A Second Chance: Chapter 5

Simon Carlyle was missing Oscar’s presence at work. Even in the months after Marie’s death, when Oscar had clearly been in mourning, his commitment to the job had never been in question. Simon had come to rely on Oscar’s competence and reliability and it was a source of daily frustration to find that project notes were incomplete, calls from customers hadn’t been returned, costings were incorrect and orders hadn’t been placed. He tried to make allowances for members of his department as they were having to cover the absentee’s workload but he knew that if one of them had been off sick, Oscar Williams would effortlessly have picked up the slack. 

It made the penalty of six week’s suspension without pay seem rather harsh but Simon knew that justice had to be seen to be done and, in truth, Oscar had been lucky not to finish up in court. Oscar had acknowledged as much at the disciplinary hearing, after the panel had announced its decision. He’d also, haltingly, offered his apologies to the company and asked that his regrets be passed on to the colleagues from whom he’d stolen. David Wheatley, the head of personnel who’d chaired the hearing, confirmed that he would deliver the message as soon as possible. However, he emphasised that Oscar would be expected to apologise to the ladies individually, either in person or in writing, before returning to work.  He was also required to pay a total of £350 to recompense those who’d sustained additional financial loss. 

Oscar had nodded his acceptance of the penalty. He’d been warned of the likely outcome of the disciplinary hearing and it clearly came as no surprise. Simon had held his breath when Mr Wheatley dropped the formal tone and spoke more sympathetically of the pressure that Oscar had been under and the panel’s desire to offer him the help and support he needed to make a successful return to work. As his friend and advisor throughout the hearing, Simon knew how anxious Oscar was to avoid any discussion of his mental state and how unwilling he was to accept professional help. When it was announced that the company would be willing to fund sessions with a psychotherapist, Simon felt Oscar bristle and risked placing a restraining hand on his knee under the desk. It seemed that the gesture had steadied Oscar, or at least reminded him of the firm line on the matter which Simon had taken with him in private. Through gritted teeth he’d expressed his thanks for the company’s understanding and generosity and the meeting had been brought to a close.

Simon had managed to refrain from contacting Oscar in the days immediately following the hearing, although his thoughts often strayed to his young colleague. He’d been honest with himself about his attraction to Oscar right from their first meeting at the recruitment interview but, as Oscar’s line manager, he’d always maintained a professional reserve at work. However, the time they’d spent together before and during the hearing had brought an intimacy and shared understanding which Simon was keen to explore further. He was conscious, however, that Oscar had felt uncomfortable about some of their exchanges and might well be regretting the personal revelations he’d made to the man who was also his boss.

Eventually he decided to telephone Oscar and invite him out for a drink after work. He felt it would be better to meet on neutral territory rather than visit Oscar’s home where the young man had cried in his arms. He wanted to let Oscar know that he was keen to spend time with him and to get to know him better but he didn’t want to reawaken painful or embarrassing memories. As he mulled over how best to make the first approach, he recognised that he was nerving himself to ask Oscar out on a date. Whereas before he’d not been entirely certain about Oscar’s sexual orientation, their recent interaction had convinced him that his advances would not be unwelcome. He just wasn’t sure what Oscar would make of such an invitation and whether he would actually recognise it as a date.

The phone rang for a long time before Oscar eventually took the call. “Williams speaking,” was the unpromising greeting.

“Hi, Oscar. It’s Simon from work. How are you doing?”

Good afternoon, Mr Carlyle. I’m fine thank you. I was just outside doing a bit in the garden.”

“I’m glad you’re getting out in the sunshine.”

“Well, I can’t sit in here all day.”

“That’s why I’m ringing. I thought you might like some company. How about meeting me after work for a drink?”

“Is this to discuss something about work?” Oscar asked anxiously. “Have they changed their minds about taking me back?” 

“No. No, of course not. This has nothing to do with work; it’s entirely personal. I’d like to hear how you’re getting on.” Even as he uttered the words, Simon feared he sounded like a boss checking up on his subordinate. “It would be nice to spend the evening in your company,” he added warmly, hoping that Oscar would get the message.

There was a long silence which Simon couldn’t interpret before Oscar just asked, “Where and when?”

“What about The Kings Arms? They do nice food in there so we could get a bite to eat if you’re hungry. How about we meet at the bar around six thirty?”

“Sounds fine. I’ll see you there.”

“See you, then. Bye.” Simon put the phone down, trying to decide whether he was pleased that Oscar had accepted his invitation or disappointed that the response had been so lukewarm.

