Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 29

The shop on Monday was bright and quiet. At 11am a delivery truck pulled up outside and Emma and Fiona helped the driver to unload that week’s stock into the middle of the shop floor. They cross checked the boxes onto the itemised sheet and signed to say it was all received and then went about unpacking the items to the shelves or the stock room. Emma moved all the customer special orders over to one side and once all the general stock was away and cleared up she dug out the notebook with phone numbers in to begin calling people and let them know their items had arrived. She noticed with anticipation that the Christmas Tree for Helen had arrived and was now leaning menacingly against the wall.

“What do you want me to do?” She asked Fiona as Fiona pulled out the vacuum cleaner to remove the box detritus from the carpet.

“I want you to call her and tell her that the tree is here.” Said Fiona primly, “It’s a lot of money - that’s our target for today right there.”

“Ok.” Said Emma, playing along with Fiona’s act that this was a normal item and a normal customer. She worked her way through the different objects and phone numbers - deliberately leaving the tree until last but telling herself it was because it was the biggest item.

“I’m going to take my lunch is that alright?” Fiona called over and Emma nodded - smiling openly at her.

“Of course, it’s quiet right now.”

“See you in a bit.” Said Fiona, grabbing her bag and disappearing out of the door. Emma decided to take this opportunity to call Helen and she dialled the number in, hearing three rings and then the sound of the phone being answered.

“Hi, is that… Helen?” She faltered, desperately wanting to ask more formally but realising she didn’t know the surname or title that Helen chose.


‘Of course she says ‘Speaking’. That’s such a cool way to answer your phone - I should start doing that.’ Emma thought, unable to not be impressed with the cool detachment of Helen.

“It’s Emma here from the Christmas Shop. The Christmas Tree you ordered has come in today, we can hold it for up to -“

“I’ll be in this afternoon - thanks very much for calling. Thank you, Emma.”

“Oh, oh right. Ok - very good. See you this afternoon.”


Emma hung up and paused for a second just staring at the phone and contemplating what this meant. Helen had to know Fiona worked here - right? Was there going to be some kind of show down? It didn’t really feel like Helen’s style. Surely, if she was going for a big blow out it would have happened at the boat wouldn’t it? So, was there a chance she had no idea and just genuinely wanted a Christmas Tree on the 1st June? Surely not…?

There was nothing to be done except wait and see, Emma decided. Fiona bustled back into the shop with a big smile on her face and a large cardboard bag in her hand from the fancy clothes shop on the corner. Emma liked seeing her happy, she readied herself to tell Fiona about the incoming Helen bullet.

“So, I called Helen and she’s going to pop in this afternoon to get it.” Emma offered.

“Ok, that’s great - not bad for a Monday in June.” Fiona had either had a mind wipe and forgotten who Helen was, or was deliberately blocking out the possible outcomes of Helen arriving.

“Do you want to be - somewhere else when she gets here?” Emma felt like she had no option but to try and prod Fiona into a practical response. It seemed to work as Fiona’s head snapped up to face Emma.

“No.” She said, and her shoulders relaxed, “No, I don’t. If she wants to talk to me then I’m happy to do that. I owe her an apology, lots of them. She can have them if she wants, but, if she wants to shout at me or whatever then - fine. It won’t be nice, but fine. I deserve it. I’m not hiding any more. I’m having a go at being an adult in an adult relationship.”

Emma nodded, taking all this in. It seemed eminently reasonable, she admire Fiona’s ability to make her mind up and weather the storm.

“Ok.” She said. They both spent the afternoon jumping at every jangle of the bell. Emma even spent her lunch break hovering on the stairs just in case she was needed to jump in and disentangle a fight on the shop floor.

The clock was edging closer to 5pm and Emma was beginning to think that maybe Helen wasn’t going to come after all, when the door opened and there she was in a cloud of perfume with immaculately coiffed hair. Emma froze. Fiona, to her credit, smiled and said hello from her position behind the till. Helen crossed the shop.

Emma couldn’t keep her mind from playing her clips of nature documentaries: a tiger stalking a fawn, two bulls gearing up to bash heads, a killer whale stalking a hapless seal.

“I’ve come to collect my tree.” Said Helen politely to Fiona.

“Yes we have it here - would you like me to get it out of the box for you to check out?” Fiona was good.

“No, I’m sure it’s fine. And it’s returnable if there’s anything wrong?”

“Within 14 days. Yes.”

