‘Luke! We need you out here. There’s a riot.’
Olwyn was prone to exaggeration when stressed, but Lucas put down his receipts nonetheless. ‘Is it because of the roadworks?’
A phone pressed to her ear, Olwyn rolled her eyes. ‘You could say that. Ah—yes, I’ll hold—we’re at Brompton Road—get out there, Luke.’
Lucas followed his wife through the back rooms and onto the shop floor. It was Christmas Eve Eve, as they called it, and the town felt like a pressure cooker for three reasons: one, the roadworks finished at the start of December. A day later, every establishment on the high street flooded, badly. It transpired that fixing the road had broken a water pipe. The owners of said establishments spent most of December picketing the council offices in protest. On occasion, such as this evening, tensions spilt into what is politely called civil unrest. Two, the town’s Christmas market had gone ahead, with roads closed to traffic in most areas. On the Brompton Road, they’d been as busy as ever… possibly too busy, as the high street was out of commission. One Steep at a Time ran out of tea twice this week, and had to turn customers away at the door (with paper cup samples of beverages and takeaway options, of course). Three, it had begun to snow. This had caused another water pipe to burst, this one on Brompton Road, effectively trapping shoppers miles from their cars and laden with pre-holiday stress.
Someone really needed to have a word with the roadworks department.
Lucas fought his way onto the shop floor and climbed a stepladder until he could see every face in the room.
‘Right! Everyone! Olwyn’s on the phone to the council right now, finding out when we can expect the road to be opened. In the meantime, you are welcome to stay here as long as you like. We have enough tea and food for all of you, if we’re economical. Please just pay what you can. Free hot drinks for children and the elderly! We have a radiator you can use if you found yourself caught in the flood—coats and shoes only, please, sir, if you could put your shirt back on. Ma’am, if you could take your feet off that chair so someone else can sit down…’
Lucas was facing up on Friday night when the door went. ‘We’re about to close—oh, hello.’
‘Hullo.’ The fairy godmother was still wearing a circlet and leather jacket, this time over a sun dress. ‘How’s business?’
‘Going really well.’
She inspected the countertop, rattling the tips jar and running a finger over the cake stand. ‘And the missed luck?’
‘To be honest, ma’am, I… I haven’t had it yet. Nothing bad’s happened.’
‘Nothing at all?’
‘Nothing I couldn’t handle,’ Lucas amended. ‘Even my mother’s visa worked out in the end.’
‘What?’ Lucas was afraid, suddenly. Had he gone back on his deal? ‘Have I done something wrong?’
‘No, no, it’s just… you didn’t take much luck, so it didn’t take long to balance you out. I’m just interested that you didn’t notice. I kept tabs and it would have been, ah, the customer with the nut allergy, the issue with the vomiting bug… the Christmas floods.’
‘Oh, those.’ Lucas frowned. ‘I suppose… I suppose I just took them in my stride. It didn’t occur to me that they were bad enough to count as my balancing bad days.’
‘Even the vomiting bug?’
‘Please. I worked in hospitality during the pandemic. I know what to do to keep a café clean, and I know how to track and trace a potential case of gastroenteritis.’
The sides of the fairy’s mouth turned up. ‘In that case, I’m here to claim our Thursday night book club.’
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Copyright © 2020 by Francesca Burke
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