Home > I Owe You One(14)

I Owe You One(14)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

“There were other issues too.” I exhale. “It was a bad financial climate. I pitched too high-end. It was harder to crack the market than I realized. But the Smithsons didn’t help.”

“Didn’t you sue?” says Ryan, looking interested. “Could you get some money out of them now?”

I shake my head. “They went bankrupt.”

It was like the last toxic ace up their sleeve. After they’d ignored all my invoices, all my emails, even my visits in person to their office, they filed for bankruptcy. I’m in a list of creditors on a computer somewhere. And I couldn’t afford to carry on. I couldn’t get any more credit and I definitely wasn’t turning to Mum again. Farr’s Food was over.

That’s when I made the decision to channel all my energies into the shop instead. Because I do love it and it’s our family legacy and it plays to my strengths. I even sometimes use my chef training when I advise customers on cooking products. And if I ever think wistfully about my catering dreams, then I remind myself: I had my chance.

“No one understands except people who have been through it,” I say. “No one.”

“Exactly.” Ryan’s eyes burn intently into mine. “They don’t get it. Fixie, you’re like the only person who understands properly.”

My heart swoops inside—I’m the only person who understands Ryan?–but somehow I manage not to melt.

“I broke up with my girlfriend,” he adds abruptly. “You find out about people.” He rubs his face, as though trying to rid himself of memories. “I tried so hard. I wanted to talk it through.… But girls like that, they’re shallow. It’s not about who you are as a person; it’s about what can you do for them? How much can you spend on them? How can you help their career? As soon as she realized I was in trouble”—he clicks his fingers—“it was over.”

“She sounds awful!” I say hotly, and he shoots me a grateful half smile.

“So … what now?” I ask. “What are you going to do?”

“God knows. But it’s got to be something different, you know?” says Ryan emphatically. “No more fucking smoke and mirrors. Real people. Real work. Roll up my sleeves and get on with it.”

“You could do anything!” I say. “The experience you’ve had … it’s amazing!”

Ryan shrugs. “Well, I know my shit, let’s say that.”

“So you just have to choose what to do,” I offer encouragingly. “Find a new line of work. I mean, I suppose you might need to go down a few rungs on the ladder to begin with …”

“Of course.” Ryan smiles wryly. “I can’t expect to go in at CEO level.” He gazes into the distance for a few moments, then adds in a low voice, “If I’ve learned one thing from all this, Fixie, it’s how to be humble.”

I feel yet another huge wash of affection for him. He’s the same as me. Chastened and pounded by experience … but not beaten. Never beaten.

“Good for you,” I say in heartfelt tones. “It’s really brave, to start again. I know exactly how you feel.”

I sip my drink, trying to think of career options for Ryan and surreptitiously checking out his pumped-up shoulders. If he looked good last year, he looks phenomenal this year. His arms are huge and muscled. His skin is smooth. He looks like an advert for healthy L.A. living.

“So what next?” I venture. “And is there anything I can do to help?”

“Just talking to you helps.” Ryan raises his blue eyes to mine, and my stomach squeezes a little. “I guess my next move is, contact some headhunters.”

“Headhunters!” I seize on the word. “Of course. Oh my God, they’ll love you. I mean, you’ve dealt with huge Hollywood companies. You could do anything! They’d be lucky to have you!”

“Oh, Fixie.” Ryan surveys me, his eyes crinkling up in a wry smile. “You make a guy feel good, you know that?”

“Well,” I say breathlessly. “It’s just what I think.”

I’m half-hoping Ryan will lean forward and kiss me, but he doesn’t; he stands up and turns toward the dresser laden with trophies. We hardly ever use this room, so I’ve got used to the trophies being ignored. Disregarded by everyone except Mum. But now Ryan’s studying each one with fascination.

“I’d forgotten about your ice-skating,” he says. “That must have been a big dream for you too. What happened there?”

“Oh, that.” I feel a familiar painful twinge. “God. Whatever. Didn’t work out.” I get to my feet too, and reluctantly follow his gaze.

