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    lomax61
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This story is set in contemporary Britain during the pandemic. As such, references are made to UK government regulations and guidelines, although some of the timelines may vary for artistic purposes. This story is my usual flavour of gay MM romance and is not a political statement in any way, simply an observation of a budding romance during extraordinary times.

Famous Last - 21. Chapter 21

Spencer's day does not go at all as planned.

On Thursday morning, Spencer sat at his desk, staring at his email, picking at small jobs to keep himself occupied and psyching himself up for his meeting with Muriel. He knew he ought to be feeling something akin to relief, but anxiousness weighed on the pit of his stomach like too much pizza.

The night before, he signed and posted the employment contract back to The Herald recruitment team. That very morning, he had brought a copy of the agreement into work with him, along with the covering offer letter. As soon as he had logged on, he had written, printed, and signed a resignation letter ready to hand to Muriel. The good luck soundbite he had picked up from Marshall—Spencer had naturally texted him about his upcoming meeting with Muriel—telling him to be brave, and then going into lurid detail about how he planned to reward him on his return, had Spencer smiling all the way to the station. By nine o'clock, he had everything ready to go but had to hang around until he heard from the woman herself.

Clicking through some news channels to pass the time, he came upon some sites showing preparations for the presidential inauguration in Kryszytonia. Arrangements appeared impressive, with the whole square in front of the parliament building sectioned off to house three banks of empty seats around rows of seating on the ground, all facing the stage where the new president would be sworn in. Regimented rows of the national flag in blue, gold and ochre hung at regular intervals. Another site showed an ornate hall in the presidential palace where the formal dinner would be held, with an impressively long table of silverware, crystal glasses and elaborate flower arrangement in the national colours, the event catering for at least a sixty. Absently, Spencer wondered what Marshall was doing right at that moment.

Right at that moment, Spencer's desk phone rang.

"Morning Spencer," came Alice's voice. "Muriel asked me to call you about the ten o'clock appointment you made with her. She wants to know if it's really important. Says she's extremely busy today. Between you and me, Spencer, I think she thinks you want to see her about the staff Christmas party."

"It's not about that, Alice. It's about me?"

"I see. And—um—anything you can share?"

"Not really. It's personal and a little delicate, if you know what I mean?"

"Of course. Yes. No, I see. Sorry, you know what she's like. Asked me to try and find out before you got here. And she's in one of those moods this morning, I'm afraid. Okay, sorry, I'll let her know. Come over just before ten."

Almost exactly a month to the day, Spencer found himself once again seated opposite Muriel, in the chair that sank so that his eyes drew level with the tabletop. On the last occasion, he had been hoodwinked into taking on Clarissa's responsibilities. Digging his fingernails into the fleshy part of his thighs above each knee, he made sure he would stay focused this time.

"Can we make this quick, Spencer?" said Muriel, snapping down the lid of her laptop. "I've a lot to do today and I need to get cracking."

Spencer smiled, settled back and decided to relax.

"The client party went rather well, don't you think? I know it was only last Friday, but I've already heard a lot of positive things from clients. Particularly the interview with you and Lord Moresby."

Muriel appeared to soften. No doubt she had heard many good things, but Spencer figured that dishing out a few more compliments couldn't do any harm and might even soften the news of his resignation.

"Have you?" she replied, looking out of the window. "That's good to hear. Yes, I was extremely pleased with the outcome considering everything. Ms Salvatore did a sterling job. As did Prince, given the amount of time he had to bring everything together."

Spencer didn't expect to get any credit from Muriel but thought someone else ought to.

"Marshall Highlander recommended the company, you know? VIP? Don't you think his whole involvement took the whole event to a whole new level?"

Muriel's gaze swung back then. In true Muriel style, she pursed her lips and folded her arms.

"Mr Highlander did a good job. Apart from asking a few unscheduled and frankly impertinent questions. Now what is it you wanted, Spencer?"

The moment of truth. He pulled the offer sheet from his inside jacket pocket and passed the paper across the desk. Muriel hesitated a moment, before taking the letter and reading the contents.

"I'm here to hand in my resignation, Muriel. The National Herald has offered me a position at their newspaper. Starting as an assistant reporter."

"I see," she said in her usual haughty, waspish way. Without looking at him, she continued to read the letter. "And you consider this a good career move, do you? Why on earth would you want to jump into the lion's den with all these despicable people?"

"Because it's where my passion lies. And where I feel my talents might be better appreciated."

