Enter The Realm of the Pendragon
It was a grey dull morning which looked as though it was destined to grow into a dull grey afternoon but which suited Claire perfectly. She had gone to bed late and wanted nothing more than to go back to bed and spend the rest of the day there. She realised that this was the second time in a row she'd wanted to do that and was vaguely aware that it wasn't a good sign but did not have the energy to look any further into it. At least, she reasoned, the reasons for her lack of sleep and therefore wanting to curl up under the warm cosiness of her duvet were totally different for each day. She didn't think that made the situation any better though. It was totally unlike her to lose sleep over a man and to do the same over a piece of equipment was pathetic to say the least. She was determined not to linger on it.
When she got to the office, she was relieved to see that Julia had already been and gone, leaving a pile of notebooks on her desk with a note listing her requirements for the jobs the girls were to do that day. Claire sighed when she saw that she had another pile of minutes to type up from the meetings Julia had attended over the past week. Mind-numbingly boring it may be but at least it wasn't anything that would require a lot of thought or demand great expenditure of energy.
Some time later, Claire was fully engrossed in trying to decipher Julia's chicken scratch when Rhea came back from the kitchen bearing two steaming mugs of coffee.
"You okay, Claire? You look kind of worn out or fed up or something and you've been really quiet all morning." By 'all morning' Rhea of course meant 'this past hour since I actually arrived at work' but she wasn't the type to split hairs and Claire wasn't in the mood to do it anyway.
Claire accepted the drink gratefully from her friend. "Oh, I had a bit of a late night last night, that's all.
"Oh yes?" Rhea's eyes lit up and she grinned at Claire. "Does this mean you have some nice juicey gossip to share with me?"
Claire rolled her eyes at the other girl's one track mind. "No, it doesn't, Rhea. Amazingly enough, there are some things in life that don't revolve around men. It was just my computer driving me mad last night."
"Why, is it causing a problem?"
"A problem? God, yes! But as to what's wrong with it, I'm not really sure." Claire leant forwards on her desk, cupping her mug of coffee in her hands. "It was fine up until last night, then all of a sudden, I started having no end of problems with it. I couldn't even check my e-mail, it just kept freezing on me and I had to keep rebooting it. It totally did my head in and in the end, I gave up and went to bed."
She didn't admit that she had been so desperate to get online that she'd tried everything she could think of to stop her computer grinding to a halt and it had been around midnight before she finally realised that she was totally unable to sort it out. She'd gone to bed feeling agitated and anxious. Even now she couldn't stop wondering about it and what she'd missed by not being able to get online. She knew that she spent a lot of her spare time outside of work on her computer, chatting to various people over Instant Messenger and e-mailing others but it had never been something she'd ever really thought about, it was just a hobby and her way of socialising. She wondered momentarily if that meant she was addicted and therefore maybe she should make an effort to get out more but she had pushed that thought and others like it to the back of her mind and concentrated on her work instead.
"Why don't you try asking some of our IT guys? I'm sure they'd be able to help."
"I don't really want to ask Sam," Claire sighed. "You know what it'll be like, the second I ask him for help, he'll be up here like a shot and then I'll never get rid of him. I'd rather ask someone else if I can but I don't know anyone else."
"How about Matt?"
"He's not been working here long but he's really good with IT stuff. I had a major problem with my computer not long after I'd arrived here and he really helped me out with it. It wasn't an easy fix either, it kept coming back but he perservered until he got it completely sorted. If I have any sort of computer related problem he's the first one I go to. I'm sure he'd help you, he's a really friendly bloke. Send him an e-mail and ask him."
Claire looked doubtful. "I don't know, it's not exactly work-related, is it?"
Rhea rolled her eyes. "I just told you he's a nice bloke, he won't mind. What's the worst he can say?"
"Well, no, I suppose."
"Exactly. So e-mail him. If it'll make you feel better, tell him I told you to get in touch with him if you want."
"Okay, okay." She held her hands up in surrender. "What's his name?"
"I suppose it couldn't hurt," Claire murmured to herself, then turned thoughtfully to her pc and opened up a new e-mail.
To: Anderson, Matthew < email@example.com >
From: Freeman, Claire < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Date: November 10, 2005 11.16am
I've been advised by my friend Rhea to get in touch with you regarding a problem I've been having with my pc at home. I don't know if you will be able to help at all. I'm not overly sure what the problem is, but I seem to be having some trouble with the internet. Whenever I try to look at my e-mail or anything, I get lots of pop-ups and then when I close them down, my computer freezes and I have to restart it. It only started happening last night and it's never done this before. If you could give me any advice at all, I'd be really grateful.
