Authors: Talli Roland
Wait!’ Betts yelped.
‘Can you suggest anywhere to stay? I’ve come all the way from the USA to see Marilyn.’
Welcome to Belcherton,’ the man said, his smile growing wider. Betts couldn’t help but grin back – something about him put her at ease. ‘I’m afraid finding accommodation is going to be an issue. This is a small place, you see, and everything is booked up.’ He glanced at the bag beside her. ‘Do you have camping equipment?’
Betts’s heart dropped. ‘No.’ She’d never been much of a camper and bringing a tent to England had been the last thing on her mind (although Gord had always joked her panties could shelter an army). What on earth was she going to do now? Maybe Tim and Lucy were right; maybe it
ridiculous to travel across the water on a whim, thinking everything would turn out for the best.
You’re more than welcome to
stay here until you find something,’ the man said.
In the store?’ Betts asked. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, but she couldn’t really see herself sleeping there for the night.
But the man was shaking his head
. ‘I live next door, with my daughter. We’ve plenty of space.’
Oh!’ Betts patted her hair. What a nice man. ‘Wouldn’t your wife mind?’ She busied herself with the handle on the suitcase, awaiting his answer.
I’m a widower,’ he said, and relief flooded through her – probably because there’d be no objections to spending the night.
Thank you so much.’ Betts beamed
into his twinkling blue eyes. ‘I’d love to.’
WILLOW JERKED AWAKE THE
next morning, a strange scent filling her nostrils. Was that – she sniffed –
? What was her father playing at? He hadn’t cooked since . . . well, she couldn’t even remember. Best get downstairs and make sure he’d cut off all the fatty bits.
lifted her head, groaning as a stab of pain shot through it, courtesy of all the wine consumed last night with Jay. Straining, she tried to remember what had happened after their talk about her future as Marilyn, but it was all a bit of a blur. Jay had ordered bottle after bottle of red wine and they’d drunk it down, laughing and chatting about the village. When the bill appeared, Jay had whipped out a wad of cash, waving off Willow’s attempts to pay half. He must be a big name in London if he could strut around with that stack of bills in hand.
They’d walked back to Belcherton
along the busy motorway to avoid the fields, but Willow hadn’t minded. The harsh lights of passing motorists were a welcome reality check after the cocoon-like calm of the restaurant, where Jay had made signing up with him seem a logical next step. It certainly appeared to be, if he could help her make money. But still . . . what exactly did he mean by ‘new revenue streams’, and what would she need to do? He’d encouraged her to find him at the pub if any questions cropped up. She’d do that later today, when her head was clearer.
Her heart leaped
at the thought of seeing him again. Everything about Jay was just right: the way he’d taken her hand and squeezed it tightly; the way he’d stared into her eyes so intently. He
look like the hero on a Mills & Boon cover, and there’d definitely been a snap of something between them. When Jay had leant in to say goodbye, she couldn’t help hoping his lips would touch hers. Instead, he’d gone for the cheek. He was what her dad would call a real gentleman.
The sound of clanging pots and pans
echoed up the stairs and Willow jumped out of bed, pulling on jeans and a T-shirt before heading downstairs. She stopped short at the sight of a plump woman with curly hair framing a pleasant, wide-featured face.
Who are you?’ Willow
asked, rubbing her eyes. Was there really a woman cooking bacon in her kitchen?
The woman swung around and the eggs in her hands crashed to the floor. ‘Oh my goodness,’ she said in an American accent, thumping a well-endowed chest in disbelief. ‘Oh my! You’re not – you can’t be – he didn’t tell me . . . You’re the Marilyn girl from the video! I’d recognise you anywhere, even without the wig and dress.’
and grabbed a tea towel, crouching to clean up the mess on the floor. Honestly, it was way too early for this.
Sorry,’ the woman said, bending down to help. ‘It was just such a shock.’ She stared at Willow. ‘Well, you don’t resemble Marilyn much. But I know if she chose you, there must be something there! It’s such an honour to meet you. Can you sing? Oh please, sing
Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend
for me. I love that song.’
Willow shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, who are you?’
The woman stuck out a meaty hand. ‘Betts
Johnson, from the United States. I’ve travelled all this way to meet you.’
Um . . .’ Willow tried to think of an appropriate response, but even with people packing the streets, she still couldn’t get her head around someone flying off to a foreign land because of comments on a YouTube video. ‘Wow,’ she said weakly. ‘And what are you doing here?’ She gestured around the kitchen.
When I came into the village last night,
I couldn’t find a place to sleep, so your wonderful father offered to let me stay here.’ Betts grinned over at Willow, who couldn’t help softening a little under the infectious warmth. ‘Hope you don’t mind me doing some cooking. It’s my way of saying thanks for letting me stay.’
No, no. That’s fine.’
Willow yawned and eyed the bacon. She could really do with some grease right about now.
it down there, honey.’ Betts pushed her firmly into a chair at the table, grabbed a plate and served up a generous helping of extra crispy bacon with scrambled eggs. ‘Gosh, it’s all so exciting! Have you seen the campsite yet? That nice man at the tourist centre told me people are setting one up in a field at the other end of the village. I can’t wait to say hi and get to know everyone. After all, we’re all one big happy Marilyn family.’
Willow stared as Betts bustled around the kitchen. One big happy Marilyn family?
And more are on the way,’ Betts said breathlessly. ‘One World Marilyn is arranging excursions here now, after Madame Luna confirmed Marilyn has indeed passed “the remnants of her aura” to you. This place will be packed!’
nearly choked on her bacon. Madame Luna?
