Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 18

Emma burst into the shop - aware that she was late but hoping that Fiona would be so excited about the text message that she’d forgive her. It briefly occurred to Emma that perhaps she should have also brought Fiona some hangover soaking fodder in case she felt as fermented on the inside as Emma did. It was too late for that now though so enthusiasm was going to have to be enough.

The bell jangled and Emma hastily looked around the shop for Fiona. She wasn’t on the shop floor, but there were a few customers browsing the far shelves over in the corner. Emma dumped her bag behind the counter and decided to get very productive and busy so that when Fiona reappeared she would extremely impressed with Emma’s work ethic. Although they had fallen easily back into their friendly ways, the aftermath of Fiona’s fury last week had left Emma keen not to upset her again. She faffed with bits of paper and even went so far as to go and ask the customers if they needed help browsing. She found this particularly annoying because the answer was almost always no; it was a Christmas shop where people were choosing decorations and trinkets to match their own personal taste and existing possessions. How on earth was Emma supposed to be better at choosing what to buy than they were? She swallowed her reservations though; determined to be better than her hangover was prompting her to be.

The couple looking at tinsel were perfectly content without her opinions on glittery garlands, but the woman at the artificial trees was delighted to be offered help.

“I am looking for something above 8 feet if you have anything? These don’t have heights on them.” The woman was pretty; maybe nearing 50 Emma guessed. She had a clear voice and a tone that suggested a childhood full of horses.

“I’ll grab a tape measure.” Said Emma and made her way back over to the counter to search out a measuring device. She could hear her phone vibrating in her bag and her stomach did a flip as she briefly imagined it being Theo calling to see why she hadn’t replied yet. She swallowed the flipping down just in case it was McMuffin and not lust.

‘Ignore it.’ She told herself - if Fiona comes up stairs now and sees you on your phone she’ll be furious. Emma also thought that the woman with the nice voice and the fancy jacket, that she would call a body warmer but the woman definitely would call a gilet, wouldn’t be very impressed by a shop assistant stopping serving her to take a phone call. Emma decided the woman was definitely the sort to demand a manager.

She grabbed the tape measure out of the drawer and went back to measure the trees with the woman. Nothing they had on display was close to the height the woman, whose name turned out to be Helen, wanted for her Reception Room Tree.

There were myriad thoughts swirling round Emma’s head:

Firstly, where the hell was Fiona? The shop telephone had rung three times while she was serving Helen and she’d not had the guts to go and answer it in case Helen got shirty.

Secondly, who had the planning capabilities to be choosing their Christmas tree in May?

Thirdly, how many trees did this woman have that her Reception Room Tree was a whole tree and not just: her Christmas tree?

Fourthly, how big were the other trees if even the Reception Room Tree was to be over 8 feet?

Fifthly, what was a Reception Room? Did this woman have a reception for her house? Or was this for some kind of massive office?

Sixthly, where the shitting hell was Fiona?

Emma applied the etch-a-sketch approach to clearing the thoughts from her head and focused back on the woman in front of her. She was nice seeming; but one of those people with an edge. The sort of woman that could turn to furious in a millisecond if she thought Emma was being less than efficient.

“Let me check our catalogue and see what we could order in for you.” Said Emma, and headed back over to pull the big black folder out from under the till. She could hear her phone buzzing urgently against the inside of her bag and as she ducked out of sight she loosened the top of her bag to check the screen.

There was an incoming call from Fiona. Emma had a sudden vision of Fiona lying at the bottom of the stairs in the stock room with a broken leg trying desperately to get hold of Emma for emergency help. Emma squatted down and answered the call in a hushed voice.

“Fiona? Where are you?”

“Emma! Oh thank god! Are you in the shop?” Fiona sounded scared and whispery.

“Yes, where are you?” Emma peered around, expecting to spot Fiona hiding on one of the shelves amongst tree decorations and ornaments.

“Has she gone?” Hissed Fiona.

“Who?” Emma was perplexed, what the hell was going on?

“Helen!” Fiona’s voice was a bizarre whispered shriek, strangled and breaking.

“Helen? Oh! No, I’m helping her choose a Christmas tree. Why? Who is she?”

