Chapter edited August 2013
Like most healthy young women that I know, there are plenty of times when I would simply kill to have a half-naked man standing in front of me, hands on his hips and leg half cocked. However, the man in my dreams is usually a beautifully tanned Adonis who then sweeps me off my feet and into his king-size bed. (Needless to say, these fantasies generally occur at a time when my sex-life is at an all-time low).
Also needless to say, is the fact that the man in my dreams is most definitely not a middle aged balding man wearing nothing but polka dot briefs and rolled down brown socks.
I blinked once, twice and then a third time – wondering if this is what happened when you had three cups of coffee in just under an hour. Maybe I should have been cutting back on the caffeine?
I opened and closed my eyes for a fourth time, only to find the naked, grumpy man still glaring at me from his position in the middle of the law office waiting room. His hands moved from his hips to cross in front of himself, not doing much to hide the dark hair sprouting out from his chest. Against my better judgment, I gave him a quick look over – noting the flab of skin neatly folded over the thick elastic of his underwear, and the coarse hair coating his legs.
Eck. This guy seemed to have hair everywhere but his head, which sported a very bad comb over and thinning dark hair.
'Are you quite done undressing me with your eyes, miss?' he asked snippily, arms still crossed and glare set in place. I didn't quite know what to say to that, and quickly bit back the urge to remark that there wasn't much left of him to undress. One thing was for sure, I definitely did not want to know how much hair lay behind the polka dots.
Refusing to pursue that thought further, I swallowed hard and tried to find my 'professional' voice. 'Uh, what can I help you with, sir?'
Just pretend he's another client. Picture him in a business suit.
Uh-huh, like that was going to help.
Still though, the only other option was to face reality – that being the fact that I was standing a few feet away from a man who apparently didn't consider personal hygiene a top priority.
Yeah, give me denial any day. That's me, Kayla Jade Maitland, twenty-two years of age and still preferring illusion to reality. I'm a coward, I know, but sometimes reality is just too damn weird… and unfortunately for me, my life was already fast on track to reaching a whole new level of crazy.
Thankfully though, 'crazy' wouldn't happen for at least another couple of hours. At that moment, I was blissfully unaware of any impending doom and simply focused on adjusting from the awkward transition between normal and weird.
And my life had been normal.
Up until that afternoon, it was what you could have easily described as 'uneventful'. In other words: 'boring'. It was the summer before I began my final semester of a combined law degree at the University of Technology, Sydney, and I figured that it was about time to start beefing up my résumé. So – lo and behold – here I was, doing work experience at a small law firm on George Street in the city. For the past three weeks, I had only been doing reception work at the front desk, taking calls, scheduling appointments and doing the occasional filing or background research for the actual lawyers. The pay was decent and the references good, but the job itself was pretty dull.
At least, up until a man - wearing nothing but his underwear – decided to step in off the street, into our beige-carpeted waiting area, and grace us with his presence. Actually, he more stomped in than anything else. I couldn't remember a time when I had seen anyone so livid.
'You're damn right there's something you can help me with!' he huffed in response to my failed attempt at diplomacy, 'I want my fucking clothes back!'
Well, what did you know? That made two of us.
I stared at him, 'I don't have your clothes'.
This earned me a look as though he were seeing me for the first time. And I don't think he liked what he saw. 'Of course I know that. Jeez, you're not the brightest bulb in the box, are you? What, did they take you on out of pity or something? Maybe you're sleeping with the boss. Yeah, I bet that's it…'
Pressing my lips tightly together, I mentally counted backwards from five to calm myself down. It wouldn't look good to assault a potential client while on the job.
Luckily for me, he then switched topic to the real reason he was there. 'I want you to get my clothes back from the guy who has them'.
Alright, so that I could do.
Bang – Crash
Oh, shit. What now?
I looked up quickly, just in time to see the front doors crash open and slam shut as someone else entered the room. Taking in the appearance of the second man, I silently repeated my earlier question. What now?
The new entrant was easily close to seven feet tall and seemed to tower over the first guy, who probably wasn't all too much taller than me – that being an unimpressive height of 5'6. However, it wasn't the height of the guy that first claimed your attention... Oh no, it was the white. I'm talking about white jeans, white socks and boots, white polo shirt, white sports jacket and (surprise, surprise) white hair to match. Well, while I couldn't say much for his fashion sense, at least he was fully clothed.