Remnants of her aura?
This was starting to get out of control.
released an ear-piercing squeal and Betts jumped.
Rooster! Be quiet!’ Betts yelled out the window. Willow couldn’t help grinning at Krusty’s surprised squawk, but Betts’s bellow seemed to have done the trick and all was silent from the back garden. Ah, so maybe that was why Krusty hadn’t let out his usual crack of dawn chorus?
.’ Willow’s father appeared from the hallway. Willow’s eyes widened as she took in his ironed cotton shirt and khakis, quite a departure from his normally rumpled look.
Morning, Dickie! I’m just making you breakfast.’ Betts stirred a pot on the hob.
Willow examined her bacon intently to stop herself giggling.
Her father’s name was Richard and she’d never heard him referred to as Dickie. Was that some kind of American thing? She risked a glance to see his reaction, but Dad was happily settling into the place beside her.
It’s lovely to have a hot breakfast in the morning,’ he said, smiling over at Betts. ‘Any bacon left?’
about to jump up and remove the meat’s fatty bits when Betts interrupted. ‘There’s no bacon for you, Dickie. Not after what you told me last night about the state of your health! I’ve made some porridge with bananas. Healthy and filling.’
Willow waited for the usual stream of protests to emerge from her father’s lips but he just nodded meekly and tucked into the bowl set in front of him. Finally, someone he listened to.
I’m going to head
over to the campsite now,’ Betts said a few minutes later, when the plates were empty. ‘Willow, why don’t you come with me? I’m sure the people down there would love to see you.’
. ‘Er, I’d love to, but I have to help Dad in the shop.’
Her father shook his head, eyes twinkling. ‘Go ahead. I’ve got a surprise for you and I need you out of the shop, anyway.’
Willow shot him a suspicious look, but his face wasn’t giving anything away. Probably one of those old sewing machines he was obsessed with. She sighed inwardly, wondering how much he’d paid for it.
said, pushing back from the table. She had to admit, she was kind of curious to see this campsite. It was hard to believe all the accommodation options of Belcherton and beyond were booked up. Granted, those options
rather limited – opening a hotel in the village pretty much equalled bankruptcy.
A few minutes later, she and Betts were strolling down the high street toward the East Field, where ‘Dickie’ had told them the camp was located. It was still early, but the usually empty streets were alive with tourists on the look out for – judging by the mobiles and cameras suddenly being shoved in their direction – Willow.
her head away from the flashes, she caught sight of something that made her eyes pop. What was that hanging from the lamppost? It couldn’t be flowers, could it? Shading her eyes against the bright sun, Willow peered up. Yes, it was – a hanging basket of wilted pansies, but flowers nonetheless! Well, this was a surprise. Willow had tried for years to convince Simpson to pretty up the village by putting flowers here and there. But Simpson had always said the budget couldn’t stretch that far and although he’d tried a few plastic flower arrangements in the information centre slash bus shelter, that was as far as he’d gone.
Oh, there it is. Look!’ Betts pointed toward a rolling field with a few rows of tents and curls of campfire smoke rising into the sky. ‘Come on. Let’s say hello. I can’t wait to meet everyone.’
swallowed hard as she took in the site. People darted between tents and the hum of voices drifted toward them. She could even hear some music – the faint sound of a female voice crooning; Marilyn Monroe, she’d bet. Already, a quarter of the green space was covered and even as she stood there, people were arriving and staking their claim. What would it be like in a few days’ time, when more fans arrived?
She shook her head, watching the tiny figures in the field. She had to accept it: she’d seen from the pub that people
believe she had something to do with a dead icon. And now, judging by the sight in front of her eyes, it wasn’t just a few overeager punters coming to town, it was a rapidly-expanding colony. Jay was right – Marilyn Monroe did have tremendous sway, and if this whole thing was about to engulf the town anyway . . . maybe she should ride the wave to make things right with the shop.
When she was done saying hello
here, she’d track down Jay and have that chat about just what he had in mind if she signed his contract.
turned to Betts and threw her a smile. ‘Let’s go.’
Jay rubbed his eyes
as he sat up on a padded bench in the pub. After telling the owner he was here to help the village cash in and he needed a place to stay, Lordy had handed Jay the keys and said to make himself comfortable. It was spartan at best, but at least he had all the beer he could drink at his disposal.
Today was the day
Willow would sign up – Jay could feel it in his aching bones. He’d played it just right so far: hadn’t scared her with too many details, performed the part of a gentleman to perfection. Now all he had to do was dial up the romance and keep shovelling shit about helping her family and the village, and she’d be his faster than he could say boob job. And when she did sign, life could finally get on track. His mouth twisted with disgust as he picked a bit of chewing gum off his suit leg. After all that business in Edinburgh, the sooner he got a life sorted in London, the better.
strolled down the high street, eyes honing in on the curvy denim-covered rear of a woman hurrying along in front of him. Now
would be a nice diversion to pass the time in this dump. Quickening his pace, he followed her over to a hair salon, watching as she unlocked the door. With faded linoleum tiles, chairs mended with duct tape, and a beat-up counter, the place looked on its last legs. Judging by the appearance of the village residents, he could see why. It was clear they didn’t go in for many beauty treatments.
Hello there,’ he said, leaning
his arms on the battered metallic countertop and putting on a mega-watt smile.
Can I help you?’
The woman threw a flirtatious grin back at him. With a perky nose and big blue eyes, her face was just as good as her arse. The phone rang and she stuck up a finger. Jay examined it carefully, noting the lack of a wedding band. Not that it had stopped him before, but he preferred women to be at his beck and call.