A Day in the Life

by EA Week [Reviews - 4]

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  • Teen
  • Swearing
  • Character Study, General, Missing Scene

Author's Notes:
I wrote this fic at the end of season three as a warm-up exercise for my next multi-chapter fic.

Title: A Day in the Life

Author: E.A. Week

E-mail: eaweek@hotmail.com; on LiveJournal as eaweek.

Summary: On her last day working in the shop, Rose assists four intriguing women.

Category: Doctor Who.

Feedback: Letters of comment are always welcome! Loved it? Hated it? Send me an email and let me know why!

Disclaimer: Copyrights to all characters in this story belong to their respective creators, production companies, and studios. I'm just borrowing them, honest!  The story title is shamelessly stolen from the Beatles.

Story Rating:  This story is rated T for language.

 

Possible spoilers:  Through the end of season three of Doctor Who and season one of Torchwood.

 

Special thanks to Alipeeps for the feedback regarding UK English and expressions!

 

(i)

The woman stood before the three-way mirror: voluptuous, red-haired, wavering.  Rose watched her turn this way and that, twisting her head around to see how the outfit looked from the back.

“Need any help?” Rose offered.  She welcomed any opportunity to break into the hum-drum of clearing out the changing cubicles.

“Be honest.”  An order, not a request.  “Does this skirt make me look like the back end of a bus?”

“No, it’s perfect.”  Rose had learned not to use words like ‘flattering,’ which implied that the customer had imperfections to conceal.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, it’s great.  I like that color.”  The charcoal gray straight-line skirt did much to minimize the woman’s hips, creating a pleasing silhouette.  Rose ducked into a cubicle, emerging a moment later with a discarded pair of jeans and a hoodie that had been left on the floor, inside out.  When she emerged, the redhead was rooted to the same spot, still obsessing over her reflection.

Rose watched in sympathy while she folded the jeans and turned the sweatshirt right-side out.  She put the woman’s age at somewhere between thirty-five and forty–like Jackie.  Though taller than Rose’s mum by several inches, this woman had a very similar build: broad through the hips and shoulders, big breasts and a protuberant belly.  Unlike Jackie, the redhead lacked confidence in her appearance, fretting over the simple outfit.  Loud, brazen Jackie Tyler never hesitated when selecting clothes, never doubted for a moment her own sex appeal.

“What’s it for?” Rose asked, trying to be helpful.

“I’m starting a new job.”  The redhead brightened, though Rose could still see panic behind the blue eyes.  “Well, more of a temp assignment, really, but the agency said it could go into something permanent next year–”  Changing tacks, the woman blurted out, “Oh God, shoes!  I need shoes as well!”

Rose laughed, “Piece of cake.”

The redhead bolted into her cubicle, re-appearing a moment later with her hair askew, the new outfit thrown over one arm.  Rose led her across the floor, past displays of women’s clothes, to accessories.

“We’re running a great sale now.”

The redhead needed no encouragement, diving among the stands of footwear, emerging at last with a black, low-heeled court shoe.

“What do you think?  Will it do?”

“It’s perfect,” Rose said.  “Good value, and black goes with everything.”  She vanished into the stock room, finding a pair in the customer’s size, and once back outside, she watched as the redhead paced before a floor-level mirror, assessing the look and fit of the shoes.

“It’s all good from the knees down,” the woman said under her breath.  “Oh, hell!  It’s breaking my budget, but I’ll splash out for the lot.  Burning right through my first paycheck already.”

Rose encouraged, “You need nice things for the office.”

On her way to pay for the purchases, the customer paused to admire an outfit on a mannequin.  “What’s this?”

“New for summer,” Rose responded, keeping her face neutral.  For one thing, the dress wasn’t discounted; for another, she doubted that the delicate yellow linen would do the redhead’s complexion or figure any favors.  Still, she waited patiently, gazing off into middle distance while the woman sighed over the dress with covetous eyes.

“OW!”

“What’s wrong?” asked Rose.

“It bit me!” the redhead yelled, outraged.

“What?”

“It bit me!  You–you–!”  The redhead smacked the dummy so hard it almost fell off its stand.

