Tales for the fireside.., p.1
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       Tales for the Fireside - Five Stories of Love and Friendship, p.1

           Lisa Dyer
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Tales for the Fireside - Five Stories of Love and Friendship


  Tales for the Fireside

  Five stories of love and friendship

  LISA DYER

  Copyright © 2016 Lisa Dyer

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except for brief quotations used for promotion or in reviews. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

  First Edition, Tickle Belly Alley Books. 2016

  Thank you for downloading this ebook. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favourite ebook retailer to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

  I

  Emily closed the front door behind her and took a deep breath. It had been another fraught evening and the morning had dawned with raw emotion hanging over it.

  Dave had left the home last night, slamming the door in a display of anger. The pictures on the wall had jangled on their hooks and the cat had taken flight up the stairs to hide under the bed.

  Emily had sat in stunned silence on the sofa; the pit of her stomach had fallen out when she had heard the words, ‘I’ve had enough, it’s over.’

  She fiddled with her wedding band trying to slow the million and one thoughts that whirled through her head.

  Emily and Dave had been married seven years – the seven-year itch? Maybe. They had a good (so she thought) marriage. Not perfect; they’d had their fair share of difficulties but who didn’t? They’d bought a lovely little terrace house in the town and had managed to save enough money to do it up. Thoughts had begun to turn, inevitably, to children and then the bombshell was dropped.

  Dave’s employer had called his team in and announced that the contract they’d bid on had not been successful; layoffs were coming.

  Emily had tried to be pragmatic, to suggest temporary solutions to the immediate impact of the loss of one wage but Dave was bitter; he’d been with the firm since leaving college and thought they owed him more.

  Trying to keep a calm head in the face of his anger had been difficult but she’d managed it. As the days turned to weeks and the letters began to arrive from the firm outlining redundancy payments, it soon became clear that the money coming in from her wage wasn’t going to cover it once the meagre payout was used up.

  She knew that it was his feeling of impotence that drove the anger; that he felt unable to control the situation and so he turned on her.

  “You need to get a proper job. It was all very well indulging your whim when we had my wage coming in, but, that coffee shop isn’t going to pay the mortgage.”

  Emily’s ‘whim’ had been, not a coffee shop, as Dave had harshly called it, but a tea shop. There was difference. Wisteria Tea Shop was pleasantly situated in the small market town, just a short walk from Emily’s home on the banks of the river, in a timber building that once had been a weaver’s house.

  With its seasoned beams, slightly slanted roof line, white-washed walls, snow white table linen and fine bone china tea services, it had a genteel, agreeable atmosphere and was popular amongst the older residences who liked to take tea and catch up on the news.

  There were nooks in which she had arranged books on shelves and padded seats which overlooked the river and people were welcome to take tea and read for if they liked; cup didn’t buy a spot at a table here.

  Most didn’t take advantage of such a generous offer. Emily had faith that they wouldn’t and so being a cosy place to hang out meant that people stayed and drank tea and ate cake; perhaps more than they would if she hadn’t offered such a unique experience.

  The idea of owning such a place had taken hold in Emily from a young age.

  She had visited such an establishment on a family holiday and was completely smitten with the thought that she could have her very own place.

  Dave had been sceptical at first but she’d done her homework prior to broaching the subject – she knew him well enough to know that vague ideas didn’t wash. He needed clear data and so, in her lunch hour at her old place of work, she diligently set out to provide them.

  He’d pored over the spreadsheets, costings, and projected income she had provided. The town was a tourist trap having a large moated house that drew hundreds of visitors in the summer season as well as the river which was used by kayaker and canoeists. The one thing they didn’t have was a convenient tea shop to stop at, moor their crafts and take refreshments.

  “Okay, it all looks great on paper but, you know, Em, this is going to be seasonal. What about winter?”

  Emily was already onto it.

  “I’ve been looking at Shott’s House,”

  She heard him take a breath.

  “Hear me out,” she continued, sure that she had covered all her bases before even embarking on this conversation “It’s got a great frontage and upstairs, it’s got those massive weaver’s windows, lots of light. I was thinking…I could put a gallery up there, or maybe rent it out as studio space”

  She saw his shoulders slump a little and waited for the doubt.

  “And, where are the artists coming from?”

  “Well…there’s the local group and, you know, maybe they’d like to have the rooms for meetings.”

  Dave twisted his hands and looked at her. “Okay, if you’re serious then I guess we’d best get to the bank and see what they have to say.”

  She had thrown her arms around his neck and kissed him. It was a dream come true and her head spun with delight.

  Today, Emily felt as if she were made of lead. Her feet dragged as she made her way through the streets towards the tea rooms.

