A woman steps out of her life and into the unknown. Written for Quotation Inspiration.
|Word count 2000
Emily Harris, in times past would have been classed as an ‘Old Maid,’ a derogatory term meaning a woman unlikely to marry. In her case, probably true as still a virgin at the age of forty-nine, she’d accepted as unlikely she’d be swept off her feet by a ‘knight in shining armour.’
It wasn’t as if she was unattractive; she simply didn’t care to spend time or money improving her looks. Her long hair, she kept captured in a tight bun, not a single hair escaped to soften the severe look. Her figure may have been voluptuous, but the bulky, woollen cardigans and long, skirts she wore, camouflaged any potential assets under her modest clothing.
However, she wasn’t unhappy with her life. Reading fulfilled her and the secondhand book shop she’d owned for over twenty years, gave her daily opportunities to pursue the pleasure.
Emily’s life took an unexpected turn when one of her regular customers shared a tantalizing piece of gossip from the local Facebook chat group. Emily was surprised, not by the gossip, in which she’d never indulged, but by the customer’s incredulous reaction to Emily’s lack of interest of social media and all its many platforms.
Emily had always imagined she could find everything she needed to know through her books, only resorting to using her smartphone for business and a few personal calls. But her curiosity had been piqued, and that moment marked a significant shift in her world. Emily thought herself as well informed, someone who kept abreast of world events and local issues, and when she’d discovered there was a local online chat group of which she’d been ignorant, it had unsettled her.
During the summer season, Ballyhaven was a bustling, Irish tourist town, and Emily’s bookshop did a brisk trade each day of the week, as visitors enjoyed the opportunity to read while they relaxed in the pretty coasal town. But during the winter months, the prevailing winds from the Atlantic Ocean meant only the locals would visit the ‘Second Chapter Book Store,’ during the three days on which Emily opened for business.
As the hours of winter’s daylight shortened, she found herself at a loss during the long evenings, her books no longer satisfied her. Emily decided it was time for an upgrade from the old computer in her office, used purely for invoices, and purchased her first ever laptop.
With trepidation Emily entered into the unknown, and discovered a whole new world of social media. For once in her life her books stood undisturbed, neatly arranged on the shelves which covered every wall in her cottage on Main Street.
When she checked out the App Store, the number of apps available astonished her, but her first mission was to find the Ballyhaven chat group on Facebook.
There’d been no way she wished her identity to be known publicly when she made her first tentative comments on the posts, so Emily fabricated a new one, and became the person she’d secretly wished she could have been throughout her steady, predictable, and yes, she’d admitted, boring life. She became someone who’d travelled the world extensively and not purely through the medium of her many travel books.
If anyone logged onto her Facebook page, they would have read her profile as:
Ms Jessica Spencer. Freelance Graphic Designer. Location: London. Relationship Status:Single.
Before long she had discovered chat rooms and joined in long, deep conversations late into the night, discussing travel, literature, poetry and the latest best sellers. She interacted with people from all over the world, discovered groups specific to her interests and chatted with people as intellectually removed from the closed-minded community of Ballyhaven as was possible. Emily found she enjoyed the interaction with her online 'friends,’ and wondered however she’d existed before this new and exciting pastime. Emily Harris became enthralled with her new persona, Jessica.
The changes in her appearance were imperceptible in the beginning. For the first time in her life, she had purchased a lipstick from the local chemist. It had been, Shell Pink, nothing garish, but even that hint of colour and gloss brightened her usual pale face.
One evening, as she readied herself for bed instead of giving herself little more than a cursory glance in the bathroom cabinet to check her teeth, she stepped naked in front of the full-length mirror in her bedroom. She saw a woman with flawless skin, a figure most women of her age would envy, and long, lustrous hair which fell over white shoulders which had never been exposed to the harsh rays of the sun.
The next day Emily took the bus into the city and visited the cosmetic counter in the large department store and for over two hours perused, tested, and sniffed, face creams, potions, lotions and perfumes, all under the guidance of a young, pretty assistant, who’d delighted in transforming her customer.
“You’ve amazing skin, Madame. What have you used previously?”
“Oh, just soap and water. I’ve never bothered before with cosmetic products. Though I’ve always kept out of the sun.” Emily couldn't help but give a wry smile when the junior assistant’s eyes, heavy with thick, false, black eyelashes, opened wide with astonishment, before she figuratively rolled up her sleeves and prepared for her biggest ever challenge.
She began to demonstrate makeup techniques, which would highlight Emily’s best features, and eventually made a sale she knew would boost Friday’s pay packet.
Emily’s next stop was to the hairstylist for a colour and much needed cut. She exited the salon several hours later, her thick hair tinted a rich mahogany, highlighted with hints of gold and no signs of silver threads.
Before returning to Ballyhaven, Emily purchased a wardrobe of new outfits, again under the helpful guidance of a chic, boutique manager, who on seeing her customer’s white, utilitarian, cotton underwear suggested, “Perhaps, Madame would consider trying on some more, er, alluring undergarments?”
