Check out the first 3 chapters of my new novel 'Beautiful Pain'
Everything began when we were sitting in the living room. My cousin Jessica was there. I thought that I was much stronger, that I could deal with everything, but deep down I was just a small scared child who couldn’t feel anything at all. Jessica was still dressed in her school uniform and her blonde hair was tied up in a ponytail. She listened to her mother with admiration. Her brown eyes were wide and took everything in. I hated those afternoons with Aunt Lucy. It was torture sitting next to my mother who kept admiring how well Jessica was doing in school.
“I think we should take Sophia to those art classes in the same college where Jessica goes next week,” said Aunt Lucy, smiling. “A famous artist from Australia is interested in Jessica’s paintings.”
I could have only hoped that mum didn’t take the hint, but it was already too late.
“Yes of course, Sophia, what do you think?”
“I am not interested in art, Mum—”
“Oh nonsense! You need to have a hobby, look at Jessica, soon she will be famous around Britain with all her wonderful paintings,” Mum cut me off dryly and I blushed.
“Oh yes, Sophia, the talent is in our family,” exclaimed Aunt Lucy, smoothing her blonde hair. I wanted to tell her that I hated art. I had my own interest but mum didn’t even want to hear about that. My cousin Jessica was the daughter that my mother always wanted. She had excellent grades, baby blonde straight hair, and she went to the most prestigious Art college in London.
“If you do well in school you could apply for a place next year. You will be able to meet all those famous artists.” Jessica beamed with an expression of utter content. She made me sick, her perfect pale complexion and designer clothes. I wanted to throw up.
“Sophia’s grades aren’t bad, but surely she can do better,” said Mum, smiling widely.
“Jessica’s always had good grades, it’s all about hard work. You should hire Mr. Nicholson for Sophia’s tutorials, her grades would go up within a few months,” Aunt Lucy advised my mother. My mother wasn’t going to let go of that idea and I knew that she was going to tell me that she’d hired Mr. Nicholson for a trial lesson. My grades were never good enough and I was fed up with being compared to my cousin, Jessica, on a daily basis. I sat digging my nails into my skin, boiling all the emotions inside me but continuing to listen, hoping to block all the negative thoughts away.
When they left I ran upstairs and locked the door to my room. Closing the curtains, I sat on my desk for a while. I felt as if I was going to blow up, there wasn’t enough air in my lungs and I was choking. My mind was spinning, anxiety rushed through my body, and I started sweating because I couldn’t release the pressure that had been building inside me for days, weeks, or maybe years. It felt as if I had been in water for minutes and I couldn’t get above the surface. I pushed my legs and arms, swimming, but the water was getting inside my nose, mouth, and into my lungs. Then I saw them; a small pair of nail scissors lying there where my mother had left them. My hand was shaking when I picked them up. My heart was beating faster and I wanted to stop drowning so I pushed my chair away and lifted my skirt. I touched my skin with the scissors and then pressed, digging the sharpness inside my flesh. I felt a piercing pain. I cut as deeply as I could and then I threw the sharp object away. The thick liquid emerged from the small wound and I was staring at it completely mesmerised and fascinated. The anxiety was long gone; it was just long, blissful peace. I smiled, not feeling anything at all. The pressure eased off and I felt better than ever before.
I was finally liberated.
Six years later
“Are you sure that you are ready for this?” asked Collette Foster, slamming the bulk of the papers on the table in front of Sophia. Her nostrils flared with annoyance and impatience. Sophia smiled and tugged her hair behind her ear. She knew that Mrs. Foster wanted to double check if she was ready to take this assignment. After all, Sophia didn’t have that much experience, and if anything went wrong Mrs. Foster’s job could be on the line.
“Of course, I have been thinking about this all year,” said Sophia, not taking her eyes off Collette, who had found this exciting contract for her.
