"Alrigh' love I'm comin' I'm comin'!" Eleanor Lovett rushed round the side of her counter and straightened her dress before opening the door to her pie shop. Friends and clients bustled past her to find a table out of the harsh November wind as Nellie walked back to the counter and brought out the first batch of today's pies.
"Over 'ere Nells!"
"Come on Nellie give us a good one!"
"I always get served last! I end up with the smallest! Serve me first!"
Nellie chuckled to herself and began walking round handing out pies to the people she saw here every day.
The year was 1818 and her business couldn't be better! She had new faces every day, enquiring about prices and the old faces every day, enquiring about how she makes them so tasty. As the last pie was loaded off her tray she sat next to her best friend Lucy, a pretty blonde who was munching happily on a pie. Lucy smirked at her as Nellie sat down heavily at her table, "This 'ere business'll kill me love!" she moaned taking off her shoes and rubbing her tired feet.
"Don't pretend like you don't love it!" Lucy exclaimed and Nellie looked at her and smiled. It was true: she did love it, she loved getting up early every morning to bake the pies, she loved the smell of the pies, she loved handing them out hot to freezing cold people, she loved the socialising, she loved the pay.
"I still can't believe you're leavin' me till bloody January!" Nellie exclaimed, looking at her friend mournfully.
"I have to see my brother Nellie! He and his wife want me to spend all of Christmas with them, since they never see me anymore. Not he went and moved to ruddy Wales with her!" Lucy looked at her friend sadly and sighed.
"Sounds more like they think that if you stay long enough you'll never leave." Nellie muttered, pushing herself up and going around collecting her earnings.
The shop slowly emptied until it was just Nellie and Lucy left. While Nellie started washing the dishes, Lucy meandered over to the door and flipped the sign to closed before walking over to her friend.
"I have to go now." Lucy said apologetically. Nellie got up and came to hug her tightly.
"Have fun with the sheep-shaggers." She winked as Lucy biffed her over the head.
"Don't call them that!" Lucy laughed exasperatedly, "I'll see you when I get back!" she called over her shoulder as she walked through the door and down the street.
Nellie finished doing the dishes before walking through to her living room and opening the newspaper a customer had left in her shop. Flicking through to the notices she saw her advertisement for the room above her shop, it read:
"Room available. First floor above a pie shop.
Suitable for up to two people to live in comfortably.
If interested please visit on 29th November.
Mrs Lovett's Pie Shop, Fleet Street."
Nellie sighed and looked over at the calendar the date read "Tuesday, 29th, November". No one had come all day and she was beginning to worry when there was a knock on her front door. She hurried into the shop and opened it to find a tall handsome man standing before her carrying bags.
"Is this where there is a room available?" He questioned, and she nodded, feeling suddenly dizzy. "I take it then that you are Mrs Lovett." He half laughed.
"Y-yes," she stammered, "but call me Nellie. What, may I ask, is your name?"
"Benjamin Barker." He extended a hand and she shook it, "Is the room available?" he looked at her expectantly.
"Yes, you're in luck." Nellie walked through her house to the staircase and gestured him to follow her. At the top of the landing she pulled out a key and unlocked a door, "How long you plannin' on rentin' it love?" She asked as she pushed open the door.
"For the foreseeable future." He replied, looking round the room at the single bed, the desk, the cupboard and finally out of the window. "I love London." He said turning back to her and smiling, "I'm a barber, is there possibly another room that I could also use –for my business? I would of course pay for it!"
"Sure there is dearie, this way if you please." Nellie replied and tottered back out of the door and to the end of the corridor, pushing open the unlocked door to reveal a large room with a desk and chair in it. "Used to be my Albert's study." She said as Benjamin looked around. "I'm a widow see-"
Nellie prattled on as he walked around the room, "This would be perfect." He turned around and smiled at her, "How much per week for the both?"
"Let's say a pound love." Eleanor felt her knees tremble under his brilliant smile, "If you'll excuse me love, I'll put dinner on for the both of us." With that she turned on her heel and walked back downstairs.
