Billy hated working at the bar. It was the least favourite of his jobs. He hated the noise, he hated the smell and he hated the increasingly drunk customers, but mostly he hated that he was on the wrong side of the bar. He could watch people all night, drinking, laughing, dancing, flirting, but that’s all he could do; watch. He hated it. He hated it, but he needed the money. There was only one good thing about working at the bar, and that was talking to drunken girls. Billy was good at talking to girls when they were both sober, he was great at talking to girls when they were both drunk, but his real talent was talking to girls who were drunk while he was sober.
She waved at him from the other end of the bar. He was only meant to serve customers in his section, she was in Jim’s section, he didn’t care. He sauntered down the length of the bar. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, she was stunning. Her hair was black and glossy, her skin was gorgeously brown and her eyes were a piercing green. “What can I get you love?” Billy asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
“I’ll have a mojito and your name,” she sounded nonchalant.
Billy turned his back to her and skilfully made two drinks. He walked around to the front of the bar drinks in hand, he handed her one chilled glass, grabbed her hand and walked her over to a table.
“The name’s Billy,” he smiled as she sat down opposite him.
“Mina,” she said with a glint in her eye.
Billy didn’t know where her friends were, she didn’t seem to care so it didn’t matter; they spent the whole night talking. When he had to be at the bar, she stood at the bar; when his shift was over, they sat at a table and talked. He couldn’t help but stare at her, he couldn’t believe his luck. Billy desperately wanted to photograph her, but he didn’t think he could do her beauty justice.
The more they talked, the more he could feel himself getting carried away. He told her about the fight with the boys, he told her about his night in prison, and he showed her his stiches and bruised side.
“Oh my god,” Mina almost shouted, “that looks terrible.”
“Yeah, it does hurt. But it’s all in a day’s work,” Billy said, regaining his macho.
“I’m sure it’s not.”
“You’re right. I lied,” they both laughed, “you have an amazing smile,” he didn’t mean to say that.
“But I bet you get some crazy customers,” Mina said, trying to ignore him and self-consciously raising her hand to her mouth.
“Ha, yeah we do,” Billy said with a smile, “only the other day I picked up this guy covered in paint. He was literally drenched, head to toe. I had to lend him my overalls before he got in the car.”
“Where on earth did you get him from?”
“What a small world. I work on Old Street.”
‘What a small world,” Billy thought to himself, the image of the running blonde girl ran back into his mind, “two stunning girls working on Old Street.’
“Oh yeah,” Billy said.
“Yeah, I work for Zing magazine.”
Billy couldn’t believe his ears. Two stunning girls and one very strange man all working on Old Street for the same magazine. He decided to change the subject, he was getting confused.
“God, I don’t know how you girls do it. These cocktails are going right to my head.”
“I think it’s time I went home anyway,” Mina said looking at her watch, “and probably time I spoke to my friends. Got an early start in the morning.”
“Me too,” Billy smiled, ‘driving one of your colleagues around,’ he added in his head.
“Here’s my number. Call me,” as she got up Mina pushed a napkin across the table. It had 11 digits in her perfect scrawl in one corner. Billy watched as she walked away. He watched her tall and slender, glide through the bar. He watched her vanish through the door and into the night. He picked up the napkin, and put it in his jeans pocket. On the way home he thought of Mina, John Edward Reynolds, and the blonde running girl. When did London become such a small place?
Louise was excited. It was going to be her first proper night out in London. She’d said yes instantly when Becky asked her if she’d like to visit this new bar. And now she was standing in her bedroom, looking at her bottom in the mirror. “I don’t want to wear nasty underwear,” she said to herself, “and Mark doesn’t like these lacey knickers anyway, so I might as well get some use out of them.” Louise squeezed into her tightest, blackest jeans, put on her favourite pulling top and her fuck me shoes. She was guaranteed to get some attention tonight, and that was just what she wanted.
The buzzer rang, it was Becky. “Oh my god! You look amazing,” Becky was looking her up and down with a smile on her face, “really sexy. Turn around.” Louise did a spin, “nice arse!”
“You don’t think it’s too much do you?” Louise asked, not wanting to hear the answer, “Anyway, you look pretty damn hot yourself. Your boobs look great!” Becky was wearing a tight black mini dress, legs and breasts on show.
“We are a sexy pair,” Becky said sitting on the new sofa, “oh I bought us some wine, I don’t know if you want some?”
“Yummy!” Louise skipped into the kitchen to get some glasses.
When the two girls stood on the street to hail a cab, heads turned. When they stepped out of the taxi, heads turned. When they walked smiling and chatting into the bar, heads turned. Becky was playing it cool, seeming not to notice; Louise couldn’t help but notice and she couldn’t help smiling back when men smiled at her. Louise was already feeling a little tipsy, if she had been out at home she would have slowed down with the drinking, but Becky was ordering cocktails.
“I think I’m going to get drunk,” Louise said as Becky handed her a colourful glass.
“Good!” Becky smiled.
Louise couldn’t remember how many drinks they’d had. Becky was on fire, ordering drinks, dancing and chatting to everyone. Louise was just trying to keep up. “My feet are killing me,” she yelled over the pumping music, “can we sit down for a sec?”
Becky led her to one of the more empty corners of the bar and they sat down, “it’s a bit quieter over here too,” Becky gently touched Louise’s hand, “are you ok?”
“Yeah, just feeling a bit drunk,” as Louise looked up she saw two guys walking towards their table, “Look. I think we’ve pulled!” Louise laughed.
“Do you mind if we sit down?” One of the men asked.
“Yeah, dancing’s getting pretty tiring,” the other one added.
“Of course,” Louise said with a smile, “go for it.”