  On the way, she passed several of her regulars who bid her good morning and promised to see her later. She managed a wan smile and as much of a cheery response as she could manage. Within ten minutes she stood at the front door. The hanging baskets were a cacophony of bright, clashing colours and ivy snaked down and twisted towards the sunlight. She never ceased to find the dipping heads of the petunias a welcoming sight nor did the tiny paned windows bedeck with curtains that through which the casual observer could see the warm welcome that awaited them. The bank had said ‘yes’ to the loan and she had signed the lease with the estate agents and with mounting excitement had taken possession of the keys.

  On that first morning, as she opened the door to the property, she could smell the scent of centuries. Shott’s House had been a small B&B, a bookshop and latterly a charity shop. She had stood in the emptiness soaking up the stillness of the place before climbing the winding staircase to the rooms beyond.

  ***

  On the first floor, was a large room that covered the entire length and width of the building. It was divided by a wall but the daub had been removed and now only the bare bones of the wooden frame survived. The so-called weavers’ window was a long, high aperture fixed with diamond leaded glass.

  Its name came from the fact that in the days gone by the Flemish weavers, who had fled the religious persecution inflicted upon them in their home country, would sit in this room, using the light afforded by the large windows to produce their fine woollen cloth at looms situated within.

  At the far end was a small flight of stairs down to a kitchen. The place needed a good clean but nothing a bucket of hot water and some Flash wouldn’t cure.

  Above were the attic rooms, small and tight with a great king post supporting the roof.

  Emily had drunk it all in and was soon filling up the pages of her n
otebook, capturing all the ideas she had for the place. The excitement she had felt on that first day had stayed with her until now.

  With a heavy heart, she opened the front door and keyed in the alarm code. She looked around her at the neatly laid out tables replete with small posies of flowers. Some might say it was twee, that she should be going for the industrial look to offset the wood but she wanted this. It was comforting, traditional and, more importantly, her clientele liked it and kept coming back.

  ***

  “But old people aren’t going to keep you afloat,” Dave had said but the old people had proved him wrong.

  The local art society, which boasted its fair share of ‘old people’, had jumped at the chance to use her upstairs room for their meetings and soon they were holding live drawing sessions, exhibitions, and socials, all of which called for refreshments. She’d even been approached by prospective brides looking for somewhere small to hold a quiet reception. Once a year the whole building was opened over the Heritage Open Weekend and along with the history enthusiasts came the opportunity to sell more pots of tea and rounds of scones and jam.

  The kitchen had been refitted to catering standards and she had begun a fair trade in local sandwich delivery. She employed two full-time members of staff to wait and they took it in turns to do the sandwich runs out to offices and shops.

  “We’ll see when winter comes,” said Dave, gravelly.

  Emily was beginning to think that Dave was just a total Debbie Downer. Why didn’t he share her enthusiasm for this enterprise? Then again, he’d always been super careful with his money, not tight exactly, but he had an eye for a bargain and didn’t like to see it frittered on things that he thought were unnecessary. At times this had led to cross words and much negotiating. In the matter of this tea shop, whilst she considered his point of view, it was her dream, and if she never pursued it, then she would always wonder and regret.

  Winter came and whilst footfall in the shop slowed somewhat, with less passing trade, the regulars kept the tills ringing and the sandwich runs helped fill the shortfall.

  Emily had gotten to know all them by first name and greeted them all with a big smile, a quick catch up on their latest news and pot of their favourite tea.

  At the end of the day, after the staff had left, and she sat cashing up the till, filling out her daily takings forms and placing the money in the bank bag ready for depositing in the night safe on her way home, she could honestly say, she was never happier than right now.

  ***

  That was before the news of the redundancy. It was quite clear that, had this happened at any other time of year, the turnover would have offset the problem and given Dave a chance to find something else but the winter wasn’t a good time to be out of work. The longer his enforced exile from the daily grind continued, the worse his moods became.

  Dave took to making comments, barbed and laced with acid. She should consider dropping one of the waiting staff, or maybe move them both to seasonal employment. Why did she need two? She could manage the odd customer during the quieter months. Emily felt it was pointless to point out that there was no such thing as the ‘odd customer’; people still wanted a hot drink, especially in the cold months.

  She listened quietly and with as much patience as she could muster, not wanting to cause a fight but in the end, it boiled down to his feeling of inadequacy. That, somehow, not bringing in a wage was an affront to his status. It was as if her success was hers alone and he couldn’t see that it was theirs.

  Emily had no intention of shedding her staff even if it was obvious that there were the odd days that they were stretched for work and she’d had to adopt a table policy to ensure that they both got equal chances of tips.

  The final straw came after he’d been for an interview but the phone call came through to say that he’d not got the job.

  His moods blackened and she understood, she really did, that he was feeling angry, useless and trapped in a small town with little prospects, however, it also seemed very clear to her that he was being very inward in his outlook. The nearest large town was forty-five minutes’ drive When she had suggested that maybe he should start looking there and do the commute it led to a long rant about how the cost of the fuel and the lost time driving would be a negative against the wage earned. It seemed pointless pursuing the argument.

