PLEASE NOTE: There are references to rape and violence - and its consequences - in this story. Site etiquette stipulates that you should be warned, and I agree with that. The author abhors abuse and violence, especially sexual violence.
"You're always there for me!"
Marie, 150 cm in height, or an inch shy of five feet if you like it that way, needed something on a high shelf and couldn't reach it. It was the busiest time of the evening and, although she was deputy branch manager and team leader, she was never too grand to work as hard everyone else. But tall she was not. George - her latest recruit - was. Very tall. At a full 200 cm - or 6' 7", he towered over all his co-workers and positively dwarfed Marie. But he was a gentle and very considerate person and he had a knack of 'being there' whenever Marie or their co-workers needed to reach for anything.
"You're welcome," George replied, accompanied by his sweet, shy smile. He handed Marie the stuff she needed and returned to his tasks at the coffee brewer.
He was only shy in a personal setting, Marie had noticed. Towards customers he was open and friendly - cheerful and even jocular when that was warranted, patient and polite when that was required. But the moment he was with people that he would be seeing on a regular basis he was guarded and reserved. Marie knew a bit about his background from interviewing him for the job, but since then she had learned preciously little more. That intrigued her; she usually knew a lot about her staff - the whole atmosphere was friendly and people generally opened up.
The little she knew from the interview was interesting enough. George was a postgraduate student studying for a master's degree in chemical engineering. She had asked him if he had any experience at working in a cafe. He had replied with a sweet apologetic smile that he hadn't, but was used to advanced machinery and following complex recipes in a laboratory and this couldn't be harder. That had turned out to be a fair and accurate assessment, not a boast; and after a few hours of instruction he could handle all the processes better than anyone else.
She also knew some aspects of his family background. Spurred on by some unfortunate reports from the international cafe chain's anonymous test-customers, Marie had been ordered to ensure her staff was versed in at least English and preferably other major languages, so she had asked him about his English fluency. She remembered the conversation vividly.
"How is your English?" she asked.
"My English? Eh, totally fluent," he replied. "I'm bilingual. I'm half English. My name ought to give that away."
"Of course - George," Marie agreed. The usual spelling in Danish would be 'Georg' and the pronunciation completely different. "And come to think of it, there aren't all that many of the surname Rhodes in the local phone book," she added sheepishly.
George smiled; Marie was enchanted. "No, there's only Mum and me," he agreed.
"Your father doesn't live here?" Marie asked. Not a strictly professional question, but she readily admitted to the sin of curiosity.
"Dad died many years ago," George said. "So Mum decided to move back to Denmark."
"Oh, so you were born and raised in England?" Marie asked. This question could be allowed - 'to find out about his fluency, ' she argued with herself.
"Yes," George replied. "Mum was an au-pair, if you can call it that when there is actually not a pair. Or nanny, perhaps. Dad was widowed with four children. My half brothers are about the same age as Mum, but my sisters were only 7 and 10 when Mum was hired."
"Oh!" Marie said. She was a sucker for romances and it sounded totally romantic. "And she stayed?"
George smiled. "She was hired for a year, but they all loved her and Dad married her at the end of that. Less than a year later I was born."
Marie nearly cooed with delight. "And your half-siblings were fine with that?"
"Absolutely," George replied with conviction. "I have always felt loved," he added. There was a calm serenity about him. Marie envied him the feeling.
"And yet you and your mother left?" she hazarded. She was way outside what she needed to know professionally, but she was eager to hear more.
"When Dad died, things were difficult for Mum," George said. "She had gone to London straight out of high school and had no further education. My brothers were well established, but my sisters were still at university and Mum had no income to support them - or herself and me, for that matter. So she decided to sell the London house - the only big asset from my dad's estate - and put the money in trust for my siblings. Then we returned here."
"Gosh," Marie said. "That must have been hard!"
"It was," George agreed. "I missed my friends and my siblings terribly. My sisters in particular, even though they were no longer living at home."
"How old were you?" Marie asked.
"Thirteen," George replied. "Not the best age to lose a parent and have your whole world turned upside down," he added wryly.
"I can imagine," Marie said mechanically, although truth be told, she couldn't. She suddenly remembered that this was supposed to be a job interview and hastened back to the language issue. "I guess your English would be pretty darn perfect then." She more stated than asked. George just nodded.
Marie asked some more practical - and relevant - questions, but once again her mind strayed. "What about Danish? I can hear you speak it perfectly now, I mean, but back then?"
"It was OK," George said, slightly put out by the question. "Mum always spoke Danish to me and we visited my grandparents frequently, so it wasn't too hard to learn when we got here." That answer was not truthful. He had actually struggled. These were bad memories he wanted to suppress; his new Danish class mates had been a bunch of unruly brats and merciless in their teasing, but it was long ago now.
Marie pulled herself together. "Any other languages?" she asked. "The company is keen on having multi-lingual staff at branches this close to the major tourist centres."
"Oh, I see," George said. He had felt a little uncomfortable about the personal questions, but was keen to get a job to supplement his meagre stipend. Now he thought it had been about language skills all the time and feared that the pretty, dark elfin girl interviewing him must think him a terrible gossip.
That was very far from the truth, but the fear - combined with his shyness - and on Marie's side her embarrassment at having asked too many and too personal questions meant that they didn't discuss anything personal in the following months.
George declared that he could converse in German, had enough French and Spanish 'to get by' and that while he didn't exactly speak Swedish, he understood it well enough and knew where to put in different words to make his Danish intelligible to Swedes.
Marie was impressed. He fit the profile she was after perfectly. He was asked to try his hand at the machinery and two hours later he was hired.
A couple of months had passed. After hiring George, the last in a group of new people, Marie got rid of some of the worst scatter brains on staff. The cafe was doing very well, both during the day time when Simon, the manager, was running it, and during evenings and weekends when it became Marie's responsibility. Another report from anonymous test-customers, compiled during a major conference and involving a lot of foreigners, had praised the cafe's 'outstanding international atmosphere' - a far cry from the previous, damning report. Simon told Marie that the chain's main office had accompanied the report with a letter in which they praised the management for 'the care and professionalism with which they had tackled the previous critique' and stated that this 'exemplary turn-around' would be mentioned in the internal worldwide newsletter. Simon, who was honest and fair to a fault, had thanked the main office and underlined Marie's role in recruiting new staff for the important evening and weekend segments. He adored Marie in a paternal way. In as much as he was easily old enough to be Marie's father, his interest in her was purely platonic. He was gay and harboured no sexual feelings about his deputy.
George did, which embarrassed him, but one cannot control ones feelings, can one? He knew it would come to nothing. He knew Marie was in a long term relationship with somebody called Peter. Peter sometimes called during Marie's shifts - the other girls were tittering that he was a jealous type. George just thought they were being catty; Marie was smart and considerate and clever and beautiful; in short: perfect. George was sure that Peter - the lucky bastard - would have to be equally perfect.
And yet Marie always seemed tense when Peter had called. 'Surely I must be imagining things, ' George thought. 'It's probably just because I fancy the girl myself.'
But no. George was not imagining things; Peter was abusive and violent, manic in his suspicions and his baseless jealousy. He controlled Marie completely. Controlled her by terror. Sex had nothing to do with love or affection; it was rather a case of a nightly rape. What makes an intelligent, resourceful and independent minded girl like Marie put up with an abusive partner? Why don't women simply leave? Or throw the bastard out? It was Marie's apartment, after all.
.... There is more of this story ...