Nervously writing & editing fiction || Chapter One
This morning I finished editing chapter five. Considering I wrote about how I was going to edit my novel on May 16th and it's now July 2nd - this has taken me a while. And yes, for a few weeks I didn't look at my work-in-progress at all.
I want to thank Zoe and Arlene for the massive support you gave me after I published that blog post with those first few paragraphs - plus the many people who messaged me on Instagram. Zoe asked in her comment if I could publish the whole first chapter. Which made me a little anxious (and promptly forget to thank Zoe and Arlene for their comments - sorry.)
Nah, I thought. No way will I do that.
But, having thought about it - here I am, with the entire first chapter. The chapter isn't perfect. It needs the perspective of time to allow me to come back to it and make adjustments. But I'm putting it out there for one reason.
I keep telling my children, my daughter in particular who has her grade two singing exam tomorrow, that you have to keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. That magic is more likely to happen outside that circle of comfort.
I cannot keep these words indefinitely on my computer.
So this is me, putting my own words to my daughter into practice.
Burnt Chocolate || Chapter One
It was three o ‘clock on a hot summers day in Central London. Inside the red brick building housing Gibston & Stack, a West End law firm, the air was thick with heat. Windows were open, allowing fumes from the belching traffic to cut through the stillness of the air and to deftly climb uninvited through the sash windows.
There was no escape, in the entire building, from the whirr of fans. Paper, weighed down by heavy objects, flickered rhythmically in the breeze – breaking the silence. Every now and again someone would sigh as the heat broke their concentration - then came the glug of the water cooler as yet another beaker of cool liquid was consumed.
Eve was in her office, the window shut against the smell of the traffic as it was making her nauseous, but the fan was on full and rotating backwards and forwards across her desk. She was sitting as close to the desk as her large belly would allow, the keyboard positioned right at the edge; her arms could only just comfortably type on it.
Finally she pushed herself away from her desk allowing herself a small smile of achievement. After months of meetings, phone calls, contracts and billable hours she was finally done. The biggest deal of her career, worth eye-watering sums of money, was complete. Well, at least for now. This corporate deal, for a company called Megatron, had consumed Eve for longer than the baby growing inside her.
Pushing herself around on the chair towards the window, she opened the metal blinds. Her eyes instinctively narrowed against the brightness of the afternoon. The sky was the brightest blue above the cream building opposite, just a few wisps of white clouds breaking up the colour. Eve massaged her temples, trying to ease the dull thud that seemed to be spreading from her eyes, up through her forehead, over her scalp before spreading heavily down to her shoulders and her upper arms. She turned the handle on the blinds and pushed herself back to her desk, relieved to be in the office gloom once more. At her desk she started to rummage about in her top drawer, through the assortment of pens, elastic bands, paper clips to find some pain relief. Then she remembered pain relief, in her condition, wasn’t allowed. A flash of irritation surged through her and she stood up, quicker than she could manage, and winced as the weight of the baby seemed to thud against her pelvis.
Well, she thought with a frown whilst taking deep, steadying breaths, this is new. She now felt like she had the weight and size of a bowling ball wedged tightly between her legs. The bowling ball was pressuring her bladder which was as uncomfortable as the sudden pain, so, with a sigh, she made a slow, almost lumbering walk towards her office door.
Once the handle was turned she straightened her back and lifted her chin before stepping through.
Turning left she walked past the photocopier with boxes of paper piled untidily next to it. When the team were working hard the office always became slightly messier. Eve had the corner office at the far end of the corporate department. Great for keeping herself in the midst of the action. Not so great when it came to using the bathroom. Her partners were in a row of offices next to hers running towards the door and, on the right, there was an array of desks at varying angles for the secretaries and the paralegals. Many of them had headphones on as they typed up the notes from the lawyers. Other than the fan-ruffled paper there was little noise, just the soft tapping of the keys, and the occasional murmuring coming from behind the closed doors.
Eve swept her eyes over the scene and was pleased with what she saw. The team had worked hard on this deal. She continued her walk and passed a couple of paralegals coming the other way. They said hello, slightly shyly, and flattened themselves against the wall so the head of corporate could walk past. Eve nodded at them.
