Public stories, Private lives
Part Twenty Seven
Feeling a little more human as the day went on, Karen realised that having nothing to occupy her brain was not the best way to keep her mind off what had happened. Switching on her home computer, she logged in to her e-mail and msn messenger. After dealing with a few personal e-mails, she decided to see if Yvonne, as usual, also had msn running on her office computer. Yvonne liked this slightly higher tech way of keeping in touch with what her two juniors were writing and Karen wasn't surprised to see that Yvonne was the only online person on her contact list. Yvonne opened the conversation with,
"I was going to ring you in a while." Karen was touched by this and told Yvonne about Meyer's phone call and the bouquet of flowers. Then she asked Yvonne to e-mail over some of the work she'd left on her computer. Yvonne, privately thinking that mental activity was the best thing for Karen right now, happily sent her a load of proofs to browse through. Karen kept her instant messenger running, as to see Yvonne's name still active on her screen somehow made her feel like she had company. Karen noticed that Yvonne had very tactfully not sent her any stories written by Jim, for which she was eternally greatful. She didn't know quite how ready she was to even see his name written down, never mind actually seeing him in person. When it came to around five o'clock, the phone rang. It was Yvonne.
"How did you get on with that lot?" She asked as a way of opening the conversation, that to Karen, was an utterly transparent way of Yvonne attempting to find out how Karen was feeling.
"Oh, not bad," Replied Karen. "Nick's having a phase of truly awful headlines, but I think we all do that from time to time." Nick Jordan had only been with the paper for about a year, and Karen knew that all reporters went through various phases of either bad headlines or appalling sentence structure, so she wasn't overly concerned about it.
"what are you planning to do this weekend?" Asked Yvonne. Karen took a deep breath and said,
"Actually, I was thinking of coming in tomorrow to try and catch up on some of the work that's been left to you and Anton."
"You don't need to," Said Yvonne.
"I know, but I need to get over the revulsion of being in my office some time before Monday."
"Do you feel like going for a drink tonight?" Asked Yvonne with a sudden surge of inspiration.
"I don't see why not," Responded Karen, wondering what Yvonne was up too.
"I've still got some stuff to finish, but I could be finished around half seven," Said Yvonne. "Why not meet me at the office."
"Okay," Replied Karen with an inward shudder. She'd wanted to get that part over and done with, but not necessarily that quickly.
"Something that might give you an incentive to come near this place," Said Yvonne, correctly reading Karen's reaction to her suggestion. "Nikki and Babs and the others are having their first practice here tonight. It might be fun to see what they sound like." Karen smiled for what felt like the first time in too long.
"Okay, it'll be interesting to hear what they can come up with."
Karen began to make herself look vaguely presentable, deciding that even Jim bastard Fenner couldn't make her totally neglect her appearance. At around seven, she got in to her car and drove towards the office. She wasn't looking forward to going inside that building, even less to stepping inside her work space, but the longer she left it, the harder it would be. Cruising her car to a stop next to Yvonne's, she sat for a moment working up the courage to go inside that building where the most horrific event of her life had taken place. As Karen walked through reception towards the stairs, she could hear the unmistakable sounds of guitars and a violin being tuned up in the coffee lounge. She vowed that the only thing she was going to do this evening was to listen to what that little group of musicians were up to. It was an odd mixture of people, mused Karen. From Crystal and Barbara who were avid church goers to Denny and Shaz who were as unconventional as it was possible to be, with Danny, Nikki and victoria coming somewhere in between. Karen walked up the stairs, avoiding the reporters' office and eventually reached the corridor containing the offices of herself, Mike, Yvonne, Janice and their secretaries. Unlocking her office door, she stood on the threshhold and simply looked inside. It looked as good as new. There was absolutely no sign of the devastating act which had taken place here only two nights before. Karen walked in and sat down at her desk. To her utmost relief, she didn't really feel any major revulsion to being here again. She knew this was where Jim Fenner had raped her, she was sitting at the desk where she'd been spralled when he'd forced his way inside her, and this did make her skin crawl and her stomach lurch with a wave of nausea, but she realised it could have been worse. She could have hated every sight, sound and smel of this office, but she didn't. It was only a room, only a desk, only inanimate objects that couldn't possibly testify to her weakness.
After half an hour of randomly flicking through proofs yet achieving no real progress, Karen looked up to see Yvonne in her doorway.
"How're you doing?" Yvonne asked, coming straight to the point.
"Oh, I'm alive," Commented Karen drily. Yvonne looked her straight in the eye.
