Oh God. This is bad. I mean – I'm not just being paranoid, am I? This is really bad.
As I sit on the tube on my way home, I stare at my reflection – outwardly calm and relaxed. But inside, my mind's scurrying around like a spider, trying to find a way out. Round and round and round, legs flailing, no escape… OK, stop. Stop! Calm down and let's go through the options one more time.
Option One: Go to meeting and tell the truth.
I can't. I just can't. I can't go along on Monday morning and admit that there isn't ?1,000 from my aunt and there never will be. What will they do to me? They'll get all serious, won't they? They'll sit me down and start going through all my expenditure and… Oh God, I feel sick at the thought of it. I can't do it. I can't go.
End of story.
Option Two: Go to meeting and lie.
So – what – tell them the ?1,000 is absolutely on its way, and that further funds will be coming through soon. Hmmm. Possible. The trouble is, I don't think they'll believe me. So they'll still get all serious, sit me down, give me a lecture. No. No way.
Option Three: Don't go to meeting.
But if I don't, Derek Smeath will phone Philip and they'll start talking. Maybe the whole story will come out, and he'll find out I didn't actually break my leg. Or have glandular fever. And after that I won't ever be able to go back into the office. I'll be unemployed. My life will be over at the age of twenty-five. But then, maybe that's a price worth paying.
Option Four: Go to meeting with cheque for ?1,000.
Perfect. Waltz in, hand over the cheque, say 'Will there be anything else?' and waltz out again. Perfect. But how do I get ?1,000 before Monday morning?
Option Five: Run away.
Which would be very childish and immature. Not worth considering. I wonder where I could go? Maybe abroad somewhere.
Las Vegas. Yes, and I could win a fortune at the casinos. A million pounds or something. Even more, perhaps. And then – yes – then I'd fax Derek Smeath, saying I'm closing my bank account due to his lack of faith in me.
God yes! Wouldn't that be great? 'Dear Mr Smeath, I was a little surprised at your recent implication that I have insufficient funds to cover my overdraft and indeed by your sarcastic manner. As this cheque for ?1.2 million shows, I have ample funds at my disposal – which I will shortly be moving to one of your competitors.
Perhaps they will treat me with more respect.
PS I am copying this letter to your superiors.'
I love this idea so much, I wallow in it for a while, amending the letter over and over in my head. 'Dear Mr Smeath, as I tried to inform you discreetly at our last encounter, I am in fact a millionairess. If only you had trusted me, things might have been different.'
God, he'll be sorry, won't he? That'll teach him. He'll probably phone up and apologize. Try and grovel for my business and say he hadn't meant to offend me. But it'll be too late. Far too late. Hah! Hahahaha…
Oh blast. Missed my stop.
When I get home, Suze is sitting on the floor, surrounded by glossy magazines.
'Hi!' she says brightly. 'Guess what? I'm going to be in Vogue!'
'What?' I say disbelievingly. 'Were you spotted on the streets or something?' Then I realize I shouldn't sound quite so surprised. I mean, Suze has got an excellent figure. She could easily be a model. But still… Vogue!
'Not me, silly!' she says. 'My frames.'
'Your frames are going to be in Vogue?' Now I really am disbelieving.
'In the June issue! I'm going to be in a piece called "Just relax – designers who are bringing the fun back into interiors". It's cool, isn't it? The only thing is, I've only made two frames so far, so I need to make a few more in case people want to buy them.'
'Right,' I say, trying to get my head round all this. 'So – how come Vogue are doing a piece about you? Did they… hear about you?'
How can they have heard about her? I'm thinking. I mean, she only started making frames four days ago!
'No silly!' she says, and laughs. 'I phoned up Lally. Have you met Lally?' I shake my head. 'Well, she's fashion editor of Vogue now, and she spoke to Perdy, who's the interiors editor, and Perdy phoned me back – and when I told her what my frames were like, she just went wild.'
'Gosh,' I say. 'Well done.'
'She told me what to say in my interview, too,' Suze adds, and clears her throat importantly. 'I want to create spaces for people to enjoy, not admire. There's a bit of the child in all of us. Life's too short for minimalism.'
