Tuesdays at the Teacup Club (5 page)

‘Don’t hang about,’ Jamie said eagerly. ‘We need all the brilliant ideas we can get right now.’

‘Right. Well, yours isn’t the only business that could do with a helping hand right now. Why do it alone?’

‘Are you talking about partnering up? Who with? How?’ Alison asked.

‘You could run Tuesdays, like you planned … but why not get the other local shops involved too? Us at Bluebelle, the gallery,
Brand New Retro – we could organise a late-opening night across Charlesworth, with drinks and treats in all the venues, to
draw customers in,’ Maggie said.

Alison and Jamie exchanged glances. ‘I like the sound of that,’ Alison said, and Jamie nodded. ‘We could set up stalls inside
the shops for handmade things, too,’ she added.

‘Absolutely. And if it works, you could keep the screenings as weekly, and make this larger event into a monthly thing?’

‘What do you think, Ali?’ Jamie said. ‘Are you up for it?’

‘Definitely. I’m not beaten yet,’ she said. ‘Let’s get started.’

Jenny

Wednesday, 18th September

Chloe rushed into the waiting room in a flurry of brown ringlets, her cheeks flushed. ‘Any news?’ she asked.

‘Nothing yet,’ I said.

‘I’m so pleased you called me, Jen.’ She looked panicked, and I saw her eyes welling up with tears.

‘I should have told you at the start. Come here,’ I said. She hugged me tightly.

‘I’ve been going out of my mind. Thinking Chris had started having second thoughts about us. It never crossed my mind that
it could be this, his health. And now – God, I nearly crashed my bike twice on the way over here. He is such an idiot to put
himself through this on his own.’

‘We agree on that, then.’

‘How much longer till we hear?’ Chloe asked, perched awkwardly on the edge of the plastic hospital chair.

‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘But long enough for a coffee. Can I get you one?’

She nodded, biting her lip. ‘OK then, thanks. Actually maybe a herbal tea, if they have one. I feel sick, Jen. To think of
him in there.’

An hour later, Dr Kilbride stepped out into the waiting room and made her way over to us.

‘Jenny,’ she said. ‘Chris is out of surgery, but we’re still waiting for him to come round from the anaesthetic.’

‘And how did …’ Chloe asked urgently. ‘What happened in there?’

‘The operation went smoothly,’ Dr Kilbride said. ‘We’ll need time to see how effective it’s been, but we were able to do everything
we planned to.’

‘That’s good. Can we go in and see him?’ I asked.

‘Yes, of course. I’m sure he’ll want you there when he wakes up.’

The consultant led the two of us around to Chris’s hospital bed. I sat down beside him. It was strange to see my brother lying
there, motionless and uncharacteristically quiet, breathing softly.

Chloe stood over him and stroked the side of his face tenderly. ‘I could kill him, Jen.’

‘Please don’t.’

‘But seriously,’ she said, turning to me and shaking her head. ‘What did he think – that I’d go running for the door at the
first sign of trouble? He should know by now that I love him. I don’t need him to be perfect. I just want him to be him.’

Chloe smoothed Chris’s sandy hair, and slowly he began to stir and open his eyes.

He caught sight of Chloe and smiled at her. Then he looked over at me, narrowing his eyes accusingly for a moment, before
lying his head back down.

‘I should have known you wouldn’t be able to keep quiet, sis.’

‘And I’m glad she didn’t,’ Chloe said, pushing back a lock of hair from his forehead.

‘I’m going to leave you two alone,’ I said, giving Chris’s arm a squeeze. ‘The operation went well.’

As I closed the green curtain behind me I could hear Chloe’s voice.

‘Chris, what were you thinking keeping this from me? There are no prizes for soldiering on alone, you know. If there’s something
you’re going through, I want us to go through it together.’

And as I walked away, I overheard my brother’s reply.

‘I know. It was stupid, and I’m sorry. And Chlo, I’ve been thinking. There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you …’

Maggie

Friday, 20th September

Owen and Maggie were nestled closely in bed in the dawn light, with baby Stan between them. ‘Six hours straight he slept last
night,’ Maggie said. ‘I can’t believe it.’

