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But love, for a soul filled with anxiety, can bring more problems than it solves. Soon Laura is back facing all the fears that plagued her before. Can she trust the man she desires to ease her pain? Or should she escape from him, as fast as she can?
"You need a job," the nurse said. She and I were standing in the hall while we waited for my taxi. My bag was at my feet, my coat buttoned up.� She was leaning towards me in her navy and white top, whispering so no one could hear us.
"You need a job and a home, for starters."
I nodded automatically, as I had done for five weeks. I was finished in the institution. My treatment done, my time was up. I was sad and scared to be going back out into the world. What would I find there, what should I do? A home and a job and no extremes. I was to avoid stressful situations, upset, excess imagination. Once the doctor had his talk done with all that advice, he �had shaken my hand and walked away. The nurse, though, had waited with me. She was standing close to me and was speaking low.� Quick, quiet advice that no one else would hear.
"You need a job, that isn't any stress. You need a home, somewhere you'll be safe and you can take care of yourself.� Try to remember to eat three times a day, to get eight hours sleep. Don't get too stressed like he said."
A job. What kind of job? I had a degree, that piece of paper I had struggled so hard for, now so empty of any meaning. But I didn't have any experience at all, bar summer jobs, plus now I could put mental illness on my curriculum vitae. I honestly wasn't sure what I could do.�
"I'm not sure I have any experience..." I said to her. She nodded, understanding.
"I know what you mean. Here," she said, pulling out a business card, "go to this recruitment agency. I can ring her to tell her you're on the way. She's dealt with others just coming out of here. She's very understanding."
"Are you sure?" I found it hard to believe anyone would understand my problem. I didn't even understand it.
She nodded again, confident. "She will, trust me."
A beep from outside told me the taxi was here. Time to pull myself with all my baggage out the door.
"Good luck!" she called from the steps and then went back in.
The day outside was bright and sunny and I felt horribly out of place. I pulled my bag behind me and got in.
�"Where to, Love?" asked the driver. I honestly didn't know the answer to that question. But I had an address in my hand and that was what I looked at now. "Can you bring me here, please?" and I showed him the card.
�I didn't have anywhere else to go. Mum had died, I didn't know who Dad was. I had shared with Ally as a flatmate for a while after college, but she didn't want me to come back. I was lucky that my things were still in storage, though I would have to get money to get them out. I would have to get money to pay the bills, to have a roof over my head, to be safe.� I didn't have any home to go to. That was the first goal. Anything after that would be a bonus.
The taxi moved quickly through the streets and before I knew it we were there. I paid the driver the amount he wanted and got out.� The sun hurt my eyes. We were always inside in the institute, we never had to deal with the real world. I walked across the road and found the recruitment agency. It was up in the second floor and I had to ring to be buzzed in.� I walked up the stairs feeling very nervous. What if they didn't like me? What if they didn't want to take me on?
A slim blonde woman let me in. She smiled too much; I felt myself retract around her.
"Hello! They rang me and told me you might be coming to see me. Sit, sit, we'll have a chat. Now, did you bring your CV? No? Not to worry."
I didn't have a CV. I didn't have anything to put on it. I felt the absence, suddenly, as a terrible thing. Why didn't I have one? Surely everyone else had one, was raring to go. I was horrified by my flaw.
"Don't worry!" she said. "Very few people have one. Now, we might just get a few details to get things started." She made notes on a clipboard. "What is your name, dear?"
"Uh huh. And how old are you Laura?"
"Goodness, just a baby."
I didn't feel like a baby. I felt that I was already old, wrinkled and gray.
"You have a degree?"
"Good and the result?"
"I got a first."
A million years ago. Looking it up online then making a cup of tea. By that stage it meant nothing.
"Goodness! Well done, brains to burn. And do you have any experience?"
"I worked as a secretary during the summers, um, answering phones, typing and filing, scheduling meetings..."
I'd called a cab once. "Um, yes."
"Good. So, what are you looking for in terms of a job, Laura?"
"Well, for now, just a job. I've nothing else, you see, I need money and quickly. So if I could get regular work that pays weekly, that would be ideal."
"Oh? Where are you staying?"
"Tonight I'm in a hostel. If I could get some temp work for a few months I could save. Then I could move into contract work, get paid monthly, but not for a while yet."
"I see, yes, that's very good thinking. Okay, well we have a few jobs we can set you up for straight away. Have a look at these," she handed me a page of names and addresses, "and tell me what interests you."
"All of them. I'll try all of them."
She gave me a smile. "That's it. That's my girl. You can leave your bag here and go see them now, if you like. "
"I would. Thank you. Thank you."
I headed back down that steep stairs, trying not to fall as I went. �Was what I was wearing okay? I had on black trousers, black shoes, a jumper and my coat. My hair was pinned back but I had it under my coat to keep it dry in the rain. There was nothing I could do, it was going to have to be okay.
