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The Girl Can't Help It
No.1In my opinion, a pinkie finger isn't properly dressed unless it's got a man comfortably wrapped around itand I always make sure I'm impeccably dressed.
I glared at the man who'd rushed through the coffee shop door. Not only had he almost spilled my caramel mochaccino down my best polka-dot dress as he'd barged past, but he hadn't even bothered to hold the door open for me.
Not that I was about to admit I was losing my mojo. He probably just hadn't seen me in his rush to escape from the unseasonable weather.
Left with no alternative, I balanced the two steaming paper cups of coffee I was holding and tried to open the door with my elbow. No good. There was only one thing for it. I sighed, turned one-eighty degrees, and shoved it open with my rear end.
I glanced upwards as I stepped outside onto Greenwich High Street. The sky wasn't just promising rain but threatening with menaces. What should have been a balmy summer evening was as heavy and gloomy as a December afternoon. Thankfully, I only had a two-minute walk ahead of me, and would be safe and dry inside before the heavens opened.
Rude Man had something else to answer for too. No one would be standing with his hand on the open door, transfixed, as a steady stream of customers flowed past him. No one would be admiring my rear view as I walked away, my head high and my hips swaying like Marilyn's in Some Like It Hot. I'd watched that movie at least fifty times before I'd got the walk down pat, and the least I deserved was a little appreciation for my efforts.
I squared my shoulders and lifted my chin. Well, I was going to make the journey back to the shop countrude man or no rude man. There was plenty of traffic passing by to serve as an audience. I placed one red patent stiletto in front of the other and began to walk.
I nipped round the corner into Church Street and then across the busy junction into Nelson Street. However, not even the sight its neat row of cream Georgian buildings lifted my mood this evening. Normally when I passed each shop or boutique I'd smile and wave at the owner as I counted down the door numbers with growing excitement.
On the corner was the all-organic coffee shopclosed now, but mid-morning packed with Yummy Mummies who cluttered the floor space with their high-tech pushchairs and the air with discussions on the merits of the local private nurseries. Next was the second-hand bookshop that did a roaring trade in textbooks for the students at the nearby university campus. After that was Susie'sa bakery that specialised entirely in cupcakes. The window was full of frosted and glittering towers of different flavoured cakes, delicious-looking enough to cause even the most dedicated dieter to stop and lick her lips. Then there was a Thai restaurant, a newsagent's, and a shop called Petal that sold just about anything as long as it was pink.
Finally, next door to that, two doors down from the end of the eclectic row, was my shop Coreen's Closeta vintage clothing emporium to rival the best in London.
I was in an even worse mood by the time I pushed the shop door open and flipped the sign to 'Closed'.
Not a single honk or whistle as I'd made my journey! Another first. I didn't want to give my recent doubts credit, but this didn't bode well.
'What's got you in a snit?' Alice said as I plonked her decaff latte on the counter. My business partner was one of those ethereal-looking typesflame-red hair, pale skin, willowy figure. Well, not so willowy at present. She was seven months pregnant, and being such a slip of a thing there was only one way that baby bump could gooutwards. She looked as if, python-like, she'd swallowed my classic VW Beetle for breakfast.
I prised the plastic lid off my mochaccino and blew on it. 'There's something wrong with the male population of London today.'
Alice chuckled. She knew me too well.
Despite my best attempts to pout, the corner of my mouth curled up. I took a sip of my coffee, then smiled back at her. She was leaning on the counter for support, circling her swollen ankles.
'Crikey, Alice! You look dead on your feet.'
She gave me a hooded look. 'Gee, thanks.'
I put my cup on the counter and trotted off into the back room. When I returned I presented Alice with her umbrella and handbag. 'You need to get home. Call Cameron. I can manage the stock-take on my own.'
She started to protest, but I wouldn't allow it. I fished her mobile out of her bag, pressed the button for her husband's speed-dial and then handed her the phone when I heard it ringing at the other end. Within fifteen minutes her adorably protective husband had picked her up and taken her home to run her a bath, fuss over her, and generally indulge her every hormone-induced whim.
That's what men are for, really, aren't they?
Oh, I didn't mean hormones and morning sickness! I'm not ready for that yet. Not by a long shot. The whim-catering bit? That I'm all for.
Once the door was locked behind Alice, I marched into the office at the back, grabbed my purple glittery clipboard and set to work. It wasn't usually a chore. I loved my little treasure trove of vintage clothes and accessories. Some days I thought it was a tragedy to unlock the shop door and let other people leave with the fabulousness that I amass in my limited square footage. But a girl's gotta keep herself in lipstick and stockings somehow.
I worked my way through the clothing racks as the weather-induced twilight deepened outside. Every now and then a group of students trailed past the shop window, off into the town centre in search of cheap food and even cheaper beer, but other than that the street was deserted. The fashionable bistros and wine bars would start to hum in an hour or so, but until then there was no one walking by to marvel at how the beaded handbags and evening gowns in my window display gathered the light from the rear of the shop and threw it back into the street in multi-coloured droplets.
I sat down on the varnished floorboards between the heaving clothing rails, the skirt of my red-and-white polka-dot dress spreading around me in a perfect circle, and pushed away a stray dark hair that had worked its way out of my neat quiff. Shoes were next, and I started checking the pairs on a low rack off my list.
I grabbed a pair of silver platform boots and checked the size and condition. I might have been tempted to adopt them, but although I do dress that way for fun sometimes, really I'm a Fifties girl at heart.