His doubts would have been assuaged if he’d seen the speed with which Oscar headed for the bathroom to shower and the time he spent styling his hair and choosing his clothes. Uppermost in Oscar’s mind was the desire to make a good impression. He still had a sneaking suspicion that Mr Carlyle’s motives were work related and he wondered whether the meeting was merely to tell him of a demotion or reassignment to another department. But he’d learnt to trust his boss and ultimately he decided that that the invitation could be taken at face value. That being the case, he wanted to show himself in a better light than he had when Mr Carlyle had come to his home and he’d ended the evening sobbing on his shoulder or, even worse, when he’d accompanied Mr Carlyle to his office during a break in the disciplinary hearing and he’d been appallingly rude and uncooperative.

His mind hastily skipped over the manner in which his boss had dealt with his bad manners in the office. He’d already spent too long rerunning the scene in his head, fantasising about alternative endings and trying to clarify his confused emotions. After a lifetime of repressing his natural feelings, he no longer understood his own responses, let alone recognised when others were attracted to him. He just knew that Simon Carlyle had been the centre of his world from the day he started work for the company. Mr Carlyle was a demanding boss but he made every day in the office a pleasure. Oscar always gave of his best and went the extra mile, just for a word of approval or a smile of thanks. In the early days, he’d arrived at work bubbling with enthusiasm for the job. Latterly, when things at home had been so difficult, his time at the office had been his salvation. Mr Carlyle’s friendliness and equanimity had buoyed him up when everything else had looked bleak. 

There was no way he could ever explain such things to his boss but he resolved to show by his behaviour in the pub how much he enjoyed Mr Carlyle’s company and how grateful he was for his understanding and help. He got there in good time, expecting to have to buy a drink at the bar as he waited for Simon to arrive from work, but as he entered the licensed premises he heard a call from across the room, “Oscar, over here.”

Simon was seated at a table by the fire and he already had two glasses of beer in front of him. Oscar pushed his way through the crowd of office workers and, rather shyly, joined his boss who moved one of the glasses onto the beer mat in front of him. “I got the first round in. And I thought I’d grab a table in case you wanted to eat. You’re looking good, by the way.”

Oscar couldn’t disguise his pleasure at the compliment. He’d given a lot of thought to his outfit. He knew his boss would be coming straight from the office in a suit and tie, so jeans and a tee shirt wouldn’t do. On the other hand, it seemed inappropriate to put on a suit when he was suspended from work so he’d compromised with a well fitting pair of grey woollen trousers, an open necked shirt and his best leather jacket. A final glance in the mirror as he left the house had reassured him that he looked smart but, nonetheless, it was gratifying to see the admiration in Mr Carlyle’s eyes. “I had to get in the shower and scrub off the dirt from the garden after you rang,” he laughed. “Did you want to eat?”

“They do a great steak and ale pie here. Are you hungry?”

“Well, I don’t do much cooking for myself. Pie sounds good.”

“Right, I’ll go up and order from the bar. My treat.”

Oscar watched as Simon made his way through the crowded pub, stopping now and again to exchange a word or two with acquaintances. When he reached the bar, his order was taken at once although he hadn’t appeared to put himself forward. Oscar reflected, as he’d done on previous occasions, that his boss possessed an innate air of command which did nothing to detract from his universal appeal. He had a smile for everyone, an expectation that his needs would be met and a ready word of thanks. He exuded self confidence and, from his seat by the fire, Oscar noticed how the eyes of both men and women were drawn to him as he passed by. He couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride when Simon returned to the table and sat down beside him, immediately giving him his full attention and asking, “So what have you been getting up to recently? Apart from gardening, that is.”

It was gratifying to be the guest of the man who was clearly the alpha male in the room and Oscar reminded himself of his resolution to repay Mr Carlyle for his all his help and kindness. What better way than by demonstrating that he’d gone against his own inclinations and was following his boss’s strongly worded advice? Nonetheless, he had to grit his teeth to make the admission. “I’ve started seeing Mrs Norris. She’s the psychotherapist the company’s paying for.”

If Mr Carlyle was surprised to hear Oscar freely admitting that he’d accepted professional counselling, he didn’t show it. “Are you finding the sessions helpful?” he inquired neutrally.

“They’re not easy.” Oscar hesitated. “I thought I’d be lying down on a couch having a cosy chat with nice lady but…”

“You’re saying she’s not nice?”