“All right, if you’re really ready then I can’t stop you. I just want to warn you that this will be hard, challenging, but they agreed to have you as temporary Probation Service Officer,” continued Collette, watching Sophia carefully. She received a phone call this morning asking if Sophia was ready to start as soon as possible. Someone was on long term sick leave and Collette thought about Sophia straight away.
“I am aware of it, Mrs. Foster, but I like a challenge,” chuckled Sophia.
“You sound like a clever girl. They are important clients so I am expecting no problems whatsoever, but I am still willing to find you something in London if you don’t want to be away for the whole summer.”
Sophia tightened her jaw and pulled back her sleeves. Collette Foster wasn’t going to take any nonsense from her, she knew what she was talking about and Sophia couldn’t hesitate.
“I just need to get away from here. I hate London in the summer,” she marveled, but her voice was tense. Collette narrowed her eyes and pushed back her glasses.
“It’s your choice, Sophia, so I am not going to dwell on this anymore. When you arrive in Belfast you have to report to Susan O’Brien at the Probation Board for Northern Ireland. All the details are in this envelope,” explained Collette and patted her brown hair. “Any problems just call me. You know what is acceptable and what isn’t, so just make sure you are careful.”
“I know, Mrs. Foster, but I am really looking forward to this, it’s a great opportunity,” replied Sophia, firmly taking the envelope as she stood up.
Collette was a short thin woman in her mid-forties. She was one of the Recruitment Consultants who took care of positions within the Probation Service, and when Sophia first came to her she was reluctant to work with her. Collette knew that Sophia worked as a temporary Probation Service Officer last year, it was only two days a week for a few months mainly to gain relevant experience, but she wanted to give her a chance. Moreover, Sophia had just done her second year of Psychology and Criminology and she was doing her Diploma in Probation Practice. Her CV needed a little work, but in the end she sent it to a few prospective employers. After many weeks of silence she was going to tell Sophia that she should look for a work placement as no one had responded. When she was just about to call a new candidate, she received a phone call from Belfast. The Probation Board for Northern Ireland liked Sophia’s CV and they wanted her to start straight away. They had been looking for someone for a while and a three month contract during summer holidays was ideal. Sophia had a small case load last year when she worked in London so she shouldn’t have any problems getting used to the Irish way of working.
“Just email me when you start. I need to know if everything is all right with you,” she added firmly. Looking at Sophia’s amber eyes, Collette thought that this girl was pretty; she had long curly strawberry blonde hair, delicate features, and long skinny legs. Collette could see that Sophia had money—a Gucci bag and designer clothes—but she still didn’t understand why she wanted to leave London for three months. Maybe some stupid boy had just broken her heart and she needed a change. Collette didn’t care about Sophia’s reasons as long as she was going to get a large bonus at the end of the month.
Sophia said good-bye to Mrs. Foster, promised to keep in touch, and left to go home and pack her bags. In the corridor she said hello to the other women who were working today and reapplied her lip-gloss before stepping outside, feeling happy. For the first time since she left the clinic she was going to be away from her parents, and she was excited but nervous about the future.
The walk to the City Thameslink Station was short. When the train arrived her stomach made a funny jolt. She wasn’t looking forward to the conversation with her mum and dad. Her father was at home today, so this discussion was going to get very awkward. She was lost in her own thoughts in the tube. As usual, the train was crowded with people and she hated being squeezed between strangers. It wasn’t long before she reached Notting Hill. Ten minutes later she walked into Lancaster Road, clenching her fists nervously. Before she packed she had to reveal her plans to her parents.
She pressed the door handle and took a long deep breath, feeling the anxiety whip through her again. She could hear her parents in the living room. Her heartbeat quickened as she walked across the immaculate wooden floors and stepped into a spacious living room. They were sitting on the sofa watching TV, talking about Mum’s next project. Sophia cleared her throat to let them know that she was back.
“There you are, I was just about to call you,” said Michelle. Her mother was slight with short blonde hair, thin lips, and high cheekbones. Sophia pressed her lips together contemplating how to begin. Her mother was arching her eyebrows, which meant that she was already irritated. Sophia felt uneasy about what she was just about to say, but this time she couldn’t back away.
