Chapter 45 – Pimlico House

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.

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