Can you keep_a_secret


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Can you keep_a_secret

  1. 1. CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET Sophie Kinsella
  2. 2. ONEOf course I have secrets.Of course I do. Everyone has a secret. Its completely normal. Imsure I dont have anymore than anybody else.Im not talking about big, earth-shattering secrets. Not the-president-is-planning-tobomb-Japan-and-only-Will-Smith-can-save-the-world type secrets. Justnormal, everydaylittle secrets.Like for example, here are a few random secrets of mine, off thetop of my head: 1. My Kate Spade bag is a fake.2. I love sweet sherry, the least cool drink in the universe.3. I have no idea what NATO stands for. Or even what it is.4. I weigh 9 stone 3. Not 8 stone 3, like my boyfriend Connorthinks. (Although in mydefence, I was planning to go on a diet when I told him that. Andto be fair, it is only onenumber different.)5. Ive always thought Connor looks a bit like Ken. As in Barbieand Ken.6. Sometimes, when were right in the middle of passionate sex, Isuddenly want tolaugh.7. I lost my virginity in the spare bedroom with Danny Nussbaum,while Mum and Dad were downstairs watching Ben Hur .8. Ive already drunk the wine that Dad told me to lay down fortwenty years.9. Sammy the goldfish at home isnt the same goldfish that Mumand Dad gave me to look after when they went to Egypt.10. When my colleague Artemis really annoys me, I feed her plantorange juice. (Which is pretty much every day.)11. I once had this weird lesbian dream about my flatmate Lissy.12. My G-string is hurting me.
  3. 3. 13. Ive always had this deep down conviction that Im not likeeverybody else, and theres an amazingly exciting new life waitingfor me just around the corner.14. I have no idea what this guy in the grey suit is going on about.15. Plus Ive already forgotten his name.And I only met him ten minutes ago.We believe in logistical formative alliances, hes saying in anasal, droning voice, both above and below the line. Absolutely! I reply brightly, as though to say: Doesnteverybody?Logistical. What does that mean, again?Oh God. What if they ask me?Dont be stupid, Emma. They wont suddenly demand, What doeslogistical mean? Im afellow marketing professional, arent I? Obviously I know thesethings.And anyway, if they mention it again Ill change the subject. Or Illsay Im post-logistical or something.The important thing is to keep confident and businesslike. I can dothis. This is my big chance and Im not going to screw it up.Im sitting in the offices of Glen Oils headquarters in Glasgow,and as I glance at my reflection in the window, I look just like atop businesswoman. My hair is straightened,Im wearing discreet earrings like they tell you to in How-to-win-that-job articles, andIve got on my smart new Jigsaw suit. (At least, its practicallynew. I got it from theCancer Research shop and sewed on a button to replace themissing one, and you can hardly tell.)Im here representing the Panther Corporation, which is where Iwork. The meeting is to finalize a promotional arrangementbetween the new cranberry-flavoured Panther Prime sports drinkand Glen Oil, and I flew up this morning from London, especially.(The company paid, and everything!)
  4. 4. When I arrived, the Glen Oil marketing guys started on this long,show-offy whostravelled-the-most? conversation about airmiles and the red-eye toWashington – and I think I bluffed pretty convincingly. (Exceptwhen I said Id flown Concorde to Ottawa, and it turns outConcorde doesnt go to Ottawa.) But the truth is, this is the firsttime Ive ever had to travel for a deal.OK. The real truth is, this is the first deal Ive ever done, full stop.Ive been at thePanther Corporation for eleven months as a marketing assistant,and until now all Ive been allowed to do is type out copy, arrangemeetings for other people, get the sandwiches and pick up mybosss dry-cleaning.So this is kind of my big break. And Ive got this secret little hopethat if I do this well, maybe Ill get promoted. The ad for my jobsaid possibility of promotion after a year, and on Monday Imhaving my yearly appraisal meeting with my boss, Paul. I lookedupAppraisals in the staff induction book, and it said they are anideal opportunity to discuss possibilities for career advancement.Career advancement! At the thought, I feel a familiar stab oflonging in my chest. It would just show Dad Im not a completeloser. And Mum. And Kerry. If I could go home and casually say,By the way, Ive been promoted to Marketing Executive.Emma Corrigan, Marketing Executive.Emma Corrigan, Senior Vice-President (Marketing.) As long as everything goes well today. Paul said the deal wasdone and dusted and all I had to do was nod and shake theirhands, and even I should be able to manage that. And so far, Ireckon its going really well.
  5. 5. OK, so I dont understand about 90 per cent of what theyresaying. But then I didnt understand much of my GCSE French Oraleither, and I still got a B.Rebranding … analysis … cost-effective …The man in the grey suit is still droning on about something orother. As casually as possible, I extend my hand and inch hisbusiness card towards me so I can read it.Doug Hamilton. Thats right. OK, I can remember this. Doug. Dug.Easy. Ill picture a shovel. Together with a ham . Which … whichlooks ill … and …OK, forget this. Ill just write it down.I write down rebranding and Doug Hamilton on my notepad andgive an awkward little wriggle. God, my knickers really areuncomfortable. I mean, G-strings are never that comfortable atthe best of times, in my opinion, but these are particularly bad.Which could be because theyre two sizes too small.Which could possibly be because Connor bought them for me, andtold the lingerie assistant I weighed eight stone three. Whereuponshe told him I must be size eight. Size eight!(Frankly, I think she was just being mean. She must have known Iwas fibbing.)So its Christmas Eve, and were exchanging presents, and Iunwrap this pair of gorgeous pale pink silk knickers. Size eight.And I basically have two options.A: Confess the truth: Actually these are too small, Im more of a12, and by the way, I dont really weigh eight stone three. Or …B: Shoe-horn myself into them.Actually, it was fine. You could hardly see the red lines on my skinafterwards. And all it meant was that I had to quickly cut all thelabels out of my clothes so Connor would never realize.
  6. 6. Since then, Ive hardly ever worn this particular set of underwear,needless to say. But every so often I see them looking all nice andexpensive in the drawer and think, Oh come on, they cant be thattight, and somehow squeeze into them. Which is what I did thismorning. I even decided I must have lost weight, because theydidnt feel too bad.I am such a deluded moron.… unfortunately since rebranding … major rethink … feel weneed to be considering alternative synergies …Up to now Ive just been sitting and nodding, thinking thisbusiness meeting lark is really easy. But now Doug Hamiltonsvoice starts to impinge on my consciousness. Whats he saying?… two products diverging … becoming incompatible …What was that about incompatible? What was that about a majorrethink? I feel a jolt of alarm. Maybe this isnt just waffle. Maybehes actually saying something. Quick, listen.We appreciate the functional and synergetic partnership thatPanther and Glen Oil have enjoyed in the past, Doug Hamilton issaying. But youll agree that clearly were going in differentdirections.Different directions?Is that what hes been talking about all this time?My stomach gives an anxious lurch.He cant be—Is he trying to pull out of the deal?
  7. 7. Excuse me, Doug, I say, in my most relaxed voice. Obviously Iwas closely following what you were saying earlier. I give afriendly, were-all-professionals-together smile.But if you could just … um, recap the situation for all our benefits…In plain English, I beg silently.Doug Hamilton and the other guy exchange glances.Were a little unhappy about your brand values, says DougHamilton.My brand values? I echo in panic.The brand values of the product , he says, giving me an oddlook. As Ive been explaining, we here at Glen Oil are goingthrough a rebranding process at the moment, and we see our newimage very much as a caring petrol, as our new daffodil logodemonstrates. And we feel Panther Prime, with its emphasis onsport and competition, is simply too aggressive.Aggressive? I stare at him, bewildered. But … its a fruit drink.This makes no sense. Glen Oil is fume-making, world-ruiningpetrol. Panther Prime is an innocent cranberry-flavoured drink.How can it be too aggressive?The values it espouses. He gestures to the marketing brochureson the table. Drive. Elitism. Masculinity. The very slogan, "DontPause". Frankly, it seems a little dated. He shrugs. We just dontthink a joint initiative will be possible.No. No. This cant be happening. He cant be pulling out.Everyone at the office will think it was my fault. Theyll think Icocked it up and Im completely crap.
  8. 8. My heart is thumping. My face is hot. I cant let this happen. Butwhat do I say? I havent prepared anything. Paul said it was all setup and all I had to do was shake their hands.Well certainly discuss it again before we make a decision,Dougs saying. He gives me a brief smile. And as I say, we wouldlike to continue links with the Panther Corporation, so this hasbeen a useful meeting in any case. Hes pushing back his chair.I cant let this slip away! I have to try to win them round. I have totry and shut the deal.Close the deal. Thats what I meant.Wait! I hear myself say. Just … wait a moment! I have a fewpoints to make.What am I talking about? I have no points to make.Theres a can of Panther Prime sitting on the desk, and I grab it forinspiration. Playing for time, I stand up, walk to the centre of theroom and raise the can high into the air where we can all see it.Panther Prime is … a sports drink.I stop, and theres a polite silence. My face is prickling.It … um … it is very …Oh God. What am I doing?Come on , Emma. Think . Think Panther Prime … think PantherCola … think … think…Yes! Of course!OK, start again.
  9. 9. Since the launch of Panther Cola in the late 1980s, Panther drinkshave been a bywordfor energy, excitement and excellence, I say fluently.Thank God. This is the standard marketing blurb for Panther Cola.Ive typed it out somany zillions of times, I could recite it in my sleep. Panther drinks are a marketing phenomenon, I continue. ThePanther character is one ofthe most widely recognized in the world, while the classic slogan"Dont Pause" has madeit into dictionaries. We are now offering Glen Oil an exclusiveopportunity to join withthis premium, world-famous brand. My confidence growing, I start to stride around the room,gesturing with the can.By buying a Panther health drink, the consumer is signalling thathe will settle fornothing but the best. I hit the can sharply with my other hand.He expects the best fromhis energy drink, he expects the best from his petrol, he expectsthe best from himself. Im flying! Im fantastic! If Paul could see me now, hed give me apromotion on the spot!I come over to the desk and look Doug Hamilton right in the eye.When the Pantherconsumer opens that can, he is making a choice which tells theworld who he is. Im
  10. 10. asking Glen Oil to make the same choice.As I finish speaking I plant the can firmly in the middle of thedesk, reach for the ringpull and, with a cool smile, snap it back.Its like a volcano erupting.Fizzy cranberry-flavoured drink explodes in a whoosh out of thecan, landing on thedesk, drenching the papers and blotters in lurid red liquid … andoh no, please no …spattering all over Doug Hamiltons shirt.Fuck! I gasp. I mean, Im really sorry …Jesus Christ, says Doug Hamilton irritably, standing up andgetting a handkerchief outof his pocket. Does this stuff stain?Er … I grab the can helplessly. I dont know.Ill get a cloth, says the other guy, and leaps to his feet.The door closes behind him and theres silence, apart from thesound of cranberry drinkdripping slowly onto the floor. I stare at Doug Hamilton, my face hot and blood throbbingthrough my ears.Please … I say, and clear my husky throat. Dont tell my boss.After all that. I screwed it up.As I drag my heels across the concourse at Glasgow Airport, I feelcompletely dejected.
