Can You Keep
A Secret?

   Sophie Kinsella
   To H, from whom I have no secrets. Well, not many, anyway.
   A big thank you to Mark Hedley, Jenny Bond, Rosie Andrews and Olivia Heywood for all
   their generous advice. And hugest gratitude as always to Linda Evans, Patrick Plonkington-
   Smythe, Araminta Whitley and Celia Hayley, my boys and the board.


   Of course I have secrets.
   Of course I do. Everyone has a secret. It's completely normal. I'm sure I don't have any more
   than anybody else.
   I'm not talking about big, earth-shattering secrets. Not the-president-is-planning-to-bomb-
   Japan-and-only-Will-Smith-can-save-the-world type secrets. Just normal, everyday little
   Like for example, here are a few random secrets of mine, off the top of my head:
   1. My Kate Spade bag is a fake.
   2. I love sweet sherry, the least cool drink in the universe.
   3. I have no idea what NATO stands for. Or even what it is.
   4. I weigh 9 stone 3. Not 8 stone 3, like my boyfriend Connor thinks. (Although in my
   defence, I was planning to go on a diet when I told him that. And to be fair, it is only one
   number different.)
   5. I've always thought Connor looks a bit like Ken. As in Barbie and Ken.
   6. Sometimes, when we're right in the middle of passionate sex, I suddenly want to laugh.
   7. I lost my virginity in the spare bedroom with Danny Nussbaum, while Mum and Dad were
   downstairs watching Ben Hur.
   8. I've already drunk the wine that Dad told me to lay down for twenty years.
   9. Sammy the goldfish at home isn't the same goldfish that Mum and Dad gave me to look
   after when they went to Egypt.
   10. When my colleague Artemis really annoys me, I feed her plant orange juice. (Which is
   pretty much every day.)
   11. I once had this weird lesbian dream about my flatmate Lissy.
   12. My G-string is hurting me.
   13. I've always had this deep down conviction that I'm not like everybody else, and there's an
   amazingly exciting new life waiting for me just around the corner.
   14. I have no idea what this guy in the grey suit is going on about.
   15. Plus I've already forgotten his name.
   And I only met him ten minutes ago.
   'We believe in logistical formative alliances,' he's saying in a nasal, droning voice, 'both above
   and below the line.'
   'Absolutely!' I reply brightly, as though to say: Doesn't everybody?
   Logistical. What does that mean, again?
   Oh God. What if they ask me?
   Don't be stupid, Emma. They won't suddenly demand, 'What does logistical mean?' I'm a
   fellow marketing professional, aren't I? Obviously I know these things.
   And anyway, if they mention it again I'll change the subject. Or I'll say I'm post-logistical or
   The important thing is to keep confident and businesslike. I can do this. This is my big chance
   and I'm not going to screw it up.
   I'm sitting in the offices of Glen Oil's headquarters in Glasgow, and as I glance at my
   reflection in the window, I look just like a top businesswoman. My hair is straightened, I'm
   wearing discreet earrings like they tell you to in How-to-win-that-job articles, and I've got on
   my smart new Jigsaw suit. (At least, it's practically new. I got it from the Cancer Research
   shop and sewed on a button to replace the missing one, and you can hardly tell.)
   I'm here representing the Panther Corporation, which is where I work. The meeting is to
   finalize a promotional arrangement between the new cranberry-flavoured Panther Prime
   sports drink and Glen Oil, and I flew up this morning from London, especially. (The company
   paid, and everything!)
   When I arrived, the Glen Oil marketing guys started on this long, show-offy 'who's-travelledthe-
   most?' conversation about airmiles and the red-eye to Washington — and I think I bluffed
   pretty convincingly. (Except when I said I'd flown Concorde to Ottawa, and it turns out
   Concorde doesn't go to Ottawa.) But the truth is, this is the first time I've ever had to travel for
   a deal.
   OK. The real truth is, this is the first deal I've ever done, full stop. I've been at the Panther
   Corporation for eleven months as a marketing assistant, and until now all I've been allowed to
   do is type out copy, arrange meetings for other people, get the sandwiches and pick up my
   boss's dry-cleaning.
   So this is kind of my big break. And I've got this secret little hope that if I do this well, maybe
   I'll get promoted. The ad for my job said 'possibility of promotion after a year', and on
   Monday I'm having my yearly appraisal meeting with my boss, Paul. I looked up 'Appraisals'
   in the staff induction book, and it said they are 'an ideal opportunity to discuss possibilities for
   career advancement'.
   Career advancement! At the thought, I feel a familiar stab of longing in my chest. It would
   just show Dad I'm not a complete loser. And Mum. And Kerry. If I could go home and
   casually say, 'By the way, I've been promoted to Marketing Executive.'
