Home > I Owe You One(3)

I Owe You One(3)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

I give him a furious eye roll, which means: Why have you still got bouncy balls in your pockets? Greg immediately shoots back an urgent eye roll of his own, which clearly means: There’s a good reason, believe me.

I don’t believe him for a moment. Greg acts in good faith, no one doubts that, but his logic is random and unnerving. He’s like a computer on its last legs that works perfectly until it suddenly decides to email your whole in-box to Venezuela.

“Would you like to have a taste?”

I abruptly realize Clive’s spiel is over and he’s proffering bread cubes and oil.

As I dip and taste, I’m thinking: Typical Jake, setting up this meeting on the one day that Mum isn’t in the shop. What does he think, that he can get this past her beady eye? That she won’t notice? Mum notices everything. Every sale, every refund, every email. Everything.

Suddenly I notice that the two posh guys keep shooting surreptitious glances at Greg’s bulging groin area. I mean, I don’t blame them. It’s a pretty disturbing sight.

“Excuse Greg’s strange-looking appearance,” I say with a relaxed laugh. “He doesn’t normally look like that! It’s just that he—”

“Hormone disorder,” Greg cuts me off with an impassive nod, and I nearly choke on my bread. Why … What does he even mean by … Hormone disorder? “Nasty,” Greg adds meaningfully.

I’m used to Greg’s idiosyncrasies, but sometimes he silences even me.

“Funny story,” Greg adds, encouraged by the attention. “My brother was born with only half a pancreas. And my mum, she’s got this manky kidney—”

“Thanks, Greg!” I interrupt desperately. “Thanks for … Thanks.”

The two smart guys look even more appalled, and Greg shoots me a self-satisfied look which I know means, “Saved things there, didn’t I?”

For about the hundredth time I wonder if we could send Greg on a course. A course on Not Being Greg.

“Anyway!” I say as Greg heads off. “These olive oils are amazing.” I’m not just being polite; it’s true. They’re rich and aromatic and delicious, especially the dark-green peppery one. “How much would they retail for?”

“The prices are all laid out here,” says Simon, handing me a printed document. I scan the figures—and nearly fall over flat. Usually I’m pretty cool in situations like this, but I hear myself gasping, “Ninety-five pounds?”

“Obviously this is very much a luxury, high-end product,” says Clive smoothly. “As we explained, it’s a very special estate, and the process is unique—”

“But no one’s going to spend ninety-five quid on a bottle of oil!” I almost want to laugh. “Not in this shop. Sorry.”

“But when you open in Notting Hill?” chimes in Simon. “Very different market. We think ‘The Notting Hill Family Deli’ is a great name, by the way.”

I try to hide my shock. The what? Our shop is called Farrs. It was named Farrs by our dad, whose name was Michael Farr, and it’s never going to be called anything else.

“This is the olive oil we stock.” Greg’s voice takes us all by surprise, and he places a bottle of oil on the table. “Costs £5.99.” His prominent gray eyes survey the two posh guys. “Just saying.”

“Yes,” says Simon, after a pause. “Well, of course, that’s a rather different product from ours. Not to be rude, but if you both have a taste, you’ll notice the difference in quality of the cheaper oil. May I?”

I notice how skillfully he’s drawn Greg into the conversation. Now he’s pouring out our £5.99 oil and dipping cubes of bread into it. As I taste, I can see what he means. Our oil tastes thinner in comparison.

But you have to know your customers. You have to know their limits. I’m about to tell Simon that our customers are a practical, pragmatic lot and there’s not a chance in hell they’ll spend ninety-five quid on oil, when the door opens and I turn to see Jake striding in.

He’s an impressive sight. Always is. He’s got Dad’s firm jaw and Dad’s twinkling eyes and he’s dressed in really nice clothes. Posh estate-agent clothes. Navy blazer, tie, shiny expensive shoes. Cuff links.

And at the very sight of him, I feel a rush of familiar feelings attacking me, like flapping ravens. Inadequate. Guilty. Inferior. Rubbish.

