Angie Coleman shares an extract from her new novel, about a girl following her dream of opening a hat shop.

“It is!” I smile, already happy she’s remembered my name. “You see, this morning I happened upon Mr Ernest’s shop and he sent me here,” who knows why, but it’s best if I keep that to myself. “I told him I really want to open a small hand-made hat shop, and he insisted I come and talk to you,” I explain, showing her the post-it with its author’s distinctive handwriting.

“I see, dear. I love hats and as usual Ernest did the right thing. I think I have just the shop for you. Follow me,” she beckons, turning and heading for the glass doors to my left. She rummages in the pockets of her dress and pulls out a bunch of keys, which she studies, turning them over in her chubby hands, finally choosing one and sticking it in the keyhole.

“I realize it’s a bit dusty here, there’s some work to be done, but I’m sure it’s the ideal spot for a hat shop,” she explains, stepping in and patting the wall to her right in search of the light switch. When she finds it, the room is flooded by a weak yellowish light. It is large, rectangular and terribly shabby looking. The paint is flaking in several spots, the plaster is faded, the window so grimy no light gets through from outside, the floor tiles covered by an unidentified patina, and there is no sign of any furniture. I can barely make out an entrance that leads onto the street, darkened by a rolling shutter on one of the long sides of the room, the one with the windows, and two doors, one next to the other, on the opposite side.

“Oh, the one on the left is the toilet. The other is a cupboard, it could be handy to store the things you don’t need on display,” she explains, following my gaze. I smile my thanks and resume looking around. After all, it doesn’t seem to be in need of any major repairs. I could handle all this on my own, which is excellent news.

“So, this is it dear. I know, it needs a bit of fixing up, but so much time has gone by since it was last occupied,” she says a little wistfully, with a sweeping gesture of her arm.

“Don’t worry, Mrs Marlowe,” I immediately reassure her. “What was here before?” I inquire curiously, my gaze everywhere in search of enlightening clues.

“Oh, thirty years ago there was a beautiful tea parlor. My mother managed it, and it was my favorite place as a girl. Then she passed away, and over the years the shop was all sorts of things: a café, a grocery store, an undergarments boutique, and even a doctor’s surgery. In the end it was abandoned, but now that you’re here, I’m sure it will return to its old splendor,” she says with that strange smile of hers that suddenly makes her look a hundred years older.

“It would be wonderful!” I cannot curb my enthusiasm, because yes, it’s true, the shop needs fixing up, but the more I look at it, the more it feels like the right place; and after all, hard work has never scared me, in fact, it has always helped to ward off bad thoughts.

“I see you’re determined,” Mrs Marlowe observes, studying me with a stern gaze and a curious expression on her wrinkly face.

“I am.”

“I’m glad, dear. And remember, I’m on the third floor. I can’t do much, but you can count on me anytime,” she offers with a wink. Mrs Marlowe is truly odd – odd but pleasant. Talking to her is almost like talking to my grandmother: she is friendly, understanding, and above all very helpful.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Ma’am.”

“Call me Jane, I’m not that old,” she scolds me good naturedly. I smile, because she may not be that old on paper, but her appearance tells a different story – no offense. She’s well groomed: her hair is grey but well kept, short and with a fresh perm, her clothes are a bit sixties style, but she is refined and elegant, so much so that the silver shawl on her shoulders looks like it’s real silk. The color of her skin, so fine that you can see the purple and blue of the veins on her wrinkled hands, combined with the infinite number of creases that mark every smile, makes her look older. However, nothing can take away that good natured, relaxed manner, which I am discovering I really like.

“But Jane, what about rent?” is what I really need to ask her now. Before uncorking the imaginary champagne waiting in my head, I need to be absolutely sure I have something to celebrate.

“Rent?” her questioning look makes me wonder.

“Yes, rent,” I confirm. After all, it’s a legitimate question.

“Why, but I have no intention of having you pay for the shop, dear. It is enough for me that you bring it back to life,” she says, staring at me with eyes so pale they can’t be real.

“I can’t accept an offer like that, Jane. I have to be able to pay you for the use of the shop,” I insist. I may be arrogant, but it just wouldn’t feel right. She continues to look at me as if she were waiting to see who will look away first, then she takes a deep breath and looks down.

“Ok, Gillian, here’s what we’ll do: for the entire time it will take you to fix up this place you won’t have to pay a penny; it’s work I would have had to do myself sooner or later, at my own expense, so I’m more than happy for you to take care of it. When you open for business we’ll discuss our arrangement again, does that sound good to you?” I think about it for a moment. If you put it like that, it doesn’t sound like such an odd agreement after all.

“Do you promise we’ll discuss it again when I open the shop?” I need to know.

“Absolutely, dear,” she reassures me, extending her hand. I grasp it steadily and our pact is sealed.

Gillian Bennett has always dreamed of opening a luxury hat shop, and when she finds the opportunity of a lifetime in the shape of a rent-free shop she thinks her dreams have come true.

Her parents are less than thrilled and she has two years to prove to them that this isn’t just a pipe dream, or she’ll be shipped back home and into an office job. But she wasn’t counting on a distraction in the form of sexy but enigmatic Jared, a completely unreadable man that she soon finds herself falling for.

Yet, Jared has a secret, and when she finds it out, it shakes Gil to her core. With everything spiralling out of control around her, will Gil ever realise her dreams?

Angie Coleman was born in 1987 in Lanciano, Italy. She graduated from Organization and Social Relations at the University of Chieti and was the winner of the 2016 Ilmioesordio prize.

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