The friendly sort

I’m a friendly sort, that’s what everyone says, and it’s true. Smiles are the only currency that increase when you spend them, that’s what I say, and I give them out freely. I greet the world with a smile and that’s how it greets me. You get back what you put out there. Which is why it was so shocking when the new sales manager was actively hostile. I hadn’t even introduced myself.

“Not now,” he’d barked when I knocked on his open door.

“Oh, no problem, Mark, I can come back later,” I’d started, crossing the floor to the desk. “I’m Cathy, I do five, six and the E suite. That’s what we call the Executive Suite.” I shifted the hose of the vacpac into my left hand and held out my right. He recoiled: actually bodily withdrew from me. He turned back to the computer screen.

“Get out of my office,” he told it.

I didn’t hold it against him. I knew he was new to town, as well as the firm and he was from head office. Who knew what passed for polite behaviour there? I went back after he left and I put one of my little cards on his keyboard. I found it torn in half in his bin the next night. Still, you can’t hold that against someone.

The next time I saw Mark in the office, I watched until I saw him pull on his coat, then I intercepted him on the way to the lift. He looked like he was big city.

“We got off on the wrong foot,” I laughed, pulling a face to let him know it wasn’t his fault. “I was just being friendly, you know, new guy in town.”

“Do I look like I need your friendship?”

It hurt. It burned my cheeks and ate through my gut. It was high school, it was my cheating husband, it was every rejection I’d ever had. I didn’t mean to tell the MD, but Mr Roberts is a good man and he saw I was miserable. He went red, and promised me he’d speak to him.

The next night Mr Roberts was waiting for me when I came on shift, with Mark beside him all apologetic. I was wary but he was charming.

“We did get off on the wrong foot – because I was an a-” He looked bashful. “I was rude.” His smooth looks creased into dimples. “What I meant was I’m not here to make friends.” He looked at the MD and shrugged. “This job is really important to me, I don’t want any distractions.” He held out his hand and I took it. He looked me in the eyes.

“I’m sorry. Let me buy you a drink after you finish. An apology and a chance to get to know each other.”

I agreed. Mr Roberts nodded in approval.

“Cathy’s part of the family here,” he said. He’s a good man.

Mark took me to a noisy bar near the college, full of half-naked teenagers that he couldn’t take his eyes off. I still had on my uniform. He bought me the house white, and himself a scotch that he gulped down. He made no pretence of conversation – not that you could hear over the music, a racket that made me feel all my years. I rushed my drink, ashamed at being duped. The second my glass was empty, he was on his feet. He marched me out, propelling me by the elbow, just tight enough to make me gasp. Outside, college students wooed and argued in the street, punchy with beer and rum and lust. He steered me through them, invisible, and forced me down an alley and up against a wall.

“You feeling it yet? The roofy? Making your head swim?”

I tried to get away. The brick scraped on my head, scratched my shirt. His hand closed over my throat. My head felt light and my vision blurred. I couldn’t breathe.

“I can do anything to you.”

My mind raced from horror to horror. I pleaded with my eyes, clawed at his fingers. Abruptly he let me go.

“As if. I wouldn’t fuck you with someone else’s cock.” He spat at my feet. “Just know what I could do at anytime if you get me in trouble again.”

He left me there gasping like a fish drowning in the air. He’d driven to the bar and I was stranded there, feeling old and alone and and unloved.

I’m too old for that shit.

The next day at work I was all sunshine, as usual. Mr Roberts was with him again.

“Hello, Mr Roberts! Hello, Mark,” I sang out with a smile. Mr Roberts nodded happily. Mark smirked.

I served my revenge cold, but I made sure I was there when the police came and took him and his computer away. The young women who’d been seduced by his good looks were disgusted, and it showed on their faces. He protested. I liked that he looked scared. Someone had to pack up his personal belongings and take them to him, after he was charged and released on bail. Of course I volunteered with a smile. I’m the friendly sort.

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