Bumblebridge was awash with spring and its picturesque barrel flowerboxes overflowed with daffodils along Seamstress Avenue. The brisk wind carried the pollen onto three kids who traipsed, heavy lidded, into the Fried Fancy takeaway. Two boys and one girl who sneezed hard enough the other two jumped and all three tumbled through the door.
‘We’re not open for another half an hour,’ George tried to mutter in his usual ‘I hate kids’ tone but it was hard to look grumpy while dancing with a mop.
‘Mum’s on shift,’ the younger boy said, avoiding the girl who sneezed her way over to the counter.
George rolled his eyes. His sister made cushion covers in Squishy and worked part-time between eleven and two so ‘on shift’ meant that she had overslept, again.
‘You can have cereal,’ George said then went into the back room and pulled out a spare nose spray for his niece. ‘And you can have this.’
The girl sniffed, stuck the spray up her nose and sighed. ‘Ta.’
‘Why you singing with a mop then?’ The older boy asked and handed his sister a tissue. She usually sneezed like crazy all the way down Seamstress Avenue, sneezed harder when they passed Pruned Petals and by the time they walked up Surreptitious Street to school, she was a heap of gross snot.
‘I was not singing to the mop,’ George pulled out antihistamine tablets that Diane had suggested. She wasn’t just an amazing hairdresser but she was the best mother he’d ever seen… apart from his own.
‘You were, you even wiggled with it,’ the younger boy said and stole a handful of buns off George’s kitchen counter.
‘Did not,’ George tried to glare at them as the boy shared the buns between his brother and sister. ‘They are for customers.’
The girl sneezed all over hers then held it up. ‘Oh, you want it?’
George wrinkled up his nose. ‘No… you… you keep it.’
‘Ta,’ she said and chomped on it while wiping her snotty nose.
‘You were so wiggling, Uncle George,’ the second boy said and rubbed his bun to his blazer before eating it. ‘You said it was the most beautiful woman you’d seen.’
The shop door chimed and George escaped out behind his counter only to take a wistful breath as Diane, in her dazzling, shapely blouse and glamourous figure-hugging skirt, breezed in without realising how magnificent she was.
‘Oh, I just wanted to drop this off for you,’ she said, big brown eyes as stunning as always, as she held up his washing. ‘It’s starched, just how you like it.’
George’s heart chugged away like a fryer during an oil change. ‘They always smell so fresh.’
‘But not as well as the mop washes them, right?’ The older boy said with a smirk and chomped his bun with a twinkle in his beady little eyes.
‘Don’t listen to them, hunger makes them delusional.’ George narrowed his eyes at the boy.
‘The mop?’ Diane asked, strained, her shaped brow dipping.
‘Yeah, when he was dancing with it,’ the second boy said. ‘He told it that no one danced the same way.’
‘He even tried poetry,’ the girl said then sneezed and flew backward into the counter.
Diane raise her eyebrow. ‘Poetry?’
‘Yeah, he told it that Stan said it was a winner with women,’ the older boy said with a smirk then wiped his nose on his sleeve. ‘And that as it was the most beautiful of women with the best trim in—’
‘You can have chips at lunchtime if you shut up,’ George snapped and looked anywhere but Diane. Kids must have spying from the kitchen window, the little scumbags.
‘Chips and a burger,’ the second boy said.
‘What?’ George glared as Diane watched on with a doting smile.
‘I can recite the poem…’ the boy cleared his throat. ‘You are blooming with sweet, sweet scents, my dearest—’
‘Chips and burger, fine.’ George wagged his spatula at the boy.
‘I’d like gravy,’ the girl said between sneezes. ‘I don’t get why old people don’t say they fancy each other anyway.’ She pursed her lips at George then Diane. ‘Or just tell your friends to ask them out?’
The older boy nodded. ‘Yeah, even I can ask someone out. I have a girlfriend, Uncle George and I’m ten.’ He shook his head, finished off his bun and sniffed. ‘The mop might love you back.’
The second boy snorted. ‘Girls are gross,’ he muttered at his brother then shook his head at George. ‘They make you marry them and stuff and then you can’t go out with anyone else.’
