On her first day at the new office, Beth walked to work. It was quite the contrast to her previous commute, stuck in a stifling tube for thirty minutes with other stressed travellers. Here in Geneva she left her flat, strolled down to the lakeside and instead of the smell of stale sweat, breathed in the scent of freshly cut grass.
Slipping on her sunglasses, she watched the staff of a pleasure steamer carry supplies onto the boat. Although there were a few tourists on the lakeside, most of the people around her seemed to be locals on their way to work, easily distinguishable from the holidaymakers by their serious clothes and lack of city maps and cameras.
Beth smoothed her suit jacket nervously. She had dressed with care that morning, aware that the other women in the office were the epitome of European chic. The severity of the grey suit was lifted by the flowered silk blouse. Her favourite grey Ferragamos clicked on the pavement as she turned reluctantly from the lakeside towards the town.
Entering the office building, she greeted the receptionist and showed her pass before heading for the elevator. Due to her early arrival time, there was no one around to greet her so she walked down the hall to her office. Pushing the door open, she studied her new workplace. The room was bare of personal touches, a modern print on the wall behind her desk was not to her taste, but she could live with it for now. Skirting around the boxes piled on the carpet, she slipped behind her desk, put her slim leather briefcase on the floor beneath it and sank into her seat.
She took a deep breath. This was it.
Before she could gather her thoughts, a short tap at the door heralded her first visitor.
â€˜Good morning, Beth. Welcome to Carnegie Genevaâ€™, Anthony smiled in welcome.
â€˜Good morning. Thank you. I am happy to be hereâ€™, Beth replied.
â€˜The weekly staff meeting is at 11 am this morning in the board room. You will meet the other staff then we can have a chat afterwards about your caseload. Until then, take time to settle in and get your boxes unpackedâ€™, Anthony nodded towards the cardboard mountain.
â€˜Thank you. Yes, it will be good to have some familiar things around me. I will see you at 11 amâ€™, Beth assured her new boss. He really was attractive, she mused as he closed the door behind himself. She had described him to Alex the evening before, and they had giggled like teenagers, completely distracting Beth from the nerves that had been plaguing her all day, which had been Alexâ€™s intention.
Punctually at 8 am, the receptionist Mme Galliard knocked on her door, to introduce Bethâ€™s new assistant, Pierre Dechant. As they exchanged pleasantries, Beth surreptitiously observed her assistant. They would be working closely together over the coming months. He was wearing slim cut trousers that emphasised his slim build, a very fitted striped shirt and a gorgeous leather belt. Glancing down at his shoes â€“ Beth always noticed shoes as they told you a lot about a person â€“ she tried not to show her surprise. Gosh, she wondered, how much were assistants paid in Geneva if he could afford to dress like that. If she was not mistaken, they were Bottega Veneta.
â€œShall we have a seat, while you can tell me a bit about yourselfâ€, she asked. â€œWould you like a coffee?â€
â€œI will get the coffee. Â Shall I show you where the kitchen is, if you want to make coffee when I am not around?â€, Pierre offered.
In the small kitchen, Pierre explained how the machines worked while he made coffee. As the scent of fresh coffee filled the small room, Beth asked how long Pierre had worked for Carnegie.
â€œThree years nowâ€, Pierre replied in slightly accented English, â€œIt is a good job, I like it hereâ€.
â€œYou speak really good English, Pierre. Did you learn at school or have you lived in America? That is a slight American twang I hear there, isnâ€™t it?â€
â€œI studied art and history in Chicago before moving back to Genevaâ€, he explained. â€œA friend was working here and he told me that there was a job available. I had never done work like this before, so was not sure if I would like it but I do. And it gives me time in the evenings to paint.â€
They walked back down the hushed corridor to Bethâ€™s office. â€œHave you exhibited your work in Geneva?â€ she asked.
â€œIâ€™m putting together a show at the momentâ€, he answered, â€œThe Vernissage is next week. Would you like to come? I can get you tickets.â€
â€œIâ€™d love to. Is your work suitable for an office environment? The insipid painting on my wall has to go but I canâ€™t hang anything too risquÃ©.â€
â€œYou can see for yourself next week but I think so, yes. I paint abstracts and am currently being inspired by the lake and the mountains around Geneva. I love the changing light and colours. No two days are the same; no two views are the sameâ€.
â€œRight, sounds good. Letâ€™s get back to unpacking thenâ€, Beth announced as she set her coffee cup on the desk. â€œWould you see about getting my computer connected, pleaseâ€.
Pierre made a quick phone call in rapid French then picked up one of the boxes, â€œWhere do you want these books?â€ he gestured.
Shortly afterwards a French colleague from IT arrived to set up her computer and explain the systems. Once she had her email program running, she shot off a quick email to Alex and her parents to let them know that she was in the office, and to give them her contact details.
Bethâ€™s assistant knocked and entered her office to remind her of her 11 am meeting just as Beth was pulling a comb through her hair and securing her hair into a neat bun again. Her curly red hair seldom looked neat for long, but she wanted to make a good first impression. She checked her reflection and popped a mint in her mouth to ward off coffee breath.
â€œGood luckâ€, Pierre held out a hand, â€œWait. Your belt is twistedâ€. He slipped his hands under her jacket and adjusted the slim leather band. Beth froze in shock at his actions. That was a bit fresh, was it not? He took a step back and tilted his head as he scanned her. â€œDonâ€™t look so surprised, I was not â€“ how do you say? Copping a feel? You donâ€™t want to look untidy when you go into your first meeting. Your blouse is a lovely colour, by the way. Is it Donna Karan?â€
â€œYes. Yes, it isâ€ slightly flustered she took a step back.
â€œBeth, Iâ€™m gay. You donâ€™t have to look as if I am going to attack you. If my sexuality is going to be a problem for you then please let me know so that I can request a transferâ€.
â€œOf course it is not a problem. I was just taken aback when you touched my waist.â€ Beth realised that she had overreacted but did not have time to explain it to Pierre. â€œI have to go. We will talk after the meetingâ€.
Walking into the boardroom, she was greeted by Anthony who took her by the arm, â€˜Has everyone met Beth already?â€™
He introduced Beth to the team as she tried to remember names and titles. Some of them she had met before, others she knew from working on cases together, one or two were completely new to her. She poured herself a glass of water, noting to her horror that her hands were shaking. Clasping her hands together, she forced herself to concentrate on Anthony. He was talking about her new role in the company.
Everything will be fine, she told herself. Everything will be fine.