Alice heard David’s key in the front door. She raced up the hall and waited until he’d put his bags down and closed the door behind him before throwing her arms around his neck.
‘Welcome home – to your new home!’ she cried, determined to treat it as a celebration. He travelled so much she usually didn’t bother to make a fuss on his return – for David, coming back from Europe or Asia was pretty much the same as coming in from the Melbourne office half an hour away – but as it was the first time he’d come home to their new abode, she thought it warranted a bit of extra fuss.
‘Thanks,’ he said, grinning. ‘Hooray, all the boxes have gone. Well done, you.’ He pecked her on the lips before easing her away from him.
Alice didn’t feel as if she’d been dismissed – they weren’t a very touchy-feely couple. She’d been a little disappointed in the beginning, nearly four years ago, but she had become accustomed to his lack of romance and displays of affection. David had plenty of other fine qualities.
‘I’m a bit manky,’ he said. ‘I didn’t get to have a shower in Singapore.’ He left his bags where they were and strode down the hall, into their spacious open-plan living and dining area. ‘Oh, wow, how much better does this place look with everything unpacked?’ He folded his arms across his chest and slowly did a three-sixty degree turn, taking in the space, a smug, satisfied expression plastered across his face. ‘Yum, something smells good.’
‘I’ve got a lasagne in the oven. I thought you might be craving something home cooked.’
‘Sounds perfect,’ he said with a contented sigh. ‘Do I have time for a quick shower?’
‘Yep. No problem.’
Alice was just putting their plates heaped with lasagne and green salad on the table when David walked back in. She smiled at seeing his tousled dark hair and casual attire – loose track pants and t-shirt. She loved him in a suit too, but to Alice this was more her man, and a side no one at his work ever saw. David Green was the epitome of cool, calm, collected, controlled, and driven – and he dressed accordingly. Sometimes it seemed to Alice as if by putting on his suit David was putting on a costume and getting into character. She had always kept this thought to herself. David didn’t like being made fun of, no matter how innocuous. Not that he didn’t have a sense of humour. He did. But he was very ambitious and took his career, money and success very seriously. He’d worked hard to be able to afford this house – well, for the deposit, anyway.
They were staring down the barrel of thirty years of being tethered to the bank. Of course Alice had helped a little with the hefty deposit. She would have been happy with a small fixer-upper, but that didn’t suit the image David was keen to project. Anyway, with him travelling all the time, when would it ever get done up? No, this place might not exactly be to her taste, but it was a sensible plan for their future. And oh how she loved no longer having to traipse from property to property all weekend, every weekend, and stand around at auctions being beaten by wealthy, cashed-up investors who were simply adding to their portfolios.
A little over a month ago, she’d been stunned when she realised they were the successful bidders for this place, so much so she’d stood there in silence for a moment wondering what had happened after the hammer had gone down. And then, instead of jumping up and down, Alice and David had stared at each other with their mouths open and eyes wide until real estate agents flanked them and clasped them each by an elbow and urged them towards the house to sign the papers.
Now, here they were, in for just over a week and boxes and all signs of moving out of sight. They were now able to properly breathe and settle into their new home. Alice was sure she’d grow to love it, find character in its new construction and clean, sharp lines, and bright white walls.
‘So, tell me about your trip,’ Alice said after they’d clinked glasses of wine and each taken a long, satisfied sip.
‘Same old. Planes, meetings, hotel rooms, lunches, dinners, and not much else. How was your week? Hopefully more interesting than mine, though unpacking probably isn’t so much fun. I hope you managed to rake up some hours for Todd.’
‘I have some news on that front, actually. Look what Todd gave me today,’ she said, taking a large envelope from the chair beside her and handing it to David. Todd was a friend of David’s from uni – a few months ago he had given her a casual job doing some market research and cold-calling for the packaging firm where he was business development manager.
‘What’s this?’ David asked, opening it up.
