A Merry Mistletoe Wedding (31 page)

BOOK: A Merry Mistletoe Wedding
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‘It's Charlotte!' Milly shrieked, opening the curtain and telling the assembled line. ‘Father Christmas is called
Charlotte.
'

‘Oh God, what the fuck is going on? Why is everything always
you
?' Emily said, picking up the beard and shoving it hard at Charlotte, who was trying to pull the hood up again.

A couple of people who looked like management came hurtling in. ‘What's going on? Where's your beard? God, I knew we were taking a risk with you …'

‘I'll meet you in the coffee shop,' Charlotte said to Thea. ‘I'm guessing this might be my last day.'

Thea got the teas, some apple juice and cupcakes and carried them to the table where a fuming Emily was waiting. Charlotte, still in her Santa coat and looking like she was heading for a fancy dress bash, came and sat with them.

‘How could you?' Emily tore straight into Thea. ‘You set this up and now look what you've done. She'll be all disappointed. She hasn't even got a dress, even if she
could
go to the wedding.'

‘I didn't set up anything,' Thea insisted. ‘I had no idea Charlotte was working here. Also, it was
your
idea to come here, not mine, remember?'

‘Oh, and Milly has got a dress,' Charlotte said. ‘Thea and I found just the thing, in case there was a change of mind at the last minute. Thea's got it at home. I'm sorry, I thought Sam would have had all this out with you by now.'

‘Sam? He knows all this? He's been plotting with you? He can't
do
that! It's never him who does the organizing because he's useless at it – it's
my
role. I've got all of Christmas planned for having it
here
. Just like he promised we could after last year. What can I do?'

Charlotte sipped her tea and then shrugged. ‘It's simple. Unarrange it.'

TWENTY-FIVE

Most of Thea's party were now down in Cornwall, settled into Cove Manor ready for Christmas and the wedding, but the lack of Emily and her family was keenly felt. It was a bit of a ‘Don't mention the war' situation. Somehow, however much anyone tried to avoid talking about her, her absence kept coming up in conversation.

‘She can be a grumpy cow and likes everything so damn organized that you sometimes wonder if she's put up a going-to-the-loo rota in their house,' Jimi said over the first night's supper. Maria was cooking most of the food, as last year, and it was just as delicious this time round.

‘It's because of her job,' Anna said. ‘You can't have a flaky accountant. I'm not sure which way round it was, whether the job has made her this way or if she was always like that and fell into the perfect profession.'

‘She always did her homework on time,' Thea said. ‘And she had her school uniform all hung up and ready every Sunday evening, with her games kit folded up for Wednesdays well in advance. I remember once how she took her hockey kit to school on a day when it was going to be netball and she went into a total meltdown. She was sent to the sickroom to breathe into a paper bag.'

‘Rather extreme, that,' Rosie said. ‘I used to love it if I had the wrong kit and did it as often as I could get away with. That way you sometimes got out of games altogether.'

‘Mum's like
so
lazy,' Elmo said, laughing. ‘She even finds sport on telly tiring. I've seen her drift off to sleep watching Wimbledon.'

Thea looked at Elmo and grinned. So this was her lovely sixteen-year-old nephew, at last emerging from the sullen years and into the general melee of conversation. It was either the chrysalis moment or a certain spirit-lifting resulting from having been reunited with Maria's daughter Daisy on the beach that afternoon. From the stables terrace she'd seen the two of them walking along the beach together. They weren't holding hands but were doing that walking-too-close-together thing where they kept bumping into each other ‘accidentally'. Oh, she remembered those lovely awkward first-date days. She looked across the table at Sean, who raised his wine glass to her and smiled.

‘Shall we escape for a bit?' Sean murmured to her as they helped clear the table a little later. ‘I've got something to show you.'

‘Sounds promising …' she whispered. ‘Yes, let's run away.'

‘Great. Because tomorrow night my mother and sister will be here so we won't get a chance to be on our own.'

Back in the stables, Thea grabbed her sheepskin coat and her Uggs and the two of them went out and climbed into the Land Rover.

‘So where are we going? Shall we go and steal some mistletoe again?'

Sean laughed. ‘Paul's cut down so much of the stuff to decorate the orangery in honour of how we first got together that I doubt there's much left.'

