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Haunted by the past

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Maddie sees her twenty fifth birthday as being the turning point in her life. She feels unloved and worthless, she made one mistake as a teenager and it's hung over her ever since. But she has a new job on the horizon, and this could be what she needs to kick start her plans, see her start to live at last. With a spring in her step she looks to the future until she realises that all is not as it seems, and nothing is ever that easy.

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Haunted by the past

Her head hurt! That was all that Madeline Newman knew as she felt the bill for her exuberance the night before playing like a tap-dance across the inside of her skull. She didn’t get hangovers, not really. She knew a glass of water would likely assuage the throbbing in her head. Stretching out she groaned, she was naked. She NEVER slept naked. In fact, she usually woke up in various items of clothing that she’d worn to go out.

Still struggling to open an eye, she rolled onto her side, and managed to peel back one set of eyelashes. Even in the darkness of the early morning, she instantly knew something was wrong. For a start she had thick velour curtains in her bedroom, not the sleek blinds that she could see. And the threadbare carpet in her bedroom was a million miles from the hardwood floor that covered the distance to the door she could see in the distance.

Her heart started to race and nausea rose in her throat, she had to ignore the feelings of self loathing that threatened to overtake her. Turning she looked over her shoulder.  The man lying to her right was turned away from her, all she could see was a little of his profile and his dark hair, oh and a beautifully sculpted chest that the duvet didn’t cover.

How could she not remember him? The man seemed absolutely divine.

Closing her eyes she took a few deep breaths, then moved straight into escape mode. She was embarrassed to admit that this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Eyeing her jeans and t-shirt across the room, she then located her underwear. Grabbing all four items, she burst naked out of the door and was rewarded by seeing both a bathroom and her shoes from the hallway.

Less than ten minutes later she was entering a cafe, she needed caffeine.

Stirring her drink, Maddie sighed. She was twenty five tomorrow! No longer could she blame the errors in her life on the exuberance of youth, no longer could she justify coasting along with no meaning, not at her age! Grow up! She could hear her father chastising her, not that she’d spoken to him in a long time, but it had been his favourite comment towards her. Usually she’d argue against everything he said, but today she knew that it was exactly the right sentiment.  

No, as Madeline, sipped her coffee, she realised that not only was she entering the next quarter of a century of her life tomorrow; things were actually going to change. She was about to find a purpose. And the catalyst had been leaving her exceedingly underpaid job of three years as a receptionist at a dental surgery. When she’d taken the job fresh from college it was only ever meant to be temporary, but three years on she was already stuck in a rut.

It had been almost predetermined that Mike the senior dentist would leave his newspaper on her desk; his son was looking for work and had circled a few adverts on the jobs page. It had been purely a case of curiosity that had seen her scan the pages, reading the items circled in red; she’d been intrigued as to what appealed to a teenage boy. It was during this sneaky peek that she’d seen an advert for a PA job, and whilst she had no specific experience, her degree in business management and tourism, really lined her up as the ideal candidate for the fairly local chain of restaurants. It was hardly an a-list job, but it restored the hint of optimism that three years of being unappreciated had driven away.

She applied on a whim, and was amazed to find out she was successful. Whilst it wasn’t like winning the Apprentice she realised that it at least started her on the right footing to achieve the dizzy heights she'd always dreamed of! And Monday, her first day of work was her twenty fifth birthday.

Maddie sat back in her chair; her head still throbbed from the excesses of the previous night. It didn’t get much worse than this, sitting in a cafe waiting for a bus to take her home after another night of random drinking.

She shook her head, fighting the flush of shame that threatened to creep up her neck and face. She’d had a few boyfriends over the years, but no relationship lasted more than a few weeks, and like last night, she’d had a few one night stands. The jubilation of a drunken encounter didn’t defeat the sickening feeling inside the next day.

Draining her coffee, she spotted her bus pull in to the stop opposite, and with relief she dashed across and climbed on.

Sunday’s were always quiet. Over the years the distance emotionally between her and her family and grown, and now there was a bottomless gulf, that they were unable to breach. So instead of the usual family gatherings, lunch and analysis of the week that a Sunday used to be, it was a day now spent alone, analyzing the mess her life had become.

Where did it all go wrong?

Maddie flinched, she could pin point the day that she lost her innocent view of life, and lost her trust in everyone. At sixteen she’d made one mistake, one huge mistake, and had spent most of the last nine years trying to come to terms with the fallout from it.