   Emma Corrigan, Marketing Executive.
   Emma Corrigan, Senior Vice-President (Marketing.)
   As long as everything goes well today. Paul said the deal was done and dusted and all I had to
   do was nod and shake their hands, and even I should be able to manage that. And so far, I
   reckon it's going really well.
   OK, so I don't understand about 90 per cent of what they're saying. But then I didn't
   understand much of my GCSE French Oral either, and I still got a B.
   'Rebranding… analysis… cost-effective…'
   The man in the grey suit is still droning on about something or other. As casually as possible,
   I extend my hand and inch his business card towards me so I can read it.
   Doug Hamilton. That's right. OK, I can remember this. Doug. Dug. Easy. I'll picture a shovel.
   Together with a ham. Which… which looks ill … and…
   OK, forget this. I'll just write it down.
   I write down 'rebranding' and 'Doug Hamilton' on my notepad and give an awkward little
   wriggle. God, my knickers really are uncomfortable. I mean, G-strings are never that
   comfortable at the best of times, in my opinion, but these are particularly bad. Which could be
   because they're two sizes too small.
   Which could possibly be because Connor bought them for me, and told the lingerie assistant I
   weighed eight stone three. Whereupon she told him I must be size eight. Size eight!
   (Frankly, I think she was just being mean. She must have known I was fibbing.)
   So it's Christmas Eve, and we're exchanging presents, and I unwrap this pair of gorgeous pale
   pink silk knickers. Size eight. And I basically have two options.
   A: Confess the truth: 'Actually these are too small, I'm more of a 12, and by the way, I don't
   really weigh eight stone three.' Or…
   B: Shoe-horn myself into them.
   Actually, it was fine. You could hardly see the red lines on my skin afterwards. And all it
   meant was that I had to quickly cut all the labels out of my clothes so Connor would never
   Since then, I've hardly ever worn this particular set of underwear, needless to say. But every
   so often I see them looking all nice and expensive in the drawer and think, Oh come on, they
   can't be that tight, and somehow squeeze into them. Which is what I did this morning. I even
   decided I must have lost weight, because they didn't feel too bad.
   I am such a deluded moron.
   '… unfortunately since rebranding… major rethink… feel we need to be considering
   alternative synergies…'
   Up to now I've just been sitting and nodding, thinking this business meeting lark is really easy.
   But now Doug Hamilton's voice starts to impinge on my consciousness. What's he saying?
   '… two products diverging… becoming incompatible…'
   What was that about incompatible? What was that about a major rethink? I feel a jolt of alarm.
   Maybe this isn't just waffle. Maybe he's actually saying something. Quick, listen.
   'We appreciate the functional and synergetic partnership that Panther and Glen Oil have
   enjoyed in the past,' Doug Hamilton is saying. 'But you'll agree that clearly we're going in
   different directions.'
   Different directions?
   Is that what he's been talking about all this time?
   My stomach gives an anxious lurch.
   He can't be-
   Is he trying to pull out of the deal?
   'Excuse me, Doug,' I say, in my most relaxed voice. 'Obviously I was closely following what
   you were saying earlier.' I give a friendly, we're-all-professionals-together smile. 'But if you
   could just… um, recap the situation for all our benefits…'
   In plain English, I beg silently.
   Doug Hamilton and the other guy exchange glances.
   'We're a little unhappy about your brand values,' says Doug Hamilton.
   'My brand values?' I echo in panic.
   'The brand values of the product,' he says, giving me an odd look. 'As I've been explaining,
   we here at Glen Oil are going through a rebranding process at the moment, and we see our
   new image very much as a caring petrol, as our new daffodil logo demonstrates. And we feel
   Panther Prime, with its emphasis on sport and competition, is simply too aggressive.'
   'Aggressive?' I stare at him, bewildered. 'But… it's a fruit drink.'
   This makes no sense. Glen Oil is fume-making, world-ruining petrol. Panther Prime is an
   innocent cranberry-flavoured drink. How can it be too aggressive?
   'The values it espouses.' He gestures to the marketing brochures on the table. 'Drive. Elitism.
   Masculinity. The very slogan, "Don't Pause". Frankly, it seems a little dated.' He shrugs. 'We
   just don't think a joint initiative will be possible.'
   No. No. This can't be happening. He can't be pulling out.
   Everyone at the office will think it was my fault. They'll think I cocked it up and I'm
   completely crap.
   My heart is thumping. My face is hot. I can't let this happen. But what do I say? I haven't
   prepared anything. Paul said it was all set up and all I had to do was shake their hands.
   'We'll certainly discuss it again before we make a decision,' Doug's saying. He gives me a
   brief smile. 'And as I say, we would like to continue links with the Panther Corporation, so
   this has been a useful meeting in any case.'
   He's pushing back his chair.
