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Authors: Talli Roland

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BOOK: Watching Willow Watts
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Krusty’s hoarse caws increased in frequency and Willow heard her dad mutter
the usual threats from his bedroom. At least he was awake. After yesterday’s action on the green, she’d wondered if he’d spend all day sleeping off the effects of too much kicking and jumping. Despite her worry, it
had
been good to see him taking part in things again.

Might as well
get started on the biscuits for the Better Belcherton meeting, she thought, pulling on jeans and a T-shirt. It was a pain in the arse making them from scratch – baking was definitely not her speciality – but Mrs Greene claimed shop-bought treats were bad for her ulcer and the fresher the biscuits, the better her mood.

Cracking an egg into a mixing bowl
, Willow’s mind drifted to what she’d be doing right now if she was still a florist at Liberty’s in London. At this time of the morning, the small shop space at the front of the iconic department store would be filled with the heady scent of blossoms fresh from the delivery truck, and the London pavements would be quiet and gleaming. Brightly coloured pots stuffed with flowers of all kinds would be standing proudly, ready for the day’s customers.

After r
amming a tray into the oven, Willow sank into a chair as she thought about the day ahead. Discussing village improvements, then sitting at a dusty desk in her dad’s antique shop couldn’t be more different from her old life. She’d been so excited to have a career in the big city, dreaming of her very own flower shop one day . . . Sighing, Willow shoved all that away. There were more important things to focus on now.

The timer dinged
and Willow slid the slightly singed biscuits into a tin and headed down the empty high street. Living in a small town meant it didn’t take long to get anywhere, unlike London where travelling a mile could eat up an hour. Belcherton’s high street started at the village green – flanked by the pub, church, and makeshift tourist centre (doubling as a bus shelter) – and ended at Paula’s beauty salon, less than a quarter mile away. In between were her dad’s shop, the off-licence, the charity shop, and row upon row of identical houses that had seen better days. Beyond the village confines lay the odd farmhouse or two before the countryside gave way to rolling fields.

Breathing in the fresh early-morning air,
Willow nearly stumbled over a cracked paving stone. God, what
was
it with this village? It didn’t matter how many times something was fixed, it always broke again. No wonder the council had almost given up hope.


I’ve got ginger snaps!’ Willow called as she walked into the church sanctuary. Mrs Lemmon rushed forward as fast as her Zimmer frame could carry her and grabbed three.


Heavens, Lorna, leave one for us,’ Mrs Greene said, smartly rapping the woman’s spindly fingers.


Hello, ladies.’ The group turned from the biscuits as the dapper form of Simpson approached.


What are you doing here?’ Mrs Greene asked suspiciously. ‘This meeting is members only. We write our recommendations and give them to you, remember?’

Simpson smiled. ‘
I know, I know. But this is breaking news, and I wanted to share it with Better Belcherton straight away.’

What, had someone managed to touch their toes? With the amount of arthritis sufferers in the village, that would be a miracle and as close to breaking news as Belcherton ever got.

The women drew nearer. ‘What is it?’ asked Mrs Lemmon.


I have finally managed to put our esteemed village on the World Wide Web!’ Simpson said triumphantly. ‘Have you ever heard of a little thing called YouTube?’


Of course,’ Mrs Greene answered impatiently. ‘Did you see that video of the cat playing piano? Wasn’t that sweet?’

The ladies mumbled and nodded in response, and Willow’s mouth dropped open.
She
didn’t even watch YouTube! Who knew the pensioners of Belcherton were so tech savvy?


Well, after a long hard night and a lot of work, I’m proud to say the video I shot yesterday can now be viewed anywhere, at any time,’ Simpson said.

Oh God
. Fingers crossed she’d ended up on the cutting room floor. But his next words banished any hope.


And you, Willow Watts, are a star!’


What d
o you mean, a star?’ she asked, heart sinking. Surely Simpson hadn’t included more than a second of her Marilyn monstrosity . . . had he?