Owen gave a victory air punch and laughed. ‘Result.’

‘I feel like a completely different person,’ she said. ‘Like I might actually be able to think straight today at work.’

‘Me too,’ he said. ‘Hopefully this is the start of something.’

‘He’s beautiful, isn’t he?’ Maggie said, running a finger over Stan’s brow, the curls of dark hair he’d inherited from Owen.
‘Maddening sometimes, but beautiful.’

‘Like his mum,’ Owen said, kissing Maggie’s pale shoulder.

‘You charmer,’ she said, shaking off the compliment. ‘So, no regrets about settling down with me and this little guy?’

‘Of course not,’ Owen said, smiling broadly. ‘Having Stan in our life has turned it upside-down, yes, but absolutely for the
better. In fact that’s something I’ve been thinking about.’

‘You have?’

‘Yes. Maggie, I don’t want to be one of those dads who only catch up with their children at the weekend, if that. That’s what
mine was like, occasionally back home to read us a story after work, if we were lucky. I want to be as big a part of Stan’s
life as you are.’

‘Oh yes?’ she asked, curious.

‘The new Devon job made me consider what my priorities really were. I turned it down, even though it would have been good
for the business. I love my work, but I’d like it just as much if I limited the amount of projects I took on. When you start
working again, I’ll be able to afford to do that.’

‘So how do we make this work?’

‘I could go part-time, and you could too – or we could get a childminder for the days I’m working.’

Maggie pictured herself back behind the counter at Bluebelle du Jour – distraction-free, knowing that Stan was with his dad
– and felt a flicker of excitement. She’d be home for Stan’s bath, but she could start to get back to her business, and to
being the old Maggie again.

Stan gurgled happily, as if he had some understanding of what his parents were talking about. Owen picked him up and held
him high overhead, then brought him down close to blow a raspberry on his belly. Stan erupted in giggles.

‘I don’t want to miss this,’ Owen said. ‘Not a minute of it.’

Alison

Tuesday, 1st October

Tonight, Alison thought gratefully, the weather actually seemed to be cooperating. It was a warm evening, perfect for her
and Jamie to throw the café doors open, and kick off the late-opening celebration of Charlesworth’s independent shops. A fortnight
after Maggie had first suggested it, they were ready to go.

Maggie was stringing bunting up between the lampposts, and Jenny was writing out chalk signs to direct villagers to the shops,
gallery and cafés that were participating.

‘I’ve got the gramophone working!’ Anna called out to her boss from the doorway of Bluebelle du Jour. The smooth tones of
French jazz drifted into the street, transporting Charlesworth back to another time.

Maggie had put a dozen or so pot plants and some flowers out for sale, but for the most part she’d handed the shop space over
to stalls. Alison’s daughter Sophie would be selling hand-printed greetings cards, and Anna had a selection of embroidered
cushions on display.

Alison and Jamie had joined forces with the other small business owners over the past couple of weeks – first sharing tips
on clearing up after the flood, then planning tonight’s event. All of the shopowners had embraced the idea of a communal celebration.

That evening Alison had put on a new dress with a cherry print and a full, fifties-style skirt. She’d had her dark hair dyed
that day, to cover up the strands of grey, and styled it in a top ponytail with a quiff.

‘Hey, Ali,’ Jenny said, putting her blonde head around the door of the café. ‘I’m nearly done with the signs. What can I help
you with in here?’

‘Hey, Jen,’ Alison replied. It was good to see her old friend back in the shop, and with a smile on her face again. ‘Hmmm.’
She glanced around. ‘Buns! You can help with those. We’ve got loads of them. Jamie’s been baking all morning. Could you help
arrange a stand here, with the flapjacks?’

‘Sure.’ Jenny took the box of buns and started laying them out. ‘Everyone in the village has been talking about tonight, you
know. After the flood, I think Charlesworth has really needed something like this to look forward to.’

