I arrived for work on Wednesday morning in no better mood than the one in which I had left the previous evening. A deadly combination of the heat and a distinct want not to go back to the office had led to me tossing and turning for hours in the stifling shadows of the night. As I lay awake, I noticed that once again the temperature had remained as high in the darkness as it had been in the daylight - the disappearance of the sun had again failed to have the cooling effect on the world that it normally would have done.
Once more the morning was strangely quiet. For a while I sat next to the open window and looked down onto the street below. As I rested on the windowsill and watched little figures meandering around below me, I wished that I was at home in my new-found favourite position - in my deckchair, on the patio with a cold can of beer in my hand. I thought that if I found myself with any spare cash to invest after pay-day then it would definitely be worth buying shares in one of the local breweries. They seemed to be doing double the business of anyone else in the heatwave.
There wasn't really that much that needed to be done at the office and I would have gone home had it not been for the fact that a customer had telephoned and had decided that they desperately needed to see me. I could not help but think that anyone who would rather come into my cramped office when they could stay outside on such a glorious day, needed treatment. Nevertheless, I knew that I could not avoid the meeting and hoped that the appointment would not last for long.
Carol brought the customer's file in to me at a little before eleven o'clock. The person who needed to see me so urgently was a Samantha Hill and, although I had met her once before, I could not remember very much about her. She was young, single and the niece of Mr Ronald Stanley, one of the wealthiest of the customers that I dealt with. Unlike most of the company's richer clientele, Mr Stanley managed to be pleasant and obliging despite his riches and I hoped that Miss Hill would follow in her uncle's footsteps. After the last couple of soul-destroying days, I wasn't sure if I could cope with any awkward customers.
On the stroke of the hour, with admirable punctuality, Carol entered the office and told me that Miss Hill had arrived, I stood up, moved my chair back behind the desk and made sure that I looked presentable. It was far too hot to wear my jacket, but at least I made an effort by rolling down the sleeves of my shirt and checking that my tie was straight. With the office and myself ready to receive company, I walked across to the door to let Miss Hill in.
She was nothing like I had imagined her to be. She nervously entered the room and, as we shook hands, I could not stop myself staring into the most beautiful pair of deep blue eyes that I had ever seen. For a moment I was unable to look anywhere else and I became increasingly self conscious as I stared. My throat was dry and I had to clear it before I introduced myself.
'Good morning,' I said, feeling my face redden as I spoke. 'I'm Steven Johnson, office manager.'
Miss Hill smiled warmly and I gestured towards the desk for her to sit down. I took her jacket from her and once more could not help myself staring as she moved across the room. She wore a short, pastel green skirt which clung tightly to her figure and a white, sleeveless blouse. Her long, straight blond hair was pulled gently away from her face and fell in a loose plait down the centre of her back. As I sat down opposite her she crossed her legs under the desk and folded her hands into her lap.
'How are you?' I asked politely.
'I'm fine, thank you,' she replied in a light, breathless voice.
'And Mr Stanley?'
'He's fine too.'
'He's a good man. I get on well with him.'
Miss Hill nodded.
'He speaks well of you too. He told me that if I ever needed any financial advice then you were the man to see.'
'And do you?' I asked.
'Do I what?' she replied, puzzled.
'Need financial advice?'
'Oh, yes,' she said, laughing. She leant down and took a large folder from her bag at the side of her chair. 'I'm going into business. It was going to be a partnership but I've fallen out with my partner. Unfortunately, things have gone too far for me to pull out now and I wondered if your company might be able to help.'
'Would Mr Stanley be willing to...?'
She interrupted me.
'Uncle Ronald's already been far too kind to me. He helped me buy my property and has lent me some capital. I couldn't possibly ask him for anything more.'
'What would you need from us?' I asked. 'What kind of business are you going into?'
Miss Hill took various documents from her folder and spread them out on the desk in front of me. They were professionally produced and were of such detail that I could see the exact position of the business as at today's date. She intended to open a little shop in a quiet suburb of the city which would sell freshly made sandwiches and snacks. All that she needed from me was help so that she could finish equipping the shop and buy the first few weeks' stock.
The business plans and forecasts which Miss Hill showed me were impressive and showed that the venture had real promise. In addition, she held various relevant qualifications and I felt sure from talking to her that she would not enter into any commitment that she could not see her way to completely fulfilling. With the security of rich Uncle Ronald available to bail her out if it was ever required, it seemed that her proposition was a sound one.
After having examined all the details, I explained my position clearly to her.
'In principle,' I began, 'I can't see that the company would have any objection to us assisting you.'
Miss Hill flashed me a relieved smile and nodded.
'Of course, I'll need to complete the regulatory forms with you and we'll need to take up references.'
'That shouldn't be a problem,' she said as she sorted through the papers on the desk to find the names and addresses of her referees for me. She handed them over.
'Okay then, Miss Hill,' I said before being interrupted.
'Samantha, call me Samantha.'
