Authors: Sarah Michelle Lynch
“Chloe Harmon, pleased to meet you,” I replied like I’d rehearsed, and shook his hand when it was offered to me. “Can’t believe I’m here!”
“Well, I hope you get the fuck out one day and turn Chloe Harmon into a big name. It won’t happen here. This could be your springboard though, love.”
I was used to this journalist banter but hadn’t expected it here. I was meant to be starting anew. I guess he wasn’t concerned about making a newbie feel welcome on her first day—that much was evident. For him the novelty of working in international news had clearly worn off many moons ago. I straightened up and my inner universe told him to go fuck himself. I’d get out of there if it was shit and go back to the comfy yet slightly lesser paid drivel I was quite accustomed to.
We climbed the stairs and I almost wished he’d suggested the lifts. My black Mary Janes were going to be tossed by the end of the day and replaced by the ballet pumps I kept folded at the very bottom of my handbag.
We got upstairs and I felt my face flush when we made it into the packed newsroom. Loud voices carried across the large space—yet when I started walking fast to keep up with Ash’s strides, hush descended and all of them decided to train their eyes on me.
After a confusingly long walk through a labyrinth of desks, Ash finally showed me to an empty station and I was able to sit down and take the strain off my feet. He sat at a vacant seat next to mine and I wondered what to do. Take my coat off? Unpack my bag?
He sat looking around for some words, his expression revealing confusion.
“You’re sure you’re here for the writer job?” His frown was impossibly stern.
“Umm, yeah. Is there a problem?” I said slowly, and started to shit myself. Was it all a mistake after all?
“Just that…” he squeezed his eyes and looked discomforted, “…I’m not sure you’ll find it all you expected.”
My coat felt uncomfortably tight across my back and I wanted to take it off, but didn’t know where to put it if I did. On the back of my chair? On a hook? Was anybody going to tell me? Who was this dickhead questioning why I wanted a fucking job?
I reeled in my disbelief and morbid sense of humour and looked around nonchalantly like his words hadn’t affected me when they had. I had this growing lump that was hard to swallow—why was he looking at me like I didn’t belong?
“What do you mean exactly, Ash?” I still stared into the distance and hoped my tone seemed authoritative and professional.
I had a contract that said I was on a probation, but that still meant they had to give me at least three months—so he couldn’t just chuck me out. He had to give me a chance.
“You just seem too good for this gaff, that’s what I’m saying,” he said, his hands open suddenly, his confession out there.
I laughed lightly, more out of embarrassment, but partially out of confusion too.
“I worked for the
before. Sure, I could’ve stayed there and lumped it. It was okay pay, my colleagues were sound… but there are only so many muggings, house fires and dodgy politicians you can cover before you start going stir crazy, you know? I’m realistic, not simplistic.”
He choked on a small laugh, obviously nervous too. “Well, just so you know… I wouldn’t blame you for throwing in the towel here. It can get crazy. You won’t get much thanks even if you put in extra hours. However… what you will get is your own workload and pretty much free rein to manage it. So if you can manage well, you can manage anywhere,” he winked annoyingly.
Wow, sell it to me why don’t you?
So, not only was my new job going to be a severe disappointment, but everyone in the place already thought I was mad for joining. Everyone dressed casually and not a bit like me in my stupid suit.
You may as well have just taped a sign to my back saying, ‘NUTCASE!’
Anything to ward people off and avoid the awkward scenario of, ‘Aww. You go have a cry in the loos and take your P45 on the way out.’
I said to myself yet again,
Fuck that shit
I am going to make the best of it
A guy came wandering over in a light-blue polo shirt and I groaned inwardly. Was there nobody dressed smart!?
“Ah, right, Kip. Chloe needs setting up, can you do all the usual? She’ll need a new profile and password. Databases with passwords too… and she’ll need Office and all that. I know we’re not meant to but fuck it… give her access to the other stuff too.”
Ash stood and I was about to ask if I were actually being employed by MI5—would I need a car with gadgetry, a watch with lasers and a gun with untraceable bullets?
“Chloe, I will leave you in Kip’s capable hands. We’re having our weekly editorial meeting at 11, so it’ll be the perfect opportunity to introduce you to everyone… okay?” He actually sounded perky then, probably because he was about to sneak off for a cig or perhaps a swig of the gin and juice he kept under his desk.
I nodded slowly as it sank in.
Meeting? With people?
That made me feel a little bit sick. Editorial? Everyone?
I was the new girl everyone was going to hate.
Just as Ash was leaving, I asked, “Am I going to be doing any work today?”
He stepped back an inch and smiled, “Not today, Chloe. Our training guy Trev will sort you out after the meeting though, okay? He’ll set you up alright.”
“Sure, okay,” I said quietly, cowering like I meant it.
What I really felt was irked and unsure. This job was going to be the worst thing I’d ever undertaken, wasn’t it? I wanted to work, to write, not be stuck wasting time while I organised dozens of passwords for my numerous database systems and email folders.
The day looked up however when this guy, Kip, sat down next to me and asked if I could move across so he could access my machine. He was handsome and had broad shoulders. I noticed when I looked closer, his shirt was emblazoned with the letters,
“What does Kip mean?” I smirked.
What was wrong with a little harmless flirtation? After all what did an affair with an IT guy mean when I was going to be out of that place within three months, probably…?
“It’s just a nickname, that’s all,” he said, not looking at me, his eyes fixed on the screen in front.
“Short for kipper?” I tried to make a joke, but it backfired. He didn’t laugh or look at me. In fact I couldn’t read him at all. I knew my jokes were abysmal but hey, applaud a girl for trying, right? He just grunted, kind of, before asking for my name and employee number.
