Harriet decided, after spending a couple of nights at Adam’s and a painful shift at the café, that she was better off finally cutting her losses. Marie was horrible at work, blaming Harriet for everything that went wrong, falsely accusing her of being rude to a customer, reprimanding her openly…
It was all Harriet could do to not let Marie see her cry at work, the other staff were keeping their heads down, probably fearful for their own jobs leaving her to face the onslaught alone. Even the regular customers, though they looked on, didn’t seem to care about the shouting and accusations happening around them as they waited for their coffee and cakes.
Harriet walked out of the café at the end of her shift and wept as she walked back to Adam’s house. It was the last straw, something that had been coming for a long time. The hurt was different this time, harder and deeper. It felt more terminal. Harriet had walked away before but Marie was always apologetic, loving, and supportive, until Harriet went back. She was finally opening her eyes and seeing the awful mess her life was now. Marie wasn’t going to change, wasn’t going to become a genuinely nice person, wasn’t ever going to care.
Harriet wasn’t going back, not this time, not back to Marie’s house and not back to the café. The wages for that week were so low anyway that it wasn’t worth worrying about. There was no chance of a share of the tips jar either.
So little to lose, so little left, nothing worth going back for. Yep, be brave and cut your losses and run. Harriet thought, she could forget the notice period, and it wasn’t as if she’d get a good reference from Marie, even if she needed one. Hopefully she’d be able to stay at Adam’s a bit longer until she found somewhere else.
Harriet dried her tears as she let herself in at Adam’s house.
“Adam, I need a favour.”
“On top of the favour you have now?” Adam laughed.
“Yeah, ha, and I am grateful for you letting me stay here a while.”
“Any time, you are always welcome. What do you need?”
“Can you come with me to get my stuff back, please? Marie won’t be so nasty if there is someone with me.”
“Of course, we’ll both be there for you, and I can call a few mates too, if you want. Are you finally moving out? It has taken you a while to see how bad Marie has been for you, but I am glad we can help now. We all are.”
“All?” Harriet looked up, confused.
“Ahh, oh kay, look. All your friends, and us, have seen this coming, but we couldn’t do anything until you were ready…”
“What do you mean? I thought nobody liked me any more, no one else is talking to me!”
“They, we… Well, none of us liked Marie, but we still loved you. We just waited, and looked out for you. OK, yeah, we were talking about you behind your back too, but in a good way, trying to figure out how to help you when you were ready. You just didn’t know, you weren’t ready to know.”
“Oh shit, you’ve all been talking about me?” Harriet began to cry.
“We’ve all been worried about you, and finding ways to keep you safe. Marie always kicked off if we spent too much time with you so we hid that, and saw you when we could, sneaky like. It’s why we still came to the café.”
“But you all ignored me!”
“Well, yeah! We knew if we talked to you too much Marie would give you a hard time later, so we backed off, had a coffee, and just kept an eye on you.
Look, Sarah has a rental storage unit she says you can use for your stuff, its for her stuff at work but it isn’t full. And Robbie Singh says you can use his van, no charge, whenever. He’s a good guy, and I trust him. Amanda and I want you to stay with us as long as you need, or until you find a new place, and we can help with that if you need. We’re all here for you.”
Harriet had never cried so hard, or for so long. She still had friends, she was out, she was safe, nearly. But the weight was lifting with every sob. Amanda came in with tea, and gently put a blanket over Harriet’s shoulders as she cried.
Harriet was never going back to Marie, Adam and Amanda would see to that. Discrete phone calls were made as Harriet slept off the tears. Her friends readied for action. A mini military style manoeuvre, organised and planned in meticulous detail, Harriet wasn’t going in alone, not this time. Not any more. This time she had back up.
Later that night, after Amanda had finished phoning around and pulling together Harriet’s friends she went in to Harriet’s room to let her know what was going to happen.
“Harriet,” Amanda said, “Here’s the plan. When you are ready, we’ll go and get your stuff. I will phone Marie at the café and tell her we are coming to get your stuff. We’ll already be at the house then…
You still have your key don’t you?”
“Yes, I still have the key.”
“Good, we’ll be at the house already so there is no time for her to get home, and I will make sure she knows that. We’ll load Robbie’s van, you just have to tell us what to take, and what to leave. We can then get it all over to Sarah’s ‘Stor-It Box’, Marie doesn’t know where that is, so it will all be safe. You can then stay here as long as you need, With Adam working from home you won’t need to feel alone if Marie comes looking to cause trouble.”
“Thank you, thank you both, all of you. You don’t know what it means to me.”
Daisy sat in the café with Steve. He seemed like the best person to talk to about leaving modelling and returning to college.
Steve used to work for one of the temping agencies that Daisy occasionally got office work gigs from. They had got on really well professionally but then developed a friendship that continued on after he ‘escaped’, as he often put it. Steve had hit a metaphorical wall one day at work and decided to leave very suddenly, booking all his leave and handing in notice in the same move. At the time everyone thought he was having some kind of break down but from the moment he left the office, the moment he took his suit off at home for the last time, he knew it was the right thing to have done. Steve had a spring in his step, a genuine smile on his face, and a weight off his shoulders. He suddenly felt alive and human again.
