When Lucas sought out a fairy godmother, he hadn’t expected to meet a woman wearing jeans, a sharp leather jacket and a silver tiara. He hadn’t expected to meet her in a side street next to some roadworks either.
‘Oh, this?’ she said when she caught him staring at her outfit. ‘None of us wear dresses and wings any more, if we don’t want to. Not practical. But we all still wear our circlets. They’re like ID cards, really. Now, how can I help you?’
‘I… it’s my tearoom. Or rather, I want to open a tearoom. It’s been my dream since I was a child. I’ve got qualifications. I’ve worked in the industry since I left school. My business plan is solid—I’ve done some workshops. But I can’t seem to get any good luck.’ Lucas realised he was rambling, the words tumbling out before he could check if they made sense, but he couldn’t seem to press pause. ‘I’ll hear about a funding opportunity only to find out I’m not eligible, or I’ll come across the perfect location only to be outbid by someone who wants to turn it into a block of flats. I’m not getting any younger, and I’m worried the time is passing me by. I couldn’t start earlier, as I had my family to think about, and savings to build. And the economy’s been so, well, you know.’
‘So I’d like to do what I can now, while I’m still fit enough to be on my feet all day. While my wife and I still have our health and our children are young enough to watch me build something.’ What he didn’t add was: I’m thirty-six and I’ve been working towards this for twenty years. I want my parents to see me make something of myself, after they came all this way to give Lilith and I a better life. I want my children to have a better one than me. I want to make somewhere that people can come and read a book and see their friends and listen to live music on Thursdays.
‘Hm.’ The fairy godmother nodded thoughtfully. Other than the tiara—circlet—she looked like a normal human. He’d been expecting someone dainty and bone white, who looked like they could’ve been cut from moon dust or starlight, like the elves in The Lord of the Rings, but she seemed as solid as Lucas. Her accent was slightly West Country and she looked South East Asian, maybe, with a bob of dark hair and warm brown skin. Her eyeliner was, as Lucas’s preteen daughter would have said, on point. ‘I can help you out. I have two conditions, though.’
‘One, when your tearoom is up and running, my book club gets to use it every fourth Tuesday. We’re meeting in a pub at the moment and I’m tired of the awful drinks and rowdy customers. Two, whatever good fortune I offer you now, you will miss out on at a later date. I can’t just summon luck from the ether, I’m afraid. The universe needs to balance out.’
Lucas considered it. ‘If I got a chunk of good luck now, would I lose a chunk of good luck at one specific point in the future? Say you offered me one kilogram of luck. In ten years’ time, my wife is hit by a car. She needed one kilogram of luck to survive. Bam, she’s dead. Or do you offer me one kilogram of luck, and in two months I miss out on fifty grams of good luck when I slip in the street and twist an ankle, which makes me late for a meeting that could have equated to fifty grams of business opportunities. At a later date, my daughter misses the bus to a job interview, because she needed one hundred grams of luck to overcome the terrible traffic system, which I still owed you. And so on and so on until the kilogram of luck is paid for?’
The fairy godmother smiled faintly. ‘I like how you think. It’s a gradual thing. You’ll notice bits and pieces here and there. Unless I decide I really don’t like you.’
Lucas thought some more. ‘That makes sense. I agree to your conditions.’
‘Finally, you should know that I can only help you so much. Good fortune will not negate laziness, nor bad decision making. This is not a free pass to success: you will still need to work as hard as you ever have.’
‘Right.’ The fairy godmother produced a wand from the inside of her jacket. ‘I can offer you low levels of luck, medium good luck or high levels of good luck. They do what they say on the tin, but remember that you’ll miss out on those same levels at another point.’
‘I’ll take the lowest level, please.’
‘Really?’ The fairy raised an eyebrow. ‘With your mum’s citizenship test coming up and your son’s private tutoring? In this economy?’
‘Yes. I only need a little to get me off the ground. I know I have the work ethic to do the rest. Besides, I won’t risk anything coming back to impact my family in the long run.’
‘In that case,’ the fairy waved her wand and a piece of parchment appeared in the air between them, accompanied by a loaded quill. ‘Sign on the dotted line and we have a deal.’
‘Lucas! Come here, my man, I have news for you.’
Lucas blinked up, delirious. He’d been on the early shift at the twenty-four hour café he worked at, making breakfasts and cleaning tables since four o’clock. Now, at eight thirty, he was about to go on a break in which he would phone a man about a funding opportunity. He did not have the mental energy to be horrendously polite to Carl, the boss’s son, but he didn’t feel bad about it: no one had the mental energy to be polite to Carl. Carl liked to accidentally-on-purpose drop plates of eggs on the floor. He was also thirty-five and still lived off both his parents.
‘Hey, Carl. Can I get you anything before I go for my coffee?’
‘You can check out this sweet deal I’ve got for you!’ Carl slid a phone under Lucas nose: an online listing for—
‘The bistro on Brompton Road? I didn’t think it was up for sale.’
‘Found out this morning. My girlfriend knows the owners’ daughter. They’re moving to Spain now the dad’s got arthritis. It went on the market this morning. Here’s his number.’
‘Wow, Carl. Thank you. I don’t know what to say…’
‘Maybe put my name up in the toilet cubicles. I’ve always wanted that.’
‘Mm.’ Lucas was reading the listing. Between his savings and the funding he was applying for… he might be in with the chance.
‘Are you sure about this, Lucas?’ Lucas’s wife, Olwyn, surveyed the tearoom. With less than half an hour until they opened the doors to One Steep at a Time, last minute doubts were beginning to creep in. ‘There’s still time to go back.’
‘I’m as sure as I was that we definitely wanted a third child.’
‘We’ve got this.’ Lucas kissed her forehead. ‘The kitchen is tip top. This location is a dream. And your interior design is just… magical.’
‘Ah, you’re the one with the vision.’ Olwyn was tactful enough not to mention that their entire flat had been turned into a mood board for One Steep at a Time, with Lucas and the children experimenting with paint swatches on every available surface.
‘It’s a team effort.’ Lucas gazed at the café, savouring everything while it was still pristine. Colourful, handmade cushions on restored, comfy furniture; cream curtains pulled, barely used, from a boot sale; patterned crockery bought on Facebook and scrubbed until it shone. He was glad they’d left a wall clear to display local artwork: the A Level student whose watercolour flowers were on sale had given the tea room a warmth he hadn’t realised it was missing. He wondered if he should buy a couple and leave them there. ‘Do you think this will all be worth it?’
It was a mark of how long he and Olwyn had known each other that she didn’t answer straight away. ‘Do I think it’s going to be as least as much work to run as it was to start? Yes. Do I think you’re going to achieve your dream and realise you have nowhere to go? No. We have so much to learn, Luke. What can we improve upon? Do we have the right events on the right days? Is the atmosphere right? Do we need more vegan options?’
‘Probably. We won’t have a dull moment figuring it out, will we? Now let’s get those doors open.’
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Copyright © 2020 by Francesca Burke
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