‘Good. And it’s quite satisfying I must say, to watch this happening.’ Alison pointed to the chain coffee shop over the road,
empty apart from one man on a laptop, sipping a drink. The customers who had filled it half an hour ago had spilled out on
to the street to see what was going on, wandering into the local shops, following the music.

‘I know that Love Latte isn’t going anywhere,’ she continued. ‘Coffee shops are here to stay. But that doesn’t mean we can’t
live alongside each other, does it?’

‘I for one won’t be swapping my custom,’ Jenny said. ‘Nothing beats a Blitz cup of fine chai, or builders’ tea, for that matter,
in one of your pretty teacups.’

‘There’s always one here for you,’ Alison said. ‘I’ve missed you, Jen. How’s Chris doing?’

‘Really well, actually,’ Jenny said. ‘It’s a slow process, he’ll have to rest and stay off work for another three weeks –
although you should see how hard it is trying to prise that laptop away from him. But he says he’s already felt a lessening
in his back pain, which is a good sign.’

‘That’s good to hear. And Chloe?’

‘Over the moon,’ Jenny smiled. ‘They haven’t set a date yet, but she’s thrilled, and loves the ring that Chris chose. She’s
coming down tonight, actually – she wasn’t going to miss this – so you’ll have a chance to see her yourself.’

‘Fantastic,’ Alison said.

‘Ooh, things are picking up,’ Jen said, nodding at the door.

A stream of customers came in, excitedly approaching the cake table, cooing over the flapjacks and buns and loading up their
plates.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
played on the projector screen in the background, but Alison had a feeling there was going to be more chatter than movie-watching
this evening.


Aloha
, Teacup Club!’ Maggie called out, stepping into the café. She was dressed in a pale gold blouse and fitted trousers, her
hair swept up with sparkling grips and her make-up immaculate.

‘Maggie,’ Jenny said, taking a breath. ‘Wow, you look like …’

Maggie raised an eyebrow waiting for her to finish her sentence. ‘Like … I used to?’

‘Yes. I mean you always look great, but …’

‘I normally have sick on my shoulder, bags under my eyes and no make-up on,’ Maggie said. ‘There’s no need to pretend.’

‘You look like you
feel
like you again,’ Alison said. ‘If that makes any sense.’

‘It makes perfect sense,’ Maggie said. ‘And thank you. God bless Owen, the babysitter tonight. Bluebelle’s heaving, by the
way. We’ve had quite a few people in from out of town, too. Sophie’s cards are selling really well.’

‘That’s great,’ Alison said, beaming proudly. So finally her daughter was putting some of that rebellious energy into something
positive.

‘Jenny,’ Maggie said. ‘Now that Chris is on the mend, when are you off doing publicity for the book?’

‘Next week, and I can’t wait. I’m so relieved the publishers agreed to reschedule. I can’t quite get my head around it – but
I’m going on tour.’ She let out a little squeal.

‘You lucky thing,’ Maggie said, squeezing her arm. ‘Enjoy it. You deserve it.’

‘I will. You two will still be here when I get back, won’t you?’

‘We’re not going anywhere,’ Alison said, and Maggie nodded.

A wave of laughter came from the crowd of friends in the corner, women picking up cakes and dropping coins into the honesty
jar, pouring themselves cocktails into the pretty china cups and drinking and talking together.

‘It’s strange, isn’t it?’ Jenny said, nodding at the other women. ‘I guess the Teacup Club isn’t just about us any more.’

She smiled at Alison and Maggie, and saw in their eyes that, as always, they knew exactly what she meant.

Find out how The Teacup Club began…

The Vintage Teacup Club

is available for download right now.

At a car boot sale in Sussex, three very different women meet and fall for the same vintage teaset. They decide to share it
- and form a friendship that changes their lives …

Jenny can’t wait to marry Dan. Then, after years of silence, she hears from the woman who could shatter her dreams.

Maggie has put her broken heart behind her and is gearing up for the biggest event of her career – until she’s forced to confront
the past once more.

