One Week Ch. 01 Second EditionbyLouise69©
Note from the author; I originally published this on Kindle last year. I'd been given the chance to write a crime novel and used the opportunity to write and edit the One Week Collection as part of my training for that. As I geared up to write a sequel to that novel, I realised that I wasn't done with the One Week world and so dived back in. It's a big part of me and the first thing I wrote that made me believe that I could write. I've had so much positive correspondence about the series and so many pleas to make it available again that I felt I should put Part 5 on the website that started my journey. Part 6 will become available if folks want it.
I've added the Kindle edition of Part One as there are many ideas, characters and character traits that may be unfamiliar to you if you've not read it. That way, you can enjoy Part 5 to its fullest.
I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it!
We live our lives trapped in a bubble, seemingly content to do so because we believe that it is one of our own construction, that the trappings of modern society are the ideal we should seek. Little do we realise that it is a gilded cage we unwittingly create for ourselves, invisible bars suffocating the very essence from us until we're left empty and hollow.
I'd followed the rules society dictated. I worked hard, achieved the highest grades at school and university, made friends and been a positive part of society. I even learnt the guitar simply because I thought it would make me a bit more interesting. As I grew older, I became more disconnected from this life, my self-made bubble shrinking, constricting my soul and sapping the energy from me.
Friends drifted away, the world greyed, colours once vibrant and playful leached from my life, lethargy eating away at my desires and plans until all I had left was work. Oddly enough, I thought I was happy. I thought I was successful and had achieved amazing things. I didn't know how ineffably sad I was.
So what happens when your bubble bursts, the shards of your life crumbling to ruin?
That depends on you. The terror can be overwhelming. The thought of losing everything a paralysing fear that inhibits all but the most bold and brave. I was neither - a coward at heart, unable and unwilling to make the change.
Partly due to not knowing what I needed to change or how. Partly because I couldn't see that I needed to. It took something momentous to enable me to see what needed to change and give me the courage to do so. It took a week. Just one. But it changed the rest of my life.
It starts in an office. A bland office with grey walls and drab furniture that served as a perfect metaphor for my own bland life.
As she walked past my desk, Jade gave the cheekiest of winks and flashed one of her knowing grins. It both infuriated and excited me. She was the most beautiful woman I'd met. Perfectly proportioned and always dressed in the sexiest of clothes. Her "Power Dressing" look was tailored perfectly to show her exquisite rear, endless legs and full breasts.
She always wore the highest of heels that made her tower above me, despite her being my height. I gazed longingly after her as she swiveled her hips around the cluttered office desks. "Careful partner" teased Dan. "Better close that mouth of yours before you catch something." He threw some crumpled paper in my direction, knocking me from my reverie as it clattered off my forehead. "I was just thinking about work," I replied, tossing the paper in the bin. Dan chuckled, his round belly wobbling as he shook his head and winked salaciously. "Yup, sure thing Owen. Thinking about something that's for sure!" "Haven't you got a meeting now with Jackie?" I asked, knowing full well he was running late. His eyes shot to the clock suspended above the door and, with a loud curse, he grabbed his jacket and sprinted towards the lift. With a wry chuckle, I went back to my work. I'd been employed in the law firm for several years and found it incredibly boring, but it paid well and the chances were good that I'd be partner by thirty.
Besides, working in the same office as Jade made it all worthwhile. Mostly. I lost track of time as I filed the hours for all the cases I'd been working on when Dan slumped down beside me with a heavy sigh. "What's up" I asked, glad to have some distraction from my tedium. He shook his bald head and sighed again. "They let me go. Said there'd been a policy change and that the firm was headed in a new direction and one that excluded me." I was stunned. Dan had been part of the furniture here since I'd started and he billed more hours than most people here. The Water Cooler gossip had him up for Partner within the year. "Christ Dan," I gasped. "What sort of change in direction? They can't just sack you like that!" "It's a law firm remember, I'm sure they've got all their bases covered. They're getting rid of all males and changing the firm to females only, working with females, for females, or some such crap. New ownership, new policy, bye bye old me."
