Public stories, Private lives
Part Twenty Five
Karen drove home after assuring Yvonne that yes, she would be okay. Yvonne didn't know whether or not to believe her, but could recognise that right now, Karen had to do things her way. When Karen reached home, she put the heating on because the house felt like an ice box. Hardly surprising in late November, but she could tell that nobody had been there in the last twenty-four hours apart from Yvonne. She ran the hottest bath she'd probably ever had, sprinkled in some lavender oil and plugged the CD-player from her bedroom in so that she could listen to some music whilst cleansing her body for the second time that day. Lying in the scented water and listening to the gentle tones of Elton John, she thought over everything that had happened in the last day. This time yesterday she had been happy. But then her world had caved in around her. She couldn't seem to rid herself of the harsh words and even harsher touches of Jim Fenner. why had he really done that to her. It couldn't simply be because she wouldn't listen to his ongoing proclaimations of love or lust or anything else he felt for her. Had it been his way of gaining control over her, making her bend to his will. She didn't know. But the thought that continuously crept in to her mind was what would her reaction be to seeing Mike again. She hadn't doubted that Yvonne would have told him, simply because Yvonne had said she would. That was something new as well. Yvonne had been wonderful, last night and this morning. She'd always got on with Yvonne. They shared a professional rivalry that was healthy and probably kept them both on their toes. But she now knew another side to Yvonne, a part of her that cared.
Yvonne was loathed to let Karen go home alone, but there it was. She knew that now above any time in the future, Karen had to have complete and utter control over anything she did. After drinking another mug of coffee and eating a cheese and pickle sandwich that she didn't really feel in the mood for, she decided to go back to work. No point staying at home if all she would do is worry about Karen. Cassie looked surprised to see her when she entered the main office.
"The skive not worth it?" She asked with a smile. Yvonne shrugged. She simply replied,
"I'll be around if anyone needs me." When she reached the upstairs landing and walked towards her office, Mike, who had left his door open hoping to catch her, called to her. Yvonne barely suppressed a groan and walked to the open door.
"How's Karen?" He asked. Yvonne walked in and closed the door.
"She's gone home, probably to have the longest bath she's ever had in her life and if I know Karen, consume a vast amount of Scotch." Mike didn't look impressed.
"Is that such a good idea?" He said. Yvonne only just managed to rein in her irritation.
"The point is that it was her decision. What you have to understand, is that the last thing Karen needs right now is for anyone, you included to tell her what she ought to be doing. If scrubbing her skin raw and getting very drunk is what feels right to her, then it is right."
"How come you know so much about this?" Asked Mike, completely without his usual level of tact. But this didn't phase Yvonne in the slightest.
"that's none of your business," She said matter-of-factly. Mike looked appologetic.
"I'm sorry," He said. "I just don't know what to do for the best." Yvonne's voice softened a little.
"I know. but you've got to let Karen make every tiny little decision for a while. It's the only way she might begin to feel back in control of her life again."
"I notice Fenner's not made his appearance today," Said Mike, slightly changing the subject.
"That's no surprise," Said Yvonne. "He's probably nursing a hang over and trying to find any excuse for what he did."
"Do you think she might want to see me later?" Mike sounded hopeful and apprehensive all at the same time.
"I couldn't tell you," Yvonne replied. "I'd recommend phoning her first though."
Yvonne seemed to drift away the afternoon by sitting at her desk, her head on her hand, just staring in to space. She couldn't keep her mind on anything vaguely resembling work. Seeing Karen in such a state had brought back more memories than she would have liked. She could far too easily picture what Karen would be doing now. After all, it wouldn't be far from what she had done, the first time Charlie had used his drink-induced strength to forcefully take what he considered his matrimonial rights. She had gone through a phase of taking more baths and showers than was really necessary, and definitely drinking and smoking far too much. But simply knowing what Karen was going through wasn't going to be of much help. she just wished she knew how best to support Karen through what would probably be the biggest crisis she'd ever faced. suddenly, Yvonne felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. Startled, she looked up in to Barbara's concerned face.
"I'm sorry," Barbara said, "I tried calling you but you were miles away." Yvonne gave her a small smile.
"Sorry, Babs. My mind just isn't on the job today."
"Is everything okay?" Asked Barbara. For a moment, Yvonne had the insane urge to spill all to her ever faithful and very discrete secretary, but she managed to override this.
