Feeling Judged – Short Story

Here is a short story from my little book of shorts, known as ‘Second Glance’. Today I just wanted to share a story in completion. I hope that you enjoy.

As I pulled hard on my left shoe again, still trying to force my foot into the uncomfortable high heels that mum had bought me especially for today, I grimaced. Mum usually didn’t criticise me and she was pretty accepting of my style but today was different. She had my best interests at heart. I was willing to smarten myself up for this interview as I really needed to get onto the circuit and start trying my hardest to get a training job with a law firm. She helped me to finally nudge the heel past the starched edge of the back of the shoe and then smiled at me with some degree of understanding of my pain.

“You’ll be alright,” she said calmly.
In my head, though, I was freaking out. “I’ve gotta start somewhere.”
“You are clever. You know the law inside out. Surely that stands for something.”
“But you know as well as I do, that some people have that extra star quality. They have rich parents, expensive suits and internships in large firms, with family connections that help them slip into jobs like this. Ordinary people like me, we just have to see where the crumbs fall.”
“But come on,” she said warmly, “you got the interview. They must have ticked off a lot of boxes to short list you.”
“I was probably just meeting their quota for weirdos. They have to be seen to be inclusive, after all.”
I straightened myself up and brushed off my shoulders.
“Well good luck,” she said before kissing me on the forehead as though I were still twelve years old, perhaps about to go on my first school residential trip.

On the bus I thought about what lay ahead. This was a job that relied on first impressions. You had a half hour slot and in that you had to sell yourself entirely. You had to stand out in the crowd. Unfortunately for me, I mostly stood out for the wrong reasons. I had dark red hair which was frizzy and hard to tame. I was covered in freckles from head to toe and had a large birth mark climbing all the way up the left side of my neck. My nose ring was small but distinctly unique as it had a tiny rainbow on the end of it, just next to my right nostril. I had plenty of tattoos, although mum had done her best to hide them today. And to add to this, regardless of whatever I changed regarding my looks, I could never take away my lisp, that came from my cleft lip, which had been with me all my life and often been the cause of my being bullied. To some, I was odd; to others a joke. Yet still I had gathered enough strength to keep my own identity, to study hard and get high grades throughout, and to fight for the things I believed in with every last calorie. Oh yes, and I wasn’t fat but I always found it really hard to be anything less than chunky. That was just who I was. Never designed to be super thin. Always doing tonnes of cardio just to stay the build that I am now. Healthy but definitely far from a stick insect.

As I walked into the waiting room, having signed into the reception of this rather grand Main Street address, the first thing that caught my eye was the array of slim, perfectly suited and booted candidates who sat there, motionless and quiet, reading their notes carefully but with an air of confidence about them. You can read confidence easily. It lies in positioning and stature. These guys were all sat bolt upright, yet they didn’t look uncomfortable. Their heads were neutral and never looking down for more than half a second perhaps just to double check that their laces were still perfectly knotted. They even seemed to breathe in a synchronised fashion. They all looked over to me as I walked in and headed for the only remaining chair. They presented momentary false smiles and then returned to their notes. I tried hard not to fall over after having found the entire journey so incredibly painful and now having a feeling that my feet were starting to lose circulation. In fact, my feet felt as if they were about to go completely numb and as I sat down I panicked that I might never be able to stand up on them again.

It took me a moment to get my bearings and then the panic really set in. As I looked around I was drawn to the files that each candidate had next to them. Each person had at least one folder of paperwork and I started to think that I might have missed a memo or something. Should I have brought some evidence with me? I was easily intimidated at the best of times but right now, seeing their impressive bundles of work, I was starting to feel the need for some air. Maybe I ought to just leg it out of there and give this whole interview the two fingers. Just as I began running through a possible escape route in my head, somebody called my name. “Miss Longton.”

