Home > I Owe You One(10)

I Owe You One(10)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

“They’re aspirational,” begins Jake. “They’re a different kind of product.” But Mum shakes her head.

“Our aspirational is a bottle of edible glitter. Not this.”

“Mum, don’t set your sights so low,” says Jake cajolingly. “People buy this kind of stuff! They really do. At Harrods—”

“Maybe they sell all sorts at Harrods,” Mum cuts him off calmly. “But put olive oil on our shelves for a hundred pounds and it won’t just not sell, it’ll upset people. It’ll offend them.”

Now she says it, I realize she’s right. I can see Vanessa striding through the shop, brandishing a bottle, saying, “You’re charging a hundred pounds for this? That’s daylight robbery!”


“No, Jake.” Mum interrupts him as crisply as she did when he was ten and using grown-up bad words. “Enough. My answer’s no. Your dad would have said the same.”

When Mum invokes Dad, that really is the end of the discussion. Jake shoots me a look, as though this is all my fault, but I don’t care. I just feel relieved. And foolish. How did I ever think that Jake would hoodwink Mum? She’s Mum. She runs the ship.

“I’ll go and finish my hair,” I say, and Mum looks up. She runs her eyes up and down me and I don’t know what she sees, but she suddenly gives me one of her special, warm, encouraging smiles.

Whenever Mum smiles, lines appear all over her face. They stretch like sunrays from her eyes; they score her cheeks and mark out her forehead in deep creases. Grief brought extra lines to her face. I saw it happen. And maybe some people think the lines are ugly, but I see love and life in every one of them.

“Why don’t you ask Nicole to do it with her special curler?” she says, and shoots Nicole a look.

“Oh,” says Nicole indifferently, looking up from her phone. “OK, fine, I’ll do it. Come upstairs.”

I know Mum wishes that Nicole and I were closer. She’d love us to be “there for each other,” like sisters in movies: hugging and confiding in each other and all that.

I mean, I try to be close to Nicole. I do. But it’s a bit like oil trying to be close to water. We just don’t take.

“And, Jake,” says Mum, as he reaches into the fridge for a beer, “before you have that, could you help me arrange these cupcakes? Mind you don’t mess up the icing, though.”

“Right,” says Jake, looking unenthusiastic as he puts down the beer, and I hide a smile. No one else could get Jake to put off drinking beer in order to arrange cupcakes. But then, no one else is Mum.


Nicole’s room is like an Instagram page come to life. Everywhere you look there’s a photo of her, or a poster with a saying on it, or some styled accessory. I linger by the black-and-white montage of her wedding pictures and yet again sigh inwardly at how effortlessly lovely she is. What is it like to wake up every morning and be Nicole?

In all the photos, Drew is gazing at Nicole as though he can’t believe his luck. He’s tall and nice-looking, with thick brown hair and a frank, open face—but he’s not in Nicole’s league, looks-wise. Even his mum would admit that. I turn to the shot that they sent out with their thank-you cards. They’re under a tree and Drew looks besotted, while Nicole looks …

Well. Affectionate. She definitely looks affectionate.

I’ve never really got a handle on Nicole’s relationship with Drew, but then, that’s Nicole. She doesn’t talk about stuff. She doesn’t confide in anyone, even Mum. If anyone confronts her or tries to dig deeper, she just slides away and changes the subject or looks blank.

She met Drew through a friend, and at first he was going to help her with a new digital lifestyle company. He used to come over and they’d get quite animated about it and we’d all make suggestions. Then Nicole went off the idea, but by that time they were going out together, and then, fairly soon, they were engaged. I think Mum was concerned it was too quick—but on the other hand, Drew seemed nice and stable and well meaning … and the wedding was amazing.

I turn away from the montage and look at some new cushions on the bed. They’ve all got embroidered slogans, like Love Yourself and Me Time and a big one which says, You can’t pour from an empty cup: Take care of yourself first.

Nicole is lighting a series of scented candles in glasses, and they’ve got slogans printed on them too: Love. Spirit. Compassion.