   I can't let this slip away! I have to try to win them round. I have to try and shut the deal.
   Close the deal. That's what I meant.
   'Wait!' I hear myself say. 'Just… wait a moment! I have a few points to make.'
   What am I talking about? I have no points to make.
   There's a can of Panther Prime sitting on the desk, and I grab it for inspiration. Playing for
   time, I stand up, walk to the centre of the room and raise the can high into the air where we
   can all see it.
   'Panther Prime is… a sports drink.'
   I stop, and there's a polite silence. My face is prickling.
   'It… um… it is very…'
   Oh God. What am I doing?
   Come on, Emma. Think. Think Panther Prime… think Panther Cola… think… think…
   Yes! Of course!
   OK, start again.
   'Since the launch of Panther Cola in the late 1980s, Panther drinks have been a byword for
   energy, excitement and excellence,' I say fluently.
   Thank God. This is the standard marketing blurb for Panther Cola. I've typed it out so many
   zillions of times, I could recite it in my sleep.
   'Panther drinks are a marketing phenomenon,' I continue. 'The Panther character is one of the
   most widely recognized in the world, while the classic slogan "Don't Pause" has made it into
   dictionaries. We are now offering Glen Oil an exclusive opportunity to join with this premium,
   world-famous brand.'
   My confidence growing, I start to stride around the room, gesturing with the can.
   'By buying a Panther health drink, the consumer is signalling that he will settle for nothing but
   the best.' I hit the can sharply with my other hand. 'He expects the best from his energy drink,
   he expects the best from his petrol, he expects the best from himself.'
   I'm flying! I'm fantastic! If Paul could see me now, he'd give me a promotion on the spot!
   I come over to the desk and look Doug Hamilton right in the eye. 'When the Panther
   consumer opens that can, he is making a choice which tells the world who he is. I'm asking
   Glen Oil to make the same choice.'
   As I finish speaking I plant the can firmly in the middle of the desk, reach for the ring pull and,
   with a cool smile, snap it back.
   It's like a volcano erupting.
   Fizzy cranberry-flavoured drink explodes in a whoosh out of the can, landing on the desk,
   drenching the papers and blotters in lurid red liquid… and oh no, please no… spattering all
   over Doug Hamilton's shirt.
   'Fuck!' I gasp. 'I mean, I'm really sorry…'
   'Jesus Christ,' says Doug Hamilton irritably, standing up and getting a handkerchief out of his
   pocket. 'Does this stuff stain?'
   'Er…' I grab the can helplessly. 'I don't know.'
   'I'll get a cloth,' says the other guy, and leaps to his feet.
   The door closes behind him and there's silence, apart from the sound of cranberry drink
   dripping slowly onto the floor.
   I stare at Doug Hamilton, my face hot and blood throbbing through my ears.
   'Please…' I say, and clear my husky throat. 'Don't tell my boss.'
   After all that. I screwed it up.
   As I drag my heels across the concourse at Glasgow Airport, I feel completely dejected. Doug
   Hamilton was quite sweet in the end. He said he was sure the stain would come out, and
   promised he wouldn't tell Paul what happened. But he didn't change his mind about the deal.
   My first big meeting. My first big chance — and this is what happens. I feel like giving up on
   the whole thing. I feel like phoning the office and saying 'That's it, I'm never coming back
   again, and by the way, it was me who jammed the photocopier that time.'
   But I can't. This is my third career in four years. It has to work. For my own self-worth. For
   my own self-esteem. And also because I owe my dad four thousand quid.
   'So what can I get you?' says an Australian guy, and I look up dazedly. I've arrived at the
   airport with an hour to go, and have headed straight for the bar.
   'Erm…' My mind is blank. 'Er… white wine. No, actually, a vodka and tonic. Thanks.'
   As he moves away, I slump down again in my stool. An air hostess with a French plait comes
   and sits down, two bar stools away. She smiles at me, and I smile weakly in return.
   I don't know how other people manage their careers, I really don't. Like my oldest friend
   Lissy. She's always known she wanted to be a lawyer — and now, ta-daah! She's a fraud
   barrister. But I left college with absolutely no clue. My first job was in estate agency, and I
   only went into it because I've always quite liked looking round houses, plus I met this woman
   with amazing red lacquered nails at a career fair who told me she made so much money, she'd
   be able to retire when she was forty.
   But the minute I started, I hated it. I hated all the other trainee estate agents. I hated saying
   things like 'a lovely aspect'. And I hated the way if someone said they could afford ?300,000
   we were supposed to give them details of houses costing at least ?400,000, and then kind of
   look down our noses, like, 'You only have ?300,000? God, you complete loser.'