Alice didn’t say a word while he extracted two A4 pages and slowly read them. After she and Todd had talked about the offer, Alice had left the CEO’s office feeling as if she’d been given the opportunity of a lifetime, even if she wasn’t all that excited about it. She’d felt flattered, which was a pleasant change after all the fruitless job hunting she’d done. But the more she thought about it, the
less excited she became. Marketing for packaging? She’d rolled it around on her tongue several times, trying to muster some enthusiasm, and failed. If it were not for the fact Todd was a friend and would mention it to David in due course, if he hadn’t already, she might have torn the offer up and pretended it had never existed. Anyway, what successful company took a risk on an unknown like Alice with such an important position as marketing?
‘Oh wow. A permanent job. That’s great,’ David said, leaning over and kissing her. ‘Phew, well, we certainly need this,’ he added.
‘Yeah,’ Alice said, digging her fork into her meal.
‘So why haven’t you signed it yet? Or is this a copy?’
‘No, that’s the one I have to sign.’
David looked up at her over the document, clearly waiting for an explanation. She hated the way he could reduce her to feeling inadequate, even child-like with just that one look.
‘Sorry, David, but I don’t want to do it. I’m just not excited about it.’ She shrugged.
‘It’s an amazing opportunity. Look at this, they’re going to train you up in marketing and you could be national marketing manager in a year. Wow, Alice, that’s huge!’
Yes, I have actually read it, Alice thought.
Why wasn’t he getting it, hearing her? She wanted to scream with frustration. Instead she tried a different tack. ‘It is a bit strange. I mean, I don’t even have any marketing qualifications. That’s a whole degree right there.’ She really didn’t want to disappoint him, but …
‘So? If they didn’t think you were capable they wouldn’t be making the offer. And we really do need the extra money. How do you know you won’t grow to love it if you don’t give it a chance?’
How else do I say it just doesn’t float my boat?
‘A challenge is a good thing,’ he said, misreading her silence. ‘Look how well you did at uni when to start with you didn’t think you could do it. You’ve got to believe in yourself, Alice.’
‘It’s not that I don’t think I could do it – with the appropriate training …’
‘So, what, then?’
‘I’ve told you, it just doesn’t interest me.’ She hated how petty and ungrateful she sounded. But it was the truth. And why shouldn’t she be honest with her partner, the man she loved?
‘You can’t keep waiting for a museum job, or whatever, to come up. It might never happen.’
He was right about that. And that it was an opportunity when she hadn’t found anything else promising.
‘And you can’t stay at uni. We’ve discussed this,’ he said, reading her mind, and let out a tired, exasperated sigh. He was right – again. What Alice really wanted to do was stay at university and do honours in History, despite not having settled on an area she really wanted to delve into in depth. She’d just loved university life, full stop. Being surrounded by books and knowledge and people passionate about learning, being encouraged to think for herself, and be analytical had really stretched Alice intellectually for the first time in her life. She’d realised she had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. She hadn’t always found her studies easy, but she’d enjoyed being challenged and had discovered an energy and sense of determination she never knew she had. The three years at uni had been filled with moments of joy and excitement as well as hard work. Now it was over, and she was scared – well, terrified, actually. She really didn’t want to disappoint David. But if she had to get a full-time job, she wanted one she was truly excited about – otherwise she figured she might as well go back to admin temping. Her eyes had been opened, her soul fired up, now she wanted more, to keep moving forward. In that sense, university had proven to be a double-edged sword.
David should understand that – after all, it was because of him that she’d embarked on her studies in the first place. He’d seen her change, watched as her wings had unfurled, all the time telling her how proud he was of her progress and achievements. Gradually Alice had begun to believe she could be more than a wife and mother in a small town in country South Australia, contrary to her mother’s indoctrination.
Alice had met David in Adelaide, at a party held by a friend of a friend. Only a few weeks before, her marriage to farmer Rick had imploded. She’d fled Hope Springs, Rick, and her unsupportive mother, Dawn, and her sister, Olivia. Without her dear friend Ruth she might never have had the courage to leave the district. Ruth was a warm, loving mother figure to her, the opposite to Alice’s own mother. She had organised for Alice to stay with her daughter Tracy in Adelaide while Alice tried to pull herself together and deal with two-fold heartbreak – the end of her marriage and losing her best friend of twenty-five years, Shannon, who’d let slip she’d slept with Alice’s husband. Only the once, mind! And it really didn’t mean anything – according to both Shannon and Rick. As if that made a difference!
