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Beth – Chapter Eight

The latest installment of the story of Beth, who has moved to Geneva to further her career as a lawyer. Here she moves into her new flat and meets her neighbour.
For earlier chapters look here:

Chapter One – The Decision
Chapter Two – The Farewell
Chapter Three – The Flight
Chapter Four – The Apartment
Chapter Five – The Company
Chapter Six – The Neighbour
Chapter Seven – The New Job

Chapter Eight

With a sigh of relief, Beth shut down her computer and stacked her files neatly on the corner of her desk. She had trained herself to be neat after starting work with Carnegie. Not being a naturally tidy person, she found it difficult to keep an orderly desk, but her previous boss insisted on it. She smiled at the thought of the London office, slightly nostalgic for her friends and colleagues back home. Life in the Geneva office was unlike life in the London office.

Instead of a quick sandwich gulped down at her desk, her colleagues had taken out for lunch on her first day. It was a small Italian deli with simple, Plat de Jour – dish of the day –. She liked the simplicity of the deli, the glass counter displaying Italian cold ham, salami and cheese, the battered wooden shelves filled with wine bottles and sugar coated biscuits, the panettone cakes that looked like they had been there for some time. Did anyone actually eat panettone? She had been given them as gifts a few times but had never opened them.

Skirting the counter, Anthony had led the way into a back room with a few tables. The guests helped themselves to glasses from a glass fronted unit, the proprietor plonked a bottle of red wine on the table, the waitress brought them plates of steaming pasta without even asking what they wanted. When they left, the bottle of wine was corked and labelled, so that they could return the next day to finish it. Anthony informed her that if they had not wanted to do that then the owner would hold the bottle up to the light to estimate how much they had drunken, and charge them accordingly.

The office was less formal than she was used to. Anthony had invited her and Pierre for lunch that first day, uncaring of the normal office hierarchy. After-work drinks were casual affairs at the wine bar near the office, or in the tapas bar around the corner. Some evenings she declined, eager to get home to her little apartment and relax.

Her bruises were gone, she felt fit and healthy. That weekend she had laced up her running shoes and gone for her first run along the lakeside, her shoes pounding the pavements in time with the music on her iPod, her heart light and her spirits high. It was still almost unreal, like being on holiday.

There were a few niggles, one of which was the discovery that her schoolgirl French was worse than she had though it was. She was fine when she had a moment to compose herself and her sentence structure, but if a person spoke unexpectedly to her or asked a different question that the one she was expecting, she floundered. Many people spoke English, and if the shopkeeper did not understand then there was likely someone nearby who could help to translate but she felt awkward and embarrassed at having to ask for help.

The bureaucracy in Switzerland was one of the negatives sides of expat life. Queuing for hours to receive her residential and employment permit; queuing in a different office on the other side of town to swap her driving licence for a Swiss one. She had felt a pang of loss when she handed in her license, as she remembered the jubilant day when she had passed her test. The glee that she had felt as she had tucked the credit card sized license into her purse, the thrill of opening her purse to pay for a drink in a pub and seeing the license’s pink edge. Giving it up was like being asked to hand over your favourite teddy bear. She forgot to ask if she would get it back when she left Switzerland, if they saved them in a huge vault or sent them back to the owner’s homeland. The new license was similar to the old one, but with a more mature photo replacing the one of a fresh faced teenager who had stared out at her for the past decade. Oh, well. It was due for renewal this year anyway, she told herself. She made a mental note to find out if she would have to reapply for a license when she moved back to UK.

She was becoming accustomed to the slightly slower pace of life here. The supermarkets closed earlier than she was used to, and did not open on Sundays – as she had found to her horror. Luckily, there was a small kiosk nearby, which sold milk and other basic items so she did not have to forgo breakfast.
Talking of supermarkets, she reprimanded herself, you are going to be too late again if you sit here dreaming for any longer. Slipping into her shoes, she picked up her briefcase and jacket and hurried out to the reception area. Pierre has followed her advice to go home several hours ago, as had most of the junior staff.

