Authors: Christina Jones
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Erin looked down at her pale-blue, slender-strapped sandals and laughed. ‘Thank you. I’ve been practising – rather unsuccessfully – walking in heels before the wedding.’
‘Oh, I love them.’ Nalisha continued to smile. ‘It’s amazing how well the cheap shoe shops can copy the designers these days, isn’t it? I had an original pair of those a couple of seasons ago when they were fashionable.’
Erin’s mouth was still open
as Nalisha slid herself into the Mercedes.
‘Well,’ Jay said, waving as Tavish started to drive away. ‘That wasn’t too bad, was it?’
? Hadn’t he
‘And it was fabulous to see Nalisha again.’ Jay, clearly unaware of Erin holding herself tightly in check, slid his hand down her arm and stroked her fingers. ‘I’m sorry it went a bit astray. But no one can spoil our wedding day, Erin. No one. Not even my mother.’
‘What?’ Erin was still smarting. ‘Possibly not, but she’s having a damn good try.’
‘She means well. Honestly.’
‘Mmmm. Maybe. And what about Nalisha?’
Nalisha the two-faced bitch woman from hell.
Jay kissed her, and despite everything, she melted. It was OK. Nalisha was on her way back to Birmingham – oooh, no, Solihull, darling – wasn’t she? And now it was just her and Jay. Together. As it always would be.
‘Oh,’ Erin sighed happily. ‘I do love you.’
‘I love you, too. Such a shame I have to be in surgery this afternoon, because I really, really want to –’
The Mercedes came to a sudden halt on the gravel and reversed slowly.
Deena leaned from the window. ‘Oh, darlings, Nalisha and I have just had such a wonderful idea. As she’s going to be at a bit of a loose end until she takes up her new job, why doesn’t she come down here and stay in Nook Green for a couple of days? She can help you with all the little odds and ends that are bound to crop up before the wedding.’
Nooo! Erin screamed silently.
‘And she’ll be able help
Erin out with any of those awkward little cultural queries that are bound to occur,’ Deena continued, still smiling.
Over my dead body, Erin thought.
‘Oh, I don’t need any help at all,’ Erin said through gritted teeth. ‘I’m perfectly well organised, thank you. It’s a lovely offer, of course, but …’
Jay shrugged. ‘Well, if Nalisha wants to be bored to tears in a very tiny Berkshire village, then I’m sure we’d love to have her for a few days, wouldn’t we?’
No, we bloody wouldn’t, Erin, thought crossly, trying not to look at Nalisha, smiling smugly in the back of the car. Nalisha is clearly a grade-A cow.
‘Fabulous!’ Deena beamed
some more. ‘I’ll leave the arrangements to you then, darlings. Byeeeee!’
‘So, when does she arrive?’ Doug Boswell clambered over several packing cases in the back room of the Old Curiosity Shop, easing his long ripped-jeaned legs carefully to the floor. ‘Nalisha – this stunning Indian woman that you seem to dislike? She’ll be here soon, won’t she?’
‘Don’t remind me. The day after tomorrow. Fortunately it means we’ll get tomorrow’s dress fitting out of the way before she gets here,’ Erin said, straightening up and inelegantly wiping dust from under her nose with the back of her hand. ‘Jay’s booked her into the Bates Motel for three days.’
‘The Bates Motel?’ Doug chuckled. ‘Seriously?’
Erin nodded. ‘It’s what she deserves.’
Esme Bates ran a small hotel – the White House – all very genteel and very twee, on the outskirts of Nook Green. Esme was about ninety but she had an IQ of about six million and had very, very high standards.
Doug laughed. ‘Wouldn’t she
prefer to stay at the Merry Cobbler?’
‘She’d probably prefer to stay at the Ritz but it isn’t going to happen,’ Erin snorted. ‘And I’d prefer it if she stayed in Solihull for ever and ever and ever.’
‘You really don’t want her here, do you?’
Erin frowned at her uncle across the shop. ‘Oh, well spotted.’
It was a week after the Keskars visit to the Swan. Early August had followed late July and settled steamily into what the red tops still called a Proppa Scorcha. And, with only five weeks to go, it seemed to Erin that all her carefully organised wedding plans were rapidly unravelling. And now Nalisha was coming to stay for a few days. And Nalisha, who had
to have a word with Deena about interfering, was clearly a two-faced bitch.
Jay had thought it was a great idea, and Erin had found it impossible to tell him that she really, really didn’t, without sounding jealous and insecure and needy. And Nalisha’s parting shot about her cheap sandals might have not been as cruel as it sounded, might it? Maybe …
‘But there’s never been anything between Jay and Nalisha, has there?’ Doug sliced through a wodge of gaffer tape and delved into the packing case. ‘Romantically, I mean?’