In the days and weeks after finding out about the betrayal, Alice struggled with her anger and disappointment. She didn’t know who had hurt her the most, then concluded that Shannon’s actions were the more painful and their friendship was actually the bigger loss. Shannon and Alice had been best friends since meeting on their first day at kindergarten and were the last of their school group still living in the district. One by one their friends had left for a job, a relationship, to study or travel, or just to have a better or different life. Once a close group, these days their interactions were mainly confined to Facebook, email, or the odd text message.
After the experience with Shannon and Rick, Alice vowed never to let anyone get so close again. Ruth told her the pain would ease and to not let it change her generosity of spirit. Unfortunately Alice thought it probably already had. She came to understand first-hand the meaning of the saying ‘Once bitten, twice shy’.
Alice hadn’t planned to stay in Adelaide permanently – Hope Springs and its surrounds were all she’d ever known and thought she wanted.
The last thing on her mind when she met the alluring, friendly, confident and sophisticated David had been finding a new love interest, so instead of being coy or mysterious or flirty, she’d confided in him about what a mess her life had become.
When David suggested that going to university might be
the answer, Alice had been taken aback. She’d never considered it before – she had only been an average student at school and had no burning career desires. She’d always thought she’d work alongside her dad in the family’s corner shop and, being the elder sibling, eventually take over when the time was right. But soon after her father died, her mother had dropped a bombshell – the shop would go to the younger daughter. Olivia was always
the golden child, and the chosen one now too. Alice had sought solace in an admin job at the largest business in town – an insurance brokerage. She loved her job, but was shocked when four years in she was let go in favour of the boss’s teenage daughter, who had just returned from secretarial school in Adelaide.
David pointed out that a few years at university would give Alice time to sort herself out while having a focus, and she could see it made sense. When he added that she could afford to live in the city by working part-time in admin or temping, it became possible, and exciting. Over the weeks and months Alice slowly began to believe him and, more importantly, to believe in herself.
They were meant to just be friends, but it soon became physical, and gradually they seemed to form a stronger bond. When David announced he was moving to Melbourne, Alice was devastated. He’d become her rock. But then he suggested she could come too, if she wanted to. It wasn’t a marriage proposal or declaration of together forever, or even love. He wasn’t gushy or very emotive, but Alice didn’t mind. David was dependable and supportive and was offering something completely different from her old life, and that was what mattered and appealed. She wasn’t even sure she believed in true love anymore, certainly not happily ever after. Maybe she just needed time.
Alice made the big move to Melbourne with not much more than a few suitcases and a ten-year-old hatchback car, which she’d sold soon after. Now, nearly four years on, she felt so much bigger than Hope Springs – not better, but that she’d outgrown it – and only went back for significant events such as Christmas, weddings, funerals and milestone birthdays.
Having found her feet and discovering that she really loved to study, Alice had well and truly left behind her average student status and excelled academically. Being realistic, she knew she had to find a full-time job, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to become an academic, but the extra year of study would surely help her prospects. Four months on from uni – not to mention just turning thirty – she still hadn’t sorted out a proper career. She’d volunteered for a day a week at the National Trust head office in various departments and enjoyed every minute of it, but unfortunately there weren’t any paid jobs going, especially for someone who didn’t have a specialist area of expertise or post-graduate qualifications. She’d love to be in archiving, doing research, helping others with their research, or involved in writing policy, but she hadn’t found any vacancies for jobs that came even remotely close to what interested her.