He looked at me with sad eyes as I digested this news. "Sorry pal. Jackie's asked me to send you up. Listen. I've got plenty of contacts. I'll find work no worries and I've got a nice pay-off. If you need a job, just look me up, you hear? I nodded, still too shocked to take it all in. "Yeah, thanks Dan. I'll be in touch." I picked up my jacket and fed my arms through the sleeves, drifting towards the lift as if wading through thick fog. It seemed so unreal. One moment, I was thinking of partnership, the next I was contemplating redundancy.
The lift took an age to arrive and, as if in a dream, I made my way to the lead partner's office. As I passed her secretary, she waved me in and shut the door behind me. Jackie was leaning against the desk, dressed in a tailored skirt suit and killer heels that made her seem all the more dominating. She had sensual lips and a cleavage that threatened to spill out from her silk blouse. She was old enough to be my mother, but exuded a sexual confidence that made me forget all about that. "Owen. Please sit down." She gestured with a well-manicured hand to a chair in front of her desk. Her voice was firm and devoid of emotion as if holding back the emotional trauma of cutting her workforce in half. I did as ordered and sat in a plush chair that was designed to make the person feel safe and comfortable, but made you sink so deep, you always had to look up at Jackie.
She sat down behind her desk and held my gaze for a long time. She seemed to be appraising me and I felt distinctly uncomfortable as her eyes casually lacerated my defenses and wormed their way into my brain, picking it apart with the delicacy of a mallet.
She then shifted her gaze to my body, seeming to note my skinny arms and torso before raising her eyes once more to me. After a long time, she sighed heavily and seemed to come to some decision.
"Coffee?" she asked, sending me further off balance. I started to stammer a response, but she ignored me and stood up with alarming speed and feline grace. "Of course you do," she said and strode to the door, plucking her coat from the stand as she passed.
Shrugging into it, she opened the door and stood impatiently as she noticed that I was still rooted to my seat. "Now would be better," she said, arching a perfectly plucked eyebrow in my direction.
"Oh, er, sorry," I replied dumbly and made to follow her. As I trailed in her wake, her heels clacking loudly on the wooden floor, she dictated messages rapidly to her poor secretary who had mastered the art of chasing after her and taking notes long ago.
As we entered the lift that would take us down to the ground floor, Dan sprinted into the gap between the doors moments before they shut. He carried a box of his possessions and his joy at beating the doors was short lived as he realised who was in the lift with him. It was his turn to stare dumbly at Jackie as she told him to press the button for the ground floor. A look flitted across his face as he dared himself to protest, but his finger reached out and pushed the button as if to tell his brain that it knew best.
The long journey to the ground floor was awkward. He looked at me as if to ask what was going on, but I shrugged my shoulders as Jackie pretended to ignore the silent exchange.
When the lift spilled us out at the entrance to the Firm, I could barely hide my relief as Dan scurried away and Jackie strode out into the cool winter chill. The day was breathtakingly still, with clear skies and a chill that seeped into the bones. The Thames looked sullen and still as we walked alongside it, almost as if the cold had robbed it of its will to move.
As we approached a street vendor, Jackie called out his name and chatted amicably as he poured two cups of strong black coffee. It wasn't to my taste, but I wasn't going to refuse. I was also seeing a warmth and kindness to Jackie as she talked with the vendor that was firmly under wraps at work. I knew I was about to be sacked and wished she would get it done with, but I was also intrigued as to why she wasn't doing it in her office like she had with Dan.
She handed me the coffee and we strolled further down the river, away from the offices, and sat on a secluded bench. Here we go, I thought and braced myself for being sacked.
"How long have you been with us?" she asked, steam blowing from her mouth as she drank from the cardboard mug. I gulped the bitter liquid down, grateful for the warmth it afforded, if not the taste.
"Five years," I replied. "Give or take."
"You've done excellent work for us," she said, her eyes roving the river and not focusing on me. She seemed distracted. A jogger sprinted past and she let him go before continuing. "We'd hate to see you leave."
"Shame about my gender then," I snapped back, blurting out the words unchecked, my bitterness giving them edge. Jackie looked at me and gave a soft smile.
"Your family died when you were young didn't they?" Taken aback by the sudden change in topic, I flinched as if slapped.
