Previously in Leeford Village: The Rev. John Peterson opens the inaugural Leeford Village fête. Ken Taylor wins the best cucumber competition, after Vera is disqualified and Roy presented a courgette. Greg Withall is chased out of the village by a posse of villagers and Frank Watson, having carried out painstaking research, announces that the fête coincides with Leeford Day.
It seems that the whole of Leeford Village has turned out for the fête. If it wasn’t for the fact that Leeford nestles between several large conurbations, the scene would be quite pastoral. Frank Watson, flushed by his achievement in determining the true date for Leeford Day, is circulating the stalls, shaking hands with all and sundry and basking in the compliments being paid to him for a successful fête, as though he has been solely responsible for the whole thing.
A small stage, adorned with bunting of all colours has been erected on the large patio in front of the vicarage. Large speakers capable of projecting sound across a ten thousand-seater stadium produce ear-splitting feedback that whistles across the whole of Leeford as each microphone is tested, repositioned and tested again.
Zack is sitting at the edge of the stage, tuning and retuning his guitar. He has not spoken to the rest of the band since it folded, though he has heard rumours they have found a new singer and are rehearsing for their first show at North Banfield Social Club. At first, he regretted leaving the band, but as he and Clare sang and played together in preparation for today’s performance, he realised that this is what he wants to do.
How lucky he is to have her, he thinks, as he sees her walking towards him, looking like Sir John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia, though not submerged in water. Beautiful, intelligent and musically talented. Yet, in the back of his mind there is always the nagging possibility that she could find someone better than him.
‘You’ve been tuning that all day.’ Clare sits down next to him.
‘I know. The heat affects the neck and puts it out of tune.’
She rests his head on his shoulder.
‘It’ll be fine,’ she says.
Yes, it will, he thinks.
Allen Gomez and Linda Cross are walking hand in hand around the Peterson’s well-manicured garden, away from the crowds.
‘I miss her, Al. I can’t believe she’s gone,’ says Linda, her voice wavering slightly.
‘I know you do. But she’ll be back.’
Allen tries to reassure her, though having to reassure a woman on the verge of tears is not something with which he is familiar and he wishes Linda would get over Sherry’s move to America as soon as possible. This moping Linda is not the Linda he committed to, largely against his better judgement at first, though he would now admit that there is a connection between them that he never thought would be possible, given his previous track record with women.
‘And just think. She’ll be rich. She’ll be able to look after you in your old age. Look after us.’
Linda halts in front of a patch of purple salvias.
‘Us? Do you think they’ll be an ‘us’ when we’re old, Allen?’
Allen feels his face burning and not just from the sun.
‘Of course,’ he says, with a conviction with which he surprises himself.
Linda kisses him.
‘I don’t believe you. But, it’s lovely of you to say it.’
Frank Watson is receiving congratulations on the success of the fête from Ethel and Clara on the cake stall when the sound of tapping on a microphone causes him to turn towards the stage.
‘Now what’s he doing? Not another sermon!’
Reverend Peterson is standing at the front of the stage.
‘One-two-one-two. Can you…? OK. Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention.’ All eyes turn towards the stage.
‘I wish I could get the same amount of attention on a Sunday morning!’ he says, laughing. ‘Right, well. We are nearly coming to the end of the day and to the main entertainment, Zack and Clare.’
A ripple of applause breaks out at various points across the lawn.
‘But, first, a late addition to the programme. Singing that timeless Dolly Parton classic, Jolene, we have the wonderful Agnes Thornton!’
Cody Thornton, alone on the bookstall since Agnes slipped off to ‘buy an ice-cream’ ten minutes earlier, drops the book he is passing to Nita Sangra.
‘I never knew Agnes was a singer, Cody,’ says Nita, picking the book up from the grass.
‘Neither did I, Nita. Neither did I,’ says Cody, a look of bewilderment on his face.
At the handmade cards stall, Adam Thornton is deep in conversation with Stephen Miller.
Meredith taps him on the shoulder.
‘Adam. Your mom’s on the stage.’
Adam pauses mid-sentence. ‘Oh my God. What’s she doing?’
He looks across to his father. His father shrugs.
Agnes walks up to the microphone to thunderous applause from the audience that has gathered around the front of the stage.