  11. 11. Doug Hamilton was quite sweet in the end. He said he was surethe stain would comeout, and promised he wouldnt tell Paul what happened. But hedidnt change his mindabout the deal. My first big meeting. My first big chance – and this is whathappens. I feel like giving upon the whole thing. I feel like phoning the office and saying Thatsit, Im never comingback again, and by the way, it was me who jammed thephotocopier that time.But I cant. This is my third career in four years. It has to work. Formy own self-worth.For my own self-esteem. And also because I owe my dad fourthousand quid.So what can I get you? says an Australian guy, and I look updazedly. Ive arrived at theairport with an hour to go, and have headed straight for the bar. Erm … My mind is blank. Er … white wine. No, actually, a vodkaand tonic. Thanks.As he moves away, I slump down again in my stool. An air hostesswith a French plaitcomes and sits down, two bar stools away. She smiles at me, and Ismile weakly in return.I dont know how other people manage their careers, I reallydont. Like my oldest friendLissy. Shes always known she wanted to be a lawyer – and now,ta-daah! Shes a fraudbarrister. But I left college with absolutely no clue. My first job wasin estate agency, andI only went into it because Ive always quite liked looking roundhouses, plus I met this
  12. 12. woman with amazing red lacquered nails at a career fair who toldme she made so muchmoney, shed be able to retire when she was forty.But the minute I started, I hated it. I hated all the other traineeestate agents. I hatedsaying things like a lovely aspect. And I hated the way ifsomeone said they could afford£300,000 we were supposed to give them details of housescosting at least £400,000, andthen kind of look down our noses, like, You only have £300,000?God, you completeloser.So after six months I announced I was changing career and wasgoing to be aphotographer instead. It was such a fantastic moment, like in afilm or something. My dadlent me the money for a photography course and camera, and Iwas going to launch thisamazing new creative career, and it was going to be the start ofmy new life …Except it didnt quite happen like that. I mean, for a start, do you have any idea how much aphotographers assistant gets paid?Nothing. Its nothing.Which, you know, I wouldnt have minded if anyone had actuallyoffered me aphotographers assistants job.I heave a heavy sigh, and gaze at my doleful expression in themirror behind the bar. Aswell as everything else, my hair, which I carefully straightenedwith serum this morning,
  13. 13. has gone all frizzy. Typical.At least I wasnt the only one who didnt get anywhere. Out of theeight people on mycourse, one became instantly successful and now takes photos forVogue and stuff, onebecame a wedding photographer, one had an affair with the tutor,one went travelling, onehad a baby, one works at Snappy Snaps and one is now at MorganStanley.Meanwhile I got more and more into debt, and started tempingand applying for jobswhich actually paid money. And eventually, eleven months ago, Istarted as a marketingassistant at the Panther Corporation.The barman places a vodka and tonic in front of me, and gives mea quizzical look.Cheer up! he says. It cant be that bad!Thanks, I say gratefully, and take a sip. That feels a bit better.Im just taking a secondsip when my mobile starts to ring. My stomach gives a nervous flip. If its the office, Ill just pretend Ididnt hear.But its not, its our home number flashing on the little screen.Hi, I say, pressing green.Hiya! comes Lissys voice. Only me! So how did it go?Lissy is my flatmate and my oldest friend in the world. She hastufty dark hair and an IQof about 600 and is the sweetest person I know.
  14. 14. It was a disaster, I say miserably.What happened? Didnt you get the deal?Not only did I not get the deal, I drenched the marketing directorof Glen Oil incranberry drink.Along the bar, I can see the air hostess hiding a smile, and I feelmyself flush. Great.Now the whole world knows.Oh dear. I can almost feel Lissy trying to think of somethingpositive to say. Well, atleast you got their attention, she says at last. At least they wontforget you in a hurry.I suppose, I say morosely. So, did I have any messages? Oh! Erm … no. I mean, your dad did phone, but … um … youknow … it wasnt … Shetails off evasively.Lissy. What did he want?Theres a pause.Apparently your cousins won some industry award, she saysapologetically. Theyregoing to be celebrating it on Saturday as well as your mumsbirthday.Oh. Great.I slump deeper in my chair. Thats all I need. My cousin Kerrytriumphantly clutchingsome silver Best-travel-agent-in-the-world-no-make-that-universetrophy.
  15. 15. And Connor rang, too, to see how you got on, adds Lissy quickly.He was really sweet,he said he didnt want to ring your mobile during your meeting incase it disturbed you.Really?For the first time today, I feel a lift in spirits.Connor. My boyfriend. My lovely, thoughtful boyfriend.Hes such a sweetheart! Lissy is saying. He said hes tied up in abig meeting allafternoon but hes cancelled his squash game especially, so doyou want to go out tosupper tonight? Oh, I say, with a flicker of pleasure. Oh well, thatll be nice.Thanks, Lissy.I click off and take another sip of vodka, feeling much morecheerful.My boyfriend.Its just like Julie Andrews said. When the dog bites, when the beestings … I simplyremember I have a boyfriend – and suddenly things dont seemquite so completely shit.Or however she put it.And not just any boyfriend. A tall, handsome, clever boyfriend,whom Marketing Weekcalled one of the brightest sparks in marketing research today.I sit nursing my vodka, allowing thoughts of Connor to roll roundmy brain and comfortme. The way his blond hair shines in the sunshine, and the wayhes always smiling. And
  16. 16. the way he upgraded all the software on my computer the otherday without me evenasking, and the way he … he …My minds gone blank. This is ridiculous. I mean, theres so muchthat is wonderfulabout Connor. From his … his long legs. Yes. And his broadshoulders. To the time helooked after me when I had the flu. I mean, how many boyfriendsdo that? Exactly.Im so lucky, I really am.I put the phone away, run my fingers through my hair, and glanceat the clock behind thebar. Forty minutes to go before the flight. Not long now. Nervesare starting to creep overme like little insects, and I take a deep gulp of vodka, draining myglass. Itll be fine, I tell myself for the zillionth time. Itll be absolutelyfine.Im not frightened. Im just … Im just …OK. I am frightened. 16. Im scared of flying.Ive never told anyone Im scared of flying. It just sounds so lame.And I mean, its notlike Im phobic or anything. Its not like I cant get on a plane. Itsjust … all things beingequal, I would prefer to be on the ground.I never used to be scared. But over the last few years, Ivegradually got more and morenervous. I know its completely irrational. I know thousands ofpeople fly every day and
  17. 17. its practically safer than lying in bed. You have less chance ofbeing in a plane crash than… than finding a man in London, or something.But still. I just dont like it.Maybe Ill have another quick vodka.By the time my flight is called, Ive drunk two more vodkas andam feeling a lot morepositive. I mean, Lissys right. At least I made an impression,didnt I? At least theyllremember who I am. As I stride towards the gate, clutching mybriefcase, I almost start tofeel like a confident businesswoman again. A couple of peoplesmile at me as they pass,and I smile broadly back, feeling a warm glow of friendliness. Yousee. The worlds notso bad after all. Its all just a question of being positive. Anythingcan happen in life, cantit? You never know whats round the next corner.I reach the entrance to the plane, and there at the door, takingboarding passes, is the airhostess with the French plait who was sitting at the bar earlier.Hi again, I say smiling. This is a coincidence!The air hostess stares at me.Hi. Erm …What?Why does she look embarrassed?Sorry. Its just … did you know that … She gestures awkwardly tomy front.
  18. 18. What is it? I say, pleasantly. I look down, and freeze, aghast.Somehow my silky shirt has been unbuttoning itself while Ivebeen walking along.Three buttons have come undone and its gaping at the front. My bra shows. My pink lacy bra. The one that went a bit blobby inthe wash.Thats why those people were smiling at me. Not because theworld is a nice place, butbecause Im Pink-Blobby-Bra-Woman.Thanks, I mutter, and do up the buttons with rumbling fingers,my face hot withhumiliation.It hasnt been your day, has it? says the air hostesssympathetically, holding out a handfor my boarding pass. Sorry, I couldnt help overhearing, earlier.Thats all right. I raise a half-smile. No, it hasnt been the bestday of my life. Theres ashort silence as she studies my boarding pass. Tell you what, she says in a low voice. Would you like an on-board upgrade?A what? I stare at her blankly.Come on. You deserve a break.Really? But … can you just upgrade people like that?If there are spare seats, we can. We use our discretion. And thisflight is so short. Shegives me a conspiratorial smile. Just dont tell everyone, OK?
  19. 19. She leads me into the front section of the plane and gestures to abig, wide, comfortableseat. Ive never been upgraded before in my life! I cant quitebelieve shes really lettingme do this.Is this first class? I whisper, taking in the hushed, luxuryatmosphere. A man in a smartsuit is tapping at a laptop to my right, and two elderly women inthe corner are pluggingthemselves into headsets.Business class. Theres no first class on this flight. She lifts hervoice to a normalvolume. Is everything OK for you?Its perfect! Thanks very much.No problem. She smiles again and walks away, and I push mybriefcase under the seatin front.Wow. This really is lovely. Big wide seats, and footrests, andeverything. This is going tobe a completely pleasurable experience from start to finish, I tellmyself firmly. I reachfor my seatbelt and buckle it up nonchalantly, trying to ignore theflutters of apprehensionin my stomach.Would you like some champagne?Its my friend the air hostess, beaming down at me.That would be great, I say. Thanks!Champagne!