   So after six months I announced I was changing career and was going to be a photographer
   instead. It was such a fantastic moment, like in a film or something. My dad lent me the
   money for a photography course and camera, and I was going to launch this amazing new
   creative career, and it was going to be the start of my new life…
   Except it didn't quite happen like that.
   I mean, for a start, do you have any idea how much a photographer's assistant gets paid?
   Nothing. It's nothing.
   Which, you know, I wouldn't have minded if anyone had actually offered me a photographer's
   assistant's job.
   I heave a heavy sigh, and gaze at my doleful expression in the mirror behind the bar. As well
   as everything else, my hair, which I carefully straightened with serum this morning, has gone
   all frizzy. Typical.
   At least I wasn't the only one who didn't get anywhere. Out of the eight people on my course,
   one became instantly successful and now takes photos for Vogue and stuff, one became a
   wedding photographer, one had an affair with the tutor, one went travelling, one had a baby,
   one works at Snappy Snaps and one is now at Morgan Stanley.
   Meanwhile I got more and more into debt, and started temping and applying for jobs which
   actually paid money. And eventually, eleven months ago, I started as a marketing assistant at
   the Panther Corporation.
   The barman places a vodka and tonic in front of me, and gives me a quizzical look. 'Cheer
   up!' he says. 'It can't be that bad!'
   'Thanks,' I say gratefully, and take a sip. That feels a bit better. I'm just taking a second sip
   when my mobile starts to ring.
   My stomach gives a nervous flip. If it's the office, I'll just pretend I didn't hear.
   But it's not, it's our home number flashing on the little screen.
   'Hi,' I say, pressing green.
   'Hiya!' comes Lissy's voice. 'Only me! So how did it go?'
   Lissy is my flatmate and my oldest friend in the world. She has tufty dark hair and an IQ of
   about 600 and is the sweetest person I know.
   'It was a disaster,' I say miserably.
   'What happened? Didn't you get the deal?'
   'Not only did I not get the deal, I drenched the marketing director of Glen Oil in cranberry
   Along the bar, I can see the air hostess hiding a smile, and I feel myself flush. Great. Now the
   whole world knows.
   'Oh dear.' I can almost feel Lissy trying to think of something positive to say. 'Well, at least
   you got their attention,' she says at last. 'At least they won't forget you in a hurry.'
   'I suppose,' I say morosely. 'So, did I have any messages?'
   'Oh! Erm… no. I mean, your dad did phone, but… um… you know… it wasn't…' She tails
   off evasively.
   'Lissy. What did he want?'
   There's a pause.
   'Apparently your cousin's won some industry award,' she says apologetically. 'They're going
   to be celebrating it on Saturday as well as your mum's birthday.'
   'Oh. Great.'
   I slump deeper in my chair. That's all I need. My cousin Kerry triumphantly clutching some
   silver Best-travel-agent-in-the-world-no-make-that-universe trophy.
   'And Connor rang, too, to see how you got on,' adds Lissy quickly. 'He was really sweet, he
   said he didn't want to ring your mobile during your meeting in case it disturbed you.'
   For the first time today, I feel a lift in spirits.
   Connor. My boyfriend. My lovely, thoughtful boyfriend.
   'He's such a sweetheart!' Lissy is saying. 'He said he's tied up in a big meeting all afternoon
   but he's cancelled his squash game especially, so do you want to go out to supper tonight?'
   'Oh,' I say, with a flicker of pleasure. 'Oh well, that'll be nice. Thanks, Lissy.'
   I click off and take another sip of vodka, feeling much more cheerful.
   My boyfriend.
   It's just like Julie Andrews said. When the dog bites, when the bee stings… I simply
   remember I have a boyfriend — and suddenly things don't seem quite so completely shit.
   Or however she put it.
   And not just any boyfriend. A tall, handsome, clever boyfriend, whom Marketing Week called
   'one of the brightest sparks in marketing research today.'
   I sit nursing my vodka, allowing thoughts of Connor to roll round my brain and comfort me.
   The way his blond hair shines in the sunshine, and the way he's always smiling. And the way
   he upgraded all the software on my computer the other day without me even asking, and the
   way he… he…
   My mind's gone blank. This is ridiculous. I mean, there's so much that is wonderful about
   Connor. From his… his long legs. Yes. And his broad shoulders. To the time he looked after
   me when I had the flu. I mean, how many boyfriends do that? Exactly.
   I'm so lucky, I really am.
   I put the phone away, run my fingers through my hair, and glance at the clock behind the bar.
   Forty minutes to go before the flight. Not long now. Nerves are starting to creep over me like
   little insects, and I take a deep gulp of vodka, draining my glass.
   It'll be fine, I tell myself for the zillionth time. It'll be absolutely fine.
   I'm not frightened. I'm just… I'm just…
   OK. I am frightened.
