Today I bring you another wonderful book tour for the novel Love Them and Leave Them by Sue Shepherd. First I have an excerpt for you followed by the author spotlight where youc an get to know more about Sue.
Jessie ‒ Present day
Damn this weather. Proceeding slowly, Jessie ignored the toots from the cars behind and continued at a snail’s pace. The feel of the water on the road, the tyres struggling to grip, the steering wheel becoming over-sensitive to her every touch, all served to remind her just how dangerous this was. The rain became hail. As tiny, rock hard pieces of ice began bombarding the windscreen of her old Ford KA, she gave up any attempt to get to work on time and pulled over. She would simply have to be late; no job was worth dying for. Once parked, Jessie switched off the engine and scolded herself for forgetting to check the weather app on her phone. She figured she might as well listen to the radio whilst she waited for the hail to stop. Dance With My Father began playing, and Jessie felt the all too familiar pain in her chest. No matter how many years had passed, this song could always reduce her to tears. At least she was alone this time. So often they played it in her local Co-op; that song could make buying milk and bread a wholly over-emotional experience.
After five minutes, Jessie’s phone rang. She wasn’t surprised to see who was calling.
‘Hi Coco, is he mad at me?’
‘Is he mad? He’s bloody livid. You’ve got to get here, like, as quick as you can. I can’t keep him happy forever.’
‘I’m not asking you to keep him happy. Just tell him the truth. I can’t drive in this hail. It’s way too dangerous.’
‘Hun, I know it makes sense to you, I get why it scares you. Of course I do. But I’ve got to tell you … he isn’t buying it. He says if you’re late again, you’re out.’
‘Fine. Fine. I’m coming.’ Just as soon as it dies down.
‘Great. Make it quick. He is not in a good mood.’
‘When the hell is he in a good mood? I’m coming, OK?’
‘OK, love you.’
Jessie ended the call and lowered the window to check the state of play with the weather. It was slowing up a bit. Could she risk it? She was angry that Mr Rossiter found it so difficult to understand why she couldn’t drive in the rain. Had he never lost someone precious in a horrific traffic accident? Probably not, most people hadn’t.
Jessie parked her car in a side street and ran towards Luigi’s. From a distance, the restaurant didn’t look too bad; the red, white, and green signage declared it to be an Italian, and the misty windows gave it a romantic air. However, as your feet took you closer to the door, it became apparent that, over the course of many years, the colours had become faded by the sunlight, and the windows were simply filthy.
This place is about as Italian as I am! Even with her limited experience of the finer things in life, Jessie knew that simply specialising in pizza and pasta did not an Italian restaurant make.
Coco greeted her at the door and almost threw an apron at her. ‘Quick, he’s out the back.’
‘Thanks. He’s such a grumpy bugger, isn’t he? I just don’t get why he’s not more understanding.’
Coco gave her a quick squeeze and instructed, ‘You can attempt to fathom him out later. For now, get that apron on, and try to look as if you’ve been here for ages.’
Jessie had begun working at Luigi’s four years ago. Although Ed had already been gone a couple of years by that point, she remained incredibly raw from her loss. Still struggling to take in the huge changes his death had caused, she was continually stunned to find herself living a life where nothing had worked out the way she’d planned. In addition to this, of course, was the constant pain of knowing she would never see her dad again.
Now, Jessie’s grief was less intense and she had become accustomed to the hand that life had dealt her. The fact was, this restaurant and the people in it were the norm for Jessie. But she would never forget her first day here, nor her first impressions of Coco.
It would be fair to say they hadn’t exactly had an instant rapport. Mr Rossiter had introduced them and asked Coco to show Jessie how everything worked. Knowing she looked dowdy, with her hair scraped back into a ponytail, Jessie had been completely overwhelmed by the extremely exotic Coco. Even though Jessie had a perfectly good figure herself, Coco’s remarkable curves left her feeling somewhat inadequate. All this hadn’t been helped by the fact that Coco had been pissed off with Mr Rossiter for shouting at one of the waitresses, causing her to leave only days after the daft cow had finally gotten the hang of the job.
‘I’m not being funny but you are planning on staying, right?’ Coco had been chewing gum. She’d stood with her head on one side and an extremely judgemental look on her face.
Jessie had wanted to run for the hills, at that point in time she certainly hadn’t needed any more negativity in her life. ‘Well … um … as far as I know … yes, I’m going to stay. I need this job.’
Coco had continued to chew and judge. ‘It’s just, well, I’m not being funny but … I can’t be bothered with all the hassle of training you and explaining where everything goes and all that, and then he shouts at you, and you run off like a frightened little mouse.’