Benjamin watched her go, his Landlady was really very pretty, he thought. Not like most girls were considered pretty: golden locks, bright blue eyes, very innocent looking; no she was a different kind of pretty, her auburn curls were piled precariously atop her head, her dark eyes inviting and secretive, and there was most certainly nothing innocent about this woman. Benjamin found it all strangely arousing.
Stop it! He thought She wouldn't be interested in you and even if she was, your parents wouldn't let you marry a lower class baker! Marriage?! Snap out of it Benjamin! What are you thinking of? You've only just met the woman for crying out loud! He massaged his temples and sat down on the chair, his elbows on the desk. I'm so tired. He yawned. I'll just shut my eyes for a minute-.
"Wake up love!" Someone was shaking him awake, "Dinner's ready, you can get some sleep after that!"
Benjamin lifted his head to see his new Landlady leaning over him. He'd gone to sleep! Dammit Benjamin! How long had he been out? He wondered.
"Sorry, I only went to shut my eyes for a moment." He got up, apologies tumbling out of his mouth, "Didn't mean to keep you waiting, what you must think of me-" She silenced him by placing her index finger on his lips.
"Tis fine love!" Nellie smiled at him gently, removing her finger from his soft lips. The simple gesture had given them both butterflies in their stomachs.
Eleanor lead the way downstairs and into her –their- dining room, where two pies sat on china plates, next to them were two tankards and a bottle of gin. Sitting down in her seat Benjamin sat opposite her.
"So love," she started, "tell me a bit about your background."
"Well I come from a middle class family –father's a doctor you see. I have lived in London all my life, but there comes a time in a man's life when he gets too old to live with his parents." Benjamin laughed, "They're always trying to set me up with some fancy woman who I have no interest in… I'm beginning to run out of excuses to be honest." He looked up at her, "How about yourself? You mentioned you were a widow." Under his enquiring stare, Nellie set aside her now empty plate and poured herself a generous helping of gin.
"Lower class family myself, you can tell that just by one look at this place." She laughed and took a gulp of the gin, "Parents arranged my marriage, Albert was a lovely fellow and we were very fond of each other but we were never in love." Smiling sadly she looked at him again, "Have you ever been in love?"
"I didn't think it possible…" Benjamin wanted to add 'Until I met you' but he couldn't bring himself to do it. He had barely known her two hours! He was going crazy, he definitely needed to get some rest. This must be the cause of all his unusual thoughts. "Sorry Nellie but do you mind if I go to bed now? I'm awfully tired!"
"Course dear!" was her reply, "I'll see ya in the morrow love."
Benjamin made his way upstairs, stripped to his undergarments and climbed into bed thinking deeply. Love? He had never felt love before, not until today… Stop in Benjamin! In your sleep deprived state you're just being silly! You can assess your feelings in the morning, for now you need rest! And turning over he fell sound asleep, snoring gently.
Downstairs Eleanor cleared up their plates, put the gin bottle in the cupboard and dragged her tired limbs upstairs. Once in her room she sat on the edge of her double bed looking into her mirror.
What are you doing Nellie? She asked herself. He's your new tenant! You're being silly! You're probably just tired, been on your feet all day. You can rethink things tomorrow, you need to get some sleep now!
Getting up she unpinned her hair, her auburn curls falling in waves over her shoulders. Unlacing her corset she slipped off her dress and donned one of her short night dresses before falling onto the lavish pillows that lined the top of her bed. Tucking her legs under the covers she scooted under until just her head was visible; closing her eyes she went straight to sleep.
Benjamin woke with a start. Dammit! Why did he need the toilet now? Looking at the clock he saw that it was half four in the morning. Cursing, he got out of his warm cosy bed and made his way down the hall.
On his way back from the toilet he noticed that a door was slightly ajar. Looking through the crack he saw Nellie asleep, sprawled across her bed. God she's beautiful when she sleeps! Urgh Benjamin pull yourself together! You barely know her! He had said these words at least three times to himself now but they still had no effect. Walking back to his room he slumped into bed and fell back into a deep sleep. A sleep filled with auburn locks and dark brown eyes.