Friday turned into hell for the young woman. Her boss Michele spent the whole day in the office and her temper was execrable. She kept grumble and mutter to herself as she went through folders without actually reading them. Clara tried to be as invisible as possible so she will not get her attention. There was nothing else to do when Michele was acting like that. Clara hated when her boss that way. All she could hope for now was that the day passes quickly. Since Michele took no call, Clara had to take all the messages without exception, so she didn’t have time to go out for lunch. She ate a sandwich at her desk, checking out the emergency that had been stacked since the morning on the corner of her desk.
Mary sent her an email, but the young woman couldn’t find five little seconds to respond. Looking into a folder, she gasped when her boss suddenly called out.
“In my office!”
The young woman froze in amazement. The tone was clear: she had to go into her office immediately. Taking a deep breath, she took her notebook and a pen before rushing into the Michele’s office. Her boss discussed on the phone, but the conversation was very far from courteous. She stood and gesticulated. Seeing the young woman near the door, she beckoned her to enter and close the door behind her while continuing her conversation. Several bad words were launched and the tone of Michele went up a notch.
“No way! Shit! Do you listen when I talk?”
Clara tried to disappear on the chair where she was sitting facing the massive oak desk. Michele violently struck her office, repeating to her interlocutor that she refused to talk any longer. Then she strongly hung up before dropping herself into her chair with a heavy sigh. She began to flip through a folder without paying attention to Clara who was still waiting. I may have something else to do, like updated all the files that are on my desk because of you. I’m here! But when her boss got angry like this, her assistant might be her way to ease her frustration. Clara would rather say nothing and be forgotten.
“Where’s the Benedict’s file?”
Clara shook her head to get out of her lethargy and frowned, searching in her memory to know where was the file.
“It’s on my desk. Why?”
“I told you it was a priority. Why it isn’t done yet?”
The tricky question… It will give me hell, no matter what I say. Her hands began to shake and she managed to control them. She didn’t remember to have heard about an emergency with the Benedict’s file. All the stress, anger and discontent of her boss would be poured directly on her.
“You… you gave me the files in priority order and I…”
Michele looked up, glancing through her black horn-rimmed glasses.
“It’s not what I asked you.”
“Will you answer my question? Why this file is not on my desk at this time?”
“Because I haven’t had time to do so.”
Michele slowly withdrew her glasses with a sigh of impatience.
“Can you repeat me what you just said?”
“I… I haven’t had time to do so, Ms Dudley…”
“When I ask you something, you do it right now. Do you understand?”
“So I ask why this file is not presently on my desk and this is the answer you give me? Who do you think you are to decide on priorities on my files?”
The young woman gave up the fight to control her tears. Michele was going to yell at her in a few seconds and it wasn’t worth the trouble to aggravate the situation she was in. A huge ball of anxiety painfully formed in her stomach as she waited for the insults from her boss. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time that Michele accused Clara of something which wasn’t her fault. She didn’t choose the priority of the files that landed on the corner of her office. She was working as fast as she could and managed her stress as she could.
“Good Lord!” Michele exclaimed, hitting her desk. “When I ask you a file, bring it to me!”
Tightening her jaws to prevent her lower lip from trembling, Clara was just nodding and got up as fast as her legs would allow her to do so. She rushed to her office to pick up the file in question and brought it to Michele. Her boss snatched it from her hands and asked her to return to her seat without further delay since she was useless. Clara ran away as fast as she could to the bathroom to burst into tears without being disturbed. Once she was calm enough, she returned to work at her office. She insisted on everything before she could forget the fact she felt like nothing. It was a solution she used sometime.
Clara was taking a call while noting an appointment on her boss’ agenda when Michele came out of her office with her briefcase. She put on her sunglasses without looking at her assistant.
“I’m leaving for the rest of the day. See you Monday.”
The young woman looked Michele walking away, sighing in relief. Her instrument of torture would soon pass the door for the rest of the day! She cast a glance at her watch and realized it was almost 4:00 p.m. She ordered her desk and drew up the files that had been completed. When she returned to her office, she looked at the pile left. Little pride that put a little balm on the heart.
