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1 Local Warehouse Literature- A to Z

Can You Keep a Secret?

by

Can You Keep a Secret? Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Chapter One

Of course I have secrets.

Of course I do. Everyone has a few secrets. Its completely normal.

Im not talking about big, earth-shattering secrets. Not the-president-is planning-to-bomb-Japan-and-only-Will-Smith- can-save-the-world type secrets. Just normal, everyday little secrets.

Like, for example, here are a few random secrets of mine, off the top of my head:

 1.My Kate Spade bag is a fake.

 2.I love sweet sherry, the least cool drink in the universe.

 3.I have no idea what NATO stands for. Or even exactly what it is.

 4.I weigh 128 pounds. Not 118, like my boyfriend, Connor, thinks. (Although, in my defense, I was planning to go on a diet when I told him that. And, to be fair, it is only one number different.)

 5.Ive always thought Connor looks a bit like Ken. As in Barbie and Ken.

 6.Sometimes, when were right in the middle of passionate sex, I suddenly want to laugh.

 7.I lost my virginity in the spare bedroom with Danny Nussbaum while Mum and Dad were downstairs watching Ben-Hur.

 8.Ive already drunk the wine that Dad told me to save for twenty years.

 9.Sammy the goldfish at home isnt the same goldfish that Mum and Dad gave me to look after when they went to Egypt.

10.When my colleague Artemis really annoys me, I feed her plant orange juice. (Which is pretty much every day.)

11.I once had this weird lesbian dream about my flatmate Lissy.

12.My G-string is hurting me.

13.Ive always had this deep-down conviction that Im not like everybody else, and theres an amazingly exciting new life waiting for me just around the corner.

14.I have no idea what this guy in the gray suit is going on about.

15.Plus, Ive already forgotten his name.

And I only met him ten minutes ago.

“We believe in multi-logistical formative alliances,” hes saying in a nasal, droning voice, “both above and below the line.”

“Absolutely!” I reply brightly, as though to say “Doesnt everybody?”

Multi-logistical. What does that mean, again?

Oh, God. What if they ask me?

Dont be stupid, Emma. They wont suddenly demand, What does “multi-logistical” mean? Im a fellow marketing professional, arent I? Obviously I know these things.

And anyway, if they mention it again, Ill change the subject. Or Ill say Im post-logistical or something.

The important thing is to keep confident and businesslike. I can do this. This is my big chance, and Im not going to screw it up.

Im sitting in the offices of Glen Oils headquarters in Glasgow, and as I glance at my reflection in the window, I look just like a top businesswoman. My shoulder-length hair is straightened, after half an hour with the hair dryer and a bottle of serum this morning. Im wearing discreet gold swirl earrings like they tell you to in how-to-win-that-job articles. And Ive got on my smart new Jigsaw suit. (At least, its practically new. I got it from the Cancer Research shop and sewed on a button to replace the missing one, and you can hardly tell.)

Im here representing the Panther Corporation, which is where I work. The meeting is to finalize a promotional arrangement between the new cranberry-flavored Panther Prime sports drink and Glen Oil, and I flew up this morning from London, especially.

When I arrived, the two Glen Oil marketing guys started on this long, show-offy “whos traveled the most?” conversation about air miles and the red-eye to Washington—and I think I bluffed pretty convincingly. But the truth is, this is the first time Ive ever had to travel for work.

OK. The real truth is, this is the first business meeting Ive attended on my own. Ive been at the Panther Corpora- tion for eleven months as a marketing assistant, which is the bottom level in our department. I started off just doing menial tasks like typing letters, getting the sandwiches, and collecting my boss Pauls dry cleaning. But after a couple of months, I was allowed to start checking copy. Then a few months ago, I got to write my very own promotional leaflet, for a tie-in with washing powder! God, I was excited. I bought a creative-writing book especially to help me, and I spent all weekend working on it. And I was really pleased with the result, even if it didnt have a misunderstood villain like the book suggested. And even if Paul did just glance at the copy and say “Fine” and kind of forget to tell anyone that I wrote it.

