Chapter One – Seventh Time Lucky
"You what?" Carla shrieked.
I winced and jerked the phone away from my ear. God knew I loved Carla like a sister but she never had been able to grasp the concept of an 'inside voice'.
"I said I can't go tonight." I repeated gently and glanced around to see if anyone was listening in on my conversation. Thankfully the nosy girl, Daisy, in the cubicle next to me was printing off a few things or she would have been hanging onto my every word.
"Why the hell not?" she demanded. "Its Drinks 'n Dares night, remember? We do it every second Tuesday of the month? You, me and Kira all at a bar with little margaritas? What's so special about this night that you can't make it?"
"I just might be busy tonight, that's all." I lied.
In truth I had a meeting with the boss in exactly five minutes, and if all went well I'd have a lot of paperwork to sort out…and possibly a new desk to do it behind. I was hoping that finally I could move up from the editing department and into journalism…the job I'd been wanting to do for just, oh, my entire life. But I couldn't actually tell Carla this because A) I might not actually get the promotion and B) I knew Carla wouldn't consider anything short of my apartment burning down reason for us to not have our monthly Drinks 'n Dares night.
And even then she'd probably insist we had margaritas in the firetruck.
"Claire," she growled. "I happen to be your best friend-" I heard an indignant 'hey!' in the background "- so if there's something going on could you at least tell me?"
I sighed. "Carla, I swear. Next time I'm texting you."
Not that that would do much good of course. Carla was the receptionist for News in Nelson, where the three of us worked. All calls went through her and she could of course, call up any of us whenever she pleased. Something she did on a regular basis when business was slow. Not that Carla was lazy; in fact she was extra enthusiastic most of the time. She had a bubbly personality, a joke for every situation and a tongue that could race faster than Usane Bolt. But there were times when I wished she wasn't quite so stubborn. Kira, on the other hand (my other best friend) was much too gentle for her own good. Naturally pretty, with her big brown eyes and Maori blood she was a firm believer in the 'if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all' theory. She worked down in the Photography Department and we always used her area for emergency gossip sessions because usually everyone was out on scheduled photo shots or other such. Anyway…
On the other end of the phone Carla let out an indignant snort and began some defence that I never did hear the end of. That's because partway through she got cut off by someone in the background – who I was assuming was Kira – telling her to hand over the dang phone. That's how I knew it had to be Kira because, bless her heart, she had the potty mouth of a ninety-year old Methodist grandmother. Still, I heard snippets of argument before finally Kira's voice was speaking down the line.
"You okay hon'?" she asked softly. Kira never spoke any other way than softly, honest to God she would be my mum's perfect daughter. "Because if you think you're coming down with something we could come over to your place and have a girl's night in. Chocolate, Tom Cruise, the whole shebang."
"I'm fine, Kira, seriously." I answered. But no matter how annoyed I might get with my friends, I knew they were only being nosey because they cared. And so reluctantly (because I didn't want to count my chickens before they'd hatched and all) I told her that I was seeing my boss, Ms Wilshire, about breaking out into the journalism side of the company. Ms Wilshire was the manager of The Gilbourne Press building we worked in. She was the one that co-ordinated all the departments etc, and was consequently in charge of any promotions or department , I knew, would keep it in confidence without telling Carla. Afterall, if I got the job then I would explain and it'd be all sweet. And if she ignored my pleas once again well…let's just say that the margaritas would be much needed.
"Okay, we'll talk to you later." Kira said. "See ya, Claire."
I smiled. "See ya."
Once I had hung up I glanced at my watch: four-forty. Time for my meeting. I shut my laptop, stood and headed out of the Editing Department. Evelyn, the head of department, raised an eyebrow at me on the way out. She was a stickler for hard work ethic and didn't believe in people leaving their cubicles except to use the printer or the bathroom. I got the feeling her last job was a prison matron. I mouthed 'Meeting with Ms Wilshire' and she nodded and so I continued on out.
Although she did roll her eyes too…not a very encouraging sign.
But of course this wasn't my first meeting with the boss about moving me up to journalism. Over the last five years working here this would have to be the….seventh, yes the seventh time I'd asked her about it. Hopefully though this would be the last. Fingers crossed. Ms Wilshire's office was on the floor above mine (reception and meetings on the ground floor, photography and design on first, editing and advertising on second, and then journalism and the boss's office up on the top along with her own private meeting room. The Printing factory was located a few blocks away on the edge of the city but all next few days' paper designs always went by email.) and though I could have taken the elevator I had too much nervous energy for that and took the stairs instead, hoping it would calm my nerves. But by the time I reached Ms Wilshire's office I was still just as nervous…and a few minutes late.
