“Becky, love, I was just watching Morning Coffee!” exclaims Mum. “What’s that girl doing, giving out financial advice?”
“It’s… it’s OK, Mum, don’t worry!” I say, feeling my nails dig into my palm. “They just… they got her to cover while I was away.”
“Well. They could have chosen someone better! She’s got a miserable face on her, hasn’t she?” Her voice goes muffled. “What’s that, Graham? Dad says, at least she shows how good you are! But surely, now that you’re back, they can let her go?”
“I don’t think it’s as simple as that,” I say after a pause. “Contracts and… things.”
“So, when will you be back on? Because I know Janice will be asking.”
“I don’t know, Mum,” I say desperately. “Listen, I’ve got to go, OK? There’s someone at the door. But I’ll talk to you soon!”
I put down the phone and bury my head in my hands.
“What am I going to do?” I say hopelessly. “What am I going to do, Suze? I can’t tell them I’ve been fired. I just can’t.” To my dismay, tears squeeze out of the sides of my eyes. “They’re so proud of me. And I just keep letting them down.”
“You don’t let them down!” retorts Suze hotly. “It wasn’t your fault that stupid Morning Coffee completely overreacted. And I bet they’re regretting it now. I mean, look at her!”
She turns up the sound, and Clare’s voice drones sternly through the room. “Those who fail to provide for their own retirement are the equivalent of leeches on the rest of us.”
“I say,” says Rory. “Isn’t that a bit harsh?”
“I mean, listen to her!” says Suze. “She’s awful!”
“Maybe she is,” I say after a pause. “But even if they get rid of her too they’ll never ask me back. It would be like saying they made a mistake.”
“They have made a mistake!”
The phone rings again and she looks at me. “Are you in or out?”
“Out. And you don’t know when I’ll be back.”
“OK…” She picks up the phone. “Hello? Sorry, Becky’s out at the moment.”
“Wendy, you’ve made every mistake possible,” Clare Edwards is saying on the screen. “Have you never heard of a deposit account? And as for remortgaging your house to buy a boat…”
“No, I don’t know when she’ll be back,” says Suze. “Would you like me to take a message?” She picks up a pen and starts writing. “OK… fine… yes. Yes, I’ll tell her. Thanks.”
“So,” I say as she puts the phone down. “Who was that?”
And I know it’s stupid — but as I look up at her, I can’t help feeling a hot flicker of hope. Maybe it was a producer from another show. Maybe it was someone wanting to offer me my own column. Maybe it was John Gavin, ringing to apologize and offer me free, unlimited overdraft facilities. Maybe it was the one phone call that will make everything all right.
“It was Mel. Luke’s assistant.”
“Oh.” I stare at her in apprehension. “What did she want?”
“Apparently some parcel has arrived at the office, addressed to you. From the States. From Barnes & Noble.”
I stare at her blankly — then, with a pang, suddenly remember that trip to Barnes & Noble I made with Luke. I bought a whole pile of coffee-table books, and Luke suggested I send them back on the company courier bill instead of lugging them around. It seems like a million years ago now.
“Oh yes, I know what that is.” I hesitate. “Did she… mention Luke?”
“No,” says Suze apologetically. “She just said pop in anytime you want. And she said she was really sorry about what happened… and if you ever want a chat, just call.”
“Right.” I hunch my shoulders up, hug my knees, and turn up the television volume.
For the next few days, I tell myself I won’t bother going. I don’t really want those books anymore. And I can’t quite cope with the thought of having to go in there — having to face all the curious looks from Luke’s staff, and hold my head up and pretend to be OK.
But then, gradually, I start to think I’d like to see Mel. She’s the only one I can talk to who really knows Luke, and it would be nice to have a heart-to-heart with her. Plus, she might have heard something of what’s going on in the States. I know Luke and I are effectively over, I know it’s really nothing to do with me anymore. But I still can’t help caring about whether he’s got his deal or not.