The Best Friends

15 Oct 2018

The Best Friends
Plain Jane was probably an accurate description of what Derek was now calling me, as that was exactly how I felt. Even my clothes were plain and boring, and my shoes flat and sensible, ‘but that was the office requirement wasn’t it?’ I thought sipping my coffee and listening to the men around me berating my appearance as per usual. 'At least I had fought to avoid heels.'
I had worked at K.S. Toilet Installations for nearly ten years, but my career options had never changed. I was originally hired as a marketing manager and I was still a marketing manager, but I wasn’t quite sure how much managing I had actually achieved in that time as none of the men listened to a word I said, instead preferring to flick rubber bands at each other and ignore the phone.
“A woman?” Derek had gawked when I had been introduced to the team all those years ago. “I’m not having a woman tell me what to do!”
“It’s part of the requirement now. Fairness in the workplace,” my boss had mumbled, almost in my defence, but probably more as a statement of his own prejudices. 
“Pah!” Derek had remarked walking off and not meeting my extended hand of hopeful friendship.
“Don’t worry about the lads love. You’ll soon get used to them,” my Boss replied whilst pushing me forward to my desk.
It hadn’t stopped me from trying though because I knew I had the skills to do well. I was creative and I knew everything there was to know about installing a toilet bar plumbing it in myself. I had spent years at University studying business, followed by an extended period of time working for the company’s headquarters in Japan. I assumed after that I could handle some elements of sexual discrimination. The feelings of being left out of drinking parties after work and the general assumptions I was just a glorified receptionist, but after ten years back in the UK distributing office I was beginning to wonder if it had all been worth it and whether anything would ever change. It didn't seem to matter how many laws the government brought in, nothing was going to change people like Derek.

