I know all this because I have little chats every now and then with Luke’s assistant, Mel, who’s a real sweetie and keeps me up on all the gossip. She was telling me only the other day that she reckons Alicia’s really changed. She isn’t any nicer, but she certainly works harder. She badgers journalists until they put her clients into their stories, and often stays really late at the office, tapping at her computer. And only the other day she told Mel she wanted a full list of all the company’s clients, with contact names, so she could familiarize herself with them. Plus she wrote some company strategy report which Luke was really impressed by. Mel added gloomily that she reckons Alicia wants a promotion — and I think she could be right.
The trouble with Luke is, he only looks at how hard a person works and what results they get — and not at what a completely horrible cow they are. In fact, just the other day I heard him telling someone how reliable Alicia was in stressful situations and how he’s really starting to depend on her. So the chances are, she probably will get a promotion — and become even more unbearable.
As I watch her come in, I’m slightly transfixed. Half of me wants to run away and half of me wants to know what she’s doing here. But before I can decide, she spots me, and raises her eyebrows slightly. And oh God, suddenly I realize what I must look like — in a grotty old gray T-shirt that, to be honest, looks nothing like a dress, and my hair a mess, and my face all red from lugging carrier bags full of lavender honey. And she’s in an immaculate white suit.
“Rebecca!” she says, and puts her hand over her mouth in mock dismay. “You’re not supposed to know I’m here! Just pretend you haven’t seen me.”
“What… what do you mean?” I say, trying not to sound as disconcerted as I feel. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve just popped in for a quick introductory meeting with the new associates,” says Alicia. “You know my parents only live five miles away? So it made sense.”
“Oh right,” I say. “No, I didn’t.”
“But Luke’s given us all strict instructions,” says Alicia, “we’re not allowed to bother you. After all, this is your holiday!”
And there’s something about the way she says it that makes me feel like a child.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” I say robustly. “When something as… as important as this is going on. In fact, Luke and I were talking about it earlier on actually. Over breakfast.”
OK, so I only mentioned breakfast to remind her that Luke and I are going out together. Which I know is really pathetic. But somehow, whenever I’m talking to Alicia, I feel we’re in some secret little competition, and if I don’t fight back, she’ll think she’s won.
“Really?” says Alicia. “How sweet.” Her eyes narrow slightly. “So — what do you think of this whole enterprise? You must have an opinion.”
“I think it’s great,” I say after a pause. “Really great.”
“You don’t mind?” Her eyes are probing my face.
“Well… not really.” I shrug. “I mean, it was supposed to be a holiday, but if it’s that important—”
“I don’t mean the meetings!” says Alicia, laughing a little. “I mean — this whole deal. The whole New York thing.”
I open my mouth to reply — then feebly close it again. What New York thing?
And like a buzzard sensing weakness, she leans forward, a tiny, malicious smile at her lips. “You do know, don’t you, Rebecca, that Luke’s going to move to New York?”
I can’t move for shock. That’s what he’s so excited about. Luke’s moving to New York. But… but why hasn’t he told me?
My face feels rather hot and there’s a horrible thickening in my chest. He’s going to New York and he hasn’t even told me.
My head jerks up, and I quickly force a smile onto my face. I can’t let Alicia realize this is all news to me. I just can’t.
“Of course I know about it,” I say huskily, and clear my throat. “I know all about it. But I… I never discuss business in public. Much better to be discreet, don’t you think?”
“Oh, absolutely,” she answers — and the way she looks at me makes me think she isn’t convinced for a minute. “So… will you be going out there too?”
I stare back, my lips trembling, unable to think of an answer, my face growing pinker and pinker — when suddenly, thank God, a voice behind me says, “Rebecca Bloomwood. Parcel for a Miss Rebecca Bloomwood.”