I was inspired by the new John Lewis advert (watch it on YouTube - it's absolutely beautiful) and Midnight in Paris, hence this little brain child. Enjoy and let me know whether or not you think I should continue :) x
For about the fifth time in as many minutes, he fiddles with the knot of his tie. He feels claustrophobic, sitting here in this plush London office with people who are infinitely more suited to this job than he is – they all look so polished and perfect whilst he sits here in an ill-fitting suit and a borrowed tie. There's one particular young man who keeps eyeing him up like he's a piece of meat (or perhaps like something he stood in on the way here would be a more accurate description). He screams Oxbridge and his aftershave reeks of privilege – daddy no doubt has a connection to the big boss and all of this is just a formality.
For Tom Branson, this really is his last shot – if this doesn't work then he'll be forced into returning back home to Ireland with his tail between his legs and head hung in shame. His mother had warned him about leaving to study in England, but with the fragile state of the Irish economy, he'd known that his prospects would be much better across the sea. Now, five years later, here he is – twenty-three years old, unemployed, and about to be interviewed for a job which he had thought was for nothing more than a glorified assistant. There was nothing wrong with that of course – he has ambitions and everyone has to start somewhere. Sitting in this room however, he has a sickening feeling that there's something somebody isn't telling him. He wonders if it's too late to escape – he could feign illness, pretend there's a family emergency or...
Swallowing hard, he picks up the folder containing his CV and ensures that his phone is switched off before following the red-haired PA down what feels like the world's longest corridor.
"You look nervous," she says – her accent is heavily Northern and he guesses at somewhere around Leeds. "Don't be... they won't bite."
He tries to return her reassuring smile but it comes out as more of a grimace. Taking a deep breath, he knocks gently on the door – "This is it," he thinks to himself. "The door to the last chance saloon"
It all goes horribly wrong – or at least he thinks it has. His fiery Celtic temperament had threatened to make itself known when they'd asked him how he'd spent the last few years since graduating.
"Odd jobs, mainly," he replies, knowing full well that they almost certainly already had the answer to this question. "I worked as a taxi driver in Liverpool, a barman and a mechanic, all whilst writing and trying to get my work published."
Two of the members of the interview panel exchange a look. "And you find that sort of existence appealing, do you?" the woman sneers, looking down her nose at him.
"Well... no. Not really," Tom replies sheepishly. "But one does what they must to make ends meet. I want to be a writer, it's my dream and I'll make it happen one day."
"But would you not consider a different path if it wasn't working?" asks another man.
"And settle for second best? No... I don't think I should have to. Not if I believe that I truly have what it takes to succeed."
"So this job isn't serious to you? It's a way of biding your time until something better comes along, is that it?"
"Not exactly... I mean, no... I..."
"I think that's everything, we'll be in touch."
And that was how he came to be sat here – alone in a pub around the corner from the office, surrounded by city bankers, lawyers and the high fliers of British industry, drowning his sorrows in a pint of the black stuff having suddenly had a terrible craving for a taste of home.
"You look like somebody just ran over your dog," an unfamiliar voice calls out to him.
"I think I'd probably feel better than I do now if that were the case."
The man who had spoken to him takes a seat beside him at the bar and sighs wearily. "Well, if it's any consolation, your day can't possibly have been anywhere near as bad as mine."
Tom raises an eyebrow at his equally melancholy companion. "Sure about that?"
"I'll buy you a drink if yours is worse."
The pair fall comfortably into conversation and they agree that their own circumstances are each as bad as the other's. The man – whose name he's learnt is Matthew – is a solicitor at one of London's top firms and has suffered at the hands of someone else's negligence and subsequently just lost litigation proceedings in relation to a multi-million pound contract.
"So you literally have nothing?" Matthew asks Tom as the topic of conversation returns to him.
Tom shrugs. "Well, I have enough to get by but I refuse to go back to Ireland just yet. If I do then I go without my pride and to lose that really would mean that I have nothing. Me mam was convinced that I was going to crawl back as soon as I started when I was eighteen with ten euro in my pocket and the realisation that it had all been a catastrophic mistake."
