I have been sitting on this for quite a while now, but thought I would share with you the first three chapters of my debut novel. I know it mentions Christmas, but it’s never too early.
It’s called, “The Cookie Coffee Shop at Christmas”, I hope you enjoy and I will appreciate any comments/feedback that you wish to offer.
Sam James sat next to his mother Elizabeth in the Solicitor’s waiting room. He checked his watch. Waiting patiently for Mr Pollock to open his door and let them into his office. His Aunt, Margaret Thompson, had passed away earlier that year. Breast cancer. Sam, shook his head, the family had thought she was in remission after she’d had her operation.
Sam sat there staring at the slightly off white walls. There was a rather lonely potted yucca tree, in the corner of the room and a large painting of a coastline under the moonlight on the wall opposite. The ticking of the clock echoed around the almost silent room. His mother gripped his hand and squeezed gently. The door finally opened and Mr Pollock, his aunt’s Solicitor stepped into the waiting room.
He offered Elizabeth, his condolences and then shook Sam’s hand. “Hello, I’m Alex Pollock and I am acting on behalf of Mrs Margaret Thompson. If you would both follow me and take a seat.”
Mr Pollock led them into his office. The only difference from his office to the waiting room, was the desk at the end of the room. He closed the door behind him.
“Please let me start by saying again, how very sorry I am for your loss. Margaret was such a lovely person and quite a character, if you don’t mind me saying. Whenever we would meet up, she was always smiling and loved having a little chat and a joke. Sorry, I’m rambling. If you are both comfortable, we shall begin.”
Mr Pollock opened up a brown manila folder and took out several papers and cleared his throat slightly before reading the contents of Margaret’s will aloud.
“This is the reading of the last will and testament of Margaret Jean Thompson, on the 26th day of October 2013. I the undersigned, Margaret Jean Thompson of 24a The Boulevard, Aldoak, Essex hereby declare this to be my will and revoke all previous wills or testamentary writings made by me.
I nominate my sister, Elizabeth Catherine James of 304 Hampton Mews, London, to be the executor of my estate. I direct that my estate and wishes shall devolve as follows:
I bequeath (after dear Mr Pollock has taken his fee) that the sum of £6000 be equally divided between the charities of Breast Cancer UK, Prostate Cancer and the RSPCA.
The sum of £3000 to Aldoak Primary School, Aldoak, Essex, so they can finally get their new mini-bus that they so desperately need. If there is any money left after that, it is to go towards some new books for the school library.
I bequeath £3000 to my dear friend and neighbour Holly Walker, of The Cookie Coffee Shop in Aldoak. Also, £500 to my wonderful little helper, Miss Evie Walker, daughter of Holly Walker.”
Mr Pollock, paused glancing briefly at Sam, “I bequeath my beloved bookshop, ‘The Bookcase’, and the flat above, with all its contents to my only nephew, Sam Michael James. He can do with it as he pleases as long as he at least gives it a try first. I also advise him to make sure he samples the coffee and the cookies next door at Holly’s. That is an absolute must, he won’t be disappointed!
After my special bequests, I leave the residue of my estate to my wonderful twin sister, Elizabeth Catherine James. This is all my shares, plus the sum of £75,000. One wish I do demand, is that she takes her lovely husband Peter on that world cruise she has always dreamed of. Also, that she takes my ashes with her and release them somewhere over the Caribbean. That way the ocean can take me to all the places I have only ever dreamed of visiting. I just couldn’t leave my precious shop in order to visit such wonderful places.”
Sam watched as his mother wiped a tear from her eye as Mr Pollock finished by listing the various witnesses and particulars.
Mr Pollock stopped reading and looked up at Sam and his mother, who sat there motionless, looking back at Mr Pollock. Both appeared slightly stunned at what they had just heard.
“I will need your signatures here.” He pointed to the spaces on the document and handed over a pen to Elizabeth. “Once this is signed, I can then give you both your rightful envelopes.”
“Our envelopes?” Sam asked reaching for the pen.
“Yes. Your envelope with the keys to the shop and flat in Aldoak, and yours” he addressed Elizabeth, “has a cheque and all the original documents regarding Margaret’s shares.”
“I thought we would have to wait quite a while longer before we got any form of documents. This is quite unexpected, but greatly appreciated.” Elizabeth said.
“No. You can take it away with you today. That is why it took a while for the reading to actually happen. For that, I do apologise. The cheques for the other beneficiaries will be posted out on Monday, next week. All I have left to do now, is bid you both good luck with your new adventures and Mrs James, please enjoy that luxury world cruise. I am quite jealous, if I do say so myself.”
Sam and his mother thanked Mr Pollock for his time and left his office. They made their way to a coffee house nearby, before they both spoke again.
Sam ordered two latte’s and took them over to where his mum was seated. She was staring out of the window at nothing in particular. He sat down placing the drinks on the table. He took the envelope from his inside coat pocket. He opened it and took the keys out, he stared at them unsure what to make of it all.
