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Jane's first experience of networking had been a nightmare. Stuffed suits shoving floppy business cards into her hand and eyeing her up as their latest prospective client. She still shuddered at the memory.
Determined not to let it put her off, Jane ventured into meetings held by other networking groups—she just did her homework better. Today's foray was going well. The coffee was hot and strong, the smiles around the room were relaxed, and Jane recognised three... no, four... faces.
The group leader, a bubbly woman in pink, called out, “Morning, everyone! Could you give your drinks a top up and make your way to the table, please? It's nearly eight o' clock already.”
Jane joined the huddle around the urn and filled her cup as close to the brim as she dared. The sun was up, thank goodness (some meetings began before the birds were awake) but it was still quite low in the sky. She needed all the caffeine she could get.
A few months into her business, Jane was getting used to the usual networking thing of standing up and telling everyone who she was, and what problem she could solve for what sort of person. It was less scary than it used to be—mainly because she'd figured out what to actually fill in the blanks with. There was nothing worse than burbling nonsense in front of a room full of strangers. Jane's memory made her shudder again.
There were only two seats left—one either side of a heavily set guy in a suit but without a tie. He had the look of an ex-rugby player about him. His shirt was open one more button than was strictly necessary, Jane observed as she took one of the empty chairs. Dark hair spilled out from the lilac shirt. She wrinkled her nose at the pungent strength of the guy's aftershave. Had he taken a bath in the stuff or something? Now she knew why these seats were last to be claimed.
Hairy-chest guy turned slightly as she sat. “Hello,” she said with a small smile, and switched her attention quickly to her handbag, making a display of concentrating on finding her business cards from its depths and setting her phone to silent. When Jane looked up, Sam was smirking at her from the other side of the room. The guy next to her leaned back in his chair, interlocked his hands behind his head and gave Jane the full benefit of his armpit. Sam's eyes flickered from Jane to the guy, then she pinched her nose briefly and grinned more broadly at Jane. Jane looked daggers.
Pink-dress lady—Jane had forgotten her name—began speaking.
“Good morning again, everyone... lovely to see you all. Special welcome to our guests this meeting...” Etcetera.
Jane brought her coffee to her mouth and sipped. She kept the cup there on the pretext of swirling the brown liquid absent-mindedly. It was nearly strong enough to overpower the mix of cologne and sweat to her left.
“Who would like to kick us off today? Who's got an offer they're excited to tell us about?” continued the woman chairing the meeting.
With a massive scrape backwards of his chair, hairy-lilac-shirt-man leaped to his feet.
“Dave,” said the host. “Lovely.” And she sat down, fixed smile on face, surrendering the floor.
“Good morning, good morning, good morning!” bellowed Dave. Jane winced. “I have great news to share with you today. Since last meeting I have got a fabulous new contract signed and sealed...”
And Dave proceeded to talk for a good four or five minutes about his new bit of business. Jane zoned out, still sipping coffee, only picking up the odd phrase here and there. “Six figure business... he knew a good thing... blew competition out of the water...”
Eventually he seemed to run out of steam. Pink-dress woman stood up and said firmly, “Thank you, Dave.”
Dave, pink as the host's dress in the face with all his talking and smiling, beamed one last time and sat down hard. And landed on the floor with his legs in the air. His trouser legs rode up and revealed several inches of hairy ankle instead of sock above his shoes.
Jane nearly blew coffee out of her nose. Sam's bottom lip was white where she was biting it and her shoulders were shaking. Somebody else's laugh escaped explosively before it was turned quickly into a cough.
The room was silent. Then the chairwoman, completely straight-faced, said, “Are you alright, Dave?” just as Dave's face appeared, confused and purple. The room dissolved into giggles.