What's Normal? Stoked


Part 3
by Hannah Westman

What’s Normal? is a weekly short story series exploring life and emotions as the lockdown eases. Published every Sunday, this is Part 3, the final part of Story 2. Next Sunday, the 26th of August, Story 3 begins.

 It took a week for Joslyn to work up the courage to do anything about her… predicament. Avoiding Stephen and the rest of her coworkers was easy enough, but it didn’t really solve the problem, did it? Avoidance only worked for so long, and eventually, she had enough.

Knocking lightly on Mallory’s door, Joslyn waited. It wasn’t like her to turn up at Mallory’s office door unannounced; she hoped that might work in her favour. Allow her to see that she was serious about what she was going to ask. She wanted to start off with this, fixing her work-life before attempting to fix the rest of it. Well, she had already made pretty good headway on her finances just by virtue of most of her favourite places still being closed, and her social life had taken a step back too-

“Ah Joslyn, I was just about to look for you.”

Blinking, Joslyn glanced up, only to see Mallory standing in the now open doorway. “Looking for me,” she offered, “what for?”

“Come in and I’ll tell you. It’s all very exciting!”

Oh. That didn’t sit well at all. Yet Joslyn had manners at least, so she stepped inside – closing the door behind her – and settled down in a seat across from the desk. It was cluttered, a mess really, contrasting Mallory’s pleasant smile and calm demeanour. 

Sliding into her seat, Mallory beamed. “I have good news! As you know, some flights have resumed – with strict regulations – so I’m going to arrange for some work overseas. With our companies resuming work, they’re going to need some serious help getting their finances in order, and I’m sure you’re eager to return to normal too.”

Ah. The travelling side of her job – visiting other branches of the companies they worked for – had always been the best part of the job. Hotels all paid for, sightseeing, it was always a blast. More like a holiday than any real work, although she loved the work itself too. But now… disappointment settled deep in her gut. 

“Nothing has been decided of course, but you’re our best employee and I know you enjoy being so hands-on. Now-“

“Actually,” Joslyn cut in, only to wince at her own voice. “Actually,” she repeated, calmer this time, “I wanted to talk to you about something else. Well, it will definitely affect this too.”

A thin brow quirked, but her dazzling smile stayed in place. Did Mallory ever stop smiling? Hands clasped on the table, she nodded for her to continue.

“It’s just, things have been so different over the last few months. Quieter. I was wondering if it would be possible to lighten my workload – we’ll be recruiting, won’t we, when things start to ease up? And there’s more than enough staff to send someone else in my place.”

Huffing quietly, Mallory tapped her nails against the desk. “You’ve never complained before. First your argument with Stephen, now this. Quarantine has changed your work ethic, Joslyn.”

That was what she was afraid of. Of her desire for change to be seen as laziness or incompetence when in reality it was the opposite. She didn’t want to shuck her work off onto other people, she just wanted to do her work on her own terms. Biting down on her lip, Joslyn suppressed a sigh.

“You mean it, don’t you? Fine. What do you propose?”

Green eyes flickered up, brows raised. “Well, uh…” Ah, off to a fantastic start. Clearing her throat, she tried again. “I want to work from home. Not all the time, but most of the finances and accountancy can be done from any computer providing it has the software.” A pause, but Mallory didn’t say a word so she continued with, “and I don’t want as many trips away. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, because I do, but sometimes it feels as if I’m never home.”

 “You’re home often enough to go out every weekend.”

Joslyn winced. That’s what she got for discussing her personal life at work – another thing she should probably work on not doing. Tucking her legs beneath the chair, Jolysn tried not to scowl. “Yeah, but that’s my own free time. Anyway, I won’t be doing so much of that any more, either.” 

“So you want to work from home,” Mallory repeated, her bright smile never dimming, “I’m surprised, I’ll admit, but it is doable. As for the other thing – no. You’ve always been the best, since the day you joined. I’d have to find someone to replace you, and not a lot of people are willing to be away from home so often.”

Great. Wonderful. Joslyn wanted to knock her head against the wall; it would probably still be more productive than talking to Mallory. She had expected it of course, but it didn’t stop the dark swirl of irritation from making a home in her stomach. 

“How about this; you can work from home one day a week, as long as you agree to go on the next flight I book for you without complaint. Then I’ll see what I can do.”

“Three days a week,” Joslyn countered, “and I only go away three times a year.” Ordinarily, she was away twice that much, flitting between home and abroad like it was nothing. They worked for branches of cafes and tea shops in Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Canada – and plenty of other countries too. 

Mallory’s long nails continued to click against the desk as she leaned back in her seat. Lips pursed in thought, she tucked a strand of greying blonde hair behind her ear. For a woman nearing sixty-five, she always looked flawless. “Two days a week, and four flights a year. It’s the best I can offer.”

It was as if she was haggling at an auction rather than discussing her work. Her life. Irritation continued to simmer but she forced it down with a wince. Honestly, she just wanted to be out of here. “Okay, I’ll take it.” It was either that or keep trying, and then Mallory might go back on her decision. Running a hand through her thick hair, Joslyn bit her lip. It wasn’t ideal but… it was still enough for a giddy feeling of relief to sweep through her.

“Excellent! I know it isn’t exactly what you wanted, but compromise is part of any job.” Beaming, Mallory pushed back her chair and stood. “We can hash out the details later this week, but how does Wednesday and Thursday at home sound?”

A smile crept onto Joslyn’s lips – the first genuine one in a long time. “Why not? When will the new schedule start?”

“How about next week? Now don’t go bragging or everyone will want to work from home.”

“Right. Of course.” That was her cue to leave – she had things to do after all, and there was a huge load of boring paperwork waiting for her in her own office. Finances to deal with and taxes to figure out – but she didn’t dread it quite as much as she had that morning. She almost felt like she was back to Old Joslyn – or perhaps a better, rebranded version of Old Joslyn. 

