Inspired by a student who posts his sci-fi stories online, I decided to post the messy first draft of a story I started while visiting my mum in the U.K.. I’ve been thinking about the topic of “can you ever really go home again?” for some time, and finally decided to get a story down on paper.
This opening scene still needs a lot of work. You’ll see several uses of “TK”, which is a placeholder I use for missing information, so I can keep writing and not get bogged down in details and research. This draft is messy and spotty, but I’d love to know what think. Do you want to know more about Harry? What kind of story do you think this might turn out to be? Does it feel like my other stories or does it feel different?
Harriet “Harry” Belmont was half way across the Atlantic when she realized her remarkable life was, in fact, one great big giant cock-up. As the flight attendant handed her a third glass of champagne (or was it the fourth?) and she replayed her “Deep Sleep in 20 Minutes” meditation app, also for the third time (or was it the fourth?), an image flashed in her mind. A deck of playing cards built into an elaborate pyramid, the queen of hearts pulled out and the whole thing tumbling down.
Oh stop being so dramatic, Harry, she told herself. But actually, it was true.
It had started with the job, the 3 p.m. summons to Human Resources. Harry had seen enough people shuffling through the glass lobby of TK on a Friday afternoon, their careers packed into one single cardboard box, to know what this meant. She eyed her rubber plant, the photo of TK, her cat, and the mug she’d bought from her last weekend at the coast, and knew they’d be boxed up within the hour.
“Reorg,” is what she’d expected Marianna, the HR Director to say. Or “contract renegotiations”, something buzzy and non-specific. But that’s not what she said.
“Unfortunately,” said Marianna, doing everything in her power to keep her eyes locked on Harry’s file, “we’ve had a complaint.”
“Yes. It was brought to us by another employ-ee.”
Harry hated the way Marianna pronounced employee, dragging out the last syllable as if she were deflating at the addition of persons in employment.
Harry ran through the details of her current project. Deliverables had been delivered, problems solved. TKs TK’d. All on schedule and under budget. She’d delivered every project she’d been contracted to do for the past five years the same way, which is why her contracts were always renewed.
“May I ask the nature of the complaint?” Harry asked, fighting to maintain control of her voice.
“The employ-ee in question reported an inter-employ-ee relationship that this person felt was inappropriate.”
Harry flinched. Tom. They’d both known their relationship would be frowned upon if they were ever found out, so they’d been careful to be discrete. They were never more than civil to one another at work, never went for drinks alone and never sat together if they went as a group. Most of their relationship had been conducted behind closed doors, at Harry’s apartment in the Marina, or at small, romantic B&Bs along the California coast. Harry allowed herself a smile at the memory of their latest escape, two nights in a cottage overlooking the rugged Mendocino coastline, a breakfast of homemade coffee cakes and savories delivered to their door each morning. And the long languid mornings making love in the high four-poster bed, Harry gripping the bed posts, her skin pressed into crisp white sheets, and Tom transporting her from a fluffy cloud of bedding to a fluffy cloud of nirvana.
But they’d been discrete, hadn’t they? They’d gone for walks in remote spots, kept their jaunts around town to a minimum, and always entered restaurants separately, scoping the tables for familiar faces. They knew the consequences of being seen together, and she was absolutely certain they hadn’t been.
Harry pursed her lips, the vision of Tom’s naked body vanishing in a puff. “This employ-ee, does he—or she (Harry was certain the tattletale was a she)—have evidence of said alleged relationship?”
Marianna straightened. “She, or he, felt strongly that such a relationship was taking place and that, if such a relationship were to happen, it might jeopardize the team and the project. You understand of course that we must take this kind of issue very seriously.”
Harry understood perfectly well. Someone had gotten wind of her relationship with Tom, someone was jealous, and had reported her to HR. It wouldn’t do to allow a relationship between a senior executive and an underling, so one of them had to go. And of course, that someone had was Harry.
“Good morning from the flight deck.” The captain’s voice came over the PA system. “We hope you had a pleasant night’s sleep.”
Harry stretched her neck, feeling a knot at her shoulder. She wasn’t sure if it was a flight-related crick or stress.
“We’ll be starting our decent into Manchester shortly. The weather on the ground is partly cloudy with a slight chance of afternoon drizzle.”
Harry peered through the tiny square of window at the landscape below. The vast ocean butted up against the crenelated coastline of the British Isles and gave way to a swath of green—rolling hills and patchwork fields, dotted with tiny villages.
Beside her, her seat mate yawned and peeled back a black sleep mask, rubbing under his eyes as if he’d just woken from the deepest sleep. “Good to be home,” he said.
“Mm,” said Harry.
“Is this home for you?”
“Sort of,” Harry said. “I’m from here originally, but I live in San Francisco now.”
“Lucky you,” he said. “Still, there’s no place like home, is there?”
Harry smiled, but she wasn’t entirely sure she agreed. “Home” was complicated these days. She lived in the city and that had been home for over a decade now. And yet, whenever she took a trip to visit her mother in Hope, the village where she’d grown up, she always told people she was going home. But Hope had not been home to Harry for a long time. She’d left at eighteen to go away to university and she hadn’t been back for more than a visit since. Nor did she ever plan to. Some people say you can’t go home again, and Harry firmly believed that was true. As soon as this trip was over, Harry would go home, to her real home, back to San Francisco, where she belonged.
“No,” Harry said. “There’s no place like home.”