‘Hey,’ the girl glared up at him. ‘I do not want to marry one of you.’ She finished her bun, sneezed, bounced off the counter then shook her head. ‘I’d rather be like Lanie and live with a girl.’
‘Yeah but she kisses girls and stuff,’ the older boy said. ‘You want to kiss Stacey Jones?’
The girl shuddered. ‘Eww… no.’
‘Well, then.’ The older boy opened the shop door blind to how Diane gazed at George as he switched on his fryers. ‘You don’t want to live with a girl.’
‘I don’t want to kiss Robbie either,’ the girl said then shuddered again and sneezed her way out of the door. ‘Kissing is gross.’
‘Duh, that’s what I said,’ the younger boy said, winked up at Diane and hurried out before George threw frozen chips at him.
George wasn’t daring to look up but he was going to try and climb in the fryer until his cheeks stopped burning… although, on second thoughts, that might be painful so he’d just hide instead.
‘You handle mops very well,’ Diane said then sighed then trudged over and placed the washing on the counter.
George reached out to take the washing but caught her hand by accident and stilled. ‘Some mops are wonderful enough can make any… er… handler… look good.’
Diane blushed then fanned herself with a spare sock.
George couldn’t hold her gaze without wanting to share how much he loved the way she washed his socks and instead waved to Andy on the rooftop opposite who was twirling and blowing kisses at him.
Andy smirked to himself and mouthed ‘Ruby’ before twirling back around and handing a tile to his dad.
‘Why can’t you just burp and drink like a normal bloke,’ his dad muttered and scratched his hairy armpit to put his point across.
‘I do, I just cover my mouth and drink with a straw,’ Andy smirked at his dad as they both knew full well he loved Ruby’s routine at the pub as much as the rest of the town.
‘You’re not shacking up with George,’ his dad muttered again and attached the tile to the roof. ‘I don’t care what your mother tells me, I’m not having George as a son-in-law.’
Andy snorted. ‘George?’ He slunk onto one hip and waved up and down himself. ‘I’m fluid, dad, but I’m not a fried food kind of boy.’
His dad took another tile off him. ‘I don’t know what in Bumblebridge that means but I hope you’re saying you don’t like him.’
‘Fear not, I do not stir him like the gentle strains of perming machines do,’ Andy said and twirled while attaching five tiles in quick succession.
His dad had a lost and confused look in his blue eyes.
‘He’s not my type,’ Andy said and smirked. ‘He’s about thirty years older than me, you get that, right?’
‘Yeah, but I know what men are like.’ His dad scowled at the shop then picked up his cuppa. ‘They see young and they think they can do as they please.’
Andy raised an eyebrow. ‘They can think what they like, I don’t dance for just anyone.’
His dad shook his head. ‘You sound like your mother.’
‘Good, she knows what she’s doing.’ Andy fixed more tiles then gave a flourish of heel-toe tap step.
‘Aye, that she does, lad.’ His dad chuckled and scratched at his hairy armpit.
Andy spotted Glynnis and her husband striding down the avenue and waved.
‘Ay, no running off with older women either,’ his dad said and pointed to the roof. ‘I know what they’re like too.’
Andy winked at Glynnis then chuckled. ‘I know and the same applies to the ladies.’
Glynnis spotted Andy and gave him a wave. She wasn’t used to people being so pleased to see her. When she’d sold Squishy, everyone had ignored her for months.
‘Oi,’ her husband muttered and glared up at Andy. ‘He’s young enough to be your grandson.’
Glynnis stopped and stared at her husband wondering when his remaining braincell had rattled loose. ‘Grandson?’
‘Yeah,’ her husband wagged his puffy finger at her. ‘You’re supposed to be respectable.’
‘I’m sixty-five.’ She wagged her finger back at him. ‘I may be old enough to be his mother, I’ll concede, but grandmother?’
‘He’s ten, he hasn’t even grown facial hair yet.’ Her husband stomped down the road. ‘Have a bit of decorum.’
‘He’s nearly thirty and has impeccable manners,’ she fired back and stomped faster so he’d have to keep up. She exercised whereas he wandered around after a tiny ball on a course then drank himself silly. ‘Shame neither male in our family can match up.’
‘Don’t start,’ her husband grumbled and nodded to two golfing buddies heading into the grocery shop Price. C. Goods. ‘I took Trevor to the golf club, I didn’t think he’d run off with the caddy.’