  20. 20. And for you, sir? Some champagne?The man in the seat next to mine hasnt even looked up yet. Heswearing jeans and anold sweatshirt and is staring out of the window. As he turns toanswer I catch a glimpse ofdark eyes, stubble; a deep frown etched on his forehead.No thanks. Just a brandy. Thanks.His voice is dry and has an American accent. Im about to ask himpolitely where hesfrom, but he immediately turns back and stares out of the windowagain.Which is fine, because to be honest, Im not much in the mood fortalking either.TWOOK. The truth is, I dont like this.I know its business class, I know its all lovely luxury. But mystomach is still a tightknot of fear.While we were taking off I counted very slowly with my eyesclosed, and that kind ofworked. But I ran out of steam at about 350. So now Im justsitting, sipping champagne,reading an article on 30 Things To Do Before Youre 30 in Cosmo .Im trying very hardto look like a relaxed business-class top marketing executive. Butoh God. Every tinysound makes me start; every judder makes me catch my breath.
  21. 21. With an outward veneer of calm I reach for the laminated safetyinstructions and run my eyes over them. Safety exits. Braceposition. If life jackets are required, please assist theelderly and children first. Oh God—Why am I even looking at this? How will it help me to gaze atpictures of little stickpeople jumping into the ocean while their plane explodes behindthem? I stuff the safetyinstructions quickly back in their pocket and take a gulp ofchampagne.Excuse me, madam. An air hostess with red curls has appearedby my side. Are youtravelling on business? Yes, I say, smoothing down my hair with a prickle of pride. Yes Iam.She hands me a leaflet entitled Executive Facilities, on whichtheres a photo ofbusinesspeople talking animatedly in front of a clipboard with awavy graph on it.This is some information about our new business class lounge atGatwick. We providefull conference call facilities, and meeting rooms, should yourequire them. Would you beinterested? OK. I am a top businesswoman. I am a top highflying businessexecutive.Quite possibly, I say, looking nonchalantly at the leaflet. Yes, Imay well use one ofthese rooms to … brief my team. I have a large team, andobviously they need a lot of
  22. 22. briefing. On business matters. I clear my throat. Mostly …logistical. Would you like me to book you a room now? says the hostesshelpfully.Er, no thanks, I say after a pause, My team is currently … athome. I gave them all theday off.Right. The hostess looks a little puzzled.But another time, maybe, I say quickly. And while youre here – Iwas just wondering,is that sound normal?What sound? The air hostess cocks her head.That sound. That kind of whining, coming from the wing? I cant hear anything. She looks at me sympathetically. Are youa nervous flyer? No! I say at once, and give a little laugh. No, Im not nervous ! Ijust … was wondering.Just out of interest.Ill see if I can find out for you, she says kindly. Here you are, sir.Some informationabout our executive facilities at Gatwick.The American man takes his leaflet wordlessly and puts it downwithout even looking atit, and the hostess moves on, staggering a little as the plane givesa bump.
  23. 23. Why is the plane bumping?Oh God. A sudden rush of fear hits me with no warning. This ismadness. Madness!Sitting in this big heavy box, with no way of escape, thousandsand thousands of feetabove the ground …I cant do this on my own. I have an overpowering need to talk tosomeone. Someonereassuring. Someone safe.Connor.Instinctively I fish out my mobile phone, but immediately the airhostess swoops downon me.Im afraid you cant use that on board the plane, she says with abright smile. Could youplease ensure that its switched off?Oh. Er … sorry.Of course I cant use my mobile. Theyve only said it about fifty-five zillion times. I amsuch a durr-brain. Anyway, never mind. It doesnt matter. Im fine.I put the phone awayin my bag, and try to concentrate on an old episode of FawltyTowers which is showingon the screen.Maybe Ill start counting again. Three hundred and forty-nine.Three hundred and fifty.Three hundred and— Fuck. My head jerks up. What was that bump? Did we just gethit ?
  24. 24. OK, dont panic. It was just a bump. Im sure everythings fine. Weprobably just flewinto a pigeon or something. Where was I?Three hundred and fifty-one. Three hundred and fifty-two. Threehundred and fifty—And thats it.Thats the moment.Everything seems to fragment. I hear the screams like a wave over my head, almost before Irealize whats happening.Oh God. Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh … OH … NO. NO. NO.Were falling. Oh God, were falling.Were plummeting downwards. The planes dropping through theair like a stone. A manover there has just shot up through the air and banged his headon the ceiling. Hesbleeding. Im gasping, clutching onto my seat, trying not to do thesame thing, but I canfeel myself being wrenched upwards, its like someones tuggingme, like gravityssuddenly switched the other way. Theres no time to think. Mymind cant … Bags areflying around, drinks are spilling, one of the cabin crew has fallenover, shes clutching ata seat … Oh God. Oh God. OK, its slowing down now. Its … its better.Fuck. I just … I just cant … I …I look at the American man, and hes grasping his seat as tightlyas I am.I feel sick. I think I might be sick. Oh God.
  25. 25. OK. Its … its kind of … back to normal.Ladies and gentlemen, comes a voice over the intercom, andeveryones heads jerk up.This is your captain speaking.My hearts juddering in my chest. I cant listen. I cant think.Were currently hitting some clear-air turbulence, and things maybe unsteady for awhile. I have switched on the seatbelt signs and would ask thatyou all return to yourseats as quickly as—Theres another huge lurch, and his voice is drowned by screamsand cries all round theplane.Its like a bad dream. A bad rollercoaster dream.The cabin crew are all strapping themselves into their seats. Oneof the hostesses ismopping blood on her face. A minute ago they were happilydoling out honey-roastpeanuts.This is what happens to other people in other planes. People onsafety videos. Not me.Please keep calm, the captain is saying. As soon as we havemore information …Keep calm ? I cant breathe, let alone keep calm. What are wegoing to do? Are we allsupposed to just sit here while the plane bucks like an out-of-control horse?I can hear someone behind me reciting Hail Mary, full of grace …and a fresh, choking
  26. 26. panic sweeps through me. People are praying. This is real.Were going to die.Were going to die. Im sorry? The American man in the next seat looks at me, hisface tense and white.Did I just say that aloud?Were going to die. I stare into his face. This could be the lastperson I ever see alive. Itake in the lines etched around his dark eyes; his strong jaw,shaded with stubble.The plane suddenly drops down again, and I give an involuntaryshriek.I dont think were going to die, he says. But hes gripping hisseat-arms, too. They saidit was just turbulence—Of course they did! I can hear the hysteria in my voice. Theywouldnt exactly say, "OKfolks, thats it, youre all goners"! The plane gives anotherterrifying swoop and I findmyself clutching the mans hand in panic. Were not going tomake it. I know were not.This is it. Im twenty-five years old, for Gods sake. Im not ready. Ihavent achievedanything. Ive never had children, Ive never saved a life … Myeyes fall randomly on the30 Things To Do Before Youre 30 article. I havent ever climbeda mountain, I haventgot a tattoo, I dont even know if Ive got a G spot … Im sorry? says the man, sounding taken aback, but I barelyhear him.
  27. 27. My careers a complete joke. Im not a top businesswoman at all.I gesture half-tearfullyto my suit. I havent got a team! Im just a crappy assistant and Ijust had my first ever bigmeeting and it was a complete disaster. Half the time I haventgot a clue what people aretalking about, I dont know what logistical means, Im never goingto get promoted, and Iowe my dad four thousand quid, and Ive never really been in love…I draw myself up short with a jolt. Im sorry, I say, and exhalesharply. You dont wantto hear all this.Thats quite all right, says the man.God. Im completely losing it. And anyway, what I just said wasnt true. Because I am in lovewith Connor. It must bethe altitude or something, confusing my mind.Flustered, I push the hair off my face and try to get a hold ofmyself. OK, lets trycounting again. Three hundred and fifty … six. Three hundred and— Oh God. Oh God. No. Please. The planes lurching again. Wereplummeting.Ive never done anything to make my parents proud of me. Thewords come spilling outof my mouth before I can stop them. Never.Im sure thats not true, says the man nicely.
