Home > Most Popular > I Owe You One: A Novel

I Owe You One: A Novel
Author:Sophie Kinsella

“It’s like … a ten percent hope,” I say at last, watching a traffic warden on the prowl. “It’s harmless.”

“It’s not harmless,” Hannah contradicts me with energy. “It means you don’t even look at any other men. There are nice men out there, you know, Fixie. Good men.”

I know why she’s saying that. It’s because she tried to set me up with this actuary mate of hers last month, and I wasn’t into him. I mean, he was nice. He was just so earnest.

“I get it,” Hannah continues. “Ryan’s good-looking and glamorous and whatever. But are you going to give up on finding a proper guy just for ten minutes with Mr. Hollywood?”

“No, of course not,” I say after a pause, even though the phrase ten minutes with Mr. Hollywood has instantly flashed me back to Ryan and me in bed last year, and just the memory is making me damp behind the knees.

“I think you need to draw a line and move on,” says Hannah. I imagine her at her desk, briskly drawing a line under a column of numbers with a ruler and then turning the page, no problem.

But then, Hannah was always immune to Ryan’s charms. In the sixth form she dated all the guys in the A-level physics set, one by one, and ended up with Tim, the second-cleverest one. (She was the cleverest.) They were together all through sixth form, broke up, went to uni and dated other people, then got back together again and married. His kissing has improved a lot since that first date, apparently. They both have good jobs and they’re trying for a baby and they’re basically sorted.

“So what am I supposed to do?” I say, a bit snippily, because I know she has a point and I resent it, even though I love her for caring enough to call me up and lecture me. “What if he’s there tonight, and—”

I break off. I don’t want to say it out loud, because I’ll jinx it.

“You mean, what if he’s all hot and sexy and wants to carry on where you left off last year?”

“I guess.”

“Well.” Hannah is silent for a few moments. “Here’s the thing: Can you sleep with him and not get upset when he goes back to L.A.? Be honest.”

“Yes,” I say robustly. “Of course. Sex is just sex.”

“No, it’s not!” says Hannah with an incredulous laugh. “Not for you. Not with Ryan. He’ll mess you up somehow, I know it. You’ll end up weeping on my shoulder.”

“Well, maybe I don’t care,” I say defiantly.

“You’re saying the sex is so good, it’s worth it even if you do end up weeping on my shoulder?” says Hannah, who always likes to analyze everything into equations.

“Pretty much.” I have a sudden memory of Ryan’s L.A.-tanned body entwined with mine. “Yes.”

“Fine,” says Hannah, and I can hear the rueful eye roll in her voice. “Well, I’ll buy the tissues.”

“He might not even come,” I point out. “This whole conversation might have been for nothing.”

“Well, I’ll see you later,” says Hannah. “With or without Ryan.”

I ring off and stare morosely out of the window. Now I’ve said it, I realize of course that’s the most likely scenario. Ryan must have a million more-glamorous events to be at tonight than Mum’s party. He won’t turn up at all. I’ll have bought all these hair clips for nothing.

“Hi, Briony.” The guy across the table is answering his phone, and I glance round. “Oh, you’ve spoken to Tanya. Right. So— No, that’s not what—” He seems to be trying to get a word in. “Listen, Briony—” He breaks off, looking beleaguered. “Sweetheart, I’m not trying to ruin— No, we did not agree anything.”

Ha. Well, at least it’s not just me with the messed-up love life.

“Is that what you think!” he’s exclaiming now. “Can I remind you that this is my flat, for me to—” He lifts his eyes and suddenly seems to become aware that I’m listening. I quickly look away, but even so, he gets to his feet.

“Excuse me,” he says politely to me. “I’m just stepping out to take a phone call. Could you watch my laptop?”

“Sure.” I nod and watch him threading his way between the tables, already back on the phone, saying, “I never promised anything! It was your idea—”

I sip my mint tea and glance at the laptop a couple of times. It’s a MacBook. He’s left it closed, with a stack of glossy folders next to it. I tilt my head slightly and read the top one. ESIM: Forward-Looking Investment Opportunities. I’ve never heard of ESIM—not really my thing—but then, investment funds aren’t really my thing either.

