The next day Matt was back to work, I waited on deliveries and looked online for jobs. Having no formal qualifications was a bit of an issue, it looked as if I would be taking a pay cut and starting from the bottom. I couldn’t really find anything.
Matt had helped me out so much. Matt had paid for most of the new contents in my flat, I didn’t have contents insurance so I would have been fucked without him. I was constantly, frantically, thanking him. He kept telling me to calm down, he has plenty of money.
I owned my podcast, it was in no way funded or tied to the magazine. It was just mentioned a lot, I could keep it and very importantly, the money from the advertising, which wasn’t much but it was something to help pay the bills. I had my weekly recording to do in a few days. I decided not this week, but at some point I will have to explain everything that had happened, with Matt, Nina, the flat. I knew I would lose out on listeners as a lot would judge what I had done, but I hoped I could keep some onside that way. Matt had told me that the tabloid photographer had taken our photos kissing, Matt did TV appearances as a journalist a lot and Nina was a minor celebrity since she had reality TV friends, so even though it was unlikely that the photos would be put online, their still is a chance. In which case it would probably be posted to the facebook group for the podcast and I would have to explain myself anyway.
I was nervous about getting it all out there, making the private little world I had made for myself something real.
I knew I needed to go into work at some point as well, Nina had blocked my mobile number. I had to have closure. I had called in sick today, I was determined to go in tomorrow and get it over and done with.
That evening me and Matt ate stir fry and drank diet coke on the slashed up sofa, which was now more of a platform for a nest of cushions. I told him I needed to go into work, It would drive me crazy to just never show up again. But I was very nervous. He held my hand and told me everything would be okay.
I walked into the office with my head down, avoiding eye contact.
I had fantasies before I walked in that the office would have the usual chatter and if I came in bang on nine o’clock everyone would be in full swing, and I could slip by almost unnoticed.
It was almost silent, everyone was staring as I walked in in my supermarket jeans and jumper. Who knew people could be so rude and not at least pretend to continue polite chatter?
I dumped my bag on my chair keeping my head down as people started to resume polite chatter, I could tell they were struggling to come up with safe subjects to talk about. That was an indication that I was the subject of the talk before.
I logged on feeling eyes on me. My email pinged, IT update message, meeting reminder, whip round for Marks 40th and a HR message with the subject line ‘Privacy’.
There was another email, a link to a daily mail article. That one subject LMAO and everyone in the office included in the recipients, sent by Kate.
Kate is only in her late thirties but cannot seem to master email, and is constantly hitting reply all with a bitchy comment and accidentally sending everyone “I honestly do not care for secret santa, twenty quid limit last year and I got a seven quid bottle of prosecco! People must think I’m stupid. Kate xxxxx”. I got her the seven quid prosecco from the local shop and a big box of chocolates and ten quid bunch flowers from the shop over the road, I didn’t know her well enough to get something thoughtful or something funny so I played it safe. Two people forgot all about the secret santa so I shared my flowers and chocolates as substitute gifts in exchange for the promise of the forgetful employees getting me a drink in the pub later, which I never got of course.
Kate had sent a link, it was just the link with xxx after, I wanted to criticise her clumsiness but I felt sick, hot and worried. I looked over and I got the feeling from her glare that it was an accidental on purpose email.
I opened the link to the article that contained the pictures of me and Matt, the trolling comments calling Nina stunning, beautiful and smart. Calling me a homewrecking, two faced slut. Some speculate that Matt was only tempted away because he was intimidated by Nina’s success and wanted to feel like a man. None of it suggesting really that he did anything wrong for the majority of the comments, mostly how much I’d wronged my boss and that I’m a jealous manipulating bitch and they’re very shocked someone like Matt West would go for a someone as common, slutty and trashy as me.
The photos of us kissing in the dark look very flattering on the pair of us, we looked how it felt, passionate.
“TV news Matt West caught CHEATING on editor and socialite Nina West with her EMPLOYEE after a cosy dinner party ALL TOGETHER.” That headline. I knew photos had been taken, but Matt and Nina are not really celebrities, I knew Nina hung around with a few famous ish people and Matt was on tele on the news now and then but he was hardly known. She had become even lesser known and her friendships dwindled when she moved from London, I was very surprised this was worthy of being put online.
My phone pinged.
Keira: It’s hardly on the website, it’s on the long line of a bottom right sidebar no one other than this office has seen it. Ninas no fucking Kate Moss. Chin up girl, he’s the prick, he’s the married one. BUT I AM ALSO FUMING WITH YOU FOR NOT TELLING ME WHAT WAS GOING ON YOU MAD BITCH
I felt tears welling up. I tried to suppress them but I felt overwhelmed with kindness and relief that I had at least one ally. I felt I had something to hold on to. I couldn’t see her from my desk so I sent her back my thank yous.