  28. 28. Its true. Maybe they used to be proud of me. But then my cousinKerry came to livewith us and all at once it was like my parents couldnt see me anymore. All they couldsee was her. She was fourteen when she arrived, and I was ten,and I thought it was goingto be great, you know. Like having an older sister. But it didntwork out like that …I cant stop talking. I just cant stop.Every time the plane bumps or jolts, another torrent of wordspours randomly out of mymouth, like water gushing over a waterfall.Its either talk or scream.… she was a swimming champion, and an everything champion,and I was just …nothing in comparison … … photography course and I honestly thought it was going tochange my life …… eight stone three. But I was planning to go on a diet … I applied for every single job in the world. I was so desperate, Ieven applied to …… awful girl called Artemis. This new desk arrived the other day,and she just took it,even though Ive got this really grotty little desk … … sometimes I water her stupid spider plant with orange juice,just to serve her right …
  29. 29. … sweet girl Katie, who works in Personnel. We have this secretcode where she comesin and says, "Can I go through some numbers with you, Emma?"and it really means"Shall we nip out to Starbucks …"… awful presents, and I have to pretend I like them … … coffee at work is the most disgusting stuff youve ever drunk,absolute poison …… put "Maths GCSE grade A" on my CV, when I really only got C. Iknow it wasdishonest. I know I shouldnt have done it, but I so wanted to getthe job …Whats happened to me? Normally theres a kind of filter whichstops me blurting outeverything Im thinking; which keeps me in check.But the filters stopped working. Everythings piling out in a big,random stream, and Icant stop it.Sometimes I think I believe in God, because how else did we allget here? But then Ithink, yes but what about war and stuff … … wear G-strings because they dont give you VPL. But theyreso uncomfortable …… size eight, and I didnt know what to do, so I just said "Wowthose are absolutelyfantastic …"… roasted peppers, my complete favourite food …
  30. 30. … joined a book group, but I just couldnt get through GreatExpectations . So I justskimmed the back and pretended Id read it … … I gave him all his goldfish food, I honestly dont know whathappened … … just have to hear that Carpenters song "Close to You" and Istart crying … … really wish I had bigger boobs. I mean, not Page 3 size, notcompletely enormous andstupid, but you know, bigger. Just to know what its like …… perfect date would start off with champagne just appearing atthe table, as if bymagic …… I just cracked, I secretly bought this huge tub of Häagen-Dazsand scoffed the lot,and I never told Lissy …Im unaware of anything around us. The world has narrowed to meand this stranger, andmy mouth, spewing out all my innermost thoughts and secrets. I barely know what Im saying any more. All I know is, it feelsgood.Is this what therapy is like?… name was Danny Nussbaum. Mum and Dad were downstairswatching Ben Hur , andI remember thinking, if this is what the world gets so excitedabout, then the worlds mad…… lie on my side, because that way your cleavage looks bigger…
  31. 31. … works in market research. I remember thinking the very firsttime I saw him, wow,hes good-looking, Hes very tall and blond, because hes half-Swedish, and he has theseamazing blue eyes. So he asked me out … … always have a glass of sweet sherry before a date, just tocalm my nerves …Hes wonderful. Connors completely wonderful. Im just so lucky.Everyones alwaystelling me how great he is. Hes sweet, and hes good, and hessuccessful and everyonecalls us the perfect couple …… Id never tell anyone this in a million years. But sometimes Ithink hes almost toogood-looking. A bit like one of those dolls? Like Ken. Like a blondKen.And now Im on the subject of Connor, Im saying things Ive neversaid to anyone.Things I never even realized were in my head.… gave him this lovely leather watch for Christmas, but he wearsthis orange digitalthing because it can tell him the temperature in Poland orsomething stupid …… took me to all these jazz concerts and I pretended to enjoythem to be polite, so nowhe thinks I love jazz …… every single Woody Allen film off by heart and says each linebefore it comes and itdrives me crackers …
  32. 32. … just looks at me as though Im speaking some foreignlanguage …… determined to find my G spot, so we spent the whole weekenddoing it in differentpositions, and by the end I was just knackered, all I wanted was apizza and Friends …… he kept saying, what was it like, what was it like? So in the endI just made somestuff up, I said it was absolutely amazing, and it felt as though mywhole body wasopening up like a flower, and he said, what sort of flower, so I saida begonia …… cant expect the initial passion to last. But how do you tell ifthe passions faded in agood, long-term-commitment way or in a crap, we-dont-fancy-each-other-any-more way…… knight in shining armour is not a realistic option. But theres apart of me that wants ahuge, amazing romance. I want passion. I want to be swept off myfeet. I want anearthquake, or a … I dont know, a huge whirlwind … somethingexciting . Sometimes Ifeel as if theres this whole new, thrilling life waiting for me outthere, and if I can just—Excuse me, miss?What? I look up dazedly. What is it? The air hostess with theFrench plait is smilingdown at me.Weve landed. I stare at her.
  33. 33. Weve landed ? This doesnt make sense. How can we have landed? I look around– and sure enough, theplanes still. Were on the ground.I feel like Dorothy. A second ago I was swirling around in Oz,clicking my heelstogether, and now Ive woken up all flat and quiet and normalagain.We arent bumping any more, I say stupidly.We stopped bumping quite a while ago, says the American man.Were … were not going to die.Were not going to die, he agrees.I look at him as though for the first time – and it hits me. Ive beenblabbering non-stopfor an hour to this complete stranger. God alone knows what Ivebeen saying.I think I want to get off this plane right now.Im sorry, I say awkwardly. You should have stopped me.That would have been a little difficult. Theres a tiny smile at hislips. You were on a bitof a roll.Im so embarrassed! I try to smile, but I cant even look this guyin the eye. I mean, Itold him about my knickers. I told him about my G spot .
  34. 34. Dont worry about it. We were all stressed out. That was someflight. He picks up hisknapsack and gets up from his seat – then looks back at me. Willyou be OK getting backhome? Yes. Ill be fine. Thanks. Enjoy your visit! I call after him, but Idont think he hears.Slowly I gather my things together and make my way off theplane. I feel sweaty, myhairs all over the place, and my head is starting to throb.The airport seems so bright and still and calm after the intenseatmosphere of the plane.The ground seems so firm. I sit quietly on a plastic chair for awhile, trying to get myselftogether, but as I stand up at last, I still feel dazed. I walk along ina slight blur, hardlyable to believe Im here. Im alive. I honestly never thought Idmake it back on theground.Emma! I hear someone calling as I come out of Arrivals, but Idont look up. There areloads of Emmas in this world.Emma! Over here!I raise my head in disbelief. Is that …No. It cant be, it cant—Its Connor.
  35. 35. He looks heart-breakingly handsome. His skin has thatScandinavian tan, and his eyesare bluer than ever, and hes running towards me. This makes nosense. Whats he doinghere? As we reach each other he grabs me and pulls me tight tohis chest.Thank God, he says huskily. Thank God. Are you OK?Connor, what— what are you doing here?I phoned the airline to ask what time youd be landing, and theytold me the plane hadhit terrible turbulence. I just had to come to the airport. He gazesdown at me. Emma, Iwatched your plane land. They sent an ambulance straight out toit. Then you didntappear. I thought … He swallows hard. I dont know exactly whatI thought.Im fine. I was just … trying to get myself together. Oh God,Connor, it was terrifying.My voice is suddenly all shaky, which is ridiculous, because Imperfectly safe now. Atone point I honestly thought I was going to die.When you didnt come through the barrier … Connor breaks offand stares at mesilently for a few seconds. I think I realized for the first time quitehow deeply I feelabout you. Really? I falter.My hearts thumping. I think I might fall over at any moment.Emma, I think we should …Get married? My heart jumps in fear. Oh my God. Hes going toask me to marry him,
  36. 36. right here in the airport. What am I going to say? Im not ready toget married. But if I sayno hell stalk off in a huff. Shit. OK. What Ill say is, Gosh, Connor, Ineed a little time to…… move in together, he finishes.I am such a deluded moron. Obviously he wasnt going to ask meto marry him.What do you think? he strokes my hair gently.Erm … I rub my dry face, playing for time, unable to thinkstraight. Move in withConnor. It kind of makes sense. Is there a reason why not? I feelall confused.Somethings tugging at my brain; trying to send me a message …And into my head slide some of the things I said on the plane.Something about neverhaving been properly in love. Something about Connor not reallyunderstanding me.But then … that was just drivel, wasnt it? I mean, I thought I wasabout to die, for Godssake. I wasnt exactly at my most lucid.Connor, what about your big meeting? I say, suddenly recalling.I cancelled it.You cancelled it? I stare at him. For me?I feel really wobbly now. My legs are barely holding me up. I dontknow if its theaftermath of the plane journey or love.
  37. 37. Oh God, just look at him. Hes tall and hes handsome, and hecancelled a big meeting,and he came to rescue me.Its love. It has to be love. Id love to move in with you, Connor, I whisper, and to my utterastonishment, burst intotears.THREEI wake up the next morning with sunlight dazzling my eyelids anda delicious smell ofcoffee in the air.Morning! comes Connors voice from far above.Morning, I mumble, without opening my eyes.Dyou want some coffee?Yes please.I turn over and bury my throbbing head in the pillow, trying tosink into sleep again for acouple of minutes. Which normally I would find very easy. Buttoday, somethingsniggling at me. Have I forgotten something?As I half listen to Connor clattering around in the kitchen, and thetinny backgroundsound of the telly, my mind gropes blearily around for clues. ItsSaturday morning. Im inConnors bed. We went out for supper – oh God, that awful planeride … he came to theairport, and he said …
  38. 38. Were moving in together!I sit up, just as Connor comes in with two mugs and a cafetière.Hes dressed in a whitewaffle robe and looks completely gorgeous. I feel a prickle ofpride, and reach over togive him a kiss. Hi, he says, laughing. Careful. He hands me my coffee. Howare you feeling?All right. I push my hair back off my face. A bit groggy. Im not surprised. Connor raises his eyebrows. Quite a dayyesterday. Absolutely. I nod, and take a sip of coffee. So. Were … going tolive together!If youre still on for it?Of course! Of course I am! I smile brightly.And its true. I am.I feel as though overnight, Ive turned into a grownup. Im movingin with my boyfriend.Finally my life is going the way it should!Ill have to give Andrew notice … Connor gestures towards thewall, on the other sideof which is his flatmates room.And Ill have to tell Lissy and Jemima.And well have to find the right place. And youll have to promiseto keep it tidy. He
  39. 39. gives me a teasing grin.I like that! I feign outrage. Youre the one with fifty million CDs.Thats different!How is it different, may I ask? I plant my hand on my hip, likesomeone in a sitcom,and Connor laughs.Theres a pause, as though weve both run out of steam, and wetake a sip of coffee.So anyway, says Connor after a while, I should get going.Connor is attending a courseon computers this weekend. Im sorry Ill miss your parents, headds.And he really is. I mean, as if he wasnt already the perfectboyfriend, he actually enjoysvisiting my parents.Thats OK, I say benevolently. It doesnt matter.Oh, and I forgot to tell you. Connor gives me a mysterious grin.Guess what Ive gottickets for?Ooh! I say excitedly. Um …Im about to say Paris!The jazz festival! Connor beams. The Dennisson Quartet! Itstheir last concert of the
  40. 40. year. Remember we heard them at Ronnie Scotts?For a moment I cant quite speak. Wow! I manage at last. The … Dennisson Quartet! I doremember.They played clarinets. On and on and on, for about two hours,without even taking abreath.I knew youd be pleased. Connor touches my arm affectionately,and I give him a feeblesmile.Oh, I am!The thing is, I probably will get to like jazz one day. In fact, Impositive I will. I watch fondly as he gets dressed, flosses his teeth and picks uphis briefcase.You wore my present, he says with a pleased smile, glancing atmy discarded underwearon the floor. I … often wear them, I say, crossing my fingers behind my back.Theyre so gorgeous!Have a lovely day with your family. Connor comes over to thebed to kiss me, and thenhesitates. Emma?Yes?
