This is the eleventh part of a fiction serial, in 1350 words.
On the short drive home that Sunday afternoon, Steve was running through a serious reappraisal of his life. The impact of the time spent with Sophie had been overwhelming. He had to admit to himself that he had told her the truth, and that he was crazy about her. He could imagine living with her in that small flat, coming home to her after work, returning to a very different life than the one he had settled into with Ellie. Sure, she might be in her forties, but so what? She was something special, a force of nature. Confident, affectionate, and so much more. He had expected to feel guilty, but he didn’t. He felt energised, excited, and ready to make some significant changes.
Ellie was upstairs in the spare room when he got home. She was ironing all her clothes for the week at work. As he looked around the door, she smiled. “How did the match go? Did you all get really drunk?” He had remembered to check the result of course. “We won. It was unexpected, but the lads were very happy. Strangely enough, nobody got that drunk, but it might have been worse if we had lost”. She nodded at the ironing board. “I will be about thirty minutes, then I will start to prepare dinner, OK?” She seemed normal, and he was sure she didn’t suspect a thing. As he turned on the landing, he remembered to ask. “How did it go with your parents? Are they OK?” Through a sudden burst of steam, she answered. “Oh, I didn’t go in the end. I just stayed here”.
Back downstairs, Steve suddenly remembered he hadn’t worn the football shirt. He took his small case into the kitchen, emptied all the clothes into the washing machine, added the powder, and turned it on. Then he walked quickly through to the living room, and switched on his laptop. There was nothing from Sophie on his emails, but as he had only left there twenty minutes earlier, that was to be expected. He waited, listening to the bursts of steam from the iron upstairs. There would be time for a quick message.
‘Dearest Sophie, I just cannot express what a wonderful time I had this weekend. As I told you, you are just fantastic, and you have changed my life around. I didn’t just say I was crazy about you, I meant it. On the way home, I was imagining us being together, full-time. What a terrific life we could have. I don’t care that you are older, and I won’t even ask your age. You have opened up my world, and it is just amazing. Let’s try to meet up soon, and have a serious chat about taking the next step. What do you think? I love you. Your Steve. XXXXX’
He had gone to the five kisses, in capitals too. Sophie couldn’t mistake his intentions, he was certain of that. He pressed ‘Send’, and logged off.
The evening was pleasant enough. Ellie cooked a nice dinner, and they watched a new drama serial on TV. She didn’t mention the football weekend again, and he didn’t ask why she hadn’t visited her parents. When she went up to bed just after ten, he kissed her goodnight, and turned down the volume on the TV, so as not to disturb her. Once he was sure she was in bed, he opened his laptop, and logged on to his emails.
Nothing. That was a surprise, as he had expected something from Sophie. Even one line, to acknowledge what he had suggested. Maybe she wasn’t online? She might well be sleeping off the excesses of their weekend together. But he wasn’t about to let it bother him, not after everything she had said to him since Friday evening. He would wait until tomorrow, she would definitely email him when she woke up.
As he pulled into the car park at work the next morning, Steve checked his phone. Still nothing, and she would have been at work by now. Oh well, a busy day ahead for both of them, no doubt. He would catch up with Sophie later.
He kept busy by going over all the previous reports and costings, in case they were needed. Just after eleven, he went to get a coffee in the staff room, and checked his phone again. Still nothing. As he left the room holding the paper cup, he was surprised to see his boss standing in the corridor. Next to him was the security guard, Thomas. “Steve, can you follow me, please. I need to speak to you in my office. Put the coffee back inside”. His tone was flat, and Steve searched for a word to describe it.
In the large office, nobody sat down. Thomas stood with his back to the closed door, a bored look on his face. The boss turned a large laptop around, so the screen faced Steve. As his finger hovered over one of the keys he looked up, his face pale. “I want you to watch this, and then you can explain it to me”. He pressed something, and what appeared on the screen made Steve recoil in alarm.
It was Sophie’s bedroom. He was sprawled out naked on her bed, and she was sitting on the other side, wearing that silly robe. The quality of the footage was remarkably good, and even though it was in black and white, he could see and hear every detail. An icy shiver ran up his back, as he heard himself speaking on the screen.
“Sorry about that, Sophie love. I was stressed earlier. But it wasn’t you, honestly. Just work. We have been waiting on the acceptance of some tenders for a big job. We submitted a few totalling almost fourteen million, and we have no idea what our competitors have priced the jobs at. That’s why things have been so fraught recently. Nothing to do with you at all, you’re fantastic”.
He couldn’t speak, but his boss did. “At eight this morning, our chief competitor submitted a revised tender bid of less than thirteen million pounds. It has already been accepted, and we are unable to compete with that, so no point trying to. I presume this woman, whoever she is, supplied them with the information on our bid, based on your pillow talk. They are not saying of course, claiming that they never even received this video. All those months of work down the drain, jobs at risk, and all because you wanted to impress some tart with your self-importance. What have you got to say, Steve?”
He didn’t want to say anything, fearful that he might vomit over the huge mahogany desk. It felt as if he was falling down a flight of stairs, unable to stop his descent.
“I thought as much. Don’t think I didn’t consider charges of industrial espionage, but I doubt it was the case. You were just showing off to that woman, hoping to big yourself up by boasting to her. That’s it, isn’t it?” Steve couldn’t look at him, and simply nodded. No point trying to talk it through.
“OK, you are suspended with pay, pending an official disciplinary hearing for gross misconduct. Hand your staff pass over to Thomas, and he will take you to get your personal stuff, then see you off the premises. Are you listening to me?” Steve nodded again, then followed Thomas back to his desk. The eyes of everyone else in the office were averted, as he picked up a few things and dropped them into a large envelope. They didn’t want to be associated with him. The news had already spread around the building, like a wildfire.
Fumbling with his keys next to the car, Steve dropped the envelope, and finally vomited onto the tarmac. There was hardly anything to bring up, but it left him feeling cold, and he was shivering.
As he sunk to his knees, unable to support his weight any longer, the message beep went off on his phone.