Home > I Owe You One(13)

I Owe You One(13)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

“I’ll do it,” I say in a sudden gasp, and grab the broom from her. “We’ll need to wrap this glass up in paper.” I reach for an empty breadbasket and start picking up fragments with my fingertips.

“Oh, Fixie, you are brilliant,” says Nicole vaguely. “You always know how to do things.”

I was going to ask her to find some old newspaper, but she’s already started tapping at her phone, so I carry on with my task. I’m craning my head to spot the shards of glinting glass on the wood-effect floor and wrapping them in an old Radio Times, when I hear Tim’s voice booming above me, “Ryan’s back?”

I hadn’t realized Tim had arrived at the party, so I stand up and say, “Hi, Tim!” But Tim doesn’t seem to hear. He stares at me with his bullet eyes, his dark hair plastered across his forehead, then says, “So are you two an item again? You and Ryan?”

Trust bloody Tim to put me on the spot in front of everyone.

“No!” I say brightly. “I mean, not no, like, it’s totally unthinkable, but …”

“So you’re thinking about it?” supplies Tim.

“No!” I almost squeak.

“Yes, you are,” contradicts Nicole, looking up from her phone. “You were talking about it with Mum.”

Thanks a lot, Nicole, I think viciously. What I could really do with is for the conversation to move on, but Tim persists:

“How long were you two together for?”

“No time.” I try to laugh it off. “Ten days. Nothing. And I mean, he lives in L.A., so …”

“Yeah.” Tim nods slowly. “I mean, L.A. It’s a different standard, isn’t it? The women, I mean. They do things. To their lips, their boobs … plus they don’t age,” he adds, warming to his topic. “You’re a whole year older than when you last saw Ryan. In L.A. years, that’s what? A decade?”

“So I’m an old crone now?” I say. I’m trying to find this funny, but Tim has this way of pursuing a subject relentlessly, like a terrier, not noticing that you’re bleeding from the neck. Normally Hannah steps in tactfully, but I can’t see her. Where is she?

Then, as though in answer to my question, the doorbell rings and Hannah’s voice comes from the hall: “I’ll get it!” There’s a pause, then her voice comes again, like a clarion: “Oh wow, Ryan! Welcome back!”

I can feel eyes all around the room bouncing toward me with curiosity. In horror, I suddenly realize how I look, standing here with a broom in my hand and no chance to refresh my lip gloss even, and oh my God, here he is.

He’s in the doorway. His tan, sun-bleached wavy hair, and cool frayed T-shirt are like nothing else in this room. As he walks up to me, a hush falls over the party. As for me, I can’t even breathe. I’m desperately thinking: Stay cool, Fixie; do NOT get any hopes up.…

But, God, he’s beautiful. He glows.

“Hi, Fixie,” he says, his California blues locking on to mine, a lazy smile slowly spreading. “I’ve missed you.”

As everyone watches in silence, he unclips my hair with a sexy gesture, letting it fall around my shoulders.

“No, don’t!” I want to cry out, but it’s too late. As my hair drops down, half curled, half straight, Ryan blinks at it, startled—and no wonder. I can see my reflection in the mirror, and I look totally weird.

My face flames, and behind me someone stifles a snort of laughter. Great. I’ve been waiting a whole year to see Ryan and this is how I greet him. With freaky hair.

But before I can even draw breath to explain, Ryan lifts both hands to cup my face. He looks at me for a few silent seconds, then kisses me, hard. As though he doesn’t care about the hair; as though he isn’t interested in anyone else. Through a kind of humming in my ears, I hear Nicole exclaim, “Oh!” and Tim saying, “Bloody hell!”

At last we draw apart. I’m aware that the whole room is watching us, and I muster every fiber in my body to address him nonchalantly.

“Welcome back, Ryan. So how long is it for this time? A day?”

Ryan surveys me silently for a moment, his mouth twitching as though with some little joke. Then he says, “Actually, I’m back.”

“I can see that.” I match his light, bantering tone.

“No, I’m back.” His eyes flick around the room again, aware of our audience. “I’m done with L.A. Finished with it. Back for good.”


