There comes a time in your life when you finally realise that you are worth so much more than you give yourself credit for. Year after year you coast through each day, investing all your valuable time and energy into working in dead end jobs, having pointless relationships and pursuing fruitless endeavours. What you end up finding out is that it gets you nowhere and brings you little or no happiness. Not real happiness anyway. It’s almost as if you are walking through your life in a daze, missing all the important bits out. Until, that is, something happens to wake you from your daze. It could be an earth shattering, life-changing event like the death or serious illness of a loved one. Or perhaps a natural disaster, like a flood or wild fire. On the other hand, it could be a long line of minor every day events, of which the last break in or downed telegraph pole is last straw. I’m Kate. I’m single, jobless and in my mid-thirties, and I’m ridiculously happy. This is the story of my awakening…
BEEP BEEP BEEP. BEEP BEEP BEEP. BEEP BEEP BE…
“Shut Up! Just shut up!” I pounded the screen of my phone with my index finger until I hit the right spot. Finally, the insistent beeping stopped. It only felt like five minutes ago that I’d finally stopped crying and had fallen asleep. I can’t remember how many glasses of gin and tonic I’d had, but the bottle was over half empty. The last thing I remembered was looking at the clock, which read 03:24. Strange that I remembered that, but it was also the time of my last text to Ben. Once I came to my senses I realised I wasn’t in the mood for work that day. Or anything for that matter. It was 6am on a Monday morning in the middle of June. The rain was almost horizontal as it battered against the bedroom window. There should have been daylight streaming through the window at that time of year, but instead the bedroom was dark and dreary with the sunlight blocked by the clouds. There were to be no signs of summer appearing anytime soon according to weather forecasters. A sunshine-less summer.
I dragged myself out of bed and picked my phone up. No messages. Not that I had expected any, but I would have found it slightly comforting to have had at least one or two begging texts from him. I really hadn’t known him at all. I dialled work’s number and, as expected at that ridiculous hour, I got through to the answer machine of Jean ‘the dependable receptionist’.
“Hi Jean. It’s Kate Towton here from Booth 64. I’m ringing to let you know I won’t be in this week. I had an unfortunate accident over the weekend with a revolving door, which has left me with a broken wrist. Sorry in advance”. It was a total lie of course but they weren’t going to care anyway. It was to be my last week working there before being jobless. Twenty-five of us had been mercilessly culled the Friday before. Ian, the big boss man, had blamed the immediate need for cuts on the recession. Then he had thrown in the old adage of ‘last in-first-out’, and had the total audacity to look remarkably pleased with himself when he told us not to worry about anything, because we would be getting two whole months’ salary as a redundancy pay-out and gesture of goodwill. What a cheek that guy had. Not that I was sad to be leaving but I would have preferred to tell them on my own terms to stuff it.
I worked in a call centre on the edge of town, along with 350 other robots, none of whom I could call a true friend. In the six months I’d worked there, I’d only acquainted myself with five co-workers who worked in surrounding booths, but they weren’t exactly my type. Linda was a mum of four who never stopped talking about her kids. All day. Every day. If it wasn’t child related, Linda didn’t want to know. Graham was far too self-involved to invest any of his time conversing with anybody else, although he was a bit of an office hunk and secretly there’s no end of things I’d have liked…I digress. Then there was Carrie. She was far too busy screwing Ian in his office to make an effort with the rest of us robots. Carrie was after being promoted from robot to Ian’s Personal Assistant. What she failed to realise was, Sarah from accounts, Carly from payroll and Rachel from the mailroom, were all also after the PA job. Lucky Ian! Belinda (or Busybody Belinda as she had been christened) was nice enough, but she liked to know everything about everyone. I was never able to figure out how she kept track of all the gossip, but she somehow managed to, therefore making her the woman to go to for all your gossip needs. Lastly, there was Tom. Tom was nice enough and what you saw was what you got. He was the type of guy that your mum would be delighted you invited over for Sunday lunch. He had a university degree, was tall with just the right muscle-to-jiggly-bits ratio, had blonde hair and blue eyes, a smooth complexion, and he had only started to work in the call centre part time, to save some extra cash for a deposit on a house. Sensible, dependable, steady Tom. He’d make somebody a great partner but he didn’t incite any excitement in me at all.