“Oh, no. She was sweet when I told her about Marie, and the cancer, and how the treatment didn’t work. But now she says there are some issues we need to explore.”

“So she’s pushing you into realms you’d rather not visit.” Simon stopped. “I’m sorry; I don’t mean to pry.”

“It’s all right. I’ve got no one else to talk to about this and it’s strange, you know. She doesn’t push me at all, just asks how I feel about things. I can say what I like, and I don’t have to answer if I don’t want to, but I finish up telling her much more than I intend.”

“And that worries you?”

“No, actually, it doesn’t. She never makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s just… it’s just that I seem to be finding out more about myself than I ever knew.”

“Sometimes big changes in our lives make us reevaluate the important things.” Simon deliberately worded his response in general terms, out of respect for Oscar’s privacy.

“But I’m lying awake at night thinking about the last session, asking myself the questions Mrs Norris has raised.”

“Well, at least you don’t have to get up early for work in the morning!”

“That’s true,” laughed Oscar as he tried to shake off the thoughts that usually assailed in him the small hours. “That reminds me. There’s something I’d like to ask you about work.”


“It’s a bit embarrassing.”

“To do with your suspension?”

“Sort of. You know I have to apologise to all the ladies I… I stole from.”

“I thought you wanted to.”

“I do. I couldn’t go back to the office without saying sorry to each of them and Mrs Norris says it will help me make a new start. Apparently, apologising to people you’ve hurt is part of some therapies. She suggests I take my time over it and write down what I want to say to them. But I think I’d like to deliver the letters by hand. It would give me the opportunity to say sorry in person too.”

“I think that’s a nice idea, Oscar. I don’t think anyone will be out to give you a hard time.”

“The problem is… Well, I’m not quite sure if I’ve got a complete list. I may not have remembered all the things I took and sometimes….” Oscar was struggling to get the words out but forced himself to carry on, “sometimes I didn’t know who they belonged to when I took them.”

Simon hastened to reassure him. “That’s no problem, Oscar. Security took a complete inventory of all the items recovered from your locker and they were all reunited with their owners. I have access to the list on the network. I’ll email you a copy.”

“That would be so helpful. Thanks.” 

The conversation was interrupted as a the barmaid arrived to place cutlery, wrapped in paper napkins, on the table and then went off to bring two heaped plates from the kitchen. It wasn’t until they were tucking into the steaming pie which was served with a substantial helping of chips and garden peas that Oscar spoke again.

“How are things at the office then?” he asked lightly.

“You wouldn’t believe how behind we are with the work!” 

“Missing me, then?” Oscar enquired, a hint of mischief in his eye.

“I can’t be doing without you,” Simon replied, with a meaningful look which led Oscar to drop his gaze. 

It seemed that his boss wanted to convey more than just frustration over a slipping schedule. Oscar wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that but couldn’t mistake the glow of pleasure which Simon’s words engendered. “Is there anything I can do to help?” he offered, assiduously collecting peas on his fork to avoid having to look up.

“Oh, what wouldn’t I give to have you complete that bid for the local authority work? James has messed up the costings twice and county hall is on my back now.”

“Send the stuff over and I’ll get on it.”

“How can I? You’re on suspension.”

“Look, I’ve got nothing to do, Mr Carlyle, and I’d be happy to help out.”

“It’s Simon outside the office, Oscar. And I can’t take advantage of you like that.” Even as he declined the welcome offer, his mind was considering solutions. “Hang on, perhaps there is a way. It would have to be a private deal between us, not strictly kosher but not dishonest either. If you keep a careful account of the hours you spend on the task, I’ll authorise them for overtime payment once you’re back at work. The finance department won’t give it a second look and the company will get the benefit of your input.”

Simon wasn’t the only one capable of quick thinking. Oscar suddenly saw an opportunity which he hadn’t even considered until that point and he grabbed it before he lost his nerve. “In which case, you’ll have to bring the files round personally to my house if we’re to keep the arrangement private. I’ll be in tomorrow evening.” This time he looked directly at Simon Carlyle and a shared understanding passed between them.

“That’s great. I can get round to you for about seven o’clock, if that’s all right. Thank you so much for your offer of help; it’s much appreciated.” Simon raised his glass to Oscar to express his obligation and also to acknowledge the unspoken invitation. ‘He does understand that this was a date,’ thought Simon, ‘and he’s just shown that he’s interested in taking things further.’