‘Yes,’ Mel said, ‘I love him to bits, but I have to know that he really loves me too.’
‘Don’t be daft.’ Tracy said, ‘He worships the ground you walk on. Get your acts together – and soon. God! Mum will be over the Moon. This is what she’s wanted for years now. She even said so after that first time you came for a meal with us all.’
They embraced and re-joined the others, who looked at them, wondering where they’d been – and what had kept them.
At the end of the evening, Jamie asked her what she and Tracy had been discussing.
‘Don’t be nosey,’ she said, ‘Girl talk.’
She kissed him – to reassure him and to redirect his mind.
No peace for the wicked! Nor for those in love, it seems. Until the shop closed – no half-day closing during the sales – it was all hands to the tills in shops like Hannays’. While Jamie was upstairs, responding online to people who had Christmas present money to spend that way, Mel and Marcus divided their roles between them, except when they had a spare moment to help the other. Marcus manned the till recording sales that Mel was making on the sales-priced items. She also dealt with the returns of unwanted gifts – thankfully not many of those. All the time, Mel was moving like a whirling dervish between customers – some of whom merely wanted advice, while others wanted help to choose what to spend their money on.
The two of them tried their best not to leave any customer standing unattended, but there were moments of near chaos. Neither Mel nor Marcus had ever seen a frenzy anything like it. At the end of their trading day, it seemed that the shop had enjoyed record-breaking net sales turnover.
When the shop doors finally closed behind the final customer, Jamie came down and thanked them both for their sterling efforts. It was a pity that Tony hadn’t seen it, but he was at home looking after Lucy. Tracy had booked the day as part of her annual leave, so she came round to the house at lunchtime to give Tony a break.
As they’d agreed on Christmas Eve, Mel and Jamie headed straight to her parents’ house for their tea. Brian and Jean welcomed Jamie – though they were much less sure of Jamie’s relationship with their daughter than his own family was.
He admired the tree and the other festive decorations and thanked her parents for their welcome. Mel had told him, while they were on the way to the house, that the cards and the gifts that she had given her mum and dad had been given as being from both of them. She’d realised that he would not have had time to have given such gifts a thought other than the wine they’d chosen together. Jean and Brian both suspected as much, but, sensitively, thanked him for the joint gifts – showing him what they’d been given to avoid any embarrassment.
During the meal, after Jean and Brian had asked what kind of day it had been for Mel and Jamie, the conversation naturally turned to questions about Lucy’s progress. Having seen Mel’s embarrassment at Jack’s teasing the previous day, her parents avoided, by prior agreement, any pointed interrogation of them, and came to their own conclusions based on what they saw.
So, after Jamie left at the end of the evening, in the privacy of their room, they compared notes.
‘Did you notice that they were holding hands when they came?’
‘What about the way she was gazing into his eyes as he was telling us about his mum?
‘And what about how he always looked at her when she was speaking – as if her words were the wisdom of Solomon?’
‘Did you see how she kept touching him lovingly whenever they agreed on something?’
‘Or how they seemed able to finish each other’s sentences?’
‘I think that there’s a lot more going on between those two than our Mel’s been letting on!’
They agreed to agree.
New Year’s Eve
The following day would be a bank holiday, but like many other shops, Hannah’s’ would be open for a slightly shorter working day, to milk whatever sales there were to be had. The shop followed the same turnover trends as most retail enterprises where the vast bulk of sales were made between Black Friday and the first week of January.
Alec offered to sit with Lucy, Neil and Fiona to allow Tony to join Mel, Jamie and Marcus at the shop. Upstairs, Tony went through the paperwork that recent days had generated – and was stunned. He felt guilty that he hadn’t been there to help his staff with what must have been madness on the sales floor.
He also had some difficulty believing how much online sales business there had been. He made a point of going down to help with customers during a crazy period mid-morning, and when the rush eased for a moment, he called them to him to thank them fulsomely for everything that they’d done.
Mel asked Marcus what his plans were for New Year’s Day – he’d booked the day off. He said that he intended to spend it in bed with his boyfriend. By three in the afternoon, the crush eased considerably, and Tony decided to close as soon as the last remaining customer had left. It was clear that most people were now preparing for their evening festivities. He thanked Marcus again and told him to go and have a good time.
Tony, Jamie and Mel got the shop ready for Thursday’s resumption of business, then he told Mel she could go while he and Jamie locked up and went home together. Jamie said that he’d pick her up from home to drive her to his house for their evening meal – and to let the New Year in.
Mel went home to shower and change to be ready for him. She thanked her mum and dad for being so understanding about her being elsewhere on this special night of the year. They both hugged and kissed her goodnight when they noticed Jamie’s car pull to a stop outside their house.
When Jamie saw her at the door he was stunned by her appearance. She leaned into the doorframe, her left hand above her head, resting on the upright, her right hand on her hip. Her red-lipsticked mouth was pouting suggestively, her freshly washed and brushed golden hair hung like spun silk, and her eyes sparkled as he’d never seen them before.
Her knee-length black dress, with slim shoulder, straps showed her curves and her slender figure to perfection – as her high heeled, strappy sandals did for her long legs.
‘Wow!’ he said, ‘You look bloody gorgeous, absolutely amazing.’
‘Don’t I always?’ she teased, but he was lost for words.
They moved towards each other, holding each other closely as they rotated while kissing passionately.
