‘Sorry,’ said Will. ‘Of course – I just meant – you know.’
Felicity pressed her fingertips to her forehead and began to weep. ‘Oh Tess.’
Tess’s hand went out of its own accord to comfort her. They were closer than sisters. She always told people that. Their mothers were twins, and Felicity and Tess were only children, born within six months of each other. They’d done everything together.
Tess had once punched a boy – a proper closed-fist right hook across the jaw – because he’d called Felicity a baby elephant, which was exactly what Felicity had looked like all through her school days. Felicity had grown into a fat adult, ‘a big girl with a pretty face’. She drank Coke like it was water, and never dieted or exercised or seemed particularly bothered by her weight. And then, about six months ago, Felicity had joined Weight Watchers, given up Coke, joined a gym, lost forty kilos and turned beautiful. Extremely beautiful. She was exactly the type of person they wanted for that Biggest Loser show: a stunning woman trapped in a fat person’s body.
Tess had been thrilled for her. ‘Maybe she’ll meet someone really nice now,’ she’d said to Will. ‘Now she’s got more confidence.’
It seemed that Felicity had met someone really nice. Will. The nicest man Tess knew. That took a lot of confidence, to steal your cousin’s husband.
‘I’m so sorry I just want to die,’ wept Felicity.
Tess pulled back her hand. Felicity – snarky, sarcastic, funny, clever, fat Felicity – sounded like an American cheerleader.
Will tipped his head back and stared at the ceiling with a clenched jaw. He was trying not to cry too. The last time Tess had seen him cry was when Liam was born.
Tess’s eyes were dry. Her heart hammered as if she was terrified, as if her life was in danger. The phone rang.
‘Leave it,’ said Will. ‘It’s after hours.’
Tess stood, went over to her desk and picked up the phone.
‘TWF Advertising,’ she said.
‘Tess, my love, I know it’s late, but we’ve got us a little problem.’
It was Dirk Freeman, Marketing Director of Petra Pharmaceuticals, their most important and lucrative client. It was Tess’s job to make Dirk feel important, to reassure him that although he was fifty-six and was never going to climb any higher in the ranks of senior management, he was the big kahuna, and Tess was his servant, his maid, his lowly chambermaid in fact, and he could tell her what to do, and be flirty, or grumpy, or stern, and she’d pretend to give him a bit of lip, but when it came down to it, she had to do what he said. It had occurred to her recently that the service she was providing Dirk Freeman bordered on sexual.
‘The colour of the dragon on the Cough Stop packaging is all wrong,’ said Dirk. ‘It’s too purple. Much too purple. Have we gone to print?’
Yes, they’d gone to print. Fifty thousand little cardboard boxes had rolled off the presses that day. Fifty thousand perfectly purple, toothily grinning dragons.
The work that had gone into those dragons. The emails, the discussions. And while Tess had been talking about dragons, Will and Felicity had been falling in love.
‘No,’ said Tess, her eyes on her husband and cousin who were both still sitting at the meeting table in the centre of the room, their heads bowed, examining their fingertips, like teenagers on detention. ‘It’s your lucky day, Dirk.’
‘Oh, I thought it would have – well, good.’ He could barely hide his disappointment. He’d wanted Tess all breathless and worried. He’d wanted to hear the tremor of panic in her voice.
His voiced deepened, became as abrupt and authoritative as if he was about to lead his troops onto the battlefield. ‘I need you to hold everything on Cough Stop, right? The lot. Got it?’
‘Got it. Hold everything on Cough Stop.’
‘I’ll get back to you.’
He hung up. There was nothing wrong with the colour. He’d call back the next day and say it was fine. He’d just needed to feel powerful for a few moments. One of the younger hot shots had probably made him feel inferior in a meeting.
‘The Cough Stop boxes went to print today,’ Felicity turned in her seat and looked worriedly at Tess.
‘It’s fine,’ said Tess.
‘But if he’s going to change –’ said Will.
‘I said it’s fine.’
She didn’t feel angry yet. Not really. But she could feel the possibility of a fury worse than anything she’d ever experienced, a simmering vat of anger that could explode like a fireball, destroying everything in its vicinity.
She didn’t sit down again. Instead she turned and examined the whiteboard where they recorded all their work in progress.
Cough Stop packaging!
Feathermart press ad!!
Bedstuff website :)
It was humiliating to see her own scrawly, carefree, confident handwriting with its flippant exclamation marks. The smiley face next to the Bedstuff website, because they’d worked so hard to get that job, pitching against bigger companies, and then, yes! They’d won it. She’d drawn that smiley face yesterday, when she had been ignorant of the secret that Will and Felicity were sharing. Had they exchanged rueful looks behind her back when she’d drawn the smiley face? She won’t be so smiley-faced once we confess our little secret, will she?
The phone rang again.
This time Tess let it go to the answering service.
TWF Advertising. Their names entwined together to form their little dream business. The idle ‘what if’ conversation they’d actually made happen.