Now, don’t worry, my dear. I ran your voice through my editing programme to make it sound less’ – he paused – ‘
unique
, and I even managed to put a little photo of Marilyn floating above your head, just in case there was any confusion about who you were impersonating. We don’t want people to think we’re a bunch of singing loons up here in Belcherton, do we?’ He laughed heartily.

Willow cringed, imagining just what she would look like.


Show us this video, then.’ Mrs Greene tapped Mrs Lemmon’s fingers as she reached for another biscuit. ‘We’ve got more important business to attend to.’

An injured look crossed
Simpson’s face and Willow patted his arm. He tried so hard for Belcherton and all his efforts came to nothing. ‘I’m sure it’s great, Simpson,’ she said as they waited for the laptop to boot up.


Okay, ready? Here we go.
’ Simpson hit the ‘play’ button and the women leaned even closer as the video began.

Images of Mrs Lemmon stirring the honey mead – then slipping in some of her famous bootleg rum – made Willow grin. So that was what had given the mead extra kick! A few shots of cake and the horrific kumquat marmalade; Belcherton’s WI ladies sipping tea . . . Oh! Willow squinted as the camera cut to Paula’s celebrity dress-up booth.

Her eyes bulged
as she took in the figure on-screen. The platinum wig looked every bit as dire as she remembered and the dress hung untidily off one shoulder. Her voice sounded marginally better than usual, but it wasn’t exactly up to Marilyn’s standards. Thank God Simpson had put that grainy black and white picture floating over her head, or people
would
think she was just a crazy loon.

A few seconds later, the video came to an end and Simpson snapped the laptop closed.


So, what do you think?’


How many views does it have so far?’ Mrs Lemmon asked.


Well . . .
two,’ Simpson said. ‘But I’ve only just put it up.’


Two
!’ Mrs Greene tutted. ‘Did you know that cat video had over twenty-five million views? Surely Belcherton’s more worthy than a cat.’


Twenty-five
million
?’ Simpson’s eyes shone.


And don’t even get me started on Susan Boyle,’ Mrs Lemmon chimed in.


Well, I’ll see what I can do, ladies,’ Simpson said, looking crestfallen as he placed the laptop carefully in a leather satchel. ‘I’ll let you get down to business.’

Once Simpson had departed and the big church door thumped shut,
Mrs Greene motioned for them to take a seat. ‘Now then, about next month’s charity drive . . .’

 

 


Time to call it a day, I do believe.’ Richard Watts slowly rose to his feet as the antique clock in the corner of the shop struck five p.m. Willow noted with chagrin how grey he looked – even his bushy white beard seemed lacklustre and his normally twinkling blue eyes dull. He’d definitely overdone it yesterday.

She
shook her head, remembering how pale and unsteady he’d been after her mother had passed away two years ago. Ignoring his protests, she’d called Dr Taylor, who was always so busy attending to the heaps of complaints from Belcherton’s elderly residents, he was nearly impossible to track down. When the doctor got round to examining her dad, he exclaimed he’d never seen such high blood pressure, and if Mr Watts didn’t take it easy on the fatty foods and try to relax, he’d be a prime candidate for a stroke or a heart attack – or both. Willow’s father had shrugged dejectedly, saying at least he’d see his wife sooner rather than later, but Willow had been horrified. Losing Mum had been beyond heartbreaking, and Willow wasn’t about to lose her father, too. Although she’d loved her London life, nothing was more important than Dad. If he needed her back in Belcherton, that was where she’d be. London would always be there.


You go on
,’ she said, glancing down at the paperwork in front of her. ‘I just want to finish this up.’

The shop plunged into silence as her father went through the adjoining door to their house, and Willow tried for the fifth time that afternoon to figure out how much they’d made so far this month. Her dad’s record-keeping was scatty at best, and she kept finding random receipts with illegible numbers for ‘the green cabinet’ or ‘bureau sold to bloke with red trousers’. Nibbling her nails, she tried to work it all out, panic rising as she thought of the future. How on earth would this debt ever get paid?

