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The Wedding Day
By Catherine Alliott
Random HouseCatherine Alliott
All right reserved.
"So you don't think she'll mind?" I asked again, coming back to the breakfast table with two slopping mugs of coffee. I handed him one.
"Annabel, for the last time, I know she won't mind." David reached for a piece of kitchen towel and carefully wiped the bottom of his mug before setting it down. "That house stands empty for months on end, for heaven's sake, except when she deigns to pop in for two weeks in September. She'll be delighted to have the place occupied; she always is."
"And you won't mind? I mean, us going?" I perched on a chair opposite him in my threadbare blue dressing gown, cradled my mug in my hands and peered anxiously at him over his propped-up newspaper. "You'll be here all on your own, David, for the whole summer. Well, most of it, anyway. Be awfully quiet."
With a sigh, he folded The Times carefully into quarters, laid it aside and smiled. "I'll cope." He reached across my rickety old pine table, laid his immaculate Hilditch & Key shirtsleeve in the crumbs and detritus of breakfast and squeezed my arm. "I've coped on my own for the last thirty-odd years. What makes you think I'll forget how to boil a kettle now? Or go out with my underpants on back to front, perhaps? And with the best will in the world, Annie, it's not as if your culinary skills are keeping me from wasting away, either. I think I'll survive. Incidentally, speaking of things culinary, there is a terrible pong in this kitchen." He dropped my arm and sniffed the air cautiously. "Emanating, I think, from those Waitrose curry cartons you so lovingly decanted our supper from last night. They're not still lurking about somewhere, are they?" He looked around suspiciously.
"It would be rather marvelous," I went on abstractedly, gazing at a small patch of sunlight on the wall above his left shoulder, dimly aware that my eyes were shining but that I couldn't help it. "And just what I need right now. Nearly two months of peace and quiet to finish this wretched book, and by the sea, too. And without . . . well . . ."
"Shopping to do and beds to make and the telephone ringing constantly and your bloody sister popping round every five minutes, yes, yes, I agree. We've been through this a million times, Annie, take the house in Cornwall and finish the wretched book and get it over and done with." He grinned and propped up his newspaper again. Gave it a vigorous shake. "Go on, bog off."
"And we'll get married the moment I get back," I said, putting my mug down decisively.
"And we'll get married the moment you get back," he repeated from the depths of the broadsheet.
"In the church at the bottom of Cadogan Street? You know, the one we were going to look at? Bully the vicar into letting us use it even though we don't live round there? Offer him, I don't know, money for the church roof or something?"
He ground his teeth, just perceptibly. "In the church at the bottom of Cadogan Street, corruptible vicar permitting, yes."
"And only because Mum was cheated out of the church bit the first time round and would love it so, and--"
"Look," he interrupted, shaking his paper again irritably. "We've been through this a hundred times, Annie. We've been through the unsatisfactory nature of your charmless wedding to your faithless first husband, and the not unreasonable demands of my future mother-in-law for church nuptials the second time around, and I've said yes. Please don't make me tread on hot coals again," he implored plaintively.
"And Flora would love it too," I mused, picking up my plate and drifting absently to the sink, stacking it high on top of an already tottering pagoda of dirty dishes. "The wedding, I mean. Being a bridesmaid, all that sort of thing."
He caught my wrist suddenly as I floated back and kissed the palm of my hand hard. In a swift movement he'd drawn me down onto his lap. "Yes, she would," he murmured, kissing me purposefully on the mouth. "Now stop it. We've agreed. You go to Cornwall, you take my dippy aunt's house if it hasn't already been washed away by the sea, and you finish your book. Then you return, six weeks later, a woman of letters--and hopefully means, if they sock you the advance they've threatened--and in a matter of days you'll have a ring on your finger and all the bourgeois respectability that goes with being Mrs. Palmer, the doctor's wife. Frankly, I think it's an admirable plan, and to be honest I don't really mind what you do so long as you stop burning the toast and making me drink coffee you can stand a spoon up in, in Flora's chipped Groovy Chick mug." He peered balefully into its pink depths.
"I'll have it back then, shall I? Since you're fussy?" Flora, having pounded downstairs, came through the door in her school uniform and plucked the mug from under his nose. She tasted it and made a face. "Ugh, you're right, it's vile. Mum, pretending to make real coffee by putting in three spoonfuls of instant is not going to wash with your urbane, sophisticated boyfriend, you know." She went to the sink and poured it away. "And what are all these curry cartons doing in the sink?" She poked the precarious pile with an incredulous finger. "No wonder it stinks in here. And stop hopping around," she added as I hastily got off David's lap, blushing. "You're sharing a bed together in this house, for God's sake, I don't see that a cuddle at the breakfast table makes any difference." She grinned conspiratorially at David, clearly relishing her role as the mature observer of impulsive lovebirds. He winked good-naturedly back.
"Flora's right. Stop behaving as if we're just playing Scrabble up there and give her a little credit. And incidentally, where exactly does my new stepdaughter fit into this great summer scheme of yours?"