"They will eat you alive," she said, tossing the letter across the desk at him. "Well, if that's your decision, so be it. But I'm afraid we can't let you go any earlier. You're going to have to work out the full three months' notice—"

"One month."

Finally, she met his gaze and glowered at him, as though he had just slapped her across the face.

"I beg your pardon?"

"My notice period is one month."

"I think you'll find you're mistaken. The senior editing manager role carries a notice period of—"

"That may well be the case. But, contractually, I don't have that role. I am acting senior editing manager. You never elevated me officially or got me to sign anything, although you did offer a small compensation for—what is it you called it—oh yes, care-taking the role. I agreed to take on the duties out of a sense of loyalty. Anyway, I've already checked with the human resources department and, contractually, I am still a junior editor. My notice period is one month from today. With the twelve days annual leave I have outstanding, that allows me to leave here at the end of the year and take up my new position at The Herald on the fourth of January. I've done my homework, Muriel, and if nothing else, you must know by now how thorough I am."

Now the blood had positively drained from her face. Bev had suggested bringing in his mobile phone to record the meeting covertly, and he was beginning to regret not having done so.

"That's going to put me and the rest of the staff here in a very difficult position at one of our busiest times of the year. Do you think that's fair, Spencer, after everything we've done for you?"

Had she simply accepted his resignation and left things there, he might have gone quietly. But to play a sympathy card pushed him well and truly over the edge.

"Fair? Don't you dare preach to me about fairness. And what the hell have you done for me? Lumbered me with crap jobs, left me to clean up other people's messes, given me an insult of a financial incentive to assume a managerial role, and worse still, given me no credit for doing a damn good job since I did take over. And where is the promised bonus for me landing the final interview in Collective? Don't even think about lecturing me about fairness, when you have never been fair to me."

"I see. Well, if that's the way you feel—"

"It is. And for the remaining days, I will be reverting to my junior editor duties. Don't worry. I don't expect you to pay me the one percent bonus incentive you promised at the beginning of November when I took on the supervisor duties. But I do recommend you get someone to step into the manager role as a matter of urgency. Have you considered calling Madeleine Morrison from Peerpoint?"

"I think I know more than enough about this business to manage without a third rate recruitment agency. Thank you, anyway. If that's all, Spencer, may I suggest you get back to work and allow me to return to mine."

But Spencer didn't move.

"And that's it?"

"That's what?" asked Muriel. "I thought you'd made your position perfectly clear?"

"Two years, I've worked here, worked for you. Can I ask you something, Muriel?"

"I can hardly stop you, can I?"

"Why have you never liked me?"

Muriel leant back in her chair and put her hands together beneath her chin, appraising him.

"Until you came along, my son was completely focused and driven. And then somehow or other, not a few weeks after you joined, you seemed to be all he could talk about, the new junior recruit, openly flaunting his sexuality around the office. And then you foisted yourself upon him—"

"Is that what he told you?

"He didn't need to. I know my son. He changed a few weeks after we took you on—"

"If you had bothered to ask him—and if he'd been in the rare mood to tell the truth—he would have told you that he propositioned me. Not the other way around—"

"My son would never waste his time and energies on—" Muriel had come the closest Spencer had ever seen to losing her temper. Instead, she caught herself, and drew in a breath, before continuing. "I knew you would be trouble from the outset. I should have listen to my instincts and gotten rid of you before you infected those around you. Had I not been vetoed by the managers you worked alongside, and been strongly advised against it by an employment law specialist—yes, I did consult one—I would have terminated you during your three month probationary period."

Spencer had heard enough. He pushed away from the table and stood up.

"I cannot believe I've wasted my life in this toxic place. You were never going to give me a chance, were you? My mother said as much. You were never going to acknowledge my worth, instead keeping me dangling on with empty promises. What an absolute waste of my time, you dreadful woman."

"Be careful what you're saying, Spencer. Have you never heard the expression about burning bridges. I've no doubt you will be expecting a favourable reference from the magazine."

"Muriel, if I received a favourable reference from you, Ed Coleman would probably withdraw my employment offer. And a good friend once told me that every now and again one has to burn a few bridges in order to stop the crazy people from following. I think that applies perfectly in this case.”

"And I think you should tidy your desk and leave."

"You want me to leave right now?"

"If you're not prepared to help with the transition of a senior editor, I see no reason for you to keep coming into the office. We'll pay you until your official leaving date, but I think it would be for the best all around, if you leave today, don't you?"

