Previously in Leeford Village: Gail Perkins and Martin Frobisher, Leeford’s arsonists, have been arrested and have confessed all. PC Gary Carr is satisfied that it is a job well done, albeit one that will end his career. Greg Withall is demanding money from Nigel Cleeve, threatening to report him to the Food Standards Agency for his dodgy meat purchases. Roy is going to have a surprise when courgettes start to appear, instead of his intended cucumbers. And two- thirds of the stalls are taken, as the day of the fête approaches.
‘That was lovely. Absolutely lovely. Moved me to tears.’ Jessica flaps her hands in front of her face.
‘Moved me to tears, too’, says Nick, adding, ‘but probably not for the same reason.’
‘Nick!’ Jessica thumps him on the arm.
‘Just kidding. I thought you were both great. And you go so well together. You’ll be the next, er, er…well, I’m sure you’ll do very well.’
Zack and Clare high-five each other.
‘Does that mean we’ve passed the audition?’ asks Clare.
‘What do you think, Jessica?’ asks Nick.
‘It’s a “yes” from me!’ she shouts, raising a hand.
‘And it’s a “yes” from me. You’ve got four “yesses”!’ Nick sits back in his chair.
‘Four? There’s only two of you,’ frowns Zack.
‘Sorry, having a Simon Cowell moment. Always wanted to say that,’ laughs Nick.
‘I thought Frank Watson was going to be on the panel,’ says Clare, relieved at his unexplained absence but curious, nonetheless.
‘He was supposed to be, Clare,’ says Jessica, also relieved, ‘but he left a message to say that he wouldn’t be able to make it.’
‘Oh, good,’ says Zack. ‘I mean, oh, dear, what a shame.’
When their laughter has subsided, Zack asks, ‘who else are you auditioning?’
Nick and Jessica look at each other, then at the sheets of paper in front of them. Nick appears to run his finger down a list.
‘Let’s see. There’s…hmm…and…hmm…and, of course, hmm…they were excellent…’
Jessica interrupts. ‘What he’s trying to say, Zack, is there were no others. You were the only ones that auditioned.’
‘But, you are the best we’ve had!’ says Nick, prompting another thump from Jessica.
‘Don’t look like that, Zack,’ says Jessica. ‘You and Clare were great. Are great. And you’ll make brilliant headliners.’
‘Thank you both for your support. Come on Clare. We’ve got a show to put together!’
He picks up his guitar, grabs Clare by the hand and they run out of the Community Centre.
Five minutes to go. Five minutes before she embarks on her new life, a leap into the unknown, a leap that is frightening and exhilarating, not necessarily in equal measure.
She has said her goodbyes to her sister, Linda, at the house, saying she couldn’t bear the idea of watching her out of the window of the bus as it takes her to Birmingham Airport. Linda will be fine, she thinks. She has her man, even though Sherry would prefer Linda’s man to be anyone other than Allen Gomez. She checks her handbag for the tenth time that day: ticket, passport (hurriedly applied for), money (pounds and enough US dollars to buy some food and drink when she arrives at Las Vegas airport), working visa. She sees the bus arriving and her heart skips a beat. A couple of minutes later, she finds an empty seat at the back.
‘This is it, girl. No turning back now,’ she says to herself, feeling a lump rise up in her throat. ‘Don’t cry!’
The bus leaves Banfield. Sherry looks out of the back window as the place she has known all her life falls away into the distance behind her. In her suitcase she has all the cards sent to her from well-wishers, some of whom she doesn’t even know that well. She has never thought she was particularly popular, but the number of cards she has received proves otherwise. As the bus travels through Leeford Village, it passes Jessica’s hairdressers, now fully restored after the fire, Meredith’s card shop (where she knows many of the cards have come from), the library, Dr Roberts’ surgery and George and Clara Dennis’s house. Sights so familiar, she has taken them for granted. How I’ll miss all this, she thinks. Finally, she passes the church, where she first sang in public.
‘What a voice!’ Reverend Peterson had exclaimed, ‘you’ll be on the stage one day. You mark my words.’ She marks his words, with tears streaming down her cheeks as the bus gathers speed towards Birmingham.
Zack and Clare sit at the Peterson’s kitchen table, drinking a celebratory shandy.
‘Did you notice that Jessica’s a little, you know, around the…’ Zack points to his stomach.
‘Do you mean, did I notice that Jessica’s pregnant?’
‘Well, yes. I think that’s what I mean.’
‘You’ve gone red. You’re blushing!’
Zack takes a swig of shandy.
‘It’s not a word I’ve ever said before!’
‘When we walked into the audition, I noticed and she noticed me noticing. She mouthed “yes, I am”, but then she put her finger to her lips, like she was telling me to keep it a secret.’