She hit send with a determined finger although part of her was expecting to get a polite reply back saying something along the lines of 'I'd love to help but it's not a work matter and therefore I really can't'. She might not have been working for the Council for a very long time - anything less than five years was considered temporary - but she knew that they were rather strict and liked their red tape. However, Matt hadn't been there long enough to have settled into that frame of mine, besides which it wasn't the way he did things and he replied only a short time later on.
From: Freeman, Claire < email@example.com >
From: Anderson, Matthew < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Date: November 10, 2005 11.56am
Subject: Re: Help!
It sounds like you're having quite a problem there! It's a little difficult to tell what the issue could be from what you've described. Whereabouts in the building are you? I can come over and talk to you and get some more information later on, that should help me find out what's going on. I think that'll be easier than trying to get information over e-mail or the phone.
Claire was pleasantly surprised by this. She was so used to the corporate mentality of doing things by the book that she automatically assumed that she would have been told that it wasn't allowed. She appreciated the nice friendly tone that Matt had used in his e-mail and eagerly responded telling him that she worked with Rhea and that he could come over any time he was in the area. She got a rapid reply back.
From: Freeman, Claire < email@example.com >
From: Anderson, Matthew < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Date: November 10, 2005 12.06pm
Subject: Re: Help!
Oh, you work with Rhea! That explains the recommendation you got from her to get in touch with me! In that case, I know exactly where your office is and I'm actually not that far away. I'll be over soon enough and we'll see about trying to get this problem fixed for you.
Claire couldn't help smiling to herself, making Rhea ask if she'd been getting more e-mails from Blake.
"No, from Matt actually. He says he's going to come over later on to talk to me about the problem with my computer because it's easier than trying to work it out over e-mail or the phone."
Rhea nodded. "That sounds like Matt. He's very much about the personal touch, it's a really nice thing he does and I do wish more people here worked that way. I'm sure we'd all get a hell of a lot more done if they did!"
Claire laughed at this, even though when she thought about it later, she realised that what Rhea had said actually had a great deal of truth in it, especially when she thought about how much time she'd wasted the other day trying to get hold of people by e-mail or phone just to ask them when they were available. She probably could have got it all done in half the time if she'd actually gone to their offices and asked them directly.
She glanced at her screen where the word document with Julia's notes sat open, waiting for her to continue and then down to the actual notebook with the pages covered with mostly indecipherable scrawl. "I think I'm going to take a break and have some lunch," she decided finally. "If I attempt to work on this any longer on an empty stomach, my eyes will melt and my brain will rebel."
Rhea glanced over with an amused grin. "So about the same reaction as you'd normally get from trying to type up Julia's notes then."
"Pretty much." Claire pulled her bag out from the drawer where it spent most of the day and rummaged around in it for her usual packet soup. "Remind me again why Julia always asks me to do this and not you?"
"I'm not sure, but I think it might have something to do with any time I attempted to type up anything she'd handwritten it made absolutely no sense at all once I'd finished with it. I always claimed that it never made that much sense to start off with, though I never told her that to her face obviously. I think Julia was really relieved when you arrived a couple of weeks later and seemed to actually be able to work out a good amount of her illegible scrawl. I know I certainly was."
"Well, lucky me," Claire replied sarcastically. "If I have to type up many more of these things, I swear my brain will actually give up and sit gibbering in a corner somewhere."
Rhea looked aghast. "You can't do that! That means I'd have to do them then!"
"Yes, Rhea, you'd have to do some actual work!" Claire jibbed, knowing full well that a lot of Rhea's day was taken up with trips to the toilet to make sure she looked good, trips to the kitchen to make sure that everyone else knew she looked good, sending gossipy text messages to her friends and looking like she did very little work. Rhea simply stuck her tongue out at Claire and continued to tap away on her keyboard where she was sending an e-mail to a bloke in the Education department that she was attempting to chat up.
Claire just grinned in response and grabbing hold of her mug, took herself off to the kitchen to get her lunch and give her eyes - and brain - a much needed rest.
When she left the kitchen and made her way back to her desk, she couldn't help but notice a young man talking with Rhea, laughing at something one of them had just said. She studied him quickly from the distance, thinking that he wasn't really Rhea's type and wondering who he was. He seemed to be a little on the short side, probably closer to Claire's own height of 5 foot 3 than Rhea's who was a good 4 or 5 inches taller. He was quite slender and leaning casually against Rhea's desk in a rather relaxed manner as though he was perfectly comfortable not only in being there but in who he was. He was dressed in the usual shirt and tie that all the male council employees wore; his smart black trousers were teamed with a white shirt and navy blue tie, giving him something of a schoolboy-ish look but he seemed at home in the outfit unlike a lot of the men there who really did not look right in their suits. Perhaps it was the fact that he had the sleeves rolled up to the elbow that had something to do with it.