"Suits me fine."

Muriel lifted the lid of her laptop and began typing, her attention back on the screen. Her voice came across annoyingly calm.

"Human Resources will be in touch with you regarding your final salary and other details. I trust I don't need to call security, trust you know how to find your way out of the building.”

After staring in disbelief for a moment, Spencer turned and stormed out of Muriel's office. On the way back to his desk, he snatched up an empty packing box from the floor. Hardly anyone was around to witness him, most working from home. Before anything, he stood over his desk and replied to a couple of emails, before shutting down the computer. Fuming still, he began throwing things into the box; a bulky Thesaurus paperback his father had bought him that he rarely used, photos of his family, a couple more textbooks, pens and paperweights—barely enough to fill half the box. Two year's worth of his life.

"I'm guessing things didn't go so well?" came Bev's voice. She had appeared at the end of his desk without him noticing.

"Depends," said Spencer, still seething. "If you mean did she kick me out of the office, then the answer is yes."

"She can't do that," said Bev quietly.

"Well, guess what?" said Spencer. "She just did."

"Without pay?"

"Well, no. I'll still get paid until my official leaving date."

"You're on garden leave, then? You lucky sod. Any chance we could swap places?"

Spencer stopped what he was doing and peered quizzically at Bev, processing what she had just said. Of course, she was right. Despite what Muriel had said, he would have been prepared to come in and work until his last day, to help train up the new person and hand over tasks. But now he had been given a couple of weeks' extra leave on full pay. With a sigh, he collapsed into his seat and swivelled towards her.

"You're right. I'm just pissed off at not getting any credit for everything I've done."

"Which is perfectly natural, Squirrel," said Bev. "Come on. Let me take you to my local coffee shop and get you a coffee and a muffin. I want to hear everything and I'm guessing you need to let off some steam."

Spencer stood back up, pulling his coat from the back of the chair and struggling into it. He lifted the lanyard holding his access card from around his neck and slung his bag over his shoulder.

"I'll need to hand my security pass to Kim on the way out."

After putting the lid on top, he lifted the cardboard box and turned back to Bev. This time, she stared at the container, then at him, shocked.

"You have to go straight away? You can't leave at the end of the day?"

"I asked her if she wanted me to go now and she said yes. Honestly, Bev, I need to get out of this place. Before I do something I regret."

"You don't even get to say goodbye to people? How is that fair?"

"For a start, there aren't many people around. But don't worry, we'll sort something out. Come on, let's get out of here."

***

Forty-five minutes, a large mug of coffee, and a chocolate chip muffin later, and Spencer felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

Bev had sat patiently listening to the retelling of his meeting with Muriel. Like a good friend, she didn't interrupt, just nodded or shook her head in all the right places, frowning most of the time. That was until Spencer told him what Muriel had said about him foisting himself upon Blake and about trying to get rid of him during his probationary period. Right then Bev had lost her cool, said if Spencer did not talk to the Human Resources department about their boss' appalling behaviour, then she would. Eventually, though, he had calmed her down, said there was no record of the meeting and, in the end, it would come down to Spencer's word against Muriel's—and it was a foregone conclusion who people would believe. Most of all, he wanted to put the whole dreadful episode behind him and concentrate on the future.

"Besides," he said, hoping to put her fears to rest. "I don't want you to blot your copybook. Not after finally getting a well-deserved promotion."

"Are you going to call Marshall?" asked Bev.

As though on cue, his ringtone sounded from somewhere inside his jacket. He pulled the phone from the inside pocket, stared at the display and then chuckled.

"Not Marshall," said Spencer, showing Bev the name on the display. "My mother. I swear she's psychic."

He pushed the accept button and thrust the phone to his ear, rolling his eyes at Bev.

"Hello, Mum. Let me guess? You're checking up to see if I'm still coming for Christmas?"

Naturally, Garrett had been unable to keep a simple secret about Spencer bringing a friend—Marshall—and had spilt the beans to their mother.

"Spencer. It's Garrett," said his mother, her voice strained. "He's been in a road accident. Came off that blasted motorcycle of his. I told him he shouldn't go out in this weather, but he never did listen to me. The policeman your father spoke to said he hit a patch of black ice on a bend in the road, somewhere outside Branksome—"

"Oh, my God, Mum. Slow down. Is he okay?"