‘Barry collected refuge, dear, he wasn’t a caddy.’ She stuck her nose up then spotted Stan driving toward them and curtseyed. Stan honked his horn.
‘Glynnis,’ her husband muttered but she chuckled.
Stan whistled to himself and pulled over next to Pruned Petals and jumped out with light step, then swished backward and tangoed himself into the shop. ‘Alright, where’s your boy?’
Hedges appeared from behind a bouquet of tulips and beamed. ‘He’s getting his tools from the back.’ She bustled from behind the flowers, took his hand and tangoed him around the shop. ‘It’s so good of you to give him a job.’
‘I needed the extra pair of hands,’ Stan said, mid-twirl.
‘Mum?’ Her son had the whiny teenager tone on. Everything she did, whether it was breathing or talking or the way she cooked dinner, he found embarrassing and used that tone.
‘Yes, dear,’ she said striding along the shop with Stan. ‘I lead.’
‘She does,’ Stan said then flopped back as she flung him over one arm.
‘Can we just go?’ her son slunk his way to the door like he didn’t know either of them.
Stan chuckled. ‘You don’t fancy twirling a girl around?’
‘No.’ Hedges’ son pulled out his mobile in protest and glued his nose to the screen.
‘How wonderful a gift children are,’ Hedges dashed over, hugged her son, kissed him on the cheek and squeezed both cheeks.
‘Mum… get off.’ Her son checked his hair, the street for witnesses and scurried out into Stan’s van.
Hedges sighed, delighted that she’d thoroughly embarrassed him and he hadn’t spotted the girl he fancied walking by. Hah. Being a mother had it’s fun moments.
‘Can you deliver a bunch to Gaynor?’ Stan said, sniffing at some roses.
‘Again?’ Hedges tried to sound jolly but there wasn’t much more space in The Perfect Perm hairdressers for customers with all the flowers.
‘Yep, and could you read out this,’ he said in a cheery tone then left the cash on the till. ‘I know she’ll love that one.’
He curtseyed again and twirled his way out to his van and Hedges wandered to the door to wave off her son, for extra embarrassment points.
‘Ooh, more flowers?’ Ceri said, stopping with her daughters but they all continued to walk on the spot. ‘Gaynor must be thrilled.’
‘Hope so. Important she knows I love her.’ Stan wound up his window and drove off with one thoroughly mortified teenager.
‘Gaynor’s going to start wondering about me at this rate,’ Hedges said walked on the spot wondering if it was some kind of new dance move. Maybe Paulette had given them homework and she’d forgotten? ‘You saw the look she had on her face when I was dancing with Mary-Lou.’
Ceri nodded. ‘In fairness to her, she always has that face on… I don’t know why. I mean, she has Stan… who could be miserable when they were married to him?’
‘I know,’ Hedges nodded. Stan was a gent in every way. He didn’t just help elderly ladies across the road but swept them up into his arms and carried them across. Some even waved him down when they didn’t want to cross just for the ride.
‘Besides, at least he’s writing poetry for her… not another man,’ Ceri mumbled then shrugged and glanced around in case Glynnis was near. She hadn’t really liked Trevor all that much anyway but she had to act like she wasn’t thrilled he’d left.
‘True,’ Hedges nodded as if she didn’t know Ceri was thrilled. Trevor was the opposite of Stan, he’d probably ignore the elderly lady or complain that she was in his way. ‘You off to work?’
Ceri nodded. ‘And I can get far more steps than these two.’
The girls huffed up at her.
‘Oh no,’ the eldest girl said. ‘I march while I’m sitting down.’
‘I march around my desk,’ the youngest said and stuck out her tongue.
Hedges raised her eyebrows. She couldn’t get her boy to move off the couch half the time. ‘Well, march away.’
Ceri smiled and threw in a tango step as she and her daughters strode their way to school. Sally, her eldest, was ahead on steps because she’d walked up and down stairs while eating her breakfast… sneaky move. Ceri could still level the scores though.
‘Do we have to go to Dad’s later?’ Sally asked with a grunt and double stepped up a kerb.
‘Barry smells,’ the youngest said with a sigh. ‘He like never washes.’
