“Yes,” she says, and puts it back down on the shelf.
No! I think in dismay. Pick it up again!
“It’s so difficult to find a nice frame these days,” I say conversationally. “Don’t you think? When you find one, you should just… buy it! Before someone else gets it.”
“I suppose so,” says the customer, giving me an odd look.
Now she’s walking away. What can I do?
“Well, I think I’ll get one,” I say distinctly, and pick it up. “It’ll make a perfect present. For a man, or a woman… I mean, everyone needs photograph frames, don’t they?”
The customer doesn’t seem to be taking any notice. But never mind, when she sees me buying it, maybe she’ll rethink.
I hurry to the checkout, and the woman behind the till smiles at me. I think she’s the shop owner, because I’ve seen her interviewing staff and talking to suppliers. (Not that I come in here very often, it’s just coincidence or something.)
“Hello again,” she says. “You really like those frames, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I say loudly. “And such fantastic value!” But the customer’s looking at a glass decanter, and not even listening.
“How many of them have you bought, now? It must be about… twenty?”
What? My attention snaps back to the shop owner. What’s she saying?
“Or even thirty?”
I stare at her in shock. Has she been monitoring me, every time I’ve been in here? Isn’t that against the law?
“Quite a collection!” she adds pleasantly, as she wraps it up in tissue paper.
I’ve got to say something, or she’ll get the idea that it’s me buying all Suze’s frames instead of the general public. Which is ridiculous. I ask you, thirty! I’ve only bought about… four. Five, maybe.
“I haven’t got that many!” I say hurriedly. “I should think you’ve been mixing me up with… other people. And I didn’t just come in to buy a frame!” I laugh gaily to show what a ludicrous idea that is. “I actually wanted some of… these, too.” I grab randomly at some big carved wooden letters in a nearby basket, and hand them to her. She smiles, and starts laying them out on tissue paper one by one.
“P… T… R… R.”
She stops, and looks at the letters puzzledly. “Were you trying to make Peter?”
Oh for God’s sake. Does there always have to be a reason to buy things?
“Erm… yes,” I say. “For my… my godson. He’s three.”
“Lovely! Here we are then. Two E’s, and take away one R…”
She’s looking at me kindly, as if I’m a complete halfwit. Which I suppose is fair enough, since I can’t spell Peter and it’s the name of my own godson.
“That’ll be… £48,” she says, as I reach for my purse. “You know, if you spend £50, you get a free scented candle.”
“Really?” I look up with interest. I could do with a nice scented candle. And for the sake of £2…
“I’m sure I could find something…” I say, looking vaguely round the shop.
“Spell out the rest of your godson’s name in wooden letters!” suggests the shop owner helpfully. “What’s his surname?”
“Um, Wilson,” I say without thinking.
“Wilson!” And to my horror, she begins to root around in the basket. “W… L… here’s an O…”
“Actually,” I say quickly, “actually, better not. Because… because… actually, his parents are divorcing and he might be changing his surname.”
“Really?” says the shop owner, and pulls a sympathetic face as she drops the letters back in. “How awful. Is it an acrimonious split, then?”
“Yes,” I say, looking around the shop for something else to buy. “Very. His… his mother ran off with the gardener.”
“Are you serious?” The shop owner’s staring at me, and I suddenly notice a couple nearby listening as well. “She ran off with the gardener?”
“He was… very hunky,” I improvise, picking up a jewelry box and seeing that it costs £75. “She couldn’t keep her hands off him. The husband found them together in the toolshed. Anyway—”
“Goodness me!” says the shop owner. “That sounds incredible!”
“It’s completely true,” chimes in a voice from across the shop.
My head whips round — and the woman who was looking at Suze’s frames is walking toward me. “I assume you’re talking about Jane and Tim?” she says. “Such a terrible scandal, wasn’t it? But I thought the little boy was called Toby.”