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Changing Perspectives - Chapter 1

1st Chapter:

London, 1993


The bar was noisy, hot, overcrowded, and smoky. Dani stood by the door; she had found a niche where she could observe the room and the comings and goings, without getting her drink jostled out of her grasp. It was a typical Friday night crowd for this particular bar. Not one of her favourite places, but Penny had convinced her she should get out a bit. And where was Penny now? She had accompanied Dani here and then said she had to go home. Well, why not? She had someone to go home to, even if it was that stuck-up cow, Astrid.


They had been working late to finalise the wording on the print media ads for the all-important Redmond pitch on Monday. Dani appreciated Penny’s willingness to stay behind to work on the copy. Her two young assistants in the art department had other plans for the evening and although she could have pulled rank and insisted they work late, she let them go. She could finish up the artwork on Monday morning. The storyboards for the television ad only needed a few extra scenes.


She took another swallow of her drink. It was in danger of going flat from the heat of her hand. The beer on tap was never very good in here anyway and she wished she had ordered a bottled lager. Her eyes wandered around the room.


Six months gone and she still looked for Trish everywhere—on the street, in shops, on buses and the Tube—and sometimes thought she glimpsed that tantalising streak of gold. She couldn’t explain this obsession to anyone, let alone herself. They’d had fun while it lasted, but in the end there was the usual issue. Trish did the taking, enjoying what Dani gave her, but she couldn’t give Dani the satisfaction she needed. The start of the relationship was filled with constant excitement, discovering the many ways she could please her new lover. But when Dani let her know what she desired, Trish turned away, couldn’t face her, and wouldn’t even discuss it.


“Hey, Dani!” She looked down at the girl in front of her and smiled in recognition. It was impossible to be heard without shouting, so she didn’t waste words, just pulled the smiling face towards her own and kissed it full on the mouth. Dani could feel the heat of the other woman’s crotch through her jeans as she pressed her leg between willing thighs.


“So where have you been, Sal?” she breathed into her ear.


Sal pulled back and stared at Dani. Her eyes tracked down to the front of her jeans, then she looked back up at Dani, eyebrows raised questioningly. Dani shook her head. “Not tonight. Just cruising.” She knew what Sal’s look meant. For years she hadn’t gone to any club without wearing a dildo. It had been her trademark and had gone down well with the femmes at the time. But for as many years now she hadn’t bothered.


“Can I get you a drink?” she mouthed. Sal nodded and Dani started to push her way through to the bar.


Then she saw her.


Trish was leaning against the wall next to the bar, eyes unfocused, staring into space. Dani couldn’t stop herself; she found herself standing in front of Trish. The six months might never have been. Trish looked tired; Dani just wanted to take her in her arms and tell her how much she loved her. That they could try again. Pure habit moved her to reach out and touch Trish, gently, on the cheek.


Trish’s face relaxed into a smile briefly before she started shaking her head and saying no. Too late Dani realised she wasn’t saying the word to her. A large hand on her shoulder spun her round and she found herself face-to-face with a grim-looking dyke wearing a studded leather vest. She only caught a glimpse of one of the tattoos on the large arm as it swung out and caught her on the side of the head.


Dani didn’t know how many times she was hit. She heard Trish pleading with her attacker to stop before she passed out.


When she came to she was sitting on the pavement outside the bar with her head between her knees. And she was alone. With some difficulty, she stood and steadied herself on a meter. About all a parking meter in central London is good for these days.


Several minutes passed before a taxi appeared. With the state she was in, she was surprised when it stopped. The driver even asked which hospital she wanted to go to. She shook her head and gave him her address. During the journey across town, she closed her eyes and tried to block out the various pain points on her face and the ones spreading through her torso.


“You should get that looked at, love,” he said, offering more sympathy while she eased herself out of the seat. She thanked him and said she knew a few nurses. Dani stumbled up to her door, dug her keys out of her jacket pocket, and let herself into the dark hallway.