Perhaps God was taking pity on my eyes.
Then again, judging by the blinding glare now reflecting into my eyes, maybe not.
One thing was for sure, the man sure knew how to bleach.
'You stupid old fool, what are you up to now?' he was shouting, before taking a brief look around, 'a lawyer's office! Mate, you trying to sue me? You're out of your mind!'
The first guy puffed out his chest, 'hey now, who are you calling old? You wrinkly aged prune! And you're damn right I'm going to sue you, you took my clothes! When I'm done with you, I'm going to own your sorry arse!'
Apparently Mr. White didn't take all too kindly to being compared with a piece of fruit. 'Wrinkly aged prune? Wrinkly aged prune?' he fumed, taking a menacing step forward, 'I'll show you…'
'What, going to beat me up with your walking stick? Bring it on, Pops!'
By now Mr. Polka Dots was dancing around on the spot, having worked himself into a frenzy, his arms bent in front of him like some sort of comical cartoon boxer. And speaking of boxers, his underwear was slowly drifting further and further south, sliding down over his love handles. Evidently, all the elasticity had just about gone from his elastic.
With that last insult, Mr. White twisted his face into a snarl and charged the other man to the ground. I heard a muffled 'why you–!' before the rest of the words were drowned out by growls and shrieks. Which belonged to whom, and who said what, I had absolutely no idea.
All I knew was that I had to figure out some way of stopping the fight before a real client walked in and decided it best to take their business elsewhere; most likely to a place where they didn't have fashion-challenged giants wrestling it out on the ground with half-naked hairy men.
And if I could somehow pull them apart before Mr. Polka Dots exposed Mr. Happy, I'd be ecstatic.
There are just some things that a girl shouldn't have to see in the workplace.
I tried shouting, I tried whistling, I tried clapping my hands and then even stamping my feet. None of these slowed them down in the slightest. Finally, I grabbed my personal drink bottle from home and slid clumsily over the receptionist's counter, unscrewing the lid and knocking papers to the floor as I did so. Without a second thought, I dumped a nearly full litre of cold water onto the two wrestling men. Blocks of ice also came tumbling out and hit them both on the head. With any luck, it also knocked some sense into them.
They stopped what they were doing and stared at me like I was the crazy one.
I blinked innocently back at them.
There was a moment of peaceful silence before they both began shouting at me.
'I want a lawyer!'
'No, I want a lawyer!'
I considered asking them if they'd settle for a psychiatrist instead.
'What the hell is going on here?'
The three of us turned to look for the owner of the new voice that had just joined in.
Upon seeing the cool, shiny barrel pointed at us, we all recoiled back at the same time. I don't know much about guns, but I do know that this one was big, dark and scary. I'm also pretty sure that I had heard the click of the safety being released.
Looking past the gun to the person holding it, I recognised Margaret Bensen – personal assistant to one of the two senior partners of the firm and close to a hundred years old. Or, so she looked. The term 'wrinkly aged prune' seemed to be an appropriate way to describe her, not that I would ever tell her that to her face – especially not when she's pointing a loaded gun at me. At least, I think that she kept it loaded.
Guns were one of Margaret's quirks. She had once commented to me that she liked anything big and that could do a whole heck load of damage. Well, in that case, the baby aimed at me must be one of her all time favourites. It was a small wonder that I hadn't wet myself upon seeing it.
The fact that she liked things big and dangerous seemed ironic, and almost understandable, considering the fact that the lady herself hardly seemed to pose any threat at all. I had no idea of her exact age, but she had a hunched over height of five foot nothing and appeared to be skin and bones. And wrinkles; there were a lot of wrinkles.
When I had joined the firm a month ago, I marvelled at how it was that she was still working full time. Apparently Mr. White and Mr. Polka Dots were wondering the same thing, for they were staring at her with wide eyes and slack jaws; or maybe it was the gun that had produced that effect.
I watched as Margaret's arms began to waver and tire from supporting the weight of the gun; they involuntarily angled downwards slightly until the barrel of the gun was aimed straight at Mr. Polka Dot's pride and joy. She didn't notice, but he most certainly did. With a frightened yelp, he covered his bits and ran to take cover behind Mr. White.
