The Spring of Second Chances - Tilly Tennant
PART 1: LITTLE ACTS OF LOVE
The bunny ears slipped forward again. Maria puffed out her cheeks and reached up to straighten them. ‘They’re too big,’ she said, wrinkling her nose.
‘They are a little on the big side but that was the only size we had left. And your hair is so silky that everything slides around. What if I put some hairspray in to help make them a bit more secure?’
Phoebe rifled through her handbag and produced a small canister. ‘Turn around and cover your eyes.’
Maria clapped her hands over her face and hunched her shoulders up.
‘There’s no need to look so terrified,’ Phoebe laughed. ‘It won’t hurt!’
Maria’s shoulders shook as she let out a giggle from behind her hands. ‘I love you, Phoebe.’
‘And I love you too. Now stand still and let’s get these ears sorted or those Easter eggs will have melted by the time we find them.’
‘Or Daddy will eat them.’
‘I wouldn’t be surprised. He’s probably eaten most of them while he was hiding them.’
Maria giggled again. ‘Why didn’t you hide them?’
‘But who would have put your ears on then?’
‘Hmmmm.’ Phoebe spritzed a light coating of lacquer over Maria’s head. ‘I’d like to see your daddy handle a can of hairspray like this. He’d probably have stapled the ears to your head or something.’
‘I heard that.’ Jack’s voice came from the back door. A gust of fresh, crisp air followed in his wake as he closed it behind him. ‘You’d better get your coats on, girls; it’s bright but it’s still cold out there.’
‘You’re such a wuss,’ Phoebe laughed as she put away the hairspray and straightened her denim jacket. ‘It’s April.’
The smoothing down of her clothing was instinctive. Phoebe and Jack had been together for four months now, but they were still in that relationship phase where everything was new and shiny and Phoebe was always conscious of how she looked when he was around.
‘I’ve been crawling through the undergrowth,’ he replied cheerfully, ‘I’m bound to be cold.’
‘We’ve got bunny ears to keep us warm, haven’t we?’ Phoebe made a final adjustment to Maria’s headband and smiled down at her.
‘And bunny fur,’ Maria added, pulling at her pink fleece.
Jack stepped over and zipped it up for her. ‘Right up tight,’ he said.
‘Snug as a bug in a rug,’ Maria laughed. Phoebe smiled. She had discovered over the last few months that it was an oft-repeated mantra but one that Maria never got tired of. It was the little things that were so endearing, that made Jack and Maria so special to be around. It was like they were sprinkled in fairy dust, and everyone who came into contact with them caught a little of it too.
‘Ready to rock?’ Jack jumped up, his hand hovering over the back-door handle.
‘Ready!’ Maria cried, bouncing up and down and giggling.
‘Never been readier!’ Phoebe joined in.
‘Let’s go hunt some chocolate!’ Jack yanked open the door and they trouped out, Maria’s chat turning into a stream of words that tumbled over one another in her excitement. Phoebe could only catch the odd syllable and half-word, but she didn’t really need to follow the meaning at all. There was no sound lovelier on earth than the sound of that little girl’s excitement and she was happy just to let it wash over her.
It was funny, Phoebe mused as she watched Maria race across the lawn to the shelter of the trees at the bottom of the garden, that only a few months ago she really hadn’t cared for children at all. They were like an alien race, to be treated with suspicion and avoided unless absolutely necessary. Her stint working as an assistant to Hendry’s store janitor-cum-Santa-cum-resident alcoholic hadn’t done much to dispel those beliefs. After a day of trying to communicate with the strange little hordes that streamed through and laid waste to the grotto on an hourly basis in the manner of a Viking invasion, she had decided that in future she would do all she could to avoid them. Maria had wiped all those beliefs clean in one afternoon. But then, she was an exceptional little girl. The cure had been so profound that Phoebe had actually been excited when Steve, her boss, had asked her to stay on at Hendry’s after the Christmas job had ended. Phoebe Clements working in a toy shop – the centre of the kiddie universe? It was a strange turn of events indeed.
Almost as strange was how quickly she had found herself falling for Jack.