Rebecca – December 1985
The adults were trying to make Christmas as enjoyable as possible for the younger inmates of the Pimlico House. Tyrone and Reuben’s emotions seesawed between high excitement and withdrawn misery. The tree was decorated with lots of favourite things to eat and the grown-ups were secretive about surprises.
But after Christmas their father was departing for the States. The boys were fearful that he would disappear from their lives again as he had done once before. Dylan had promised that he would stay in touch with his boys but he wasn’t under much illusion that Rebecca would allow his sons to visit in the States. Nor did he expect that she would allow him access to them for a week or more if he were to return to the UK to take them with him on holiday there.
Christmas Eve was too exciting for the children to be gloomy, consequently bedtime was a protracted affair trying to get them to settle down and go to sleep. With this objective finally achieved Rebecca joined Suzanne in the arrangement of arms full of packages under the tree. Sitting back on her heels to review the effect Rebecca’s eye was drawn away from the multitude of brightly hued and beribboned parcels to the large plain brown parcel which had come for her from Dylan. It sat there almost like an accusation making her feel guilty every time she saw it.
During the week Dylan had delivered presents for his children being careful to arrive when Jack alone would be at the house. The two men had greeted each other cordially Jack offering to make coffees. Dylan had declined; the whole experience was making him feel dejected.
On Christmas morning, very early, signs of activity could be heard quite clearly in Rebecca’s room, the floor below the boys’ Eyrie. The padding of bare feet and the stage whispering indicating that Santa’s gifts were being harvested. She smiled to herself as she strained to hear what was being said. She could detect no words just the sound of happy excited voices.
With hopes that they would stay put upstairs for another hour or so Rebecca drifted back to sleep. The peace and quiet didn’t last for long. Unable to contain their excitement any longer two little faces appeared at her bedroom door. Jostling for position and hushing each other loudly the boys waited for a second to see if there were any signs of life from their mother. Unable to pretend to sleep any further Rebecca’s face twitched into a smile. The next half an hour was spent in rapt admiration of all the exciting goodies that Father Christmas had mysteriously delivered in the night as Ty and Roo bounced all over her and the bed making enough noise to raise the dead.
Mercifully Suzanne’s head poked around the door with an invitation not to be missed:
‘Bucks fizz and coffee’s ready; and breakfast not far behind!’ She grinned at the bedlam in Rebecca’s room, ‘Come and show Auntie Annie what Santa brought for you?’ she invited. Calm restored Rebecca momentarily enjoyed the quiet as she surveyed the wreckage that was her bedroom. She could hear in the distance the shrill voices of her sons exclaiming anew their enthusiasm and gratification. Rebecca grinned and quickly pulled on jeans and a jumper. She didn’t want to miss any of the fun.
The adults had decreed that presents would be opened at staged intervals during the day a system that worked well, the sessions interspersed by eating and drinking (adults) playing with newly opened toys and eating sweets (children). A large parcel each for the boys revealed skateboards necessitating a trip to the nearby Warwick Gardens to try them out. A short walk and some fresh air proved to be restorative to all. Watching the boys scoot their new skateboards around the gardens Rebecca and Suzanne were both reminded of past occasions when they had been here prompting happy reminiscences and thoughts of absent friends.
‘Phone calls after lunch?’ suggested Suzanne.
‘Yes I think so.’ Rebecca agreed, ‘We must call Dylan too to thank him for these…’ She gesticulated at the boys obviously enjoying their new gifts.
‘P’raps you should open the picture first?’ Suzanne recommended, ‘Kill two birds with one stone, sort of thing.’
‘Mm!’ Rebecca hedged; she was putting off the moment.
Suzanne had taken the role of Head Chef with Rebecca and Jack Sous-chef and Wine Waiter respectively. The combined efforts produced a delicious though belated Christmas lunch. It was two thirty by the time they all sat down to eat Turkey with all the usual trimmings followed by Christmas pudding and, breaking with tradition, ice cream. Lunch was interrupted to watch the Queen’s speech on TV at Jack’s behest providing a moment’s respite from the culinary assault.
