Chapter 1 If my life was a movie, it would have been playing Dolly Parton’s ‘nine to five’ as I entered the building in Sydney’s Martin Place that housed the law offices of Turner Barlow & Smith. It was my first day as the part-time librarian, actually it was my first job full stop, and I was nervous as hell.
The music would have then come to a screeching halt after I had exited the lift and approached the reception area to introduce myself.
The frosty receptionist - taking an instant disliking to me, that was made painfully obvious; gave me a look that told me I was no better than the crud under her beautifully manicured fingernails.
I have to admit I felt a little intimidated by her looks; she was beautifully made up and very curvaceous - she looked like one of those sexy cartoon pin up girls you see from war time posters, with jet-black hair cascading down over her shoulders and a bust daring to break through her fitted blouse that a flat chested girl like me would pay dearly for.
Despite feeling a little ill at ease by the frostiness of her gaze bearing down on me. I took a deep breath and boldly told her who I was and why I was there. She tilted her head back and looked down her nose at me - a difficult thing to do to someone as tall as me, but she succeeded insurmountably; and told me curtly to sit and wait for the office manager.
Taking a deep breath, I turned and looked at the reception waiting area, sighing when I saw the low-set furniture. I walked towards it wondering how the heck I was going to fold my long legs in some sort of a dignified manner, so I wouldn’t flash the office manager when he or she came out. I chose to perch on the edge of a cream leather couch with my knees angled down and legs tucked to the side, imagining that I looked a little like a daddy long legs spider but not having much choice in the matter.
I had applied for this job in the hopes that it would be a foot in the door by the time I graduated. I was two years into studying a humanities/law degree at the University of Western Sydney, Parramatta campus - which was only half an hour's drive away from my home in Cranebrook, one of Sydney's western suburbs.
I was originally born in Penrith (or Penriff, as a lot of people jokingly call it) but my parents had saved as much money as they could to buy a new house and move out to Cranebrook which they considered to be a step up in the world. It wasn’t – it’s the suburb right next door to Mount Pleasant, home to one of the largest public housing estates in the west.
There was a fair bit of crime in the area, my car had been broken into numerous times, but we had been lucky and never had our house broken into. So, in the grand scheme of things, it was no big deal – petty crime was just something you dealt with when you were a blue-collar family living in an area that housed people both less and more fortunate than you.
The best way for me to travel to work was via train, which took about an hour. I had woken up extremely early that morning as I really wanted to make a good first impression - taking an extraordinary amount of time getting ready, ensuring I looked just right.
I had chosen a black pinstripe skirt that came to my knees with a crimson satin blouse and low heeled black maryjane shoes. I had straightened the natural wave out of my long honey blonde hair so it sat just below my shoulders, wearing enough makeup to cover a scar that ran along my hairline and to give my lips and cheeks a rosy glow.
My goal was to look professional but be comfortable enough to climb ladders while I lugged books up and down the shelves. I thought the effect worked well and was at least feeling good about my looks despite being nervous about my job. I had even caught the earlier train in to the city from Penrith station just to make sure I had plenty of time to navigate my way from Wynyard station to my new workplace on the corner of Martin Place and Phillip St.
I only had to sit awkwardly on the low-set chairs for a few minutes before a small woman who appeared to be in her mid-30s and of Indian origin came out to greet me. “Hello, my name is Priya. I am the office manager,” she said extending her hand in greeting. “You must be Katrina.”
I immediately rose, dwarfing Priya with my six feet of height, smiled and shook her hand. “Yes, that’s me. It’s lovely to meet you.”
Priya looked up at me and said the first thing most people say upon meeting me, “My, you’re a tall one aren’t you?” I smiled and nodded to be polite while inwardly rolling my eyes. “Follow me and I will show you around the office.”
I did as I was told, following closely behind her and trying to take in as much information about my surroundings as possible.
Priya spoke over her shoulder and pointed things out as we went along, “In here are the conference rooms, you only need to know about them for drinks on Friday nights – there is a social committee that is in charge of all that, you can join if you like. Mary runs it all and should come to talk to you about it at some point today.”
We continued down the corridor, past different offices and cubicles. Priya explained that the corner offices were for the partners, and the middle offices were for the junior and senior solicitors. Outside the offices were the personal assistant's cubicles and then there was a row of offices inside for accounts and other support staff. Administration had a cubicle section all of its own, and in the very centre of everything were the filing room, the library and the break room.
“Here is where you will be working,” said Priya. I looked at the large room lined with built-in bookcases that reached the ceiling, as well as two rows of smaller bookcases lining the centre. There were two desks against the outer wall with a reference computer on one, and a microfiche reader on the other, in between those was a photocopier.
My own desk was in the corner. It had a low cubicle divider around it with a computer and an in/out tray that was piled high with mail, law journal updates and microfiche slides.
“Wow, this is bigger than I expected,” I stated.
“Not too big I hope,” Priya smiled before launching into the next part of my orientation. “Now, you will be responsible for making sure all the books are in the correct place of course, as well fetching any books that people have removed. They have to check the book out, but sometimes they just take it, so you may have to do some hunting at times.