Bev, noticing his anxious tone, reached across and held onto his free hand.

"No, no. Yes, I mean, he's fine. Well, he's not fine, he's in the hospital. His right leg is broken in two places and he managed to fracture his wrist. When they got to him, he was unconscious, but he's awake now, and seems alert. I spoke to him over the phone an hour ago. It all happened early this morning."

"Was Dad with him when it happened? Or was he riding alone?"

"He was on his own. Thankfully, a police car was coming the other way and saw everything happen. Called an ambulance and everything. They said he was lucky to get off so lightly."

"I'll come back this weekend."

Bev, who was trying to pick up the gist of the conversation, nodded her agreement. Spencer knew Marshall would understand.

"No, you don't need to come home, Spencer. I'm just calling to let you know. There's little point coming back. He's at Bournemouth General but we're not allowed to go and see him at the moment. They're keeping him in for observation for at least three days. Your father and Peony are at the hospital and getting updates from the doctors. But the ward is closed to visitors, to guard against the possibility of anyone infecting patients with the virus. So you wouldn't be able to see him, anyway."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Not really, love. I'm sorry, I didn't want to worry you, but I just thought you ought to know. No doubt when you're back in a couple of weeks, he'll still be on crutches."

"Soaking up the sympathy, playing it for all it's worth. Can't wait to see that."

"I know. He's going to be a handful. Hopefully, he'll rethink the bike now, especially after Peony gives him a piece of her mind. Anyway, son. How are you? How are things? Garrett says you're bringing someone home for Christmas, is that right?"

Spencer considered telling her his news—all of it—but decided to let her get back to worrying about the son who needed her more.

"I'm fine, Mum. And yes, I'm hoping to bring someone back. But I'll let you know more later. I think you've got enough on your plate right now. Love you."

After signing off, they headed back towards the office, and Spencer gave Bev the full download. They stopped outside the main doors, Spencer still lugging his box. He felt strange, knowing the place that had been his second home for the past two years, no longer welcomed him.

"Well, I'd better get back to my desk," said Bev. "And you'd better go home and put your feet up. Have you got anything to keep you busy?"

"Not really. Although maybe I should start my online search for a new flat."

"There you go. Give yourself a project. You've got all the time in the world now."

"Feels really weird, having no work. Don't think it's really sunk in yet."

"Enjoy it while you can, Squirrel. You'll soon be rushed off your feet at The Herald."

Uncharacteristically, she stepped forward and pulled him into a tight hug.

"I'm going to miss having you around," she said, squeezing hard before letting him go. "It's not going to be the same. Promise me we'll keep in touch?"

"Promise."

***

Spencer woke at the usual hour on Friday morning, and only after he had showered, picked out his daily outfit, slipped on his shoes and jacket, and had already hurried down the stairs to brave the cold morning, did he realise he had no office to go to. Outside on the street, with the front door closed behind him, he giggled into his mask, into the sunny but frosty morning air and checked his watch—eight o'clock.

Fortunately, a couple of pings on his phone alerted him to messages that had arrived overnight, so he decided to head to the boutique coffee shop along the arcade. After getting a morning takeaway fix—a large leisurely coffee in a cardboard cup and a cream cheese bagel—he pulled out his earplugs, and listened to Marshall's message as he made his way to the local park.

"Hello sexy," came Marshall's hushed, but warmly familiar voice. "Just thinking about you. You're probably still asleep, so I won't call and wake you. I've had to sneak away to record this, because the ceremony is about to start. Probably means I'm going to be tied up until after the dinner. So I hope you're listening to this privately, and not where anyone else can hear, because I had this amazing sex dream about you last night. Baby, you were on fire, taking charge and riding me cowboy style, wearing only your pink and black polkadot bowtie. Hot doesn't even begin to describe it. Fuck, Spence, when I woke up I'd messed my pyjama bottoms, if you know what I mean? I kid you not. Don't think I've had a nocturnal emission like that since the age of fifteen. Look what you do to me? We're definitely going to have to act that particular fantasy out, baby. Ooh, and by the way, I managed to get the red eye out of here tonight at midnight. There'll be a short layover in Amsterdam, so I won't land in London until midnight local time. I'll text you first to see if you're still awake. If not, I'll bring over breakfast at seven. Hope that sounds okay. Take care, Spencer. I hope you realise how much I love you. See you Saturday."