Rose struggled with every fiber not to laugh.  “Did you catch your finger?”  She’d done that herself more than once, where the joints of the dummies’ plastic limbs came together.

“It bit me!”

Rose stared at the dummy’s blank face, then glanced down to see an angry red welt on the redhead’s right index finger.  The woman put the offended digit in her mouth and began sucking on it.

That seemed to end her interest in shopping.  Rose rang up the skirt, knitted jumper, and shoes.  The redhead handed over a Visa card with a kind of sheepish reluctance, and Rose waited for the transaction to go through, wondering if the woman had gone over her credit limit.  Well, the computer would let her know soon enough.  She studied the shopper’s hands: chewed fingernails, no rings.

“There you are,” Rose smiled, handing the receipt to the woman and watching her sign.  Rose compared signatures, finding the scrawled “Donna Noble” identical on both paper and plastic.

“Thank you, Ms. Noble,” Rose said, handing over the shopping bag.  “Good luck with your new job.”

“Thanks for your help.”  The redhead scurried off toward the escalator, still sucking her index finger.  Rose shook her head.

(ii)

“Rose!”

The voice, hissing her name in a loud stage whisper, had come from somewhere in the maze of crystal and china.  Rose wove among the aisles and glass shelves, until she found Julia, standing behind the counter, her face contorted in a mortified expression.

“What?” asked Rose, alarmed.  “Are you sick?”

“My monthly’s come on!” Julia said, panicky.  “Dunno why they call it that–more like a weekly with me!”  She squirmed.  “Can you cover here, so I can go clean up?  I might need to pop home if it’s really awful.  I’ll be an hour, maybe.”

“Yeah, we’re slow downstairs–if you see Nadine, tell her where I am.”

“You’re an angel–I owe you one!”

Julia ran for the loo, and Rose settled in behind the counter, the lights overhead humming loudly.  She wished for a laptop or a telly or even a newspaper–anything to pass the hour until lunch.

Ten endless minutes later, she heard a soft ping and the almost inaudible rumble of the lift doors opening, followed by the clicking of heels against tile.

“…cannot believe that beastly woman, leaving the lot to charity!”

“It was her money, Mummy.”

“Your father was counting on the inheritance!  And what’d she leave him?  Her own son?  A collection of stuffed birds!”

“Ornithological specimens.”

“Which are worthless!”  The two women came into Rose’s view, a mother and daughter whose clothes, accents, and bearing proclaimed that they came from no world of which Rose had ever been part.  The older woman, perhaps sixty, wore her silver-white hair in an immaculate bob that just touched the base of her neck.  Age had done nothing to diminish the beauty of her face or figure, and she swept through the rows of fine china like a medieval queen passing an assembled mass of awestruck peasants.

The younger woman followed her mother, her posture and carriage almost identical.  Her clothing conveyed a kind of effortless chic: trousers that fell with a fluid drape, precisely the right length to expose high-heeled sandals and a fresh pedicure, and a silk twinset whose apple green color was reflected in a simple pearl necklace and earrings.  Fair hair, brushed back from her face and parted on one side, fell past her shoulders.  She held in her hands a computer printout; even from a distance, Rose recognized it as a wedding list.

“And now your infernal cousin has to go and get married!” the mother fumed.

“I think the baby has a lot to do with that,” the daughter murmured.  “Here’s the pattern for her formal china.”  They paused not far from Rose, inspecting a display of Royal Doulton.  “Lichfield.”  Her shoulders slumped when she saw the prices.  “Maybe we could buy some of her everyday china.”

“Absolutely not!”  The older woman glared at her daughter, but she too cringed at the price list in the display case.  “We’ll give her two place settings and a tea service.”

“Mummy, that’s extravagant,” the daughter protested.

“Your grandmother may have humiliated us, but your cousins don’t need to know that.”

If the two women had noticed Rose, they gave no sign of it.   She watched them, bemused, thinking that if either one ever set foot in a council flat, they’d probably explode from the chaos.  Formal china?  Everyday china?  Foreign concepts to Rose: she and Jackie ate off a motley collection of mismatched dishes that had been accumulating in their kitchen for the better part of two decades.