Finally finished for the day I made my way over to the usual country pub where I met my friends every Friday night. Thankfully I lived a long way out of the city in the peaceful English countryside, where I always felt relaxed as soon as the first tree appeared on my train ride home, but today I hesitated. Somehow the respite of my home environment was just becoming another reminder of how unhappy I was. I was tired of being drawn away from my long walks in the woods and the fields of sheep grazing. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had seen a sunrise or sunset without it being obscured by high rise buildings.
Sighing, I opened the heavy wooden door and walked into the cozy bar. I immediately saw my two friends sitting by the open fire with a drink already waiting for me and a little of my old spark began to return.
“Hey lovely!” my friend Kate beamed as I walked over, quickly followed by a long scowl at my appearance. “Why didn’t you change?”
“I didn’t have time,” I replied, which was the truth. “My boss kept me in for over 2 hours after everyone else had left,” I muttered, which was nothing new. He did most days and without pay. “And the train stopped so many times on the way home because of things on the line," I moaned. I had begun to wonder if it was even worth going home at one point.
“Man he sucks!” Kate retorted.
“Why can’t Derek take some of the load? It’s not fair that you’re the only one who has to stay late,” my other friend Pam replied giving me a hug and passing me my drink.
I flopped down on the cozy sofa and pulled off my black cardigan. ‘Damn, it felt good to be home,’ I thought, trying to regain some resemblance of myself. “Derek plays in some five a aside football team with some of the other lads so my boss doesn’t like to interrupt his training schedule.”
“But what about your schedule?” Kate remarked. “You have a life too!”
“Yeah I know, but it’s just crafts. My boss says it’s just a hobby and that I should be supportive of Derek’s ambitions.”
“But what about your ambitions? You have your craft fair to organise this weekend and they’ve been going so well," Pam beamed.
Smiling, I knew Pam was right. I loved my crafts. Over the last few years I had found some solace in creating beautiful things and had even gathered a few thousand followers online. I had never thought of taking it further until my friends had persuaded me to start selling my wares.
“I do confess I am super excited about this Sunday’s show. There is even going to be a television company there showcasing everyone’s work. I’ve spent the last few weeks making so many things. I have really put my heart into it this time.”
“I know. I saw some online!” Pam grinned. “They do look so pretty. My sister already wants to order some for Christmas.”
“Of course! Why are you so surprised,” Pam laughed.
Confused, but feeling an old sense of achievement rising in my tummy I sipped my local ale and smiled at my friends. They had always believed in me, so much more than my boss had ever done, but I had always lacked the courage to take it any further unless it involved toilets. Now I thought about it though, I didn’t really understand why.
“You should go full time. That’s it I’ve said it,” Kate wailed suddenly taking us both by surprise. “It’s time.”
“What?” I choked looking at her as she frantically began to write down some notes.
“Look Jane, you earn what… this amount in a year from your toilet job,” Kate remarked stabbing at her notes.
“It’s a bit more than a toilet job…” I whispered, but was interrupted.
“Since you’ve been doing these shows, you’ve been earning this much. Okay, it’s not as much as what you earn at that company, but when you take into account all the travelling and the meetings you have to go to. You can survive on this for now and as you grow, which you will because you’ll have so much more time, you will easily earn more.”
“It does make sense,” Pam replied looking at me as Kate held her notebook perhaps a little too close to my face.
“But…” I started.
“But what? What is stopping you from trying?” Kate replied defiantly. “Pam’s baby business is booming, wouldn’t you say?”
“I wouldn’t say booming,” Pam laughed smiling, but nodding at the same time. “It is doing okay.”
“But what if it all falls apart. What if no-one buys anything. What if I can’t pay my rent?”
“What if… what if… what if….” Kate mocked. “What if you get fired from your job for something you haven't done? or laid off? There is no real security there either. I really don’t think it’s as much of a risk as you think, and we’re always here to help you. You’re doing so well anyway already. If you went full time who knows what you could achieve. You put so much hard work into making that boss of yours rich, why can’t you do that for yourself?”
"I agree. He doesn't deserve you," Pam muttered.
“I did get an email the other day from a company who wants to pre-order 500 pieces for their London store. I wasn’t going to take it because I just wouldn’t have the time. My boss wants to send me off to a three-day conference in Manchester to learn about U-bends.”
“Are you kidding me?” Kate retorted. “You have to take that opportunity. It is the universe telling you that your creativity is wasted where you are.”
“She’s right you know.” Pam replied.
“You really think I can do that?”
“Yes!” both Kate and Pam laughed in unison. 
Giggling, I relaxed back against the sofa and finished my ale. I had never felt so excited. 
‘Can I really do this? Can I really take that leap of fate and be free,’ I wondered.
“Imagine how you’d feel telling Derek and your boss where to stick it,” Kate quipped. “Geez, how I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that happened,” she laughed. “You could probably sue him finally for sexual discrimination.”
“No, I could never do that.”
“Why not? There are laws you know against the way you've been treated.”
“He’d fire me though and probably give me a terrible reference.”
“Who cares if you’re starting your own business?” Pam reminded me, winking as she did so.
“You really think I can do this?” I mumbled again.
“Yes!” both Kate and Pam laughed again in unison.
“Okay,” I whispered. “I’ll do it.”
“Oh my god, really? You’re gonna do it?” Kate shouted.
“Fuck it, why not!”
“Did you just swear Jane?” Pam gazed at me in amazement. “Who are you?”
Laughing, I tried to find the courage to say what I was going to say. “I admit, the thought of going to that conference has been making me feel sick for days. I just can’t bear the thought of going and I cant bear the thought of having to wear this outfit again come Monday and I really do want to take on that commission.”
My friends stared at me dumbfounded and I began to question if they had meant anything they had just said.
“It really does nothing for you,” Kate finally replied, laughing and breaking the ice.
We all laughed.
“Are you really going to quit your job?” Pam asked encouragingly.
“Hey it was your idea!” I cried.
“No, I’m just so proud of you Jane. You are wasted in that place. You can do this, I know you can,” Pam smiled.
“It is the people who take risks who truly succeed in life,” Kate replied.
“Oh don’t say that. I’ll feel all scared again,” I laughed. “Hey, I’ve just realised. I will never have to get on that commuting train ever again. I’m not even going to give notice. As of today I am officially starting my own business and living my own life and being the real me.”
“Hooray! Here’s to that girl!” Kate cheered. “So who wants another drink?”
Smiling I gazed into the crackling fire and felt a feeling of empowerment overcome me that I hadn’t felt since leaving university. I realised I could finally be who I wanted to be and I could finally put all my creative energies into making that happen. People like Derek and my boss didn’t deserve my creativity and it was time to find people who did. I didn't even care if I did fail because at least I'd know I had tried, but somehow I knew deep down that I would succeed.

The End.

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