  41. 41. He sits down on the bed and gazes seriously at me. Gosh, hiseyes are so blue.Theres something I wanted to say. He bites his lip. You know wealways speak franklyto each other about our relationship.Er … yes, I say, feeling a little apprehensive. This is just an idea. You may not like it. I mean … its completelyup to you.I gaze at Connor in puzzlement. His face is growing pink, and helooks reallyembarrassed.Oh my God. Is he going to start getting kinky? Does he want meto dress up in outfitsand stuff?I wouldnt mind being a nurse, actually. Or Catwoman fromBatman . That would becool. I could get some shiny boots … I was thinking that … perhaps … we could … He stopsawkwardly.Yes? I put a supportive hand on his arm.We could … He stops again.Yes?Theres another silence. I almost cant breathe. What does hewant us to do? What? We could start calling each other "darling", he says in anembarrassed rush.
  42. 42. What? I say blankly.Its just that … Connor flushes pinker. Were going to be livingtogether. Its quite acommitment. And I noticed recently, we never seem to use any …terms of endearment.I stare at him, feeling caught out.Dont we?No. Oh. I take a sip of coffee. Now I think about it, hes right. Wedont. Why dont we?So what do you think? Only if you want to.Absolutely! I say quickly. I mean, youre right. Of course weshould. I clear my throat.Darling!Thanks, darling, he says, with a loving smile, and I smile back,trying to ignore the tinyprotests inside my head.This doesnt feel right.I dont feel like a darling.Darling is a married person with pearls and a four-wheel-drive.Emma? Connors staring at me. Is something wrong?Im not sure! I give a self-conscious laugh. I just dont know if Ifeel like a "darling".
  43. 43. But … you know. It may grow on me.Really? Well, we can use something else. What about "dear"?Dear?Is he serious?No, I say quickly. I think "darling" is better.Or "sweetheart" … "honey" … "angel"Maybe. Look, can we just leave it?Connors face falls, and I feel bad. Come on. I can call myboyfriend darling, for Godssake. This is what growing ups all about. Im just going to have toget used to it.Connor, Im sorry, I say. I dont know whats wrong with me.Maybe Im still a bit tenseafter that flight. I take his hand. Darling.Thats all right, darling. He smiles back at me, his sunnyexpression restored, and givesme a kiss. See you later.You see. Easy.Oh God.Anyway. It doesnt matter. I expect all couples have this kind ofawkward-ish moment.Its probably perfectly normal.It takes me about half an hour to get from Connors place in MaidaVale to Islington,which is where I live, and as I open the door I find Lissy on thesofa. Shes surrounded by
  44. 44. papers and has a frown of concentration on her face. She worksso hard, Lissy. She reallyoverdoes it sometimes.What are you working on? I say sympathetically. Is it that fraudcase?No, its this article, says Lissy abstractly, and lifts up a glossymagazine. It says sincethe days of Cleopatra, the proportions of beauty have been thesame, and theres a way towork out how beautiful you are, scientifically. You do all thesemeasurements …Oh right! I say interestedly. So what are you?Im just working it out. She frowns at the page again. Thatmakes 53 … subtract 20 …makes … Oh my God! She stares at the page in dismay. I onlygot 33!Out of what?A hundred! 33 out of a hundred!Oh Lissy. Thats crap.I know, says Lissy seriously. Im ugly. I knew it. You know, all mylife Ive kind ofsecretly known , but—No! I say, trying not to laugh. I meant the magazines crap! Youcant measure beautywith some stupid index. Just look at you! I gesture at Lissy, whohas the biggest greyeyes in the world, and gorgeous clear pale skin and is franklystunning, even if her lasthaircut was a bit severe. I mean, who are you going to believe?The mirror or a stupid
  45. 45. mindless magazine article? A stupid mindless magazine article, says Lissy, as though itsperfectly obvious.I know shes half joking. But ever since her boyfriend Simonchucked her, Lissys hadreally low self-esteem. Im actually a bit worried about her. Is that the golden proportion of beauty? says our other flatmateJemima, tapping into theroom in her kitten heels. Shes wearing pale pink jeans and a tightwhite top and as usual,she looks perfectly tanned and groomed. In theory, Jemima has ajob, working in asculpture gallery. But all she ever seems to do is have bits of herwaxed and plucked andmassaged, and go on dates with city bankers, whose salary shealways checks out beforeshe says yes.I do get on with Jemima. Kind of. Its just that she tends to beginall her sentences Ifyouwant a rock on your finger, and Ifyou want an SW3 address, and Ifyou want to beknown as a seriously good dinner-party hostess.I mean, I wouldnt mind being known as a seriously good dinner-party hostess. Youknow. Its just not exactly highest on my list of priorities right now.Plus, Jemimas idea of being a seriously good dinner-party hostessis inviting lots of richfriends over, decorating the whole flat with twiggy things, gettingcaterers to cook loadsof yummy food and telling everyone she made it herself, thensending her flatmates (meand Lissy) out to the cinema for the night and looking affrontedwhen they dare creep
  46. 46. back in at midnight and make themselves a hot chocolate.I did that quiz, she says now, picking up her pink Louis Vuittonbag. Her dad bought itfor her as a present when she broke up with a guy after threedates. Like she washeartbroken.Mind you, he had a yacht, so she probably was heart-broken.What did you get? says Lissy.Eighty-nine. She spritzes herself with perfume, tosses her longblond hair back andsmiles at herself in the mirror. So Emma, is it true youre movingin with Connor? I gapeat her.How did you know that? Word on the street. Andrew called Rupes this morning aboutcricket, and he told him. Are you moving in with Connor? says Lissy incredulously. Whydidnt you tell me?I was about to, honestly. Isnt it great?Bad move, Emma. Jemima shakes her head. Very bad tactics.Tactics? says Lissy, rolling her eyes. Tactics?Jemima, theyrehaving a relationship, notplaying chess!A relationship is a game of chess, retorts Jemima, brushingmascara onto her lashes.Mummy says you always have to look ahead. You have to planstrategically. If you makethe wrong move, youve had it.
  47. 47. Thats rubbish! says Lissy defiantly. A relationship is about likeminds. Its aboutsoulmates finding each other.Soulmates! says Jemima dismissively, and looks at me. Justremember, Emma, if youwant a rock on your finger, dont move in with Connor.Her eyes give a swift, Pavlovian glance to the photograph on themantelpiece of hermeeting Prince William at a charity polo match.Still holding out for Royalty? says Lissy. How much younger is hethan you, again,Jemima?Dont be stupid! she snaps, colour tinging her cheeks. Youre soimmature sometimes,Lissy.Anyway, I dont want a rock on my finger, I retort.Jemima raises her perfectly arched eyebrows as though to say,you poor, ignorant fool,and picks up her bag.Oh, she suddenly adds, her eyes narrowing. Has either of youborrowed my Josephjumper?Theres a tiny beat of silence.No, I say innocently.I dont even know which one it is, says Lissy, with a shrug.I cant look at Lissy. Im sure I saw her wearing it the other night.
  48. 48. Jemimas blue eyes are running over me and Lissy like some kindof radar scanners.Because I have very slender arms, she says warningly, and Ireally dont want thesleeves stretched. And dont think I wont notice, because I will.Ciao.The minute shes gone Lissy and I look at each other.Shit, says Lissy. I think I left it at work. Oh well, Ill pick it up onMonday. She shrugsand goes back to reading the magazine.OK. So the truth is, we do both occasionally borrow Jemimasclothes. Without asking.But in our defence, she has so many, she hardly ever notices. Plusaccording to Lissy, itsa basic human right that flatmates should be able to borrow eachothers clothes. She saysits practically part of the unwritten British constitution.And anyway, adds Lissy, she owes it to me for writing her thatletter to the councilabout all her parking tickets. You know, she never even said thankyou. She looks upfrom an article on Nicole Kidman. So what are you doing later on?Dyou want to see afilm? I cant, I say reluctantly. Ive got my mums birthday lunch.Oh yes, of course. She pulls a sympathetic face. Good luck. Ihope its OK.Lissy is the only person in the world who has any idea how I feelabout visiting home.And even she doesnt know it all.
  49. 49. FOURBut as I sit on the train down, Im resolved that this time will bebetter. I was watching aCindy Blaine show the other day, all about reuniting long-lostdaughters with theirmothers, and it was so moving I soon had tears running down myface. At the end, Cindygave this little homily about how its far too easy to take ourfamilies for granted and thatthey gave us life and we should cherish them. And suddenly I feltreally chastened.So these are my resolutions for today:I will not:Let my family stress me out.Feel jealous of Kerry, or let Nev wind me up.Look at my watch, wondering how soon I can leave.I will:Stay serene and loving and remember that we are all sacred linksin the eternal circle oflife.(I got that from Cindy Blaine, too.)Mum and Dad used to live in Twickenham, which is where I grewup. But now theyvemoved out of London to a village in Hampshire. I arrive at theirhouse just after twelve,to find Mum in the kitchen with my cousin Kerry. She and herhusband Nev have movedout too, to a village about five minutes drive from Mum and Dad,so they see each other
  50. 50. all the time.I feel a familiar pang as I see them, standing side by side by thestove. They look morelike mother and daughter than aunt and niece. Theyve both gotthe same feather-cut hair– although Kerrys is highlighted more strongly than Mums –theyre both wearingbrightly coloured tops which show a lot of tanned cleavage, andtheyre both laughing.On the counter, I notice a bottle of white wine already half gone.Happy birthday! I say, hugging Mum. As I glimpse a wrappedparcel on the kitchentable, I feel a little thrill of anticipation. I have got Mum the bestbirthday present. I cantwait to give it to her!Hi ya! says Kerry, turning round in her apron. Her blue eyes areheavily made-up, andround her neck shes wearing a diamond cross which I haventseen before. Every time Isee Kerry she has a new piece of jewellery. Great to see you,Emma! We dont seeenough of you. Do we, Aunty Rachel?We certainly dont, says Mum, giving me a hug.Shall I take your coat? says Kerry, as I put the bottle ofchampagne Ive brought into thefridge. And what about a drink?This is how Kerry always talks to me. As though Im a visitor. But never mind. Im not going to stress about it. Sacred links inthe eternal circle of life.Its OK, I say, trying to sound pleasant. Ill get it. I open thecupboard where glasses are
  51. 51. always kept, to find myself looking at tins of tomatoes.Theyre over here, says Kerry, on the other side of the kitchen.We moved everythingaround! It makes much more sense now.Oh right. Thanks. I take the glass she gives me and take a sip ofwine. Can I doanything to help?I dont think so … says Kerry, looking critically around thekitchen. Everythings prettymuch done. So I said to Elaine, she adds to Mum, "Where did youget those shoes?" Andshe said M&S! I couldnt believe it!Whos Elaine? I say, trying to join in.At the golf club, says Kerry.Mum never used to play golf. But when she moved to Hampshire,she and Kerry took itup together. And now all I hear about is golf matches, golf clubdinners, and endlessparties with chums from the golf club.I did once go along, to see what it was all about. But first of allthey have all these stupidrules about what you can wear, which I didnt know, and some oldguy nearly had a heartattack because I was in jeans. So they had to find me a skirt, anda spare pair of thoseclumpy shoes with spikes. And then when we got on to the courseI couldnt hit the ball.Not I couldnt hit the ball well : I literally could not make contactwith the ball. So in theend they all exchanged glances and said Id better wait in theclubhouse.