‘Oh, good. Because I have this feeling that going up a ladder in the dark two days before our wedding would be asking for disaster.'

‘Yes – breaking my neck wouldn't be the best start, would it?'

‘Exactly. I remember thinking that was what was going to happen last year when you were up there getting some for me and that big owl spooked you.'

‘It was huge, at least the size of a pterodactyl,
two
pterodactyls even,' Sean told her. ‘But then it's like all close encounters with birds. I had a wren in the kitchen a few weeks ago and when it was flapping about in a panic it seemed a lot bigger than when they're sitting on a wall being teeny and shouting at you. No, where we're going is to Sarah and Paul's. They want us to approve the decor. I wanted us to sneak out together, rather than have the others wanting to come. They can wait and be surprised on the day.'

Pentreath Hall was a lot warmer inside than on their last visit. Sarah and the wolfhound came to let them in and she ushered them into the kitchen where Paul was threading holly and ivy on to strings.

‘Last one,' he said. ‘The rest of it is up and we just wanted your approval. The boiler man did his magic thing so you should be warm enough in whatever gorgeously diaphanous gown you're planning to wear, Thea. Plus, just in case, we'll light the wood-burner in there so it's properly cosy. You can't have a cold wedding – I'm sure it would be a bad omen and we don't want any of
those
, thank you very much.'

Sarah handed round glasses of champagne, saying, ‘Any excuse but also we're so excited at you two being the first of our weddings venture. Now come and see what's been happening in the orangery. I hope you like it.'

She flung open the double doors from the drawing room and they all went inside.

‘Oh, wow!' Thea said, feeling her eyes beginning to brim. ‘It's stunning!'

‘We haven't done anything with the narcissi yet because they'd droop but they're arriving tomorrow. I'll make sure enough are sent over to you early enough to do your flowers, Thea. Are you having a headdress of any sort?'

‘I think so. It depends if I can get something together with the real flowers. But I shouldn't say any more because Sean's here. It won't be anything fussy, anyway.'

‘It's OK, I'm not listening,' he told them, putting his fingers in his ears and humming.

The room looked beautiful. Great swags of mistletoe, holly and ivy hung from the wall over where the registrar's table was placed. More greenery spilled from the two pairs of great urns that flanked the doors to the terrace. A collection of jars and vases stood on a cloth on top of a grand piano in the corner. The chairs had been unstacked and were set out waiting for guests.

‘I don't remember the piano being here,' Thea said.

‘No, well, we thought we'd move it in here from the drawing room. There's plenty of space for it and not everyone wants music that's recorded. Actually' – she looked at her watch – ‘I've got mince pies in the oven, I'll just go and check on them. You two stay here for a few minutes and see if you can think of anything we need to add. Come on, Paul,' she said, pulling him out by his wrist.

‘Ah, that's sweet, leaving us on our own,' Thea said, recognizing a moment of serious tact.

‘It's in case we want to do unseemly snogging,' Sean said, pulling her close to him. ‘I'm glad, because I do. And also, part of why I wanted us to go out and be on our own is that I've got something for you.'

‘You have? What more could I possibly want? I'm getting you,' she said.

‘Nicely put and almost as cheesy as when I proposed but I never did give you an engagement ring,' he said, searching in his jeans pocket.

‘Well, you did. You gave me the plaited grass,' she said, suddenly feeling a tiny bit sad. ‘But—'

‘But someone stole it from your knicker drawer.'

She stepped back and looked at him. ‘How did you know it was in there?'

‘Because I gather – only from wide reading, you understand, nothing more – that a knicker drawer is where all women keep things that are a bit precious when there's nowhere else quite right to put them. Also you'd said it was there.'

‘You've been rootling about in my underwear?' she accused him. ‘But why?'

‘Yes, and great fun it was too. But I had a good reason. I want you to have this.' He handed her a small painted box. She opened it. Nestling on a soft pad of tissue was a pendant, maybe an inch and a half long, on a golden chain.

‘Have a close look,' he said, moving her under one of the lights.