She was no longer motivated to work. She opened the email she had received earlier from her friend, but she didn’t answer it. According to the message, Mary would have found some “high quality merchandise” for her. Clara wasn’t interested. She knew very well what it meant: she had a rendezvous for that evening. She heaved a deep sigh before closing her email. At five o’clock sharp, she took her jacket and her purse before heading for the exit as fast as she could. She quickly returned home. Locking the door behind her, her feet let her to the refrigerator where her list was. Biting her lower lip, she went to her computer to turn it on. She started a job research on the Internet by specifying her field of study. It was a great way to start her life and she just had the motivation she needed to take the plunge.
It’s been too long since she reported her project later. Mary was right on this.
She poured herself a glass of orange juice before returning to her computer. There were five jobs which could be interesting. She hesitated a moment before updating her resume and a cover letter. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest. She felt very nervous when her email was ready to be sent, including the attached file. What would happen then? As the assistant of the Human Manager of the company, would she be able to intercept any requests for references? She wondered if she could lose her job because she looked other jobs. A ball of anxiety similar to the one she had on the afternoon formed itself again in her stomach. But if she did nothing, she’ll never get answers to all her questions. Taking a deep breath, she pressed the send key and immediately she felt a wave of panic overwhelming her. She didn’t lose her job because she wanted to improve her working life. She didn’t want to stay an assistant the rest of her life so she had to take action. And now she felt that Michele had gone too far.
Now that phase one of her plan has started, she could take the next step. She threw a second research on dating sites. She tapped dating agencies and waited to have the results. She wasn’t the type of women to flirt in bars – despite her latest misadventure in a nightclub – or to check in newspapers. What were her options? She had to face the facts it was a way like another to meet a man. But an agency… Her eyes fell on an Internet address for a dating site like the one she had visited in her workplace. It allowed displaying an online profile. There were some things she could do even if she didn’t pay a complete subscription. Makes sense… And I don’t intend to pay for that. She decided to create a profile on the site, a hint of shame in her stomach. She felt like she was desperate. She didn’t want to absolutely have a man in her life. Observing required fields on the form, she reached out to pick up the ringing phone.
“I’m not available at this time.”
And she abruptly hung up without further delay before reporting her attention on the form still on her screen. She sighed, wondering if she really believed she had a chance to meet someone interesting on the Internet. There were chances to find one or more stupid, but it was something that could happen to everyone every day. Her chances of getting the prince charming the first time were quite impossible to happen. She finished creating her profile, but refusing to put a picture. She wrote a simple description. She could add it later if she wished.
Reluctantly, she closed the browser window and turned off his computer. Her cell phone vibrated on her coffee table. She looked at the little screen. Mary had just sent her a very simple message: WHERE R U. The young woman huddled on the sofa and pulled her knees under her chin. Blows were struck at her door.
“Clara,” Mary said on the other side of the door, “I know you’re there. Eddie just called you.”
Slowly, Clara rose from the sofa to open the door to her friend. She knew her friend, knowing very well she would never relinquish. When Mary laid eyes on her, she winced in horror. She took out her cell phone from her bag to send a message before reporting her attention to her friend. She shook her head, looking sorry.
“What happened to you?”
Clara shook her head while getting back to the sofa.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Don’t worry: reinforcements arrive. The cavalry should be here soon.”
The woman said nothing. She really didn’t want to talk about her problems at the moment. Minutes later, new blows were struck at the door. Without waiting, Mary hastened to reply. Edward entered the apartment, a bottle of vodka in one hand. Clara frowned with a smile looking at her friends.
“I know you want to reduce your consummation of alcohol,” Mary said, “but it’s a case of major force.”
“We’re here to cheer you up.”
“I just don’t want to talk about it.”
“Nobody asked you to do so,” Edward answered. “Drink and that’s it.”
He handed her the bottle she took without thinking about it any further. She took a long sip before to give it back to him. She didn’t want to drink alone. Mary went to get glasses and returned to the living room. They settled on the coffee table to drink and talk about anything. The alcohol burned her throat, but it didn’t prevent her from swallowing it anyway. She sought the comfort wherever she could.
“Why you didn’t answer me?” Mary asked. “I had a great man just for you!”
“I don’t need any help.”
“As if!” Edward adds. “And that’s what we’re here for!”
“You are my friends, but this isn’t for you to help me find the right man.”
