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Chapter 12

I ARRIVE HOME that afternoon, feeling weary and misera-ble. Suddenly, triple-A-rated jobs in banking and Harrods with Luke Brandon seem miles away. Real life isn’t swanning round Knightsbridge in a taxi, choosing £1,000 suitcases, is it? This is real life. Home to a tiny flat which still smells of curry, and a pile of nasty letters from the bank, and no idea what to do about them.

I put my key in the lock, and as I open the door, I hear Suze cry “Bex? Is that you?”

“Yes!” I say, trying to sound cheerful. “Where are you?”

“Here,” she says, appearing at the door of my bedroom. Her face is all pink, and there’s a shine in her eyes. “Guess what! I’ve got a surprise for you!”

“What is it?” I say, putting down my briefcase. To be honest, I’m not in the mood for one of Suze’s surprises. She’ll just have moved my bed to a different place, or something. And all I want is to sit down and have a cup of tea and something to eat. I never did get any lunch.

“Come and see. No, no, shut your eyes, first. I’ll lead you.”

“OK,” I say reluctantly. I close my eyes and allow her to takemy hand. We start to walk along the corridor—and of course, as we near my bedroom door, I start feeling a little tingle of anticipa-tion in spite of myself. I always fall for things like this.

“Da-daaa! You can look now!”

I open my eyes and look dazedly around my room, wonder-ing what mad thing Suze has done. At least she hasn’t painted the walls or touched the curtains, and my computer’s safely switched off. So what on earth can she have . . .

And then I see them. On my bed. Piles and piles of uphol-stered frames. All made up perfectly, with no wonky corners, and the braid glued neatly in place. I can’t quite believe my eyes. There must be at least . . .

“I’ve done a hundred,” says Suze behind me. “And I’m going to do the rest tomorrow! Aren’t they fab?”

I turn and stare incredulously at her. “You . . . you did all these?”

“Yes!” she says proudly. “It was easy, once I got into a rhythm. I did it in front ofMorning Coffee. Oh, I wish you’d seen it. They hadsuch a good phone-in, about men who dress up in women’s clothes! Emma was being all sympathetic, but Rory looked like he wanted to—”

“Wait,” I say, trying to get my head round this. “Wait. Suze, I don’t understand. This must have taken you ages.” My eye runs disbelievingly over the pile of frames again. “Why . . . why on earth did you—”

“Well, you weren’t getting very far with them, were you?” says Suze. “I just thought I’d give you a helping hand.”

“A helping hand?” I echo weakly.

“I’ll do the rest tomorrow, and then I’ll ring up the delivery people,” says Suze. “You know, it’s a very good system. You don’t have to post them, or anything. They just come and pick them up! And then they’ll send you a check. It should come to about £284. Pretty good, huh?”

“Hang on.” I turn round. “What do you mean, they’ll send me a check?” Suze looks at me as though I’m stupid.

“Well, Bex, they areyour frames.”

“But you made them! Suze, you should get the money!”

“But I did them for you!” says Suze, and stares at me. “I did them so you could make your three hundred quid!”

I stare at her silently, feeling a sudden thickness in my throat. Suze made all these frames for me. Slowly I sit down on the bed, pick up one of the frames, and run my finger along the fabric. It’s absolutely perfect. You could sell it in Liberty’s.

“Suze, it’s your money. Not mine,” I say eventually. “It’s your project now.”

“Well, that’s where you’re wrong,” says Suze, and a trium-phant look spreads over her face. “I’ve got my own project.”

She comes over to the bed, reaches behind the pile of made-up frames, and pulls something out. It’s a photo frame, but it’s nothing like a Fine Frame. It’s upholstered in silver furry fabric, and the word ANGEL is appliquéd in pink across the top, and there are little silver pom-poms at the corners. It’s the coolest, kitschest frame I’ve ever seen.

“Do you like it?” she says, a bit nervously.

“I love it!” I say, grabbing it from her hands and looking more closely at it. “Where did you get it?”

“I didn’t get it anywhere,” she says. “I made it.”

“What?” I stare at her. “You . . . made this?”

“Yes. DuringNeighbours . It was awful, actually. Beth found out about Joey and Skye.”

