CEL Summer Masthead

Love Your Work: Week Six

Trish Smith

WITH LAZY SUMMER WEEKENDS AHEAD, NOW IS THE TIME FOR A BEACH READ.

This summer, we hope you will enjoy sneaking away for half an hour or so every Friday as we bring you each new instalment of our Summer Serial – Love Your Work by first-time Canberra author, Trish Smith.

She recommends reading it in a hammock, with a large glass of iced tea nearby and your phone on silent. 

Missed out on last week or want to read the entire series up to this chapter? Click here.

This week: In which our heroine carves herself out a new career, while her husband carves out part of the backyard for a granny flat for his mother.


CHAPTERTWENTY TWO

Abby walked back to Emma’s apartment, turning down Patrick’s offer of a lift. She wanted to clear her head, and process all this new information. He told her he would come and pick her up later in the afternoon, when she’d had a chance to pack up her things.

She was half way back through the city before she remembered her promise to call Emma. She dialled her number and plugged the headphones with the hands-free mike into her mobile so she could walk and talk at the same time.

“Hey, it’s me, everything is fine.”

“Oh, thank God. I’ve been sitting here sweating bullets for the last couple of hours. Is he still with you? Can you talk?”

“No, he’s gone. I’m walking back to your place. He’s going to come and pick me up around four.”

“So what happened? What’s the story?”

Abby laughed, before asking Emma if she was sitting down. “You’re not going to believe this. Brace yourself.”

“I have no idea what you’re about to tell me” whispered Emma. “So who is she?”

“She’s his daughter.”

“Holy shit!” Abby could almost hear Emma’s jaw hit the ground. “Since when? How old is she?”

“She’s almost twenty-one. His girlfriend got pregnant when they were about eighteen, but he thought she’d had an abortion. Turns out she didn’t.”

“How could he not know she was still pregnant?”

“Her family moved to Melbourne.”

“And she didn’t tell him. Wow. Can you imagine getting pregnant at that age? The poor things. So are you going to meet her?”

“Yeah. I’ll meet her tonight when I get home.”

“Wow. So I guess that makes you a step-mother, or something.”

Abby laughed. “I hadn’t thought of that, of being a step-mother. But I suppose I am, technically. Wow.”

“So what about the other thing? What about the phone call and the money and everything?”

“Oh, Em, you’re going to love this. He was talking to Lauren. It’s a bit complicated, but the upshot is that he’s leased me some office space and set me up so I can start my own recruitment consultancy.”

“No way! Are you serious?”

“Yep. I’m finally going to work for myself! I’m so excited.”

“Where are you now? Are you in the city?”

“Yeah. Where are you?”

“I’m over at Defence but I’m done for now, so I can meet you in about ten minutes.”

“Great. Meet me in Lonsdale Street.”

“OK, bye.” Emma hung up and Abby picked up her pace a little.

They arrived at the cafe at the same time, ordered their coffees then sat down at one of the tables near a window. Emma reached across the table to grab Abby’s hand and gave it a quick squeeze.

“I’m so excited for you, Abby. Your whole life is about to change, for the better. Everything is alright with Patrick, you’re about to start your own business, and you don’t have to cop any more flak from Allen and Jean about the lack of grandchildren.”

“Yeah, I’d thought about that, too. I don’t know how Lydia feels about having grandparents all of a sudden but I don’t suppose she has much choice about it. If I know Jean, she’s going to be expecting nothing less than visits at Christmas and weekly phone calls. Jean is very focused on family, and she doesn’t have any here besides Patrick and Allen.”

“I just can’t believe Patrick’s a father! That totally took me by surprise. But I have to tell you, I’m completely relieved, you know? I’m so relieved he wasn’t having an affair. By the way—I told you so.”

“Did you?”

“Yeah, I told you he would never cheat on you. I’m sure I said that to you. Or at least I thought it. Anyway, what a relief.”

“Sure is.”

“So what are you going to do now? What time did you say Patrick’s meeting you at my place?”

“About four, so in a couple of hours. I’m going to pack my bags, and then start thinking about what kind of consultancy work I want to do.”

“I’m so glad everything is OK. Because I’ve got some news of my own and I’m afraid it’s going to come as a bit of a surprise.” Emma took another sip of her coffee but Abby was suddenly too scared to move.

“What is it?”

“A couple of months ago I was asked to apply for a job, and this morning I received confirmation that I got it. I didn’t really think I had that much of a chance, you know? Even though they wanted me to apply, I didn’t seriously think I could get it which is why I haven’t mentioned it to you.”

“What’s the job?” Abby suddenly knew what Emma was going to say. “You got a posting, didn’t you?”

“Yeah. It’s for three years.”

“Oh my God.” Abby felt her stomach flip. “Where do they want to send you?”

“To the UN headquarters. In New York.”

Abby burst into tears.

UNRECRUITED LOVE
A blog about the heart-breaking search for your one true job.

MORE DEVELOPMENTS

Posted by Ms Love in:

Tales from the Hot Seat

– – – – – – – – – – –

So, you’re probably wondering what happened next. I came home from my holiday to discover that the woman who answered the phone at my house in the middle of the night was (brace yourself) Patrick’s twenty-year-old daughter that he never knew he had. Although this came as quite a shock, it wasn’t the nightmare I had envisaged and so to cut a long story very short, everything is OK.

The second bit of news is that he was using a big chunk of the money to set me up with some office space so I can start my own recruitment consultancy. I’ve already started thinking about the kind of business I want to run, and it’s about as far removed from the cut-throat sales-focused caffeine-addicted big corporate nightmare I’ve been living these last few years.

And a third, unexpected and momentous piece of news I received today was from my oldest, best, dearest friend, Emma. She’s got a new job, in New York, and she’s leaving in two weeks.

Stay tuned.

• • •

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

A YEAR AND A HALF LATER

Abby closed the lid on the last of the archive boxes and gazed around the room for the last time. The office was now empty—everything packed up and taken away—ready for the new tenants who would almost certainly want to paint over the cheerful sunshine-yellow feature wall that Abby had impulsively added the weekend before she opened for business. It had started raining outside and without the heating on there was a sharp chill in the air. The weather matched her mood. She stared at the empty office with its grey carpet and reflected on the roller coaster ride that had been her life over the past five years.

Her parents’ death was the first catastrophe. The shock of the accident followed by the realisation that she would never be able to resolve the conflict she had with them, had put her into a tailspin that lasted a year, with residual sadness and bitterness that resurfaced whenever she felt emotional about anything.

Abby losing her job at Avenue Consulting, together with the near breakdown of her marriage and the revelation of Patrick’s daughter’s existence, had made for a tumultuous fifth year of marriage. When Emma announced she was leaving to take up a posting in New York, Abby had wondered how she would cope without her best friend.

Then just six months after them buying the garage outright from Patrick’s father, Allen, he died suddenly of a massive stroke while on holiday in Ireland, a shocking and unexpected tragedy that devastated Jean and Patrick, and of course brought up difficult memories for Abby.