‘Won’t be a secret for very long, Clare. It’s pretty obvious.’
‘Well, I’m not going to tell anyone. Are you?’
‘Definitely not,’ says Zack, emphatically.
‘Why do you say it like that?’
‘Like what?’ Zack walks over to the sink and drops his empty can in the recycling bin.
‘Like you don’t agree with it, or something.’
‘Let’s talk about the fête,’ he says, returning to the table with a couple of packets of crisps.
‘Don’t change the subject. You don’t agree with it, do you.’
Zack opens a packet and takes a large crisp from the top.
‘No, if you must know. I don’t agree with it!’
Clare leans back in her chair.
‘Because they’re not married.’
Clare sits with her mouth wide open, a look of incredulity on her face.
It’s a while before she speaks, during which time Zack noisily eats half the packet of crisps.
‘Well, aren’t you the vicar’s son?’ says Clare.
‘Yes. I am actually. And I think it’s wrong to have children before marriage.’
Clare goes to take a crisp from Zack’s packet but he pushes her hand away.
‘I don’t think stealing’s right, either. Eat your own!’ He pushes the second packet across the table. They burst out laughing.
‘You’re so last century, but I love you, Mr Morality.’
‘So you should, you wicked woman. So you should.’
Cody is preparing the batter, stirring it around a large white plastic bucket. Agnes is filling the chip fryers with fresh oil. They have not spoken for two days and Cody knows it is down to him to breach the impasse. He puts a lid on the bucket and carries it to the back room.
‘I made a mistake, Agnes. Of course I was thinking of you when I wrote the sonnet.’
Agnes switches on the burners. After a few minutes, bubbles rise up through the oil and she closes the covers.
‘And I wrote “blue eyes” because I had been listening to Elton John earlier. His song was stuck in my head. An “earworm” they call it. I think. Agnes.’
Agnes stands with her arms folded.
‘You must think I’m stupid. Next you’ll be telling me you’d just heard Crystal Gayle singing “Don’t it make my brown eyes blue?” on the radio.’
‘No, it was definitely…oh, I see what you did there. Very funny. That’s what I love so much about you. Your humour. Among other things of course. Many …other …things …where are you going?’
‘Out. You can do the shift on your own tonight. Or maybe you can do it with Frank.’
‘Frank? Frank Watson, do you mean? Or Frank Reed?’
‘Frank Sinatra, Cody. Ol’ blue eyes!’
Zack and Clare are sitting in the basement, working through the songs they intend to play at the fête.
‘Do you think we’ll carry it off?’ asks Clare, as Zack is retuning his guitar.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Without a band. There’ll be lots of people there and we’re very quiet.’
‘We’re only quiet in here. They’ll be loads of amplification. And lights. And pyrotechnics.
And a laser of course, spelling our names out in the sky. I think we’ll be noticed.’
Zack strums an E-chord.
Clare shakes her head.
‘It’s a real shame there was no one else to audition,’ says Nick, stacking the table they have been using at the back of the Community Hall.
‘I mean, Zack and Clare are great, but I’m not sure an acoustic duo will be able to entertain everyone for an hour.’
‘Simon and Garfunkel did. The Everly Brothers. The Proclaimers,’ says Jessica.
‘Yes, but they were already well-known by the time they were filling concert venues.’
‘Well, Zack and Clare are all we have and I really like them. They go so well together.’
Nick carefully wraps his arms around Jessica’s waist.
‘Like us, you mean?’ he kisses her on the back of the neck.
‘Yes, like us.’ She squeezes Nick’s hand.
‘Let’s go. I’m starving. Fancy some chips?’
‘Absolutely. It’s what Simon always has after the X-Factor.’
‘Of course it is. And I bet Nicole has been known to have a chip, or two.’
As Nick is switching off the lights, Jessica hears someone moving about in the entrance.
‘Hello?’ calls Jessica. She walks towards the door. No-one there.
‘Strange. I’m sure I heard someone,’ she says.
Nick joins her. They hear the toilet flush. Then a door opens.
‘Sorry, I’m a bit nervous. That’s the fifth time this afternoon. Is this where the auditions are?’
Nick and Jessica look at each other.
‘Well, they were. But we’re just on our way out,’ says Nick. ‘I’m afraid you’re too late. Next year, maybe?’
‘Yes, this is where they are,’ says Jessica, ‘in the Hall.’
‘Jessica!’ whispers Nick. ‘Surely you’re not going to…’
Jessica ignores him and switches on the hall lights.
‘Ok, so what would you like to start with?’ she says.
Nick puts his head in his hands and groans.