I hated hearing that name. It reminded me of my step dad. As soon as I had some financial freedom I fully intended on changing it back to my mum’s maiden name, “Standen.” A smartly dressed guy in his thirties beckoned me into a room. I picked myself off the floor (not literally, but that was how it felt) before making a beeline for the room where I was presented with two ladies sat at a desk, with a chair in the middle and one seat across from them, waiting for an occupant. The man sat between them and started things off with introductions. Apparently two of them were partners in the firm and one was a quality assurance lady, who worked for a couple of companies. They all sat with friendly smiles and I was pleased that they at least felt like reasonable people, not the stuck up bosses that I feared when I lay awake at two in the morning, going through the interview prep again and again in my thoughts.

They went over my resume and explained to me about the training contract. After that they began to ask the usual questions about contracts and torts. I put my nerves aside and gave it my best shot. Everything seemed very rushed. Before I knew it, they were onto the personal stuff. I half expected them to demand to see my folder. Instead they started more of a conversation than a probing interrogation.

Sam (the lady on the left who was responsible for assurance) simply said, “I see lawyers all the time. Every day people with the abilities to show off extraordinary knowledge. Lawyers have to be rounded people though. I think I try to be rounded. I keep looking after my garden. I read lots of romance books. I love a girlie night with my old school friends. Are you rounded?”
A little thrown off the scent, I opened my mouth and gave an instinctive answer. “I mean, I try to be. In fact I don’t exactly try. I just am. I like all sorts. Short weekend city breaks, catch ups at coffee shops and cheesy movies at the cinema washed down with ice junkies.” I stopped there and before I could think of anything else to say, the guy jumped in.

“I really have a thing for languages. I use an app to keep my skills going in German. I see you learned German. Is that where you go on these breaks?”
“To be honest I haven’t used my German much since college, but it came in handy when I visited Vienna. Recently I went to Luxembourg. Amazing castles there if you like that kind of thing.” I smiled, starting to feel more at ease but also a little curious as to why we were chatting about anything that wasn’t law.
“We have a few German clients,” said the other lady. Jill was her name. “It would be handy if one of our future lawyers could speak German and your reference mentioned that you are very good at it.”

“Well, I worked in a bar whilst at Uni and she ran a German festival so I guess I honed my skills during that.”
“I love books too,” continued Jill. “Who is your favourite novelist? Mine is Sophie K. I love her modern tales of shopping and dating.”

I chuckled as I’d literally just finished reading one of hers. “She is a writer that always makes me laugh. I am into fantasy too though, and you can’t beat J K for that.”

They all laughed and we returned to some discussions about the law, mulling over a case study that had been sent in readiness for today. I had prepared my argument and put forward the strengths and weaknesses of the subject. After this, they said their farewells and I walked out feeling a mixture of relief and puzzled. The others still sat in the waiting room with their folders and notes, looking confident. I smiled as I went by but nobody even so much as flinched. Before long, I was back on the bus and inside my porch, peeling off those shoes as if they were plasters. I felt every movement in the same way you do when hair is removed. I should have just ripped them off in half a second but instead I took my time. Mum must have heard me and opened the door to give me the third degree that she always could be relied upon to execute. I muttered some half-hearted run through of events before rushing upstairs and jumping on my bed where I instantly fell into a deep sleep, which took me through till tea time when mum woke me and made me the tastiest feast ever.

In my mind, I had closed the book on it. After all I hadn’t heard anything and there really wasn’t a hope in hell of me getting it. My answers were probably fairly lame compared to theirs and I definitely didn’t have the credentials that the others must’ve had. I was wearing a cheap suit from a discount shop and you can’t avoid my accessories. But, I love all that. My style is very personal to me and even if I never get a job in law, I’ll always feel comfortable in my own skin so long as I can dress the way that I want. Regardless, my nerves were still fraught so I called Jam and asked her to meet me down the pub after tea. It was half seven when I rocked up in ‘The Badger’s Armpit’. My local had a dodgy name but it was such a great place to chill. We often went to a pub quiz there on Tuesdays but today was a quiet night so we decided to grab the pool table and have a play. I was midway through my second Jack Daniels when Jam started quizzing me.