I’m completely astounded. How come Suze suddenly turns out to be so talented?

“So what do you reckon?” she says, taking the frame back and turning it over in her fingers. “Could I sell these?”

Could she sell these?

“Suze,” I say quite seriously. “You’re going to be a million-aire.”

And we spend the rest of the evening getting very pissed and eating ice cream, as we always do when something good or bad happens to either one of us. We map out Suze’s career as ahigh-flying businesswoman, and get quite hysterical trying to decide if she should wear Chanel or Prada when she goes to meet the queen. Somehow the discussion ends with us trying on each other’s smartest outfits (Suze looks really good in my new Hobbs dress, much better than me), and by the time I get into bed, I’ve forgotten all about Luke Brandon, and Bank of Helsinki, and the rest of my disastrous day.



The next morning, it all comes rushing back to me like a hor-ror movie. I wake up feeling pale and shaky, and desperately wishing I could take a sickie. I don’t want to go to work. I want to stay at home under the duvet, watching daytime telly and being a millionairess entrepreneur with Suze.

But it’s the busiest week of the month, and Philip’ll never believe I’m ill.

So, somehow, I haul myself out of bed and into some clothes and onto the tube. At Lucio’s I buy myself an extralarge cappuc-cino, and a muffin,and a chocolate brownie. I don’t care if I get fat. I just need sugar and caffeine and chocolate, and as much as possible.

Luckily it’s so busy, no one’s talking very much, so I don’t have to bother telling everyone at the office what I did on my day off. Clare’s tapping away at something and there’s a pile of pages on my desk, ready for me to proofread. So after checking my e-mails—none—I scrunch miserably up in my chair, pick up the first one, and start to scan it.

“Market efficiencies dictate that greater risks must accompany greater reward. Fund managers understand the balance sheets and market momentum driving volatile stocks.”

Oh God, this is boring.

“These experts therefore minimize risk in a way that the aver-age investor cannot. For the small-time investor . . .”

“Rebecca?” I look up, to see Philip approaching my desk, holding a piece of paper. He doesn’t look very happy, and for oneterrible moment, I think he’s spoken to Jill Foxton at William Green, has discovered everything, and is about to fire me. But as he gets nearer, I see it’s only some dull-looking press release.

“I want you to go to this instead of me,” he says. “It’s on Friday. I’d go myself, but I’m going to be tied up here with Marketing.”

“Oh,” I say without enthusiasm, and take the piece of paper. “OK. What is it?”

“Personal Finance Fair at Olympia,” he says. “We always cover it.”

Yawn. Yawn yawn yawn . . .

“Barclays are giving a champagne lunchtime reception,” he adds.

“Oh right!” I say, with more interest. “Well, OK. It sounds quite good. What exactly is it—”

I glance down at the paper, and my heart stops as I see the Brandon Communications logo at the top of the page.

“It’s basically just a big fair,” says Philip. “All sectors of personal finance. Talks, stands, events. Just cover whatever sounds inter-esting. I leave it up to you.”

“OK,” I say after a pause. “Fine.”

I mean, what do I care if Luke Brandon might be there? I’ll just ignore him. I’ll show him about as much respect as he showed me. And if he tries to talk to me, I’ll just lift my chin firmly in the air, and turn on my heel, and . . .

“How are the pages going?” says Philip.

“Oh, great,” I say, and pick the top one up again. “Should be finished soon.” He gives a little nod and walks away, and I begin to read again.

“. . . for the small-time investor, the risks attached to such stocks may outweigh the potential for reward.”

Oh God, this is boring. I can’t even bring myself to focus on what the words mean.

“More and more investors are therefore demanding the com-bination of stock-market performance with a high level of security.One option is to invest in a Tracker fund, which automatically ‘tracks’ the top one hundred companies at any time . . .”

Hmm. Actually, that gives me a thought. I reach for my Filofax, flip it open, and dial Elly’s new direct number at Wetherby’s.

“Eleanor Granger,” comes her voice, sounding a bit far-off and echoey. Must be a dodgy line.

“Hi, Elly, it’s Becky,” I say. “Listen, whatever happened to Tracker bars? They’re really yummy, aren’t they? And I haven’t eaten one for . . .”

