Tuesday, 9 December 2008
A Kind Of Loving
A Kind Of Loving/Linda Sole/Red Rose Publishing
available in ebook from www.redrosepubling.com
and other outlets in ebook
Soon to be available in print.
It had been warmer than this earlier in the year but there was a definite bite in the air that morning and it was already the second week of May. Perhaps the cool weather was the reason she was feeling a bit out of sorts with herself, because she was down and there was no real reason for it. She ought to be feeling on top of the world, Verity thought as she parked her car in the yard at the back of the shop.
The gravel crunched beneath her feet as she took a large bunch of fragrant lilies and roses and her cumbersome shoulder bag from the boot, before going through the narrow alley from the yard into the main street. This past year had seen the realisation of one of her dreams, something that gave her great personal satisfaction. But there was a problem, a dark shadow that hovered at her shoulder.
It was in her mind as she unlocked the door of her small shop, lingering like a bad smell as she keyed in the number to cancel the alarm and walked through to the back room, which she used as her office. She removed her warm red jacket and fluffed out her chestnut brown hair in front of the mirror; her eyes were that greenish brown that some call hazel. Underneath her jacket she was wearing a slim-fitting black dress. There was only just over another two months to her fortieth birthday but she didn't look too bad. She'd kept her figure well after Jane's birth and there hadn't been any more children. She'd been sorry about that, and for a while she'd hoped that she would have another baby, but somehow it hadn't happened; though there was no medical reason why it shouldn't.
Was that what had gone wrong between her and Michael? Had they grown apart instead of bonding into a family unit? Would it have been different if they'd had a son? She knew that Jane was very much her daughter and thought that perhaps Michael sometimes felt a bit left out.
She puzzled over it as she arranged her flowers in two old and rather beautiful cut-glass vases. One she stood in the little room that was fairly private but which, through a window, gave her a view of the shop interior, and the other she carried out to replace some dead roses standing on the desk that took centre stage of her window display. She stood for a moment to admire them, pleased that she'd taken time to stop and buy the flowers on her way in. Perhaps it was an extravagance to spend so much on fresh flowers, but she did love to see them about the place.
Verity was frowning as she returned to her office, picked up a tin of the special beeswax she always used for her antique furniture and took it into the shop. She had made it a practice to polish a couple of pieces of furniture each morning, to keep the place smelling of fresh polish and the potpourri she had in bowls set at various points about the shop. Her customers always remarked on the beautiful smell; it relaxed them, and her friendly manner encouraged them to trust her enough to buy. Her trade had started slowly at first, but people came back and her reputation had grown this past year.
Usually the very fact of being here amongst these beautiful things was enough to make her relax herself. She loved the feel of the silky finish of old wood, the way her cloth glided over the surface of a beautiful antique table or an elegant desk. Looking at them gave her a sense of permanence, of satisfaction, and knowing these things were hers to sell gave her a purpose. She was doing something she wanted to with her life at last.
Verity stood with the cloth in her hand as she considered. Had she wanted to marry Michael Lovelace nearly twenty years ago? She'd been pregnant with Jane, and it had seemed the natural thing to do – but had she really wanted to be his wife? She supposed that she must have done. There must have been a time when his smile had made her feel good, when his jokes had made her want to giggle, his touch had sent the blood racing through her veins. Yes, of course there had! It was just that it was hard to remember these days. He spent so little time at home. His business demanded attention six days of the week, and on Sundays he often played golf in the mornings. After lunch he cut the lawn if it needed it, otherwise he cleaned the car or fell asleep in front of the television.
She knew that Michael wasn't the only man to follow the same dull routine every weekend. Her friend Susan Edwards was always complaining that her husband Bill did the same thing, but she said it with a smile on her face, and a look in her eyes that told a different story. The magic was still there for Bill and Susan, but Verity knew that it had gone missing from her life, though she wasn't sure whose fault it was.
For a long time, while Jane was still a small child, she'd been happy enough; they had still shared a small joke or an intimate smile, but of late even those things had vanished. They hadn't had sex for weeks – they hadn't made love for more than two years, and there was a difference.
Verity hadn't forgotten what it felt like to make love, to know the warmth and satisfaction, the sharing that comes from being close to the man you care for. She had loved Michael once, perhaps she still did deep down. He was still undoubtedly an attractive man with his thick, slightly wavy hair, which was a darkish blond in colour, his blue eyes and rather heavy brows. But his character had changed of late and there were times now when she felt she was living with a stranger, and someone she didn't always like very much.
