – “Graeme knows the Scottish market.”

Jim nodded. “That’s true. I have a presentation to show you. We’ve achieved a gross return of twenty percent – ”

“ – Maybe later, Jim.” I suggested.

“I think I’d like time alone with Graeme to talk to him about these Scottish universities’ concerns. Then we could review your general presentation with my colleagues from SeaBird Investments, our US partner?” 

“Sounds good,” said Jim. The others got up to leave the room. 

“Graeme and I can find a break-out room, or just chat in the hall.”

I tried to remember everything I’d ever known about sample stability maintenance. Scotland’s pension funds. Something other than my memory of her, my heart hammering my chest. Meanwhile my body burned as Jennifer stood up.

Once out in the corridor, she took off her jacket. I asked the receptionist to find us a meeting room, and she offered two I rejected before she came up with the smallest room on this floor. I led Jennifer there, listening to her heels on the marble tiles behind me. 

When we arrived, I opened the door and turned round to let Jennifer in. She walked in, turning to me, and I noticed she’d undone a button on her cream blouse. 

She laid her coat on the table and I shut the door. For a split second we stood there looking at each other, and the scent of that bleach from that steamy changing room came to me, the stink of piss, and a line of poetry from some English lesson when, no doubt, I would have been staring out the window dreaming about the woman who stood in front of me.

I wanted her so badly I could hardly breathe. 

“The truth is I – ” but she shut my mouth with a kiss and pressed me up against the door. Then she put her arms around me.

And after that? Life became that morning forty years ago, all over again. Only better.