Since then Ive done a fair bit of writing promotional literature, and Ive even sat in on a few meetings with Paul. So I really think Im moving up the ladder. In lots of ways Im practically a marketing executive already!

Except for the tiny point that I still seem to do just as much typing as before. And getting sandwiches and collecting dry cleaning. I just do it as well as the other jobs. Especially so since our departmental secretary, Gloria, left a few weeks ago and still hasnt been replaced.

But its all going to change; I know it is. This meeting is my big break. Its my first chance to show Paul what Im really capable of. I had to beg him to let me go—after all, Glen Oil and Panther have done loads of deals together in the past; its not like therell be any surprises. But deep down I know Im here only because I was in his office when he realized hed double-booked with an awards lunch that most of the department were attending. So here I am, representing the company.

And my secret hope is that if I do well today, Ill get promoted. The job ad said “possibility of promotion after a year”—and its nearly been a year. And on Monday Im having my appraisal meeting. I looked up “Appraisals” in the staff induction book, and it said they are “an ideal opportunity to discuss possibilities for career advancement.”

Career advancement! At the thought, I feel a familiar stab of longing. It would just show Dad Im not a complete loser. And Mum. And Kerry. If I could just go home and say, “By the way, Ive been promoted to marketing executive.”

Emma Corrigan, marketing executive.

Emma Corrigan, senior vice-president (marketing).

As long as everything goes well today. Paul said the deal was pretty much done and dusted, and all I had to do was raise one point about timing, and even I should be able to manage that. And so far, I reckon its going really well!

OK, so I dont understand some of the terms theyre using. But then I didnt understand most of my GCSE French Oral either, and I still got a B.

“Rebranding . . . analysis . . . cost-effective . . .”

The man in the gray suit is still droning on. As casually as possible, I extend my hand and inch his business card toward me so I can read it.

Doug Hamilton. Thats right. I can remember this. Doug. Dug. Easy—Ill picture a shovel. Together with a ham. Which . . . which looks ill . . . and . . .

OK, forget this. Ill just write it down.

I write down “rebranding” and “Doug Hamilton” on my notepad and give an uncomfortable little wriggle. God, my knickers really are uncomfortable. I mean, G-strings are never that comfortable at the best of times, but these are particularly bad. Which could be because theyre two sizes too small.

Which could possibly be because when Connor bought them for me, he told the lingerie assistant I weighed 118 pounds. Whereupon she told him I must be size 4. Size 4!

So it got to Christmas Eve, and we were exchanging presents, and I unwrapped this pair of gorgeous pale pink silk knickers. Size 4. And I basically had two options.

A:Confess the truth: “Actually, these are too small. Im more of an eight, and by the way, I dont really weigh one hundred eighteen pounds.”

B:Shoehorn myself into them.

Actually, it was fine. You could hardly see the red lines on my skin afterward. And all it meant was that I had to quickly cut the labels out of my clothes so Connor would never realize.

Since then, Ive hardly ever worn this particular set of underwear, needless to say. But every so often I see them, looking all nice and expensive in the drawer, and think, Oh, come on, they cant be that tight, and somehow squeeze into them. Which is what I did this morning. I even decided I must have lost weight, because they didnt feel too bad.

I am such a deluded moron.

“. . . unfortunately, since rebranding . . . major rethink . . . feel we need to be considering alternative synergies . . .”

Up to now Ive just been sitting and nodding, thinking this business meeting is really easy. But now Doug Hamiltons voice starts to impinge on my consciousness. Whats he saying?

“. . . two products diverging . . . becoming incompatible . . .”

What was that about incompatible? What was that about a major rethink? I feel a jolt of alarm.

“We appreciate the functional and synergetic partnership that Panther and Glen Oil have enjoyed in the past,” Doug Hamilton is saying, “but youll agree that clearly were going in different directions.”

Different directions?

My stomach gives an anxious lurch.

He cant be—

Is he trying to pull out of the deal?

“Excuse me, Doug,” I say in my most relaxed voice. “Obviously I was closely following what you were saying earlier.” I give a friendly, were-all-professionals-together smile. “But if you could just . . . um, recap the situation for all our benefits . . .”