Between finishing the bagel and checking other messages—one containing a photo of his toothy smiling brother with his arm in a sling and his leg in plaster, probably taken by a nurse—Spencer played the recording back repeatedly. Each time, his heart tugged a little more, at how wonderful it was to hear that Marshall felt the same way.

Coffee in hand, he strolled along the pavement, taking the detour into the public gardens, and plonking himself down on an empty bench. Despite the chill and residual frost, the air felt wonderfully clean. Commuters, on their way to the station, hurried by, their heads down. Relaxed and feeling an extraordinary lightness, he stretched out his legs and tilted his face to the sun. Warmth bathed his skin, and a smile crept onto his face. Of all the things that had happened to him in the past month, having Marshall in his life was the best.

Deciding to keep moving, he got to his feet and began strolling across the park, enjoying letting people hurry past. Interrupting his thoughts, the phone in his hand started ringing and, for a second, he wondered if Marshall might be calling from abroad, even though the caller ID came up as unknown.

"Spencer Wyrrell."

"Spencer. Thank fuck you're answering. Where are you?" Darcy's usually confident voice sounded on edge.

"I'm in the park around the corner from my flat. Why? What's happen—?"

"Listen. You mustn't freak out, okay?"

Why would Darcy tell him not to freak out? It had to be about Marshall. For some ridiculous reason, his thoughts went straight to Joey having done something stupid again.

"Okay, let's have it. What's happened this time?”

"Look, I'm calling you now because this is going to be all over the news in the next hour or so. During the inauguration ceremony in Kryszytonia, someone made an attempt on the president's life. A suicide bomber managed to get past security and infiltrate the section in front of the presidential stage. A large bomb went off. Horrific, by all accounts. The president's been rushed to hospital and it's thought he survived, although we don't yet know the extent of his injuries. The point is, Spence, those adjacent stands housed the press corps and—"

Spencer heard no more. He stopped walking, unable to breathe. Somewhere inside his head, a silent scream froze unvoiced. Marshall had made a big deal about being honoured to be in the new president's presence, about being near him during the ceremony. A sudden coldness swept through him. For a crazy moment, he wanted Darcy to say that everything was fine. But instinctively, he knew. By a sheer effort of will, he managed to croak out one word.

"Marshall?"

"That's why I'm calling. They don't know much yet, Spencer. Except to say the explosion caused significant damage. Communication is flaky at best while the emergency services do what they can. Reports are that some of the president's entourage were killed and many injured, but we don't yet know the full extent. As I say, the real damage occurred within the press enclosure in front of the stage, which was apparently packed. Someone described the scene as nothing short of carnage. The bomber detonated in the very heart of the crowded area. Spencer, I think we need to prepare ourselves for the worst—"

Spencer had stopped by a lamppost in the park. Just in time, too, because the ground beneath him suddenly shifted and became unstable, the motion making him nauseous. With the phone still clutched to his ear, he ripped away his mask, bent over and threw up his breakfast. As he remained there, one cold hand clutching the solid metal post as though stopping him from being swept away, a masked couple passing him on the pavement, looked on in disgust. The woman said something he could not discern, the tone one of contempt. He barely acknowledged them.

"Spencer, are you there?"

A single thought kept running through his brain, over and over, as though on a loop.

"Spencer!"

He had never told Marshall how much he loved him.

"Go back home. I'll call Beverley and tell her what's happened, tell her to let them know you're not coming to work today. And then I'm coming over."

And now he had lost the chance.

Thank you for reading. In case you are new to my stories, this would not be a lomax61 tale if there wasn't at least one huge cliffhanger.

Please post any comments, suggestions or remarks, or simply leave a reaction.

If you find any edits or typos or other errors, please PM me (using the envelope option at the top of the screen) on Lomax61, rather than posting a comment on the chapter.

Copyright © 2020 lomax61; All Rights Reserved.
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That you very much for reading.

Any reactions, comments or observations are very much appreciated.

Let me know what would you like to see happen? Or what you foresee happening next?

 

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8 hours ago, nix said:

Hit the like react button if you agree that Muriel is a despicable, diabolical she-devil. Hit the sad react button if you are sad that this chapter ended in a cliffhanger lol.

That's not fair I can only leave one reaction :P

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58 minutes ago, spyke said:

 

The powers that be need to allow us to have more than one reaction. It's these authors' fault for running us through a roller coaster of many emotions. It's too hard to decide! :facepalm:

The two reactions at a time would be neat, but it's even beyond the powers that be.

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