Thursday 5 December 2019

Five French Hens - Extract || Blog Tour

When 73 year old Jen announces that she is going to marry Eddie, a man she met just a few months previously on a beach on Boxing Day, her four best friends from aqua aerobics are flabbergasted. The wedding is booked and, when the groom decides to have a stag trip to Las Vegas, the ladies arrange a hen party to beat all others -a week in the city of love, Paris. 

From misadventures at the Louvre, outrageous Parisian cabarets, to drinking champage with dashing a millionaire at the casino, Paris lives up to all their hopes and dreams. But a week can change everything, and the women that come home have very different dreams from the ones who got on the plane just days ago.


Chapter One

Jen held the umbrella over her head and listened to the rain drumming on the canvas. It would be cosy inside the pub. The wind blew hard through the material of her jacket. She’d thought she’d be warm enough, but there was ice in the February gusts that sifted around the corner and lifted her hair, rearranging it across her face. She’d spent the afternoon in the hairdresser’s and had been pleased with the glossy style, silver strands streaked through the chestnut locks. In the grey suit and neat heels, she’d thought she’d look smart, but the cold weather and the sharp breeze had taken the edge off her preparations and she was sure her nose would glow red beneath the light dusting of powder. But Eddie wouldn’t mind – the first thing he always said was how nice it was to see her and how lovely she looked.
There were posters in the windows of the Olive Grove, huge red hearts and cute Cupids with arrows, proclaiming the evening’s special Valentine dinner. Jen could hear the hushing of the waves breaking against the sea walls in the distance and, from down the road, the crisp sound of approaching footfall. It was Eddie, in his pale mackintosh, the collar up, looking debonair, just like Inspector Morse. It was seven thirty, sharp.
* * *
Half seven, thought Rose. The torture must end soon. Little Amelia’s nimble fingers pressed the pristine ivory keys on the piano: the discordant jangle made a pulse in Rose’s head throb.
Try again from the beginning, dear,’ she murmured, watching the second hand twitch on the wall clock. It would soon be over and Amelia would leave her in peace. Rose sighed and spoke through clenched teeth. ‘Shall we call it a night, dear? I think Mummy’s here – someone just rang the doorbell, I’m sure.’
Amelia slammed the piano lid down without turning round and stood up, still in her school uniform, tidy in the crisp white blouse and tartan skirt, her blonde plaits neatly secured with bows. Rose held up the child’s coat and led her to the door where a tall, slim woman with dark hair in a no-nonsense cut and a smart coat was standing in the porch, the rain teeming behind her. Amelia went straight to her and took her hand, a dutiful six year old. But Rose was sure that the child wrinkled her nose and stuck out the edge of a pink tongue at her. Amelia’s mother smiled, although her eyes remained cold.
How was Amelia’s lesson, Mrs Grant? She’s been practising all week. Is it time for her to be put forward for a grading?’ She held out two notes, a ten and a five.
Rose noticed Amelia scowling. She was unsure what to say, her hand fluttering in front of her face. ‘She’s making progress, Mrs Bassett. Soon, I hope.’
Amelia’s mother frowned. ‘My friend, Sally, tells me that Joni Yates puts all her pupils in for grading early. They all seem to pass with distinctions too.’
Rose sighed. She wished she could tell the woman to take her child to Joni Yates, then, and see how she coped with Amelia, who clearly didn’t practise anything from one week to another. But her pupils were becoming scarcer: she had no idea why she didn’t just retire. After all, it wasn’t as if she needed the money. Bernard had left her comfortably off and piano teaching was a routine that left her feeling unfulfilled, flat, without energy. ‘Keep practising Für Elise, Amelia, and maybe we’ll discuss grade entry next week.’
Amelia gazed up at her mother, her tiny brows meeting in a knot. ‘Furry Liza is boring, Mummy. Can I learn the violin instead? Elsa in my class goes to violin. She says the teacher is really cool.’
Amelia’s mother met Rose’s eyes, as if her daughter had just made up her mind for her, and turned on her heel, tugging the child towards the pouring rain and a dark car parked by the kerb. Rose closed the door, locked it securely with the bolt and chain and muttered, ‘Minx.’ As an afterthought, she mumbled, ‘What a blessing that Beethoven was deaf. If he’d heard Amelia slaughtering his Für Elise for the last forty-five minutes, it would raise him from the grave.’
She stood in the hallway, thinking. Half past seven. She hadn’t eaten since lunch, and then just a slice of toast. She wasn’t really hungry, but she ought to look after herself better. Her skirt was hanging off her, the waist baggy, and her legs felt weak. She would find something in the freezer, something with calories. There was a box of macaroni cheese for one. She could heat it up in the microwave. Rose sighed again. She didn’t like February. Spring was too far away and the house was too cold. Besides, Bernard had died in February two years ago and each year she felt the cold, haunting loneliness grasp her by the shoulders and whisper in her ear that she was by herself and companionless and that was how it would always be now.
Of course, she had her new friends, the four women she’d met at aqua aerobics last October when the club first started. They were nice women, but they only met for coffee once a week and then she came home alone and it was back to the silence again. She shuffled into the lounge and picked up a yellow duster, rubbing it over the piano. It had been hers and Bernard’s. He had been a wonderful musician, a church organist too. She replaced their wedding photo lovingly on top, over the circle left by a wine glass years ago. Not hers, of course – it might have been made by their son, Paul, one Christmas when he’d visited with the children. His visits were a rare thing nowadays – he was a busy man, of course, he had an important job.

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