The first day of work in Geneva was over. Beth turned off her computer, tidied her desk and stood up. She stretched then wandered over to the window. The traffic below the building snarled and growled as it inched past, tempers flaring and cars overheating. Shaking her head at the sight, she turned away, picked up her briefcase and headed out. She knocked at Williamâ€™s door to say a quick goodbye.
â€œIâ€™m off then, William. I have finished the first draft of the brief that Simon wanted and emailed you a copy. Can you have a quick look and tell me if there are any changes to be made? No hurry for it, the client meeting is not till Thursday.â€
William stood, â€œYou are not going home right away, are you? Do you fancy a quick afterwork drink? At the usual place?â€. Beth smiled. After just a week in the country, she already had a â€œusual placeâ€.
â€œOh, all right. You have twisted my armâ€, Beth replied, â€œAre you going now? Or shall I meet you there?â€.
With a quick glance at his computer screen, William made a decision. â€œThere is nothing that wonâ€™t keep till morning. I will come with you. We have to celebrate your first dayâ€.
After leaving the office, they strolled down to the lake. The little bar was already busy, the waiters serving drinks and snacks, the soft lounge music vying with the sound of the traffic that crawled around the lake.
â€œHereâ€™s to your first day, Beth, and the beginning of my farewell tourâ€, William toasted Beth.
â€œHow are the preparations for the move going? Have you found an apartment in London yet?â€
â€œI am viewing a couple this weekend, but donâ€™t expect it to be a problem, not compared to Geneva real estateâ€, William grimaced, â€œI can still remember some of the dives that the relocation agent showed me. How are you happy with your apartment?â€
â€œOh, it is fabulous. I cannot believe how lucky I was. So many people told me horror stories about the houses that they looked at and I walked right into that beautiful flatâ€.
The real estate situation in Geneva was notoriously strained, she knew. The prices were sky high due to the extreme scarcity of decent accommodation, and landlords knew that they could rent even the grubbiest apartment , so there was little incentive to refurnish and renovate older houses. Most expats were surprised to discover that the apartments often had small and ancient kitchens, old fashioned bathrooms and rattling windows. Then there was the strange custom of having a communal washing machine and tumble dryer. Beth was still slightly unsure about this point.
â€œWilliam, you know that I share a washing machine with the other tenants? The landlord gave me a schedule of my washing days. Do I really have to stick to this schedule? It is going to be difficult with my working hoursâ€.
â€œOh, tell me about it. It is a nightmare. Yes, you do have to stick to the schedule or your Swiss neighbours will get very cross. There is a dry cleaning company who comes to the office to pick up and drop off clothes. I found it easier to use them for shirts and trousers and just did my casual clothes and undies at home. I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to going back to London and having my own washing machine. I never thought I would look forward to doing the laundry.â€
â€œEven the ironing?â€ she asked.
â€œSteady. Not that excitedâ€, William laughed.
â€œIs there anything else you are looking forward to? Things that you missed here?â€
â€œIt will be great to be able to buy marmite again, and proper sausages. Mostly I am looking forward to seeing my family more oftenâ€, William gestured towards the lake, â€œIt is all very well having this on your doorstep but I miss watching rugby with my brothers and annoying my sistersâ€.
Beth nodded, â€œYes, I know what you mean. If only I could have moved my family and friends over with me, then it would be much easier. My friend is coming to visit sometime soon, which reminds me that I need to nag her to book her flightâ€.
Alex has promised to fly over when Beth got settled into work and knew what her schedule was to be like. There was no point in her coming over if Beth was stuck at the office till 11pm every evening â€“ something that was not unusual in the London office but didnâ€™t seem quite so common here.
â€œWilliam, I was wondering about work. Is it normal that I am able to leave the office at 6pm? Not that I am complainingâ€, she added hastily, â€œbut I donâ€™t want to raise my hopes and find in a couple of weeks that I am back to 14 hour working daysâ€.
â€œNo, that is Geneva. You might have to stay late occasionally if you have a deadline for a client, but generally you will find you work shorter hours than in UK. It is a cushy life, if I am very honest, in comparison to working back home. Saying that, the work itself is more challenging, as you are dealing with European clients, all of whom have slightly different working habits. Â The French like to wine and dine for hours before getting to the business chat, as do the Spanish. The Germans and Swiss indulge in a minimum of small talk â€“ they are not rude, just focussed.â€
William topped up their wine glasses. â€œBetter finish up and head home before my dinner ends up in the dog. Which reminds me; we would like to invite you to a barbeque on Sunday. Some of the other staff from the office will be there. Anthony has said that he might pop in, Gilll and Marc will definitely be there. Nothing too formal, we shall bung a few steaks on the grill and chill out on the terrace.â€
â€œThank you, William. I would love to come. I donâ€™t even have to check my calendar. Shall I bring dessertâ€, Beth offered.
â€œDo you bake?â€, William enquired, â€œI would not have thought you didâ€.
â€œI do bake, but not much point in baking for just myself. I will have to make sure that I can get the ingredients here, but I will try out my new oven for the first timeâ€.
â€œIf you need help finding ingredients, give my wife a call. She has sussed out the stores in and around Geneva. You donâ€™t have a car though, do you? Do you do all your shopping in Switzerland?â€
Beth nodded, â€œYes, I havenâ€™t got around to buying a car and I am not sure if I willâ€.
â€œHave you thought about a scooter? I am selling mine when we move back. Great fun and much quicker and easier to get through trafficâ€.
â€œI hadnâ€™t thought about it, but it might be an option. Do I have to have a special driving license?â€
â€œNot for the size of engine that my machine has, your normal driving license is good. Why donâ€™t you try it out on Sunday and see if you like itâ€.
With the arrangements made, Beth and William said their goodbyes and parted. Beth walked the now familiar route back home. It was beginning to feel like home, she thought as she fished in her bag for her key. Emptying her post box, she glanced through the letters. Her hand stilled as she recognised Finlayâ€™s handwriting.
She climbed the stairs, the previous enjoyment of the evening gone. The letter felt heavy in her hand, weighing her down. The sound of a footfall on the stairs made her spin around, her heart thudding in her chest.
â€œEveningâ€, it was her neighbour. Beth muttered a greeting then fumbled to fit the key in the lock. She could hear her breath rushing in and out of her body. Could her neighbour hear it? Could he feel her panic?
â€œKeep calm. Stop being sillyâ€, she told herself. She risked a glance at him. He was already on his way down the stairs, oblivious to the maelstrom of feelings rushing through her.
The door finally swung open and she hurried inside, shutting and locking the door behind her. For the first time since she had arrived in Geneva, she shut all the windows and then walked back to the front door. Her hand shaking, she punched the code into the alarm system, arming the alarm for the night.
The letter lay next to the telephone, mocking her. Daring her to open it and look. How had he found her? Who had given him her address?
Stalking through to the fireplace, she hastily lit a fire. It would not burn for long, she was sure, but it would do for this one act. The envelope caught fire immediately, the flames licking the corners then engulfing it before she could change her mind. Tears burned in her eyes, whether from the smoke of the emotions that the letter had raised, she could not tell.
She would not let him in. This was her place, her new start. He had no space here.