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I Owe You One: A Novel
Author:Sophie Kinsella

Family loyalty is basically our religion.

“He’s always landing you in it, Jake is,” Greg mutters. “You never know when he’s going to turn up. Can’t rely on him. We’re short-staffed today too, what with your mum taking the day off.”

All of this might be true, but I can hear Dad’s voice in my head again: Family first, Fixie. Protect the family in public. Have it out with them later, in private.

“Jake does his own hours,” I remind Greg. “It’s all agreed.”

All of us Farrs work in the shop—Mum, me, Jake, and Nicole—but only Mum and I are full-time. Jake calls himself our “consultant.” He has another business of his own and he’s doing an MBA online, and he pops in when he can. And Nicole is doing a yoga-instructor course Monday to Friday, so she can only come in at weekends. Which she does sometimes.

“I expect he’s on his way,” I add briskly. “Anyway, we’ve just got to deal with it. Come on! Ladder!”

As Greg drags a stepladder across the shop floor, I hurry to our back room and run some hot water into a bucket. I just need to dash up the ladder, wipe the stain away, grab the can, jump down, and clear everything before the visitors arrive. Easy.

The leisure section is a bit incongruous, surrounded as it is by tea towels and jam-making kits. But it was Dad who set it up that way, so we’ve never changed it. Dad loved a good board game. He always said board games are as essential to a household as spoons. Customers would come in for a kettle and leave with Monopoly too.

And ever since he died, nine years ago now, we’ve tried to keep the shop just as he created it. We still sell licorice allsorts. We still have a tiny hardware section. And we still stock the leisure section with games, balls, and water guns.

The thing about Dad was, he could sell anything to anyone. He was a charmer. But not a flashy, dishonest charmer; a genuine charmer. He believed in every product he sold. He wanted to make people happy. He did make people happy. He created a community in this little corner of West London (he called himself an “immigrant,” being East End born), and it’s still going. Even if the customers who really knew Dad are fewer every year.

“OK,” I say, hurrying out to the shop floor with the bucket. “This won’t take a sec.”

I dash up the steps of the ladder and start scrubbing at the brown stain. I can see Morag below me, demonstrating a paring knife to a customer, and I resist the urge to join in the conversation. I know about knives; I’ve done chef training. But you can’t be everywhere at once, and—

“They’re here,” announces Greg. “There’s a car pulling into the parking space.”

It was Jake who insisted we reserve our only parking spot for these olive-oil people. They’ll have asked, “Do you have parking?” and he won’t have wanted to say, “Only one space,” because he’s pretentious that way, so he’ll have said airily, “Of course!” as though we’ve got an underground vault.

“No problem,” I say breathlessly. “I’m done. All good.”

I dump the cloth into the bucket and swiftly start descending, the Coke can in one hand. There. That took no time, and now it won’t bug me and—

“Careful on that ladder.”

I hear Greg’s voice below, but he’s always regaling us with stupid health-and-safety rules he’s read online, so I don’t alter my step or my pace until he shouts, “Stop!” sounding genuinely alarmed.

“Fixie!” Stacey yells from the till. She’s another of our sales assistants and you can’t miss her piercing nasal voice. “Look out!”

As my head whips round, it takes me a moment to comprehend what I’ve done. I’ve snagged my sleeve on a netball hoop, which has caught on the handle of a massive tub of bouncy balls. And now it’s tipping off the shelf … there’s nothing I can do to stop it, shit …

“Oh my God!”

I lift my spare hand to protect myself from a deluge of little rubber balls. They’re bouncing on my head, my shoulders, all over the shop. How come we have so many of the bloody things, anyway?

As I reach the bottom of the ladder, I look around in horror. It’s a miracle that nothing’s been smashed. Even so, the floor is a carpet of bouncy balls.

“Quick!” I instruct Greg and Stacey. “Teamwork! Pick them up! I’ll go and head off the visitors.”