Jessie’s hackles had begun to rise. ‘I’m pretty sure he won’t be able to frighten me. I’m not an actual child.’
‘Yeah, but I’m not bei…’
‘Being funny. Yeah, so you keep saying. And you know what? You’re absolutely right, you’re not funny! Look, why don’t you just tell me what I have to do, and I’ll try my hardest not to let everybody down. How difficult can it be?’
Taking a step backwards, Coco had rather dramatically ceased chewing. Jessie, surprised at her own candour, wondered if she’d been slightly too forward. That split second, right there, had been make or break for any friendship they may have forged.
Thankfully, Coco had thrown back her beautiful head and snorted. ‘You’ll do fine, hun. You definitely won’t let the old bastard scare you off!’
They’d both laughed, that uncontrollable giggle that gets harder and harder to stop and takes all the air from your body. One of them would manage to get control, only to catch the other’s eye and, once again, the sniggering began. Mr Rossiter had not been impressed and had demanded Coco show Jessie how the ordering system worked, or he’d get one of the other girls to do it.
From that day forward, Coco and Jessie had been the best of friends. In actual fact, before working at Luigi’s, Jessie had always been known as Jessica, and it was Coco who’d decided to shorten her name. The newly titled Jessie had been delighted with the nickname, finding it a refreshing change. So it had stuck, and as new waitresses came to Luigi’s, she always introduced herself as Jessie. Until, eventually, there was hardly anyone left to call her Jessica. Perhaps just her mum, although she tended to opt for ‘darling’. Even Jessie’s little brother, Tom, had embraced the change.
‘So, Coco, who have we got tonight?’ Jessie scanned the tables, hopeful of something entertaining.
‘Nothing much. The Colonel and his good lady wife.’ Coco gestured towards a couple who were gazing out of the dirty windows.
‘Don’t tell me – Mixed Grill for him and Tagliatelle al Forno for her?’
‘I will never understand how they can eat the same food every time they come here.’
‘There’s just no displeasing some people, I guess.’ Glancing around the room, Coco drew in her breath. ‘Oh yes, I nearly forgot. We have a blind date.’ Using her eyebrows, she subtly pointed to a couple who were sat in the middle of the room, doing their best to politely keep eye contact with each other and hugely over-compensating by grinning like a couple of morons.
‘Brilliant. Who gets to guess first?’ Jessie asked.
‘Well you won last time so … it’s my turn, and I’m going to say “yes”.’
‘That leaves me with “no”. A little unfair when I haven’t even met them yet. But what the hell – I’ll go with it.’
‘Great, I’ll let you know.’
‘So anyway,’ ventured Jessie, ‘dare I ask which tables I’ve been allocated?’
‘You were last in, hun. Do you really need to ask?’
Jessie sighed. ‘So I’m covering the alcoves?’
‘Sorry. But you know how it works.’
The alcoves were at the rear of the restaurant. In an effort to disguise the dampness, Mr Rossiter had used bulbs with the lowest wattage possible. Unfortunately, he’d also chosen ones with a slight red tinge. Add to this the interesting combination of smells produced by an assortment of plug-in air fresheners and pot pourri, and you had what was known amongst the waiting staff as the amorous alcoves.
These tables sat only two people each and were therefore frequented by couples. Rumour had it that many years ago, a waitress had returned to one of the alcove tables carrying an oversized prawn cocktail and a bowl of tepid gazpacho (yes, yes, I know it, and you know it, but the chef had been chosen for his cheap hourly rate, and he didn’t know it). As she approached them, this waitress was deeply shocked to see one half of the couple had ducked down under the table and was ‘pleasuring’ the other. Of course, that particular waitress had long since left to pursue a more meaningful career in Poundland. Nevertheless, the rumour continued. Jessie often wondered if it was actually a case of Chinese whispers, perhaps the couple were simply holding hands or kissing, and, over the years, as waitresses had left and handed down their skills, knowledge and folk tales, it’d become embellished, until it was the graphic story now shared with all newcomers.
Whatever. However real it was, the fact remained that no one liked covering the alcoves. It was dark and damp, which is great if you’re a mushroom, but it’s far from ideal if you’re a waitress.
Jessie was pleased to see only two of her tables were currently occupied. There was a couple, who appeared thoroughly bored with each other (no chance of a good old noshing there), and a middle-aged gentleman, who sat alone. Many of the waitresses feared a lone man in the amorous alcoves almost as much as they feared a couple, but that was mostly due to a highly unsubstantiated rumour started by Carly last summer.
The couple were looking at their menus, which Jessie assumed had been given to them by Coco, bless her for covering. They were clearly still trying to decide what they wanted and didn’t seem ready to order. The gentleman was quietly waiting. His menu, also provided by Coco, no doubt, was closed, and he had the look of a man who was ready to eat.