“Hi Mum, Dad.”
“Where have you been?” asked her father, Nassa, not taking his eyes off the screen. He was wearing a grey suit and Sophia wondered if he was going to leave for the office shortly, at least she hoped he would. Sophia just had to get on with this and tell them that she was leaving tomorrow morning.
“I was completing all the paperwork for my trip to Belfast tomorrow,” explained Sophia, shifting her weight to the side. They reacted as she expected; Michelle brought her hands to her mouth, and her father flinched, shooting her a staggered look.
“Belfast? What kind of silly idea is that? You are starting work in my practice next week,” he barked. This would be harder than Sophia expected, but she wasn’t going to let them rule her. Her father had curly hair and tanned skin; he was half Libyan, although he lived in London all his life. That’s why Sophia had this awful long curly blonde hair that never wanted to stay in one place.
“Dad, I told you I don’t want to work in your practice. Tomorrow I am flying to Belfast to take this position as a temporary Probation Service Officer.”
The colour drained from Michelle’s face. She always had a pale complexion, but right now she looked like she was going to pass out. Her upper lip started trembling. Sophia hated when her mother was slowly losing control.
“Ireland? Are you out of your mind, dear? This is a hideous idea. You will be all alone there and no one would be able to keep an eye on you,” cried her mother.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Sophia, you are expected in the practice. Michael organised everything for you ...”
“Dad, stop it. You didn’t listen when I told you that I am not interested in working in your practice. I was supposed to do this last year full time but you insisted and I am not doing it this year. I am leaving tomorrow, and I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be back until September,” pressed Sophia. She felt that she had to be firm with her parents.
“Where are you going to stay and what if you lose control again?” asked Michelle, staring at her daughter.
“I will stay with my friend Vanessa, she lives in the city centre and her housemate isn’t there in the summer, plus I am not a child, it’s time for me to face being on my own.”
“You are ruining your chances for a bright career, Sophia. Belfast is rough. You are not ready to face this kind of challenge,” said Nassa firmly. “We won’t be there to help you.”
“I am old enough to make my own decisions. I worked as a temporary Probation Service Officer last year and I know what I am doing,” Sophia yelled, starting to shake with anger.
“But you will be far away, and what if—”
“I am fine. I don’t want you to bring this up. I am perfectly capable of living my own life,” Sophia cut her mother off. She hated that her parents brought her past back every time she wanted to do something for herself. When they couldn’t control her.
“Look at your cousin Jessica, she has always done what her mother told her to do, now she is successful,” cried Michelle.
Sophia wasn’t going to tell her mother that Jessica was only able to paint when she was high on cocaine. Michelle wouldn’t believe her, no one knew that her cousin was a drug user. When Sophia went to visit her in her studio a couple of months ago, she saw her sniffing the drug through her nose. She later told her that it was cocaine and she forced Sophia to promise that she wouldn’t tell anyone. Her cousin was talented, there were no doubts about that. She had always done well in school and her life was like a fairy tale. She was expected to succeed, and drugs allowed her to deal with the pressure and stress.
“I am leaving for Belfast tomorrow whether you like it or not, it’s all sorted so just deal with that,” said Sophia more firmly, and walked away.
“You are making the biggest mistake of your life. This time you are alone, we aren’t paying for anymore therapy and the psychiatrist,” roared Nassa, but Sophia couldn’t listen to him anymore. Her parents knew that she was very stubborn and her nightmare had ended years ago.
She ran to her bedroom and started packing all her clothes. Her mother convinced Sophia that she couldn’t move out when she started University. She wasn’t ready to let her go, plus the doctor told Michelle that it was safer for Sophia to stay at home. Her mother kept telling her that she didn’t know how to control her life; it had only been two years since the nightmare ended and she felt that her mother constantly watched her.
