Can You Keep a Secret?
Page 26

 Sophie Kinsella

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Another whole year. Another whole year of being the crappy marketing assistant, and everyone thinking I'm useless. Another year of being in debt to Dad, and Kerry and Nev laughing at me, and feeling like a complete failure. I switch on my computer and dispiritedly type a couple of words. But suddenly all my energy's gone.
'I think I'll get a coffee,' I say. 'Does anyone want one?'
'You can't get a coffee,' says Artemis, giving me an odd look. 'Haven't you seen?'
'They've taken the coffee machine away,' says Nick. 'While you were in with Paul.'
'Taken it away?' I look at him, puzzled. 'But why?'
'Dunno,' he says, walking off towards Paul's office. 'They just came and carted it away.'
'We're getting a new machine!' says Caroline, walking past with a bundle of proofs. 'That's what they were saying downstairs. A really nice one, with proper coffee. Ordered by Jack Harper, apparently.'
She moves off, and I stare after her.
Jack Harper ordered a new coffee machine?
'Emma!' Artemis is saying impatiently. 'Did you hear that? I want you to find the leaflet we did for the Tesco promotion two years ago. Sorry, Mummy,' she says into the phone. 'Just telling my assistant something.'
Her assistant. God, it pisses me off when she says that.
But to be honest, I'm feeling a bit too dazed to get annoyed.
It's nothing to do with me, I tell myself firmly as I root around at the bottom of the filing cabinet. It's ridiculous to think I had anything to do with it. He was probably planning to order new coffee anyway. He was probably—
I stand up with a pile of files in my arms and nearly drop them all on the floor.
There he is.
Standing right in front of me.
'Hello again.' His eyes crinkle in a smile. 'How are you doing?'
'Er … good, thanks.' I swallow hard. 'I just heard about the coffee machine. Um … thanks.'
'No problem.'
'Now everyone!' Paul comes striding up behind him. 'Mr Harper is going to be sitting in on the department this morning.'
'Please.' Jack Harper smiles. 'Call me Jack.'
'Right you are. Jack is going to be sitting in this morning. He's going to observe what you do, find out how we operate as a team. Just behave normally, don't do anything special.' Paul's eyes alight on me and he gives me an ingratiating smile. 'Hi there, Emma! How are you doing? Everything OK?'
'Er, yes thanks, Paul,' I mutter. 'Everything's great.'
'Good! A happy staff, that's what we like. And, while I've got your attention,' he coughs a little selfconsciously, 'let me just remind you that our Corporate Family Day is coming up, a week on Saturday. A chance for us all to let our hair down, enjoy meeting each other's families, and have some fun!'
We all stare at him a bit blankly. Until this moment, Paul has always referred to this as the Corporate Fuckwit Day and said he'd rather have his balls torn off than bring any member of his family to it.
'Anyway, back to work, everyone! Jack, let me get you a chair.'
'Just ignore me,' says Jack Harper pleasantly, as he sits down in the corner. 'Behave normally.'
Behave normally. Right. Of course.
So that would be sit down, take my shoes off, check my emails, put some hand cream on, eat a few Smarties, read my horoscope on iVillage, read Connor's horoscope, write 'Emma Corrigan, Managing Director' several times in swirly letters on my notepad, add a border of flowers, send an email to Connor, wait a few minutes to see if he replies, take a swig of mineral water and then finally get round to finding the Tesco leaflet for Artemis.
I don't think so.
As I sit back down at my desk, my mind is working quickly. Create your own chances. Carve out your own opportunities. That's what Paul said.
And what is this if not an opportunity?
Jack Harper himself is sitting here, watching me work. The great Jack Harper. Boss of the entire corporation. Surely I can impress him somehow?
OK, perhaps I haven't got off to the most brilliant start with him. But maybe this is my chance to redeem myself! If I can just somehow show that I'm really bright and motivated …
As I sit, leafing through the file of promotional literature, I'm aware that I'm holding my head slightly higher than usual, as though I'm in a posture class. And as I glance around the office, everyone else seems to be in a posture class, too. Before Jack Harper arrived, Artemis was on the phone to her mum, but now she's put on her horn-rimmed glasses and is typing briskly, occasionally pausing to smile at what she's written in a 'what a genius I am' way. Nick was reading the sports section of the Telegraph, but now I can see him studying some documents with graphs in them, with a deep frown.
'Emma?' says Artemis in a falsely sweet voice. 'Have you found that leaflet I was asking you for? Not that there's any hurry—'
'Yes, I have!' I say. I push back my chair, stand up, and walk over to her desk. I'm trying to look as natural as possible. But God, this is like being on telly or something. My legs aren't working properly and my smile is pasted onto my face and I have a horrible conviction I might suddenly shout 'Pants!' or something.