It was after six when the table had been cleared and washing-up performed that the last round of present opening began. Unable to delay the moment any longer Rebecca tore the paper off her parcel from Dylan. It bore no name or salutation. The last tear of paper revealed a framed black and white photograph. A close up of Tyrone and Reuben their faces alight with enjoyment. She inspected the photograph through tear-blurred eyes.
Dylan had caught an instant when Ty’s expression of wicked delight made him look just like his father; Reuben’s quizzical grin showed his unmistakable likeness to his mother. It was an extraordinary photograph that she would always treasure, but more than that she could tell that Dylan had picked this photograph with care. It underlined their duel parenthood of both their sons.
Rebecca left the room quietly and sped up to her bedroom. She had a long overdue call to make. The phone rang and rang in the stillness of Dylan’s house before clicking into answer phone. Rebecca, not prepared for this eventuality, left a jumbled message full of hope and promise.
‘Please forgive me Dylan; I’ve been stupid and pig-headed. The boys love you and they don’t want you to leave. Please don’t leave us we all love you.’ Her voice wobbled, she was so full of emotion. ‘I love you.’
Sadly for them all Dylan was already at Heathrow awaiting his flight to the States. The answer phone sat blinking silently in the emptied hallway of Dylan’s shuttered house.
End Book 2
To be continued in Book 3 – Westbourne Grove
Penny – December 1985
Preparations for Christmas in the Donaldson household was always pandemonium but in a good way. The twins would be three on Christmas Eve, Lucy’s eighth birthday soon after Christmas in January and Simon, nine, in February. Charles was always frantically busy with choir practice, church services, carol singing etc. All in all everything seemed to happen together in the winter months.
Penny was busy baking endless batches of mince pies, Christmas cake and Christmas puddings to feed the five thousand as Charles put it. The children had been making Christmas decorations for the last month; paper chains, Chinese lanterns; cardboard stars, fairies and snowmen all decorated with spray paint and oodles of glitter. All were littering surfaces around the rectory waiting for the appointed day for putting up the decorations.
Penny hummed happily to herself as she aired beds and put out rather threadbare towels in the bathrooms. Her parents were arriving the following day; they would spend Christmas with the family. The day after Boxing Day Charles’s parents would be joining them for a few days. Jo, Julius, William and Poppy would accompany Jane and Peter for just one night on their return journey to Reading after Christmas. Jon and Gwen had volunteered to move into the local pub for the night so that all could be accommodated. Daniel was expected for one night as well but not Agnes as she was down in Wiltshire with her fiancés parents.
Penny had forever wanted to be part of a big happy family so she was always in high spirits at Christmas time. She had spent every evening for the last several months knitting scarves and bobble hats, gloves and socks for various members of the family. She had even managed to construct a navy cable knit sweater for her husband without his knowledge (The most subterfuge ever exhibited in their marriage).
It was Simon and Lucy’s last day at school and the twins were with Mrs Tindersley, the women who child minded them for two days a week, in the village. Charles was collecting them all and they would come home via the park. Penny put the finishing touches on laying the living room fire and glanced at her watch. Just time enough to have a bath and wash her hair before the hungry hoards descended for super.
Penny planned to have a late super with Charles. She would feed the children and then bath Katy and Susan and get them into bed. Meanwhile Simon and Lucy were going Carol singing with their father and the rest of the choir around the village. It was always cold in the rectory that was warmed by the Aga and various fires around the house, central heating not being at the top of the Church of England’s expenditure priorities.
Penny dried her hair and dressed in a pair of jeans and a beautiful but ancient pale pink cashmere sweater that Rebecca had given to her probably ten years before. It was the warmest item in her modest wardrobe. She slipped her feet into equally ancient sheepskin slippers and ran down to the warmth of the kitchen. She had bought the children’s favourite Lincoln Sausages from the butcher and set to preparing them with onion gravy and mash, the oldest two’s current favourite, and baked beans for the twins.
