Two friends, one lifetime and a world of books....what could be better? Enjoy! xx
|***Author's Note*** Written for the real Bea to my Amy. Lots of Loves xxx
“Doesn’t it look so beautiful out there?” Amy Martin sighed, cupping her coffee mug to her chest as she gazed out the window at the snow. It had been falling all day, and would mean that she’d be sleeping at the shop instead of going home, but it was worth it. She loved the peace that fresh snowfall brought, as though a mute button had been pushed high above them. The fact that it was also mid-November just made her festive mood deepen.
She’d sent her assistant Jade home earlier that afternoon, making her promise to call as soon as she got back safe.
“Now that I’m home it looks wonderful!” she replied. “Are you staying there tonight?”
“Yeah, I figured it was probably safer than trying to walk home. I can take as long as I want to walk home in the daylight tomorrow.” Amy said. “It’s ok.”
“Are you sure you’re going to be alright there by yourself?” Jade asked.
“I’m not by myself.” Amy replied, looking at the bookshelves around her. “I’ve got millions of characters to keep me company, and all the coffee and slightly stale cake a girl could wish for. I’ll be fine.”
“Ok, just make sure you keep warm. Do you need me to call Richard?”
Amy smiled at how thoughtful but slightly tactless the youngster was. “Jade, you do a lot for me, but I think I can call my own husband.”
“Oh God, I didn’t mean – ” She started.
“It’s ok, I know you didn’t.” Amy smiled to herself, moving away from the window to sit in the big leather chair nearby. “You have a lovely evening with your family; watch something Christmassy. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
After she hung up and finished her coffee, she began to close up. No one had been in since lunch time, and it wasn’t like people were going to be trekking out in this weather for a coffee or the latest Cecilia Ahern. Nope, she decided with a sigh, it was five o’clock and even if she was staying put, work was done for the day. She cashed up the till (not that there was much in it), and after finishing her paperwork and putting everything away in the safe, she sat back down in the chair with a fresh cup of coffee, and gave a contented sigh.
It wasn’t much, her little shop, but it was hers. Her corner of the street where she could see people and be a part of the landscape that was their town. Although she’d been more than uncertain when Richard had bought the run down coffee shop, she’d thrown herself into it and found, to her delight, that she actually wasn’t bad at it. Looking around at it now, it’s bare bricks almost completely covered by bookshelves and paintings, with the huge central fireplace currently blazing just for her – it was more like her personal living room than her business. But that’s exactly how she felt it should be. She wanted people who came in for the first time to feel instantly at home there. Since this winter had been more bitter than most, she’d even taken to putting thick tartan blankets over the back of every arm chair, especially for those tables that bit closer to the doors and windows. Once there was a bit more spare money she’d get them replaced – in the warmer months it was no problem, she could have them all thrown open, the smells of baking lemon cupcakes and the promise of icy cold fruit punch enough to keep everyone coming back. But when it got to winter, people seemed to want to grab their coffee and head back to their warm offices and cars. Those windows let out a lot of the heat and were taking customers with it; they’d just have to go.
She was broken from her thoughts by her mobile phone vibrating along the table beside her. Glancing at the screen, she smiled as she answered.
“Hello darling, I was just about to call you.”
“Hi! Did you make it home ok?” Her husband, Corporate Lawyer Richard Martin (fairly famous in legal circles) was on the other end, calling from the office.
“No, I think I’m just going to sleep here tonight. It’s safer than trying to get back up the hill, and there’s plenty here to keep me going.” She told him with a wry smile, eyeing up the coffee and walnut cake that she’d put out fresh that morning.
“Are you sure you’re ok there? Do you want me to come down and get you?” He asked, sounding concerned. He was so sweet to think of rescuing her.
“No, really, I’ll be fine. I’ve got the fire going, plenty of blankets and coffee on tap. It’s not ideal, but I’ll make the best of it.” She assured him. “Nick is staying at Mike’s tonight, so don’t worry when he’s not home; and James and Molly got back from hockey practice at four, Rebecca called just as I was sending Jade home to let me know. She’s a great help to have around, God love her. So there’s just you to take care of for dinner.”
“I’m sure she’ll have something already prepared by the time I manage to get back.” He replied. “Traffic out there is a nightmare!”