  52. 52. Sorry, Emma, can I just get past you … Kerry reaches over myshoulder for a servingdish. Sorry, I say, and move aside. So, is there really nothing I cando, Mum?You could feed Sammy, she says, giving me a pot of goldfishfood. She frownsanxiously. You know, Im a bit worried about Sammy.Oh, I say, feeling a spasm of alarm. Er … why?He just doesnt seem himself . She peers at him in his bowl.What do you think? Doeshe look right to you? I follow her gaze and pull a thoughtful face, as though Imstudying Sammys features.Oh God. I never thought she would notice. I tried as hard as Icould to get a fish thatlooked just like Sammy. I mean hes orange, hes got two fins, heswims around … Whatsthe difference? Hes probably just a bit depressed, I say at last. Hell get overit.Please dont let her take him to the vet or anything, I silently pray.I didnt even check if Igot the right sex. Do goldfishes even have sexes?Anything else I can do? I say, sprinkling fish food lavishly overthe water in an attemptto block her view of him.Weve pretty much got it covered, says Kerry kindly.
  53. 53. Why dont you go and say hello to Dad? says Mum, sieving somepeas. Lunch wont befor another ten minutes or so.I find Dad and Nev in the sitting room, in front of the cricket.Dads greying beard is asneatly trimmed as ever, and hes drinking beer from a silvertankard. The room hasrecently been redecorated, but on the wall theres still a display ofall Kerrys swimmingcups. Mum polishes them regularly, every week.Plus my couple of riding rosettes. I think she kind of flicks thosewith a duster.Hi, Dad, I say, giving him a kiss.Emma! He puts a hand to his head in mock-surprise. You madeit! No detours! Novisits to historic cities!Not today! I give a little laugh. Safe and sound.There was this time, just after Mum and Dad had moved to thishouse, when I took thewrong train on the way down and ended up in Salisbury, and Dadalways teases me aboutit.Hi, Nev. I peck him on the cheek, trying not to choke on theamount of aftershave heswearing. Hes in chinos and a white roll-neck, and has a heavygold bracelet round hiswrist, plus a wedding ring with a diamond set in it. Nev runs hisfamilys company, whichsupplies office equipment all round the country, and he met Kerryat some convention for
  54. 54. young entrepreneurs. Apparently they struck up conversationadmiring each others Rolexwatches.Hi, Emma, he says. Dyou see the new motor?What? I peer at him blankly – then recall a glossy new car on thedrive when I arrived.Oh yes! Very smart. Mercedes 5 Series. He takes a slug of beer. Forty-two grand listprice.Gosh. Didnt pay that, though. He taps the side of his nose. Have aguess.Erm … forty?Guess again.Thirty-nine?Thirty-seven-two-fifty, says Nev triumphantly. And free CDchanger. Tax deductible,he adds.Right. Wow. I dont really know what else to say, so I perch on the side of thesofa and eat a peanut. Thats what youre aiming for, Emma! says Dad. Think youllever make it?I … dont know. Er … Dad, that reminds me. Ive got a cheque foryou. Awkwardly Ireach in my bag and get out a cheque for £300.
  55. 55. Well done, says Dad. That can go on the tally. His green eyestwinkle as he puts it inhis pocket. Its called learning the value of money. Its calledlearning to stand on yourown two feet!Valuable lesson, says Nev, nodding. He takes a slug of beer andgrins at Dad. Justremind me, Emma – what career is it this week?When I first met Nev it was just after Id left the estate agency tobecome a photographer.Two and a half years ago. And he makes this same joke everytime I see him. Everysingle bloody—OK, calm down. Happy thoughts. Cherish your family. CherishNev.Its still marketing! I say brightly. Has been for over a year now.Ah. Marketing. Good, good!Theres silence for a few minutes, apart from the cricketcommentary. Suddenly Dad andNev simultaneously groan as something or other happens on thecricket pitch. A momentlater they groan again.Right, I say. Well, Ill just …As I get up from the sofa, they dont even turn their heads.I go out to the hall and pick up the cardboard box which I broughtdown with me. Then Igo through the side gate, knock on the annexe door and push itcautiously.
  56. 56. Grandpa?Grandpa is Mums dad, and hes lived with us ever since he hadhis heart operation, tenyears ago. At the old house in Twickenham he just had a bedroom,but this house isbigger, so he has his own annexe of two rooms, and a tiny littlekitchen, tacked onto theside of the house. Hes sitting in his favourite leather armchair,with the radio playingclassical music, and on the floor in front of him are about sixcardboard packing casesfull of stuff.Hi, Grandpa, I say.Emma! He looks up, and his face lights up. Darling girl. Comehere! I bend over togive him a kiss, and he squeezes my hand tight. His skin is dryand cool, and his hair iseven whiter than it was last time I saw him.Ive got some more Panther Bars for you, I say, nodding to mybox. Grandpa iscompletely addicted to Panther energy bars, and so are all hisfriends at the bowling club,so I use my allowance to buy him a boxful for every time I comehome.Thank you, my love, Grandpa beams. Youre a good girl, Emma.Where should I put them?We both look helplessly around the cluttered room.What about over there, behind the television? says Grandpa atlast. I pick my wayacross the room, dump the box on the floor, then retrace mysteps, trying not to tread on
  57. 57. anything.Now, Emma, I read a very worrying newspaper article the otherday, says Grandpa as Isit down on one of the packing cases. About safety in London. Hegives me a beadylook. You dont travel on public transport in the evenings, doyou?Erm … hardly ever, I say, crossing my fingers behind my back.Just now and then,when I absolutely have to …Darling girl, you mustnt! says Grandpa, looking agitated.Teenagers in hoods withflick-knives roam the underground, it said. Drunken louts,breaking bottles, gouging oneanothers eyes out …Its not that bad—Emma, its not worth the risk! For the sake of a taxi fare or two.Im pretty sure that if I asked Grandpa what he thought theaverage taxi fare was inLondon, hed say five shillings. Honestly, Grandpa, Im really careful, I say reassuringly. And Ido take taxis.Sometimes. About once a year.Anyway. Whats all this stuff? I ask, to change the subject, andGrandpa gives a gustysigh.
  58. 58. Your mother cleared out the attic last week. Im just sorting outwhat to throw away andwhat to keep.That seems like a good idea. I look at the pile of rubbish on thefloor. Is this stuff yourethrowing away?No! Im keeping all that. He puts a protective hand over it.So wheres the pile of stuff to throw out?Theres silence. Grandpa avoids my gaze.Grandpa! You have to throw some of this away! I exclaim, tryingnot to laugh. Youdont need all these old newspaper cuttings. And whats this? Ireach past the newspapercuttings and fish out an old yo-yo. This is rubbish, surely. Jims yo-yo. Grandpa reaches for the yo-yo, his eyes softening.Good old Jim.Who was Jim? I say, puzzled. Ive never even heard of a Jimbefore. Was he a goodfriend of yours?We met at the fairground. Spent the afternoon together. I wasnine. Grandpa is turningthe yo-yo over and over in his fingers.Did you become friends? Never saw him again. He shakes his head mistily. Ive neverforgotten it.The trouble with Grandpa is, he never forgets anything.
  59. 59. Well, what about some of these cards? I pull out a bundle of oldChristmas cards.I never throw away cards. Grandpa gives me a long look. Whenyou get to my age;when the people youve known and loved all your life start to passaway … you want tohang onto any memento. However small.I can understand that, I say, feeling touched. I reach for thenearest card, open it and myexpression changes. Grandpa! This is from Smiths ElectricalMaintenance, 1965.Frank Smith was a very good man— starts Grandpa.No! I put the card firmly on the floor. Thats going. And nor doyou need one from … Iopen the next card. Southwestern Gas Supplies. And you dontneed twenty old copies ofPunch . I deposit them on the pile. And what are these? I reachinto the box again andpull out an envelope of photos. Are these actually of anything youreally want to—Something shoots through my heart and I stop, midstream.Im looking at a photograph of me and Dad and Mum, sitting on abench in a park.Mums wearing a flowery dress, and Dads wearing a stupidsunhat, and Im on his knee,aged about nine, eating an ice-cream. We all look so happytogether.Wordlessly, I turn to another photo. Ive got Dads hat on andwere all laughinghelplessly at something. Just us three.
  60. 60. Just us. Before Kerry came into our lives.I still remember the day she arrived. A red suitcase in the hall,and a new voice in thekitchen, and an unfamiliar smell of perfume in the air. I walked inand there she was, astranger, drinking a cup of tea. She was wearing school uniform,but she still looked likea grown-up to me. She already had an enormous bust, and goldstuds in her ears, andstreaks in her hair. And at suppertime, Mum and Dad let her havea glass of wine. Mumkept telling me I had to be very kind to her, because her motherhad died. We all had to bevery kind to Kerry. That was why she got my room.I leaf through the rest of the pictures, trying to swallow the lumpin my throat. Iremember this place now. The park we used to go to, with swingsand slides. But it wastoo boring for Kerry, and I desperately wanted to be like her, so Isaid it was boring too,and we never went again.Knock knock! I look up with a start, and Kerrys standing at thedoor, holding her glassof wine. Lunch is ready!Thanks, I say. Were just coming.Now, Gramps! Kerry wags her finger reprovingly at Grandpa, andgestures at thepacking cases. Havent you got anywhere with this lot yet?Its difficult, I hear myself saying defensively. There are a lot ofmemories in here. Youcant just throw them out.