And now, Abby’s consulting business had come to a sad and sorry end. And only eighteen months after she started it. The bigger agencies, with their teams of lawyers and questionable morals had somehow conspired to lock Abby O’Brien Consulting out of the market. She had been unable to grow the business beyond a handful of contractors working in a few of the smaller government agencies. She just couldn’t compete with the larger agencies and their enormous databases of contractors and clients. All the good will she had built up with her clients at the big departments whilst working at Avenue Consulting—Defence, Human Services, Health—counted for nought. Claudia had worked for her for the first six months, but eventually Abby had to let her go. Last she heard Claudia and her husband were expecting a baby, but in all the drama of the business going under Abby had lost touch with her.

As Abby closed the door she caught her reflection in the glass. “You look really tired” she told herself. “You look like you need a holiday.”

When she got home Abby curled up on the sofa with a hot chocolate, her laptop and the remote control. It was the middle of the day and Dr Phil was talking to a dysfunctional family about setting boundaries. Abby smiled, in spite of her mood.

UNRECRUITED LOVE
A blog about the heart-breaking search for your one true job.

WELL, THAT WASN’T ENTIRELY UNEXPECTED

Posted by Ms Love in:

Tales from the Unknown

– – – – – – – – – – –

 I made a decision last week to pull the plug on the business, and this morning I turned off the lights and closed the door and left the lovely view of the multi-storey car park to some other lucky punter.

I’m not sure if there’s some big cosmic lesson for me to learn here. All I know is that I have worked my butt off for eighteen months and have nothing to show for it.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. I feel a bit numb right now. Maybe I’ll just stay here on the sofa for a few weeks watching re-runs of Oprah and Dr Phil, and wait for the cosmic lesson to hit me.

• • •

A little while later Abby woke to the sound of Patrick’s key in the front door. She listened as he walked down the hallway into his office and made a phone call.

“Oh, hi Mum. I just found the basket of scones on the front step. When did you drop those off? Yeah? Well, thanks. I’ll give them to her. Pardon? Um—hold on—I’ll see if she’s here.”

Abby rolled over and rubbed her eyes as he walked into the room. “Hey, there you are. Mum’s on the phone, she wants to say hello.” He held the telephone out to her, his hand over the mouthpiece, and waited for her to sit up. “Remember to say thank you for the scones.” Abby sighed loudly and took the phone.

“Hello, Jean.” She looked up at Patrick who had perched on the end of the sofa to listen to the conversation. Abby pulled her legs up under her and tucked the blanket around her feet.

“Oh, Abby, how are you, love? Patrick told me you were finishing your packing up today. I popped over with some scones a little while ago but you must have still been at the office, were you? How are you anyway?”

“I’m fine, thanks Jean. Maybe a little shell-shocked, I suppose. But I’m alright, I’ll bounce back. Thanks for the scones, by the way. They smell delicious.” She shrugged her shoulders at Patrick, and he jumped up to retrieve the basket from his office. “I’ll have one with a cup of tea in a minute.”

“Still, you must be awfully disappointed, after all that work you put in. I’m very sorry it didn’t work out for you. And I’m sorry I couldn’t come in and help you pack up. But you know, I don’t like to drive in the city—if we ever needed to go into town Allen would always drive, so, well, you know—” Her voice trailed off as it always did when Allen’s name popped into the conversation.

“That’s OK Jean, I had some removalists come today. They took care of everything.” Patrick arrived back with the scones and sat back down on the sofa.

“What do you think you’ll do now, Abby?” asked Jean.

“To be honest I haven’t a clue. Right now I’m just thinking about that cup of tea and your scones. Patrick’s right here, I’ll put him on. Thanks for calling.” Abby handed him the phone then got up from the sofa, grabbed her laptop and went down to the bedroom. A few minutes later Patrick stood in the doorway and watched as Abby folded some laundry on the bed.

“Mum’s coming around for dinner. She’s going to bring some soup” said Patrick. “She’s lonely at home by herself and I worry a little about her.”

“She’s fine, Patrick, you don’t have to worry about your mum. She’s as fit as a fiddle.”

“Still, I’m glad she can come over occasionally. I’m glad you two are getting on these days.”

“Mm-hmm” replied Abby, yawning as she bundled up pairs of socks. She didn’t want to have this conversation again—the conversation where Patrick hints at building a granny flat at the bottom of the garden.

“Darling?”

“Hmm?” Abby started putting clothes away in the chest of drawers.

“Have you decided what you want to do? You didn’t seem very sure this morning, you know, about what you will do now.”

“I haven’t decided, Patrick. I don’t know what I feel like doing.”

“Well, you can do whatever you like. I’ll support whatever decision you make.”

“I know you will. I just haven’t decided yet. I need some more time to think about it.”

“You know, if you wanted to take a break from running a business for a while, you could always project manage the, er—” He paused for a moment, and Abby braced herself for the inevitable, clumsy attempt at subtlety. He didn’t bother. “You could project manage the cottage.”

“What cottage?” she answered, trying to sound half-asleep and confused.

“The granny flat.”

“Oh. So it’s a cottage now?”

“Mum thinks it sounds nicer than ‘granny flat’, you know, since she’s not a granny.”

“Yes she is. She’s got Lydia.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Do you really, really want your mother living in our backyard?” Abby put down a pair of socks and turned to face Patrick. “Because I really, really don’t want her to.”

“I didn’t think I did, but since dad died it kind of seems like the right thing to do. She doesn’t have anyone else. We’re all she’s got.”

“She’s got Lydia.”

“Abby, Lydia lives in Melbourne. She comes up, what, once every few months? Come on, be serious.”

“I am serious. I don’t want to live with your mother. Can you imagine what it would be like if we ever have kids? She’d be wonderful help for the first couple of weeks and then she’d start telling me I’m doing it wrong.”

“We’re not going to have kids.”

“We might.” Abby paused for a moment, suddenly realising what she had just said. She and Patrick had agreed, right from the beginning, that they wouldn’t have children. In fact, the subject had come up on their very first date.

“So, Patrick, do you have any kids?”

“No I don’t. Do you?”

“No. Do you want to have kids?”

“No. I don’t.”

“You seem pretty sure about that.”

“I’m absolutely sure.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m worried about global warming and over-population.”

“Seriously?” asked Abby, laughing.

“Yes” he said, seriously.

“Oh, OK then. So you’re completely sure you never want to have children.”

“Yes, I’m sure. Is that going to be a problem?”

“No. I don’t want to have children either.”

“Are you sure?”

“Completely.”

“So in that case, can I buy you another drink?”

“No, you can buy me dinner.”

Patrick shifted over on the bed so he could face Abby directly. “What do you mean, we ‘might’ have kids?”

“Well, I don’t know.”

“We have never said we’re going to have a family, Abby.”

“I know.”

“So why would you suddenly say that?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t want to have kids, Abby. Neither do you.”

Abby didn’t know what to say. She had no idea where the thought had even come from, other than the notion that having your mother-in-law living in your backyard must be particularly fraught if you also had children. If it had to be one or the other, she’d rather have the kids.

“Look, Patrick, I’m just thinking out loud, and you’re the one who keeps talking about your mother coming to live with us, and I’m thinking about the implications of that.”

“Abby, she’s not coming to live with us. That’s not what I’m suggesting.”

“But if she did, how would that work?”

“We’d figure it out.” Patrick started to climb off the side of the bed. “We’d figure it out just like we always do. But don’t go complicating things by suddenly announcing that we might decide to have kids, because that’s not going to happen. Ever.” He walked purposefully towards the door and started heading down the hallway.