I looked at him quickly, wondering for the first time if this was a veiled reproach, but his gray eyes were twinkling with amusement.
"What scheme?" demanded Flora. She threw back her head and gathered a sheet of silky dark hair into her hands, ready for the scrunchy poised between her teeth.
"Well, Flora, nothing's set in stone," I began nervously, "but you know this book I've been trying to--"
"Oh God, is it ten past?" Her eyes flew to the clock. "My bus!" She seized a piece of burned toast from the toaster and simultaneously stuffed books in a bag with the other. "Yes, I know your book."
"Well, Gertrude has a place by the sea, apparently." I twisted my fingers anxiously, following her as she dashed around the kitchen gathering together gym kit, pencil case, trainers. "You know, David's aunt--"
"Yes, of course I know Gertrude. Has she? I didn't know that." She threw an inquiring glance over her shoulder at David as she reached behind the door for her lacrosse stick and shoes.
He nodded. "She does."
"And . . . well, I thought I might go there. Borrow it, just for the summer. Just for six weeks or so--"
"Six weeks!" She paused. Stopped her packing and gazed. "What, you mean . . . and I'll stay here? With David?"
"Oh no! No, I didn't mean that. No, it'll be during the school holidays, so you'll come with me. I'll be working, obviously, but I could get a nanny or something . . ."
"A nanny. God, Mum, I'm twelve. I don't need a nanny."
"Well, you know, a girl, a teenager or something. An Aussie girl perhaps. Just for you to play with, to keep an eye on you."
"Play, Mother?" She regarded me witheringly. Shook her head and resumed her packing. "I can amuse myself. And anyway, I think I'd rather be in London. All my friends are staying in London for the summer, and I could stay here with David, couldn't I?"
"Doesn't matter a jot to me," said David equably, getting up from the table and reaching for his suit jacket on the back of a chair.
I looked at him gratefully, loving him for playing to her bravado. For not saying: "What friends, Flora?" or: "Flora, do me a favor, you can't even manage a sleepover without your mum, let alone six weeks."
"You girls sort it out between yourselves," he went on. "Frankly, I think you'll have a job persuading your mother to leave you behind, but on the other hand, I think Flora's right. I'm not convinced she needs nannying among the rock pools. Other than that"--he held up his hands to stem the flow of protests en route from both of us--"not my problem. I ain't getting involved." He grinned. "One of the perks of marrying into a ready-made family, see. They get to sort out their own domestics." He glanced at his watch. "And I'm going to be late for surgery if I don't get a wiggle on, so I'll see you both later." He kissed me again on the mouth and tweaked Flora's ponytail on the way out. "Bye, you."
"Bye." She grinned good-naturedly back.
When he'd disappeared down the front hall and the door had shut behind him, the stained-glass panes rattling in the frame, I turned anxiously to her.
"But you will come with me, won't you, Flora? I hadn't planned on doing this without you, you know."
She munched her toast without looking at me. Brushed some crumbs from her mouth with the back of her hand.
"Hadn't talked to me about it though, had you?"
"Well, no." I hesitated. "Obviously I had to talk to David first." I paused, letting this new level of hierarchy sink in, then lost my nerve. "I mean," I said quickly, "he's the one being left behind, and anyway, apart from anything else, I haven't asked Gertrude yet. The house does belong to her, and I haven't even asked if I can borrow it yet."
There was a silence as she fixed a silver grip carefully in the side of her hair.
"Where is this place, anyway?"
"Down on the north coast of Cornwall, near Rock. It's really pretty."
"How do you know?"
"Well, apparently. And perched high up on the top of a cliff and--oh Flora, you can surf there and water-ski, sail dinghies, learn to ride, all that sort of thing. You'll have a terrific time! You'll meet people, make friends--"
"Okay, okay, stop selling it. You'll be throwing in sing-songs around the campfire next. And what about David? Why isn't he coming?"
"He will, of course he will, for weekends. But he can't take all that time off, particularly if we want to have a honeymoon later on in the year." I hesitated. "Flora, you do realize we will have a honeymoon . . ."
"Oh God, I'm not coming on that!"
"No, no," I said quickly. "Just checking you knew."
"Mum, do me a favor." She made a gormless face. "Anyway, Granny will come and look after me, won't she?" She contrived to look nonchalant but her dark eyes were anxious and my heart lurched for her.
"Of course she will."
Suddenly her face paled as she saw the sock she'd been looking for in the fruit bowl. She seized it.
"Oh Mum, my name tags! You didn't sew them on my games things and Miss Taylor said I'll get a debit if they're not on by today!"
"Flora, it's quarter past already. Why didn't you remind me last night?"
"But I'll get a debit!" she wailed, pulling the whole kit out of her bag in a crumpled heap. "And you never ironed it, and she said unless each piece is named, including the socks--"
"Here." I snatched them up and ran to the kitchen drawer. The first biro nib disappeared up its plastic shaft, the second had no ink, so I seized a red felt pen and began to scrawl frenziedly.
Excerpted from The Wedding Day by Catherine Alliott
Excerpted by permission.
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