The Little Irish Gift Shop

 

Chapter One

 

At first, Emma Carey didn’t take the email seriously.

Hey there, you wouldn’t believe what’s happened. Been working on great business opportunity IN AMERICA and Dad’s helping me sort it! What do you say?

Although she hadn’t seen Fitz Higgins for months, they’d been friends since forever so Emma couldn’t help being curious. Hoping for a quick response, she texted,

Got your email—what do I say to what?

Fitz texted back straightaway. Aren’t you in between jobs as usual?

Gazing round her cramped cubicle, Emma pulled a face, not ready to admit to Fitz she’d been champing at the bit to leave this place for weeks. She replied,

Well, that’s not an insult.

Come on, don’t be like that. I’m saying, how about giving it a go with me?

Seriously?

That’s right.

Emma stared at her screen, then carefully keyed,

Leave Dublin to work with you. In America.

Spot. On.

 

She set down her mobile. Well, it wasn’t the first nutter idea from Fitzwilliam D’arcy Higgins—as her second best friend Tracy would attest. He’d been hers and Tracy’s mate from secondary school, then university. They called him Fitz, over his objections, because he wanted to be known by his middle name. “You know,” Fitz had told them at least five times, “with a name like D’arcy—especially with the apostrophe and all—people will think I have that Byronic vibe, ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know.’”

Every time he said that she and Tracy would explode in gales of laughter, because Fitz had curly chestnut hair, cherubic features, and was a bit stout. He also had a certain puppyish demeanor despite being a year or so older than they were. Fitz could be overly sensitive, though, so she and Tracy could only make sport of him so much.

Especially since the pair of them were his only confidants when it came to matters of the heart. Fitz had the unfortunate tendency to spend pots of money on a girl, then get way too serious with her, way too early in the relationship. Hardly weeks after taking out someone new, he’d start hinting about rings, invariably scaring them off. And it would be up to Emma and Tracy to console him after yet another girl had dumped him.

 

Some months ago, he’d been dating a much younger blonde with trophy-wife potential, and he was sure she was Absolutely The One. After their inevitable split-up, Emma had given him a consoling hug. “Fitz,” she said gently, “you let girls walk all over you—you’re just too gullible.”

At that, Tracy hooted, “There’s the pot calling the kettle black!”

“Are you saying I’m gullible?” Emma bristled.

 “Worse than poor Fitz here!” said Tracy, still giggling.

Emma opened her mouth to tell Tracy off, but Fitz was already grumbling, “Girls, aren’t we sorting my situation tonight?”

“All right,” said Tracy, resigned, though Emma was sure her friend would much rather discuss Emma’s personality quirks. Fitz went on to replay how badly this girl had Done Him Wrong in great detail. Before he got too maudlin, though, Tracy cut him off.

“Did I tell you? I might be up for another promotion!”

You told me, thought Emma. “That’s super!” she said anyway. Not that she was envious of Tracy’s success—not exactly. Her own career problems were mostly because of liking her actual work far too little, and liking her bosses far too much.

 “No, you didn’t,” said Fitz, diverted. “Tell us!”

“Well, the promotion could take a while,” began Tracy. “You know, go through a load of higher-ups. But I’ll be in charge of a new department…”

Emma didn’t mind hearing all about it a second time. Like Tracy, she was much keener on getting ahead professionally than hearing about Fitz’s failed romances. Yet with the right encouragement, Fitz himself could be laser-focused on his career. Although he had an artistic soul (or so he said), he was always on the lookout for the next job or scheme where he could be a grand success—one that would make his parents proud, but also allow him to occasionally faff about with his head in the clouds.

Strangely enough, Fitz wasn’t a complete snowflake; he had a practical side too, and had always been a good listener when Emma would come to him after another job meltdown. Now, she re-read Fitz’s last text:

Meet me for coffee straightaway?

Emma looked round her cubicle again. Leave this uninspiring but safe job, in the city where she’d lived all her life. For a leap into the unknown. What would her sister think?

Before she could talk herself out of it, she tapped out a reply…