Authors: Nicola Haken
by Nicola Haken
2016 Nicola Wall
Cover Design by Reese Dante
Edited by E. Adams
Licensed material is being used for illustrative purposes only and any person depicted in the licensed material is a model.
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and events are created from the author’s imagination, or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual events or people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the author, except in the case of critics or reviewers who may quote brief passages in their review. If you are reading this eBook and have not purchased it or won it in a blogger/author competition then you are reading a pirated version. Please support the author by deleting this copy and purchasing it from an authorised distributor.
This book contains scenes and references that may pose as a trigger, or be uncomfortable to read, for some people. If you’re struggling, you are not alone. Don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are important.
For anyone who’s ever felt a little broken. Keep going – one breath at a time.
You are important.
is inevitable, suffering is optional.
I heard that somewhere once and it stuck in my mind, haunting me, ever since. I often toyed with its interpretation and, now, I have the answer.
The pain is there. It never leaves. Sometimes it’s bearable, but it’s
there. It’s pecked away at my soul all my life and, finally, it’s won.
It’s taken everything. I am nothing more than a hollow shell. There are no more pieces left to try and put back together. I have nothing else to fight with.
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
Today, I opt to end the suffering. Today, I welcome the pain as it slices into my wrist, knowing it will be the last time. As I watch my tormented life seep from my body in thick, red spirals, a small smile crawls onto my lips.
My body starts to tremble and I lie back in the bathtub, closing my eyes. A rush of peace, contentment, washes over my dying body, cleansing my soul as I drift into the serene darkness, embracing the shadow for the first time in my life.
of nerves roll around in my stomach as I walk into Holden House, the tallest building in the centre of Manchester. The first day in any new job is always daunting, but stepping into my first role in a publishing house pushes a further stab of pressure into my gut.
I’m met with a curious glance by a young, impeccably dressed, woman behind the long reception desk as I pass through the revolving glass doors. I walk over, holding up the I.D. card that dangles from my lanyard.
Her eyes hone in on it, squinting as she reads. “Good morning, Mr Davenport. Marketing is on the thirteenth floor.”
“Thanks,” I mutter, although I know where I’m going after my induction last week.
I fiddle with my collar as I ride the lift, eyeing myself up in the mirror on the back wall. My last job, managing a mobile phone shop, didn’t require me to wear a suit and I can’t help feeling uncomfortable. Restricted.
The lift pings and the doors peel apart. I step out onto the office floor, surveying my surroundings. A small lump forms in my throat as I wonder who to approach first, although you wouldn’t know by looking at me. I am a swan as I make my way to the middle of the floor; kicking and struggling beneath the surface, poised and confident above.
A hand lands on my shoulder, startling me. “You’re the new kid, right?”
I force a smile but inside I want to punch the fucker for calling me a kid. I’m twenty-seven years old; too old, in some people’s opinion, to be taking a job as an office junior. But working in this industry has been my goal since I was ten years old. Unfortunately, life got in the way, until now. I was kicked out of college for showing up drunk on more than one occasion and ended up working tedious jobs until I got bored and found something else. Perhaps things would’ve turned out differently if I’d chosen my own path, but I applied to study biology at college with the aim of becoming a doctor, because that’s what my brother did, my father,
my grandfather. It was kind of expected of me, but I just didn’t care enough about the subject to bother putting the effort in.
I saw the opening here by accident while surfing the Job Centre website and dismissed it at first, but it stayed in my head until I eventually convinced myself I’m not too old to go after a career rather than just a job.
I’m not just a reader, or a writer; I inhale written words like they’re my oxygen. It’s not a hobby. It’s a
. People intrigue me.
intrigues me. I see a story behind every set of eyes I meet, history in every voice. I’ll see someone wearing a smile and wonder what put it there. Words allow me to immerse myself in a whole other world. I get to become a different person.
the reason I took this job. I want to see behind the scenes, learn the process of bringing someone’s imagination, someone’s
to life. I don’t expect to make a name for myself with my own writing. I do it for no other reason than I love it. I do it to stop my mind exploding. I do it because while I have a pen in my hand, I can be anyone I want to be.