As she got closer, she could see that he had a nice ready smile and a friendly face. His dark brown hair was cropped close to his head and he appeared to be rather young for such a responsible position. She liked the look of him on sight, even though he wasn't one of those sorts of people you would look twice at, his looks were more down-to-earth than anything, but there was an aura of wellbeing and self-confidence that came from him that made him more attractive.
Rhea sensed Claire's approach and swiveled round on her chair to see her. "Here she is," she cried happily.
"Me?" Claire glanced between the two of them as she walked round to her own desk. She sat in her chair and put her mug on a coaster.
"Yes, you, silly," Rhea replied. "This is Matt."
"Matthew," the young man corrected with a smile.
Rhea paid no attention to the amendment and continued to call him by the nickname. "It's been quite a while since we've seen each other so we were just catching up."
Matthew nodded before turning his attention to Claire. "So you're Claire," he stated and she nodded. "I didn't realise I'd be keeping you from your lunch, should I come back later? It's not a problem."
She shook her head. "No, don't worry about it. I tend to work through my lunch anyway, and the only reason I'm having it now is that I needed the break."
"Okay then, why don't you tell me what's going on with your computer?"
"You do realise this is my own personal computer at home, don't you?" Claire was suddenly anxious that this had not been made sufficiently aware to him. He nodded and assured her that he did. She was much relieved and went on to explain what had happened the following night. Matthew was thoughtful, asking various questions to try and figure out what the problem might be.
"Hmm, it's a little hard to say without actually seeing it but I have a feeling that it could be a virus of some kind." Claire immediately looked worried. "You do have anti-virus protection on your computer don't you?"
She thought quickly. "Oh, yes, I do! When I got it, the man who sold it to me advised that I needed it if I was going to be going on the internet so I made sure that I got it."
"Dare I ask what it is?" He seemed to not want to know the answer but she told him anyway and he screwed up his face in disgust. "Yeah, I thought you were going to say that somehow. It's the most popular one, it's just a shame that it's complete and utter rubbish. Usually does more harm than good." Claire bit her lip and looked at him waiting for some form of reassurance. "Well, you have two options. You can either run a virus scan with the software you have and hope that picks it up and fixes it. Or, you can get a better anti-virus software, scan your pc with that and hopefully that should sort it out."
"But I don't know what software would be better," Claire said. "Besides, aren't they expensive?"
Matthew shook his head. "Actually the anti-virus I use is available free online and it's much better than the rubbish you got sold. If you want, I can download it and burn it to disc for you. I'll bring it over later then with any luck you can get it all sorted tonight."
"Oh, that's really kind of you!" Claire beamed at him.
"See, I told you he was nice," Rhea butted in as her phone buzzed on her desk. She picked it up and rapidly read the new text message she had just recieved. "Oh, seems like I'm needed. Someone's just been dumped and they need a shoulder to cry on." She bounded up from her chair and pulled on her coat. "Great to see you again, Matt. See you both later!" She snatched up her bag and left the office like a whirlwind.
Matthew looked after the girl as she left. "Is she usually like that?" he asked wryly, wandering round to lean against Claire's desk instead.
"Very much so." Claire looked at him thoughtfully. "I was under the impression that you two were friends?"
He grinned. "Well, let's just say that we're not as close as she'd like us to be and leave it at that, hey?"
Claire laughed. "Oh, I understand that totally!" She saw him in a new light now, as a man who was strong enough not to give in when someone as persistant as Rhea was pursuing him, but also as someone who was decent enough to not withdraw all contact with her because of that. "You brave man, you."
"Well, it's easy enough to be brave when you're only being pursued by e-mail. You know how they seem to get lost in cyberspace somewhere and don't always reach the intended recipient." He gave her a sly wink and she giggled. He reached up to straighten his tie a little and Claire's eyes were drawn to a small tattoo on his wrist that had been covered up previously as he'd had his arms folded across his chest.
"That's an interesting tattoo," she commented, indicating it with a nod of her head.
"Oh, thank you," he replied with a swift glance down at it.
She tried to work out what it was, but it seemed to be a tribal symbol of some sorts and she didn't recognise it. "Does it mean something?"
"Yeah, actually it's the transgender symbol."
She felt her body break out in a mass of goosebumps. "Transgender symbol?" she practically whispered.
