Twenties Girl

Page 26


I was talking to myself . No.
I was talking to a vision . No.
“I’m not a fool.” He cuts me off contemptuously. “This isn’t the first time this has happened to me.”
“It isn’t?” I peer at him, bemused.
“I’ve had to put up with it in board meetings, in directors’ lunches… it’s the same everywhere. BlackBerries are bad enough, but these hands-free sets are a bloody menace. You know how many car accidents people like you cause?”
Hands-free-Does he mean…
He thinks I was on the phone!
“I wasn’t-” I begin automatically, then stop myself. Being on the phone is the most sane option available to me. I should go with it.
“But this really is the pits.” He glowers at me, breathing heavily. “Taking a call during a one-to-one lunch. Hoping I might not notice. It’s fucking disrespectful.”
“I’m sorry,” I say humbly. “I’ll… I’ll switch it off now.” With a fumbling hand, I reach up to my ear and pretend to switch off an earpiece.
“Where is it, anyway?” He frowns at me. “I can’t see it.”
“It’s tiny,” I say hastily. “Very discreet.”
“Is it the new Nokia?”
He’s peering more closely at my ear. Shit.
“It’s actually… um… embedded in my earring.” I hope I sound convincing. “New technology. Clive, I’m really sorry I was distracted. I… I misjudged the situation. But I am very sincere about wanting to place you with Leonidas Sports. So if I could maybe just recap on what I was trying to say-”
“You have to be joking.”
“You think I’m going to do business with you now?” He gives a short, unamused laugh. “You’re as unprofessional as your partner, and that’s saying something.” To my horror, he pushes back his chair and gets to his feet. “I was going to give you a chance, but forget it.”
“No, wait! Please!” I say in panic, but he’s already striding away, between the tables of gawping diners.
I feel hot and cold as I stare at his empty chair. With a still-shaky hand, I reach for my champagne and take three deep gulps. So that’s that. I’ve fucked up. My best hope is gone.
And, anyway, what did he mean, I’m “as unprofessional as my partner”? Has he heard about Natalie disappearing off to Goa? Does everyone know?
“Will the gentleman be returning?” My trance is interrupted by the waiter approaching the table. He’s holding a wooden platter bearing a dish with a silver dome on it.
“I don’t think so.” I stare at the table, my face burning with humiliation.
“Shall I return his food to the kitchen?”
“Do I still have to pay for it?”
“Unfortunately, madam, yes.” He gives me a patronizing smile. “Since it has been ordered, and everything is cooked from fresh-”
“Then I’ll have it.”
“ All of it?” He seems taken aback.
“Yes.” I lift my chin mutinously. “Why not? I’m paying for it; I might as well eat it.”
“Very good.” The waiter inclines his head, deposits the platter in front of me, and removes the silver dome. “Half a dozen fresh oysters on crushed ice.”
I’ve never eaten oysters in my life. I’ve always thought they looked gross. Close up they look even grosser. But I’m not admitting that.
“Thanks,” I say curtly.
The waiter retreats, and I stare fixedly at the six oysters in front of me. I’m determined to see this stupid lunch out. But there’s a tight pressing feeling behind my cheekbones, and my bottom lip would be trembling if I allowed it.
“Oysters! I adore oysters.” To my disbelief, Sadie appears in front of my eyes again. She sinks into Clive’s vacated chair with a languid sideways movement, looks around, and says, “This place is rather fun. Is there a cabaret?”
“I can’t hear you,” I mutter savagely. “I can’t see you. You don’t exist. I’m going to the doctor and getting some drugs and getting rid of you.”
“Where’s your lover gone?”
“He wasn’t my lover,” I snap in low tones. “I was trying to do business with him, and it’s all spoiled because of you. You’ve ruined everything. Everything.”
“Oh.” She arches her eyebrows unrepentantly. “I don’t see how I could do that if I don’t exist.”
“Well, you did. And now I’m stuck with these stupid oysters that I don’t want and can’t afford, and I don’t even know how to eat them…”