The Daisy Chain Line
Part Two: Annie battles jealousy as well as financial pressures in her bid to save the family railway business
More of our sparkling serial
Annie was shocked – not only that Maria Wade could stroll in unannounced and make an offer for the Daisy Chain Line but that Steve would consider selling! “I’ll think about it.” She kept calm. Maria blinked her false eyelashes. “Of course, but Steve agrees it’s a good offer. Exceedingly so, in this climate.”
Annie shot Steve a look, stretched out on the sofa. The atmosphere was horribly intimate. Had they really just met?
“I’m sure my husband and I will discuss it later. No doubt you’re aware that the Line belongs to me.”
She hated sounding proprietorial. Although she’d inherited the Line, she regarded it as belonging to her and Steve but instinctively, she felt defensive – towards Maria and Steve.
“Well, the offer’s there. But, Annie –” “Mrs Silverton,” she corrected. “There are other Overton attractions we’d happily invest in. Don’t take too long to decide.” “We won’t.” Steve glared at Annie. “Now if that’s all, Miss Wade, I’d like to give our son his tea.” “Of course. Good day, Mrs Silverton.” Steve rushed to show Maria out. “Come on, Ben, it’s cheesy pasta tonight,” she said, her heart pounding. “Yay!” His shyness evaporated. “I’m surprised at you, Annie,” Steve said, returning.
“Surprised that I didn’t want to flog off my family’s heritage?” “No, that you were so rude to a guest.” “I wasn’t rude, I was straight. Come on, Ben, you can weigh the pasta.”
Steve folded his arms and leaned against the Aga. He might be annoyed but she was furious. If they were alone, they’d have one of their rare arguments. How dare he discuss selling without her!
Anxious about Ben, she said, “Let’s talk later. Tea won’t be long.” His dark eyes held hers. “But Maria…” “Maria, is it?” She raised her eyebrow. “Leave my pasta in the oven. I’ve work to do.” He stomped out.
“Maria has a SIDING SHEDLOAD of MONEY but we have DEVOTION”
It’s a great offer,” Steve repeated later that evening. “So, you say,” Annie said, curled in the armchair by the fire. “But I’m not selling. To Maria Wade or anyone.”
Steve had returned as she put Ben to bed. After eating, he joined her in the lounge, his mood much improved.
“Look. I don’t want to sell but times are hard. Last summer was dire and we haven’t recovered.”
“Ben was ill, Eniko was away, I had to shut the tearoom. This year could be –” “Worse.” She sighed. “Maybe – but I think these Santa Specials could work.”
“Honestly? A few mince pies and mulled wine won’t clear the overdraft.”
“No, but a few weeks of extra business might. On this travel programme…”
“Different place, different line. How do we know it’ll work for us?”
She shrugged. “We don’t – unless we try. Look, if Maria thinks she can make money from the Line, why can’t we?” This caught his attention. “OK, Maria has a siding shedload of money behind her but we have…”
“…experience, duty, devotion,” he finished. “Where’s your costings?”
She leapt up and seized some papers from the desk.
“If we charge this,” she pointed to the page, squeezing next to him, “and attract these numbers…”
“OK.” He kissed her. “We’ll give it a go. But if the Santa Specials aren’t profitable, we’ll accept Maria’s offer and find ourselves jobs in town.”
She hesitated. “OK – fine, if the Santa Specials aren’t successful.”
As Steve hugged her, she thought, Iwon’t have to sell–because the Santa Specials are bound to make money!
The next day Annie began her Santa Special campaign. With a happy buzz in Journey’s End, she baked mince pies to freeze while Eniko served customers and watched Ben.
As the pies cooled, Annie found her grandmother’s delicious mulled wine recipe. The secret was in the spices.
“Please can I try some?” Ben asked, sitting at a table to “write” a Santa letter.
“Oh no, mulled wine’s a mummy and daddy drink,” she laughed. “But you can have a mince pie.”
Eniko was putting up posters for the Santa Specials. Journey’s End was busy with regulars, eating hot lunches.
Although this made the tearoom profitable, hardly any were paying visitors to the steam railway.
“What’s Santa Specials, Annie?” It was Pip Lancaster, her dad’s oldest friend. She explained. “My grandchildren will love it. When do you start?”
“Soon,” she said, serving him today’s special – sausage and mash .
“Be a grand present for my sister’s brood. Reckon you’re onto something, Annie,” said Mimi Salter at the next table.
“Hope so. Just need…” she mouthed, so Ben couldn’t hear, “… a Santa.” “How about Silas?” Mimi suggested. “Silas Dawkins?” Mimi nodded. “Since he lost his wife, he finds Christmas hard. He’s warm and kind. My children love him.”
Annie conjured up an image of the ex-pharmacist. He’d certainly the right look – white hair, matching beard and a twinkle in his eye. “Would he do it?” “Ask!” Mimi laughed.
That afternoon, Annie left Ben at Overton’s indoor play centre with her friend Ronnie and little Jake. Ben was still holding his Santa letter. “Thanks!” She hugged Ronnie. “No, thank you – Ben will keep Jake amused. I’ll bring him home later.”
