“I’m in a mess,” says Fran. “I. . I don’t know what to do.”
“Are you in debt, Fran?” says Emma gently.
“Yes,” says Fran, and gives a shaky sigh. “I’m overdrawn, I owe money on all my credit cards, I’ve borrowed money off my sister. . and I just can’t stop spending. I just. . love buying things.”
“What sort of things?” says Rory interestedly.
“I don’t know, really,” says Fran after a pause. “Clothes for me, clothes for the kids, things for the house, just rubbish, really. Then the bills arrive. . and I throw them away.”
Emma gives me a significant look, and I raise my eyebrows back. But my cool act is starting to falter a little at Fran’s story.
“It’s like a vicious circle,” Fran’s saying. “The more in debt I am, the worse I feel, so I go out and spend more.”
Outstanding bills. Credit card debts. Overdrafts. All the things I’ve been desperate not to think about are being thrust back into my mind. Desperately I thrust them back out again.
“Rebecca?” she says. “Fran’s obviously in a bit of a spot. What should she be doing?”
For an instant I feel like crying Why ask me? But I can’t crumble, I have to do this. I have to be Rebecca Bloomwood, top financial expert. Summoning all my strength, I force myself to smile sympathetically at the camera.
“Well, Fran,” I say. “The first thing you’ve got to do is. . is be brave and confront the issue. Contact the bank and tell them you’re having trouble managing.” I swallow hard, trying to keep my voice steady. “I know myself how hard it can be to tackle this kind of problem — but I can honestly tell you, running away doesn’t solve anything. The longer you leave it, the worse it’ll get.”
“Rebecca,” says Emma earnestly. “Would you say this is a common problem?”
“I’m afraid it is,” I reply. “It’s all too easy to forget those unpaid bills, to put them in a dressing table drawer, or. . or throw them in a skip. .”
“A skip?” says Rory, looking puzzled.
“Whatever,” I say hurriedly. “Everybody’s different.”
“I put mine in the dog basket,” interjects Fran. “Then he chews them and I can’t read them.”
“I can understand that,” I say, nodding. “But you know what, Fran? Once you take those letters out of the dog basket and actually read them, you’ll find they’re not nearly as bad as you think.”
“You really think so?” says Fran tremulously.
“Open each envelope,” I suggest, “and write down all the outstanding amounts. Then make a plan to pay them off, even if it’s only £5 a week. You can do it.”
There’s a long pause.
“Fran?” says Emma. “Are you still there?”
“Yes!” says Fran. “Yes, I’m still here — and I’m going to do it! You’ve convinced me. Thanks, Becky! I really appreciate your help!”
I beam back at the camera, my confidence restored.
“It’s a pleasure,” I say. “And you know, Fran, as soon as you turn that corner and wake up to the real world, your life will be transformed.”
I make a confident sweeping gesture with my arm, and as I do so, my gaze takes in the whole studio. And. . oh my God, it’s him.
I’m not hallucinating.
It’s really him. Standing at the corner of the set, wearing a security badge and sipping something in a polystyrene cup as though he belongs here. Derek Smeath is standing here in the Morning Coffee studios, ten yards away from me.
Derek Smeath of Endwich Bank. It doesn’t make any sense. What’s he doing here?
Oh God, and now he’s staring straight at me.
My heart begins to pound, and I swallow hard, trying to keep control of myself.
“Rebecca?” Emma says puzzledly, and I force myself to turn my attention back to the show. But all my confident words are withering on my lips. “So you really think, if she tries, Fran will be able to get her life in order?”
“I. . that’s right,” I say, and force a smile. “It’s just a question of facing up to it.”
I’m trying desperately to stay cool and professional — but all the bits of my life I’d so carefully buried are starting to worm their way out again. Here they come, wriggling into my mind, one piece of dreadful reality after another.
“Well,” says Rory. “Let’s all hope Fran takes Rebecca’s very good advice.”
My bank account. Thousands of pounds of debt.