How lovely. Ceri threw in a triple step as they rounded the corner onto Surreptitious Street and headed toward the school. ‘Your dad will want to see you.’
‘Dad wants to feed us takeaway,’ Sally muttered and hopped, skipped then threw in several extra steps with a smirk. ‘I don’t want to eat fried stuff.’
‘I asked Barry for salad, Mum, salad,’ the youngest said and ran on the spot then poked out her tongue at Sally. ‘You know what he got me?’
‘No?’ She didn’t like to think what Barry was like but Trevor had never been a cook. He thought he was a cook for a while, then he’d thought he was a chef, then she’d ordered him out of her kitchen and banned him.
‘He bought one carrot and said that if I wanted to eat rubbish food, I could grow my own.’ Her youngest shook her head and ran round Sally twice. ‘I told him that I’m eight. I’m not old enough to grow food… I think.’
Joint custody was so easy and good for her sanity. ‘Tell him you ate in school and I’ll make you tea when you get in.’
The girls high-fived her.
‘Hi, Aunty Janis,’ Sally chimed and ran over to the blue overalls examining a nearby bush. She tugged Janis around by the arm then hugged her.
Janis covered her face with her hat then hugged Sally back and then caught Ceri’s youngest, mid-hop, and hugged her too.
‘Got you supplies,’ Janis pulled out two boxes from her overalls. ‘Chicken salad with mayo.’
‘Yes!’ Sally and her sister grabbed the boxes, kissed Janis on the hat, Ceri on the cheek and scurried in through the school gates.
Ceri raised her eyebrow. She’d only been dancing with Janis a short while but extra practice sessions—which meant extra steps—seemed to make Ceri chatty. She wasn’t used to someone actually listening… or being able to provide food.
‘He don’t feed them,’ Janis grunted from behind her hat. ‘Had some left over.’
‘Of course,’ Ceri said knowing full well that Janis didn’t live anywhere near the school, that she didn’t eat salad much and that she didn’t like mayo.
‘I should go to work.’ Janis shrugged and stomped off down the street past Tracy’s house.
‘I work there too,’ Ceri strode to catch up and tucked her hand through Janis’ elbow. ‘Why do you have your hat on, again?’
Janis pulled it down further.
‘Did you try the shaver I gave you?’ They’d tried creams and plucking and waxing but Janis could grow hair better than Barry and he was really hairy.
‘Yeah.’ Janis shook her head.
‘When did you try it?’ Ceri ducked down and lifted up the hat. Janis had thick dark hair all over her chin, her upper lip and two very furry sideburns.
‘Few days ago. Made it worse. Doctor said there’s not much they can do for hair.’ Janis sighed and rubbed at it. ‘Get’s itchy when I shave.’
‘Then don’t.’ Ceri smiled up at her. ‘Looks quite fetching.’
Janis glowered at her.
‘What, it does,’ she said and felt over the stubble. ‘It’ll go really well with the hat in class.’
Janis narrowed her eyes further.
‘I like it even if you don’t.’ Ceri poked out her tongue.
‘You say that about most things,’ Janis said then smiled and guided her by the hand down a kerb. ‘My mum thinks you’re keen on me.’
‘She’s right.’ Ceri hopped down the kerb. ‘Very keen on you. I let you in my kitchen, didn’t I?’
Janis cleared her throat. ‘I don’t think she meant like that.’
‘I know what she meant,’ Ceri said and kissed her on the cheek. ‘And she’s right, like I just said.’
Janis blushed. ‘She is… I mean, she said you should come ‘round for tea.’
‘We’d love to… as long as you understand the girls will walk around the table while they eat.’ Ceri nodded and checked her steps. Sally was still ahead.
‘Oh, I’ll have to move the sideboard then,’ Janis said then peered at her step-monitor. ‘She’s well out in front today.’
‘I know, she’s changed tactics. I like her thinking but I can better it.’ Ceri pursed her lips then grabbed Janis’ hands. ‘Extra practice.’
Janis twirled her. ‘Just no dancing when I’m trying to weed the flowerbed.’ She rubbed at her back. ‘I nearly took Mrs Wuddle out yesterday.’
‘Hey, ladies,’ Lanie chimed then slowed as she cycled up to them. ‘I knew you must be getting extra practice in.’