They had pulled; and two of the best looking men Louise had seen for a while. Becky was still playing it cool, but Louise couldn’t help but flirt. She was talking to Dan, he was 29 and worked in the city, and had perfect arms. Louise couldn’t help but smile as she felt his muscles, “wow,” she giggled.
Dan bought her another cocktail and, ignoring her protests about foot-pain, dragged her onto the dance floor.
“You know,” Dan whispered into her ear, “I saw you when you came in. You’re really sexy.” He put both his hands on her bottom and pulled her so close that their lips were almost touching.
“I, I’ve got a boyfriend,” Louise mumbled. She looked around and could see Becky staring at her with a look of disapproval on her face. There was nothing she could do, Dan leaned in. He kissed her and she might have kissed him back.
“It’s ok” she told herself as she pulled away, “a kiss doesn’t mean anything.” She kept telling herself that all night; Dan wouldn’t stop kissing her or keep his hands off of her bottom.
Becky was dancing with her guy. Louise thought she didn’t look very happy, but they could talk about that in the morning. All Louise could think about was that she’d drunk too much and than Dan was really, really sexy. She told him so.
“Do you think so?” He asked, moving his hand up her thigh.
“Yeah,” she giggled. She put her hand on top of his to tell him to stop touching her like that but somehow she ended up moving it for him, further up her leg.
“If you can touch mine, I can touch yours,” she said playfully. “Where did that come from,” she thought to herself, “I’m definitely drunk. I guess I’ve said it now.” She put her hand firmly on his leg. She imagined that he would have an amazing body; Louise could tell he worked out.
Dan was kissing her neck and whispering in her ear, Louise was squirming and giggling and loving the attention. “Do you want to stand outside?” Dan grabbed her by the hand and led her out of the door. She looked back just in time to see Becky standing, arms folded, with an angry look on her face. Louise didn’t understand why she was annoyed; Becky had pulled a really fit man too.
Dan led Louise away from the bar, round a corner and up to a car. “I thought we could use some privacy,” he explained as he unlocked the door and ushered Louise into the back. Louise felt too drunk to resist, and she didn’t want to offend him. Dan was a lovely guy.
They were sat in the back of Dan’s car kissing, he was touching her through her jeans and Louise found herself wishing she’d worn a skirt. Dan moved her hands towards the top of his jeans. Louise couldn’t help herself; she undid the button and then the zip and put her hand inside his pants. Now her jeans were undone too, and they were kissing and touching. Naked hands on naked skin. Louise thought about Dan’s gym body, Becky’s angry face and about Mark. “It doesn’t matter, I’m drunk. And it’s not as if I’ve had sex.”
By the time Tuesday came around again, Louise was becoming used to the pace of work. Her weekend had given her the reassurance she needed, and she was confident she could make this job a success. She was already looking forward to Mark’s visit on Friday, so when John said she could have Friday afternoon off if she worked late that night Louise agreed happily. It meant she could meet Mark at the train station, and every extra minute she could spend with him was one she desperately wanted.
Louise was happy to be alone in the office, her floor was practically deserted and the only noise was the hum of the computers. Louise liked the quiet, it meant she could concentrate on working without distractions. Looking out of the giant windows, the city was getting dark. Lights from nearby buildings were glowing, it looks like one of those photos of the city at night, Louise thought to herself, beautiful and modern. She wanted to explore the night-time world of London, and suddenly got the urge to go for a walk outside. “No one will notice,” she said out loud. Picking up her coat she skipped towards the lift, “I’ll just be ten minutes.”
The darkness outside made a lie of the time. It could have been midnight, except that the streets were still buzzing with people and humming with cars. Louise didn’t walk, as soon as she saw the sea of people hurrying past she didn’t want to. Instead she sat on the large steps of the building, coat pulled up around her neck, watching the world rush past. Men and women is suits, mothers with pushchairs and prams, children on their way home from evenings with friends, all rushed past and didn’t notice the blond girl watching them with interest. Louise watched as people walked, thinking only how this was nothing like home, amazed that not one person even made eye contact with her. Suddenly aware of the cold, she went back inside.
Tim was holding the lift doors open for her. “Oh, are you working late too?” she asked stepping in and undoing her coat. He pushed the button and said nothing. He was clearly nervous, he face was more flushed than usual and he was fidgeting, rocking from one foot to the other, wringing his hands.
“Are you ok?” Louise reached out to touch his shoulder, but thought better of it and put her hand to her side.
Tim didn’t answer. He was watching the floor numbers increasing: 3,4,5,6. The lift didn’t stop. 7,8. “Great,” Louise thought, he’s clearly going to a different floor. 9,10. The door’s pinged open, the accounting department was pitch black and clearly deserted. Tim grabbed Louise by the hand and pulled her out of the lift. The doors thudded shut. Louise was standing with her back to the lift, Tim was facing her.
“Are you ok?” Louise was a little scared, not of Tim that would be silly, but she tried not to show it.
Tim still didn’t answer; instead he grabbed her head in both hands and kissed her firmly on the lips. Louise tensed, it wasn’t a proper kiss, it was like kissing when she was 13. She pulled his hands from her face. Staring him straight in the eyes, they were nose to nose. She put his hands on her hips and held them there. Leaning in slowly, she kissed him properly. She could feel Tim jump with surprise, but he didn’t pull away. He moved his hands from her hips to her bottom and clumsily pulled her closer. Louise moved her face away, stepped back, suddenly aware of a strange noise.
“What’s that?” She pulled away, and started walking into the darkness. Tim followed. One of the computer screens had suddenly lit up, “that wasn’t on before,” Louise was talking more to herself than to Tim. She walked towards it, and as she got closer she could see the mouse moving around the screen by itself.
Louise watched as it clicked on files. Tim stood behind her his arms around her waist. Louise watched as the screen filled with numbers, too fast for her to read. Tim was running his fingers through her hair. Louise watched as files she didn’t understand popped up onto the screen and vanished again. Tim kissed her on the cheek, on the neck. The screen went black.
