Previously in Leeford Village: Cody explains his encounter with Amanda Smythe to Agnes. She believes him, but his £50 Premium Bond win is not enough for her to take him back. Edward Palmer has left for Cornwall to look at buying a property without Ethel’s knowledge. A sinkhole has appeared in the Stringers’ garden and Cody takes up the offer from Megan Watson to stay at her house.
‘A large one. It’s taken out most of the Stringers’ garden.’
Agnes puts a couple of bacon sandwiches in front of her son.
‘What about the house?’
‘It’s okay. They’ve evacuated everyone from the immediate area, just in case. The Council is calling in some experts, to see whether it is something that might be a problem throughout the village. They say it’s to do with mining at the beginning of the last century.’
‘That’ll bring the house prices down.’
Adam nods and bites into his sandwich.
‘So, where’s your dad going to stay.’
Adam shrugs his shoulders.
‘Do you care, Mom?’
Agnes sits at the table.
‘Of course, I care. I don’t want him out on the street.’
‘Well, I’m sure there’s plenty of women in Leeford waiting to take him in.’
‘Mom! You don’t believe what he said about Amanda Smythe do you?’
‘I do, son. When I think, she always comes on strong to your dad when he’s serving her.’
‘Well, I don’t believe him. First Meredith, then Amanda. Who’s next? Where is he right now?’
Agnes gets up from the table and walks over to the sink. She watches the tabby cat, that belongs to no one, sniffing around the bins.
‘I don’t know, Adam. I just hope he’s okay.’
Ethel stands outside Tricia’s sandwich shop, plucking up courage to go inside. When Tricia first opened her shop, Ethel saw her as a rival and wrote to the Council to see whether Planning allowed two cafés to trade in the same village. However, it was soon clear that the two businesses attracted a completely different clientele; Ethel’s remained the place for those who had lived all their lives in the village to catch up with the gossip and Tricia’s attracted newcomers, coffee connoisseurs and the smashed avocado on toast brigade. Tricia spots Ethel standing outside and waves. Ethel takes a deep breath and goes inside. The smell of freshly baked bread and coffee hits Ethel’s nostrils as she walks up to the counter.
‘Hello, Ethel. Everything okay?’
‘I heard you’d closed your café. It’s not Edward, is it?’
‘I only put up the sign last night.’
‘Well, you know how fast news travels in Leeford, Ethel.’
‘So, is it true?’ asks Tricia, arranging a tray of croissants.
‘It is. I’m calling it a day.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that. Billy’s café is a Leeford landmark.’
Ethel swallows down a lump that has risen in her throat.
‘Times change, Tricia. Actually, I’m looking to sell and wondered if you would be interested in buying it.’
Tricia raises her eyebrows. She wipes her hands on a piece of kitchen roll.
‘Gosh. Well, I’ve been wanting to expand the business. Let’s sit down and have a chat about it before the mid-morning mums arrive for their cappuccinos. What can I get you?’
Ethel peruses the menu, handwritten in flowery script on a board behind the counter. The varieties of tea and coffee are bewildering.
‘Just a pot of tea for me, Tricia.’
Tricia smiles. ‘A pot of tea it is, then.’
Allen Gomez is sitting at the kitchen table, scribbling into a notebook when Linda comes sleepily downstairs.
‘What are you doing?’ she asks, shuffling to the sink and filling a kettle.
‘A business plan. I’m going to see Ethel this morning.’
Linda tips a couple of spoons of coffee into a mug.
‘A business plan? You? I thought you were more of a ‘just do it and see what happens’ type of guy.’
Allen chews on the end of his pen.
‘I am. But I think we might need to borrow some money and lenders like to see a plan.’
‘Lenders? You mean the bank?’
‘The bank wouldn’t give us anything. They only lend to people who already have money.’
Linda picks up a box of cereals, looks at it for a moment, then puts it back down again.
‘So, you’re taking my advice?’
Allen looks up.
‘Banford Business Council.’
He throws down his pen.
‘No! How many times do I have to tell you? I am not going to Banfield Business Council!’
Linda pops a piece of bread into the toaster.
‘No need to be like that.’ The kettle boils and she pours water into the mug.
Allen sighs. ‘Sorry, Lin. I don’t find this stuff easy. I’m not brilliant with figures and I want to get it right.’
Linda waits for the bread to finish toasting. She spreads it thick with butter and marmalade and sits down next to Allen.
