Suzanne and Rebecca had arranged to travel to Lincoln together and duly met on the station platform. Greeting each other affectionately, Suzanne said
‘You won’t believe the great news!’
‘Nobel prize for peace keeping in the foreign office stationary cupboard?’ hazarded Rebecca with a wicked grin
‘Aw, you guessed, but actually for the judicious distribution of rich tea biscuits on a Friday morning’ countered Suzanne deadpan, ‘no. Caitlin’s coming to the wedding’ she burst out, unable to contain herself any longer.
‘Oh, that’s brilliant! I can’t wait to see her; I bet Penny is beside herself with happiness!’
‘Yes, I think you’re right. Caitlin’s being there is the icing on the cake for Pen, she’s been really worried that we’d lost touch completely.’
‘When will she arrive?’
‘Penny wasn’t sure in her letter, but she hopes tonight or tomorrow morning at the latest so we should have a whole day together before the big day.’
Suzanne asked Rebecca how her plans for the business were shaping up and listened to her friend’s enthusiastic answers with great pleasure.
‘I have some more news too, not exactly the Nobel Prize but I have been promoted. I’m going to lead a team in a new department of the Foreign Office.’
‘Congratulations! Annie I’m so pleased for you.’ Rebecca leaned over to hug her friend; ‘You shouldn’t have let me yap on about Palmerstone for hours with that news up your sleeve!’
‘Once started it’s difficult to get you off the subject’ remarked Suzanne drily.
The rest of the journey was spent speculating about Caitlin’s doings, the impending wedding day, and meeting Charles and his family, particularly Jo.
As the train pulled in to Lincoln station the two girls were already scrambling to get their bags down from the overhead rack, keen to get out into the fresh air and to see Penny. Rebecca reached her hand out through the window to open the heavy door from the outside. She saw hurtling along the platform racing towards them not just Penny but Caitlin as well. They were both whooping with excitement, causing some other passengers to pause and look on with interested smiles, as the two reached the train in time for Rebecca and Suzanne to jump down to the platform into outstretched arms.
The four were overjoyed and over excited at seeing each other again, their wild shrieking and dancing around more fitting to eleven year old behaviour than to sophisticated young women, perhaps. There were one or two pointed ‘tuts’ that made the girls laugh, but realise that they were getting in the way of other passengers.
‘Come on’ Penny said, ‘Let’s get all your bags in the car and we’ll head up to the Close. Jo and Jane are dying to meet you and Jane will have tea ready, and we’ve got all the beds made up. Jane thinks we should go out together tonight just the four of us for old time’s sake’ she rattled on.
Everyone immediately liked the house in the Cathedral Close and felt very welcome by all the family. They were showed upstairs where with considerable effort three single beds had been squashed into Penny’s usual room for Caitlin, Rebecca and Suzanne. Penny was moving in with Jo next door.
‘Just like old times in the dorm’ reminisced Caitlin, ‘shame you’re not in here as well Pen.’
‘Oh, I’ll be in here on the end of someone’s bed until well after midnight I expect’ laughed Penny, ‘you’re not going to leave me out of the fun.’
They all unpacked and hung their wedding outfits in Penny’s wardrobe, taking it in turns to use the bathroom to freshen up.
‘Just like school’ remarked Caitlin, ‘only it smells nice!’
They trooped downstairs following Penny to the big family kitchen where Jane produced tea and scones and cake for the ravening hoards, as she put it. The women all chatted together easily, discussing the wedding plans, hopes for the weather, plans for the evening, the Donaldson’s home that they liked, and thanks for the hospitality that had been extended to them.
‘Nonsense’ replied Jane, ‘we’re delighted to have you here; Penny has talked about you all for so long now that we consider you as family too.’
‘Where are you planning to take them tonight Penny?’ asked Jo, ‘I heard that there’s a new chef at the Crown and the food’s much better than it used to be.’
‘Brilliant thanks Jo; I was going to ask you where you thought would be best.’
‘Wouldn’t you like to come out with us Jo’ asked Rebecca, she caught a smile from Penny, ‘It seems mean to leave you out.’
‘Thanks, that’s nice of you to ask but I get to see Penny a lot in the holidays and she hardly ever sees you guys. Also I’ve got a date.’ She added, mysteriously.
There was an instant chorus of:
‘How come I didn’t know?’
‘You dark horse!’
‘Well I shan’t be telling any of you anything until I’ve actually been out with him. It might be a complete disaster, in fact knowing my luck with men make that probable.’ Rejoined Jo, laughing at the furore she had caused.
The meal at the Crown was a great success though less for the food than the camaraderie. Each of the girls updated the others on their main events to supportive and congratulatory responses. Caitlin was grilled about her life, where she had been, what she was doing, how she was and how much she had been missed. Caitlin felt a bit choked by their concern for her and apologised for having disappeared for so long.
‘I’m really sorry, I often thought about you all and wondered what you were doing but after my mother died I needed space. I couldn’t really think straight for a long time and frankly I’m still not sure what I’m doing with my life, just drifting I guess’ she smiled ruefully, ‘you guys make me feel ashamed with all your future plans…’ she tailed off.
‘Don’t think that Caitlin. None of us have had to go through what you had to; I think I would have gone completely to pieces if it had happened to me’ Penny empathised, the others nodding gravely in agreement.
‘The important thing to us is that you’re here now’ Suzanne stated.
‘And we don’t want you to disappear again, ever’ added Rebecca.
‘Thank you all, I really missed you’, sniffed Caitlin, suddenly overcome with emotion.
‘Anyway Penny’ Caitlin said keen to change the subject, ‘when are we going to meet this delectable man of yours?’
‘Well I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you there’ confessed Penny, ‘Charles has moved out from the Close to make room for my parents who are arriving tomorrow morning in time for lunch. He’s staying with his friend Martin, who’s going to be the best man, at his parent’s place over in Nottingham. Charles and Martin and another friend from junior school days, Dylan, are all out on the town tonight, much as we are I suppose. We won’t see him now until Saturday at the church!’
The girls talked long into the night until one by one they dropped off to sleep.