It’s time for me to introduce to you the final character from What Happens in New York, Hollie Baxter.
The scene below is the first chapter. If you like what you read, you can also check out scenes featuring Fayth Campbell, Astin Mack, Liam York and Trinity Gold, and Tate Gardener. You can also purchase your copy from all good ebook retailers now (and in print from Amazon), to find out what happens next!
‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’
Hollie glanced up to check her boss hadn’t heard her. He stood by the window, silently pleading customers to enter the dying shop. She was safe.
Looking back down at her phone, she double-checked that what she’d read on Facebook was true: one of her ex-classmates had landed a job at Dior.
Why, of all the people to get the job, did it have to be Ashleigh Bennet? Her designs weren’t even any good. She was far more interested in following fashion than setting it. Sheep like her weren’t supposed to get jobs in the fashion industry. That wasn’t what fashion was about, for fuck sake.
She curled her empty hand into a fist, then shoved her phone back into her pocket with the other. Killing her boredom with Facebook had only increased her stress levels. It was nearing the end of the January sales, and she’d spoken to three customers all morning. Since returning from lunch, she hadn’t spoken to anyone. Having no one but her boss for company, she felt like a museum exhibit trapped inside a display case—everyone could see her, but nobody was allowed to interact with her.
Drumming her fingers against the counter, she contemplated what to do. The day went so much more slowly when it was quiet. She longed to be out with her nan, or at home reading a book. Anything but standing in a room that was empty except for her and Jerry. He walked over to the counter where she stood, his too-small shirt gaping to reveal his hairy chest. She cringed, resisting the urge to wretch. He was clearly in denial about having put on a few pounds over Christmas.
‘Phone out of battery?’ he asked, his presence engulfing the area with the smell of stale cigarette smoke.
Holding her breath, she pretended not to hear him and turned away to tidy some papers behind her.
‘What? All that time on your phone melted your brain cells?’
She froze. Apparently she’d hopped into a DeLorean and gone back to 1999, where everyone was afraid of the Y2K bug and mobile phones frying brain cells. Someone could’ve at least warned her.
‘I’d appreciate it if you could clean the cookers, Hollie. They’re looking dusty.’
She’d cleaned everything yesterday—he’d seen her do it—but at least it gave her an excuse to get away from his snarky comments and that god awful smell. After grabbing a clean cloth and a bottle of Mr Sheen, she walked over to the cookers and inhaled the fresher air.
Her cleaning job clearly not up to scratch the day before, she polished each cooker until she could see herself almost as clearly as in a mirror. When she reached the penultimate one, she sprayed it, scrubbed, and paused as she noticed her reflection. Her usually bright green eyes were puffy and bloodshot. Her skin was dull; sullen. Her expression was defeated.
She sprayed the cooker again, scrubbing at it in the hopes that the image would change. It didn’t.
The automatic doors whirred to life for the first time that afternoon. They announced the arrival of Tim, one of the regulars. He approached Hollie, his hands in the pockets of his paint-covered overalls. ‘Nice and busy, I see,’ he joked.
’As always,’ Hollie replied, placing the cloth and spray on to the cooker top. ‘How can I help?’
Jerry looked up from the PC by the counter. She didn’t acknowledge him. He stole enough customers as it was. Stealing customers and playing Spider Solitaire were his favourite ways to pass the time.
‘My son and I played Wii Bowling last night,’ said Tim, leaning against one of the cookers. ‘And his remote went right through the screen.’
Jerry disappeared from Hollie’s line of vision. En route to stealing another customer, no doubt.
‘The one time I don’t check.’ Tim shook his head. ‘So, what’ve you got for me that I can take home today so that the wife can watch Eastenders later?’
Before she could respond, Jerry appeared between them. Slimeball.
‘Let’s have a look, shall we?’ he said.
‘I’m OK, thanks,’ said Tim, ‘Hollie’s got me covered.’
‘Oh it’s no worry. Hollie’s got her hands full already, haven’t you?’ said Jerry.
