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Chapter 10

ON MONDAY MORNING I wake early, feeling rather hollow inside. My gaze flits to the pile of unopened carrier bags in the corner of my room and then quickly flits away again. I know I spent too much money on Saturday. I know I shouldn’t have bought two pairs of boots. I know I shouldn’t have bought that purple dress. In all, I spent . . . Actually, I don’t want to think about how much I spent. Think about something else, quick, I instruct myself. Something else. Anything’ll do.

I’m well aware that at the back of my mind, thumping quietly like a drumbeat, are the twin horrors of Guilt and Panic.

Guilt Guilt Guilt Guilt.

Panic Panic Panic Panic.

If I let them, they’d swoop in and take over. I’d feel completely paralyzed with misery and fear. So the trick I’ve learned is simply not to listen. My mind is very well trained like that.

My other trick is to distract myself with different thoughts and activities. So I get up, switch the radio on, take a shower, and get dressed. The thumping’s still there at the back of my head, but gradually, gradually, it’s fading away. As I go into the kitchen and make a cup of coffee, I can barely hear it anymore. A cautiousrelief floods over me, like that feeling you get when a painkiller finally gets rid of your headache. I can relax. I’m going to be all right.

On the way out I pause in the hall to check my appearance in the mirror (Top: River Island, Skirt: French Connection, Tights: Pretty Polly Velvets, Shoes: Ravel) and reach for my coat (Coat: House of Fraser sale). Just then the post plops through the door, and I go to pick it up. There’s a handwritten letter for Suze and a postcard from the Maldives. And for me, there are two ominous-looking window envelopes. One from VISA, one from Endwich Bank.

For a moment, my heart stands still. Why another letter from the bank? And VISA. What do they want? Can’t they just leave me alone?

Carefully I place Suze’s post on the ledge in the hall and shove my own two letters in my pocket, telling myself I’ll read them on the way to work. Once I get on the tube, I’ll open them both and I’ll read them, however unpleasant they may be.

Honestly. As I’m walking along the pavement, I promise my intention is to read the letters.

But then I turn into the next street—and there’s a skip outside someone’s house. A huge great yellow skip, already half full of stuff. Builders are coming in and out of the house, tossing old bits of wood and upholstery into the skip. Loads of rubbish, all jumbled up together.

And a little thought creeps into my mind.

My steps slow down as I approach the skip and I pause, star-ing intently at it as though I’m interested in the words printed on the side. I stand there, trying to appear casual, until the builders have gone back into the house and no one’s looking. Then, in one motion, I reach for the two letters, pull them out of my pocket, and drop them over the side, into the skip.


As I’m standing there, a builder pushes past me with twosacks of broken plaster, and heaves them into the skip. And now they really are gone. Buried beneath a layer of plaster, unread. No one will ever find them.

Gone for good.

Quickly I turn away from the skip and begin to walk on again. Already my step’s lighter and I’m feeling buoyant.

Before long, I’m feeling completely purged of guilt. I mean, it’s not my fault if I never read the letters, is it? It’s not my fault if I never got them, is it? As I bound along toward the tube station I honestly feel as though neither of those letters ever existed.



When I arrive at work, I switch on my computer, click efficiently to a new document, and start typing my piece on pensions. Perhaps if I work really hard, it’s occurred to me, Philip will give me a raise. I’ll stay late every night and impress him with my dedication to the job, and he’ll realize that I’m considerably undervalued. Perhaps he’ll even make me associate editor, or something.

“These days,” I type briskly, “none of us can rely on the government to take care of us in our old age. Therefore pension planning should be done as early as possible, ideally as soon as you are earning an income.”

“Morning, Clare,” says Philip, coming into the office in his overcoat. “Morning, Rebecca.”

Hah! Now is the time to impress him.

“Morning, Philip,” I say, in a friendly-yet-professional manner. Then, instead of leaning back in my chair and asking him how his weekend was, I turn back to my computer and start typing again. In fact, I’m typing so fast that the screen is filled with lots of splodgy typos. It has to be said, I’m not the best typist in the world. But who cares? I look very businesslike, that’s the point.

“The bwst ootion is oftwn yoor compaamy occupatinoa Ischeme, bt if tehis is not posibsle, a wide vareiety of peronanlaspenion lans is on ther markte, ranign from . . .” I break off, reach for a pension brochure, and flip quickly through it, as though scanning for some crucial piece of information.

“Good weekend, Rebecca?” says Philip.

“Fine, thanks,” I say, glancing up from the brochure as though surprised to be interrupted while I’m at work.

“I was round your neck of the woods on Saturday,” he says. “The Fulham Road. Trendy Fulham.”

“Right,” I say absently.

“It’s the place to be, these days, isn’t it? My wife was reading an article about it. Full of It-girls, all living on trust funds.”

“I suppose so,” I say vaguely.

“That’s what we’ll have to call you,” he says, and gives a little guffaw. “The office It-girl.”

“Right,” I say, and smile at him. After all, he’s the boss. He can call me whatever he—

Hang on a minute. Philip hasn’t got the idea that I’m rich, has he? He doesn’t think I’ve got a trust fund or something ridiculous, does he?

“Rebecca,” says Clare, looking up from her telephone. “I’ve got a call for you. Someone called Tarquin.”