“You need helping hand so you can have your little peaceful life.”
Clara forced a smile, shaking her head. They were too ridiculous! Why were they willing to help her? She refused again their help and poured herself another drink.
* * * * *
Her head was heavy and she felt a dull ache behind her eyes. And the hangover strikes again! She put a hand to her face, feeling that her forehead would yield under the pressure. She uttered a deep groan while bringing the sheets over her head. She wasn’t feeling very well. She rose with difficulty to get to the bathroom. Her head still wanted to blow, but she wasn’t feeling sick like last time. She swallowed a pill and went back to bed. From what she knew, no one expected to see her.
Clara ends up feeling a little better towards the middle of the afternoon. Her headache had disappeared, but she wouldn’t leave her room. She eventually got out and took refuge in a very hot bubble bath. She pulled her head underwater for several seconds before surfacing again. She remained in the tub, relaxing, until the steam of hot water makes her very dizzy. She removed the cap from the bath, still numbed from the heat of the water. She dried herself before putting on her bathrobe. Then she took a towel and wiped her hair while returning to the living room to finish the job. Her phone rang at that moment. She collapsed on the sofa and picked up.
“Then?” Mary asked at the other end. “You’ve recovered from last night?”
The young woman smiled, sinking against the backrest.
“Quietly. And you?”
“My head feels a little better now. I don’t know about Edward, though. I think he drank more than the two of us.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You don’t remember what he told us last night about his father?”
Frowning, the young woman was trying to remember a serious discussion. She didn’t know what her friend meant. She finally shook her head.
“He told us that during youth, his father thought he was gay!”
Clara’s eyes widened before giggling. She didn’t remember that! She was still laughing when Mary gave her a little more details. Since Edward’s father thought his son was gay, he bought magazines to please him. And also to make him feel accepted.
“And what happened when he discovered he was wrong?”
“When he surprised Edward with a girl, he began to cry like a baby! After the girl fled, they celebrated it. He took his first beer with his farther that day!”
“Gay? What was he thinking?”
“Edward never knew why his father believed that.”
“We should ask him next time.”
“I’ll do it!”
“How do you manage to remember all things while you drank as much as we did?”
Mary pondered the question briefly.
“I don’t know. I must absorb alcohol a little better than you two. But I wasn’t calling you for that, actually. I wanted to know if you would be free to get out next week.”
“Don’t talk to me about that “great guy”, please! I don’t need your help with that.”
“He’s perfect for you!”
“Mary! We don’t have the same tastes, you and me. I know you want to help me and I thank you. But I can manage that alone. I didn’t say I wanted to settle myself immediately.
“It’s for this reason that I keep an eye out during the day! I meet a lot of people every day. There is surely one man for you. You’re my best friend. I can give you a hand with that.”
“You will not leave me alone on this one?”
“Not until I see him?”
The young woman sighed deeply, closing her eyes. Mary’s choice scared her a little. Why suddenly she was harassing her with that? She had never done it before. Clara was considering the proposal for a moment. She knew she was wasting her time with this rendezvous. Will it worth it? She resigned herself to accept it with some conditions. Mary was not very thrilled.
“What do you want in return?”
“That you leave me alone after. This is the first and the last time you’ve organized a rendezvous for me. Okay?”
“Very good! Anything else?”
“Don’t notify me at the last minute, please. Give me a chance to prepare myself a little.”
“It’s okay. Since he’s sometimes working during the weekend, I will try to accommodate him and you during the week. His schedule is a bit complicated, but it’s going to happen very soon.”
“What does he do for a living?”
“He’s a nurse.”
Clara raised her eyebrows. A nurse? Where Mary had met a nurse? She shook her head, preferring not to know. The tired voice of her friend brought her back to reality.
“So I’ll confirm with him on Monday. We’ll have some fun!”
“Let me have doubts.”
“Whatever you say, darling.”
“I wanted to tell you something. I… I thank you for what you did for me last night. It was very nice of you and Eddie to come here and cheer me up. The hangover was worth it, believe me.”
She could hear Mary sneer at the other end of the line.
“Intense headache, but it was a pleasure for sure. That’s why friends are there for!”
“You could have leaved me alone like I asked.”
