Back at the car park, it hadn’t seemed particularly windy but up here, right at the top of the cliffs, there’s a surprisingly strong, cold breeze, riffling my hair as my trousers flap around my ankles. It gently pushes and pulls at me as if urging me to make a decision. I can hear the distant rumble of the sea surging against the jagged rocks below and see the storm clouds massing at the edge of the darkening sky.
I step closer to the edge, wobbling a little, my knees suddenly weak. I’ve never been keen on heights and below me the cliffs spin dizzyingly as I try to comprehend how my life has been turned upside-down in such a short space of time. How on earth had I gotten myself into this awful mess?
If my memory’s correct, it was the second day of April when I first met Fiona. We’d been expecting someone for weeks, had joked about the coming of the ‘grim reaper’ from head office. The rumours had been gathering for months as sales of the new version of our software had stalled and the cost-cutting emails had started appearing in our inboxes. “Please save paper by printing on both sides.” “From today, all expenses have to be signed off by someone at level four (department head or above).” “Think green! Please save power by switching off all electrical equipment when not in use.”
Although it was often promoted as part of our green agenda or good business practice, more experienced employees like me recognised it as the first signs of something more significant, the financial storm clouds gathering on the horizon. Sure enough, a few weeks later everyone had heard the same rumour: that head office in London was sending some people down to look at our costs and make some recommendations for savings. The consensus was that we needed to cut ten to fifteen per cent off the wage bill, which sounded like an awful lot of redundancies in a company of around three hundred people.
To be fair, our new owners, Phoenix Software, had left us alone for a couple of years after the takeover, but now times were tighter and it was clear that they thought cuts were the only way forward.
We’d been expecting a small team of sober, middle-aged accountants so I was pleasantly surprised when Terry, the head of Research and Development, introduced me to a tall, attractive woman wearing designer, black-rimmed glasses, who looked to be in her mid-thirties.
“David, this is Fiona,” he said. Something about her compelled me to stand, and I noted how tall she was as I offered my hand.
“Nice to meet you,” she said, her full lips curling into a friendly smile and revealing pearly white teeth as she grasped my hand, giving it a firm, confident shake.
“Likewise,” I said.
In retrospect, I should have known it wouldn’t be a typical work relationship at that moment; something about her just didn’t seem normal. It might have been the way her slim fingers grasped mine for slightly too long, or her slightly knowing smile, or maybe the way she was dressed. Her skirt just a little on the short side, her grey silk blouse perhaps slightly too clingy. Nothing too obvious or unusual, but in retrospect all the warning signs were there in that brief moment our eyes met for the first time.
“I think I mentioned to you last week that Fiona’s down from head office for a couple of months, to help us with our reorganisation.”
“Yes, of course,” I said. How could I forget? The ‘reorganisation’ or ‘downsizing’ (or whatever euphemism that management was using this week) was all that we’d been talking about recently.
“Great, well I’ve given Fiona Alan’s old office and told her she can come to you if she has any technical problems,” Terry said.
“Sure, I’m happy to help,” I said with a smile, eager to please the woman who’d be reviewing our positions.
“Pleasure to meet you, David,” Fiona said as they swept on towards the Terry’s corner office.
“Is that her?” Gwen whispered, leaning over the partition as Terry and Fiona moved onto to meet the Support team, who were at the other end of the floor.
“Gwen the Goth” had worked at the company for years, everybody knows her. It’s hard to miss her with her nose stud, black lipstick and brightly coloured hair. This week it was bright purple. She’s quite open about being a lesbian and the other managers often make jokes about me having her on my team to fulfil some imaginary quota or improve our ‘street cred’. In fact, she’s one of the best programmers I have, and the one person I trust to look after the rest of the team when I’m on holiday.
“Yeah,” I replied, sitting back down and unlocking my PC.
“I imagined a grim, middle-aged hatchet man in an expensive suit,” she concluded. “She’s quite attractive though, huh?”
“I hadn’t really noticed,” I lied as I watched Terry escort her towards Translation, her heels clacking on the hardwood floor, unable to take my eyes off her pert bottom wiggling provocatively beneath her tight black skirt.
It was a couple of days later, a Wednesday morning, that she suddenly maltepe escort appeared beside my desk.
“Hi,” I said, hurriedly slipping off my headphones.