Emily considered she’d nothing to lose but stressed that she wished to appear fashionable but understated. She wanted clothes which showed her figure without her appearing to be “mutton dressed as lamb.” Those words, direct from Emily’s dead mother, played in her ear, but for once she ignored them.
The last port of call before returning home was to a photographer’s studio for a ‘Glamour shoot.’ She’d realised she would require a photograph to use as her profile picture when she downloaded the Tinder dating app.
Emily had become almost unrecognisable, even to herself, and of course to others in the village who’d gossiped about her amongst themselves, but wouldn’t have dared approach her with the questions to which they desperately wanted answers.
She’d always been known as ‘Miss Emily from the bookshop,’ but that tag no longer seemed to suit this rather chic lady in their midst.
A few months went by, and Jessica, had been on a few dates through Tinder, but had been disappointed with the calibre of the men she’d met, who, as far as she could discover through gentle interrogation, were either seeking a nurse, a purse or simply a good lay with no strings attached. She certainly wasn’t after propping up some man’s finances, or being someone’s carer, or even a casual sexual partner. That latter discovery had surprised her when she’d realised it wasn’t sex she craved, but rather an adventure. She sought someone she could relate to on an intellectual level but also someone who would take risks. What sort of risks she wasn’t yet certain, but when the right person, male or even female, came along, she’d just know.
She changed her requirements of what she was seeking in a partner on the app. It now read: I’m looking for a companion who will fulfil my desire for excitement. I want someone who will make me feel as if we’re both living on the edge. Are you the one who’ll take me there?
One evening, a few weeks later, after accepting yet another Tinder invitation, Emily took an Uber to the address her date had given. She’d found herself being dropped off on an unfamiliar road, in a poorly lit industrial estate. The details of the man she was to meet had been shrouded in secrecy; the location hadn’t been revealed until the last moment. These stipulations, instead of scaring her off had intrigued her. The mysterious man, only known to her as Alistair, was clad in the shadows waiting to meet Jessica. He handed her a small package and whispered in her ear. “This is your invitation to a life less ordinary.”
Thrilled, but also terrified, she opened the package and found an invitation to a Masked Ball wrapped around a beautifully embroidered black mask.
Emily laughed shakily, relieved she wasn’t about to be raped or murdered, and secretly vowed to be more cautious in the future.
She then allowed herself to look at the face of her mysterious date under the streetlight; a handsome face, but with lines etched by a life lived to the full.
“It’s fortunate I wore my black dress and high heels, isn’t it?” She said calmly, despite the rapid beating of her heart.
Alistair introduced himself properly as they drove to the party. The expensive car smelled like new leather. Emily thought he smelled even better; a mixture of familiar spices she couldn’t quite put her finger on. He described himself as an international investor, which seemed a little vague, however she would let the evening play out before coming to any conclusions about her unusual date.
The party, held in a magnificent ballroom in the city, was a fund-raising event. Alistair slipped on a black mask which covered his eyes, leaving the rest of his rugged face exposed.
Emily had never before seen such a spectacle; so many beautiful people, so much elegance, opulence and obvious wealth. Alistair introduced her, as Jessica, to people he knew. He seemed comfortable, secure in his own skin and the surroundings.
Finally, he introduced her to a much older man, whom, it seemed, was involved with Alistair in a business deal.
“James, let me introduce you to my friend, Jessica.”
James’ eyes lit up and roamed over her body. “I’m honoured, my dear, let me get you a drink.” With a raise of a little finger, he summoned a roving waiter and handed her a glass of champagne.
Alistair seemed keen to keep Emily and James locked in conversation, leaving them alone while he excused himself to chat with others he knew.
Later, back at his luxurious apartment, Alistair revealed more about himself, admitting although he lived life on the edge, it was also on the edge of illegality. He also admitted he’d been searching for someone like her to join him there.
“I figure rich people always believe what they’re told if it means they’ll make even more money.” He waited to see Emily’s reaction. When she didn’t speak, he continued. “Greedy people are less suspicious when an attractive woman is involved in a scam. They relax, drop their guard.”
Emily wondered if she should simply leave now before he told her anything else and yet she found herself intrigued.
It appeared James, from the party, was the latest in a long line of greedy victims, he just didn’t know it yet. But eventually Alistair would relieve him of all his money.
He’d known on first appearances Emily was convincing enough to assist him in trapping those seeking ‘a better return on their money.’
It took a little longer for him to discover the extent of all her desires.
It was strange, Emily sometimes reflected, how she’d never felt sorry for the victims of their financial swindles. She adored Alistair and didn’t miss her boring, predictable life in the little Irish village at all.
Snuggling up to Alistair, his lips caressing her neck, she whispered.
“I’ve strayed so far from normal now, I’ll never find my way back.
And the truth is, I no longer want to.”