   16. I'm scared of flying.
   I've never told anyone I'm scared of flying. It just sounds so lame. And I mean, it's not like I'm
   phobic or anything. It's not like I can't get on a plane. It's just… all things being equal, I
   would prefer to be on the ground.
   I never used to be scared. But over the last few years, I've gradually got more and more
   nervous. I know it's completely irrational. I know thousands of people fly every day and it's
   practically safer than lying in bed. You have less chance of being in a plane crash than… than
   finding a man in London, or something.
   But still. I just don't like it.
   Maybe I'll have another quick vodka.
   By the time my flight is called, I've drunk two more vodkas and am feeling a lot more positive.
   I mean, Lissy's right. At least I made an impression, didn't I? At least they'll remember who I
   am. As I stride towards the gate, clutching my briefcase, I almost start to feel like a confident
   businesswoman again. A couple of people smile at me as they pass, and I smile broadly back,
   feeling a warm glow of friendliness. You see. The world's not so bad after all. It's all just a
   question of being positive. Anything can happen in life, can't it? You never know what's
   round the next corner.
   I reach the entrance to the plane, and there at the door, taking boarding passes, is the air
   hostess with the French plait who was sitting at the bar earlier.
   'Hi again,' I say smiling. 'This is a coincidence!'
   The air hostess stares at me.
   'Hi. Erm…'
   Why does she look embarrassed?
   'Sorry. It's just… did you know that…' She gestures awkwardly to my front.
   'What is it?' I say, pleasantly. I look down, and freeze, aghast.
   Somehow my silky shirt has been unbuttoning itself while I've been walking along. Three
   buttons have come undone and it's gaping at the front.
   My bra shows. My pink lacy bra. The one that went a bit blobby in the wash.
   That's why those people were smiling at me. Not because the world is a nice place, but
   because I'm Pink-Blobby-Bra-Woman.
   'Thanks,' I mutter, and do up the buttons with rumbling fingers, my face hot with humiliation.
   'It hasn't been your day, has it?' says the air hostess sympathetically, holding out a hand for
   my boarding pass. 'Sorry, I couldn't help overhearing, earlier.'
   'That's all right.' I raise a half-smile. 'No, it hasn't been the best day of my life.' There's a short
   silence as she studies my boarding pass.
   'Tell you what,' she says in a low voice. 'Would you like an on-board upgrade?'
   'A what?' I stare at her blankly.
   'Come on. You deserve a break.'
   'Really? But… can you just upgrade people like that?'
   'If there are spare seats, we can. We use our discretion. And this flight is so short.' She gives
   me a conspiratorial smile. 'Just don't tell everyone, OK?'
   She leads me into the front section of the plane and gestures to a big, wide, comfortable seat.
   I've never been upgraded before in my life! I can't quite believe she's really letting me do this.
   'Is this first class?' I whisper, taking in the hushed, luxury atmosphere. A man in a smart suit
   is tapping at a laptop to my right, and two elderly women in the corner are plugging
   themselves into headsets.
   'Business class. There's no first class on this flight.' She lifts her voice to a normal volume. 'Is
   everything OK for you?'
   'It's perfect! Thanks very much.'
   'No problem.' She smiles again and walks away, and I push my briefcase under the seat in
   Wow. This really is lovely. Big wide seats, and footrests, and everything. This is going to be a
   completely pleasurable experience from start to finish, I tell myself firmly. I reach for my
   seatbelt and buckle it up nonchalantly, trying to ignore the flutters of apprehension in my
   'Would you like some champagne?'
   It's my friend the air hostess, beaming down at me.
   'That would be great,' I say. 'Thanks!'
   'And for you, sir? Some champagne?'
   The man in the seat next to mine hasn't even looked up yet. He's wearing jeans and an old
   sweatshirt and is staring out of the window. As he turns to answer I catch a glimpse of dark
   eyes, stubble; a deep frown etched on his forehead.
   'No thanks. Just a brandy. Thanks.'
   His voice is dry and has an American accent. I'm about to ask him politely where he's from,
   but he immediately turns back and stares out of the window again.
   Which is fine, because to be honest, I'm not much in the mood for talking either.


   OK. The truth is, I don't like this.
   I know it's business class, I know it's all lovely luxury. But my stomach is still a tight knot of
   While we were taking off I counted very slowly with my eyes closed, and that kind of worked.
   But I ran out of steam at about 350. So now I'm just sitting, sipping champagne, reading an
   article on '30 Things To Do Before You're 30' in Cosmo. I'm trying very hard to look like a
   relaxed business-class top marketing executive. But oh God. Every tiny sound makes me start;
   every judder makes me catch my breath.