Popping her head around Anthony’s door, she told him that she was finished for the day, “The report that you asked for on the Wilman case is finished, if you could have a look and give me some feedback so that I can send it to the client”.

“Thank you, Beth. Good work. Just one moment , please”, Anthony scribbled a note in his diary. It always made Beth smile to see him use a diary; he must be the last person in the company still to use one. Everyone else had their diary in Outlook and synched to their Blackberry or iPhone. Anthony had a navy leather desk diary from Smythsons, which he handed to his assistant every morning and evening so that she could transcribe his appointments into his online calendar. All the staff knew to check with his assistant to ensure that they did not schedule a meeting when he was already busy.

Beth observed her boss. He really was rather attractive, she mused. His hair was peppered with grey streaks, his facial features striking. The combination of steel blue eyes and dark hair, sharp cheek bones and a chin dimple – surely that was too much for a woman to cope with without him having the longest thickest eyelashes she had ever seen. Those eyelashes were wasted on a man, she thought enviously.

He set down his fountain pen and looked up at Beth.

“How are you settling in? It has been a busy week”, he asked.

Beth blushed at being caught staring, “Oh, fine. I mean.. really well.. I mean… I am very happy here”. She took a deep breath and told herself to stop behaving as if George Clooney himself had asked her to take a trip around Lake Como on his Harley.

“The workload is heavy but manageable and Pierre is a great help. It is certainly different to working in London”.

“Yes, that is true. Your apartment is to your liking?”

He had a way of talking that was quite old-fashioned, Beth thought, but it was rather endearing and sweet.

“Yes, it is wonderful. I love living right in the centre of town and being able to walk to work”, she replied.

“With the state of traffic in Geneva, that is truly an advantage”, Anthony referred to the notorious traffic jams in and around Geneva, “Sometimes it can take me an hour to get to work, for a journey that that should only take 20 minutes”.

“I haven’t had much experience of that as I have only been out in the car once since I arrived. In fact, I am wondering if it is worth even buying a car. The hire car has hardly been out of the garage. I can always hire a car for a day if I need to go somewhere”.

Anthony nodded, “You are welcome to borrow my car if you need it”, he offered.

“That is very kind of you, but I am sure it will not be necessary”, Beth wondered if he was merely being kind, surely he would not really let her drive his Jaguar? Even in the past week, she has heard the gossip about Anthony and his “baby”.

“Well, let me know if you need my assistance”, Anthony picked up his pen and Beth took the hint.

“That is very kind of you. I shall be off now then. Have a good weekend, see you on Monday”, she retreated swiftly before she started stammering again. She always felt like a gauche young girl in his presence.

Sometime later, she stood at the door to her apartment house, juggling bulky supermarket shopping bags, her briefcase while searching for her keys. She cursed under her breath and her fingers found lipstick, purse, several old handkerchiefs and for some strange reason, a parmesan grater. She stared at it in disbelief.

“Do you always have a cheese grater in your purse?”, asked a voice behind her.

Oh, God. It was the bloody American neighbour.

“It is a parmesan grater, and it is in my handbag not in my purse. And yes, I carry it with me in case I feel the need to grate some parmesan”, she snapped.

“Here”, he pushed past her, inserted his key into the lock and opened the door. Picking up her shopping bags, he strode past her towards the staircase.

Great. He was being nice and helpful and she had just behaved like a complete bitch. Good work Beth. Gritting her teeth, she followed him.

“Sorry, that was rude”, she rushed to keep up with him as he all but sprinted up the stairs, affording her a rather pleasant view of his behind. He was wearing worn denim jeans, and they clung in all the right places.

“No problem. Have a nice evening. Don’t get your fingers caught in the parmesan grater”, he waved dismissively as he turned and retreated to his own apartment.

She was left standing at the door of her apartment, still clutching the bloody grater. Damn. Was she ever going to have a civil conversation with him? Dumping the grater into one of her bags she fished her key out of her handbag – it was in the side pocket where she had put it so that she would find it easily, she remembered with a grimace. Unlocking the door, she shuffled in, shoving the groceries through the door and pushing the door shut behind her with a solid kick.

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