Matthew nodded. Holding out his wrist, he pointed to the various aspects of the inking. On closer inspection, it was a circle with three different kinds of branches coming off it. "Yes, see, that's the male symbol there, the circle with the arrow pointing out of it. Then this is the female symbol, the circle with the cross at the bottom." He traced his finger over the outline of the symbols for her.
"So what's this then?" She pointed to the third branch, resting her finger lightly on the warm skin of his wrist.
"That's a combination of the two, male and female combined together, transgender."
She slowly withdrew her finger and looked up to meet his eyes which were gazing intently at her. She wanted to ask something but she wasn't sure how to word it and she could see in his eyes that he was waiting for her.
"Does that represent you?" she asked finally.
He gave her a smile of approval. "Yes," he replied simply.
She slowly ran her gaze over him, scanning him rapidly from head to foot. A sudden thought occurred to her. Matt. Transgender. She corrected herself.
"So what exactly is transgender?" Claire asked, hoping that her voice sounded casual.
Matthew paused before answering. "It's a little hard to say really, it's kind of like an umbrella term for all the people who play around with gender. It covers all trans people, from those who have surgery and hormones to change their physical self, to those who have surgery and not hormones, to those who don't have either whether they live full-time or part-time as a member of the opposite sex. It's basically transcending gender norms in whatever way a person can."
The girl was thoughtful. "Well, how do you fit into that?"
Matthew grinned. "I'm just Trans, full stop. I'm transgendered and transsexual. I was born biologically female but I've transitioned to make my body match the way I feel inside which is more male than anything else."
Claire looked surprised. "So you were born a girl, like me? And now you're male?"
He laughed. "I was never really a girl, I just had the body of one. It was still me inside it though, so I had to do something about it to make it more representative of me."
"You can do that?" she asked with a sudden fierce undefinable emotion.
"Sure you can. I did it with surgery and hormones but it's all down to the individual and what they want or feel comfortable with. Some just have hormones or just have surgery and some others don't have either. We're all different, just like the rest of society and one transperson doesn't necessarily feel the same or do the same as any other."
Claire felt strangely overwhelmed. "I thought it was just blokes who did that," she said softly in a voice full of wonder. "You always hear about blokes who have always felt that they should have been women and they go off and have surgery and stuff. I never dreamt it happened the other way round too."
"Yeah, male-to-females tend to get the most press and the majority of the attention but I can assure you, female-to-males do exist. I'm one! And I'm not the only one either. There are lots of us out there." He looked at Claire curiously. "It's always nice to have allies, people who aren't Trans themselves but who support us."
She smiled up at him gratefully. "I'm sure it is. It's always good to have support from someone, even if they're not directly involved." He nodded in agreement. She was relieved that he had taken all her questions in good humour and didn't seem concerned by them in the slightest. "You're very open about all of this," she commented.
"Yep, it's my way of helping others and the community. By being visible like this, I can help those who are questioning their gender or who know they're Trans but want to contact others because they know I'm there, that I'm one of them and that they can come to me for information and advice. Also, I help the Trans community by making the general public aware that transpeople do exist and show them that we're just nice normal people the same as everyone else. Of course, I use the word 'normal' in its loosest sense there," he joked.
Claire had a sudden thought. "Does Rhea know?"
He shook his head. "Actually, no, she doesn't. The thing is, I am out to everyone and I don't make any secret of being Trans, but I don't go around telling people the very first time I meet them. Well, not usually anyway," he added with a smile, realising belatedly that he'd done just that with Claire. "If people ask, and they genuinely want to know like you do, then I will tell them. It's all dependent on the person, the situation and within reason, what I want to share."
"That makes sense."
"To be honest, with Rhea it's never come up. I'm not overly sure she'd understand it even if I did tell her."
"Everything is very black and white with Rhea," Claire agreed. "I think, as far as she's concerned, if you look like a boy, then you're a boy. She has a hard enough time figuring out why two boys would want to be with each other and not with her! Something like this would probably blow her mind in seconds. She revels in her femininity so much, she doesn't understand that now everyone feels the same was as she does about it."
Matthew grinned. He was about to respond further when a ringing sound coming from his pocket interrupted him. He dug his hand in and pulled out his mobile phone, checking the display first to see who was calling before he answered it. Claire swirled her mug between her palms as she waited for him to finish, realising in dismay that she had been so engrossed in talking to Matthew that she had forgotten about her soup and now she had half a mug full of cold congealed red sludge. She pulled a face in disgust at it, thankful that she had brought sandwiches as well, otherwise she would be starving before very long.