The family were greeted by the tantalising smells of her cooking as they pulled off their coats and boots in the hall.
‘Mm something smells good,’ Simon complimented, approaching his mother for an exchange of hugs.
‘Your favourite’ Penny smiled indulgently. Simon was getting so tall and handsome like his father.
‘Yippee! sausage, mash and onion gravy’ he notified Lucy happily.
‘Sausage with baked beans for Katy and Susan.’ Penny elucidated for her (almost) three year olds who still seemed to commune only with each other. The twins beamed at one another pleased with the information. Penny sometimes found it rather unnerving that they inhabited an almost exclusive world speaking their own language. She had been reassured by Charles and by their family doctor that it was not abnormal and occurred quite often with twins.
‘You’ll be sorry that you wished for it when they’re running around screaming like William and Poppy’ Charles had teased her, ‘not that they mean any harm’ he added hurriedly not wanting to speak badly of his nephew and niece.
That evening, after a triumphant return from carol singing, Penny had tucked her older two into bed and left them reading their own stories with instructions for lights-out at 9.30. The twins were both already fast asleep. Charles was sitting contentedly at the kitchen table when she reappeared to put the finishing touches to their own meal.
They usually ate as a family these days but whenever there was an opportunity they ate together when the children were all in bed. It was rather like a date night for them both. If Penny got the candles out Charles knew he was definitely in with a chance. He grinned happily as Penny cleared a space on the table and produced the silver candlesticks already decorated around the base with miniature holly wreaths ready for Christmas lunch. It was much too cold to eat in the dining room.
They exchanged a conspiratorial glance. Charles’s gaze followed Penny’s form appreciatively as she dished up rabbit stew and dumplings with roasted mixed root vegetables, one of Charles’s favourites. The Church Warden seemed to have an endless supply of game for the vicar’s family.
‘Anything that I can do to help my love?’ asked Charles, rather belatedly.
‘Pour some wine.’ Penny answered indicating the bottle of rather good burgundy with a nod as she approached the table with a plate of food in each hand.
‘Yum! That smells so good.’ Charles uttered, obediently providing wine for each of them. ‘Here’s to the Chef!’ He toasted Penny approvingly. They ate slowly and chatted idly about the day’s happenings between mouthfuls. Charles telling of the carol singing around the village where this year they had been well received by every household that they had called on, unlike in the early days. The resulting collection would swell the restoration fund for the church tower and help to pay for the school trip in the summer term.
Penny related her exploits of the day and reiterated the plans for the next few days. Charles had so much church stuff on his mind that he needed a few prompts from Penny to remind him what was happening in his family and social life. ‘My goodness we are going to have a house full.’ He responded genially to Penny’s detailed itinerary. ‘Are you going to be able to manage everything my dear?’ He asked awed by the task she had taken on.
‘Yes I think so’ Penny smiled reassuringly, ‘I’ve been planning for weeks now, cooking and freezing things, baking and preserving. I’ve made all the beds ready and set the bathrooms out. We’ll have to do a quick change of sheets and towels when your parents, Jo and Julius arrive but I have some old ones ready which will do fine’ she paused racking her brains for anything that she may have forgotten, ‘and everyone will help with the chores while they’re here.’ She finished happy that all was running smoothly to plan.
‘You’re a wonder my dear.’ Charles put his arm round her shoulder and she snuggled her head against him, smiling acquiescence to the compliment.
‘Go sit on the sofa while I clear and make some coffee.’ Charles commanded, planting a kiss on Penny’s forehead. She sat with her feet curled under her on the old sagging sofa positioned next to the warmth of the Aga. She watched approvingly as her husband washed dishes and brewed coffee humming a Christmas carol as he worked.
Penny appreciated how lucky she was; she loved her man so much. Her lips curled up in silent contentment as she relaxed waiting for him to return to her side. She would show him how much she cared tonight, her thoughts turned to lovemaking her body felt relaxed and her nipples hardened with lustful thoughts.