By today's size-zero culture my figure's considered too full too lacking in visibly defined muscle too pale with not even a hint of spray-on tan. My curves belong to another timea time when red-lipped sirens winked saucily from the side of aeroplanes, when the perfect shape for a woman was considered to be an hourglass, not an emery board, for goodness' sake.
Unwisely, I'd tucked one leg underneath myself, and it didn't take long before it went to sleep. I unhooked it and shook it around. In the quiet shop my net petticoat rustled, drowning out the sound of the rain that had just begun peppering the large plate-glass window.
I put the boots back on the rack, leaving the sparkly purple clipboard and pen on the floor beside me untouched, and picked up a darling evening shoe with a starched bow on the toe. For some reason I just stared at it. Not that it wasn't stare-worthy, but I was staring without really seeing. And then I realised I hadn't ticked the silver boots off my list, so I dropped the shoe into my lap and picked up my pen.
I sighed. I wasn't getting the usual joy this evening from the velvet and satin, from the whisper-soft silk lingerie. What was wrong with me? I'd achieved everything I'd worked for in the last few years. No more standing around draughty market stalls, stamping my feet and cursing the English weather. Coreen's Closet was bricks and mortar now and, thanks to a rather successful joint venture with Alice's husband, we were the happening new vintage shop in south London.
As well as the faithful customers who'd followed me from the market stall, I'd managed to attract some of the hot young socialites who thought vintage was cooler than cool, and who'd pay vast amounts for anything by a classic designer. I'd got the best of both worlds, really. Everything I'd planned and scrimped and saved for. So why wasn't I lindy-hopping round my clothes racks, whooping as I went, instead of sitting on the floor counting the same pair of boots over and over again?
Maybe it was because I usually did this job with Alice. It was kind of quiet in here without her. I missed the gossip and the shared thrill of finding some fabulous skirt or blouse we'd forgotten about, squished amongst the other clothes. But Alice's absence tonight was just a symptom of another disturbing change in my life.
I once used to be the centre of a large gang of single gals, all footloose and fancy-free, but I was the odd one out now. They were all paired up, more interested in painting nurseries than painting the town red. It could make a girl feel, well lonely. Left behind. And that was a state I was definitely not comfortable with. I'd seen what Left Behind did to a person.
I wasn't jealous, though. Really I wasn't.
I tested myself. I imagined owning a little redbrick house and coming home to the same face every evening, cooking the dinner, paying the bills No. It didn't appeal. It was too staid. Too ordinary. People stagnated like that, and there was only one of two ways it could end: either they both numbed themselves to the dreariness and put up with each other, or one morning one of them woke up to discover the other side of the bed permanently empty, a note of dubious apology on the mantel, and a piece of themselves missing, accidentally packed in haste by the departed one, along with the wrong toothbrush and a stray sock.
So, no. I wasn't jealous. Not in the slightest.
That sounded really snobby, didn't it? As if I was belittling what my friends had found. But it wasn't like that. I just wanted.
I didn't really know what I wanted. I couldn't identify what the nagging little ache inside me was, but every time it made itself known it reminded me of going into my favourite coffee shop, ravenous and ready to devour something sweet, only to look in the display case stuffed full of pastries and cakes and realise that nothing would hit the spot. It was all very unsettling.
I looked down at my chest, impressively showcased in the sweetheart neckline of my dress. My curves had arrived early in my life, and it hadn't taken long to cotton on to the fact that men were simple creatures: easily brought to a drooling standstill with the right kind of encouragement. An ample chest and a well-timed pout can get a girl just about anything she wants.
However, I was starting to think I was losing my touch, and the events of this evening had only served to deepen my fears on that front. Because the truth was there was one man who seemed to be immune to me, even though I'd given him every bit of my best encouragement.
I sighed and stared at the silver boots. The box beside their description on my list remained empty. Tickless.
The stupid stray bit of hair was back again, tickling my cheek and generally mocking me. I shook it out of the way and somehow that small gesture brought me back to reality.
I was being daft. There was nothing wrong with me. Just this morning a man walking behind me had spilled hot coffee over himself as I'd bent down to open the shutter over the front door. That didn't sound like I was losing my mojo, now, did it?
I grabbed my clipboard, marked the boots off my list and added a little comment about the heel height, and then I got that pesky hair and shoved it under one of my hairgrips, pinning it away and out of sight with the rest of my maudlin thoughts.
I was halfway through my inventory of hats and hair accessories when a tapping on the window magnified, becoming more insistent. At first I hardly registered it, thinking somewhere in the back of my head that it was just the rain, but eventually I realised that even London rain couldn't be that persistent.
I ignored it anyway. Honestly! It was after seven. The 'Closed' sign on the door wasn't just a hint, you know. But, knowing our internet, everything-at-a-click generation, even that wouldn't be enough for some would-be customers.
I stood up, brushed my skirt down and prepared myself to make Clear off! and I have a life too! hand gestures. While I understood the obsessive nature of some of my customersand, to be honest, I shared it a littlenot having exactly the right pair of loafers for their Swing Dance class that evening could hardly be considered a 999 emergency.
I minimised my wiggle as I walked to the shop door, hands on hips. This was one time when encouragement would only make things worse.
Over the top of the large 'Closed' sign I could see a pair of eyes and a scruffy brown haircut, but it was hard to make out who it was, because he was shielding his eyes with his hand in an attempt to see further into the shop. Great. One of my love-lorn swainsas my friend Jennie calls themmight just have gone all stalkerish on me again.
But then he spotted me walking towards him and pulled his hand away from his eyes and stepped back. Even in the gloom of the false twilight I could make out his broad smile. I could even see the dimples half-hidden by his light stubble.