'All right.' I said and smiled at her as I searched through the uncoordinated confusion of my untidy desk drawers for the required forms. I watched her as she collected up her papers and put them back into her folder. She was a good-looking and instantly likeable girl. Intelligent and easygoing, she would make the perfect wife for some incredibly lucky man somewhere, I thought. And those eyes...
I found the forms that I had been looking for.
'Right,' I said, 'this shouldn't take very long. We've just got these questions to complete.'
Samantha nodded and pulled her chair closer to the desk. As I opened up the form and took out my pen, she leant across and rested her elbows on the edge of the table. She sighed and looked up at me. Once more, I found myself unable to look away.
'What's the matter?' I asked.
'Nothing,' she replied. 'It just looks like there's a lot to get through.'
'Not really,' I said, shrugging my shoulders. 'It looks complicated but there's not that much to do. It'll only take us a few minutes.'
'You must be busy. Shall I take it away and do it at home?'
'There's no need,' I said quickly. I was suddenly aware that I did not want her to go. 'Honestly, it won't take that long.' I thought for a moment before asking, 'Why, do you need to go?'
Samantha shook her head. 'You must have much more important things to do than sit here and fill out forms with me.'
'Not really. Besides, doing it now will mean that everything can be agreed that little bit quicker.'
As she watched, I filled in her name at the top of the form and asked her address. I looked up from the paper to see that she watched me intently and I felt myself redden involuntarily. She chewed her bottom lip and looked thoughtful for a moment.
'This isn't fair, you know,' she said, smiling broadly.
I was puzzled.
'What isn't fair?' I asked.
'By the time we've finished this form, you're going to know a lot more about me than I'll know about you.'
'You don't want to know about me,' I said. 'There's nothing much to tell and it's not that interesting.'
'It still isn't fair,' she insisted as she took a pair of round-framed, wire-rimmed spectacles from her bag and put them on. She turned the form around on the desk to look at the questions.
'All right,' I said. 'Whatever you tell me about you, I'll tell you about me. Is that better?'
She laughed and turned the form back around so that it faced me again. The glasses which she wore complemented her already pretty face and she gently wiped her warm forehead. It was still hot in the office and, as I seemed to be getting even warmer with each passing minute, I checked the window to see if it was fully open. More relaxed, I loosened my tie and rolled up my sleeves again before sitting back in my chair and beginning our question and answer session.
'You know my address; where do you live?' Samantha asked and I told her. She seemed surprised. 'That's only a couple of minutes away from my house,' she said.
'I know. I drive past the end of your road on the way to work.' I cleared my throat before asking my next question. 'What about your marital status? Are you married?'
'I'm single,' she replied and I felt an unexpected wave of relief run through my body.
'And what about the partner you've fallen out with?' I asked. That was not a question on the form.
'Julie. Oh, she was just a friend, not a partner in that sense of the word.'
I felt foolish and as if I had been prying but Samantha seemed not to mind. I told her that I was single too.
We compared ages (she was three years younger than me), educational backgrounds and qualifications and I found myself becoming increasingly more and more relaxed in her company.
Although I could never profess to being a good judge of character, and reading a purpose into other people's signals and actions was something that I found annoyingly difficult, I felt sure that Samantha was as relaxed and as calm as I had become. I dared think for a moment that she could perhaps be the woman I had been dreaming about for all this time but I quickly tried to dispel such juvenile and unfounded ideas from my mind. I felt stupid and foolish at having entertained them for even a moment. Nevertheless, everything that I had told her had been the truth and I was sure that she had been just as honest with me.
We eventually reached the end of the form and I looked up at the clock on the wall. To my surprise, it showed the time to be gone midday. We had been sitting together in the office for over an hour but it seemed as if only a fraction of that time had passed. Samantha noticed the expression on my face and her eyes followed mine up towards the clock.
'Oh my god,' she exclaimed. 'I've taken up so much of your time. I'm so sorry'
Apologetically, she began to pack her documents and notes back into her bag.
'It's all right,' I said, 'there's nothing that can't wait here.'
'No,' she said. 'You've been absolutely great, but I really must go.'
My heart sank as she got to her feet and took her jacket down from the hook on the wall. I helped her put it on before opening the door to let her leave.
'I'll get the papers up to head office today. I can't see that they'll have any problems with anything and so long as your references check out we'll be in business.'
Samantha smiled broadly and held out her hand. I shook it gently. Her palm was warm and her fingers soft and gentle.
'Thanks again, you really have been brilliant,' she said and she stared at me, hypnotising me with her gaze.
'As soon as I hear anything, I'll be in touch.'
She left the room. Before I closed the door, she stopped and turned around to face me.
'If you're passing, why don't you call in on your way home one night?' she said.
I tried to maintain my professional integrity and politely decline but it was impossible.
'All right, I will,' I replied, unable to look anywhere but straight into her beautiful face.
'See you soon then,' she said and I watched as she left the building, taking my heart with her.
For the rest of the day, it was impossible for me to even try and concentrate on any of my work. All that I could think about was the young girl who had breezed into my office and blown me away.