Charles, who knew every expression of Penny’s face and every inch of her comely body, glanced across at his wife and knew what she had in mind.
‘Here or upstairs?’ Charles asked huskily, slipping his arm around her waist and his hand under her sweater to fondle her breast. The firmness of her nipple provoked an immediate response from his cock.
‘Here.’ Penny wriggled to get her jeans undone and slipped out of her pants. She was already wet and ready for him. Charles slipped his finger inside her and rubbed her clitoris gently and rhythmically until she gasped for him to enter. Charles complied with a strong thrust of his hips. His mouth seeking her nipple he sucked lustily as he swayed his hips gently pulling back and then pushing deep, as she liked it.
Penny indicated by a whimper of satisfaction that she was about to orgasm and Charles thrust quicker until he came groaning with his own release. They fell together in a heap on the old sofa gently caressing and kissing each other.
‘Well hussy it’s time for bed.’ Charles lifted her easily, picked up her discarded clothes and carried her upstairs.
Penny and Charles lay cuddled up in bed (partly for warmth) still languid from their lovemaking. They reached over to each other simultaneously for a good night kiss. The usual brush of lips lingered longer their tongues playing games. Charles who couldn’t resist his wife’s breasts was soon tempted to visit first one and then the other licking the rigid nipples appreciatively. Penny could feel his erection against her thigh. She lifted his head away from her breasts and kissed him deeply on the mouth,
‘And you a man of the cloth,’ she murmured, teasingly into his face. She released him so that he could continue his journey down her body arching her back to offer herself to him.
Suzanne – December 1985
Suzanne was enjoying her new posting to the embassy in Rome. The job was challenging, the city a delight to explore and the apartment simply marvellous. Her mastery of the Spanish language was helpful in picking up the rudiments of Italian very quickly although sometimes the similarities proved to be confusing. She was looking forward to her trip home and to seeing her father, Rebecca and the children who had effectively become an extended family to Suzanne.
A phone call to Rebecca had elicited that the boys wanted Transformers which Suzanne placed on her shopping list alongside the new cashmere sweater she intended to purchase for her father and God knew what for Rebecca. She was hoping for inspiration from the beautiful shops on the Via Condotti. Suzanne had already bought and posted presents for Penny and her family.
She had no idea what she could buy for Caitlin or how she could get anything to her. She worried that any contact from her may prove to put Caitlin into a difficult situation. Suzanne knew of old how Peterson operated. She had been systematically isolated from her colleagues by him. After the disastrous encounter with her old enemy Suzanne had done some more research into Michael’s meteoric career. She knew him and she smelt a rat. Before her return to Rome she had met up with Henry Lewis. Now retired Henry had been delighted to meet with Suzanne and reminisce on old times. He was even happier that she had a commission for him. Henry had the most extensive networks throughout the civil service and she felt sure that he would know someone in the Inland Revenue department. Once they had exchanged news and social niceties Suzanne had introduced the purpose of the meeting. In the utmost confidence she asked if what appeared to her to be a couple of discrepancies in Peterson’s companies accounts could be made the subject of a discreet investigation.
It was a bright, clear Saturday morning in Rome. Suzanne donned her winter coat and boots to make her final Christmas shopping foray. She strolled along the Corso d’Italia in the opposite direction to her usual route to work, skirting the Villa Borghese Park. She headed for the Piazza di Spagna stopping to browse at the many colourful stalls selling Christmas baubles and knick-knacks suitable for stocking fillers. Her destination however was the Mecca of luxury shopping the Via Condotti. Suzanne was determined to buy her father something really special and of course she had the Rebecca challenge to accomplish.
Two hours later, Suzanne, tired but triumphant (as her father would have said), stopped at Harry’s Bar on the way home. She had deserved a treat herself she reckoned as she was shown to a table and divested of her coat and parcels. Suzanne looked around the restaurant covertly people watching. She had always rather liked eating out alone for the opportunities it afforded. Particularly when she was on foreign soil; she could often understand amusing snippets of conversation that were not intended for stranger’s ears.
