I had to lie to the cab driver just now. All I knew was the name of Jack’s radio station, and the first thing he said when I told him where I wanted to go was, ‘Here, you’re no’ that Rhona, eh?’ He was joking around, but my stomach was in knots every time he glanced at me in the rear-view mirror as we slipped through the busy, Christmas-bright city streets. I’m here. I’m actually here. I’ve been on the train since four o’clock this afternoon; I thought the long journey would give me some valuable thinking time. What am I going to say to Jack? What am I going to do when I get to Edinburgh? But in the end I just laid my head against the cold glass and watched the scenery change as we moved northwards.
It’s a much more beautiful city than I’d imagined, soaring grey buildings and grand, imposing architecture. Perhaps it’s the fact that the streets glitter with frost and there are snowflakes blowing in the air, but there’s a magical edge to it. It’s Christmas in two days; revellers spill on to the cobbled pavements from the bars and pubs, and it’s wall-to-wall festive music on the cab radio.
‘There you are, doll.’ The driver pulls over into a bus stop to let me out. ‘It’s just there.’ He nods across the street towards a glass-fronted building. ‘Good luck with getting in there tonight.’ I follow his line of vision and my heart clenches at the sight of the gaggle of press photographers hanging around on the stone steps outside. I look back at the cab driver, uncertain.
‘How much is it please?’ My voice sounds thin and wavering.
He looks across the street, shaking his head. ‘You’re her, eh?’
I nod, terrified. I don’t know if I can trust him, but at this point, I don’t have any better options. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’
He drums his fingers against the steering wheel, thinking. ‘Stay there.’ Then he flicks the hazards on and gets out of the cab, dodging the traffic as he jogs towards the radio station building.
Every caller so far has been someone asking about Rhona or giving me some kind of tip about how to win her back, and I’ve tried to fend them off as vaguely as I can. I’m almost done for the night and I’m just about to treat the listeners to ‘Fairytale of New York’ when Lorne shakes his head at me from his booth and tells me there’s one last caller on line one. I flick the red flashing light and wait.
‘Hey, Jack. It’s me again. Rhona.’
‘Hey, you,’ I say, and I think I hear the whole country sigh with relief.
‘It’s so good to talk to you again. I wasn’t sure you’d call back.’
‘I missed you,’ she says. There’s a soft, husky note to her voice that makes me wish I was the only one who could hear her.
‘I’ve missed you for the last nine years.’ My voice cracks; the truth is the only thing I have to give Laurie now, and I don’t care who else is listening.
I hear her intake of breath, and outside in the office, Haley, my assistant, stands up at her desk and smiles at me through the glass with tears running down her cheeks.
‘I love you, Jack,’ Laurie says, and I can hear she’s crying too.
‘Don’t be sad,’ I say, gentle. ‘I’ve spent nearly a decade wishing I’d got on that damn bus.’ Suddenly I realize: I need to be wherever she is, right now. ‘I need to see you,’ I murmur, and Haley clasps her hands and kind of punches the air.
‘I’m here, Jack,’ Laurie says, half laughing. Confused, I swing towards Lorne in his booth, and she’s there. Laurie. Laurie’s really there, smiling at me like that first time we ever saw each other. She’s here, she’s smiling, and she has tinsel in her hair. Lorne grins behind her and throws his hands up in the air, then thank God he cuts to the next track.
‘I’ll take over now,’ he says, smooth in my ear. ‘Get in here. This girl’s come a long way to see you.’
If I needed any reassurance that coming to Scotland was the right thing to do, the look on Jack’s face when he sees me is it. My guardian angel/taxi driver and the radio station security guard cooked up a plan between them to sneak me in through the back door, ably assisted by Haley, Jack’s assistant. She met me downstairs, thoroughly overexcited, and when we stepped out of the lift she gave me a quick hug.
‘I’m really glad you came,’ she said, shiny-eyed. I thought for a second she was going to cry. ‘I’ve always thought there was someone … he’s never seemed properly settled,’ she added. As we passed the office Christmas tree, she stopped and grabbed my hand.
‘Wait,’ she said. ‘Let me just …’
And then she tugged a strand of silver tinsel from the branches and wound it in my hair.
And now, finally, it’s just me and Jack. He laughingly closed the blinds on his cheering colleagues, giving us some privacy in the tiny glass booth.
‘How did you …?’
He reaches out and holds my face in his hands, looking at me as if he can’t believe I’m really here.
‘I had help,’ I laugh, giddy. ‘The taxi driver and –’
He stops my words with his kiss, making me gasp, his hands in my hair, his mouth full of longing and sweetness and relief.
After a long, breathless minute he stops kissing me, and his eyes lock with mine. ‘Why did we wait this long?’
‘I’d wait a lifetime for you,’ I say. ‘I love you, Jack O’Mara.’
‘And I love you, Laurie James,’ he breathes. ‘Stay with me?’
He kisses me again and I melt, because his kisses have been forbidden for so long. Finally I pull back in his arms and look up.
‘Do you ever wonder what might have happened if you’d just got on the bus?’
He half shrugs, laughing as he unwinds the tinsel from my hair. ‘Boy sees girl. Girl sees boy. Boy gets on the bus, snogs girl’s face off, and they live happily ever after.’
I laugh softly. ‘It’s a pretty dull story when you put it like that.’
‘We got there in the end,’ he says, pressing a kiss against my forehead.
I hold him, and he holds me, and for the first time in years, there’s nothing missing at all.