The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Café (13 page)

BOOK: The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Café
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‘How did you fix the windows?’ she said, turning to look back at Matt who seemed to be focused on stopping Buster chewing the daffodils.

‘I just worked on them a bit,’ he said, as if it was nothing.

Annie frowned.

Martha leant forward, her hands resting on the new window ledge tables that he’d built earlier in the week, and whispered, loud enough for them all to hear, ‘He was here most of the night.’ Then tucked her chin into her chest and made a face like she’d just passed on a real gem of news.

Matt sighed, embarrassed. ‘I wasn’t here all night.’

‘With River,’ Martha added, with another chin to chest look.

‘You were with River?’ Annie almost gasped.

‘Yeah.’ He shrugged. ‘Yeah, it was good.’

Annie did a little clap. ‘That’s made my day. Where is he?’ As she said it, the big front gates to Matt’s place opened and River and Clemmie walked out, her dragging him by the hand like an exuberant puppy.

‘Hi, Annie!’ she shouted, hair all scooped up on her head, lips painted pearlised pink and wearing a turquoise diner waitress shirtdress. ‘I bought this off eBay. I thought I’d help today, if that’s OK? Is that OK? River thought it would be OK?’

‘Absolutely fine.’ Annie was more stunned by the fact they’d been allowed to stay together at Matt’s house, and that River had wanted to. She raised her eyebrows in Matt’s direction to silently ask those very questions and he just gave a nonchalant shrug. She noticed, however, that he couldn’t hide the quirk of a smile as he hoisted the dog up and came to stand next to Annie.

‘They had separate bedrooms,’ he said under his breath.

‘I should hope so,’ she smirked.

‘I think she’s good for him.’

‘I agree.’

Annie had never known what it felt like to feel like a parent. She’d felt like an aunt and a naughty daughter, but never a parent. Yet when she stood there watching as River went into the cafe and started carrying out the mic stands and amps for their opening performance, and Matt immediately jogged in to help him, she felt this bubble of parental pride. Like she had helped this pairing to find their way, and before her eyes she had watched River relax just a tiny bit and let his dad in.

‘Hey, let me just put these down,’ Matt said to her as he came out with two mic stands. ‘I’ve got you something.’

‘Me?’ Annie pointed to her chest.

‘Yes, you.’ He shook his head, as if to say, who else? ‘Wait there. Keep an eye on Buster and those flowers,’ he said and disappeared into his house, returning a minute later with a cardboard box.

‘What is it?’

Matt raised a brow and said dryly. ‘A cardboard box.’

Annie looked heavenward. ‘I love it.’

‘There you go. Done,’ he said, putting it down on one of the old cafe tables that they’d set up in front of the windows.

‘It’s not really just a cardboard box, is it?’ Annie was momentarily hesitant.

‘What do you think? Just open it.’

Annie took a couple of steps forward and looked at the box, then back at Matt, then back at the box. She could feel Martha and River and Clemmie all watching from the window as she peeled back the flaps.

Inside were big tufts of tissue paper that she moved away slowly to reveal five stacks of little white bowls, each one separated from the other with more tissue paper. She looked from the bowls back up to Matt who nodded for her to carry on, to pick one up. So she lifted one out of the box and saw that each was hand-painted with cherry blossom, the branches curling round the outside of the bowls and the pink flowers bursting in bunches on the stems.

‘They’re for the cherry pie,’ Matt said. ‘I had them flown over from Japan, I wasn’t sure that they’d get here in time.’

Annie took one out and then another. All of them slightly different. On some the blossom dipped over onto the inside of the bowl, on others some of the buds weren’t yet in bloom. On some the pink was darker cerise, others a light pastel.

‘You don’t have to use them,’ Matt added. ‘If you don’t like them.’

‘I love them,’ Annie said, looking up at him, amazed. ‘They’re completely perfect. Thank you.’

Matt was about to reply when Annie’s mum, Valtar, Jonathan, Suzi, Gerty and Wilbur all appeared from the park.

‘We’re here, darling. Sorry we’re early, but we just couldn’t wait, could we, Gerty?’ Her mum looked back towards Annie’s niece who was lagging slightly behind under the weight of a huge pot plant.

‘Wait for me!’ Gerty yelled. ‘Wait!’ And they all paused to let her catch up.

Annie moved away from the table, still with a bowl in her hand and bent down so she was on Gerty’s level. ‘What’s in the pot?’