At her graduation a few weeks ago she’d felt quite sad when she realised that her university days were behind her and it was unlikely she’d ever be able to go back to study. She was almost on the verge of tears – not at all triumphant and excited like everyone else. It hadn’t helped that none of her family had been prepared to make the trip from South Australia, especially as she was the first in her entire family – cousins included – to go to university, let alone graduate. Alice suspected her mother and sister’s disinterest had more to do with jealousy or tall poppy syndrome than the inconvenience of travelling to Melbourne. It wasn’t a secret that they thought Alice saw herself as high and mighty for leaving Hope Springs, and completely above herself for daring to study at university.
‘Alice?’ David prompted, his eyebrows raised.
‘I know,’ she said, her thoughts turning back to the offer letter on the table in front of her. Yes, she was being picky. But why shouldn’t she want to do something she was at least a little excited about? And what sort of a name for a business is Outercover? Even if it is packaging.
‘Well, you’ve got the weekend to think about it. But we can’t afford for you to be too choosy. The salary is good. It’s a good job.’
Alice stared down at her plate of food, her appetite having left her. David was right. He usually was. She needed to forget uni, and start being a proper adult and an active contributor to society, and their bank balance. Not that she hadn’t been, but she thought she’d never have an income that would equal David’s – even this ‘good’ salary was only around a third what he earned.
Okay, so come on, get excited about it. It’s a great job. Be grateful, she told herself as she forcibly chewed a mouthful of pasta.
‘Todd’s nice and you said everyone else there seems nice too,’ David added.
‘Yes, they are.’ And wasn’t that a good enough reason on its own?
‘Half of any job is the people,’ David pointed out.
‘You’re right. I’ll accept it on Monday,’ she said, smiling as she stood up and started to load the dishwasher.
David smiled. ‘All change is scary. You’ll be right. You just have to push through it,’ he said, drawing her to him and kissing her.
‘I know,’ she said quietly.
‘I’ve got an idea. We should celebrate – the new job and the house – and I know exactly how.’
‘How?’ Alice said, brightening and looking up at him.
‘Let’s go to the pet store and get a dog. Now we don’t have a landlord who doesn’t like pets. And it’ll be good training for us …’
‘Oh, wow. Really? You mean it?’ Alice nearly skipped in excitement, but restrained herself.
‘I don’t say things I don’t mean, Alice.’
Well, you do, actually. Quite often, Alice thought, but let it go.
‘Can we go to one of the shelters instead?’
‘Sure. Whatever you want,’ he said, yawning. ‘I’m knackered. I’m just going to check my emails and then have an early night.’
‘Okay, I’ll be in soon.’ Alice smiled, properly this time. She was going to get her tablet out and look at what dogs were available for adoption. Something small but not one of the shrill, yappy breeds. They didn’t want to bother their new neighbours with a barking dog when they were both at work all day. They didn’t have much of a backyard but thankfully the park was only a few streets away.
Alice sat at reception to do an hour-long stint filling in while Chelsea, the usual receptionist, went out to run a few errands. She hated doing reception duties, but as the casual, Alice didn’t feel she could refuse when asked. It didn’t help that she was tired after a couple of sleepless nights, thanks to their new Jack Russell terrier.
She couldn’t believe such a beautiful dog was at the RSPCA shelter. Her heart ached to think of what the story of Bill’s first two years of life might contain. She and David had walked along the rows of cages, keeping their distance, before Alice had led the way back to Bill’s. He appealed to her because he was unlikely to be as raucous as a puppy and as he was an adult they might have a better chance of knowing his true personality from the outset. She was also drawn to him because he appeared smart and curious, and a little sad but not frightened.
Bill sat back against the wall and observed Alice as she was observing him. This went on for a few minutes until he came over, sniffed the hand she offered through the wire and then sat and gave her fingers a lick before sitting back on his haunches just out of reach. When Alice went into the cage to sit with him, Bill greeted her like a long-lost friend, circling her while wagging his tail so fast that his whole body gyrated. He then threw himself into Alice’s lap and stood up with his paws on her chest, trying to deposit slobbery wet kisses on her neck. After his brief burst of exuberance, Bill curled up in her lap and settled for a nap. Looking down at him, Alice knew the deal was sealed – well, from her end, anyway. David approved because he was a handsome looking dog and not ‘one of those dangerous breeds the Bogans have’. Alice couldn’t be bothered pointing out that the RSPCA had a duty of care and wouldn’t offer dangerous or untested dogs for rehoming. She didn’t like the look of the thickset, bullish type of dogs anyway. She loved German Shepherds and Kelpies and Border Collies, but would never want to keep one cooped up in a small yard. Alice thought those breeds needed to run for miles, chase and round things up, to be truly happy.
