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Join Us by Lauren Farmer


“I knew when we met that you’d be perfect. I’m about to give you the opportunity of a lifetime,” the polished and preened blonde called Roisin said. I’d met her only 8 hours before and knew even then that she would become the turning point for me.

Her flawless skin remained the most sought after type of dewy, without the usual sweaty shine you might experience in a stuffy room like this. Suffocating. My underarms were clammy and I could only hope that my sweat-wicking top was soaking up the moisture and stench. The only thing to distract me was the pain from my swollen left ankle which was propped on Roisin’s millennial pink ottoman, and it was that pain that anchored me in the moment and prevented me from falling asleep despite my exhaustion. Or maybe I was already dreaming. Weeks of sleepless nights and the dehydration from washing down daily microwave meals with Echo Falls had put me into an all-consuming trance-like-state, replacing any feeling of normality.


But now I was here. The unfamiliar chic, minimalist flat was a far cry from my pathetic house share with its mismatched bowls piling in the sink and mice beneath the fridge. I felt more connection to the commuters on the 8:03 am train than the people I had been living with for the past three months in a place that could never feel like home but it was all I had.

So why did I yearn for my tormenting single bed? I was in the sort of flat you would see in the interiors section of Grazia magazine with a woman who saw my potential. I couldn’t tell at this point if I had entered paradise or a nightmare.

I just knew I couldn’t leave. What had I gotten myself into?


***


Earlier that day I had been at Epping Forest on a walk organised by the online magazine, Nuanced. It had been described as being a way to find connection with ourselves, each other and nature. I had booked it after drinking half a bottle of wine the Monday before. I had been at the familiar point in the bottle in which I was struck with a hopeful yet manic feeling that often led to me doing something impulsive. It often worked to boost my mood. Even temporarily. Sometimes it was matching with much older men on Bumble who would lather me in flattery and who I would sext with until it reached the virtual climax. Other times I would submit interest in doing medical trials for treatments of things like hay fever which paid £2,000. I was lonely, recently single and needed even a moment of optimism about my bank balance.

But for once, booking this walk felt like it would be a healthier option. Although I knew that the images advertising the walk were just stock images, I had wanted to be part of the group of shiny people who wore LuLu Lemon head to toe and would meet up for smashed avocado on sourdough on a Saturday morning and describe each other as being like sisters.

The frenzied enthusiasm I had felt after booking had dissipated into anxiety and imposter syndrome as I left the house the morning of the walk. But there was nothing else I had to do that day and the £40 had already left my account. When I arrived, I was immediately struck by the flashbacks of being the last one at school to be chosen for P.E. It was clear that I wasn’t as fit as I had been a couple of years ago, something that even the bum sculpting £80 leggings wouldn’t be able to fix.

Which was why I was flattered that someone who looked like an influencer would choose to come over to me. Roisin made me feel like there was no other person that she would rather be speaking to. There was none of the looking over my shoulder to see who would be a more remarkable prospect. And she asked me countless questions about my life. She called me brave for moving to London and staying here despite my ex cheating and moving back to Sheffield. She even invited me to a dance workout class after I told her I took lessons as a child and said sitting at a desk all day doing the marketing for a self-storage company wasn’t what I had dreamt about doing.

She had been vague about what she did for a job, something about wellness and female empowerment. I had assumed she was a life coach because of the aura of knowing exactly what she was doing with her life and saying all of the buzz words and phrases I’d seen in motivational Instagram posts.

We’d been walking for about two hours when I tripped over an overgrown root and twisted my ankle. The pain washed away any composure I had tried to create to impress her. It had been the first time in a while that I felt I wasn’t entirely alone. But the fall left me humiliated. I had tried to get up and brush it off but I slipped in the mud and went straight back down again. If she didn’t think I was a loser before, she definitely would now.

Roisin told the organisers that she’d take care of me. I reluctantly told her I’d be okay and that I’d get the train home. She persisted.

That’s how I ended up at Roisin’s flat.