Still, I stole I few moments to calm my breath and brush imaginary lint off my skirt. Then I squared my shoulders and entered the boss's office. Ms Wilshire was, of course, sitting behind her large and somewhat imposing desk. In fact I'd never actually seen her anywhere other than behind it. It just seemed a part of her. Just as her iron grey hair, cruelly pulled back into a ruthless chignon and her matching grey pantsuit where a part of her usual demeanour. Ms Wilshire was what you would call…a little intimidating. She had a tendency to fire and then hire back employees in fits of temper, and she was even stricter about tardiness than Evelyn was. Nothing happened at News in Nelson without Ms Wilshire knowing about it. So if you happened to be late…beware. But she was also the kind of boss who insisted you call her by her first name, Juniper, and wore plum coloured lipstick and scarves more suited to Rio than the South Island.
So sometimes it was a little like walking on eggshells around her, and most times more than a bit confusing.
Ms Wilshire, sitting behind her giant desk nodded to the seat in front of her desk, indicating for me to take a seat. I smiled and sat on the edge of my – very uncomfortable – seat. Don't look nervous Claire, I told myself. There's nothing to be scared of. Remember, she can smell fear.
"Claire," she smiled. "I figured it was about time for another of our little chats."
I nodded, trying to take offense at the 'little chats' part.
"Then I guess you know what I'd like to talk to you about," I started. "Working as a journalist I mean."
She gave me a knowing look. "I do Claire. But like I told you before, it just isn't going to happen."
"But Ms Wilshire-"
"Please." She interrupted. "Just call me Juniper."
"…Juniper." I amended. "The thing is that I really, really want this job and I know I'd be great at it-"
"I know you would."
"Then why won't you give me a chance?" I asked, my frustration getting the better of me. "When Georgia Michaels was on maternity leave I managed her work and my own for more than four months! You know that I can do the job well, and I'm more than qualified. It's what I went to Uni for!"
"I know you're qualified." She nodded in a sickeningly calm manner. She just sat there behind her large desk with her just-call-me-Juniper attitude but she didn't even seem to listen to what I had to say.
"It more than that though," I paused, trying to put it in a way she'd understand. "I've wanted to be a journalist since I could hold a pencil, it's been my aspiration my whole life, what I studied for, what I've worked for. And I'm not saying that the last five years of being an editor haven't been nice but the point is that I really think I've shown you that I'm capable and qualified and that it's time I moved up."
"I know all that."
"Then why won't you let me?" I begged.
She smiled and shook her head a little, like I was a small child getting too big for my breeches.
"Claire," she said gently. "I don't need any more journalists. Every Tom, Dick and Harry comes here insisting that they're the next hot thing and that I should hire them to be their next journalist. But you know what?"
"What?" I answered robotically.
"I turn most of them away." She said apologetically. "I have no need for superfluous employees and frankly Claire, I need you where you are. You're a fantastic editor, one of my best actually. I simply can't afford to lose you to the Journalist Department when I know you're more valuable in Editing."
I sighed. She never got it. She was never going to get it.
"Frankly…you're just better suited to editing."
And with that she nodded to the door, indicating our conversation was over. I walked mechanically out the door and back to my own department, trying not to look at the Journalism area, the place I wanted to be. But the whole time Wilshire's words were echoing round my head 'better suited to editing'. Honestly. To me, editors were people to sit in dusty cubicles typing at glaring screens all day long. I wanted to get out there. I wanted to be the one sniffing out the news and finding the next breaking story.
But it was no use, I thought, as I trudged down the stairs to my own floor. She was never going to let me into journalism. And that meant one thing.
Margaritas. Lots of margaritas.
And by the time I'd received a very smug look from Evelyn, resisted pulling a rude gesture at her and been pestered to no end my nosy neighbour Daisy about where I was, what I'd been doing, and 'did she give me the job this time?' I was ready to explode. I plonked my frustrated butt in my seat and dialled 1 to get the receptionist.
"Hello, this is the News in Nelson office, Carla speaking. How may I help you?"
"Hey Carla," I said, grinning dryly. "About that Drinks 'n Dares night? Count me in…"
Jon's Point of View
"Dude. What?" Harvey barked. His British accent always became more pronounced when he was irritated.
"I can't go tonight." I sighed, "And how many times do I have to tell you not to call me dude!"
"Dude, this is the semi-finals!" Harvey continued, completely ignoring him. "The All Blacks versus the Springbox. You have to watch it. I've got all our mates coming over, packs of beer, an epic rugby match. What more could you want?"
