I stood up, brushing my trousers down as I clutched at the photos. I wanted to crumple them in my sweaty hands but only in a good way, in the way that I would be pressing the imprint of my mother into my skin, leaving its pattern nice and fresh.
“Thank you,” I said to Louise and her son, letting my own smile choke me. Shock filled me, but only the good sort.
Clarissa must have been wandering her own way around the shop for when she spoke it was from a corner, observing the figures of bears that had been dressed as rabbits.
“There’s been a lot of trouble lately, didn’t you say?”
Louise jumped, too, but, as always, she had a way of keeping her composure as surely as I couldn’t. She nodded, turning away to the other surface of the shop. My sigh of relief was almost audible.
“I am a simple shop keeper surrounded by the dazzle of London. No wonder people are ready to demolish my store. If your mother were here, she would have shown them a piece of her mind. But still, those teenagers are so intent on running riot. Oh, dear.”
“Can we do anything to help the refurbishment? The more customers you get, you know, the more business you’ll be able to afford.”
“You say that your father runs a hotel chain?”
“Admirals all over the country,” replied Clarissa with a smirk.
“Maybe I would like a hand,” Louise pondered. “Just a bit more security until I get back on my feet.”
“How long has this shop been here, Louise?” I asked. I would have thought a while, but what she was saying seemed awfully contradictory.
“About thirteen years, but I had to close the place down for a while when…well…”
“Mother was diagnosed with cancer nine years ago. She came through, but had to rest up, and was told not to be on her feet in the shop. With me away doing university lectures, I couldn’t look after the shop. When we reopened two years ago, people didn’t look at Louise’s Bears as much as they used to.”
“It’s a fading trend, building one’s own bear,” Louise bemoaned.
“I think it might have, you know, a chance,” added Clarissa. She held up one of the bunny-bears to me, making it wave in an odd, lopsided way.
I snorted with laughter, stuffing my free hand over my mouth, though it was not enough to conceal the source of my amusement, and the two adults duly looked over to Clarissa.
“Do you mind?” Louise’s son said darkly. To which Clarissa shrugged and shoved the bear back into its box.
“We’d better be off,” I added with a soft smile. “I hope your business nature improves soon.”
The two of them mimicked eerie dolls with their nodding.
“Thank you!” I called, as I beckoned to Clarissa, intend on leaving, bearless, but with a few more little snippets of information. As I turned, I spoke to Louise’s son: “By the way, who are you?”
“Oh, me?” the man replied. “I’m Simon.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed, creeping forward.
I was about to leave, when the door-bell tinkled again and a young woman walked in.
“Hello, I’m after a bear,” she said, casting her eyes about the shop.
I saw Louise’s fingers flex towards the broom, but, after a look from me, she swapped her scowl for a smile.
“Welcome.” That word was the last I heard before we exited back into Oxford Street.
“The more open she is, the more likely she’ll get a greater amount of polite customers. I might still alert my father to some protection there. It would be good for money and for business. ” She paused to check her makeup in a pocket-mirror that I had previously had no idea that Clarissa was carrying. “Where do you want to head now?”
I lifted out my phone. Turning on the screen, it blinked at me for a second, before turning off.
“To your flat. Clarissa, I can charge my phone there, right?”
I was also secretly holding within me the hope that she would have some easy lunch dish that I could sample. Though neither of us actually voiced the concern, I knew that I would soon have to return to The Admiral and the services it provided.
As we walked through the combination of bright, daylight-lit streets and the expanses of green flora that I had come to discover were, whilst not vast in London, common throughout the city, I became aware that Clarissa was watching me again. Was it just my paranoia that she was keeping too close an eye on me far too often? It was annoying.
“Clarissa,” I told her, keeping my eye forward as we made our way across a thriving road and market-street, “what is it?”
“What is what?”
“You keep looking at me.”
“Oh, I was just wondering.” She shrugged, and I almost turned to her in a flash.
“Yes, wondering about what?”
Clarissa giggled to herself. I knew, in an instant, that she was laughing at my expense.
“Simon? Why did you ask his name? I thought he would have been, like, completely irrelevant.”
“It was on the back of one of the pictures. ‘Indigo and Simon’.”
“Pals? I don’t think that they met for long. Or ‘Simon’ is a good actor; but, really, that I can doubt.”
“I think he might be my father.”
“God-father, you mean.”
“No… That could have been his lie.”
“Really? He didn’t seem that type.”
“But ‘Indigo’?” Clarissa continued. “A name like that proves that your mother was pretty twisted.”
“Hey!” My voice rose an octave as Clarissa once again judged the people I was beginning to know. Fighting down the feelings of fury that threatened to emerge, I stopped short in my path.
“Come on, Miss Brooks! She sends you on a trail to find her. What’s that all about?”
“It’s…she’s…I don’t know.” But I couldn’t reply, because I didn’t really know myself. And it was an irritating thing to be thinking. How was I supposed to bring a face to the secret woman?
“Come on, Miss Brooks,” repeated Clarissa, breaking my reverie. “Onwards and upwards.”