“But, look! You were good. I never knew why you gave up.” He’s picked up a framed photo of me in an aquamarine skating dress, aged thirteen, one leg held above my head as I glide across the ice.

“Oh, just lost interest, I suppose,” I say with a feeble smile, and look away.

Seeing that photo brings back a rush of bad feelings, because that was the day it all changed. I’d practiced my junior free program for months. The whole family had come to watch, to cheer me on.

If I close my eyes, I’m back at the rink again, the place that felt like home for so many years. I can recall the crisp chilled air. The silky finish of my outfit. And Jake, in a filthy mood, standing mutinously as Mum fussed around me and took photos. He was angry because Mum had found him secretly drinking in his room and stopped his allowance. And he took it out on me. When he came over to me, I thought he was going to say, “Good luck.” I was totally unprepared for what happened.

“How many hours?” he said into my ear. “How many fucking hours have I sat and watched you slide around? Mum’s obsessed, Dad goes along with it, but what about me and Nicole? You’ve ruined our lives, you know that?”

And before I could even draw breath, he walked off, leaving me trembling in shock.

I could blame him for my fall that day. I could say he put me off. And there would be some truth in it. As I skated out onto the ice, my legs were quivering. I’d never, not once, seen my skating as anything but positive. I’d always thought Jake and Nicole were proud of me. Just like Mum always told me they were.

But now Jake’s point of view was all I could see. Mum’s attention sucked up. Money spent on lessons and costumes. All the spotlight focused on me. It was all painfully clear. So I was off my game, not concentrating, and I fell. Badly.

Afterward, everyone told me not to worry—never mind, you nailed the jump in practice, and you’ll nail it again next time. My heart wasn’t in it, though. I gave up skating completely within three months, despite my coach, Jimmy, trying to talk me back into it.

I can’t only blame Jake. It was me. My personality. The best skaters are natural performers. They see the audience and blossom. They wouldn’t care if their brother was jealous—it’d spur them on. They’d approach their jumps thinking, Fuck you! and reach even greater heights. After Jake landed his bombshell on me, I approached every jump thinking, I’m sorry.

The trouble is, I’m sorry doesn’t power anything. It drags you down. By the end, I could barely get my feet off the ice.

“Do you still skate?” asks Ryan, and I flinch before I can stop myself.

“No,” I say flatly, then realize I sound too abrupt. “I went back to it in my year off,” I amend. “I didn’t compete or anything; I qualified as a skating coach and taught beginners.”

“I expect you’re sick of ice rinks.” He laughs.

“Yes,” I agree, although it isn’t true. I still love ice rinks. I go to Somerset House every year when they put on the skating. I watch all the people swishing round the ice—or falling, most of them—and I love the sight. I just don’t need to join in.

I take the photo from Ryan’s hand and cast around for a new subject—but before I can think of one, Jake strides in, holding a beer. “Here you are!” he says, almost accusingly.

“Have you been helping out Mum?” I ask, but Jake ignores me. He sees the photo in my hand and rolls his eyes.

“Showing off your past glories, Fixie? You should have seen her fall on her bum,” he adds to Ryan with a bark of laughter. “Classic. Wish I’d recorded it.”

“I don’t believe it,” says Ryan, twinkling at me. “I bet you never fell on your bum.”

Silently, I put the photo back on the dresser. I’ve never mentioned that day to Jake. We’ve never revisited that conversation. Does he even know what an impact he had on me?

Anyway. You move on.

“Hey!” I say, as a new idea seizes me. “Ryan, you could work at the shop with us for a bit. Learn the retail trade. We could teach you everything! And then you could move on to something, you know, bigger.”

I’m trying to sound as though this is simply a reasonable career suggestion, although my heart has seized up in delirious hope. It’s the perfect solution! I’d see him every day … he’d feel like part of the family …

“Ah, I’m not sure about that.” Ryan wrinkles his suntanned nose. “Might be awkward, working for you guys. Jake, mate, didn’t you bring me a beer?”

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