“Well no, of course not, Patrick”, Abby called out after him, “especially if you’re mother’s going to live with us!” She sat on the edge of the bed and opened up her laptop to check for comments. There were just a few.

UNRECRUITED LOVE
A blog about the heart-breaking search for your one true job.

Comments:

KateM on: Well, That Wasn’t Entirely Unexpected

Well I didn’t expect it. This is very bad news. I’m very sorry. A hex on the houses of whoever put you out of business!

Sophie on: Well, That Wasn’t Entirely Unexpected

What do you mean you don’t know what to do next?! Have a holiday! Have a pedicure! Have a break!

Claire on: Well, That Wasn’t Entirely Unexpected

Have a baby!

She snapped the lid down and looked at her watch. It was only three o’clock. She changed into her running clothes, pulled her shoes on and headed for the front door.

“Patrick?” she called out. “I’m going for a run.”

“Good idea.” Abby couldn’t help smiling at Patrick’s comment. ‘I’m going for a run’ was often a euphemism for ‘I need to snap out of this foul mood’.

“I’ll be back in time for soup.”

“Seeya.”

She got to the end of the driveway and plugged her earphones into her mobile. She was about to select a jogging playlist when the phone rang. It was Emma, calling from New York.

“Hey, I was just calling to see how you’re doing. Did you get everything packed up alright at the office?”

“Yeah, it’s all done. All gone.”

“I’m so sorry, Abby.”

“Thanks.” Abby started to walk briskly down the street. “I’m just about to head out for a run—try to clear my head. I need to chill out or my husband won’t let me back in the house. What are you doing up so late? It’s one o’clock in the morning over there now, isn’t it?”

“I was just watching a late movie. Why the bad mood?”

“You mean, besides the fact that my business just closed down?”

“Ha, yeah, sorry. But is anything else going on?”

“Uh, yeah, but I don’t want to talk about it now.” The subject of the cottage could wait for a Skype chat.

“Any more thoughts on what you’re going to do next?”

“No. Just some vague ideas about having a holiday or a pedicure. Someone on the blog suggested a baby.”

Emma laughed. “A baby? I think a holiday is a pretty good idea. You haven’t been anywhere since you went to Thailand.”

“We went to the Yarra Valley for my thirtieth.”

“A weekend of wine tasting doesn’t count. You guys should have a proper holiday—you deserve one. Why don’t you go to Ireland?”

“Well, we can’t do that until after the end of the financial year. This is Patrick’s busiest time. And it’s too expensive to travel to Europe in summer. And I need to sort out all the files from the office so they can go into storage. So maybe October.”

“You’re full of excuses not to take a break.”

“No I’m not.”

“You just listed three.”

“Three good ones. Leave me alone, we’re not having a holiday.”

“You’ll figure it out, Abby, you always do. Don’t worry. Take care of yourself, OK? The jogging is good but you need to rest, too.”

Emma was right. Abby had only managed a few hours of sleep every night since deciding to close. She couldn’t clear her head and settle her thoughts for more than a couple of seconds. Her mind was racing with questions about what she was going to do next.

And she couldn’t stop thinking about what might happen if she accidentally got pregnant.

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

UNRECRUITED LOVE
A blog about the heart-breaking search for your one true job.

WHAT NEXT?

Posted by Ms Love in:

Tales from the Unknown

– – – – – – – – – – –

 I am no longer Ms Love, recruitment consultant. I am Ms Love, unemployed, a little cash in reserve, ready for the next adventure. Hang on! Haven’t I been here before? I’m getting the strangest sense of déjà vu.

Tell me, internet, what’s going to happen now? Am I going to a) learn to grow organic vegetables b) get a job or c) something completely random and unexpected? I probably should feel excited at the possibilities, but to be honest I’m not sure where that kind of energy is going to come from right now. I had it in spades after getting fired from the agency, but I think I was just feeling victorious and indestructible back then. Not feeling particularly indestructible this time around. And I found some grey hairs near my right temple this morning. No good can come of that.

Comments:

KarenB on: What Next?

I think you should get straight back to work. You could go crazy waiting around for something to happen. You need to make it happen yourself, even if you have to go back to working for someone else for a while. Surely that’s preferable to sitting around, filing your nails and growing runner beans?

Mandi on: What Next?

I agree with @KarenB. Keep working. You must still know people you can call.

Vanessa on: What Next?

I’m really sorry about all of this. You really seemed to enjoy having your own business. Can you go back to an agency, but in an autonomous role? Maybe there’s a short-term consulting gig going? You don’t want to run the risk of finding yourself working for another monster like that awful woman with the ugly shoes.

On Monday morning Abby telephoned Judy Nesbitt, the CEO of PeopleTech, who had always said she should call if ever she wanted a new job.

“Good morning, Abby. What a lovely surprise!”

“Hello Judy. Yes, it’s been a while. How are you these days?”

“Great, yeah, everything is going well. Hey, your name came up at work the other day. Rumour has it you’re thinking of closing up shop?”

“I have closed. I closed last week.”

“Too hard being out there on your own?”

“Well, it was never going to be easy.” Abby wasn’t interested in discussing the failure of her business with anyone, so she quickly changed the subject. “I’m looking for something else to do, Judy, and you always said I should call you.”

“Yes, of course, I’m really glad to hear from you. What are you looking for exactly?”

“Just a short-term contract, really. Just something to do while I figure out what I’m going to do next. Do you have anything in the way of short-listing and interviewing?”

“Sure, sure. One of the Tax Office divisions is running an additional graduate program this year. They’re looking for graduates who’ve studied something other than accounting or economics to go into generalist policy development roles. I had a scribe lined up to do it but he’s had to cancel. We’ve already done the short-listing, and we’ve narrowed it down to about 100 interviews. So that’s about four weeks work plus the reports, starting on the 15th. How would that suit?”

“That sounds perfect, Judy, thanks very much. Where are they doing the interviews?”

They talked about the details for a few more minutes and by the end of the conversation Abby was almost starting to feel excited at the prospect. Besides, she thought, if it turns out to be a bad idea she was only committed for four weeks. She called Patrick at work to tell him about it.

“And if I hate it, I only have to put up with it for a month.”

“Well, I think it sounds like a good idea, Abby. You’ll go out of your mind with boredom if you don’t do something, and since you’re determined not to project manage the cottage I guess this will have to do.”

“Jeez, are you still going on about that cottage? I thought we’d agreed that it wasn’t going to happen.”

“We hadn’t agreed anything. You just said you didn’t want to do it.”

“I don’t want to do it, because I don’t think we should do it.”

“Yeah, noted, thanks Abby. Look, I’m in the middle of something here. I’ll see you at home tonight?”

“No, it’s Monday night, remember? I have a Skype chat with Emma on Monday nights and you go around to your mum’s.”

“Oh, yeah. Alright then, I’ll see you later. Love you.”

“Love you too. Seeya.” Abby sent a quick email to Emma to confirm the Skype time, then headed into the Canberra Centre for some window shopping. She was about to walk into a boutique when she heard somebody calling her name.

“Oh my God, Claudia! Look at you!” Claudia was sitting on a lounge chair in the shopping centre rest area, with her feet up propped up on a pram. She had a large white cloth draped from her shoulder down to her lap, and a big bulge underneath. “You have a baby!”

