EXTRACT FROM SHADES IN THE SUN

It's already dark when Christian arrives in Competa village. He finds a car parking space easily and as he locks the Panda, he notices the blonde and the brunette from Marja's. They are dressed in short black skirts and crisp white blouses, elegant yet approachable. They are chatting easily to passers-by, smiling and pointing towards Maria's restaurant. He had noticed the place himself when he first came in to Competa, but it had not seemed very welcoming. This evening though, Maria's Place looks as if it has been given a new lease of life. There are fairy lights strung between the railings of the terrace, the leaves of bright green plants replace the former brown stubble and Christian can see the gentle glow of table lights. The blonde comes running over to him; “How are you this evening, sir?” She stops as she recognises Christian. “I know you, don't I? I am staying at Marja's, just up the hill.” Christian smiles at her, his gentle eyes crinkling slightly at the edges. “We have seen one another briefly,” he explains. “I am staying at Casa Rosita.” “Oh yes, just across from the finca. I remember. Are you looking for somewhere to eat this evening? Maybe you might like to try Maria's? It is a simple restaurant but the food is fantastic, I'm sure you would like it. Why don't you try?” “Well, seeing as I don't have any other plans, and I do need to eat, I will take up your suggestion. I hope it's as good as you say.” “I promise you won't be disappointed,” Krystal returns his smile. “I will be back at the restaurant in a while.” Christian makes his way across the street and up the steps to the terrace of the restaurant. At the top of the stairs, Rosie and Gabriela are greeting guests as they arrive, directing them to tables and to the bar. Gabriela watches as Christian approaches, slim-hipped and attractive in a light linen shirt and chinos. “What a handsome man,” she remarks to Rosie, but her comment goes unanswered. Gabriela steps forward to greet him: “Good evening, sir, welcome to our restaurant.” “You seem to be really busy?” responds Christian, casting his eyes over the crowded tables. “Yes we are, it is good for us. Would you like to have a drink at the bar until a table is free? It won't be long. Will anyone be joining you?” Gabriela asks, eager to hear his reply. “No, just a table for one, please. My girlfriend is not here yet.” He doesn't notice the slight disappointment cross the young waitress' face at the mention of a girlfriend. He takes a seat at the bar and orders red wine. Through the door to the kitchen he spots Marja and waves. “Hi.” “Good evening, Mr Brey.” The restaurant is buzzing with life. The lazy waiters are how having to earn their keep, dashing between the bar and tables, pouring wine, clearing empty glasses and filling jugs with fresh water. Everyone is busy. Maria appears out of the kitchen, her arms laden with steaming plates of food. As she comes out of the swing doors, Gabriela is going in to collect more dishes. “There is one more,” says Gabriela as she passes her mother. “I can't manage it, hold on.” Christian realises the problem and is happy to help. “Shall I get it for you? I'm not doing anything sitting here.” Gabriela points to the plate of tapas, grateful for his offer. “It's just that one. The tortilla, for table 4. Over in the corner, the young couple. Thank you.” Christian takes the warm tortilla to the diners, noticing on his return to the bar that the adjoining table have finished their starters. He leans in politely to clear the used plates, stacking them expertly on his forearm. That part-time Uni job was all coming back to him now. From across the restaurant, Marja sees how easily and confidently Christian deals with the customers, no hint of arrogance about him at all. He has great charm, good looks and impeccable manners. She decides to make use of his skills. Grabbing an order pad she pushes it into his hand and passes him a pen. “There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there might be a free dinner,” she laughs. Before long, the young Englishman is making himself extremely useful, running about from table to table, delivering plates, clearing away, and taking drinks. By this time, Krystal and Esther have arrived, and it's all hands on deck. Christian spots a young couple come in and sit at the bar to wait for a free table. Carly-Ann and Wayne are on their honeymoon and seem slightly ill-at-ease. Christian makes his way across to welcome them. “Good evening, I can show you to your table now.” He pulls out the chairs for the couple and hands them each a menu. Wayne tries hard to decipher the listings. “Not sure I am going to like this much, babe,” he remarks to his partner. “I don't know what half this stuff is. What's calamari when it's at home?” His new wife offers to help, scanning the menu looking for something resembling prawn cocktail. Returning a few minutes later, Christian notices that they are still searching the menu, running their fingers carefully along the description of each dish, reading out phrases here and there. “Can I help you at all?” he asks. “Are you ready to order?” Carly-Ann looks at him beseechingly. “Well, we are having a few problems choosing. There, er, is so much on 'ere. We were looking for, prawn cocktail. It's our 'oneymoon, you see, and we really wanted summat special. All the chicken seems to have sauce and stuff on it.” “Honeymoon? Congratulations. Certainly you must have something special, I'll see what the chef can do.” Christian promises. “Can I get you something to drink?” “The fizzy stuff.” says Wayne. “Lambretta?” Christian has no hint of a smile as he takes their order. “Lambrusco, sir, certainly. That is white and fizzy, but I think we may have something which you might enjoy even more. Leave it to me.” He heads to the bar to put a bottle of cava on ice before returning to Carly-Ann and Wayne's table a few minutes later. He sets down a small dish of local olives and bread. Carly-Ann pokes the olives suspiciously with a cocktail stick. “What are those green things, are they cooked? Have they got pips in?” she wonders.

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