Over at the Agency HQ just behind St John’s Churchyard there were some very angry conversations going on. Why wasn’t Marion O’Neal scared of them watching her? How come that English ghost had escaped again and not finished her task? Where was codename: Deneueve? Apparently she had gone back to Wiltshire on the last train out of Paddington unexpectedly. The Harden brothers had not cashed the check, which was deeply odd. And now there was a global movement building momentum while everyone slept in England because the bloody interweb was a 24/7 operation that had no leader and no controls and a surfeit of women-who-blog. It was all too much.
Time to call in the big guns. A message was sent to NYC by morse code. If the Agency could still use WHITley-1275, they would. They hated progress and the demise of the telegraph system was the last straw. Email was completely beyond the pale, naturally.
To the naked eye, all was well in Hampstead. The week passed fairly quietly at the creative advertising agency and the blog campaign overtook any and all other media. It was astonishing. Annabelle learned about writing good headlines and tagging and not forgetting to put posts into categories so they could be found easily. Libby had expressed so much anger about the destruction of the environment that Marion had given her a column to write and she was linking up with all the other disaffected teen girl bloggers around the world. Thanks to Google Chrome, she could even communicate with her newfound friends in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea, with the auto-translate feature. It was glorious.
Simon had bumped into Lydia at the corner shop and found she was at a loose end. He went back to her house and had tea and admired (greatly) her talent for baking.
“You should set up a catering company!” he said, stuffing another slice of swiss roll into his hungry mouth.
Lydia was deeply flattered. She had tried to cook for the warlocks/students but they liked to say terribly thin (because they were mostly studying comparative literature and all their heroes were thin, tall and underfed like Stephen Spender). Simon raised a spark in her. She confessed she knew nothing about setting up a business and so he offered to help.
“I had no idea you were an accountant,” she said. And he paused, embarrassed. Nobody had asked him what he did before.
Together they went to Hampstead Town Hall and registered her new business and the Jones’ family became her first client. When Annabelle came home that night she was astonished to see Simon and the children tucking into a creamy chicken pie with an actual pudding to follow (sticky toffee pudding, with custard). And there was Lydia standing by the over, a little flushed and wearing a faded pink Cath Kidston apron.
After the washing-up was done (by the children – another astonishing sight for Annabelle Jones to see her daughter happily wiping down the plates), the adults shared a glass of excellent brandy from the Dordogne and talked over their day. Both Annabelle and Simon had grown up with cooks and a Nanny and realized how hard it had been trying to bring up children without help. Now Annabelle was working they could afford to hire Lydia a few days a week to cook for them. It was such a good solution all round. Lydia wanted to be part of a family and Simon felt useful mentoring her in business. Even Annabelle set up a catering blog so Lydia could publish recipes from her grandmother’s collection and link up with all these other doughty British women around the globe, eager to share wartime childhood memories and tales of school puddings.
Lydia felt that much closer to getting inside the house next door. She sent a text message to Charlotte and told her everything was in place. Charlotte instantly packed a small overnight bag and took the overnight train to Paddington. She was going to stay with Lydia, as she could not risk the displeasure in invading her son’s home again.
The next morning was a bright Saturday. It had rained during the night and everything looked fresh and shiny. Just like the day Marion had arrived, almost six months ago.
Mark rushed down the street holding a basketball and his parents, who were trimming the roses in the patch of front garden, looked up.
“What’s that old chap?”
Marion opened her front door and automatically put her Tom Ford Aviators on to shield her eyes. Another late night working on the campaign and her head was killing her. Then she looked across at Annabelle who had also worked until the small hours and she looked as fresh as a daisy. Still wearing the loose scarf around her neck to hid the scar though, she noted.
“We’re playing basketball at school now, I need to get some practice in.”
Simon felt a sense of dread. If English prep schools were teaching basketball instead of cricket and rugby there could only be one answer.
“Our new head of games is an American!”
And there it was.
“Oh, hullo, Marion,” said Mark, shyly, blushing bright red and seeing his own reflection hideously beamed back from her reflective glasses. Marion grinned and blew him a kiss. He nearly fainted.
“Sounds like my people are invading the area,” she drawled.
Annabelle laughed. Her husband did not.
“Dad – will you practice with me? I’m rubbish at it.”
“Not really my game, old chap.” Simon wished he was standing tall in a pair of reflective glasses looking like that chap Tom Cruise flew against in Top Gun, not on his knees cutting back the roses in a smelly grey sweatshirt and unattractive corduroy trousers.
Marion instantly canceled her plans for the day. Exercise would banish this awful hangover, together with a vat of coffee.
“Give me ten minutes to get changed and I’ll shoot some hoops with you.”
“Yeah. But don’t expect to go easy on you because you’re a boy.”
She beckoned Mark into her house without asking his parent’s permission. Simon fumed. Annabelle felt strangely light-headed watching Marion with her son. There was something so capable about Marion. And deliciously sporty too – like that head of hockey she had admired at school. What was her name again? As Annabelle had a reverie of schooldays, Simon noticed his daughter leaning out of the top window watching them all. She saw her father look up and ducked into her bedroom. The next thing they heard was Leonard Cohen.
“Leonard – bloody – Cohen?” said Simon, exasperated.
“Marion brought over mummy’s record player for Libby the other night.”
So Marion had been hanging out in his house while he wasn’t there. He didn’t like the sound of that. Or Leonard bloody Cohen. All the cool girls at university had liked Leonard Cohen – and Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins and Depeche Mode. It occurred to him that he was attempting to bring up someone who scared him as much as the girls that wore Doctor Martens at university. It was not a good feeling.
His son disappeared into the house next door. Annabelle straightened up slowly and re-adjusted the scarf around her neck. He knew what was coming next. “I think I’ll watch Marion coach Mark next door,” she said.
“I’ll walk the dog then,” he said, wiping his muddy hands on the corduroy trousers. He looked down at his trousers and realized that this was the problem. He was the sort of man that bought corduroy because his father had worn such trousers. While walking Sally over Hampstead Heath he wondered how his son was getting on with the gorgeous American next door. For a moment he wanted his son to be the sort of chap that girls in Doctor Marten’s fell for.