“Yes, she’s four weeks old next week. Hey, Abby, I’m so sorry I haven’t called you. I heard you had finally succumbed.” She shrugged her shoulders and looked down at the baby. “I’ve been more than a little preoccupied lately, but I should have called you.”

“Don’t be silly, it’s fine. I’ve been ridiculously busy, too. Don’t worry about it.”

“So what are you going to do with yourself now? Maybe you’ve got time for another trip to—” She was interrupted by the baby’s tiny cry and then a little arm coming out from under the cloth and waving about. “Shh, Zoe, shh, there you go.” Claudia readjusted the cloth and sat her daughter on her lap, supporting her little head with one hand and using the other to pat her on the back. “Come on, sweetie, where’s that burp?”

Abby suddenly realised that she was staring, completely transfixed by the tiny little baby in front of her. Zoe had blond hair and enormous dark blue, almost black eyes. One of her hands was wrapped around Claudia’s index finger and Abby instinctively went and sat beside Claudia and reached out for the baby’s other hand. When Zoe grasped her thumb and tightened her grip, Abby felt her heart melt.

“Oh, Claudia, she’s just beautiful.”

“Yes, she is the most beautiful baby in the world, of course. And she has a scream that can peel the paint off the walls. My nerves are shot.”

“Aww, but she’s so beautiful.” And despite her life-long lack of interest in babies, Abby asked if she could have a cuddle. Claudia happily handed the baby and blanket over, and Abby adjusted herself so she could sit back against the chair and relax, the baby lying calmly in her arms, looking back at her. To her complete surprise, Abby discovered that Zoe’s head smelled exactly like a tray of freshly baked vanilla cupcakes.

“Look at you, Abby, you’re a natural.”

“Ha! No I’m not. I think this is the second baby I’ve ever held in my life.”

“Are you serious?” said Claudia. “Don’t you have friends with babies? Aren’t you an aunt?”

“I’m an only child—so is Patrick—so there aren’t any nieces and nephews around. And to be honest, I’ve never been one of those people who gushes over babies, so I really have no clue what I’m doing.”

“Well, you seem pretty comfortable.”

“I’m faking it.” But when Abby looked down at the baby in her arms she felt something shift in her heart.

She was thirty years old and had never had any intention of having a child. Her parents had been busy, ambitious and professional academics their entire lives and Abby always felt as though her arrival was completely unplanned and even a little resented. Her mother had hired an au pair as soon as Abby was six weeks old and went straight back to work which, at the time, was a job that involved quite a lot of travel. Her father had lavished her with attention when she was a toddler, but as she got older and more independent he seemed to lose interest in her. Abby played soccer every Saturday morning through winter from the age of eight to seventeen and her parents watched from the front seats of their car, barely glancing up from the weekend papers. They just weren’t interested.

Abby grew up believing that some people were born to be parents whilst others were not, and those who had a choice in the matter should be honest with themselves about whether or not they wanted to have kids. She suspected that, like her mother and father, she simply wasn’t the parenting kind, and when she did well at school and work that just confirmed it for her. When she met Patrick she was relieved to learn that he also didn’t want to have children, and so her child-free future was assured.

“Are you and Patrick going to try for a baby one day?”

“That’s interesting, the way you said ‘try for a baby’. Most people just assume we’re going to have one and want to know when. The question isn’t ‘if’, it’s ‘when’. No, we’re not going to try for a baby. Neither of us has ever wanted to have kids.” Abby handed the baby back as though to prove the point that she was happy to be child-free. “Maybe one day we’ll get a puppy.”

“Now would be a great time to get a puppy, while you’re not working.”

“I start a contract next week, actually. Straight back into it.”

“Really? Who are you working for? ” asked Claudia, tucking the baby into the pram.

“I’m going to be doing some interviews for a grad program.”

“Well, that sounds nice and easy. That’s almost as good as taking a holiday. Well, I’ll leave you to it. I need to get this little one home to bed. She’s going to start screaming in a minute. It was really great to see you, Abby.”

“You too. Lovely to meet you, Zoe!” Abby added, leaning over to peak into the pram. “Oh, look, she’s fast asleep. So cute.” She looked again at her perfect little fingers and the feathery-soft blond hair that covered her little vanilla cupcake head.

When Claudia started to subtly clear her throat, Abby realised she’d been staring at the baby for more than just a couple of seconds. She couldn’t help blushing as she apologised and stepped aside to let them pass.

Something had shifted in Abby’s heart, and something was starting to take hold in her mind. And it was quite unexpected.

All of a sudden, Abby wanted a baby. In fact, she wanted three.

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE

UNRECRUITED LOVE
A blog about the heart-breaking search for your one true job.

YOUNG PEOPLE THESE DAYS

Posted by Ms Love in:

Tales from the Unknown

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 I’ve just spent the past four weeks interviewing final-year university students for entry-level roles in a large organisation. 100 kids, all vying for about twenty positions, so it’s fairly competitive. I was a bit worried, after the first few amazing candidates (seriously—when did kids get so smart?), that we would want to give every single one of them a job, but of course there were a couple of not-so-amazing candidates and some terribly embarrassing interview techniques so in the end the choice was made for us. But here’s what I’ve been thinking—how many of those who interviewed badly might actually have been perfectly good employees? What if they were just let down by nerves and not knowing how to answer a question succinctly? There were at least half a dozen kids who I wanted to chase down the corridor afterwards, and tell them that I thought they were really smart, if they could just learn to spend an hour or so prepping some answers. And not chew gum.

Comments:

KarenB on: Young People These Days

I bet for some of those kids it was their first ever really serious interview. But there’s no excuse for chewing gum. Yuck!

Mandi on: Young People These Days

Did anyone break out in hives? That’s what happens to my sister when she gets nervous, poor thing. You should write a how-to book on this.

Sophie on: Young People These Days

I thought you were going to have a holiday. Or a pedicure. I mean, sure, a job coaching university students in how to apply for a job sounds fantastic. Except that there’s really nothing you can teach young people. They already know everything, right?

Claire on: Young People These Days

I think you’ve just stumbled upon a new career. There must be huge demand on a university campus for sound interview preparation advice for graduates. Look up the name of the careers advisor. Go on. Knock on their door and tell them to give you a job.

“His job title is actually ‘employment assistance coordinator’ or something fancy. Anyway, helps students get jobs. His name is Scott Caffey.” Abby was chatting with Emma on the phone while walking around Lake Burley Griffin on a frosty Sunday morning.

“How old is he?” asked Emma.

“Oh, about our age I guess. Maybe a bit older.”

“Is he cute?”

“He’s a bit plain-looking, I suppose, but he’s still got all his own hair so that’s something.” Emma’s last boyfriend had shaved his entire head rather than suffer what he saw as the indignity of going bald slowly. “And it’s very thick and wavy and a bit longish. And red.”

“Red? Like Anne of Green Gables carrot-red, or Eric Stoltz light-red?”

“Eric Stoltz light-red. Actually, he looks a bit like Eric Stoltz. Big green eyes, a bit dopey-looking. Dopey but intelligent.”

“So what’s the catch? Is he married?”

“I don’t think so. He doesn’t wear a ring.”

“How do you know? Were you checking him out?”

“No, I just noticed. I notice stuff about people.”