“Well I do have a bit of holiday time owing me.” Sam said, “so it looks like I maybe going on a road trip. Are you OK mum?”
Elizabeth looked at Sam, after blowing on to her latte and taking a sip. “I’m fine love. Just trying to take it all in. So when do you think you’ll be leaving for Aldoak?”
“I think maybe another two weeks, that should give me enough time to finish the job I’m working on and tie up any loose ends.”
Sam stirred some sugar into his latte before taking a mouthful. “I have to admit,” Same began, “I don’t know the first thing about running a book shop. I know I already work for myself, but this seems a lot different. I will give it a try, but I think I will look into selling it.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t jump so fast.” Elizabeth said, “You never know, you may be a natural and it could be your calling. You’ve always loved your books. You should keep your options open. I remember you saying, how bored you are with the hum drum of London.” Elizabeth paused, took another sip of her latte, “Look at it as a new adventure or the next chapter in one of your books. A time to move on, leave the past behind you.”
Sam slipped the keys back into the envelope and placed it in his pocket.
Christmas. It was Holly Walker’s favourite time of the year. It brought with it happy and sad memories. With only six weeks until the big day, it was fast approaching and business was picking up.
Holly owned the ‘Cookie Coffee Shop’ and lived, with her daughter Evie in the flat above.
Holly glanced at Evie, watching her sleep for a moment, before gently trying to wake her. “Evie, sweetie. It’s time to get up.”
“Oh, do I have to? It’s so warm here.” Evie said, from under the duvet.
“Come on young lady, you’ve got school. Your porridge is almost ready. What do you fancy with it today, Strawberry jam, honey or chocolate?”
“Chocolate please,” said the muffled voice.
Holly left Evie to get herself washed and dressed and went back to her little kitchen. Ten minutes later, Evie appeared, dressed in her school uniform with her long brown hair all over the place. The porridge was waiting for her at the breakfast bar and Holly was standing against it, sipping her coffee and writing out her list of things to do for the day.
“Is there anything special you would like to do for your birthday this year Evie? It’s not too far away? Eight years old already. It seems like only yesterday I held you in my arms for the first time.” Holly said as Evie spooned some porridge into her mouth.
Evie swallowed her mouthful of food before speaking, “I don’t mind if we just sit in and wait for Santa.” Evie said with a little sadness in her voice. She kept her eyes facing down, staring at her bowl of porridge.
“Hey, why are you so sad? I could understand it if you were my age.” Holly said with a slight giggle. “You’re going to be eight years old, I’m sure there is something special you would like to do with some of your friends?”
Evie put another spoonful of porridge into her mouth and swallowed. “But, Mummy, it’s Christmas Eve. Plus it’s also the same day as the Christmas dance and everyone goes to that. That makes it feel like a big party just for me.”
Holly put her coffee down and watched as Evie finished off her breakfast. “Well, we can always do something before the dance, maybe a week or so before. That way you can celebrate it twice, just like the Queen has two birthdays.” This cheered Evie up a little bit and a smile started to appear across her face. “You have a think about it while you’re at school and let me know. It will still be a very special day for you. I promise, I’ll make sure of it.”
Holly walked over to Evie and placed a kiss on the top of her head. Holly felt a pang in her heart. So young, yet she had been through so much.
Evie’s father Jack, had died when she was just a baby and she had never really had a father figure in her life. She of course had her grandfather, who naturally spoilt her rotten, but she didn’t see him every day. All Evie had ever known, was herself and her mother.
“Go clean your teeth and brush that bed head of yours. You cannot go to school looking like that. Actually bring the brush and your hair bobble here, I can only try and make it look presentable.” Holly finished twisting the elastic hair band around Evie’s ponytail, just in time as the doorbell rang. Evie ran down the stairs to open the front door for her best friend Rosie and her mother, Louise. Holly followed behind, buttoning her own coat up.
“Hi Lou. Good morning Rosie.”
“Hi Holly.” Louise said, “I have to dash, the bus is due. I’ll pick the girls up from school.”
“No problem. You go, we’ll catch up later and have a coffee.”
Louise quickly bent down kissing Rosie on the cheek, before rushing in the direction of the bus stop. Rosie wiped the kiss straight off with her mitten covered hand. Holly locked the front door and walked both girls, the short distance to Aldoak primary school.
“Have fun, girls, and be good. I’ll have cookies and milk waiting for you, when you get back to the shop, or would you prefer a nice hot chocolate today?”
The girls looked at each other, grinned and in unison said, “Hot chocolate please.”
Holly left the girls at the school gate. She watched as they skipped across the playground holding hands and waited for them to disappear from her sight, before turning and making her way back to the shop.
Second to Evie, the Cookie Coffee Shop was Holly’s pride and joy. She had paid off the shop and two bedroom flat from the insurance money after Jack’s death.
Holly had met Jack one Christmas, she was 19 and he was 22. Holly was staying at the B&B with her parents. Her mother had grown up with Barbara Evans who owned the Bed and Breakfast and ran it together, with her husband Bob. They were like sisters and inseparable when they were younger. Every year, Holly and her parents would visit the quiet picturesque village of Aldoak, where they usually stayed until Boxing Day.