The older woman turned around, distracted, as if she expected a sales associate to materialize out of the floor for her convenience.  “You!”  She snapped her fingers.

“Yes?” Rose responded.

The daughter interrupted, displeased at her mother’s bad manners; she managed to frown without actually moving any facial muscles.  “Could we have two place settings of the Lichfield pattern, please?  And a teapot, creamer, and sugar bowl.”

“Sure.”  Rose retreated into the stock room.  As she normally didn’t work in this department, it took her some time to locate the dinnerware and narrow her search to Royal Doulton’s “Lichfield” pattern.  For a moment she stood admiring the photo on the box, bewitched by the pale colors on the white plates.  Mindful of the time, she carefully took two boxes off the shelf, adding to them a teapot, sugar dish, and cream pitcher.  Balancing the whole stack, she somehow made it back out to the till without dropping anything or crashing into the fragile glass shelves.

The mother and daughter had moved on to a display of Waterford crystal in a mirrored case, still arguing.

“…don’t worry, Mummy.  I’ll take care of you and Daddy.”

The mother snorted.  “We needed that money for our retirement.  How do you propose to support us–and yourself?  History degrees aren’t worth much on the current market, Lucy.”

“There’s my book,” the daughter protested.

“Yes, and who reads biography these days?  No-one.”

Tossing her hair slightly over one shoulder, the daughter said, “Well, I’ll just have to find a rich husband, then.”

“Not bloody likely, when you haven’t got much to offer in return.”

“Wait and see.  I’ll find someone.”  The young woman reached back, pulling up her hair, giving her face a startling adult sophistication.  “Someone ambitious.”  She turned her head from side to side, evaluating her looks in the display case mirror with the cold-bloodedness of a buyer assessing goods on an auction block.  Rose, unnoticed by both women, joined in the scrutiny, finding no flaw in the daughter’s face or figure.  Given her understated beauty and posh self-assurance, Rose could easily imagine the young woman as the trophy wife of a millionaire.

“Stop dreaming,” the mother scolded.

But an odd light had come into the daughter’s face, high color creeping up her cheeks, a stubborn, determined look in her blue-green eyes.  Then she let her hair fall back down, turning to face her mother.  For one instant, the crystal-refracted light cast a distorted pattern on her face, as jagged as broken glass, transmuting the woman’s exquisite visage into a ghastly wreckage.  Rose’s heart clenched into a painful fist of apprehension, then quickly as the mood had come over her, it passed.

“Come on, Mummy,” the daughter said, spying Rose at the counter.  She fished into a tiny leather purse, barely large enough to hold a lipstick and a tampon, and produced a credit card.  Rose rang up the boxes of china, which came to well over £500 all together.  She checked the signature on the card against the one on the receipt, Rose Lucinda Cole.

She almost remarked on their having the same first name, but then remembered the mother had called her daughter Lucy, so the young woman must use her middle name.  Still, Rose smiled as she handed over the credit card and receipt.

“Thank you, Ms. Cole,” she said, carefully sliding the heavy boxes into shopping bags.

“Thanks for your help,” the young woman responded.  She said to her mother, “Let’s get a spot of lunch before we go to the Tate.”

(iii)

Mickey shouted with laughter when Rose told him about the redhead.

“Did she really smack the dummy?” he asked.

“Yeah, almost knocked it right over, the silly cow.”

They ate together in the warm sunshine of the square, enjoying each other’s company and the fine spring day.  Rose gossiped about the mother-daughter pair and their quest for the perfect china pattern.

“And here I always thought loads of money would solve everything, but it really doesn’t.  It just makes different problems.”

“Yeah, problems I wouldn’t mind having,” Mickey joked.

“Once, me and Mum found twenty quid in the street,” Rose remembered.  “Felt like half a million.”

“Yeah?”

“At a bus stop.  We looked around, but the only person we saw was this American bloke who said it wasn’t his.  I thought he was lying ‘cos he was sort of hiding behind a paper.  Then Mum started chatting him up, and I practically had to drag her away.”

“Your mum’d hit on anything, including a lamp post.”