‘The cleaning can wait,’ Hollie replied, tensing her jaw.
‘You’ll never get it finished before the end of your shift with that attitude,’ said Jerry.
Hollie ground her teeth. Bastard.
Jerry walked over to the TVs and other brown goods at the far side of the store.
Tim stuck his finger in his mouth in a gagging motion. Hollie giggled. She wasn’t the only one that had noticed the smell, then. After shooting her an apologetic look, Tim joined Jerry over by the TVs.
Hollie’s eyes bored into Jerry’s back. She’d lost count of how many times he’d stolen her customers, let alone the rest of her coworkers. She could’ve sworn he got some sort of kick out of customer-stealing, but she couldn’t prove it.
Moving on to the gas cookers, she continued cleaning and silently cursing Jerry. A couple of minutes later, the automatic doors opened again. Tim walked out, empty handed.
‘He obviously has a thing for you,’ said Jerry as he walked past back to his game of Spider Solitaire. She slammed the cloth on to the cooker. How dare he suggest the only reason a decent person would prefer to buy something from her was because he wanted to get into her knickers? Tim was married. Then again, that meant nothing to Jerry. He’d never once mentioned any loved ones, friends or relatives. Even when Hollie and her colleagues had talked about Christmas or marriage or sibling rivalry he’d never chimed in, only told them to get back to work. Did he even have any friends or relatives, or had he driven them all away with his bad manners and body odour?
She could always pour scolding hot coffee over his head. Or put an invisible wire across the entrance to the counter. Or at the top of the stairs to the staff toilets. That would work better.
Hollie jumped, snapped out of her daze by an elderly Filipino lady. She wore a purple trench coat with far too many frills and buttons, her greying hair tied into a tight bun.
A design idea hit Hollie like a mobile phone to the face. What perfect timing. She suppressed the flashing images, trying to remain professional. ‘How can I help?’
Single-breasted. Slight flair. Peplum?
‘Do you sell hairdryers?’ asked the lady.
No, that was too much. Black? Navy?
‘They’re just over here,’ said Hollie, taking the lady to the far corner of the store, home to the long-forgotten—and tragically over-priced—stock.
‘Thank you,’ she said, her voice curt. Hollie took the hint, leaving her be and power walking to the counter. Colours, cuts, and fabrics flashed through her head like strobe lights on a catwalk. Grabbing a pencil and scrap piece of paper from under the counter, she began to design her first item of clothing in months. Definitely single-breasted with a slight flair. The peplum would be too much, and wouldn’t suit Hollie’s figure anyway. A bright pink fabric would be interesting. She hadn’t made a pink coat in—
A hand reached out and grabbed the paper, tearing it in half. Jerry held it up. Two-thirds of an outline stared back at her. ‘What’s this?’
‘You shouldn’t be drawing right now,’ he said, taking the remainder of the paper from Hollie’s hand and tossing both pieces into the bin. It landed on top of a piece of chewing gum. Ew.
She ground her teeth. He was such a hypocrite. At least she was doing something productive for once, as opposed to twiddling her thumbs like she usually did, or playing Spider Solitaire like Jerry. She chuckled. How appropriate.
‘What’s so funny?’ he asked.
‘I’m just thinking about how much you like to play Spider Solitaire,’ she replied, gesturing to the PC where a game sat open.
The Filipino lady left, empty-handed. Could she sense the unfolding tension, or was she that unimpressed? It was probably cheaper to go to Tesco down the road and get a new hairdryer, to be fair. That’s what most people did.
‘That wasn’t me,’ he lied. What was the point? His games of Spider Solitaire were well-known: he played several times a day, when he thought no one was looking.
‘No, of course not,’ said Hollie. She folded her arms, her feet shoulder width apart. The counter offered her a small shield.
‘Something wrong?’ He lowered his voice, leaning over the counter towards her. His breath reeked of tuna mayonnaise. She turned her head away so that she didn’t gag. ‘Is it that time of the month?’
‘Excuse me?’ Hollie curled her hands into fists, her teal nails indenting her palms.
