Previously in Leeford Village: Dr Jeremy Roberts decides to meet Mel Adams, wife of Steve, at the bandstand in Leeford Park. Another resignation from the band – this time it’s Ziggy, and Simon is embarrassed. Stephen sees through Gary’s false Welsh accent and advises him to return home a.s.a.p. A car pulls up outside the launderette and a woman calls out to Sherry Cross ‘I’ve been looking for you everywhere!’
‘Sorry, do I know you?’
Sherry quickly works out that the woman is alone. She is ready to run, or, alternatively reach into her bag for the pepper spray she has carried since being attacked crossing a dark North Banfield car park when she was barely fifteen. Sherry admits that she does tend to put herself in vulnerable positions, and that she is too trusting. Allen and Linda a case in point.
‘Don’t you remember me? Julie. Julie Gregson, Beladon Productions. The audition?’
‘That was ages ago. Anyway, you turned me down.’
‘I didn’t, Sherry. I liked you, but found myself in a minority of one.’
‘You could put it that way, but here is your chance to put it right. Can I buy you dinner? There’s a lovely new restaurant in the centre of Banfield. I’ll drop you home afterwards.’
‘Well... I’ll have to call my sister. Tell her where I’ll be.’
‘No, I can’t stay for the meeting, Nick. Just popped in to drop off paperwork for Stephen.’
‘Are you following set procedures from fêtes organised in the past?’
‘Nick, you really don’t listen, do you?’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Don’t you remember when I booked the room for the fête sub-committee, I told you it would be the first one ever held in Leeford?’
Jessica, taking an hour’s break from the salon, hears the last part of the conversation; Frank’s part. She has never liked the man and is constantly irritated by Nick’s acceptance of insults, sarcasm, back-biting and generally being walked over.
‘Who the hell do you think you are, Frank?’
‘I doubt it very much if you are.’
‘Leave it, Jessica,’ intervenes Nick.
‘No, I won’t leave it. He’s an arrogant bully and he needs telling.’
She turns back to face Frank, but all she sees is his back as he exits the Centre.
‘Well. How rude.’
‘You were a bit, er, straightforward, Jess.’
‘Straightforward? You mean I was rude.’
‘Look love, there’s things you don’t know about Frank and he seems to have a lot on his mind at the moment...’
‘Never mind what’s on his mind,’ she interrupts.
Then, bursting into tears, she blurts out, ‘I wanted to see you!’
‘Jess, what is it?’
‘Oh Nick, I’ve just had confirmation from the doctor. I’m pregnant.’
‘We don’t see you in here very often.’
‘How long have you been running Billy’s on your own?’ replies Agnes.
‘Fourteen years. Since my darling Bill passed away.’
‘What happened, Ethel? I’ve often wondered but not wanted to ask.’
‘His heart. He’d had problems for years. More and more tablets, but he was getting weaker.’
‘Was it sudden in the end?’
‘No, he went into hospital after an attack. He was in Banfield General for three weeks. Bill even organised his own funeral and had time to tell me what to do with the business.’
Ethel lowers her head, tears filling her eyes. Agnes leans forward and takes Ethel’s right hand in hers.
‘There, love, it comes and goes doesn’t it?’
‘Yes, after all this time and I still think of him every day.’
‘Never mind me, Agnes. How are things with you?’
‘Shall I just say “Cody”, and leave it at that?’
‘He’s a good man, your husband. You know that, don’t you?’
‘Well, I do, but things have changed lately.’
‘In what way?’
‘I think he might be having an affair.’
‘He can’t be. He wouldn’t – would he?’
‘Oh, Ethel, he’s lost interest in me, and he is over the road at the card shop with all sorts of lame excuses. You know he bought me fifteen birthday cards?’
‘Not sure, Ethel, but I have my suspicions.’
‘He’s joined that new Writers’ Group that Jessica is running at the moment.’
‘What’s wrong with that?’
‘He thinks I’m stupid, but he switched from the Readers’ Group when he heard that Meredith was joining the Writers.’
‘What are you going to do, Agnes?’
‘Well, for a start, I’m joining the Writers’ Group as well.’
