It was Tuesday when I first started at the law firm. My mother's best friend Patricia worked there and she wrangled the job for me, knowing I was unemployed and getting desperate.
Well I am a qualified clerk so I'm just glad that I scored a job that actually required me to use some of my skills, as opposed to the reception and admin jobs I'd also applied for in the area.
'The only downside is,' Pat began as she led me to where I would be working 40-hour weeks from hereon in, 'is that you have to share an office with Amanda Howard.'
It didn't seem like such a bad deal when I heard that, and I'd worked in worse conditions, or so I'd imagined.
Oh yes now you laugh, because unlike poor naïve little me, you knew perfectly well what I was in for!
You knew what our office was like – how tiny it was. It was dark and dingy and way, WAY too small. I was introduced to Amanda, who practically bristled at me when we met. I was told I would be archiving for her, organising all her case files, making sure everything was present like a good little clerk. In addition to this I would help in the organising of her appointments and other such duties.
Pat had told me that Amanda didn't like assistants and preferred to work alone, but in that brief introduction it appeared not only that Pat had severely understated Amanda's 'dislike' of assistants, but I also seemed to be a finger's-breadth close to her putting a hit out on me!
Before you start thinking that my picture of her involved a red jumpsuit, horns, tail and a pitchfork, just remember what she actually looks like – why I was so thrown by her distaste for me.
Think of her thick chestnut hair – its almost luminous sheen even in our dark little abode. Think of her skin, tanned lightly on her forearms and face but fading to cream at her throat and shapely calf. Think of her beautiful hips, bound forever in a black skirt cutting just above the knee. And remember her walk, the gentle swing of her arms, the sway of her buttocks and the grace of every movement, despite her petite five-foot-three frame. Every inch of her subtly declaring she was woman and feminine and divine.
I don't have to tell you how beautiful she was. You've seen her – seen her glide to the kitchen for that awful instant coffee we have to ingest just to keep sane. You've seen her in all her aggravated glory when I am too close to her, when any of us are too close to her. You've seen how she detests small talk and despises the human touch.
She is an ice queen, but so handsome that you could never expect anything but warmth and love in those honey, doe-eyes.
The moment I was introduced to her, I was at once overcome with the pure complete attractiveness of her, and then just as suddenly by her silent threatening ferocity when I sat beside her. She didn't look at me very often, not in the eyes, not after that first meeting. She stared at spaces near me, jaw clenched, untouchable and unable to be swayed to what I had thought were my good qualities:
My humour and how I tried to make someone laugh simply because it felt good to do so. But instead of smiling, she cringed or ignored what I said. She ignored me even when I was serious.
My generous inclinations and offerings to share or shout a coffee from Starbucks went unanswered and barely acknowledged. She must have known that the double strength caramel latte I was addicted to was infinitely more satisfying than the filth we stirred into mugs of hot water each morning. However it seemed that sharing something with me equated to catching herpes or Ebola for Amanda.
My smile – usually so contagious – and general joie de vie was certainly not as universally appreciated as I had thought and was instead treated by her with the utter scorn of a person who had determined something was obscenely below their simplest and briefest contemplation.
She was, for lack of a better word, a complete bitch.
I tried really hard not to hold it against her, to hold my head high. Most days I won out over her cloud of pessimism, and maintained high spirits enough for the both of us.
Some days it was just too much.
It's a rainy, cloudy, depressing day when I arrive at the office. It's the kind of day you wake up and wish that it was a Sunday, not a Monday.
I look at my watch – it's 8.55 a.m – time enough to make a coffee and try to feel at least a little human before I face the onslaught of hate and loathing I am bound to face shortly.
I cringe inwardly despite my awe at her appearance. She is already in the kitchen, wearing that black skirt and a wafer-thin top. I can't see her bra (I am ashamed to say in that first instant I automatically and quite unconsciously looked for it) but there is silhouette enough of her fine body – the curves of her torso – so appetising, the flesh beneath that must be so soft…my mouth waters a little at the thought of being able to touch her.
