“Yo sis, what’s happening in the high-powered world of business change?”
Kate’s brother Jake enveloped her in a bear hug. He mainly did it because he knew she hated it, in fact any kind of touchy feely was a no no with Kate, which was all the more reason her brother liked to wind her up with affection.
She took it for 30 seconds, and then wiggled out of his grasp. Her brother was not a small man, both tall and broad with a middle section running to fat. A successful partner in a law firm, he had a nice life with two kids in Dorridge, a swanky suburb of Solihull. His wife hadn’t worked since she’d had their first child, so the house was immaculate, though she wasn’t always, and could do with the odd trip to the gym herself, Kate though unkindly, looking at her sister in law. Chloe looked harassed with messed up hair and ill-fitting clothes. Kate wondered why she didn’t have more time to make an effort.
“Amelia, come here!” Chloe tried to get the attention of her seven-year-old daughter. Amelia was more intent in watching her latest hair tutorial on YouTube and didn’t seem to hear her mother shout. “Amelia, I have to get your brother to rugby practice now, and then we need to go school shoe shopping. Yours are practically falling apart.”
The child appeared in the kitchen door. Her hair was a mess of braids and clips and she had a face like thunder.
“Why do I HAVE to go? Auntie Kate is here and so is Dad, why I can’t I say here while you drop HIM off at rugby.” The pout would have made a Khardasian proud.
“Because you do. Your Auntie has come around to talk to your Dad and we need to get those shoes before Monday. Just do as you are told, brush your hair and let’s go.” Chloe was scrabbling around collecting rugby boots and kit from the washing pile and grabbing her car keys.
“Coffee, Kate?” Jake seemed to be completely ignorant to his wife’s dilemma. Riffling through the packets he began reeling off options like a well-practised barista.
A hand tugged at Kate’s sleeve. “Auntie Kate, can you take me shoe shopping? “Amelia looked up at her Auntie with imploring eyes. Lowering her voice and looking pointedly at her mother, she whispered to Kate. “You always have better taste in shoes that she does.”
The mention of shoes hit Kate’s shopping nerve. It was almost like she felt her credit card twitch. She’d come over to pick Jake’s brains on work and love life situation, but actually wondered if she could deal with a shopping trip with a seven-year-old. Hey, she might get something too while they were out.
“I’m sure Kate’s far too busy to take you out.” Chloe threw the rugby bag over her shoulder in a last-ditch attempt to get out of the door on time.
“Well…” Kate was torn. Amelia looked at her again, pleading. Perhaps it could be fun to go shoe shopping with another girl? “I don’t mind. I might be quite nice for us to go out together.” As soon as she said it, she wondered if it was the right thing to do. She’s never spent time alone with her niece and wasn’t confident with children. Could they go to the loo on their own? Did she need regular feeding?
With time ticking Chloe acquiesced. “OK fine, no sparkly shoes mind, it’s plain black for school remember. Go to the proper shoe shop and get her feet measured first.” Grabbing her keys and son she rushed out the door shouting “Get the car seat from Jake’s car.”
Jake was flabbergasted. His sister never offered to look after the kids. He’d given up trying to involve her in family activities, even though she only lived down the road, as she only pouted and complained about rounders in the park ruining her shoes or being too loud.
“So, we’d better get that seat moved over and you off then. I think Amelia’s got a party later so you’ve not got much time. Are you sure you don’t want me to come?”
Watching Jake’s performance earlier Kate wasn’t sure he’d be any better at this parenting thing than she was.
30 minutes later and they were pulling into the shopping centre carpark in the middle of Birmingham. Admiring the silver disks on the outside of the prestigious department store, Amelia had a big smile on her face.
“Mom never brings me here. Its just to the school shop in the retail park for us.”
“Well my girl, we are going for a proper shop.” Kate was actually quite looking forward to this now, they’d chatted about school and some of the styling videos Amelia had watched on You Tube on the way over. Kate realised that she had more to talk about with a seven year old than she thought.
Walking across the bridge from the car park Amelia grabbed Kate’s hand. Kate almost pulled away but realised she quite enjoyed the sensation of a small hand in hers.
Amelia stopped, dumbstruck, when then entered the store. It was all light and colour, with escalators running up and down the central atrium. There were staff spritzing perfume and offering samples everywhere she looked.
