A Hidden Heart

John Banks was a middle aged lawyer. He graduated from law school at the age of twenty five and at twenty seven he had started working for the top law firm in the UK. He lived alone just as he liked and didn’t see anyone outside of work. His work was his life and the only people he socialised with were his colleagues when in meetings or with clients when talking about a case. John never showed anyone any emotion, he never went out places and he only smiled to keep his mother happy when she visited. She was very old and frail so he needed to keep her happy somehow. He never went to visit her. He never had time because of his sixty hour working week. He volunteered to work on Saturdays because he had nothing better to do, making it easier for his clients and getting him all the good cases due to his commitment. He never lost a case. John was the best. That summer he was up for making partner. He had been working for this opportunity for almost twenty years and now it was here, in his grasp. Nothing could stop him. He was going to get it, and he did. He worked the same hours and moved up from the fourth floor to the tenth. It was a great honour indeed. Especially for someone aged only forty five.

The only downside to his moving up was him having to leave his darling Annie, one of the only female lawyers in the company. He had never spoken to her but she was perfect. Everything was wonderful about her. Everything from her hair right down to the way her feet moved when she walked, like they were choreographed to walk so perfectly. The way her hair was so straight and shiny every morning and how ten hours later it was still perfection. How she applied her rouge lipstick at her desk and never slipped accidentally to get her chin by mistake. Her pale skin that shined like the sun was forever glowing on her face. And not forgetting the way she looked at John one morning. Her glistening eyes looked up to him as she apologised for nearly walking in to him. He never let his feelings be known to her or anyone. Work was for work and nothing else.

It was exactly one year ago that John got the news. It was unexpected, but again he never showed his feelings. He never let anyone know. Not even his new partners who would surely advise him to stop working if they knew. He wouldn’t want the sympathy look from anyone. He would carry on as normal. He would even miss the appointments his doctors needed him to make. He was too busy and work was too important.

“Overworking will not help,” the doctors would say. “That is why you are ill. That is why you have cancer.”

Weeks went by and still he took no notice, until one morning. He was having trouble breathing. Luckily it was a Sunday so work needn’t know about his ride in an ambulance to the hospital. The cancer was being cruel that morning and he needed treatment. He was prescribed some tablets to take twice a day everyday. Without taking two tablets every twelve hours, he would face tightening lungs and breathing troubles until it killed him. As John worked only a ten hour shift no one would be able to see him taking his tablets. He could take two at home on a morning and then two when he got home. His secret was safe.

While in the lift one morning on his way up to his office on the tenth floor someone else got in the lift and stood beside him. He did not notice who as he was reading some notes his assistant had mailed to him about an upcoming case, but something about that perfume triggered him to look up. He only knew one woman who wore the Gucci perfume. He looked casually round at the woman and there she was; his Annie. She looked up and smiled at him.

“So,” she began, “not seen you around in a while. Are you too important for us now?” her sarcasm did not insult or offend John, but instead a small smile appeared on his face.

“If you like I could put in a word for you and you could join me on the tenth floor.” He proposed.

“Really?” she knew he was only teasing. “And you think that would work?”

“Well, it was just yesterday I was telling my boss that I need a new secretary. Mine just doesn’t satisfy me anymore. Are you up for it?”

The door opened to the fourth floor where Annie needed to get off. She looked back at him with a seductive smile.

“I’ll pass, but anything else you need doing, you know where I am.”

That conversation was the highlight of John’s day that year. He didn’t show any signs of humour to anyone else. He just carried on his day as normal, except for one thing: he couldn’t get Annie out of his head. Her flirtatious speech stopped John from being able to concentrate. What was the ‘anything else’ that she offered? Is it what he had been wishing for all these years? Should he maybe do something about it and find out what it was? He thought best not to. Because he has cancer, he doesn’t want to start something with someone. He remembered what his mum was like when his dad died when John was only six years old. She was depressed and John had to live with his Grandma for three months.

December was approaching and the list was going round. “Who is coming to the Fenchurn Law Christmas party?” John wasn’t going to put his name down. He never did. He looked down the list to make it seem like he was taking an interest. First on the list were the juniors of the firm; Julia Hunter, Charlie McHugh and the rest of them from the first floor. Then there were the Partners from the twelfth floor, the ones who were past their retirement; Edward Ruben, Mary Johnson and the rest of the miserable lot who only went to the parties for the scotch, cigars and to talk about politics. Then there were just random names; James Bennett, Scott Croyden, Annie Fox. John looked at the sheet. ‘’Annie Fox”, was that his Annie? It must be because he saw her signature once on a document he had to send somewhere and the initials were ‘’AF’’.

“Are you going to come this year, for a change?” John’s secretary asked him. He looked at her small, chubby, aged face. He remembered his conversation with Annie in the lift. What he wouldn’t give to have Annie working for him ten hours a day.

“Yes, put my name down for me will you? I need to get a coffee.” He got up to get a drink from the canteen.

“You have a meeting in five minutes with the Grangers. Don’t forget. Oh and you are needed in court by three.”

