“You wouldn’t have bought this many,” she gulps. “You would have bought maybe… three.”
“I would have bought them all! They’re the best frames in the world! They’d make a perfect present, or a… an ornament for the house…”
“You’re just saying that,” she says tearfully.
“No, I’m not!” I say, feeling tears coming to my own eyes. “Suze, everybody loves your frames. I’ve seen people in shops saying how brilliant they are!”
“No, you haven’t.”
“I have! There was this woman admiring one in Gifts and Goodies, just the other day, and everyone in the shop was agreeing!”
“Really?” says Suze in a small voice.
“Yes. You’re so talented, and successful…” I look around my bomb-site room, and feel a sudden wave of despair. “And I’m such a mess. John Gavin’s right, I should have assets by now. I should be all sorted out. I’m just… worthless.” Tears start to trickle down my face.
“You’re not!” says Suze in horror. “You’re not worthless!”
“I am!” Miserably, I sink to the carpet of clothes on the floor. “Suze, just look at me. I’m unemployed, I haven’t got any prospects, I’m being taken to court, I owe thousands and thousands of pounds, and I don’t know how I’m even going to start paying it all off…”
There’s an awkward cough at the door. I look up, and Tarquin is standing at the door, holding three mugs of coffee.
“Refreshments?” he says, picking his way across the floor.
“Thanks, Tarquin,” I say, sniffing, and take a mug from him. “Sorry about all this. It’s just… not a great time.”
He sits down on the bed and exchanges looks with Suze.
“Bit short of cash?” he says.
“Yes,” I gulp, and wipe my eyes. “Yes, I am.” Tarquin gives Suze another glance.
“Becky, I’d be only too happy to—”
“No. No, thanks.” I smile at him. “Really.”
There’s silence as we all sip our coffee. A shaft of winter sunlight is coming through the window, and I close my eyes, feeling the soothing warmth on my face.
“Happens to the best of us,” says Tarquin sympathetically. “Mad Uncle Monty was always going bust, wasn’t he, Suze?”
“God, that’s right! All the time!” says Suze. “But he always bounced back, didn’t he?”
“Absolutely!” says Tarquin. “Over and over again.”
“What did he do?” I say, looking up with a spark of interest.
“Usually sold off a Rembrandt,” says Tarquin. “Or a Stubbs. Something like that.”
Great. What is it about these millionaires? I mean, even Suze, who I love. They just don’t get it. They don’t know what it’s like to have no money.
“Right,” I say, trying to smile. “Well… unfortunately, I don’t have any spare Rembrandts lying around. All I’ve got is… a zillion pairs of black trousers. And some Tshirts.”
“And a fencing outfit,” puts in Suze.
Next door, the phone starts ringing, but none of us move.
“And a wooden bowl which I hate.” I give a half-giggle, half-sob. “And forty photograph frames.”
“And fifty million pots of lavender honey.”
“And a Vera Wang cocktail dress.” I look around my room, suddenly alert. “And a brand-new Kate Spade bag… and… and a whole wardrobe full of stuff which I’ve never even worn… Suze…” I’m almost too agitated to speak. “Suze…”
“Just… just think about it. I haven’t got nothing. I have got assets! I mean, they might have depreciated a little bit…”
“What do you mean?” says Suze puzzledly — then her face lights up. “Ooh, have you got an ISA that you forgot about?”
“No! Not an ISA!”
“I don’t understand!” wails Suze. “Bex, what are you talking about?”
And I’m just opening my mouth to answer, when the answer machine clicks on next door, and a gravelly American voice starts speaking, which makes me stiffen and turn my head.
“Hello, Becky? It’s Michael Ellis here. I’ve just arrived in London for a conference, and I was wondering — could we perhaps meet up for a chat?”
It’s so weird to see Michael here in London. In my mind he belongs firmly in New York, in the Four Seasons. Back in that other world. But here he is, large as life, in the River Room at the Savoy, his face creased in a beam. As I sit down at the table he lifts a hand to a waiter.