“Don’t you recognise her? That’s Norman’s wife!” Said Fiona, almost hysterical. Emma risked a look up at Helen and smacked her head in to the side of the shelf before she could get a decent look. She ducked back down as she saw Helen turning to look at the clanging sound of her skull hitting wood.“I’m hiding in the stock room - I panicked when I saw her coming in the shop and just ran away. Is she looking for me?”

Emma tried to think clearly. If Helen was here for Fiona then she was doing a marvellously convincing job of tree shopping to bide her time. On the other hand, weren’t posh rich people all basically meant to be psychopaths so would she even find it that hard to play it all cool in front of Emma?

“I don’t think she is.” Said Emma, “She seems to genuinely want a Christmas Tree.”

“But no one ever buys trees in May?” Fiona was alarmed. Emma agreed.
“Yeah… but, she hasn’t asked me about you. And if she knew you were here wouldn’t she have just asked to see my manager?”

“Excuse me?” Helen’s voice came loudly from the other side of the till. Emma froze.

“I’ve got to go.” She whispered to Fiona, and then stood up - managing to avoid a repeat blow to the head. “Sorry,” she said to Helen, “Took me a while to find the folder.” Emma was sweating, and it felt like her skin was having to work doubly hard to sweat given that any fluid in her body was white wine residue. She hoped she didn’t smell. Emma flicked the brochure along to the section containing the artificial trees and slid it over to Helen. She tried to subtly observe Helen looking at the options.

“This one looks good.” Said Helen after a minute of comparing. “What do you think?” She pushed the brochure across the counter to Emma. Emma had no idea what to say. She felt like it wasn’t the right thing for a shop assistant at a Christmas shop to say but she privately thought that most Christmas Trees looked largely the same and it all depended on the decorations you put on them. Emma was a fan of the “piling as many shiny things as you could find so that your tree can barely be seen and you look like you just have a pyramid of glitter in the corner” approach.

‘Concentrate!’ She screamed at herself, snapping her attention back to the book and to the tree being indicated by a perfectly manicured nail.

“I love it.” Said Emma, “An absolutely perfect Reception Room Tree.”

Helen looked up at her, possibly checking to see if she could detect sarcasm but the earnest look on Emma’s face seemed to convince her she was being taken seriously.

“Great. How long will that take to come in?” Helen asked.

“I’ll have to place the order and then I can let you know. It’s usually within two weeks. If you could fill in your contact details here then I can let you know when we have a delivery date?” Emma passed her the contacts book and Helen wrote down her full name and a phone number in a neat, educated looking handwriting.

“Thanks for your help.” Said Helen, smiled tightly at Emma and then swept out of the shop leaving just a trail of expensive scent in her wake. Emma’s entire body seemed to sag with relief. She felt the hangover sweeping back across her shoulders and knees.

‘Why do my hangovers always aim for my knees?’ She asked herself, and then dashed across to the staff door to give Fiona the all clear. Fiona’s pale face appeared from around the door.

“Are you sure she’s not coming back?” She said nervously to Emma.

“Not as far as I know. She’s ordered a tree and I’ve got to give her a call when we have a date for it to come in.” Emma said, half hoping Fiona would be impressed with her for selling such an expensive tree.

“You took an order from her?!” Fiona’s shout made every head in the shop turn and look at her. Emma flushed furiously on Fiona’s behalf.

“Should I not have?” Emma was confused, “How could I not have.”

“I don’t know.” Said a flustered, panicking Fiona. “But now she’s going to come back isn’t she?”

“That’s ok. We’ll just have to make sure I’m here.” Emma liked being the one with the answers, “Don’t worry. And anyway, you’ve ended things with Norman haven’t you? So, it’s not even like you’re doing anything wrong any more is it.”

Fiona’s guilty face said everything Emma needed to know.

“You haven’t ended it?” Emma exploded at her, and a couple of their browsing customers made their way out of the shop - clearly feeling awkward. Emma thought this was terrifically odd - she’d have stayed longer if this was happening in a shop she was in. Some people were so weird. Fiona shifted her weight and flumped her shoulders from side to side like a teenager - squirming under Emma’s glare. “What about Simon?” Emma ladled on the guilt.

“I am going to end it.” Fiona complained, “I really am - but I just haven’t seen him and I don’t really know how to do it over the phone.”

The word phone made Emma suddenly remember her text message from Theo and she gasped. Actually gasped.

