I flushed with pleasure. My father has his own business and he's always said that the one thing he wants is for me to be successful. As far as my career was concerned, he was my biggest supporter, though it could be stressful if he thought I wasn't promoted quickly enough. Another text beeped through:
I'll put a treat in your account—have a celebration!
I sighed. That wasn't the point of telling him. I typed back quickly:
It's OK, Dad, no need to do that. Just wanted to tell you how I got on. Tell Mum, will you? xx
Another message beeped:
Nonsense! Money's always good.
Yes, money's nice but a phone call would be better, I thought, then I shook some sense into myself and started the car.
* * *
It was a two-hundred-mile drive home and I did it without a break. I live on the Wirral peninsula in the northwest of England, just across the River Mersey from Liverpool. Despite the evening traffic, it was an easy drive with motorways all the way and it seemed as though the journey passed in a flash. I was so excited I couldn't stop myself wriggling on my seat as I practiced what I would tell Matt and how I would say it. I wanted to stay calm and to just mention it casually when he asked me how my day had gone, but I knew I'd just burst out with it as soon as I saw him. When I reached Ellesmere Port, about fifteen miles from home, I saw the Sainsbury's sign shining brightly in the distance and at the last minute I indicated to take the exit. This was a night for champagne. In the shop I picked up a bottle of Moet, then hesitated and picked up another. One isn't enough when you have news like that, and besides, it was Friday; no work the next day.
Back on the motorway I pictured Matt's reaction as I told him the news. It wasn't as though I'd have to exaggerate. Just repeating what Alex Hughes and Oliver Sutton had said would be enough. Matt worked as an architect and had done well for himself; he'd understand how important it was for my career. And financially, too, I'd be level with him if I was promoted. I thought of the salary scale for directors and felt a shiver of excitement—maybe I'd earn more than Matt soon!
I stroked my soft leather bag. "There'll be more of you soon, sweetheart," I said. "You'll have to learn to share."
It wasn't just the money, though. I'd take a pay cut to have that kind of status.
I opened the windows and let the warm breeze run through my hair. The sun was setting and the sky ahead was filled with brilliant red and gold streaks. My iPod was on shuffle and I sang song after song at the top of my lungs. When Elbow played "One Day Like This," I pressed Repeat over and over until I reached my home. By the time I arrived, I was almost in a state of fever and my throat was throbbing and sore.
The streetlights on my road popped on to celebrate my arrival. My heart pounded with the excitement of the day and the fervor of the music. The champagne bottles clinked in their bag and I pulled them out so that I could present Matt with them in a 'tada!' kind of moment.
I parked on the driveway and jumped out. The house was in darkness. I looked at my watch. It was 7:20 p.m. Matt had told me last night that he'd be late, but I'd thought he'd be back by now.
Still. There'd be time to put the bottles in the freezer and get them really chilled. I put them back in the bag, picked up my handbag and opened the front door.
I reached inside for the hall light, clicked it on and stopped still. The hair on the back of my neck stood up.
Was someone in our house?
For the last four years I've had pictures on the hallway walls that Matt brought with him when he moved in. They're huge photos of jazz musicians in heavy black frames. Ella Fitzgerald usually faced the front door, her eyes half-closed in a shy, ecstatic smile. Now there was nothing but the smooth cream paint we'd used when we painted the hallway last summer.
I dropped my coat and bags on the polished oak floor and on automatic pilot stooped to steady the bottles as they tilted to the ground. I stepped forward and stared again. There was nothing on the wall. I turned and looked at the wall alongside the staircase. Charlie Parker was usually there, bathed in a golden light and facing Miles Davis. It had always looked as though they were playing together. Both were gone.
I looked around in disbelief. Had we been burgled? But why had they taken the pictures? The walnut cabinet I'd bought from Heal's was worth a lot and that was still there. On it, alongside the landline and a lamp, sat the silver and enamel Tiffany bowl that my parents had bought me when I graduated. Surely a burglar would have taken that?