Home > Anybody Out There? (Walsh Family #4)(8)

Anybody Out There? (Walsh Family #4)(8)
Marian Keyes

It was my finest hour. Ariella got the account and I got the job.

4

Dinner chez Walsh was from the local Indian takeaway and I did well: half an onion bhaji, one prawn, one chunk of chicken, two okra fingers (and they’re quite big), approximately thirty-five grains of rice, followed by nine pills and two Rolos.

Mealtimes had become silent battles where Mum and Dad forced cheer into their voices, suggesting another forkful of rice, another chocolate, another vitamin-E capsule (excellent for preventing scarring, apparently). I did my best—I felt empty but never hungry—but whatever I ate, it wasn’t enough for them.

Exhausted by the madras-based tussle, I retreated to my room. Something was rising to the surface: I needed to talk to Aidan.

I spoke to him in my head a lot, but now I wanted more: I had to hear his voice. Why hadn’t this happened before now? Because I’d been injured and in shock? Or too subdued by the knockout painkillers?

I checked on Mum, Dad, and Helen, who were deeply ensconced in the kind of TV detective drama they’re hoping will be made out of their lives. They waved me in and began elaborate shifting along the couch to make room, but I said, “No, I’m fine, I’m just going to—”

“Grand! Good girl.”

I could have said anything—“I’m just going to set the house on fire,” “I’m just going round to Kilfeathers to have a three-in-a-bed romp with Angela and her girlfriend”—and I’d have got the same response. They were in a profoundly unreachable state, similar to a trance, and would remain that way for the next hour or so. I closed the door firmly, lifted the phone from the hall, and took it into my room.

I stared at the little piece of machinery: phones have always seemed magical to me, the way they pull off the unlikeliest, most geographically distant connections. I know there are perfectly good explanations of how it all works, but I’ve never stopped being amazed at the wondrousness of people on opposite sides of oceans being able to talk to each other.

My heart was banging hard in my chest and I was hopeful—excited, in fact. So where should I try him? Not at work because someone else might pick up. His cell phone was the best idea. I didn’t know what had happened to it, it might have been disconnected, but when I hit the number I’d called a thousand times, there was a click and then I heard his voice. Not his real voice, just his message, but it was enough to stop me breathing.

“Hi, this is Aidan. I can’t take your call right now, but leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

“Aidan,” I heard my voice say. I sounded quavery. “It’s me. Are you okay? Will you really get back to me as soon as you can? Please do.” What else? “I love you, baby, I hope you know that.”

I disconnected, feeling shaky, dizzy, elated; I’d heard his voice. But within seconds I’d crashed. Leaving messages on his cell phone wasn’t enough.

I could try e-mailing him. But that wouldn’t be enough either. I had to go back to New York and try to find him. There was a chance he mightn’t be there but I had to give it a go because there was one thing I was certain of: he wasn’t here.

Quietly I replaced the phone in the hall. If they found out what I’d been up to, there was no way in the whole wide world they’d let me leave.

5

How I met Aidan

The August before last, Candy Grrrl was preparing to launch a new skin-care line called Future Face (and the eye cream was called Future Eye, the lip cream Future Lip, and you get the picture…). Constantly on the quest for new and innovative ways to love-bomb beauty editors, I had a middle-of-the-night, lightbulb-over-the-head moment and thought I would buy each editor a “future” to tie in with the “future” theme of the launch. The obvious “future” to buy would be a personalized horoscope, but that had already been done for See Yourself in Ten Years’ Time, our time-defying serum, and had ended in tears when the assistant beauty editor of Britta got told that she’d lose her job and her pet dog would run away within the month. (Funnily enough, although the dog stayed put, the job bit actually did come true; she had a total career change and now works as a hostess at the Four Seasons.)

Instead, I decided to buy some of those investment things, called “futures.” I hadn’t the first clue about them except what I’d heard about people pulling down millions of dollars working on Wall Street. But I couldn’t get an appointment with a Wall Street futures analyst, even if I’d been prepared to pay a thousand dollars for every second of his time. I tried several and got stonewalled over and over. By then I was sorry I’d ever started, but I’d made the mistake of boasting about it to Lauryn, who’d liked the idea, so I was forced to work my way through less and less famous banks until finally I found a stockbroker in a midtown bank who agreed to see me and only then because I’d sent Nita, his assistant, tons of free stuff, with a promise of more if she could get me in.

So along I went, taking the rare opportunity to strip myself of as many kooky accoutrements as possible. Let me explain: all McArthur publicists have to take on the personality of the brand they represent. For example, the girls who worked for EarthSource were all a bit Hessian-ey and rough-woven, while the Bergdorf Baby team were Carolyn Bessette Kennedy clones, so etioliated, creamy-haired, and refined they were like another species. As Candy Grrrl’s profile was a little wild and wacky, a little kooky, I had to dress accordingly, but I was so over it, so quickly. Kookiness is a young woman’s game and I was thirty-one and burned out on matching pink with orange.

Thrilled to have the chance to dress soberly, I gloriously denuded my hair of all stupid barrettes and accessories and I was wearing a navy skirt suit (admittedly dotted with silver stars but it was the most conservative thing I had) and clopping along the eighteenth floor looking for Mr. Roger Coaster’s office, passing neatly dressed, efficient-looking people, and wishing I could wear severe tailored suits to work, when I rounded a corner and several things happened at once.

There was a man and we bumped into each other with such force that my bag tumbled from my grasp, sending all kinds of embarrassing things skittering across the floor (including the fake glasses I’d brought to look intelligent and my coin purse that says Change comes from within).

Quickly we bent down to retrieve stuff, simultaneously reached for the glasses, and bumped our heads with a medium-to-loud crack. We both exclaimed “Sorry!”; he made an attempt to rub my bruised forehead and in the process spilled scalding coffee on the back of my hand. Naturally I couldn’t shriek in agony because I was in a public place. The best I could do was shake my hand vigorously to make the pain go away, and while I was doing that and marveling that the coffee hadn’t done more damage, we realized that the front of my white shirt looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. “You know what?” the man said. “With a little work, we could get a real routine going here.”

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