As I hurry toward the door, Greg and Stacey don’t look anything like a team—in fact, they look like an anti-team. They keep bumping into each other and cursing. Greg is hastily stuffing balls down his shirtfront and in his trouser pockets and I yell, “Put them back in the tub!”

“I didn’t even notice that Coke stain,” volunteers Stacey as I pass, with one of her shrugs. “You should have left it.”

“Is that helpful?” I want to retort. But I don’t. For a start, Stacey’s a good worker and worth keeping on side. You just have to deal with what Mum and I call the SIMs (Stacey’s Inappropriate Moments).

But of course the real reason I say nothing is that she’s right. I should have left it. I just can’t help fixing things. It’s my flaw. It’s who I am.





Two




The visitors are posh-looking. Of course they are. My brother likes hanging out with posh people. Jake has always been ambitious, ever since he was a little boy. At first he was just ambitious to be on the football team. Then, in his late teens, he started socializing with a rich crowd—and suddenly he was dissatisfied with our house and our holidays and even, one awful time, with Dad’s accent. (There was another huge argument. Mum got really upset. I still remember the sound of the shouting coming through the floor from downstairs.)

He worked as an estate agent in Fulham—until about three years ago, when he started his own business—and there the poshness rubbed off on him even more. Jake likes being around blokes in brogues, with identikit haircuts and raah voices. Basically he resents the fact that he wasn’t born in Chelsea. That he’s not one of those poshos on the telly, partying with royalty and taking six holidays a year. But since he’s not, he can at least spend all his time in pubs on the King’s Road with guys called Rupert.

These two men, stepping out of their Range Rover, clearly come from that crowd, with their polo shirts and deck shoes and tans. I find these types a bit intimidating, to be honest, but I tell myself, Chin up, Fixie, and go forward to greet them. I can see one eyeing up the shop with a critical frown, and I feel a defensive prickle. OK, it’s not the most beautiful shop front—it’s a 1970s purpose-built structure—but the glass panes are gleaming and the display of kitchen textiles looks great. We have a pretty good amount of space for a High Street store, and we use it well. We have several display tables at the front and three aisles, and it all works.

“Hi!” the taller one greets me. “Clive Beresford. Are you Felicity?”

A lot of people hear Fixie and think Felicity. I’m used to it.

“Fixie.” I smile and shake his hand. “Welcome to Farrs.”

“Simon.” The other guy lifts a hand as he lugs a heavy-looking box out of the Range Rover. “We found it! Good space you’ve got here.”

“Yes.” I nod. “We’re lucky.”

“Not exactly Notting Hill, though, is it?”

“Notting Hill?” I echo, puzzled.

“Jake said the family business was in Notting Hill.”

I press my lips together. This is so Jake. Of course he said we were based in Notting Hill. He probably said Hugh Grant was a regular customer too.

“No, we’re Acton,” I say politely.

“But you’re planning to expand into Notting Hill soonish?” presses Clive, as we head inside. “That’s what your brother told us.”

Expand into Notting Hill? That’s total rubbish. I know Jake just wanted to impress a pair of strangers at a bar. But I can hear Dad’s voice in my head: Family first, Fixie.

“Maybe,” I say pleasantly. “Who knows?” I usher them into the shop, then spread my arms around at all the saucepans, plastic storage boxes, and tablecloths. “So, this is us.”

There’s a short silence. I can sense this isn’t what they expected. Simon is peering at a display of mason jars. Clive takes a few steps forward and looks at a Monopoly set curiously. A moment later, a red bouncy ball drops on his head.

“Ow!” He looks up. “What the—”

“Sorry!” I say quickly. “No idea how that happened!”

Shit. There must have been a stray one teetering somewhere.

“So you’re looking to turn into more of a high-end deli?” Simon seems puzzled. “Do you stock any food at all?”

I feel another defensive prickle. I don’t know what stories Jake’s been telling him, but that’s not my fault.

“Absolutely.” I nod. “Oils, vinegars, spices, that kind of thing. Please do put your box down.”