'Oh right,' I say. 'Great!'
'No, wait, there was something else, too.' Suze frowns thoughtfully. 'Oh yes, my designs are inspired by the imaginative spirit of Gaudi. I'm going to phone up Charlie now,' she adds happily. 'I'm sure he's something on Tatler.'
'Great,' I say again.
And it is great.
I'm really glad for Suze. Of course I am.
But there's a part of me that's thinking – how come everything happens so easily for her? I bet she's never had to face a nasty bank manager in her life. And I bet she never will have to, either. Dispiritedly, I sink down onto the floor and begin to flip through a magazine.
'By the way,' says Suze, looking up from the phone. 'Tarquin rang about an hour ago, to arrange your date.' She grins wickedly. 'Are you looking forward to it?'
'Oh,' say dully. 'Of course I am.'
I'd forgotten all about it, to be honest. But it's OK I'll just wait until tomorrow afternoon and say I've got period pain. Easy. No-one ever questions that, especially not men.
'Oh yes,' says Suze, gesturing to a Harpers and Queen open on the floor. 'And look who I came across just now in the Hundred Richest Bachelors list! Oh hi, Charlie,' she says into the phone. 'It's Suze! Listen…'
I look down at the open Harpers and Queen and freeze. Luke Brandon is staring out of the page at me, an easy smile on his face. Number 31, reads the caption. Age 32. Estimated wealth: ?10 million. Scarily intelligent entrepreneur. Lives in Chelsea; currently dating Sacha de Bonneville, daughter of the French billionaire.
I don't want to know this. Why would I be interested in who Luke Brandon is dating? Savagely I flip the page backwards and start reading about Number 17, who sounds much nicer. Dave Kington. Age 28. Estimated wealth: ?20 million. Former striker for Manchester United, now management guru and sportswear entrepreneur… Lives in Hertfordshire, recently split from girlfriend, model Cherisse.
And anyway, Luke Brandon's boring. Everyone says so. All he does is work. Obsessed by money, probably.
Number 16. Ernest Flight. Age 52. Estimated wealth: ?22 million. Chairman and major shareholder of the Flight Foods Corporation. Lives in Nottinghamshire, recently divorced from third wife Susan.
I don't even think he's that good-looking. Too tall.
And he probably doesn't go to the gym or anything. Too busy. He's probably hideous underneath his clothes.
Number 15. Tarquin Cleath-Stuart. Age 26. Estimated wealth: ?25 million. Landowner since inheriting huge family estate at age of 19. V. publicity shy. Lives in Perthshire and London with old nanny; currently single.
Anyway, what kind of man buys luggage as a present? I mean, a suitcase, for God's sake, when he had the whole of Harrods to choose from. He could have bought his girlfriend a necklace, or some clothes. Or he could have… He could have…
Hang on a moment, what was that?
What was that?
No. That can't be – Surely that's not-
Oh my God.
And suddenly I can't breathe. I can't move. My entire frame is concentrated on the blurry picture in front of me. Tarquin Cleath-Stuart? Tarquin Suze's Cousin? Tarquin?
Tarquin… has… 25… million… pounds?
I think I'm going to pass out, if I can ever ungrip my hand from this page. I'm staring at the fifteenth-richest bachelor in Britain – and I know him.
Not only do I know him, he's asked me out on a date.
I'm having dinner with him tomorrow night.
I'm going to be a millionairess. A multimillionairess. I knew it. Didn't I know it? I knew it. Tarquin's going to fall in love with me and ask me to marry him and we'll get married in a gorgeous Scottish castle just like in Four Weddings (except with nobody dying on us). And I'll have ?25 million.
And what will Derek Smeath say then? Hah!
'D'you want a cup of tea?' says Suze, putting down the phone. 'Charlie's such a poppet. He's going to feature me in Britain's Up-And-Coming-Talent.'
'Excellent,' I say vaguely, and clear my throat. 'Just… just looking at Tarquin here.'
I have to check. I have to check there isn't some other Tarquin Cleath-Stuart, some cousin I don't know about. Please God, please let me be going out with the rich one.
