This Could Change Everything

This Could Change Everything

Jill Mansell

About the Book

On the one hand, if Essie hadn’t written that letter – the one that only her best friend was meant to see – then she’d still be living like an actual proper grown-up, tucked up with Paul in his picture-perfect cottage, maybe even planning their wedding . . .

On the other hand (if her true feelings hadn’t accidentally taken the internet by storm that is) she never would have met Zillah and Conor – not to mention Lucas. And she’d never have found out just how much life there is to be lived . . .

For Lizzie Neath

With grateful thanks for her wonderfully generous donation in aid of the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Chapter 1

What could be more glorious than sitting at a pavement café on a sunny afternoon in June, wearing a marvellous new hat and witnessing an imminent crime?

Zillah Walsh adjusted the brim of her red fedora and sat back, observing the scene unfold before her with fascination. The boy was definitely intent on shoplifting.

How exciting.

OK, it hadn’t happened yet, but he was clearly in shoplifting mode. You could tell by his body language: the hesitation, the air of elaborate casualness, the repeated glances over his left shoulder at the elderly customer behind him.

It was also pretty apparent that he wasn’t the most accomplished of criminals, seeing as he hadn’t noticed that he was being closely observed through the window by the owner of the shop.

Oh poor boy. What he was doing was wrong, of course it was, but Zillah couldn’t help herself. Her heart went out to him. He’d picked up the item now, was pretending to examine it whilst stealthily inching it towards the pocket of his grey hoody.

Meanwhile the shop owner had moved closer to the door and was preparing to make a grab for him . . .

Oh no, she couldn’t let it happen.

‘Darling, I’ve changed my mind!’ Zillah waved her arm in the air to attract the boy’s attention and called across in her most carrying voice, ‘Can you get me some of those too? Come here, you’ll need more money.’ She beckoned him over and watched as he belatedly spotted the shop owner waiting to pounce.

The boy replaced the about-to-be-stolen item on the display stand outside the shop and crossed the narrow street. Zillah took a five-pound note out of her purse. ‘Buy a big bag of them, then come back and sit down with me. If he asks, tell him I’m your grandmother.’

He feigned innocence. ‘Why would he ask?’

‘Don’t kid a kidder. Because I’ve just saved you from getting arrested.’

The boy cocked a cheeky eyebrow at her. ‘OK. But I’m telling you now, you’re way older than my grandmother.’

Zillah smiled as he turned away. She briefly wondered if he’d take the fiver and make a run for it, but no. He returned to the greengrocer and was now choosing fruit from the display.

The shop owner cast a suspicious glance in Zillah’s direction and she nodded back at him charmingly. Oh yes, there were times when being a well-spoken, stylish octogenarian definitely came in useful.

‘Here you go.’ The boy was back, handing her a bulging bag of Pink Lady apples.

‘Thank you. You may keep two for yourself. And I didn’t know if you drank coffee,’ said Zillah as he dropped the change into her hand, ‘so I’ve ordered you an orange juice instead.’ She pointed to the empty chair opposite. ‘Sit.’

The boy sat down. ‘Why are you doing this?’

‘Honestly? I was intrigued. Aren’t teenage boys these days more likely to shoplift cans of energy drink or strong cider? It isn’t often you hear of them going for apples.’

He had a thin face, spiky dark hair and watchful eyes. ‘I like apples. We don’t get them at home.’

His clothes were cheap and a bit scruffy. Zillah said, ‘I like apples too. But they’re not worth getting a criminal record for.’

‘I thought they wouldn’t bother. It’d be more trouble than it was worth.’

‘Maybe, but you don’t know that for sure. How old are you?’

The orange juice arrived and he took a series of thirsty gulps. ‘Thanks. I’m sixteen. How about you?’

‘I’m eighty-three.’

‘Wow, that’s ancient. You look pretty good, though. For your age, I mean.’

‘Thank you,’ Zillah replied gravely. ‘I do my best.’

‘You look . . . rich.’ His tone was matter-of-fact.

‘I wear make-up. I buy myself nice clothes. I prefer bright outfits to dull ones.’ She indicated her peacock-blue silk jacket, the vivid beads around her neck, then tilted her head and tweaked the brim of her scarlet fedora. ‘I’m also very fond of a hat.’

He broke into a grin that lit up his thin face. ‘I tell you what, you’re nothing like my grandmother.’

His name was Ben, she discovered, and he was bunking off school. But it didn’t matter because it was only citizenship, which was boring and didn’t count.

‘How do you know it doesn’t count,’ said Zillah, ‘if you aren’t there to learn about it?’

‘That’s the kind of thing teachers say. I’ve been often enough to know it’s boring.’ Ben nodded at her left hand, the back of which was covered with a large dressing. ‘What happened there, then?’

Jill Mansell's Books