Previously in Leeford Village: Clare, who has been accepted onto the University of Manchester’s music degree course, receives a text from Zack asking her to meet him. Frank and Ken are rescued from the Banfield Council lift and develop a camaraderie of sorts, despite being on opposite sides of Ken’s planning application. Revd Peterson is happy to marry Edward and Ethel but informs Edward that he must apply to the bishop, a process which may take twelve months.
‘Have you seen this?’
Vera slams down a letter in front of Jack Simmons. Jack glances at the letter then continues to set out a train track around the perimeter of a trestle table in front of his stall.
‘Could you remove the letter, Vera? It’s blocking the track. Imagine the announcement: “I’m sorry, but this train terminates here due to a letter on the track”. Hehe.’
‘What are you on about?’ asks an irritated Vera. ‘Have you received this letter?’
‘Not that one, Vera. That one’s yours. It’s got your name on it.’
‘Oh, you’re impossible. Aren’t you bothered?’
‘Bothered? I’m being bothered by you at the moment. I’m trying to lay this track. It might be suitable for a child of four years and above, but it’s a heck of a challenge for a fifty-eight-year-old market trader. Now, how does this bridge work?’
Vera sighs. ‘This letter informs all stall holders that Allen Gomez has been appointed the new market manager. Allen Gomez! ALLEN GOMEZ!!’
‘You’re not happy about this letter are you, Vera? In fact, I think the announcement might say: ‘I’m sorry, but this train terminates here due to the wrong sort of letter on the track! Hehe.’
‘Oh. I give up!’ Vera, crimson-faced, snatches back her letter. ‘I’m off to find someone with at least an ounce of sense.’
‘Sense? On this market?’ says Jack to himself. ‘Good luck with that!’
Allen Gomez stands in front of the hall mirror, straightening his tie. He has been awake since the early hours, planning a new layout for the market to make it more attractive to the population of Leeford, who, in increasing numbers, have been driving to the large out-of-town shopping centres. Today is his first day officially in charge and he is determined to stamp his authority. Hence the tie.
‘You’re looking very dapper, Mr Gomez,’ says Linda, picking a hair from his jacket.
‘“Mr Gomez”. I like that,’ he says. ‘I’ll insist on the traders calling me that from now on.’
‘Be careful. You don’t want to rub them up the wrong way from the start. You’ll need their support when you start to implement your plans.’
‘It would be good to have their support, Lin. But, at the end of the day, I am the manager and, with or without their support, changes will be made.’
‘Just go carefully, love. They are our friends, too.’
Allen tugs the lapels of his jacket.
‘There’s no room for sentiment in business, Linda. Management is about driving things through and if that means upsetting people, well, so be it. Anyway, what time does Sherry arrive?’
‘Her flight gets in a two o’clock. I’m going to Birmingham International to meet her.’
‘You don’t sound too excited about it.’
‘Oh, I am. I’ve missed her so much. But I still don’t know why she’s coming back, and that worries me.’
Allen smooths down his hair and steps away from the mirror.
‘She’s probably fed up with all that Las Vegas sunshine. There’s nothing more beautiful than Leeford on a grey, cold day.’
‘That’s the thing, Al. She’s not flying from Las Vegas. She’s flying from Rio de Janeiro.’
Zack is pacing up and down in front of the bandstand in the park, looking at his watch, as he has been doing every thirty seconds.
He sees Clare walking into the park. His heart melts. So beautiful, he thinks, and I’m so lucky.
She waves to him. As she comes closer, he notices that she has been crying. He opens his arms and she falls into them, burying her head into his coat. They stand for a few minutes, Clare crying softly and Zack wondering what on earth to do. Eventually, Clare pulls away and wipes her eyes on a tissue.
‘I’m sorry, Zack. I didn’t want to cry.’
‘I really didn’t want you to,’ says Zack. ‘Anyway, why are you crying?’
‘Because I know what this is about. You’re going to Birmingham Uni, aren’t you?’
‘Birmingham Uni? No, quite the opposite.’
Clare’s eyes fill with tears again.
‘Cardiff, then? Or the other way? Glasgow?’
‘No, you’ve got it all wrong. I’m not going to any of those. I’m not going to university at all. I’m staying here, in Leeford!’
Clare’s expression changes from sadness to confusion.
‘Staying here? Why?’
Zack climbs to the top step of the bandstand. Clare sits next to him.
‘Last year, at the fête when I asked you to marry me, I really meant it…’
‘I know you did, Zack, but it’s just too…’
‘…soon. Yes, I know. But it doesn’t alter the fact that I want you to be my wife one day.’