“Hello little girl, would you like to try this chocolate cookie? I’ll just check with your mom.”
Kate went to correct them, and then decided it was easier not to explain.
Amelia picked the rich chocolate biscuit off the tray and took a bite. It melted in her mouth.
“Auntie Kate, this is amazing, you have to try some.” She handed the rest over.
Kate held the morsel. She’d never normally let something so bad cross her lips, but watching the expressions on Amelia’s face made her want to experience the same. She took a bite, it was heaven. She ate the rest before she could stop herself.
The girls toured the store, starting in cosmetics where Kate let Amelia have a small make over while she got hers touched up. They both left with little goodie bags.
Kate showed Amelia all the designer bags, with Amelia being able to identify the ones Kate had, which surprised her. She’d never realised how much attention her niece paid to her wardrobe.
Finally arriving at the kids shoes, Kate and Amelia stood by the rack of school shoes and both felt depressed. The plain black characterless shoes didn’t inspire either of them.
“How about these?” Amelia held up a pair of gold sandals from another display. “Or these.” She showed Kate some silver ballet pumps.
“They are lovely but your mom did say school shoes.” Kate felt for her, the options really were horrible.
“Hi, can I help?” A sales assistant appeared. “Shall I measure your daughter?”
Again, Kate didn’t bother explaining, she was quite enjoying herself, being parent by proxy.
Once Amelia had been sized they asked for all the options for school. The sales assistant wasn’t stupid, she’d seen them looking at the rack of black shoes with a lack of inspiration. She’d also clocked Kate’s Mulberry Bag and stilettos, put two and two together and worked out this wasn’t Mom. One good shop and she’d make her commission for the day.
“We’ve got those on show but I’ve got a couple of options out the back that might be more to your taste.”
Amelia sat swinging her legs on the chair. Smiling to herself she was chatting away to Kate and herself about the shop and what they had seen. From Kate’s bag a phone could be heard ringing.
When the shoes were lined up, Amelia went quiet. There were from a different world compared to the standard shoes. They could only loosely be called school shoes as the main bulk of the shoe was black but they came with attachments and accoutrements. One pair had changeable laces with holographic patterns. The next had snap on butterflies and bows that could be added to front of the shoe. The final pair looked plain from the top but when flipped they had a slight heel with diamantes and flashing purple lights set into the heel. As Amelia walked a light would come on under the shoe, creating a glow around her foot.
“Auntie Kate, these are amazing.” Amelia sat on the floor surrounded by her shoe options. She looked like a kid in a candy store. In the background Kate’s phone was ringing again.
Seeing a fellow ‘shoeaholic’ in action, Kate helped Amelia pick a pair. They plumped for the pair with lights, but added the snap on butterflies from other shoes for extra flair. Kate found she was really enjoying herself and the enjoyment on her niece’s face.
“That’ll be £150 please.” Kate just put out her credit card, ignoring the price. Her bag rang again. Finally picking up her phone she saw Chloe’s name on the screen.
“Darling, we’ve had a wonderful time. You are going to love Amelia’s new shoes.” Amelia could be heard screaming in the background.
“Kate, where are you?” Chloe sounded stressed.
“In town. We were just going to get some lunch.” Kate looked at her nodding niece who was mouthing ‘ice cream’.
“Amelia has a party to go to in 10 minutes.” Chloe tried to keep her voice calm.
“Ah, Jake did mention something. Does it matter if she’s late?” Kate was too busy enjoying herself.
“It’s a princess party, they have entertainment planned so its better if she’s there on time.” On the other end of the phone Chloe was rolling her eyes.
Finally sensing Chloe’s mood, Kate scooped up the shoe bag and her excited niece. “We are on our way.”
Dropping her off 30 minutes late a more stressed Chloe appeared at the door, party dress in hand. She grabbed her daughter and rushed her inside before spotting the shopping bag.
From inside the house Kate could here muffled voices in what sounded like an argument.
“She’s bought her shoes from that shop, we can’t afford that, they won’t last for five minutes. You need to talk to her, and about that cat too.”
Revving the engine as Jake appeared at the door Kate spun off with a wave. Jake had a slightly dejected look on his face but seeing the smile on her sister’s face he waved back. It was nice to see her happy for once. The shoes, well he could deal with the fallout from those later.