In plain English, I beg silently.

Doug Hamilton and the other guy exchange glances.

“Were a little unhappy about your brand values,” says Doug Hamilton.

“My brand values?” I echo in panic.

“The brand values of the product,” he says, giving me an odd look. “As Ive been explaining, we here at Glen Oil are going through a rebranding process at the moment, and we see our new image very much as a caring petrol, as our new daffodil logo demonstrates. And we feel Panther Prime, with its emphasis on sport and competition, is simply too aggressive.”

“Aggressive?” I stare at him in bewilderment. “But . . . its a fruit drink.”

This makes no sense. Glen Oil is fume-making, world- ruining petrol. Panther Prime is an innocent cranberry- flavored drink. How can it be too aggressive?

“The values it espouses.” He gestures to the marketing brochures on the table. “Drive. Elitism. Masculinity. The very slogan ‘Dont Pause. Frankly, it seems a little dated.” He shrugs. “We just dont think a joint initiative will be possible.”

No. No. This cant be happening. He cant be pulling out.

Everyone at the office will think it was my fault. Theyll think I cocked it up and Im completely crap.

My heart is thumping. My face is hot. I cant let this happen. But what do I say? I havent prepared anything. Paul said the promotion was all set up, and all I had to do was tell them we wanted to bring it forward to June.

“Well certainly discuss it again before we make a decision,” Dougs saying. He gives me a brief smile. “And as I say, we would like to continue links with the Panther Corporation, so this has been a useful meeting, in any case. . . .”

Hes pushing back his chair.

I cant let this slip away! I have to try to win them around.

“Wait!” I hear myself say. “Just . . . wait a moment! I have a few points to make.”

Theres a can of Panther Prime sitting on the desk, and I grab it for inspiration. Playing for time, I stand up, walk to the center of the room, and raise the can high into the air where we can all see it. “Panther Prime is . . . a sports drink.”

I stop, and theres a polite silence. My face is prickling. “It, um, it is very . . .”

Oh, God. What am I doing?

Come on, Emma. Think. Think Panther Prime. . . . Think Panther Cola. . . . Think. . . . Think. . . .

Yes! Of course!

“Since the launch of Panther Cola in the late 1980s, Panther drinks have been a byword for energy, excitement, and excellence,” I say fluently.

Thank God. This is the standard marketing blurb for Panther Cola. Ive typed it out so many times, I could recite it in my sleep.

“Panther drinks are a marketing phenomenon,” I continue. “The Panther character is one of the most widely recognized in the world, while the classic slogan ‘Dont Pause has made it into dictionaries. We are offering Glen Oil an exclusive opportunity to strengthen its association with this premium, world-famous brand.”

My confidence growing, I start to stride around the room, gesturing with the can. “By buying a Panther health drink, the consumer is signaling that he will settle for nothing but the best.” I hit the can sharply with my other hand. “He expects the best from his energy drink, he expects the best from his petrol, he expects the best from himself.”

Im flying! Im fantastic! If Paul could see me now, hed give me a promotion on the spot!

I come over to the desk and look Doug Hamilton right in the eye. “When the Panther consumer opens that can, he is making a choice that tells the world who he is. Im asking Glen Oil to make the same choice.”

As I finish speaking, I plant the can firmly in the middle of the desk, reach for the ring pull, and, with a cool smile, snap it back.

And a volcano erupts.

Fizzy cranberry-flavored drink explodes in a whoosh out of the can, drenching the papers and blotters in lurid red liquid . . . and—oh, no, please no—spattering all over Doug Hamiltons shirt.

“Fuck!” I gasp. “I mean, Im really sorry—”

“Jesus Christ,” says Doug Hamilton irritably, standing up and getting a handkerchief out of his pocket. “Does this stuff stain?”

“Er . . .” I grab the can helplessly. “I dont know.”

“Ill get a cloth,” says the other guy, and leaps to his feet.

The door closes behind him and theres silence, apart from the sound of cranberry drink dripping slowly onto the floor.