When the time came to choose her course she wanted to go for Sports Management, but her father said no, he wanted her to take over his practice. She wasn’t going to study law but when she came across Psychology and Criminology she decided that the course was interesting enough. She thought long and hard about what she wanted to do in life. Then another friend told her about working with prison leavers, which sounded interesting and challenging. She wanted to separate herself from her parents and deal with difficult cases. She couldn’t imagine working alongside her father.
Sophia was lucky that her parents were wealthy. Her father was a solicitor. He established his own firm years ago. He also travelled to Libya often, but Sophia never knew what kind of business he was involved with. Her mother had her own designer company. Two years ago she pushed her to go with her to Paris and Milan for summer then the year after her father forced her to work with him. This year Sophia wasn’t going to be manipulated like that. She wanted to get away from London, away from her parents.
Sophia never wanted to be like her parents. She wanted to have a normal life, do whatever she wanted and be friends with whomever she wanted to be. They tried to control everything about her life. She fought back, but it was hard after her mother found her in her room. Since that day her life was never the same.
After she was done with the packing she took her mobile. She was going to tell her other cousin about her plans, but she put her phone away after a moment. She knew exactly what her cousin would say.
“Are you mad? Your mother will come after you. They will never let you get away from London alone.”
Ramona was the only person who could understand Sophia’s dilemma. She didn’t have any other friends; even in University she was always alone. In the end she didn’t call Ramona, afraid that she would convince her not to go. She finished packing and was waiting for her mother to barge in to her room, but by midnight no one came. Maybe her parents decided that she was ready to be away from them. Ready to take control of her life.
Sophia was petrified when she landed at Belfast International Airport. Her pulse increased and her palms were damp with sweat. The familiar feeling of apprehension flooded through her body and she instantly closed her eyes to push away those emotions that made her want to do things that she wasn’t proud off. She was on foreign soil but this didn’t mean that she was going to break into pieces. She just had to get the taxi to the city. Her old friend was catching up on her sleep after a long shift in the bar so she couldn’t rely on her.
After she reclaimed her luggage, she pushed her trolley towards the entrance. For the first time since she was sixteen her parents didn’t fight to keep her close to them. She had to get used to the fact that no one was going to tell her what to do. She tossed her blonde hair, which was a complete mess today, and stepped outside. Grey, heavy clouds covered the sky and the air felt different, or maybe she was just imagining things. The anxiety was finally gone and when she found a taxi, she relaxed a little. Soon she was heading towards the city. She stared at beautiful green landscape, admiring the hills and the countryside, feeling that she was going to have fun this summer.
She was going to stay with Vanessa, a girl she knew from school. She remembered that period of her life well enough, it was when she was still in control. She and Vanessa were always close until Vanessa had to move away to Ireland with her mother. She never gained any other best friend like her. With time she got closer to her cousin Ramona, but their relationship wasn’t the same. Sophia kept in touch with Vanessa as much as she could, but Vanessa had no idea that Sophia’s life wasn’t as colourful as she was making it out to be. Keeping secrets was Sophia’s second nature.
“Okay, young lady, here we are,” said the taxi driver with a thick Irish accent, smiling. “That will be forty-four Euros.”
“Thank you,” replied Sophia, passing him the money. He helped her with the luggage and left her in front of a tall block of apartments in the centre of Belfast. She was far away from London, which now seemed much louder and bigger.
Vanessa studied French at Queen’s University, and similar to Sophia she was in her second year. Her mother moved to the country and married a local Irishman, and they didn’t see each other much because Vanessa didn’t get on well with her mother’s new husband. Throughout the year, Vanessa worked part-time in the bar, but when the summer came she needed more money so she increased her hours. Sophia was happy with this arrangement. She didn’t want Vanessa to be obliged to look after her.
She dragged her luggage through the stairs and checked her mobile. She buzzed apartment number thirty-two, biting her lip with anticipation.
“Hallo,” said the sleepy voice on the other end.
“Vanessa, it’s me, Sophia,” she said with excitement.