Pushing open the toilet door just down a few steps off the landing, the heady smell of roses hit her nostrils from the collection of sticks in a glass jar of scent on a shelf above the sinks. There was also matching rose hand soap and hand cream. That, along with the smell of the chemicals to keep the toilets clean, cloyed with the heat and sank into Eve’s throat.
It was a two-cubicle toilet and Eve almost collided with Rowan, one of her junior lawyers, who was on the other side of the door. Rowan was a hard worker, an astute lawyer, and had helped Eve over the course of the Megatron deal. But, in the last few weeks Eve had been frustrated with her. Eve’s assistant, Alice, had told her that Rowan’s husband had ‘done the dirty’ so Eve had tried to be understanding. But now it was affecting her work. On Monday she’d happened to spot an error on Rowan’s part with the legal documents and had been furious. She’d ordered all of the documents Rowan had been working on to be brought into her office and had proof read late into the evening.
It was sad what had happened to Rowan. But work was important. Thousands and thousands of pounds were at stake. And Rowan wasn’t on her game. Now, here she was in the toilets, her eyes red-rimmed, her face falling as she saw Eve walk in.
“Everything okay?” Eve asked as Rowan hastily blew her nose and tried to act like she hadn’t been crying.
“Yes, of course,” said Rowan, her voice slightly higher than usual. Her eyes were bright and she was unable to look directly at Eve. “A touch of hayfever.”
Eve paused. Obviously Rowan was lying. She didn’t have hayfever.
As Eve watched Rowan wash her hands with the rose-scented soap, she saw a tear escape and trickle down her face before dripping onto the sink, merging and mixing with the water from the tap.
Eve’s heart went out to her. She stepped forward to put a hand on Rowan’s shoulder – then a voice appeared in her head. Her mother’s voice. “Do not let your staff see how you feel. Do not show any weakness.” Her mother, a Managing Partner in one of London’s biggest law firms, had instilled this into Eve for as long as she could remember.
“Rowan, I know you’re going through a tough time,” said Eve. She watched another tear slide down Rowan’s cheek. “But at work we need you to be one hundred percent here. One hundred percent focused.”
Rowan still had her head down.
“Otherwise,” and Eve tried to keep her voice gentle. “There’s no point turning up at all. Is there?”
Rowan startled, nodded, wiped her eyes with wet hands and clumsily escaped from the toilet – the door slamming loudly behind her.
And Eve walked into the vacant cubicle telling herself she had done the right thing before mentally listing everything she had to finish off before the end of the day.
One and a half hours later Alice knocked softly and walked into Eve’s office. Along with a handful of papers she brought with her the sounds of laughter and the pop of a champagne cork from the department’s small kitchen over on the other side of the room.
“They’re getting ready for you,” she said, closing the door behind her. Eve was sat on her settee, feet up, the fan pointing directly at her. Her dark hair rippled behind her in the breeze, the reading light picking out the reddish undertones. She had been going through her notebook checking everything had been completed, making notes for Alice and notes for herself on her return. She paused at Alice’s entrance and lifted up the bottom blinds, making the metal crackle, peering through at the office beyond. There were few people at their desks now. Instead there was a crowd of people inside the kitchen on the far side and a few milling around the door. Laughter and excitement for the end of the working week was evident which was starting slightly earlier than usual because their boss was going on maternity leave.
Alice was going through the pile of papers on Eve’s desk. “So, is this everything?”
Eve released the blinds with another crackle. “Yes, I’m all done. You might need to send me a few things on email next week that haven’t come in yet - ”
“Fine – but I’m only contacting you if it’s urgent,” said Alice. “You know how I feel about contacting you when you’re off. I am sure we can cope for six months.”
“Hmm.” Eve was back to checking her notes. She grimaced, just the tiniest flicker of discomfort from the bowling ball wedged between her legs. She should have known Alice wouldn’t have missed it.
“Everything alright?” asked Alice.
Eve’s pen paused for a moment. “Bit of a headache,” she admitted. “Probably too long staring at a screen. And I ache a bit.” She didn’t need to share where she was aching.
“You’re probably starting to relax a little after all the tension from the deal,” said Alice. “Why don’t you put your pumps on now?” Alice nodded at the heels that were next to the settee on the floor where Eve had kicked them off. “You’re not going to put them back on, surely?”
