‘She might laugh?’
‘And she might not. The way I see it is you’ve got two choices here. Take the risk and tell her you love her or wait until it’s too late and someone else tells her they love her. How will you feel then?’
‘Like a fool?’
I stand there with the cake tin in my hands, ready to put it in the oven.
‘For the rest of your life, mate. Trust me, I know, because it happened to me. It’s Christmas – take the risk. You’ll always regret it if you don’t.’
I stare at the radio, and then I put the cake tin back down on the table and reach for my phone.
I’ve lied to the radio show producer about my name. I’m Rhona, and I’m up next.
‘Hi, Rhona,’ Jack says. ‘What would you like to talk about?’
I’ve turned my radio off because of feedback, so it’s just me and Jack chatting on the phone, like always.
‘Hi, Jack,’ I say. ‘I was listening to your earlier caller and I wanted to say how much your advice rang true with me.’
‘It did? Why’s that?’
I can’t gauge whether he’s realized it’s me or not yet. I don’t think so.
‘Because I know what it’s like to miss your chance and to spend the rest of your life waiting to feel that way again.’
He pauses for a beat. ‘Want to tell everyone your story, Rhona?’
‘It’s pretty long,’ I say.
‘That’s okay. I’m not going anywhere. Take your time.’
‘Okay,’ I say. ‘Well, it started on a snowy December day almost a decade ago.’
‘Fitting,’ he murmurs. ‘Go on.’
‘I was on the bus home from work. I’d had a God-awful day and I was done in, and then all of a sudden I looked out of the window and saw the most beautiful man – or boy as I thought of him then – sitting at the bus stop. I looked right at him, and he looked right at me, and I’ve never in my life felt anything like it. Not before and not afterwards,’ I say, letting it all out in a rush. ‘I spent a whole year looking for him in bars and cafes, but I didn’t find him.’
Jack’s breath is uneven in my ear. ‘You never found him?’
‘Not until my best friend found him first and fell in love with him too.’
‘Wow … Rhona,’ he says slowly. ‘That must have been tough.’
‘Unimaginably,’ I say. I’m done, and I have no idea what to say next.
‘Can I tell you something you probably don’t know?’ he asks after a second of silence. ‘I bet it was as tough for him as it was for you.’
‘Oh, I don’t think so,’ I say. ‘I asked him once, stupidly, if he remembered me from the bus, and he said no.’
I hear him swallow. ‘He lied to you. Of course he saw you sitting there. He saw you there with tinsel in your hair, and he felt the exact same way, and he wished like hell that he’d got on that damn bus before it was too late.’
‘Do you really think so?’ I ask, my eyes closed, remembering. I’m that girl again.
‘Yes,’ he breathes. ‘But he didn’t know what to do. So he did nothing, like a mug, and then he stood on the sidelines and watched you fall in love with someone else, and still he didn’t say it. He had his chances and he missed them all.’
‘Sometimes you just meet the right person at the wrong time,’ I say softly.
‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘And then you spend every day afterwards wishing that time could be rearranged.’
I can’t speak; tears clog my throat.
‘Did you ever tell him how you feel?’
‘No.’ Tears spill down my cheeks. ‘He told me a while back that he loved me, and I didn’t say it back.’
‘No,’ he says, low, fractured. ‘You didn’t.’
‘Is it too late?’
I take a second to get my breath and hope his listeners will bear with me.
‘I don’t know,’ I whisper.
‘I think you should tell him. Perhaps he’s still there, waiting for you to say it. What have you got to lose?’
I’m trending on Twitter. Or rather Rhona is.
#FindRhona #WhereIsRhona #JackAndRhona
It seems that David Tennant heard my late-night radio conversation with Jack, tweeted #findRhona, and in doing so caught the imagination of the entire nation. I’m now one half of a Christmas love story that the twittersphere is determined to give its happy ending. I scroll through the hundreds of tweets that have popped up in the minutes since the call, wide-eyed. Thank God I used a fake name, I think, listening to the snippets of our conversation shared all over the net.
I jump as my mobile rings. Sarah. Of course. She always listens to his shows too.
‘Oh my GOD!’ she shouts. I can hear the baby crying in the background. ‘You’re Rhona!’
I put my phone on the table in front of me and hold my head in my hands. ‘I’m sorry, Sar, I didn’t mean to tell everyone like that.’
‘Christ, Laurie, I’m not angry, I’m bloody crying buckets here! Get your sorry ass up there to him this minute or I’m getting on a plane to drag you up there myself!’
‘What if …’
She cuts in. ‘Check your emails. I’ve just sent your Christmas present.’
‘Hang on,’ I say, dragging my laptop over and opening my inbox to see Sarah’s new email.
‘Ah! I need to go, Lu, the baby’s just piddled all over me without his nappy on,’ she says, laughing. ‘I’ll be watching Twitter for Rhona updates. Don’t screw this up!’
She rings off as I click open her gift: a one-way train ticket to Edinburgh.
Shit. There’s press outside my flat and my mobile has been ringing non-stop since I got home last night. Everyone wants to know who Rhona is, because it was pretty damn clear from our conversation that we know each other very, very well. Unbelievably, it’s just scrolled across the rolling TV news tickertape – have they got nothing else to talk about? This wouldn’t happen at any other time of the year. Scotland has officially gone into a Christmas love story meltdown, and unlikely as it would seem, I’m playing Hugh Grant.
My mobile rings yet again, and this time I answer it because it’s my boss.
‘O’Mara!’ he barks. ‘What’s all this then?’
I struggle to answer. ‘It’s all a bit crazy, Al. Sorry, man.’
‘The switchboard’s flashing brighter than the bloody Christmas tree, son! The whole damn country will be tuning in to see if Rhona calls back again. You’d better get your scrawny backside in here pronto and make sure she does!’
As usual, he dispenses with the social niceties, hanging up without a goodbye. I stand in the middle of my lounge and rub my hands through my hair. What the hell am I supposed to do next? I don’t think I can even get out of here without being mobbed. I look at my mobile and finally pluck up the courage to ring the one person I really need to speak to.
‘Hi, this is Laurie. I can’t pick up right now. Please leave a message and I’ll call you soon.’
I chuck my phone on the side and sit down out of view of the windows.
I’ve never been in through the back entrance of the studio before; we save that for the celebrity guests who sometimes rock up for the breakfast show.
‘Big for your boots now, fella,’ Ron, our sixty-something security guard, jokes as he lets me in. He’s usually posted out in reception doing the crossword at this time of night. ‘Go on up.’
I take the lift to the top floor, and as I step out, I get a little ripple of applause from the handful of staff on duty.
‘Very funny.’ I shrug out of my coat, sticking my thumb up to Lena through the studio glass. She’s on air before me every night, and she waves like a loon then makes a heart symbol with her hands. Great. I don’t think there’s a single person in Scotland who doesn’t know about me and Laurie now. Or Rhona. I’ve tried her a dozen more times, and she still isn’t picking up; this whole circus must have freaked her out. I almost tried her mum last night, but common sense kicked in; I’m sure the last thing she needs is a late-night call because I can’t find her daughter. Laurie’s gone to ground, and the whole country is waiting for me to find her.