“Oh my God you are here, come on in,” squeaked her friend, and she buzzed the door open for her. Sophia took the lift and when she got upstairs her friend was already waiting for her wearing red pyjamas.
“Good to see you, it’s been ages,” said Vanessa, hugging Sophia tightly.
“Two years actually.” Sophia beamed when she finally released her. Her friend looked tired but in good spirits.
“Shut up, I can’t believe that I haven’t been in London for that long!”
“Yes, we haven’t seen each other for a while,” chuckled Sophia. Vanessa was a shorter girl with dirty blonde hair. She was twenty-three, had a petit figure with large green bright eyes and a long nose. Ever since Sophia could remember, Vanessa had always been saying how much she hated London, so when Vanessa’s mother decided to move to Ireland she didn’t have to think about this decision twice.
“You look amazing! Is this really a Gucci bag?” asked Vanessa, her eyes wide with amazement, eyeing her friend’s designer bag.
“Oh I hate this bag; you can have it if you want. My mother bought it for me in Milan, but it’s not my style,” replied Sophia, and handed it to Vanessa.
“Are you kidding me? This probably cost a fortune. I can’t accept that.”
“I have enough labelled stuff. Plus, I want to feel normal for once, which means that I have to trade all my clothes, so just shut up and take it,” said Sophia firmly.
“You are crazy,” exclaimed Vanessa, still staring at the bag. “Let’s get you inside before the neighbours start talking. Besides, I just woke up. I had a mad shift last night so the apartment is in a mess.”
Vanessa helped Sophia with her luggage. Inside the space was kept in minimalistic décor. The kitchen was small, but it had everything that the girls needed. The living room had two large sofas, a big TV, and a balcony. The apartment overlooked another building so Sophia wasn’t impressed with the view, although she wasn’t going to complain. Vanessa was right, the apartment was a mess. There was a pizza box lying on the floor, cans of beer and piles of clothes were everywhere. Sophia remembered that Vanessa was always really untidy.
“Let me show you your room,” Vanessa said quickly, scratching her head and looking slightly embarrassed. Sophia’s room was a decent size with a double bed and fitted wardrobes. “Nicole left a lot of her stuff, but I am sure that you will be fine.”
“It’s perfect,” sighed Sophia, placing her bags by the bed.
“Oh my God, I am so excited that you are here. I thought that I would have a crappy summer working all the time, but now whenever I am free we are going to get drunk.”
“I will be out most of the time working as well, so you are not the only one.”
“I guess that’s true, but we still need to find time to enjoy ourselves,” said Vanessa. “Are you hungry? I’ve got a cold pizza and Budweiser.”
The girls went back to the living room and Sophia offered to clean a little. She wasn’t tired although she’d had an early start. She was excited about being in Belfast. Vanessa promised to show her everything. Just before Vanessa was due to start her shift Sophia made spaghetti bolognese.
“So tell me, have you left a boyfriend behind?” asked Vanessa, smiling. Sophia tensed her back, looking down at her dish.
“No, no boyfriend. I am still single,” she replied dryly. She couldn’t tell Vanessa how lame her life really was. She didn’t have any friends in London, because of her parents. After the therapy, she lost contact with everyone. She had a boyfriend when she was sixteen but that didn’t last long. All her previous relationships with men were difficult, and Sophia wasn’t ready to tell anyone about her complicated past.
“I am sure that we can soon change that, one night out with me and you will be lost in the arms of some hot Irishman,” Vanessa giggled playing with her food. Sophia smiled lightly. She couldn’t think about the romance right now, she was here to gain experience.
“I can’t deal with men right now, I am an emotional wreck! I am sure that no one would be interested in someone like me.”
“Are you mental?” snarled her friend. “You are hot, have amazing hair, and a body to die for. Guys will be fighting to go out with you.”
“I doubt that.”
“You got the look, baby, and boys here like girls like you,” sang Vanessa.
Sophia smiled again, dismissing her friend’s comments. She wanted to help people, that’s why she came to Belfast. When she was supporting others she felt better and her confidence grew. This way she dealt with her own fears. Guiding someone else’s life allowed her to have control over her own.