Penny sat on the edge of the bed lacing up her trainers. Astrid stood by the door glaring at her. She was already dressed and ready to leave.


“Look, Pen, it’s not our problem.”


“Yes, it is. Mine anyway. I left her there.”


“What you were doing there is what I’d like to know.”


“We’ve been through all that. I was only keeping Dani company.”


“She’s old enough to go into places like that on her own.”


“Yeah.” Penny stood and picked her jacket off the chair where she’d abandoned it only a few hours earlier. “I’m sorry, love,” she said, knowing no amount of saying sorry could make amends. “You don’t have to come. I just feel responsible for Dani, having left her there,” she finished lamely at the stony look on Astrid’s clear, finely chiselled features.


“Right!” Astrid exploded, predictably. Penny didn’t even flinch; she just stood looking down at her shoes waiting for the inevitable tirade. “She’s over thirty. She makes more money in a week than you make in a year, yet you’re responsible because her life’s a fucking mess! I didn’t realise you wanted to be a social worker.”


Penny started for the door. She made her living as a copywriter, writing words for other people to use, but sometimes she couldn’t find words for herself. She couldn’t expect Astrid to feel ecstatic about her friendship with Dani right now. They had been on the verge of drifting off to sleep when Dani phoned. At first, she thought it was a drunken prank. She could barely hear what Dani was saying. Eventually she worked out that Dani wanted her to go to the chemist for her. And she wasn’t mumbling because she was drunk.


Finding a place to park on Dani’s street wasn’t easy. Finally, Penny decided to take a risk and park in a “permit holders only” spot. They walked along the road to Dani’s house. It was mid-row in a tall terrace backing onto the river. Penny never ceased to be amazed that Dani lived in such an upmarket part of London; that she owned this expensive pile of bricks and mortar in an area where Penny couldn’t have rented a studio flat, even sharing. Most people at the agency thought Dani lived in a squat or a cardboard box from the way she dressed and her general attitude to the commercial world.


Dani had left the door on the latch. Penny pushed it open and walked in, followed closely by Astrid who clutched the bag of bandages and pills.


“Dani,” called Penny. A light was on in the room at the back of the house. Penny went down the hall and found Dani slumped in an armchair facing the open french windows. It was a fresh night with a breeze coming off the river. Penny shivered, in spite of her fleece-lined leather jacket. “Dani,” she said again, and walked around the furniture to face her.


“Oh shit!” She dropped to her knees in front of Dani’s chair.


“Might as well be at work.” Astrid put down her paper bag and went into the kitchen. Penny could hear her filling the kettle, still muttering about Friday nights in A&E.


Dani opened her eyes, as far as she could, squinting at Penny. Dried blood caked her nose, lips, and chin. Astrid returned with a bowl of hot water and sent Penny off to make an ice pack with as many ice cubes as she could find.


An hour later, with Dani cleaned up as much as possible and laid out in bed asleep, Penny and Astrid sat together in the sitting room.


“I’d better stay with her.”


Astrid sipped the coffee she’d made and regarded her lover thoughtfully. “Why do you always think the worst of me?”


“What do you mean?”


“I mean, you think I’m going to abandon you, go home to the comfort of my own bed, just because I don’t like Dani. Do you think I’ll really leave you here in this state?”


“I’m not in a state.”


“No, of course not.”


They sat in silence for a bit. Astrid broke it saying, “Why does she do it?”


“Do what? I don’t think she wanted to get beaten to a pulp.”


“She must have done something. Whoever did this to her wanted to hurt her, badly. I know she attracts fights. She might as well have ‘hit me’ written on her forehead. I’ve seen her in action, remember?”


Penny remembered. The incident Astrid had witnessed had been at a party, at another friend’s house. “That was different. And it wasn’t her fault.”