T
hree months ago, just as her father was starting to return to his old self, Willow had opened a letter proclaiming the business owed the government over ten thousand pounds in tax. With two late payment charges, the total amount was just shy of thirteen thousand pounds. She’d sat there, stunned. The amount might not seem like a lot by normal business standards, but her father’s shop was anything but normal. Watts’s Antiques had been successful years ago when her father first started it up, but as the years progressed, it had become more of a hobby than anything else. Sales trickled in slowly and profits were unpredictable, at best.

Dad would have
a fit if he knew about the debt, she’d thought. And he’d just got his blood pressure back to normal! She’d have to keep this quiet; come up with a way to pay it off herself. Fingers trembling, Willow had rung the number on the letter and negotiated a payment plan allowing the shop to pay down the debt in monthly instalments of a thousand pounds. Thank God for those savings from her old florist job in London – money she’d put aside in hopes of having her own shop one day. But only a thousand pounds of that remained, and Willow had no idea how to make the payments once it was gone.

She’d made a few forays into bank loans, but with no income to speak of and the shop accounts in her father’s name, that idea was a no-go. Ten thousand pounds still remained on the debt, and it might as well be ten million for all the hope they had of paying it.

If worse came to wor
se, she’d have to tell Dad. But if she could just think of another way, well . . . anything was preferable to risking her father’s health again. No one, not even Paula, knew how dire things were. Talking about the sad state of her father’s affairs felt disloyal.

A sharp knock on the
front door made Willow jump and she looked up to see Paula waving. Even from inside the shop, Willow could hear the gold bangles jangling.


Wills
!’ Paula burst inside, her chest heaving up and down. ‘Oh my God! You’re not going to believe this.’ She collapsed into a chair, then shot up again. ‘Ouch. Stupid spring!’


What?’ Willow asked mildly,
smiling as she took in Paula’s outfit: acid-washed leggings and a string vest of a Metallica T-shirt. ‘Has Bon Jovi got a new song out or something?’


No! Babes
, you’re an internet sensation.’ Beads of sweat glistened on Paula’s brow.


What? Oh, you mean the YouTube video. Simpson
showed it to me earlier. So you’ve seen it?’ Must have been a slow day at the salon if Paula was getting so excited over that silly thing.


Simpson came by with it this morning. Once I closed up, I thought I’d have another look to see if I could spot myself. And then I noticed it’s got, like, twenty thousand hits.’


What?’ Willow shook her head.
Twenty
thousand
? Hadn’t Simpson just said that morning there’d been only two?


Yup.
And that’s not all. Loads of people have written comments underneath it. Comments about you! They think you’re the next Marilyn Monroe.’

Willow stared, unable to take in her friend’s words. ‘What?’ she croaked finally.

Paula nodded. ‘Yes
! Marilyn reincarnate, or something like that. You know how Simpson put Marilyn’s face floating over you in the bit where you’re singing? Well, someone wrote a comment saying it’s the ghost of Marilyn.’


The ghost of Marilyn?’ What the hell was Paula on about?


People are crazy, wanting to believe Elvis is still alive and all that.’ Paula shrugged. ‘Anyway, whoever wrote the comment must have spread the word with Marilyn Monroe fan clubs or something, because after that first one there are hundreds from people with names like MariLove and Marilyn4Eveh, all saying how this means
Marilyn has bestowed her approval upon you
, and shit like that.’ Paula laughed. ‘Reckon they’ve been smoking illegal substances.’


Hang on, I’m just going to grab the laptop. I’ve got to see this video again.’ Willow jumped up, Paula’s words swimming in her head. A heap of people thought she was the new Marilyn Monroe? Catching a glimpse of herself in the glass of an oil painting frame, she snorted. As if!

BOOK: Watching Willow Watts
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