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On a Night Like This
Author: Lindsey Kelk

 

 


CHAPTER ONE


‘Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, there was a woman called Francesca who couldn’t be on time to save her life,’ Jess announced as I blew through the door of Suzette’s Café on Wednesday morning.

‘I’m so sorry,’ I said, giving her a quick hug before starting to unravel my many winter layers. After an unseasonably mild October, November was not messing around in Sheffield. ‘You know I hate being late but Stew said he’d drop me off but his dad called and he had to run and I missed the bus and—’

‘Fran.’ My best friend pushed a cup of coffee towards me, along with a white paper bag. ‘It’s fine, relax, I’m joking. Sit down, I ordered for you because I’m so nice.’ I dumped my tote bag on the table and smiled as she opened her own bag and inhaled. ‘What does she put in these bloody muffins? How are they so good?’

‘Best not to ask,’ I advised, glancing over to the counter where Suzette was fixing tinsel to the shelves with a threatening-looking staple gun. ‘Something we’re not supposed to be eating any more, like white sugar or stem cells or crack.’

‘All very moreish in their own way,’ she replied, breaking off a chunk of muffin before fixing me with a look. ‘Are you all right? You two aren’t fighting again, are you?’

‘I’m fine,’ I said, waving away her concerns with the end of my scarf. My hair frizzed up around me in a static halo as I pulled off my bobble hat. ‘Just feeling a bit meh, that’s all.’ Jess narrowed her eyes to let me know she didn’t quite believe me but wasn’t going to force the issue. ‘Seriously, I’m so sorry. Are you in a rush?’ I asked. ‘Or can you stay for a bit?’

She shook her head as she pulled a neon-pink travel mug out of her own tote bag, unscrewed the top and poured her giant coffee inside. ‘I’ve got to run,’ she said, the tip of her tongue poking out the corner of her mouth as she poured. ‘There are a million meetings today and for some reason, they need me in every bloody one of them. I swear, if I wasn’t there, the place would burn to the ground in twenty-four hours.’

Jess was a very cool marketing director who did very cool things at a very cool brewery and, while she complained about her job constantly, I knew she loved it down to her bones.

‘No worries,’ I repeated. ‘Everything’s fine.’

‘Shall I come round tonight?’ she suggested gently. ‘Stew’s got football practice, hasn’t he?’

I nodded, extremely happy with that plan. ‘Sounds grand, I’ll make dinner. Is there anything you’re not eating right now?’

‘No, it’s too close to Christmas for that,’ she replied, screwing the lid back on her cup and dropping it in her bag. ‘They’ve already got the Quality Street open at work, I’ll bring you a big purple one.’ She scooted around the table to give me a kiss on the cheek. ‘What’s on your agenda for today?’

‘Sitting here and waiting for literally anything to happen?’

‘We don’t wait for things to happen,’ Jess said, white paper muffin bag in one hand, car keys in the other. ‘We make them happen!’

‘You sound like an Instagram post,’ I called after her. ‘If you tell me to live, laugh and love, you’re not allowed round for tea.’

‘More like nap, nom and Netflix,’ she shouted back, already halfway out the door. ‘See you tonight.’

It had been almost a month since I’d finished my last temping job – a thrilling adventure through the world of data entry for a logistics company in Rotherham – and so far, not a single one of the agencies I was signed up with could find me a new one. Apparently I was ‘over-qualified’ for almost everything and even though I would have happily wiped Satan’s bottom for minimum wage if it meant getting out of the house for eight hours a day, they couldn’t find me a thing. All the shops had hired their seasonal staff already and no one else was recruiting this close to Christmas.

Peering through the window of the café, I watched as the shops and businesses turned on their lights, the high street springing to life, the post office, the off-licence, the beauty salon, the bookshop. Everyone else’s day was starting while I drank my coffee, ate my muffin and pulled my computer out of my backpack. Everyone had somewhere to go and something to do except for me.

Hands hovering over the ancient laptop as it clicked and whirred into life, I stared at the two rings I wore every day, the only jewellery I ever wore, really. On my left hand, my engagement ring from Stew, a dainty diamond affair shaped like a flower, that had belonged to his beloved Nana Beryl before it was passed down to me with the most serious of strings attached. And on the third finger of my right hand, my mum’s gold wedding band. She’d be so disappointed, I thought, twisting it around and around and around. Susan Cooper hadn’t spent so much as a day out of work, a fact she had been fiercely proud of, and the thought of letting her down when she wasn’t here any more felt like the worst possible failure.

‘Don’t wait for things to happen,’ I whispered, attempting to stoke a fire that had all but burned out. ‘Make them happen.’

With some uncertainty, I slipped my earbuds into my ears and dialled a number I had not dialled in months.

‘Vine & Walsh, Rose speaking.’

‘Rose, it’s Fran, Fran Cooper,’ I said, straightening my shoulders and taking a deep, steadying breath. ‘How are you?’

‘I’m well, thank you, how are you?’ The silky southern accent on the other end of the phone sounded surprised to hear from me, which was fair, given that I hadn’t been in touch for the best part of a year.

‘Really well but still looking for work.’ I tapped my fingers against the edge of the table, heart in my mouth. ‘I was wondering if you might have anything for me?’

‘I’ll happily take a look,’ Rose replied. ‘But I’m fairly certain we don’t have anything in your area, unless you’ve changed your mind about taking work outside South Yorkshire?’

And that was the reason I hadn’t been in touch for the best part of a year. Vine & Walsh was an executive recruitment firm, not just your average temp agency, and every time I spoke with Rose, she told me about one incredible job after another and I had to turn each and every one of them down. In my wildest professional fantasies, I was totally jet set. I dreamed of travelling, seeing the world, of waking up to find I was the kind of woman who could pack two weeks-worth of clothes in a carry on and could go from conference room B to the bar to an all-night karaoke party with nothing more than a swipe of red lipstick and a change of earrings, but after we moved back to Sheffield, Stew and I had both agreed we wouldn’t travel for work. Admittedly, that deal was made three years ago when we were living in London and there were a lot more jobs to choose from, but a deal is a deal and it was made for a reason, so I kept my ambitions local.

‘Sorry, no,’ I said as my heart sank slowly back towards my feet. ‘Just thought it was worth checking in.’

As Rose let out a quiet, frustrated sigh, a new email from one of the local temp agencies appeared in my inbox. A vet in Brincliffe needed an office manager to do a two-week holiday cover starting Christmas Eve. Utterly depressing and still the best offer I’d had in months.

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