Daphne slammed her clock card into the machine until she heard the metal stamp clunk. Easing it back out, she winced as she read the time, hoping that the clock above the machine was fast. 08:28. Her boss Henry didn’t do late. Or at least it wasn’t in his vocabulary, unless he was telling someone else off for being it. He’d have a field day with her today. 28 minutes. Half an hour, may as well have been half a day.
Like Daphne, Mark was invariably late but he’d get away with it because he was the boss’ son. And neither of them could explain to Henry that she should be let off because she was secretly dating said boss’ son… and had been for three years. They were surprised he’d not noticed the snatched glances in the dining hall, hands lingering when passing paperwork, the amount of times they were at the printer bank at the same time.
Late was late and that’s all there was to it.
“Women should know better,” Henry had said to her once. She’d been on time for a long time after that but every now and then she just couldn’t help it. And this morning couldn’t be helped; dead battery in alarm clock, sun late waking her up. No excuse really, but it wasn’t as if she didn’t make up for it with skipped lunches, often one of the last to leave. Not that he noticed those things, but at least she had a clear conscience.
That was until her colleague, Accounts Assistant Emma, told her about her brother leaving his job as a tour guide for a belated gap year and how Daphne would be the perfect person to fill his shoes; with her knowledge of the town and soothing, steady voice.
Torn between seeing less of Mark but being in a job she might actually enjoy, Daphne applied. 95% hoping 5% anticipating, she’d squealed as she’d received the call on her mobile a few evenings later, just as she’d been opening her front door.
Of course Henry was not best pleased. “At least when you women get yourselves up the duff there’s a chance of you coming back when you’ve had enough of the little ankle-biters. I knew there was something flighty about you, Daphne. Just up and leave at the first opportunity.”
The first opportunity had taken 15 years but that clearly didn’t count. She wondered why his lovely wife Brenda put up with him.
The mixed feelings returned when she was thrown a surprise leaving party, with a table full of gifts – not one, she noticed, from Henry.
Emma had been right. She’d needed little training; sitting in on two different routes, she soon had it licked. A good memory had certainly helped; ever since she was a child she could just look at a shopping list and remember every item, which was how she’d ended up in accounts; a head for figures. Financial statistics in the old job turned into dates and distances in the new, and she even threw in a few facts she’d already known.
As the open top bus drove past the old racecourse she’d tell her clients, mostly foreign tourists, about its history dating back to 1632. The races had then stopped, due to accidents in 1681 until the then Lord Spencer (she soon learnt to pause at the mention of him for the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ that proceeded) resumed them in 1727. A couple at the back looked particularly interested, and even stopped kissing when Gypsy Lane and Romany Pub were mentioned, before resuming their passionate embrace.
As the bus toured the town, she neglected to tell them of the seedier areas or aspects of its chequered history; one face for tourists, one for natives, although she did tell those with heartier constitutions that the racecourse, also known as Kingsley Park, had been used for public executions from 1715 until 1818.
The weeks flew by and Daphne began recognising familiar faces so she’d vary the talks she gave, feeling a bit like a stand-up comedian doing consecutive nights in one place. Regular driver Stanley was also cheerful; whistling old tunes from ‘On Top of Spaghetti’ (one of Daphne’s favourites) to, being a Cliff Richard fan, ‘Living Doll’ (to which Daphne used to mime the Young Ones’ additions) and ‘Summer Holiday’, with some of the passengers joining in when they knew the words.
One afternoon, on a particularly sunny day, the double-decker was full except for two spaces at the front of the open-top balcony. Clicking the ‘speak’ button on her cordless intercom, she asked “are they definitely coming, Stan?”
“Yes, dear. The gentleman’s checked in with me, he’ll be up there in a second. Says the lady’s just parking the car.”
Daphne stared at end of the bus until the man appeared. Another face she recognised except that instead of being a pleasant surprise, her stomach lurched. A blast from the past. The only compensation was that she’d be seeing his wife again.
Henry hadn’t noticed Daphne and it wasn’t until he took his eyes off the stairs and around the bus that his smile turned to a gasp as he spotted her. His eyes then darted from her to the stairs and back again. Daphne’s attention also turned to the stairs and wasn’t surprised, given his reaction, when it wasn’t Brenda but a 20-something brunette with a large chest and, as she walked towards Henry, an equally large bottom; a figure not out of place in a Tomb Raider computer game.
With her advert-white teeth beaming, she clearly only had eyes for Henry; contact-lens-blue eyes. Even though Daphne knew they’d checked in with Stan, she had the option, and therefore excuse, to ask for their tickets. As she approached Henry, she noticed he was still holding them. Without speaking, Daphne smiled and looked at the tickets, then Henry, whose mouth was still open.
“I think she wants the tickets darling,” the brunette said.
Saying nothing, Henry handed them over.
Daphne smiled and handed them back before saying, “thank you sir. I’m afraid that we may have to curtail our tour a little today as we work to a schedule, although I’m sure we’ll still cover all the major land…” she paused, “marks.”
At the mention of his son’s name, the colour drained from his face and he finally closed his mouth.
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