All hands were on deck in the kitchen of The Green Teapot, the small village tearoom that often moonlighted as a community centre for the residents of Hartfield Hill. Flour, icing sugar and the odd expletive fluttered in the air as proprietor Enid Thomas and her trusty crew kneaded, rolled and sweated in their bid to knock out enough mince pies to feed the community’s choir who were due to descend upon them within the next twenty minutes.
‘It isn’t even Christmas yet,’ Kat Reese grumbled as she swiped at her brow with the back of her hand. ‘Why are they having their Christmas party now?’
‘Christmas is just over three weeks away, so it isn’t that far off. Plus, Christmas is pretty full-on for the choir so they need to do it now or they won’t get the chance.’ At least that’s what choirmaster Artie Figgins had told Enid a fortnight ago when he’d called to arrange the party.
‘They could have given us a bit more warning though,’ Kat said as she dumped a ball of dough onto the counter and started to roll with gusto. Enid turned her guilty eyes to her own batch of mince pies.
‘These things can’t always be helped.’ Just like totally forgetting you had a party of thirty-six hungry party-goers about to burst through your doors couldn’t be helped. It was her niece who’d reminded her that morning as she’d breezed into the tearoom in a sparkly sage green dress and matching heels. Thoughts of the festive get-up had been momentarily put aside as Enid tried to work out why Brittany was at the tearoom and not at work.
‘I booked the day off,’ Brittany explained as she unravelled the scarf looped around her neck. ‘I thought you might need a hand with the party and everything.’
‘Party?’ Enid’s eyes widened as she clapped a hand over her mouth. ‘Oh, gosh! The party!’
Brittany’s sparkly dress had been forgotten as Enid flew about the kitchen, barking orders at Kat and Judy, who were now busily throwing together batches of mince pies to feed the choir. Luckily the choir didn’t require much for their festive get-together – a selection of sandwiches and mince pies would suffice – but from past experience, Enid knew they were a ravenous lot. Artie would pop into The Green Teapot for half a dozen mince pies daily during December – and he lived alone. They needed mince pies – lots of mince pies – and fast.
‘Look at the state of my dress.’ Brittany took a step away from the counter and looked down at her green sparkly dress, which was now coated in flour.
‘We’ll pretend it’s been snowing,’ Kat joked. Brittany was not amused.
‘We could try sponging it off,’ Judy suggested. ‘It’s only flour so it should come off quite easily.’
‘Why are you so dressed up anyway?’ Enid asked her niece as she slid a tray of mince pies in the oven and set a timer. ‘You’re looking very glam for a day in the village tearoom.’
‘No reason.’ Brittany looked down at the dough in front of her. The others all had something resembling mince pies either in the oven or almost ready to bake while Brittany had only just managed to create a clump (not even a ball) of dough. She did not have her aunt’s baking skills at all.
‘I think I know why,’ Kat sang as she brushed the tops of her pies with an egg wash.
‘No, you don’t,’ Brittany said with a warning tone to her voice. She turned to her aunt, who was looking on with more interest than Brittany was comfortable with. ‘Because there is no reason. None at all. There is nothing wrong with making an effort once in a while.’ She turned to Kat with a pointed look. ‘You should try it some time.’
‘Hey, that’s enough.’ Enid shooed her niece out of the kitchen, insisting she keep a look out for the choir, which Brittany was more than happy to go along with. Although she’d offered to help her aunt, she wasn’t all that keen on being elbow deep in pastry dough.
‘So what’s the reason for the dress and heels?’ Enid asked as soon as she was back in the kitchen again. She took over Brittany’s dough, kneading it lightly until it was as it should be.
‘You’ll see,’ Kat replied with a grin.
* * * * *
Artie Figgins led his choir into The Green Teapot, closing his eyes to savour the aroma of freshly baked mince pies as he stepped over the threshold. The choir were an eclectic bunch, from pensioners Mavis Butterworth and Kitty Sylvester to primary school teacher Will Hudson. They had a butcher, librarian, pub landlady and a barge owner amongst them but the one thing they all had in common was their love of music.
‘Come in quickly, out of the cold.’ Enid bustled the large group into the tearoom, their numbers quickly filling up the space. ‘The sandwiches are already set out on the tables and Kat and Judy are just about to bring the mince pies out. Brittany here will take your drinks orders.’ Enid ushered her niece forward. Brittany’s dress had been sponged off so while it was a little damp, it was at least mostly flour-free. ‘We have tea, coffee and hot chocolate or cold drinks if you prefer.’ Enid gave Brittany a gentle prod into the crowd before dashing off into the kitchen to check on the mince pies. She’d left her batch cooling while she hastily hung a few festive decorations around the tearoom but hopefully the rest would be out of the oven by now.
‘How are we getting on?’
‘All done.’ Kat proudly displayed the platters of mince pies dusted with icing sugar that she and Judy had arranged.
‘Perfect!’ Enid couldn’t believe they’d actually pulled it off. ‘Let’s get some festive music on and spread some Christmas cheer.’
With the platters of mince pies and extra sandwiches, the three made their way into the tearoom, where the mince pies were greatly – and in some cases, greedily – appreciated. Brittany handed over the list of drinks orders before disappearing back into the crowd. The room was too small for so many people and she found herself being bustled left and right as she made her way towards the back. If one more person stood on her new shoes, she would put the pointy toes to good use and cause some very un-festive damage to shins.
Ah, there he was. The very chap she’d been looking for. Unfortunately he was chatting to a couple of leggy blondes in Santa hats but Brittany wasn’t too intimidated. Adjusting the underwire of her padded bra to give herself maximum cleavage, Brittany stepped forward with a sultry pout.