  61. 61. If you say so. Kerry rolls her eyes. If it were me, the whole lotdgo in the bin. I cannot cherish her. I cannot do it. I want to throw my treacle tartat her.Weve been sitting round the table now for forty minutes and theonly voice weve heardis Kerrys.Its all about image, shes saying now. Its all about the rightclothes, the right look, theright walk. When I walk along the street, the message I give theworld is "I am asuccessful woman".Show us! says Mum admiringly.Well. Kerry gives a false-modest smile. Like this. She pushes herchair back and wipesher mouth with her napkin.You should watch this, Emma, says Mum. Pick up a few tips!As we all watch, Kerry starts striding round the room. Her chin israised, her boobs aresticking out, her eyes are fixed on the middle distance, and herbottom is jerking fromside to side.She looks like a cross between an ostrich and one of the androidsin Attack of the Clones.I should be in heels, of course, she says, without stopping.
  62. 62. When Kerry goes into a conference hall, I tell you, heads turn,says Nev proudly, andtakes a sip of wine. People stop what theyre doing and stare ather!I bet they do.Oh God. I want to giggle. I mustnt. I mustnt.Do you want to have a go, Emma? says Kerry. Copy me?Er … I dont think so, I say. I think I probably … picked up thebasics.Suddenly I give a tiny snort and turn it into a cough.Kerrys trying to help you, Emma! says Mum. You should begrateful! You are good toEmma, Kerry. She beams fondly at Kerry, who simpers back. And I take a swigof wine.Yeah, right. Kerry really wants to help me.Thats why when I was completely desperate for a job and askedher for work experienceat her company, she said no. I wrote her this long, careful letter,saying I realized it puther in an awkward situation, but Id really appreciate any chance,even a couple of daysrunning errands.And she sent back a standard rejection letter.I was so totally mortified, I never told anyone. Especially not Mumand Dad.
  63. 63. You should listen to some of Kerrys business tips, Emma, Dad issaying sharply.Maybe if you paid more attention youd do a bit better in life. Its only a walk, quips Nev with a chortle. Its not a miraclecure!Nev! says Mum half reprovingly.Emma knows Im joking, dont you, Emma? says Nev easily andfills up his glass withmore wine.Of course! I say, forcing myself to smile gaily.Just wait till I get promoted.Just wait. Just wait.Emma! Earth to Emma! Kerry is waving a comical hand in frontof my face. Wake up,Dopey! Were doing presents.Oh right, I say, coming to. OK. Ill just go and get mine.
  64. 64. As Mum opens a camera from Dad and a purse from Grandpa, Istart to feel excited. I sohope Mum likes my present.It doesnt look much, I say as I hand her the pink envelope. Butyoull see when youopen it …What can it be? Mum says, looking intrigued. She rips open theenvelope, opens theflowered card, and stares at it. Oh, Emma!What is it? says Dad. Its a day at a spa! says Mum in delight. A whole day ofpampering.What a good idea, says Grandpa, and pats my hand. You alwayshave good ideas forpresents, Emma.Thank you, love. How thoughtful! Mum leans over to kiss me,and I feel a warm glowinside. I had the idea a few months ago. Its a really nice day-longpackage, with freetreatments and everything. You get champagne lunch, I say eagerly. And you can keep theslippers! Wonderful! says Mum. Ill look forward to it. Emma, thats alovely present!
  65. 65. Oh dear, says Kerry, giving a little laugh. She looks at the largecreamy envelope in herown hands. My presents slightly upstaged, Im afraid. Nevermind. Ill change it.I look up, alert. Theres something about Kerrys voice. I knowsomethings up. I justknow it.What do you mean? says Mum.It doesnt matter, says Kerry. Ill just … find something else. Notto worry. She starts toput the envelope away in her bag.Kerry, love! says Mum. Stop that! Dont be silly. What is it?Well, says Kerry. Its just that Emma and I seem to have had thesame idea. She handsMum the envelope with another little laugh. Can you believe it?My whole body stiffens in apprehension.No.No. She cant have done what I think shes done.Theres complete silence as Mum opens the envelope.Oh my goodness! she says, taking out a gold embossedbrochure. Whats this? Le SpaMeridien? Something falls out, into her hands, and she stares atit. Tickets to Paris ?Kerry!
  66. 66. She has. Shes ruined my present.For both of you, adds Kerry, a little smugly. Uncle Brian, too.Kerry! says Dad in delight. You marvel!It is supposed to be rather good, says Kerry with a complacentsmile. Five-staraccommodation … the chef has three Michelin stars …I dont believe this, says Mum. Shes leafing excitedly throughthe brochure. Look atthe swimming pool! Look at the gardens!My flowery card is lying, forgotten, amid the wrapping paper.All at once I feel close to tears. She knew. She knew .Kerry, you knew, I suddenly blurt out, unable to stop myself. Itold you I was givingMum a spa treat. I told you! We had that conversation about it,months ago. In thegarden!Did we? says Kerry casually. I dont remember.You do! Of course you remember. Emma! says Mum sharply. It was a simple mistake. Wasnt it,Kerry?Of course it was! says Kerry, opening her eyes in wideinnocence. Emma, if Ivespoiled things for you, I can only apologize—Theres no need to apologize, Kerry love, says Mum. Thesethings happen. And theyre
  67. 67. both lovely presents. Both of them. She looks at my card again.Now, you two girls arebest friends! I dont like to see you quarrelling. Especially on mybirthday.Mum smiles at me, and I try to smile back. But inside, I feel aboutten years old again.Kerry always manages to wrong-foot me. She always has done,ever since she arrived.Whatever she did, everyone took her side. She was the onewhose mother had died. Weall had to be nice to her. I could never, ever win.Trying to pull myself together, I reach for my wine glass and takea huge swig. Then Ifind myself surreptitiously glancing at my watch. I can leave atfour if I make an excuseabout trains running late. Thats only another hour and a half toget through. And maybewell watch telly or something …A penny for your thoughts, Emma, says Grandpa, patting myhand with a little smile,and I look up guiltily. Er … nothing, I say, and force a smile. I wasnt really thinkingabout anything.FIVEAnyway. It doesnt matter, because Im going to get a promotion.Then Nev will stopmaking cracks about my career, and Ill be able to pay back Dad.Everyone will be reallyimpressed – and itll be fantastic!I wake up on Monday morning feeling totally bouncy and positive,and get dressed in
  68. 68. my usual work outfit of jeans and a nice top, this one from FrenchConnection.Well, not exactly French Connection. To be honest, I bought it atOxfam. But the labelsays French Connection. And while Im still paying off Dad I donthave much choiceabout where I shop. I mean, a new top from French Connectioncosts about fifty quid,whereas this one cost £7.50. And its practically new!As I skip up the tube steps, the suns shining and Im full ofoptimism. Imagine if I do getpromoted. Imagine telling everybody. Mum will say, How wasyour week? and Ill say,Well, actually …No, what Ill do is wait until I go home, and then just nonchalantlyhand over my newbusiness card.Or maybe Ill just drive up in my company car I think inexcitement! I mean, Im not sureany of the other marketing executives have cars – but you neverknow, do you? Theymight introduce it as a new thing. Or they might say, Emma,weve chosen you specially—Emma!I look round to see Katie, my friend from Personnel, climbing thetube steps behind me,panting slightly. Her curly red hair is all tousled, and shes holdingone shoe in her hand.What on earth happened? I say as she reaches the top.
  69. 69. My stupid shoe, says Katie disconsolately. I only had it mendedthe other day, and theheels just come off. She flaps it at me. I paid six quid for thatheel! God, this day is sucha disaster. The milkman forgot to bring me any milk, and I had aterrible weekend … I thought you were spending it with Charlie, I say in surprise.What happened?Charlie is Katies latest man. Theyve been seeing each other for afew weeks and shewas supposed to be visiting his country cottage, which hes doingup at the weekends.It was awful! As soon as we arrived, he said he was going off toplay golf.Oh right. I try to find a positive angle. Well, at least hescomfortable with you. He canjust act normally.Maybe. She looks at me doubtfully. So then he said, how did Ifeel about helping out abit while he was gone? So I said of course – and then he gave methis paintbrush, andthree pots of paint and said I should get the sitting room done if Iworked fast. What?And then he came back at six oclock – and said my brushworkwas careless! Her voicerises woefully. It wasnt careless! I only smudged one bit, andthats because the stupidladder wasnt long enough.
  70. 70. I stare at her.Katie, youre not telling me you actually painted the room.Well … yes. She looks at me with huge blue eyes. You know, tohelp out. But now Imstarting to think … is he just using me?Im almost speechless with disbelief.Katie, of course hes using you, I manage at last. He wants afree painter-decorator! Youhave to chuck him. Immediately. Now!Katie is silent for a few seconds, and I eye her a bit nervously. Herface is blank, but Ican tell lots of things are going on beneath the surface. Its a bitlike when Jawsdisappears underneath the rippling water, and you just know thatany minute—Oh God, youre right! she suddenly bursts out. Youre right. Hesbeen using me! Its myown fault. I should have realized when he asked me if I had anyexperience in plumbingor roofing. When did he ask you that? I say incredulously.On our first date! I thought he was just, you know, makingconversation.Katie, its not your fault. I squeeze her arm. You werent toknow.But what is it about me? Katie stops still in the street. Why do Ionly attract completeshits?You dont!
