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Billy and Me, Page 2

Giovanna Fletcher

  ‘Keep your voice down,’ she whispers, glancing over her shoulder. ‘Reading is reading – no matter what the material. It’s all about getting them in here – they might pick up a book or two while they’re at it.’

  I can’t help but think she’s being too optimistic as I put the magazine back on the shelf but, looking at Mum’s hopeful face, I instantly feel guilty for slamming her idea.

  ‘We’ve also had some new books delivered,’ she continues, as she picks herself up from the floor, brushes dust off her knee-length black skirt and removes bits of fluff from her black shirt. ‘Including a brand new copy of Jane Eyre,’ she continues. ‘So you no longer have to battle with those loose or missing pages!’

  ‘Brilliant! Although to be honest it’s probably my fault they’ve fallen out – I must’ve read that book about a hundred times.’

  ‘Well, yes. That and the schoolgirls who leave it in their bags to be bashed around …’


  ‘I also heard a little bit of news today.’

  ‘Mum, I don’t want to hear any gossip!’

  ‘Oh, Soph, it’s not gossip! Anyway, you’ll like this. Mrs Woodman from Cavalier Hall came in this afternoon. She’s been visited by a location scout or something from a film company. They want to use the hall as the setting for one of their films.’ She grins at me, knowing that I’ll want to hear more despite my protesting.

  ‘What film?’ I quiz.

  ‘This is the bit I think you’ll like …’ She pushes her glasses up her nose with one finger and pauses for dramatic effect. ‘Pride and Prejudice!’



  ‘Another one?’ I cry in disgust. Mum looks at me bewildered.

  ‘I thought you’d be pleased. You love that book.’

  ‘Yeah, I love the book – it doesn’t mean I enjoy it when film companies come along and butcher it.’

  ‘Oh, I’m sure they won’t do that,’ she says dismissively. ‘According to Mrs Woodman the film’s got a huge budget and cast. They wouldn’t tell her who was involved, but –’

  I interrupt her with a huge gasp. ‘I wonder who’ll be playing Darcy!’ My mind ponders all sorts of possibilities, but only one man stands out to me as the one I’d love to have here in Rosefont Hill – Jude Law.

  Unsurprisingly, Mum isn’t the only person Mrs Woodman has decided to share her exciting news with. The next day when I get to work Molly is again on the phone to June, this time speculating about how much Mr and Mrs Woodman would’ve been paid for the use of their home. The news doesn’t stop spreading there. In fact, it seems to be the hot topic with everybody in the village as I overhear snippets of different conversations throughout the day.

  The shop has slowly become the ‘cool’ place to hang out, attracting grannies and mums in the daytime and then schoolgirls from four o’clock onwards. There are a few different groups of girls that come in on a regular basis, but this afternoon we are joined by Janet, Ella and Charlotte – three fifteen-year-olds who simply love talking boys, make-up and gossip whilst sipping their pot of peppermint tea and picking at their skinny blueberry muffins.

  As I sort through the cake orders for the next day, I can’t help but listen in on their chatter as they mull over the rumours of who might be attached to the film.

  Janet, a feisty brunette who’s clearly the leader of the group with her bossy ways, is the first to divulge.

  ‘I saw on that Bobby Green is going to be playing that Mr Darcy guy.’

  ‘Who’s that?’ asks Ella with a confused expression on her pretty face, her wild curly blonde hair sticking out all over the place uncontrollably.

  ‘You know,’ sighs Janet. ‘That dude from this year’s Big Brother.’

  ‘The one who peed in the pool?’ Ella squeals. ‘And had a threesome in the garden?’

  I chuckle quietly to myself at hearing the young girls talk so candidly about sex – a topic I’d never have been able to talk so openly about at their age.

  ‘That’s the one!’ nods Janet.

  Ella lets out a huge groan at the confirmation.

  ‘But he’s not even an actor! That would be crap!’

  I vaguely remember hearing the girls talk of this Bobby Green character over the summer. To say I’d be disappointed if this ‘lad’ were to turn up instead of a serious actor would be an understatement. In fact, it would turn something that could be incredibly exciting into something decidedly naff!

