Marcus toiled up the stairs. He'd have to stop at the next landing to get his breath back. Strange how when he and his wife Mia had bought their flat all those years ago three floors up without a lift had seemed like nothing to them. Then they had been young and fit and very much in love. Now they were still very much in love but the years were taking their toll and he found that he needed to rest for a moment on the second floor landing.
It had been a long day and he was tired. The shop weighed heavily on his mind. A hatter's founded by his great grandfather when hats were all the rage. In those days no one went without a hat, men or women, children had their own scaled down versions. Then the shop had several assistants. His grandfather had inherited a flourishing business and had kept it that way. Things started to change when his father took over. Fashions and times were vastly different and the business started to decline. Marcus, so far,had managed to keep it afloat by a certain amount of modernising but he worked alone and often had bad days when customers were few and far between.
Mia's accident had brought things to a head. She had slipped on a patch of ice last winter and had broken her leg. It was taking a long time to heal. She still used an arm crutch and getting down the stairs to go out was impossible without help. He wanted to sell the business before it really went under and the flat would have to be sold too.It was far too big for the two of them. Their two sons were grown up and married with families. They minded their four grandchildren often but they could continue to do so in a smaller place. Marcus had his eye on a new block of flats near the park. They were modern and close to the town centre and they had lifts. He could picture himself and Mia happily settled in one of them.
He sighed heavily. Decision time was upon him and he had to convince Mia. He would speak to her tonight, see what she thought of his ideas, discuss them with her and take it from there. He made a pot of tea, picked up the tray, took a deep breath and headed for the living room.
Mia sat in her big chair with the arm crutch propped up against it. She smiled when she saw him and lifted her face for his kiss. She was small and slim with hazel eyes and greying hair. Marcus bent his six foot frame towards her. His hair was thick and white with a beard and moustache to match. His deep brown eyes were tender as he kissed her. He set the tray down and Mia poured the tea.
"How was your day?" Mia asked, being interested in the shop. She had worked there before the children were born.
"Very few people came in. I saw more of Frankie than anyone else."
Frankie owned the hairdressing salon next door. He and Marcus had been friends for many years. Mia nodded encouragingly. She was always interested in Frankie and his many love affairs.
"How was he and is he still with Delia or has she been replaced?"
Marcus chuckled. "He's fine and seems more settled than I have seen him for a long time. Delia seems to be doing him a lot of good. Mia there are several things I'd like to talk to you about."
It all poured out of him as though a barrage had broken. His worries about the shop and its lack of clients. How he'd like to sell up while he still could. About the new block of flats near the park where she could come and go more easily. Marcus ran out of breath and looked at his wife. She laid her hand on his arm, a puzzled look on her face as if she was trying to sort all this information out in her mind.
"Marcus, I understand you wanting to sell the shop. I have realised for a long time that it had become a burden to you, but the flat? Why don't you put the shop up for sale first and we can see about the flat later?"
On his way to work the following day Marcus went to speak to an estate agent who specialised in the sale of business premises. The estate agent looked dubious and told him that it was a bad time to sell. Marcus remarked that he was in no hurry, well, not really.
Mia phoned Alain, her oldest son, who worked in a bank and related to him the previous evenings conversation with his father. Alain was not at all surprised at his father's decision.
"Mum, I've seen this coming for quite a while. It's not as though either Peter or I would ever want the shop."
Peter, his brother, worked in computers. Alain reassured his mother as best as he could.
Mia sat quietly for a long time mulling over all that Marcus had poured over her. She accepted his desire to sell the shop without a qualm. She'd seen often enough how tired and discouraged he was. But the flat was her haven and had been for years. It held all the memories of a happy marriage and motherhood. She made up her mind to get her leg better as fast as she could. Once she could get out and about again maybe Marcus would stop worrying about her.
Weeks passed with few potential buyers coming to the shop. Marcus's original enthousiasm for his project began to wane. Frankie popped in when he could to ask for news and boost Marcus's flagging morale. He couldn't bear to see his old friend so down, especially as his relationship with Delia was going so well. Mia started getting about on her own again.
