Never Again

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Rebuild! When you hit rock bottom there's only one place to go. For Erin Thomas a move, a new job and hopefully a new start was what she needed to bury the last few disastrous years. But she didn't count on meeting magnanimous and famous Jack Reilly. She'd sworn she'd not get into another relationship, but does he have other ideas?

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Never Again

Rain! It had rained every day since she’d moved into her Manchester basement flat, and Erin was fed up. There was little light in her new home on any given day, but dark rain clouds meant it was gloomier than ever.

She shook her head; she wasn’t going to let herself mope. This was a million miles from her family home, a converted farmhouse in the rolling hills of the Cotswolds. But it rained there too. Yet when she looked out of her bedroom window there, she over looked acres of cultivated gardens. Here, the lounge window looked on to the concrete steps that led down from street level and the door to the remainder of the house. The small courtyard below the pavement was gloomy, though a few days earlier, after moving in, she’d bought several potted plants and solar lights to cheer up the area.

Unfortunately the lights, in the absence of sunlight were redundant, and the plants were drowning in pots of saturated mud.

The rest of the rented apartment was far also from desirable. The kitchen was little more than a windowless shoebox to the right of the single reception room, the rear of which opened onto an equally gloomy courtyard that served as a garden, the bedroom, painted a hideous lime green was also barely passable. And the bathroom...

Erin was glad her parents hadn’t seen the place. They’d be mortified. But until her divorce a few weeks earlier, they’d done nothing but bail her out and financially support her. This move to the other end of the country was her attempt to redefine her independence, get back on her feet again. At thirty one she needed to get things back into perspective. Michelle her best friend, and her husband Dave had moved the belongings that she’d salvaged from the destruction of her marital home to this new place, and helped her paint her bedroom to a more palatable colour described as biscuit. It had taken two hours to make the bathroom and kitchen liveable, but it was still a hovel.

Looking across the room she smiled at Barney, stretched out on his own sofa. A rescue dog, bought in an attempt to save her crumbling marriage, he was the real gem she had fought to keep in the acrimonious divorce. A five year old Great Dane, beautiful, regal and extremely funny, he’d taken the move from her parents in her stride, but hadn’t had a proper walk in two days as he wasn’t partial to the rain. And if eleven stone of dog didn’t want to walk, it didn’t! She didn’t like leaving him much, so they’d both been under house arrest all weekend.

Tomorrow she started her new job, she had taken a post in a specialist sporting injuries clinic where she would be one of the senior physiotherapists. It was a rehab unit with a gym, elite athletes as clients, and some of the best sports injuries surgeons in its charge.  She was looking forward to starting more than anything, especially after this weekend of being stuck within the four walls of this mangy flat. In London, during her married life she’d worked at a hosiptal, and it had been more depressing most days than not, and as Max had become more distant, more critical, she’d started spending more time working at a private clinic, evenings, weekends, and it was that experience that had got her this job.

When she woke the next morning the merest hint of sun fought to shine through the lighter than previous cloud. A quick jog around the block with Barney on his lead was as good as it got. After a shower, she fed him.

                “I promise you, you’ll get a decent workout tonight, ok? We’ll go to the park that we saw yesterday. You’ll love it. Now sleep today all ready. Ok?”

Barney moved his head to one side as he looked at her, and she knew in her heart that he understood every word, despite what people told her.

As she headed for the door, in her new uniform, Barney snorted, then took himself to the two seater sofa he’d made his own and climbed onto it. People thought that big dogs ate a lot and needed tons of exercise, but nothing was further from the truth, Barney’s eyes were closed before she’d shut the door behind her. Laughing she made for her rundown car. Another thing sacrificed in the divorce! Her BMW four wheel drive had been traded for a twenty year old people carrier. She’d had to take something large enough to fit him in the rear, but with her limited budget it wasn’t pretty, she drove everywhere with her fingers crossed.

How was your first day? Erin’s mother had asked via her phone as she’d gotten some supplies in a supermarket near her workplace. What to say? The work wasn’t particularly taxing; it was a field she was experienced in.

She’d been met by Mike, the guy who’d interviewed her, and one of the partners in the clinic. Once the mountain of paperwork her starting created had been completed, Mike gave her a whistle stop guided tour, finishing at the reception desk at the entrance. Tania, the receptionist immediately took her under her wing, dragging her off to the coffee room to talk through diary systems and room layouts. Erin took in all the information with a smile, then Tania led her through to the consulting rooms.

A string of people were introduced to her, when one, Dan Williams, a specialist surgeon, lingered too long with both handshake and gaze, Tania leaned in and whispered, “married, womaniser!”

Erin chuckled, “I bet this is information Mike wouldn’t give me!”

Tania laughed, “Karen, our other receptionist starts in an hour, and she has ‘first hand’ experience of the behaviour of most of the doctors here!”

Laughing, the guided tour continued, she met at least fifteen members of staff, and knew that she’d forget so many of the names, but other than the wandering eyes - and he was hardly difficult on the eye, everyone had been pleasant and friendly. This wasn’t as daunting as it had seemed a couple of hours earlier. Along with her marriage, Max had taken her confidence and her light-heartedness, she knew she was a shadow of her former self; this move, this new job was an attempt to find herself again.

The afternoon was game on, the first client after lunch was an athlete, a long distant runner who was two weeks after a tendon repair in his ankle. In her opinion there was often an arrogance with elite sports people, presumably the attitude that got you to the top, but an unpleasant attribute in a rehab setting, and Erin was continually biting her tongue with him, and the female gymnast who followed.

