Lights Out

Cover Image

I could have been married by now. I picked up the ring from the little trinket box on my cabinet and twirled it around my index finger. It twinkled in the morning sunlight that streamed through the wooden slats of the blinds, suspending tiny motes of dust in a stream of light that had woken me from my disturbed slumber less than five minutes previously.

I lined it up with my engagement finger, pushing it down past the knuckle. Admiring the princess cut diamond felt somehow wrong now, as if it belonged to another time, another life. I should sell it, I told myself. It’s not like the rent is going to pay itself this month. Come on Emily, I muttered. It’s time to let go.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. How I got myself into this sorry mess with a man whose name is all over the news is not the kind of thing that you can really do justice to in a succinct statement. The tabloids have tried – and failed – in my opinion. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to seek out a good story and turn it into compelling copy, and if I’d been on the news desk that fateful day in June, I would’ve done things very differently.

I can pinpoint the moment that it all changed. It was one of those unusual press days when we’d finished before seven o’clock and we all still had enough energy to make it to the pub across the road. I’d been working at The  Cambridge Mail for five years then, and had made my way from junior reporter to content editor. Despite my less-than-exciting title, as far as I was concerned, I was second-in-command, answering only to Harlan. In fact, when I was out of earshot of my colleagues, I often introduced myself as deputy editor. While it might not be on my contract, everyone knew it was true.

We tumbled into The Hare & Hound on the corner of Madingley Road, tired, thirsty and relieved. It was that precious moment in the life of a journalist, the paper had gone to press, the world had stopped turning – at least until tomorrow morning. We ordered pints all round. Gulping back the bitter, I savoured the taste and mentally pressed fast-forward on the events of the day. I was confident that my front page would trump our rival's. I’d been handed a confidential document from one of my sources that was bound to blow the lid on just what the council had been spending taxpayers’ money on. Satisfied, I sunk back into the rough velvet seat and rested my head on the wooden panelling.

Harlan raised a toast. “To Emily,” he said.

“To Emily,” the group echoed in unison.

I smiled, with what I hoped conveyed modest appreciation.

Harlan dusted down his crumpled suit and cleared his throat to give one of his famed speeches.

“A stellar job today, Em. Now I know we’re all here to celebrate another successful week – one which I hope will send not ripples, but waves across this city. There’s nothing I like better than pissing people off," he said.

The five men guffawed, while I sat quiet. 

“But there’s something else I’d like to announce." He paused for dramatic effect, chewing pensively on a peanut from the bowl in the middle of the table.

“I’ve been at The Mail for ten years now. I’d like to think I ushered in the new guard and rung in the changes that have made us the market leader for miles around.

“But it’s come to a time where I need to move on to pastures new. Sophie’s at university, Alex is married. There’s nothing to keep me here.

“I’ve decided to move back to London. My freelance photography business is taking off, and I’m keen to focus on that…and spend more time on the golf course.

“In that light, I can’t think of anyone more deserving of filling my shoes than Miss Gunn here. She’s put in five solid years of hard work and knows this city like the back of her hand.

“Fellas, I think you’re looking at your new editor."

My colleagues turned to look at me. I felt like I was on a stage, and beads of sweat began to form on my brow. I read a general sense of dissatisfaction in their faces. Whether from jealousy or shock, they were less than impressed by the revelation.

Quickly assembling an appropriate facial expression, I cleared my throat to speak.

“I would be honoured,” was all I could muster.

I soon lost myself in the clinking of glasses and the clapping of hands. The night went by in a blur and I stumbled back to my flat at three in the morning, incoherently drunk. It wasn’t until that unique moment between sleeping and waking just three hours later that I truly contemplated what had happened the night before.

Created: Apr 19, 2014

Tags: creative writing, writing, short story, first chapter

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