“I can imagine!” She said, pulling the nearest blanket onto her lap. “Well be careful out there, get home safe, and I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“You will.” He said.
“I love you.”
“I love you too. Bye.”
As he hung up, Richard Martin paused for a few seconds, as though the situation he found himself in was finally beginning to unnerve him. Then, as quickly as it had come, it passed. He picked up the bottle of merlot on the kitchen counter and returned to the living room, to the leggy blonde curled up on his sofa.
“Everything ok?” She asked, holding out her glass for a refill.
“Yes, fine. As I suspected, Amy is staying at the shop tonight, she said she’d be back tomorrow.” He replied, looking around the open plan living and dining room. “Where are the kids?”
“Studying in their rooms.” She purred, running her fingers lightly over his thigh as he sat down beside her. “We won’t be disturbed.”
“Ah Rebecca, you really are the best.” He said with a devilish grin, putting their drinks on the coffee table and pulling her onto his lap.
“Oh I am the best at many things, Mr. Martin.” She replied, running her fingers through his short salt and pepper hair as she leant in close to his ear. “Would you like me to show you?” she whispered.
As she looked over her reflection in her mirror, she had to admit that she didn’t look half bad. Being back at home in London had its perks – access to her full wardrobe for a start. Sleek, professional suit and heeled court shoes in the exact same shade of charcoal. She’d pinned her wavy red hair away neatly into a bun, and with a final flourish of Chanel, she was ready to go. This meeting had the potential to catapult her from ‘just another food critic’ to ‘restaurant owner feared by all’. She had to make the right impression.
Her agent had been in talks with Michel Bellamy, one of the country’s best chefs, for weeks, to set it up. He was currently head chef at The Bissette, the best French Bistro in the city, and doing very well for himself, by all accounts. She had eaten there a few times, and he was one of the few chefs she’d ever given a rave review. He truly was a brilliant man, and she wanted him...for her restaurant, of course.
“Bea, there you are!” Looking tired and harassed, her agent Melissa greeted her with a kiss on the cheek as she entered the restaurant. “You’re almost late, what happened?”
“Oh, some idiot came off his motorbike on the way here.” She replied with a sigh. “I honestly don’t understand why they haven’t banned those god awful things yet. Is Michel here?” she added, looking over to the table they’d reserved. By the window to be seen by the press, but a booth for that touch more privacy from prying public.
“He’s on his way, he’s also stuck in the traffic. So we have a little time to go over things. Oh, excuse me!” She called, collaring a bar tender. “Dirty Martini for me, please, and an iced water for my friend Beatrice here.”
He reacted exactly the same as everyone else did the first time they saw her. They give her a quick once over to confirm their horrified theory, and then their pupils begin to dilate, beads of sweat forming quickly on their brow. He was no different, playing his part beautifully before spluttering, “B...Beatrice Fletcher?”
“That would be me.” she replied with a professional smile. “Can you please tell the chef we’re ready to order, and have someone show us to our table?”
Melissa watched him run off as soon as he’d seated them. “I never get tired of seeing you do that!” She grinned, taking out a leather bound file. “But down to business now. There’s a few things I think we should go over before Michael arrives. I’ve been talking with his manager, and it seems if we want him, we’ve got to jump through some hoops to get him.”
“What do you mean?” Bea asked, frowning. She’d hoped the last agreed wage increase would be enough, it would almost bankrupt her as it was. “I thought you had this under control, Melissa.”
“I do have it under control, Bea. I just wanted you to be aware of what they have asked for before –”
“Ladies, my apologies for being so late.” A smooth voice said from behind them. “Zere was a terrible accident not far from ‘ere; I ‘ad to stop and do what I could to ‘elp.”
That, of course, was the other reason why Beatrice simply had to have Michel Bellamy work for her. He was a truly kind and caring man, always willing to help – a character trait you don’t find in a lot of Michelin starred chefs. Growing up, he’d done a lot for the community in the French costal village where he lived; organizing a team and raising funds to re-build the local church when it collapsed in a storm. He was also an Adonis of a man – tall with broad shoulders and an even tan; cropped dark hair with just a hint of a curl; and eyes that were almost as dark as her morning coffee...God, how she’d like to fall into those eyes. This fact alone would have made him a high choice on the shortlist. The fact that he could also do things with Truffles that she’d never even dreamed of made him her only choice.
