Home > Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #2)(16)

Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #2)(16)
Jenny Colgan

‘I do know that,’ said Polly, who didn’t want to tell him that he’d got her name wrong. ‘It was just Pen. He’s so old, it’s hard for him to stand outside.’

‘But BIRDS! You can’t have birds flying about a shop! What next, a bunch of seagulls coming in? It’s disgusting. Out! Shoo! Shoo!’

There was a sharp intake of breath from one of the old ladies. Nobody ever talked to Neil like that. Polly felt awful but she didn’t say anything. It was horribly disloyal, but maybe Neil would hop back out of the shop instead of getting them shut down for health and safety and losing her her livelihood for ever.

He regarded the newcomer with his black eyes, then – and if he hadn’t been a bird, Polly would have sworn he’d done it on purpose – he hopped up on to Polly’s shoulder and tilted his head so that he was nuzzling her ear.

‘Get down, Neil,’ Polly murmured, but to no avail. He was making happy little eeps. One of the old ladies gave him a piece of her bun, which he bit into happily, his beak scattering crumbs across the floor.

Malcolm had gone absolutely puce.

‘This is your bird?’ he said. ‘You can’t have a bird in here! You can’t… you can’t…’

‘He doesn’t come to work with me,’ mumbled Polly. Malcolm did kind of have a point: she shouldn’t have Neil in the bakery, but nobody ever seemed to mind. ‘I think he was just… passing.’

Malcolm stood back, shaking his head, as if he’d never seen anything so disgusting in his entire life.

‘I think you have to decide whether you want to run a food preparation service or a bird sanctuary,’ he said. ‘And decide soon.’

Still balancing his parcels, he marched crossly out of the shop.

‘He seems nice,’ ventured one of the old ladies.

‘Mabel, he’s horrible,’ said Mrs Hoskings.

‘Really?’ said Mabel. ‘Ah, I’m wearing my peepers, not my lookers.’ She fumbled with her spectacles. ‘Still, nice to have a bit of new young blood around the place, hmm?’

‘I wouldn’t be too sure about that,’ said Polly, putting Neil out through the door crossly. He checked to make sure she wasn’t kidding, then waddled across the road to pester the fishermen for scraps.

‘And fly, you lazy bird!’ Polly shouted at him, but yelling at Neil certainly wasn’t going to make her feel any better.

‘Yes, well,’ said Mabel, packing away her sausage rolls in her capacious handbag. ‘Last time we had some new young blood around the place, you snaffled it up. Leave some for the rest of us this time, would you?’

Polly gave a half-hearted grin.

‘You,’ she said, ‘are welcome to him.’

Polly didn’t head back for a quick break that morning after the early rush: she was too anxious and keyed up about Malcolm’s visit.

She tried to put a spin on the meeting whereby it hadn’t gone too badly, but she could tell that it had. She imagined him marching back to Janet with a long list of her sins, announcing that the bakery had to be closed down immediately. As usual thinking up good things to say long after the moment had passed, she wished she’d pointed out to Malcolm that actually her predecessor had kept costs down and made everything as cheap as possible, and it had led to the closure of the Little Beach Street Bakery and the near collapse of the old Polbearne bakery, because everyone just went to the mainland to get their nice bread and avoided the horrible cheap stuff at all costs. She vowed to say this to him. Definitely. Next time she saw him…

The rest of the day passed in a blur of the usual cheery people, many of them asking why she looked so gloomy – which is absolutely the last thing to say to someone who looks gloomy and is always unlikely to improve matters – until she was quite fed up. They sold the last cream horn, and Polly stomped outside with a cup of coffee on her own.

It was still cold and windy; the sun had not burned through the cloud as it sometimes did, and not many people were about. It was much easier on days like this, Polly thought, to remember Mount Polbearne as it had been when she had first arrived: shuttered, closed down, tatty everywhere, in stark contrast to the slightly social-climbing aspirations of grandeur it had now.

It was nice this way too, though. Bleak. Choppy. The tide was in, the waves right up to the harbour wall. One or two people were braving the windy high street, though it could hardly be called that, consisting as it did of the chippy and pub at the bottom end, Muriel’s shop, the post office, a gift shop of mysterious means, the vet/doctor’s and a tiny ironmonger’s, which wasn’t much more than a hole in the wall. Otherwise, apart from a couple of lonely dog-walkers almost out of view, and the ever-circling gulls, Polly had the harbour to herself. She pulled her big jumper down over her hands and warmed them around her coffee mug, which, inevitably, had a puffin on it. Huckle had got into the habit of buying her anything he ever came across with a puffin on it, so she now had puffin pyjamas, tea towels, oven gloves and all sorts of nonsense. At first she’d told him to stop, it was tacky, but she’d got used to it now. Plus all the pictures round the house were company for Neil as an only puffin.

She stared out at the choppy grey water, then back at the mainland. The causeway was covered over and Mount Polbearne was isolated, a great island citadel standing all alone. For once, it suited her mood. She understood now why people became so protective of their turf, why they feared incomers. Mount Polbearne had had its own way of life for hundreds of years. It suited them just fine. They didn’t need some mainlander coming in and telling them more efficient ways to get their daily bread. At that precise moment, Polly chose to ignore the fact that she had been born and raised in Plymouth.

A car was standing in the island car park. She squinted at it; it seemed vaguely familiar. Whoever it was, they had only just got ahead of the water, and might have to stay a while. She looked at the two figures leaning against the car. A portly young man, and a slender young woman. Not local, but not strangers either. She tried not to stare as they made their way carefully up the harbour walk, bent against the wind, the spray in their faces. She recognised the local estate agent, Lance. He’d gone to work in another office, she’d heard. Well, he must be back. But who was that with him?

Lance saw her and came up to her.

‘Thank God,’ he said. ‘Have you got a couple of buns for us? We’re starving. Traffic out of Looe was bloody terrible, then we had to go like stink not to miss the tide. My car’s got so much salt damage it’s basically held together by rust.’

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