They purchased Bill along with all the bedding, toys, food, treats and assorted stuff that would be needed to ensure his comfort, and made their way home with Alice talking non-stop to the dog, reassuring him. David remained silent – most likely too busy holding his breath in the hope the dog wouldn’t soil the Beemer, Alice thought.
They spent the rest of Saturday showing Bill around the house and settling him in. While cooking dinner that night, Alice had looked out the kitchen window and smiled when she saw David on the small patch of lawn in the backyard, testing Bill’s obedience with treats and tossing him a tennis ball. She laughed out loud when she noticed that it was David doing the fetching.
‘He’s got you sussed,’ she said when she went outside to join them.
‘I know. Call me a sucker,’ David said, laughing. ‘Mate, I’m taking it easy on you today because you’re new,’ he told Bill, who was sitting with what looked like a big grin on his face, his tail wagging.
When they called Bill for dinner he trotted in carrying his tennis ball. He gently deposited it between David and Alice and sat to attention, looking from one to the other as if waiting for it to be tossed. David and Alice laughed.
‘Aww, who’s a clever boy?’ Alice said, leaning down and patting the dog.
‘Later, Bill, not in the house,’ David said firmly.
‘Go and lie down on your bed,’ Alice commanded, and was actually a little surprised when Bill obeyed, taking his ball with him.
‘That’s one smart dog,’ David said with obvious satisfaction as he set the table.
‘But he looks so sad.’
‘Better get used to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s his signature move. We’re going to have to learn to ignore him a bit.’
‘Hmm, yes, we don’t want him spoilt and naughty.’
‘Or fat – I might have given him too many treats before.’
‘Yep, I think saying no is definitely going to be the hardest thing,’ Alice said, and turned her attention back to dishing up their meals.
All had been well until it was time for bed and Bill was left on the other side of the closed bedroom door. After he’d whined for seemingly hours, Alice wanted to relent and bring his bed in and let him sleep on the floor. But David reminded her that they’d agreed the dog needed discipline, boundaries and consistent routine, and insisted Bill stay where he was while grumbling that he hoped the dog wasn’t doing any damage. Reluctantly Alice agreed, briefly wondering how they would be when it came to agreeing on how to raise a child. She pushed the thought aside. It was not something to dwell on at three o’clock in the morning.
When the alarm went off on Monday they both dragged themselves through the shower and off to work, after too little sleep thanks to their naughty but loveable new dog. The second night had been a little better, with Bill settling down at around two, when Alice and David could finally get some sleep. At least he hadn’t shown any inclination towards chewing anything he shouldn’t, and there hadn’t been any toileting accidents, Alice thought with huge relief as she reluctantly got ready for work.
She blocked open the sliding glass door just enough so Bill could squeeze through to get outside if he needed to and not so much that anyone could get inside. She really hadn’t wanted to leave and had hovered in the hall patting the dog for ages. Being a casual employee, she didn’t get paid if she didn’t turn up and calling in sick wouldn’t be a good look, especially when Todd would have seen her and David’s Facebook posts announcing the new arrival. He would know the real reason why she didn’t come in. Anyway, she was going to accept the permanent position today, even though she still hadn’t signed the contract.
At the reception desk, Alice wished the phone would ring or someone would walk in and she’d have something to do. Sitting around with nothing going on wasn’t helping her state of tiredness at all. She’d give her left pinkie to curl up under the desk and take a nap. She was afraid of getting caught with her eyes closed, but she was losing the fight to keep them open. Her phone pinged, but checking messages or talking on her mobile while on reception was an absolute no-no.