"What did you study?"
"History and politics at Liverpool."
"Ahh... yes, I know that city well. I did law at Manchester."
"You seem surprised."
Tom takes a swig of his pint and smiles. "You seem the Cambridge type."
Matthew shakes his head. "Maybe I could have been but things... well, they happen don't they? I stayed at home in the end."
"Life," Tom mutters. "What a bitch, eh?"
"I'll drink to that," Matthew replies, clinking his glass with Tom's.
It looked to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the pair – they spoke of books, politics and their shared love of rugby (Tom was an avid Ulster fan whereas Matthew supported his local team, the Sale Sharks), discussing at length their excitement for the forthcoming Autumn Internationals and how their respective home teams had fared in the Six Nations earlier in the year.
"Do you play?" asks Tom, seeing it as the next logical question.
Matthew nods. "Fly half. You?"
"Ahhh... Well, funnily enough my team's looking for some new blood. Are you free on Thursday evening?"
"I think so... unless I've run back home by then."
"Well give me your number and I'll text you the details. Come up for a trial if you're still around."
Tom sighs as he saves his number into Matthew's phone – "This is a good thing," he thinks to himself. "It's about time you stopped playing hermit and actually went out and got yourself a life."
The next few days are some of the luckiest Tom has known in years – the coach of Matthew's rugby team had been impressed with him from the very beginning and signed him up on the spot. However, this was by no means the best thing that had happened to him this week. Arriving back at his modest flat after his first training session, he listens to the messages left on his answering machine (he wouldn't have bothered with a landline if it hadn't been for his mother insisting on it, ranting about how international phone calls were expensive enough as it was and that be truly bankrupt if she had to ring his mobile all the time). Surprisingly, the message isn't from his mother – it's from someone in the Human Resources department.
He's got the job.
He breathes a sigh of relief and automatically dashes to his laptop, closing the Ryanair tab that has been mocking him for weeks – he will go home at some point, just not permanently. As the reality of the situation hits him at last, he quickly realises something, something that makes him feel sick with dread...
He's going to have to buy a better suit.
The Grantham Group is one of the world's leading luxury hotel chains and their resorts are known globally for their traditional approach to the industry. From rustic hunting lodges to grand country estates, the rich and famous flock to these idyllic retreats and, as such, publicity is essential - especially when premiership footballers and royals alike are paying hundreds of thousands of pounds to host their weddings and other lavish events. This is where Tom comes in – or rather Tom's boss does.
He's thrown in at the deep end almost as soon as he walks through the doors and whisked straight upstairs for a meeting with the man he has been employed to 'assist'. Charles Carson is a nice enough man, but he can be a little abrupt. He's a man who firmly believes in tradition and that things should be done 'just so'. At first though, Tom feels completely out of his depth, getting flustered as he tries to follow orders such as "Call Lucy at Hello! Magazine and confirm the details for Viscount Conwy's son's christening" and "See that Trip Advisor update that review about Llantalfryn."
"You'll get the hang of it," a voice whispers in his ear, a hand placing a steaming cup of tea down on his desk.
Tom looks up and sees the red-haired PA from the day of his interview, she's smiling at him in a way that radiates friendship, and he knows instinctively that she might just be one of the nicest people he's met in this place.
"I hope so," he replies. "Thanks for the tea by the way, err?"
"Gwen," she smiles. "You're part of the team now, which means we'll have to put you on the rota but seeing as it's your first day we'll let you off. Speaking of which, we're going to the pub after to celebrate."
"Celebrate what exactly?"
"You surviving it."
Tom checks his watch and laughs. "Aye, but it's only half past two. There's still two and a half hours in which I can spectacularly cock this up and they ask me never to come back. But I suppose if that happens then I could use the company while I drown my sorrows. Either way, I take it the first round's on me?"
"Them's the rules," Gwen grins as she returns to her own desk.
