By Claire Watts
If you haven’t read the first episode of this story, use the blog history on the right to get up to date or scroll back through using the arrow above.
Waterproof mascara is never actually tear-proof, is it? By the time I’d steered Candy away from her desk and into the kitchen, she looked like she’s had a really late night and gone to sleep in her make-up.
“Here,” I said, taking the chance to loosen her grip on me while I grabbed a handful of cheery robin paper napkins someone had left beside a plastic box of mince pies. How did this happen? How did I end up being the one comforting Candy McNamee while everyone else sat, eyes glued to their screens, ignoring her?
Candy patted at her face gingerly with the robins, adding streaks of bare skin to the mess on her face.
“OK?” I suggested, hoping whatever was wrong was something she couldn’t tell me about so I could leave her here and get back to work.
Candy clapped her hand over her mouth as a sob escaped, and fresh tears began to roll down the ruins of her face. “Oh my god, oh my god,” she muttered. “My life is over!”
So what do you say when a human being you can’t stand and who can’t stand you appears before you in this kind of state? You say, “Is there something I can do to help?”
Candy blinked. The tears glistened on her eyelashes.
“You would help me?” she croaked.
“Er … if I can?”
While I was at lunch, Candy had taken a call from one of the drivers who was on his way to a refugee centre with a load of donated Christmas gifts. His van had broken down and he needed a service vehicle to rescue him and another van to come and take his load to its destination.
“So I got the break-down van, but there was no way I could get another driver to go out, could I?” she told me. “We’re all backed-up as it is.”
I’ve heard the way Candy speaks to the drivers. I’m sure the guy got an earful of exactly what a stupid idea that was. Anyway the next thing was Candy got another phone call from ‘some posh woman at the refugee place’ begging her to get the presents delivered. According to Candy all she did was explain to the woman it was impossible.
“So then this man came on the phone. He didn’t say who it was right at the beginning, else I’d have … well, I’d have been a bit calmer. He just started going on about this refugee place and that it was vital that the presents got there tonight and how I was really rude, and so I cut him off.”
She took a deep breath and looked at me with big fearful eyes. “You’ll never guess who it was though. It was Jason Pirrie, you know, the Jason Pirrie, Mister ParcelsRUs. He phoned Megan.” – Her eyes flicked towards our supervisor through the glass of the kitchen wall – “Told her I have to personally arrange for a replacement van and go with it to the refugee centre or else I’ll be out of a job.”
She blew her nose noisily into a paper robin, leaving make-up-free blotches on either side of her nose. “Can he do that?” she says, voice trembling. “I mean, it’s impossible, isn’t it? There isn’t a van available, and even if there was, all the drivers hate me. I love this job! What am I doing to do?” She finished on a fresh wail.
I can’t pretend there wasn’t a little bit of me going ‘Ha! That’s what happens when you’re mean to everyone.’ This job would be so much less dire without Candy in it. But I was only going to be here another week. This was Candy’s life.
“Don’t worry,” I told her, stretching out an arm and not quite patting her. “I’ll go down to the loading bay and see if I can wangle something.”
I was down in the loading bay most weekends before they sent me up here to the phones, and I got pretty friendly with everyone there. So much so that I could usually persuade them to do me the odd favour.
“Would you?” Candy said, sniffing again.
“It’s worth a try.”
“Thanks, Grania,” she said.
I think that might have been the first time I’d ever heard her use my actual name.
It was freezing down in the loading bay. Tommy and the rest of the loaders were sitting on the edge of the dock passing round tubs of Quality Street and Roses. With all the vans already out, Christmas had started early for them.
“Hey, Grania!” Tommy yelled and everyone cheered. Maybe that wasn’t coffee in their mugs …
When I told them what I needed, stressing the poor present-less refugees and keeping quiet about the fact that it was Candy’s problem, Tommy’s first reaction was to shake his head.
“No one’s due back until four and they’re all off shift after that,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’ll be willing to do another hundred-mile round trip.”
There was one van parked outside near the cleaning bay. Tommy saw me looking at it.
“That’ll do you no good. Vern’s off home.”
“Chucked up his breakfast all over some old dear’s garden path,” Brett said.
“I could drive if you like,” said a slow, careful voice from the end of the row.
It was Stefan. He was some kind of foreigner, been at ParcelsRUs about the same amount of time as me. I wasn’t sure if he was permanent or not. He also had to be the most gorgeous human being I’d ever seen in real life, tall and dark with intense black eyes under thick brows. So gorgeous in fact that when I worked down here I spent most of my time keeping out of his way for fear of staring at him with my mouth hanging open.
“So you can,” said Tommy, pointing a finger in Stefan’s direction. “Aye. Stefan’s your man. Got his clearance to drive last week.”
“Shall I get the driver to phone you once he’s in your street, Mrs Wells? … Yes, it won’t matter that the bell’s not working then … No … No bother … And merry Christmas to you too.”
I was full of Christmas cheer. Four satisfied customers in a row, and I’d sorted out Candy’s crisis too, which had the added benefit that I wasn’t going to have to sit next to her for the rest of the afternoon.
I glanced up from my screen to take in the two people who’d just appeared on the other side of it. Candy and Stefan. Neither of them looked happy.
“You’ll have to come too, Grungy,” Candy snapped. “I can’t understand a word that comes out of his mouth.”
I could have refused. But behind Candy, Stefan’s eyebrows were waggling all over the place.
“What? What’s so funny?” Candy said, glancing over her shoulder at Stefan.
“Nothing,” I said, pulling off my headset. “Let’s go and play Santa, then.”
Check back with us tomorrow for Episode 3.
For a chance to win a copy of Claire Watts’s YA novel How Do You Say GOOSEBERRY in French? along with some fabulously Christmassy Prestat Sea Salt Caramel Truffles, leave a comment below.
The winner will be announced before Christmas.