'Oh yes,' says Suze casually. 'He's always in those things.' She runs her eyes down the text and shakes her head. 'God, they always exaggerate everything. ?25 million!'
My heart stops.
'Hasn't he got ?25 million, then?' I say carelessly.
'Oh no!' She laughs as though the idea's ridiculous.
'The estate's worth about… Oh, I don't know. ?18 million.'
?18 million. Well, that'll do. That'll do nicely.
'These magazines!' I say, and roll my eyes sympathetically.
'Earl Grey?' says Suze, getting up. 'Or normal?'
'Earl Grey,' I say, even though I actually prefer Typhoo. Becaus I'd better start acting posh, hadn't I, if I'm going to be the girlfriend of someone called Tarquin Cleath-Stuart.
Hi, it's Rebecca Cleath-Stuart here. Yes, Tarquin's wife. We met at… Yes, I was wearing Chanel. How clever of you!
'By the way,' I add, 'did Tarquin say where I should meet him?'
'Oh, he's going to come and pick you up,' says Suze. But of course he is. The fifteenth-richest bachelor in Britain doesn't just meet you at a tube station, does he? He doesn't just say, 'See you under the big clock at Waterloo'. He comes and picks you up.
Oh, this is it. This is it! My new life has finally begun.
I have never spent so long on getting ready for a date in my life. Never. The process starts at eight on Saturday morning when I look at my open wardrobe and realize that I don't have a single thing to wear – and only ends at 7.30 that evening when I give my lashes another layer of mascara, spray myself in Coco Chanel and walk into the sitting room for Suze's verdict.
'Wow!' she says, looking up from a frame she is upholstering in distressed denim. 'You look… bloody amazing!'
And I have to say, I agree. I'm wearing all black – but expensive black. The kind of deep, soft black you fall into. A simple sleeveless dress from Whistles, the highest of Jimmy Choos, a pair of stunning uncut amethyst earrings. And please don't ask how much it all cost, because that's irrelevant. This is investment shopping. The biggest investment of my life.
I haven't eaten anything all day so I'm nice and thin, and for once my hair has fallen perfectly into shape. I look… well, I've never looked better in my life.
But of course, looks are only part of the package, aren't they? Which is why I cannily stopped off at Waterstone's on the way home and bought a book on Wagner. I've been reading it all afternoon, while I waited for my nails to dry, and have even memorized a few little passage to throw into the conversation.
I'm not sure what else Tarquin is into, apart from Wagner. Still, that should be enough to keep us going. And anyway, I expect he's planning to take me some where really glamorous with a jazz band, so we'll be too busy dancing cheek to cheek to make conversation.
The doorbell rings and I give a little start. I have to admit, my heart is pounding with nerves. But at the same time I feel strangely cool. This is it. Here begins my new multimillion-pound existence. Luke Brandon, eat your heart out.
'I'll get it,' says Suze, grinning at me, and disappears out into the hall. A moment later I hear her saying, 'Tarkie!'
I glance at myself in the mirror, take a deep breath and turn to face the door, just as Tarquin appears. His head is as bony as ever, and he's wearing another of his ancient, odd-looking suits. But somehow none of that seems to matter any more. In fact, I'm not really taking in the way he looks. I'm just staring at him. Staring and staring at him, unable to speak; unable to flame any thought at all except: twenty-five million pounds.
Twenty-five million pounds. The sort of thought that makes you feel dizzy and elated, like a fairground ride. I suddenly want to run around the room, yelling 'Twenty-five million! Twenty-five million!' throwing banknotes up in the air as if I were in some Hollywood comedy caper.
But I don't. Of course I don't. I say, 'Hi Tarquin,' and give him a dazzling smile.
'Hi, Becky,' he says. 'You look wonderful.'
'Thanks,' I say, and look bashfully down at my dress.
'D'you want to stay for a titchy?' says Suze, who is looking on fondly – as if she's my mother and this is senior prom night" and I'm dating the most popular boy in school.
'Ermm… no, I think we'll just get going,' says Tarquin, meeting my eye. 'What do you think, Becky?'
'Absolutely,' I say. 'Let's go.'