Back home her shared flat was empty. Steve and Cindy her housemates were both out. Cindy often spent the night at her boyfriend’s, and it was not uncommon for Steve to be out all night, he like her enjoyed life to the full! So she headed for the luxury of a hot shower. She scrubbed herself almost violently clean, shampooing her hair three times. When she was convinced she was clean, she wound her hair up into a twist, and found some clean pyjamas then with a sigh lowered herself to her bed. Curled up under her duvet, she turned on a rom-com DVD and relaxed, and within moments nodded off.

Later that afternoon, there was a knock at her bedroom door, and it woke her from slumber.
                "Hey!" she announced sleepily as Steve peeked around the door, seeing her smiling at him, he came in and perched on her bed.

"You ok?" he asked studying her for a moment.

“I’m good, but REALLY hungry! Have you been cooking?" Steve was a domestic god...or

rather he could cook, which was more than could be said for either her or Cindy.

Steve laughed, "nice to know I have my uses, no I haven’t cooked, but I did win at poker last night, and I’m feeling generous...fancy coming out for a late lunch?"

The thought of food, hot and stodgy food made her mouth water, and she couldn’t hide the smile, "you are THE best mate a girl could have!"

Ten minutes later she was following him out the door, and along the road to the nearest pub, which was less than a five minute walk. Inside he made for the bar and gestured her towards a table, and she was grateful to slump down into it. He joined her a few moments later with a couple of beers and a bill for two large roast beef dinners.

"So what did you do last night?" he asked as they sat opposite each other.

"I met some guys from the bar, a kind of leaving thing,” she’d supplemented her rubbish dental secretary salary with pay and tips at a bar in town. They were a fun bunch there, but she was glad to get her nights back, plus she knew she couldn’t do this new job shattered from an eight hour bar shift the evening before. “We headed to a new club. I ended up going home with the brother of one of the guys at work! Walk of shame for me this morning!" Some of the details of the previous evening had come flashing back as the day passed.

He laughed, "good work, you seeing him again?"

She shrugged, "I snuck out this morning before he woke up! The shame!"

His eyes widened and he shook his head, “Maddie! That’s so bad! When are you going to give things a chance? You always run away like that! He could’ve been the man of your dreams!"

She shook her head, "he wasn’t, he was ok. But that was it!" The memory of his chest made her blush for a moment, but she pushed it away. She had NO interest in a relationship.

Steve nodded knowingly, he was used to the way she was! He and Cindy had strived to find her a suitable man for years, and despite many ideal candidates, none had got past a first or possibly second date.

The next morning she woke to her token six birthday cards, a non descript plain one from her parents, not a ‘to my daughter’ in sight, one from her elderly aunt, containing fifty pounds, her only loving relative, Steve’s, Cindy’s, one from work, and another from their downstairs neighbour. The joy of life she almost exclaimed aloud!

Her new work base was offices above a restaurant in a busy part of town. She was shown in by someone who called herself Gina. Upstairs in the office, she sat and waited for Eric Vonden, the regional manager of Tate Club, a chain of expensive restaurants, that all were based within forty miles of this, the head office. She’d read the blurb before her interview, and new that Evan Tate was a chef who had struck lucky at the right time, he’d grafted in the traditional way working his way up through the ranks, but he was asked to write for a broadsheet newspaper’s weekend supplement, and had seen everything in his world take off following that, or so the blurb said, and he now spent his time expanding this successful string of restaurants.

Picking up an innocuous cooking magazine, she leafed through it, her legs crossed beneath her linen skirt. She glanced around the office space; it was very white, very minimalist and very modern. Behind Gina’s glass desk, was a white and chrome filing cabinet that Gina seemed to frequently pull open and stoop over.

If she stared hard enough she could see her reflection in the spotless glass that separated the reception from the office. Her brown hair was bland, her face decidedly average in her opinion. Her sister had a heart shaped face, and dimples, people always swooned at the older sibling, Maddie was used to that, when she looked at herself all she saw over full lips, grey eyes, and the lank hair. God why hadn’t she bothered to dye her hair for today?

"Miss Newman?"

She looked up dragging her mind away from her flaws, "Mr Vonden!" She stood and offered a hand, "I’m so glad to be getting this opportunity!"

He smiled, "us too! It’s been getting too much for us here; we’re desperate for a stepping stone between Gina and me!"  He ran a hand through his blond hair, and his eyes twinkled as he added, "though you’re hardly a stone!"