“It’s David, right? I’ve got a problem with my laptop, would you mind having a quick look?”
Fiona’s temporary office was large enough to have a desk in front of the outside window as well as a small area containing a modest sofa, coffee table and a couple of pot plants. Venetian blinds covered the glass partitions, giving her some privacy from the rest of the office.
“I just don’t seem able to connect to the network this morning,” she said, gesturing towards her laptop which sat on a large wooden desk.
“Okay, are you on wireless or are you using a LAN cable?”
“I can’t seem to get a decent wi-fi signal in here, so I’m using a cable,” she explained as she sat down.
The LAN cable appeared to have a solid connection with the laptop’s socket, so I found myself kneeling on the thin, biscuit-coloured carpet and crawling beneath her desk as she slid her chair to one side, tracing the cable down into the floor socket.
“Aha! I think the cable’s been plugged into the wrong floor socket, let’s see if we can find one that works. How about this one?” I said, crouching on all fours as I stretched beneath the desk.
“Let me see… um, no,” she replied.
She was wearing a short, navy skirt and I couldn’t resist twisting my head a little and taking in the view of her long, slender legs, clad in sheer dark nylon. I’ve always found stockings very sexy. I guess it’s something about the way they’re so ultra-feminine and somehow enhance the shape of womens’ legs.
“Okay, and now?” I said, trying to concentrate on network sockets as I watched her slowly cross her legs with a faint hiss of static, her skirt riding up a little, exposing a brief glimpse of her darker stocking tops.
“No…” she repeated her black heel tapping the carpet impatiently next to my leg.
“Now?” I repeated.
It could have been my imagination but I’m sure I felt her eyes assessing me, checking out my backside as I carefully reversed out from beneath the desk, and found myself kneeling before her.
“Well, well, David, you really are very resourceful,” she said, that little half-smile playing around her lips again as she slowly uncrossed then re-crossed her legs.
“I’m glad to help,” I said, unable to resist looking as her tight skirt rode up a little. I was so close I could see the way the sheer nylon was paler were it stretched over her knees.
“Yes, you could come in very handy,” she said, as her eyes locked with mine and she chastely smoothed her skirt down over her knees. “Enjoying the view?”
“Gosh, I’m sorry, I mean I wasn’t…, you know…” I started to say, feeling slightly flustered at being caught staring at her legs as I quickly got to my feet, my hands held out in front of me as I apologised, my cheeks burning red.
“You weren’t what? Staring at my legs?” she said, her pink lips curling into a mischievous smile.
“No! Well I was, but you know…” I said, desperately trying to think of a way out as she continued to stare at me, looking me up and down as if she was appraising my worth.
I stood there for a few seconds, as she casually ran her eyes over my body from my shiny black shoes to my dark hair, her foot jiggling thoughtfully.
“Well, if there’s nothing else…” I said, breaking the tense silence.
“Just one thing before you go. I wonder if I could ask a favour. You’ve been at this company a long time, right?”
I nodded, unsure of where this was going but grateful for the change of subject.
“I really need to learn about this office quickly. Would you have dinner with me tonight? A strictly business dinner, of course. I really want to get started on understanding this business, how it’s structured, how it runs, the strengths and weaknesses, but most of all the kind of people you have here.”
“Oh, well, I guess so. I mean, if you think it’ll help,” I said.
“I do. I’m staying at the Old Manor Hotel on George Road. See you at about seven, yes?”
I texted my girlfriend to let her know I had to stay late for a meeting and that she shouldn’t expect me for dinner before leaving the office and driving across town. The Old Manor is probably the best hotel in the area, set on the outskirts of town in several acres of gently rolling deer park.
By the time, I fought my way though the traffic, I found Fiona already waiting for me in the dining area. She insisted on getting to her feet and pecking me on the cheek. I was surprised to see that she’d changed out of her office clothes into a rather slinky pink dress, cut low enough to give a hint of her rather eye-catching cleavage. In the office, her auburn hair had been tied back in a tight ponytail, but now it spilled freely over the spaghetti straps of her dress in long waves that gleamed copper-red where it caught the light.
“David, thanks pendik escort for coming,” she said. “I took the liberty of ordering us a bottle of wine. I know you’re driving but you’ll have a glass, right? It’s all on my account, of course.”