The first office was thankfully nearby, just off the main square. I walked there, marvelling at the outside world. People were passing me in a hurry, all rushed and stressed. All this was going on while I was hidden away inside in the Institute. It was 2pm now, the clients in the institute would be starting physical therapy. Neither world had any idea the other existed.
I found the first office. It was a lawyer's office, all glass and chrome. I looked at it for a moment before going in. It seemed to me that I wouldn't really fit in very well here. But I needed money, I told myself. I made myself go up the steps and through the door. The reception area was all done up in a wooden floor, with white walls and a huge glass desk. The receptionist was answering calls on a headset when I walked towards her and she looked me up and down with a practised eye. I don't think I looked very impressive.�
She held up a single finger to me, telling me to hang on.
I stood there, waiting in the silence.
After a moment I tried again.
"If I could just-"
Another finger, this time coupled with a frown. Did I not hear her the first time?
Okay then. I looked around me. Two men in suits walked across the lobby, laughing. "Get them for costs and its all put to bed," said one of them. I watched them as they walked out the door. They hadn't said goodbye or acknowledged the receptionist in any way.� Neither, for that matter, had she.
Suddenly a voice yelled out from one of the offices behind her.
"Tell that fucking bitch I said latte! Latte! No, go and get another one, for fuck's sake! And get that asshole on the phone!"
"Sorry about that," said the receptionist. "May I help you?"
I looked at her. "I think I have the wrong address," I said and left.
The second place was a call centre and I had to take a bus trip to the other side of town to take it. I liked the bus. I liked not having to worry about traffic. All I had to do was get on and the rest was done.� No one else on the bus looked very happy, though.
This place was in an industrial estate, tucked away from a motorway. It was miles from anywhere and there wasn't even a pathway on the road to it. It looked lonely.
The reception area was a huge empty lobby, with one single desk for the receptionist. I could see behind her the call centre. There was a huge banner giving number of calls waiting, with occasional notices about who was or wasn't at their desk.
They must have gotten a lot of enquires though. As soon as I walked in, they handed me a readymade form on a clipboard and made me fill it out. I took my time over it, I wanted to get it right.� I handed it back to the receptionist, who gave me a smile. "Someone will be out to you in a second."
A large woman came and spoke to me.� "Now, we need to give you a few tests as part of the application process.� Come on through and we'll get started."
She led me to a plain, florescent filled room and asked me to fill in a test on a computer. It was an IQ test and I tried to get through it as quickly and correctly as possible.� She left the room afterwards and I found myself drifting off.�
It was autumn. The apples would be on the trees at home, now. They were really bitter apples and an acquired taste. I loved them. I wonder what the new family living there thought of them.
The door opened loudly and I started. She was holding a piece of paper and her mouth was in a thin line of disapproval. I told myself not to panic, I might be reading her wrong.
"Now, we have your results." She put them before her on the desk. I could see a figure written on it and someone had circled it in red.
"It's not good, unfortunately."
"Oh?" My IQ was too low? It must be a really complex role.
"We strive, here, to not just have good work, but good workers. Happy workers. Workers who are part of our," she paused to find the right word, "family."
"I could be part of the family."
She shook her head, sadly. "You couldn't. You've an IQ that isn't suited for our work at all, it's much too high. We would bore you silly, I'm afraid. And then we'd lose you."
"No, you wouldn't. Honestly. I need a job, I really need a job!"
She shook her head at me again. "I'm sorry, Dear. But we can't. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll find something soon."
She got up and left, leaving me alone in the room.� What was I going to do?
I pulled out the last name and address on my list. ��
On the bus back into town I saw someone eating a sandwich and realised that I hadn't eaten since seven that morning. It was now half three. I should be careful about that, they warned me.� I almost never get hungry, never want food, even when I need it. So I have to make myself eat. Otherwise I'll fall down or get upset or low and not realise I'm starving.� On the bus I told myself that I should set a timer on my phone or something. Other people did it for their meds all the time.
The bus dropped me off on a busy road, with lots of converted offices hidden behind tall trees. I walked along, getting more and more confused. I was on Temple Road, but the office was on Temple Lane. Where was Temple Lane?
It was at the end of the road. A quiet laneway, that had trees planted on one side and a small two storey structure on the other. It was an oddity among all the other buildings. It stood alone, with a strange style to it. Two round windows looked out from the top floor, while the ground floor had square ones. It was built in a sort of warm brick colour I hadn't seen before. The front door was accessed only by pressing a button. I double checked the address on the paper again, just to be sure and yes, I was correct.
This was the right place. I took a deep breath, stood upright and pressed the button.
The door snapped open by itself, as if someone inside had pressed a button. I stood there for a moment, looking at it. It seemed ominous, somehow, as if something was implied by it. But that was just silly. They wouldn't have appreciated that type of thinking in the institute. I put my hand on the door and stepped in.
I stood in the doorway. The inside was warm and didn't have much light. Still, much more pleasant than the rain outside. �It was quiet, you couldn't hear cars, phones, the buzz of life.� There was a secretary's station to my right, empty and a corridor with an open door at the end of it.� No sign of anyone. I waited for someone to come out, but there was no one.