“I am really not interested in dating, but I will go out with you. I need to put my head down and chill out,” said Sophia rolling her spaghetti on her fork.
“That ain’t going to happen, my dear, you have exotic beauty. I am just warning you now so you know.”
Sophia didn’t know how to tell Vanessa that she wasn’t ready to get involved in a serious relationship or even a holiday fling. So instead she changed the subject. Her plans didn’t involve dating anyone. She just thought that it would be a waste of time. She had to get back to University in September and her past always haunted her, so men kept away.
Vanessa had to go to work for seven o’clock and Sophia was happy to stay in the apartment. When she was alone she dialed Ramona’s number.
“What’s up, sugar plum?”
Michelle hated Ramona, once she had called her a control freak. This didn’t go down too well with the rest of family.
“You won’t believe me if I tell you where I am right now.” Sophia chuckled, sitting comfortably on the sofa.
“You are speaking to me in the toilet whilst your pathetic mother is listening.”
Sophia rolled her eyes.
“You know when I told you about my idea of working somewhere away for the summer?”
“Yes, and we both know that your parents won’t let you go.”
“Well, I am in Belfast right now; I flew here yesterday after I told my parents all about it. That agency in London found me this amazing contract for three months!”
There was long silence on the other side of the phone.
“You’ve got to be shitting me? You are in Ireland right now?”
“Yes, can you believe it? I sorted out my paperwork, bought a cheap ticket, and I won’t be back until September. Mum and Dad freaked out a little, but they didn’t stop me.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you cow? I would have dropped you at the airport,” sighed Ramona. “Are you sure that your crazy mother is fine with that? Maybe in a day or two you will be kidnapped on the street and they will transport you back to London.”
“Dad wanted me to start working in his firm next week. I’d had enough and I just decided to do it. I am twenty-two and the therapy is behind me. I am fed up living my parents’ life.”
“Good for you my sugar plum. Just make sure you lose your virginity this summer. I want you to have fun and find yourself a nice Irishman who will take away all that fear!” said Ramona. She always talked about how pathetic Sophia’s sex life has been; a year in the hospital hadn’t given Sophia any more confidence.
“You know that is not going to happen, Ram. I am going to work with prison leavers and I won’t have time for anything else.”
“Well that’s even better. I am sure there will be a few to choose from.”
“Can you hear how ridiculous this sounds? I need to get going,” Sophia said, slowly losing her confidence.
“Hold on, where are you staying? I am going to visit you in August and then we will go for a night out.”
“I am staying with an old friend, Vanessa. I told you about her. It will be good if you would come,” said Sophia.
“I want to meet the famous Vanessa. Come on, put her on so I can talk to her ...”
“She is working. Besides, you are still my true friend, so don’t worry.”
“Just keep a week in August reserved for me, and keep your head up. Call me if you’ve got any news, all right, mon chere.”
“Yes, I will. I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Sophia hung up and put away her mobile. She was alone in Belfast far away from her parents and anyone else that knew the truth about her. She told herself that she was going to make the most of this summer.
Sophia woke up on Monday morning already feeling nervous. Yesterday Vanessa had decided that she wanted to show Sophia the best attractions Belfast had to offer, so they had a busy day. When they finally got home in the evening Sophia was exhausted. Vanessa really wanted to take Sophia out to her favourite club, but Sophia refused. She was starting a new job the next day and she wanted to make a good impression.
She lay in her bed thinking about the day ahead of her. She heard Vanessa snoring in the other room and got up to take a shower. Her long, bushy hair was untidy, so she pulled it up together in a ponytail, but she still looked like she had been hit by a thunder storm. She applied a little makeup, and decided to wear black trousers with a navy jumper. She just wanted to look ordinary and thought that plain clothing would do the trick. Sophia had looked at the map last night and she had a rough idea where to go.
