Today's Reading

Chapter One

I was singing as I walked up the path to my house that day. Actually singing. I feel sick at the thought of that now.

I'd been on a training course in Oxford, leaving Liverpool as the sun rose at six, returning at sunset. I work as a senior manager for a large firm of accountants, and when I got to the reception of our head office and signed myself in, I scanned the list of attendees from other branches and recognized several names, though they weren't people I'd met. I'd read about them in our company's newsletters and knew they were highflyers, and for the first time I realized that must have been what the company thought of me, too.

My skin had prickled with excitement at the thought, but I'd tried not to let my feelings show, relaxing my face into that calm mask I'd practiced so assiduously over the years. When I went into the conference room, I saw the others standing around chatting as though they were old friends. They looked polished and professional, as though they were used to this sort of event, and I was glad I'd spent a fortune on my clothes and hair and nails. One of the other women had the same Hobbs suit as mine, though luckily in a different color; another gave a covetous look at the chocolate Mulberry bag my boyfriend, Matt, had bought me for Christmas. I took a deep breath; I looked like one of them. I smiled at the nearest person, asked which branch she worked for and that was it, I was part of the group and soon my nerves were forgotten.

In the afternoon we were set a task to complete in a team and at the end I was chosen to present our findings to the whole group. I was terrified and spent the break time in a corner feverishly memorizing my speech while the others sat around chatting, but it seemed to go well. Once I'd made the presentation I could relax and was able to answer everyone's questions in full, anticipating follow-up questions, too. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Alex Hughes, one of our partners, nodding as I spoke, and at one point he made a note about something I'd said. When everyone was packing up to leave, he took me to one side.

"Hannah, I have to say you performed very well there," he said. "We've been looking at your work for a while now and have been absolutely delighted with your progress."

"Thank you."

Just then Oliver Sutton, the firm's managing partner, came to join us. "Well done, Hannah. You were excellent today. When Colin Jamison leaves in September I think you'll be on track for promotion to director. Wouldn't that make you the youngest in your branch?"

I don't know what I replied. I was so surprised to hear him say that; it was like one of my dreams had come to life. Of course I knew exactly when each director had been promoted; I'd pored over their bios on the company's website. I'm thirty-two and I knew the youngest had been appointed at thirty-three. That had helped give a certain edge to my work lately.

The organizer of the event came up to speak to them then, and they smiled and shook hands with me before turning to her. I walked as calmly as I could to the cloakrooms and locked myself into a cubicle where I nearly screamed with pleasure. This was what I'd been working toward for years, since leaving university and starting with the firm as an assistant. I've never worked as hard as I have this last year or two, and now it looked as though it was going to pay off. When I came out of the cubicle I saw in the mirror that my face was pink, as though I'd been out in the sun all day. I took out my makeup bag and tried to repair the damage, but my cheeks still glowed with pride.

Everything was going to be all right.

I reached into my bag for my phone to send a message to Matt, but then the Human Resources director came into the cloakrooms and smiled at me, so I smiled back and nodded at her and took out my hairbrush instead to smooth my hair. I didn't want her to think I was excited about anything, to suspect that maybe I thought I didn't deserve promotion.

There was also no way I wanted to hang around while she was in the loo, so I went back to the conference room to say good-bye to the others. I decided I'd tell Matt face-to-face and couldn't wait to see his excitement. He knew how much I wanted this. Of course it was too early to celebrate—I hadn't actually been promoted yet, after all—but I was sure that Oliver Sutton wouldn't have said that lightly. Each time I thought of his words, I felt a swell of pride.

And then in the car before I set off I thought of my dad and how delighted he would be. I knew he'd hear about it from my boss, George, as they played golf together, but I wanted to be the first to tell him. I sent him a text:

Dad, I'm at a training day and the managing partner says they're considering promoting me to director in a few months! xx

Within seconds I got a reply:

That's my girl! Well done!
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