“What the bloody hell are you doing?” Louise pushed Tim away from her, suddenly aware of what was happening. Without looking at him she headed for the lift.
Billy awakened to the sound of his mobile phone ringing. He checked the time, 5pm, it was almost time for him to leave for his evening job at the bar. He checked his phone, he didn’t recognise the number. Putting the phone down again, he decided not to answer. The phone kept ringing. It wasn’t going to be ignored. He answered.
“Hello, is that Billy?”
“The cab driver?”
“Yes. Who’s this?”
“It’s John Reynolds.”
“John Reynolds. The guy with paint on his suit.”
Billy now remembered giving John his mobile number, in case of emergencies, “Oh yeah mate. How are you? Did you manage to catch the culprits?”
“Huh? Oh that’s not important right now,” John was getting annoyed, the conversation was taking too long.
“I need you to do something for me. Tomorrow, I need to hire your cab for the whole day.”
“The whole day?” Billy was shocked, “that’s fine. But it’s gonna cost you mate.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll make more than you would in a normal day. Just meet me at my house at 8.30. Do you remember where it is?”
“Yeah mate, that’s fine.” ‘That’s fucking early,’ Billy added to himself.
“Oh and don’t tell anyone that you’re working for me tomorrow.”
“No worries mate.”
As John hung up, Billy wondered what the big secret was. “Must be having an affair,” Billy said to no one in particular, “I bet I’ll be driving him and some blonde bimbo around all day. It’s alright for some.”
After work and in The Sun Brasserie with Becky, Louise was looking forward to a girly chat. She was looking forward to eating some nice food and drinking some nicer wine. She was looking forward to getting to know one of her colleagues better and to getting a new friend. Becky was also looking forward to getting to know one of her colleagues better.
“Can I just say, you have amazing hair,” Becky was topping Louise’s glass up with Merlot.
“Thanks,” Louise giggled, “oh that’s enough wine. It goes straight to my head.”
“Yeah me too.” Becky smiled. Louise knew she was going to have a good night.
“So be honest, how are you finding work?” Becky put her elbows onto the table and leaned forward into her hands, “it must be hard being the new girl. And being new to London too.”
“Yeah, I am finding it hard,” Louise had had enough of pretending for one week, she was glad to have someone to talk to, “it’s more difficult than I thought.”
Louise talked about her week, about being unsure and in an unusual place. Becky listened.
“When I first started I didn’t know anyone either. It gets easier.” Louise was happy she’d agreed to meet Becky. She could already tell she was going to be a good friend, and right now she needed one.
“It’ll be easier now I have a friend,” Louise was feeling tipsy after drinking half the bottle of wine, but she felt happy for the first time that week.
“Definitely,” Becky reached across the table and put her hand on top of Louise’s, “and we need to do this again. Soon.”
Louise felt shivers down her spine, she couldn’t tell if it was the wine or Becky or both. “I think I need to call Mark.”
As soon as she was out of the tube station she dialled the familiar digits. The phone barely rang.
“Honey,” he sounded excited, “how are you?”
“I good baby, a bit drunk.”
“You sound it. What have you been doing?”
Mark was back to his normal self, he was listening when Louise was talking. He was asking the right questions. Mark was back.
“I miss you,” Louise said shutting her flat door behind her.
“Oh, what do you miss?” Mark was smiling down the phone.
Louise giggled, she knew where this was going. “you know. You’re smile.”
“My smile? That’s not very sexy.”
“Oh, it is. The smile you’re doing right now, I miss that.” Louise was sat on her bed.
“I am smiling. What are you doing?” Straight to the point as ever, Louise thought.
“I’m on my bed,” Louise said with a smile, “I am just sitting on my bed, thinking of you. Thinking it has been a long time, since . . .”
“ You know, since,” Louise paused a little in her speech, “since I saw your smile.” And added slightly more brusquely, “How was your day?”
“Yeah, it was good, the boss was out, so Jake and I made the most of it”
“Not like down here”, she cut in, “My boss is impossible to please, I have to learn so much new stuff, and my suit is killing me. You know the grey one, with the pencil skirt; you bought it with me. It looks great but my god it is so tight. And it is really tight across my bottom, I told you I should have got the other one, the looser one”
“Nah, babe, you look great in that one.”
“Yeah, and you’re not the only one to think so.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well I get loads of looks, I mean everyone down here is checking out my arse. There’s one guy, in the office, I had to walk past his desk about 6 times today and every time I could feel his eyes on my bum. I then walked past him twice more just for fun, you know, giving it a bit, like a catwalk walk; then I looked back and both times I caught him”
“Caught him what”
“Lucky guy” said Mark, a bit conflicted by the tale.
“What, getting caught?”
“No, eyeing your bum”
She paused; and waited.
“I love your bottom, it is beautiful”
“How’s your Mum?” This was a definite change of subject
Mark was half way through telling her when she interrupted. “Its funny” she said, and as if needing prompting Mark added “What is?”
“You know how when I snuggle up to you, you run your fingers through my hair, you know, like you comb it with your fingers and when you get to the ends of the strands you slow down and hold the tips of my hair in your finger tips and just pull it gently and slowly and kinda nice, kinda sexually?
“Do I do that?”
“Yeah all the time, I like it, it is cute, makes me feel safe and loved. Well, when you are not here and I am thinking about you, well, I do the same thing myself, I comb my fingers through my hair just like you. I never did that back home. Must mean I miss you. So what did your Mum say to Marjory to get her so hacked off?”
Mark continued his tale, and his words fell lazily into her ears, and just as casually fell out again. His tale not yet complete, she interjected, “Can you hold on a minute?”
“Yeah, sure, why?”