She left the apartment just after eight o’clock. Her shift wasn’t starting until nine, but she wanted to be sure that she was on time. It turned out that her new office was only a ten minute walk from Vanessa’s apartment. Sophia was surprised to see that the Probation Office was just off the busy street. She entered through the solid doors, and the older security guard got up when he saw her.
“I am here to see Susan O’Brien,” she said, smiling.
“Just take a seat in the waiting area and I will call her,” he replied, pointing at the large room. She was excited being there, ready to face the challenge. The room was filled with chairs; on the boards there were various announcements and posters with job adverts, information about accommodation and benefits. No more than ten minutes later a short woman in her mid-thirties walked in smiling widely. She was slightly overweight with a plump oval face filled with freckles. Her hair was pure red, falling flawlessly on her face.
“You must be Sophia Eman?”
“Yes, that’s me,” replied Sophia quickly, and the woman shook her hand.
“I am Susan O’Brien. I will be looking after you. My supervisor was supposed to greet you with me, but he is running late because of the traffic. So I apologize, but you are stuck with me for now.” She chuckled.
“It’s nice to meet you. I am really excited to get started,” beamed Sophia.
“Let me introduce you to the other members of the team. We are short staffed and everyone is glad that you are finally here. You will have only a few offenders on your caseload to start with and everyone is helpful so you don’t have to worry,” explained Susan.
They stopped to sign in the book just to be sure that Sophia wasn’t going to be missed in case of a fire. After that Susan took her to the first floor. She entered the spacious warm office.
“Mary Ann, this is Sophia, she is covering Elizabeth,” said Susan to the tall woman who smiled. She looked busy, talking over the telephone. They turned right, passing through a long corridor. The next room was wide and filled with a small workplace for each officer, Sophia counted to around twelve. Various faces were smiling at her. Sophia instantly had a good feeling about this place.
Susan started to show her around and introduce her to other members of staff. For now she was only a temporary worker. She was only going to be here until September so she wasn’t expecting to be treated as a long standing member of the team. Overall the people who worked in the office seemed friendly.
For the next two hours Sophia had to fill out a lot of forms and go through induction, risk assessment, and some of the important policies. After that Susan took her back to the main room.
“This is going to be your desk for now. Later on you will sit with me on a few reviews so you will get the gist of things,” said Susan. Sophia’s office was situated by an older woman in her late forties. As far as Sophia remembered, her name was Debra.
“I will be back in a moment. All the offenders will start coming in an hour or so, so we have a bit of time to prepare you for everything. You mentioned that you are doing your diploma in Probation Practice?”
“Yes, I started it a few months ago, that’s why I thought it would be good to get a short contract to gain some experience. I worked with Probation Service last year, but it was only two days a week.”
“Great idea. You seem bright, like you pick everything up really quickly,” added Susan. “Let me show you where the most important room in this place is. I need coffee”
“I agree! I thought you would never ask me. I can’t think straight without caffeine in my system.” Sophia laughed.
She had already forgotten most of the names of the people who were working in the office, but she knew that it would take a while for her to remember everyone. She talked to a few girls who told her about the job and what she should expect from a place like Belfast.
Half an hour later she was introduced to the main manager. Michael O Donnell was in his mid-thirties. He handed her a badge and passwords for the internal systems.
At half past nine, Susan told Sophia to take a seat by her desk. Her diary was booked for the day and she wanted to introduce Sophia to some of her offenders. She mentioned to Sophia that everyone’s caseloads were high, but this was just the nature of the job.
Until half past eleven Sophia was observing the way Susan dealt with her clients. Most of them were with Probation for a few months. Susan asked them standard questions such as, if they were keeping out of trouble, if they were actively looking for work. She advised if they had any problems with accommodation or their benefits. Most of them were on Jobseekers allowance, some of them were alcohol or drug dependent. Sophia had gone through a similar experience when she worked in London. Later on Susan introduced Sophia to a few of her clients. Chris, who had just been released, look delighted when Susan mentioned that he was going to be transferred to Sophia. His hazel eyes sparkled with excitement as Susan explained Sophia’s role. He was in his late thirties, living on his own. He didn’t have any qualifications or prospects in finding work.