   With an outward veneer of calm I reach for the laminated safety instructions and run my eyes
   over them. Safety exits. Brace position. If life jackets are required, please assist the elderly
   and children first. Oh God-
   Why am I even looking at this? How will it help me to gaze at pictures of little stick people
   jumping into the ocean while their plane explodes behind them? I stuff the safety instructions
   quickly back in their pocket and take a gulp of champagne.
   'Excuse me, madam.' An air hostess with red curls has appeared by my side. 'Are you
   travelling on business?'
   'Yes,' I say, smoothing down my hair with a prickle of pride. 'Yes I am.'
   She hands me a leaflet entitled 'Executive Facilities', on which there's a photo of
   businesspeople talking animatedly in front of a clipboard with a wavy graph on it.
   'This is some information about our new business class lounge at Gatwick. We provide full
   conference call facilities, and meeting rooms, should you require them. Would you be
   OK. I am a top businesswoman. I am a top highflying business executive.
   'Quite possibly,' I say, looking nonchalantly at the leaflet. 'Yes, I may well use one of these
   rooms to… brief my team. I have a large team, and obviously they need a lot of briefing. On
   business matters.' I clear my throat. 'Mostly… logistical.'
   'Would you like me to book you a room now?' says the hostess helpfully.
   'Er, no thanks,' I say after a pause, 'My team is currently… at home. I gave them all the day
   'Right.' The hostess looks a little puzzled.
   'But another time, maybe,' I say quickly. 'And while you're here — I was just wondering, 'is
   that sound normal?'
   'What sound?' The air hostess cocks her head.
   That sound. That kind of whining, coming from the wing?'
   'I can't hear anything.' She looks at me sympathetically. 'Are you a nervous flyer?'
   'No!' I say at once, and give a little laugh. 'No, I'm not nervous! I just… was wondering. Just
   out of interest.'
   'I'll see if I can find out for you,' she says kindly. 'Here you are, sir. Some information about
   our executive facilities at Gatwick.'
   The American man takes his leaflet wordlessly and puts it down without even looking at it,
   and the hostess moves on, staggering a little as the plane gives a bump.
   Why is the plane bumping?
   Oh God. A sudden rush of fear hits me with no warning. This is madness. Madness! Sitting in
   this big heavy box, with no way of escape, thousands and thousands of feet above the ground
   I can't do this on my own. I have an overpowering need to talk to someone. Someone
   reassuring. Someone safe.
   Instinctively I fish out my mobile phone, but immediately the air hostess swoops down on me.
   'I'm afraid you can't use that on board the plane,' she says with a bright smile. 'Could you
   please ensure that it's switched off?'
   'Oh. Er… sorry.'
   Of course I can't use my mobile. They've only said it about fifty-five zillion times. I am such a
   durr-brain. Anyway, never mind. It doesn't matter. I'm fine. I put the phone away in my bag,
   and try to concentrate on an old episode of Fawlty Towers which is showing on the screen.
   Maybe I'll start counting again. Three hundred and forty-nine. Three hundred and fifty. Three
   hundred and-
   Fuck. My head jerks up. What was that bump? Did we just get hit?
   OK, don't panic. It was just a bump. I'm sure everything's fine. We probably just flew into a
   pigeon or something. Where was I?
   Three hundred and fifty-one. Three hundred and fifty-two. Three hundred and fifty-
   And that's it.
   That's the moment.
   Everything seems to fragment.
   I hear the screams like a wave over my head, almost before I realize what's happening.
   Oh God. Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh… OH… NO. NO. NO.
   We're falling. Oh God, we're falling.
   We're plummeting downwards. The plane's dropping through the air like a stone. A man over
   there has just shot up through the air and banged his head on the ceiling. He's bleeding. I'm
   gasping, clutching onto my seat, trying not to do the same thing, but I can feel myself being
   wrenched upwards, it's like someone's tugging me, like gravity's suddenly switched the other
   way. There's no time to think. My mind can't… Bags are flying around, drinks are spilling,
   one of the cabin crew has fallen over, she's clutching at a seat…
   Oh God. Oh God. OK, it's slowing down now. It's… it's better.
   Fuck. I just… I just can't… I…
   I look at the American man, and he's grasping his seat as tightly as I am.
   I feel sick. I think I might be sick. Oh God.
   OK. It's… it's kind of… back to normal.
   'Ladies and gentlemen,' comes a voice over the intercom, and everyone's heads jerk up. 'This
   is your captain speaking.'
   My heart's juddering in my chest. I can't listen. I can't think.
   'We're currently hitting some clear-air turbulence, and things may be unsteady for a while. I
   have switched on the seatbelt signs and would ask that you all return to your seats as quickly
   There's another huge lurch, and his voice is drowned by screams and cries all round the plane.
   It's like a bad dream. A bad rollercoaster dream.
   The cabin crew are all strapping themselves into their seats. One of the hostesses is mopping
   blood on her face. A minute ago they were happily doling out honey-roast peanuts.