This job is a more realistic version of my dream. I will complete the menial tasks. I will fetch coffee, stuff envelopes. I will learn. Grow. I will work my way up, and I will achieve a successful career helping
“I’m Mike. Section manager,” the owner of the hand on my shoulder says.
I proffer my hand for him to shake and he accepts. “Theo,” I say, nodding.
“Let me show you to your station.”
Again, I nod, and trail behind Mike as he leads the way. My lips turn up a little as my gaze unashamedly hones in on his arse. I approve.
, I think, before being dragged back into the room when he turns around.
“This is your desk. My colleague, Stacey…” He pauses to point at a smartly dressed woman, with a brown bob and thick-rimmed glasses, at the other side of the room. “…Will come and talk you through a few things shortly. But first, let’s see what you’re made of.” My eyes widen and my ears prick up, eager to get stuck in. “Coffee machine’s down the hall. White. One sugar.”
I fight the urge to scowl and nod instead. Mike claps my back and walks away, disappearing into one of the large, private offices. I don’t like him already.
I spend the rest of the day making coffee, filing documents, and being taken on a tour of the gigantic building by Stacey, who I’ve decided I like a
more than Mike the Moron.
The rest of the week plays out pretty much the same, only now, on Friday, I recognise some faces and am no longer sitting alone in the cafeteria. Ripping open a sachet of salt, I sprinkle it over my chips and toss one in my mouth. I listen to the conversation around the table, not knowing enough about the topic to join in. They’re discussing the mysterious James Holden, CEO of Holden House, one of the biggest publishing houses on this side of the world. He’s someone I’ve yet to even see, let alone be introduced to.
“I heard he’s called a meeting for next Tuesday,” a guy called Edward says. I like Ed. He’s a junior, like me, although he’s four years younger and has been here for six months. I don’t know him well, but he has the potential to become a good friend.
“He creeps me out,” Katie, a supervisor from the design floor, replies. “I swear, I was discussing a client with him once, before he made CEO, and he looked straight through me like…well like he’s not all there if you know what I mean. He’s weird.”
“He was probably just uninterested,” Ed counters with an expression I can’t quite decipher. “He pays other people to do the work for him.”
Katie must notice the strange look on his face too because she jerks her neck back. “You’ve slept with him haven’t you?” Her voice is high, almost a squeal.
I keep listening, shovelling chips into my mouth like popcorn.
,” Ed snaps, scanning his immediate surroundings. “Keep it down.” He looks flustered as he drops his half eaten sandwich onto his plate. “I have
slept with him.”
“You so have. It’s common knowledge the guy fucks his way through the juniors during their first year. Didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to be one of them, though,” she says, her tone almost disgusted.
“That’s not true,” Ed says, but his pursed eyebrows tell me he’s not convinced.
He actually looks a little hurt, so I cut in, feeling uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation. “Anyone fancy grabbing a few drinks after work?”
“Can’t,” Katie says. “I have a date.”
“Count me in,” Ed pipes up at the exact same time as Stacey. Stacey has been in charge of showing me the ropes. She’s a manager, but doesn’t appear to be on the same power trip as the others. I like her.
“I’m going home to change first,” I say. “Probably pick up my friend and head out to Canal Street. Meet at eight in Velvet?”
“I’ve never been to Canal Street,” Stacey answers, and my jaw drops open a little.
People travel from all over the country, maybe even the world, to visit Manchester’s famous gay village. “You live in Manchester and you’ve
been to the village?”
She shrugs. “I’m not gay.”
“Don’t worry,” I say. “You don’t need to pay by drinking from the furry cup. They accept cash like everywhere else.”
“Funny,” she mutters, only she isn’t laughing. “I’ll be there. Haven’t had a night out in ages.”
I rub my hands together and smile. My night is planned. Dancing, alcohol, and lots of laughter with friends, new and old.
Perfect Friday night.
“Yeah, he’s totally screwed him,” Tess says after I repeat the conversation from the cafeteria earlier. I met Tess when I worked at a bar here in the village to support myself through college. She’d been working there for several months already and took it upon herself to help me settle in. We’ve been best friends ever since.