I stare at Doug Hamilton, my face hot and blood throbbing through my ears.

“Please . . .” My voice is husky. “Dont tell my boss.”

After all that, I screwed it up.

As I drag my heels across the concourse at Glasgow Airport, I feel completely dejected. Doug Hamilton was quite sweet in the end. He said he was sure the stain would come out, and promised he wouldnt tell Paul what happened. But he didnt change his mind about the deal.

My first big chance—and this is what happens. I feel like phoning the office and saying, “Thats it. Im never coming back again, and by the way, it was me who jammed the photocopier that time.”

But I cant. This is my third career in four years. It has to work. For my own self-worth. For my own self-esteem. And also because I owe my dad four thousand quid.

Ive arrived at the airport with an hour to go, and have headed straight for the bar. “So what can I get you?” says the Australian bartender, and I look up at him in a daze.

“Erm . . .” My mind is blank. “Er, white wine. No, actually, a vodka and tonic. Thanks.”

As he moves away, I slump down again in my stool. An air hostess with fair hair in a French plait comes and sits down two bar stools away. She smiles at me, and I smile weakly in return.

I dont know how other people manage their careers, I really dont. Like my oldest friend, Lissy. Shes always known she wanted to be a lawyer—and now, ta-daah! Shes a fraud barrister. But I left college with absolutely no clue. My first job was in an estate agency, and I only went into it because Ive always quite liked looking around houses, plus I met this woman with amazing red lacquered nails at a career fair who told me she made so much money, shed be able to retire when she was forty.

But the minute I started, I hated it. I hated all the other trainee estate agents. I hated saying things like “a lovely aspect.” And I hated the way if someone said they could afford three hundred thousand we were supposed to give them details of houses costing at least four hundred thousand, and then kind of look down our noses, like, “You only have three hundred thousand pounds? God, you complete loser.”

So after six months I announced I was changing careers and was going to be a photographer instead. It was such a fantastic moment, like in a film or something. My dad lent me the money for a photography course and camera, and I was going to launch this amazing new creative career, and it was going to be the start of my new life. . . .

Except it didnt quite happen like that.

For a start, do you have any idea how much a photographers assistant gets paid?

Nothing. Its nothing.

Which, you know, I wouldnt have minded if anyone had actually offered me a photographers assistants job.

I heave a sigh and gaze at my doleful expression in the mirror behind the bar. As well as everything else, my hairs gone all frizzy. So much for “Salon Serum—For That 24-Hour Professional Salon Look.”

At least I wasnt the only one who didnt get anywhere. Out of the eight people in my course, one became instantly successful and now takes photos for Vogue, one became a wedding photographer, one had an affair with the tutor, one went traveling, one had a baby, one works at Snappy Snaps, and one is now at Morgan Stanley.

Meanwhile, I got more and more into debt, so I started temping and applying for jobs that actually paid money. And eventually, eleven months ago, I started as a marketing assistant at the Panther Corporation.

The barman places a vodka and tonic in front of me and gives me a quizzical look. “Cheer up!” he says. “It cant be that bad!”

“Thanks,” I say gratefully, and take a sip. That feels a bit better.

I ought to call Paul and give him a report. But I just cant face it. Anyway, hes probably still out at his awards lunch. He wont want me disturbing him on his mobile. It can wait until Monday.

Im just taking a second sip of vodka when my mobile starts to ring. I feel a beat of nerves. If its the office, Ill just pretend I didnt hear.

But its not; its our home number flashing on the little screen.

I press “answer.” “Hi,” I say.

“Hiya!” comes Lissys voice. “Only me! So how did it go?”

Lissy is not only my oldest friend but my flatmate, too. She has tufty dark hair and an IQ of about 600 and is the sweetest person I know.

“It was a disaster,” I say miserably.

“It cant have been that bad!”

“Lissy, I drenched the marketing director of Glen Oil in cranberry drink!”

Along the bar, I can see the air hostess hiding a smile, and I feel myself flush. Great. Now the whole world knows.

“Oh, dear.” I can almost feel Lissy trying to think of something positive to say. “Well, at least you got their attention!” she says at last. “At least they wont forget you in a hurry.”