“I have got to get my skirt off. I have just been looking at it in the mirror. You are right, it was a good choice. It makes my tummy look really flat,”
“Well it is really flat,” added Mark
“Yes but it makes it look it,” she confirmed, “It hangs really nice at the front and when I turn around I have to admit it does make my bottom look kinda hot. And it moves nicely as I walk. But I have to take it off – I need to breathe again.”
She spoke in a quieter, slower more sensual but deliberate way “I can’t do it with one hand. I wish you were here .” He could hear her gently exhale as the zip was lowered, “aaah, yesss, that’s lovely, oooh freedom. Hang on, I have to hang it up. I miss you Cowboy. I wish you were right here right now”
“Me too” said Mark, with only lightly disguised intent.
“But I’m happy now I’m making friends,” Louise said absent mindedly, “One girl from work I think will be a great friend. Becky. We went out for a drink tonight – she’s the reason I am a bit tipsy. You would love her. She is really hot! She was sitting with her face real close to me and her skin is perfect, and you would love her eyes, their kind of dusky, you know sort of naughty, oh yes and a figure to die for. Yes I was thinking about you as I was looking at her, thinking you would like her, and all that thinking about you made me kinda hot. I started thinking about you and I started to get a bit horny, and then she touched my hand and I thought about you touching my hand and I felt a real, you know, twingle”
“Twingle?” asked Mark, almost mockingly
“Yeah, you know when you are feeling horny and a little wave of horny gets you down there, you know, like a twinge and a tingle and everything all at a once, just for a second. Anyway, she touched my hand, I was thinking of you and your hands and it sent a real twingle.”
“So were you wet?” Mark asked eagerly.
“Don’t be stupid, How would I know? Anyway you haven’t told me about you and what you have been doing.”
“Yes I did, I told you about me and Jake. And it was really funny cos…”
Again Louise cut across him, “Do you miss me?”
“Yes, babe. Big time, I really miss you.”
“What do you miss?”
“Everything, I miss everything.”
Mark knew he had not got the last answer quite right, but did not really know where to go next.
“I miss you,” said Louise, “I miss your smile, your hands, your laugh, your chest, your body, your silly faces, your stories, your rubbish driving, your dreadful brown shirt that you know I hate. I miss being with you at home, down the pub, watching telling and in my bed. I miss you in my bed and in my heart. Where are you now?”
“In my room” replied Mark
“Well then, you can tell me what you miss about me then. You have to do the talking. I am stood here in my suit jacket, buttoned up blouse, high heeled shoes and no skirt. I must look a right idiot. You talk while I undress.”
“Well I miss everything about you, like you said, all those things and more”
“Your lips, I love kissing your lips”
“My lips were kissed about an hour ago. Becky kissed me. Everyone down here is kissy, and she just gave me a little kiss goodbye; but on the lips. I was a bit surprised, but it was nice. She has nice lips. So what else do you miss?”
“Well your hands and your skin and your body, I miss your body and you know I miss everything,” Mark paused, “Are you undressed now?”
“No. I am wearing your shirt, your blue baggy shirt, I stole it before I left. I can smell you on it and I feel real snuggley in it, and I am back on the bed now. It is soft and nice against my body.”
“So you took off all your other clothes?”
“So you are naked apart from my shirt?”
“No, sweet I still have my knickers on; naked but for knickers and shirt, lying in the bed, with you in my ear.”
“Are you OK?” continued Louise, “what are you doing”
“No, nothing just lying here listening to you, nothing.”
“I have just done it again” she revealed gently.
“That thing with the hair. When I slip my hand through my hair like you do, feeling it so soft in my hands and like you do. I am doing that now, I really miss you caressing the ends of my hair and sliding your hand across my shoulders and over my breasts; I’m doing that now, it doesn’t feel the same when I do it. I wish you were here. My body misses you. I wish you were here.”
Silence. No, not silence, just no talking; there was warm loving communication even without words.
“Mark, I want you to…” She broke off, lazily not finishing her sentence.
“You want me to what honey? I’d do anything you asked.”
Louise told him what she wanted him to do. She imagined that it was his hands running across her stomach. She imagained that it was his fingers creeping under the elastic waistband of her knickers. She imagined that he was in bed, next to each other, that what they were sharing down the phone they were sharing in real life. Louise felt so close to Mark, but imagined that he was closer. She wanted them to be together, but on the phone would have to be enough for now.
She kissed Mark down the phone, wished him sweet dreams and clicked off her phone.
She pulled up the duvet, snuggled herself down and said, “Goodnight Mark. Good night Becky.” And in a moment she was asleep.
At last happy, out of the cab and immersed in his home made dark room, he looked at the negatives of his early day shots – not even worth printing, but he had 12 of the paint man. The Nikon F5 will take 5 shots a second if you just hold your finger on the trigger. Billy had taken a few single shots and then let rapid fire take over. He printed each, seeking the best.
One, no good, Two OK, three to five, excellent. Seven to twelve, wasted: would have been great, if not for that long haired blond man in the frame. Shit. 7 shots for the bin.
Billy had had no fares, no calls, no nothing. He had missed three epic shots with his Nikon and one more of an arse to end all arses. His side hurt, his head felt heavy, and he was wondering if it was time for life to take a different direction.
Then the call came through and his day looked up. He had a fare waiting for him, not only was it in the street of the running blonde – but from the very building she worked in. Could it be? He eyed his camera; he wouldn’t miss the next shot. He was ready for her.
John Reynolds stared at his blank black computer screen. This was not the first time his computer had played up, but certainly the first time it had crashed completely. IT were idiots, they were incompetents, they were in need of being told this by John Reynolds, Head of Copywriting. He picked up his phone, not for the first time in the last few months, but he put it down, deciding that a personal approach was what was required.
He left his office like a well-aimed arrow, head down, heading towards the IT department. And headed too eagerly for trouble.
