Authors: Jenny Oliver
Gorgeously glamorous and unforgettably romantic,
One Summer Night at the Ritz
is the fairy-tale perfect fourth story in Jenny Oliver’s
‘Cherry Pie Island’
Welcome to Cherry Pie Island – once you step on to the island, you’ll never want to leave!
The Parisian Christmas Bake Off
The Vintage Summer Wedding
The Little Christmas Kitchen
The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Cafe
The Vintage Ice Cream Van Road Trip
The Great Allotment Proposal
One Summer Night at the Ritz
wrote her first book on holiday when she was ten years old. Illustrated with cut-out supermodels from her sister’s
, it was an epic, sweeping love story not so loosely based on
Since then Jenny has gone on to get an English degree, and a job in publishing that’s taught her what it takes to write a novel (without the help of the supermodels). Follow her on Twitter
‘Jesus, you’re hopeless.’ Emily paused, allowing Jane to sit forward for a moment and rub her eyebrows as she stood waiting, brandishing a pair of gold glitter tweezers from her own brand EHB cosmetics range. ‘You can have these when I’m finished,’ she said. ‘My gift to your poor eyebrows. Now let’s get on with it,’ she added and carried on her ferocious plucking.
Two days before, none of this had even been on the horizon. Jane had spent the morning poring over her late-mother’s accounts with her feet dangling over the edge of her houseboat, her toes just touching the water, having a cup of tea and a crumpet. Her main focus had been how on earth her mum had kept a massive savings account from her and never spent a penny of it while they’d lived together in a boat that was no wider than a person lying flat on their back and long enough for one bedroom, a living area with a sofa and a tiny kitchen at the far end where they stored all the kitchen paraphernalia in hatches in the floorboards. Her whole life, pretty much, she’d slept on the sofa, packing up her bedding every morning and stowing it in a drawer underneath. In the savings account was enough to build another story on this place and more.
But her mother wasn’t here any more to ask about the money so instead she had studied the statements, phoned the bank to check it wasn’t a mistake, packed it all back up again in the bulging manila folder tied with string and tried not to let the mystery overtake her. She knew better than to try and rationalise anything to do with her mother. Jane had spent a lifetime being prepared for the unexpected. Perhaps that was why she got on so well with Emily – someone else who lived their life by completely their own rules.
‘This is no good.’ Emily paused, having plucked both brows into perfect arches. ‘It’s not enough. I thought it would be enough but it’s not enough, Jane. I’m going to have to do something with the hair.’
‘Please don’t do anything with my hair. It’s fine as it is, really.’
Emily squinted and made a face. ‘I promise, Jane, it really is not.’
Jane was about to counter, when her friend Annie came in the door with her ancient pug Buster. ‘Sorry I’m late,’ she said, ‘Buster’s so slow nowadays.’ Then she dropped her voice to a really low whisper and said, ‘I don’t think he’s going to last long.’
Emily looked from the dog sniffing all her make-up bags back up to Annie, ‘He can’t hear you, he’s a dog. Is he going to pee on that stuff?’
Annie shrugged. ‘I’d hope not.’
Emily got hold of the strap of the bag and pulled it away from the pug. Jane took the moment of distraction to try and stand up from the sofa and out of Emily’s clutches.
‘Stay there!’ Emily said, one arm on the bag, one hand on Jane’s shoulder urging her to sit.
Annie frowned, ‘What’s going on?’
‘She won’t let me do her hair.’ Emily made a face.
‘I just don’t think I need my hair doing, it’s fine.’
Annie bit her lip, seemed to blanche slightly at the two faces staring at her expecting her to intervene with an answer. ‘I think—’ She scratched her head. ‘I think we have to look at the scenario. I mean if it was just some quick meeting somewhere then fine, go with your normal hair but, Jane, this is a big thing. You’ve worked really hard to get this guy to meet you and you’re going to The Ritz. I mean, The Ritz! When was the last time you went to the Ritz?’
Jane shook her head. ‘I’ve never been to The Ritz.’
‘Really?’ Emily looked surprised. ‘Never?’
‘Course I haven’t been to The Ritz. When would I have been to The Ritz?’
Emily thought about it. ‘I don’t know. I had the most glorious affair in the Ritz Madrid.’
Annie rolled her eyes.
‘See, Jane, if I do your hair, the chances of you having a torrid affair go up ten-fold.’ Emily laughed.
‘Exactly why you shouldn’t touch my hair.’ Jane raised a brow.
Emily snorted as if that was the most boring answer she’d ever heard.