‘No, I don’t think so. He says not, but honestly I’m not sure. I’m not sure about anything any more.’
‘Erin, you have to trust him. Believe him. You can’t start doubting him now. Although why on earth he’d risk upsetting you by having this woman to visit, I have no idea.’
Erin sighed. ‘Oh, you know Jay. He’s got this deep-rooted honour-your-parents respect thing, which is good – usually – so, he doesn’t want to say anything to upset Deena. And, believe me, this was Deena’s idea.’
‘Well, yes, she can be
very persuasive.’ Doug grinned. ‘But even so, I still think Jay should have the balls to tell his mother to mind her own business.’
‘If only it was that easy. You know what Jay’s like when it comes to family. He’d never dream of saying anything like that.’
‘Pity.’ Doug stretched and flexed his shoulders. ‘Hell, it’s hot.’
‘Mmmm – far too hot. Anyway, I’ve decided that I can cope with Nalisha for a couple of days. Even if she does think she’s going to try to persuade me that Deena’s right, and I should go all-out Indian for the wedding.’
‘Some hope,’ Doug mumbled from the depths of the massive box. ‘I don’t envy Jay, though. He’s the one caught up in the middle. You don’t think he’ll be
by all this sudden parental pressure, do you?’
‘God, no.’ Erin frowned. ‘At least I hope not … No, surely not? Not after all we’ve been through to get the wedding organised the way we want it. He wouldn’t – would he?’
‘Don’t ask me.’ Doug shook his head. ‘I just think that if Deena keeps on and on at him about what’s right in her eyes for her only son’s wedding, he might feel that he has to give in on at least some of the points – what with the family honour code and everything.’
Erin exhaled. The idea was too ridiculous for words. ‘No way. I know Jay too well. I know that would never happen.’
‘Good, that’s OK then. Now, what have we got here – ooh, nice – lots of blue and white china. You can do a window display, Erin, love. That’ll bring the punters in – the tourists all love a bit of blue-and-white.’
Erin laughed. ‘OK – but you were lucky. Buying those big boxes at auction without having a clue what was in them. It could have been a real load of rubbish.’
‘Rubbish,’ Doug said
sternly, pushing his floppy sun-streaked hair away from his eyes, ‘is our stock in trade. One person’s rubbish is our bread and butter.’
‘Nice mixed metaphor.’ Erin grinned, blowing sawdust from a massive blue and white serving dish.
‘And –’ Doug grinned back across the storeroom ‘– actually, these all came as a freebie.’
‘Really?’ Erin cradled the serving dish carefully in case the brittle aging meant that any pressure would smash it to smithereens. She examined it more closely. It was grimy but perfect. ‘How come?’
‘I sold Dora Wilberforce’s Staff highwaymen at a stonking profit, then I bid for the cases unseen with some of what I made. See? Blue and white freebies.’
‘God help me – I’m related to Mr Micawber.’ Erin shook her head, carefully putting the serving dish out of harm’s way. ‘It’s a good job you leave the accounting to me.’
‘Why else would I employ you? You’re spider-phobic and feel so sorry for everyone who wants to sell their family heirlooms that you pay them way over the odds. I only keep you on because you’re a whizz with the books and the paperwork and keeping the accountant happy.’ Doug winked. ‘So, what do you reckon to changing the window display this afternoon?’
‘Fine by me. But the way things are going, we might as well forget the blue and white and have a window display of Indian artefacts instead. Nalisha’s on her way to stay, Jay’s invited Kam to be a partner at the surgery and he’s coming down to have a look round, Deena thinks I’m getting married in a ceremonial sari,
she wants Jay to wear a bloody turban!’
Doug laughed. ‘No, sorry – but
that’s not a bad idea, actually. Oh no, not the turban, that’s terrible – I mean the Eastern display. You could start this afternoon – a nice window filled with red and gold, draped in sari silks, and some bejewelled elephants and a few little gods and goddesses scattered everywhere and –’
Erin shook her head and lifted a fat blue and white teapot aloft. ‘And I’ll throw this at you if you even
‘Check that teapot for spiders first, then,’ Doug chuckled. ‘You wouldn’t want an incy-wincy falling out on you, would you?’
‘Eeeuwww.’ Erin shuddered, quickly putting the teapot down. ‘No, but seriously, I think it would be lovely to have an Indian display for the week before the wedding. I’m sure we can find some stuff in here or scour the salerooms. But not yet. Not now. If Deena gets wind of it she’ll think she’s already won us both over to all things Indian, and she hasn’t.’