There’s a scuffly sort of sound on the line, and I gape at the receiver in surprise. In the distance, I can hear Elly, saying “I’m sorry. I’ll just be a . . .”

“Becky!” she hisses down the phone. “I was on speaker-phone! Our head of department was in my office.”

“Oh God!” I say, aghast. “Sorry! Is he still there?”

“No,” says Elly, and sighs. “God knows what he thinks of me now.”

“Oh well,” I say reassuringly. “He’s got a sense of humor, hasn’t he?”

Elly doesn’t reply.

“Oh well,” I say again, less certainly. “Anyway, are you free for a drink at lunchtime?”

“Not really,” she says. “Sorry, Becky, I’ve really got to go.” And she puts the phone down.

No one likes me anymore. Suddenly I feel a bit small and sad, and I scrunch up even more in my chair. Oh God, I hate today. I hate everything. I want to go hooome.



By the time Friday arrives, I have to say I feel a lot more cheerful. This is primarily because:


    It’s Friday.
    I’m spending all day out of the office.
    Elly phoned yesterday and said sorry she was soabrupt, but someone else came into the office just as we were talking.And she’s going to be at the Personal Finance Fair.




    I have completely put the Luke Brandon incident from my mind. Who cares about him, anyway?


So as I get ready to go, I feel quite bouncy and positive. I put on my new gray cardigan over a short black shirt, and my new Hobbs boots—dark gray suede—and I have to say I look bloody good in them. God, I love new clothes. If everyone could just wear new clothes every day, I reckon depression wouldn’t exist anymore.

As I’m about to leave, a pile of letters comes through the letterbox for me. Several of them look like bills, and one is yet another letter from Endwich Bank. But I have a clever new solution to all these nasty letters: I just put them in my dressing table drawer and close it. It’s the only way to stop getting stressed out about it. And it really does work. As I thrust the drawer shut and head out of the front door, I’ve already forgotten all about them.



The conference is buzzing by the time I get there. I give my name to the press officer at reception and I’m given a big, shiny courtesy carrier bag with the logo of HSBC on the side. Inside this, I find an enormous press pack complete with a photo of all the conference organizers lifting glasses of champagne to each other, a voucher for two drinks at the Sun Alliance Pimm’s Stand, a raffle ticket to win £1,000 (invested in the unit trust of my choice), a big lollipop advertising Eastgate Insurance, and my name badge with PRESS stamped across the top. There’s also a white envelope with the ticket to the Barclays Champagne Reception inside, and I put that carefully in my bag. Then I fasten my namebadge prominently on my lapel and start to walk around the arena.

Normally of course, the rule is to throw away your name badge. But the great thing about beingPRESS at one of these events is that people fall over themselves to ply you with free stuff. A lot of it’s just boring old leaflets about savings plans, but some of them are giving out free gifts and snacks, too. So after an hour, I’ve accumulated two pens, a paper knife, a mini box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates, a helium balloon with Save & Prosper on the side, and a T-shirt with a cartoon on the front, sponsored by some mobile phone company. I’ve had two free cappuccinos, apain au chocolat, some apple cider (from Somerset Savings), a mini pack of Smarties, and my Pimm’s from Sun Alliance. (I haven’t written a single note in my notebook, or asked a single question—but never mind.)

I’ve seen that some people are carrying quite neat little silver desk clocks, and I wouldn’t mind one of those, so I’m just wan-dering along, trying to work out what direction they’re coming from, when a voice says, “Becky!”

I look up—and it’s Elly! She’s standing at the Wetherby’s display with a couple of guys in suits, waving at me to come over.

“Hi!” I say delightedly. “Howare you?”

“Fine!” she says, beaming. “Really getting along well.” And she does look the part, I have to say. She’s wearing a bright red suit (Karen Millen, no doubt), and some really nice square-toed shoes, and her hair’s tied back. The only thing I don’t go for is the earrings. Why is she suddenly wearing pearl earrings? Maybe it’s just to blend in with the others.

“God, I can’t believe you’re actually one of them!” I say, lowering my voice slightly. “I’ll be interviewing you next!” I tilt my head earnestly, like Martin Bashir onPanorama. “ ‘Ms. Granger, could y............

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