She was flying out to London on Monday evening after she finished work. She and Rebecca planned to decorate the tree together, while the boys were in bed, as a surprise for the morning. With this activity in mind she had purchased chocolate coins, snowmen made of ginger bread with sugar frosting, and some liquorice laces to hang like icicles off the tree. Altogether Suzanne was pleased with life. The only fly in the ointment was Michael Peterson. She would give Henry Lewis a call to see if he had heard anything from his ‘mole’ in the Revenue. He was going to be out in Majorca for Christmas but she had his contact details.
Rebecca – December 1985
Palmerstone was very busy in the lead up to Christmas and Rebecca’s time was largely taken up with her business. The shops were flourishing with all-time record takings from each of the three shops. Her business success was her main consolation. Away from work she was beset by problems. She missed Caitlin more than she could have thought possible. The almost every day camaraderie that they had shared through their mutual support network and childcare arrangements was impossible to replace.
Rebecca didn’t like to ask Jack to collect the boys from school all the time so her work days were constantly disrupted by collecting and dropping off her boys for school and their various after school activities. To add to her woes she had not seen or spoken to Dylan since Caitlin’s wedding. As she had predicted she had overstepped the mark. Dylan had resolved to put Rebecca out of his mind forever.
Dylan had thought that he would be able to get to know his sons without becoming emotionally involved with Rebecca. He had hope that she may relent towards him but had never had great expectations. Unfortunately for him his love for Rebecca had reawakened and strengthened over the time he’d spent in London. When he looked at his sons he saw Rebecca’s looks and expressions, a little furrow of the brow as Reuben concentrated on his homework, a tilt of Ty’s chin as he determined to do something difficult.
Dylan was finding it increasingly hard to bear her dislike. He had repeatedly turned down offers of lucrative contracts in New York in favour of more modest fees that kept him in London. He began to consider returning to the States where he may be able to lead a more normal life. His existence had been monastic in London despite the continuous temptations that were offered to him.
A week before Christmas the boys returned from a Wednesday night visit to their father’s house with long faces. They carried between them a wrapped present for Rebecca obviously a picture by its shape.
‘Dad’s leaving London.’ Informed Tyrone, his young face impervious, reflecting an expression inherited from his mother.
‘I don’t want Daddy to go’ Reuben wailed, ‘I love him.’ He ran to Rebecca and threw himself into her arms sobbing disconsolately. ‘Why does Daddy have to go to New York?’
‘I don’t know sweetheart.’ Rebecca responded with a lump in her throat. She ruffled her baby’s curls and held out her arms to include Tyrone in a hug. Stony faced he shook his head. Somehow he knew that it was his mother’s fault that his father was leaving. It was because she didn’t like him. Tyrone didn’t understand it but it hurt. Rebecca also knew that it was her fault. She felt like crying herself.
Rebecca was miserably aware of her sons’ grief. It was heart wrenching to see their pinched faces and woeful expressions. She wondered if she went and begged Dylan not to go it would make a difference to his resolve. She was too proud to try. The usual excited expectations of Christmas were much muted in the Pimlico house. The only thing to look forward to was Suzanne’s return for the festivities.
Caitlin – December 1985
Caitlin was feeling desperate. Her wedding day had started with such a damning revelation about Michael’s character. She had known even as she sat next to him at the reception that her marriage with him would never work. Her latent qualms all rose to the surface at the cold hard words he had directed at Suzanne and the look of malice that accompanied them.
It was apparent from the moment that they were left alone together that the charm and protestations of affection that he had showered on her were made merely to attach her. He no longer thought it necessary to consider her feelings in any way. Michael was not interested in pleasing anyone other than himself. He was aroused solely by risk taking; whether on the gambling tables or on the money markets, with casual sex in public places or drug taking. He sought thrills, nothing else.