Ceri nodded. ‘I need the practice.’
‘You don’t, you’re brill.’ Janis shrugged, then blushed and dipped her hat.
‘I should ask Miriam to practice,’ Lanie mumbled to herself. ‘You think I should?’
‘Yes,’ Janis and Ceri chimed with a nod.
‘Don’t be too sure about it, will you?’ Lanie chuckled, nodded and cycled on down past Tammy’s house on the edge of Surreptitious Street and Seamstress Avenue then picked up speed downhill toward Squishy. She skidded to a satisfying stop in the carpark and tied up her bike, then spotted Tracy’s car and untied it and carried it in… safer.
‘Lanie?’ Mary-Lou called from behind her and Lanie turned and pulled off her hat. Hmm. How to explain why she was carrying in her bicycle?
‘Hi,’ she turned and plastered on a big smile at both Mary-Lou and Barney AKA Mr Mary-Lou. ‘How are you?’
‘Dapper, luv,’ Barney said, kissed Mary-Lou and strode inside.
Mary-Lou looked at Lanie for a translation. Her husband had said some real weird things since they’d been in Bumblebridge.
‘Means he’s great, er… swell?’ Lanie said not sure if that was just something nineteen twenties crooners said.
‘Sure.’ Mary-Lou eyed the bike. ‘You setting up one of those in-office workouts?’
‘Er…’ Extra exercise was better than Ricky getting his hands on her bike. ‘Yeah… I’m… I thought it would be great to… um… make the workforce fitter.’
Mary-Lou grinned. ‘You got it. Let’s get our people moving.’
Lanie followed Mary-Lou in sure that she would have to sneak out when the rest of Squishy were told to exercise. A lot of the staff would use a mobility scooter to get to the coffee machine if they could.
‘Paulette asked me to provide some costumes,’ Mary-Lou said and nodded to several staff who pretended to work. ‘But Tracy said that she would ask her husband.’
‘Ricky?’ Lanie pulled a face. Oh dear. ‘I don’t think that’s the best idea.’
Mary-Lou held her gaze. She was very, very rich, powerful, and a little bit scary in an office setting. ‘You don’t?’
‘You see…’ Lanie put down her bike and tried to think of a polite way to describe Ricky. ‘If you ask Ricky… then… well… he’ll get it off the back of a lorry… you see?’
Mary-Lou furrowed her blonde brow. ‘Why, do they sell things on trucks over here?’
‘No…’ Lanie wrinkled up her mouth. ‘He goes to see a man about a dog at the pub, you see?’
‘Is this before he goes to the truck?’ Mary-Lou, in perfect ‘pant-suit’ as she called it, swept back her blonde hair.
‘No… he’s a bit… he goes around the back door… a lot.’ Lanie glanced around the office and spotted Miriam on the phone. Maybe she could help?
Mary-Lou looked at the service entrance.
‘He nicks stuff.’ Lanie put her hands out and motioned to her bike.
‘Nicks?’ Mary-Lou wasn’t getting it but she was wondering if she should just hire Hedges to follow her around as a translator. Then again, he husband kept kidding around and saying they were a great couple. He found it real funny. Hedges found it funny. Mary-Lou’s daughter laughed her ass off. It wasn’t funny. They weren’t those kinda friends.
‘Pinches, steals… He’s a freaking thief.’ Lanie tried her best American accent but was sure it sounded slightly Irish crossed with a touch of Cornish.
Mary-Lou laughed. ‘You’re always kidding around, come on.’ She dragged Lanie through the office toward the boardroom then eyed Miriam. ‘Does she have pink and blue hair?’
‘I need my daughter to translate that.’ Mary-Lou strode into the boardroom and Lanie put down her bike with a sigh.
Miriam held up her hand, hoping that Lanie wouldn’t run off with her bike. Why had Lanie brought in her bike anyway? She was always on it but really she needed to know when to stop. Neal hadn’t known when to stop but that was more to do with deciding he was going to represent Great Britain in discus when he couldn’t actually throw.
‘Yes, Mrs Wentworth-Collins,’ Miriam mumbled to the old Wingebag on the phone. ‘I understand completely that you want a pillow that is as soft as the advertising says.’