“You will need to stocktake once a fortnight to make sure you have a list of any missing books. Most importantly, you need to keep the law journals up to date; new updates come in regularly.”
She pulled an update from my in tray and showed me the instruction sheet that told me what pages to add and take away, I couldn’t see myself having difficulties with it. “Also, you have to sort these microfiche into order and then give them to one of our junior solicitors, Elliot; he is responsible for updating the system with those.”
“Oh, I thought the microfiche would be in here because the readers are here,” I interrupted.
“No, they are kept with the files, but you will get people leaving them in here, sometimes in the reader itself. Just sort them and return them all to Elliot, he will deal with them. He also catalogues the law magazines that get sent to us. I will take you to meet him now so you know where his office is.”
Priya led me down the corridor and into an open area, where a group of PA desks were clustered, surrounded by window offices. She came to a stop outside a small windowed office right next to the Partner’s, and tapped on the door before opening it. A man in his early 20s looked up from his work revealing the most vivid blue eyes I had ever seen. My breath caught a little as I drank him in. Even through his dress shirt I could see how well muscled he was, his face showing that smattering of stubble I loved on a man. I don’t know how else to describe him except to say that he was beautiful; those blue eyes, that full mouth, his light golden-brown hair and those broad shoulders! I felt myself swoon a little but came back to reality when I noticed him arch one of those perfect eyebrows of his at us in question.
“Sorry to interrupt Elliot but I just wanted to introduce you to our new librarian Kat,” Priya said.
“Um, Katrina,” I said, hating having my name shortened to that of a furry animal.
“Sorry – Katrina,” Priya corrected with a slight eye roll.
Elliot didn’t speak at first; he just sat there studying me.
My cheeks flushed involuntarily and the discomfort of being stared at caused me to start nervously looking around the room, out of the door; anywhere but at him.
My apparent unease seemed to make him realise he was staring. He quickly cleared his throat and said, “Hello Katrina.” His voice was as beautiful as the rest of him, it had a deep rumble to it that sent chills up my spine.
I was trying desperately to be cool, so he didn’t notice my immediate attraction. A guy like this must have women swooning all over him, and I wasn’t going to let myself be one of them – despite his hotness. I had met guys like him before, and it never ended well.
Despite my efforts, I didn’t manage much more than a tight smile, a small nod and a, “Hi, um, uh, Elliot.” You sound like an idiot! my mind told me. There was a silence after that; nobody said a word and this awkwardness enveloped us like a thick woolen blanket while we all tried not to make eye contact.
I felt like I needed to say something to break the silence, “Ah…I didn’t think a junior would get a window office,” I observed, regretting the comment the moment it left my mouth.
Elliot looked over his shoulder at the window behind him and shrugged, “Every solicitor gets one. It comes with the office. Mine is a very small one though.” His blue eyes met mine but revealed no emotion. I could imagine that he must have thought I was a complete ditz! I could feel the heat as it rose in my cheeks while moths of embarrassment churned through my stomach.
Priya raised her eyebrows at the exchange, smiled and commented, “Well; this was fun.” She ushered me out of his office as she told Elliot, “Just thought you should meet Katrina so you knew what she is doing leaving things on your desk. Enjoy your day Elliot,” she gently closed his door and led me back towards the library. “So, your bright-red face tells me you noticed he’s a bit of spunk huh?” she said quietly to me when we were far enough away. I tried to act nonchalant and just shrugged my shoulders a little. “Don’t get any ideas though, all the girls are after him but he doesn’t show interest in any of them. There’s a strict no dating policy here and he adheres to it; there’s a list of junior solicitors a mile long wanting to work here and I really don’t think he is going to risk his job.”
“Fair enough,” I said, mentally kicking myself for feeling a little disappointed.
“Someone nice to look at though huh? Stops the office being so boring.”
“I suppose it does,” I answered carefully.
“Well, here we are, back at your new home away from home,” she said stopping in front of the library’s entrance, “If you need anything today, don’t hesitate to call me.”
I nodded that I would and thanked her for the tour before entering the library to start work. As I flipped through the items in my tray, I couldn’t imagine that I would need to call Priya for help, everything was very basic - all I had to do was sort books, microfiche and follow a simple instruction sheet for the law journal updates; take out page 22, insert new page 22 - I’d be fine.
Alone, I took some time to look around my new work space, so I could take it all in. It felt peaceful being surrounded by books – the colours helped add to the calming effect; pistachio green for the small spaces of wall and a dim grey for the bookcases. There was only one wall without book shelves and that was the one with the desks, microfiche machine and photo copier. That wall had a large window taking up the top half of it so you could see inside as you walked past.
The partition that separated my desk from the rest of the room, was a similar grey to the book cases with tiny flecks of white and black to add some contrast. The desk itself was a light grey, as were the other desks in the room. All the chairs were black padded swivel desk chairs – they looked comfy enough. I walked to the one situated behind my desk and sat down to test it out, adjusting the height setting to suit me. I twisted lightly from side to side and grinned to myself as an idea came to me, I peeked over my partition to make sure I was still alone and then tucked my legs in tight and spun around on my chair in sheer childish abandon. I placed my hands on the desk to stop the spinning and sighed happily; it was exciting to have my own space within an office – I felt a little like a girl playing dress up though.