“Jane. In here now.” Nina demanded from her glass door, which was always open with the policy that anyone could come in with questions. Which never happened, questions were sent over a timid email only when crucial and had a snappy short reply, a criticism or worst, and most of the time they were ignored and you were left to go elsewhere or figure it out by yourself.
If you got it wrong you will get a ‘you should have asked’. No one goes in her office because she always says she likes things in email so she has a record to look back on.
My stomach was in my throat and for a second I thought it would stop me breathing, my heart pounded rapidly as I made my way to her office, all eyes on me.
She closed the door and pulled across the blinds to the rest of the office, only done with someone in trouble.
I am close to being sick. I thought, what if I was sick? God what would I do?
“You are a fraud, a slag and a liar. You are fucking ugly. As for your work, if you could even call it that, intelligent people would never read that shit but we have to provide for that audience of the uneducated, unfortunately. I need you to realise these things, seeing as you’ve now decided you’re so amazing and attractive and you think you can have anyone. You’re a bit chubby for Matts taste so I have no idea what he saw in you, I think it may have been a drunken lapse in judgement as we just came out of a row. A rare thing us strong long term marriages go through, but have to go through to be stronger, not that someone like yourself would understand. And I can only imagine that it was you who initiated it and made it difficult for him to get away, you seem to have pounced on him, if the pictures are anything to go by. So sad seeing a young desperate woman jumping onto a married man and clinging onto him like a little bloody monkey.” She folded her arms watching me. “Do you know we laugh at you, me and Matt?” She dropped her voice as she asked this smiling to herself as if she remembered it.
“How desperate you are on all your little dates and eveying up our friends as soon as you meet them as if you’ll take absolute anyone. I think that it is a kindness to let you know this, not that I should be kind. You were invited into my house as a joke, a silly girl, something to talk about and a bit of entertainment. I feel sorry for you.” She was looking me up and down. I felt suddenly self conscious of the shape of my middle as I saw the way she stared down at it.
“Nina, I’m so sorry.” tears ran down my face.
“No you’re not, you’re sorry for yourself that you’ve lost everything in your life, me and this work. God knows you have nothing else. Would you be so sorry if I wasnt of some value to you?”
“No. Do not speak, not after everything I have done for you. You will not take any more of my time. I have to speak to you, however, to get you the fuck away from me. I could get HR to do this, but I won’t get the satisfaction out of it.”
I was shaking and my skin was clammy.
“So I’m getting sacked?” I stated the obvious as she gave me a que to say something, I knew she wanted me to ask this so it could fit in to the pause of her planned monologue.
“I can’t sack someone for sleeping with someone, even if I am the boss and it’s my husband you decided to shag. So, I am asking you to resign. You will, if you don’t I will make your life very difficult, you’ll leave anyway. Or find a reason to sack you. Everything I do will be explainable and excusable, so don’t try anything, just go.”
“Okay.” Tears ran down my face, I bowed my head so my long hair could give me a shield.
“You won’t be getting a fucking refence, and I am going to make sure your name is dragged in the dirt in this industry. Not only with your personal choices, but professionally as well, doesn’t even have to be true.” She laughed. “This will be the last time anyone goes after something of mine.”
“Nina I am so sorry. You don’t deserve what I, and he, did to you.” I didn’t know what she wanted, I didn’t know if to beg and plead or if that would make things worse and annoy her more. I left it with that.
“Fuck off.” I rose to my feat and left her office, trying my best to only look to the floor and for my hair to fall slightly into my face so people couldn’t see the tears. Nothing I could do to hide the sniffles.
What could I do? Just take my stuff and leave? All that work. Shit, all that work. I don’t know how I thought of this when I was so upset. In the middle of the loss of my career, loss of a friendship I cared so much about, and loss of everything I had between walking up in the morning and going to bed at night.
I turned on my computer and and plugged in the memory stick I kept in my handbag, I always had it for “just in case”. I doubted it would even work, it’s probably had so many spills on it. It did. Thankfully no one had noticed what I was doing, being that my computer display faced a bare wall, when you write about sex its always useful to be shoved in a corner because nothing stops the imagination more than the feeling of being watched. I pulled over all of my word files onto the hard drive and waited the agonisingly long time for them to copy.
Nina had the blinds open and was glaring, an email cropped up.
Nina: get the fuck out.
Once copied I discreetly pulled out the drive from under the desk. I factory reset the work phone I had and left it next to the keyboard.