"My mother died in a car accident. I never met my father," I replied wearily. "Not strictly relevant to the changes your firm is undergoing." Jackie ignored the barb and sipped more coffee.
"You don't have many friends do you," she said. It was a statement more than a question. I sighed wearily, hating this conversation and wishing she would just sack me and let me get on with my crappy day.
"I have plenty," I replied. Jackie chuckled, a throaty laugh that would have been sexy if I wasn't getting so annoyed.
"You're a loner with no family," she said, softly yet with a painful truth lashing at my confused mind. She turned to me and put her cup in the space between us, appraising me as she had back in the office, the force of her conviction rooting me to the spot, tendrils of steam rising from her drink in the winter air.
"Have you ever worn a skirt?" she asked. I frowned at the question, but before I could respond, she answered herself. "Thought not. A pity, you could have been so much more, so much quicker." I stood and made to leave, but Jackie reached out one leather gloved hand and grabbed my arm, forcing me to sit with surprising strength.
"Listen to me now," she hissed. "Every word. Hear me out. You know what the Firm has become. Women only. Run by women, for women. In one month, our new owners will arrive from America and will spend six months shaping this office into their image. Then they'll be gone. I'm going to sack you now, and in one week, I'm going to re-hire you on three times your wages, more than anyone your age could possibly hope to get. You'll be paid more than you can dream of and I promise I'll make you partner when this is done."
I leaned back in the seat, its cold frame leaching a chill into my bones. I knew what was coming and chuckled ruefully, shaking my head as she spoke. Jackie stopped mid-sentence and smiled, aware that what she was about to say was ridiculous.
"You know what I'm going to say," she said, her grin spreading wider, becoming infectious.
"Thanks for the offer," I replied. "But it won't work. You can't pass me off and I can't mince around pretending to be something I'm not."
"Give me one week. If you don't think it'll work, then walk away with a triple severance package. One week. I can make a woman out of you."
I sighed. I wasn't angry, mad or...well, anything really. It was too silly a proposition to be taken seriously.
"Why me?" I asked. "I'm not that good." Jackie grinned, knowing that the argument was in her favour. It had been easier than she'd thought.
"I see something in you. I'd benefit. The firm would benefit. And so would you. You just don't know it yet."
"I'll look stupid," I countered. "I'll look like a man in a skirt and I will certainly sound like it."
We argued and counter-argued, and soon the arguments turned to logistics. I left that bench not really knowing what had happened or how. I was willing, yet fearfully unwilling. It wouldn't work and I knew it.
This moment summed up my life to this point. I was a passive coward. Too scared to say no, to walk away, I just let things happen to me. It didn't feel real and I didn't really accept what was going to happen to me. Regardless, that was how I cleared my desk, said my farewells, and went home to pack my bags. I was going to stay at Jackie's and she was going to teach me how to be a woman for six months.
My apartment was dark as I arrived home. I'd been up so early, I'd not bothered to draw the curtains. The winter had robbed the evenings of daylight, so I rarely bothered to let the feeble light in. The flat was Spartan, but clean. I hated mess. Dumping my work stuff on the kitchen table, I sighed heavily and walked to the fridge to grab a cold IPA. Leaning against the kitchen sink, I drank deeply from the bottle and considered my options.
As I mulled over my future, debating on whether to actually go through with this crazy scheme, I absently checked my phone.
Same as yesterday.
Same as the day before that.
Frowning, I checked my contacts App and realised that my phone had not been used for calls or texts for months. The last call was a withheld number trying to sell me some insurance back in the Summer. I looked up and saw my flat for what it was. Cold and empty. There was no life here because no one actually lived here. I merely occupied the space.
"We both know that you're a loner and that you have no family". Jackie's words from earlier came unbidden to my mind and I flinched as if recoiling from a blow.
Finishing my beer in one swig, I realised that I actually didn't have anything to lose by going through with this scheme because I didn't actually have anything.
The decision was made. I turned off the heating and water, unplugged the appliances and left the flat with nothing but my cash card, guitar and keys. I didn't know what was going to happen or what I would need, but I did know that there was nothing in my apartment that I was going to have any use for.