***


“Right now Beth, you’re not living your full potential,” she said, whilst standing next to an image of herself which was displayed on the smart TV she was presenting from. In the photo, she had a badly highlighted blonde bob that made it look like there were noodles draped over her head, a mumsy dress that drowned her and a meek tight-lipped smile.

“I was just like you 18 months ago. I was doing a job that I hated. I was surrounded by sexist and uninspiring robots. I worked long hours for a soulless company who thought wellness was a pool table in the canteen. And most of all, I didn’t get paid what I deserved. I wasn’t living the life I had dreamt of when I moved to London. But then Fountainable found me, excuse the pun.”

“Look I’m so sorry if I’ve misled you,” I said. “I don’t hate my job.”

She laughed. “Beth. I’m not trying to give you a new job. This is an opportunity to create additional income in your own time and schedule. And anyway, it doesn’t feel like work! The products we sell are genuinely incredible and you will be part of bringing them into the lives of others.”

“I’m not like you. I can’t just speak to strangers to sell these products. Why on earth would they buy them from me anyway?” I said.

“You are more like me than you think you are. It was you who came on the walk today despite not knowing anyone. It was you who knew when you booked on that you wanted more from life. You already have everything that you need to succeed,” Roisin said.

“It’s very nice of you to say but I just don’t see it.”

“You will do. I promise you that.”

The doorbell chimed.

“We need you to come down for ID purposes,” the intercom said.

“I’m so sorry about this Beth. Stay right there.” She opened the front door, turned back to me, smiled, and left, locking the door behind her.

I hopped over to the marble kitchen counter on one foot where Roisin had put my phone on charge. I found that my phone had been switched off. I forcibly held the button down, hoping the pressure would turn it on quicker, before she came back. I still didn’t know what Fountainable even was so I wanted to Google it.

“What are you doing stood up? Come on, you need to rest.” She was back already. And with a big paper pink bag. She put her arm around my waist and returned me to the sofa. All I had seen on my phone was the notification that Roisin had followed me on Instagram. I couldn’t remember telling her my surname.

“So I know this is a tad premature but that delivery was a little 'welcome to the family' gift.” She handed me a box of cupcakes with messages including You’re In and Boss Beth and popped open a bottle of prosecco which frosted with coldness. I salivated at the thought of it in my dry mouth.

Roisin poured a glass, took her phone out of her pocket and handed me a glass whilst filming me.

“What the…”

“A huge welcome to our gorgeous new Fountainable babe, Beth! I’ve tagged her so do give her a follow, you’ll be hearing lots from her.” She grabbed her glass and did an exaggerated cheers motion. I downed it. I was thirsty, warm and I didn’t know what to say.

“It was destiny meeting you today, Beth.” She put her phone down and pressed play on a video montage of other shiny people in places like Melbourne and Bali at the annual Fountainable conference. In one scene, a group were high-fiving. In another they were jumping in the sea from a yacht and in the final scene, a thin woman was going to bed in her expensive-looking flat after applying Fountainable skincare products and taking a sip of the detox tea. She looked happy.

“It’s time that you invested in your own life,” Roisin said taking a seat next to me, putting her arm around my shoulders and tucking my hair behind my ear. “You can keep living this life where you’re unfulfilled and pouring time and money into the perpetual cycle of dissatisfaction. Or you can take control of your own destiny.”

She pulled out a stack of papers and a pen from the table behind the sofa.

“All you need to do is take a look at this contract and commit to paying the upfront cost for the products and you’re away. We will be there to inspire you to grow your network of fellow Fountainable babes and help you help other women step into their dream lives. Get ready to make a fortune. Join Us.


***

One year later.


I sat in my room in the shared house where my tenancy was due to end in 2 and a half weeks’ time. Pushing aside the unknown of where I would be living this time next month, I clicked preview on Zoom to check that my background was on brand. Behind me was a neon pink sign saying ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’ and on the other side of the camera, hidden from sight were piles of barely touched Fountainable products, unopened payday loan letters and a vision board which included the next conference location which was San Francisco and a new build in Battersea. I was too far in. If I could only get these new people to join, then maybe that would still be possible.

I started the call, and gave my biggest smile to the group.

“Welcome everyone. My name is Beth and this is where your new life begins.”

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