“I was,” said Eve. “But maybe you’re right. Go on then, give us a hand to get up.”
Alice proffered her hand and Eve ungainly got herself back into a sitting position. “Bloody hell, Alice. When did I get so pregnant?” She was puffing slightly from the exertion.
Alice studied her. “You do seem to have ballooned in the last few hours,” she said. “I’ll grab your flat shoes.”
Eve gently prodded her tummy. It was incredibly taut and Eve was sure she could feel the skin stretching underneath her hands. Returning from the desk Alice knelt down to put Eve’s shoes on. Eve heard her gasp and tried to peer over her bump to see what the gasp was about.
“What?” asked Eve clutching the side of the settee.
“It’s your ankles.” Eve felt a prod just above her foot. Then another and another.
Alice stood up, her knees cracking. “I don’t like the look of them, Eve. When do you next see your midwife?”
Eve grabbed her diary from the pile of documents next to her and flicked through the pages. “I’m due early next week to see her, - yes, on Monday.”
“Hopefully they’ll go down over the weekend with rest, but you really need to mention them to her.”
“Yes, yes, I’ll make a note – look.” Eve hastily wrote ‘ankles’ next to the midwife appointment.
“How on earth you’ve been managing in those heels, I do not know.”
“You’ve got to dress to impress,” said Eve – another of her mum’s sayings. Yet, even as she said it she was reminded of her encounter with Rowan earlier and her words, or rather her mum’s words, felt...different. Hollow.
“Oh I know,” said Alice busying herself with Eve’s shoes and had heard it all before. “Have you been drinking today?”
Eve looked at Alice, a sudden twinkle in her eyes.
“Water, I mean, not gin. Have you had enough?”
Alice was just ten years older than Eve, in her early forties, but she often treated Eve like one of her own children who were in their late teens. They were firm friends as well as colleagues and Eve only let her guard down with Alice – strictly no-one else in the firm.
Alice was now towering over Eve – her hands on her hips.
“Yes, I’ve drunk my water,” she said with a small laugh. Her face fell for a moment. “What will I do without you to sort me out every day?”
“Oh come on you,” said Alice nodding towards the door. “It’s taken years to build up your reputation let’s not lose it all in the eleventh hour by you going soppy on me.”
Eve mentally shook herself. “You’re right,” she said. “It must be my hormones – not that I believe in them.”
Alice smiled and hauled Eve, now in flat shoes, upwards. “Of course you don’t. Pregnant not ill. Yes I know. Now, come on, Mr Threadgold has just arrived. You’d better jump to it.”
Eve, ignoring the weight in her pelvis and the tightness of her skin, squared her shoulders, lifted her chin, and only wobbled very slightly as she got used to her new centre of gravity without her heels. At the door she reapplied her lipstick in the mirror, then pulled the handle and walked out into the murmuring throng.
She stood the other side of the door, knowing the ever-reliable Alice would be behind her tidying the office. It was tidy enough for her but not ‘Alice-tidy’. So Eve, unnoticed in her doorway, watched the tray with glasses of champagne being brought out of the kitchen. Secretaries, legal assistants, paralegals and some of the junior layers were reaching for a glass.
Mr Threadgold, the Managing Partner, was talking to Peter, one of the newer partners in her team. Like Eve a few years earlier, Peter had been poached from a modern, forward-thinking law firm. Eve had been at university with him, though a year ahead of him, and been the instigator and driver in his recruitment.
Mr Threadgold was obviously delighted with whatever Peter was saying as there was a lot of shoulder clapping and hand-shaking. His long, grey comb-over kept falling forward in his excitement and he had to keep pushing it back up his head. Eve couldn’t help but compare the way Peter was congratulated, all jocular and jokey, on a work deal, compared to how she was. She couldn’t remember a time when Mr Threadgold slapped her on the back whilst shaking her hand.
Eve suddenly frowned, wondering what deal Peter could be telling him about. It couldn’t be Megatron as Peter had done very little on it. Unless it was a new client? But then, all work and deals came through her as the head of the department. Eve’s stomach did a loop of anxiety that had nothing to do with the baby.