“Cole,” Rose said abruptly.  “That was their name.  The mother and daughter.  The daughter had the same first name as me, Rose, but her mum called her Lucy.”

“Cole?” asked Mickey, more interested.  “Not related to the Tory git who went on ‘bout blacks last year and lost his seat in Parliament?”

“Did he really?”

“Yeah, a right scandal, all over the news.  Lord Cole of Tarminster.”

Rose didn’t follow politics; she knew the name of the current Prime Minister, but not much else.  “I could believe that woman’s his wife, then.   She snapped her fingers at me like I was dog.”

“Serves her right, losin’ all that money.”

“The daughter said she’d marry a millionaire to make up for it.”

“Fat chance,” Mickey laughed.  “She must think some rich bloke’ll drop out of the sky and land in her garden.”

They finished their lunch.  Mickey made funny faces as he ate his sandwich, sending Rose into fits of laughter.  Nearby, a radio blared, and Mickey hopped to his feet, improvising a breakdance for Rose’s amusement.  The hour wound down, and Mickey kissed her before he left for the bus stop; Rose returned to Herrick’s.

On her way through the front door, she bumped into a panicky-looking Asian woman in a white lab coat.

“Sorry,” Rose said politely.

“Do you know where I could find gifts?” the woman asked, her voice subtly accented.  Rose guessed that she’d grown up in another country but had attended uni in Britain.

“What kind of gifts?”

“Any gifts!  My supervisor is leaving today, and I completely forgot I was supposed to get him something as a farewell present… the party’s in two hours.”

“Come on–I’ll show you.”

“Do you work here?”

“Yeah,” Rose responded, turning toward the lift.  The Asian woman followed behind, her high heels clicking on the tile.  Rose took a surreptitious look at the name badge pinned to the white lab coat: ALBION HOSPITAL, it said, and beside a stamp-sized photo of the woman’s face, “Dr. Toshiko Sato.”

Once the doors of the lift closed, the woman broke into a stream of patter.  “I’ve only been working there a few weeks–I don’t know why they picked me for this!  I barely know the man.  I couldn’t tell you what he likes or what he dislikes, whether he–I don’t know, plays golf or–or drinks wine–”

“Clocks,” Rose told her.

“What?”

“Get him a nice clock with his name engraved on it.”

The woman stared at Rose.  “Is that appropriate?”

“It’s what everyone else does.  Are they helping out with it, where you work?”

“Yes, the lab staff gave me money.  I can spend up to £60.”

The bell pinged, and the doors slid open.  Rose took the customer to the “better gifts” department, often referred to by the store’s personnel as “white elephant central.”  She eyed the shelves of attractive yet impersonal objects: clocks, picture frames, vases, stationery sets, things that would probably gather dust in their recipients’ homes until they were chucked into a rubbish bin or dumped off at the nearest thrift store.

“Here.”  Rose showed the Asian woman to a shelf of elegant clocks, some with blank plates set into them.

“How much does engraving cost?”

“Five quid,” Rose told her.  “They’ll do it in jewelry.”

“Can I have it wrapped, too?”

“Yeah, giftwrapping’s down on two.”

The woman clicked down the aisle, studying the clocks, then held up the most expensive model, a gleaming thing in chrome, suitably masculine.  Rose fetched one from the stockroom and escorted the customer over to the jewelry department.

“… not even what I really want to be doing.”  The woman kept going on about her job, but she seemed to be talking more to herself than to Rose.  “I’m a lab assistant in pathology right now, but it’s more to pay the bills than anything else.  I’m glad I have a science background–this is an expensive city–but my formal training’s in systems analysis.”

“Uh-huh,” said Rose.

“But I’m not sure what I want to do.  I’m developing some linguistic software to translate multiple languages–”

Rose’s head was spinning by the time they reached the jewelry counter.

“Tim!” she called, shooting her fellow employee a save-me expression.  He sidled over with a grin and took the box into his big hands.  Rose waited while Tim engraved the name plate and packed the clock back into its box.  At a nearby till, the customer paid for the gift with a fistful of crumpled £10 and £20 notes.