“Oh, no, that’s fine, thanks,” I said as a waiter approached and insisted on tucking my chair in as I sat down.
“Yes, Terry’s been very helpful with organisation charts and balance sheets and the like. But I’d like to get to know what’s it like to work here from someone like you and if there are any areas you feel we could, well let’s say, make more efficient.”
“Someone like me? How do you mean?” I asked, as the waiter poured me a large glass of white wine.
“Yes, you’ve worked there for five years haven’t you? Since you graduated? You’ve worked your way up from junior programmer to senior developer to Legacy Maintenance Manager. I hear you’re quite the success story.”
“Oh, well , I guess,” I said modestly. It was true; I’d joined Syntek Management Systems straight from university and when we’d been taken over by Phoenix Software I’d been promoted. So it was the only company I’d ever worked for and I’d seen a lot of employees come and go since I’d been there. Being in charge of fixing bugs in the legacy software wasn’t the most glamorous job in the world, but I liked the people I worked with and generally found the work quite fulfilling.
“Have you been talking to HR about me?” I added.
She pushed her designer spectacles up over her nose and favoured me with a smile. I noticed she was wearing mascara and lipstick, a subtle pink colour that matched her dress.
“It’s my job to get to understand people, their strengths and weaknesses,” she said, summoning one of the smartly-dressed waiters with a brief glance over her shoulder.”Come on, I’m hungry, let’s order.”
The food and wine were both excellent. While we ate, Fiona steered the conversation, asking about the other heads of department, where I thought the company was going wrong and what the people in my team thought about the re-shuffle.
“I think everyone’s seen this coming for some time,” I said, between mouthfuls of the delicious lemon sole. “Everyone’s worried about their position and wants to know when they’ll learn something concrete.”
“Well, I can only say that I’ll be as fair and transparent as I can, and we’ll try to keep redundancies to a minimum. But hard decisions will have to be made,” she warned.
She asked about my team and I was happy to talk about Gwen, ‘Conspiracy’ Colin, Nitesh the graduate and Little Bill.
“‘Consipiracy’ Colin?” she said.
“Yes, solid programmer, Colin but not a ‘people person’. Not much of a social life. I think he spends his evenings writing fiendishly complex encryption algorithms and debating conspiracy theories on the web.”
I talked a little more about the rest of the team as she politely listened, finishing her glass of wine.
“But enough about me and my team. What about you? You’re from head office, right?” I said, aware that I’d been talking about how talented they all were for several minutes, perhaps subconsciously trying to make Fiona aware of their value to the company.
“Yes, although I don’t spend a lot of time there. I joined the company as a legal counsel but then got more into mergers and acquisitions. But I also travel a lot around the different businesses, usually doing management training, or helping out with changes.”
“You can’t get to spend a lot of time with your husband then?”
“Actually I’m divorced.”
“Oh! I thought Terry said you were married.”
“Well I still am officially, just waiting for the papers to come through.”
“Well, sorry about that.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not sorry. It had been over for years. Now it’s finally happening, I’m feeling a new sense of liberty. It’ll be interesting to get out there and start dating again.”
“I’m told dating’s changed a lot, it’s all done on the internet now. Tinder and all that,” I said.
“I’m not sure that’s for me. I’m quite old-fashioned in that respect. I think I prefer to go out to dinner, get to know someone over a few glasses of wine, maybe invite them back for a nightcap if we’re getting on well,” she said, leaning forward and giving me a meaningful look over the top of her spectacles. I watched as she reached forward and brushed the back of my hand with her fingers.
“I see, a little dangerous to date someone you work with though…” I said, unable to take my eyes off her glossy pink nails raking up and down my skin.
“Oh I can be very discrete, David,” she said, her lips curling into a sultry smile.
The desserts were as delicious as the main courses and I’d thoroughly enjoyed talking to Fiona. All too soon, it was time to go.
“Are you sure you won’t come up for a drink?” she asked as we reached the lifts.
I’d found myself escorting her there as she talked about her plans for the new few weeks.
“No, I kaynarca escort really ought to get back but thanks for the meal,” I said.
There was an awkward moment as I wondered how best to say ‘goodbye’. A handshake seemed too formal, and I found myself awkwardly rooted to the spot. Fiona made the decision for me, her hand suddenly pressing against my chest as she pushed me gently but firmly back against the wall.