Lanie leaned on the partition and cocked her head then tapped her hair.
Miriam beamed. Hopefully Lanie would get the reference… and the hint… and she had bicycle oil all over the furry partition.
‘Yes… I understand… if you give me the product number, I can check with my supervisor and have a new one sent to you,’ Miriam said in her best, soothing, stop-whining-at-me voice. Neal used to whine. She hated it when people whined. ‘I’ve noted the number down. Please hold.’
Lanie grinned at her. ‘You sound posh.’
‘It’s my telephone voice,’ Miriam said and leaned over to tap Lanie’s hands. ‘You’re leaving grime all over my workstation.’
Lanie looked at her hands then winced. ‘Oops.’
‘Good thing you’re management, huh?’ Miriam pulled out a wipe and scrubbed off Lanie’s hands. ‘You were late for class again.’
‘Yeah, Mary-Lou wanted me to get the service team working overtime.’ Lanie thumbed over her shoulder at the boardroom. ‘They took ages to win ‘round.’
‘Wondered what the cake boxes were for.’ Miriam chuckled then smiled up at Lanie. ‘But you need to tell her that I’m getting less practice.’
‘Well… we could always practice outside class.’ Lanie swallowed and hoped it sounded calm. Maybe things were different to how they used to be… Miriam hadn’t known how she felt when she married Neal and how much Lanie wanted to poke him with her bicycle pump. Janis had won over Ceri if the smiling was anything to go by even George, after fifteen years of loving Diane from afar, seemed to have managed to make headway.
Miriam leaned onto her keyboard and lowered her voice. ‘I… you fancy meeting up?’
‘I don’t need a meeting, I want a replacement,’ Mrs Wentworth-Collins snapped.
Miriam flicked the hold button on and peered through her fingers at a giggling Lanie. ‘You’re not supposed to laugh.’
Lanie took the scribbled out product number and took the phone. ‘Hi, Mrs Wentworth-Collins, the product you ordered is a lounger cushion.’
Miriam covered her mouth and snickered.
‘We’ll send out a pillow though because you’re such a valued customer.’ Lanie held her breath and she always complained and drove the staff crazy. ‘It’s in the mail.’ She handed the phone back. ‘I fancy meeting up, yeah.’
Miriam grinned then pulled the phone away as Mrs Wentworth-Collins continued to complain. ‘Maybe I’ll pick you up if your bike is broken?’
Lanie smirked. ‘It’s not broken, Tammy is over there.’ She nodded to Tammy yelling at the customer service staff. ‘Just don’t let on to Mary-Lou.’
Miriam chuckled and ‘accidently’ cut Mrs Wentworth-Collins off but pretended she was still there… best way to avoid Tammy.
‘Look, the tag says it’s two quid,’ Tammy waved at Lanie and Miriam—there was a surprise. They’d been stitched together through school—and scowled at the older woman scowling up at her. ‘That means I should have it for two quid, it’s law.’
The woman peered over her glasses. ‘You’ve changed it that’s why it read two pounds.’
‘I ‘aven’t, that’s what it said.’ Tammy chewed on her nicotine gum and pointed at the tag. She’d only doctored it a bit. ‘I want it for two quid.’
‘You can’t have a brand new leather sofa for two pounds… it’s two thousand pounds deposit.’ The woman pursed her lips. ‘You pay the other three thousand on delivery.’
‘What is it made of, flipping gold?’ Tammy threw the tag.
‘It’s handmade and of the finest quality.’ The woman took the tag and binned it. ‘We have a sale on more… affordable furniture.’
Tammy eyed her. ‘You saying I’m only worth knock-offs?’
‘I’m saying that I’ve worked here for twenty years and I can’t afford the affordable range even with discount.’ The woman shrugged.
‘Is there anything for two quid?’ Tammy sighed. She always fancied having something from Squishy at home.
‘Yes, the carpark charge.’ The woman smiled as if it pained her to say that much. ‘That’s with discount.’
‘There’s a charge?’ Tammy tottered out of the shop and over to Tracy’s car. ‘Come on, you need a ticket to park.’
‘I know, I just nicked all the change out of the machine,’ Tracy said with a sly grin. ‘Got two hundred quid.’