It was a grey day with a hint of possible rain. Marcus rearranged a display of children's hats, the same display he'd arranged the day before. The sound of the shop door bursting open made him look up. In the doorway stood a vision in a bright yellow raincoat with a rain hat to match. The vision was young, in her early twenties and her smile and sparkling eyes were as dazzling as her outfit. Marcus advanced towards her.
"I'm Cindy Smithers. The estate agent handling the sale of your business sent me."
Marcus's heart missed a beat. She must come from a wealthy family. Some rich dad wanting to set his daughter up in her own business.
"Yes" he said.
"It's like this. I've recently graduated from the School of Fashion and Design. We're a group of friends, four girls and a boy. We design clothes. This is one of my designs," pointing to her rain outfit. "We are looking for a shop to create, make and sell our designs and I understand that you have a workroom. As we are only starting out we can't afford to buy but would you consider renting your shop to us?"
Marcus clutched the counter, his head spinning and his heart hammering in his chest. He took a deep breath.
"Possibly, but I'd have to discuss it with my wife. I'll get back to you if I may."
Cindy took out a minute business card and handed it to him. On it he read "A Flair for Fashion" and several phone numbers.
"We also design hats!" was the parting shot as she smiled at him and left the shop taking with her what had seemed like a ray of sunlight on a grey day.
Marcus was in a hurry to get home. Frankie, seeing him leave the shop said to Delia "something must have happened, I haven't seen Marcus so animated in months!"
One look at his face as he rushed into the flat told Mia that he had some news for her. They sat together on the sofa and he related the events that had happened that afternoon.
"It's not what we wanted as we wanted a sale but what do you think of the idea of renting the shop to this group of young people?"
Mia thought for a moment. "Why don't we ask them to lunch? It will be easier that way to discuss what they have in mind and to talk to them of their plans."
Marcus took out the tiny business card and phoned Cindy. Arrangements were made for a lunch date. On the day the group arrived bearing several portfolios, a lap top computer and a large bunch of flowers. They were all brightly and fashionably dressed and intoduced themselves as Caro, Tracy and Susie. The only boy was Robin. Cindy patted him on the arm and said "Robin's a genius. He won the college's Gold Medal for Design."
Lunch over, the dining room table was covered with sheets of designs and the computer set up. The group outlined their plans and discussed financial arrangements. Tea came and went and at 8pm Robin went out for pizzas.
Marcus and Mia were much taken by the enthusiasm of the group and impressed by their level-headedness. They seemed to have worked everything out. Marcus realised that the shop and its workroom would be ideally suited for what thay wanted to do. They explained that at present they were sharing premises with another group of fashion designers but what they really wanted was their own place to design, create, display and hopefully sell their creations.
That night they went to bed their heads full of plans and projects, designs of brightly coloured clothes but most of all, the dreams of five talented young people.
They smiled at each other over the breakfast table the following morningThe night had brough counsel and they decided to go ahead. Marcus phoned Cindy and then set about putting everything into motion. A visit
to the shop for all of them was arranged. There they checked and measured, discussed and argued, re-measured, re-argued, changed their minds a hundred times but all emerged smiling at the end of the visit. Hugs and high fives were exchanged. They were delighted with the premises. After that things went quickly ,paperwork was done and a rent agreed by all parties and the remodelling of the shop began
Marcus and Mia walked past a few times and peered through the windows at all the activity within. They were given a preview on the day before the opening and liked what they saw. The decor was modern and attractive and the clothes displayed were eye-catching. On opening day the shop renamed "A Flair for Fashion" was packed with people, families and friends, prospective customers and local press. The champagne launching went with a swing and wishes for good luck came from everyone there.
Marcus and Mia returned home feeling a huge glow of satisfaction.
"They'll be alright. They've got what it takes to make a success of it."
Marcus rootled in the fridge. Despite all the nibbles at the opening and he'd had his share, he was starving. Mia moved him gently to one side and took over.
"Do you know, Delia has asked Cindy to design her a wedding outfit. She and Frankie are getting married in a few months time."
Mia cracked eggs in a bowl and added grated cheese.
"Well, I never thought Frankie would ever settle down to that degree. He's such a ladies man."
"Those days are over" said Mia darkly, reaching for a frying pan.
The sale of the flat was not mentioned again.