Billy pulled up outside the Blonde Angel’s office block. Could it be? Would it be? He waited. Then he could not believe his eyes. Yes, this is why he carried a camera.
Emerging from the swing doors and strutting towards his cab was a sight to behold.
It was a man in a suit wearing 50 litres of white emulsion paint. His hair was thick with it, his face was scarred with it, his suit was drenched in it, his shirt and tie were caked with it. He had been gunged top to toe in white emulsion. Evidently, he had tried to wipe it away, but with little success; and he was heading relentlessly towards Billy’s taxi. Billy fired off a few furtive shots before the white monstrosity said “John Reynolds. Is this my cab?”
“Dunno, are you heading for Crouch End”
“Yeah” said the deeply irascible Mr Reynolds and made to open the rear door.
“Yo, Mate, no way you’re getting in this cab looking like that,” Seeing the potential passenger looking downcast and wound up, Billy added “wait there mate, let’s see what we can do.”
Silence had reigned for five long minutes. The lights were taking an age to change. “So what happened to you,” Billy asked his rear seat passenger who was dressed in Billy’s rather gruesome overalls that lived in the smelliest corner of the boot his car – a space now occupied by J E Reynolds ex best suit.
“Some stupid moron, playing a stupid fucking trick, or more likely some fucking half wit from eastern fucking Europe skiving off early from our maintenance deptartment.”
Billy knew that silence would be the best reply, and the best way to get the story to unfold. Sure enough, the tale continued.
“ . . . and there was no way I was going to the front door of the department, they have security locks, and I would be standing there like a lemon; but there is a rear way in through a facilities store cupboard, and access lobby, into the server room, and then out into IT – so I could take them from behind, so to speak. But as I entered the store cupboard, the door hit the shelving unit and the paint came down. Why none of them had their lids fixed properly I have no idea. Lazy, fucking bastards! I will find who is responsible and make them pay. That was best my suit, cost a bloody fortune too. I woke up feeling shit, so picked my best suit to make me feel better. Wish I hadn’t bothered now.”
J Reynolds did not stop until they got to Crouch End. Billy waited; and took the washed, re-clad Head of Department back to work. At first his passenger seemed like a pain in the arse that deserved all he got; but calmer and more sullen on the way back he came over as a bit of a lost soul, more of a victim and actually a whole lot more human.
Not that Billy really cared, he was more keen to develop his shots – must get a digital camera sometime!
Louise’s morning was hectic. She had lost her support network of Tim and Hannah; the next participant of her induction process had not materialised and she suspected that she may be on her own from here on. People were expecting her to deliver. She felt simultaneously unprepared and determined not to fail.
By 10.00, she had completed the C-Pac report for John. Hannah had only showed her yesterday – she hoped she had got it right.
She skipped to his office and offered him the document. He looked at her, didn’t take the document; and said, “Email it.”
She felt awkward, not sure whether to leave the document on his desk or take it away again. She smiled the biggest smile she could muster, and with all the enthusiasm she had left that had not been deflated, she chirped “will do chief.”
“John, is a little curt”, she said to herself as she left his office, “or something like that,” she added.
She passed Tim’s desk on the way back to hers. Why she flicked his tie, she had no idea, but she did, and added a girlie skip as she bounced out of range. He blushed with a look of frustration rather than modesty. People in London aren’t half as much fun as people at home.
By 12.00, she was ready for lunch and went looking for Mina and the girls.
“So how are you finding your first week?” Mina was looking glamorous as usual, pushing her salad around her plate.
“Hectic,” Louise couldn’t decide whether to say more.
“Yeah, first weeks are like that,” Becky looked sympathetic, “So what’s the deal with you and Tim?” Louise wished she’d said more.
“The deal? What do you mean?” Louise tried to sound disinterested, she wasn’t sure she succeeded.
“Well we all think he likes you,” Mina said with a smile.
“Really?” Louise knew she wasn’t sounding disinterested.
“Well I have a boyfriend, so…”
“Yeah, but we all know how that goes.” Becky said knowingly.
Louise wasn’t sure what Becky meant – how that goes. She didn’t want to ask. The girls didn’t seem to mind if people had affairs or cheated on their boyfriends or girlfriends. Louise wasn’t like them, she didn’t want to be.
“I love Mark” Louise sounded defensive; “I don’t want anyone else.”
The subject quickly changed back to work, and Louise felt slightly awkward. They talked about office parties and Friday night drinks. They wondered how some people got away with strolling in at 10:30 when they all started at 9 on the dot. Then Louise remembered something,
“Oh my God,” she exclaimed suddenly brightening up, “this morning when I came in there was a really grumpy guy under your desk, Sam.”
“What?” Sam looked confused, “Oh, that’s Sean. He works in IT.”
“He’s a bit, odd,” Mina said thoughtfully.
“Odd? That’s putting it lightly,” Sam laughed, “he doesn’t talk much. Or at all. But he is like an IT genius.”
Like an IT genius, Louise thought, “I’ll remember that. I’m crap with computers.”
As the girls headed back to the office, Louise and Becky were walking side by side. Louise hadn’t noticed it before but Becky looked just like one of her friends from home, they could almost have been sisters. She felt relaxed being with someone so familiar.
“Don’t forget about tonight,” Becky said with a smile as she skipped towards the stairs. Louise wondered why anyone would walk the six flights of stairs to the office, but Mina, Sam and Becky all headed towards the stairs. “We need the exercise,” Becky laughed as the white Fire Doors swung shut behind her. Louise was alone waiting for lift. She composed herself, and mentally tried to psych herself up for the afternoon ahead.
As she took the lift back up to the 6th Floor, she checked her reflection in the shiny walls. “Still looking good,” she said out loud to herself. On the third the doors opened and in walked Tim. He looked flustered. As the doors slid shut, she slid up to him and stood so close her breasts were pressing against his chest and their noses almost touched.