People who invest money in funds and shares and all that are like a foreign country to me. In the Farr family there are three things you do with money. You spend it, you put it back into the business, or you start another business. You don’t trust a guy in a suit and a posh tie with a glossy folder that probably cost a tenner to produce.

There’s nothing else interesting about the guy’s laptop, so I sip my drink and run my mind over my outfit options for tonight. And I’m just wondering where my blue lace top has got to, when something in my mind tweaks. Alarm bells have started to ring. Something’s wrong.

Something’s happening.

Or something’s about to happen.

My brain can’t even articulate what it is properly, but my sixth sense is kicking in. I have to act. Now.

Quick, Fixie. Go.

Before I’ve even thought clearly what’s happening, I’m diving across the table, like a rugby champion scoring a try, cradling the guy’s laptop. And, a split second later, a whole section of the ceiling crashes down on top of me, in a gush of plaster and water.


“Oh my God!”


“Is it an attack?”

“Help that girl!”

The screams around me are a din in my head. I can feel someone pulling at me, saying, “Get away from there!” But I’m so worried about the laptop getting wet that I won’t move from my rigid protective position until I feel paper towels being thrust at me. The water has finally stopped cascading, but plaster is still falling in bits from above, and as I raise my head at last, I see a freaked-out audience of customers watching me.

“I thought you were dead!” says a teenage girl so tearfully I can’t help laughing—and this seems to set off everyone else:

“I saw that water dripping! I knew this would happen.”

“You could have been killed, innit!”

“You need to sue. That’s not right, ceilings falling down.”

A moment ago we were all strangers in a coffee shop, studiously ignoring each other. Now it’s as though we’re best friends. An elderly guy holds out his hand and says, “I’ll hold your computer while you get dry, dear.” But I don’t want to give it up, so I awkwardly mop myself with one hand, thinking, Of all the days, of all the days …

“What the hell?”

It’s the guy. He’s come back into the coffee shop, and he’s staring at me, his mouth open. Gradually the excited comments die down and the coffee shop falls silent. Everyone’s watching the pair of us expectantly.

“Oh, hi,” I say, speaking for the first time since I was drenched. “Here’s your laptop. I hope it isn’t wet.”

I hold it out—it isn’t wet at all—and the guy steps forward to take it. He’s looking from me to the ravaged ceiling to the puddles of water and plaster, with increasing disbelief. “What happened?”

“There was a slight ceiling incident,” I say, trying to downplay it. But like a Greek chorus, all the other customers eagerly start filling him in.

“The ceiling fell in.”

“She dived across the table. Like lightning!”

“She saved your computer. No question. It would have been ruined.”

“Ladies and gentlemen.” A barista raps on the counter to gain our attention. “Apologies. Due to a health-and-safety incident, we are closing the coffee shop. Please come to the counter for a takeaway cup and complimentary cookie.”

There’s a surge toward the counter and the most senior-looking barista of them all comes up to me, her brow crumpled.

“Madam, we would like to apologize for your discomfort,” she says. “We would like to present you with this fifty-pound voucher and hope that you will not …” She clears her throat. “We will be glad to pay for the dry-cleaning of your clothes.”

She’s looking at me beseechingly and I suddenly realize what she’s driving at.

“Don’t worry,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I’m not going to sue. But I wouldn’t mind another mint tea.”

The barista visibly relaxes and hurries off to make it. Meanwhile, the guy in the suit has been scrolling through his laptop. Now he looks up at me with a stricken expression. “I don’t know how to thank you. You’ve saved my life.”

“Not your life.”

“OK, you’ve saved my bacon. It’s not just the computer—that would have been bad enough. But the stuff on the computer. Stuff I should have backed up.” He closes his eyes briefly, shaking his head as though in disbelief. “What a lesson.”

previous 1.. 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 ..72 next