Can You Keep a Secret?
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As I skip up the tube steps, the sun's shining and I'm full of optimism. Imagine if I do get promoted. Imagine telling everybody. Mum will say, 'How was your week?' and I'll say, 'Well, actually …'
No, what I'll do is wait until I go home, and then just nonchalantly hand over my new business card.
Or maybe I'll just drive up in my company car I think in excitement! I mean, I'm not sure any of the other marketing executives have cars — but you never know, do you? They might introduce it as a new thing. Or they might say, 'Emma, we've chosen you specially—'
I look round to see Katie, my friend from Personnel, climbing the tube steps behind me, panting slightly. Her curly red hair is all tousled, and she's holding one shoe in her hand.
'What on earth happened?' I say as she reaches the top.
'My stupid shoe,' says Katie disconsolately. 'I only had it mended the other day, and the heel's just come off.' She flaps it at me. 'I paid six quid for that heel! God, this day is such a disaster. The milkman forgot to bring me any milk, and I had a terrible weekend …'
'I thought you were spending it with Charlie,' I say in surprise. 'What happened?'
Charlie is Katie's latest man. They've been seeing each other for a few weeks and she was supposed to be visiting his country cottage, which he's doing up at the weekends.
'It was awful! As soon as we arrived, he said he was going off to play golf.'
'Oh right.' I try to find a positive angle. 'Well, at least he's comfortable with you. He can just act normally.'
'Maybe.' She looks at me doubtfully. 'So 'then he said, how did I feel about helping out a bit while he was gone? So I said of course — and then he gave me this paintbrush, and three pots of paint and said I should get the sitting room done if I worked fast.'
'And then he came back at six o'clock — and said my brushwork was careless!' Her voice rises woefully. 'It wasn't careless! I only smudged one bit, and that's because the stupid ladder wasn't long enough.'
I stare at her.
'Katie, you're not telling me you actually painted the room.'
'Well … yes.' She looks at me with huge blue eyes. 'You know, to help out. But now I'm starting to think … is he just using me?'
I'm almost speechless with disbelief.
'Katie, of course he's using you,' I manage at last. 'He wants a free painter-decorator! You have to chuck him. Immediately. Now!'
Katie is silent for a few seconds, and I eye her a bit nervously. Her face is blank, but I can tell lots of things are going on beneath the surface. It's a bit like when Jaws disappears underneath the rippling water, and you just know that any minute—
'Oh God, you're right!' she suddenly bursts out. 'You're right. He's been using me! It's my own fault. I should have realized when he asked me if I had any experience in plumbing or roofing.'
'When did he ask you that?' I say incredulously.
'On our first date! I thought he was just, you know, making conversation.'
'Katie, it's not your fault.' I squeeze her arm. 'You weren't to know.'
'But what is it about me?' Katie stops still in the street. 'Why do I only attract complete shits?'
'I do! Look at the men I've been out with.' She starts counting off on her fingers. 'Daniel borrowed all that money off me and disappeared to Mexico. Gary chucked me as soon as I found him a job. David was two-timing me. Do you see a pattern emerging?'
'I … um …' I say helplessly. 'Possibly …'
'I just think I should give up.' Her face falls. 'I'm never going to find anyone nice.'
'No,' I say at once. 'Don't give up! Katie, I just know your life is going to turn around. You're going to find some lovely, kind, wonderful man—'
'But where?' she says hopelessly.
'I … don't know.' I cross my fingers behind my back. 'But I know it'll happen. I've got a really strong feeling about it.'
'Really?' She stares at me. 'You do?'
'Absolutely!' I think quickly for a moment. 'Look, here's an idea. Why don't you try … going to have lunch at a different place today. Somewhere completely different. And maybe you'll meet someone there.'
'You think?' She gazes at me. 'OK. I'll try it.'
She gives a gusty sigh, and we start walking along the pavement again. 'The only good thing about the weekend,' she adds as we reach the corner, 'is I finished making my new top. What do you think?'
She proudly takes off her jacket and does a twirl, and I stare at her for a few seconds, not quite sure what to say.