Annie came over and sat on the sofa next to her, her hand running appreciatively over the big colourful throw. ‘This is nice,’ she said, pinching the fabric between her fingers, then looked back up at Jane and added, ‘I think you should let her do your hair, Jane. I think maybe it would be more than just for going to The Ritz, I think it’d be something for you. To mark a new beginning.’ Annie did an almost imperceptible glance around the boat as she said the last bit, clearly taking in all the nick-nacks of Jane’s mum’s, all the throws and the mismatched china and the ornaments and vases and dried herbs and pots and pans hanging from the ceiling on a wooden rack.
Jane knew she had to clear it all out. Her mum’s shoes were still in the pile by the door. Annie had been round a couple of times already and said as much. She didn’t want her to bring it up again now, with Emily here who would probably suggest they do it right that minute and go and get a bin bag.
It wasn’t that she wanted all her mum’s stuff still around. It wasn’t that she hadn’t said goodbye to her or anything like that. It was more fear perhaps of exactly what Annie had just said, of a new beginning. For the last ten years she’d looked after her mother as she’d deteriorated from illness, but actually Jane’s life had been on hold for a lot longer than that. Possibly since from the moment she was born. Her mother had always needed someone and that someone had been Jane. Thirty-six years she’d been living for someone else. How the hell do you start again if you never really started in the first place?
She looked between Annie and Emily and realised she wasn’t going to win. Not if she wanted to keep them from moving their focus onto cleaning out the boat. ‘OK but just a trim,’ she said.
‘Absolutely,’ said Emily, pulling over one of the little wooden kitchen chairs and ushering Jane onto it. ‘Just a trim,’ she said as she got her gold scissors out.
Jane closed her eyes and thought back to the evening a couple of days before. When an email had popped up in her account from
Thank you for sending the diary pages of Enid Morris. I’ve had the information verified by my lawyers. I can meet tomorrow. Name a convenient venue.
There had been no sign off, just his automated signature that appeared at the bottom of all his emails and a marketing photograph of their new hotel complex in the city.
She’d leant back in her chair and cursed herself for even starting this whole bloody palaver. That was where researching a mystery got her – now she was having to meet up with this bloke and she hadn’t the foggiest what she was going to talk to him about. But she’d got caught up with the research, the Googling, the intrigue of Enid’s diaries. She wanted closure for her. Or maybe she just wanted something else to focus on instead of the big expanse of nothingness that stretched ahead of her.
In the morning she’d taken her old laptop down to The Dandelion Cafe that Annie owned and there, once Emily had arrived, had shown them the email.
‘What a pompous arse,’ Emily had said. ‘Got it verified by his lawyers. How ridiculous. As if you’d make something like that up!’
‘What did you send him?’ Annie had asked, nipping back to the counter to pick up the tray of teas and scones that she’d asked her waiter and step-son River to put together for them while she read the email.
‘I sent him photocopied pages of all the relevant bits of Enid’s diaries and the government letter about his grandfather’s war injuries. He wanted to see the actual diaries but I’ve given them to Martha even though she says she doesn’t want to read them. She said again that I shouldn’t be interfering with her family’s past. I wanted to say that really I think I knew Enid better than nearly anyone and that she would have wanted this… I mean in a way she was my family, too. If you make it about blood, then it negates some of the strongest relationships we have, doesn’t it? If I hadn’t had Enid…’ She’d paused, felt her voice irritatingly hitch and had to open her eyes really wide to stop the sudden prick of tears. ‘Anyway,’ she’d said by way of ending her part of the conversation.
Annie had given her a tentative little hug which had made Jane consider when the last time anyone had touched her was, and said, ‘I think Martha’s just being defensive. She’ll come round.’
If anyone had summed up Cherry Pie Island, it was the late Enid Morris. Tiny, ferocious, always dressed in black, never felt the cold, smoked like a trooper and told the filthiest jokes, she’d play classical music at full volume on her boat and invite all and sundry in for a whisky mac and quick hand of poker. But on the flip side she was wise and kind and in some way had influenced all of them. For years it had never occurred to Jane that not everyone went round to the boat next door when their mum was lying on the floor sobbing or had locked herself in her studio for four days solid to work. She didn’t realise that being scooped up from her bed on the sofa at midnight and taken next door because her mum just couldn’t cope wasn’t what happened to everyone.
She’d assumed that to get the moments of sheer, radiant beauty and unutterable happiness from her mum she had to endure the darkness. That that was par for the course. And when life got dark she went to Enid’s.
And then later, when her mother started to slip from what she now understood as depression to dementia, it would be Enid who would gather Jane up in a hug when she had been found with her head in her hands - furious, annoyed, guiltily frustrated - after a particularly difficult episode.
‘I’m wasting my life
,’ she had said on more than one occasion.
And Enid had held her by the shoulders and said,
‘This is life. This is all part of the fabric. At some point you will use it and do something with it. For now, you can only do what you think is right.’
Then she had paused and added,
‘And nothing that is admirable is wasted.’
It was Enid in some sense that had kept her sane while her mother’s sanity slowly dripped away.