She looked up on hearing quick, heavy footsteps on the polished floorboards. Someone was walking towards her from down the hall where all the offices were located. Please don’t be Todd or Aaron wanting the signed contract. It was Aaron. She heard his voice before she saw him stride past without looking at her, heading to the photocopier at the far side of the room. He held his mobile up to his ear and he was now shouting to whoever was on the other end – something about a fucking debacle and heads rolling. He was beyond red – more a purplish colour. Careful, you’ll have a heart attack. Alice looked down so she wasn’t in his line of sight if he turned around.
The next moment she heard the distinctive sound of the photocopier’s lid being raised, none too gently – the creak of the hinges straining – and then a crash of plastic as it was closed again, hard. She could hear buttons being stabbed at with fingers, over and over, and Aaron growling. Alice slowly raised her gaze. He was ending the call. She half expected to see the phone flying towards her, but watched as he roughly shoved it into his trouser pocket. Then he started shouting at the machine in front of him. Someone should point out that he needed to – gently – press the button to take it off standby before it would be any use to him, but Alice wasn’t about to be the one breaking that particular news.
Her eyes bugged when in the next second Aaron ripped the lid up and shouted, ‘Oh for fuck’s sake! Fucking work, you stupid fucking thing!’ Then he slammed his clenched fist onto the glass bed holding the sheet of paper he was presumably trying to scan or copy. There was an almighty crash and the unmistakable crack and splintering of glass. Alice ducked her head down behind the panel in front of the reception desk. Her heart was racing. She didn’t have a problem with swearing, could let out a few choice words of her own when the need and feeling arose, and she hadn’t exactly been raised in a gentle household, but she did have a problem with aggression and violence.
What should I do? Her flight instinct was kicking in, but she was trapped behind the desk. There was no getting out without passing within striking distance of Aaron. Alice began to feel queasy.
Suddenly the front door opened. On shaking legs, Alice pushed back into her chair and sat up straight, willing the heavy thumping in her chest to ease as she took in a deep breath. A man in taxi company livery walked in.
‘Taxi for Aaron Troubridge?’ he said, beaming at Alice.
‘About fucking time! You’re late!’ Aaron shouted, striding across the room before Alice had a chance to say anything. ‘And get that fucking thing fixed!’ he said, pointing back towards the photocopier as he passed by.
Alice’s heart was beating wildly. She ventured over to check the damage – yes, there was indeed a big crack diagonally across the glass. Back at the desk she retrieved the number of the copier repair business the company used and wrote it on a sticky note. Her fingers and voice were still a little too shaky to call yet. Thankfully the phone hadn’t rung. And so far no one else had needed to use the copier.
‘Are you okay? What the hell was all that commotion?’ Steve from sales appeared at the end of the hallway.
‘Um, Aaron just tried to put his hand through the photocopier in a fit of rage.’
‘Shit. Are you all right?’
Um, no, not really. ‘I’m fine. But I’d better get someone to come around and fix it.’
Steve went over to the copier and lifted the lid. ‘Christ, I thought you were exaggerating.’ He looked back to Alice with wide eyes. ‘He really did a number on it.’
‘Yup. He certainly did.’
‘You sure you’re okay? You look a little pale. Can I get you a cup of tea, glass of water, or something?’
‘I am a little shaken up, to be honest. Thanks, but I’ll be okay.’ Can I go home and be with Bill?
Actually, Alice did need a cup of tea, which she realised as soon as she’d taken the first sip of the sweet milky tea Steve had delivered to her desk without another word – simply a sympathetic smile – a few minutes later. One by one staff members filed past and expressed their disappointment in the situation and what Alice had had to witness. Gradually she came to realise no one was actually expressing any surprise. She was relieved when Chelsea came bouncing back in and walked around behind the reception desk to unload some bags of stationery supplies.
