A Little Bit Cupid Collection #4
Will a photographer be swept off his feet by a duke who’s more dishevelled than dashing?
It’s Valentine’s Day and it’s Billy last shift at The Chelsea Bunn. His photography career never took off, so it’s time to leave London, parcel up the leftover heart-shaped cakes and head back home to Hampshire.
Rumpled Charlie and his two mischievous dogs are Billy’s favourite customers, so when Charlie turns up at closing time with a mysterious wrapped gift and the offer of a whirlwind trip on the London Eye, Billy can’t say no. But Charlie is keeping a secret that could turn Billy’s world happily upside down.
As the snow falls over London and the big wheel grinds to a halt, Billy discovers that wishes aren’t just for Christmas.
All the champagne cupcakes had gone. Only a few slices of red velvet cake remained, sharing a plate with the last three heart-shaped cookies. Imogen had said that Billy could take them home with him. What a way to arrive. Ten years in London and Billy would appear on his parents’ doorstep with leftover Valentine’s Day cake and hundreds of unsold photographs.
At least I tried.
For the last time, Billy loaded the café’s dishwasher. In a couple of minutes he would turn the sign to closed for the last time, shut the blinds for the last time and leave The Chelsea Bunn forever. He would lug his case through the crowds, clamber onto a packed train and say goodbye to London.
But he wouldn’t say goodbye to Charlie-who-has-no-surname, who came in five times a week for a cup of tea and a bun for the two wolfhounds that dragged him around like slightly undersized donkeys. Charlie with the peppery hair and laughing eyes and the lines that crinkled around them when he smiled. And he smiled a lot.
Billy wouldn’t say goodbye to Charlie because for the last two weeks, his shifts had changed to fit around the shop’s new hours and he hadn’t seen him since. For the Bunn to be busy enough for extended hours was great, but it meant no more Charlie. Charlie didn’t come in late, it seemed, only for that mid-morning tea and cake.
Not having seen Charlie for a fortnight had made Billy realise how much he would miss the friends he had made in London. People from art school, and Imogen, who had given Billy enough shifts to eke out his life in London for just a few more months, even a place to sleep when his love life had turned sour. And most of all Charlie, who always had a smile for him, who always found the time to speak to him.
Billy’s favourite customer.
Not that Charlie would have missed him. Billy was only a server in a café, a barista if he wanted to make his job sound fancy. But he already missed Charlie, and as he wiped down the counter one last time, his gaze fell on the table where Charlie usually sat with his dogs beside him. He’d read the newspaper or fill in a crossword with his silver-barrelled pen, but more than anything he’d just chat to Billy or fuss the dogs that so clearly adored him. The table was empty now and the next time Charlie and the dogs came in, Billy would be long gone. And we never got a chance to say a proper goodbye. Billy drew in a deep breath then crossed to the door and turned the sign to closed.
He buttoned up his coat and, looping his scarf around his neck, he glanced outside.
A light snow had begun to fall, bringing a romantic sparkle to Valentine’s Day that Billy’s life was completely devoid of. He’d enjoyed nothing but romantic failures in his time in London, and spending his last day in the city in a café filled with every kind of Valentine’s-themed cake imaginable had merely reminded him of how little success he’d had in the big city.
It was time to go home.
He pressed the light switches and the shop fell into darkness, only the bulbs in the kitchen illuminated now. With a last look back at the street he flipped the lock down and shut out the world, then turned away and walked back towards the counter. It seemed right that his last night in the city was spent clearing up the mess of other peoples’ Valentine’s Day whilst the rest of the world had fun. Hadn’t that pretty much been the story of his failed adventure in the metropolis?
He jumped at the sound of a sharp knock on the glass door. Someone rattled it, someone who was too late for coffee. Don’t I deserve an evening off too?
“We’re closed!” Billy called.
He saw a figure still there at the door and felt immediately guilty. A slightly shambolic figure. If it was a rough sleeper, Billy would give them the leftover cake. He took the bag from the counter but as he headed to the door, he realised that it was Charlie.
He didn’t have the dogs with him tonight, but carried something large and flat under one arm. With one more knock at the door Charlie turned away, about to be swallowed into that ceaseless tide of Londoners that coursed along the pavement.
Billy nearly snapped the lock off in his haste to open the door. He hoped Charlie would hear him over the noise of the street.