She gasped, ‘Oh – my goodness, it's the plaited grass. You have no idea how upset I was, thinking it had gone for good. I couldn't think how, as I was so sure I hadn't taken it out of its envelope. Oh, this is so beautiful.' She took it out and held it up. It seemed to be suspended in something, like aspic but solid. ‘How did you do that?'

‘Well, I didn't. But I know a man who does. A jeweller mate in St Ives. I gave it to him and he cast it in resin. It's backed with gold leaf but the effect is the grass suspended like in liquid. Those sparkly bits round it, they're grains of sand from that sand dune.'

‘Oh, let me put it on!' she said, taking it out of the box.

‘Well … if you like,' he said. ‘But … I was hoping you could wait and wear it for the first time on the day. And I promise that if you keep it among your knickers I won't be stealing it back.'

‘That's a deal,' she promised. ‘Now, please can we have that unseemly snog? You can't believe how happy this has made me.'

‘In that case I'll accept the snog as a thank you. After all, it's pretty much compulsory, seeing as we're surrounded by the biggest load of mistletoe you're ever likely to see outside the Nine Elms flower market.'

Christmas Eve. By the middle of the morning Emily was horribly unsettled and feeling almost ill with it. Ned was fretful and she knew this was her fault for being so stressed. He wasn't feeding happily, pulling away from her every few minutes and crying. She was passing her mood on to him. Milly was quiet, playing with her dolls' house, but Emily could see that she wasn't putting her heart into it as she normally did. She was simply moving one of the dolls in and out of the beds, unable to decide which one to let it sleep in.

‘What do bridesmaids do?' she asked. ‘Would I be a good one?'

‘They carry flowers and walk with the bride.'

‘And they wear a pretty dress,' Sam told her.

Emily glared at him. ‘Don't,' she warned.

‘Why not?'

‘Because it's all too late. Christmas is under way; we've got everything organized here.'

He shrugged. ‘If you say so.'

‘We agreed a year ago,' she reminded him.

‘So you keep saying.'

She heard him go upstairs and shut their bedroom door. Drawers were being opened and closed and then he went into the children's rooms and there was more clattering about. She was glad – the rooms needed a good tidying and he was nothing if not thorough at that. So it was quite a shock when he came downstairs carrying suitcases.

‘I've packed for you too, if you want to change your mind,' he told her, going back up to collect more luggage.

‘Are you mad?' she called up. ‘It's way too late. We've got all the food and …' She dropped her voice to a whisper as he came back down the stairs. ‘… and the presents are all here, ready for under the tree.'

‘No, they're not. They're in the car stashed in bin bags. And I've given Steve the key to the back gate. He's promised to have the Wendy house up before we get back. Now, that blue dress you haven't worn yet – was I right to put it in?'

‘No! You can't
do
this! I won't be bullied.'

‘I'm not bullying you, I'm making a decision I should have made weeks ago. OK, Milly, Alfie, go up and have a last wee. We're going to a wedding.'

‘To the beach place? Yay!' Alfie said, racing up the stairs.

‘And I'll be a bridesmaid?' Milly was bouncing.

‘You will!' Sam promised.

‘It's three in the afternoon on Christmas Eve,' Emily protested. ‘They'll be asleep for most of the journey and then you'll go and wake them at God knows what hour. What will they be like tomorrow?'

‘Tomorrow? They'll be as happy as clams. Go and get in the car, Emily, you know you want to.'

Emily said nothing. The frozen feeling was on her again and she couldn't seem to move. Not that she wanted to get in the car anyway. She'd got a turkey she'd only just stuffed, red cabbage just out of the freezer, sprouts cleaned and prepared. The pudding (OK, ready-made, one of Heston's) was ready to cook.

Sam loaded the children into the car and strapped them in, adding at the last minute plenty of scarves and their furry boots. He came back in, breathing hard.

‘Last chance, Emily, are you coming or are you and Ned staying here for a lonely Christmas on your own?'

‘I … I can't … It's all too
sudden
and not thought out …' Her brain couldn't deal with this. She hadn't made a list, or planned anything except what she'd expected to do tomorrow. From the kitchen she heard the first notes of ‘Once in Royal David's City'. The carol service from King's College chapel was beginning. It was scrambling her brain and she couldn't work out whether to hear that or to listen to Sam.

BOOK: A Merry Mistletoe Wedding
6.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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