Chapter Three – Annie
Common Scents Creative was booming, Annie had more than 125 freelancers and contract designers, writers, web and content consultants working on 30 projects at a time including the Kelvingrove Museum, the West End Festival and the Glasgow Rangers. The quant office on Hanover, a block from GOMA and George Square was becoming cramped but “that was part of the charm” explained Annie “give clients and freelancers a bit of chaos to add to credibility”. While Tesco and Marks were way out of her league, they were turning about £4 Million in business which allowed for an extremely extravagant and indulgent lifestyle. Partying at West End clubs, attending late night (early morning) theatre in the tunnels under Central Station, and using ‘recreational’ drugs on the Green with some dangerous characters was a normal week. “Go hard and sleep on Sunday or when I’m dead” was her mantra.
Through June, July and August, Annie found a group of younger zealots with the same stamina that she stilled believed she had. They went every night till the early morning and didn’t take the Sabbath seriously. Dozens of young men and women went through her bed; some staying for a week but most only for a one-night fling. The encounters seemed to fuel Annie’s creative juices “the more I flow, the better the ideas flow” Everything was magical. Money, sex, drugs, and notoriety were her life. There was the incident in late August where she was hospitalized at a Charing Cross clinic after some rough sex got out of hand. The bruises eventually healed but her spirit was more battered. She became more cautious, even reserved by her previous standards.
She was walking alone through the Barras Market at noon one Friday and noticed a middle aged man buying take-away from an Indian restaurant. He was definitely not her usual type; wearing an expensive suit and carrying a satchel. She spied him for about 30 minutes, following his route through the market and out onto Kent St heading back towards Bell. Back at the shop, she shook it off as a bit of fun and poured herself back into provoking a fresh approach for a new client. But she found herself back at the Barras the next Friday anticipating another covert mission. It was almost 1pm when she saw him through a crowd, moving north at a brisk pace. She had almost missed him. As surreptitiously as possible, she quickened her pace and followed him north and then west along Trongate right to an office building in the Merchant City. “This will be easier next time” she thought “ now that I know where you work and we are just around the corner from each other” Almost as if he had heard her thoughts, he stopped and turned towards her. “Stephen, Stephen we need to talk about the deposition” shouted a much younger and more stylishly dressed man. Stephen took his arm and almost dragged him off the walk and into the vestibule. As she passed, she could see them arguing; arms flaying, faces red oblivious to the fact that there was a 40 year old woman staring through the glass at them. Annie came to her senses and turned on her heel and headed for George Square.
Over the next week Annie found herself detouring past Stephen’s office, even stepping in and reading the tenant listing. There was no Stephen but there were two barristers on the third floor. A little research and a trip to the 3rd floor and she knew he who he was; Stephen Ames of Ames Millar LLP Solicitors. While she was sitting on a bench in front of the Gallery of Modern Art, plotting how she might need the services of a good solicitor, Stephen appeared and sat on the museum steps. He remained there for maybe 10 minutes watching the passing crowd and then got up and headed back towards his office. “He left an envelope on the step. This is my chance” Annie dashed the 10 yards to the step scooped up the manila envelope “it is quite heavy” she thought and then blurted out “Sir, Sir. Sir, you left this behind on the stairs.” Stephen turned and she met his steel grey eyes for the first time. “ He seems upset, almost resentful” was her initial thought but then a smile swept across his face. “ Oh, goodness. How careless of me” he said. “ Did he really say that or was she dreaming a 1940’s movie?” went through her head. Funny.
After the clumsy exchange, he said “ Stephen Ames. Thank you, I am not sure where my head was.” Annie jumped at the opening with “Maybe you need to take some time a clear your head. Would you like a cuppa, my treat?” The initial embarrassment in every first invitation passed quickly and they picked up two teas and two scones and went back to the bench in front of GOMA. Stephen “wouldn’t hear of it” that Annie would pay. The conversation was generic but genuine – the what do you do, where are you from kind of stuff and they agreed to meet the next evening for a quiet drink near Queens Park Station.
For the next four months, their relationship blossomed into dinner and theatre a couple times a week and jaunts to the country at weekend. The chemistry was undeniable, the conversation was fierce, and the sex was amazing – so tender. Annie couldn’t remember feeling like this before, not even with Andrew. She felt alive in a way that was foreign and scary. Whenever her mobile rang, she hoped it was him calling. when they were together her heart swelled and yet she couldn’t bring herself to tell him how she felt. All those years of casual relationships made commitment or the expectation of commitment very difficult.
Finally in November, the weekend of St. Andrews Day “weird I know”, she blurted out “I really love you, Stephen” as they were on the train to Stirling for a day excursion. He matter of factly replied “I love you too.” There was no embrace, no physical contact at all. Just silence against the rattling of wheels on rails. They rode like that, caught up in what had been let out of the bag, for almost 30 minutes. Finally, he smiled and took her hand and said “this is good, right?” Annie squeezed his hand and said “right” This was the last time that their conversation went down that path.
Christmas was difficult, it was always difficult. Miles away from home with mixed memories of the season and far too many bridges still burning, the festivities seemed nonsensical. Without a religious impetus, without a greed motive and without a familial sharing reason Annie felt that she was a hypocrite to join in the celebration. Stephen was a traditionalist – not ‘figgy pudding’ but definitely a tree, presents and turkey. Annie could do a good Scrooge but chose this year to surrender to his plans. He paraded her through his circle of friends, mostly barristers and solicitors and old school chums, from early December till the 22nd. Everyone seemed indifferent to her presence and she wondered “am I losing my zing?” As was his practice, he caught the train from Glasgow Central to Dumpfries, with Annie in tow, on the morning of the 23rd and his family was waiting to take them onto Kirkcudbright for three days of merriment. About noon on Christmas Eve, Annie “came down with something” that laid her on her back with a cold compress over her eyes. She didn’t sleep but rather listened to the season unfold in the Ames household. Laughter, groaning, disagreement mixed with the aroma of wood burning fire and mincemeat tarts baking in the oven. It would likely have been wonderful if it hadn’t been for the ache that seemed to have enveloped her body and a sense of dread that filled her heart and mind.
By mid-January Annie realized that something more than a bug was causing her symptoms that had now grown to quite a list; headaches, fatigue, swollen glands, a rash in places she couldn’t quite see, and a persistent angst that she knew what was the problem but couldn’t put a name to it. After attending a clinic and having a series of blood panels she was referred to Gartnavel Hospital to see a specialist. The name it turned out was Human Immunodeficiency Virus.