“It was like waking up one morning and finding that wet and miserable January evening you went to bed with was suddenly a glorious early summer morning! My whole world seem to light up and everything looked better, more alive, like it was real and not some kinda dingy TV soap.”
Steve always became very animated when ever he talked about ‘escaping’. He was almost evangelical about it.
“You so should jack it in! You were always too good to just temp and have your photo in a clothes catalogue.”
“I like the way you put my career choice after my pin money ‘filling in’ jobs!”
“Well, lets be honest, you probably did more hours for us then you did in front of the camera, and how many other temping agencies were you with at the same time?”
“Oh I know, I know, I was an agency temp who modelled to fill in the quiet moments between gigs. It just hurts my ego to hear it out loud.”
Daisy was laughing at herself, they both knew that as much as she liked posing in front of a camera she was never egotistical about it, it was always just work. But he kind of work with a ‘best before’ date.
“So now you’ve decided…”
“Who’s decided? I was just thinking out loud!”
“So now ‘you have decided’, you just don’t recognise it yet, what do you want to do with yourself? Go behind the camera, become an agent yourself, attend classes on web building and digital support services? Just kidding, I know that’s not what floats your boat.”
“Well, the classes thing… I went to the tech college on enrolment week and…”
“You? At college? At a technical college? Who are you and what have you done with Daisy?”
“Pack it in, I’m being serious. I went to find out, that’s all. I’m not going to be a plumber, or a brick layer, not with my hands, they are far too nice for that!”
Daisy paused to admire here hands, she was proud of them, but they were starting to look less photogenic for modelling.
“Anyway, I asked about a degree in… what was it? Oh yeah, History of Art, Architecture, and Design, but I won’t, well, probably won’t, get in as I don’t have enough academic experience.”
“So that’s a dead end then?”
“Not really, I just need to prove myself. If I can show them, show myself really, that I can do research and academic essay writing then I might be onto something. I mean, how hard can it be? I’ve thrown myself into some really tough gigs and not messed up. You know that.”
“True, you were always good for whatever we threw at you back then. But a degree?…”
“You don’t think I can do it?”
“Oh not, not that, it is just, well, not like you. Well not like the you I thought I knew, you’ve never mentioned anything like academic research, or history of… whatsit… and design. But good on you! If it’s what you fancy doing now you’re ‘running away from the circus’, then all power to you!”
“I’m not running away…”
“Oh you so are, I can see it in you, you can’t wait to get moving!”
“Hmmm, yeah, you might be right there. So, say I am going to escape like you did, what do I do for a living now I am not a model any more?”
“Which bit are you really giving up then? The modelling or the temping? Serious question.”
“Oh, just the modelling! No, both. One was always supporting the other, and I can’t go half way. I mean, I am thirty blah years old and I am living with a bunch of twenty somethings all hoping to make it in something in the media. I am sure they will, but mostly, they’ll probably end up like me, pushing mid life and no further on. I can’t change that for them but I can change it for me.”
“Do you have any modelling commitments, agency work lined up that you still have to do?”
“Nope, it’s all done, and gone a bit flat for a while. Not looked for anything else yet, but if I am not going back to the agency gigs…”
“Wanna do something dirty with those fine hands of yours?”
“What are you suggesting, Stephen Grant! I am a decent, innocent, girl!” Daisy laughed in mock horror.
“Come and work at the Environment Centre, with me. We’re always taking on volunteers and paid part timers when we can, and I know one of the recycling chaps wants to move into more of the wildlife work at the centre so we’ll be down a collector.”
“Me? Be a… bin man…? Well that would be a change! Haha… You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Well, look at me, have I been happier? Less stressed? More full of the joys of spring? OK, granted we’re getting into autumn now and the weather is going to get crap in winter but to be honest, once you’re working you don’t notice.”
“Oh as if an ex fashion model is going to fit in with you lot! You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“Well, I guess as an ‘air head’ ex model…”
“Who are you calling an ‘air head’ matey, I’ll have you know I’m going to be doing a degree in history!” Daisy put on her best fake pout before laughing out loud.
“You haven’t got the degree yet, and in the recycling team we have three MSc, four MBa, and two PhD between five of us! So maybe that was a bad idea. It’ll bring the average down!” Steve threw his head back laughing.
“Well, that was quite a put down, even if you only meant it in jest. I knew you had a good qualification but I didn’t reckon on all of you being that well educated. I though you were the odd ball one.”
“Hey, hey, that wasn’t meant as a put down, we all escaped in one form or another. And, look, if you want to do something academic then you’ll have a great bunch of mates there to give you a bit of support. There probably more academic learning experience and knowledge in the team then you’d have access to in any college or university. Come and meet the team, and the boss, see how you get on. You can just volunteer for a shift, though they might ‘force you’ to get paid for it, and see how you feel.”
“Do you think I should? I suppose I could, nothing to lose and all that. Cheers, when do I start?”