“Thanks for keeping me company, you’re quite the gentleman,” she whispered, as her soft lips brushed my burning cheek. For a moment, I was lost in the heady scent of her perfume, feeling the warmth of her body pressing tightly against mine through her thin dress, the soft swell of her breasts pressing against my chest. I closed my eyes as she twisted her head, her lips briefly brushing against mine.
I stood there, sorely tempted to slide my arms around her waist and pull her closer, until the moment was broken by a loud ‘ping’.
“Are you sure I can’t tempt you?” she said, as she stepped into the lift.
I was certain she could tempt me but using all my reserves of self-restraint, I shook my head then staggered out into the cool night air, before I changed my mind and did something I’d regret.
My mind kept going over the events of the evening as I drove home along the darkening streets, wiping a thin smear of pink lipstick from my cheek as I checked my face in the rear view mirror. Had Fiona really made a blatant pass at me? It sounds naive, but I really hadn’t expected it and ended up scurrying away like a flustered schoolboy. I could only hope she didn’t feel insulted.
That final kiss had certainly felt more than just friendly and I felt a warm flush as I recalled how soft and yielding her body had felt as I turned into in the driveway outside our new house. It was a spacious, two-bedroom semi-detached new build, which we’d only moved into recently. In truth, it was right at the top of our price range but my girlfriend Jackie had fallen in love with it as soon as she’d seen it so we’d convinced ourselves that we could manage the mortgage payments. As long as we both kept our jobs of course.
“I’m home,” I shouted as I closed the front door behind me.
Jackie was in the living room, watching television in her favourite pink-and-white striped dressing gown.
“You’re late, dear,” she said as I pecked her on the cheek. “You look tired. Tough day at the office?”
“So I hear you had dinner with her last night,” Gwen said, leaning in close as she placed a steaming mug of tea on my desk. She’d got me the mug for my last birthday, on the side it read: “World’s Best Boss”. I still wasn’t sure whether she was being sarcastic or not.
“I know what you’re thinking but it was strictly a business meeting, not a bloody date,” I replied defensively.
“Oh yeah?” she said, raising a pierced eyebrow in a particularly annoying way as she lingered.
“Yes,” I said firmly, sipping my tea.
“It’s just that I’ve heard a few rumours about Mrs Fiona Dixon.”
“I’ve got a couple of friends at head office. They say she’s got a bit of a reputation. Likes a younger man, apparently. You know, around twenty-five, twenty-six. So, uh, how old are you?” she asked innocently, as if she didn’t already know the answer.
“That’s not funny. You know very well I’m twenty-six; you’re the one that buys the birthday cards in our team,” I sighed, trying to concentrate on my spreadsheet and trying to figure out why there were more urgent bugs to fix than last week.
“Come on, it’s not like she’s much older than me,” I continued. “What is she, like thirty-two, thirty-three?”
“More like pushing forty,” Gwen replied cattily.
“She’s never nearing forty!” I insisted, perhaps a little too loudly, but Gwen just rolled her eyes in that annoying way of hers.
“If you say so. Anyway, I hear she’s often having ‘business dinners’ with young men and that’s why her husband wants a divorce,” she whispered as she leant closer, using her fingers to draw imaginary quote marks around the words ‘business dinners’.
“Come on, spare me the idle gossip, this isn’t Jeremy Kyle,” I said. “It’s just business. You know what her job is here, right? You might want to be polite to her.”
“Well, I’m just saying what I’ve heard.”
“Yeah well that’s how gossip starts. By the way, have you fixed that priority one bug in the sales ledger yet?”
“Oh, speak of the Devil,” she mumbled, glancing over my shoulder then finally sitting back to her own desk.
“David?” I heard a voice say.
“Oh, Fiona, hi,” I said, turning to find her standing next to me. “Is there something I can help with?”
“Yeah, it looks like you need to get the latest version of ServiceNow,” I said as I leant over and examined the error message on her laptop.
“Is that something you could help with? You’re a lot more technical than me,” she said as she sat down.
“Well, as it happens I’ve got a login to the component library,” I replied. There wasn’t a chair handy so I knelt down next to her then used the intranet to navigate to the systems page.
“I really need to get access to the personnel system to get the latest organisation charts, and details of employee benefits,” Fiona explained.