  71. 71. I do! Look at the men Ive been out with. She starts counting offon her fingers. Danielborrowed all that money off me and disappeared to Mexico. Garychucked me as soon asI found him a job. David was two-timing me. Do you see a patternemerging? I … um … I say helplessly. Possibly …I just think I should give up. Her face falls. Im never going tofind anyone nice.No, I say at once. Dont give up! Katie, I just know your life isgoing to turn around.Youre going to find some lovely, kind, wonderful man—But where? she says hopelessly.I … dont know. I cross my fingers behind my back. But I knowitll happen. Ive got areally strong feeling about it.Really? She stares at me. You do?Absolutely! I think quickly for a moment. Look, heres an idea.Why dont you try …going to have lunch at a different place today. Somewherecompletely different. Andmaybe youll meet someone there.You think? She gazes at me. OK. Ill try it.She gives a gusty sigh, and we start walking along the pavementagain. The only goodthing about the weekend, she adds as we reach the corner, is Ifinished making my newtop. What do you think?
  72. 72. She proudly takes off her jacket and does a twirl, and I stare ather for a few seconds, notquite sure what to say.Its not that I dont like crochet …OK. It is that I dont like crochet.Especially pink scoop-neck open-weave crochet tops. You canactually see glimpses ofher bra through it.Its … amazing, I manage at last. Absolutely fantastic!Isnt it great? She gives me a pleased smile. And it was so quickto do! Im going tomake the matching skirt next.Thats great, I say faintly. Youre so clever.Oh, its nothing! I just enjoy it.She smiles modestly, and puts her jacket back on. So anyway,how about you? she addsas we start to cross the road. Did you have a nice weekend? I betyou did. I bet Connorwas completely wonderful and romantic. I bet he took you out fordinner or something.Actually, he asked me to move in with him, I say awkwardly. Really? Katie gazes wistfully at me. God, Emma, you two makethe perfect couple. Yougive me faith that it can happen. It all seems so easy for you.I cant help feeling a little flicker of pleasure inside. Me andConnor. The perfect couple.
  73. 73. Role models for other people. Its not that easy, I say with a modest little laugh. I mean, weargue, like anyone else.Do you? Katie looks surprised. Ive never seen you argue.Of course we do!I rack my brain for a moment, trying to remember the last timeConnor and I had a fight.I mean, obviously we do have arguments. Loads of them. Allcouples do. Its onlyhealthy.Come on, this is silly. We must have—Yes. There was that time by the river when I thought those bigwhite birds were geeseand Connor thought they were swans. Exactly. Were normal. Iknew it.Were nearing the Panther building now, and as we walk up thepale stone steps, eachwith a granite panther jumping across it, I start feeling a bitnervous. Paul will want a fullreport on how the meeting went with Glen Oil.What shall I say?Well, obviously Ill be completely frank and honest. Withoutactually telling him thetruth—Hey, look. Katies voice interrupts me and I follow her gaze.Through the glass front of
  74. 74. the building I can see a commotion in the foyer. This isnt normal.Whats going on?God, has there been a fire, or something?As Katie and I push our way through the heavy revolving glassdoors, we look at eachother in bewilderment. The whole place is in turmoil. People arescurrying about,someones polishing the brass banister, someone else is polishingthe fake plants, andCyril, the senior office manager, is shooing people into lifts.
  75. 75. Could you please go to your offices! We dont want you hangingaround the receptionarea. You should all be at your desks by now. He soundscompletely stressed out. Theresnothing to see down here! Please go to your desks.Whats happening? I say to Dave the security guard, whoslounging against the wallwith a cup of tea as usual. He takes a sip, swills it around hismouth and gives us a grin.Jack Harpers visiting. What? We both gawp at him.Today?Are you serious ?In the world of the Panther Corporation, this is like saying thePopes visiting. Or FatherChristmas. Jack Harper is the joint founder of the PantherCorporation. He inventedPanther Cola. I know this because Ive typed out blurbs about himapproximately amillion times. It was 1987 when young, dynamic businesspartners Jack Harper and PeteLaidler bought up the ailing Zoot soft-drinks company,repackaged Zootacola as PantherCola, invented the slogan "Dont Pause", and thus mademarketing history. No wonder Cyrils in a tizz.In about five minutes. Dave consults his watch. Give or take.But … but how come? says Katie. I mean, just out of the bluelike this.Daves eyes twinkle. Hes obviously been telling people the newsall morning and is
  76. 76. thoroughly enjoying himself.He wants to have a look round the UK operation, apparently.I thought he wasnt active in the business any more, says Janefrom Accounts, whoscome up behind us in her coat and is listening, agog. I thoughtever since Pete Laidlerdied he was all grief-stricken and reclusive. On his ranch, orwhatever it is. That was three years ago, points out Katie. Maybe hes feelingbetter.Maybe he wants to sell us off, more like, says Jane darkly.Why would he do that?You never know.My theory, says Dave, and we all bend our heads to listen, is hewants to see if theplants are shiny enough. He nods his head towards Cyril, and weall giggle. Be careful, Cyril is snapping. Dont damage the stems. Heglances up. What are you allstill doing there?
  77. 77. Just going! says Katie, and we head towards the stairs, which Ialways use because itmeans I dont have to bother with the gym. Plus luckily Marketingis on the first floor.Weve just reached the landing when Jane squeaks Look! Oh myGod! Its him!A limousine has purred up the street and stopped right in front ofthe glass doors.What is it about some cars? They look so gleaming and burnished,as if theyre made outof a completely different metal from normal cars.As if by clockwork, the lift doors at the other end of the foyeropen, and out stridesGraham Hillingdon, the chief executive, plus the managingdirector and about six others,all looking immaculate in dark suits. Thats enough! Cyril is hissing at the poor cleaners in the foyer.Go! Leave it!The three of us stand, goggling like children, as the passengerdoor of the limousineopens. A moment later, out gets a man with blond hair in a navyblue overcoat. Heswearing dark glasses and is holding a very expensive-lookingbriefcase.Wow. He looks like a million dollars.Graham Hillingdon and the others are all outside by now, lined upon the steps. Theyshake his hand in turn, then usher him inside, where Cyril iswaiting.
  78. 78. Welcome to the Panther Corporation UK, Cyril says fulsomely. Ihope your journeywas pleasant?Not too bad, thanks, says the man, in an American accent.As you can see, this is very much a normal working day …Hey look, murmurs Katie. Kennys stuck outside the doors.Kenny Davey, one of the designers, is hovering uncertainly on thesteps outside in hisjeans and baseball boots, not knowing whether to come in or not.He puts a hand to thedoor, then retreats a little, then comes up to the door again andpeers uncertainly inside.Come in, Kenny! says Cyril, opening the door with a rathersavage smile. One of ourdesigners, Kenny Davey. You should have been here ten minutesago, Kenny. Still, nevermind! He pushes a bewildered Kenny towards the lifts, thenglances up and shoos usaway in irritation.Come on, says Katie, wed better go. And, trying not to giggle,the three of us hurry upthe stairs.The atmosphere in the marketing department is a bit like mybedroom used to be beforewe had parties in the sixth form. People are brushing their hair,spraying perfume,shuffling papers around and gossiping excitedly. As I walk past theoffice of Neil Gregg,who is in charge of media strategy, I see him carefully lining uphis Marketing
  79. 79. Effectiveness awards on his desk, while Fiona his assistant ispolishing the framedphotographs of him shaking hands with famous people.Im just hanging up my coat on the rack when the head of ourdepartment, Paul, pulls measide.What the fuck happened at Glen Oil? I had a very strange emailfrom Doug Hamiltonthis morning. You poured a drink over him? I stare at him in shock. Doug Hamilton told Paul? But he promisedhe wouldnt!It wasnt like that, I say quickly. I was just trying to demonstratethe many fine qualitiesof Panther Prime and I … I kind of spilled it. Paul raises hiseyebrows, not in a friendlyway.All right. It was a lot to ask of you.It wasnt, I say quickly. I mean, it would have been fine, if …what I mean is, if yougive me another chance, Ill do better. I promise. Well see. He looks at his watch. Youd better get on. Your deskis a fucking mess.OK. Um, what time will my appraisal be?Emma, in case you hadnt heard, Jack Harpers visiting us today,says Paul, in his mostsarcastic voice. But of course, if you think your appraisals moreimportant than the guywho founded the company—I didnt mean … I just …
  80. 80. Go and tidy your desk, says Paul in a bored voice. And if youspill fucking PantherPrime over Harper, youre fired.As I scuttle to my desk, Cyril comes into the room, lookinghassled.Attention! he says, clapping his hands. Attention everyone! Thisis an informal visit,nothing more. Mr Harper will come in, perhaps talk to one or twoof you, observe whatyou do. So I want you all just to act normally, but obviously, atyour highest standards …What are these papers? he suddenly snaps, looking at a neat pileof proofs in the cornernext to Fergus Gradys desk.Thats the … um … artwork for the new Panther Gum campaign,says Fergus, who isvery shy and creative. I havent quite got room on my desk.Well, they cant stay here! Cyril picks them up and shoves themat him. Get rid of them.Now, if he asks any of you a question, just be pleasant andnatural. When he arrives, Iwant you all at work. Just doing typical tasks which you wouldnaturally be doing in thecourse of a normal day. He looks around distractedly. Some ofyou could be on thephone, some could be typing at your computers … a couple ofyou could be creativelybrainstorming … Remember, this department is the hub of thecompany. The PantherCorporation is renowned for its marketing brilliance!He stops and we all stare dumbly at him.
  81. 81. Get on! He claps his hands again. Dont just stand there. You!He points to me. Comeon. Move!Oh, God. My desk is completely covered with stuff. I open adrawer and sweep a wholeload of papers inside, then in slight panic, begin to tidy the pensin my stationery pot. Atthe next desk, Artemis Harrison is redoing her lipstick.Itll be really inspirational to meet him, she says, admiringherself in her hand mirror.You know, a lot of people think he single-handedly changed theface of marketingpractice. Her eyes fall on me. Is that a new top, Emma? Wheresit from?Er, French Connection, I say after a pause.I was in French Connection at the weekend. Her eyes arenarrowing. I didnt see thatdesign.Well, theyd probably sold out. I turn away and pretend to bereorganizing my topdrawer.What do we call him? Caroline is saying. Mr Harper or Jack?Five minutes alone with him, Nick, one of the marketingexecutives, is sayingfeverishly into his phone. Thats all I need. Five minutes to pitchhim the website idea. Imean, Jesus, if he went for it—God, the air of excitement is infectious. With a spurt of adrenalin, Ifind myself reachingfor my comb and checking my lip-gloss. I mean, you never know.Maybe hell somehow