Mr 10A PART TWO
Not for the first time that week Carla arrived at work with very mixed emotions. On the one hand she felt quite exhilarated over her latest encounter with Mr.10A. She never dreamed she would speak to him let alone let him touch her. God, what are you doing Carla she thought to herself. In a matter of two weeks she had turned from being a quiet mouse hiding away in a corner to some sort of vamp. She had to admit though, she liked being a tease and pretending she was something she wasn’t. Or at least she thought she wasn’t, maybe she was. Maybe this was the new Carla.
“Penny for them?” her colleague Wendy asked as she walked into their small office.
“Sorry Wendy I was miles away.”
“Well it looks like D day has arrived. Mr. Grainger wants to see us all in the canteen in half an hour.”
Even though she knew it was coming Carla still felt her heart drop. “So this is it, this is when we get the bad news.”
“It might not be all bad Carla, let’s wait and see.”
“True,” Carla answered. She had to admit the one thing she admired most about Wendy was her perpetual sunny outlook on life.
The half hour seemed to drag for an eternity. Everyone felt the same and just wanted to know where they stood. Carla really felt for some of her colleagues. Especially the older ones who might find it difficult to find another job. Or a job of the same calibre. Then there were those such as Harry Lazonby, who with a large mortgage and family to match, had quite candidly told her he felt like he was staring down the barrel of a gun.
Eventually they were all gathered in the canteen. The mood was somber and a tangible air of nervous apprehension hung over them. There was little or no attempt at light hearted banter and even the doom mongers had gone quiet. As soon as the clock struck ten Old Mr. Grainger made his entrance. Carla could see he looked as nervous as everyone else felt. The old man was followed by his waste of space son who wandered in with a totally indifferent attitude. He couldn’t care less what happened to the family firm or its employees, just as long as he got a nice big pay out. The rumor was, it was his outrageous gambling debts that had forced his father to sell in the first place.
Another figure followed the Grainger’s through the door. In that moment Carla wished the floor would open up and swallow her whole. Standing there as large as life was Mr.10A. Behind him came a tall statuesque blonde who looked as if she had just walked off the cover of the latest edition of Vogue. God, how could you be so bloody stupid Carla?
“What’s wrong Carla you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Wendy asked in a hushed but concerned whisper.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” she whispered in return.
Wendy caught hold of her hand and gave it a little squeeze. “It’ll be alright Carla, you’ll see.”
Obviously, Wendy thought the reason for the sudden decline in Carla’s demeanour was because she was stressing over the forthcoming announcements. To say Carla was stressing was an understatement, only for a very different reason. Only you Carla…only you could be stupid enough to flash your knickers at the man who’s soon to be your new boss.
She stole a quick peek around the bodies in front of her. Mr. Grainger was halfway through what sounded like it may have been a very eloquent and emotional speech. Carla hadn’t heard a word though, not up until then anyway. Mr.10A was standing beside him, seemingly listening attentively to every word. As was the blonde who was stood almost on top of Mr.10A which made Carla feel all the more ashamed of what she’d done.
She saw Mr.10A avert his gaze from Mr. Grainger to the forty or so employees arrayed in front of him and quickly ducked back out of sight. She knew she was kidding herself and with a sickening inevitability he was going to see her sooner or later.
There was a sudden ripple of polite applause as Mr. Grainger drew his speech to a close. Once the clapping finished it was Mr 10A’s turn. It was a good speech it had to be said, one full of promises and phrases like "challenging times" and“building a strong future together.”
It was when Mr.10A was drawing his speech to a close that Carla’s fears were finally realised when he gestured to the back of the canteen where a cold buffet had appeared as if by magic.
“Now if you don’t mind, we’ve laid on a spot of lunch for everyone and maybe Amanda and I could come down and meet some of you face to face.”
“There I told you it wouldn’t be so bad,” Wendy said as she turned toward a very sick looking Carla. At the same time the waves parted in front of them and there appeared nothing but fresh air between Carla and Mr.10A. Carla saw a brief flicker of recognition cross his face before he turned away toward the oh so bloody perfect Amanda. God how Carla wished she could just disappear into thin air.
“You really don’t look very well Carla,” Wendy said, once again totally oblivious to the reason why.
“Yeah I need to go to the bathroom,” Carla replied as she made a quick about face and headed for the ladies.
She locked herself into a cubicle and buried her head in her hands as she despaired what to do next. She really wanted to run away, just walk out the front door and never come back, but she knew she couldn’t do that. She would have to face it out. Whatever “it” transpired to be. After five minutes of soul-searching she finally gathered herself together. If she was going out, she was going out with her head held high and bugger Mr.10A.
When Carla walked back into the canteen he was on the other side of the room talking to some people from accounts. He glanced toward her and just for a brief second she thought she saw the faintest hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
For the best part of an hour Carla managed to avoid him. If he crossed to her side of the room she would hurriedly move away. It was silly she knew, but she was at a total loss as to what to do or say when they finally came face to face.
“Do you know that Mr. Saunders Carla?” Wendy suddenly asked out of the blue. Carla shook her head. “No why?”
“He keeps looking at you as if he knows you.”