Emma felt like she was in an alternate universe. ‘How are they doing this?’ She was shrieking inside. ‘How are they playing it so cool? Even if Helen didn’t know Fiona worked here before, she does now?! Why isn’t there any shouting?’ The tension was killing Emma - making the small of her back a tense, tight knot of muscle.

Helen pulled a card out of her wallet and Fiona keyed the amount into the till and then passed the card reader across to Helen. For the first time, Emma saw Helen falter, and then with an almost imperceptible shake of the head she pushed her card into the machine and tapped in her pin. The receipts printed with a low mechanical whirr and the transaction was complete.

“Great, that’s all gone through.” Said Fiona, smiling up at Helen and offering her the receipt and her card back. Helen took them both, tucking everything back into her handbag.

“Would you mind giving me a hand getting it out to my car? I’m just parked down the street.” Asked Helen. Emma sprang forward, desperate to move.

“Of course, yes.” She helped Helen to lift the tree up and Fiona held the door open for them as they carried it out to Helen’s car. Helen opened the enormous boot and they slid the tree in - both a little out of breath from the exertion. Helen shut the boot and stood with one hand on the boot of the car - she looked worn out. Emma’s heart pinged.

“Are you ok?” Emma asked, tentatively. She had never felt so out of her depth or confused in a social situation.

“I am.” Helen said, with false confidence, “That was difficult. I just needed to see she was just a woman. Just a woman. Poor woman.”

Emma didn’t know what to say back. It didn’t really feel like a time for tribalism - there were no real winners here she thought. Helen looked up at her and held her eyes before licking her lips and beginning to speak.

“Emma, I’m going to tell you something and leave it up to you what you do with this information.” Emma swallowed, “After that day at the marina I kicked Norman out. Obviously it is not in Norman’s nature to accept that he can’t have what he wants and he had a go at winning me back. He turned up at the house begging for a second chance and offering me a large diamond and ruby ring as an apology. I can’t help but notice that Fiona is now wearing that ring and I would assume she does not know that he first used it to try and win me back before offering it to her. I… I don’t think I need to help her in any way, but, well, there’s the information. You can tell her or not - you know what’s best.” Helen nodded - it felt more for herself than for Emma and Emma stood still on the street blinking stupidly.

She found her voice and nodded back at Helen, “Right, ok. Yes, no, she doesn’t know that. That’s good of you to say.”

“Well, I don’t know. Half of me wants to run back in and do her some real damage.” Helen smiled a sad smile, “But the other half knows Norman, and knows it wouldn’t make me feel better to willingly let someone else get hurt. Even if she didn’t give me the same respect.” Helen shook her keys and moved to climb into her car. Emma was left dumbstruck as the car pulled away. She swore that fi you cut that woman in half there would be class printed straight through her. As she paced back to the shop she wondered what it was about Norman that managed to get perfectly pleasant, sane women to want to be with him? There was one obvious answer but she really didn’t want to think about that. It must be the money.

She pushed open the door to the shop, her legs feeling heavy and slow. What on earth was she going to say to Fiona? There were no customers in the shop and Fiona looked up from behind the till.

“Well, that was painless.” Fiona said brightly and Emma felt like she caught a note of fake bravado in it.

“Yeah.” How on earth was she going to begin this sentence? There was no way she couldn’t tell her, was there?

“Do you want to see the dress I bought?” Fiona’s words burrowed through Emma’s foggy thoughts.

“Yes, yes please.” She said, trying to smile as genuinely as she could. Fiona popping downstairs to get the dress would buy her some more time to think. While Fiona was gone a man came in looking for a trinket and as he left Emma realised she had no idea if she’d managed to say a single word to him as she mechanically put the purchase through the till.

Fiona reappeared wearing an absolutely beautiful soft purple evening dress. She looked lovely and was smiling from ear to ear.

“Isn’t it perfect?” She said, twirling to show off the full movement in the skirt, “It’s for dinner. Norman has said he’s taking me out somewhere really special on Thursday. Oh Emma, I really think it’s going to be different. After we left the pub last night he came back to mine and he was so down to earth and lovely. We just watched a documentary and went to bed - it felt like a real, proper relationship. Neither of us was tense or angry or worried and I wasn’t needy. It was lovely. For the first time in a long time I’m really, genuinely excited about where things could be going for me.”

Emma blinked. Mouth dry. What could she say back?


Does Emma…

  1. Tell Fiona immediately
  2. Tell Fiona after the fancy dinner
  3. Tell Norman to tell Fiona 
  4. Not tell Fiona at all

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