I deleted my files and emptied the recycling from the computer and did the same for the cloud. Gone, apart from my magazine publishings and online content. I don’t have any work here. I sniffed again, afraid to look up, knowing that everyone was watching me. Knowing that everyone knew what had happened. Knowing everyone knew why I was leaving. This is the thing I always had nightmares of..
I picked up my jacket I had left on the back of my chair last week, wrapping myself in it for protection, noticing Ollies glare. Shit Ollie. I had to be a bit stronger, I looked him right in the eye.
“Ollie, I’m sorry.” I said. “I wasn’t very clear with you.”
“Whatever,” he said leaning back in his chair. “I just wanted a shag to tell the lads about anyway.”
I knew this wasn’t true; the venom in his voice gave away that he just wanted to hurt me. If only he knew it was like kicking someone that’s already down.
“Okay. Well, I’m leaving today, well, now. Erm, bye.”
There was a slight look of guilt on his face.
“Well, good luck wherever you end up.” That’s stung, usually that phrase would be good luck wherever you’re going.
He was saying I’m not going anywhere, that I’m just going to end up somewhere and it’s out of my control, I don’t make the decisions with my life anyway.
I left, I passed my Linda who deals with the HR stuff and asked in hushed tones if I will be paid my holiday days. Yes. I asked if I could get a reference off someone other than Nina. She was always nice to me Linda.
“Here,” she said, handing me a bit of paper with her personal mobile number and her work email. “Look there’s not much I can do, but I was your supervisor before you became one of the writers so I can give you a reference for that. I’m sorry I can’t do more. Nina shouldn’t refuse to give you a reference over personal issues, I’ll talk to her. I can’t force her though. I’m sorry. Listen, you’re a good girl and you’re so young and you have the world at your feet so try not to feel like this is the end of the world. It’s just the end of one opportunity, they’ll be so many more. Chin up. Everyone makes mistakes, don’t let it be what defines you.” I was welling up.
“Thank you so much.” I felt deep appreciation for having someone willing to see past my flawed judgment.
“It’s less than what I should do, but it’s all I can do.” I knew that was the truth.
“Thank you,” I said again. Even a low paid no real kind of skill job would need a reference. I thought back to two months ago when I wrote a piece on the difficulties young people have on finding a job, and not just a job they would like, a job in general. I’ve written about inequalities and unfairness in a decent wage for lower skilled workers.
I’ve interviewed so many people that I know these cases are not cases of bad luck, it’s just the reality of the unfair world that we live in.
I felt dirty and ashamed for letting a moment of wanting someone, wanting to be touched, override my basic needs of an income to live. My work, my friendships, social life, all gone.
I left the office with this running through my head and not allowing myself to feel the emotion of leaving it for the last time.
After I left, through the maze of desks and chairs, in the near silence a few people gave me weak smiles and told me good luck.
I knew Nina was looking at me the whole time I was leaving, which probably made some people feel uncomfortable.
Still, it had been years of good news, comaradaries, bad news, people I’ve consoled when they’ve had a loss in the family, the karaoke night we all went for when we had the best week the website had ever had. When Tony’s dog died, his companion he lived a lone with, I caught him a few times tearing up, I got him a latte and a white unicorn biscuit from the local coffee shop as a treat every time he looked like he was getting close to tears, I snapped the horn off and told him it looked like his late fluffy white samoyed dog. In return for my understanding, not one for voicing appreciation, he started listening to me which he had never ever done before, and reading my work. If someone suggested writing something similar to what I had already written he would know and say something, he read and remembered everything I wrote, even if it was a year ago. He overheard me saying that dry gin and grapefruit juice is my favorite cocktail. He made more well stocked pubs make it for me, and insisted on the pubs calling it a ‘little troublemaker’ after me, with a cheeky dad style wink. In return for my biscuit kindness. I think I went too far as a little ‘trouble maker’ this time, he wasn’t anywhere to be seen when I left. Obviously wanted nothing to do with me, even when we have spoken everyday for nearly five years.
I could think of people in the office that I had more of a laugh with and spoke to a bit more, but for some reason Tony’s boycott of me stung the most.
I stood in front of the building not really knowing what to do, I sat down on the bench over the road and looked at it. I pulled out my phone.
I saw a text from keara.
Keira: Just heard was having a piss when you left, you did it SO FAST. How THE FUCK are you? Pub ten past five tell all?
Me: Yes gagging for a pint, was traumatising and now I’m unemployed and fucked need help.
Keara: see you then, stay strong.
Matt was away in London for a few days working, he asked me to call him as soon as I left the office.
I called crying, describing everything. He told me to go for a night out with Keria, telling me it would cheer me up and I would see him friday.