A folder thick with dog-eared paper dropped on her desk, right in front of her nose, on the form she was filling out, knocking her pen out of the way and leaving trail of ink down the previously immaculate paper. “Oi! Watch it!”
The boss had already turned to leave and called over his shoulder, “Take that down to electronics and make them sort it out. I need it finished now!”
She jerked her head in the direction of the man at the desk to her right. “Make Jim do it. I’m busy here! You wanted these orders filled out ‘now,’ too!”
The boss whirled back to face her. “You’re the only one the boys on the floor will listen to, Donna, and you know it. Just get out there. Give the orders to Jim.” He rolled his eyes and disappeared into his office.
Sighing, Donna extracted the forms from under the folder and pushed them at Jim. “Have fun with that.” Flipping her red hair back over her shoulder, she grabbed the folder and her clipboard, and headed out to the floor.
She’d only been working at Henrik’s for about a year, but she’d carved a Donna-sized niche in the managerial department, making sure that the office couldn’t hum along without her. The Best Temp in Chiswick already knew all of the forms and processes, all of the managerial politics, and all of the store’s gossip and dirt, and there was no one better at manipulating it all while appearing to be just an office worker. She had been hired as a temp, but the job turned full-time after only three months when her boss, another sharp cookie, had spotted her potential. A steady income was definitely welcome: while she had won that lottery (from a ticket given to her as a wedding present - that still floored her) and had enough money to buy a house for her and Shaun, it wasn’t going to last more than another couple of years. And anyway, it was good to keep busy.
Striding through the store in her dark blue pantsuit, she watched the shop girls helping customers and stocking racks. That one there, Mary, she knew was not a great saleswoman, but she had her uses: she would probably forever be on the bottom of her team’s rankings in sales, but her cheerful and helpful demeanor kept customers coming back, even if she didn’t directly increase their purchases. The one on the register next to her, though, Olivia, now she was toxic, sabotaging her teammates’ efficiency so that she’d come out on top in the sales charts. Donna made a mental note to do something about that.
Down the escalators to the bottom floor, then off to the right, the electronics department was staffed with genius nerds selling computers and video games, mostly, it seemed, to children dragging their bored parents around. The staff here knew everything about anything techie, but they were the worst at bookkeeping.
“Oi, Ray!” Donna called out to the manager on duty.
The dark-haired young man leaning idle against the counter grimaced. Looking anywhere but at her, he replied, “Busy helping a customer!” and started rifling through papers under the register.
“Shut it. We need these sorted right, right now. Then you can log the sales for yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.” She shoved the folder into his reluctant hands.
“C’mon, Donna! Can’t you do these for me? You’re brilliant at it.” He tried to flash a flattering smile at her, but it came out as desperate.
She crossed her arms. “Hardly. Dig your own grave, nerd-boy. Go on, get to it. I don’t have all day.” As Ray opened the folder, groaning, she shifted her weight to the other leg and cocked her hands on her hips. “Oh, I know! Why don’t you sort them as they come in, and then you don’t have to do them later?” Shaking her head, she wandered off to wait for him to finish.
The department wasn’t too busy at the moment. A pair of pre-teen children were pointing excitedly at a laptop, while the adult with them - she looked too young to be their mother - peered at it with a confused expression. Donna completely understood the sentiment. While she worked with computers a lot in her line of work, she wouldn’t know the first thing about how to buy one. The corner of her mouth twitched in a smile of sympathy.
One thing about the electronics department: the nerds liked keeping it clean and orderly, so that all their little gadgets and doodads looked enticing. Donna supposed that it helped that, unlike the clothing departments, there was nothing here that needed folding; everything was in neat boxes, easily stacked and straightened. While she waited, she wandered the aisles, making notes about the organization and how things might better be presented to the customers.
“Um, excuse me, a little help, please?”
Donna looked up into the face of the young woman who had been confused by the two children a few minutes ago. She had large round eyes set into a wide, cute face, and long dark hair, and wore a bright red blouse and short black skirt over black tights. “Oh, sorry. I don’t work in this department.”
“Oh, well, I’m sure you can help me, though.” She had a light, pleasing Northern accent.
Donna shook her head. “I really don’t know anything about these computers and things. Maybe one them over there...” She pointed with her clipboard.
“Oh, no. To be honest, they kind of scare me a bit. Talking about megabits and rams and wi-fis and all that.”
“Yeah, they scare me, too.” Donna laughed. “But I really can’t help you buy a computer. Don’t know the first thing.”
“Oh, I don’t want to buy one. I have this cute little one at home. I just don’t know how to work it. Can’t ask the kids, too.” The girl motioned at the two children, who were playing a demo game. “They just press a button and it works, and I’m left scratching my head.”
“Oh, I know! Don’t they just? But really, I’m no better.”
“Well, I was wondering if you knew anyone? I really need someone to help me.” The woman had the perfect face for puppy dog eyes, and they pulled at Donna. Something deep inside really wanted to help her.