‘We grew it for you,’ Gerty said. Her hair was tamed into little plaits, her dress already dirty with soil and on her feet were Annie’s precious pink fur-lined boots, a size or two too big.

‘She insisted on carrying it,’ Suzi said, holding her dog tight because Buster was barking at it. ‘I told her it would ruin her dress but she wouldn’t listen.’

Gerty, who was standing with her back to her mother, rolled her eyes and Annie had to stifle a giggle. ‘It’s a cherry tree,’ Gerty said, putting it on the floor and standing back proudly so they could all stare at the bare-looking twig sticking up from the soil. ‘It doesn’t look much yet but it’ll be as big as those one day,’ she said, clearly parroting Annie’s mum.

Annie didn’t know what to say. First her bowls, then the tree. Gerty was beaming up at her. She was completely overwhelmed.

‘Right then, let’s have a look and see if you’ve managed to salvage the place,’ Jonathan’s voice cut through the emotion of the moment. ‘Give us a tour then,’ he added, striding past her and through the door. ‘Turquoise? Not sure about that, Sis. Have you got a band? Why are there microphones? God, you’re not giving a speech, are you?’

Annie stood up, about to reply, when Matt came and stood next to her and said, ‘Just ignore it. Just let it wash over you. It’s not worth it.’ When she looked up at him, she met his gaze; dark smiling eyes that were completely on her side. She took a breath in through her nose and exhaled, a little shakily. When she nodded, she felt his hand slip into hers, cool and strong. Her arm tingled, her breath caught. Then River called over about something to do with an extension lead and Matt gave her hand a little squeeze before letting it go so he could help.

She held her fingers up to her lips and watched as her family bustled past her; as Martha came out and collected up the cherry pie bowls; as Gerty heaved the flower pot over to sit with the daffodils and hyacinths; as Andrew Neil arrived along with a fair-haired, tired-looking woman and her mother who Martha whispered was Jane Williams, the one from the houseboat; as Holly turned up fresh from a rowing outing, wearing tracksuit bottoms and a baggy grey sweatshirt, a sprig of cherry blossom in her hair, definitely
not
pregnant, Annie decided; as Mr Lewis, the disparaging milkman who’d called the place a poisoned chalice, wheeled his bike round the corner to make his judgement; as Barney from the pub wandered over and said, ‘Maybe we can help each other?’; as River and his sullen mate picked up their guitars and Clemmie took to the microphone and sang, much to everyone’s utter delight, ‘Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries’, her voice deep and sultry and mesmerising; as Matt stood over the other side of the cafe tables and watched her watching, his black eyes smiling.

The day passed in a blur. There was laughing and reminiscing, songs and dancing. River’s mum, Pamela, popped in for a coffee and admired her discarded lamp, feigning forgetfulness when Matt reminded her that he’d given it to her as a present. It was nice to watch them all together, River showing her about the place, pointing out the work he’d done with his dad. Pamela looked almost relieved that the relationship might finally be thawing.

As the light became hazy and the clouds closed over the sun, Winifred came inside brandishing a copy of the day’s
Daily Mail
. ‘Look, look, look we’re in it!’ she said, pointing to a picture included on a piece about The Rolling Stones.

Annie picked it up, confused. ‘The cafe?’

‘No.’ Winifred rolled her eyes as if she was daft, ‘Us. All of us.’ She pointed to Holly who was sitting in a booth with Ludo and Matt, Buster on her lap. ‘Remember, when they came to record whatever it was and we all stood with them to have our photo?’ She glanced back at Annie. ‘It was a couple of months ago. I think there’s a new LP out. And look,’ She flattened the newspaper out on the counter and Holly and Matt came over to see, ‘There’s Emily Hunter-Jones. Remember, Annie? From your school? Her and her brother came back for the day because, well, she was having a fling with someone in the band, much too old for her, and he’d been playing polo at Ham. It was all very exciting and glamorous. They went back to the old manor house to have a look. The Robinsons were a bit funny about letting them in I heard, I think there’s marriage problems there, but anyway, Emily and Wilfred insisted and went for a nose about the place.’

Annie frowned as she looked at the picture and tried to think back. ‘They didn’t live here for long did they? Matt, was Wilf in your year?’

‘Yeah but he was at boarding school somewhere in London I think.’

Annie sucked in her bottom lip, then said, ‘Oh of course. And Emily’d been expelled from so many places that she ended up back with us. Ha. How funny. Didn’t you have a thing about her brother, Holly?’