‘Let me help you. I want this café as much as you do.’
Allen kisses her on the cheek.
‘Don’t I get any toast?’
Doug Taylor is on the way to his shift at the butchers and spots Adam Thornton sitting on a bench at the edge of Green Crescent car park.
‘Hello Adam,’ he says cheerily.
Adam looks up wearily.
‘What’s up?’ He sits down next to Adam, who shuffles to one end to make room.
‘Oh, it’s this thing with my mom and dad. Well, Dad, actually.’
‘Yeah. It’s the talk of the village.’
‘At least it was until the sinkhole.’
‘Doug. You know my dad.’
‘I mean you know him.’
‘Probably not as well as you, but we are drinking buddies.’
‘Would you say he was a truthful man?’
‘Yes. Straight as a…as a…ruler.’
‘Yes. Or a straight edge. Yes, straight as a straight edge.’
‘Okay, Doug. I think you should stop with the similes.’
‘You should know that yourself, Adam.’
‘Since the Meredith incident, then Amanda Smythe, I’m not so…’
‘He says there’s nothing between him and Meredith. Just infatuation on his part.’
Doug is struggling to clear the image of Cody and Amanda Smythe from his mind.
‘Have you spoken to Meredith?’ he asks
‘She won’t answer my calls. Her shop’s been shut since the fête. I’m not even sure if she’s still in the village.’
‘I’ve got to go. But if your dad says there was nothing in it, then there’s nothing in it. I can guarantee you that. He’s as straight as a…’
‘Straight edge. Yes, you told me.’
‘Not a straight edge. As a die!’ Doug punches the air. ‘That’s the phrase I was looking for. Straight as a die.’
‘No problem. See you in the Cross later.’
Adam gives Doug a thumbs up.
‘What’s a die, Adam?’
‘No idea, mate. Absolutely no idea.’
‘I’ll have a chat with David tonight Ethel, but I expect he’ll agree with your terms.’
Ethel sits back and folds her arms.
‘Thank you, Tricia. You won’t regret it. And I’m glad there’s still going to be a Billy’s café in Leeford.’
‘Another cup of tea, Ethel.’
‘Oh, go on then. Actually, I’ll have one of those fancy coffees. I’d better get used to them, hadn’t I?’
Adam sits for a while on the bench, thoughts forming a queue in his mind, then tumbling over one another as they vie for his attention. The more he thinks about it, the more ludicrous the possibility of Meredith seeing anything in his father. There are pictures of him around the house of when he was younger, or at least there were before his mother put them away in a drawer. He would have been a catch then, with his rockabilly hairstyle – he always said he could be an Elvis imitator. But that was many years ago and a life of domesticity, fuelled by a diet of beer and left-over chips, had put paid to his ambition.
Meredith had told Adam he was the best thing that ever happened to her and if he hadn’t come into her life, she dreaded to think what would have happened to her. Adam can see how any man would fall for her. Amanda Smythe? Well, she does flirt with Cody every time she comes in for her fish supper. Doug is right. His dad is as straight as a straight edge, a ruler, or even a die, whatever that is. And he is missing him.
He stands up and stretches his arms out in front of him. Time to get this thing sorted, once and for all, he says to himself.
Ethel steps out into the bright mid-morning sunlight. The mums are filing into Tricia’s and ordering all sorts of coffee and herbal teas. The deal, to sell the café, retain the name and make Ethel the manager is almost complete and Ethel is bursting to go home and phone Edward.
Along the road she walks straight into Allen and Linda.
‘Hello you two.’
‘Ethel. Just the person. We want…’
‘And I want to thank you two for making me see the light of day!’ Ethel takes both their hands.
‘Oh,’ says Allen, impatiently, ‘so is there somewhere we can…’
‘Billy’s café is staying! It will be different, but still Billy’s. And it’s all down to you two.’
‘I’m sorry, Ethel. I thought you’d closed the café,’ says Linda, taking back her hand.
‘For a short while. Until the new owner has completely renovated it.’
‘New owner?’ exclaim Allen and Linda, in unison.
‘Yes. I’m selling it to Tricia!’
Adam is about to walk back along Green Crescent when he is distracted by a voice coming from a house on his right. It’s Frank Watson’s house, but not his voice. The voice belongs to his father who is standing on the doorstep, hugging Megan, Frank’s daughter.
‘Jeez. How many more?’ thinks Adam, hurrying along the Crescent into the village.