She stood, exchanged a few pleasantries with Mallory, and sidled out of the office. The corridor was stuffy and the hardwood creaked terribly under her heels, but Joslyn hardly noticed. It was a compromise yes, but never in her dreams had she imagined it would have gone so well. Her chest stuttered, a grin overtaking her face. She felt like an excited child. 

She hardly even cared about Stephen’s curious gaze as they passed in the hall, or his mutter of, “what’s got you in such a good mood?”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she replied idly, turning to shoot him a smile, “things are just going right for once. Oh, by the way… sorry I went off on one last week. It was uncalled for.”

A shrug, and she swore his cheeks flushed a gentle pink. “Don’t worry about it. We were both out of line. Really though, why are you so… chipper?”

Joslyn had promised not to brag, and she didn’t want anyone getting jealous that Mallory’s favourite got her way again. So she said simply, “I’m trying to make some changes in my life, and it’s going better than expected.” Which was to say, she hadn’t expected much in the first place. It still kind of felt as if she was dreaming it up.

“Well if it’s got you so happy, maybe I should make some changes myself.”

“Give it a go, Stephen. You might be surprised.”

She carried off down the hall because she did have work to do despite her unusually good mood. Once she was finally back in her own desk chair, laptop booting up in front of her, she sent Emmett and Kalisha a quick text.

Want to meet up later? Now that we’re actually allowed to meet up in person, I have news 🙂


Six hours later and Joslyn sat in her back garden, freshly made martini in hand. Kalisha perched on one of her rickety old deck chairs, sipping a cocktail of her own. Emmett, more of a wine guy, had his own glass of red.

“So, what’s this good news you were so excited to tell us about?” Kalisha questioned. Her fluffy afro bounced with each move of her head, only adding to her childish overeager expression. “God knows I could use some good news lately, with everything that’s been going on.”

Joslyn couldn’t help the grin that overtook her slender features, or the laugh that spilled from her lips. “Well, remember when I was all stressed out about not wanting to return to work, and droning on about needing to change my habits?”

“Oh yeah,” Emmett laughed deep in his throat, “I’ve never seen you like that.”

She shot him a mock glare, then set her glass down on the table. “You thought it was funny? I’m hurt.” Her broad grin let him know she was kidding. “Anyway, I might have managed to haggle some new terms at work. Less travelling for one-“

“But you love travelling! I thought it was the highlight of your job?”

Waving a hand, Joslyn rolled her eyes. “Was is right. Lockdown has made me realise I need to take things at a slower pace. Working on my own terms – kind of, it was a compromise – the biggest step.”

“The other steps being..?” Emmett took a long drink of wine, before leaning across the table to refill. They were still socially distancing, technically, although they all shared the one table and their chairs were probably too crowded together.

Emmett might not like what she had to say. He had been a close friend since they were young, always the first one to encourage a night out go out for drinks or pick a new restaurant to try. With a sigh, Joslyn ruffled her hair. “I’m going to try spending less money, too. I think I’m one of the few people better off during lockdown, since I haven’t been going out. It’s nice to actually have savings, you know?”

“I won’t be,” Kalisha laughed, “I don’t think my bank ever has money in it.”

That’s the problem, Joslyn thought, but she couldn’t help the little laugh that left her lips. That was Kalisha – never concerned about the future as long as she was enjoying herself now. 

“So you’re working from home and cutting back on spending,” Emmett interjected with a quirked brow, “that doesn’t sound like Joslyn – but it’s hardly overturning your life either.”

“Well,” she started, taking a long drink from her martini. It was almost finished, she should make another; even if it was just so her hands had something to do. Why did she always get so fidgety when she was unsure? Huffing slightly, she said, “it’ll mean fewer nights out, no more parties, dedicating more time to myself instead.”

“So no more Mexican Thursdays?” Emmett’s face dropped, but he was only teasing, “they’re the best part of my week!”

“Then you need to find some hobbies,” Kalisha butted in with a wicked smile.

The sky overhead was beginning to grey, the warmth of the sun cooling into a pleasant breeze. Joslyn cast her gaze upward, but there was no rain in sight. Good. Turning back to her friends, she sent them a beaming smile. “My point is, I used to run around like I was still in my twenties, and I never realised how tiring it was until I stopped. Maybe I need to reel it in a bit.”

Kalisha tapped her chin, head tilted in thought. “I’ll admit, I never thought you’d say that. I always imagined you being like eighty years old and still hitting up the bar in six-inch heels.”

It earned a laugh, Joslyn’s eyes crinkling with the force of her smile. She wasn’t the only one to say that; her father had said something similar too, and it had been just as funny then. “So you’re not mad that I’ll be skipping out on nights out, then?”

Emmett shrugged, noncommittal even though his eyes were kind. “Whatever’s best for you. I never knew how you managed to juggle a social life and such a demanding job; it’ll be good for you to have some downtime once in a while.” 

Joslyn settled back into her chair, draining the last dregs of her martini. She felt light, weightless in a way she couldn’t quite describe. She had always thought it was so cheesy, so silly, to say someone had a weight lifted from their shoulders – but right then, she knew where people were coming from.

Maybe she didn’t have the perfect life – who did? – and maybe she had a long way to go yet. But she had to admit, things were looking pretty good.

Hannah Westman

As a young Scottish writer residing in Glasgow, I’ve been writing almost as long as I’ve been old enough to hold a pen. I started out writing short stories, and over the years I have branched out into many styles of writing. Someday, I hope to publish a novel series - but freelancing as I am now will always be part of my life. It has given me great opportunities to develop my writing skills, delve into many genres, and work with wonderful people.
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