By now, they were both on their feet and eyeing the door longingly – though neither seemed game enough to make any sudden moves in fear that the crazy, gun-toting grandma might go a little trigger-happy on them. I couldn't blame them; I was more than a little wary of that, myself.
'Margaret, the gun… you promised you wouldn't take the gun out in the office anymore,' I reminded her as I edged out of her line of vision. While I knew that she probably wouldn't shoot me on purpose, accidents had been known to happen.
'Shh,' she said, waving the gun impatiently for me to be quiet. Mr. White eyed the moving gun with some alarm, and deftly reached behind him to use Mr. Polka Dots as a small human shield.
Sheesh, each man was as bad as the other.
'Alright, now what is going on? You two had better have a good reason for causing this young lady so much trouble,' she barked, moving behind the desk and taking a seat; she effectively disappeared from view behind the raised counter. 'And for goodness' sake, step forward like men, would you? Honestly, I won't bite.'
Yeah, maybe just shoot a few holes in someone instead.
It had occurred to me - shortly after I began working with her - that what Margaret lacked in physical dominance, she more than made up for in sheer personality. Her tongue was sharp, and her mind often sharper still. Watching her now, slowly unfolding her wire-rimmed glasses and placing them delicately on her nose, I realised just how deceiving looks could be.
The two men hesitantly took a step forward, their eyes continuing to dart about the room – no doubt assessing all convenient escape routes that they were sure they'd have to use. Although the gun was now resting flat on the table, it was well within her reach and they knew it. They weren't about to take any chances.
As they squirmed uncomfortably under her disapproving gaze, I marked just how alike they were to a pair of shamefaced schoolboys caught fighting in the playground. Margaret was doing a good job of acting the part of a strict principal – a strict, ancient, slightly crazy, gun-toting principal.
To their discredit, the men even responded like a pair of kids as well.
'He started it!'
Margaret sat quietly, glaring at them until they fell silent again. She nodded her head imperiously in the direction of Mr. Polka Dots. 'You,' she said, 'what happened?'
He shifted on his feet, looking awkward and probably wondering why he had chosen our particular law office to waltz into that afternoon. 'Well, ma'am, I was at the Laundromat across the road, you see,' he started, bottom lip jutted out in a pout, 'I was completely minding my own business and doing my laundry when some young lady accidentally knocks her coffee all over my clothes. So, like any reasonable man, I think to wash them. After all, I am in a Laundromat…'
Oh, boy. I thought I could see where this was heading.
'Yes, my Laundromat!' Mr. White interjected hotly, before turning his attention pleadingly to Margaret, as though she were a judge presiding over their case. She certainly did have that feel about her sometimes. 'He just started stripping off his clothes right there and then! Down to his underwear, can you imagine?'
All three of us stopped to stare over at Mr. Polka Dots standing in his boxers.
He glared indignantly back at us.
Yeah, I think we could imagine.
'Having him strip down was sending my customers running in the opposite direction. Bad for business, you know? So I politely ask him to refrain from undressing himself…'
'You took my clothes!'
'After I asked you nicely to put them back on!'
Margaret glanced over at me as they started at it again. 'This is going to take a while, Kayla. You may as well go upstairs and see Mr. Westman. He wants a word with you,' she told me, pushing up her glasses with two fingers as it slid down to the tip of her nose.
Unh, this can't be good. Mr. Westman was one half of the senior partners that ran the law firm (Jacobs & Westman, Solicitors), and had never once called on me to speak in private before. Trying to recall whether I had done anything stupid lately, I started through the back doorway that Margaret had come from.
The door led to a short hallway with a couple of small offices branching off it. The same beige carpet was laid down and colourful contemporary paintings lined the white washed walls; why they decided to hang the art back here, and not in the front room, was beyond me. At least they had a few potted plants in the corners of the reception area to keep it from being completely dull.
Passing the few offices and paintings, I made my way up the narrow stairs at the back of the building block and onto the second storey that housed the slightly bigger offices. This was where Westman and Jacobs resided whenever they were in. I headed for the office at the end.
I paused for a second to do the courtesy knock, before opening the door and poking my head in around the side. 'Mr. Westman?' I called, opening the door wider and stepping through into the lush office, 'Margaret said that you wanted t—ohmyGod.'