  ‘That’s what I read, though,’ sulks Janet, looking deflated that her findings hadn’t impressed her friends more.

  ‘Yeah well you can’t believe anything you read …’

  Charlotte, the quiet redhead who seems to quiver in the very existence of these two girls she calls her BFFs, pauses for a moment before deciding to speak. ‘Actually, I heard that Billy Buskin might be doing it.’

  I watch as Janet and Ella whip their heads around in disbelief and just stare at their friend.

  ‘OMG!’ squeals Janet. ‘I would, like, love that! Where did you read that?’

  Charlotte instantly becomes introverted, the attention of her friends making her look uncomfortable, a feeling I can easily relate to. She slowly continues to share her knowledge in a quiet voice that I struggle to hear.

  ‘I didn’t read it. I was told it,’ she mutters.

  ‘By who?’ says Ella, who already seems sceptical.

  ‘Lauren Davenport.’ Before the other two can query the source she continues swiftly. ‘Her mum is going to be giving horse-riding lessons to the cast, you know – the ones who have to ride. She said his name was on a list she was given. Although Lauren told me not to tell anyone –’

  ‘You’re so gullible, Char! I can’t believe you fell for that,’ says Ella interrupting her in a belittling tone, chilling my insides. ‘As if Billy Buskin would bother doing a film about some old book. He has just done a load of blockbusters. Why would he bother?’

  ‘But he has just done that war film,’ argues Charlotte.

  I’ve no idea who they’re talking about and so zone out and think about Jude. Imagine walking through the village and bumping into him every day! That would be absolute heaven! Of course, he’d obviously bring lots to the role too … charm and charisma. I don’t just want him here to ogle at – honest!

  I’m not entirely sure where my Jude obsession has come from, but I think it started when Mum brought home a copy of The Holiday for us to watch one night a couple of years ago. One look at his playful smile, smouldering eyes and dashing good looks and I’d fallen under his spell. Embarrassingly, I actually feel myself smile back at him onscreen sometimes, as though his romantic words are meant for my ears only. Yes, sad I know, but he just sucks me in. I’m not a big film buff, not by any means, but quiz me on a film that Jude’s been in and I’ll be able to give you the right answer!


  Rosefont Hill is a tiny little village, one where everybody knows everything there is to know about everyone who lives here. Nothing newsworthy usually happens, therefore you can imagine what an impact a film crew rolling into town has on it.

  Four weeks have passed since the news of their visit broke and the village has continued to be a buzz of excitement. Each shop has had a spruce up, hoping that they’ll gain some new trade. The local WI, of which Molly is the head, has examined every potted plant on the High Street and made sure they’re watered, pruned and spruced to perfection. Each of the street lamps lining the main road now has a basket of colourful spring flowers dangling from its side. Even the local primary school children have been allowed to contribute by making a huge welcome banner. The large sign, made up of the children’s tiny painted handprints, has been proudly strung up at the start of the High Street, ensuring it’s the first thing our visitors are greeted with. It seems like every member of the community has done something to get the village prepared for its newcomers, and their hard work has paid off as it looks nothing less than idyllic!

  I ha
ve to admit that despite my momentary scepticism early on, I’ve joined them in their excitement and now find myself looking forward to it all – especially now that trucks full of equipment have roared their way through the village, as well as a few dozen members of the crew. Slowly, strangers have started milling around the village, although most of them seem busy setting up Cavalier Hall for the start of filming, which is apparently due to kick off any day now.