Annie was buzzing. The Santa Specials were coming together, and Steve was being supportive.
Silas Dawkins still lived next to the pharmacy. When he answered the door, all her new-found positivity vanished.
“Annie!” Silas smiled. “Come in.”
“How did you hurt your leg, Silas?” “I didn’t – knee replacement. Only just getting about. This weight doesn’t help.” He patted his tummy. “Be weeks before I’m running about.” In the lounge sat an older lady. “Running about? I don’t think so!” “This is my sister, Frances.” Annie shook hands with the smiley lady who was the image of Silas – cuddly with a shock of white hair.
“I retired in the summer from teaching so I’m looking after Silas.” “Not that I need it.” He smiled. “You do – to keep me busy. Please sit down, Annie.” “Cuppa?” Silas offered. “No, thanks… I wanted a favour – before I knew about your poor knee.”
“I’m keeping it quiet. Don’t want all Overton thinking I’m past it.” He laughed, easing himself into a chair. “What was it?” She outlined her plans. “Sorry, Annie. I’m on crutches for another month.”
“Concentrate on getting better… I’ll advertise, although that will take time. We’d hoped to start straight away.”
“Well,” Frances said, “there is another solution…”
Annie was intrigued as she explained.
Frances’ idea was whirring through Annie’s mind when Ronnie brought Ben home.
“We had the best time!” Ben hugged her. “Jake and me went in the ball pit. And Jake loves my Santa letter.”
“Wow!” She turned to Ronnie. “Thank you. Time for coffee?”
“You bet. How go the Santa Specials?”
“Brilliant except…” Annie handed Ben and Jake the box of Lego. “Come in the kitchen. We’ll watch the boys from there.”
Filling the kettle, she told Ronnie about Silas’ knee and Frances’ suggestion.
“Bit off-the-wall but it could work. Not sure Steve’ll agree in his present mood.” “Mood? Steve? You got the right guy?” Annie laughed before telling her about Maria Wade’s offer and ensuing tension.
“We’re OK now and Steve’s agreed to try the Santa Specials. But if they fail, he wants to accept Maria’s offer. But the Line means everything to me.”
“Of course – it’s been in your family for
“I’m SORRY – Buttercup needs an OIL CHANGE, Dandelion’ s boiler is leaking”
ages, hasn’t it?”
Annie eyed the brass bell over the door. “That’s from Sir Major, the locomotive my great-grandfather Arthur Riley used to open the line in 1892. Must have been magical then.”
The Daisy Chain Line was once a working railway, relied on by travellers.
“Could these Santa Specials rescue it?”
Annie pulled a face. “Steve’s not sure, but I am. I promised Dad I’d keep the Line going. It is getting harder. There’s a constant battle to pay the bills. And now, a fight to stop Maria.” Ronnie put her coffee on the table. “Steve loves the Line too, but the hours are long and if money’s not coming in, you can’t blame him for being tempted.”
“But the Line’s more than a job. It’s a way of life – our heritage.”
“It is, so keep the offer on the table while you try these Santa Specials. And include Steve at every stage. What do you need other than pies, wine and visitors?”
Annie grimaced. “For Steve to agree to Frances’ suggestion.” After Ronnie and Jake left, Annie decided to ask Steve about Frances’ idea. The Line was closed but she guessed he’d be in the shed. There was always track to mend or an engine to service.
“Let’s take Daddy a coffee,” she suggested to Ben. “And show him my Santa letter!” Crossing the yard, Ben ran ahead, his letter flapping. Suddenly he shot back. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” He reached for her hand. Bemused, she led him into the shed. “Oh!” She understood Ben’s alarm. “Hello, Miss Wade – again.”
“Maria’s called about the offer.” Steve sat on the bench, already drinking coffee.
Dejectedly, she put her mug beside him. Maria was dressed in skinny jeans and a black puffer jacket. She, too, was drinking from a flask. Yet again Annie noted their relaxed body language. “I was passing.” Maria smiled. Annie doubted it! She looked at Steve. “We talked last night, but we’ve come up with other ideas to keep the Line going.”
“Well, I’m off.” Maria stood up. “Good to see you again, Steve.”.
Annie smiled tightly. Remembering Ronnie’s advice, she said, “Thanks for calling. I’ll ring – when we’ve decided.”
“Don’t leave it too long. My offer may be your best Christmas present.”
“If all our customers visited as often as Miss Wade, we could forget her offer.” Annie stared at Steve. “Frequent visitor, isn’t she?” “Like she said, she was passing.” “You seem cosy.” “Oh Annie, please. I’m trying to keep her offer on the table. If you study our accounts – properly – you’ll see Maria’s throwing us a lifeline.”
She longed to ask Steve how he knew her. Ben held out his Santa letter. “Look, Daddy!” “That’s… colourful.” Steve’s lack of enthusiasm stung her. “Well, I think it’s brilliant, Ben.” “Sorry… I’m busy. Buttercup needs an oil change and Dandelion’s boiler’s leaking.” He picked up his spanner.