‘Thank you. This has always been a favourite song of mine and I’d like to sing it for you today. As those of you who have heard the song know, the lyrics are an appeal by a woman to another woman for her not to take her man. I’ve always found them to be a bit demeaning to women to be honest, but in recent days they have come to mean something to me. So, I’d like to dedicate this song to the lovely, very blue-eyed Meredith Park over there.’
Agnes points over to Meredith’s stall. The whole audience turns to look at Meredith.
‘What’s she on about, Meredith?’ asks Adam.
‘I’ve no idea. Honestly,’ she says. She looks over to the book stall.
The audience turns to look at Cody, standing with his head in his hands.
‘Honestly, I have no idea, Adam.’
Adam storms away from the stall. Cody marches after Adam. Meredith calls him as he passes her stall, but he just shakes his head. The backing track starts up and the audience turn back to the stage. Agnes belts out a fine version of Jolene, her eyes fixed on Meredith throughout. When she finishes, the audience is not sure whether to applaud.
‘I knew we should not have let the Thornton’s have the bookstall,’ says Frank Watson to anyone within earshot.
‘Well, well,’ says Nick Allthorpe, squeezing out a wet sponge one of the primary school children had just thrown at him. ‘Who’d have thought? Meredith and Cody. And Adam!’
‘Shut up, Nick,’ says Jessica. ‘We don’t know anything.’
‘I’m glad you didn’t fail her at the audition, Jess! This is priceless!’
Jessica picks up a soaking wet sponge and squeezes it down the back of Nick’s shirt.
Agnes bows and leaves the stage. She walks back to the chip shop, ready for opening time. The shock of Agnes’s accusation dampens the spirit of the crowd for a while, while at the same time setting tongues wagging.
‘Quick, Zack. Get on there!’ says Reverend Peterson to his son, still trying to tune his guitar.
‘But we’ve got another ten minutes, Dad. Anyway, Clare’s not here yet.’
Reverend Peterson sighs. ‘Well, as soon as you can. Let’s try to avert a disaster.’
It’s twenty minutes before Clare arrives.
‘Sorry, Zack. I saw Meredith’s stall was unattended, so I took over. Amanda’s doing it now.’
Zack and Clare take the stage, much to the relief of Zack’s father, who approaches the microphone.
‘And now ladies and gentlemen. From the sounds I’ve been hearing from my basement over the past few weeks, you’re in for a real treat. Will you please welcome…’ he turns to Zack and whispers, ‘what are you called?’
‘Er, Zack and Clare?’
‘Oh, okay. Will you please welcome Zack and Clare!’
Before the audience has chance to welcome Zack and Clare, they launch into their first song, a stripped-down band number. This is immediately followed by a couple of covers and then one of Zack’s own songs. They are going down well with the crowd, who are dancing along, waving their hands in the air. Even Frank Watson can be seen tapping his brogue and slightly bending a knee. After an up-tempo number enhanced by a virtuosic performance by Clare on the tambourine, Zack announces that the next song is an addition to the original set they had planned that he is going to sing solo. Clare, looking confused and a little miffed, moves to the side of the stage.
‘This song is dedicated to the girl I love and is called, “Clare”’.
Clare feels her face redden. There are whistles from the audience, which Zack ignores.
The song is a lilting love ballad that has the crowd swaying in unison in front of the stage. Zack sings it perfectly, looking all the time at an increasingly embarrassed Clare. Halfway through what will be the final verse, Zack stops. He puts his guitar down and walks to the back of the stage, where he opens his guitar case and takes out a small box.
‘Get on with it!’ shouts someone from the hushed audience.
Zack goes to the side of the stage and drops down on one knee in front of Clare. There’s a collective gasp from the audience. He takes a ring out the box and holds it up in the air.
‘Clare Adams, will you marry me?’
Clare puts her hand to her mouth. She looks at the audience, standing motionless, then at Zack.
‘Oh, my God. Oh, Zack, I…I... don’t know what…’
‘How lovely,’ says Ethel to Clara.
‘She’s only seventeen!’ says Steve, Clare’s father.
‘She’s still at school!’ says Ted Coleman. ‘I can’t even serve her alcohol, yet!’
‘They’ll make a lovely couple,’ says Linda, pulling Allen worryingly close to her.
‘He’s done what?’ says Hilda Peterson as she is lead out of the kitchen by her flustered husband.
‘Wow, Jess. A marriage break-up and an engagement, all in one hour. Only in Leeford, eh?’ says Nick Allthorpe.
‘Harrumph!’ exclaims Frank Watson.