This is the third part of a fiction serial, in 715 words.
I was aware that I had sat down on ‘my side’ of the bed. I smiled a grim smile, wondering how soon it might become someone else’s side. How had it come to this? It had been so different at the beginning.
When I met Becky, I was twenty-six years old. Unlike some of my friends, I had decided not to go to university. I wanted a job, not the chance of a career when I was almost thirty. I coasted through school, disappointing my parents with average O-level results. So I left and went to sixth-form college, where I worked a bit harder and came out with three pretty good A-levels. That got me a start with the biggest of the big four banks.
It also proved to be the kiss of death for the relationship I had enjoyed since we were fifteen. My girlfriend Paula was the only Chinese girl at the school. She was clever, much cleverer than me, and her parents didn’t really approve of her having a regular boyfriend at that age, especially one who was not Chinese. They owned four prosperous retaurants in Soho, and lived in a house three times the size of ours. Her older brother was a research scientist in some lab at Cambridge University, and they expected great things of her.
But she adored me, and they hadn’t counted on that.
So they did what rich people can do, and paid for her to go to college in America. Berkeley, the one in California. It was a big carrot to dangle, and I didn’t blame Paula for grabbing it with both hands. Maybe if I had decided on an Englsh university, she might have followed me there.
Then again, maybe not.
The same time I lost her, I lost Luke, my best friend. He went to university to study computing and electronics. As he had never so much as kissed a girl, he had very little to leave behind.
But I had new friends at work. Or so I thought. It took me a while to realise that colleagues are not the same as friends, even if you go to lunch with them, then out for drinks after work. For one thing, they live all over the place, so it’s unlikely you will meet up at weekends. And for another, you put up with each other because you have to. You need to be able to cope with being with them for around nine or ten hours a day, so it seems only natural to continue that connection by going to the pub on your way home, or all grabbing a meal at TGI Fridays.
Even in my late teens, I worked out that most of those guys were not the sort who I would usually choose to be friends with. They judged on appearances, talked a lot about gadgets, cars, and money. They discussed women by type, as if they were pedigree dog breeds, and looked down on anyone who actually loved their girlfriend. My dad had a word for those kind of guys.
But I liked the job. I liked wearing a suit and tie to work, and didn’t even mind the boring train journey from Gidea Park into the city. I felt grown up, and the pay was pretty good too. I learned stuff. Stuff about money, and the money markets. How to buy Yen when the market closed in Japan, and then to hang on to sell it until the market opened in New York. Not real money, in the physical sense. Numbers on a computer screen, with some in red, others in green, and many in white. There were plus and minus signs, graphs, trends, and predictions. I was a junior in the section dealing with predictions. Millions made or lost in the course of a working day. Stress on steroids.
I looked over their shoulders, listened in on their phone calls. Always learning.
They worked late, so I stayed late. Even though I didn’t have to. Three years later, and I was sitting in front of a screen wearing a headset. I was talking to customers and agents, buying and selling international currency as if I knew what I was talking about.
And fortunately, I did.