Twenties Girl

Page 5


“Hi, Michael. Good to see you.” He shakes Dad’s hand, then immediately turns back to an assistant. “Have you got Steve on the line yet?”
“Here.” The assistant hastily hands Uncle Bill a phone.
“Hello, Bill!” Dad is always unfailingly polite to Uncle Bill. “It’s been a while. How are you doing? Congratulations on your book.”
“Thank you for the signed copy!” puts in Mum brightly.
Bill nods briefly at all of us, then says straight into the phone, “Steve, I got your email.” Mum and Dad exchange glances. Obviously that’s the end of our big family catch-up.
“Let’s find out where we’re supposed to be going,” murmurs Mum to Dad. “Lara, are you coming?”
“Actually, I’ll stay out here for a moment,” I say on impulse. “See you inside!”
I wait until my parents have disappeared, then edge closer to Uncle Bill. I’ve suddenly hatched a demon plan. At his seminar, Uncle Bill said the key to success for any entrepreneur was grabbing every opportunity. Well, I’m an entrepreneur, aren’t I? And this is an opportunity, isn’t it?
When he seems to have finished his conversation, I say hesitantly, “Hi, Uncle Bill. Could I talk to you for a moment?”
“Wait.” He lifts a hand and puts his BlackBerry to his ear. “Hi, Paulo. What’s up?”
His eyes swivel to me and he beckons, which I guess is my cue to speak.
“Did you know I’m a headhunter now?” I give a nervous smile. “I’ve gone into partnership with a friend. We’re called L &N Executive Recruitment. Could I tell you about our business?”
Uncle Bill frowns at me thoughtfully for a moment, then says, “Hold on, Paulo.”
Oh wow! He’s put his phone call on hold! For me!
“We specialize in finding highly qualified, motivated individuals for senior executive positions,” I say, trying not to gabble. “I wondered if maybe I could talk with someone in your HR department, explain our services, maybe put a pitch together-”
“Lara.” Uncle Bill lifts a hand to stop me. “What would you say if I put you in touch with my head of recruitment and told her: ‘This is my niece, give her a chance?’”
I feel an explosion of delight. I want to sing “Hallelujah.” My gamble paid off!
“I’d say thank you very much, Uncle Bill!” I manage, trying to stay calm. “I’d do the best job I could, I’d work 24/7, I’d be so grateful-”
“No,” he interrupts. “You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t respect yourself.”
“Wh-what?” I stop in confusion.
“I’m saying no.” He shoots me a dazzling white smile. “I’m doing you a favor, Lara. If you make it on your own, you’ll feel so much better. You’ll feel you’ve earned it.”
“Right.” I swallow, my face burning with humiliation. “I mean, I do want to earn it. I do want to work hard. I just thought maybe…”
“If I can come from two little coins, Lara, so can you.” He holds my gaze for a moment. “Believe in yourself. Believe in your dream. Here.”
Oh no. Please no. He’s reached in his pocket and is now holding out two ten-pence pieces to me.
“These are your two little coins.” He gives me a deep, earnest look, the same way he does on the TV ad. “Lara, close your eyes. Feel it. Believe it. Say, ‘This is my beginning.’”
“This is my beginning,” I mumble, cringing all over. “Thanks.”
Uncle Bill nods, then turns back to the phone. “Paulo. Sorry about that.”
Hot with embarrassment, I edge away. So much for grabbing opportunities. So much for contacts. I just want to get through this stupid funeral and go home.
I head around the building and through the front glass doors of the funeral center to find myself in a foyer with upholstered chairs and posters of doves and a subdued air. There’s no one about, not even at the reception desk.
Suddenly I hear singing coming from behind a pale wood door. Shit. It’s started. I’m missing it. I hurriedly push the door open-and, sure enough, there are rows of benches filled with people. The room is so crowded that, as I edge in, the people standing at the back have to jostle to one side, and I find myself a space as unobtrusively as possible.
As I look around, trying to spot Mum and Dad, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of people here. And the flowers. All down the sides of the room there are gorgeous arrangements in shades of white and cream. A woman at the front is singing Pie Jesu , but there are so many people in front of me, I can’t see. Near me, a couple of people are sniffing, and one girl has tears streaming openly down her face. I feel a bit chastened. All these people, here for my great-aunt, and I never even knew her.