With the tip of her tongue pressed to the roof of her mouth, she smiled broadly. “Tell you what.” She ripped a scrap of paper from her clipboard and scribbled something on it. She handed it to the woman. “If you have a problem, call that number.”
Biting her lip, the woman turned the slip around and peered at it. “They’ll help me?”
“‘Course. Best help line in the universe.”
Flashing a bright smile, the woman tucked the paper into a pocket, “Ok, I will. Thanks, uh… what was your name?”
“Donna. I’m Donna.”
“Nice to meet you, Donna. Thanks!”
Donna watched the girl trot off to join the two kids at the game machine. She felt good, delighting in assisting people whom she had the power to help. She turned back towards the electronics counter to see if Ray had finished the sorting, the help line number already fading from her memory.
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
Tuesdays were always the worst day of the week. Most people hated Mondays because they were back at work or school and faced with a full week of drudgery. For Clara, Tuesdays were much worse, because it was the day before she might get a call from the Doctor. She loved her new job at Coal Hill School, but on Tuesdays, she spent the day wishing it would simply go away faster. Once school was over, she tended to hop on her motorcycle and ride far away, just for the thrill of traveling somewhere, anywhere.
Today, she found herself in Twickenham. She had had a notion of going to visit Artie and Angie, but when she got to the turnoff, she decided to keep going. Stowing her cycle in a parking lot, she wandered down a street lined with small shops and cafes and bubbling with pedestrians. Maybe she’d look for some Christmas presents for the two kids - she was running out of time for shopping. This certainly wasn’t as exciting as traveling in the TARDIS, but it had its own charms, ones that she never experienced with the Doctor.
Clara popped into a small toy shop. Angie was of the age at which she’d reject anything that appeared “childish,” but Artie would appreciate a Nerf gun or a Lego set. She’d probably spend the rest of the afternoon looking for something for Angie. Immediately upon entering the shop, her ears were assaulted by a loud argument between a red-haired woman at the counter and the shop girl.
“If your ad hadn’t said 40% off all dolls, I wouldn’t be here, dumbo!” yelled the woman as she leaned over the counter, waving a plastic package, her face inches from the girl’s, who started to back up.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but that’s an action figure, not a doll. It doesn’t count.” The shop girl looked like she wanted to melt into the floor.
“It’s a little man, isn’t it? It’s got movable arms and legs, don’t it? It’s even got two different spaceship uniforms you can dress it up in, don’t it? How is it not a doll?”
The girl cringed, almost in tears. “It’s an action figure, ma’am. My manager says the sale doesn’t apply. He’ll be back in an hour if you want to talk to him about it.”
The woman slammed the package down on the counter. “You bet I’ll be back in an hour! Wasting my time with this bloody nonsense.” When she spun towards the door, Clara recognized her.
“Donna! It’s Donna, isn’t it?”
The red-haired woman grunted, “What?” then stopped and smiled sheepishly. “Oh, I’m sorry. I just had a… I shouldn’t be like that. Hi. I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“Yes! I mean, sort of. I’m Clara.” She extended a hand in greeting, which Donna shook. “We met at Henrik’s, oh, months ago now.” Donna stared at her. “In the electronics department.” Donna continued to stare at her. “I asked you for computer help. You had a clipboard.”
“Oh. I kinda remember.” Donna frowned. “Wait, you had two kids with you, right?”
“Right, that’s me!” Clara bobbed and shifted her weight to her other leg.
“Well, pleasure to meet you, uh, Clara.” Donna was very polite.
“I just wanted to thank you, for what you did.”
Donna straightened up, confused. “What did I do?”
“The phone number you gave me?” Donna once again stared at Clara. “For the help line? The best in the universe?”
“I did?” She rubbed the back of her neck with one hand.
Clara could tell that Donna didn’t know what she was talking about. “You did. You wrote it down on your clipboard and gave it to me. And you were right, it was the best.”
Bemused, Donna bit her lip and smiled at the same time. “Um, wonderful. I’m glad I could help.”
Clara decided to pry a bit more. “I was just wondering, how did you get that number?”
The red-haired woman clearly started to make things up to cover her confusion. “Oh, connections. Always making connections. That’s the only way to get ahead. I’m the best temp in Chiswick, you know. Well, not a temp anymore, but still, I can find anything you need. But, must be off. Good meeting you.” She nodded and turned towards the door of the shop.
Clara barely heard the latter half of Donna’s rambling. A fleeting image of the Best Temp in Chiswick in the arms of a Doctor with a different face, pleading, “Don’t make me go back,” her memories torn asunder, flashed through her mind. It was barely a whisper of a dream, but Clara’s eyes filled with tears. Though she couldn’t say why, she knew that she shouldn’t say anything more to the red-haired woman. Choking back a sob, she gave a melancholy smile and replied. “Same. Take care, Donna Noble,” as the shop door closed.