“Michel, Bonjour, lovely to see you!” She smiled warmly, getting up to greet him with air kisses. “It’s not a problem, we’re just catching up on some other business. Can I get you a drink?”
“Just a water, S’il vous plait. I am off to zee restaurant after we finish here.” He replied, sitting down opposite her. “Speaking of which, why are we not doing zis zer? Surely we should celebrate our new venture in its own building, non?”
It took a couple of seconds for Bea to register what Michel had said, and one look at Melissa’s quickly reddening face was enough to know that she hadn’t misheard him.
“I’m sorry, Michel, please forgive my ignorance. What exactly are you talking about?” she asked. “The restaurant is going to be in Kessler, remember we spoke about this?”
He frowned slightly, he too shooting Melissa a look as he reached across the table. Taking her hand in his, he sighed.
“My darling woman, I must apologise. I zaught you knew.” He started. “It’s my final condition for signing zee contracts to be your head chef.”
“The restaurant has to replace Michel’s current space. Here in the city.” Melissa whispered, too afraid to look her boss in the eye. She would be so fired for not getting to this before he arrived.
“I cannot leave my restaurant in zee hands of an amateur while I go running off to ‘eaven know’s where. My name, my standing, my career – it would all disappear and I would become a nobody chef. I worked very ‘ard to get where I am today. I have to stay ‘ere in ze city to protect it. Zis must be something you can understand, Beatreece?”
Ignoring the flutter she felt when he said her name, Bea said nothing at all for a few seconds, choosing instead to close her eyes and take a long sip of her water. She tried to keep her swirling thoughts at bay, arranging her anger and surprise into something of a coherent response.
“Michel, you know how I feel about your food.” She began, setting her glass down slowly. “It is the only food I really want to serve in The Hallowed Hall. As an acclaimed food critic I not only have a standard to uphold, I also want other critics to shake with fear when they come to check out the competition.” She paused to drink in his melodious laugh before she continued. “But the location is something that I have had planned out long before I even became a critic. All I have ever wanted is to own a first class restaurant, and I’ve had my eyes on Kessler Hall since the beginning. I have increased your wages, offered you a living space and given free creative reign on the menu, which I might add I wasn’t overly thrilled about. But I agreed, all to get you to come and work with me.”
She looked into those coffee coloured eyes for what she hoped wasn’t the final time. “I’m sorry, Michel.” She took a deep breath. “But if you are now saying that you cannot move to Kessler - you won’t...then I’m sorry, but I can’t have you as my chef. I won’t.”
Michel looked as though he had been dowsed in cold water. Melissa simply sat agape as Bea heaved a sigh and picked up her bag. “If you don’t mind, I won’t stay for the drinks, or dinner. I think I’ll head home. It seems I have some re-planning to do. Melissa, we’ll talk tomorrow. Goodbye, Michel.”
“You are a strong woman, Miss Fletcher. I like zat.” He replied, standing as she did. “If you change your mind, it will be an honour to work wiz you.”
“You don’t need some fancy pants chef to make your restaurant great, and you know it.” Amy told her when she called later on. After a brief run-down of her children’s latest achievements and husband’s high-profile case, Bea couldn’t hold out any longer, blurting out the entire story in one long breath. Amy had listened like any good friend should, and was now ready to give her the dose of tough love that she clearly needed.
“I’m serious,” She continued. “Michel Bellamy will not make your restaurant any better than the one he owns in the city. He’d be mad to, it would only profit you. He will only make it as good as at best. Who wants to be as good? Go and find another chef, or even do it yourself; and make it better.”
“How on earth will I find a chef better than Michel Bellamy?” Bea said, laughing at the very idea of it. She loved Amy; she was still the same down-to-earth, straight shooting woman she had been when they met aged 15. But she wasn’t exactly the most worldly-travelled of souls, and her idea of good food was Richard’s Spaghetti Bolognese that he made for her once a year on their anniversary. “He’s got a Michelin Star, Amy – do you know how good that makes him?”
“As good as Alyn Williams, but still no Michel Roux Junior?” She replied, feeling smug as she scrolled through the list on her laptop browser.
Bea paused. “Are you Google-ing Michelin Star Chefs right now? Just to prove your point?” She asked.