“It never is.” Astrid put her empty mug on the table. “But believe me, every time she sets foot outside the house wearing black leather gear, people will assume she’s itching for a fight. Look, Pen, those bruises on her ribs, I’m surprised she hasn’t got any broken ones. She was obviously kicked after she’d gone down, a number of times, savagely. Maybe she just picked a fight with the wrong person, or several people.”


Penny closed her eyes. She still felt sick. She had almost got used to Dani’s battered face, after Astrid had cleaned the blood off. When they undressed her to put her to bed, the bruises on her body had come as a second shock to Penny. She also had hand-shaped marks on her upper arms; Astrid suggested she’d been held while someone used her face for a punch bag. That was when Penny had rushed to the bathroom and vomited.


“But why? Who would want to do this to her? And why didn’t anyone stop it happening?”


“Things like that can happen quickly. People are generally slow to react to situations where they might put themselves at risk.” Astrid spoke with the confidence of an experienced paramedic. “Especially in a bar; especially, perhaps, in that particular bar. Anyway, we’ll have to wait until she regains consciousness and can tell us about it. Come on. Let’s go and crash in the spare bedroom. I take it there is one.”


Penny slept fitfully and got up several times to check on Dani. The second time she returned to bed, Astrid was awake. She put her arms around her and they held on to each other until they both fell asleep again. But it wasn’t a restful night. Astrid had to work a shift on Saturday. She left at six thirty, taking the car so she could get washed and changed. She promised to bring Penny a change of clothes when she returned.



Dani regained consciousness and immediately wished she hadn’t. Every part of her body hurt; parts she didn’t even know existed. After a few moments she established that she was in her own bed, alone.


She tried to sit, groaned and fell back. She didn’t understand why her face hurt, along with her upper arms and ribs. Her left eye wouldn’t open and the right one hardly at all. Just enough to know it was daylight. Then she heard a voice above her.


“Dani? Can you hear me?”


It was, she realised with relief, Penny.


“Yes.” At least that was the sound she tried to make. Her lips felt swollen and she wasn’t sure if she moved them.


“It’s okay. Don’t try to say anything. You don’t look as bad as you did last night. The swelling’s gone down a lot. And Astrid says that by tomorrow you’ll look almost normal.” Dani could hear the catch in Penny’s throat. “Except for the black eyes and a few other bruises. She says you’re lucky not to have broken anything. Your ribs are pretty badly bruised, but I suppose you can feel that.”


Dani digested this information with her right eye closed. She tried again to open it; she could just make out Penny’s shape against the light from the window.


“I’m sorry, Dani. I shouldn’t have left you there.”


“Where?” she managed to croak.


“At that bar.”


Images flashed through her mind: Sal in heat; seeing the face that had haunted her dreams. “Trish!”


“Trish? You saw Trish? Is that what this is all about?”




“Did you talk to her?”




“So what happened?”


“Reached out. Only…wanted…hold…” Her whole body convulsed. Christ, the pain! Penny held her hand. She could feel her own tears, but she didn’t really know who she was crying for.


Dani sent Penny home telling her it would be all right; she wasn’t going anywhere. Penny made her promise to call if she needed anything. After a shower and change into a loose-fitting tracksuit, Dani knew she could cope on her own. She would need to make it up to Penny and Astrid, having dragged them out in the middle of the night.


Most of the rest of the weekend passed in a blur of lying in bed, dozing, and drinking gallons of water, as per Astrid’s instructions. She tried walking about occasionally to keep from stiffening up, but she could only take the pain in short bursts. She could handle pain usually; she even enjoyed it. But this wasn’t a good-feeling pain. Several hours passed as she stared at the river. It was the quietest weekend she could remember spending in a long time. Since Trish left. Somehow, alone with only her thoughts for company—and she didn’t want to keep company with most of these, as a lot of them centred around Trish. Thinking about the relationship they’d had, or tried to have, it had been doomed from the start she realised now—although for a time she did think they could get past their differences.