This instant passes quickly as she turns and sees me enter the room. For once, Amanda's eyes flick to mine and you look away.
No – no that can't be right…because if Amanda had done anything but avoid my eyes, frown or scowl it would mean…
Had she let her guard down for a moment? Could it be that she's happy to see me?
I determine that if Amanda did not at once make me completely aware of her detestation, than she must surely be coming around! Playing on this realisation, I act immediately.
'Morning.' I say brightly, and with a little spring in my step – another little expression of happiness she has always despised.
Nope – all sense of potential goodwill dissipates faster than a joint in a frat house the minute she turns her eyes near me again.
God, she doesn't even nod hello! Not one little inclination of the head – just the same old gesture intimating the too frequently, non-verbally expressed, 'why are you here? I am not your friend. Leave.' So uncivilised.
It seems I was unusually optimistic to even have guessed she might have been happy to see me when I came in. Silly me - won't make that mistake again.
I humour her for once – where normally I would stick around just to see how uncomfortable and annoyed I could make her (call me childish, but it's an itch I just have to scratch sometimes) – and leave immediately.
The customary 'hello's and 'bonjour's are delivered to various people on my way to our office. I flick a switch and a hazy glow forms over the bench from the suspect fluorescent tube above my head. I survey our space and pick out all the things that would undoubtedly bug her when she entered it.
Another thing that annoys Amanda – I work in creative chaos (or so I call it). She is a neat freak – like OCD but just short of requiring therapy.
I sit myself in front of several armloads of files and set to work processing them. As I do this, Amanda enters the room (practically taking a deep breath of 'fresh' outer-office air before venturing an atmosphere shared with me) and takes a seat at her own section of the long, curved desk. It is the kind that is fitted to the all and follows it around a corner, giving me room to work right alongside her.
Her back is stiff as she sits and she is staring at the expanse of clean space before her. Then she turns her gaze to my hands rustling amongst a dozen or so files before I find the one I'm after. I see her turn her head and her eyes squint disdainfully.
I am set on ignoring her and her haughtiness for the rest of the day.
Soon after said resolution, Amanda proceeds to make it impossible for me to concentrate by disturbing my thoughts with her huffing and puffing (although this is done in a determinedly gently, sexy way…I detract). She does this for the better part of our eight hours trapped together and with exception to the lunch hour in which I find an escape at a local sushi bar, I am continually reminded of her generally spiteful demeanour at various intervals.
When the clock strikes five o'clock I am out the door quicker than she can ignore my 'See you tomorrow Mandy!'
She hates it when I call her that.
It is evening now. Although it is only the beginning of the week, Ben, one of the solicitors, has begun a tradition of Monday night drinks. I must say that it is the only good thing to come about on a Monday such as I've had.
I sit at a table with five other people from our office. Ben is late, having been stuck with a last minute consultation, and four of my associates present at the moment operate in little cubicles close to the room Amanda and I share. The fifth is, surprisingly, Amanda herself.
Every week Ben sends memo's to the entire staff via email. It would be remiss of him to neglect to send one to Amanda, however the strange thing was that this evening Amanda' had actually turned up!
She never comes!
And yet, in the chair across from me, she sits and runs her fingernails up the condensation on her glass. She doesn't appear so glass-half-empty right at the moment, but I suspect deep down that it's no more than a façade designed to lull me into a false sense of security.
As we chat – 'we' being the five of us NOT including Amanda, who despite any recent change of behaviour could not change THAT drastically – we talk about various clients, matters and general gossip. Amanda gulps down about three or four drinks to my two, leading me to believe something's amiss.
I refrain from asking, aware that the response would be quite wordless and undoubtedly negative, and instead try to escape her apparent wallowing by visiting the ladies room.
Once inside I look in the mirror, wiping smudged eyeliner that had worked it's way down below my lower lid throughout the course of the day, and pulling at different strands of my short hair in an effort to salvage the style I had given it this morning.
I give myself the once over in the mirror, just to make sure I am half-way presentable.