‘Good evening.’ Jessie gave a warm smile. ‘Can I take your order, please?’
He turned to face her and there was a flash of recognition. He looked for all the world like her dad. Not a carbon copy, of course, but extremely similar. When Ed had first died, she’d seen him everywhere, as one does. He’d driven the buses she passed, and served her in a variety of shops. But he’d been gone a while now, and she’d stopped spotting him so much. Seeing such a close likeness to his face was a pleasant surprise.
‘I … um … sorry. Oh my goodness, you look so much like someone I used to know.’
‘I get that a lot. I have one of those faces.’
Jessie didn’t understand what he meant. It was a funny expression: one of those faces that what?
Laughing anyway, she asked, ‘So, what can I get you?’
He replied, ‘Actually, I’ve forgotten my reading glasses, but I’m only after a quick main course. What would you recommend?’
The words, ‘Eat anywhere but here’ were almost out of her mouth, but she managed to suck them back in, responding instead with, ‘The steaks aren’t bad, and one of our regulars swears by the Tagliatelle al Forno.’
Agreeing to the Tagliatelle, the customer handed back his unread menu.
On her way to place his order in the kitchen, Jessie passed Coco and couldn’t resist requesting an update. ‘Well? The blind date, how’s it going?’
Even though she was busy, Coco had just enough time to say, ‘He’s keen, but possibly only as a casual thing. She’s not too impressed, she doesn’t like his shoes.’
‘How the heck …?’
‘I just know, OK?’ Coco winked.
Jessie continued on her way to the kitchen. If the girl didn’t like the guy’s shoes, maybe she could win the bet after all.
- Years Ago – I recently had a big birthday, and I mean BIG! Turning 50 feels very odd. I can’t possibly be a middle-aged woman, can I? Of course, being this age means that I have many memories. If you say the words ‘years ago’ to me, I’m transported back to somewhere around the 1980s. The music was excellent. I was young, I was slim and I had absolutely no confidence in myself. What a waste! If I had that time again, I’d wear whatever I damn well pleased and I’d be bloody proud of my fit and healthy body (frizzy perm aside). ‘Years ago’ also brings to mind my childhood, a very happy one. Spent with my sister and my wonderful parents. Although neither my mum nor my dad are with us now, I only need to close my eyes to be transported back to our house in Harrow. My childhood was a standard pre-smartphone one. We rode bikes, we played in the street, we went to the park and we were always home by the time it got dark.
- Family – I have a wonderful husband and two teenage sons. All three are immensely proud of my achievements. I’m grateful to my husband for supporting me in the leaner months. Our relationship is the classic – can’t live with him, wouldn’t want to live without him. I love him to bits, but he drives me crazy. You get the idea. I adore my children and do far too much for them, which will mean their future partners will no doubt hate me. Both my boys have vowed never to read any of my books because they contain occasional sex scenes – this decision suits me just fine!
- Work – I’m amazingly lucky that at the moment my job title is full time author. To be able to do the thing you love all day, every day is awesome. However, this is a recent career move, and I had many jobs prior to it. Until 2015, I was a Teaching Assistant in a Primary School, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Before that, I did many years of customer service work on the telephone, which was … let’s say, less enjoyable, but fitted well around my children. If you go back far enough, you’ll find me dressed all in pink, and going by the name of ‘Stinky Pinky’ as a Children’s Party Entertainer in the 90s.
- Hobbies – Until I gave up working at the school, I would always list creative writing as my main hobby. But now it’s my job, so I suppose I need to put something else. Umm … the truth is I’m always writing. I write almost every day and if too much time goes past without me getting to my laptop, I feel deprived. However, I’m not supposed to be talking about writing … so, let’s not forget that I live on a small island, which has glorious beaches and beautiful countryside, therefore I would also list walking our dog, Forrest (named after Mr Gump) as a hobby. Now our sons are older, my husband and I are starting to find that more and more often when we go out for walks on the weekend, it’s just us, so Forrest is very much our constant companion and in many ways, our third child.
- Future – There is one thing that I really hope will happen in my future and I don’t think anyone who knows me in real life will fail to guess it. My husband and I bought a small detached bungalow a couple of years ago, and our plan has always been to knock it down and re-build on the land. It’s an ongoing project which mostly involves watching endless episodes of Grand Designs and The £100K House. My greatest wish is that we can accomplish the build soon and stop living in ‘The Old Lady Bungalow’.
If you would like to purchase a copy of Love Them and Leave Them you can do so on Amazon UK
Thanks for reading
The Stationery Geekette x
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