His first blatant exhibition of this propensity occurred on the flight out for their ‘honeymoon’, a blatant misnomer for the humiliating fortnight that Caitlin was to experience. A flight stewardess made it obvious by her marked attentions and innuendo that she was more than available. Michael had disappeared from her side during the flight and was away for what seemed ages. Caitlin was upset and furious with him. It was obvious that he had had sex with the woman but to accuse him of the betrayal in the public place of a first class cabin would cause a scene. She baulked at the prospect of a monumental public row.
Caitlin soon found that merely to express an opinion would be likely to precipitate a violent bout of rage or a long period of stony silence. She learnt to acquiesce and remained mute when she disagreed with his opinion, which was often. Michael had made it quite clear that he required his wife to be at his behest. He wanted Caitlin to attend social events as his wife, to hang on his arm and on his words to add to his importance. It was a role that Caitlin found to be onerous in many ways. First she had eschewed most events of this type in the past preferring to cultivate a small circle of close friends, people whom she really liked. Socialising with her real friends was proving to be difficult. Michael scoffed at the idea of a vicar’s wife and a shopkeeper being suitable friends for Caitlin. Of course any mention of Suzanne was out of the question.
Charlotte was another impediment to the lifestyle Michael expected of Caitlin. He had suggested boarding school while they were ‘honeymooning’ and was in no mood to listen to Caitlin’s protestations that she was too young at six to go away from home. Michael’s counter-argument was that, as they would be spending time between the manor in Bucks and the Pelham Crescent house Charlotte would have to board. Caitlin had to concede his point but bought some time by insisting that Charlotte would need to complete this term at the very least before she was moved. She would hire a nanny to take care of Charlotte after school.
Caitlin was now frantically looking for a way out from the disastrous marriage that she had made. The only thing that stopped her from leaving him was the baby. Perhaps her father too, she didn’t want to disappoint him by failing in her second marriage. She knew that she was lucky having the financial independence that she had. Some women were trapped in similar marriages without the option of leaving except to a life of poverty and struggle.
The worst feeling was the isolation. Not able to see her friends without provoking an attack from her husband made Caitlin introverted and she was deeply unhappy. Charlotte too was becoming withdrawn. Caitlin began to think that Charlie would be best off in boarding school away from the simmering tension of her home life. The only friend that was available to her was Ariel. Michael continued to behave impeccably to Caitlin when in company with her father and stepmother.
Frank and Ariel had bought a house in Thurloe Square only a stone’s throw from Pelham Crescent. The place had been recently overhauled and most of the decorations were to their taste. They had moved in immediately.
Frequency of contact with her family however was limited for Caitlin who found herself increasingly sidelined into staying in the country while Michael was in town. At least this separation gave her some respite from his frightening mood swings. Caitlin attempted to amuse herself by planning some renovations to the big old house but somehow it seemed pointless and the place seemed more like a prison that a family home.
Their living arrangements necessitated a temporary solution for Charlotte; Caitlin had begged Ariel to have her during the week. Emily attended the same school so the two could go together. Ariel had suspected that things were not well in Caitlin’s marriage; Charlotte’s withdrawn behaviour confirmed the misgiving.
Suzanne – October 1985
Suzanne decided to walk across Green Park and back home to Pimlico. Her shoes were not really suitable for walking but they were quite flat. She needed the fresh air and exercise to clear her head of all the conflicting emotions. Suzanne had no thought of ever clapping eyes on the detested Michael Peterson again. What she couldn’t get a grip of was how he had got himself into such elevated circles that he could have met Caitlin. That it was all some sort of con trick she was in absolutely no doubt.
Nearing home with her mind still knotted up with the conundrum Suzanne redirected her footsteps to the library. She soon found what she was looking for. She had heard from Rebecca that Caitlin’s husband to be had received a Knighthood for his services to Industry. A scan of recent Honours Lists soon revealed the name. Armed with this information she researched in back editions of the business press and looked into some of the companies he was fronting.