“I’m all about compassion right now,” says Nicole seriously, following my gaze. “Compassion feeds the soul. Compassion is what makes us human.”

I blink at Nicole, trying to hide my surprise. Compassion? I’ve never heard her talk like this before.

“I totally agree!” I say eagerly, as she reaches into a low drawer for her curling wand. “You know, I often think we could do more at the shop to help people. Like, have a senior citizens’ cooking group or something?”

Maybe we can be close sisters, after all, I’m thinking. Maybe we can start a joint community project and really bond.… But as Nicole sits back up again, she shoots me a blank look.

“It’s not about the shop,” she says pityingly. “You and Mum are obsessed by that stupid shop.”

That stupid shop? I feel a tweak of indignation. That stupid shop which is paying for the roof over her head? Which paid for her wedding?

I don’t say anything, though, because I’m trying to be positive and bonding.

“Compassion is about yourself,” Nicole continues wisely. “It’s about your journey. It’s about: What is your light and how do you make it shine?”

“Right,” I say, slightly baffled. “I was just thinking that some of our older customers might be a bit lonely.…”

Nicole isn’t even listening, I realize.

“Compassion is actually very much a Buddhist concept,” she informs me, plugging in the curling wand. “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. That’s a quote from Buddha. You should get into Buddhism, Fixie. It’s like …”

I wait for her to tell me what it’s like, then realize she’s finished.

“Maybe I will,” I say, nodding. “Absolutely.”

“My yoga teacher, Anita, says affirmations are crucial for me right now,” Nicole adds. “It’s important for me to boost my endorphins, because I’m pretty vulnerable, with Drew away.” She eyes me seriously. “I could spiral.”

“Right,” I say hastily. “Awful. Poor you.”

“Anita says I’ve got to prioritize myself,” Nicole carries on. “Take care of myself. You know? It’s always about other people, but sometimes you have to say, ‘Sod other people; it’s about me. I deserve it.’ Sit there.”

Nicole nods at a chair and I take a seat. She brushes out my hair, sprays it with something from a bottle, then starts winding it round the curling wand.

I notice a book on the dressing table called Your Animal Psychological Self, and Nicole follows my gaze as she creates a tightly curled ringlet.

“I’ve got into psychological profiles too,” she says. “I’m a Dragonfly. I’ll give you a questionnaire. You should, like, rearrange your whole life according to …” She trails off and stares critically at a second ringlet. “Your hair doesn’t really shine, does it?”

“No,” I admit. “It doesn’t.”

My hair is the same length as Nicole’s—shoulder-blade level. But while hers ripples and glows with a combination of highlights and natural brilliance, mine just hangs. Nicole blasts my head with more spray and pulls my hair so tight that tears come to my eyes.

“You know Ryan’s got a girlfriend?” she says. “Ariana. I mean, I don’t know what you’re expecting, Fixie, but—”

“Leila says they’ve split up,” I say, too quickly.

“Really?” Nicole makes a skeptical face and releases another ringlet. “I follow Ariana on Instagram. She’s amazing. She’s all about compassion too. Compassion through cuisine.”

“Right.” I try to sound more nonchalant. “Well, they’re over now, so—”

“Look, this is her.” To my dismay, Nicole thrusts her phone into my field of vision. “She’s so inspirational. I commented on her pomegranate salad once, and she replied to me.”

“Don’t!” I want to wail. “Don’t show me pictures of Ryan’s girlfriend, or ex-girlfriend, or whatever she is!” But that would sound insecure, so I keep my mouth shut. I know Nicole isn’t trying to torment me; she just doesn’t think about other people much. She’s scrolling through the photos now, presumably searching for her own comment. Short of closing my eyes, I can’t escape, so I gaze morosely at the blond Californian vision in front of me, doing yoga, cooking, and rollerblading in tiny shorts.

I’ve seen Ariana’s Instagram page before. Well, of course I have. I keep following her, then un-following her, then following her again. She probably thinks I’m a nutjob, if she’s ever noticed me, which she won’t have done because she has 26.6 thousand followers.

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