He does indeed survive his first day – and the next one, and the next until, before he knows it, September has given way to October and he's been with Grantham for just over a month. It hasn't really hit him as to exactly the kind of world he's living in until he overhears some office gossip one morning.
"Is that not illegal though?" one of the girls asks. "I mean... they're cousins."
"No... I don't think so anyway. They're like third cousins twice removed or something ridiculous. I think they share a great, great, great grandparent."
"Still wrong though."
"Who cares?" asks Gwen. "As long as they're happy then why should it matter? An' anyway, they look gorgeous together."
"He's gorgeous. If she won't have his babies then I will."
Gwen laughs. "Definitely wouldn't kick him out of my bed in the mornings."
"Who?" Tom asks, his curiosity getting the better of him at last.
"Mary Crawley's going out with her cousin... so the papers say anyway. The bloke's a bit of alright," Gwen tells him with a devilish smirk.
Tom furrows his brow. "Who's Mary Crawley?"
"You mean to say you've been here a month and you have no idea who Mary Crawley is?"
"Gossip columns and celebrity culture aren't really my thing," he tells them all – several of the girls visibly swooning over his accent and the way he says "thing".
"Mary Crawley is Robert Crawley's eldest daughter."
"As in the Robert Crawley who owns the Grantham Group?"
"One and the same. Anyway, she's a pretty big deal in the fashion industry, starting out as a model for her mother's label before studying at St Martin's."
"What are you, Wikipedia?" smirks Tom.
"Shut up," Gwen retorts. "Well, the media love her. So much more than her sisters anyway."
"Except Sybil, another interrupts. "But that's a whole saga in itself. Whatever happened to her?"
Gwen shrugs. "Nobody knows. She dropped out of Harvard last summer and hasn't been seen since. I don't even know if old man Grantham's still speaking to her."
Tom is about to ask another question when Carson's deep baritone voice interrupts him.
"Is there a public holiday that I'm not aware of?"
"No Mr Carson," the chorus, each of them darting back to their desks and returning to work.
"Good," he says. "Tom, I need you to go down to the Associated Press offices. Give my name at reception and they'll know what it's about."
Tom nods as he pulls on his coat, confused as to why the disappearance of the elusive Miss Sybil Crawley is already beginning to play at his mind.
"What do you mean the money's gone?"
"Exactly that... it's gone."
Robert Crawley presses his forehead against the windowpane and stares out across the London skyline – his wife is going to kill him. "How much are we talking about?"
"Almost all of it," replies his solicitor and long-time friend, George Murray. "The Canadian venture didn't work out as we anticipated."
Robert turns to face him again, eyes wide with surprise. "Canada? But that was a sound investment... Everyone was doing it."
Murray nods. "Yes, and everyone has lost their money. I'm sure you understand the legal implications of this."
"I can't afford to buy Glen Finnemore castle. Yes, I know."
"That's not all; you still have a number of outstanding debts. There's a chance some of them may issue proceedings against you. To do so would leave you bankrupt."
The colour drains from Robert's face and he's certain that his whole world has just collapsed in on itself.
"I'm afraid so.
"Can we fix it?"
Murray brushes a finger across his moustache and leans back in his chair. "Perhaps... but it would take a miracle."
"Then we look for that miracle. It has to be out there somewhere," Robert says, just about managing to stop himself going into a complete state of shock. "This company has been in my family for generations and I refuse to be the man who drops the torch and lets the flame go out. I will put this right even if it's the last thing I do on this earth."
"It's up to you if you want to take that risk and I wish you luck with it," replies Murray. "But there is something else I wanted to talk to you about."
"I think I've found your daughter."
Next Chapter: There's singing - a chorus of voices reciting the lyrics to a song his Nana used to sing to him as a small boy back in Ireland - and footsteps in the hallway behind him even though when he whips his head around he sees that he's completely alone. He's never really been one to believe in the supernatural, but that doesn't stop an icy chill shooting down his spine...