Sitting back in a squeaky library chair Suzanne considered the picture she had built up. The irony that struck her was that Peterson should have welcomed her with open arms. He would have in all probability bumped along in the lower rankings of the civil service had she not precipitated his departure. That he had done extremely well financially in a short space of time was unarguable. His track record was phenomenal. Suzanne pondered his success against what she knew of him; lazy, dishonest, vain, a risk taker with unscrupulous tendencies. There was no comfort to Suzanne to be gleaned from this exercise but at least she ‘knew her enemy’ in Sun Tzu’s words.
Suzanne renewed her journey homeward, only a few streets away. She was pleased that her father was out; she’d seen him very briefly when she’d dropped her bag off. She made herself a cup of tea and sat on the big comfy sofa in the kitchen trying to calm down. She was comforted by the arrival of Zorro and then Ziggy who rubbed against her and purred rhythmically doing more to settle her than anything could. She sat motionless gradually unwinding as she waited for Rebecca to return.
The girls had spent many a happy evening in the kitchen of the Pimlico house but this was not ordained to be one of them. Rebecca went upstairs to change into her usual uniform of jeans and tee regretting that she had ever chosen the red dress; it had been a disaster. She clattered downstairs to be greeted by the equally glum face of Suzanne. The usually trusty solution of a glass of wine proved to be illusive in its recuperative powers.
Jack returned to the house expecting to see smiling faces and was disturbed by the greeting he received. It was unusual for his daughter to be down in the dumps, or Rebecca usually; although Dylan always seemed to be able to provoke a bad mood, which saddened Jack as he liked Dylan. There was no doubting that something was really amiss.
Jack replenished glasses for the girls and poured a drink for himself. His daughter looked well he noted in an emerald green dress. He made the compliment to her adding mildly,
‘You should change though you’ve got cat hairs over it already.’
‘I know I should have. It’s too late now.’ Suzanne responded desultorily brushing at her dress.
‘So may I ask what the problem is?’ Jack continued in his gentle manner, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen such long faces on you two girls.’
Suzanne sighed heavily and recounted the sorry tale of Caitlin’s wedding. Rebecca took up the tale where Suzanne’s part ended. She recounted how Caitlin had looked shaken and upset and the insufferable smugness exhibited by her new husband. As she told of the awful stilted conversation and awkwardness of the meal she started to become uncomfortably aware that she had been the cause of much of the tension herself. She looked almost beseechingly at Jack,
‘The worst of it is that I was a complete bitch to Dylan and he didn’t do anything to deserve it…’ her voice rose to a wail, ‘he’ll never ever want to see me again.’ She burst into tears and ran from the room. Jack and Suzanne were left gaping at each other in amazement.
Penny – October 1985
Penny arrived in Rebecca’s wake to see Michael spinning Caitlin around away from the door. She was aware that all was not well from a glimpse of Caitlin’s face looking pale and shocked. At the same time she saw Rebecca darting out through the entrance. Casting around she could see no sign of Suzanne.
Any upset between her friends had always troubled Penny and her reaction was no different this time. She stood indecisive for a moment distress registered on her face, should she go to Caitlin’s aid or go after Rebecca who she felt sure now must have been following Suzanne. Michaels arm was now clamped firmly around Caitlin’s waist she observed from behind them. Penny turned and followed Rebecca her heart hurting for Caitlin.
Penny caught up with the others in the reception area; a glimpse of Rebecca’s red dress drew her across to a private corner.
‘What’s happened?’ Penny’s voice quivered slightly as she tried to suppress her tears.
Suzanne got up to hug Penny her own face grim even in the affectionate greeting.
‘Unfortunately I’ve met Michael Peterson before.’ Her voice filled with dislike.
Suzanne told her friends succinctly the tale of her promotion in the Home Office and the treatment metered out to her.
‘But how could he possibly have met Caiti?’ wondered Penny confused.
‘I’m at a loss myself.’ Suzanne shrugged. ‘Look you two, I want you to go back to the reception right now and act as though nothing has happened’ she raised her hand deflect the protests from the others, ‘Caitlin will already be traumatised. I saw the way the bastard looked at her.’ Suzanne tried to control her emotions, ‘Please. It’s for the best I’m sure. I’ll go home and see you at the Pimlico house later’ she addressed to Rebecca, ‘can you come over too Pen?’
