At 28 years old Alex Philips is still reeling from her father’s death at the hands of a drunk driver, existing in a job that allows her to work from home and withdraw from life. After a drunken incident Alex is now facing several months of community service forcing her to interact with the world again.
While repaying her debt to society she meets the beautiful 24yr old Sam Johnson, an instant mutual attraction develops between them. Sam is also dealing with issues of loss, resulting in her current accommodation at the hostel Alex has been assigned to work in.
Things finally seem to be going their way as they find their feet in their budding relationship, until Sam’s absent mother arrives back on the scene leaving devastation in her wake. A chance meeting with the person responsible for Alex’s downward spiral threatens to destroy everything they have worked so hard to build.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Two hundred and twenty fucking hours! Are they fucking kidding? " I slammed the car door quickly escaping from the icy January wind, fishing out my phone to work out how many days it worked out on the calculator at seven hours a pop. “Thirty one fucking days." I spat out as my anger filled the car.
“Stop it! You’re lucky, it could have been much worse. It’s only because you pleaded guilty they went easy on you."
Nat’s attempt to quell my anger fell on deaf ears. “Easy? Are you fucking joking?...I only smashed up a car."
“It was two cars and you used a baseball bat!”
“The first one was a fucking mistake, they all look the same in the dark when you’re drunk."
“Try telling that to the owner."
“I did he wouldn’t listen! Bastard." I continued to seethe, focussing on my recent disastrous choices.
“Stop bloody swearing! You know I don’t like it. I’m trying to drive here." She yelled pulling out of the car park. I considered pointing out her choice of word, but thought better of it. My elder sister Nat hated swearing, always had since we were children, although I think she’d become more hypersensitive since becoming a mother twice in the last five years. I sulked in the passenger seat as we headed back to her house.
“Least it’s over now, get the hours done and then forget about it...A few days gardening or whatever. You enjoy working outside, don’t you?”
“What’s my current job, Nat? I work on a computer eight hours a fucking day!“
I saw her wince at my swearing. “Yes....but you like the fresh air."
“Everyone likes fresh air." I said, exasperated by her logic.
“Exactly! So stop moaning. It’ll be over before you know it, then you go back to normal - if there is a normal for you."
“What’s that supposed to mean?" I snapped at her, I could tell she was getting pissed off, but I couldn’t stop myself.
“You know what it means!” She glared at me after pulling into her driveway. “It’s got to stop!” Her eyes softened as she placed her hand over mine. “Please Al, you’ve got to let it go...move on."
I felt my eyes well up; turning away I stared at the green tricycle on the front lawn to avoid her glare. I couldn’t lie to her, but I couldn’t tell the truth either. I turned to meet her heavy frown. “I’m sorry. I’ll try," I lied. I wouldn’t, I couldn’t. I had to let it run its course. It was almost two years since our father had died, murdered, and that was the catalyst to all this.
Arriving in the canteen I was given a fetching plastic hair net and set to work chopping salad by a large woman by the name of Julie, who seemed to have a slight squint in her left eye, or at least I hoped that’s what it was. As service got underway, I was added to the line dishing out main meals. The heat from the food trays was sucking the breath from my lungs. My shower cap wasn’t helping - I could feel the sweat trickling down my back. Looking at the clock it was almost over - only another thirty minutes of service left. My next customer walked up with her tray. She looked at me, smiling. “Nice hat! I’ll have the Lasagne please."
I returned her smile. “Sure, no problem."
“Don’t skimp – I’m starving."
I gave her a double helping. As I looked up at her, I found she was already staring at me. She smiled as I handed her the plate. “Thanks." She was an attractive young woman, a little taller than me with shoulder length hair the colour of dark chocolate and creamy coloured skin with high cheekbones which gave her a refined look, compared to her attire of red hoodie and ripped jeans. I felt an immediate twinge of attraction to her. Luckily, because of the heat, my blush was hidden.
“Enjoy." With that she was gone, moving on down the line to puddings.
When the last of the customers had been fed, I began helping tidy up the kitchens, filling the dish washer and preparing for breakfast. Work completed I gratefully removed my cap, wiping the sweat from my forehead with the sleeve of my top.
“So....you’re new?” came a voice from behind me. I turned round with a start: the lasagne eater. “Uh....Yes, I am."
“You’re not a resident......so you must be a volunteer?”
“Yes." I guessed it was obvious, considering the jumpy people I’d seen so far.
“I’m Sam," she offered her hand.
I took it. ”Alex,” I replied shaking it gently but firmly. I had trouble breaking my stare. Her green eyes were locked on mine and my gaydar was telling me we batted for the same team. Hearing footsteps brought me back to reality, as Mike poked his head around the door. “All done? Hi, Sam."
“I think so, yeah," I said looking round, frowning as I realised we were the only two people left. When did that happen?
“Right then, I’ll take you on a tour so you can get to know the place."
“Great." Just as we left the room, Mike’s phone rang, the Jaws ringtone making me stifle a giggle.
He looked at the display. “Ah. I’ve got to take this - sorry."
“I can do the tour if you like?...I think I know it well enough by now," Sam was eyeing me curiously.
Mike looked at me apologetically. “Sorry. Is that okay?”
What! I hope this was one of the reliable residents he spoke about. Slightly unsure, I nodded my head in unison with Sam.
I watched him turn to her. “Can you drop Alex off at my office at the end of the tour? I’ll take it from there.”
With that he was gone, leaving us on the stairwell.