Upon entering the office, I had done the routine inspection of my surroundings. I had noted the darker shade of carpet, the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, the gorgeous mahogany desk, the plush leather chair… and the teenage boy sitting in it, with his pants dropped around his ankles and his right hand disappeared from view inside his briefs.
'I, uh—sorry!' I stammered stupidly, before turning on my heel and rushing SMACK into a solid male body that had entered the room behind me.
'Miss. Maitland?' Westman asked, surprised as he looked down at me on the floor.
'Are you alright?'
I had my hand pressed to my cheek where I could feel a bruise forming, and already there was a dull thudding of a new headache coming on. Today was just not my day. My arse was sore from landing on it heavily, and I couldn't seem to form more than one-syllable words.
Westman reached down and easily pulled me up with one large hand clamped around each shoulder. He was a big man, well over six foot and, although he must've been beyond middle age, his physique suggested that he still frequented the gym a lot. With his broad shoulders, dark hair and suits that always looked two sizes too small, it was only several deep creases on his face that betrayed his true age.
Those deep lines on his face were now crinkled into an expression of concern as he looked carefully at me, no doubt wondering whether I had a concussion. Certainly, my responses to his questions were less than encouraging. 'Maybe you'd like a glass of water?' he offered, shepherding me gently towards one of the visitor chairs opposite his desk, 'Bobby, will you get—Robert Angus Westman!'
Wincing at the sudden increase in volume, I turned my head to find that the teenager had yet to remove his hand from his underwear. Christ. I was beginning to feel nauseas, and had no idea whether to attribute the feeling to the fall or something else.
It suddenly clicked into place with Westman as to why I had been so hasty in backing out the door before. 'Bloody oath, Robert - Get your hand off your damn dick and apologize to Miss. Maitland this instant!' he fumed, back stiffening as he seemed to rear up to his full height. I dimly noted that he reminded me of some sort of grizzly bear you would see on nature programs.
Upon seeing him the second time with his hand still busy, I had quickly averted my gaze from the kid and sat staring out the window instead. It really was a nice window; it was so shiny and… window-like. Concentrating on something inane was my version of 'thinking happy thoughts'.
I heard the boy named 'Bobby' heave a dramatic sigh, followed by the sound of his slacks being drawn back up and the fly being zipped. He then stepped around the side of the desk and into my field of vision.
'I'm so sorry,' he said to me, sounding anything but apologetic.
Now that he was standing in front of me, and wearing pants, I took the time to have a closer look. He was taller than me, but not by much, and I put his age to be a few years younger - late teens, for sure, possibly eighteen or nineteen. His dress sense could be summed up in one word – 'baggy'. He was wearing a basketball jersey that fell to his knees, his pants were close to sliding off his skinny hip bones, and under his jersey was a white t-shirt that probably could have fit two of him. Similarly, his hair seemed to be too big for his head. Unlike Westman, who had slicked back dark hair, Bobby had light brown hair that was well-beyond frizzy; it seemed to stick out at all angles, like some sort of new afro style.
I stared at the hand that he was offering to me for a handshake, and must have made a strangled sound at the back of my throat, for he grinned at me. Westman narrowed his eyes in warning.
'Wait outside while I have a word with Miss. Maitland,' he ordered the younger man. Bobby gave him a mock salute and winked at me before sauntering out the door, closing it behind him.
There were a few moments of silence after he left; I was still slightly in shock and Westman was evidently trying to get his temper under control. One minute later, and he was smiling affably at me. 'I'm so sorry about Bobby, Miss. Maitland, he really is a nice kid… he's just, well–'
He stopped short, apparently unable to find a suitable adjective to describe the boy.
Pervert, came to mind. I mean, who the hell tries to get off in an open office, and then doesn't even stop whenpeople walk in? I kept these thoughts to myself, though; no doubt insulting a member of the boss' family wouldn't help my career.
'It's alright…' That was a lie. 'Margaret said that you wanted to see me?'
'Yes, yes. Of course,' he said, smoothing down his tie with one hand as he moved to sit behind his desk. He paused, eyeing his leather chair doubtfully as though it might be crawling with Bobby-cooties. Or were it only girls who were supposed to have cooties? Evidently he decided it that wasn't safe until sanitized, as he came back around and sat down in the second visitor's chair next to me.
