Then almost immediately, with trembling hands, I open it again. I have to see exactly what they’ve said. I have to read every horrible, humiliating line.
When I’ve finally finished, I sit, breathing hard, trying to keep control. I can’t quite believe this is really happening. This paper has already been printed millions of times. It’s too late to stop it. In Britain, I suddenly realize, this has been out for hours. My parents will have seen it. Everyone I know will have seen it. I’m powerless.
As I’m sitting there, the telephone gives a shrill ring, and I jump with fright. After a moment it rings again, and I stare at it in terror. I can’t answer. I can’t talk to anybody, not even Suze.
The phone rings for the fourth time, and Luke strides out of the bathroom, a towel round his waist and his hair slicked back.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” he says shortly, and grabs for the receiver. “Hello? Yes, Luke Brandon here.”
I feel a swoop of fear, and wrap the duvet more tightly around me.
“Right,” Luke is saying. “Fine. I’ll see you then.” He puts the phone down and scribbles something on a pad of paper.
“Who was that?” I say, trying to keep my voice steady.
“A secretary from JD Slade,” he says, putting his pen down. “Change of venue.”
He starts to get dressed, and I say nothing. My hand tightens around the Daily World page. I want to show him… but I don’t want to show him. I don’t want him to read those horrible things about me. But I can’t let him see it from someone else.
I can’t sit here forever, saying nothing. I close my eyes — then take a deep breath and say, “Luke, there’s a thing about me in the paper.”
“Good,” says Luke absently, doing up his tie. “I thought you might get a bit of publicity. Which paper?”
“It’s… it’s not good,” I say, and lick my dry lips. “It’s really awful.”
Luke looks at me properly and sees my expression.
“Oh, Becky,” he says, “it can’t be that bad. Come on, show me. What does it say?” He holds out his hand, but I don’t move.
“It’s just… really horrible. And there’s a great big picture—”
“Did you have a bad hair day?” says Luke teasingly, and reaches for his jacket. “Becky, no piece of publicity is ever 100 percent perfect. You’re always going to find something to fret about, whether it’s your hair, or something you said…”
“Luke!” I say despairingly. “It’s nothing like that. Just… have a look.”
Slowly I unfold the paper and give it to Luke. He takes it cheerfully — but as he gazes at it, his smile slowly disappears.
“What the fuck— Is that me?” He glances at me briefly, and I swallow, not daring to say anything. Then he scans the page while I watch nervously.
“Is this true?” he says at last. “Any of it?”
“N-no!” I stammer. “At least… not… not all of it. Some of it is…”
“Are you in debt?”
I meet his gaze, feeling my face turn crimson.
“A… a little bit. But I mean, not like they say… I mean, I don’t know anything about a summons…”
“Tuesday afternoon!” He hits the paper. “For Christ’s sake. You were at the Guggenheim. Find your ticket, we’ll prove you were there, get a retraction—”
“I… Actually… Luke…” He looks up and I feel a lurch of pure fear. “I didn’t go to the Guggenheim. I… I went… shopping.”
“You went…” He stares at me — then silently starts to read again.
When he’s finished he stares ahead expressionlessly.
“I don’t believe this,” he says, so quietly I can barely hear him.
He looks as grim as I feel — and for the first time this morning I feel tears pricking at my eyes.
“I know,” I say shakily. “It’s awful. They must have been following me. They must have been there all along, watching me, spying on me…” I look at him for a response, but he’s just staring straight ahead. “Luke, don’t you have anything to say? Do you realize—”
“Becky, do you realize?” he interrupts. He turns toward me — and at his expression I feel the blood draining from my face. “Do you realize quite how bad this is for me?”
“I’m really sorry,” I gulp. “I know you hate being in the paper…”
“It’s not a bloody question of—” He stops himself, and says more calmly, “Becky, do you realize how this is going to make me look? Today of all fucking days?”