  It seems like quite a lot of the village folk have been tarting themselves up somewhat for the event (with the possibility of A-listers and VIPs coming into town they want to look their best). I’m not entirely sure what they’re hoping will come of their freshly dyed hair or their new cardis from Marks and Sparks, but looking good certainly seems to be important to them. For instance, I notice now, whilst looking at her from across the counter, that even Mrs Sleep from Pemberton Way has decided to apply a bit of lippy which she certainly wasn’t wearing before the film crew arrived. I, however, am the same as usual – wrapped in a red apron, wearing chunky black boots, skinny jeans and a plain white vest top. My frizzy brown hair is whipped up and pinned underneath a massive red polka-dot hankie with a big roll of hair sticking out of the front (I’m still in keeping with the fifties look that Molly loves, I’m just slightly more low-key with it). The finishing touch to my look is a nice dusting of flour from the morning’s baking session. Yes, forever glamorous. The white powder sticks to my clothes and my already pale skin and refuses to budge no matter how much I wipe myself down. It’s a look I’ve grown accustomed to over the years, even if I do appear quite ghostly. My relaxed state is not because I don’t care about the starlet arrivals – it’s just that looking after my appearance is a bit tricky when I’m baking and stood in front of a hot oven for most of the day. If I were to bother applying make-up in the morning before heading into work, it would simply melt away from my brown eyes within the first few minutes. It would be a waste of time!

  ‘Oh, Sophie,’ says Mrs Sleep whilst squinting her eyes and sieving through the loose change in her hand. ‘How much did you say that was?’

  ‘Three pounds fifty, please, Mrs Sleep.’

  ‘Ahh … do I have that here, dear? I’ve forgotten my glasses.’ The eighty-four-year old holds her hand out for me to look through and I can see that she doesn’t have enough money to pay for the pot of tea and slice of Victoria sponge that she’s already scoffed. I quickly glance around to check that Molly is occupied elsewhere, then lean across the counter and whisper to Mrs Sleep, ‘You’re forty pence short … but seeing as you’re my favourite customer I’ll let you off!’

  Mrs Sleep chuckles like a cute little schoolgirl being told to keep a secret, with her hand over her mouth. Her eyes light up. She’s still smiling to herself as she grabs her shopping trolley and wheels it out of the shop.

  I pull two twenty-pence pieces out of my back pocket and toss them into the till straight away, knowing that I’d forget if I left it until later on.

  ‘You’ll end up skint if you keep giving away money like that.’

  The stranger’s deep voice startles me. I look up to see a man, about my age, gazing at me with a smile on his face … Now, we don’t see many men in the teashop, we’re far too floral and twee for them to cope with so they usually opt for the café down the road instead, therefore the arrival of this man (and a rather good-looking one at that), makes my heart momentarily stop and my cheeks instantly burn in surprise. He is jaw-droppingly attractive, with brown hair swooped up in a stylish quiff, a healthy tan and deep brown eyes which twinkle as he smiles.

  ‘Sorry, I didn’t see you there …’ I somehow manage to say, softly clenching my jaw and forcing myself not to revert into the old, socially inept me. I’ve come a long way from that little girl who quivered at the attention of others, but I think a large part of that has been down to the safety of these four walls and Molly’s time and care. Every now and then, especially when I’m caught off guard, I have to use every ounce of self-control I possess to keep calm. Of course, with this stranger there’s the added element of him being drop-dead gorgeous, so I have no choice but to let my cheeks continue to blush.

  ‘That’s OK, you were busy … with your favourite,’ he says with a slight smile. ‘Don’t worry, I’ve already checked my pockets and I definitely have enough cash on me.’

  ‘Glad to hear it … I can only have one favourite a day.’

  At this the stranger throws his head backwards and lets out a huge laugh. It’s quite unsettling as I’m sure I didn’t say anything funny enough to warrant such a grand reaction. I feel my cheeks flush further.

  It’s as if the sudden release of laughter has shocked even him and he quickly becomes quite uneasy as he picks up a menu from the counter and hides his face with it as he browses through it. I look away and give him a couple of moments before I ask, ‘So, what can I get you?’

  ‘I’ll have a pot of coffee and a piece of lemon drizzle cake, please,’ he says, with less confidence than before.

  ‘Would you like to sit in or have it to take away?’

  He looks around the room. There are only a few other customers in the shop and they’re all quietly reading or nattering away.

  ‘In, please.’

  ‘Great, just take a seat wherever you like and I’ll bring it over.’


  I watch him as he turns away from the counter with one hand buried in the back pocket of his faded blue jeans. He ponders over which table to sit at before eventually choosing a table in the corner, away from the window. As I start to make up his pot of coffee, Molly appears at my side.