'I'm afraid that I have a rather big favour to ask of you,' he said, hand continuing to smooth his already crease-free silk blue tie. It was no doubt some expensive designer brand that would cost me a month's worth of salary to afford.
'Yes?' I prompted, wondering whether I really wanted to hear what he had to say, but curious nonetheless.
'It sort of involves Bobby.'
I was pretty sure that I made that strangled noise again.
'You see, he's new to Sydney and I'd feel a lot better if I knew there was someone to look after him,' Westman told me slowly, attempting to fix his smile in place, 'he's the son of my brother, and his mother would kill me if anything were to happen to him while he is here.'
I stared at him. Was he kidding?
'Oh, I know. He's nineteen, and surely that is old enough to look after himself,' he continued, pre-empting any arguments that I may be forming, 'but his sense of direction is really atrocious and you don't know my sister-in-law' – he looked pained – 'I would really appreciate it if you could just show him around a bit. Take him out, point out some landmarks…'
The words I'm sorry, but I can't were forming on my lips when he mentioned the magic word - money.
I was stunned for a second. 'You'll pay me how much?'
'A thousand dollars now, and a thousand dollars at the end of the week when he leaves for Melbourne again,' Westman repeated, without so much as blinking an eye at the amount. Holy Crap. Two thousand dollars in one week for babysitting?
I sat there, waiting for the catch.
'No catch,' he said, reading my thoughts, 'all I ask is that you keep him out of trouble and deliver him in one piece to the airport for his flight next Friday. Do we have a deal? Of course, part of your payment will cover any expenses you incur during the week…'
I just had one question. 'Why me?' I mean, Lord knows that I wasn't the most responsible person in the world. I was an okay student, and an alright employee, but I also had a reputation for being something of a klutz… as the deep purple bruise on my face would probably be evidence for.
'I'm sort of hoping that Bobby would respond better to someone closer to his own age. I have a feeling that he'd resent being stuck with a middle-aged minder all week, it might "cramp his style",' Westman remarked with a shrug, 'I know you probably have better things to do this week, but honestly – I'm at a loss of what else to do. Left on his own, Bobby will no doubt get himself in trouble and I'll have to avoid family functions for the next three years out of fear of my sister-in-law-'
I looked at Westman the Grizzly Bear, and wondered just how scary his sister-in-law must be.
'- and honestly, you're the only person I know who is close to his age,' he finished, looking pleadingly at me.
I thought about Bobby, with his hand down his pants and his insolent smirk.
Then I thought about all the things I could buy with two thousand dollars.
Greed won out over repulsion. Besides, it wasn't like I had anything exciting planned for the next week, contrary to what Westman thought. The truth was that my social life was lacking, I had no boyfriend, and I could definitely use the extra income.
'Alright,' I said finally, 'I'll do it.'
Westman looked over at me and beamed, 'fantastic! Let me write you out a cheque for the first thousand, and then you can skip out of work early today'.
Ten minutes later and I was walking down the hallway on the first floor again, one thousand dollars sitting in one pocket of my jacket and several slips of paper, with emergency numbers and addresses written on them, in the other. I also had a stupid grin on my face that usually came about whenever I got paid. Or laid.
'Hey Bobby,' I called out, entering the reception area, 'listen up, I'm—holy shit.'
I stopped mid-sentence to find Bobby standing behind Margaret and giving her a shoulder massage. That wasn't the reason I had paused though – the cause for my sudden speechlessness was a nice little pants-tent thing that he had going on. Oh. My. God.
The little perv was getting hard from a lady old enough to be his great-grandmother.
He looked over at me and winked. 'Hey hot stuff, would you like to be next?'
I could feel that headache thudding stronger.
Margaret let out a relaxed sigh, and her eyes closed. Her wrinkled skin was being stretched with every pull on her shoulder, 'you really should take him up on that offer, Kayla. He gives a wonderful massage.'
'Did you hear that, Kayla?' he asked, smirking at me, 'I'm wonderful with my hands. What do you say we have some alone one-on-one time together?'
I'd like to say that I'd rather rot in hell.
Unfortunately for me, though, I had just agreed to spend one whole week with him – so all I really could say was that the two thousand dollars had better be worth it.