Max's death hit me hard. I'd never known anyone who'd died before. I'd never experienced that 'before' and 'after' thing or that gut-wrenching pull that said, you're really never going to see that person again. I'd always been in the middle, saying goodbye to people I assumed I would never see again but knowing I could - like my family. But Max's death was final. There was no going back on that one.
The family paid my wages for the week - business was business, right? But after that week, I knew I not only had to find another job but I also had to find somewhere else to live. No time to grieve. Time to start moving again. The family eventually offered me board and I applied for local jobs, real ones, ones that start at normal times and last only five days a week. You know, so you can kind of have a life? My first resume was sent out to an insurance company, within walking distance. They needed a PA for the boss. Did I know how to type - answer a phone? How hard could that be, right?
I took an instant dislike to the bosses 2IC. Her name was Sue and she looked me over as if I was applying for more than just a PA role. The boss considered her actions as "sweet" loyalty. I was soon to learn she had justified reasons - the boundaries between clients and Boss, or PA and Boss were forever being tested and she was the only one that could keep him in line by constantly threatening to leave - she had become, wisely, irreplaceable.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you see things, Sue was not around on my second interview and the 'boss' set me the task of writing a few letters to clients, that I thought, were imaginary, made up for my benefit - just to see whether I could actually type or not.
I'll learn him I thought. I was given a file labeled Sarah Fergusson and a tape of a letter that needed to be addressed to her soon-to-be ex-husband - Andrew. It was a boring letter. All about her life insurance policies, how she needs to get the hubby off the policies etc., but I wasn't fooled. I'll add my own bit to this, I thought. At the time, Lady Sarah Fergusson had just separated from Prince Andrew - I remember feeling disappointed they ouldn't have thought up a more imaginative couple.
Dear Andrew, I started... Sarah thinks you're a real right plonker and she's glad to be rid of you and your small royal willy. Yours sincerely....Triumphant, I placed the finished product in front of boss and waited for him to smile, knowing I had passed the test - figuring out which client was real and which wasn't.
I had never seen someone nearly die on a mouthful of coffee but I did that day - it propelling so fiercely out of his mouth that it splattered over all his precious documents scattered over his desk. I knew something was amiss cause he couldn't find a single solitary word to say - his purple face said it all.
Typically English, he regained self control like I've never seen before, looked over the rest of the letter, with the right wording, nodded, closed the file and then sat back in his chair - I swear I saw a wee smile threatening to escape.
"Well, um, thank you for that. We'll be in touch."
I took my leave not thinking for a second that I would get a callback, let alone from the boss himself asking for another interview, only this time, could it be at the local French restaurant. "Pick you up, say, around 6ish?"
I had two more similar interviews in random restaurants. We talked about his business. Well actually, he talked about his business, how he had surpassed all expectations, reaching top sales within three months. How he was divorced, had two sons he saw every weekend and how Sue, his rottweiler secretary, was really nothing more than a pussy cat. "She just looks out for me," he explained, "probably cause I think with the wrong head."
That ought to have been a clue, one of those red light moments, but I was enjoying myself too much. Boss was a wonderful distraction to my lonely existence. Max never infiltrated my head when I was around him. I could eat and forget about the Trans-Siberian railway, the fur coat, the fact that I so needed this job and if having a few dinners was going to secure that, then so be it.
The shift came when, interview number four, consisted of him collecting me, as usual, from the house around 6pm and then...shock, horror... a quick pick up of some Chinese takeaway and then back to his apartment. I followed him up the five flights of stairs in silence, the Chinese food whiffing out tasty aromas.
It's amazing what a 'home' will say about a person. His had whitewashed walls, clinical, devoid of character, color, anything really. In the small kitchen he has crystal glasses - a sales reward from work and in the lounge, very expensive tailor-made curtains-from Harrods, he added when I noticed them. There was nothing on the walls, no pictures, no photos. This, I decided was just a place he put his head down on those nights he wasn't sleeping somewhere else.
Much to the distress of his personal rottweiler, I was offered a job. Not the PA position but as a salesperson, someone he could train to do his job, look after or service some of his mammoth client base and become, like him, someone in their own apartment with no pictures on the wall.
I spent a lot of time with 'boss' both at work and in the numerous restaurants throughout Bristol. We were yet to become anything more than close friends at that stage, but I was quite happy flirting with the boundaries, just like him. Several people thought we were an "item" including Sue but I had done my homework, knew he was 'seeing' a woman - his Tuesday girl - and, I told myself, I'm not the "type" of woman to steal a man - or was I?
When Tuesday girl found out about me and all the time we were spending together, all hell broke loose. My job should never have been dependent on him retaining his relationship with her but that's life. I moved out of Max's family home, into a shoddy apartment with a super duper flatmate, and got another job. Thankfully, we had an answering machine so I could screen calls but I do remember feeling sad when boss called begging to just meet for coffee. A part of me thought, how harmless is that right? Another part of me remembered how this whole thing started - bloody coffee.
About a month later, he was knocking on my front door. Some days, my flatmate was home and he would answer the door phone and lie. "Sorry, she's not here." Other times, I had to put my head under a pillow to drown him out. Then, one morning, I opened the door and let him in. He looked like crap but said nothing, neither did I. We sipped coffee until it was all gone and then he said "I think she's having an affair."
Have you ever noticed that when your brain goes blank your eyes go searching upwards for information? First left - nothing, then right, nothing - your mouth opens and nothing comes out. That was me. I couldn't believe how this man was sitting in my lounge looking all forlorn and not once thinking, hang on a sec, I put this chick out of work without so much as notice or comeback. Then another thought: How desperately sad he has nowhere else to go, no one else to turn to? I was it.
"You know, last night I was sitting at home, " he paused, "and I thought, if I put a rope around my neck and hung myself off the rooftop of my apartment, who would bloody well notice?"
The vision of his feet dangling from six floors up, for some stupid reason, made me want to laugh. Perhaps it was nerves. Perhaps it was the thought that he would be wearing his designer-made shoes.
I stayed at his apartment for a week on so-called suicide watch. "But know this," I added, "you so much as come on to me and I will chop your dick off, you hear?" He nodded and stifled a smile. I felt my heart beat furiously both out of anger and hope.
It was like silent pact. I would fill the hole in his life if he filled mine. I met his sons and every weekend, we all trotted off like any other nuclear family and played. We took drives in the country, had Devonshire teas, climbed mountains, and played 'tag' with the kids in the local cemetery. Every Sunday night, he returned the boys to their mother's house. I always knew I was the next to be dropped off - the dream over for another week. I slept alone in my apartment during the week and went to work. I tried not to think what he was doing on Tuesday nights.
My work permit was coming to an end. Usually, I'd have left the country every fortnight and had that time away credited back to my permit. I'd managed to pan out my two years to nearly three but time was closing in on me. One more trip abroad and they'd nab me at customs for sure. The only way around it, I thought, was to either never leave England again, hide out here in Never Never land, or marry an Englishman. The latter, I knew was not an option. I was still married to my estranged Frenchman and I had no idea how to get divorced or where he even was in order to get him to sign papers - which I assumed he'd need to. I was stuffed either way.
I can still his face when he asked me to accompany him to Barbados on a business convention. "I thought you'd be pleased," boss said, "you know, a trip away, just the two of us, oh and, you know," he smiled, "just about everyone else in the company." I knew this was his way of saying, we were coming out - going public. I scoffed. I knew everyone assumed we were seeing each other. We weren't very good at hiding it really and I was, secretly, pleased when we bumped into someone from work, especially if his sons were around.
I wanted so much to go but I knew. One week in Barbados and then...deportation.