“Is he tall?”

“Emma.”

“What? I’m curious.”

“He’s about six-two”

“So did you ask him for a job?”

“No, we haven’t had a chance to talk properly yet. When I showed up the other day he was on his way to a meeting. I’m going to call him later and try to make an appointment.”

“Excellent. Find out if he’s single.”

“Emma, you’re in New York. Why do you care if he’s single? He’s a million miles away.”

“Oh, yeah. I forget that sometimes.”

The following Monday morning Abby called the switchboard of the Australian National University and asked to be put through to Scott’s office. The phone rang a few times before he picked up.

“Scott Caffey.”

“Hello Scott. I’m not sure if you remember me. I’m Abby O’Brien. I turned up unannounced at your office the other day.”

“Oh, hi Abby. Yes, of course I remember you. What can I do for you?”

“I’m actually calling to see if I can be of some assistance in your office.”

“Really? What do you do?”

“I work in recruitment. I’ve just done four weeks of interviews for a public service graduate program. We’ve got a hundred applicants and twenty positions—all the applicants are educated and intelligent, it’s hard to separate them. So the kids who are getting the jobs are the ones who did the best in their interview. We interviewed about two dozen ANU grads and although their applications were great, they didn’t seem to have much confidence with interviewing. So I wanted to know if there might be an opportunity for me to run classes or training in interview techniques for graduates, particularly for those applying for the graduate positions in the public service.”

“Do you know, that’s a brilliant idea! I’m always telling the students to apply for those grad programs and I help a few of them with their written applications, but I don’t think I’ve ever given anyone specific advice for the interview. Usually by the time those interviews take place, the students have graduated and moved on. Do you have an idea of how you might run a training session? What sort of information you would need to include?”

Abby and Scott talked for half an hour about how the course might be run, and arranged to meet at the Careers Centre with some graduating students so Abby could talk to them about what they would like to learn in such a course. Between them they decided it would be run several times in the lead-up to the end of the academic year, and that Abby would also be available in the office three days a week to help students prepare job applications and ask for job-hunting advice.

That night Abby logged into Skype for her regular catch up with Emma and told her about the new job.

“Well, it sounds perfect for you. When do you start?”

“Next week, Monday the 27th.”

“Great. So tell me, what does Patrick think about all this?”

“Oh, he doesn’t mind what I do as long as I’m happy. He’s too busy to worry about me, anyway. Since the expansion the garage has been doing really well, actually.”

It was true. When Patrick had taken complete control of the business after buying his dad out, he set about building it up. A year ago the used car dealership next door had come on the market and he’d bought it, allowing the business to grow even further. It had meant he had been ridiculously busy over the past year but they were both enjoying the challenge of developing their respective businesses.

“So have you told him about this graduate training thing?”

“No, we haven’t had much of an opportunity to talk lately. He’s been really busy, and I’ve been really busy.”

“You keep saying that. Almost every time we talk, you tell me how busy you both are. Hey, Abby, are you guys OK?”

“Yeah, we’re fine, just busy, that’s all.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, Emma, I’m sure. Thanks for asking.”

Abby could tell that Emma wasn’t satisfied with that answer but she didn’t have the energy or the inclination to have that particular conversation right now. She sipped her tea and kept her thoughts to herself. The past months had been difficult enough with the consultancy folding. If she and Patrick were having any problems they would have to wait until she had the head-space available to deal with that. And for the next little while she would be focusing on her new role at the Careers Centre. Who knew where that might take her? Abby had been thinking about the possibilities and was getting excited at the prospect of developing a training course that could be rolled out to university campuses across the country, which would give her the chance to travel. It had been a while since she had been anywhere new.

Emma’s phone rang and she answered it. When she hung up the short call she looked back at Abby on the screen. “I’ve gotta go, I’ve got a situation.”

“Sure, no worries. Maybe I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Good luck, Abby. I really mean that. Go get ‘em.”

“Thanks Emma. Love you. Seeya.” The screen went blank as the call ended.

The next day Abby decided she couldn’t wait another week to get started, so after breakfast she went straight to the Careers Centre. Scott looked up as she walked in the door. He was sitting at his desk across from a young woman who had a lap full of brochures and tears in her eyes.

“Oh, hey, sorry, I hope I’m not interrupting. I was in the neighbourhood so I thought I’d pop in and see if you were here.” Abby looked at the young girl who was obviously a bit distressed about something. “Perhaps I’ll just see you next Monday, Scott, as planned.” She turned to leave.

“No, wait, Abby, actually your timing couldn’t be more perfect. Come on in. Louise, this is Abby, she’s our new careers advisor. You should talk to her about this stuff. She’s a lot more up to date with the public service processes than me. Come in Abby, come in.” Scott came out from behind his desk and motioned for Abby to sit down. “I might just pop out for a minute—um—I’ll go and get a coffee.” He reached for his laptop bag and headed out the door.

It took half a minute for Abby to figure out what was going on. The young girl was a final-year student, paralysed with indecision about what she should do with her life and feeling pressure from her lecturers and her parents to make a choice and act on it. And here she was in the careers advisor’s office with the weight of the world on her shoulders and, on top of everything, she had started crying in front of him. Oh, you poor girl. If you’re stressed out now just wait until you’re in your thirties and your business fails.

“Hi, Louise, I’m Abby” she said, settling into Scott’s chair. “This is my first day here at the uni but I’ve been working in recruitment for years. So, you want to work in the public service?” Abby leaned forward and pushed a box of tissues gently across the desk towards Louise without saying another word.

Louise dabbed her eyes and then looked down at the mess of mascara on the tissue. “Oh for Pete’s sake, I must look like a bloody mess. I freakin’ hate it when I cry in public. It doesn’t happen very often so when it does I’m always sure to make it a good one. There, have I got it all off?”

Abby smiled and indicated that she should take another tissue. “Is it just the job search that’s got you this worked up or is there other stuff going on?”

“No, no, it’s just the job search. I’ve been working my arse—sorry, my backside—off for seven and a half years. I’ve got the rest of this year to go and then, fingers crossed, I’ll get a spot in the grad program at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. That’s what I want to do, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and of course I’ve been saying that out loud since I was in high school, and now I’m here, getting ready to apply, and it’s suddenly occurred to me that they might not want me as badly as I want them. And so I came in here for some advice from Scott, and he’s just so bloody nice, like a kindly old uncle, and I just lost it. I’m so embarrassed. There, has that got all the mascara off?”

“You’re fine, it’s all gone. What are you studying?”

“At the moment I’m doing international relations and economics. With honours.”

“Wow, so, you must be doing well then.”

“Yeah. I work hard. And I have no social life. Hence my nervousness about this upcoming interview. I think my ability to make polite small talk left me sometime during second year.”

“Oh, so you’ve got an interview? That’s great. Well, you’ve managed to do what about 4000 other hopefuls haven’t been able to do. Believe me, it’s not easy to get to the interview stage. You need to have excellent grades, but DFAT are also looking for people with a bit extra.”

“I did arts/law at Sydney before I came down here, so maybe that got me over the line. And I speak Indonesian and French.”

“Holy crap, you have done well. How old are you?”

“Twenty-five.”

Abby shook her head in wonder at the young woman sitting across from her. Two languages, an arts/law degree, and now a double degree in international relations and economics, with honours. “You should be interviewing DFAT, not the other way around.”