“Okay, let’s see who is next,” muttered Susan, narrowing her eyes. “Harry O’Donaghue, he is pretty new here. He has one hundred and fifty hours of community service. I haven’t had a chance to get to know him that well. We have only seen each other once. Last week I was off sick so he saw one of my colleagues.”
“What exactly are we dealing with?” asked Sophia.
“Drugs mainly. He was in prison before, but when I saw him last he looked like a decent bloke, or maybe he was just playing his part well. He is on benefits, pretending that he is looking for work,” muttered Susan, clicking at her notes. The phone rang and Susan picked it up. After a long moment she put the phone down and looked up. “Come on, Harry, don’t be shy.”
Sophia glanced up at the man that was standing by the door. When he finally approached Susan’s desk, Sophia could have sworn that her heart stopped beating for several seconds. She was staring at him, caught completely off guard. She was expecting a skinny drug user with a pale sullen complexion, but instead the man in front of her was dark, tall, and good-looking. He had smoky black hair and brown eyes. He was over six foot tall and was dressed in jeans and a black jumper.
Harry O’Donaghue tightened his jaw as he sat down in front of Susan and his eyes gleamed with impatience. Sophia noticed that he had a long face with a wide forehead and full lips. His skin was slightly tanned with a healthy golden-brown tint. He shot Sophia a fierce look and glanced back at his probation officer. The atmosphere in the room shifted; the air was tense, growing heavy and warm. Sophia swallowed hard, trying to ignore her racing heart, which suddenly came alive. The nape of her neck tingled. She stopped breathing for a second as she stared directly into intense brown eyes. He frowned, and for a split second Sophia thought she’d stared at him for too long, so she shifted her gaze away, blushing slightly. Her heart gave her a giant smack on her chest. Suddenly the room felt too small.
“So, Harry, how are you?” asked Susan politely, still staring at her computer screen. Sophia glanced at him again and smiled slightly, hoping to break this odd tension that suddenly sizzled between them. He didn’t even acknowledge her. Instead, he narrowed his brown eyes and looked back at Susan, ignoring Sophia completely.
“Fine I guess,” he replied, sounding bored. He had a deep, husky voice.
“Let me introduce you, this is Sophia. She just started with us. Soon you will be seeing her soon” explained Susan, putting her hands together. Harry arched his eyebrows as he shot Sophia sharp look. He didn’t like her; she sensed his displeasure when Susan mentioned her name.
“Why?” he asked simply, staring at Susan.
“Sorry, Harry, you are losing me.”
“Why do I have to see someone who looks like she should be in high school? I don’t fucking like changes,” he snarled. Sophia swallowed hard again. The warmth of anger grew in her chest, spreading up to her throat. Susan only introduced Sophia to him and he’d already made her feel like she didn’t belong here.
Susan pursed her lips, exhaling sharply.
“I am afraid that you haven’t got an option. My caseload is too high and I needed to shift some of my offenders to Sophia. Besides, I don’t tolerate that kind of language, Mr. O’Donaghue.”
“I don’t want to be managed by an immature officer. I would like to stay with you if this is possible.”
Immature! Sophia was prepared to slap him. How dare he judge her like that. He knew nothing about her. She felt her face go bright red with anger as she moved to the edge of her seat. She was glad that no one else was listening to this conversation. Susan didn’t look happy either.
“Sophia is going to start having regular reviews with you, it’s already been decided, so please save all of us your attitude,” snapped Susan, giving Sophia a look which was supposed to say, ‘Just ignore him for now.’
“So, Harry, have you been attending all your drug interventions?”
Harry didn’t respond straight away, but he continued staring at Sophia like it was all her fault that he had to be here, answering all these pointless questions in front of her. Sophia thought that he looked like he wasn’t going to make this easy for anyone.