Authors: Susie Martyn
He settled in right away, soon
bringing her a present in the form of three dismembered mice and a large decapitated rabbit, before falling asleep sprawled on her new bed.
As well as creating what Darius and Angel described as ‘simply heaven, darling’ as they minced about the newly laid lawn and admired how far she’d got with the planting, Lizzie found she’d made two unlikely new friends. Soon she was being summoned out of the blue to dinner, breakfast on Sundays, and impromptu cocktails whenever the mood took them.
Darius, whose real name was
actually Derek, Lizzie discovered when she met his mother, was the most incredible cook and took it upon himself to share his talents with her. The boys were nothing if not hospitable.
Lizzie sweetie, long island iced teas at six, petal.’
‘Darling, Bellini’s after work. Darius is having an Italian phase,’
which was her absolute favourite evening of all as they sat outside until the moon shone high in the sky. But it was Angel, who was actually called Adrian, who winkled out of her the story behind her career move. He ground and gnashed his teeth and shed almost as many tears as she did as she told him all about losing her mother, and about ho
she’d only just escaped marrying Jamie. Then they’d both fussed around her stroking her hair and mopping her tears before fetching yet another round of bellinis.
‘Darling, men can be
bitches, don’t I just know it,’ Angel exclaimed in his most diva-like fashion yet.
Lizzie’s size fives barely had time to touch the ground in this whirl of activity that had become her life. Not sure whether this was entirely a good thing, she nevertheless embraced every opportunity that came her way. Her grief was still there, but more manageable now and somehow, with all her new friends around her, it felt different.
Thanks to Katie,
her new website was finished and Tilly had pinned an advertisement in her hairdressers. As she’d said most eloquently,
not all the old farts round here have computers
. The trip to Cornwall was still on her mind, but with a cat, a house and a fledgling business, she’d postponed it. Already her mobile was ringing and dribs and drabs of work were coming in. It was almost scary, the speed with which it was happening, as though she’d set something in motion which had taken on a life of its own.
After Darius and Ang
el’s garden, she had a few commissions from clients nearby - a lawn needing manicuring here and there, or a corner of neglected garden that needed a facelift. Lizzie had found her element. And getting dressed for work was effortless too in just old jeans and whatever top came to hand. Tying her long hair in a ponytail or loose plait, she’d splodge on some makeup and be ready in no time. Jamie would have absolutely hated it!
Lizzie had yet to meet Antonia’s bête noi
r, but she didn’t have to wait long. In her oldest jeans with her paint brush primed, ready to start on her stairs, there was a sharp knock at the door, then another, and Lizzie opened the door to a much older woman. Of a similar height to herself but dressed in tweeds, she had an unmistakeably school-mistressy air about her. Tilting up her head she’d frowned down her nose at Lizzie, inspecting her from head to toe. She’d then held out a dry hand, which she’d withdrawn at the sight of Lizzie’s paint-spattered one.
‘Elspeth Hepplewhite. I thought that as chairperson of the local WI, I should come and introduce myself.’
The penny dropped. Lizzie stared.
peered at Lizzie more closely. ‘You were the one who was staying at that terrible pub.’ She tutted disapprovingly.
My car broke down,’ said Lizzie apologetically. ‘I’m Lizzie. Er, would you like to come in?’
I know,’ said Mrs Hepplewhite without a hint of a smile. ‘And that won’t be necessary. I’ve simply come to inform you about the WI. We meet on Tuesday afternoons. At 2pm. Punctually. No doubt you will be joining us.’
Lizzie opened her
mouth and closed it, dumbfounded. ‘Mrs er...’
‘Hepplewhite,’ snapped the old trout
‘I’d er love to,’
thinly plucked eyebrows disappeared into her hair.
But I-I’m not sure,’ Lizzie faltered.
drew herself up and bristled indignantly. ‘Oh?’
Lizzie loathed confrontation at the best of times
, but taking a deep breath she forced the words out.
‘Thank you, and
I appreciate you inviting me, but I work most days. I can’t really commit myself. But thank you,
much,’ she emphasised politely, ‘for coming to ask me.’
, rubbing his lithe body against Mrs Hepplewhite’s legs and almost knocking her over. Then he sat on the path in front of her, fixed her with unblinking green eyes and frantically started scratching.
‘Hmmph,’ the woman snorted, then look
ed with horror at her legs. ‘Well, I assume you’ll come to our Christmas fair at the very least. We rely on the locals to support it, you know.’ She bent down and scratched her left leg.
It’s not one of Mrs Einstein’s is it?’
The look on her face was one of horror when Lizzie nodded, and
she’d marched briskly down the path, pausing now and then to reach down and scratch, without so much as a backward glance.
At which point
Darren stopped scratching, winking at Lizzie, before sauntering in through the back door.
‘Should have warned you,’ said Antonia suddenly that evening. ‘You’re bound to get a visit from the village bat. No-one escapes. Elspeth’s a total pain in the arse - no redeeming features whatsoever I’m afraid. Puts the fear of God into everyone, well, does her best to… Think I told you about her – she’s the one that scoops up Cassie when I’m late.’
‘Actually, she’s already
been. I managed to wriggle out of joining the WI, but I think Darren gave her his fleas…’
Gosh, well done.’ Antonia looked impressed. ‘I swear membership will quadruple the day that woman resigns,’ she declared. ‘We ought to set up a rival group. Instead of boring old lunches and knitting, we’ll get pissed and talk about our sex lives and horses or something. It would be heaps more fun… Loads of the old girls round her would join us, you know they’re all ravers on the quiet…’
And this was shortly followed by the Lizzie party that the boys had absolutely insisted on.
