“You know, I think you have something there. I’ll try it!” He drains his glass, then glances down at the mangled coaster in my fingers. “So. Are you feeling better?”
“Yes. Thanks. But there’s something I wanted to—” I take a deep breath. “Michael, was it my fault that Luke’s deal fell through? I mean, did the Daily World thing come into it?”
He gives me a sharp look. “We’re being frank here, right?”
“Yes,” I say, feeling a shaft of apprehension. “We’re being frank.”
“Then, to be honest, I can’t say it helped proceedings,” says Michael. “There were various… remarks made this morning. Some oh-so-funny jokes. I have to hand it to Luke, he took it all pretty well.”
I stare at him, feeling cold.
“Luke didn’t tell me that.”
Michael shrugs. “I wouldn’t have thought he particularly wanted to repeat any of the comments.”
“So it was my fault.”
“Uh-uh.” Michael shakes his head. “That’s not what I said.” He leans back in his chair. “Becky, if this deal had been really strong, it would have survived a bit of adverse publicity. My guess is JD Slade used your little… embarrassment as an excuse. There’s some bigger reason, which they’re keeping to themselves…”
“Who knows? The rumor about Bank of London? A difference in business ethos? For some reason, they seem to have suffered a general loss of confidence in the whole idea.”
I stare at him, remembering what Luke said.
“Do people really think Luke’s losing his touch?”
“Luke is a very talented individual,” says Michael carefully. “But something’s gotten into him over this deal. He’s almost too driven. I told him this morning, he needs to prioritize. There’s obviously a situation with Bank of London. He should be talking to them. Reassuring them. Frankly, if he loses them, he’s in big trouble. And it’s not just them. Some problem or other seems to have cropped up with Provident Assurance — another huge client.” He leans forward. “If you ask me, he should be on a plane back to London this afternoon.”
“And what does he want to do?”
“He’s already setting up meetings with every New York investment bank I’ve ever heard of.” He shakes his head. “That boy seems fixated by making it in America.”
“I think he wants to prove something,” I mutter. To his mother, I nearly add.
“So Becky…” Michael gives me a kind look. “What are you going to do? Try to set up some more meetings?”
“No,” I say after a pause. “To be honest, I don’t think there’s any point.”
“So will you stay out here with Luke?”
An image of Luke’s frozen face flashes through my mind, and I feel a stab of pain.
“I don’t think there’s much point doing that, either.” I take a deep swig of wine and try to smile. “You know what? I think I’m just going to go home.”
I GET OUT OF THE TAXI, hoist my suitcase onto the pavement, and look miserably up at the gray English sky. It’s really all over.
Until the very last minute, I had a secret, desperate hope that someone might change their mind and offer me a job. Or that Luke might beg me to stay. Every time the phone rang I felt jittery, hoping that somehow a miracle was about to happen. But nothing happened. Of course it didn’t.
When I said good-bye to Luke it was as though I were acting a part. I wanted to throw myself on him in tears, slap his face, something. But I just couldn’t. I had to salvage some kind of dignity, somewhere. So it was almost businesslike, the way I phoned the airline, packed up my stuff, and ordered a cab. I couldn’t bring myself to kiss him on the mouth when I left, so I gave him two brisk pecks on each cheek and then turned away before either of us could say anything.
Now, twelve hours later, I feel completely exhausted. I sat awake all through the overnight flight, stiff with misery and disappointment. Only a few days ago I was flying out, thinking I was about to start a fantastic new life in America, and instead, I’m back here with less than I even started with. And everyone, but everyone, knows it. A couple of girls at the airport obviously recognized me, and started whispering and giggling as I was waiting for my bags.
And oh God, I know I’d have been just the same if I’d been them. But right then, I felt so raw with humiliation, I nearly burst into tears.
I lug my bags dejectedly up the steps and let myself into the flat. And for a few moments I just stand there, looking around at the coats and old letters and keys in the bowl. Same old hall. Same old life. Back to square one. I catch sight of my haggard reflection in the mirror and quickly look away.