“I don’t think I can afford to be quite that confident. Yes, I look good on paper but as you can see, in person—” She waved the mascara-stained tissue in the air. “Well, let’s just say I’ve had job interviews before and more than one of those ended with me rushing out the door and vomiting into a rubbish bin in the corridor.”

“Oh, wow. OK, well, we can certainly work on that.”

“Really? Because I actually thought that was going to be a little difficult to overcome.” She was smiling now, but Abby could tell she was genuinely worried that she was going to mess it up. “I think it’s just the idea of all these years of study—which, let me be clear, have been entirely in the pursuit of a job with DFAT—going to waste because I can’t keep it together in the interview.”

“Why is it so important for you to get a job with DFAT?”

“Because that’s where I want to work.”

“There are so many other organisations that you could work for that would give you the opportunity to travel, if that’s what you’re interested in.”

“I’m not just interested in the travel” she said firmly, with a tone of voice that suggested she had already had this conversation with a thousand other careers advisors. “I want to work for the public service, and I want to work on policy initiatives that will help asylum seekers get to Australia without having to risk their lives dealing with people smugglers who put them on leaky boats. I want to help them come here. I want to help them get set up with all the assistance a rich democracy like ours can provide. I want them to be able to start a new business and send their kids to good schools and—sorry, you started me ranting and I can’t stop.”

“Law, international relations and economics? You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Have you thought about a job with AusAID or the Department of Immigration?”

“Yes, of course. They are in my ten-year plan. I want to do the grad program with DFAT first, then I’ll work there for a few years, do a couple of international placements with the Australian consulates in Indonesia and Malaysia, and then I’ll look at moving across to the Department of Immigration. But DFAT is my first stop.”

Abby tried to remember a time when she felt so certain about what she wanted to do after she finished her degree, let alone what she wanted to do with her life. She graduated from university and went straight into recruitment but it wasn’t something she had been planning since adolescence. Was there ever a point in her life when she knew exactly what she wanted to do and then went after that goal with such single-minded determination as this young woman sitting across from her had? She remembered being young and enthusiastic and feeling indestructible but she was never this genuinely self-assured. Or this well educated, for that matter.

But on the other hand, Louise had set herself several mammoth goals and if she was the kind of girl who could vomit during a job interview or lose her composure in front of a careers advisor, then how would she cope if her plan didn’t quite work out? Abby wanted to know if she had a Plan B.

“No.”

“No back up plan? No alternative career path? No wild fantasy to sail from Sydney to Cape Town?”

“No.”

“So, you really need to nail this interview then.”

“Yes, I really need to. How do you suppose I’m going to be able to do that?”

“Well, we’ll practise. They’re going to ask you a bunch of questions—not only to test your knowledge of international relations or law or economics—but to give them a sense of who you are and how you might fit into the organisation.”

“I almost threw up in my mouth, right then. How do I show them that I’ll fit into the organisation?”

“Try not to throw up in your mouth, for starters.”

Abby spent an hour talking Louise through the kinds of questions she might get asked during the interview, and explained the sorts of answers the panel would be looking for. “Everyone they interview is going to have a different response to these questions, but what they’re looking for is how you arrived at that answer. You’ll be showing them your thought processes, your problem-solving skills, your ability to address different scenarios—to be adaptable, to think on your feet, that kind of thing.”

“So they’re really not interested in knowing how much I know about how The Hague works?”

“No. I mean, yes. There will be some specific questions. But they’ll get a sense of how smart you are from your transcript which, I assume, is choc-full of high distinctions?” Louise smiled, which Abby took to mean ‘yes’. “So they already know you’re intelligent—they just want to see how you think and what you think about things. And the only way to do that is to relax in the interview, be yourself, and treat the whole thing like a nice chat over coffee with friends. Except, be concise. Don’t waffle or go off on a tangent. And it’s perfectly acceptable to take a paper and pen into the interview with you if that will help you organise your thoughts before you respond to a question. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of people do that and they always do really well.”

The door to the office opened and Scott tentatively popped his head in. “How are you going, is this a good time to interrupt?”

“Yes, yes, come on in.” Abby stood up and gathered her things and Louise did the same. “We were just finishing up. Louise is going to come along to the first training session next week.”

“But can I call you if I have any more questions, Abby? Do you have a business card?”

“I don’t have a business card, but you can call me here, or just drop by. I’m here Mondays to Wednesdays.”

“Thanks so much, Abby. I really appreciate the advice. Hey Scott, you were right, she does know about the public service.”

Scott smiled as he opened the door for Louise. “Well it’s good to see you looking a bit more confident, Lou. We’ll see you next week then.”

“She has three degrees” said Abby, sitting down in the chair that Louise had been in. “She has three degrees and two languages and a truckload of potential and yet she’s in here asking how to not throw up during a job interview. Can I ask the obvious question—what is this university doing to prepare these kids for the real world?”

Scott just laughed. “They’re ready for the real world, they’re just not ready for a job interview. To some degree, yeah, I suppose we’re also here to help them figure out what they want to do with their lives.”

“She already knows what she wants to do. She’s the most determined and focused twenty-five-year-old I’ve ever met.”

“Most of the students who come in here are like that—they know what they want and they just need some help to get there. But some don’t know what they want and don’t have the first clue about how to even try to narrow it down to a chosen field. But they’re determined to do something, otherwise they wouldn’t have enrolled at university, right?”

“I’m thirty years old and I still don’t know what I want to do! My problem is that there are loads of options out there but I can’t decide which one to focus my energies on. And while I’m trying to figure that out, I feel a bit rudderless. I’m a rudderless boat with an outboard motor that’s just idling along, waiting for somebody to hit the accelerator. Louise has a rudder and a motor and she’s hurtling towards the goal but she’s afraid she’s going to go flying straight past it. I’m not sure who the more pathetic creature is—Louise or me? Tell me, Oprah, what do you think I should do?”

Later, when she got home to an empty house and a note from Patrick saying he was going to the pub with his team of mechanics for a couple of beers, Abby logged into her blog and hammered out a rant.

UNRECRUITED LOVE
A blog about the heart-breaking search for your one true job.

PERMIT ME TO RANT FOR A WHILE. PLEASE.

Posted by Ms Love in:

Tales from the Unknown

– – – – – – – – – – –

 Today I was introduced to the most incredible young person I think I’ve ever met. I can’t go into too much detail so let’s just say she’s ambitious, driven, intelligent, young, amazing and did I mention ambitious? She’s phenomenally smart. But she is nervous about her future, unsure about what might happen next and too scared to contemplate not getting what she wants out of life. When I met her she was in a bit of an emotional state and—here’s the hilarious part—I gave her some career advice and made her feel better. Because I’m eminently qualified to dish out advice on how to pull yourself together. Right? Don’t answer that.

Let’s review the last few years.

First: I got sacked. That was followed by a minor personal crisis but if you’ve been following along for a while you know how that turned out (hint: it turned out fine). But that minor personal crisis was the catalyst for some pretty rash and impulsive decision-making on my part and so again, I find myself wondering if I’m the kind of person to tell a young student how to deal with life’s challenges.

Second: My business went bust. Frankly I’m scared to start another career in case the next disaster visited upon me puts me in hospital.