“Come on, Ben,” she said, tears pricking. He’d time for coffee with Maria, but not to speak to her or read Ben’s letter.
Annie stepped inside Daisy Cottage and reached for her mobile. “That woman was here again,” she seethed to Ronnie. “Maria Wade – the one who wants to buy the Line.” “Really? She’s keen.” Annie watched Ben play with his toy trains in the lounge. “And I’m worried it’s not just the railway she’s after.” “Huh?” “Steve – she obviously likes him and he’s not exactly freezing her out.”
“Annie Silverton, Steve loves the bones of you. He’d not look twice at another woman. He’s being charming because he’s considering her offer.” Reassured, she sighed. “Thanks Ronnie. I’m being silly.” “Not silly. Scared. There’s a difference.” There was a knock at the door. “Sorry, Annie.” It was Eniko, looking worried. “Door to tearoom not lock.” “I expect it’s your key. I’ll use mine.” “Thank you. Is it OK if I leaving?” “Of course, you’re late enough. Thanks, Eniko. See you Monday.” Annie found her keys. “Come on, Ben. We won’t be long.” At the tea room, she flicked the lights for one last check.
“Wow!” Ben shouted.
Journey’s End had been transformed. The tree was decorated with silver baubles and tinsel, foil chains stretched across the ceiling, and every table had gold candles in festive holders. “Eniko left her Santa letter,” Ben said. She read, Dear Annie–hope you like present. BoldogKar ac sonyt! Enik ox
She could cry. How thoughtful! Weren’t the best presents made with love and time? No wonder she’d finished late. As she guessed, the door locked easily. Eniko’s gift lifted Annie’s mood. She was stirring curry when Silas phoned.
“Sorry, but Frances wondered if you’d accept her offer? Her friend just invited us for Christmas. Actually, Frances would rather help you but…”
Annie hesitated. Maria’s visit had stopped her asking Steve. Hadn’t Ronnie advised, “include Steve at every stage”?
But did Steve include her, lately? She’d caught him discussing the sale with Maria twice now without her. Couldn’t she now decide this without him?
“Tell Frances it’s… yes!”
Annie was planning how to tell Steve when he finally came in. Soot covered his brow and shadows haunted his eyes. “You’re tired. Shower while I dish up.” “Thanks, love. I’m starving.” When he returned he wore a cream jumper over black jeans.
“That’s better,” she said, slipping her arms around his waist. He smelled divine. “Now where’s this chicken curry?” Annie laid the table as Steve lifted Ben into his chair. For the first time in days, the atmosphere in the kitchen felt relaxed. Should she tell him now?
“Better eat while you still have an appetite,” he said, suddenly. “You’ll lose it when I tell you about Dandelion.”
Dandelion was probably their oldest working diesel shunter. “Go on.” She swallowed. “Her boiler’s finished. It’s serious money to replace but if we don’t – we’ll drop to two rolling stock.
“That’s not enough for the summer or even Christmas, if your Santa Specials take off.” “Oh Steve – what can we do?” He tore some naan bread. “Go back to the bank. Or we could ask for an overdraft extension. But as I recall there was only one miracle at Christmas, and that was ages ago.”
“The bank won’t agree – not to what we’d need for Dandelion’s boiler.”
“Then we’ve only one option – accept Maria’s offer and sell the Line.”
They talked into the night. “Even if we source a good secondhand boiler, it’ll need fitting. I can’t do it alone. Imagine the labour costs.” “Ronnie could help out.” “But she’s working.” “Yes, part-time over Christmas… I’m sure she’d welcome the extra money. I could look after Jake with Ben.” He shrugged. “Possibly.” “If the Santa Specials take off we’ll have money for the boiler.”
“I admire your spirit, Annie, but face it, we’re beat. Even if they’re a goer, I’m tired. Christmas off with you and Ben appeals more than serving mince pies and cheap parcels to screaming kids.”
She wanted to argue, say the Santa Specials were an unknown. But Steve looked exhausted. Was she being selfish?
“Show me Maria’s figures again. I dread selling but we can’t go on like this.”
“It’s heartbreaking, but wouldn’t it hurt more to lose the railway through bankruptcy? This way we have control. It makes sense, Annie.”
It makes sense, Annie… Steve’ s words resonated as she undressed for bed. Suddenly Ben cried out. She ran to him. “Bad dream, Mummy. A big spider was eating our poster.” “Spiders aren’t that big.” She smiled. “The spider tried to stop the Santa Specials. Can I go on the first ride?” “Of course.” She stroked his hair. “And meet Father Christmas?” “There might be a special Santa…” “I love the Daisy Chain, Mummy. Santa will, too. When I’m big like Daddy I’ll drive Buttercup and Dandelion and Primrose.”
She pulled up the duvet. “Sleep now, little man.” “Night, Mummy.” She kissed him and left his door ajar. When I’ m big like Daddy I’ ll drive Butter cup and Dandelion and Primrose.
That was the first time Ben had said he wanted to carry on the Daisy Chain Line in the footsteps of his Riley ancestors. How could she now sell to Maria?
She wanted to argue but Steve looked EXHAUSTED. Was she being SELFISH?