Pippin Pearmain is having the time of her life. After ten years of solitary peace interrupted only by cats and recalcitrant lemons, it’s all systems go for Pip. Her first film role in a decade is about to premiere, and she’s expecting a new companion and the launch of a family treasure. The next festival, Tales in Tune, is underway, and Pip’s dancing troupe, the newly named Pippinalia, expects her to pull something special out of her hat. So—no filming this time, but no leisure time either!
Her old friend Tamzin’s suggestion that the festival is a good venue for launching the newly reprinted book Grandmother’s Sunshine has metamorphosed into a giant day-long affair with multiple titles by multiple authors. With ten minutes to make an impression and a veil of playful secrecy, authors and their minions are creeping around in corners, rehearsing their pitches. Pip and her cousins are no exception, but luckily they have Dirk, the Hot Unicorn, in their corner.
Grandmother’s Sunshine is to be released, but that’s not all. There’s the new ballet, Caprice, an inexplicable midnight visit from the original cat, a silver pin…and Pip’s understanding of her reality is tossed up like a salad. When the dust settles, everything is changed—except for Pippin Picotee Pearmain. She’s still going strong, and she’s sure she’s better than ever!
The first hours of the Tales in Tune festival passed in a kind of déjà vu for Pippin Pearmain. She was back on Delphinium Island, back rooming with her agent, Magda Saxer, back in Cabin Six. She attended the Icehouse again, this time with her cousin Clarkia, and they selected their new festival shirts with assistance from the ever-helpful Asher Castleby and his fiancée, Jessie.
Asher, shyly handsome and personable, smiled at Pip in the manner of an old friend. She’d got to know him at the Dance in Tune festival in April and had met him again during a recent eventful visit to Sydney. Asher had helped her to pick her first festival shirt and a festival dress, as well as advising her on the gorgeous opalescent slip she’d worn in Solace’s last scene in Half-Life of the Lost. Jasper Diamond, the film’s director, had said You’re a being of shine and shadows now. The slip had been perfect for that.
Alain had liked her in that costume.
Pip’s insides quaked just a bit when she thought of Alain. They had played opposite one another in a long-ago film called The House of Heriot, then narrowly missed meeting again when they were both cast in Pageant Spectacular but shared no scenes. He had given her two thoughtful gifts, but her letter to him had come back marked unknown at this address. After fifty years, he’d become no more than a sweet and wistful memory of a might-have-been. Then, during the very last scene of Half-Life of the Lost, he’d appeared unexpectedly with his horse Varian in the role of the mystical horseman who was to carry Pip’s character, Solace, away to her misty future.
Meeting for the first time in half a century while on camera was less than ideal, but at least there had been no collar microphones. Their greeting and explanations hadn’t looked out of place.
After all, Solace and her horse lord and Pippin and her Alain were all meeting unexpectedly after most of a lifetime spent apart.
After the scene wrapped, they’d danced down the dusk with the other festival goers and enjoyed a supper a deux in the barn…until they were interrupted by Tamzin and Matin Campania, whose barn it was and who had every right to be there.
Alain had reiterated his invitation for Pip to visit Barfleur Manor, but it was over there, in fairyland, and Pip had no idea when, or even if, she could make the trip.
Oh, who are you fooling, Pippin Pearmain? You know you’re going to make that trip immediately after this festival. You’re sixty-six and Alain is older, so you can’t afford to put it off any longer.
Since Cousin Lupin’s death a week shy of her seventy-first birthday, Pip’s sense of the extent of an available future had taken a nasty blow.
Her insides quaked again.
The last time she’d seen Asher Castleby, at the boutique Fairings in Sydney, he’d shown her a dress that made me think of you.
It was the golden pink of sunrise, and Alain had told her long ago sunrise is my favourite colour.
Asher hadn’t pressed her to buy the dress. Neither had her friend Tamzin, who was at Fairings to leave her daughter, two dogs and a disreputable stuffed bear in the care of Asher’s mother while she did some business in the city.
No one had pressed Pip to buy anything at Fairings, and she wasn’t into impulse buying anyway.
Nevertheless, that dress was folded snugly in Pip’s small case.
Asher Castleby was either a genius or a Very Bad Influence on Older Ladies. Pip wasn’t sure which. She wasn’t sorry, though. No buyer’s remorse for Pippin Pearmain, ever.
The only remorse I should feel, ever, is in wasting the years I’m given, however many of them there are.
“What have you got for us today?” she asked Asher when the greetings were done and she’d introduced Clarkia.
Asher consulted his list. “You’re here primarily for the book launches, right?”
“Right.” Clarkia looked a bit wide-eyed. Asher was a very young man, and very beautiful, but it wasn’t just that her cousin found disconcerting, Pip thought. Asher was mostly an elf who smelled slightly and agreeably of sweet william. Clarkia probably didn’t know elves existed, but she must be sensing something other about Asher. That was bound to happen a lot at Tales in Tune, but the fay attending the festival would all be discreet.
No flying pianos, as Pip’s agent, Magda Saxer, was likely to put it.
“This one for you,” Asher said. He held out a plain leaf-green shirt with a tumble of coloured storybooks forming a kind of mayoral chain, linked by gold ribbon embroidery. Her designation was Tales in Tune—Pippin Pearmain, story dancer.
“It’s already got my name on it,” she commented.
Asher nodded. “We were expecting you. And you…Clarkia. What colour do you like?”
“I usually wear grey and black,” Clarkia murmured.
Asher pulled a grey shirt out of the pile, pursed his lips and shook his head. “Not quite right for you. Maybe this one?” He tugged out a rusty orange shirt with three books tumbling from neckline to hem. “We can put your first name—Clarkia—and launching into story on it. Okay?”
“Okay,” Clarkia said faintly.
“Ten minutes,” Asher said.
Clarkia still looked a bit glazed, so Pip took her to where the folk from Fee Kaffee were serving staggeringly high-topped scones with jam and cream.
She beckoned to Dequan Qin, who was almost all human, but whose mixed ancestry gave him a slightly exotic look.
He grinned at her, increasing the faint tilt of his eyes. “Hey Pip. Camomile or cambric for you?”
“Either. And scones for us both.” Pip indicated Clarkia. “This is my cousin, Clarkia. Clarkia, Dequan Qin. He’s with Fee Kaffee. If you tell him what kind of tea or coffee you want this week, he’ll make sure you get it.”