“Hmm. I dunno. It can’t be true. I’m not buying that
member of junior staff is gay so he can’t possibly have fucked them
“Unless he’s bi. I’ll let you know if I meet him.”
“Oh yeah? How you gonna do that?”
“I have built in Bi-Fi,” she says, tapping the side of her head. “Or maybe he’s a Christian Grey and stalks all potential employees beforehand and only employs the queers.”
“I haven’t read it so I wouldn’t know.”
“Neither have I. Didn’t stop my auntie Michelle telling me all about it in excruciating detail though,” she explains, shuddering at the memory.
“Well, even if that were true he won’t be fucking
. I have self respect.”
Beer in hand, I stretch out on the ornate chair shaped like a throne, glad to be out of my suit and in a more comfortable jeans and t-shirt ensemble. When I spot Ed and Stacey walking through the doors opposite the bar, I stand up and wave them over. Ed’s still in his work clothes whereas Stacey looks every shade of hot in a tight red dress and matching shoes.
Placing my hand on the top of her arm when she reaches me, I peck her cheek with my lips. “If I was straight I’d be totally hard for you right now,” I say, grinning as I pull back.
When I turn, I notice Tess has sucked her bottom lip between her teeth. “If I had a dick, so would I.”
Stacey appears a little stunned by Tess’ forwardness and an awkward smile tugs at her mouth. The thing is with Tess, she
a filter, but more often than not she chooses not to use it.
I introduce Tess to my colleagues, who I’m already starting to think of as friends, and we decide to stay here for a quiet drink before heading on to G.A.Y., a club designed for thumping music and dancing rather than conversation. Tess leaves the table to get a round of drinks and I nip to the bathroom. While I’m in there I take a moment to tease the strands of my short, fair hair that have fallen out of style back into place, stopping when my gaze lands on a guy in the mirror who’s just stepped out of one of the stalls behind me.
He stops right next to me, looking into the same mirror as he adjusts the collar of his crisp, white shirt. My pulse quickens and it makes no sense to me. I’ve seen hot guys before. But this guy is
than hot. He’s stunning. So beautiful I feel self-conscious in his presence. Ironing out imaginary creases in my shirt with flattened hands, I study the stranger’s eyes in the mirror, searching for his story. There’s a power behind them. An arrogance. He’s a top, for sure. Something about the way he holds himself tells me he’d never allow anyone to have any kind of control over him.
“Like what you see?” he asks, running his fingers through his cropped, black hair. His accent is clearly northern, but there’s a forced poshness, like he’s taught himself to be
than everyone else.
Heat pools in my cheeks as I rip my gaze away, my mouth too dry to reply. Immediately, I wash away the sticky residue on my fingers from fiddling with my gelled hair, and then get the hell out.
Stacey and Ed have their backs to me when I arrive back at the table.
“I just don’t get why they’d sleep with a woman who looks like a man. Why not just sleep with an
man?” I overhear Stacey say.
I don’t know if she’s referring to Tess, or just androgynous-dressing lesbians in general, but I lower my mouth to her ear. “I think the lack of cock has something to do with it.”
Stacey snaps her head around to face me, her cheeks clashing with her red dress. “S-sorry,” she stutters. “I didn’t mean anything bad by it.”
I smile and settle down into my chair. “Don’t worry. I don’t understand their aversion to dick either.” I wink and Stacey visibly relaxes.
“I have to say, I was surprised to find out you were gay. I mean, I suspected it when you suggested a night out here, but I didn’t know for sure until you complimented me on my dress. You don’t
I raise my eyebrow and notice Ed laughing beside her. “My fault. I’m always leaving my damn rainbow at home.”
Stacey throws a hand over her face. “I’ve done it again, haven’t I?” she mutters, her voice low, embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“You didn’t,” I assure, raising my hands off the table to make room for the tray of drinks Tess has just appeared with.
offended,” Ed cuts in. “You didn’t sound surprised when you found out
“You have, you know, the
. It was obvious with you.”
Before Ed can reply Tess hands out our drinks, staring at me while wearing pursed eyebrows and a contemplative pout. “You’re flustered,” she notes. “You look like you’ve just had sex.”