Holly scoffed. ‘No!’

Annie watched her cheeks pink. ‘Yes you did. I’m sure you did. You made us walk up and down in front of their house that time. You remember, his dad came out and shouted at us.’

Holly shrugged and looked back at the newspaper. ‘Maybe.’

Matt peered over Holly’s shoulder and, pointing to the group shot of practically everyone on the island plus The Rolling Stones and Emily and Wilf, said, ‘Is that him, Holly? The one you’re standing
really
close to in this picture?’

Annie and Ludo giggled, while Holly just rolled her eyes as if they were all desperately immature and headed outside with the pug to where the band had started up again, the fairy-lights in the trees twinkling in the evening light and the candles on the tables flickering in their jam jars.

Matt chuckled and, taking the paper with him to have a read, followed Holly outside, while Ludo went off to do a circuit of the cafe as the proud chef.

‘It’s nice to see you laughing,’ Winifred said.

‘I laugh,’ said Annie, a touch defensive.

‘I know. Just not often with us. I know your brother’s a pain but his heart is in the right place, sometimes.’ She turned so her back was to Annie and surveyed the revamped cafe. The vintage pink lights cast a spotlight glow on the window seats; the plastic tables were all kitted out with retro condiments and the empty cans of Spanish tomatoes and olive oil that they’d planted with dandelions from the yard; the huge old flamenco picture and the cupboards stacked with objects and vintage knick-knacks; the countertop with Martha’s homemade cakes ‒ gooey, creamy delicacies oozing temptingly under glass domes; the diners savouring their cherry pie, scraping the last of it out of their delicate cherry blossom bowls, pouring over custard from a selection of little cut-glass jugs that Enid had collected; Buster the pug, who’d left Holly and was stretched out asleep in the doorway; Ludo rhapsodising re tapas to some satisfied customers.

‘Your father would be very proud,’ she said, turning back to face Annie.

‘I don’t know, Mum.’ Annie pulled a face. ‘I think he’d probably have agreed with Jonathan, that I should have cut my losses while I had the chance.’ She did a little laugh to emphasis the impracticality of running this cafe, the money, the debts, the lack of opportunity for massive revenue.

Winifred looked at her, confused. But before she could reply, Matt walked back in with one of the bottles of prosecco under his arm. As he approached the counter, Winifred took it as her cue to leave.

Annie watched as he leant over the countertop and grabbed two white mugs. Then as he unwrapped the gold foil and popped the cork, pouring the froth of bubbles into their cups, he said, ‘Happy?’

Annie took a mug from him and made herself think about it for a second before answering. Was she happy? Was this feeling of being completely relaxed, happiness? Was it this feeling of her whole body feeling lighter when Matt walked into the room? Was it being around her family? Was it owning something of her father’s? Or was it all still tainted by the idea that here, back on the island, she would never be allowed to grow up? That her haircut would always be teenage and her choices commented on by an entire community who’d seen her grow from Gerty’s age to now.

‘Don’t answer,’ Matt stopped her before she replied. ‘Don’t because I don’t think I want to know. You look too serious for it to be the answer that I want.’ He smiled and clinked her mug with his, ‘Let me just tell you that
I’m
happy. I’m happier than I have ever been and…’ He paused, seemingly considering whether to say the next bit. Cautious. Then he went on, ‘I think, maybe, you might have quite a lot to do with that fact.’

Annie felt her breath hitch in her throat as her eyes held his and she saw them smile.

But then she heard a voice she hadn’t heard in years and her body felt like someone had chopped her in two.

‘Annie, Annie, Annie. Well, well, well. What do we have here?’ The voice drawled, smooth and slick, cocky and confident. The memory of it made her shoulders flinch. The tone that always held a secret, some little nugget of power.

‘Shit,’ she said through clenched teeth.

Matt looked from Annie to this stranger, perplexed. Clearly took in the dark-grey suit, the pale-blue polo shirt with the collar turned up, the side-slicked hair, the chocolate-box good looks.

‘Who’s this?’ Matt said, glancing back to Annie.

‘No one,’ she shook her head.

‘Honey? How can you say that?’ The guy stepped forward, hand outstretched, ‘Hugo Roberts, Annie’s husband.’

Chapter Fifteen

‘Ex-husband,’ Annie said, eyes narrowed.

The music from outside was floating in through the open door, Clemmie’s haunting, soft tones wrapping round them.

BOOK: The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Café
5.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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