  The tearoom became her sanctuary. The walk to work, her thinking time and now, here she was. The early morning peace had been a time she had relished. The world was waking up, starting to go about its business. Local business owners would be setting out their pavement signs, sweeping their frontage and wiping down windows.

  Soon she would hear the excited chatter of the children being led to the local school, and the cajoling of their parents, aware of the time.

  Next, the buses would begin to arrive bringing in the villagers who shopped in the local market, visited the library to return books and kept appointments they had the hairdressers, doctors’ surgery, and opticians.

  By mid-morning, she knew she would have a steady stream of customers. The sandwiches would have been made and dispatched on the round at ten-thirty, and the tinkle of the shop bell would punctuate her routine.

  On a weekday, she might hear the solemn bells of the church of St Stephen’s opposite, heralding the arrival of a funeral but on a Saturday, it was the peal of bells that sounded the joyous union of two souls.

  Customers would crane their heads to catch sight of the bride as she arrived at her wedding. Emily never tired of smiling stupidly as they stepped out of their preferred mode of transport. She loved to see the glow of happiness that hung about them as they took the arm of their escort and began the walk to their new life.

  Emily could feel the involuntary constricting of her throat and the sudden welling up of tears.

  Her own wedding had been such a celebration of love. She coughed and swallowed to try and head off the outburst. Not for one second as she walked down that aisle had she envisioned this moment.

  Another part of her felt her resolve stiffen; she straightened up her back, stood tall. This would not get the better of her. She couldn’t lose her little tea shop, however desperate the situation, they’d come through, they had to come through.

  ***

  The bank had agreed to extend the mortgage, to give them some time to gather themselves. They’d rationalised the weekly budget, choosing cheaper options for food and dropping the contract mobiles in favour of pay as you go. The cable telly package had been given the boot and Freeview was in. Where there was fat, now there was lean and still Dave wasn’t happy.

  Emily knew that they were in crisis; that this had become more than just a matter of not having a job or of having somewhere to be every day.

  This was about pride, about his feelings of inadequacy, and his shame that he was not bringing anything to the table. How could she make him understand that this was what marriage was supposed to be about – in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer. Those vows had more resonance now than ever before.

  After he had left the previous evening she had been sick with worry. Sleep had eluded her and she had spent the night at the kitchen table drinking copious pots of tea, her senses alert to the merest sound that told her he was back, and the constant checking of her phone for any hint of a message.

  But he didn’t come back and neither did he call or text. As dawn, had broken, and she watched the spread of light through the crack in the curtain from the sofa where she’d made up a bed, she felt anger that he could leave her to worry so and not think to even text and let her know that he was ok.

  ***

  Slowly, Emily put on her white apron and began to prepare the ovens for the first round of scones.

  Gemma and Di arrived but neither noticed, or at least, didn’t comment, on her red eyes and black circles.

  By nine, the place had the warm smell of baking

  As the buses pulled in to the stops that littered the High
Street and the town square, the street began to liven up and by ten-thirty, the place was full once more.

  Now, once a week an elderly gentleman would come in about three o’clock. He liked to sit by the window where he could watch the world go by. He always ordered a pot of tea for one and a slice of Victoria sponge. He never engaged in conversation with anyone else around him and he ate and drank, in contented silence, his gaze always firmly fixed on the outside world as if in his own bubble.

  Emily found him intriguing and had made him her ‘particular’ customer.

  She had noticed that he always liked the same table and she supposed that whatever it was that he wanted to look at was best viewed from there. Much to the amusement of the other two, she’d had a ‘reserved’ sign made which she put out around two forty-five every Thursday, his usual day. Just before three she would remove it and hope that nobody beat him to his seat.

  When it first became apparent that he was a regular and that his habits were routine, Emily had enquired after him but Di and Gemma didn’t know his name.

  He was polite, and tipped generously. He always wore a trilby which he’d touch with a slight tip as he said ‘goodbye’ and he always carried a small posy of hand tied flowers. Emily often wondered who the recipient of those beautiful buds could be. She never saw him accompanied by a friend so assumed that, after he had left them he must return home, flowers in hand.

  Emily couldn’t recall the last time Dave had come wandering in with such a beautiful bouquet and it made her sad that such gestures were outdated.

  Di returned from the sandwich round full of gossip from her regulars which she imparted with glee as she got stuck into the lunchtime rush. This was usually Emily’s favourite part of the day. The small town had that small-town mentality and nuggets of idle chatter flew up and down the High Street, like leaves blown from one end to the other. Today, she listened with half an ear and tried her best to put on a ‘face’ whilst hoping to God that she wasn’t being talked about in the same manner. It made her stiffen her resolve to not encourage it in the future.

 
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