I sit still for a few moments, unable to speak. It’s as though something heavy is slowly lifting from me. I’m not sure what to think or feel.
“I’m just so sorry,” Luke’s saying. “For everything you’ve been through…”
“No.” I take a deep, shaky breath. “Luke, it wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t even Alicia’s fault. Maybe she fed them the details. But I mean, if I hadn’t got myself into debt in the first place, and if I hadn’t gone crazy shopping in New York — they wouldn’t have had anything to write about, would they?” I rub my dry face. “It was horrible and humiliating. But in a funny way, seeing that article was a good thing for me. It made me realize a few things about myself, at least.”
I pick up my glass, see that it’s empty, and put it down again.
“Do you want another one?” says Luke.
“No. No, thanks.”
There’s silence between us. In the distance, a voice is telling passengers on flight BA 2340 for San Francisco to please proceed to Gate 29.
“I know Michael offered you a job,” said Luke. He gestures to my case. “I assume this means you accepted it.” He pauses, and I stare at him, trembling slightly, saying nothing. “Becky — don’t go to Washington. Come and work for me.”
“Work for you?” I say, startled.
“Come and work for Brandon Communications.”
“Are you mad?”
He pushes his hair back off his face — and suddenly he looks young and vulnerable. Like someone who needs a break.
“I’m not mad. My staff’s been decimated. I need someone like you at a senior level. You know about finance. You’ve been a journalist. You’re good with people, you already know the company…”
“Luke, you’ll easily find someone else like me,” I chip in. “You’ll find someone better! Someone with PR experience, someone who’s worked in—”
“OK, I’m lying,” Luke interrupts. “I’m lying.” He takes a deep breath. “I don’t just need someone like you. I need you.”
He meets my eyes candidly — and with a jolt I realize he’s not just talking about Brandon Communications.
“I need you, Becky. I rely on you. I didn’t realize it until you weren’t there anymore. Ever since you left, your words have been going round and round in my head. About my ambitions. About our relationship. About my mother, even.”
“Your mother?” I stare at him apprehensively. “I heard you tried to arrange a meeting with her…”
“It wasn’t her fault.” He takes a swig of Pernod. “Something came up, so she couldn’t make it. But you’re right, I should spend more time with her. Really get to know her better, and forge a closer relationship, just like you have with your mother.” He looks up and frowns at my dumbfounded expression. “That is what you meant, isn’t it?”
I try for a moment to imagine Luke and his mother chatting away in the kitchen like me and Mum — and fail completely.
“Erm… yes!” I say hastily. “Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. Absolutely.”
“That’s what I mean. You’re the only person who’ll tell me the stuff I need to hear, even when I don’t want to hear it. I should have confided in you right from the start. I was… I don’t know. Arrogant. Stupid.”
He sounds so bleak and hard on himself, I feel a twinge of dismay.
“Becky, I know you’ve got your own career — and I completely respect that. I wouldn’t even ask if I didn’t think this could be a good step for you too. But… please.” He reaches across the table and puts a warm hand on mine. “Come back. Let’s start again.”
I stare helplessly at him, feeling emotion swelling in me like a balloon.
“Luke, I can’t work for you.” I swallow, trying to keep control of my voice. “I have to go to the States. I have to take this chance.”
“I know it seems like a great opportunity. But what I’m offering could be a great opportunity, too.”
“It’s not the same,” I say, clenching my hand tightly round my glass.
“It can be the same. Whatever Michael’s offered you, I’ll match it.” He leans forward. “I’ll more than match it. I’ll—”
“Luke,” I interrupt. “Luke, I didn’t take Michael’s job.”
Luke’s face jerks in shock.
“You didn’t? Then what—”