Watching the muddy water flow past the end of her garden, she wondered why it was people never appreciated what they had until it was gone. Irretrievable. Like the flowing river, there was no turning back.


Trish had wanted her, in the beginning. They’d made love everywhere that year. And not often in bed. Dani had finally suspected Trish of being an exhibitionist; she enjoyed the danger of “doing it” in public places. She would take Dani’s hand and ask her to kiss her; on the street, in the shops, on the Tube. And it didn’t stop with a kiss.


Dani had loved every minute of it; she wanted the world to know this was her woman. She wanted the world to know she fucked her and made her happier than any man could, or any other dyke. And through all this, Dani knew it couldn’t last. There wasn’t going to be a fairytale ending. Trish was never going to take Dani the way she wanted, fulfilling her deepest cravings. At thirty-six years old, Dani thought it unlikely she would meet anyone who could, other than on a part-time, pay-for-the-pleasure, basis.


The phone rang. Dani thought the caller would give up in the time it took her to reach it.


“Dani?” Gordon’s voice brought her sharply into the present moment. “Glad I caught you in. You’re not sitting at home reading a book, are you?”


“No, just a little yoga and meditation.” At least her voice sounded normal.


He continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “As I didn’t see you before I left on Friday, I thought I’d better check that you remembered the client meeting tomorrow.”


“Would I forget?”


“I see you haven’t lost your sense of humour, unfortunately. Look, pea-brain, do me a favour. Ten o’clock at Redmond’s sharp. Oh, and best behaviour. I’ve been warned they’re bringing in their finance director, Callaghan.”




“To make sure we don’t overextend ourselves on the budget.”


“I thought you and Robert had that sorted.”


“They’ve got a new brand manager and the top brass are probably a bit nervous about it. This is a big project, so I guess they’re just being careful. Oh, and no jeans, please!”


“Wearing jeans to a client meeting, I wouldn’t dream of it.”


Gordon didn’t rise to the mock outrage in her tone. “I’m serious.”


“So am I. Hope they don’t mind the panda look, though.”


“Fine. Come dressed as a bear if you think it will help with the account.” He rang off before she could explain. Dani started laughing and couldn’t stop, even though her ribs hurt like hell.



She was in the office at seven. Gordon’s call had not only reminded her of the client meeting she’d totally forgotten, but more importantly of the artwork left unfinished on Friday evening. Dani shut herself in her office with a large cup of black coffee. Declan and Gary arrived at nine but knew better than to walk in on the boss on a Monday morning until she emerged and greeted them.


At nine thirty she packed the storyboards into her portfolio and walked out to meet Gordon. The boys looked up at her and stared, open-mouthed. She willed them to silence with her eyes and continued through to Reception. Gordon had, she discovered, already left. She took a taxi to Redmond’s offices. It wasn’t far, but she didn’t feel up to walking.


The receptionist repeated her name several times, as if the incantation could make her disappear. It was a shame, she thought, she had made an effort with her attire. She liked wearing leather, liked the smell, the sexy feel of it between her legs, the jangle of chains against her thighs. She was even wearing a clean T-shirt under her black leather jacket; no holes and a reasonably polite, if faded, message.


The girl stood finally and said, “I will take you up to the boardroom.”


“Thanks.” Dani picked up her portfolio case and followed her. Nice tight bottom in a short black skirt—the London secretary’s uniform.


“Uh, this is it. I will leave you to it, then.”


Dani attempted a smile, but it hurt too much, so she settled for a friendly lip curl. The girl fled back to the safety of her reception desk.


Gordon was standing by the coffee urn and talking to another suit when she entered the room. Dani put her case flat on the table and went over to join them. “I’ll have a coffee, thanks, Gordon.”


He turned round. “Jesus Christ!”


Dani turned to look back at the doorway. “Oh, is he coming too. I thought it was just the FD.”


“Not even remotely funny.” He handed her a cup of black coffee and hissed in her ear. “I’ll kill you later.”


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