Oops. That just slipped out.
“Oh, really? I thought you hadn’t read my emails.”
“I didn’t!” I say hastily. “I mean … you know. Maybe one or two. Enough to get an impression.”
“An impression!” He gives a short laugh. “OK, then, Poppy Wyatt, what’s your impression? I’ve asked everyone else’s opinion, why not throw your tuppenceworth in? Why is our top strategist taking a sideways step into an inferior company when I’ve offered her everything she could want, from promotion, to money, to a higher profile—”
“Well, that’s the problem,” I cut him off, puzzled. Surely he realizes that? “She doesn’t want any of those things. She gets really stressed out by the pressure, especially by media things. Like that time she had to go on Radio 4 with no notice.”
There’s a long silence down the line.
“OK, what the hell is going on?” says Sam at last. “How would you know something like that?”
There’s no way I can get out of this one.
“It was in her appraisal,” I confess at last. “I was bored on the tube once, and it was on an attachment—”
“That was not in her appraisal.” He sounds quite shirty. “Believe me, I’ve read that document back to front, and there’s nothing about media appearances—”
“Not the most recent one.” I screw up my face with embarrassment. “Her appraisal three years ago.” I can’t believe I’m admitting I read that too. “Plus she said in that original email to you, I’ve told you my issues, not that anyone’s taken any notice. I think that’s what she means.”
The fact is, I feel a total affinity for Vivien. I’d be freaked out by being on Radio 4 too. All the presenters sound like Antony and Wanda.
There’s another silence, so long that I wonder if Sam’s still there.
“You might have something,” Sam says at last. “You might just have something.”
“It’s only an idea.” I backtrack instantly. “I mean, I’m probably wrong.”
“But why wouldn’t she say this to me?”
“Maybe she’s embarrassed.” I shrug. “Maybe she thinks she’s already made the point and you’re not going to do anything about it. Maybe she thinks it’s just easier to move jobs.”
“OK.” Sam exhales. “Thank you. I’m going to pursue this. I’m very glad I rang you, and I’m sorry I disturbed your evening.”
“No problem.” I hunch my shoulders gloomily and scoop up some more cake crumbs. “To be honest, I’m glad to escape.”
“That good, huh?” He sounds amused. “How did the bandage go down?”
“Believe me, the bandage is the least of my problems.”
I lower my voice, glancing at the door. “We’re playing Scrabble. It’s a nightmare.”
“Scrabble?” He sounds surprised. “Scrabble’s great.”
“Not when you’re playing with a family of geniuses, it’s not. They all put words like iridiums. And I put pig. ”
Sam bursts into laughter.
“Glad it’s so funny,” I say morosely.
“OK, come on.” He stops laughing. “I owe you one. Tell me your letters. I’ll give you a good word.”
“I can’t remember them!” I roll my eyes. “I’m in the kitchen.”
“You must remember some. Try.”
“All right. I have a W. And a Z. ” This conversation is so bizarre that I can’t help giving a little giggle.
“Go and look at the rest. Text them over. I’ll give you a word.”
“I thought you were at a seminar.”
“I can be at a seminar and play Scrabble at the same time.”
Is he serious? This is the most ridiculous, far-fetched idea I’ve ever heard.
Plus, it would be cheating.
Plus, who says he’s any good at Scrabble?
“OK,” I say after a few moments. “You’re on.”
I ring off and head back into the drawing room, where the board has spawned another load of impossible words. Someone has put down UG. Is that English? It sounds like Eskimo.
“All right, Poppy?” says Wanda, in such bright, artificial tones that I instantly know they’ve been talking about me. They’ve probably told Magnus that if he marries me they’ll cut him off without a penny or something.
“Fine!” I try to sound cheerful. “That was a patient on the phone,” I add, crossing my fingers behind my back. “Sometimes I do online consultation, so I might have to send a text, if you don’t mind?”