My short black hair is cut in a rather edgy style, which I do up with hair wax at odd angles. It generally collapses during the day to that of a surfer-boy's short do, but naturally jet-black in colour. I have a light dusting of freckles across my nose from too much sun the week before, and other than that my skin is only a few shades above ivory. I am an odd mixture of my father's Scandinavian heritage and my mother's southern Italian roots – all dark hair, pale skin and smoky-blue eyes. At only five-foot-seven and about sixty-five kilos, I appear as average as they come.
Despite this I am quite muscular, when those muscles are active that is, and visit the gym most nights bar the weekend. I am happy with my body, and my pride in my strength and physique (albeit not of model or athlete proportion) give me an extra ounce of confidence as I make to exit the bathroom again.
I'm only half-focused on where I'm going as I approach the door, and inadvertently bump into someone while I'm distracted with my retreating reflection.
I stammer, 'God I'm so sorry-' before realising I've run into Amanda.
She meets my eye and her gaze flicks away. Blushing she also apologises ('No it's my fault…') before she disappears into a cubicle, leaving me standing here stunned and quite off-guard.
She spoke to me.
I mean, I know she can talk – we share an office and you can't go your entire professional life without some kind of verbal input (although as far as Amanda was concerned, I had imagined otherwise). What got me was her speaking to me, even if it was just a muttered apology.
Something must really be up.
I am woken from my reverie by a small sniff!
God, I think to myself, is she crying? First words and now distinct, human emotion?
'Mandy?' I call gently from where I stand. 'You alright mate?'
My inquiries are met with silence and I leave, getting the point.
The apology was the only instant of common courtesy I've ever seen her show, and must have been a reflex. She doesn't want me in her business. That is fine by me.
A small part of me is still concerned, but by the next day at work I have forgotten all about her little lapse in treating me like a leper.
Tuesday is no better than Monday. It's like Monday except it feels longer and doesn't end in fun, communal drinks.
The weather is still shite outside and the single tube-light in our office has blown, so we use a small dusty old lamp I found in the storeroom - Mandy works by the light of her computer's LCD screen, while I sit in the low yellow glow of the archaic bendy desk lamp.
There are rumbles of thunder outside and the rain is pattering softly against the window - the light filtering in through it's blinds is a dull grey that somehow manages to make visibility in the room worse than if it had been covered altogether.
I reach out to grab a file just as Amanda is leaning to steal my stapler (she never asks) and our hands bump.
She instantly bursts out, 'Oh! sorry.'
I cannot handle this. Once last night was forgettable, but now this? It's just too eerie to go unaddressed. I decide to confront her.
'Amanda you never speak to me so why in Hell are you apologising all of a sudden?' It comes out a little harsh and I regret the tone, but the question remains and it is one I want an answer to.
'What are you talking about?' she says – she sounds a little hurt and I am confused by this.
I stutter out the next thought running through my mind (stuff always sounds better if you rehearse – this was not rehearsed) – 'Well you've made me so fucking aware that you hate me, that I'm just a little confused you seem to be extending small courtesies all of a sudden!! You should probably just give it up and go back to treating me like a piece of shit on your italiano boots!!!'
She is silent. I am staring at her, emboldened by the fact she's on the back-step. She looks me in the eyes before averting her gaze again. A slight frown crosses her face and she appears confused.
Now I'm really confused – again!
She murmurs, almost to herself , 'You don't see it?'
She just sits there not a foot from me, her legs crossed under the chair and her hands in her lap, the chair swung round to face me. I must take action.
I put my hands on either arm of the chair and dip my head down so she cannot avoid meeting my gaze.
I am almost pleading for an answer when I explode with 'See what Amanda?'
Her breathing is shallow, her hands fidget and as she looks at me I notice her jaw clench as I've seen it do so often.
In an instant her hands are on either side of my face. She leans almost off her chair, pulling me towards her, pressing her lips desperately against mine.
My mind is in recoil – all thoughts have been whited out and adrenaline courses through my body.