"No," She simply said. "Everything's not okay and I wish like hell I could tell you about it, but it isn't my decision to make."
"Well, if you ever change your mind, the boss/PA rule of confidentiality would always apply." Yvonne smiled at her. Sometimes she didn't know what she'd do without Barbara.
"Thanks, Babs. Now, what did you want me for?"
"I just need you to sign this month's expenses form, that's all." Adding her untidy scrall to the neatly filled in form, Yvonne asked,
"You couldn't make me another coffee, could you, Babs?"
"Of course," Barbara smiled. When she returned with the blakc coffee, the way Yvonne always drank it, Yvonne removed a bottle of whisky from a hidden desk drawer and added a healthy slug to the coffee. Karen wasn't the only one to keep a handy supply of alcohol where it was most needed.
Karen had stayed in the bath for nearly three hours, continuously replenishing the hot water. She played various tracks on her CD over and over, as if taking some level of comfort from the music. When she eventually ran out of hot water, she wrapped herself in her thickest, warmest, most concealing dressing-gown and moving the music to the stereo in her living-room, did as Yvonne had suspected she would and started on the Scotch. She was well aware that four in the afternoon, especially on a weekday was very early for her, but if you can't get pissed on the day after you get raped, when can you do it, she surmised. The call from Mike came at about seven that evening. The phone had been ominously silent all day and Karen was brought out of her thoughts to see Mike's number on the caller display. She was in two minds whether or not to let the answerphone take it, but reflected that if she did, she'd probably have him round here on her doorstep, something she could well do without. Mike was surprised to hear her "Hello" sounding so normal. He wasn't sure what he'd expected.
"Karen, how are you?" He asked tentatively.
"I'm alive. A little drunk but alive." Mike privately thought that she sounded a lot more than a little drunk, but he wasn't about to argue the point with her. Once the polite enquiries were out of the way, Mike really didn't know what to say to her. What does one say to one's lover when they are struglling to come to terms with the fact that they were raped by an ex. Karen seemed to sense what he was feeling.
"I'm not okay right now," She said, "but I will be, if you give me time."
"Karen, you take as much time as you need. I just wanted you to know that I'm here for you." this was too much for Karen. Probably as a result of the amount of alcohol she'd consumed, she couldn't prevent the tears from falling, or the shuddering sobs from wracking her entire body.
"I'm sorry," She gasped. "I wasn't going to do this."
"Do you want me to come over?" Asked Mike, hardly able to bear hearing her pain.
"No," Karen said, with more certainty than she'd said anything that day. "Please don't. I think I just need to sort this out on my own." With a final, "I'll see you at work tomorrow," Karen replaced the receiver and cried more than she'd ever done in her life. She put down her empty glass, turned off the Cd-player and went upstairs. Already it was dark outside and this only made her feel more alone. But Mike's company wasn't something she either wanted or felt she could handle. She might have been able to see Yvonne, but she'd imposed on Yvonne more than enough in the past twenty-four hours. Karen huddled herself under her thick duvet and pulled the covers up over her head. Never in her life had she felt so alone. Eventually, her crying lessened and she just lay there, feeling chilled to her core. After a while, the sound of the rain drumming against the window lulled her in to a deep sleep.
Part Twenty Six
At around eight the next morning, Karen drifted slowly in to wakefulness, only to discover that her head was throbbing and the only thing she wanted to do was to go back to sleep. It was Friday, which meant that she would normally be in a mad rush all day trying to get her section of the paper together. She groaned audibly, but immediately regretting making any sound at all. Slowly, she let her eyes gradually open and become used to being open. Then she carefully shifted herself in to a sitting position, quickly realising that drinking that amount of scotch on a completely empty stomach was definitely not a good idea. She fought the wave of nausea and reached for the phone. She asked to be put through to Zandra, her secretary, but got Barbara instead.
"Barbara, it's Karen Betts. Please would you tell the powers that be that I won't be in today?"
"Yes, of course. You sound terrible."
"The thing is," Continued Karen, "There's a mountain of work on my desk that someone needs to see to. I don't even know what my reporters were doing yesterday."