Tammy snorted. ‘Maybe that’ll be enough for Ricky to get the hats.’
‘Nah, he’s got it sorted. I told him exactly what size and shape,’ Tracy said, e-cigarette in hand as she screeched them out of the carpark. ‘Told me, he quite fancies me in a hat.’
Tammy dished through the bag of coins from the carpark machine. ‘He can shove off, tell him. You don’t stamp on my feet like Colin.’
‘He says he wants to see us in a show,’ Tracy said as she drove them down Seamstress Avenue. ‘Says him and Colin will come and cheer.’
Tammy chewed her gum. ‘You think they would? I’d be well nervous.’
‘Nah, just wiggle your boobs, he won’t notice your footwork then,’ Tracy glanced at a clapped out old car then realised it was Paulette. ‘Can’t believe he sold her that.’ She sped up before Paulette noticed them.
But, Paulette was too busy trying to catch her breath. Ricky was going to beaten with plimsoles. In fact, she was going to make him eat plimsoles then do ballet… with Andy. She huffed out a breath and tried not to pass out as her mother honked the horn and it gave off a novelty sound.
‘The engine’s not starting,’ Agnes said and honked the horn again, blue rinse bobbing as she hung out the window. ‘I think we need a mechanic.’
‘I need—’ She needed not to limp so much because her foot hurt, to have a car that worked and to fire plimsoles at Ricky while he was strapped to this hunk of useless—
‘Can I help?’ Andy bumped her over and shoved the car into motion with his dad. ‘You just need a bit of momentum.’
Paulette wheezed out her relief and smiled as Andy and his dad pushed Agnes along, blue rinse a bobbing and the engine spluttered into life.
‘Thank you,’ she limped up to Andy and hugged him. She didn’t care if he smelled of roof tar laced with flowery perfume.
Andy hugged her back and patted her. ‘You shouldn’t really buy things off Ricky.’
‘Why?’ Agnes said, steering the car back around to a stop as she hung out the window. ‘That’s my nephew.’
Paulette exchanged a glance with Andy hoping that he wouldn’t break her mother’s heart. She thought Ricky was in the Navy and that he kept disappearing for stretches because he was at sea. Then again, she thought Tracy was in finance and as she didn’t go to the pub, she didn’t know any better.
‘Oh, not that Ricky,’ Andy said then wrapped an arm around Paulette as his dad eyed them. ‘It’s slang… you know how us young people are, right?’ He nodded to Paulette who raised her eyebrows.
‘I’m thirty six,’ she whispered back.
‘That’s young, go with it,’ he whispered back.
‘Yes, Mum,’ she said without a lot of acting skill. ‘It’s slang for… um… second hand.’
‘Nice one,’ Andy said and hugged her.
‘Really?’ Agnes perked up. ‘Are you courting then?’
Paulette stared up at the clouds.
‘Actually no, but my dad keeps trying to marry me off to George.’ Andy poked his tongue out at his dad who scowled. ‘I don’t want to marry George.’
Agnes wiggled her finger in her ear. ‘Is that more slang?’
‘Yes,’ Paulette muttered and poked Andy in the very… taut… arm. Explained why so many of the ladies wanted their roofs redone.
‘He keeps dressing up as Ruby though, so is it any wonder?’ Andy’s dad smiled at Paulette. ‘Don’t suppose you’d take him off me, would you?’
Paulette tutted. ‘He’s a student of mine… I’m not allowed.’ Even if he was very nice.
‘You have any other children that need a wife?’ Agnes said with hope in her lens covered eyes. ‘Paulette can bake.’
Paulette frowned. ‘Mum!’
Andy chuckled glad someone else was being married off for once. He wouldn’t mind being married off to Paulette, she was very pretty and he could borrow her costumes.
‘Hedges, please rescue me,’ Paulette said as she spotted a large bouquet of roses dashing up the avenue.
‘I would but I have to recite poetry to Gaynor,’ Hedges said, waved at them both and bustled into The Perfect Perm.
Gaynor and three customers turned and Gaynor rolled her eyes.
‘You are more dulcet than a sweet red rose,’ Hedges said in her best attempt at a posh voice. ‘Your brown smooth skin a joy to behold.’
Gaynor carried on snipping hair.
