Can You Keep a Secret?
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'Right!' I feel a thud of anticipation. 'Anything! I mean … what is it?'
'For various reasons,' says Jack Harper slowly, 'I would prefer it that nobody knows I was in Scotland last week.' He meets my eyes. 'So I would like it very much if we could keep our little meeting between ourselves.'
'Right!' I say after a pause. 'Of course! Absolutely. I can do that.'
'You haven't told anyone?'
'No. No-one. Not even my … I mean, no-one. I haven't told anyone.'
'Good. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.' He smiles, and gets up from his chair. 'Nice to meet you again, Emma. I'm sure I'll see you again.'
'That's it?' I say, taken aback.
'That's it. Unless you had anything else you wanted to discuss.'
'No!' I get to my feet hurriedly, banging my ankle on the table leg.
I mean, what did I think? That he was going to ask me to head up his exciting new international project?
Jack Harper opens the door, and holds it politely for me. And I'm halfway out when I stop. 'Wait.'
'What is it?'
'What shall I say you wanted to talk to me about?' I say awkwardly. 'Everyone's going to ask me.'
'Why not say we were discussing logistics?' He raises his eyebrows and closes the door.
For the rest of the day there's a kind of festive atmosphere at work. But I just sit there, unable to believe what just happened. And as I travel home that evening, my heart is still pounding at the unlikeliness of it all. At the injustice of it all.
He was a stranger. He was supposed to be a stranger. The whole point about strangers is, they disappear into the ether, never to be seen again. Not turn up at the office. Not ask you what eight nines are. Not turn out to be your mega-boss employer.
Well, all I can say is, that's taught me. My parents always said never talk to strangers, and they were right. I'm never telling a stranger anything again. Ever.
I've arranged to go to Connor's flat in the evening, and when I arrive I feel my body expand in relief. Away from the office. Away from all the endless Jack Harper talk. And Connor's already cooking. I mean, how perfect is that? The kitchen is full of a wonderful garlicky-herby smell, and there's a glass of wine already waiting for me on the table.
'Hi!' I say, and give him a kiss.
'Hi, darling!' he says, looking up from the stove.
Shit. I totally forgot to say Darling. OK, how am I going to remember this?
I know. I'll write it on my hand.
'Have a look at those. I downloaded them from the Internet.' Connor gestures to a folder on the table with a wide smile. I open it, and find myself looking at a grainy black and white picture of a room with a sofa and a pot plant.
'Flat details!' I say, taken aback. 'Wow. That's quick. I haven't even given notice yet.'
'Well, we need to start looking,' says Connor. 'Look, that one's got a balcony. And there's one with a working fireplace!'
I sit down on a nearby chair and peer at the blurry photograph, trying to imagine me and Connor living in it together. Sitting on that sofa. Just the two of us, every single evening.
I wonder what we'll talk about.
Well! We'll talk about … whatever we always talk about.
Maybe we'll play Monopoly. Just if we get bored or anything.
I turn to another sheet and feel a pang of excitement.
This flat has wooden floors and shutters! I've always wanted wooden floors and shutters. And look at that cool kitchen, with all granite worktops …
Oh, this is going to be so great. I can't wait!
I take a happy slug of wine, and am just sinking comfortably back when Connor says, 'So! Isn't it exciting about Jack Harper coming over.'
Oh God. Please. Not more talk about bloody Jack Harper.
'Did you get to meet him?' he adds, coming over with a bowl of peanuts. 'I heard he went into Marketing.'
'Um, yes, I met him.'
'He came into Research this afternoon, but I was at a meeting.' Connor looks at me, agog. 'So what's he like?'
'He's … I don't know. Dark hair … American … So how did the meeting go?'
Connor totally ignores my attempt to change the subject.
'Isn't it exciting, though?' His face is glowing. 'Jack Harper!'
'I suppose so.' I shrug. 'Anyway—'
'Emma! Aren't you excited?' Connor looks astonished. 'We're talking about the founder of the company! We're talking about the man who came up with the concept of Panther Cola. Who took an unknown brand, repackaged it and sold it to the world! He turned a failing company into a huge, successful corporation. And now we're all getting to meet him. Don't you find that thrilling?'
'Yes,' I say at last. 'It's … thrilling.'
'This could be the opportunity of a lifetime for all of us. To learn from the genius himself! You know, he's never written a book, he's never shared his thoughts with anyone except Pete Laidler …' He reaches into the fridge for a can of Panther Cola and cracks it open. Connor has to be the most loyal employee in the world. I once bought a Pepsi when we were out on a picnic, and he nearly had a hernia.