Finally, a day off. Emmett Bell hadn’t enjoyed such a luxury in almost two weeks, though that was hardly the fault of his kindly manager. With their two most experienced carers off ill, and another at home looking after her high-risk daughter, it was all hands on board at the care home Emmett worked at. Even so, a selfish little part of him was grateful for the chance to just…do nothing.
Sprawled out across the bed, sinking into the plush softness of the mattress, he never wanted to leave. He checked the time – half-past nine – and let his eyes slip closed.
The pitched, relentless shriek of his mobile phone jolted him back to consciousness moments later. Emmett waited, breath held in his throat, for it to go to voicemail. It didn’t. Instead, whoever it was hung up and called again – and his phone continued to yell at him from the bedside table. With a groan, he forced himself to answer.
“Hello, this is Emme-“
“Where the hell are you?” Ah, his manager; and not the nice one. The woman – middle-aged and with the kind of hatred for other people that made him wonder why she was a carer at all – sounded perpetually angry. He didn’t take it to heart. At least not until she snapped, “you were supposed to be in for the ten o’clock shift, Bell. We haven’t got enough staff and Mrs Scott’s refusing to eat again. Not to mention…”
He zoned out. Emmett wasn’t proud to admit it, but he did not care about his manager’s worries. He had been pulling long shifts for two weeks straight and he just wanted one day to sleep in. It was hardly too much to ask, even for a pandemic.
“Are you even listening, Bell?”
Reaching up to scrub at his eyes, Emmett sighed. “I wasn’t in the calendar for today.”
“I put you in yesterday for an extra shift. You should have checked.”
He had no need to check, not unless he knew something had been changed in the first place – but it was better to keep opinions to himself. Nothing good ever came from arguing with people who thought they were always right. Biting down on his lip, Emmett turned to the clock. Sure enough, he had only managed to grab an extra few minutes of sleep. “I’ll be there in half an hour,” he mumbled, fighting back a yawn.
“You had better be,” his manager snapped – and hung up without so much as a goodbye.
Resisting the urge to just pass out for a second time, Emmett hauled himself to the bathroom. If he was lucky, a shower might wake him up.
It didn’t, and he ended up driving to work with a thermos of coffee strong enough to make him wince with every sip.
By the time Emmett got home that evening, starving and barely conscious, he was honestly ready to throw in the towel. He had experience, he could work in any care home he liked – except for the fact that, in lieu of most of the population being in lockdown, he thought no one was hiring. Not even those who desperately needed new staff.
Tossing his bag and coat carelessly onto the coffee table, he went in search of something to eat. Not like he had much – by the time work was over, the local shops were usually closed – and if they weren’t, he never had the energy to pick up food anyway. Settling on leftovers that probably should have been thrown out two days ago, Emmett flopped down at the kitchen table and fired up his brick of a laptop.
Facebook, no new messages. He had messaged his friend Joslyn a few days ago and still not received a response; he hoped she was all right. After scrolling down Facebook for a few dull minutes, he realised all he wanted to do was sleep. He was about ready to shut it down before remembering a forum he had joined. Until now no one had tried to communicate, but maybe…
The homepage lit up painfully bright in the darkened kitchen. He must have looked like an idiot, eating cold pasta bake with the laptop shining sickly blue light across his tanned features. When his eyes adjusted, Emmett saw the little green marker to denote someone had replied to one of his posts.
It was a forum for people like him – people struggling with the lockdown, people who needed advice or help or just someone to listen. he had already made use of it several times – but always as the helper, never the one in need. Honestly, he could have used some advice himself right then. Frowning, Emmett clicked the notification.
The first thing he saw was an old post, one he made when he first joined three weeks ago. He sounded juvenile, complaining about his workload and his exhaustion, which he swore was turning chronic. Until now no one had replied, and he had almost forgotten.
Just looking at it caused all those feelings to come rushing back. Heavy, thick disappointment settled in his stomach – if they had the chance, his job really would work him to death. People needed carers, yes, but they couldn’t get any help if the people caring for them got too ill to function. Stress always made him feel sick, and that familiar, anxious roll of his gut threatened to rise-
But someone had replied, so he shoved those feelings down and forced himself to read. That nausea refused to go, but at least he didn’t want to throw up any more.
Seems like you’re having quite the time, the answer wrote, and I know how you feel. I work for the mail service, can’t exactly stay off work when stuff needs to be delivered. Anyway, I think you should trust your gut. You can’t go on like this forever, especially in these times. So do what you think is best, even if it’s scary.
The icon was blank, but the person’s name appeared to be Ashley Greenwood. Penname or real one, he couldn’t tell.
Well Ashley, that was some mighty advice right there. It wasn’t as easy as just trusting your gut, but it brought a smile to his lips. Before he knew what he was doing, Emmett began typing a reply.
And for a week, that was how Emmett spent his evenings. He would eat cold leftovers that he didn’t really want, or make something quick like instant ramen, before settling down to chat with Ashley. He discovered a lot about her in only a week – that she had a ten-year-old daughter, that she was vegetarian, that she had only learned to drive at thirty-nine so she could get the post job.
And he, in turn, likely told her much more about himself than he should have. Yet she never seemed to mind, always replying with cute emojis and enthusiasm.
So, done anything about that manager yet? she asked one evening, sounds to me like she needs to be fired.
If only, he replied, she’s friends with the regional manager, so she gets away with everything.
Yet, he really had been considering her advice. Emmett had worked there for seven years now, and it had always been terrible. The only reason he was still there at all was that he didn’t have the heart to leave the people he cared for. Mrs Scott, who kicked up a fuss if breakfast wasn’t served at exactly eight o’clock; Mr Diaz, who insisted on Emmett calling him by his first name…
But at some point, didn’t he have to do what was best for himself? It made him feel sick, the thought of leaving without a plan, but if he kept going as he was it was a trip right to the hospital.
Do what you know is right, Ashley insisted, take time for yourself, find a way to deal with your stress. If that means leaving a toxic workplace, then… she trailed off, but her intent was clear.
I need the money, he replied – and it was true. Without money he couldn’t pay off his mortgage, not to mention he’d have to give up his car – and then his only way to get to and from any new jobs that cropped up. He couldn’t-
The laptop dinged again. While he couldn’t see her, he could just imagine Ashley rolling her eyes. There’s stuff in place for that. Mortgage and rent freezes, Government subsidiaries, you know? And wherever you go can’t be nearly as bad as that place.
She was convincing, he had to give her that. Shifting in his seat, which was beginning to make his legs go numb, he glared at the screen. There was so much to worry about, so much to consider – but would it really be any more stressful than the horrible, all-encompassing nausea he felt every day already?
The answer was no. No, it wouldn’t be worse. Emmett was already at his limit. So… there wasn’t any reason not to try, was there?
Fine, he typed back, fingers flying over the keyboard, I’ll hand in my notice. I can’t be any worse off than I am now. At least I’ll be out of there, and I might actually get to relax for once.
But if everything goes wrong, Emmett warned with a smile, I blame you. When this is over, I’ll find you.
He had meant it as a joke, of course, and he could almost imagine Ashley’s laughter – never mind that he had no idea what she sounded like. In his mind, it was loud and boisterous, no holding back.
Yet when her reply pinged up, his throat closed up. It read;
You won’t need to. Everything will be fine. Besides, when this is all over you and I are going out for celebratory drinks. Something to look forward to!
And it was. For the first time in weeks – maybe months – Emmett really did feel like things were looking up.