Oh God. This is all my fault. It’s all my fault. If I’d just used my brain and thought for once. .
“Oh, Becky, don’t look so upset!” says Janice. “This isn’t your fault! You didn’t know! Nobody knew! None of us could have—”
“I knew,” I hear myself saying miserably.
There’s a flabbergasted silence.
“What?” says Janice faintly.
“I didn’t know, exactly,” I say, staring at the ground. “But I heard a sort of rumor about it a while ago. I should have said something when you asked me. I should have warned you to wait. But I just. . didn’t think. I didn’t remember.” I force myself to look up and meet Martin’s astonished gaze. “I. . I’m really sorry. It’s all my fault.”
There’s silence, during which Janice and Martin glance at each other and I hunch my shoulders, loathing myself. Inside, I can hear the phone ringing, and footsteps as someone goes to answer it.
“I see,” says Martin eventually. “Well. . not to worry. These things happen.”
“Don’t blame yourself, Becky,” says Janice kindly. “It was our decision to switch funds, not yours.”
“And remember, you’ve been under a lot of pressure yourself recently,” adds Martin, putting a sympathetic hand on my arm. “What with this dreadful stalking business.”
Now I really feel like dirt. I don’t deserve these people’s kindness. I’ve just lost them £20,000, through being too bloody lazy to keep up with events I’m supposed to know about. I’m a financial journalist, for God’s sake.
And suddenly, standing there in my parents’ garden on a Monday afternoon, I’m plunged to the lowest ebb of my life. What have I got going for me? Nothing. Not one thing. I can’t control my money, I can’t do my job, and I haven’t got a boyfriend. I’ve hurt my best friend, I’ve lied to my parents — and now I’ve ruined my neighbors.
My father’s voice interrupts us all, and I look up in surprise. He’s striding across the lawn toward us, a perturbed look on his face.
“Becky, don’t be alarmed,” he says, “but I’ve just had that Derek Smeath chap on the phone.”
“What?” I say, feeling my face drain in horror.
“The stalker?” exclaims Janice, and Dad gives a sober nod.
“Quite an unpleasant fellow, I would say. He was really quite aggressive toward me.”
“But how does he know Becky’s here?” says Janice.
“Obviously just taking potluck,” says Dad. “I was very civil, simply told him you weren’t here and that I had no idea where you were.”
“And. . and what did he say?” I say in a strangled voice.
“Came out with some nonsense about a meeting you’d set up with him.” Dad shakes his head. “The chap’s obviously deluded.”
“You should change your number,” advises Martin. “Go ex-directory.”
“But where was he phoning from?” says Janice, her voice rising in alarm. “He could be anywhere!” She starts looking agitatedly around the garden as though expecting him to jump out from behind a bush.
“Exactly,” says Dad. “So, Becky, I think maybe you should come inside now. You never know with these characters.”
“OK,” I say numbly. I can’t quite believe this is happening. I look at Dad’s kind, concerned face and suddenly I can barely meet his eye. Oh, why didn’t I tell him and Mum the truth? Why did I let myself get into this situation?
“You look quite shaken up, dear,” says Janice, and pats me on the shoulder. “You go and have a nice sit down.”
“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I think I will.”
And Dad leads me off gently toward the house, as though I were some kind of invalid.
This is all getting out of hand. Now not only do I feel like an utter failure, I don’t feel safe anymore, either. I feel exposed and edgy. I sit on the sofa next to Mum, drinking tea and watching Countdown, and every time there’s a sound outside, I jump.
What if Derek Smeath’s on his way here? How long would it take him to drive here from London? An hour and a half? Two, if the traffic’s bad?
He wouldn’t do that. He’s a busy man.
But he might.
Or send the bailiffs round. Oh God. Threatening men in leather jackets. My stomach is squeezed tight with fear. In fact, I’m beginning to feel as though I genuinely am being stalked.
As the commercial break begins, Mum reaches for a catalogue full of gardening things. “Look at this lovely birdbath,” she says. “I’m going to get one for the garden.”