“Don’t count on it! Good! I’ll swallow something against the headache and make a phone call to Eddie to see how he’s feeling. Take care of yourself, okay?”
“Okay. Rest well too.”
“And I give you some news for your rendezvous.”
Clara hastened to greet her, not wishing to dwell any longer on that subject. She sighed while putting the phone on the coffee table. She gave a little smile, trying to imagine Edward doing his confession. Why did she keep no memory? She would have loved to make fun of him! She vaguely recalled a conversation about their families, but none of that. What Edward had ever done to make his father believed he was gay? She had always taken him for a Don Juan. Appearances might not always be what it seems… She went into the bathroom to leave the towel.
Then she went back to her computer, checking her emails. According to it, she already had received four messages. So she went to her profile to read the messages left by her admirers. The first message was very short: YOU SEEM PRETTY. WRITE ME. Impossible for her to interpret it. She visited the profile of this man just out of curiosity. Early thirties, he had two small children. The picture that represented him was strange. If she looked closer, she could see a shoulder against him. On another picture, she saw a ring on his left finger. This guy is married? It wasn’t mentioned anywhere that he was married – or even with someone – but it was not illegal. Just not really interesting for her. If the guy had children, the ex wasn’t very far and she wouldn’t inherit the problems of others.
She went to the second message. The guy had sent her a poem he had – with all his heart – composed himself. She laughed before deleting the message. She didn’t answer him. She wouldn’t have known what to say, anyway. She refused to check his profile. She was too scared. The third message was from a guy nicknamed BBOY. There were no pictures. The guy had an interesting profile. He liked the same things that she liked, but he wasn’t trying to meet a girl. Was it the truth? It wasn’t the first on this site to tell that just to get attention. But he seemed simple enough. She thought it might be interesting to meet him despite his nickname a bit cheesy: BBOY. She didn’t send a long message. Only the essential and the absolute truth. He seemed very nice. Since she still was online, she notices a small green light flashing after she sent her message. Curious, she clicked on it and a small window opened. She raised her eyebrows, a small smile on her lips.
“A chat service?”
She was unaware that this service was offered on the site. She also found out that BBOY was online and received her message. He wanted to talk to her. Clara bit her lower lip. Why not? It could be interesting. He greeted her.
“HELLO. I JUST RECEIVED YOUR MESSAGE. HOW YOU’RE DOING’?”
“GOOD. AND YOU?”
Waiting for his reply, she took the opportunity to check his profile to learn a little more about him. According to what she could read, he had just moved into town for work and had roughly the same age. A small beep startled her, telling her he had answer her. She opened the window.
“WHAT DO YOU DO IN LIFE?”
“I WORK IN RH FOR A COMPUTER COMPANY. AND YOU?”
“RESEARCHER FOR A LAWYERS FIRM.”
“YOU HAVE JUST ARRIVED IN TOWN?”
“A FEW WEEKS AGO.”
“WHY DID YOU HAVE TO LEAVE?”
The answer didn’t happen as quickly as the others. The question was perhaps a little too intrusive to be asked by a stranger. He simply replied:
She frowned, understanding what it meant. He didn’t want to talk about it. So she didn’t ask him any more questions about it. It doesn’t concern her. She looked up at the ceiling for a moment to consider another question when she noticed he had written something else.
“MY GIRLFRIEND AND I ARE HAVING PROBLEMS.”
She was surprised to learn it. She didn’t believe that leaving was the best way to solve problems. But since she didn’t know him, she made no remark. He wrote again.
“NOT THE BEST ANSWER?”
“IT DOESN’T CONCERN ME.”
“WE WILL HAVE TO SEE EACH OTHER TO DISCUSS IT A LITTLE MORE.”
“AND YOU? DO YOU HAVE SOMEONE IN YOUR LIFE?”
She sighed deeply. He just asked THE question feared by every singles.
“NO. I’M ALONE.”
“YOU SEE THAT THERE’S WORSE SITUATION.”
“LIKE NOT KNOWING IF YOU’RE GOING TO BE ALONE?”
She instantly regretted the question. It was improper from her, and a bit mean. She was going to apologize when she read:
“IT’S A BIT LIKE THAT.”
“SORRY I SAID IT.”
“BUT YOU’RE RIGHT.”
“THINGS WILL GET BETTER FOR YOU TWO.”