�"Hello?" I called out. Was I supposed to wait?
"Come in," said a voice down the corridor.
Oh. Okay. I'd have to go to the office. I stepped in and the door swung closed behind me.
�The carpet was thick and I made sure to wipe my muddy feet before I stepped on it. There was wooden panelling on the corridor. I slowly walked down it, taking everything in. There were framed black and white photos on the walls. Scenic shots, no people. One was of a beach. The other was a woodland view. The third was of a library. I liked them, though they seemed lonely.
�I had reached the open office door and I knocked on it gently.
There was a man sitting behind a desk, two windows on either side of him giving a gentle light. He was dark haired, tall and slender. He wore a suit and tie and he was looking at his desk. He didn't look up at me.
�"Yes?" his voice was very deep and very smooth.
"The lady at the temp agency sent me. Cathy, I think her name is. She sent me. She said you had a position that needed filling and to just call in. She said she would ring."
He kept writing for a moment and eventually looked up, putting his pen slowly down on the desk. �
"Did she, now? How thoughtful of her. Please come in."
I walked into his office and stood in front of his desk. He sat back and I looked at him. He had a narrow, strong face. His nose was long and narrow and his cheekbones were high. His eyes were dark brown as well. He could have been very handsome, but his face was cold and mean. His lip seemed to curl slightly by itself. He looked as though he had a dreadful temper. I found myself nervous as I stood before him.
My clothes were wet from the rain we'd had all day and my shoes and trousers were spotted with mud. I tried to smile at him but he only gave me a scowl back.
"So, Cathy has decided to try again, has she? Every time she sends me someone they don't last a month. The record was a day."
All this time his eyes were all over me. They took in my height and my clothes. They took in my dirty shoes, my open coat and the black trousers I wore. His eyes continued to travel up to my white blouse and as they did a small smile began to flirt across his face. Was he staring at me? Yes, yes, he was! I wasn't imagining it, he was. And he wasn't just staring at me, he was staring at my breasts. Openly, unashamedly staring at me. I should be offended. I should be angry. I was fragile, they told me, it wasn't wise for me to have that in my life yet.
But I wasn't angry.
I wasn't angry at all. I was relieved, even glad to be thought of that way. I liked it. I did. Good, I found myself thinking. His face wasn't leering or creepy. His face was complementary, even impressed. He looked impressed.
This was good. I wanted him to. I liked that he did that.
Wait, sorry, what? What was I saying to myself here? That I liked it?
Yes, I was, I realised. I liked seeing that look on a man's face, a man like him. I liked seeing him look at me like that. I liked that.
He was still looking at my breasts and I hadn't moved at all. Neither of us had. In the silence I watched his face lose any attempt at being covert about it. His lips parted somewhat as he stared. I slowly felt my back stretch a little, felt my posture move my breasts towards him more. Looking at his face, I began to feel my breasts hunger for touch from him. I wanted his hands to reach out and unbutton, slowly, every button on my blouse. I wanted to feel his hands run over my skin, undo my bra, run his nails down my back. I wanted to arch my back for him, so he could cup my breasts better, cup them, tease them and maul them. Touch me, I projected. Want me.
Between my legs, I felt myself grow warm. I felt my own hunger suddenly stretch and pulse to life. I couldn't remember the last time I felt that.� But right now, I was beginning to grow wet. Standing before his desk, a silence heavy between us, standing here for him. I felt my own body grow warm and wet for him. I looked at him and wanted him, wanted him to push himself back and up from the chair, to move around to me and take me in his arms. I wanted him. My lips parted slightly in surprise as I looked at him and that broke the spell somewhat. I watched as his eyes continued to move over me.� They moved to my neck and then to my hair, tossed from the rain. I lifted a hand to brush back a strand and he gasped slightly. He looked down at his desk for a moment to gather himself and then smiled. �
"You're blushing," he said.
"I am, probably."
Suddenly it was terribly important that this man give me the job. I wanted very much to have his approval, to have him approve of me. I wanted to come again.
�"Tell me your name," he fired at me.
"Can you type, Laura?"
"Yes, I can."
"70 words a minute."
"Good. Can you file?"
"Also good. Can you answer a telephone, make note of who called?"
"Good. I'm glad to see it. Is that your CV?"
"Hand it to me now."
I put my rain soaked CV on the desk. He looked at it without touching it.
"You have a degree in English."
He sat back again and looked at me. Once again his eyes flew all over me and I felt myself grow warm again. I felt throbbing between my legs and I was amazed. Oh, to want again!
"All I need is someone who can be here on time, do the work I set out for her and not let me down on that. Do you think you can do that?"
"Yes I do."
Another look from him that made me blush.
"Well, Laura, let's see how we get on. Come back tomorrow at 9 am, sharp and we'll give it a go. Let's see how long you last."
He nodded, not saying anything.