I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that the consultancy is gone and I’m back to trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. I’m thirty years old. I really ought to have a clue by now, right? Again, how ironic that I might be giving advice on how to find a job and be happy.

I have this idea to help young people out with their job applications, and part of me thinks this is going to be an amazing job and I’ll get immense job satisfaction out of it and overdose on the warm fuzzies. But the other part of me wonders if I really ought to be giving career advice to anyone when you consider that my résumé barely runs over two pages.

I don’t know. I feel like this new venture—being a careers advisor—might be exactly what I’ve been looking for. To be honest, I loved having my own business but I never felt completely content there. Something was always missing. Maybe this will fill that gap, or maybe I should be looking for something completely different from recruitment. Who knows? Maybe it’s my Plan C.

As always, feel free to verbally slap me about in the comments. Thanks for listening.

Comments:

Mandi on: Permit Me to Rant for a While. Please

I think this job sounds really perfect. The hours are good, you get to help people, and presumably you’re not too far from a really great cafe! And besides, I think you’ve had enough life experience to be able to credibly give young people advice. I’d take your advice!

KarenB on: Permit Me to Rant for a While. Please

I can’t believe you’re one of those people who doesn’t feel like they’ve got their life on track – you’ve had a few ups and downs career-wise and the odd hiccup in your relationship, but all in all I’d say you’re doing OK. Stop being so hard on yourself.

Sophie on: Permit Me to Rant for a While. Please

Alright, if nobody else is going to say it I guess it’s up to me. What the hell are you DOING? You must know by now that it’s useless to compare yourself to some over-achieving twenty-something-year-old and then start feeling sorry for yourself. For crying out loud, figure out what you love to do and then find a way to do it as a career. It’s not bloody rocket science. Just be honest with yourself and stop looking at everyone else and wondering if you’re measuring up. This is YOUR LIFE. Get on with it.

Ms Love on: Permit Me to Rant for a While. Please

Thanks, @Sophie. That’s exactly what I needed to hear.

CHAPTER TWENTY SIX

The interview skills training courses were fully subscribed and for six solid weeks, Abby ran the courses and met with students one-on-one to talk about their job applications. Being a small town, word got around Canberra that the ANU was helping to prepare students for interviews for government jobs. Scott received phone calls from the recruitment managers from half a dozen departments and the careers advisors from several major universities, all wanting to hear about the training.

“Who called you?” Abby asked him one Friday morning.

“All sorts of people. The other universities are interested in getting involved because obviously they want to improve their students’ chances of getting into the grad programs. And the departments are looking at their recruitment processes and wondering if there’s something more they can be doing to identify the very best applicants. I’m thinking we should set up a meeting with all these people and just have a general talk about it.”

“Scott, you’re not going to get the human resource managers of the Attorney-General’s Department and Defence and DFAT in the same room to talk about how they hire people. The competition for the best graduates is fierce—nobody is going to want to reveal their methods.”

“But they’re all government departments. Why can’t they work together on a project like this that will ultimately benefit them all?”

“Ha ha. Management consultants have been asking that very question for years but those same management consultants would be out of a job if all the public service departments decided to combine their resources to solve a problem. If they did that, they’d only need one consultant, right? Better to have ten consultants working in ten different departments on the very same problem.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Well, in a way it is. But the different departments have different requirements. The Attorney-General’s Department is mostly looking for law graduates, while the Department of Environment is looking for scientists and researchers and such. The approach is going to be slightly different depending on who they’re trying to hire.

“So will you need to tailor your training package to each individual department?”

“Sure.”

“And what about the universities?”

“If I’m just training graduate program applicants then the package is going to be similar across all the universities, but they’ll probably all want to have some input into how it’s run.”

“So I guess you’re going to be too busy to stick around here, giving out careers advice.”

It was true. The training course that Abby had developed had the potential to take her all over the country. There wasn’t going to be much time left in her week to sit in the ANU Careers Centre, waiting for stressed-out students to stumble in, asking for help. She returned all the phone calls and by the end of the day was quite certain that she could deliver her training course to almost every federal government department and most of the major universities, year after year after year, and probably run the business from her home office.

UNRECRUITED LOVE
A blog about the heart-breaking search for your one true job.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE 24 HOURS MAKES

Posted by Ms Love in:

Tales from the Unknown

– – – – – – – – – – –

It’s alright, call off the search, I’ve found my calling. I know what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve moved on from giving advice to nervous final-year students. Now I’m going to be advising government departments on their graduate recruitment practices and universities on their career coaching methods. I’ve managed to stumble across an opportunity and it seems like I’m the first one here. Now all I need to do is register a company name and figure out exactly what advice I’ll be giving!

• • •

Abby and Patrick decided to go out to dinner that night—their first ‘date night’ in ages, except for the occasional bowl of noodles at Sammy’s Kitchen. Patrick had suggested they try out a new restaurant in the city and Abby even left work early to go home and get changed for the occasion. By the time they were driving back into the city she was really starting to look forward to it.

“Hey, when was the last time we had a night out like this?” she asked him as they pulled into the car park. “One where we actually had to ring up and make a reservation?”

“We had dinner at Ottoman back in June” replied Patrick. “But that was with Dave and Julia so I’m not sure that counts. If you’re asking about dinner for just the two of us, I have no idea.”

Abby tried to remember when it was, but she kept coming up blank. The only nights out she could remember were things like birthdays and engagement parties. The realisation that it might have been more than a year came as quite a surprise. She tried to match her stride with Patrick but he was going a little too quickly. “Can you slow down a bit? I haven’t worn heels in ages and my feet are already killing me.”

“I just want to get to the restaurant on time. I’m worried they won’t hold the table if we’re late. I heard they’ve been solidly booked every night since they opened.”

“What time did you book it for?” she asked, finally catching up with him. He stopped dead.

“I thought you were booking it.”

“What? I didn’t realise you wanted me to make the booking. You just called me and asked me if I’d like to go.”

“Well I assumed you’d make the booking because you always make the bookings when we go out. And when I called, you were out shopping or something and I was up to my elbows in accounts at work, so I figured you’d do it because you had time.”

“Sorry, no, I didn’t.”

“Fantastic” he said. “Well, there’s no way we’re going to get a table on a Friday night. We might as well just go to Sammy’s or something. Or get takeaway and go home. Bloody hell.”

“Don’t be upset.”

“I’m just annoyed. Our first night out together in maybe a year and we can’t even manage to make a simple reservation.”

“Patrick, come on, it’s not that big a deal. Let’s see if we can get a table at Chairman and Yip. I don’t want to go to Sammy’s. You can’t hear yourself think in there when it’s busy.”

“Let’s just get takeaway and go home, OK?”

Abby could tell that there was something else bothering him, something more than just the misunderstanding with the booking. She didn’t want to go home. She wanted to stay out, have dinner, and have a conversation.

“I don’t want takeaway. I want to go out somewhere.”

They decided just to go to a pub, and headed for their favourite, Edgar’s in Ainslie. It was busy but they were able to find a relatively quiet corner away from the bar. They’d hardly talked on the way over in the car, and finally Abby could stand it no longer.

“Is something bothering you, Patrick?” He looked up from the pile of torn beer coaster pieces in front of him and exhaled loudly through his nose. She put her drink down and focused her attention completely on him.