“I HOPE. HAVE YOU MET SOMEONE FROM THIS SITE?”
She hesitated to answer him. Was it pathetic from her to tell him she had just registered? No. then she told him that her registration dated from yesterday, and he was the first to receive a respond from her. She smiled while reading his answer.
“WHY ARE YOU SAYING THAT?”
“THERE’S A BUNCH OF MORONS ON THE WEB.”
She smiled again.
“THANKS FOR THE TIP. I’LL BE CAREFUL, I PROMISE.”
“CAN I ASK YOU A PERSONAL QUESTION?”
She gave a little smile as she replied.
“WHY YOU HAVE NO PHOTO ON YOUR PROFILE?”
What answer could she give him and not look ridiculous? If she specified that it was a personal choice, will it change anything? A thought suddenly crossed her mind. He had no picture either. Why?
“I COULD ASK YOU THE SAME QUESTION.”
And she waited for a reaction from BBOY.
“TOUCHÉ. I FEEL A BIT STUPID TO USE THIS KIND OF SITE AND I DON’T WANT EVERYONE TO KNOW ABOUT IT.”
She raised her eyebrows, surprised by the answer. She hadn’t even thought about that. She had just said she would perhaps put one later. Now that BBOY mentioned it, it made sense. Will she die of shame if anyone knew she had a profile on a dating site?
“ME, IT’S A PERSONAL CHOICE.”
“YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT PUTTING ONE SOMEDAY?”
“MAYBE YES. I DON’T KNOW YET. NOT YOU?”
She waited a moment, arms folded across her chest. Her eyes began to close slowly. Fatigue became a bit more intense. She sat up suddenly when she saw a message on the screen.
“MAYBE ONE DAY I’LL DO IT. I’M LATE. I MUST LEAVE YOU BUT I HOPE WE’LL TALK SOON.”
“OF COURSE. BYE AND TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.”
She closed the computer without bothering to read the last message received by a man on the site. She went near the window. She settled there, knees up under her chin. Head resting against the window, she wondered if BBOY had just fled or was really late. She might never know. She sank slowly into sleep, lulled by the sound of the wind against the building where her apartment was.
The sun didn’t attempt to penetrate the closed blinds of her room on Sunday morning. A gray and depressed day for her. She opened her eyes, still feeling very tired. She had gone to bed around 8:00 p.m. the day before and she didn’t want to get up. An urge to have a coffee got her out of bed. She went to the window after putting on the coffee maker. The young woman noticed that it had rained last night. The clouds were still in the sky, threatening to dump their droplets again. She sighed heavily, returning to the kitchen.
Rainy days often made her depressed. And for her, Sundays were boring. A combination of both wasn’t very encouraging. Her cup in her hand, she sat comfortably on the sofa with a book. There was nothing else to do in the moment and she wanted to take some time to wake herself up. She quietly read a few chapters regardless of the time. No one expected anything from her, after all. She could do whatever she wanted without rushing. She finished her coffee and poured another cup before getting back to her book. The plot was captivating enough to keep her falling into a lethargic state. The last thing she expected was to end up on the last page of her book. When she arrived there, she was speechless. A quick glance at her clock told her it was almost noon. She just finished her coffee and she had nothing else to read.
She rushed into the shower and got ready to leave. There was a time she had spotted a public library near her apartment. She decided to check it out, matter of finding something interesting to read. She went to the counter to register before you begin to take a tour. There was an eternity she had not set foot in a library! She took her time to find a book. Concentrated on a particular shelf, she noticed a guy who just smiled at her. When she noticed, the guy’s smile widens further. Without looking away, he took a book on a shelf before they locked their eye on each other. Clara giggled when she saw the title of the book he took. He had just taken a new book about the erotic psychology. He hurriedly put the book back on the shelf before fleeing.
Still smiling, the young woman went away to another direction to not embarrass him any further. She was walking slowly, barely looking at the books passing before her eyes. She was very surprised when she found that she was now in the psychology section of the library. She cast a quick glance at the books on relationships with men. She found nothing very interesting. She finally had enough. She went in the fantasy section. She then took what she found to the front desk. Then she returned home without further delay. No sign of the guy. Clara walked quietly up to her apartment, her head lost in her thoughts.