“Just take it down to the second floor, show them the receipt, and they’ll wrap it for you,” said Rose.  “Turn right when you get off the lift, and it’s way down at the back.”

“Thank you so much!”  The Asian woman whirled away in a flurry of lab coat and clicking heels.

Rose checked the time, discovering she’d killed nearly forty-five minutes.  Pleased, she returned to the women’s clothing department.  She wondered about the anonymous recipient of that clock, if he would appreciate the thing and use it, or if it would collect dust on a shelf in a cupboard.  Rose was still new enough at the job to imagine stories about the people who bought the shop’s merchandise, though she knew given enough time, she’d stop caring, stop daydreaming about the secret worlds of disgraced politicians’ wives, anxious temp workers, and indecisive scientists.

(iv)

As Rose re-arranged a display of jumpers, her supervisor Nadine appeared: skinny, hair cut in a glossy pageboy, her trouser suit trim and black.  She was in a strop, her plucked eyebrows pulled together in a resentful scowl.

“There’s some bitch in dresses looking for help, but I haven’t got all flipping day to hold her hand.”

“Want me to?” Rose yawned.

“Please.  Don’t know who she thinks she is, an hour from closing.”

Rose meandered across the floor to the racks of formal dresses, where she found a young black woman about her own age.  The girl held a mobile pressed to one ear with her shoulder while she rattled hangers along the rails.

“No.  I’m trying to find something now–hold on, someone’s here.  Later, all right, Tish?  Yeah, I’m upset, too–it’s my birthday he’s ruining–look, I need to ring off.”  The girl thumbed a button on her mobile.

“All right?” Rose asked.

“I need a posh dress–haven’t worn one in donkey’s years.”  The girl’s plain black jumper and faded jeans suggested she didn’t spend much time fussing over her looks.  Her hair was drawn up in a haphazard spray at the back of her head.  Despite her expression–exasperated, fatigued, and worried–she had exquisite features, her skin flawless, perhaps a shade lighter than Mickey’s.  Had she been taller, she might have been a fashion model.

“What color d’you like?” Rose asked.

“Dunno.”  Clothes were evidently the last thing on the girl’s mind.

“You need a long skirt?” Rose prompted.

“No, nothing like that.  Just something simple–”  Her mobile chirped and the girl unfolded it, holding the device to her ear.

“Mum!  No, I’m at Herrick’s, getting a dress.”  She sighed.  “I don’t know–an hour, maybe?  I’ll come right home, I promise.  I’m getting a dress and some shoes–the heel on my other pair broke.”  A pause.  “I thought you were making the reservation!  Shit!  Mum–can you call them?  All right.  All right.  Bye.”

Rose made a sympathetic noise.  “There’s some nice ones over here.”

The girl followed her, marching straight to the discount racks.

“Those’re from winter,” Rose said.

“Don’t care.”  The girl found her size and began pushing through the dresses without really looking at them.  “If I wear it more than twice, I’ll die from shock.”

“How ‘bout that one–you just passed it.”

“This?”  The girl held up a number in jade green.  “Not really me.”  She put it back and kept looking.

Her mobile bleeped again, and Rose wondered about all the people who must be calling this poor kid.

“Hi, Leo.  No, I’m at Herrick’s, getting a dress for tonight.  Dunno why I’m bothering–nobody made reservations.  Yeah, it was supposed to be for eight.  Can’t blame Mum for completely forgetting.  What, so now I make reservations for my own birthday party?”  Waxing sarcastic, the girl snapped, “Don’t other people usually do that for you?  Unless of course, you’re name’s currently Martha, in which case you do everything for everyone else–”

A longer pause, and the girl shot angrily, “Yeah, Leo, this is a real shitty time to tell me you completely forgot.  Fine!  Don’t get me a sodding present!  Or wait ‘till Christmas and give ‘em both to me at once.  You’re just like Dad; find something pretty to shag, and your brain goes on holiday!”