"Looks like my presence is required," Matthew said, finishing off his call and slipping the phone back into his pocket. Claire was a little saddened by this. She had enjoyed talking to him a great deal, but at the same time, she felt that she needed a bit of time and space to process the information he had given her.
"I'll burn that anti-virus software onto a disc for you and drop it off later though."
"Oh, right, of course." Claire had momentarily forgotten the reason why Matthew had come to see her in the first place. He bid her a cheery goodbye and left the office.
Claire sat musing after Matthew's departure for a couple of moments before decisively standing up and marching off to the kitchen in a most determined manner. She pushed the door open purposefully and began to run the water in the sink ready to rinse out the cold soup from the mug.
The door burst open behind her and she turned round in surprise. Blake strode in rapidly much to the amazement of Claire who stood frozen at the sink.
"Blake!" she gasped. She hadn't really seen or spoken to him since the night they'd gone to the café and she felt strangely uncomfortable on seeing him now.
"Claire, I'm sorry! I didn't realise anyone was in here," he apologised. He walked straight over to the kettle and switched it on, ready to make himself a cup of tea.
"That's okay," she replied, "I only just got in here." She tested the water temperature with her fingers, snatching them back when she discovered it was extremely hot. "Ouch!" She thrust the mug under the flowing water and watched the red gloop swirling down the plughole. She was aware of the rhythmical tapping of Blake's fingers on the worktop while he waited for the kettle to boil. "Having a stressful day?"
Blake turned to her, realising what he had been doing. "No, not stressful as such, just busy." Claire finished rinsing out her mug and grabbed paper towels from the dispenser on the wall to dry it. "It's all gone a bit haywire recently," he said, "An important member of the team has gone off sick and we're all trying to do their work and find out all the information that they had..." He rolled his eyes heavenwards and gave a great sigh. "That's one reason why I've not been in touch lately actually."
"Don't worry about it," Claire responded. "I didn't think you were avoiding me on purpose but I did wonder what was going on. Something like that is entirely understandable though. I hope you get it all sorted out soon, it sounds like quite a mess."
He rubbed his hand over his forehead. "Yeah, it is. It's completely mad." The kettle switched off and he poured the boiling water into his mug.
"Well, I'll let you get back to it," she said. He responded absently and she left the kitchen, making her way back to her desk.
"Matt gone already?" Rhea asked as Claire approached. She was busy taking off her coat and hanging it up while Claire took her seat at her desk.
"Already? He was here for ages. He only left recently and that was because he got a call."
"Damn, I hoped he would still be here when I got back. I must have taken longer than I thought." She sat down at her desk and ran her hands through her hair while she waited for her computer to come back to life. "He's cute, isn't he?"
Claire grinned. "Oh, yes, he's cute all right."
Rhea leant forward on her desk and to speak conspiratorially. "I've had my eye on him for ages, ever since he came to fix my computer all those months ago. I just can't seem to hook him though."
"Maybe you're not his type," Claire suggested. She tried to not give any indication that she already knew all of this from Matthew's side of things.
"Not his type? How could I not be his type? He's a boy, I'm a girl, what more could he want?"
"What indeed?" Claire murmured. She didn't say anything further, realising that there was a good chance both she and Matthew had underestimated Rhea when it came to her understanding of things outside of the so-called norms.
It was getting towards the end of the day when an e-mail arrived in Claire's inbox. The notification message flashed up on her screen distracting her from trying to make sense of a particularly difficult scribble in Julia's minutes. She noticed that it was from Matthew and opened it eagerly.
To: Freeman, Claire < email@example.com >
From: Anderson, Matthew < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Date: November 10, 2005 4.46pm
I'm terribly sorry, but I won't be able to give you the copy of the anti-virus I promised you today. I thought I had some blank discs left but it seems that I haven't. I can't get any now until the stationary office is open again in the morning but I will go there as soon as I can tomorrow and get some more discs so that I can burn the software for you. I hope this isn't a great inconvenience for you and I do apologise.
Claire read the message through twice. She knew that Matthew hadn't let her down on purpose but she had been so hoping that she'd be able to get her computer fixed that night so that she could catch up with her online life and she was now disappointed that it wasn't going to happen. She tried to reason with herself, saying that it was nothing major, one more night without a computer wasn't going to hurt her. If anything, it would probably do her good, she could finally finish that book she started several weeks ago and had never managed to get past the first few chapters. She could even watch that film she taped the other month that she'd never had time to watch. Having no computer for one more night might actually be a good thing. She glanced over Matthew's message again. Even so, she couldn't help wishing that he'd been able to get the disc burnt for her today.
Unless otherwise specified.