‘Hello Timothy, isn’t it time we got to know each other better?’ she said as she fiddled with the knot of his tie.
The lift stopped. “No, I . . . I . . no,” said Tim as the doors opened on the fifth floor. Louise stepped away, two suits walked in and Tim jumped out, preferring to take the stairs. He glanced back at her as the doors slammed shut, Louise couldn’t read the look in his eyes but she knew it wasn’t fear.
Louise was taken up to the sixth floor by the lift and taken aback by Tim’s reaction. Didn’t he fancy her? Didn’t he like women? What was the matter with him?
Louise reminded herself that she really was beautiful. She could see the evidence all around her in the mirrored walls of the lift, she could see the evidence in the whispered looks of the two suited men sharing the small space with her. As she left the lift, she did her I’m hot walk. She concentrated as her high heeled feet placed themselves in a straight line in front of each other, her hips swayed side to side, her belt like a yacht rocking in a seductive sea, her back straightened stiff and proud, her breasts sitting slightly higher, her chin a little too far out. Louise looked hot as she strutted towards her desk. It was a strut that she could not maintain; a strut that got diluted and deflated with every step. She left the lift like Naomi Campbell – they don’t come haughtier, and arrived at her desk like Patrick Campbell – dead in the water.
The afternoon saw her with her head down, and her PC working over time. Her fingers working fast, her brain working faster, remembering not what Tim had said to her in the lift but what he had said to her at his desk when teaching her the system. Why didn’t she listen better – she had been more intent on seeing if she could get his blood to rush to places it shouldn’t. She had counted his blushes and played with his emotions. Now she was on her own, fiercely fighting to remember what he had told her; eager to produce her best work, desperate to impress, determined to get it right. Page after page she typed, two excel tables she inserted, more text she typed, and then her first attempt at a pivot table. Yes, she had got it right, then it happened; and it reminded her of what she had forgotten.
The screen froze, then shone bright white, then died black. Her PC had crashed. All her work was gone. She had forgotten to save. She stared at the screen and wondered if anyone was having a worse day.
The clouds moved across the sky, the sunlight shot through her early morning window. Her eyes sprung open; a brand new day. She bounced out of bed, stood naked in front of the window, took a deep life saving breath and said out loud, “Hello London. I am here and we are going to be friends!”
As she turned, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and paused for a moment; she liked what she saw.
She showered, she dressed. Louise was back. London; look out! It’s gonna be a good day.
John Edward Reynolds, stared at his bedroom ceiling thinking about nothing in particular as Louise was arriving in the office. He gathered his dressing gown around him as the lift doors closed. He stared in his bedroom mirror as Louise checked her look in the reflective interior of the lift. He left the bedroom; she left the lift.
He was in a morning daze, she was keen to get her day started. He shuffled to the bathroom; she rushed to her desk. He was repeating a process he had been through 1000 times; she was still learning her way. Both got a surprise: and the surprise was blonde.
John, toothbrush in mouth, turned, saw his suit jacket hanging on the back of the bathroom door. He had not hung it there. Like a neon sign on an Indian restaurant, a blonde hair flashed bright on his suit. His wife was brunette. Jenny was blonde. John like blondes and it was Jenny’s blonde hair shining bright in a sea of grey that drew him to introduce himself to her. He saw it, how could it be missed. Had his wife seen it?
Louise was first in – or so she thought. She scanned the sea of desks and all were empty. It was only once she had passed three of them that a blonde head appeared in the distance just above the edge of Sam’s desk. In a split second seven thoughts went through her head. Was Sam in early – not too likely, why was she kneeling, what was on the floor, why was there a screwdriver on the desk? Sam’s hair is not like that; the shoulders are wrong. At that point, as the blonde head turned, she noticed three more things: he had stubble, he was not pleased to see her, and he seemed to be in a hurry.
‘Good morning’ she said brightly.
‘M’ning’ He mumbled as he grabbed the screwdriver and made off for the far exit.
Grumpy morning maintenance man thought Louise, and made for her desk.
Breakfast was as perfunctory as the kiss on his wife’s cheek, as John, now dressed and ready, left for work.
John sat on the tube thinking about the past and what he had done.
Louise sat at her desk thinking about her future and what she would do.
He shook himself out of his anxiety and looked for pleasant thoughts.
She focused herself on the work she had to do for that loathsome oaf.
At that point, they both thought about each other.
As the morning turned to afternoon, Billy washed, didn’t shave, put on some cleaner dirty jeans and found a washed but un-ironed tee-shirt. He had work to do and a minicab to drive. At 12.35, he clicked his seatbelt, put his trusty Nikon on the floor in front of the passenger seat and set off to see what the day would give him.
That night, Louise was alone. She felt it. Another night, sat on the floor with a bottle of wine watching DVDs on her laptop. She didn’t call her mum, she didn’t want to. She didn’t call her best friend, she didn’t want to. She sat, staring at the tiny screen, drinking straight from the bottle.
“Maybe I’ll get so pissed that when I wake up I’ll be different.” She said out loud. No one answered.
One bottle of Chardonnay and 60 minutes of Legally Blonde later, Louise was drunk. She didn’t know why she picked up her mobile phone, or why while looking through the list of names this one stood out. She didn’t know why her eyes and fingers lingered over the name, or why time stood still as she thought about whether to call or text. “Can I call you?” Louise had to concentrate as she typed the words, she didn’t want him to think she was drunk. She paused, hesitated. “Send to John?” Her phone asked. She hesitated, paused. Her drunken, foggy brain thought and calculated. “No” she’d chosen. “Maybe I just need to get some sleep.”