‘There you are!’ Enid grasped hold of her niece by the arm, tugging her through the crowd towards the kitchen. ‘We need help getting these drinks out. You’re on hot chocolate duty.’
Damn it. Why had Brittany offered to help out? She should have known her aunt wouldn’t pass up the offer of a bit of free labour.
‘Come on. Chop, chop. We’ve got thirsty customers waiting.’ Enid prodded her niece until she scuttled into the kitchen. Kat and Judy were already in there, bustling about the place with cups and trays. ‘When you’ve done the hot chocolates, can you rustle up a few more sandwiches?’
‘Already?’ Brittany asked. ‘We’ve only just put them out.’
‘And Artie wolfed half of them down before he’d taken his coat off.’ Enid picked up a tray of coffee cups. ‘I think I’ll put these out on the counter for people to help themselves. I have no idea who ordered which drink. We’ll just have to make it work somehow.’
And make it work they did. With the first round of drinks taken care of, a second mountain of sandwiches whipped up and yet another batch of mince pies baking in the oven, the girls dashed about the tearoom to the sounds of overloud Christmas music and the rumble of a dozen conversations. Enid had produced a box of festive-themed hats along the way, plonking one on each of the girls’ head so Brittany was currently sporting a top hat sprouting brown felt antlers. And worse, the antlers were adorned with bells that jingled with every step.
‘Can you take this fresh pot of tea through to Mavis and Kitty?’ Enid asked, pushing a tray into Brittany’s hands. ‘They’re gasping, apparently.’
After being stuck in the kitchen on sandwich-making duty, Brittany was more than happy to head back out into the crowds. The music and food had created a jolly atmosphere in the tearoom, which was a welcome change to the frenzied energy backstage.
‘I’m exhausted.’ Enid leaned against the counter, not minding one bit that she’d inadvertently covered her jumper in flour. ‘Who knew a village choir could be so demanding?’
‘It’s lucky we’ve got Brittany here to lend a hand,’ Judy said from the sink where she was up to her elbows in suds. They were quickly running out of cups and plates so Judy was replenishing the numbers. ‘I don’t think we’d have managed with just the three of us.’
‘I still don’t understand why she turned up today,’ Enid said. As much as she loved her niece, helpful and hard-working were not words she’d use to describe Brittany.
‘That’s why.’ Kat pointed out of the open doorway, out across the tearoom where Brittany, now relieved of the tea tray, was chatting to one of the choir members.
‘Is that Artie’s nephew?’ Enid asked. Her view was largely obscured by Brittany’s top hat.
Kat nodded. ‘Kurt Evans. I saw them chatting in the pub the other night. Although, from the looks of it, Brittany wanted much more than a chat.’
‘I’d say she still does.’ Judy, having dried her hands, had joined them at the doorway. ‘Poor Kurt looks terrified though.’ While Brittany was flicking her hair and laughing uproariously while pushing her cleavage under Kurt’s nose, he was backed up against the wall, eyes wide and looking anywhere but at Brittany’s sparkly chest.
‘She’s being a bit full-on,’ Enid said. ‘Her mother was the same at that age.’
‘I think Kurt’s just a bit shy,’ Kat said. ‘We were at school together and he used to turn bright red whenever any of the girls spoke to him. Which we did just to see him light up.’
‘Bless him.’ Enid started to rummage in the box of festive hats, tugging at one of them and producing a bunch of plastic mistletoe. ‘Sounds like he needs a bit of help.’
With the mistletoe dangling from her fingers, Enid pushed her way through to the back of the tearoom until she reached Brittany and Kurt.
‘Merry Christmas, guys!’ Enid dangled the plastic mistletoe over their heads and gave it a shake. ‘You know what this means, don’t you?’ On cue, Kurt lit up like Rudolf’s nose while Brittany glared at her aunt.
‘What are you doing?’ she hissed as Enid continued to jangle the plastic leaves and berries.
‘It’s mistletoe!’ Enid’s arm was beginning to ache. ‘So come on, give her a kiss. On the cheek will do.’
‘Aunty Enid!’ Brittany was humiliated. Utterly humiliated. But also a teeny bit intrigued about what Kurt would do. Would he kiss her? Or run a mile?
‘No.’ Kurt held a hand up and shook his head. Brittany’s shoulders – and her chest – drooped. ‘It’s ok. It’s a Christmas tradition, right?’
Kurt had pinned himself up against the wall during their chat but now he took a step towards Brittany, pushing himself up to his full height. Blimey. He was actually going to kiss her.
‘Wait.’ Brittany whipped the stupid antler-decked hat from her head and shoved it onto a nearby table. She didn’t want to look like a fool during her first kiss with Kurt – even if it was only a chaste peck on the cheek in front of her aunt and the entire village choir.
But it wasn’t a chaste peck on the cheek. Kurt stepped closer still, his hands cupping her cheeks movie-style as he brushed his lips against hers.
‘Wow,’ Brittany breathed. There hadn’t been any tongue involved but still, wow. Imagine what the kiss would have been like if they’d been alone!
‘I think I’ll leave you guys to it.’ Enid dropped her arm, releasing the pair from the mistletoe magic. But by the way Kurt had resumed the kiss, he hadn’t realised. Enid backed away, intending to sneak back to the kitchen but was stopped by a hand on her arm.
‘Wait a minute. Can I borrow that?’ Mavis Butterworth pointed at the bunch of mistletoe. She licked her lips as Enid handed it over. ‘Where’s Artie? I’ve been waiting years for a Christmas kiss from him.’