“What?” Said Fiona, ducking behind the counter. “Is she back?”

“Who? Oh! I don’t know - you’re the one facing the door. Get it together Fiona.”

“Why did you gasp?” Said Fiona, standing back up again and smiling at a customer waiting to pay for some glass icicles.

“I got a text from Theo.” Said Emma, after the customer had taken what felt like an insane amount of time to take their change and disappear from the counter.

“What now?” Squeaked Fiona. Emma thought they were probably going to run the shop out of business if they didn’t cool it on the dramatics soon.

“No, this morning - when I was… having breakfast.” Emma gracefully sidestepped the mention of the grease-ball breakfast in MacDonalds.

“What did it say?”

Emma showed Fiona the message and they both agreed that it was a good message and more than made up for the fact that he’d made her wait for a full week. That day was surprisingly busy in the shop and Emma and Fiona alternated serving and tidying with drafting text messages to send back. Emma was determined to wait at least a full day but her thumbs were twitching to reply.

At 4pm the bell over the door tinkled and Emma looked up to see Anja gliding through. Emma’s heart constricted and she felt a sprinkling of heat over her cheeks.

‘Stop it,’ she told herself sternly, ‘You like her. This is so weird.’ She painted a huge sweeping smile across her face and crossed the shop to give Anja a hug.

“How are you?” Said Anja, “You two look excited?”

Emma and Fiona explained to Anja all the antics of the morning in the shop. They swapped in an out of the narrative; Emma correcting Fiona on the details of Helen’s visit and Fiona reminding Emma of all the different versions of the text replies they had concocted. Anja shook her head and laughed at the pair of them.

“Gosh, you two really go a little stir crazy cooped up in here all day don’t you?” Emma and Fiona joined in her laugh; they must seem like two children excited to talk to mummy after a day at school. “I’m on my way to the restaurant but I thought I should pop in and apologise again for ruining dinner last night.”

“Nothing to apologise for at all.” Said Emma, honestly, “I liked my Chinese.”

“Your neighbour was very nice.” Said Anja.

“Jack’s so lovely.” Chimed in Fiona.

“Yeah,” Emma reinforced herself, “He’s lovely isn’t he?” She braced herself for Anja to ask for Jack’s number.

“You and Theo should come to my place for dinner - to make up for the burned lamb.” Was all Anja did say though, and Emma felt her brain struggle to keep up with the about turn of subjects.

“Yeah! Maybe we will do. Gosh, do you think a whole dinner is a bit much for a first… meeting?” Her tongue wanted to say date but her mind wouldn’t let her get ahead of herself and call it a date.

“You could always just have a starter if you’re worried?” Joked Fiona.

Emma turned sentence after sentence over in her mind to see which felt best as a reply. To force herself to wait she set an alarm on her phone to go off at 8:19pm on Wednesday which was the day she had allowed herself to reply. She figured 8:19pm seemed a casual time day where it was believable someone might be sending text messages, and she felt like two (almost three really if you thought about it) full days to wait was decent given that he had waited a week.

She drafted the text in her mind and in actual draft messages with every spare second she had through Monday and Tuesday. By Wednesday morning she was settled and she proudly sent the draft version to Anja and Fiona for feedback. Fiona thought it was wonderful, but she had been out with Simon the night before so everything was wonderful to her. Anja felt like Emma should give a stronger opinion on what she might like to do when they went out but Emma didn’t want to seem pushy and was also worried she couldn’t think of anything cool enough to do that would impress Theo.

“I don’t know anywhere in Bath except your place?” She moaned to Anja on the phone at 7:34pm on Wednesday - just 45 minutes away from launch time. Anja had managed to convey a shrug over the phone, which Emma thought might be the most European thing she’d ever heard.

The clock crawled around to 8:19pm and Emma pressed go on her opus.

“Hiya, lovely to hear back from you. Hope you’re having a nice week. Yeah, mad to both find ourselves in Bath?! A catch up seems fun - let me know what you fancy doing. I’m free most evenings. Ex”

The messaged disappeared off into the grid and Emma sat back into the sofa to wait again.


If you want to get involved in shaping the story then vote in the comments for which of these you want in the next chapter...

Choose one of these for the next chapter:

  1. A boat
  2. A train
  3. A picnic
  4. A horse

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