I reached out to my 'in' pile and took the law update that Priya had shown me, got up and collected the folder it belonged in and started to find and replace the pages required. I hadn’t gotten much work done before a woman a few years older than me with chestnut brown hair, and a Mediterranean complexion came in to introduce herself.
“Hi, you must be Katrina! I’m Mary, Francis’s PA - you may have seen him on your tour – I’m the head of the social committee!” she announced it to me like there should have been a TaDa! at the end of it, she seemed very peppy. “I thought I would pop in to welcome you to Turner, Barlow and Smith, and also, to give you a rundown of the things we like to do here.”
I sat silently listening to her chatter on about Friday drinks and other various social activities that come up throughout the year. I told her that I would try to make it to the next Friday night drinks but wasn’t really sure if I had anything on yet.
“No worries, it would be great if you came even if it was only half an hour,” she smiled.
“Ok, I’ll make sure I at least do that,” I said feeling the pressure to fit in.
“So um, this is your first job is it?”
“Yeah, very first,” I admitted.
“I am sure you will like it here, there’s a pretty good group of people around. I mean, you get your cliques like you do everywhere but mostly people are pretty nice. I’ll see you around, if not, on Friday ok?” she said as she turned to leave and practically bounced out the door.
“Sounds great,” I called after her, smiling weakly. I really didn’t know if I was a Friday night drinks person, but I figured I had better show my face if I wanted to make any friends here.
After I got a little more work done I left the library to go and get a coffee at morning tea time. There were two PA desks outside the offices in front of the library door, and one of the girls, a small, slightly rotund girl with a friendly face and dirty blonde hair tied up in a bouncy ponytail, got up as I approached.
“Hi there, I’m Kayley,” she said in an Irish accent.
“Katrina,” I replied and we shook hands briefly.
“I’m Greg’s PA. He's a bit creepy,” she whispered.
“Is he?” My eyes skittered around nervously, I wasn’t really sure I should be having this conversation.
“Yeah, sometimes I go in there to drop something off, and he is under his desk.”
“Ok… doing what?”
“Exactly! That’s the part I find creepy.”
I laughed, my concern ebbing away, as we started to talk about how long she had been working there and what some of the other girls were like.
When we reached the kitchen, I met Anne and Carl, who were the filing clerks, as well as Albina and Joanne, who were both PAs as well. I couldn’t help but notice that most of the people in the break room were all support staff. Any solicitors who came in made their coffee or tea, uttered some small talk and then left.
Kayley must have noticed me looking around and read my confused expression. “They don’t really associate too much with all of us Plebs. The younger ones do sometimes, but they generally just talk to each other and hang out in their offices.” She handed me a cup for my coffee, and we moved along the line of people waiting for the water heater. “Although I wish this one would hang around a bit more,” she added as her eyes moved to the doorway, I looked around as Elliot walked in. He nodded and said hello to a couple of people but mostly stood there quietly, waiting for his turn for coffee, tea or whatever his chosen refreshment was.
One of the other PAs moved towards him and started a conversation. I was stupidly standing there, openly watching him when he realised and looked at me, stopping mid-sentence for just a beat, this however, caused the girl who was talking to him to glance over her shoulder at a now red faced me. She squinted her eyes, shooting daggers in my direction, flicked her long honey streaked hair over her shoulder and continued her conversation with Elliot.
Kayley leaned into me and said, “He’s pretty delicious huh? The one talking to him is Beth, she’s his PA and thinks she has dibs on him. But every woman here is lusting after the man. He is devine! Just look at that body! And the hair, the eyes! I could go on,” she sighed.
I tore my eyes away from him and tried to focus on Kayley, “Priya told me there’s a 'no dating' policy here.”
“That doesn’t stop anyone,” Albina added, eyeing Elliot up and down like he was a piece of meat, “It wouldn’t stop me if I got a chance with him anyway.” She let out an appreciative growl, and I grinned, enjoying her audaciousness but refusing to look towards Elliot again.
The line moved along at a steady pace, and we all took our drinks to one of the tables inside the break room. At our table was Anne, Carl, Albina, Joanne – who prefers to be called ‘Jo’; Kayley and myself. It kind of felt like a scene from a high school movie were a group swoops in and claims the new girl - they all seemed nice though, and were filling me in on some of the office happenings. I found out that the IT guy was having an affair with one of the admin girls, they thought no one knew but weren’t very good at pretending nothing was happening, no one cared enough to report them though, so they were left to it.
As is usual with a new person, they were very interested in my life, and wanted to know if I had a boyfriend and what I did with my spare time. I told them I had recently broken up with a guy I lived with for 3 months, and that I trained for triathlons around work and my law degree at university.
“So you want to be one of them,” Carl commented.
“I suppose, but I’ll make sure I’m still kind to the little plebs,” I replied with a smile.