Everyone agreed that Rowan’s arrival had been a great addition to the coffee shop. Not that Bryony wasn’t nice, it’s just that she wasn’t – well – Rowan.
“If only I was twenty years younger,” Margaret Deakins was heard to say to anyone who’d listen.
And the rest, thought her friend Elaine Bishop, who at 73, was a couple of years younger than Margaret.
But she too appreciated the vision that was Rowan, with his tanned good looks, his ready smile and a bottom that made any woman’s heart race as he moved back to the counter with an order.
She wasn’t the only one. Since Bryony had broken her leg and her cousin Rowan had appeared to give a helping hand for a few weeks, business at the coffee shop had been brisk, especially among women of a certain age.
It wasn’t just Rowan that attracted attention either. Once he’d settled in and got used to the barista machine, once Bryony had taken her untrusting eye off him and retired upstairs to put her leg up, he introduced some new lines.
“Just the drinks for autumn days, ladies,” he’d say. “What is it I can tempt you with today?”
Margaret and Elaine were quite partial to Autumn Leaves, their usual tea with a bit of something extra. “Are we okay to drive after drinking this,” asked Elaine, always the careful one.
“Don’t worry, Elaine,” he reassured her. “We don’t have a liquor license here, so wouldn’t be able to serve anything alcoholic. And it’s not illegal either. Just a bit of something to give it an extra kick. If you don’t like it, I’ll get your ordinary brew, on the house.” And he walked back to the counter, walking is such a way as to give the two women the best view of his pert backside.
Margaret was the first to try it. “Ooh, that’s good. Go on, Elaine, try it. You’ll like it, I promise.”
Elaine sipped her cup carefully.
“Oh, I say, it is rather nice, isn’t it?” she said. “What do you think’s in it?” She sipped again. “Something spicy. Nutmeg do you think?”
“Whatever it is, it’s good. I’ll be having these from now on. Do you think Bryony’ll continue to serve these once she’s back on her feet?”
“Hmm, I don’t know. But let’s not think about that. Once she’s up and about, he might leave.”
“Oh, don’t say that.” And both women sipped their tea, looked wistful and sighed.
Margaret and Elaine weren’t the only ones who appreciated Rowan’s new concoctions.
Two tables away, Candice Bentley sat with her three sons, Jordan and twins Cameron and Alister, and she seemed at the end of her tether. She’d recently had the news that she was pregnant again, and looking on as her three sons left a wake of chaos behind them, she didn’t know if she’d be able to cope with another one, or, God forbid, two. She sipped her Pumpkin Cappuccino, losing herself in the calm it imbued, not even realising that the boys were, for a change, quiet as they slurped their Firecracker Smoothies.
Another customer enjoying the new flavours was Yvonne Dodgson, a cantankerous old woman in her eighties. She was complaining to her daughter-in-law Hermione about how she hated this time of year, how high the price of bread was these days and bemoaned the fact that the young were wedded to their mobile phones. And wasn’t it time Hermione put on a bit of weight? Men after all needed something to get hold of. Hermione had heard it all before. She heard it every time she took the old woman out, she heard it each time the old woman came round to her house. She heard it now as they sat drinking a couple of Rowan’s special concoctions. Yvonne was drinking a Hot Chilli Chocolate which Hermione had been dubious about. Yvonne had diabetes and had to be careful with her diet, but she was adamant, and Rowan had assured Hermione it’s exactly what Yvonne needed. Hermione, too tired to argue, let it go.
As Yvonne contemplated having to get through another winter, and how she hated winter, Hermione sipped her Spicy Apple Skinny Latte and wondered why it was always her that had to ferry her mother-in-law around. Husband Leonard was perfectly capable, yet it always fell to her to sort out any family issues, his as well as hers. Hermione contemplated the coming festive season, which she knew Yvonne was bound to ruin again this year. As she sipped, thinking how good and relaxing the drink was, she too watched Rowan working his magic around the cafe.
These customers, along with many others, came within the next few weeks while Rowan was around and Bryony’s leg mended.
The change was gradual. It was noticed first in customers like Margaret and Elaine, though they kept it to themselves, as did all customers who’d drank Rowan’s Autumn Leaves tea regularly. Elaine was in Kristine’s Kutz, the local hairdressers, to have her roots done.
“Strange,” said Kristine.
“What’s strange,” asked Elaine.
“Your hair. I can see it’s grown, but the roots don’t need touching up. Are you sure you haven’t been doing it yourself?” Though Kristine knew a bad hair dye when she saw one, and this wasn’t it. The colour of Elaine’s hair was a rich auburn colour, as were the roots that she had last touched up two months ago.
Over the next couple of weeks, Kristine noticed that other such customers. They too had beautiful auburn, gold or red hair, with no sign at the roots that they needed to be touched up. And the quality of the hair in these older clients was more lush. What was going on? Whatever it was, it was interfering with her livelihood.
She went to visit Bryony with her worries. Bryony’s leg was almost mended, though Rowan was still running the shop.
“Do you know of any other hairdressers round here? I think someone’s pinching my business.” And she explained about the hair.