The caller on the other end of the line must have said something apologetic, because the girl ran a distracted hand across her head and said in a conciliatory tone, “Leo, the whole day’s gone pear-shaped–the heater in my flat’s bust, the heel on my only smart shoes snapped off, I’ve got two major exams next week I haven’t even started cramming for, and now Dad’s got himself a slapper and Mum’s gutted!  I can’t always be there to pick up the pieces!  Why don’t you and Tish take up some slack?”  A brief pause.  “All right.  Later.”

The girl turned to Rose.  “Sorry,” she apologized.  “You’ve just come in on the family melodrama.”

“It’s all right.”  A lifetime in council flats had inured Rose to domestic strife.  She pulled a dress off the rail.  “How ‘bout this?”

Taking a closer look, the girl nodded.  “Yeah, it’s good.”  She held the frock up to herself.  “Can I try it on?”

“In there.”  Rose pointed to the changing room entrance.

“Thanks.”

The girl vanished into the changing cubicles, and Rose circled around the rack of dresses, sorting some back into the correct size slots, pulling off others entirely.  She stared at a pair of vast men’s trousers, muttering, “How’d you get over here?”  Fifteen minutes later, she realized the customer still hadn’t emerged, and she trotted into the changing room.

The black girl sat on a chair by the three-way mirror, the purple dress a humorous contrast with the white athletic socks on her feet, talking into her mobile once again.

“… don’t expect me to be chuffed, Dad.  I know you’re crazy about Annalise, and maybe you can’t help that, but Mum’s falling apart.”

She listened, then said, “Yeah, I know it doesn’t always work out, but can’t you at least see it from her perspective?  This is just killing her.”  The girl glanced up and saw Rose standing there.  “Someone’s here–I need to finish up.  Yeah.  Yeah, that’ll be all right–I’ll go out with Mum and Tish and Leo tonight, then I’ll have lunch with you and Annalise tomorrow.  Right.  Love you.  Bye.”

She switched off the phone and threw it into the changing cubicle.  “That fucking tosser!”  She dropped her head into her hands and began sobbing.

“Oh, my God!”  Rose hurried to her side.  “What’s wrong?”

“My father–he’s shagging this bint–this blonde gold-digger–“  She looked up, gasping slightly.  “Not that all blondes are like that,” she amended quickly.

Rose smiled, lifting a strand of her hair.  “Peroxide.  It’s not real.”

“Neither is hers.”  The girl laughed and wiped her face, trying to catch her breath.  “Sorry–I know you’re not getting paid to be my analyst.”

“It’s more interesting than anything else I’d be doing right now.  Don’t worry.”

“It’s just–Mum’s completely devastated.  You know they always say the other party’s the last to know?  Well, that’s her.  Dad’s been seeing this bitch for a year, and Mum didn’t have a clue.”

“I’m sorry, that’s terrible.”

The girl fished into her purse for a tissue and blew her nose.  “Today’s my birthday.  We’re supposed to be having dinner at a restaurant tonight, and Mum completely forgot to make the reservation.  Some party it’s gonna be, just the four of us sitting around moping.”

“That’s too bad.”  Casting about for a less painful topic, Rose asked, “Are you at uni?”

“Yeah.  Medicine,” the girl responded.

“Seriously?  You’re gonna be a doctor?”

“Some day,” laughed the girl.  “I’ve got a ways to go–just finishing my third year now.”

“How long does it take?”

“Probably ‘till I’m thirty,” the girl answered.  “Depends what I specialize in.”

“Do you know yet?”

“Still working on that one.”

Smiling, Rose said, “So the dress fits?”

“Looks like it.”  The girl stood, inspecting her reflection in the three-way mirror.  The deep v-shaped neckline added length to her torso, the gathered bodice flattered her figure, and the full skirt fell down past her knees, creating a pretty silhouette.  Although the dark shade of purple had been a featured color for winter, the sleeveless bodice would make the dress a good choice for a warm evening.  A cumberbund in a lighter shade accentuated the girl’s waist.

“Can’t argue with the price,” she said with a quick glance at the tag.  She spun around, and the gauzy fabric swirled out in a fetching circle.  “I need a strapless bra.”

“Yeah, we got plenty of those.”

“I need shoes.”

“Got those as well.  I saw some that’ll go with that color,” Rose told her.