“Yes, something is. Actually, it’s two things. Number one, I’m frustrated that this is the first time in months that we’ve both been able to get away from work early enough in the day to go out for a meal. Aren’t you bothered that it’s been so long?”

Abby thought about this for a moment before speaking. Whilst she was certainly aware of the fact that they hadn’t been out for a long time, she wasn’t particularly concerned by it and she didn’t think that he was. They were just both spectacularly busy right now and it was almost impossible to find the time for a social life. She was surprised to see that Patrick was genuinely upset about it.

“I didn’t know you were frustrated about that” answered Abby, finally. “If I’d known that was bothering you, I’d have made more of an effort to keep my evenings free. But you haven’t said anything up until now.”

“I’ve called you at work half a dozen times in the last few months, to see if you wanted to meet me in the city after work, but you’ve always said you were in the middle of something and couldn’t leave. It was OK the first and second times you brushed me off, but every time since then has been—well—yeah, I’m bothered. I understood you were busy when you were running your consultancy but I hoped this new job at the uni would be less full-on.”

“Alright. Maybe we just need to try to schedule these things, so we can lock it in our diaries and not get double-booked.”

“Yeah, maybe we do.”

“Hey, look Patrick, I’m really sorry that you’re upset about this but you said it yourself—you asked me six times in a few months and you’re only just now telling me that you’re unhappy? Why didn’t you say something earlier?”

“I just can’t believe that you think it’s perfectly normal for a husband and wife to only go out to dinner together twice a year.”

“I don’t know what’s ‘perfectly normal’, Patrick, I only know what’s happening with us.”

Patrick looked down at his beer and shook his head. “I just want to get back on track. I feel like we’ve been drifting apart a little and that worries me. And it really worries me that you don’t see it happening.”

“I have noticed that we don’t see as much of each other these days but I put that down to us both just being crazily busy with work. It’s not a reflection on our marriage—it’s a reflection on our careers. You obviously feel that the two are interconnected and that’s fine, I get it, and I’ll make more of an effort in future. But please, just talk to me. Just talk to me. I’m here. You can talk to me anytime, OK?” Abby reached across the table and squeezed his hand.

“OK” he said, squeezing back.

“Good. Was there a number two?”

“Yeah. About mum and the cottage” he said tentatively. “I want to talk about it. I want to get beyond the fact that I want to do it, and you don’t.”

“Alright.”

“She’s on her own in that big house now. She doesn’t like to drive so she’s quite isolated, even though she’s only ten kilometres from town. Most of their neighbours have moved out of the street so she doesn’t know anyone there anymore. And her health is only going to get worse over the coming years and she needs to be around people who can look out for her.”

“Those are all compelling reasons for Jean to move out of that old house but why is it necessary for her to move in with us?”

“Because we have room. Because we are all she’s got.”

Abby knew she was being stubborn but she couldn’t help herself. “Well then, let me ask this a different way. What’s in it for us?” As soon as she said the words she realised she had overstepped the mark.

“I beg your pardon?” Patrick was stunned. “You want to know what’s in it for us? What do you want me to give you, Abby? A written guarantee of financial gains? The promise of a well-tended vegetable patch? A freezer full of casseroles? Does it need to be in tangible, quantifiable terms or would you be happy with a general sort of assurance that we’ll never run out of things to have for dinner?” Patrick pushed his empty beer glass to the side of the table and started picking through the pile of torn paper in front of him. “Look, I know you hate it when I bring this up, but there’s no getting around it: you can’t know what it’s like to have an aging parent who needs help. Put yourself in my place, OK? What else can I do?”

Abby was well and truly painted into a corner, and she couldn’t think of anything to say that might allow her to escape. He was absolutely right, of course. Jean had nowhere to go, and Abby was being completely selfish by denying her the chance to come and live with them. But she hated not having a choice in the matter. She had every reason to be worried that having Jean in a cottage in the garden would change the dynamic in their home. As it was, a weekend afternoon visit was enough to get Abby’s shackles up which in turn upset Patrick. But it was becoming increasingly obvious that the cottage would be built, and Jean would be coming to stay. Probably forever.

“You DO have a choice, Patrick, you just think you don’t. We don’t have to build her a cottage in the garden. She could move into the retirement village in Ainslie. It’s practically walking distance from our place so she’ll be able to come and go when she wants. You can see her as often as you like, and she’ll be well looked after.” Abby stopped talking. Patrick was just staring at her, as though he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. When he finally spoke his voice was calm and measured.

“You must really dislike her.”

“I don’t dislike her, Patrick.”

“Well I can’t think of any other reason you would be so dead-against this.”

“I’m never going to be able to give you a good enough reason. Nothing I can say is going to satisfy you. And I’m sorry if I can’t come up with something in tangible, quantifiable terms but I’m also sorry you’re so determined to go ahead with something that I don’t want. I feel as though I have no say in the matter, or that my vote counts for less. Do you remember when we were designing the kitchen, and we were deciding on colour schemes and appliances and everything, and we agreed that if one of us really loved red tiles but one of us really hated red, then we wouldn’t get them? We wouldn’t end up with a kitchen that one of us would hate?”

“You’re comparing my mother to the kitchen tiles?”

“No, I’m talking about the way we resolve differences, Patrick. We always come to a compromise of some sort. Yes, sometimes one of us has to give up a bit more than they might like to—my severance pay being an obvious example. But at least we can always come up with a compromise that we both agree to. With this, though, you’re basically telling me that it’s not open for discussion and it’s going ahead with or without my support.”

“I don’t think you are even trying to see how this might work out. Just as I’m saying it could work, you’re saying it can’t. The thing is, Abby, we’re not going to know until we’ve done it, are we? You’re right, it might be a complete nightmare. But we don’t know for sure. I’m asking you to just let us give it a try. Yeah, we might have to work at it, but I reckon it could be worth it.”

“We can’t just try to build a cottage and move your mother into it. That’s quite a financial commitment for something that we’re just trying.”

“We can afford to take these kinds of chances, Abby. Things are going really well for us at the moment.” She couldn’t disagree with him on that point.

“And what if it doesn’t work out?”

“Then we try something else. Come on, Abby. What’s the worst that can happen?”

“I’m pretty sure even I can’t contemplate that.” She smiled at him in spite of all her misgivings. “Fine. OK, let’s build it.” He leaned across the table and held her hand. “But I’m not going to be your project manager. You can hire someone else to do that—I’m too busy.” And with that, the deal was sealed. They were going to build a cottage and Patrick’s mother was coming to live with them. And somewhere in the back of Abby’s mind was a little scorecard, and she noted with satisfaction that he now owed her twice. Big time.


© 2017 Patricia Smith

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

First edition 2017

Author’s Note

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is unintentional or coincidental.

Much of this story is set in the city of Canberra, which is my beloved home town. There are some long-standing institutions that I have used as ‘props’ in my story, but they are unwitting accomplices and the tales I tell about those institutions and the people who work there are completely made up.

Trish Smith

Trish was born and raised in Canberra, and now lives in the inner north with her husband, two daughters and two cavoodles. She is a part-time public servant and is the founder and creative director of Airpocket, an online travel goods business. In her spare time she enjoys walking, reading and staring dumbstruck at the cheese section of the Ainslie IGA. This is Trish’s first novel. More about the Author

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