“I see,” says Dad, and glances at Mum. “Well, that makes sense.”
“So what I suggest,” I say, meshing my hands tightly in my lap, “is that if he rings, you say I’ve gone abroad and you don’t have a number for me. And. . if anyone else rings, say the same thing. Even Suze. I’ve left her a message saying I’m OK — but I don’t want anyone to know where I am.”
“Are you sure?” says Mum, wrinkling her brow. “Wouldn’t it be better to go to the police?”
“No!” I say quickly. “That would only make him feel important. I just want to vanish for a bit.”
“Fine,” says Dad. “As far as we’re concerned, you’re not here.”
He reaches across the table and clasps my hand. And as I see the worry on his face, I hate myself for what I’m doing.
But I simply can’t tell my kind, loving parents that their so-called successful daughter with her so-called top job is in fact a disorganized, deceitful mess, up to her eyeballs in debt.
And so we have supper (Waitrose Cumberland Pie) and watch an Agatha Christie adaption together, and then I go upstairs to my old bedroom, put on an old nightie, and go to bed. And when I wake up the next morning, I feel more happy and rested than I have for weeks.
Above all, staring at my old bedroom ceiling, I feel safe. Cocooned from the world; wrapped up in cotton wool. No one can get me here. No one even knows I’m here. I won’t get any nasty letters and I won’t get any nasty phone calls and I won’t get any nasty visitors. It’s like a sanctuary. I feel as if I’m fifteen again, with nothing to worry about but my homework. (And I haven’t even got any of that.)
It’s at least nine o’clock before I rouse myself and get out of bed, and as I do so, it occurs to me that miles away in London, Derek Smeath is expecting me to arrive for a meeting in half an hour. A slight twinge passes through my stomach and for a moment I consider phoning up the bank and giving some excuse. But even as I’m considering it, I know I’m not going to do it. I don’t even want to acknowledge the bank’s existence. I want to forget all about it.
None of it exists anymore. Not the bank, not VISA, not Octagon. All eliminated from my life, just like that.
The only call I make is to the office, because I don’t want them sacking me in my absence. I phone at nine-twenty — before Philip gets in — and get Mavis on reception.
“Hello, Mavis?” I croak. “It’s Rebecca Bloomwood here. Can you tell Philip I’m ill?”
“You poor thing!” says Mavis. “Is it bronchitis?”
“I’m not sure,” I croak. “I’ve got a doctor’s appointment later. I must go. Bye.”
And that’s it. One phone call, and I’m free. No one suspects anything — why should they? I feel light with relief. It’s so easy to escape. I should have done this long ago.
At the back of my mind, like a nasty little gremlin, is the knowledge that I won’t be able to stay here forever. That sooner or later things will start to catch up with me. But the point is — not yet. And in the meantime, I’m not even going to think about it. I’m just going to have a nice cup of tea and watch Morning Coffee and blank my mind out completely.
As I go into the kitchen, Dad’s sitting at the table, reading the paper. There’s the smell of toast in the air, and Radio Four in the background. Just like when I was younger and lived at home. Life was simple then. No bills, no demands, no threatening letters. An enormous wave of nostalgia overcomes me, and I turn away to fill the kettle, blinking slightly.
“Interesting news,” says Dad, jabbing at The Daily Telegraph.
“Oh yes?” I say, putting a tea bag in a mug. “What’s that?”
“Scottish Prime has taken over Flagstaff Life.”
“Oh right,” I say vaguely. “Right. Yes, I think I’d heard that was going to happen.”
“All the Flagstaff Life investors are going to receive huge windfall payments. The biggest ever, apparently.”
“Gosh,” I say, trying to sound interested. I reach for a copy of Good Housekeeping, flick it open, and begin to read my horoscope.
But something’s niggling at my mind. Flagstaff Life. Why does that sound familiar? Who was I talking to about. .
“Martin and Janice next door!” I exclaim suddenly. “They’re with Flagstaff Life! Have been for fifteen years.”
“Then they’ll do very well,” says Dad. “The longer you’ve been with them, the more you get, apparently.”
He turns the page with a rustle, and I sit down at the table with my cup of tea and a Good Housekeeping article on making Easter cakes. It’s not fair, I find myself thinking resentfully. Why can’t I get a windfall payment? Why doesn’t Endwich Bank get taken over? Then they could pay me a windfall big enough to wipe out my overdraft.