“You’re not saying much about what happened. Come on. Get it off your chest.”
I potted a ball and turned to her. “It was interesting. Lots of suits applying for the job. Most looked like they went to Cambridge and had parents with stately homes. The interviewers were very friendly. Not at all patronising. I must admit, I’d have loved working under them.”
“It’s not over till the…”
She was cut off by my phone. I took it out of my pocket and an unknown caller ID was on the screen. I answered assuming it was probably someone asking me if I’d had an accident and wanted to make a claim. I was ready to tell them to stick it up their… Well you can imagine. I stopped abruptly. It was the lady from the law company. She sounded very serious.

God! I couldn’t take a rejection call now. Not at this time. Not here. I steadied myself against the pool table and politely told her that I could speak and she wasn’t disturbing my night.

The next two minutes were a blur. My mouth was wide open the whole time and I must’ve looked as though I were a fish to anybody in the pub who happened to saunter past. I thanked her for the feedback and put down my mobile. Well, to some it may have seemed that I dropped it. I was stunned.

Jam was waiting and ushering me so I relayed the whole story as best as I could.
“She told me I wasn’t going to get that job. She then said I delivered an excellent interview and should be very proud of myself.”
“Oh mate. Let me get you a drink. At least you know now.”
“That’t not quite it. She then told me I was too good for the job.”
“She sure knows how to sugar coat it.” She smiled at me, still unable to read my face.
“Then…. She told me she had another training contract for me at their new office downtown. An accelerated training post. Fast track. I’m going to work for them and I’m so bloody shocked.”
I sat down and she came round to hug me. I leaned into her and we sat for a minute as we both took in what I’d said.
“You’re a legend, mate.”
“Just goes to show. You can never tell what people are thinking.”
“You definitely impressed them. They didn’t just judge you on looks. They got to know the real brilliant person that I know and love. You rocked that interview!”

It just goes to show, not everyone judges people on first impressions. Some people take time to get to know you. I was over the moon with my appointment and went on to become a senior partner within five years. I still wear my nose ring and tattoos with pride and love everything about my life right now, even though parts of it are less than conventional.

Three Wishes – Book Review

AF – This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and decide to buy a product I may get a small fee, at no extra cost to yourself.

Happy Easter everyone! As we all crack open the Easter eggs and spend time thinking about our history, let’s make the most of the tradition and rest up, ready for a busy summer ahead. I am not especially religious but Easter represents new life and symbolises how everything starts to become green again, during the Spring.

What better time to read some books? I love nothing more than putting my feet up in a quiet room, flicking through the pages of a good quality novel. For those of you who are new to my blog, you may not realise that I read mainly contemporary dramas and YA fiction, as well as a sprinkling of biographies.

Three Wishes

Although I am a massive fan of Liane Moriarty, I am never surprised when an author writes a book that doesn’t quite meet up to their usual standards. ‘Three Wishes’ is definitely not a book that lowers expectations. With Liane, I am yet to come across any that are sub-standard. For a previous review of one of her masterpieces, check out Bewitching Books which also includes a classic by my other favourite writer, Joanne Harris.

Review

Three wishes is all about three triplets who are in their thirties, living in Australia, going through the usual challenges of modern living. Their parents split up when they were young, but are still a big part of their lives. Two sisters, Lyn and Cat, are identical, while Gemma isn’t. What I love about Liane’s books is that they are grounded in normality, exploring family life in forensic detail.

Liane usually writes in the ‘close third person’ which means that each chapter focuses on a particular character and examines their thoughts, but remains written from a third person angle. We follow each sister as they deal with issues relating to mental health, motherhood, dating and marital upheaval.

Cat , for instance, is keen to have a baby with her husband, Dan. Her career is soaring and she envies Lyn, who balances having a toddler and teenage step daughter effortlessly. Lyn, meanwhile, is having anxiety issues related to car parks. Both sisters have used their identical features to their advantage in the past. They recall a time when one pretended to be the other on a date, for example.