‘Well, that answers that question,’ his mum said, watching through the window from behind the half-closed curtains.
At Lucy and Tony’s home, there was a houseful to welcome the New Year – Jamie’s parents, grandparents, Tracy, Jake and Elaine were all there. Lucy looked happy and comfortable. She smiled and waved with her good arm to Mel as she entered with Jamie.
It was a bit like Christmas – people had settled into two groupings, reflecting the layout of the house. The older generation – the four grandparents were sitting and talking around the dining table – while the others were spread around the living room. Tony got up to find a couple of extra chairs. Tony and Jamie sat on these while Mel sat onto the sofa with Tracy and Jake – Elaine sat on a footstool.
Jake and Tony had been talking about the recent election and the prime minister’s policy on Northern Island in relation to Brexit. Lucy said that she’d heard too much politics – it was New Year’s Eve.
Tony told everyone who would listen, what a great job Jamie and Mel had done over the Christmas period. His voice was a bit slurred – Jamie looked at the glass of whisky in his dad’s hand and wondered how many tots he’d already had. He asked Jamie to say a little about the way the online business was developing.
‘No politics and no business, eh, Dad,’ he said, ‘As Mum said, it’s New Year’s Eve.’
Tracy said, ‘Hear, hear! What I want to know is whether my brother is ready for his New Year talk with Mel.’
Mel looked at her, gobsmacked. “Where did that come from?” she wondered. This was totally unexpected. She’d only just arrived.
‘I thought that you were my friend, Tracy Hannay. You’re not playing fair. It’s not right to put Jamie under pressure like that – or here, tonight, at all.’
She turned to Lucy,
‘What do you think?’
Lucy asked Tracy to leave Jamie alone.
‘I’m sorry,’ Tracy said, ‘I didn’t mean to upset you. I should have minded my own business, but it would have been nice to have started 2020 with an engagement – some good news at last.’
‘Well, provided that he hasn’t found someone else in the meantime – and if Jamie doesn’t propose again soon, you’ll all just have to wait until February the 29th.’
Tracy and Lucy looked at each other and gasped.
Lucy laughed with delight and Tracy pointed at Jamie.
‘What are you going to do about that, brother?’
Jamie’s expression revealed his bewilderment.
‘Will someone tell me what I’ve missed?’ Tony asked Jamie.
‘I’m not sure, Dad,’ Tracy said, ‘but I think that Mel, in effect, has just proposed to Jamie.’
Mel looked at Tracy.
‘Are you satisfied?’ she asked.
‘No,’ said Tracy, ‘He hasn’t accepted yet. Come on Jamie, Marriage to Mel – Yes or No?’
‘I don’t quite understand what just happened,’ he said, ‘but Yes, of course, Yes.’
It would have been nice if the story could have had a fairy tale ending with a double wedding soon afterwards – Mel and Jamie, Jack and Elsa – but life got in the way.
On the twenty-third of January 2020, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised against all but essential travel to the Chinese city of Wuhan. On the thirty-first of January, the first two cases of the Covid-19 virus in the United Kingdom were confirmed.
By the end of March, thirty-five percent of couples who had upcoming weddings had postponed and it was only in the latter half of 2021 that the double wedding took place.
By the middle of 2020 Mel and Jamie had been placed in an impossible situation. They didn’t want to continue living apart, but, as yet, they couldn’t afford a mortgage. Also they didn’t want to become trapped in paying to live in a rented home. Both sets of parents offered to let them move in together in their houses for the time being, but whichever home they chose would have imposed a ban on contact with the parents in the other home for a significant portion of the national lockdown.
When it finally became law that they would have to choose or live apart, they accepted the offer from Brian and Jean – Mel’s parents – who had the larger of the two houses.
Jack and Adele were better placed since Jack already had his own house.
The bad news continued when gyms and non-essential shops had to remain closed because of pandemic restrictions. Jean and Tracy – a teacher and a nurse could continue to go into work and Brian could do a lot of his work from home. Jack, Jamie, Mel, Tony and Marcus could not continue working in the shop. Marcus was furloughed and Mel was barred from being able to do any photography that required travel or contact with other households. Jamie was able to continue his online trading, however, and Mel enjoyed continued earnings growth from the proceeds of a range of uses which she had made of her New Zealand photographs.
It was not until mid-2021 that the shop and the gym were able to re-open for normal business.
It was in late 2021 that brother and sister, Mel and Jack, were able to fulfil their dreams and marry Jamie and Elsa. The joint weddings took place in the same parish church where Stacy had been wed. It was a small occasion, limited by the uncertainties surrounding newly emerging variants of the virus strain.
As soon as it had become possible to so, Brian had commissioned the building of a house on a small estate in Upperton, to a design he’d agreed with the couple.
Both sets of parents had given them substantial wedding gifts towards a mortgage deposit and they applied successfully in 2021, under a new government scheme, for a First Home discount on the house. There were strings attached, but it would be a home they otherwise couldn’t have afforded.
The house was completed, and enough furniture was available, by the end of 2021 – just in time for them to move in as newlyweds with their new-born baby girl, Mia.
Today, I continue my series of photos taken in and around the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge, where I spent a Saturday earlier in June.
I’ll conclude Melissa’s story with a couple of photos of street entertainers in the town centre whom I saw that Saturday. My final photo is of a keyboard player’
For all these shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/160 secs @ f/8, focal length 53 mm, and ISO 200.