‘What?’ she said, looking at Alice who was trying to find the right words to say, the right questions to ask. ‘Yeah, I heard about Aaron’s hissy fit,’ she said. ‘Paula in accounts texted me.’ She waved a dismissive hand. ‘Don’t worry about it. He gets over things pretty quick. I’m sure he’ll be fine by the time he gets back.’
Alice had to stop her mouth from dropping open. There was nothing fine about what happened, and certainly nothing to be flippant or dismissive about. Oh well, it doesn’t really matter, she wouldn’t be here much longer. It was a small company and she knew that since the marketing manager had left, all marketing for the company was under Aaron’s control. There was no way she was taking a job that would mean working closely with such a man, regardless of how good the salary was and the great opportunities down the track. He was the founding owner of the business, so Alice was sure there would be no repercussions, no change of behaviour.
‘I’ve called the photocopier people. They’ll have someone here as soon as they can,’ Alice said, picking up her handbag and coffee mug.
‘We’re probably keeping their service department going. No, it’s not the first time,’ Chelsea said, rolling her eyes.
‘Right,’ was all Alice could manage in reply. ‘Well, have a great day,’ she said as she left with a wave.
‘Thanks for filling in. Sorry you had to … you know.’
Alice offered a weak smile in response before hurrying along the hall and then up the three flights of squeaky stairs to her office at the top of the ancient building. The term ‘office’ was being far too generous – it was barely more than a cupboard, and didn’t even have an air-conditioning duct. It had been as hot as a furnace during the middle of summer. Thankfully it had a small sash window that opened just enough to let out some of the stifling air. She squeezed her long legs behind the small but sturdy desk that took up nearly all the space, feeling pleased that she was tucked away from the action in the offices below. The solid old stone walls and heavy desk for protection in front of her had never felt so comforting. She reached into her bag and drew out the envelope containing the offer letter and the contract, opened it up and took out the documents, and then tore them in two. And two again. And again. The job offer had felt wrong all along, otherwise she’d have signed up and been on the permanent payroll as of last Friday. She raised her eyes to the peeling paint and stained patches on the ceiling. Thank you, she said silently to whomever, whatever, had been looking after her and, with a satisfied smile, she placed the pile of torn paper on the corner of her desk. She really hoped David would understand.
The disappointing thing about this was she now had to head back into the horrible, murky pool that was job hunting – not that she’d ever actually left. Oh well, she consoled herself, she’d thought the house hunt would go on forever and it hadn’t, so she’d find a job. Soon. She had to. She really didn’t want to go back to temping. She wanted to belong somewhere, feel connected. Sighing, she put her thoughts aside and turned on the computer to get to work securing more leads for Business Development Manager Todd.
An hour or so later Alice looked up at hearing a gentle tap on her door. ‘Oh, hi,’ she said to the tall man filling up most of the doorway.
‘Can I come in?’ Todd said.
‘Sure, it’s more your office than mine,’ she said. She waved a hand to indicate the space in an effort to welcome him in, though there was nowhere for him to sit. So he leant against the wall.
‘I heard about this morning. Sorry you had to witness that.’
‘Thanks. It wasn’t pleasant. Todd,’ she said, ‘I’m really sorry, but I can’t take the job. I appreciate the offer, but …’ She suddenly was lost for words.
‘Not because of this morning?’ he said, staring at the torn-up paper on her desk.
‘Yes, because of this morning. Well, that sealed it.’ Alice was incredulous. Why was Aaron’s behaviour okay? ‘I’m not spending my days wondering if I’m going to have a laptop or lever-arch folder or something thrown at me from across the room.’
‘He’s not that bad.’
‘Well, I can’t know that, can I? Todd, this is not okay. It’s not appropriate behaviour anywhere, let alone a workplace – and for the CEO. This is supposed to be a successful national company, for Christ’s sake. Can’t you see that?’
‘But I thought you liked working here – liked working for me.’
‘I did. I do. It’s not about you, Todd. The man needs help.’
‘But it’s such a great opportunity.’ So everyone keeps saying. ‘You can get trained up and then leave if you want. You’ll be set up and well on your way after a year or two here. I’d give you a brilliant reference.’