“I think he sometimes catches the same train. He’s probably trying to place me, that’s all.”
“Hmm...” Wendy replied looking far from convinced. Carla quickly turned away in the hope of avoiding any more searching questions. Wendy always had been very perceptive.
Despite Carla’s best efforts the inevitable happened and she found herself backed into a corner with no possible route of escape. Mr.10A sidled nonchalantly across and introduced himself, first to Wendy before turning and offering his hand to Carla.
It was all a bit bizarre really, the way they introduced themselves to one another as if they were meeting for the first time. Carla did think she saw something akin to bedevilment in his eyes and momentarily felt herself going weak at the knees. Somehow, she managed to maintain her composure and after a few minutes of professional chit chat Mr 10A made his excuses and headed off in the direction of the Grainger’s and the beautiful Amanda. Carla felt the tension ebbing out of her body. Playing it cool and professional had been the right way to go. Just then she became aware of somebody watching her out of the corner of her eye.
“What?” she asked Wendy who was regarding her quizzically with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek.
“You know very well what Carla Carpenter…”
To say Carla felt confused would have been putting it mildly. She really felt there was a strong chemistry between herself and Mr 10A. There had to have been. It wasn’t just a silly flirtation on the train. At least it wasn’t for her. She wasn’t so sure about him anymore. Not now she’d seen him with Amanda. The more Carla thought about Mr 10A and Amanda the more she felt the fool. Doubly so when she caught Amanda straightening Mr10A’s tie in the corridor later that afternoon. Miss Perfect was stood far too close to him to be a mere employee and there was an obvious familiarity between the two.
Needless to say, it was with a heavy heart that Carla trudged through the front door when she arrived home later that evening. Crushed would have been as good a description as any. Crushed, desolate, bereft, they all fitted her inconsolable mood. Her mother and father had fussed around her and tried to make her feel better but they, like Wendy earlier in the day, were oblivious as to the real reason for her heartache. Even Jane had sat with her and tried to cheer her up, but it was to no avail.
In the end Carla had retreated to the sanctuary of her bedroom where she spent a listless night thinking dark thoughts about Mr.10A and the flawlessly beautiful Amanda.
Carla’s first indication it was Saturday morning was when she felt her mother trying to wake her from her slumbers.
“Carla, Carla there’s someone here to see you.” There was no denying the urgency in her mother’s voice.
“Wha? What do you mean… who is it?” Carla asked as her sleep befuddled mind tried to come too.
“It’s a man, he says his name is David Saunders.”
In a flash Carla was out of her bed and peering out through her bedroom curtains. Down below parked next to her dads old Ford was a shiny red Mercedes sports car which looked totally at odds with its surroundings.
“He’s here, Mr. Saunders, I mean David?” Carla asked as her spirits soared from 0 to 30,000 feet.
“Yes love. Is he the reason why you’ve been acting differently these last two weeks? Her mother asked, all was becoming clear.
Carla nodded whilst earnestly searching through her clothes for something which looked presentable.
“Yes mum, he was, or is. I don’t really know.”
“Do you want me to get rid of him,” her mother asked, still not certain as to what was going on.
“No! no I don’t.” Carla exclaimed. “Go and talk to him or whatever while I get dressed please mum.”
Her mother squeezed Carla’s hand before disappearing back downstairs. A moment or two later she heard both her mothers and Mr 10A’s voices as they made polite conversation.
Carla hurriedly washed and dressed herself, all the time wondering as to the motives for Mr 10A’s visit. Was it too ask her not to embarrass him in front of Amanda? Or was this going to be the “Don’t come Monday.” speech. Her money was on the latter, that would certainly save any embarrassing workplace situations. Not that there ever would be any. Carla would never demean herself in such a manner. She straightened her skirt and gave herself one last once over in the mirror. Not bad for five minutes effort she thought.
Mr.10A was sitting with his back to her when she walked into the front room. Her mother was sitting opposite and best of all Jane was hovering in the kitchen doorway with a look of absolute shock and disbelief on her face. Her mother looked up when she noticed Carla arrive which prompted Mr.10A to turn around. His face positively lit up as soon as he saw her making Carla blush.
“Good morning Carla. I didn’t mean to get you out of bed,” he said with his disarmingly boyish smile.
“That’s alright,” Carla answered glancing toward her mother for reassurance.
“I was wondering if you’d like to go for a spot of lunch?” Mr.10A continued, “I thought we could drive down to the coast. There’s a little place I know near Hastings.”
Carla was temporarily at a loss, there’d been dozens of scenario’s playing through her head as she came down the stairs, but this wasn’t one of them.
“I err, don’t…” she felt herself clamming up. When she was on the train she was the one in charge, she was in control and everything was on her terms. Now here in her mother’s front room all that new-found confidence suddenly evaporated.
“What she’s trying to say is yes!” an exasperated voice called out from the kitchen.
Mr.10A looked at her questioningly, a little like he did when she teased him on the train which restored some of her confidence.
“OK then why not... If it’s all right with you mum?”
There was another exasperated sigh from the kitchen.
"You’re a grown woman now Carla. It’s not up to me,” her mum replied.