In true 'fight or flight' tradition I instantly pull away leaving her sitting there, her hands sitting limply in her lap, and her cheeks flaming red.
My heart races and I can only stare at her. In what seems like a life-time, but was in reality only a few seconds, I am coming to the realisation I know you saw from a mile off.
She doesn't hate me, followed by: she wants me.
I feel my eyes widen and my breathing shallows also.
My mind reboots now and in it's initial start-up I manage to get out 'Amanda…what-?' before she cuts me off. She is speaking very fast and her voice is quivering. I have never seen her so worked up.
'I'm sorry – I couldn't help it. I just needed…and I couldn't stop myself. I…' she stops and drops her eyes to her hands, now tearing at her cuticles.
I reach out and stop her hands moving – it is an action based on subconscious emotion: I don't want her hurting herself. I know her nails will sting like crazy if she keeps ripping away like this.
I resolve, against my earlier revelation, that there must be something wrong elsewhere in her life for her to explode at work like this, to me like this. I am instantly overcome with a wave of sympathy and friendly supportiveness. She looks so much like a little girl lost as she sits there, I can't resist kissing her cheek and then pulling her into a hug.
'Amanda, what is it? What's wrong?'
She is almost crying. There are tears in her voice and I feel wetness against my neck where she has buried her face. She mumbles '…you smell so…I just…just need you...'
Having come to two conclusions and changing them over in my head so quickly, changing my mind again sets me back. I pull away and instead we sit knees together, foreheads almost touching. I am holding her hands again and look over her tear-streaked face. Her eyes are still downcast.
She lifts her gaze and I see how wet her eyes are. Her lip is quivering and she looks in my eyes with this desperate, needing expression on her face. She shows how much she needs me to want her. She is so upset, how can I not comfort her?
I sigh, half-exasperated by how childish she seems, and I kiss her gently on the lips, tasting the salt from her tears as I do so. I am cupping one cheek and my hand rests on her knee. She does not react in the passionate way she first kissed me – indeed she seems quite taken aback – and pushes her lips back against mine almost tentatively.
In moments like this, you find your mind goes to autopilot. Or, rather, all executive decision-making power the higher consciousness has is vetoed. Instead, you become almost completely hedonistic. It makes me wonder how men are stereotyped as thinking through their genitals, when in my experience I have acted no better.
I'm not thinking now – my body has taken control – but the emotions coursing through me feel so natural, so good that I can't bear to resist.
Amanda presses against me as I pull her upright. I gently push her back a step until she is against the desk. She wriggles to a seated position, our lips never parting except to draw a breath here or there. She tastes bitter, like the office coffee. Her mouth is warm and moist and her tongue brushes mine as we kiss.
She moulds to me like a glove. Her hands are at the back of my neck and running through my hair. I have my arms about her torso, drawing her into me. It is like I'm meant for holding her and she's made for kissing me. It's electric, but also smooth and warm and so, so fucking hot.
The longer I feel her body against mine, the way her legs part and wrap around my own, the stronger the intensity becomes. The passion curls within my chest and having only lips as an outlet is not even close to being enough.
We are both panting. Her chest rises and falls rapidly and I can feel her breasts pressed hard against my own. I reach a hand around from her back to rub first at her side and then creep up to her right cloth-covered nipple.
She moans into my mouth, sighing and sucking on my upper lip as I do it. I run the same hand down to where her shirt buttons at her navel and begin, gently, to unbutton them.
I stop kissing her for a moment, and use both hands to do this. All the while, I look into her eyes. Her head is tilted slightly to one side, her brows raised slightly and her mouth open – still softly panting. I feel nothing but desire and tenderness for her in that moment, and see more of the same reflected at me in her eyes. I want her to look at me like that until the world ends.
Her shirt being unbuttoned, I place the fingertips of both hands at her collarbone, and trace the front of her body, curving around her delightful bosom and resting at the curve of her sides and waist. She is quite small in the body, seeming so fragile and beautiful that I have to kiss her again.