   This is what happens to other people in other planes. People on safety videos. Not me.
   'Please keep calm,' the captain is saying. 'As soon as we have more information…'
   Keep calm? I can't breathe, let alone keep calm. What are we going to do? Are we all
   supposed to just sit here while the plane bucks like an out-of-control horse?
   I can hear someone behind me reciting 'Hail Mary, full of grace…' and a fresh, choking panic
   sweeps through me. People are praying. This is real.
   We're going to die.
   We're going to die.
   'I'm sorry?' The American man in the next seat looks at me, his face tense and white.
   Did I just say that aloud?
   'We're going to die.' I stare into his face. This could be the last person I ever see alive. I take
   in the lines etched around his dark eyes; his strong jaw, shaded with stubble.
   The plane suddenly drops down again, and I give an involuntary shriek.
   'I don't think we're going to die,' he says. But he's gripping his seat-arms, too. 'They said it
   was just turbulence-'
   'Of course they did!' I can hear the hysteria in my voice. 'They wouldn't exactly say, "OK
   folks, that's it, you're all goners"!' The plane gives another terrifying swoop and I find myself
   clutching the man's hand in panic. 'We're not going to make it. I know we're not. This is it. I'm
   twenty-five years old, for God's sake. I'm not ready. I haven't achieved anything. I've never
   had children, I've never saved a life…' My eyes fall randomly on the '30 Things To Do
   Before You're 30' article. 'I haven't ever climbed a mountain, I haven't got a tattoo, I don't
   even know if I've got a G spot…'
   'I'm sorry?' says the man, sounding taken aback, but I barely hear him.
   'My career's a complete joke. I'm not a top businesswoman at all.' I gesture half-tearfully to
   my suit. 'I haven't got a team! I'm just a crappy assistant and I just had my first ever big
   meeting and it was a complete disaster. Half the time I haven't got a clue what people are
   talking about, I don't know what logistical means, I'm never going to get promoted, and I owe
   my dad four thousand quid, and I've never really been in love…'
   I draw myself up short with a jolt. 'I'm sorry,' I say, and exhale sharply. 'You don't want to
   hear all this.'
   'That's quite all right,' says the man.
   God. I'm completely losing it.
   And anyway, what I just said wasn't true. Because I am in love with Connor. It must be the
   altitude or something, confusing my mind.
   Flustered, I push the hair off my face and try to get a hold of myself. OK, let's try counting
   again. Three hundred and fifty… six. Three hundred and-
   Oh God. Oh God. No. Please. The plane's lurching again. We're plummeting.
   'I've never done anything to make my parents proud of me.' The words come spilling out of
   my mouth before I can stop them. 'Never.'
   'I'm sure that's not true,' says the man nicely.
   'It's true. Maybe they used to be proud of me. But then my cousin Kerry came to live with us
   and all at once it was like my parents couldn't see me any more. All they could see was her.
   She was fourteen when she arrived, and I was ten, and I thought it was going to be great, you
   know. Like having an older sister. But it didn't work out like that…'
   I can't stop talking. I just can't stop.
   Every time the plane bumps or jolts, another torrent of words pours randomly out of my
   mouth, like water gushing over a waterfall.
   It's either talk or scream.
   '… she was a swimming champion, and an everything champion, and I was just… nothing in
   '… photography course and I honestly thought it was going to change my life…'
   '… eight stone three. But I was planning to go on a diet…'
   'I applied for every single job in the world. I was so desperate, I even applied to…'
   '… awful girl called Artemis. This new desk arrived the other day, and she just took it, even
   though I've got this really grotty little desk…'
   '… sometimes I water her stupid spider plant with orange juice, just to serve her right…'
   '… sweet girl Katie, who works in Personnel. We have this secret code where she comes in
   and says, "Can I go through some numbers with you, Emma?" and it really means "Shall we
   nip out to Starbucks…"'
   '… awful presents, and I have to pretend I like them…'
   '… coffee at work is the most disgusting stuff you've ever drunk, absolute poison…'
   '… put "Maths GCSE grade A" on my CV, when I really only got C. I know it was dishonest.
   I know I shouldn't have done it, but I so wanted to get the job…'
   What's happened to me? Normally there's a kind of filter which stops me blurting out
   everything I'm thinking; which keeps me in check.
   But the filter's stopped working. Everything's piling out in a big, random stream, and I can't
   stop it.