“I suppose,” I say morosely. “So, did I have any messages?”

“Oh! Erm, no. I mean, your dad did phone, but, um, you know, it wasnt . . .” She trails off evasively.

“Lissy. What did he want?”

Theres a pause.

“Apparently your cousins won some industry award,” she says apologetically. “Theyre going to be celebrating it on Saturday, as well as your mums birthday.”

“Oh. Great.”

I slump deeper in my chair. Thats all I need. My cousin Kerry triumphantly clutching some silver best-office-furniture- salesperson-in-the-whole-world-no-make-that-universe trophy.

“And Connor rang, too, to see how you got on,” adds Lissy quickly. “He was really sweet. He said he didnt want to ring your mobile during your meeting, in case it disturbed you.”

“Really?”

For the first time today, I feel a lift in spirits.

Connor. My boyfriend. My lovely, thoughtful boyfriend.

“Hes such a sweetheart!” Lissy is saying. “He said hes tied up in a big meeting all afternoon, but hes canceled his squash game especially, so do you want go out to supper tonight?”

“Oh,” I say, pleased. “Oh, well, thatll be nice. Thanks, Lissy.”

I click off and take another sip of vodka, feeling much more cheerful.

My boyfriend.

Its just like Julie Andrews said. When the dog bites, when the bee stings . . . I simply remember I have a boyfriend—and suddenly things dont seem quite so completely shit.

Or however she put it.

And not just any boyfriend. A tall, handsome, clever boyfriend whom Marketing Week called “one of the brightest sparks in marketing research today.”

I sit nursing my vodka, allowing thoughts of Connor to comfort me. The way his blond hair shines in the sunshine, and the way hes always smiling. And the way he upgraded all the software on my computer the other day without my even asking, and the way he . . . he . . .

My minds gone blank. This is ridiculous. I mean, theres so much that is wonderful about Connor. From his . . . his long legs. Yes. And his broad shoulders. To the time he looked after me when I had the flu. I mean, how many boyfriends do that? Exactly.

Im so lucky. I really am.

I put my phone away, run my fingers through my hair, and glance at the clock behind the bar. Forty minutes before the flight. Not long to go now. Nerves are starting to creep over me like little insects, and I take a deep gulp of vodka, draining my glass.

Itll be fine, I tell myself for the zillionth time. Itll be absolutely fine.

Im not frightened. Im just . . . Im just . . .

OK. Im frightened.

16.Im scared of flying.

Ive never told anyone Im scared of flying. It just sounds so lame. And I mean, its not like Im phobic or anything. Its not like I cant get on a plane. Its just . . . all things being equal, I would prefer to be on the ground.

On the way up here this morning, I was so excited about the meeting, it was almost a distraction from my fear. But even so, I kept feeling bursts of panic. I kept having to close my eyes and take deep breaths. And ever since I landed, its been ticking away at the back of my mind: I have to fly back again. I have to get on a plane again.

I never used to be scared. But over the last few years, Ive gradually got more and more nervous. I know its completely irrational. I know thousands of people fly every day and its practically safer than lying in bed. You have less chance of being in a plane crash than . . . than finding a man in London, or something.

But still. I just dont like it.

Maybe Ill have another quick vodka.

By the time my flight is called, Ive drunk two more vodkas and am feeling a lot more positive. I mean, Lissys right. At least I made an impression, didnt I? At least theyll remember who I am.

As I stride toward the gate, clutching my briefcase, I almost start to feel like a confident businesswoman again. A couple of people smile at me as they pass, and I smile broadly back, feeling a warm glow of friendliness. You see. The worlds not so bad after all. Its all a just a question of being positive. Anything can happen in life, cant it? You never know whats around the next corner.

I reach the entrance to the plane, and there at the door, taking boarding passes, is the air hostess with the French plait who was sitting at the bar earlier.

“Hi again!” I say, smiling. “This is a coincidence!”

The air hostess stares at me. “Hi. Erm . . .”

“What?” Why does she look embarrassed?