  ‘Tell me everything!’

  ‘What do you mean?’ I ask, still flustered at the new arrival.

  ‘Who is he?’

  ‘I’ve got no idea!’

  ‘Where did he come from?’

  ‘Seriously, Mol, I’ve got no idea. I’ve never seen him before.’

  ‘Really? He looks a little familiar to me. He’s not Mr and Mrs Williams’ grandson, is he?’

  ‘Maybe, but I don’t think so. Wasn’t he in the Army? And ginger? I do think I’ve seen him somewhere before, though …’

  ‘He must be something to do with the filming. Just look at him,’ she says, glancing quickly over her shoulder. ‘Oh, if I was ten years younger!’

  ‘Just ten? Make that forty!’ I joke.

  ‘You cheeky little … I could show him a thing or –’

  ‘Excuse me?’

  We both stop talking immediately and whizz around to find the handsome stranger stood at the counter again. Unsure of what he has heard we stand in silence for a few seconds, quite startled.

  ‘Sorry there, my love, can I help?’ says Molly, jumping into action and going back to the sweet and welcoming lady that she is, dropping the comical cougar act.

  ‘I just realized I’m hungrier than I thought,’ he says while childishly rubbing his tummy. ‘Any chance of getting a ham and pickle sandwich as well?’

  ‘Of course. I’ll bring it over when I’m done.’


  As he walks back to his seat Molly turns to me and pretends to faint, causing me to stifle a laugh which makes me snort instead, much to my embarrassment.

  A short while later, when Molly has popped out to get some shopping from Budgens, Miss Peggy Brown beckons me over to her table. I’ve noticed that the seventy-five-year old has been looking at the newcomer for quite some time, with a frown plastered on her worried face.

  ‘Do you know who that is, dear?’ she asks while nodding in the stranger’s direction.

  ‘Not the foggiest, I’m afraid.’

  ‘Hmm … I’m not sure he’s all the ticket.’

  One thing I do love about the elderly ladies in the shop and around the village is their bluntness. There’s no beating around the bush with them, they simply say whatever is on their minds. It’s a quality I’ve come to admire, even if it does mean that they regularly point out that they don’t like my new
haircut, colour, or the jeans that I’m wearing.

  ‘What makes you think that, Miss Brown?’ I ask, suppressing a smile.

  ‘He has been looking at that same page for the past hour and has been continuously muttering to himself.’ As if to clarify the lunacy of his actions, she widens her eyes and adds, ‘Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness, dear!’

  I follow her gaze and watch as the man reads, then covers his page and mutters to himself – sometimes with his eyes closed or other times staring at the ceiling. He continually taps the heel of one of his purple Converse trainers against the front leg of his chair. His face is alive and animated, as if he’s in conversation, or twisted with concentration. I’ve never seen anything like it – no wonder Miss Brown has been frowning at him!

  ‘It might be worth you going over and checking if he’s all right!’ she adds.

  ‘Me?’ I ask, with my pitch several tones higher than before.

  ‘You wouldn’t send a little old lady like me to go and talk to some lunatic would you, dear? I’ll keep an eye on you from here and shout if he suddenly attacks. I’ll have another tea when you’re ready too, please.’ she says with a nod, a wink and a firm shove in the newcomer’s direction.

  As I hesitantly walk towards him he has his eyes tightly screwed shut, his arms and legs crossed, and is tapping his fingers on his forehead in frustration.

  ‘Sorry,’ I start.

  He stops and looks at me in a mixture of confusion at my interruption and continued frustration at whatever he was doing, the frown still buried deep in his brow. Now that I have his attention I’m overcome with nerves and am tempted to run back to my safe haven behind the counter. I look over my shoulder at Miss Brown and see her eyes widen at me, encouraging me to go on. I can feel my cheeks burning again and I have to drop my gaze to the floor so that I can continue.

  ‘I’m so sorry to interrupt – it’s just that Miss Brown, the elderly woman who is sat behind me and glaring at you, is a tad worried about your mental health,’ I say, in what I hope is a light and jokey manner. Although, is there ever a jokey way to bring into question someone’s mental health?