The North West region had a catchment of so many professional teams and sports clubs that she was busy all day. The clientele was a ‘who’s who’ of British sport.

Her last client was a football player, a household name, Josh Gardner, football was her sport, and she, along with the rest of the country knew he was a twenty one year old international future star. He had back pain, the bane of anyone, but especially a sportsman, and his club’s medical team were struggling to manage it. She tried her best to assess him, suggest options, but he spent the whole consultation flirting, outrageously. She had been SO close to walking out of the treatment room, hell she’d almost left the clinic, suddenly the familiarity of her family home, the house, the land, and the place to hide was more than appealing. But she’d dropped her eyes and ignored him. At some point she’d forgive the male sex for her husband’s failings, but at the moment, every male seemed to be confirming her hypothesis that all men were bastards!

When he departed in a carefree way, she filed a report, advice for his medical team at his club. They could manage him if he was too uncaring to listen to her recommendations. With a sigh, she logged off her computer; it had been an eventful day.

Her mother was still waiting at the end of the phone line.

                “How was my day? Good Mum, really good! And the sun is shining, so I’m heading out with Barney. Give my love to Dad?”

Her mother hung up, the relief in her voice that Erin was finally sorted, happy and finally moving on was so obvious.

Shopping complete, she headed home to the love of her life. Barney.

He obviously hadn’t moved all day, as she came into the house, he struggled stiffly off his sofa, wagging his tail.

                “You remember what I said, hey?” the wagging increased. “Let me just get changed, then we’ll go, ok?”

Stripping out of the navy tracksuit bottoms, and white polo shirt that were her uniform, Erin pulled on jeans and a thin long sleeved sweatshirt. Brushing out her shoulder length dark hair, she retied it in a pony tail, then groaned at the dark shadows under her pale blue eyes, nothing she could do about that.

                “Come on then Barn!”

He leapt into the boot of the car, just about able to stand in the area, then settled down, nose to glass as he too familiarised himself with the locality.

It was a mild early spring evening after all that rain, and the park was busy with dog walkers. There was an etiquette amongst them, all nodding, giving a hello, and lots stopping to comment on Barney who cut a regal picture as he pranced around sniffing. When she broke into a jog over the brow of a hill, Barney lifted an eyebrow, then lolloped after her. A Dane in full sprint was a thing to behold, he seemed to move higher than longer with his strides, and it was all about ‘look at me’! 

Laughing they headed back to the car.

The week progressed well and Erin settled in better than she imagined. Tania and Karen became her guiding lights, they’d been there long enough to know exactly how the place ran, and helped her out no end.

Her last client on Friday, the last moment of her working week, was a return from the footballer Josh Gardner. He was as flirtatious as ever, but admitted that he hadn’t taken as much notice of her as he should have. She had the sense that his medical team had chastised him in the days since he had been with her.

They talked at length about his issues, and he was really pleased as he shook her hand at the door. She didn’t know whether he’d suddenly start taking on her advice, whether he’d come to train at the clinic as she’d recommended, but she left the building with a huge sense of optimism. She could do this.

Barney was pacing when she opened the front door, Barney didn’t pace unless he was really bored.

                “You want a stroll?”

He wagged his tail as a response, so she changed, really quickly, grabbed a banana, then slipped on his lead.

The local park wasn’t as big as some of the ones she’d driven to that week, but it was on her doorstep. Barney caused the usual chaos there, prancing around, intriguing dogs and owners alike, ‘chasing’ squirrels with the less stealth than a two story bus, and diving into the duck pond like Bambi on ice.

He was investigating a thicket to one side of the park when her phone rang. Dropping onto a bench she saw Michelle’s name on her screen.

                “You settled in chick?”

Erin laughed, “I have, there have been ups and downs, but overall I’m up!”

                “Great! I’m going to visit next week, if you’ll have me?”

Her mood instantly picked up, “really? Awesome! What about Dave?”

                “You want him to come too?” Michelle joked. “Erin, it’s fine, I tell Dave how it is! I’ll come by train though, get in around six?”

                “Excellent, I finish around five; I can swing by the station and get you! Looking forward already.” As Barney disappeared around the corner, Erin jumped to her feet and followed him. She was still confirming details with a tall man, wrapped up in a black jacket, a thick beanie hat pulled down over his eyes, shouldered past her.  “Hey!” She shouted, but he took no notice, he was too busy arguing. “Chelle, this guy almost hit me off my feet...we’re the only two people in the bloody park! I gotta go, Barney’s halfway down a rabbit hole, I’ll call you Thursday?”

                “Unless there’s gossip first!”

Laughing she hung up then made for Barney’s rear end, the man, who was at least six foot four, was leaning on a lamppost, she could hear him from her position at least fifty feet away.

                “I’m NOT doing it...I don’t care WHAT you recommend...Half an hour? Really!”

He stormed off, just as she managed to negotiate Barney out of the hole, and towards the road. Barney waited patiently for her at the park edge as she trudged across the grass to the small car park. At that exact second, a car reversed from a space with a screech of tyres on the gravel surface. It was almost slow motion as Erin watched Barney look up from a particularly interesting tuft of grass at the exact moment the car hit him to the floor.

                “NNNNOOOOOOOO!” there was real terror in her scream as the dog fell and the car kept moving.

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