That particular year, Barbara and Bob had taken on Jack Walker. He was a handsome young man who had turned up in the Spring with nothing but a rucksack and about £50 in his pocket. He became a bit of a handyman at the B&B. He was paid the minimum wage plus tips to start with. He was given board on the premises for free on the understanding that he could be called on for emergencies at any time of the day or night. Jack also helped out with odd jobs around the village. If something needed fixing, Jack was the man to do it.
It was Christmas and there was a dusting of snow on the ground and there was a dance in the village hall.
Holly had caught Jack’s eye and he had shyly asked her to dance with him. As the bells rang out at the stroke of midnight, on that first Christmas Eve, under the mistletoe, Jack had placed a kiss on Holly’s lips and it changed both of their lives forever.
That soft, delicate kiss was all Holly needed. She wanted to stay in Aldoak and be near Jack. Holly returned to the sleepy little village after the New Year celebrations.
She had convinced Barbara and Bob to give her a job in the B&B, waitressing and helping on reception. When she wasn’t working at the B&B, she helped out for a few hours when needed in Betty’s, the coffee shop, which was just a few minutes’ walk from the bed and breakfast.
Jack proposed to Holly on Valentine’s day and a year after they had met, on Christmas Eve, in a ceremony in the village church, Holly became Jack’s wife.
When Betty Gardener, the owner of the Coffee Shop, fell ill, her husband Norman asked Holly to run the shop so he could look after Betty. It was the push Betty and Norman had needed to consider their retirement.
Jack knew how much Holly loved to bake and to miss an opportunity to own the Cookie Coffee Shop and build themselves a future together, was a chance they had to grab, while they could.
From an early age, Holly would arrive in Aldoak with her parents for the festivities. They would drop their bags in their room at the B&B and she would insist they go to Betty’s for a hot chocolate and a freshly baked cookie. Triple chocolate chip was her favourite.
When you walked into the shop, not only were you greeted by Betty’s welcoming smile, but also the aroma of freshly baked cookies. Holly would walk in, inhale deeply, letting the scent tickle her nose before taking a seat in the window.
There was a time when a nine year old Holly and her parents had drove to Aldoak for the weekend, so they could attend the Christmas fair and tree lighting event. When looking from her window at the B&B, she could see how Christmas transformed the picturesque village into something magical. It was as if you were looking at a moving holographic Christmas card.
She had stumbled into Betty’s to get a box of her Christmas cookies, only to find Betty on her own and rushed off her feet. Holly had asked Betty where her shop assistant, Marie, was, to be told that she had sprained her ankle and was unable to work. Holly had jumped at the chance to help. It took quite a bit of begging, but eventually, Betty had given in. She had made Holly go back to the B&B to check that it was alright with her parents.
She had rushed back, eager to help and hopefully have a few cookie samples. She’d never had so much fun! All the customers loved having the charming young lady, full of determination to do everything right and to please Betty. She wrote down the orders carefully in her notebook.
She cleared the tables and found, all had left her their change as a tip. One generous customer had given her a five pound tip and told her she was the best waitress in all of Aldoak. Holly was ecstatic and it showed in the permanent grin plastered across her face.
Betty couldn’t thank her enough. She’d given Holly twenty pounds from the till and a box of Christmas cookies as a thank you.
Betty had walked Holly back to the B&B as it had got quite dark. Holly had excitedly told her parents about her day. She’d shown them all her tips, which she wanted to save for a rainy day and how she wanted to work at Betty’s when she was older.
Every time after that, whenever Holly was in Aldoak she would help Betty with making the cookies. She needed to know the secret. Betty told her plenty of laughter and love, makes the perfect cookie.
Betty and Norman offered Sam and Holly quite a reasonable discount, they had enjoyed their lives there, but now wanted to explore what was outside of Aldoak.
Holly and Jack moved into the flat, making a few alterations and building a home for themselves. Betty had left Holly a few of her recipes, plus she also had some of her own that she was dying to try out. Little did Jack know, he was going to be chief taster.
They changed the name ‘Betty’s’ to ‘The Cookie Coffee Shop’. They’d spent may evenings preparing the different cookie dough’s together. It was hard at first, some people were reluctant to change. After a sampling night of old and new flavoured cookies with free coffees, business soon picked up.
Holly, after two years was happy and to make their lives complete, she was in the family way. Jack couldn’t have been happier. Their family was complete. On Christmas Eve, Evie was born. She was the best Christmas present anyone could have wished for.
Unfortunately their happiness was not meant to be. Jack was helping fix the rook of the pub at the end of the square. He missed his footing on the ladder and fell. Upon landing, he had hit his head.
After spending weeks in the hospital with Holly by his side, Jack had lost his battle. Now Holly had to juggle with taking care of their little angel on her own and keep her dream of running the shop, alive. It was a challenge she accepted wholeheartedly. She had to. She had made a promise to Jack, before he closed his eyes for the last time.