‘We both know what women can be like when it’s their time.’
Her eyes widened. What the hell did he know about women? His idea of feminism was asking female employees to unfasten another button to try and boost sales.
She couldn’t take it anymore. No amount of money was worth the way he treated people. There was a line. And it had just been crossed.
She slammed the pencil on to the counter. ‘How dare you? Whether I’m on my period or not is none of your fucking business. In what universe is it acceptable to ask that to your employee?’
‘I am so fucking sick of being made to feel three inches tall from the minute I walk through that door until the minute I leave. You never say “please” or “thank you”, you steal people’s customers, and your misogynistic attitude is from completely the wrong century.’
He held his right index finger up, tutting to try and get her to stop talking. Usually, she conceded. It was easier that way. This time, she didn’t.
‘I mean really, it’s the twenty-first century and you still think that a woman snapping at you is purely based on her period, not you being completely disrespectful. Oh, and the only reason I could possible sell something to a bloke is because he wants to get into my knickers!’
‘Hollie!’ he shouted, his pock-marked face turning redder than her hair.
She ignored him. She was on a roll, and nothing short of her nan turning up and waving her walking stick in her face was going to stop her.
‘I hate to spoil your fun—no wait, actually I don’t—but you’re living in the wrong century to think that way. I can try and find you a DeLorean, send you back to before women had the vote, if you want?’ She waved her arms around as she spoke, the words spewing out of her like lava.
Jerry continued to talk over her, but she ignored him, oblivious to what he was saying.
‘How the rest of us feel means absolutely nothing to you. Everything has to be done your way, and if it’s not, you make us redo it! You have to be in control of everything every minute of every fucking day, and if you’re not, you go in a mood. It’s like working for a stroppy teenager!
‘And you know what? I can’t work like that. I can’t live like that. I’m sick of taking my work home with me, snapping at my family and not being able to sleep because I’m dreading spending another minute in this hell hole with you. The only person that matters to you, is you. And I’ve had it.’
She paused, her breathing heavy and her chest tight.
She’d never hated someone so much in her life. Her whole body shook; she pointed as she shouted, not caring if passersby outside could hear her. ‘You can stick your asinine job and your shitty attitude and find someone else to treat like crap for minimum wage. I’m done.’
She stormed towards the staff room to pick up her things, Jerry only a few feet behind her.
The automatic doors whirred to life again, breaking the tense silence within the store. A customer entered, oblivious to what he was walking into.
Hollie stopped, turning to face Jerry. A wry smile crept over her chapped lips. ‘You wouldn’t want to miss out on the commission, would you?’ She jerked her head towards the potential customer. Her eyes challenged him to push her further, but she knew he wouldn’t. Not in front of a customer.
She took the opportunity to disappear into the staff room, where she typed the code into her locker for the last time. Forcing down the vomit that was forming in the back of her throat, she pulled out her green trench coat and put it on. Quitting her job was the last thing she’d expected to do when she woke up that morning, but she didn’t regret it. She was finally free.
After removing her gigantic handbag, she checked that the locker was empty. The only thing left was the spider her bag had killed a few days earlier. She decided to leave it as a present.
She glanced at the door behind her. No sign of him. Why had he not tried to stop her from leaving again? Was he worried about leaving the shop floor, or could he still be with the customer? Doubtful. He was probably on the phone to HR, reporting her behaviour. That was fine by her. At least then she wouldn’t have to speak to him.
But what was she supposed to do? Go out through the front and risk facing him again? Or…her eyes flitted to the fire exit just to the left of the lockers. If she went through it, she’d set off the alarm. The security camera behind her would see, too.
She twitched her foot, staring into the empty locker. What to do? She lifted her handbag on to her shoulder. She didn’t have much time to decide; who knew how long it would be until he went looking for her? Would he go looking? Probably. Better to get out of there ASAP, just in case.
She pushed open the fire door and the alarm sprung to life; a piercing wail echoed through the store. Sticking her middle fingers up at the camera, she stormed out, her head high.
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