At Her Boss's Bidding

By: Miranda Lee

Rachel’s shoulders stiffened. It would take two years for it to grow out. Did he honestly think she had such little personal pride that she’d walk around with half-red, half-brown hair for two years?

Clearly, he did.

‘It looks dreadful and you know it,’ she said sharply, and whirled away from him before she did something she would regret.

Rachel could feel him staring after her as she marched towards the open doorway, probably wondering what was wrong with her. She’d never spoken to him in that tone before. But when she turned to close the door behind her he wasn’t staring after her at all. Or even thinking about her. He was back, peering at the maze of figures on the computer, her red hair—plus her slight outburst—clearly forgotten.

Rachel didn’t realise the extent of her anger till she tried to get back to work. Why she was so angry with Justin, she couldn’t understand. His indifferent reaction to her hair should have made her happy. It was all rather confusing. But there’d been a moment in there—a vivid, violent moment—when she’d wanted to snatch the coffee out of his hands and throw it in his face.

It was perhaps just as well that her boss didn’t emerge for the rest of the morning, or call her for more coffee to be delivered. Clearly, he was steeped in something important, some sudden programming brainwave or financial crisis which required his undivided attention.

In the month she’d been his PA, Rachel had discovered that Justin was a computer genius as well as a financial one, and had created several programs for following and predicting stock-market trends, as well as analysing other economical forces. Aside from her general secretarial duties, Rachel spent a couple of hours each day entering and downloading data into the extensive files these programs used. They needed constant updating to work properly.

She was completing that daily and slightly tedious area of her job shortly before noon, when the main door from the corridor opened and Justin’s mother walked in.

Alice McCarthy was in her early sixties, a widow with two sons. She’d been one of Rachel’s best customers during the four years she’d made ends meet by using her sewing skills at home. A tall, broad-shouldered woman with a battleship bust and surprisingly slender hips, Alice had difficulty finding clothing to fit off the peg. But she loved shopping for clothes, rather than having them made from scratch, and had more than enough money to indulge her passion. Mr McCarthy had been a very successful stockbroker in his day, and, according to Alice, a bit of a scrooge, whereas Alice veered towards the other extreme. Consequently, she was in constant need of a competent seamstress who could cleverly alter the dozens of outfits she bought each season.

Till recently that person had been Rachel, whom Alice had discovered when Rachel had distributed brochures advertising her sewing skills through all her local letterboxes. Alice lived only a couple of streets away from Lettie’s house.

Despite the thirty-year age gap, the two women had got along well from the start. Alice’s natural joie de vivre had brought some brightness into Rachel’s dreary life. When her foster-mum passed away and her friends thought Rachel needed a job working outside of the home Alice had been generous enough to steer her into her present position, despite knowing this meant she had to find another person to alter her clothes. Fortunately, a salesgirl in one of the many boutiques Alice frequented had recommended an excellent alteration service in the city, run by two lovely Vietnamese ladies who were extremely efficient as well as inexpensive.

After Rachel had gone to work for her son Alice had rung her at the office a couple of times to see how she was doing, but this was the first time she’d made a personal appearance.

‘Alice!’ Rachel greeted happily. ‘What a lovely surprise. You’re looking extremely well. Blue always looks good on you.’

Alice, who was as susceptible to a compliment as the next woman, beamed her pleasure. ‘Flatterer. Nothing looks all that good on this unfortunate figure of mine. But I do my best. And my, aren’t you looking a lot better these days? You’ve put on some weight. And you’ve changed your hair colour.’

Rachel’s hand went up to pat the offending hair. ‘Not for long. It goes back to brown tonight. I had it dyed for Isabel’s wedding on Saturday. You remember Isabel, don’t you? You met her at Lettie’s funeral.’

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