When She Was Bad - Tammy Cohen Page 0,1

would they want to go and break us up?’

It wasn’t surprising Chloe was taking her boss’s dismissal so hard. Ever since Gill had taken her on as a junior she’d had an almost Svengali-type influence over her.

‘They say we’ve been underperforming, Chloe,’ said Gill, a telltale wobble in her voice. ‘And they need a scapegoat. Which is me.’

Paula didn’t think that was entirely fair. Of course she was sorry Gill was going. They’d worked together for eight years. They were friends. But the truth was, as Executive Manager, Gill had been coasting during the last couple of years. And productivity and profitability had definitely suffered as a result. So for her to claim to be some kind of sacrificial lamb was a bit much.

Directly across the table from her, Amira, who’d already downed two gin and tonics in the time Paula had taken to sip a third of her bitter lemon, leaned forwards conspiratorially so that the ends of her thick black hair trailed in a little puddle of lager.

‘I bet Mark Hamilton patted you on the shoulder straight after he sacked you and said “no hard feelings”,’ she said to Gill. ‘Am I right?’

Gill visibly winced at the word ‘sacked’ and Paula’s heart went out to her. Amira could be so insensitive sometimes.

‘Yeah. I think he did say something like that,’ mumbled Gill. ‘But I was in shock, so half of the things he said went straight over my head.’

‘How about if we all refused to go back to work,’ said Chloe, her cheeks flushed with earnestness and Pinot Grigio. ‘They couldn’t sack us all, could they?’

‘They’ve probably sacked us all already. Just for being here and not heads down at our desks like good little workers,’ said Amira.

Paula tensed. She supported Gill, of course, and she hadn’t needed persuading to accompany her to the pub after she got the devastating news of her dismissal that morning. But she couldn’t put her own job at risk. Not when she was the only one in the house earning any money. Sweat prickled on her spine and she surreptitiously reached her arm behind her to peel the material of her top away from her back. It was so hot in here. Or was it? Paula’s hormones were so haywire she’d lost the knack of regulating her own temperature and could lurch from cold to scorching and down to freezing again in a matter of seconds. Sometimes she got so hot it was as if her own blood was boiling inside her veins.

‘Sorry about the wait. The Small Child is on bar duty again. Must be an Inset day at school.’ Charlie put down the drinks he’d been carrying and slid back into his seat. Then he reached across the table and wrapped his surprisingly delicate fingers around the top of Gill’s hand.

‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down,’ he said softly. ‘There are plenty more companies out there who’ll snap you up. We’ll all give you a glowing reference.’

Gill nodded with that fixed half-smile people use when they’re trying not to cry.

Sarah broke the silence following Charlie’s comment, arriving at the table breathless, mobile phone in hand.

‘Sorry. Sorry. Childcare emergency. All sorted now.’

Charlie cleared his jacket off Sarah’s chair so she could sit down. Paula used to envy those two their closeness, always slipping away after work to go drinking, arriving at their desks the next morning with raging hangovers and vague memories of pubs visited, random strangers met, cocktails downed. But since Sarah had had the boys, such outings had become a thing of the past. Nothing was ever the same after having children, was it?

The ends of Sarah’s red hair had formed damp ringlets. Must be raining outside. That figured. Paula looked around the table – Sarah, Charlie, Chloe, Ewan, Amira, Gill, her. Already she was mourning the solid unit they’d been. Gill might not have been the most dynamic boss, but they’d all rolled along quite happily together on the whole. No fallings out. Minimal office politics. A dream team, as Chloe said.

Amira’s phone beeped loudly, a kind of squawking noise that made them all jump. She glanced at her screen.

‘Holy shit,’ she said. ‘Just got a message from Juliana who works in HR. You’ll never guess who’s going to be our new boss.’

‘Who?’ came a chorus of voices. Paula glanced at Gill, whose smile had got tighter, as if someone was stretching it out.

‘Rachel Masters.’

Oh. Well. Paula tried to avoid industry gossip, but she’d heard the name