Can You Keep a Secret?
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'Bless you!' says Artemis. Her eyes meet mine brightly and I realize she's acting, too. She puts her hand on mine, and gives me a twinkly smile. 'I don't know what we'd do without you, Emma!'
'That's quite all right!' I say, matching her tone. 'Any time!'
Shit, I think as I walk back to my desk. I should have said something cleverer. I should have said, 'Teamwork is what keeps this operation together.'
OK, never mind. I can still impress him.
Trying to act as normally as possible I open a document and start to type as quickly and efficiently as I can, my back ramrod straight. I've never known the office this quiet. Everyone's tapping away, no-one's chatting. It's like being in an exam. My foot's itching, but I don't dare scratch it.
How on earth do people do those fly-on-the-wall documentaries? I feel completely exhausted, and it's only been about five minutes.
'It's very quiet in here,' says Jack Harper, sounding puzzled. 'Is it normally this quiet?'
'Er …' We all look around uncertainly at each other.
'Please, don't mind me. Talk away like you normally would. You must have office discussions.' He gives a friendly smile. 'When I worked in an office, we talked about everything under the sun. Politics, books … For instance, what have you all been reading recently?'
'Actually, I've been reading the new biography of Mao Tse Tung,' says Artemis at once. 'Fascinating stuff.'
'I'm in the middle of a history of fourteenth-century Europe,' says Nick.
'I'm just re-reading Proust,' says Caroline, with a modest shrug. 'In the original French.'
'Ah.' Jack Harper nods, his face unreadable. 'And … Emma, is it? What are you reading?'
'Um, actually …' I swallow, playing for time.
I cannot say Celebrity Doodles — What Do They Mean? Even though it is actually very good. Quick. What's a serious book?
'You were reading Great Expectations, weren't you, Emma?' says Artemis. 'For your book club.'
'Yes!' I say in relief. 'Yes, that's right—'
And then I stop abruptly as I meet Jack Harper's gaze.
Inside my head, my own voice from the plane is babbling away innocently.
'… just skimmed the back cover and pretended I'd read it …'
'Great Expectations,' says Jack Harper thoughtfully. 'What did you think of it, Emma?'
I don't believe he asked me that.
For a few moments I can't speak.
'Well!' I clear my throat at last. 'I thought it … it was really … extremely …'
'It's a wonderful book,' says Artemis earnestly. 'Once you fully understand the symbolism.'
Shut up, you stupid show-off. Oh God. What am I going to say?
'I thought it really … resonated,' I say at last.
'What resonated?' says Nick.
'The … um …' I clear my throat. 'The resonances.'
There's a puzzled silence.
'The resonances … resonated?' says Artemis.
'Yes,' I say defiantly. 'They did. Anyway, I've got to get on with my work.' I turn away with a roll of my eyes and start typing feverishly.
OK. So the book discussion didn't go that well. But that was just sheer bad luck. Think positive. I can still do this. I can still impress him—
'I just don't know what's wrong with it!' Artemis is saying in a girly voice. 'I water it every day.'
She pokes her spider plant and gazes at Jack Harper winsomely. 'Do you know anything about plants, Jack?'
'I don't, I'm afraid,' says Jack, and looks over at me, his face deadpan. 'What do you think could be wrong with it, Emma?'
'… sometimes, when I'm pissed off with Artemis …'
'I … I have no idea,' I say at last, and carry on typing, my face flaming.
OK. Never mind. It doesn't matter. So I watered one little plant with orange juice. So what?
'Has anyone seen my World Cup mug?' says Paul, walking into the office with a frown. 'I can't seem to find it anywhere.'
'… I broke my boss's mug last week and hid the pieces in my handbag …'
OK. Never mind. So I broke one tiny mug, too. It doesn't matter. Just keep typing.
'Hey Jack,' says Nick, in a matey, lads-together voice. 'Just in case you don't think we have any fun, look up there!' He nods towards the picture of a photocopied, G-stringed bottom which has been up on the noticeboard since Christmas. 'We still don't know who it is …'
'… I had a few too many drinks at the last Christmas party …'
OK, now I want to die. Someone please kill me.
'Hi, Emma!' comes Katie's voice, and I look up to see her hurrying into the office, her face pink with excitement. When she sees Jack Harper, she stops dead. 'Oh!'
'It's all right. I'm simply a fly on the wall.' He waves a friendly hand at her. 'Go ahead. Say whatever you were going to say.'