I rolled my eyes and stepped around Harvey (who happened to be blocking the hallway) to get to my office. I was hoping Harvey would get the message but he stubbornly followed me.
"How about peace and quiet for starters?" I asked sarcastically.
But Harvey ignored me, choosing instead to lean against my filing cabinet. Harvey was my best mate. But sometimes I wondered why I kept him around. He was 6.1 feet of irritating Brit with sandy blonde-brown hair, blue eyes, more muscles than I had (unfortunately) and a penchant for calling me 'dude'. Annoying. Then again, he also had a weakness for women out of his league and firmly believed that someday they'd find a way to make nachos a dependent food source. Yeah right.
"Jon, you can't keep doing this. You have to have some kind of a social life." He straightened and eyed me determinedly. "You are going to have your cute little butt at my house by kick-off or I'll sic the boys on you.
He followed me into my office and I plonked my 'cute little butt' into my swirly chair.
"First of all, when did you turn gay?" I asked. "And second, get it through your thick skull. I'm not coming."
He glared at me. "I am not gay. I'm stubborn."
"Pig-headed." I snorted.
He shrugged, "You say tomato, I say tomato."
"Doesn't change anything."
"Dude, the point is that you've been out drinking by yourself every friggin night since Laura-" he broke off looking uncomfortable.
"What?" I demanded. "Ripped my heart out and fed it to my dog? My dog that she took with her by the way."
"No…well, yeah, but I wasn't going to put it like that." Now he looked really uncomfortable.
"Oh yeah?" I asked dryly. "How would put it?"
He shrugged, "That you and her didn't exactly see eye to eye on the whole 'marriage issue', what with her being a commitment-phobe and all… and dumped you?"
"Like yesterday's trash."
"Okay, okay mister wise guy." He harrumphed. "Enough with all the analogies."
I opened up my laptop and ignored him. He still didn't get the message however and decided that he would rather stick around to annoy me. Lucky me. Not.
"So what are you going to do? Sit around some bar all night and get drunk trying to forget her?"
I shot him a fake-sanguine smile, "Why not? It's worked well so far."
"Dude, she left you six monthsago." I fixed my attention on my screen. "You're supposed to drown your sorrows in beer and all that stuff and then move on. I mean, I know you guys were together for like, four years or something-"
"Five. We were together for five years." I didn't look up from the screen.
"Four, five, whatever. I know you're heartbroken, and I'm trying not to be insensitive, but it's not healthy. All this drinking alone is bad for your social life and bad for your liver." He waved his hands in front of my screen trying to get my attention. "And you're going to end up getting mugged!"
I blew out an irritated breath. "Look, if you like you can call me in the morning to see that I'm still alive. Happy?"
"Do I look like your mother?"
We stared each other down.
"On second thought." He held a hand up. "Don't answer that."
There was a pause.
"Okay, I'll call you in the morning." He said. "And you better not get mugged." Harvey – thank God – headed for the door. But of course it was too good to be true. Before he got all the way out though he turned back. "Dude. Just for the record…I never liked Laura."
"Dude." I mimicked. "You adored her. You worshipped her. You thought she was the best thing since they put that little breakfast bar thing in the employee lounge."
He pointed a finger at me and said, "Not true, dude. The little breakfast bar has bagels. I love bagels. They're second only to nachos; nachos should be a dependent source of food. Seriously, I'm telling you dude-"
"Stop calling me dude!" I grumbled.
"You know you love it." He grinned.
"Don't let the door hit you on the way out."
He flipped me a gesture I happen to know his mum, Mrs Simmons, would not approve of. But he did leave me alone. For some reason though, the silence wasn't as comforting as I'd hoped. Afterall, it was almost five. Soon it'd be time to knock off work. And where would I be? Knocking back vodka in another random bar, with that stupid engagement ring still burning a hole in my pocket. I pulled it out for a second and twirled it in my finger, making the diamonds and sapphires shine in the light. But I stuffed it back in my pocket again. I knew I should take it out, or sell it or do something but I couldn't seem to make myself get rid of it. Much in the way that I couldn't make myself go home to my empty apartment every night…knowing that she wasn't there anymore. And she never would be.
I stretched, "Harvey worries too much." I told myself. "Besides, what's the craziest thing that could happen?"
Ha! We just know he jinxed it after saying that. :D
And, okay I just wanted to use this space to apologise for how long it's taken me to update. But I've been extremely busy (yeah I know, that's what they all say) and I've been re-writing what I have because I wasn't entirely happy with it. I'll try to update every week or two from now on but don't hate me if I'm a little late. Anyway, a bit Yay! For the first chapter being out again. Stay tuned as I update and please review. :D