“Great, can you show me?”

“Yeah, no problem.”

The girl nipped into the cubicle and emerged moments later, back in her street clothes.  Rose admired the alacrity with which she’d selected the dress: no agonizing, no fussing, no modeling garment after garment.  She’d seen what she liked, tried it on, and made her decision.

On their way over to shoes, the girl asked Rose, “So you work here?  It’s your job?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re not at uni or anything?”

“No, I left school.”

“Really, why?”

Surprised that a customer would take any interest in her life, Rose admitted, “There was this guy.”

“Ohhh!” the young woman laughed.  “So, it was like that?”

“Yeah.”  Rose stared at the floor as they walked.  “Didn’t work out so great.  Thought I loved him and everything, but…”

“But what?”

“He got caught filching from the till where he worked.  He’s in jail now.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, the ass.  I moved back in with my mum.”

“Why didn’t you go back to school?”

“Dunno,” Rose shrugged.  “Guess I felt kind of embarrassed–I’d be a year older, and everyone knew what’d happened.”

“So?” the girl said.  “You do any A-levels?”

“No.”

“So, go back for a year, sit your A-levels, and apply to uni.”

“You make it sound easy.”

“What else are you gonna do, work here forever?  I mean, there’s nothing wrong with Herrick’s, but trust me when I say there’s kids thick as planks who’ve made it through uni.”  She took a better look at Rose, shrewdly assessing her probable intelligence; the scrutiny made Rose uncomfortable.  “You could do it.  I can tell.”

“Yeah, maybe.”  Rose was glad when they reached shoes.  On the discount rack she found a pair of sensible, round-toed shoes with a good heel and a strap across the arch, the color almost the exact same purple as the dress.  The customer decided these were perfect, and Rose fetched a pair from the stockroom.

While she paced before the mirror, the girl asked Rose, “You got any brothers or sisters?”

“No, just me and Mum.”

“Lucky you.  I’m a walking cliché of middle child syndrome.”

“Really?”

“Older sister, younger brother.”  The girl wiggled her feet in the shoes.  “They’re comfortable.  I won’t wear anything I can’t move fast in.  Your dad walked out on your mum, did he?”

“No, he’s dead.”

“Oh, God.”  The girl stared at Rose.  “I’m sorry.  Dropped a right clanger there, didn’t I?”

Laughing, Rose said, “It’s all right.  I was a baby when he died.  I don’t even remember him.”

“What happened?  Was he sick?”

“Car got him.  Hit and run.  They never found the driver.”

“God.  That’s horrible.  And your mum never remarried?”

“No.”  Rose neglected to say, But she’s shagging her way through half of London.

The girl slipped off the shoes and returned them to her box.  “Bra time,” she announced.

“Lingerie’s over here.”

They spent a giggly twenty minutes comparing different kinds of bras, with the girl nipping into and out of the changing cubicles to see which one worked best under the bodice of her dress.  Rose talked her into a gel-filled push-up model that created killer cleavage.  The girl pranced around the changing area, jumping up and down to watch her breasts bounce, sending Rose into gales of laughter.

“You seeing anyone?” Rose asked idly while the girl changed back into her own clothes.

“Not right now.  Had one a year back, but nobody since.  What about you?”

“Yeah, I’m dating this bloke on the estate.  Mickey.  He’s a mechanic.”

“You think it’ll work out with him?” the girl asked through the cubicle door.

“What, like getting married?”

“Yeah.”

For some reason, Rose found it easier to be honest without looking the other girl in the face.  “Dunno,” she admitted.  She liked Mickey, she enjoyed his company, they always had a lark together.  Certainly she enjoyed shagging him.  But marriage?  Rose found that difficult to envision.  But then, most of the future always seemed such a haze in her mind.  “Maybe.”

“How old’re you?”  The girl emerged from the cubicle, dress and bra slung over one arm, shoebox clutched under the other.

“Nineteen.”

“I remember nineteen,” the girl smiled.

“You can’t be that much older than me,” Rose laughed.

“Just twenty-two today.”

Rose couldn’t imagine twenty-two.  For that matter, she could barely imagine twenty.