She almost snorted in surprise at the blatant flirt, and Gina stifled a laugh at Maddie’s response, Eric was oblivious as he stepped back and with a sweeping gesture offered her into his office.

By lunchtime he’d highlighted the majority of her role, and literally she was a bridge between him and reception. His day to day tasks were to manage the marketing of the whole chain of restaurants. Her job would be to help co-ordinate marketing plans, comparing and contrasting the differences between the seven restaurants, and helping Eric to make projections for the future.

Easy! Or so it seemed.

By half four she had doubts as to whether she could do actually managed this. Eric’s writing was illegible, his organisation ridiculous, and Gina’s filing system was non-existent! Her first four hours had seen little productivity. She had no idea how she’d managed to tolerate this frustration.

Despite all that, she wolfed down her dinner and went to bed very early, and had the best night’s sleep she’d had in ages. She woke early, motivated, enthusiastic and headed to work bright and full of ideas!

By lunchtime on the second day she had ensured two things, Gina would scribe any notes for Eric and type them up, and she had warned Eric off. the apparently innocuous flirting the previous day and escalated to him placing a hand on her arm for a little longer than was necessary on several occasions. So when he brushed too close to her as she questioned him over some references, she snapped at him. Looking like as child who’d been caught up to no good, he disappeared on an early lunch!
Maddie was just getting her bag to go get her own lunch when Gina beckoned to her.
"I normally head to a little cafe around the corner if you fancy joining me for lunch?"

Maddie smiled deeply, "I would love to! I have a million and one questions!"

Laughing, Gina led the way.

They sat near the window, Gina picking at a bulgar wheat salad and herbal tea, whilst Maddie felt a pig with a bacon sandwich and a strong black coffee. Gina was painfully thin, and they could ironically have done with swapping lunches, because it wasn’t that Maddie didn’t need to watch her weight, she just couldn’t be bothered at the moment.

"So what’s the deal with Eric?" Maddie asked her colleague, wiping tomato ketchup from her chin with a chuckle.

Gina sighed, "he’s married, but a serial cheater, he doesn’t know that I know he’s married. Evan let it slip one day. Since then I’ve kept my distance and watched..." She smiled, and looked at Maddie, "I keep a record...just in case my typing or filing isn’t good enough, or rather that I don’t respond to drunken advances at the Christmas party."

Maddie’s eyes widened, "is he that bad?"

When she nodded, she added, "like I say Evan’s in the know, so I think my job will be safe!"

"Evan Tate?" Maddie looked at her in wonder, "what’s he like? I’ve heard so much about him."
Gina’s face lit up, and Maddie instantly realised that Gina was head over heels for the man. Now that she had her opening, Gina started to wax lyrical. He apparently was a tall man, good looking (of course), generous, friendly and HILARIOUSLY funny...the perfect boss! Maddie took it all with a pinch of salt, the girl was blatantly obsessed, and she was no fool. No one was perfect, and she’d watch him as closely as she did Eric.

Back in the office, Eric headed off to meet with a marketing company for the afternoon, so it left Maddie to sort through the hard drive on the computer she’d been given.
There were all sorts of half empty files, downloaded albums, games. The hard drive was well over half full, and she figured that by streamlining and defragmenting there was a chance that she’d actually see an improvement in the speed and efficiency of the machine that had frustrated her as much as Eric had with his bizarre office management.

But as with everything else in this building, nothing was as simple as it should be.

"God! Who the hell encrypts games?” She exclaimed to the empty office. “This really is a piece of junk!" With a sigh of frustration she put her hands over her face and pushed her chair away from the desk, letting her head fall back.

"I see Eric’s up to his usual wonderful management!"

She paused sensing familiarity in the voice. Slowly she peeled her fingers from her eyes, and felt her heart stop. It was him. The man she’d left sleeping in a strange bed three days ago. He of the hot body and long long eyelashes.

Those lash trimmed eyes were watching her humorously, and she instantly wished the ground would open up and swallow her.

                "Nice to see Eric has great taste in new employees, and we get the chance to meet again!"
She flushed, heat spreading up her neck and to her face and she was unable to formulate an answer.

Then out of the corner of her eye she spotted Gina, swooning as she made a cup of coffee, catching Maddie’s eye she fanned herself dramatically, and Maddie started to have bad vibes.....VERY bad vibes.

 "You’re..." She faltered again, praying that two and two in this case made five. 

His face lifted as he beamed at her, offering her his hand, "Evan Tate....indirectly your new boss!"

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