‘I’m not sure. I’ll talk to Charles about it but we had different plans this time…’
‘Don’t worry then Pen; we’ll speak soon. Go now otherwise they’ll be seated and you’ll cause a fuss when you go back in.’ Suzanne practically pushed her two friends back towards the reception.
Penny and Rebecca walked back towards the Orchid Room, Penny still struggling with tears and Rebecca stony faced. Rebecca glanced aside and saw Penny’s face, mascara smudged and chin wobbling and propelled her into the Ladies cloakroom for a quick repair job.
‘Poor, poor Caitlin!’ Penny wailed,
‘Shh!’ warned Rebecca, looking around for signs of other guests. ‘Be brave Pen.’ She administered a quick hug and handed Penny a tissue to mend her make-up. ‘Let’s get back before anyone notices. I hate to do it but Suzanne is right Caiti would be devastated if we all walked out.’
‘At least we’re seated together.’ Penny remarked gratefully. She had seen from the seating plan that she and Charles and Rebecca and Dylan were placed on a table with two other couples near to the top table. They would have to keep up the pretence for the whole meal. Penny privately thought that Rebecca was going to have a tough time of it she had observed the expressions on her friends face when she had first seen that Dylan was present. She would now have the angst of dealing with both situations.
Charles and Dylan both looked relieved when they spied Penny and Rebecca crossing the room. Many of the guests were seated and others milling about locating places. Rebecca and Penny each put on a brave face and attempted to act as though nothing untoward had happened. Penny cast a look around trying to trace Caitlin and signal some kind of reassurance. Relieved she located her target and saw Caitlin register their re-entry to the reception with a half smile of relief on her strained features.
Rebecca seated between Charles and Dylan with a full view of Caitlin floundered momentarily. How the hell did all this shit happen to her she wondered cynically? Then corrected herself contritely for her selfishness; it was Caitlin that had really landed in the shit not her. Rebecca straightened her back and lifted her chin defiantly. She would do her damndest to get through this.
The very formal informal reception seemed interminable. Any romantic notions she may have entertained of Dylan had been completely usurped. All men were bastards; except perhaps Charles. She managed to keep up a light banter with him and ignore Dylan as much as possible. She was unaware of the sympathetic feeling being bestowed on her estranged husband by both Charles and Penny.
Poor Dylan was between a rock and a hard place. On his other side sat a very pretty girl who had aspirations to be a model. Recognising the (frankly gorgeous) photographer sat to her left she positively threw herself at Dylan. This display provoked in Rebecca a storm of resentment against her ex although logically he did nothing to encourage the attention. His only respite was to talk across Rebecca to Charles who did his best to include Rebecca in the conversation.
Penny engaged by her neighbour in a friendly exchange tried her best to keep everybody happy, as was her wont. Penny uncharacteristically started to count the minutes until she could leave this nightmare behind and just be comfortably alone with her very dear husband.
Frank’s speech was affectionate and funny but sounded way off the mark to the girls who knew the truth about Michael. Observing Ariel beside her husband Rebecca guessed that she had more inkling than he of what was going down. When Michael stood to make his speech Penny could almost hear Rebecca’s teeth grinding. She gave her friend a warning little smile and Rebecca responded by trying to relax her face muscles. It was agony to hear Michael’s smug self-congratulatory speech whilst being aware of Caitlin at his side her strained emotions bravely covered by a society smile.
When the speeches and the formal part of the meal was finally over Dylan made a last attempt to engage Rebecca in conversation about the boys. Her response rebuffed him so extremely that Dylan gave up all hope of any reconciliation; it was hopeless. Penny witnessed the moment and her heart felt crushed on behalf of Dylan.
For once in her life Penny was angry with her friend, well both of them. Rebecca was being petulant and unnecessarily cruel and Caitlin was old enough to know better than to make a second hasty marriage. As the reception started to disperse she whispered to Charles that she wanted to leave.