If you were to walk through Leeford Village on any given day, wait for the traffic noise to die down, and, if necessary, unplug your Walkman (if you’re old enough and if it still works), you might hear the hum and chatter of voices. Village voices. What are they chatting about? The upcoming fête. Cody and Agnes, with all their problems, are no exception. One thing they both agree on – they like to do their ‘bit’ for the community. Cody has already taken both Frank and Stephen to one side at a meeting and lobbied them for a stall. The Thorntons want a book stall. They’ve done it before at car boots (at Taylor’s Farm) in the summer and fund-raisers throughout the year held in the Community Centre.
Cody is never sure with Frank. He nods his head or sighs and coughs, and Cody is not the best at reading body language. Stephen is much more straightforward. ‘I think we should allocate the book stall to Cody and Agnes, eh Frank?’ Even the local police sergeant / Parish Council Deputy Chair can only elicit a ‘huh’ from his superior. At least Frank thinks he is superior. Here’s where the problem starts. Mel and Steve Adams also want a book stall, and Frank likes Mel and Steve. ‘Good, solid business types, the Adams Family,’ he says. He has repeated this a number of times and it invariably brings a smile to his deputy’s face. Herein lies the difference. The owners of ‘Leeford Plaice’ don’t want a penny from the proceeds. It would all go into the village charity fund. Mel and Steve, on the other hand, have ‘generously’ offered 50% of any profit for the fund. They want to use the stall as an extension of their book selling business. The official list of stalls (and their respective allocations) is due to be announced at the next Parish Council meeting. Stephen Miller is to chair that meeting. Whether or not Frank Watson esq will allow such a momentous decision to be taken in his absence remains to be seen.
Greg walks into the Cross as if he’s never been away. Ted, Jack Simmons, Cody and Ken Taylor, deep in conversation, all pause as one.
‘Greg Withall, if I’m not mistaken,’ whispers Ken.
‘I heard you, Ken. No, you’re not mistaken. It’s me. I’m back.’
‘We don’t want any trouble, Greg,’ says Ted.
‘Trouble? Why should I be trouble?’
Greg Withall is a man whose appearance defies his reputation. The girl he married, Mandy Smith, is now Mandy Cleeve. She considered him to be quite a catch back then. Relatively clean cut (except for a jagged scar to the left of his lower lip), a firm jaw, deep, dark blue eyes than can latch onto a person’s glance, if someone dares more than a glance. Short, dark brown, wavy hair that Mandy used to love. Not anymore. He’s aged, but hasn’t changed that much. A facial expression more accountant than hired thug turns in a second if someone riles him.
‘I’m just saying, Greg. Do you want a drink?’
‘That’s kind of you, Ted. Giving out freebies now?’
‘I didn’t mean...’ splutters Ted.
‘Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Edward. I can pay. I could afford to buy your pub, let alone a drink.’
‘You’re not welcome here, Withall.’
Greg spins round, to see Jack rising from his chair.
‘Sit down, Jack. He’s not worth it,’ says Ken.
‘I could take you both on, but I’m just here for a quiet pint. OK?’
‘Leave it, lads,’ says Ted.
‘Here’s your pint.’
‘You remembered – my favourite brew.’
‘Hello Jeremy, or should I say Doctor?’
‘Mel, I don’t have much time. What is it?’
‘Please sit down. I need to explain.’
Mel had been the one who brought the relationship to a dead stop, with no explanation. She has wanted for so long to talk to him properly and provide him with that explanation. He now understands that she doesn’t want to revive the passion they felt for each other, but she does want to end any awkwardness.
‘So, you see, we were going through a bad patch. I had suspected that Steve was seeing someone else. He wasn’t – I’m sure of it – but he had lost interest in, well, bed.’
They sit quietly for a few minutes, but don’t see the man in the blue anorak leaning against an old oak, not thirty yards away.
‘Jeremy, I’m so glad we have come to an understanding. Steve never knew about us. He would have gone crazy.’
She reaches over, places her hand on his left shoulder and gently plants a soft kiss on his cheek.
‘I’m so glad you’re ok,’ he replies.
Steve Adams moves behind the oak tree, waits for the couple by the bandstand to part, and then makes his way back home.
‘Glad he’s gone,’ says Cody. ‘Now, where were we? Jack, I think you had the chair.’
‘Thank you, Chairman Cody. All you need is a little red book.’
‘Never mind,’ Jack continues, grasping his pint glass, ready for another.
‘I’m going to ask for a stall at the fête.’
‘You as well?’ says Ken. ‘Doing what?’
‘The Pound Challenge.’