Alison seems to have it all: married to her childhood sweetheart, with two gorgeous daughters. But as tensions mount, she
is pushed to breaking point.

Dealing with friendship and families, relationships and careers, highs and lows,
The Vintage Teacup Club
is heart-warming storytelling at its very best.

Prologue
Jenny

Gold-edged, delicate, almost translucent – four perfect teacups sit on four perfect saucers and a small and shapely teapot
gleams in between them. The tea service seems to light up the open boot of the bottle-green Morris Minor, and as I reach out
a tentative hand to touch the china I’m pretty sure I can hear a gospel choir singing out.
Yes
. Here, in the hum and bustle of Charlesworth’s car boot sale, the Saturday bargain hunt that brings the residents of our
old market town together, we’ve found each other at last.

‘Anything in particular you’re after, love?’ comes a gentle, welcome voice over my shoulder. My
lord
, is that a matching milk jug and sugar bowl I can see nestled among the yellowing newspaper? I peel a corner back to
check. I’m right, and they all have the same pretty forget-me-not pattern below the gold rim. I’m transfixed. I wrestle my
gaze away from the teacups and turn towards the voice, warm smile already in place – less a charm offensive to kick off the
negotiations, more that I simply can’t stop grinning like a fool. I meet the stallholder’s world-weary eyes, grey-blue under
unruly brows. I expect my hazel ones look a bit manic – because in my head I’m desperately trying to decide on a maximum price
for something I’ve fallen budget-defyingly in love with. Then, before we’ve even exchanged a word, I see the old man’s gaze
drift over my shoulder. Hang on …

‘Well now, not a customer all morning and then along come three lovely ladies at once.’

I swivel round and see that two pairs of elegant hands have crept onto my teaset – touching the precious cups that, once I’d
bought them, would make everything in my life just right. The women look up in surprise, drawing back from the open boot in
unison, still clasping a teacup each. One cup is held protectively by a willowy redhead in a cream silk vest and khaki slacks,
the other by a curvy brunette in a gingham dress and red lipstick, her hair pinned back in 1940s victory rolls with just a
few curls escaping.

‘But …’ I start.
I was here first
, I long to protest. But then I see the expressions on their faces and I can’t bring
myself to say the words. They both look every bit as forlorn to see me as I am to see them.

‘Listen,’ the redhead says, composing herself and fixing the stallholder with an assertive glare. He’s clearly about eighty,
and I worry he might faint if a conflict escalates. ‘It looks like you’ll be going home with less stock and fuller pockets
when you leave this car park today.’ Her green eyes sparkle, and I flinch – how on earth can I compete with this cream-silk-clad
professional? She’s a crockery
tiger
. Retro brunette seems to be losing her nerve, she’s fiddling with her chunky red necklace and glancing around – though something
tells me that she might have the cold hard cash to come up on the inside. And me … I look down at my worn jeans and Converse,
suddenly aware of the girlishness of my blonde ponytail and petite figure, complete with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cleavage.
I feel twenty-six going on sixteen. Jenny Davis the amateur; my art deco engagement ring the only sign I’ve even dipped a
toe in the antiques market before. But I do have
passion
– and that’s supposed to count for something, isn’t it? Even so, I can’t help fearing that neither my purchasing prowess
nor the contents of my purse are going to be hefty enough to land me this teaset of dreams. I hope, at least, that the others
can’t see that my heart is breaking a little bit.

‘But ladies,’ says the redhead, her auburn waves catching the light as she turns to face us, ‘something tells
me that taking this set home would mean really quite a lot to each one of us. Am I right?’

I’m so shocked by this curveball from the tiger, I just nod dumbly – tears prickling at my eyes. Instinctively I look back
at the set. Yes, the sugar tongs need a good polish, but that somehow makes the whole thing even more perfect.

‘Yes, it looks like we’re all keen,’ I finally pipe up, turning towards the bemused pensioner. ‘Could you put a hold on the
tea service for an hour?’

That was how our summer started.

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