Her phone was ringing when she opened the door. Sighing, she let the voicemail take the message. If it’s so important, leave a message. She locked the door once inside and waited a moment before looking at her phone to see if there was any message. There was one. She entered her password to access her voicemail. Mary asked her if she wanted to have dinner in a restaurant. Eyebrows raised, Clara went to the kitchen to take a look in her refrigerator. She heaved a deep sigh of exasperation.
“It might not be a bad idea, after all.”
The young woman hadn’t gone for grocery shopping in weeks and now she had nothing to eat. She called back her friend to tell her that she accepted her proposition. They agreed to meet in their favorite restaurant. Then she reached into her cupboards to write what was missing in her refrigerator. She found out quickly something: about everything was missing! She would go before she came back. During the week she preferred to return straight home after a hard day at work.
She began one of her books before joining her friend at the restaurant. To her astonishment, Mary had arrived before her.
“Hey!” she cried, smiling. “Still with a hangover?”
Clara shook slightly her head.
“No. I feel much better than yesterday. Thanks to worry.”
“It’s been awhile since I hadn’t felt so bad! I wasn’t eager to feel that sensation again!”
“Any news from Edward?”
“He doesn’t remember the revelations he made. And I think he was sick the other night. I didn’t even think to offer him to join us here.”
“It would perhaps be difficult for him to stand the smell of food!”
They laughed. A waitress brought the menus – even though they knew it already – and offered them a drink before dinner. They declined both the offer, settling for a soda and iced tea. After the waitress left, Mary persisted about the nurse that she wanted to present to her friend. Clara asked her to stop because it was useless.
“But you have agreed to meet him!”
“Yes, but I’m not interested anymore.”
“Are you sure?”
“I accepted to stop talking about it. I don’t absolutely want to meet a man.”
“But you don’t want to stay single?”
“I… I feel a bit lonely, yes. I just don’t want to feel that sense of loneliness at night.”
“Solitude, you mean? Why you never mentioned this before? I thought I was your best friend! Why don’t you ever talk to me?”
The young woman shrugged and sighted, without giving an answer. Mary seemed shocked by what she had learned. Clara couldn’t tell her the truth: she had never said what she felt because she was afraid of being judged. She knew that her friend could be very hard when someone thought. She had preferred to remain silent. She smiled when he saw the sullen air of her friend.
“Don’t react that way, of course!”
“I’m your best friend! Why didn’t you say anything?”
“For personal reasons, okay? The fact that you’re my best friend doesn’t mean that I absolutely have to tell you everything.”
Mary folded her arms across her chest and sighed. Clara laughed at her reaction. She reacts like a little girl! The waitress brought them their drinks without worrying about their conversation.
“I’m doing it” Mary threw.
“Come on!” Clara exclaimed, laughing heartily. “You’re not!”
“Well, maybe not always but often.”
“It doesn’t matter. I decided that it only concerns me and I still think so. Don’t worry: Edward doesn’t know.
“Uh… yeah… Why you ask?”
“Eddie is one of your best friends, right?”
“Yes. So what?”
She gave a little cry of triumph, striking her hands with joy. Her friend frowned, not knowing what it meant.
“I know something that he doesn’t!”
Clara looked at her friend to rejoice because of simple little detail. But what could it change in her life? No, she didn’t tell Edward. So what? It doesn’t concern them anyway. She took a long sip of her iced tea, waiting to Mary resumes her spirits a little.
“Then,” Mary began, relaxing on the back of her chair, “is there are many things you don’t tell me?”
“Only the things which concerned me, I’ve already told you.”
“At the risk of repeating myself, I’m your best friend. So by definition, best friends are supposed to tell everything to each other. Why don’t you do it?”
“Where did you hear that friendship was like a relationship?”
“I read that… somewhere…”
“Ah! You can read?”
“Shut up! You know what I mean! Don’t make fun of me!”
“It’s still not my fault if you told me that a book without picture didn’t represent any interest for you.”
“Then it must be in a magazine.”
Mary raised her glass to her lips, a hint of pride on her face. The young woman decided to leave her with this her little moment of triumph. She didn’t pass any comment when her friend began to tell her about the nurse whose name she never knew. All she knew of him was that she would meet him during the week.
What a chance!