"I'll let Mr. Meyer know," Said Barbara gently. "And he'll probably give you a ring. In the meantime, I'd go back to bed if I were you." After hanging up, Karen decided that this was excelent advice. Yvonne, on appearing in Barbara's office, had caught the tail end of the conversation.
"Who's on the skive this morning, Babs?"
"Karen Betts, and she sounded awful. I've got to let Mr. Meyer know because of all the work she's left." Yvonne thought that Karen was probably suffering from the biggest hang over of her life and vowed to go and see her at lunchtime if she got the chance. Fridays, like Mondays, were always a real nightmare. These were the days before the paper was due to be sold, which meant a furious correcting of proofs, finding of photographs and most crucial of all, getting everything in the right place and set correctly for printing. anton appeared then, clearly on his way up to his office, but Yvonne called to him.
"We've got a problem," She announced. Anton heard her explanation of the situation and dug a bunch of keys out of his pocket. Beckoning Yvonne to come with him, he approached Karen's office door.
"I think we ought to see just how much work Miss Betts has left us with," He said, fitting the key in the lock. The office was as tidy as Yvonne had left it yesterday. One of the Julies had been in with the hoover and a duster, but apart from this Yvonne could tell nothing had been disturbed. In the bright morning sunlight, the enormous stack of proofs looked larger than ever. anton gave them a cursory glance and then turned to Yvonne.
"You know where Karen is, don't you?"
"I'd take a wild guess that she's at home in bed," Said Yvonne, trying to avoid his penatrating gaze.
"And she isn't there through a simple case of food poisoning, is she?"
"I wouldn't know," Said Yvonne, not liking where this conversation was going.
"In your own words, Yvonne," He said blandly, "You're talking bollocks." Yvonne was perhaps more surprised to hear such a phrase come out of the mouth of the most cunning journalist she'd ever met, than because he'd seen right through her.
"Wherever Karen Betts may or may not be, and why she isn't here this morning are not my confidences to share, sir," She said, adding the sir in a clear contrast of his previous use of vulgarity.
"Then I take it there is a reason why Karen may be avoiding coming to work?"
"Like I said," Repeated Yvonne, "It isn't my place to tell you. But I think she'll be back by Monday."
"did something happen?" Asked Anton, concern now clearly outweighing curiosity. This was too much for Yvonne. She walked over to the door and shut it very carefully, trying to give herself some time to get her anger under control. Then she walked back to Anton and looked him straight in the eye, gazing right in to his soul with that infamous Atkins glare. Anton began to feel like he was the one being questioned not her.
"I really don't want to tell you this," She began, "Because this happened to Karen, not me, and it's her who's got to deal with this. But seeing as you're insisting on getting something out of me at any cost, I'll tell you why Karen isn't here today and why she wasn't here yesterday. On Wednesday night, here in this office," She gestured to the desk without thinking. "Karen was raped, and before you asked, she was raped by that Jim can't keep his flies fastened Fenner. Are you satisfied now." Anton, never the one to let anyone read his inner feelings moulded his expression in to as blank an appearance as was humanly possible.
"Did she go to the police?" He asked. Yvonne sighed, feeling like she was repeating herself from Yesterday.
"No, and she isn't. She wasn't here yesterday because she was black and blue and not in any state to see anyone. I suspect she's not in today because if I know Karen, she probably got very drunk last night and is currently suffering from a real bastard of a hang over. But, I'm fairly sure she just needs a few days to work up the courage it's going to take to see Fenner, let alone work with him. I think she just needs everyone to give her that time."
"Does Mike know?" Was Anton's next question.
"yes, and I had to tell him pretty much what I've just told you. But I swear, if you even think of letting her know I had to break her confidence, you'll be two editors short not just one. Do I make myself clear?" Yvonne was well aware she was putting her job on the line in talking to Anton like this, but she didn't care. After all, what was he but an ordinary bastard bloke.
"I'll have to talk to her, about all this if nothing else," He said resignedly, not actually agreeing to Yvonne's deal.
"Couldn't we do it between us?" Asked Yvonne. "There isn't much doing this week with finance, so I could take a fair share of that lot."
"That would be appreciated," Said Anton. "It'll be a change to get my hands dirty again." They began sorting through the pile of proofs on Karen's desk, and eventually came to an agreement as to who would deal with what stories. Anton then shot a glance at Karen's dark, silent computer. He said,
"I'll ask her for the password when I talk to her, if there's anything on there I need anyway." As Yvonne moved towards the door, her arms full of paper, she looked back over her shoulder at him.
