Can You Keep a Secret?
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'What?' My smile fades away. 'Me?'
'The meeting room in five minutes.'
'Did he say why?'
Paul strides off, and I gaze unseeingly at my computer screen, feeling sick.
I was right first time.
I'm going to lose my job.
I'm going to lose my job because of one stupid comment on one stupid plane ride.
Why did I have to get upgraded? Why did I have to open my stupid mouth? I'm just a stupid, stupid blabbermouth.
'Why does Jack Harper want to see you?' says Artemis, sounding put out.
'I don't know,' I say.
'Is he seeing anyone else?'
'I don't know!' I say distractedly.
To stop her asking any more questions, I start typing drivel into my computer, my mind whirring round and round.
I can't lose this job. I can't ruin yet another career.
He can't fire me. He just can't. It's not fair. I didn't know who he was. I mean, obviously, if he'd told me he was my employer, I would never have mentioned my CV. Or … any of it.
And anyway, it's not as if I faked my degree, is it? It's not as if I've got a criminal record or something. I'm a good employee. I try really hard and I don't skive off that often, and I put in all that overtime with the sportswear promotion, and I organized the Christmas raffle …
I'm typing harder and harder, and my face is growing red with agitation.
'Emma.' Paul is looking meaningfully at his watch.
'Right.' I take a deep breath and stand up.
I'm not going to let him fire me. I'm just not going to let it happen.
I stride across the office and down the corridor to the meeting room, knock on the door and push it open.
Jack Harper is sitting on a chair at the conference table, scribbling something in a notebook. As I come in, he looks up, and the grave expression on his face makes my stomach turn over.
But I have to defend myself. I have to keep this job.
'Hi,' he says. 'Can you close the door?' He waits until I've done so, then looks up. 'Emma, we need to talk about something.'
'I'm aware that we do,' I say, trying to keep my voice steady. 'But I'd like to say my part first, if I may.'
For a moment Jack Harper looks taken aback — then he raises his eyebrows.
'Sure. Go ahead.'
I walk into the room, take a deep breath and look him straight in the eye.
'Mr Harper, I know what you want to see me about. I know it was wrong. It was an error of judgement which I deeply regret. I'm extremely sorry, and it will never happen again. But in my defence …' I can hear my voice rising in emotion. 'In my defence, I had no idea who you were on that plane ride. And I don't believe I should be penalized for what was an honest genuine mistake.'
There's a pause.
'You think I'm penalizing you?' says Jack Harper at last, with a frown.
How can he be so callous?
'Yes! You must realize I would never have mentioned my CV if I'd known who you were! It was like a … a honeytrap! You know, if this was a court the judge would throw it out. They wouldn't even let you—'
'Your CV?' Jack Harper's brow clears. 'Ah! The A grade on your résumé.' He gives me a penetrating look. 'The falsified A grade, I should say.'
Hearing it out loud like that silences me. I can feel my face growing hotter and hotter.
'You know, a lot of people would call that fraud,' says Jack Harper, leaning back in his chair.
'I know they would. I know it was wrong. I shouldn't have … But it doesn't affect the way I do my job. It doesn't mean anything.'
'You think?' He shakes his head thoughtfully. 'I don't know. Going from a C grade to an A grade … that's quite a jump. What if we need you to do some math?'
'I can do maths,' I say desperately. 'Ask me a maths question. Go on, ask me anything.'
'OK.' His mouth is twitching. 'Eight nines.'
I stare at him, my heart racing, my mind blank. Eight nines. I've got no idea. Fuck. OK, once nine is nine. Two nines are—
No. I've got it. Eight tens are 80. So eight nines must be—
'Seventy-two!' I cry, and flinch as he gives a tiny half-smile. 'It's seventy-two,' I add more calmly.
'Very good.' He gestures politely to a chair. 'Now. Have you finished what you wanted to say or is there more?'
I rub my face confusedly. 'You're … not going to fire me?'
'No,' says Jack Harper patiently. 'I'm not going to fire you. Now can we talk?'
As I sit down, a horrible suspicion starts growing in my mind.
'Was …' I clear my throat. 'Was my CV what you wanted to see me about?'
'No,' he says mildly. 'That wasn't what I wanted to see you about.'
I want to die.
I want to die right here, right now.
'Right.' I smooth back my hair, trying to compose myself; trying to look businesslike. 'Right. Well. So er, what did you … what …'