   'Sometimes I think I believe in God, because how else did we all get here? But then I think,
   yes but what about war and stuff…'
   '… wear G-strings because they don't give you VPL. But they're so uncomfortable…'
   '… size eight, and I didn't know what to do, so I just said "Wow those are absolutely fantastic
   '… roasted peppers, my complete favourite food…'
   '… joined a book group, but I just couldn't get through Great Expectations. So I just skimmed
   the back and pretended I'd read it…'
   '… I gave him all his goldfish food, I honestly don't know what happened…'
   '… just have to hear that Carpenters song "Close to You" and I start crying…'
   '… really wish I had bigger boobs. I mean, not Page 3 size, not completely enormous and
   stupid, but you know, bigger. Just to know what it's like…'
   '… perfect date would start off with champagne just appearing at the table, as if by magic…'
   '… I just cracked, I secretly bought this huge tub of Haagen-Dazs and scoffed the lot, and I
   never told Lissy…'
   I'm unaware of anything around us. The world has narrowed to me and this stranger, and my
   mouth, spewing out all my innermost thoughts and secrets.
   I barely know what I'm saying any more. All I know is, it feels good.
   Is this what therapy is like?
   '… name was Danny Nussbaum. Mum and Dad were downstairs watching Ben Hur, and I
   remember thinking, if this is what the world gets so excited about, then the world's mad…'
   '… lie on my side, because that way your cleavage looks bigger…'
   '… works in market research. I remember thinking the very first time I saw him, wow, he's
   good-looking, He's very tall and blond, because he's half-Swedish, and he has these amazing
   blue eyes. So he asked me out…'
   '… always have a glass of sweet sherry before a date, just to calm my nerves…'
   'He's wonderful. Connor's completely wonderful. I'm just so lucky. Everyone's always telling
   me how great he is. He's sweet, and he's good, and he's successful and everyone calls us the
   perfect couple…'
   '… I'd never tell anyone this in a million years. But sometimes I think he's almost too goodlooking.
   A bit like one of those dolls? Like Ken. Like a blond Ken.'
   And now I'm on the subject of Connor, I'm saying things I've never said to anyone. Things I
   never even realized were in my head.
   '… gave him this lovely leather watch for Christmas, but he wears this orange digital thing
   because it can tell him the temperature in Poland or something stupid…'
   '… took me to all these jazz concerts and I pretended to enjoy them to be polite, so now he
   thinks I love jazz…'
   '… every single Woody Allen film off by heart and says each line before it comes and it
   drives me crackers…'
   '… just looks at me as though I'm speaking some foreign language…'
   '… determined to find my G spot, so we spent the whole weekend doing it in different
   positions, and by the end I was just knackered, all I wanted was a pizza and Friends …'
   '… he kept saying, what was it like, what was it like? So in the end I just made some stuff up,
   I said it was absolutely amazing, and it felt as though my whole body was opening up like a
   flower, and he said, what sort of flower, so I said a begonia…'
   '… can't expect the initial passion to last. But how do you tell if the passion's faded in a good,
   long-term-commitment way or in a crap, we-don't-fancy-each-other-any-more way…'
   '… knight in shining armour is not a realistic option. But there's a part of me that wants a huge,
   amazing romance. I want passion. I want to be swept off my feet. I want an earthquake, or a
   … I don't know, a huge whirlwind… something exciting. Sometimes I feel as if there's this
   whole new, thrilling life waiting for me out there, and if I can just-'
   'Excuse me, miss?'
   'What?' I look up dazedly. 'What is it?' The air hostess with the French plait is smiling down at
   'We've landed.' I stare at her.
   'We've landed?'
   This doesn't make sense. How can we have landed? I look around — and sure enough, the
   plane's still. We're on the ground.
   I feel like Dorothy. A second ago I was swirling around in Oz, clicking my heels together, and
   now I've woken up all flat and quiet and normal again.
   'We aren't bumping any more,' I say stupidly.
   'We stopped bumping quite a while ago,' says the American man.
   'We're… we're not going to die.'
   'We're not going to die,' he agrees.
   I look at him as though for the first time — and it hits me. I've been blabbering non-stop for an
   hour to this complete stranger. God alone knows what I've been saying.
   I think I want to get off this plane right now.
   'I'm sorry,' I say awkwardly. 'You should have stopped me.'
   'That would have been a little difficult.' There's a tiny smile at his lips. 'You were on a bit of a
   'I'm so embarrassed!' I try to smile, but I can't even look this guy in the eye. I mean, I told him
   about my knickers. I told him about my G spot.
   'Don't worry about it. We were all stressed out. That was some flight.' He picks up his
   knapsack and gets up from his seat — then looks back at me. 'Will you be OK getting back
   'Yes. I'll be fine. Thanks. Enjoy your visit!' I call after him, but I don't think he hears.
   Slowly I gather my things together and make my way off the plane. I feel sweaty, my hair's all
   over the place, and my head is starting to throb.
   The airport seems so bright and still and calm after the intense atmosphere of the plane. The
   ground seems so firm. I sit quietly on a plastic chair for a while, trying to get myself together,