"Don't joke about that," She said seriously. Karen laughed mirthlessly.
"Don't worry," Karen said, "I might be reeling from what Fenner did, but I never have been and never will be suicidal."
"Yeah, well," Said Yvonne, not entirely sure she believed her. "Just you make sure you stick to that."
"So," Said Karen, trying to change the subject. "Anything happened round here I should know about?"
"No, not really. Fenner showed his face this morning but has been keeping a very low profile. The same could be said for Mike. Cassie and Tash got in to a row about cheating on girlfriends, which provided some entertainment this afternoon, and I sent you the stories that Nick and Jasmine have been working on."
"In that case, as work clearly isn't something that's going to happen this evening, how about we go and see what they're up to down stairs." Yvonne was pleased to see Karen showing an interest in something normal.
They quietly eased their way in to the coffee lounge, as the group were already playing and Karen and Yvonne didn't want to disturb them. The group were playing the Chocktaw Hayride, the song without words that Shaz had initially balked at during their first practice. Denny, still conducting for this piece smiled at Karen and Yvonne as she saw them slip in to the room, the others still oblivious. They went and sat in their usual corner, well out of sight of the players and simply listened. When the group reached the end, Denny very wisely didn't alert them to the presence of Karen and Yvonne. Danny's only comment was,
"Well, now we've warmed up a bit, why don't we try that one again, maybe without all the fluff."
"Bloody cheek," Said Shaz. "I've got sparks coming from the ends of my fingers as it is." Danny just laughed.
"That's what this one's supposed to do to you." When they played it through a second time, both Karen and Yvonne were amazed. All five guitarists strumming away like there was no tomorrow, Victoria using her bow to alternately create the illusion of two violins and at other times simply grazing the strings and Denny waving her drumstick to keep everyone together. After only a month of playing together they sounded wonderful to the two women sat there drinking in the music. When they finally reached the final chord, Denny said,
"Seeing as that was the best time we've played that, you might like to know that we've got company." As everyone but Denny and victoria had their backs to Karen and Yvonne, they all swiftly turned to see who was there.
"Just pretend we're not here," Said Karen quickly, not wanting to put them off.
"You're bloody brilliant," Said Yvonne, a little gob-smacked.
"If you're sure?" Asked Danny, then seeing they were, said,
"Okay. Let's try a song we know we can do. How about, now that I've found you?"
"Victoria will have to sing it," Said Shaz who had a cold. Victoria lifted her bow to give an indication of the speed, and on the down stroke moved it to her violin. Yvonne marvelled at just how much she'd underestimated this little group of people. Sure, she'd known that certainly Nikki and Danny had been talented, but she'd never suspected that all of them could play like angels. Karen was wondering how Victoria could so easily alternate between her voice and her violin.
"She's in the wrong profession that one," Said Yvonne quietly, gesturing at Victoria. Karen simply nodded. When Danny sang the occasional line, backed up by Nikki's harmony, it lifted the song to an entirely higher level. After this, they played a song where Danny had most of the voice, though he kept the bassline firmly swinging. With the addition of Victoria's violin to play either in the spaces where Danny was silent, or as an accompaniment to him, plus her singing the fourth above him in the chorus, brought the south american twang right in to their office in the north of England. Once this song had reached its sonorous end, Victoria said,
"This could really do with two violins rather than one." Danny swept his eyes down the part of the music he never usually looked at.
"I see what you mean," He said thoughtfully. "You're alternating quickly between double-stopping and those little graze of the string things that look impossible on paper."
"Yeah," Victoria laughed, "They're not just impossible on paper, they're incredibly difficult to get right."
"Do we know anyone else who plays the violin?" Asked Nikki. There was no answer from anyone. Karen decided to make her presence known.
"Have you ever thought of asking Anton?" Danny turned to face her.
"You're saying Meyer plays the violin?"
"Oh yeah," Said Karen. "He's pretty good." This was a huge understatement but Karen wasn't about to make Victoria feel nervous by telling her just how good a player Anton was.
"I suppose I get the job of asking him?" Said Danny to the room at large.
"Of course you do," Said Victoria with a smile. "You're the only bloke so you draw the short straw."
"He's not that bad, you know," Said yvonne laughing.
"No, but he exudes this aura of mystery," Said Danny.
"You're waxing very lyrical this evening," Said Nikki with a grin. "You'll be taking over from Fenner if he's not careful." There was a sudden silence. Afterwards, nobody could explain why the room had gone so quiet. It was as if everyone was holding their breath, though none but Yvonne knew of the situation between Karen and Fenner. Realising she'd somehow cocked up in a big way, Nikki suggested a couple of other songs they could run through. They didn't try anything especially difficult and nothing that was entirely knew to them, partly as a result of their audience and partly because new acoustics take a while to get used too.