Clare holds Zack’s hand.
‘But what’s this got to do with staying in Leeford?’
‘Everything. If we go to uni, we’ll be there for three years. After that, there’s no guarantee that we’ll get the jobs we want, and we’ll be thousands of pounds in debt. If we stay here, we can get jobs which might lead to careers eventually. By the time we would have left university, we’ll be earning good money. Enough to get married.’
Clare loosens her grip on Zack’s hand.
‘Isn’t this the best idea I’ve had since…well, since I last had an idea?’
‘You said, “if we go to uni” and “if we stay here”.’
‘I did, yes. We can do this together.’
‘But I want to go to university. I’ve worked so hard over the past couple of years to get there.’
Zack shuffles on the step.
‘I know you have and, er, well done!’
‘Yes. But, at the end of the day, what’s a music degree going to do for you? Really? You only want to sing, and you can do that in Leeford. Anyway, I thought you were worried that we wouldn’t be able to see each other when we went to uni. That’s why you were crying, wasn’t it?’
Clare places her bag between her and Zack.
‘I was worried we’d be apart, and that you’d fall for someone else, but I never considered that we wouldn’t be going to university. Actually, I might have fallen for someone else. Did you ever consider that?’
Zack ponders the question a moment. He shakes his head.
‘No. Never crossed my mind. Why would you do that?’
Clare stands and picks up her bag.
‘Because I might have found someone a little less self-centred and a little more sensitive. You stay here Zack. You stay and get a dead-end job that makes sure you never leave your parents’ house. But don’t expect me to.’
She walks down the steps and strides across the park. Soon, she is out of Zack’s view.
Jasmine puts down two bags of shopping on the kitchen floor.
‘Thanks, Jas. How much do I owe you?’ Agnes opens her purse and takes out a couple of notes.
‘Nothing, Mom. I’ll get these. We’re eating you out of house and home.’
Agnes closes her purse. ‘Thank you. Soon, you’ll be doing your own shopping.’
‘I hope so,’ says Jasmine, packing the freezer with frozen food.
‘Anyway, you didn’t tell me about the butcher.’
‘The butcher? Nigel Cleeve, you mean?’
‘Yes. He introduced himself to me. What a lovely man. And not without a good physique, either.’
‘Nigel Cleeve? Are there two Nigel Cleeve’s in the village?’
‘Oh, there couldn’t be two of him, could there? I don’t think I could cope.’
‘Jasmine! Are you going after every man in the village? First, it’s Justin Wilkins at the bank and now Nigel Cleeve!’
‘Oh, I’m off Justin. Too polished for my liking. Nigel’s much more my type.’
‘And he’s also his wife’s type. You’d have to get past Mandy first – and I’m not suggesting you even try.’
‘I’m having you on. But he is rather nice.’
‘Hmm,’ says Agnes, doubtfully, tipping a packet of loose into a metal caddy. ‘Nigel Cleeve does have one big flaw.’
‘Oh? What’s that?’
‘His mother is Vera Cleeve.’
‘Vera? I’ve not met Vera, have I?’
‘You will, love. You will.’
Vera Cleeve is at George Owen’s stall.
‘I can only think he has something on Arjun Bandra.’
George sighs. ‘Look, Vera. He’s got the job. Arjun must know what he’s doing – he’s a shrewd operator.’
‘Well, I think there’s more to this than meets the eye. It wasn’t that long ago he was involved in that dodgy clothing business. Never prosecuted, was he?’
‘Never charged with anything either, Vera. He had no idea what was going on.’
Vera raises a finger in front of George’s face.
‘That’s what he says. And I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.’
George looks over Vera’s shoulder.
‘Well, you can throw him now because he’s coming over.’
‘Good morning, Vera. George. I won’t keep you both. Here’s my card. I shall be in my office each morning and on patrol each afternoon.’ George looks at Vera who shrugs her shoulders. Vera reads out the wording on the card. ‘Allen A Gomez. Market manager. What’s the “A’ for?’
‘Never mind that, Vera. And it’s “Mr Gomez” from now on.’
‘I can think what the “A” stands for,’ laughs George.
‘And a little more respect if you please, George. Otherwise, we will have a word about insubordination.’
With that, Allen makes his way to the next stall.
‘Insubby, what?’ says George. ‘Whose dictionary did he swallow when he got up this morning?’
Vera watches Allen stride through the market handing out his card to each stallholder.
‘Hmm, Mr Gomez. I can see you need taking down a peg or two. Eh, George?’