‘Sorry, Todd. You know I think the world of you and I’ve been so grateful for the work these last few months, but I just can’t do it. I’ve been a nervous wreck since it happened. I can’t work like that. And I’m not over-reacting. It might not affect you, but it’s not something I’m prepared to put up with.’
‘So, where does it leave me, and Outercover?’
‘If you want me to go now, I will. Aaron will be back and wanting my answer on the job soon anyway. I got the sense offering me the position was as much about quickly plugging a gap for you guys as me being the right person for the job. So, he’ll probably be pissed.’ At that moment Alice’s flight response started to fire up again. The last thing she wanted was a confrontation with Aaron.
He’d seemed so nice when they’d sat down together to discuss the role and when he’d made the offer. She had heard a rumour that the marketing manager had left suddenly under a cloud – she’d had an affair with one of the board members. Alice hadn’t asked Todd about the story. It was none of her business and she tried not to get involved with gossip. She’d had enough of that in Hope Springs. But if it were true then Aaron was under considerable pressure to get the marketing department back in order quickly. Combine that stress with his unpredictable behaviour and Alice was sure that things would only get worse before they got better, and she didn’t want any part of it.
She wouldn’t have minded staying on as Todd’s assistant while she looked for something more to her liking – she’d enjoyed doing the research. But she’d only been filling in while someone was away. Why did she need a career as opposed to a job, anyway? To pay their whopping big Melbourne mortgage. That was why. Also, Alice felt a certain pressure to show she was worthy of a place beside David. She knew she was her own person and shouldn’t buy into such a shallow view, but she also knew all too well David’s high standards and the vision he had for his life, and theirs together. His determination and ambition had initially drawn her to him. He was everything her previous partner, her husband, hadn’t been. So she couldn’t complain because it was pretty much what she’d signed up for.
Todd’s phone in his hand pinged with a message. ‘Sorry, I’d better check this,’ he said.
Alice looked back at her screen and as she did was notified of a new email too. She glanced at it while Todd was distracted.
‘Oh!’ she said at seeing it was from Aaron and ‘Many Apologies!!’ was in the subject line. She read the message where he apologised for his behaviour that morning and acknowledged how unprofessional it was. ‘Pah!’ Alice said aloud at him blaming it on being under too much pressure. She shook her head. There was no excuse for his behaviour. He closed with saying he really looked forward to her joining the company and being part of the team. You’ve got to be joking! Alice thought.
‘So, I take it that’s still a no, then?’ Todd asked.
Alice looked up, frowning.
‘I was blind copied in,’ he explained.
‘So, I can’t print out another copy of this?’ he said, picking up scraps of the torn-up offer letter.
Hell no! ‘No, thanks.’ Alice began to fume as she re-read Aaron’s email. What a cop-out to not apologise in person – although maybe Aaron realised she didn’t want to be in the same room as him again. He could have called her. Email, for god’s sake. It was probably best for her, too, she thought, and she started to simmer down. Alice didn’t do confrontation of any sort very well, and tended to get embarrassed, awkward and tongue-tied when put on the spot or verbally backed into a corner. But she was still angry, which was helpful right now, she thought, as she pressed Reply.
‘Don’t go saying something you’ll regret, Alice,’ Todd warned, clearly sensing what she was doing.
Thank you for your message. Your apology is accepted. However, I have decided not to accept the position in the marketing department.
I wish you and Outercover all the very best.
She re-read her message. She longed to give Aaron a decent lecture about his deplorable behaviour and tell him what a childish prat he was, but refrained. If she started, she’d probably end up with a two thousand-word essay. Best to stay professional and on point. So, instead, she copied in Todd, as he was the one who’d brought her into the company, and quickly pressed Send.
‘Damn. I’ve gotta run. I’ll talk to you later. Again, Alice, I’m really sorry about this morning. Keep doing what you’re doing for me here – work from home if you’d prefer until the dust settles. Just let me know where you are.’