Today on Write Anything we welcome back Emma Newman. Emma has an ambitious, blog-hopping, year-long story project which is a prelude to the release of her new story series, The Split Worlds later this year.
This is the twenty-first tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like to hear Emma read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here.
The green-eyed monster
“So,” her boss said with a broad smile. “I’m sure you all want to know who’s been selected for the advanced training course in Bali.”
Kelly crossed her fingers on both hands, trying to remember what she’d planned to say when she accepted the promotion.
“It was a unanimous decision,” Ms Dearing continued. “The chosen employee has impressed a lot of people, myself included. The employee of the year is Melanie Clark!”
Kelly’s premature smile mutated into a grimace as the room was filled with applause. She forced herself to clap and not smash the nearest chair through the glass table.
“Great choice!” a man shouted behind her and she wanted to punch him in the gob.
“Where is she?” Ms Dearing asked and there was a collective shout from three men near the door. A tiny pale hand was thrust into the air and the diminutive Melanie “I look like Barbie” Clark was propelled out of the crush.
“I had no idea it would be me!” she gasped, her hand fluttering above her cleavage. “I would have stood nearer the front if I did!”
People made room for her and she eventually reached Kelly. “I had no idea!” she said breathlessly as she squeezed past. Kelly wanted to grab her blonde hair and put her through the window face first.
“You work in the same department, don’t you?” asked a man standing behind her. Kelly just nodded, worried that if she opened her mouth she would spit instead of speak. “Is Mel single?”
Kelly pretended to have to make more room, making sure her kitten heel found his toes.
“Speech! Speech!” The crowd called.
“I’m so shocked, I don’t know what to say!” Melanie gushed. “You’ve made me feel so welcome here, and I want to thank Kelly Jones, for showing me the ropes and for the emergency Maltesers!”
Everyone laughed. Yeah, thought Kelly, everyone laugh at the fat loser with the endless chocolate supply. That’s original.
“Where are we celebrating Mel?” someone called from the back and her face flushed a deeper red.
“I have to be somewhere at six…. But let’s all meet at The Black Heart in Greenland Place at seven thirty, I’ll get the first round!”
Kelly watched Ms Dearing shake Melanie’s hand and give her the envelope that should have been hers. There were at least fifty men there, all slavering at Melanie, and she could count the number of women eligible for the award on one hand. Out of them, Kelly knew she’d brought in the most money and worked the longest hours. She’d been there a year longer than Melanie and had a better degree but it seemed it all wasn’t enough. It was like Melanie had cast a spell on everyone, they instantly adored her.
“Where do you need to be at six?” she asked her as the room emptied.
“I… I’ll see you at the Black Heart at half seven, okay?”
She scurried out of the room. Kelly considered the shame, the nervousness that crossed her rival’s face and decided to follow her. If she had a secret, she could exploit it.
Kelly knew more about surveillance than the average lawyer, her father having been in the Met. At one point she’d considered joining too but he did all he could to put her off. “Be a lawyer instead,” he’d said, fag in one hand, whisky in the other. “Then at least you’ll be wealthy by the time you don’t believe in the system anymore.”
She’d tailed Melanie to a dicey area at the edge of Camden and watched her hurry down a littered and unloved street. Kelly followed, passing buildings with windows either boarded or barred, graffiti tags fighting for territory in a painted reflection of the gangs that had sprayed them.
Kelly imagined a drug habit, a seedy arrangement with a local criminal gang, a secret lover from the wrong part of town or even a blackmailer. She was disappointed when she saw Melanie head towards a church.
She was about to give up when she saw various people shuffling in the same direction. Perhaps there was a meeting there… perhaps Melanie was a recovering alcoholic or was part of some drugs recovery program. It was incentive enough to sneak over to the doors and take a look.
It was a small community centre attached to the church, she could smell food. Someone tapped her on the shoulder.
“Are you a friend of Mel’s?” The vicar smiled as she floundered for an answer. “Come to help with the soup kitchen?”
Embarrassed, she shook her head and left, disgusted with herself. She went back to the car, locked all the doors and cried. She should have known Melanie was giving her time charitably. She was perfect after all, she was the slim, pretty, bright blonde who never had a bad thing to say about anyone. The crying shifted from self-disgust to hatred again, stealing time until Melanie left the community centre.
Kelly slid down in the seat, imagining starting the car, mounting the pavement and smearing the bitch against the wall. She squeezed her eyes shut, nauseated, and when she opened them again she saw the man following Melanie.
Just over six feet tall, dark hair, large nose, expensive if slightly old-fashioned coat. Her father’s moans about witness descriptions had sunk deep. She made a mental note of the cravat, the glimpse of a richly decorated waistcoat and how handsome he was.
He caught up with Melanie and said something to make her turn around. There was a brief exchange, the man pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and pointed to a detail that drew Melanie close. Kelly shook her head, knowing the trick, her father had warned her about men doing anything to bring you close enough to snatch.
Her hand hovered above the car horn but she did nothing as the man touched Melanie on the arm. She seemed to relax, her handbag slipped off her shoulder and the man grabbed the strap before it hit the pavement. He put his arm around her and steered Melanie across the road, back towards the church, she was stumbling as if drunk.
Kelly got out and followed them down the side of the church. She could see the edge of the graveyard from the street and surmised Melanie was being taken there.
The alley was filled with a brief burst of light, she heard birdsong and a sudden breeze carried the scent of summer. By the time she reached the graveyard it was empty, no sign of her colleague or the man, just gravestones and an ancient tree. There was no other way in or out. She started to shiver.
Kelly stood there for a few moments, then ran. She had no idea what had happened, she didn’t want to know. She suspected Melanie wasn’t going to be seen again and then realised she might be going to Bali after all. For the second time that day, Kelly smiled.
I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com—you can also sign up to get an extra story and get each new story delivered to your inbox every week. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em x