I stare at him, blood thundering through my head. My brain can’t quite process his words. Or believe them. For good? He’s back here for good? Desperately I try to find a cool, witty reply, but my mouth won’t work properly.

“I’d better get you a drink, then,” I manage at last, and Ryan’s eyes crinkle as though he knows exactly how stunned I am.

“Yeah,” he says, and kisses my hand. “You better had.”

I head to the drinks table, trying to gather myself. I never dreamed he’d come back to the UK for good. I never even contemplated it.

And as I grab a beer out of the ice bucket, a giddy joy starts to infuse me. Miracles don’t come true; I know they don’t. But just this once—this magical one-off time—one did.


The party goes on, as it does every year. I know I should be helping Mum with the profiteroles. I know I should be clearing plates. But for once in my life I’m thinking: Let Nicole do it. Let Jake do it. Let anyone else do it. Because Ryan wants to talk to me, and that sweeps everything else away.

We’re alone in the tiny back room overlooking the garden. It’s stuffed with furniture that we moved out of the sitting room for the party—we’re sitting on the floor awkwardly between two sofas—but I don’t think either of us cares. We’re transfixed, in our own private bubble. Ryan has been talking for about an hour and I’ve been listening in a state of shock, because he’s not saying anything I expected.

Every other time Ryan has come home, all we’ve heard about L.A. is the glamour. The excitement. The celebrities. But now he’s telling me real stuff. Painful stuff. He doesn’t look like old Ryan; he looks battered. World-weary. Kind of like he’s had it.

And the more he talks, the more I realize what he’s telling me is: He has had it. He’s done with L.A. I have no idea how he can have sunk so quickly from “My best friend is Tom Cruise” to this place, but the way he’s talking now, he never wants to see L.A. again.

“Everyone there is two-faced,” he keeps saying. “Every single bastard.”

I haven’t quite followed his tale of woe—there are two people in it called Aaron, which doesn’t help—but what I’ve picked up is that he went into business with a couple of guys, but nobody did what they’d promised to, and now he’s out of money.

“You burn through the stuff,” he says bleakly. “Everyone wants to discuss work over Japanese food or on a boat. The one-upmanship. It’s insane.”

“But when you say, ‘out of money,’ ” I venture, tentatively, “you don’t mean …”

“I’m out, Fixie.” He spreads his hands. “Broke. Nowhere to live, even.”

“Shit,” I breathe out.

There’s a nasty feeling in my stomach. How can Ryan Chalker be broke? I’m remembering him and Jake, aged seventeen, riding around in that convertible. He had money. He had it. How can you just lose it all?

“So, what will you … where …”

“I’m staying with Jake right now. Your brother’s great. But then …” He shakes his head and his blond waves glimmer in the evening sun. “It’s hard. When you had a dream and you tried your utmost best and it didn’t work out.”

“I know,” I say fervently. “I know exactly what you mean.”

Hearing all this is bringing back painful stabbings in my heart. I’m remembering my pile of dark-green aprons under the bed. I’m remembering the drenching mortification of failure.

“I’ve had exactly the same experience,” I say, staring at the carpet. “You know I started that catering business? I did a load of work for this married couple called the Smithsons. They had a PR agency and they threw all these dinners for their clients, but they never paid me, and suddenly I was in debt and it was …” I try to compose myself. “I’d bought top-class organic filet steak, and I’d paid my staff, and they’d eaten it all, but I never got any money out of them.…”

Despite my best efforts, my voice is wobbling. I don’t often talk about the Smithsons, because it makes me feel like such a fool. Even worse, it makes me feel ashamed, because I didn’t listen to Mum. She knows about small businesses, she knows the risks, and she tried to warn me. She tried to ask me practical questions about invoicing and cash flow. But I so desperately wanted everything to be great that I glossed over the answers.

I’ll never make that mistake again. I’ll never gloss; I’ll never cross my fingers and hope; I’ll never do business based on sweet talk and promises and handshakes. If anything good came out of the whole thing, it’s that I learned. I became more savvy.

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