Defiantly I open the card again to read the message.
“No matter if it’s rain or shine, we all know that you’ll be fine,” sings the card’s tinny voice at once. “Hold your head up, keep it high — all that matters is you try.”
To Becky, I read. With love and thanks for all your wonderful help. We’re so proud to know you. From your friends Janice and Martin.
I stare down at the card, reading the words over and over, and feel my eyes grow hot with tears. Janice and Martin have been good friends over the years. They’ve always been kind to me, even when I gave them such disastrous advice. I owe this to them. And I’m bloody well not going to let them down.
I blink a few times, take a deep breath, and look up to see Luke Brandon gazing at me, his eyes dark and expressionless.
“Friends,” I say coolly. “Sending me their good wishes.”
Carefully I place the card on the coffee table, making sure it stays open so it’ll keep singing, then pull my balloon down from the ceiling and tie it to the back of my chair.
“OK,” comes Zelda’s voice from the door. “Luke and Rebecca. Are you ready?”
“Couldn’t be readier,” I say calmly, and walk past Luke to the door.
AS WE STRIDE ALONG the corridors to the set, neither Luke nor I says a word. I dart a glance at him as we turn a corner — and his face is even steelier than it was before.
Well, that’s fine. I can do hard and businesslike, too. Firmly I lift my chin and begin to take longer strides, pretending to be Alexis Carrington in Dynasty.
“So, do you two already know each other?” says Zelda, who’s walking along between us.
“We do, as it happens,” says Luke shortly.
“In a business context,” I say, equally shortly. “Luke’s always trying to promote some financial product or other. And I’m always trying to avoid his calls.”
Zelda gives an appreciative laugh and I see Luke’s eyes flash angrily. But I really don’t care. I don’t care how angry he gets. In fact, the angrier he gets, the better I feel.
“So — Luke, you must have been quite pissed off at Rebecca’s article in The Daily World,” says Zelda.
“I wasn’t pleased,” says Luke. “By any of it,” he adds in a lower voice.
What does that mean? I turn my head, and to my astonishment, he’s looking at me with a sober expression. Almost apologetic. Hmm. This must be an old PR trick. Soften up your opponent and then go in for the kill. But I’m not going to fall for it.
“He phoned me up to complain,” I say airily to Zelda. “Can’t cope with the truth, eh, Luke? Can’t cope with seeing what’s under the PR gloss?”
There’s silence and I dart another look at him. Now he looks so furious, I think for a terrifying moment that he’s going to hit me. Then his face changes and, in an icily calm voice, he says, “Let’s just get on the fucking set and get this over with, shall we?”
Zelda raises her eyebrows at me and I grin back. This is more like it.
“OK,” says Zelda as we approach a set of double swing doors. “Here we are. Keep your voices down when we go in.”
She pushes open the doors and ushers us in, and for a moment my cool act falters. I feel all shaky and awed, like Laura Dern in Jurassic Park when she sees the dinosaurs for the first time. Because there it is, in real life. The real live Morning Coffee set. With the sofa and all the plants and everything, all lit up by the brightest, most dazzling lights I’ve ever seen in my life.
This is just unreal. How many zillion times have I sat at home, watching this on the telly? And now I’m actually going to be part of it.
“We’ve got a couple of minutes till the commercial break,” says Zelda, leading us across the floor, across a load of trailing cables. “Rory and Emma are still with Elisabeth in the library set.”
She gestures to us to sit down on opposite sides of the coffee table, and, gingerly, I do so. The sofa’s harder than I was expecting, and kind of. . different. Everything’s different. The plants seem bigger than they do on the screen, and the coffee table is smaller. God, this is weird. The lights are so bright on my face, I can hardly see anything, and I’m not quite sure how to sit. A girl comes and threads a microphone cable under my shirt and clips it to my lapel. Awkwardly, I lift my hand to push my hair back, and immediately Zelda comes hurrying over.
“Try not to move too much, OK, Rebecca?” she says. “We don’t want to hear a load of rustling.”
“Right,” I say. “Sorry.”