One of the secretaries who’d just taken a large gulp of her champagne caught Eve’s eye. Making her cough and splutter as she decided drinking a large gulp was not seemly in front of the boss. The noise attracted the rest of the room and eyes swivelled towards Eve, with ties being straightened and a hush spreading through the room.
“Ah, Eve,” said Mr Threadgold pushing his hair back again and removing his handkerchief from his pocket to mop his brow. A glass of champagne appeared in his hand and an orange juice was pushed into Eve’s.
As the crowd hushed the other corporate partners and associates came out of their offices. Richard was scowling; annoyed at the interruption. Ken, who had been out on a boozy lunch with clients, looked badly like he needed a hair of the dog already, his head craning towards the back where a tray of champagne was steadily making its way through the room. Natasha came out of her office smoothing her skirt and giving Eve an excited thumb up. The rest of the partners and associates looked relieved to pause in their work for a while. Just because the support staff were finishing up, didn’t mean they were.
“We are gathering here this afternoon for two very special reasons.” Mr Threadgold paused to dab his handkerchief against his forehead . So many bodies together in a small space made the temperature of the already warm room go up a couple of degrees. Eve shifted her stance and pressed her hand into her lower back.
“As you all know, Eve has led you, her outstanding team, to refinance Megatron to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. It is an amazing achievement, both for Eve personally and for Gibston and Stack.”
There was a round of applause.
“Eve, come next to me would you please?”
Eve, pushed herself away from the wall that had been easing the burden of the weight on her ankles and walked, like she was walking through a vat of honey, to where Mr Threadgold was standing. By the time she got there she could feel the sweat collecting on her top lip.
“We are incredibly grateful you delayed your maternity leave in order to finalise the deal,” continued Mr Threadgold, unaware of Eve’s discomfort.
“So, without further ado...”
Folding his hanky carefully back into his pocket, patting his hair and pushing his glasses back up his nose, he peered for his secretary, and made a motion with his hand. Maria walked forward with a beautiful bouquet of summer flowers.
“I’d like to present these to Eve to say a huge thank you, to say good luck and we look forward to your return in a few months time.”
Eve received the large bunch of flowers with grace but briefly wondered how on earth she’d manage to get such a vast bunch home as well as carrying the heavy baby in her pelvis. But she smiled and looked around the room at all the eyes on her.
“I’d like to say a few words, if I may,” she turned to Mr Threadgold who smiled and nodded; though it was a statement from Eve rather than a question. She placed the flowers down on the desk beside her.
“I know I work you hard and those who have been working on this deal with me have put in long hours and late nights. And those who haven’t directly worked on this deal have had to increase their own workload to take up the slack. I just want to say thank you. Your hard work has not gone unnoticed. And, I’m sure, your wage packet will show you how grateful we are.”
She could hear the smiles emanating from her audience.
Eve’s eyes swept the room - Rowan was there at the back looking like she wanted to be somewhere, anywhere, else. Eve paused, she knew what she was going to say but couldn’t quite believe she was. Her mum’s voice was loud in her head but Eve pushed her to one side.
“I particularly want to thank Rowan.” Eve looked directly at her. “Rowan without your hard work in the beginning this deal would never have grown to what it became. So thank you.”
Rowan’s face coloured.
Speeches done, the champagne glasses where topped up and plates of small cupcakes were circulated around the room.
Mr Threadgold, smiling with satisfaction at the noise and hubbub in front of him turned to Eve. “So what do you think of Peter’s Goose Hotel news then?”
Eve stared at him. “Goose Hotel?”
“Yes, Adrian Forbe’s chain of hotels. You didn’t know?”
Eve shook her head; detecting from his voice that he felt this was her fault rather than Peter’s.
Mr Threadgold turned and tapped Peter on the shoulder.
“I think you need to explain your news to Eve,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “Get her up to speed.”
Peter looked from Mr Threadgold to Eve, who had narrowed her eyes, and he had the grace to look embarrassed. “I didn’t want to bother Eve as she was so busy finishing off the Megatron deal,” he said. “Plus, she leaves today...”
“Maternity leave, Peter. Not permenant.”
‘Right,” said Mr Threadgold breaking the charged silence. “I’ll leave you two to it.”