“So that’s a yes then?” Mr 10A asked, once again with that boyish smile.
“I guess so,” Carla said picking up her handbag from the back of the settee.
She followed Mr 10A out on to the garden path in a daze. Was this really happening? Or was it just a cruel dream and any second now she was going to wake up?
“Shall we?” he said holding open the car door which elicited a wry smile. Nobody had ever held a car door open for Carla before. She settled back into the plush leather seat which was a world away from those in her fathers ratty old Ford and breathed in Mr 10A’s cologne, which once again reminded her of their flirtations on the train.
“Are you OK?” he asked as he slid in beside her.”
“Yes, well I think so, there is one thing?”
“Oh, and what’s that?”
“I was wondering why you came; I mean you obviously got my address from work, but why did you come? I’m sure Amanda wouldn’t be happy if she knew you were here.” There she’d said it, and if it ended things before they started, so be it. As much as she fancied Mr 10A she wasn’t about to become a married man’s dalliance.
“Oh Carla,” Mr 10 said in an exasperated tone similar to that of her sisters earlier on. “Amanda won’t mind one bit.”
“Really? I saw her with you, straightening your tie in the corridor. She’s not just somebody you work with.”
Mr 10A shook his head. “No, you’re right, she’s not. She’s my sister.”
“Really?” Carla asked, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
“I’m sorry, I feel stupid now,” Carla said whilst thinking only she could get things so wrong.
“Carla, I haven’t slept all night for thinking of you. I’ve been parked at the end of the street since half past six. I even beat the milkman this morning. The truth is, all I want to do is be with you." There was no denying his emotion and sincerity, in his voice and eyes, and in that moment all Carla wanted to do was fling her arms around him and kiss him like there was no tomorrow. Only they were still on her parents driveway and she knew fine well both her mother and sister were watching from the front room window.
“Shall we go,” she said putting her hand on top of his.
As they reversed off the drive Carla glanced back toward her house. Sure enough her mother was there, looking quite pensive as she watched her daughter drive off with a total stranger. It was the look on her sister’s face that was priceless though. Jane just couldn’t get her head around the idea of Carla being whisked away by Prince Charming in his big red Mercedes.
It was when they were on the A28 near Tenterden when Mr 10A jokingly asked her if she’d ever flashed her legs at anyone else on the train.
“No, Mr 10A I have not,” Carla replied with genuine mortification.
“So why me?”
“I don’t know really. I saw you looking at me in the reflection of the window and something just came over me. I’m not really like that.”
“Well Miss Carpenter, all I can say is I’m really glad you did. Anyway, what’s with the Mr 10A?”
“It’s what I christened you because you always sat in seat 10A.”
“It was the seat with the best view. Where else would I sit?”
“I can’t argue with that.” Carla laughed
“You will call me Dave or David though, not Mr 10A.”
“You’ll always be Mr.10A to me,” Carla replied.
They'd spent that first day in and around Hastings and were so happy enjoying each other’s company, neither of them had noticed the time. Which wasn't exactly true. Neither Carla nor Mr 10A wanted to draw one another's attention to it, because they didn't want the day to end... which it didn't. A little after six Carla had called her mother from a phone box and told her she wouldn't be coming home that evening.
"Are you sure sweetheart? David seems like a nice man., but you've only just met him."
Carla had glanced out of the phone box across to David who was sitting contentedly on a park bench.
"Yes mum, I'm sure."
That had been twenty-six years ago. Twenty-six years, two children, three houses and one Grandson ago to be exact. Today however, was a Special day, their silver wedding anniversary in fact. Tonight they were going to celebrate with family and friends, but the day was theirs to celebrate how they wanted.
Carla had often wondered at the series of events which led to them walking down the aisle. The aisle in the church, not the train that is, although one had played a significant part in the other. What if her dad hadn’t been so clumsy and knocked the bottle of milk over her? What if her mother had done the washing and she put on one of her matronly ankle length skirts instead of the short blue number she borrowed from Jane. Would David have noticed her? Carla had often wondered if he would. And what if she hadn’t had that uncharacteristic brazen rush of blood, would they have got together? David had always said they would and he'd fancied the pants off her the moment he saw her. The teasing had been a pleasant added bonus as far as he was concerned.
She opened her wardrobe and retrieved a hanger from the end of the row. On it hung a short blue skirt and a primrose cardigan similar to the ones she wore on that Monday morning. She lay them out on the bed before retrieving a pair of stockings and suspenders from her bedside cabinet. She had spent the last three weeks scouring second hand clothing shops and retro boutiques to find clothes specifically matching those she wore the day they had first laid eyes on one another. She knew how David was when it came to attention to detail. That was why he was sitting downstairs with a copy of the financial Times issued that very day back in 1975.
She snapped the last suspender in place and put on her high heel shoes. Not bad for an old bird she thought as she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She made her way down the staircase into the main lounge, David was already there lost somewhere behind the financial times. Carla sat down in a high back chair which had been prepositioned to mimic the seats on the train. It didn’t take long before the corner of the paper drooped backwards..
“Good morning Mr.10A,” Carla said as she suggestively crossed her legs...