To a casual observer, Verity was the very essence of Today's Woman. Efficient, well groomed, with an air of confidence, a friendly manner and a look in her eyes that warned she meant what she said. Dealers liked her because she was businesslike and they knew where they stood with her. She didn't lie about her stock and she'd become known for having good, genuine pieces. But she had something more, a vitality that made her eyes shine and her laughter was infectious, though she wasn't aware of it herself.
Verity was brought out of her reverie as the shop bell pinged and two men came in. She had seen one of them several times before, a dealer in his fifties who bought things from her occasionally, but she was sure the younger man hadn't been in before. He was tall and well built with soft brown hair that waved slightly back from his forehead and greenish blue eyes, and he towered over his rather short and chubby companion.
'Mrs Lovelace,' Harry Barton said and grinned at her. Harry always wore a suit and his shoes were highly polished. He was a cheerful, confident man who loved his work and Verity rather liked him. 'You're looking gorgeous as usual, and this shop smells like a dream.' Harry was part Irish and known in the trade as a charmer.
'It's the potpourri,' she said with a smile. 'That sunshine is nice. It was rather cold when I came in this morning but I should think it's getting a bit warmer out now, isn't it?'
'Summer is on its way, slowly but coming,' he replied and gestured to his taller companion. 'This is my sister's boy, Joshua Roberts. He was working as a carpenter for a furniture business but the firm went bust last month, nothing to do with Josh here.' He gave his nephew a jovial poke in the ribs. 'I've taken him on with me. He's a craftsman, and I think he deserves better than to be a carpenter. He could be a restorer of fine furniture, and he'll be good at it.'
The younger, good-looking man pulled a wry face as he looked at Verity. 'What my uncle means is that I'm useful to carry things, but if I take the right classes I might make a restorer of antique furniture one day.'
'Good restorer's are few and far between,' Verity told him. 'I hope you stick at it, Mr Roberts. I was disappointed with the last piece I had done.'
'Next time give me a buzz,' Harry said. 'I can probably point you in the right direction. I know a couple of good men in the area.'
Verity gave him one of her dazzling smiles. 'That is kind of you, thank you, I shall.'
'Well, we'd best get down to business,' Harry said. 'Got the rounds to make and there's a local sale I want to attend this afternoon. Are you coming, Verity?'
'It depends whether my friend Susan can cover for me for a few hours,' Verity said. 'She told me she would ring later if she can fit it in. There isn't very much I want, but I'll leave a bid with the auctioneer if I can't manage to get there.'
'It makes a break from the shop,' Harry said. 'A chance to meet and talk, hear what's going on in the trade. By the way, look out for a woman dressed very smartly buying antique porcelain with a fake credit card – she's caught a couple of dealers in the south of the country and they think she has come east now.'
'I probably don't have much worth her while,' Verity said, glancing round. She had some quality furniture, a few pieces of blue and white Delft, a collection of nice old glass, lace and dolls in a cabinet and also some copper and brass. 'I expect she targets the specialists.'
'Yes, I dare say but you never know.' Harry had been looking at a copper water jug that had a lovely worn, slightly battered sheen to it, but she knew he wasn't interested in the jug, and was waiting for him to tell her what he had really come in for. 'That little oak stool in the window,' he said at last, looking at the open display, which was set up on a little platform and accessible from the shop. 'Is it old or a repro?'
'Have a look at it yourself,' Verity invited. 'I was told in good faith that it had been in the family of the woman who sold it to me for years, her great grandfather's apparently. I believe it to be sixteenth century and there is certainly lots of wear on the bottom of the legs – but you decide, Harry. You know a good piece of oak when you see it.' And it was a good piece; an original, worn, well loved thing that shouted its quality at you. There was no need to push it at him, because she knew it wouldn't stay with her long.
He picked up the stool, turned it over, looked at the price tag and nodded. 'I think it's more seventeenth than sixteenth, Verity, but it's definitely genuine, and the price isn't bad. I'll give you eight hundred and fifty for it.'
Verity had paid six hundred and fifty and she would have to pay VAT on the difference. 'Sorry, Harry. I need nine to make it worthwhile. I never overprice my things, you know that. I bought it privately and I gave my customer a decent price for it.'
'It did come privately?' Harry seemed to hesitate, but she knew he wanted it. He would haggle for a while, but in the end he would pay what she asked, because it wasn't expensive, even though there was some slight damage.
'Yes, of course. Most of my stuff does, and I always say if it is a trade piece.'
'All right, I'll have it,' Harry said, surprising her. She knew at once that she had underpriced it in the first place, but it didn't matter. It had brought her a profit and that was all she needed.
'Thanks,' she said and fetched her duplicate book from behind the small counter to make out the invoice. 'Yes, a cheque is fine from you,' she said as he waved the book at her.
Harry wrote it out for her, then hesitated again. 'I noticed that you have a flat over the top of the shop. Someone said you were thinking of letting it out. It might suit Josh…' He glanced at his nephew. 'What do you think?'