Eve was starring at Peter. “That didn’t take you long,” she said.
“Pardon?” Peter’s face was blank and innocent. Too blank and innocent. Eve wasn’t fooled.
“Why don’t we go into my office,” said Eve. So they made the painful walk through the throng, Peter often bumping into her as he mistimed her speed, until they were finally in the office and she closed the door firmly behind them. She sat down in her office chair masking her relief with her seriously annoyed face.
“It is polite to wait for your boss to leave the office before you attempt to poach her job.”
“Let’s get this straight. I am going on maternity leave. I’m not ill, not dead. Not leaving for another job,” said Eve. “Don’t take me for a bloody mug.”
Eve stared at Peter and he stared back. Until he suddenly exhaled.
“Ok, you’re right. Worth a shot though, eh? Just in case you have the baby and don’t want to come back?”
“That may have been the case with Lucy, but it won’t be with me. I love my job. My job means everything to me. I’m not leaving, ok?”
“That’s what my wife said, too.”
“I’m not Lucy.”
“Got it,” said Peter.
I’m not Lucy, thought Eve. Lucy used to a power woman. Now look at her, all she talks about is her baby, and baby swimming, or the Tiny Tears (or was it Tiny Tots?) group she belongs to...I’d hate to be like her.
“So – you’ve taken on a new client? Goose Hotels I hear. Tell me about it.”
“I’ll give you the shortened version,” said Peter. “I met Adrian Forbes about six months ago, socially. We got talking and I mentioned my move to Gibston & Stack. He already knew about you, you’re creating quite a name for yourself you know?”
Eve arched her eyebrow.
“Too much sucking up?”
She nodded, a glimmer of a smile danced across her lips.
“Noted. So – when he suddenly had to find new lawyers rather urgently he called me. Good job he’s got a good memory, eh?”
Peter went on to describe the type of work The Goose Hotel wanted to be done.
And Eve sat back in her chair and listened. The noise of the party was no longer heard. The heat of the day was not felt. She even forgot about her skin stretching underneath her stylish maternity suit.
Eve’s mind was starting to rev up again and her heart felt loud in her chest. This was a fantastic opportunity. The Goose Hotel Group were an innovative, forward thinking British company with a vibrant, exciting CEO, who had voiced ambitions for an airline along with a desire to get involved in the travel side of social media. They were a fast growing and exciting company to work for. This was huge business. And it sounded exactly the sort of project she’d give her left arm to get involved in.
Peter stopped talking and waited for Eve’s response.
“Interesting,” she said.
“Absolutely. This could provide us with exciting work for the years to come and brand us as the modern firm you and me know we really are. Plus it would move us strategically to the international arena.”
They chatted further about how they could work with them.
“So...am I forgiven?” Peter asked just as his phone rang.
“I’ll think about it.”
Peter stood up to take the call.
He held his hand against the speaker and edge towards the door.
“Good luck,” he said, pointing his eyes towards her bump.
She smiled and nodded and Peter exited to take the phone call. The business with Goose Hotels was now starting in earnest despite it being a late Friday afternoon.
Eve opened her laptop and started research into Goose Hotels. She felt goose bumps over her arms, despite the warmth of the office. Her career had been leading up to this moment. A fission of excitement shuddered through her body.
Then a foot, or maybe it was a hand, bulged forward out of her stomach.
She wouldn’t get to work for The Goose Hotel Group over the next few months. Because she wouldn’t be here. She’d be on maternity leave. She was going to be a mum. She wouldn’t be coming into the office every day. She’d be miles away. At home in Buckinghamshire.
An uncomfortable, prickly sensation was starting - like agitated butterflies in her stomach that quickly rose upwards, bringing with it an acidic, sickly indigestion, which settled just below her throat. Her palms were sweating and Eve gripped the edge of the desk. Her mouth was dry; foolishly she took a drink of the orange juice that was sitting on her desk hoping it would lubricate her throat, but it just made the acid worse.
She retched into the bucket by her desk and her indigestion subsided slightly.Eve reached for the tissues on her shelf next to her and wiped her mouth and forehead, which was slick with perspiration.
For a minute there she’s been thinking she didn’t want her baby.
The thought made her blush with shame.