‘I don’t understand the woman.’ Doug sliced through the tape on the second packing case. ‘You and Jay have always made it clear that your wedding was going to be a happy mix of both cultures, so I can’t see for the life of me why she wants to hijack it.’
‘Oh, it’s all to do with heritage and traditional rituals or something.’ Erin frowned at a pile of dusty mismatched blue and white saucers. ‘Have we got the cups to go with these? Oh, yes … in that box over there … Um, yes – Deena seems to think the wrath of the gods will be heaped upon the heads of the Keskar dynasty if we don’t have a
and a, um,
and all the other stuff. And now there’s bloody Nalisha to cope with as well.’
‘Who might not be as bad as you think once you get to know her properly.’
! She’s breathtakingly
beautiful, she’s amazingly intelligent, she knows everything about Jay, she’s single and Hindu and totally sodding perfect for him.’
‘Whoa,’ Doug said reasonably. ‘Jay clearly doesn’t think so. Otherwise he wouldn’t be marrying you, would he?’
‘No, I s’pose not.’ Erin sighed. ‘Oh, this is all so annoying. I just wish Deena had kept her nose out.’
Doug chuckled. ‘But, seriously, if Deena wants you to add a few parties, I can’t really see the harm if it suits both factions.’
Erin paused in matching up cups and saucers. ‘There aren’t any damn factions. Or at least, there weren’t. And Deena won’t be happy with any half measures, believe me. Whatever she says, it has to be full-on Indian or nothing at all.’
‘But that’s as daft as your mum insisting everyone at the wedding wears twinsets and pearls and drinks tea out of bone china and eats cucumber sandwiches.’
Erin giggled. ‘And don’t suggest that option to Mum, either. You know what she’s like for everything Ye Olde English since she’s been in Australia. I couldn’t cope with an all-out cultural war. Oh, was that the shop bell? A customer?’
‘You go and have a look, love.’ Doug buried his head into the packing case. ‘It might be Gina.’
‘Why don’t you want to see Gina?’ Erin frowned across the storeroom. ‘Have you had a row? Or have you just lost interest? You have, haven’t you?’
‘Oh, you’re useless. She’s so lovely. Most men would give their eye teeth for someone like Gina. Gorgeous, single, no baggage, drop-dead sexy, easy-going,
she owns a pub … Gina is perfect for you.’
‘She certainly thinks so.’
Erin put her hands on
her hips and surveyed her uncle with mock severity. ‘Honestly, you’re hopeless. You sound like some truculent teenager rather than a fifty-something grown-up. It’s way past time for you to settle down.’
‘Easy for you to say.’ Doug grinned lazily. ‘You and Jay are rock solid – and your mum and dad met at school and haven’t glanced at anyone else since. This whole family is so boring when it comes to romance.’
‘Nanna wasn’t. Otherwise she’d still be line dancing in the village hall and making ginger beer, instead of living it up in Malta with Colin.’
‘True.’ Doug looked slightly chastened. ‘That must be where I get the genes from. Still, now Ma’s left the village it was clearly left to me to uphold some sort of family mystique in the affairs of the heart.’
‘Mystique? Crap. It’s just your excuse to keep playing the field. Well, if you let Gina slip away, someone else will snap her up and you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. If you carry on like this, before very long you’ll be all old and wrinkly and unlovable, not to mention unloved.’
‘Ta,’ Doug chuckled. ‘I clearly have so much to look forward to. And please be an angel and go and see who’s in the shop. If it isn’t Gina, it might be a customer clutching cash, and we don’t want to let anyone escape, do we?’
Giving her uncle a last pretend frown of disapproval, Erin brushed the dust from her shorts, vest and ponytail, manoeuvred her way round the boxes, crates and piles of stock and out into the shop.
Like every other building
in the charmingly rustic centre of Nook Green, the Old Curiosity Shop was low ceilinged, uneven floored, wonky walled and totally impractical for the twenty-first century. Unlike every other building in the centre of Nook Green, the Old Curiosity Shop wasn’t, and never had been, a cute picture-perfect cottage.
The Old Curiosity Shop was an ancient slatted wooden shed. Or rather a series of ancient slatted wooden sheds all knocked into one. True, it had new large display windows looking out over the green, and the crumbling wood was now covered with a mixture of the delightful patina of age and a cascade of ivy, and sprouted emerald velvet cushions of moss and lichen from every crevice, but it was still a shed.