Philip gives a little grin, as though to say “What else?” and ambles off to his desk. I stare after him in frustration. This is all wrong. If Philip thinks I’ve got some kind of private income, he’ll never give me a raise.

But what on earth could have given him that idea?

“Becky,” says Clare meaningfully, gesturing to my ringing phone.

“Oh,” I say. “Yes, OK.” I pick up the receiver, and say, “Hi. Rebecca Bloomwood here.”

“Becky” comes Tarquin’s unmistakable, reedy voice. He sounds rather nervous, as if he’s been gearing up to this phone call for ages. Perhaps he has. “It’s so nice to hear your voice. You know, I’ve been thinking about you a lot.”

“Really?” I say, trying not to sound too encouraging. I mean, he is Suze’s cousin and I don’t want to hurt the poor bloke.

“I’d . . . I’d very much like to spend some more time in your company,” he says. “May I take you out to dinner?”

Oh God. What am I supposed to say to that? It’s such an innocuous request. I mean, it’s not as if he’s said, Can I sleep with you? or even Can I kiss you? If I say no to dinner, it’s like saying “You’re so unbearable, I can’t even stand sharing a table with you for two hours.”

And Suze has been so sweet to me recently, and if I turn her darling Tarkie down flat, she’ll be really upset.

“I suppose so,” I say, aware that I don’t sound too thrilled—and also aware that maybe I should just come clean and say “I don’t fancy you.” But somehow I can’t face it. To be honest, it would be a lot easier just to go out to dinner with him. I mean, how bad can it be?

And anyway, I don’t have to actuallygo. I’ll call at the last moment and cancel. Easy.

“I’m in London until Sunday,” says Tarquin.

“Let’s make it Saturday night, then!” I say brightly. “Just before you leave.”

“Seven o’clock?”

“How about eight?” I suggest.

“OK,” he says. “Eight o’clock.” And he rings off, without mentioning a venue. But since I’m not actually going to meet him, this doesn’t really matter. I put the phone down, give an impa-tient sigh, and start typing again.

“Although solid investment performance is important, flexi-bility is equally vital when choosing a pension plan, particularly for the younger investor. New on the market this year is the . . .” I break off and reach for a brochure. “Sun Assurance ‘Later Years’ Retirement Plan, which . . .”

“So, was that guy asking you out?” says Clare Edwards.

“Yes, he was, actually,” I say, looking up carelessly. And inspite of myself, I feel a little flip of pleasure. Because Clare doesn’t know what Tarquin’s like, does she? For all she knows, he’s incredibly good-looking and witty. “We’re going out on Saturday night.” I give her a nonchalant smile and start typing again.

“Oh right,” she says, and snaps an elastic band round a pile of letters. “You know, Luke Brandon was asking me if you had a boyfriend the other day.”

For an instant I can’t move. Luke Brandon wants to know if I’ve got a boyfriend?

“Really?” I say, trying to sound normal. “When . . . when was this?”

“Oh, just the other day,” she says. “I was at a briefing at Brandon Communications, and he asked me. Just casually. You know.”

“And what did you say?”

“I said no,” said Clare, and gives me a little grin. “You don’t fancy him, do you?”

“Of course not,” I say, and roll my eyes.

But I have to admit, I feel quite cheerful as I turn back to my computer and start typing again. Luke Brandon. I mean, not that I like him or anything—but still. “This plan,” I type, “offers full death benefits and an optional lump sum on retirement. For example, assuming 7 percent growth, a typical woman aged 30 who invested £100 a month would receive . . .”

You know what? I suddenly think, stopping midsentence. This is boring. I’m better than this.

I’m better than sitting here in this crappy office, typing out the details from a brochure, trying to turn them into some kind of credible journalism. I deserve to do something more interesting than this. Or more well paid. Or both.

I stop typing and rest my chin on my hands. It’s time for a new start. Why don’t I do what Elly’s doing? I’m not afraid of a bit of hard work, am I? Why don’t I get my life in order, go to a City head-hunter, and land myself a new job? I’ll have a huge income and a company car and wear Karen Millen suits every day. And I’ll never have to worry about money again.

I feel exhilarated. This is it! This is the answer to everything. I’ll be a . . .

“Clare?” I say casually. “Who earns the most in the City?”

“I don’t know,” says Clare, frowning thoughtfully. “Maybe futures brokers?”

That’s it, then. I’ll be a futures broker. Easy.



And itis easy. So easy that ten o’clock the next morning sees me walking nervously up to the front doors of William Green, top City head-hunters. As I push the door open I glimpse my own reflection and feel a little thrill go through my stomach. Am Ireally doing this?

You bet I am. I’m wearing my smartest black suit, and tights and high heels, with anFT under my arm, obviously. And I’m carrying the briefcase with the combination lock, which my mum gave me one Christmas and which I’ve never used. This is partly because it’s really heavy and bumpy—and partly because I’ve forgotten the combination, so I can’t actually open it. But it looks the part. And that’s what counts.

Jill Foxton, the woman I’m meeting, was really nice on the phone when I told her about wanting to change careers, and sounded pretty impressed by all my experience. I quickly typed up a curriculum vitae and e-mailed it to her—and, OK, I padded it a bit, but that’s what they expect, isn’t it? It’s all about selling yourself. And it worked, because she phoned back only about ten minutes after receiving it, and asked if I’d come in ............

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