On the Sunday night I had felt like my world had caved in around me. I’d been out with my sister Diane, for a meal at La Dolce Vita, our usual haunt. Afterwards we were going to the theatre to see Evita, a ten-minute walk through the centre of town. Even after seeing it four times, I was so excited to be going again. Evita was my absolute favourite musical. Such a sad and emotional story, but uplifting at the same time. I could relate to so many things in Eva’s life. Her struggle to be accepted, a debilitating illness and her experiences with major surgery. Every time I sat in those stalls and the curtains went up, I felt like I was the only person watching her life story. Diane had seen Evita once before and didn’t share my deep connection with Eva, but I had convinced her to accompany me anyway. We walked down the High Street passing by all the closed shops and the noisy pubs. It was a typical Sunday night really, not overly busy but still a few people about. There were couples wandering about hand in hand too. Seeing them had made me think of Ben, who was out of town on business again. We’d been together for five months, although I think I’d only spent about a month in total with him. He worked away a lot with his job as a sales rep, but it was always exciting when he had some well-earned time off, and we were together. Without fail he would bring me gifts and flowers, showering me with affection. We hadn’t declared our undying love for each other, or anything as serious as that. Somehow it hadn’t seemed the right type of relationship for that yet and I had promised myself that I wouldn’t jump in too quickly after my two previous nightmares. Being with Ben was more of an ad hoc and spontaneous type of relationship with lots of fun thrown in. Just what I needed, and I knew for sure that Ben would never physically hurt me.
Diane had never warmed to Ben. She often said he worked away far too much and his gifts to me were bought as apologies or guilt gifts. I told her this was rubbish of course. She’d never had a relationship lasting more than a week or two with any man so she couldn’t have known what it was really like to be with someone. As we continued down High Street, I didn’t feel the need to mention to Diane how seeing all those couples had made me feel a twang of longing to be in Ben’s arms. Saying something like that to my sister would have upset her, consequently setting her off on a long rant. So instead, I joined in with her excitement and quickened my pace as we turned left onto Stonehill Road, where all the designer shops lived. The aptly named Millionaire Casino was here too, with a long queue of customers eagerly waiting to get in, as they did most nights. Even then, entry wasn’t as simple as it appeared. Apparently, you had to phone weeks in advance to give them all sorts of details over the phone, which they would then check and double check to make sure you were good for the money and you weren’t going to try and rob them. Ben had volunteered this information to me when I’d asked him about it one night. I had found a black and gold gambling chip on the floor of my bedroom. He had practically taken my head off my shoulders whilst telling me he’d forgotten to cash it in after a night out with his boss. Two doors down from the main door was a smaller queue, less obvious due to its covered entrance of black glass and black carpet with gold edging. This was the regular’s entrance. The super-rich elite, who were all greeted by name and given a black and gold gift bag on entry. Every time I’d passed that entrance on my way to the theatre, I had wondered what was in those bags.
“Diane! They’re handing out those little black and gold bags. What I would give to have a peek into one of them!” I nudged my sister who was ogling some rather expensive looking shoes in a shop opposite.
“You must be joking Kate,” she snorted back at me. “That casino isn’t named Millionaire Casino for nothing you know. The owners probably pull in well over a million a week, and the contents of those gift bags were almost certainly made in some sweat shop for less than a pound. Somebody’s just stuck the casino logo on the side of it so it looks expensive. What a load of rubbish! They’re conning those rich mugs into thinking they actually value them when, in reality, all they’re after is their money. Look at them, standing in that queue like right idiots. Who in their right mind would stand outside for over half an hour, just to lose a load of money to some overly rich prat who stays overseas? Some of those people look…” Something had caught her attention, stopping her in her tracks.
“Look what? I was only curious Di. The bags look really smart and as…” I tried to bring her back to the conversation but she cut me off, grabbing my arm.
“Kate! Would you shut up about the stupid bags and look over there!” I followed her gaze, and that’s when I saw him, dressed in his grey suit he kept for ‘special meetings’. His pale skin was like porcelain and his eyes were grey and piercing. He looked as though he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, which gave him a rugged look that had always been completely irresistible to me. Not that night it wasn’t. As I got closer, I noticed that his thick, dark brown hair I always ran my fingers through, had long, bright pink nails nestled in it. Standing beside Ben was a skinny, bottle-blonde woman, who had an obviously false, terracotta tinge to her. She had skyscraper heels on that looked as though they were from the shop that Diane had just been looking in. Her skin tight hot pink dress just covered enough flesh to make her socially acceptable. Horrified, I watched the two of them walk hand in hand up to the grinning doorman.
“Mr Calder. Mrs Calder. How are you both? Welcome back. Here’s your welcome bag for the night and I hope it’s as profitable for you as it was last week.” He knew them. The doorman knew them by name. Before I could stop myself, I’d wandered up to the front of the queue. Just as the doorman had caught a glimpse of me and had stepped forward to start giving me the usual spiel to get rid of us commoners, I reached Mr and Mrs Calder.
“Hi Ben! You’re back a week early from your work trip. How was it and who is this beauty?” I couldn’t hide my sarcasm as it began to dawn on me what a complete fool I’d been again.
“Uh. Kate! W..w… what are you doing here?” He looked so uncomfortable as he stood there, visibly squirming in anticipation of what I would say next.