Shopaholic Takes Manhattan (Shopaholic #2)(5)


by Sophie Kinsella

When I got upset with Luke, he pointed out that I’ve never met his parents, either. But I have once — although very briefly. And anyway it’s not the same thing, because his family lives miles away, and it’s all much more complicated.

To be honest, I find Luke’s family setup just a tad weird. He’s got a dad and a stepmum in Britain who brought him up with his two half-sisters, and whom he calls Mum and Dad. And then he’s got his real mum, Elinor, who left his dad when he was little, married some rich American, and left Luke behind. Then she left the rich American and married another, even richer American and then… was there another one? Anyway, the point is, she lives in New York. So of course I haven’t met her. And the rest of his family is in Devon, not exactly handy for a quick Sunday lunch.

I said all this to Luke and I think he got my point. And at least he’s making the effort to come on this little holiday. It was Mel, actually, who suggested the weekend idea. She told me Luke hadn’t had a proper holiday for three years — and maybe he had to warm up to the idea. So I stopped talking about holidays and started talking about weekends away — and that did the trick! All of a sudden Luke told me to set aside this weekend. He booked the hotel himself and everything. I’m so looking forward to it. We’ll just do nothing but relax and take it easy — and actually spend some time with each other for a change. Lovely.

I want those clementine shoes.

Stop it.

I take another sip of coffee, lean back, and force myself to survey the bustling street. People are striding along, holding bags and chatting, and there’s a girl crossing the road with nice trousers on, which I think come from Nicole Farhi and… Oh God.

A middle-aged man in a dark suit is coming along the road toward me, and I recognize him. It’s Derek Smeath, my bank manager.

Oh, and I think he’s seen me.

OK, don’t panic, I instruct myself firmly. There’s no need to panic. Maybe once upon a time I would have been thrown by seeing him. I might have tried to hide behind a menu, or perhaps even run away. But that’s all in the past. These days, Sweetie Smeathie and I have a very honest and amicable relationship.

Still, I find myself shifting my chair slightly farther away from my LK Bennett bag, as though it hasn’t got anything to do with me.

“Hello, Mr. Smeath!” I say brightly as he approaches. “How are you?”

“Very well,” says Derek Smeath, smiling. “And you?”

“Oh, I’m fine, thanks. Would you… would you like a coffee?” I add politely, gesturing to the empty chair opposite me. And I’m not really expecting him to say yes — but to my astonishment he sits down and picks up a menu.

How civilized is this? I’m having coffee with my bank manager at a pavement cafe! You know, maybe I’ll find a way to work this into my Morning Coffee slot. “I myself prefer the informal approach to personal finance,” I’ll say, smiling warmly into the camera. “My own bank manager and I often share a friendly cappuccino as we discuss my current financial strategies…”

“As it happens, Rebecca, I’ve just written a letter to you,” says Derek Smeath, as a waitress puts an espresso down in front of him. Suddenly his voice is more serious, and I feel a small lurch of alarm. Oh God, what have I done now? “You and all my customers,” he adds. “To tell you that I’m leaving.”

“What?” I put my coffee cup down with a little crash. “What do you mean, leaving?”

“I’m leaving Endwich Bank. I’ve decided to take early retirement.”

“But…”

I stare at him, appalled. Derek Smeath can’t leave Endwich Bank. He can’t just leave me in the lurch, just as everything was going so well. I mean, I know we haven’t always exactly seen eye to eye — but recently we’ve developed a really good rapport. He understands me. He understands my overdraft. What am I going to do without him?

“Aren’t you too young to retire?” I say, aware of the dismay in my voice. “Won’t you get bored?”

He leans back in his chair and takes a sip of espresso. “I’m not planning to give up work altogether. But I think there’s a little more to life than looking after people’s bank accounts, don’t you? Fascinating though some of them have been.”

“Well… yes. Yes, of course. And I’m glad for you, honestly.” I shrug, a little embarrassed. “But I’ll… miss you.”

“Believe it or not,” he says, smiling slightly, “I think I’ll miss you too, Rebecca. Yours has certainly been one of the most… interesting accounts I’ve dealt with.”

He gives me a penetrating look and I feel myself flush slightly. Why does he have to remind me of the past? The point is, that’s all over. I’m a different person now. Surely one should be allowed to turn over a new leaf and start again in life.

“Your new career in television seems to be going well,” he says, taking a sip of espresso.

“I know! It’s so great, isn’t it? And it pays really well,” I add, a little pointedly.

“Your income has certainly gone up in recent months.” He puts down his coffee cup and my heart sinks slightly. “However…”

I knew it. Why does there always have to be a however?

“However,” repeats Derek Smeath. “Your outgoings have also risen. Substantially. In fact, your overdraft is now higher than it was at the height of your… shall we say, your excesses.”

Excesses? That is so mean.

“You really must make more effort to keep within your overdraft limit,” he’s saying now. “Or, even better, pay it off.”

“I know,” I say vaguely. “I’m planning to.”

I’ve just spotted a girl on the other side of the road, with an LK Bennett bag. She’s holding a great big bag — with two shoe boxes in it.

If she’s allowed to buy two pairs of shoes, then why aren’t I? What’s the rule that says you can only buy one pair of shoes at a time? I mean, it’s so arbitrary.

“What about your other finances?” Derek Smeath is asking. “Do you have any store card bills, for example?”

“No,” I say with a tinge of smugness. “I paid them all off months ago.”

“And you haven’t spent anything since?”