Hailing a taxi, I clambered in and gave the driver Jackie's address. I knew that it was in a wealthy part of town, but was taken aback by her home when the Taxi pulled up into the drive and deposited me outside a huge manor with wide oak doors framed by tall pillars. They were marble and surrounded by tall flowers that filled the drive with a heavenly scent that chased away the smog and sour stink of the city.
Before I could step from the gravel drive onto the slate tiles that led up the archway, the front door opened and Jackie greeted me. She still wore the same clothes as earlier and towered above me in her heels. As I walked towards the door, guitar in hand, she gave a genuine smile.
"I wasn't sure you'd come!" she cried. I smiled back, somehow pleased that she was so delighted to see me. She exuded a warmth and personality that she kept buttoned down at work. She hugged me as I walked through the front door before giving a quizzical look.
"No bags?" she asked. I shook my head.
"Just this guitar but no empty bottle of booze" I replied, quoting an old Johnny Cash song. To my delight, she winked mischievously.
"Don't worry hon, I won't be calling you Sue." I gulped as the reason for my presence here hit home once again. Before I could change my mind, Jackie put one arm around me and, with the other, waved at the huge hallway that we occupied.
"This is your home now. It's been just me for years, so it will nice to have some company once more. Please make sure that you treat it as your own, everything here is yours!"
She chattered away amicably as she led me around the house, showing me drawing rooms and more drawing rooms, a billiards room, en-suite bedrooms aplenty and even an indoor swimming pool. I walked around in a daze, barely even registering a small indoor cinema screen with space for 30 guests to watch. The house was worth millions.
"It's an old family house," Jackie replied as I asked how she could afford this on her own. "Old money. All the work I do at the Firm goes to charity, I do that to keep me busy." I gave a knowing smile.
"So that's why you allowed the American Firm to take over, they mainly work with Charities," I replied. Jackie smiled back and nodded her affirmation before grabbing my hand and leading me back to the large kitchen. She pulled out a bottle of expensive wine and poured two generous glasses.
We sat on some stools and leaned on the kitchen island as the hours passed and the wine flowed. At some point, Pizza turned up, but I was too engrossed in Jackie. She was a fascinating character who had done and achieved so much. By the time she was my age, she had already achieved more than I could ever hope to. I vowed I would not let her down.
Eventually the wine made my head groggy and the world started to spin. I made my excuses and went to bed. It wasn't until I hit the hallway that I realised I didn't actually know where my room was. Before I could turn and ask, a voice filled with humour called out from the kitchen.
"Up the stairs, second room on the right!"
"Thank you" I called back and stumbled up the stairs, collapsing on a bed that the sober part of my brain vaguely hoped was the right one.
"Rise and shine Louise!" cried Jackie as she woke me from a deep slumber by opening the curtains with a regal swish. Even though it was the weekend, she was immaculately dressed in a long, figure hugging dress and knee high boots with killer heels. She looked amazing and I could feel myself becoming aroused, despite the pounding wine infused headache. Jackie chuckled as she saw my stiffness lifting the sheets. "Not so little after all," she said, amusement crinkling her eyes. "We can't have that giving the game away now can we Louise!" She walked out of the room, ordering me to get dressed. "Come on Louise, we have a lot to do!" I wasn't sure about the name, but dragged myself out of bed, stopping suddenly as I took in my surroundings.
The room was large and painted a pale shade of pink. Huge bay windows looked out onto a large garden and the whole room was tastefully decorated in a very feminine style. The double bed was a four poster, painted white with pink satin sheets that I hadn't noticed in my drunken stupor. There was a large dresser with lights around it and one side of the room had several white doors that I took to be cupboards.
Nothing masculine existed in this room; decorated by a woman for a woman, yet artfully and tastefully done. Paintings hung on the wall and even my limited knowledge recognised the artists. A fortune in paint, imagination and creativity surrounded me and I whistled appreciatively as I pulled on my trousers and went to get some breakfast. The first thing Jackie did was drive me to her local salon in her Ferrari, where she left me for a few hours as the hair on my face was electrolysed, any other hair waxed, my eyebrows shaped, ears pierced and my nails painted.