“Sorry. Its just . . . Did you know that . . .” She gestures awkwardly to my front.

“What is it?” I say pleasantly. I look down, and freeze, aghast.

Somehow my silky shirt has been unbuttoning itself while Ive been walking along. Three buttons have come undone and its gaping at the front.

My bra shows. My pink lacy bra. The one that went a bit blobby in the wash.

Thats why those people were smiling at me. Not because the world is a nice place but because Im Pink-Blobby-Bra Woman.

“Thanks,” I mutter, and do up the buttons with fumbling fingers, my face hot with humiliation.

“It hasnt been your day, has it?” says the air hostess sympathetically, holding out a hand for my boarding pass. “Sorry. I couldnt help overhearing earlier.”

“Thats all right.” I raise a half smile. “No, it hasnt been the best day of my life.” Theres a short silence as she studies my boarding pass.

“Tell you what,” she says in a low voice. “Would you like an onboard upgrade?”

“A what?”

“Come on. You deserve a break.”

“Really? But . . . can you just upgrade people like that?”

“If there are spare seats, we can. We use our discretion. And this flight is so short.” She gives me a conspiratorial smile. “Just dont tell anyone, OK?”

She leads me into the front section of the plane and gestures to a big, wide seat. Ive never been upgraded before in my life! I cant quite believe shes really letting me do this.

“Is this first class?” I whisper, taking in the hushed luxury atmosphere. A man in a smart suit is tapping at a laptop to my right, and two elderly women in the corner are plugging themselves into headsets.

“Business class. Theres no first class on this flight.” She lifts her voice to a normal volume. “Is everything OK for you?”

“Its perfect! Thanks very much.”

“No problem.” She smiles again and walks away, and I push my briefcase under the seat in front.

Wow. This really is lovely. Comfortable seats, and footrests, and everything. This is going to be a completely pleasurable experience from start to finish. I reach for my seat belt and buckle it up nonchalantly, trying to ignore the flutters of apprehension in my stomach.

“Would you like some champagne?” Its my friend the air hostess, beaming down at me.

“That would be great,” I say. “Thanks!”

Champagne!

“And for you, sir? Some champagne?”

Theres a man in the seat next to mine who hasnt even looked up yet. Hes wearing jeans and an old sweatshirt and is staring out of the window. As he turns to answer, I catch a glimpse of dark eyes, stubble, a deep frown etched on his forehead.

“Just a brandy. Thanks.”

His voice is dry and has an American accent. Im about to ask him politely where hes from, but he immediately turns back and stares out of the window again.

Which is fine, because to be honest Im not much in the mood for talking either.

I reach for my glass, take a sip, and try to settle down for what I pray will be an uneventful flight.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780385336819
Author:
Kinsella, Sophie
Publisher:
Dial Press
Location:
New York
Subject:
Humorous
Subject:
England
Subject:
Young women
Subject:
Romance - Contemporary
Subject:
Love stories
Subject:
Humorous fiction
Subject:
Businesswomen
Subject:
Movie-TV Tie-In - General
Subject:
Media Tie-In - General
Subject:
Humor : General
Copyright:
Series Volume:
010-011
Publication Date:
20040331
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
8.6 x 5.8 x 1.25 in 1.05 lb

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Film and Television » Novelization
Arts and Entertainment » Humor » General
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Contemporary Women
Fiction and Poetry » Romance » Contemporary

Can You Keep a Secret? Used Hardcover
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Product details 368 pages Dial Books - English 9780385336819 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Backstabbing office shenanigans, competition, scandal, love and sex....Kinsella's down-to-earth protagonist is sure to have readers sympathizing and doubled over in laughter."
"Review" by , "Kinsella has another irresistible hit on her hands."
"Review" by , "Kinsella succeeds on her own terms: Her dialogue is sharp, even her minor characters are well drawn, and her parody of the marketing world is very funny."
"Synopsis" by , Already scooped up for a major motion picture by Paramount — produced by and starring Kate Hudson — this #1 UK bestseller is by the author of the popular Shopaholic trilogy and offers readers a brand-new heroine to love.
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