This is nothing new. My big brother always brings these feelings out in me, and why shouldn’t he? If I believe in anything as much as family first, it’s be fair. I’m always fair and truthful, however painful it is.

And the painful truth is that Jake is the success and I’m the failure. He’s the one who started an import-export business without a penny from anyone else. He’s the one who made a mint on some brand of nude seamless knickers that he sold to a discount store. He’s the one who has the flash car and the business cards and the (nearly) MBA.

I’m the one who took a loan from Mum (“our inheritance,” Jake always calls it) and tried to set up a catering business and failed. And who still hasn’t paid the money back.

I’m not the black sheep of the family. That would be glamorous and interesting. I’m just the stupid dumb sheep who still has a stash of dark-green aprons under the bed, all embroidered with my logo: Farr’s Food. (I sold everything else, but I couldn’t get rid of those.) And whenever I’m around Jake, I feel even more stupid and dumb. Like, literally dumb. Because I barely ever open my mouth, and when I do, I start to stammer.

I have opinions; I have ideas. I really do. When I’m managing the store alone—or alongside Mum—I can tell people what to do. I can assert myself. But around Jake, and even sometimes Nicole, I think twice before I venture my thoughts. Because the unsaid message hanging in the air is: “Well, what would you know? Your business went bust.”

The only one who makes me feel like none of it matters and I’m still worth something is Mum. If it weren’t for her, I don’t know how I’d have coped.

“Guys!” Jake greets the visitors. “You’re here already! Ciao.”

Ciao. This is how he talks with them. We grew up in the same family, but I can’t imagine ever being the type of person who says ciao.

“Jake!” Clive claps him on the back. “My man.”

“Call this Notting Hill?” joshes Simon, shaking Jake’s hand. “This is bloody Acton!”

“It’s just the start of the empire,” says Jake, with a broad grin—then he darts me the tiniest of looks, which I can read completely. It means, “I’m assuming you haven’t dumped me in it?”

I shoot back a corresponding look, which says, “The Notting Hill Family Deli?” But now he’s blanking me.

Jake often blanks me when he’s with his smart friends. He’s probably worried I’ll expose some of the fibs I’ve heard him tell. I’d never do that—family first—but I do notice when he’s fudging the truth about things. Like where he went to school (he calls himself a “grammar school boy,” but it was a comp). And references to our “little place in the country.” I have no idea which “little place” that would be—maybe the old privy at the end of Mum’s garden?

“So these are the famous oils!” Jake exclaims. “Fantastico!”

“You have to come and see the estate, Jake,” says Simon enthusiastically. “Absolutely stunning.”

“Love to,” Jake drawls. “I adore that part of the world.”

I don’t remember Jake ever going to Italy in his life, although obviously I’m not going to point this out.

“You know it costs ninety-five quid a bottle?” I say tentatively to Jake. “I don’t think our customers can afford that, can they?”

I see Jake flinch in irritation and I know why. He doesn’t want to be reminded of our practical, price-conscious customers. He wants nonexistent millionaire customers.

“But if you’re going high end, this is where the market is.” Clive taps the bottle. “The taste is phenomenal, I’m sure Fixie will agree?”

“It’s great,” I say. “It’s delicious. I’m just … you know. Will our customers appreciate it?”

Sure enough, my voice has started shaking. I’m asking questions instead of making statements. Jake’s presence has that effect on me. And I hate myself for it, because it makes me sound uncertain, when I’m not—I’m not.

“They’ll learn to appreciate it.” Jake brushes me off. “We’ll have tasting evenings, that kind of thing …” He addresses Clive and Simon. “We’ll definitely make an order, guys, it’s just a question of how much.”

I feel a shaft of panic. We can’t make an order on the spot, especially in Mum’s absence.

“Jake, maybe we should talk about this first?” I venture.

“Nothing to talk about,” he shoots back, his eyes clearly telling me: “Shut up.”

Oh God. Even though the ravens are batting their wings in my face, I have to persevere. For Mum.

“I just …” My voice is wavering again and I clear my throat. “Our customers come here for sensible, value-for-money products. They don’t buy luxury food items.”

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