When Billy woke, it was dark. For a few seconds, in the drowsy haze that follows a well needed sleep, he felt fine. He felt great. He had dreamed of a blonde girl running to catch his cab. Now he could feel an ache in his side. Dull at first, getting sharper and bigger. It brought him out of his sleep into the painfulness of reality. He lifted up his t-shirt and looked at his wound, “that’s bound to scar” he said to no one, “crap.” Reaching over to the cabinet beside his bed, he picked up his phone: five missed calls and 10 messages. How did he miss that? The calls were all from Gary, so were the texts. One word, pub. Billy thought, a beer is just what I need right now. Dragging himself out of bed, he picked his jeans up from the floor and threw them on. It was painful to move his arms so he decided not to change his top. He glanced in the mirror, “I look a mess, great,” and limped out of the door.
“Oh my dear god,” those were Gary’s first words, “dear, dear god,” he was shaking his head, eyes were wide and his mouth half open.
“Well yes, I’m glad you’ve come around to my new nickname,” Billy forced a smile and gingerly sat down on the seat opposite his friend.
“What on earth happened to you? No wait,” Gary stood up, “you need a drink first.”
Beer in one hand, cigarette in the other Billy went over yesterday’s events.
“So what you really need is a lawyer.” Gary proclaimed two pints and one long story later.
“No, I hate them,” Billy was looking at his empty glass, “what I need is another drink. Your turn I think.”
“I’ll get you a drink,” Gary smiled, “and I’ll do one better. I’ll get you a lawyer.” Gary was a great friend. He was loyal, rational and most importantly a damn good drinking buddy. And apparently he could make lawyers appear from thin air and for free. Even better.
Gary carried on talking, Great friend that he was, he’d clearly forgotten about that drink, “You know my missus, well her sister is a lawyer. A good one. Leave it to me.” And Billy was more than happy to, “just don’t get on your high-horse about hating lawyers, she’s quite touchy about it. For some reason.”
Four pints, two shots and a fruity cocktail later, Billy was feeling much better. The beer and the noise had made him forget that he had a hole in his side – two more drinks and he would forget he had a hole in his arse. He was well away.
The two giggling girls, one next to him, one next to Gary, had made him feel manly, macho, sexy. Despite his bloody t-shirt, dirty jeans, two day old stubble, beer breath and the martini glass he was holding, he could pull. He suspected that it might be because of those things. Bimbos were not his type, and these two were the dizziest bimbos he had ever met, but in his semi-inebriated and semi-wounded state he was sure that a bimbo was exactly what any doctor would prescribe.
“So,” Gary was trying his luck already; he had his hand firmly on the thigh of the blonde next to him. He must be more pissed than I am Billy thought, “what are you two lovely ladies up to after this?”
They giggled. They bounced their curls and bounced their breasts. They looked at each other and shrugged, “What are you two up to? We’ll probably just go home” one of them replied.
“Well we wouldn’t be gentlemen if we didn’t walk you home now, would we?” Billy looked from giggling blonde to giggling blonde and smiled. At least today would be better than yesterday.
They didn’t walk the blondes home; they did the only thing true gentlemen would do in their situation: they got a taxi to Billy’s flat.
This morning was the second morning that passed in a daze for Louise, she could barely remember anything that Hannah had said or that Tim had shown her. The playfulness and nervousness she had felt in the morning had vanished, and now she was filled with something she had not felt for years. It wasn’t fear, she knew it couldn’t be that, it was an amount of unconfidence in herself. How did she know she could do this? Louise needed to speak to someone.
Phoning Mark was not just a phone call. It never was. It meant more than that. Just as giving confession is more than talking to a priest, like gasping for air after you have felt yourself drowning is more than just taking a deep breath; it was necessary, it was needed. Right now Louise felt she was drowning.
Talking to Mark would make everything alright, it always did. He was a rock, her grounded stability. He was her Mark, and talking to Mark made magic happen. She did not know why, but she was over taken by a wave of well-being whenever she was close to him – that was a certainty. That is what she needed right now, certainty; certainty and a tsunami sized wave of well being; she needed the magic to happen.
She dialled the numbers so well known to her fingers, automatically her fingers pushed the buttons. His phone rang. She waited. It rang. She doubted. It rang. Her heart sank. It rang. She felt lost. Click.
“Hiya babylady.” Mark was there.
“Hello Bunkle, how are you?” And he told her. He talked about everything he had done since she had left. As Louise listened she could hear what he was saying, and she could hear what he was meaning.
Her ears heard “How’s London”, Her mind heard “Mostly I want to talk about me”
Her ears heard “The match was great”, her mind heard “I can get along fine without you now”.
Louise knew she was being silly, “it’s just because I’m a bit upset right now,” she said to herself. She started again, telling him how she was feeling. She needed him to know, she needed him to help.
And they chatted. She started again, but it started again. She said a little, he said a lot. And she waited. He chatted, they laughed. This was stupid. And she waited. He talked more about her friends and her family and life at home; and she waited. She waited for the magic, but the magic didn’t come. She willed it to come, she yearned for it to come, but come it did not. She could hear Mark talking and it was all hollowed out, all echoey, all empty. This made no sense; no sense at all.
Her ears heard, “I love you”, her mind heard, “I need sex.”
Her ears heard, “We went down the Pilgrims on Friday, me and the posy and got wasted,” She heard, “Same pub, same story, same guys, same drinks, same old same old. Everything’s the same, you’re gone but it’s the same.”
He said “I miss you,” She heard “Sex please.”
“Stop!” Louise almost shouted it, or she might have shouted it she couldn’t tell. Louise didn’t know if she was talking to the voices in her head or to Mark, or to both. The word jumped from her mouth.
“Sorry honey,” she could hear his paused shock, “I’m just having a stressful day.” So she told him about her day, and he was quiet while she talked. She told him about her empty flat, and he was quite when she asked when he would visit. She told him about her confusion, and he was quite while she cried. She stopped talking, she restrained her sobbing. And Mark, her rock, her magical answer giving fount of well-being, was quiet.