"just go gentle with her," She pleaded.
"Give me some credit for being able to handle my staff tactfully," Was Anton's only reply.
At about quarter past nine, Karen's phone rang. cursing whichever individual was daring to disturb her sleep, she lifted the receiver.
"Karen, it's Anton Meyer."
"anton," Karen merely said with a slight feeling of resignation. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, first we need to talk about the work that needs doing in your absence. Yvonne and myself have decided to divide it between us. But I need to know if there's any more work on your computer that we need to get at." Karen tried to make her foggy brain start working.
"There could be some which were e-mailed to me yesterday, and yes, there are others on my hard drive."
"I'm going to need your password to access them." Karen gave him the information he needed.
"I would appreciate it if you only looked at e-mails which are relevant," She said, knowing that it would be Jim's cowardly way to appologise for the events of Wednesday night by a simple e-mail. She certainly didn't want Anton Meyer reading that.
"Of course," He said, as if merely suggesting what he knew he would probably do was outrageous. Then he continued, changing his approach completely. "Karen, is everything okay?" His enquiry hit her like a punch to the abdomen. Surely, no, he couldn't know of what had happened. She knew she'd hesitated far too long.
"Yes, everything's fine. I'll be back to work on Monday."
"I'm not especially concerned about that," Said Anton gently. "It is very unlike you to take any time off work. I am simply trying to ascertain if your supposed reason for coming up with the most plausible yet the most frequently used excuse in the book isn't covering up for something more serious." Karen had never spent much time getting to know her boss. She'd always found him interesting, possibly somewhat of a mystery. But she suddenly had the urge to spill all to him. She had to take a deep breath and furiously bite her lip to stop herself from crying.
"I'm not entirely clueless to the hurt of others you know, Karen," Anton said gently.
"I never suggested you were," Said Karen in a high, strangled voice that didn't sound anything like her own.
"Then, why not talk to me?" Asked Anton.
"Because it isn't that simple," Said Karen, slowly getting her voice back under control.
"Because I suspect that you would probably try and persuade me to do the one thing you will never get me to do, and because one of your employees would be implicated in quite a serious crime which I'm sure you wouldn't want to keep quiet about." She realised she was beginning to sound angry and tried to calm down a little.
"Whatever you say here and now will remain here. Do I make myself clear?"
"I'm not sure you really want to know this," Said Karen, in a pathetic attempt to deter him from his chosen path of enquiry.
"Karen, anything that seriously impacts on the lives of my staff, I want to know. Okay?"
"Okay," She said with a resigned finality that shocked her. As she spilled the entire story, from her break up with Fenner because of his sending pictures of her to The Sun, to what had finally happened on Wednesday night, she began to feel like some of the weight was being lifted from her. It struck her that never in her wildest dreams would she have considered Anton Meyer a good listener, but here she was, telling him about one of the most painful experiences she'd ever suffered. When she came to the end of her tale, her body sagged as if all the air had been let out of her. She felt deflated, punctured, like any remaining energy had been sucked away for ever. Anton took a couple of minutes to take everything in, time to try and formulate a response to such a sequence of events.
"And you're certain you don't want to take this any further?" He asked. Karen was firm on this point. "Then, all I can really say is that I'm terribly sorry this had to happen to you, and that if in the future you do want to take this further, you will have my full support."
"Thank you," Karen said in a quiet little voice.
"and I am always hear to listen, if you should ever need it," He said softly. When he ended the phone call, Karen just lay there stunned. What the bloody hell had just happened. What in hell's name had she just done. Not wanting to examine the possible consequences of that phone call too closely, she turned over and gradually went back to sleep. She was woken at twelve o'clock by the doorbell. Vowing that she wouldn't let anyone in, no matter who it was, she pulled on her dressing-gown and went downstairs. It was a tall blonde woman wearing the name of the local florist on her uniform.
"Miss Karen Betts?" The woman asked. Karen took the flowers and thanked her. She took them in to the kitchen to find a vase. Unwrapping the beautiful bunch of carnations, she found a card. It said:
I'm fairly sure these won't make the slightest difference, but nevertheless, I hope they may cheer you up. Rest assured, your confidence will remain unbroken.
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