Joshua had been standing silent for most of the time, looking round the shop at various pieces of furniture. Verity had noticed that he seemed to have an eye for the best things.
'It might be all right,' he said now. 'But perhaps Mrs Lovelace hasn't made up her mind what she wants to do yet.' He glanced at her, brows raised. 'I am looking for a place to live, but I don't want to push myself on you. I can manage where I am for a while.'
'Do you have a flat of your own?'
'No, just a room,' he said. 'I'm not keen on sharing with the people I'm with at the moment, but it isn't desperate.'
'I am thinking of letting it,' Verity said. 'But it isn't ready yet and I haven't decided. Come and see me again in about a month – if you're still looking.'
'Great, I'll do that,' he said and gave her a brilliant smile that lit up his whole face. It was strange but she hadn't thought much to him until he smiled like that, despite his good looks, imagining him to be perhaps a bit sullen or reserved. Now she saw that he had merely been polite, letting his uncle conduct his business without interruption. 'My uncle will give you a character reference, and I can get a bank reference if you want?'
'Well, I'm making no promises,' she said but couldn't help warming to him all at once.
She watched as they went out, putting the stool in the back of Harry's estate car, before returning to her polishing. It was nice that she'd sold the stool so quickly, though it was something she would have kept for herself if Michael didn't detest antiques, especially oak.
'I can't stand the smell of that stuff,' he'd told her once when she'd dragged him into an antique shop on their honeymoon. 'It smells of death and decay, and makes me feel old.'
'But it's so beautiful,' she'd said. 'I don't think of death, but of the lives people had, the history that is tied up in those things – all the loving and living they must have seen.' That was the thing about antiques; they had been handed down, passed on for generations, a part of so many people's lives. And the care and love that had gone into making them; you just didn't find that these days. 'Just think of the stories that old dresser could tell if it could talk.'
He'd looked at her as if she were mad. She had known then that she could never have her dream cottage, never fill it with antiques and the warm colours of browns, oranges, and creams that would make it glow. Michael liked modern things, bright light colours, and preferably magnolia walls with everything. He wouldn't even watch an old-fashioned film on the television with her, decrying it as idiots dressed up in long clothes.
Verity felt a chill at the nape of her neck as she put her cloths away and washed her hands. Was it then, at the very beginning that they had started to drift apart? No, it couldn't have been, she thought. They had shared most things, and her dream cottage had remained just that; she had put it away in a small corner of her mind, as she had all the other small things, the tiny hurts, the little disappointments that had come her way these past twenty years. She mustn't make too much of it now.
She put the coffee on. What she needed was a good dose of caffeine to drive the blues away. She was letting a small incident get to her and that was silly.
Michael had been a good husband in most ways. She had never had to worry about money. His business of a gentleman's outfitters had survived the trend towards large store shopping and continued to flourish, perhaps because Michael kept abreast of modern needs. His father had traded in good suits and shirts, and Michael still had a small section devoted to good quality formal clothes, but a lot of his stock now was of designer jeans, jackets and tea-shirts, which sold very well.
The bustling market town of Downham market thrived because it was close enough to Kings Lynn, and not too far from Norwich and the popular coastal resorts that attracted so many visitors in the summer. Most of Verity's own trade came from dealers who included her shop on their regular trawl, taking what they bought back to sell in smart London venues, but she had begun to sell quite a few small things to passing trade, especially in the summer months. People loved visiting antique shops; it was a form of recreation and you had to be prepared for lots of people who were just looking. But if you had the right things they bought now and then, though of course the main part of her income came from dealing with other traders.
Her lace was reasonably priced, and so was the blue and white china, which she picked up in auctions, or sometimes at boot fairs if she was lucky, and sold as individual pieces. Not many people wanted to buy the whole dinner or desert set, but a nice plate on its own made a focal point in a room, and was popular with people who liked to spend a few pounds on a day out. They were the kinds of things she sold to private customers, and she loved handling them, talking about antiques in general and people's collections. It was surprising how many people spent half an hour or more telling her about their private lives.
Her thoughts returned to her problem. She had had some happy years with Michael, and there were good memories. So if it wasn't right at the beginning, when had things begun to go wrong? Verity's mind went over her life as she tried to put her finger on a particular time, a moment that defined when Michael had stopped loving her, and she had started to withdraw.
Things hadn't been right for quite a while, but when had they started to fall apart? It might have been when she decided to invest her grandmother's legacy in this place. Verity frowned as she recalled his reaction to the news that she was going to open a shop of her own. No, he hadn't liked that at all, and they had argued over it several times.
Posted by Linda Sole at 00:58