He said “You will do great in London” and she heard, “There is no going back.”
Her eyes were stinging. Rushing to the toilet she looked at herself in the mirror. No amount of make up could hide the truth. She sat in the cubicle with the door locked and cried.
Louise couldn’t understand what had happened. Was it her? Louise knew that she was in a funny mood, she certainly wasn’t feeling herself. She hadn’t been feeling herself since she’d arrived. He hadn’t said anything rude, or mean or even unusual. Mark had been his usual self. It must be me, she thought. He was the same, the same as he’d always been. It’s me. She needed to apologise, but later.
But then why had she felt like that. Talking to Mark was a fool-proof plan. It always worked. She needed it to work, but she had wanted a rock and she had got a marshmallow. How can someone change so much in such a short space of time? Louise didn’t know if it was her or if it was Mark who had changed. If it was her, she was determined to change back.
It was the end of her first real London day, and as Louise slipped between her new sheets and let her tired eyes roll shut. As they did she saw herself, so slim, slender and naked in this enormous bed. Her eyes half opened and heavily slipped shut once more and as they did she saw a man laying next to her. The man was not Mark. Startled at the unfamiliar imagining, she opened her eyes and glanced reassuringly across her empty bed. As her eyes closed once more, the man, and it was not any man, it was a particular man, was now holding her, hugging her, embracing her. Despite herself, she liked it. She opened her eyes and looked at the ceiling. Her eyes closed again in time to feel him to move ever closer; ever more intimate, she drew him to her, and looked up to see the now familiar grin of John Edward Reynolds, Head of Copy Writing and scurrilous whore man in chief.
In one moment she felt pleasure; surprise; and disgust; three melded emotions all in the same second. She shot open her eyes as wide as they would go and stared out of her bedroom window across the London roof tops that surrounded the maze of streets and back alleys. ‘One day’, she thought. ‘One day. I have been in London for one day and already I am lost.’
It was Wednesday morning. Billy had spent most of the night in hospital and with the Police. Sleep was a memory and Tuesday was a blur. He had had a coffee, he had had a Danish; it was time to go home. In a vain and senselessly overtired attempt to rekindle the only joyous part of yesterday, he chose a circuitous route home past the road of the running blonde – just in case.
It was 8.57. The street was full of people, but she was not one of them. He took his aching, bleeding wound to bed.
The next morning arrived too quickly, and as the sun rose higher in the sky, Louise found the memories of the night before slipped away. Squeezed onto the rush hour tube, the night could almost have been a film and she was merely playing a role, she tried to convince herself that it was an insignificant one. After all, it was only a thought, a fantasy, a slight dalliance of the imagination. It was insignificant, Louise said to herself. But if it was insignificant, which it was, why could she think of nothing else while walking to the office? She found herself hoping, only for a second, that she would meet John in reception and that they would travel the six floors together enclosed in the lift. “Stop it!” Louise whispered under her breath, and she did. She pushed open the glass doors; there was no one in reception – she was early. Louise arrived at the sixth floor alone.
“Hiya,” Hannah almost shouted across the room, “Are you excited about spending the day with me?”
“Wow, that woke me up!” Louise smiled back, regaining her composure. “Hannah, I couldn’t think of a better person to spend my second day with.”
“And him?” Hannah almost whispered as she nodded in Tim’s direction. Louise could already tell that they didn’t get on.
“Yes, and Tim,” she continued smiling as she walked over to his chair. Tim was deep in concentration. Placing her hands on his back rest, she had to resist the urge to ruffle his hair. “Are you excited about spending the day with me?” Louise leaned over his shoulder, allowing her hair to brush against his face. In the reflection on the computer screen, she could see his was turning red.
“I guess so,” he cleared his throat and leaned away from her slightly.
Enjoying his embarrassment, Louise put her hand on his shoulder forcing him to look at her as she joked, “You guess so?” With a glint in her eye she continued, “Don’t worry, you’ll love it!” And more importantly, she thought to herself, I’ll love it.
“Ok everyone,” Louise turned around; it was John, “time to stop gossiping and get on with work. Tim, Louise, Hannah, come into my office.”
The three of them obediently followed their boss into his office. Trying not to seem too eager, Louise was the last to enter.
“Sit down. Louise, shut the door behind you.” She could feel his stare hot on her back. His eyes worked their way from the tip of the heel of her stiletto to the top of her blond glossy head. As she turned to make her way to the empty chair, their eyes met. Louise wanted to hold his gaze, but blushing looked away and scurried to her seat.
“Alright, are we ready?” sitting in his padded leather chair, John was leaning as far back as he could without toppling over, “It’s really important that you guys show Louise everything she needs to know,” he was looking from Tim to Hannah from Hannah to Louise and quickly away again.
“Louise, before you arrived Hannah made this induction plan for you,” John handed Louise an A3 piece of paper filled with activities and the names of people she didn’t know, “it is up to you to make sure this happens in the next four weeks.” He was looking directly at her.
“Up to me?” Louise stammered, already unsure how she was going to get Kelly to show her the Library system when she had no idea who Kelly was or what the Library system was for.
“Yeah,” Hannah answered before John had a chance, “here, we are all responsible for making sure our own inductions are completed. Obviously John, Tim and I will help you, and John will have to sign everything off once you’ve done it.”
“It encourages everyone to take ownership right from the beginning.” John was leaning forward, taking ownership of the meeting.
“Ok,” Louise was nervous but she didn’t want to mention it. I’m sure I can figure this out, she thought to herself.
“And today,” Tim said quite loudly, “you can see that you are with Hannah and me.”
“Oh yeah,” Louise said, her eyes blindly looking up and down the page in front of her.
“Good then,” John was standing, “off to work we go!”