The next half hour or so passed in painful silence while he loaded up a lot of systems on my profile thingamabob. I watched as if I cared, as if I knew what he was doing, nodding and murmuring now and again. It was awkward as hell.
“What are you going to be doing in this place, then?” he finally asked, as if he had been working up to grilling me.
“Well,” I began, excited to be able to talk about my new role. “I reported on crime and general news where I used to work. However, while I’m here I’ll be looking at showbiz features! Can you believe it?”
He cleared his throat. “Sounds… great! A bit of a change for you.”
He typed away, not really looking at me. Was he at all interested in anything I had to say? I thought it was rude that he wasn’t giving me eye contact.
“It will be, hopefully. A lot of news networks take copy from here so my words will reach a lot farther than they did before!”
I knew I sounded stupidly eager and happy, but I was. Kip, however, didn’t find this interesting. Or else, he didn’t want to show it.
“You’ll love it here, I’m sure,” he said dryly.
“You think?” Like I believed that.
I was very good at portraying myself the ditz when I was anything but. It was a tactic I used when I was
nervous, I felt it was the only way to ingratiate myself.
“Sure, of course. If you like sitting amongst miserable, whiney bastards all day long.”
“Just my kind of people,” I retorted defiantly.
I went into my bag and fetched my phone, making sure I’d put it on silent. I took a notepad out too and pretended to look important. I realised Ash hadn’t even told me where to get tea and coffee from. I looked around and saw people with cups in hand, wandering in and out of a small room at the end of the newsroom’s long corridor.
Taking the initiative I warned Kip, “I’m going for coffee. That’s okay, right?”
“Yep,” he nodded, only glancing at me. “I’m getting there with all this. Shouldn’t be much longer.”
His fingers worked fast on those keys and I really hoped he’d be gone soon, so I couldn’t embarrass myself further with any more stupid small talk.
When I stood, I spotted a hat stand at the end of our bank of desks and walked over, placing my ruby-red, woollen coat on a peg alongside a load of other jackets and coats. While I walked the carpeted floor, nobody looked up, eyes trained firmly on their monitors in defiance.
I took my purse to the kitchen and walked in to find it empty.
I didn’t need to risk giving anyone else the impression that I was a brain-dead initiate who wouldn’t last five minutes.
I SLUNG A pound coin in the instant drinks machine and pressed for my second cappuccino of the day. The contraption gurgled and whirred with a strange hiss until stuff came splurging out. I removed the cup to taste it and wondered whether I’d gotten it wrong. Totally gross, I thought I’d ordered a cup of oxtail soup by mistake.
Tomorrow I’ll bring my own
, I groaned inwardly and kicked myself for being unprepared for the practicalities.
I swilled what was supposed to be my drink down the sink and cursed that blasted machine with a swift kick to its side. A quid, wasted. I went to the window to look out and the city stared back—rooftops and tourist sites and so many possibilities. So I knew even if the job was crappy I could make the best of living in London if nothing else. EVEN IF it were only for the three-month probation. The
would always have me back, I consoled myself.
Yet, I felt lost. Out of my depth. I leaned over the windowsill and took a deep breath. I’d left everything I’d ever known behind. I knew one person in London and I was staying with her in a crummy little bedsit in Notting Hill until I got myself sorted out. Kay had dragged me out drinking all weekend while she cried into her Chardonnay about her asswipe boyfriend Rob, so I hadn’t had time to clean her flat… but I knew it was going to happen soon. Her place would send me insane unless I might be able to organise it! I reflected on why I’d gotten myself into this mess. Put simply, I’d wanted to write professionally ever since forever and this was the best offer I’d had yet.
The kitchen door swung open and I didn’t look behind me. I thought it’d be nobody of interest and I just continued to stare out of the window.
I almost forgot I had company. Until he drummed up the courage to speak, a moment or so later.
“First day?” I heard the words of a male American.
I hoped he was nice. Maybe, being American, he wouldn’t have such a big stick up his ass.
“Am I that easy to spot?” I drawled, not caring to mirror these twats anymore. I’d be myself, that was better. “Must have new girl written all over me? Stupid suit… stupid grin. Next week… I’ll be wearing my pyjamas to work and a perpetual scowl.”
He chuckled from his belly and I heard a tap running at the sink, so I turned casually, a smile on my face finally.
Yet what I saw made me stop and stare. The vision was large and handsome. First I saw his long legs, his belted waist and chunky thighs hugged by designer jeans. He stood with his legs spread in way that meant he wasn’t at one with standing still. I looked up further and past the wide torso filling his blue shirt and open collar—was dark beauty that sucked breath from me.
Just the right amount of scruff. Short hair… and tanned skin. Sharp, blue eyes to blaze a trail through even my cold heart.
“Least you’re honest,” he said.
“You work out?” I practically barked, babbling.
Cut off my fucking tongue!
I wondered if he’d notice if I just squeezed his arm a little, just to check he was real. I quickly grabbed a hold of the window ledge and clung on.
“Been boxing since…” he looked up at the ceiling to consider his answer, “…since 14. Thai boxing.”
I don’t know why I asked except I could see he wasn’t like the other guys who lived in their loafers and their holey pub jumpers. He was built like… an athlete.
“I know karate,” I blurted, very suddenly finding myself having an actual conversation with someone. “A friend got me into it.”
“I tried it,” his nose wrinkled up, “but boxing suited me better, you know?”
“Hardest training on God’s Earth, right?”
He grinned, catching glances when he could. “I love the demands.”