Karen's Affair  Chapter 1

Chapter 1:    The Office

It was mid-morning on a dull, chilly Tuesday in January.  Amber Graham was sitting at her desk in the office of Clegg & Mortimer, a Financial Services company in the Paddington area of London.  She was watching Richard again and thinking about the fact that she had been in love with him for nearly two years.  As soon as he had started work in the office, she had known that he was the one for her.  He had thick, dark brown hair and the most mesmerising sea-green eyes; and he was easily the nicest male she had ever met.  He had always been pleasant and friendly towards her, but had never shown any interest in her as a woman.  She did secretarial work within the office and looked forward to the times when he would come over to her desk to give her some typing to do or to ask her to make some arrangements for him.  However, she felt increasingly frustrated by this minimal contact.  It wasn’t enough for her and she knew she really needed to get to know him properly instead of simply fantasising about him all the time.

Amber’s name really suited her.  Her eyes, which were her best feature, were large and round and a lovely shade of deep amber, with tiny brown flecks.  Unfortunately, she tended to wear dark-rimmed glasses for most of the working day, which gave her the look of a conservatively-dressed school teacher or librarian.  She had wavy, Titian-coloured hair, very fair eyebrows and eyelashes and a pale, slightly freckly skin.  She had been slim in her twenties, but now that she was in her mid-thirties, her figure was beginning to spread out a little.  Although she was an attractive woman, generally speaking, her style was understated, to say the least.  Her personality was understated also, in that she had always been rather quiet and shy.  Her doleful eyes continued to follow Richard as he walked about the office dealing with business matters, although she tried her best not to appear to be watching him.  She sighed dejectedly as she saw him take a seat at the bank of workstations on the other side of the room.  He was sitting between Simon Hart, the Office Head, and Karen Sharpe, with whom Amber had become quite friendly.  When Richard sat down and swivelled his high-backed executive chair round to face his desk, she couldn’t see him at all because his back was towards her.  Simon, Richard and Karen were the three most senior members of staff in terms of status, but the ‘pecking order’ didn’t interest Amber.  Karen was her friend and confidante and Amber lived for the day when Richard, also, would be more than just a colleague.  But with regard to Simon Hart, Amber would have preferred it if he didn’t exist at all.  She neither liked nor trusted him, and the farther she was away from him the happier she felt.  Luckily, that arrangement seemed to suit him also, as he seldom paid any attention to her.

Finding it difficult to concentrate on her current, rather lengthy piece of dictation, she began to gaze distractedly out of the window.  However, she could see very little from where she was because her desk wasn’t on the window side of the room and also because the office was located on the tenth floor of a fifteen-storey building.  If a person wanted to see down into the street or look at the buildings opposite, it was necessary to get up and go right over to the window.  In her peripheral vision, she became aware of Karen looking over at her, giving her a knowing smile, and Amber looked across and smiled back at her, deciding then that she really ought to start back into the report-style letter she was typing.  Richard had told her he would like it back before lunchtime, if possible, and she had no intention of letting him down.   If his voice was all she could have for the time being, she reasoned, it was better than nothing.

When lunchtime arrived, Karen walked over to Amber’s desk to ask if she was going out for a walk.

“No.  I think I’ll just stay in today,” Amber replied.  “It looks a bit like rain anyway,” she added, lifting a pretty pink Tote bag out of the bottom drawer of her desk and producing a pack of sandwiches and a biscuit.

Karen wheeled her own seat over to Amber’s desk and sat down beside her.

“Given up on the diet, then?” she asked in a sympathetic tone.

“Well, it didn’t seem to be making much difference anyway,” Amber replied, shrugging despondently.  “Guess I’m just going to get fatter and fatter now, whatever I do.  And sitting at a desk all day long doesn’t really help matters either, does it?”

“No.  You’re right – it doesn't,” agreed Karen, who was only too well aware of being very lucky in that respect.  Being of medium height and very slim, with long, straight, shiny dark hair and a very pretty face, she had no worries in the looks department.  Her nickname in high school had been Snow White.  

“You could always join a gym or something - go in the evenings after work,” Karen suggested helpfully, being very careful not to suggest that Amber join the same gym as herself.

“Nah.  I’m too bushed when I get home to trudge back out again and go leaping about in a gym.  And if I went straight from work, it would be really late by the time I got home and I’d be starving.  So then I’d pig out.  I wouldn’t keep it up.  I’d start off with the best of intentions and then I’d get fed up with it and all that money would be wasted.”

She sounded so down-in-the-mouth that Karen wanted to cheer her up.

“You doing anything this weekend then?” she enquired, without any real expectation of a positive answer.

“Not really got any plans, as usual,” Amber replied, rather predictably.  “What about you?”

