(This was one of the stories written last week for the Bugged project. Thought you might like to see it. Any comments more than welcome.)
By Calum Kerr
"Oh, God, I'm so nervous."
Lizzie could tell her friend wasn't making it up. Janet was literally shaking. The coffee cup was rattling against it's saucer as she tried to put it back down, some of the foam and coffee slopping over the edge. She reached out and took the cup from her, putting it back down, and then took hold of her friend's hands, trying to still them. They felt cool and a little sweaty.
"Look, it'll be okay. It's only a job interview. It's not life and death." She rubbed at Janet's hands trying to warm them and remove some of the moisture. She had always thought that the phrase 'cold sweat' was simply a cliché, but now she had found it's origin in fact. "You'll go in, you'll wow them, and you'll get the job. No worries."
Janet gave a nervous laugh, a strand of her dark hair coming loose from the band that exposed her face so severely. Lizzie wanted to tell her to take it off, to let herself go a little, to stop being so controlled and confined. In the days since she got the letter inviting her for interview, Lizzie had watched Janet become more and more tightly wound, letting her nerves take her over until there was nothing recognisable left of her confident, easy-going friend.
"I just want this job so badly. It's such a wonderful chance. Good pay, good prospects, the chance to meet all kinds of people and to travel. It's just so important and I know I'm going to mess it up." Janet's voice was not only shaking in time with her hands, there was an edge of hysteria to it that would guarantee that her fears would come true.
"No, you're not," Lizzie tried to comfort, attempting to put a confidence into her own words that she was no longer feeling. It was hard to have to bolster someone who was so clearly falling apart. She glanced up at the clock and was surprised to see how much time had passed. They'd barely touched their drinks, but it was time to go.
Lizzie had planned to say goodbye and good luck to Janet here, but was worried that without her guidance, Janet wouldn't even make it to the building across the street where the interviews were being held. Where was the girl she had always known?
"Come on," she said, "It's time."
"Oh God!" Janet's voice was almost a wail, but she stood up and brushed herself down. Lizzie, although starting to be a little frustrated with her friend's pessimism, was proud of Janet as she watched her try to pull herself together. Janet's hands even started to shake a little less as she smoothed her skirt.
The girls stood, donning jackets and bags, and with a hand on her back to guide her, Lizzie helped her friend through the tables of the coffee shop to the door.
It was bright and sunny outside, the heat of the day a shock after dark, cool of the café. The pavement was busy with all the people who had no idea of the turmoil that was emerging into their midst. Lizzie led her friend by the hand, afraid that if she let go the girl would either collapse or simply turn and run. The traffic slowed in front of them as the lights at the top of the road turned red, and they moved out amongst the stationary cars.
Halfway across, Janet's hand came free, and Lizzie looked back over her shoulder to check on her friend. Janet was reaching up to her hair. Lizzie thought maybe she was going to tuck the errant strand of hair back under the band, but instead she grasped the band and pulled it free. She shook her head and her hair loosened out, spreading down onto her shoulders, curling round the edges of her face and softening its shape.
They carried on across the road, Lizzie only half aware of the cars they were stepping between as she watched her friend undergo a transformation. With each step she seemed steadier and her face warmed as the blood finally started to return to skin which had been on the green edge of pale for days. Janet straightened, her shoulders pushing back to fill the hollows in her jacket, and her stride lengthened so that the two girls reached the far pavement at the same time, neither leading, neither being led.
Lizzie all but gaped as her friend moved towards the doors of the imposing building and turned. She looked older, more mature, and more attractive than Lizzie could ever remember. All of a sudden Lizzie felt like a child in the presence of an important adult.
Janet took a deep breath and smiled. "Right," she said, with no trace of tremor in a voice which seemed to have deepened and softened, "let's do this." She gave Lizzie a kiss on the cheek, turned, and with a strong straight arm, pushed in through the doors into the lobby beyond.
Lizzie stood for a moment, unsure what had happened, then set off to find a shop to sell her a 'Congratulations on your New Job' card.