Gemma is used to dating and being happy in short term relationships, which she is always ready to terminate. Being engaged to a guy who suddenly died in an accident, everyone feels sorry for her, but she harbours some resentment for her apparently romantic ex.

A celebration at a suave restaurant for their 34th birthdays turns into a battleground when the sisters finally let loose some revelations that upset the rest of the family. Some things just have to be said, but these women bottle stuff up and let it all out in one explosive evening.

Summary

I love this wonderfully told story, which is no thriller but is definitely compelling, with moments of humour along the way. Liane is very good at making sharp observations about modern life and her playfulness is really amusing. If you have never read a Moriarty book before (Why ever not?) then why not start with this one?

Check out the book on Amazon, here:

https://amzn.to/3KS1WG8

Thank you for taking the time to read my little review of this brilliant book. Please drop a comment about your thoughts or questions related to this. If you enjoyed my article, please consider following my blog for future similar content.

The Fathers, The Sons and The Anxious Ghost – Book Extract

As I am currently having a little break in Scotland, I decided that today I would share a brief snippet from my first published book. This story of three families was written four years ago and came out in 2019. I am still proud of it because it covers so many different topics in just a hundred and two pages. Hopefully you will find the extract intriguing.

How could I keep everything as normal as possible? How could I hold my head up high? Nothing made any sense to me anymore. I was overwhelmed, bewildered and out of painkillers. My head pounded slowly as it had for the past ten hours. A night spent at my mum’s house was needed but I really ought to go back there, to the home I had shared with Michelle. My heart was sat throbbing gently in the soles of my shoes. My ears quietly rang. My nose ran tirelessly. I felt as though reality had subsided and everything was a mix between chaos and sublime fantasy. My children needed me. No doubt about that. But what could I say? What should I do? Who could I turn to? Why didn’t I see any of this coming? I was not one to cry but tears fell out of my eyes like rain from an overloaded storm cloud suddenly offloading. Like daggers, they seemed to cut across my cheeks and dig into my jaw, carving faint yet permanent etchings across my face and staining me forever like ageing creams dissolving the past and dripping poignantly onto the floor as if flooding and muddying the future and any chance of escape.

I had put a few clothes in a bag last night and got out of there as the police had urged me to. They wanted to examine the house and take finger prints and find out exactly what she did. I had accidentally taken her jumper with me. As I picked it out of the bag I thought about the last time I had seen her in it. Just the other evening. She had been cooking salmon and I recalled her taking it off because she said it stank of fish. I sniffed it now and it was clean and fragrant. It reminded me of spring and the strolls we took through the hills. My heart sank back down into those soles and I gathered myself together. My kids were stood either side of me as they saw me caress her jumper. They leant into my shoulders and we stood in silence, looking out of the window, reflecting quietly.

I gathered up their stuff and we got in the car quickly. My mum asked if I would be alright on the road driving in this state. I tried to make her believe that I was capable and I started to drive off, without looking over my shoulder. I needed to face up to this. As I drove quite slowly through the mainly car-less roads, the usual warmth associated with going home did not reassemble and I was left feeling confused, uncomfortable and out of place. I noticed a glazed look in Alfie’s eyes and the sparkle of partly evaporated tears chalked into his face. I could not determine the way Tess felt exactly as she looked quite serious yet I sometimes thought I could see the beginnings of a smile, especially as we passed some of our favourite haunts, like the park, the duck pond and the place where she went to dancing lessons.

I prayed to a god that I had never really believed in that she might get through this in one piece and have nothing but fond memories of her wonderful mother. Little did I know this day was going to resonate with her more strongly than anyone else. Alfie was the one with mixed emotions, so I largely anticipated him suffering greatly.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this small extract and hope that for some of you it grabbed your interest enough to maybe check out the book. For a recent book review that I did, have a look at my article about Exciting Times.