The last song they chose to run through was simply entitled, I'm gone. Shaz and Barbara played the first five chords of G minor, which led in to the song proper. When Victoria opened her mouth and the purity of her voice reached the ears of Yvonne and Karen, time seemed to stop for the two of them. Victoria's clarity joined occasionally by Nikki to provide an accompanying harmony felt as though it was creeping in to the soul of anyone who cared to listen. Victoria had only been with the paper since August, and although everyone knew her on the surface, Yvonne and Karen were, for the first time, seeing inside the soul of a girl who, up until that night, may as well have been a perfect stranger. Through Victoria's words, Karen got the feeling that there was an enormous sadness contained within this young girl's heart, something which clearly weighed on Victoria heavily though under normal circumstances it was usually kept hidden. The haunting modulations rocked as if the music were itself cradling a sleeping child. After the first chorus and before the second verse got underway, Crystal and Nikki took up a mournful melody, with one guitar appearing to answer the other. The playing of the two women created the feeling of two lost souls, both calling for the other's return. Karen let the music wash over her. Nothing could have fitted more perfectly with her sombre mood than this particular song. Although she had tried to give Yvonne the appearance of being vaguely mentally stable, she knew that had been a failure. Yvonne could see right through her brittle exterior, and the softly crooning tones of Victoria weren't helping Karen's quest for equalibrium. There was utter silence when the song came to an end. It was broken at last by Barbara.
"That's the most beautiful thing I've ever heard you sing," She said to Victoria.
"It was the first thing I ever heard her sing," Said Nikki. Seeing that Victoria didn't quite know how to respond to being put under the spotlight, Karen said,
"After a session like that, I do believe the drinks are on me and Yvonne." This seemed to lighten everyone's mood, and with most of them slinging guitars over their shoulders, they all made their way to the pub.
After a good couple of hours of alcohol consumption, Shaz, Denny and Danny made their way in the direction of the local nightclub, and Barbara gave Crystal a lift home. As the rain had stopped, and all four of them had clearly drank too much to drive, Karen, Nikki, Victoria and Yvonne began walking home. As Karen's house wasn't far from the market square, they said goodnight to her first. It didn't go unnoticed by Nikki and Victoria that Yvonne exchanged a look with Karen that clearly said, will you be okay. Karen simply said,
"I might ring you tomorrow."
"You do that," Said Yvonne. When they reached Nikki and Victoria's, Yvonne handed over the violin she'd ended up carrying as Victoria also had her guitar.
"You've got a wonderful voice in there," Yvonne said to Victoria. "You should look after it."
"Thank you," Said Victoria, knowing a true complement when she heard one.
"You coming up for a coffee?" Said Nikki, clearly in a mind for some interrogating. Yvonne agreed and they were soon sat in the lounge drinking Irish coffees and all three of them filling the room with nicotine.
"So," Said Nikki blowing a smoke ring at the ceiling. "What was all that about with Karen? And why was there that huge silence when I mentioned Fenner's name earlier this evening." Yvonne hadn't been in the journalism game as long as she had without learning a few things, like how to keep one's face straight at all times and how to recognise an impending awkward question.
"That isn't for me to tell you," She said evasively.
"Has something happened between Karen and Fenner?" Asked Nikki, never one to give up at the first hurdle.
"Like I said," Continued Yvonne. "Not my confidence to share."
"am I going to want to kick his face in?" Asked Nikki, coming straight to the point.
"Probably," Conceded Yvonne.
"What did he do to her?" Persisted Nikki. Victoria held up a hand.
"We all have our secrets, Nikki," She said quietly. "And it sounds like Karen would prefer to keep hers." Both women looked at her. Nikki with slight irritation because she knew Victoria was right, and Yvonne with a look of contemplation. What secret was Victoria hiding. It had to be something big for her to say that.
"I'm not going to get this out of you, am I?" Nikki asked Yvonne.
"Listen," Said Yvonne, taking a swig of her whisky-laced coffee. "I would like to tell you, because I could do with having a really good rant about this, but unless I get some indication that she doesn't mind me talking about it, I can't." Nikki let the subject drop, but as they began to talk about other things, the thought of what might have happened to Karen at the hands of Fenner niggled away at her like a splinter gradually worming it's way up under a fingernail. But whatever had taken place, it was bad, more than bad, it couldn't be anything short of terrible.
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