“Yeah, I suppose me and Greg will go out for a while on Saturday,” answered Karen.

“You don’t sound too excited at the prospect,” Amber remarked.   She tried not to convey to Karen how envious she was of the other woman's married status.

Karen shrugged.

“I’m going to nip out for a while, Amb - get a bit of fresh air,” she stated nonchalantly, pulling her dark red designer jacket from the back of her chair and slipping it on over her black, pencil-slim dress.

“OK.  See you later,” Amber answered glumly, wishing she had a bit more get-up-and-go herself.

“Sure you don’t want to come along?” Karen asked.

“No.  I’m fine.  Feeling lazy today.  I’ll see you later.”

Karen nodded and hurried out of the room as fast as her three-inch heels would allow her.  Amber gazed after her, knowing intuitively that it wasn’t fresh air her friend was after and that Karen would have been put out if she had accepted her offer to go out to lunch with her.  Amber was becoming increasingly certain that her friend was engaging in an affair; and she also had a shrewd idea who it was she was seeing, although she fervently hoped she was wrong.  Simon Hart was not the sort of guy she’d like to see Karen - or any woman, for that matter - getting involved with.  He was a tall, good-looking man, with a slim but strong and wiry build.  He had jet black hair and was of almost indefinable age.  Probably somewhere in his thirties, she had always thought.  To all outward appearances, he seemed to be very pleasant and personable, but there was something hard and cold about him that Amber didn’t like and she had never warmed to him at all.  In fact, it would be fair to say that she disliked him intensely.

She fell to wondering why Karen had taken up with him in the first place.  As far as Amber could see, her friend had everything that any normal woman could want but she still wasn’t happy.  Amber knew that Karen had married Greg when she was nineteen and that they had a daughter, Molly, who was nearly sixteen years old.  Karen didn’t look old enough to have a daughter of that age.  She looked to be in her mid twenties.  Reading between the lines from various comments Karen had made to her, Amber had the distinct impression that she was bored with her marriage to Greg and was looking for some excitement, although she had never actually admitted that in so many words.

Amber shook her head slowly from side to side, knowing that there was trouble ahead for Karen if she was in fact seeing Simon, or indeed anyone else.

The large, modern, open plan office was bright and spacious and Amber enjoyed working there.  She had been with Clegg & Mortimer for more than six years now, which was the longest time she had ever stayed with one company.  The room was now empty except for herself.  When she’d finished eating her lunch she walked over to look out of the window at the teeming, bustling street below.  Most of London was like that these days, no matter which day of the week it was, especially in the financial hub of the city.  Rain was beginning to fall softly from the heavy, grey sky.  She consoled herself by focusing on the fact that it would probably be a lovely sunny day tomorrow once all those dark clouds had cleared away.  She wondered where Richard had gone for his lunch, and she hoped that it was he who was lunching with Simon, not Karen.  She bit her lip and prayed that she was misjudging her friend and that she wasn’t having a relationship with Simon at all.  Everyone in the office knew that the two of them liked each other and that there was an attraction between them, but that didn’t necessarily mean there was anything actually going on, Amber reminded herself.

When Amber turned to go back to her desk, she could see that there was still no one else in the room with her; so instead she walked over to Richard's desk and sat in his chair for a moment, swivelling round from time to time to keep a lookout in case anyone was about to come back into the room.  She noted that he had no photographs of anyone on his desk, as some of her other colleagues had, and she knew he had never been married.  She wouldn’t have allowed herself to even think about him if he was married or engaged.  He got through a lot of girlfriends, though, if the office grapevine was to be believed.  At the moment he was going out with a girl called Janice, who was very young and pretty and had lasted longer than most, but Amber didn't like her personality.  She seemed rather cool and self-centred to her.  Well, you would think that, wouldn't you? she berated herself.  You're just a jealous cow.  Still, she hoped very much that he wasn't getting serious about Janice, because Amber was sure they would not make each other happy on a long-term basis.  But then, she fretted, maybe he wasn't interested in long-term relationships anyway.

Eventually, she stood up and turned towards her own desk.  She could hear voices in the hallway and she moved swiftly away from Richard's workstation.  Then she told herself not to be so silly.  There was no need to hurry.  After all, she could simply have pretended she was putting a telephone message on his desk if anyone had enquired why she was over there during lunchtime.  She supposed that her unrequited feelings for him and her own guilty conscience were the things that were making her so jumpy.

As she sat back down in her own seat and began to tackle some work again, she promised herself that she would do something about her situation with regard to Richard in the not-too-distant future.  She would have to, because it was starting to really get her down.  She was normally a cheerful, contented sort of person; so it didn’t sit well with her to be such a wet blanket all the time.  She wasn't yet sure exactly what action she would take; she only knew that she would have to do something positive soon.

 

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