“Why three?” asked a confused john. He was in court the next day at nine, but not today at three.

“The Richman’s divorce?” she looked at his blank face. “It was meant to be tomorrow but Mrs Richman can’t make it. I told you all this two days ago, I sent you an email.”

“Right, well remind me after this meeting, ok?”

John stumbled out in to the corridor and got a large cup of coffee from the coffee machine. When he got back in to his office ten minutes later, the Grangers were already there waiting for him. When he sat down he felt a minor pain in his chest. Reluctant to take a day off work and cancelling his meetings he carried on as normal; he still had the pain while in court.

I wish I could say that the pain had gone by the end of the day, but it carried on into December and it was still there the day of the party. John had no time to go to the doctors for more tablets. Being a partner, a day off was frowned upon, but to him a sick day was worse. It showed weakness and liability so despite the nagging of the doctors at the hospital who couldn’t drag him there, John carried on as normal, with the odd dizzy spell and shortage of breath.

John got in to his Audi and drove to the party which was being held in a hotel somewhere outside of the city. He had been there before for his brother’s wedding reception. He had missed the ceremony as he had been in court but he made it in time for the last hour of the party.

John arrived fashionably late to the party; half past nine to be exact. No one seemed to notice. The Partners had been drinking scotch and wearing old Armani suits. The juniors were wearing sexy outfits and dancing on the dance floor. Annie was stood by the bar drinking a glass of white wine. He wondered what to order. He wasn’t allowed to drink any alcohol; his doctor advised him it would be fatal.

“Water on the rocks please.” John said to the waiter. Annie looked round and saw John stood a couple of feet away from her. She was wearing a very short black skirt, skin coloured tights with some black, high heeled shoes, and a red halter neck top. Her hair, to John, was perfection. It had been curled for the occasion and it bounced off her shoulders when she looked round to him.

“Well this is a surprise.” She said, facing him. “Didn’t expect you to turn up. Thought it wasn’t your sort of thing,”

“Well, you need to take risks at some point in your life don’t you? You never know when your time is up.”

“Are you going to be dancing later”? Annie asked.

“I don’t normally dance. Not my thing.”

“Consider it a risk you need to take.” She had the look of seduction in her eye that was making Johns heart beat faster and ache to the stage where it was uncomfortable. He took a large mouthful of water. He shouldn’t have come here. He didn’t want to be getting too exited. It might be the end of it for him too soon. The pain in his chest grew. Something was wrong.

“Are you ok?” Annie asked him. “You’ve gone all flustered and sweaty.”

“I’m ok, I just need some air.”

“Do you want me to come with you?”

“No, no stay here I’ll be right back.” He rushed his speaking and left as quick as he could.

But John didn’t go back. He drove himself to the hospital. He had a stroke. The doctor said he was lucky he was still able to drive to the hospital. If he had waited any longer then the stroke could have turned in to a heart attack.

“Sit down,” the doctor said. “I have more bad news for you.”

John obeyed the doctor’s demand and sat waiting for the news. By the look of the doctor’s face it didn’t seem good. The cancer has spread, John thought. Its in his lungs now, that’s why he couldn’t breathe.

“Can we hurry please? I have an early start tomorrow. I’m due in court at nine.” John demanded.

“If you don’t slow down then you wont make it to court at all.”

“What do you mean?” john asked. “Has the cancer spread to my lungs?”

“The cancer you have is called Mesothelioma. It does not only affect your heart, it can affect other organs in your body. From the X-ray we have just taken we can see it has spread to your lungs.  When we informed you of the cancer, we said you had twenty four months to live at the most, depending on treatment choices. But, because of your hesitation to visit us when we advised three months ago and get the treatment you need, and because of your lifestyle choices, I am afraid to tell you Mr Banks, you now have two months. There is very little we can do to help now. That is an estimate, fifteen percent of the time we are wrong. But my advice to you now is to step back from your office, take life easy, and for Gods sake come to your appointments.”

Almost a month after his meeting with the doctor John had officially left the Fenchurn Law Company. He didn’t tell anyone the real reason for his departure. He made up an excuse that he was tired and just wanted to rest. Everyone except his secretary and his dear Annie believed that. It wasn’t their place to say anything so they kept quiet and wished him luck for the future. The future, John thought. ‘My future is in a coffin, letting my frail mother watch me be buried, saying goodbye to my younger brother and his pregnant wife. Saying goodbye to years of achievements which were all for nothing. Saying goodbye to Annie, whom I never had a chance with anyway.’ These thoughts went through Johns mind everyday. Mostly he thought of Annie. What if he didn’t have this curse and stayed with her for the party? What would have happened at the end of the night? John wondered whether he should see her one last time. Should he tell her why he really left the company? And explain why he left her at the party so suddenly? Explain that he has loved her ever since the day in the lift? He was getting himself all worked up again. As John fell to the floor clutching his aching heart, he thought only of Annie, and the life they could have had. The last image he saw in his mind was of her smiling at him, not her usual seductive smile, but a smile of love that would stay with him forever.


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