I finish my speech breathlessly and look at Luke. He’s staring at me with an unreadable expression on his face — and in spite of myself, I feel my stomach clench with nerves. I swallow, and try to shift my vision away from his — but somehow I can’t move my head. It’s as though our eyes are glued together.
“Luke?” says Emma. “Do you have a response to Rebecca’s point?”
Luke doesn’t respond. He’s staring at me, and I’m staring back, feeling my heart thump like a rabbit.
“Luke?” repeats Emma slightly impatiently. “Do you have—”
“Yes,” says Luke. “Yes I do. Rebecca—” He shakes his head, almost smiling to himself, then looks up again at me. “Rebecca, you’re right.”
There’s a sudden still silence around the studio.
I open my mouth, but I can’t make a sound.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Rory and Emma glancing at each other puzzledly.
“Sorry, Luke,” says Emma. “Do you mean—”
“She’s right,” says Luke, and gives a shrug. “Rebecca’s absolutely right.” He reaches for his glass of water, leans back on his sofa, and takes a sip. “If you want my honest opinion, those customers deserved that windfall. I very much wish they had received it.”
He looks up at me, and he’s wearing that same apologetic expression he had in the corridor. This can’t be happening. Luke’s agreeing with me. How can he be agreeing with me?
“I see,” says Emma, sounding a bit affronted. “So, you’ve changed your position, then?”
There’s a pause, while Luke stares thoughtfully into his glass of water. Then he looks up and says, “My company is employed by Flagstaff Life to maintain their public profile. But that doesn’t mean that personally I agree with everything they do — or even that I know about it.” He pauses. “To tell you the truth, I had no idea any of this was going on until I read about it in Rebecca’s article in The Daily World. Which, by the way, was a fine piece of investigative journalism,” he adds, nodding to me. “Congratulations.”
I stare back helplessly, unable even to mutter “Thank you.” I’ve never felt so wrong-footed in all my life. I want to stop and bury my head in my hands and think all of this through slowly and carefully — but I can’t, I’m on live television. I’m being watched by 2.5 million people, all around the country.
I hope my legs look OK.
“If I were a Flagstaff customer and this had happened to me, I’d be very angry,” Luke continues. “There is such a thing as customer loyalty; there is such a thing as playing straight. And I would hope that any client of mine, whom I represent in public, would abide by both of those principles.”
“I see,” says Emma, and turns to the camera. “Well, this is quite a turnaround! Luke Brandon, here to represent Flagstaff Life, now says that what they did was wrong. Any further comment, Luke?”
“To be honest,” says Luke, with a wry smile, “I’m not sure I’ll be representing Flagstaff Life any more after this.”
“Ah,” says Rory, leaning forward intelligently. “And can you tell us why that is?”
“Oh, honestly, Rory!” says Emma impatiently. She rolls her eyes and Luke gives a little snort of laughter.
And suddenly everyone’s laughing, and I join in too, slightly hysterically. I catch Luke’s eye and feel something flash in my chest, then quickly look away again.
“Right, well, anyway,” says Emma abruptly, pulling herself together and smiling at the camera. “That’s it from the finance experts — but, coming up after the break, the return of hot pants to the catwalk. .”
“. . and cellulite creams — do they really work?” adds Rory.
“Plus our special guests — Heaven Sent 7—singing live in the studio.”
The theme music blares out of the loudspeakers and both Emma and Rory leap to their feet.
“Wonderful debate,” says Emma, hurrying off. “Sorry, I’m dying for a wee.”
“Excellent stuff,” adds Rory earnestly. “Didn’t understand a word — but great television.” He slaps Luke on the back, raises his hand to me, and then hurries off the set.
And all at once it’s over. It’s just me and Luke, sitting opposite each other on the sofas, with bright lights still shining in our eyes and microphones still clipped to our lapels. I feel slightly shell-shocked.
Did all that really just happen?
“So,” I say eventually, and clear my throat.