‘Your plump red lips are so sweet to kiss,’ Hedges managed and she was going to shove Stan’s spanner up his backside for this. ‘And your smile warms my heart when I am cold.’
‘Ah, that rhymed,’ one of the customers said to her friend. ‘That was a nice rhyme.’
‘I cannot compare my love with yours,’ Hedges said hiding behind the flowers. It was easier when she couldn’t see Gaynor scowling. ‘Your… er… bosom… is filled with kindness at play.’
‘Personally I’d say it was collagen,’ one of the customers whispered then froze as Gaynor snipped loudly. ‘What, no bosom is that perky without help.’
‘It’s called a bra,’ Gaynor muttered.
‘Your laughter makes my own affections—’ Hedges peered through the roses. ‘—swell.’ Hopefully Mary-Lou didn’t hear of this, she really would start to worry. ‘And so I have sent you this lovely bouquet.’
The customers clapped and one dabbed her eyes with a hanky.
‘I say you should throw caution to the wind and run off with her,’ one lady said from under a dryer.
‘Mavis, they are both married women. Hedges is saying it for Stan,’ another customer said then studied Hedges. ‘Right…?’
‘I dunno, ‘cause I heard she and Mary-Lou were partners.’ The lady nodded then froze again when Gaynor snipped.
‘Dance partners,’ Hedges said. ‘I promise I love my husband sometimes when he’s not doing my head in.’
‘Oh… that makes more sense because you were supposed to be doing something to her with snickers?’ The lady turned to her friend. ‘See, Mavis, they aren’t running off with each other.’
Mavis sighed. ‘Well that spoiled my excitement. I read the leaflet from Squishy saying we had a community.’
‘Lanie and Andy are our community,’ Gaynor snapped and snipped away. ‘And maybe Trevor but I’m not sure if he just left because Ceri is into Janis.’
‘She’s not?’ the lady having her hair attacked turned around. ‘The caretaker?’
‘Ooh, do you think they’ll have a parade. I do like a parade. I can make sponge cake.’ Mavis was thrilled and Hedges wanted to ditch the flowers the poem and run.
‘He wants to know you liked it,’ Hedges mumbled and placed the flowers on the side.
‘It’s rubbish.’ Gaynor snipped away then slunk onto one hip. ‘Even I could do better: you used to make me quiver with your manly charms and the way your hairy hands gripped your coffee cup; now you use pot puree and rhymes and cards and talk about flowers and fluffy stuff.’ She waved her scissors around with a scowl. ‘You never bought me flowers which pleased me so, but in this weird mood you seem to be stuck.’ She nodded to Mavis who giggled from the dryer. ‘I miss your hairy chest and stubble and even your moods and I even miss you leaving the toilet seat up.’
Hedges noted it down. ‘Do you want that with a bouquet or…?’
Diane waltzed in, twirled, swooned and flopped into a chair with a dramatic sigh.
‘Did you like the poem then?’ Mavis asked. ‘You could be in the parade.’
‘George,’ Diane sighed out with a smile. ‘He gave me an indecent proportion.’
Hedges wondered if that meant she needed to read out more poetry because she was going make her son do it instead.
‘He did?’ Gaynor grinned. ‘That’s not like him, he’s a gentleman… I think.’
‘He is, he gives me extra vinegar,’ Mavis said. ‘He could be in a parade. He did seem to like Ruby.’
‘Yes,’ Diane said, ignoring the comment about Ruby. She couldn’t really compete with Andy in a dress or not. ‘He was awash with creative madness, he twirled me around, then was crazed as he fired up his fryers.’
Hedges only hoped he had a fire extinguisher then.
‘He took me in his arms and told me I was his muse.’ Diane swooned again and the lady being snipped fanned her with her gown. ‘Chips, cheese, scraps, gravy and tomato ketchup…’
‘Did I hear chips? I could do with chips,’ Mavis mumbled.
‘Diane, you’re making no sense,’ Gaynor said still snipping at the customer’s hair. ‘Muse?’
‘He said dancing with me has inspired him, it’s his best meal yet, chips, cheese, scraps, gravy, ketchup… and fried ice cream.’ She let out a long sigh and switched off Mavis’ dyer. ‘He’s called it, an indecent proportion.’