‘Darling, you can be the Queen this time, I’m going to be Elizabeth Taylor,’ announced Darius theatrically. ‘You flower, must come as yourself
’ he told Lizzie. ‘In your gardening clothes, with soil in your hair and mud on your jeans, like you usually have,’ he paused for breath as he looked at her dotingly. Lizzie ran her fingers through her hair – soil?
‘And everyone else has to dress up too!’ finished An
gel triumphantly. ‘Now sweetie, the deal is that you invite half the guests and we’ll invite the rest. It’s your party after all.’
Lizzie’s protests fell on deaf ears
‘Sorry honey, it’s the rules…’
Lizzie gave up. ‘But what about the men?’
‘Oh flower, they have to dress as Lizzies too of course! Such fun! Oh w
e just love parties,’ Angel told her. ‘Be a pet. Indulge us.’
But being the new girl, Lizzie hardly knew who to invite. Antonia, Katie of course, Tilly, oh and Tim… well, four wasn’t bad seeing as she’d only just moved in. And just maybe Nola and Julia from Sparkie’s, so one lunchtime, she decided to pay them a visit.
‘Oh Lizzie, we’d love to!’ Nola clapped her hands together, then peered closely
at her face. ‘You look more peaceful,’ she added. ‘It’s good. Won’t you stay for lunch? We were just about to close…’
They’d led Lizzie through
a door at the back of the shop into a small room flooded by sunlight. French doors opened on to a little balcony which overlooked the Rumble, where a wisp of smoke was coming from a recently extinguished candle. There was the oddest array of objects out there, Lizzie couldn’t help but notice, like rocks and what looked like a bit of antler. Her attention swapped to the room, where the table was already set for three with prettily painted plates and another candle burning in the centre.
‘Oh…’ Lizzie looked at it. ‘
But I really don’t want to intrude…’
Nola took her hand and led her to one of the chairs. ‘It’s for you, silly! We were expecting you. Didn’t you say you’d be coming back?’
A baffled Lizzie didn’t know what to say, so she just sat there as they talked away and produced homemade soup and crusty bread.
you must tell us - are you happy in your cottage?’
‘I love it! It’s quite amazing really… when you think I found Littleton completely by accident,’ she told them.
her a sideways look.
‘And then I was stuck without a car,’
she went on, ‘so Katie came to stay. We went out for lunch and bumped into Darius and Angel, you know, the boys who are having the Lizzie party, and that’s when they offered me my first commission.’ She stopped. ‘Then I stumbled across my cottage and someone sold me my jeep.’
It was freaky.
What’s more, both the girls were looking quite unsurprised by what she was telling them.
‘Everything’s obviously as it should be,’
Julia gently pointed out. ‘You said yourself, it all seems to have worked out perfectly! But have you wondered, Lizzie… whether it’s more than just coincidence…’
- no,’ she replied uncertainly. And she hadn’t even got on to the fair-haired stranger.
drove back home so deep in thought she completely missed the turning to Littleton. And it was only after she‘d turned round she realised she hadn’t seen the rusty sign in the hedge that had led her there, that day she’d fled from London. Even more curiously, when she reversed back to check, it was nowhere to be seen.
‘They sound barking,’ was Antonia’s comment when she told her about the Lizzie party. ‘Golly, well I could go as old Queenie – got a posh frock or two and a tiara hidden away somewhere. You better scrub up a
Lizzie, you are the guest of honour after all…’
Katie emerged down
Lizzie’s stairs looking every bit like Elizabeth Hurley, except for her boobs which were on the small side, so they stuffed the dress with chicken fillets and stuck her in with tit tape.
Tilly, bless her, was in a quandary. ‘I was going to go as Hilary Duff in Lizzie Mcguire, in a blond wig I borrowed from the salon,’ she said sounding
perturbed, standing with her pink head on one side as she spoke. ‘But it makes me look more like Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds, so then, I thought, well, you’re the guest of honour, someone ought to go dressed as you…What do you think?’
be my guest’ said Lizzie doubtfully. ‘If you want some patched jeans and a second hand t-shirt from the Oxfam shop, help yourself.’
Mmmm.’ Tilly thought some more. ‘Cool. I think I will. Can I borrow your Hunters?’
Actually the boys were right, and it was a hoot, with half the guests thinking Tilly was Lizzie, which all added to the madness.
The barn had been decorated
most tastefully with candles and flowers on every available surface, and Darius had the most divine cocktails lined up. He’d put on a trial run for Lizzie the previous weekend, inventing the innocuously named Frizzy Lizzie in her honour which was completely lethal, and had given her the worst hangover of her life. They’d decorated the modern scrap metal sculpture that Darius had bought with gardening tools and fairy lights, and the garden was lit with flaming torches which created flickering shadows as the sun sank over the hills, so that it all came to life with just the perfect amount of flamboyance. With the thumping music and the most curious ensemble dressed as various Elizabeths, the evening went with a bang.
love parties,’ said Angel wistfully, clasping his hands in front of him as he looked around at the crowd. ‘Isn’t it wonderful to see everyone enjoying themselves?
came you know… Well, nearly everyone…’ he frowned. ‘Tom Woodleigh’s not here yet, darling, you’d love him, he’s rather gorgeous… Oh sweetie,’ he clutched Lizzie’s arm as Tilly drifted in from outside. ‘She’s off her head already.’
ing serenely in from the garden, Tilly was followed by an unmistakeable waft of smoke, which along with the vacuous expression on her face, completely gave her away.
Hi-i,’ she drifted in towards the party. ‘Oh hi Angelical…’
‘Oh she is
, isn’t she,’ whispered Angel, before adding, ‘As a kite! Oh bless, what a lamb, no-one’s ever called me Angelical before! I think I might see if there’s any left,’ he whispered as he slipped out into the night.