Damn, she knows me too well. “And so what if I am? It makes my point beautifully, don’t you think?” She closed the laptop and re-filled her mug from the coffee pot on the counter. “Look, all I’m saying is don’t be in such a hurry to give in. Think on it. You’ve wanted Kessler Hall as long as you’ve wanted a place of your own. Don’t let brown eyes and a hand with the Truffle oil get to you.”
“Hm. How come you’re still at the shop anyway?” She asked, changing the subject. She’d had her rant now, she could do with taking her mind off it. “You can’t be doing stock take at this time of night, it’s almost ten.”
“Well, you know how work-focused I am.” She joked, going back to her seat by the window. “Nah, the snow’s been getting steadily worse all day, so I’m camping out here for the night. We’re closed on Sundays, so I can take all the time I need to walk home in the morning.”
“Why didn’t you call?” Bea asked, looking out of her own window. Almost a hundred and seventy miles away, a little snow never stopped anyone in London. Up in Rural Derbyshire, however, it was a different story. “I’m coming back up tomorrow anyway, to look at how the renovations are going on. I could've come up early and fetched you.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I’ll be fine for tonight. I’ll take you up on it for tomorrow morning though, if that’s ok? I told Richard I’d walk home, but I’m not looking forward to trudging back up that bloody hill.”
After they’d made arrangements and hung up, Bea sat silently at her desk for a moment and smiled to herself. Amy always knew just what to say to get her to unclench, without even knowing she was doing it. It was part of the reason they were still such good friends after nearly twenty years; they always had balanced each other out, even as teens. Their friend Lucy was usually in and out of the picture, even more so when she started touring with her band, but they kept in touch as best they could. Amy’s Mum had once told them that between them they’d take over the world.
“Well, maybe not the whole world, Mrs. P.” She mused to herself as she wandered through to the kitchen and poured a large glass of wine. “But maybe we could have just a little corner of it.”
The gentle tap-tap-tap on the window next to her woke her first. Though she knew it would be Bea come to her rescue, she had slept fitfully throughout the night; convinced that every noise was a robber. Now that she was finally comfortable, she refused to believe it was morning. She kept her eyes tightly closed and pulled the blanket up over her head.
The tapping grew louder, closely followed by the clatter of her letter box opening.
“Amy Martin, I can see you, you know! Get up and come and let me in! It’s bloody freezing out here, and I came all this way to rescue you like you asked.”
Grumbling as she shuffled to the door, Amy unlocked it and wrenched it open, glaring at her friend. “I did not ask, you offered. And you were coming home anyway.” She said. “Now do you want free caffeine or not?”
“Good Morning to you too! I forgot how mean you are before nine.” Bea grinned, shaking the snow off her coat and boots as she walked in. She shivered. “It’s almost as cold in here as it is out there! Get that coffee on, Mrs. I’ve got loads to do today – the builders weren’t even there when I called in on my way here.”
“It is only seven AM, on a snow-covered November morning.” She defended them as she fired up the machine, mumbling as she added “I know I’d rather not be up yet.”
“Heard that!” Bea called after her. “Time waits for no man, Amy – or woman. I’ve got far too much to do for them to have a snow day.”
Amy smiled to herself as she bustled about behind her counter. Only Beatrice Fletcher would expect outdoor labourers to turn up in a foot of snow and crack on as normal. When she first bought the Book Café, Richard had put Bea in charge of the renovations needed. ‘So that things actually get done, Amy’ he had told her when she’d asked him why. ‘You’d offer them tea and cake every two minutes’.
Although exaggerating, he was partly right. She had always believed that a happy workforce was a productive one, but she knew that many didn’t agree with her. People like Bea and her husband might get the job done, and maybe yes, a little quicker – but her father had managed to run a successful Greek restaurant for years without ever being un-necessarily rude to his staff. And if it was good enough for Nikolas Petru, it was definitely good enough for her.
Forty minutes and two double espressos later, they were ready to leave. Amy had checked everything was locked up, pulling her scarf tighter around her as she closed the front door. It really was cold.
“I’m assuming Richard knows that I’ve come to fetch you?” Bea asked as she slowly pulled her land rover away from the kerb. “He won’t be trekking out to meet you himself?”
Amy shook her head. “I told him I was walking home, so I doubt it. Even if he thought to come out in the car for me, he wouldn’t set out so early. Sunday’s the only day he has off, he likes to make the most of his lie in.”