Bryony began to suspect. “Wait here,” she said and went downstairs. She entered the café just as Rowan was serving Elaine, with a beautiful head of auburn hair, and Margaret, with an equally impressive thatch of golden curls, another cup of Autumn Leaves.
“What exactly have you been serving them?” she asked when he returned to the counter.
“Oh, just a little concoction of my own.”
“Okay, so it’s one of grandma’s recipes.”
“And it does what exactly?”
“Yes, do. You can see Elaine and Margaret. Look at their hair.”
“Yeah, looking nice, aren’t they?”
“So, you serve them this tea. And what do you call it?”
“So their hair turns the colour of autumn leaves, is that right?
“Mmm, that’s about it.”
“And what happens when winter comes?”
“Yes, Rowan, winter. That time of year when trees shed their leaves.”
“Uh, well, I suppose…”
“Suppose what? That they’ll shed their ‘leaves’ too? How’s that going to look? How will it be when my customers start losing their hair?”
“But it’ll grow back next spring.”
“And what colour will it be then, green?”
“No, of course not. It’ll be their natural colour.”
“And in the meantime?”
Rowan looked rather sheepish. “Hats?”
Back upstairs, Bryony tried to explain as best she could to Kristine about the tea.
“He’s been putting what in the tea to change hair colour?”
“Oh don’t ask. It’s just one of grandma’s old recipes. If the old hag had been alive in the middle ages, they’d have burnt her as a witch, believe me. I’m sure he didn’t mean any harm by it. He doesn’t live in what you might call the real world.”
“Oh, I don’t know, I think he’s rather cute.”
“Don’t encourage him, please.”
“Anyway, if what you say is true, I’ll soon have a number of ladies clamouring for wigs or fashionable head scarves. That’ll make up for any lost business. I just wonder what he’s put in the other specials he’s been giving people.”
“What other specials?”
It was about Halloween that Candice began to swell visibly. But then again she had an excuse. When she’d gone for her scan, she’d been anxious as she asked the doctor, “Is it twins?”
The relief when he said no was short lived as it turned out it was triplets this time. It was no surprise she was swelling so quickly. Husband David promised he’d get a snip, but at the same time thought his wife looked blooming, especially as she looked like she’d got one of those fake tans. She was rather orange these days, but it was a better look than the pasty colour she had been. This pregnancy she was definitely blooming.
It was a few days later, on bonfire night, that they had the next shock. It was a weekend, and they were all in the coffee shop together just before closing time when the cumulative effect of all those Firecracker Smoothies took effect. First Jordan farted. He got a disapproving look from his father while the twins giggled. Then they farted too. And suddenly all three of them were like an orchestra, farting in unison. Jordan took off first, flying round the café, followed shortly by Cameron and Alister.
The boys landed, exhausted, hair standing on end, bemused, and in no small amount of pain where they’d collided with the walls. “Now wasn’t that fun,” said Rowan, though by the look of things, the boys didn’t look like they’d enjoyed it too much. They knew they’d be in trouble when they got home. “Now, why don’t you be good and stop causing so much trouble for your mum and dad. Otherwise next time, this might happen outdoors, and you won’t stop until you get to the moon.
“No charge, by the way,” he said to Candice and David as he ushered them out.
“That was fun to watch,” he said to Bryony.
Bryony looked round at the wreck that was her café, turned round and said, “Yeah, it was. A pity I’m too tired to help you clean up. Need to rest my leg.”
It was late November when Hermione came in with her husband. They did not look happy, though there was a lot more colour in Hermione’s cheeks and she’d put on some weight.
“Hermione, how are you?” asked Bryony. “You’re looking good. How’s Yvonne?”
“Mother’s not well,” Leonard said.
“Oh no, whatever’s the matter?” Bryony sat with them to be on the same level, better able to offer sympathy.
“She won’t wake up. She just won’t wake up. The doctors are baffled.”
“Rowan,” Bryony called. “I’ll leave you with Rowan. He can explain better than I can why she won’t wake up.”
Rowan took Bryony’s place while she went to serve another customer.
“Well, it’s like this,” Rowan said sheepishly. “Your mother-in-law doesn’t like winter, right?”
“And she doesn’t particularly like Christmas either, does she?”
They shook their heads as one.
“And where’s the fun in Christmas if you’ve got to entertain someone who doesn’t want to be entertained?”
They looked at each other, then back at Rowan.
“Those Hot Chilli Chocolates gave her enough nutrition to keep her going over the winter months, and next spring she’ll wake up refreshed. Though probably quite hungry.”
When they still said nothing, he added, “She’s hibernating, that’s all. Means you can enjoy Christmas without her. By the way,” he added, looking at Hermione, “you look so much better with a bit more flesh on you, doesn’t she Leonard. Yvonne was right about that.” Neither of them said anything, though Leonard was seen to put his arm protectively round his wife on the way out.
Rowan left the town shortly after that, but not before going to say goodbye to Kristine.
“Will you come back?” she asked him, as they lay together in her bed.
“Would you want me too? I nearly destroyed your business.”
“Yes, but I’m doing a roaring trade in wigs and head scarves for now. And they want their nails doing regularly to match the scarf they’re wearing that day. So will you? Come back?”
Rowan smiled. “Maybe. I’ll see what other recipes I can cook up for spring.”