She took the girl to the nearest till so she could pay for the clothes.

“What’s your name?” the girl asked.

“Rose.  Rose Tyler.”

Handing over a credit card, the girl said, “Martha Jones.”

Rose completed the transaction, wondering at the back of her mind why she felt such an affinity for this girl.  Maybe because for all their differences in race, class, education, and aspirations, they were both still young, both still searching for answers.

Rose handed over the card and the receipt.  She put the shoes and bra into a bag, then deftly swathed the dress in a clear plastic wrapper.

“Oh, my God!” Martha blurted.

“What?”

“Over there–did that dummy just move?”

Rose turned and looked.  “Which one?”

“The one in the yellow dress.”

Rose studied the mannequin, the same one that the red-haired customer claimed had bitten her.

“No,” she laughed.

“So it’s not, you know, animatronic or anything?”

“No, nothing like that.”

Martha rubbed her forehead.  “I must need glasses.  I’ve had my head in my books so long, it’s killing my eyes.”

“Yeah.”  Rose handed over the dress and the bag.  “You wanna hang out sometime?” she asked.

Martha’s mobile chirped, and she fished it out of her pocket.  “Hello?”  In a surprised voice she exclaimed, “Addie?  It’s been ages!”  Her face fell a little as she listened, then she said, “Bad news travels fast.  Who told you?”  She sighed.  “That little prat.  He’s trying to make me feel better ‘cos he forgot to get me a present.  Sorry he bugged you.”  A pause.  “Yeah.  Yeah, I’d love to sometime.  What’re you doing these days?”  Another pause.  “Canary Wharf?  What d’you do there?”  She barked a loud, honking laugh.  “You could tell me but you’d have to kill me?  What sort of job is that?”

After a few moments, she said, “I need to get back home, but I’ll ring you again tomorrow, yeah?  All right, bye.”

Pocketing the phone, Martha turned to Rose.  “I can’t believe it!  It’s my cousin Adeola.  We haven’t talked since we were kids–we used to look so much alike people thought we were twins.”

“Fancy that.”  Rose forced a tight smile.

“I need to shift,” Martha said.  “Cheers, then!”

Rose watched her go, feeling a stab of regret, but she shrugged it off.  The help didn’t usually fraternize with the customers; it was an odd unwritten rule that probably dated back to the Victorian age.

“Oi!  Rose!”  Nadine emerged, still in a strop, waving.  Rose locked up the till and hurried over to see what her supervisor wanted.

*****

The end of the day arrived as predictably as usual.  In her mind, Rose was already on her way home, riding the bus, having dinner and tea with Jackie, talking about the day, then maybe a chat with Mickey by phone from the privacy of her bedroom.  She thought of her room: cluttered, decorated in wild pinks and reds, the same narrow bed she’d slept in since childhood.  Except for the few months she’d cohabitated with Jimmy Stone, the flat was the only place she’d ever lived.

She tried to envision a life beyond this comfortable if unremarkable routine.  What would change if she did as Martha Jones suggested?  If she did her A-levels and attended uni, would her life be like that of the Asian scientist, torn between various career options?  Or more like the redhead, shifting from one temp assignment to the next, desperately fending off impending middle age?  Or like the posh blonde, publishing books nobody read and casting about for a wealthy husband?  Or like Martha herself, cracking under the twin pressures of schoolwork and needy, irksome family members?

She tried to think how Jackie would react if Rose suddenly announced academic ambitions.  And what would Mickey think?  That she was rejecting him, looking for someone or something better?  For that matter, would Jackie respond in much the same fashion?

These thoughts swirled around in her mind as she grabbed her bag from her employee’s locker and hurried for the entrance on the main level.  Two of the other shop girls came with her, both happy to have the day over with, complaining about their tired feet, making plans for the weekend.

“Oi!”  A security guard waved a large plastic bag at the three girls: the day’s lottery money.  One of the staff usually brought it down to Wilson, the chief electrician.  The other two girls glanced at Rose; it hadn’t been her turn for a while.

With a sigh, she grabbed the bag of lottery money and headed for the lift.

The End