"Maybe you'll get home early enough to surprise him, eh?" Bea giggled, giving her a playful nudge.
"Bea! You're incorrigible!" She replied, smiling herself. It had been a while, so maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all.
By the time they’d skidded their way through the winding streets and out to the main road, Amy was already planning how to make her move on her husband. She’d sneak in through the side door to the kitchen so he wouldn’t hear the front door beep as she came in; creep into their dressing room to slip into something more comfortable, maybe put on a little lippy. Then she’d be ready to wake up her husband and work up their appetite for breakfast...
“Oh no, that’s Michelle’s car!” She hissed as they drew level with her driveway. “She must’ve stayed here because of the weather last night.”
“Is that a problem? Surely she’ll be asleep like everyone else?” Bea replied.
“Oh no, not Michelle. It’s part of the reason why we hired her as Housekeeper in the first place. She’s so good with the kids, gets them up every morning like clockwork at seven am for breakfast. Normally she has Sundays off, but I wouldn’t put it past her to have everyone up and dressed by now.”
Bea placed a hand on her knee and gave a small squeeze. “How about I come in with you, run some interference with the kids? Then you and Richard can have some time alone for a little while. I can maybe have a quiet word with Michelle, explain the situation – James and Molly aren’t too old to build snowmen yet are they?”
They headed into the house, quietly closing the door behind them. Amy paused for all of a second, taking in the pots and pans still strewn across the work tops, crusty cutlery sticking up out of the drainer. She felt a rush of annoyance run through her – she’d been gone for one night – but she quickly shrugged it off. It wasn’t the time to get hung up on dirty dishes. Putting her boots in the shoe rack and her coat on the hook in the hallway, she turned.
“Thanks again for the lift home, Bea.”
Noting the glint in her friend’s eyes, Bea knew her help was no longer needed. “Not a problem. Call me later, give me all the details!”
Amy got to the top of the staircase before she realised something was wrong. The door to Molly’s room was open and she wasn’t in it. Poking her head around her son’s door, she saw her fifteen and twelve year old sat on his floor with their backs against the bed. The television was on, but neither of them were watching it. More to the point, they weren’t trying to kill each other. James actually appeared to be comforting his sister.
They both looked up with round, scared eyes when she came in and stood over them.
“Hey, what are you two doing up so early on a Sunday morning? Did Michelle sound the alarm?” She whispered, keen not to wake Richard until she’d got changed.
“Hi Mum, you’re home early. Did you walk all the way from the shop?” James asked.
“No, Auntie Bea dropped me off in her big car. Molly, what on earth is the matter?” She asked, spotting the blotchy face of her youngest.
“Mum – ” She started to open her mouth, then closed it again, tears rolling silently down her cheeks.
This instantly concerned Amy. Molly was a total tomboy, and she could count on one hand the number of times she’d seen her cry. She had a fleeting thought that maybe she was coming into puberty and that this could be her chance to have a daughter. The idea of bras and dresses would definitely make Molly cry.
“Darling, what is it?” She rushed to scoop her into a hug, smoothing her soft brown curls through her fingers. “Come now, dry those tears, it’s alright. Whatever it is I’m sure we can fix it.”
When she still got nothing but silenced sniffling, she turned to her son. “James, do me a favour and go and put the kettle on will you? Your sister looks like she could use a cup of tea and a chat.”
“What is it with you and a cup of tea?” Molly asked, raising her voice slightly to just above a whisper as he went downstairs. “It doesn’t solve everything, you know. It’s not magic.”
“So why don’t you tell me what it is you’re trying to solve then? Maybe I can find the right kind of magic.” She said with a smile, nudging her gently. She sat down on James’ bed and pulled her towards her. “Whatever it is must be important.”
“Oh Mum, I’m so sorry.” She said, dissolving into floods again. “I-I don’t even know what to say.”
Oh no. She was apologising for something. Several scenarios crossed her mind in the blink of an eye. Drugs, alcohol, sex....she was just twelve! She felt out of her depth; she’d need back up for this conversation. “I’m going to wake your Father, I think maybe we need a family chat.”
“No!” she cried, grabbing her arm as she made to get up. “Please, Mum. Don’t go in there.”
***Author's Note*** I have chapters four to seven written up too, should this catch your fancy. If not, please still feel free to leave feedback, all is welcome. Thanks! xxx