A Merry Mistletoe Wedding (7 page)

BOOK: A Merry Mistletoe Wedding
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‘Elf,' she said to herself in the mirror once she'd finished tweaking her hair, but it didn't sound the same as when Sean said it. Only a day after they'd first met, he'd pulled at one of the sticking-up fronds, laughed and said she looked like a little elf. If a woman had said it, especially one taller than her, she'd have felt patronized. When Sean did, even that first time when they'd barely spoken more than a few sentences to each other, the term simply felt warmly fond.

The day was hot and still summer-dusty but on the drive to the school Thea passed more than one restaurant and pub that had a board up on the pavement, advertising early-booking terms for office Christmas parties. Not yet, too soon, Thea thought, as she did each September. It felt wrong, all this fast-forwarding too far; it was too much like wishing one's life away. Still, this year Christmas was something to look forward to – that is, once she had the family onside. Otherwise, well, she and Sean might as well elope. They could run off to get married among hotel strangers on a tropical beach somewhere. She didn't fancy that at all, though she could imagine many would. However glorious and sunny the weather, for her there'd be something cold and a bit sad about having no one from home to celebrate with.

‘Hey, welcome back to the madhouse,' Thea's friend Jenny greeted her as she walked into the school's staffroom. ‘Did you have a good summer?'

‘Pretty much perfect, thank you. The only downside was coming home.'

Jenny laughed. ‘So it's all going well then. You two are still at the icky romantic stage. Yuck!'

There was still time for a mug of tea before facing her new class and the onslaught of anxious mothers ushering them in, each one of them wanting ‘a word'. Thea had already thoroughly checked reports on her incomers from their previous class teacher – one child was a selective mute (although not in the playground), another was terrified of birds and there was one who couldn't be separated from his toy giraffe, a stuffed animal that was almost as big as he was. There'd be several more with problems – imagined or otherwise – whose parents hadn't mentioned them before but who were sure to think that day one of the new school year was the perfect moment, so a bit of fortifying wouldn't go amiss.

‘We seem to be. And, er, well, actually, guess what …!' And Thea couldn't help herself: having failed to tell her news at the weekend, it was just dying to break free. ‘We're getting married!' It was safe enough to tell Jenny; her family weren't likely to run into her any time soon, so no chance of it getting back to them on any gossip grapevine.

‘Wow, you don't hang about. Congratulations!' Jenny gave her a hug. ‘So when? Next summer?'

‘No, not summer. We thought Christmas would be good. It sort of goes with how we met, you know? I always think we had such a lot of help from the magic of a massive bunch of mistletoe, so it feels like the perfect time to do it. The day we met, Sean asked me to sneak out after dark on a secret mission to get a huge bunch of the stuff. I had to hold the ladder while he went up and cut some down. He got spooked by an owl and nearly came crashing down.'

‘Bit bloody lucky for you that he didn't then. So, Christmas next year? Great idea.'

‘No,
this
Christmas. No point in waiting, is there? Neither of us are teenagers or anything.'

‘
This
Christmas? Like, only about fifteen
weeks
away?' Jenny stared at her, wide-eyed and with her mouth a bit gapey. Thea fought an urge to reach forward and push it shut.

‘Well … yes. Why not? What's to wait for? Now we've decided, we just want it to happen, as soon as possible!'

‘Why
not
? Thea, do you have
any
idea how much planning a wedding takes? There are
so
many things to consider. My cousin had a whole website and database thing full of plans and projects when she got married. She had a huge fat folder just for napkin options for the reception.'

‘Oh, but I do know. Remember I started organizing one before, when I was with Rich? It was his idea to have some chintzy hotel reception and everyone done up in morning dress and so on. That is till he changed his mind about that and about me. I don't want anything like that this time round. Definitely not. We only want a teeny event, nothing mad, definitely nothing elaborate. I hate a massive fuss. I want just Sean and me and a few others. That would feel just
right
. I can see it now, all soft light and evergreens, muted colours – no glary white frock or anything.' Thea poured the boiling water into two mugs. Jenny was looking as if she could use one as well.

‘Well, you say that but there's still your dress to consider, the reception, bridesmaids,
their
dresses, catering, cars, invitations. It's why there are things called wedding planners.'

Thea handed Jenny her tea and laughed. ‘Oh, Jen, we won't need all that faffing about. It's going to be a family thing in Cornwall. I can find a dress easily enough. It's not as if I'm planning on a fairy-tale outfit of feathers and white velvet. Just something … lovely. I'll give it some thought, obviously. But I'm not the fairy-princess type – it won't be from a wedding shop kind of thing, not this time. Been there, done that. It wasn't me.'

‘If you get stuck, I could help find one or has your sister volunteered for that?'

Ah – the cloud in the perfect blue sky. Thea could almost feel a real one passing between her and the sun. ‘No – Emily has just had a baby, on Sunday. I had the family round for lunch and she went into labour as I was about to tell them about the wedding plans. So the announcement never actually happened, what with everyone rushing round making sure Emily and Sam got off OK. And that's fine and as it should be. But it means I haven't actually quite told them yet.'

‘Oh – that sounds a bit sad. Lovely about the baby, obviously, but it's a shame you didn't get to make the announcement. Still, they'll know soon enough and they'll be thrilled for you. After all, what's not to look forward to?'

‘Well, that's the slight fly and ointment thing. The one thing Sean and I really want is to get married down in Cornwall because of it being where we met and because we want to involve the sea and the beach for after the ceremony. And there's the fabulous accommodation for everyone too, right there. We can even get Christmas Day itself for the ceremony, in this place called Pentreath Hall which belongs to his friends Paul and Sarah, and that'll be fabulous. But the one thing
Emily
said she would absolutely
not
do this year is have Christmas anywhere but at her own home.'

‘I can't
not
sympathize, to be honest. New baby, small children and all that,' Jenny said, finishing her tea and rinsing her mug. The staffroom was filling up now with post-summer conversations and a welcome to two new staff members.

‘I know. I can understand how she feels. I don't want to have our wedding without Emily being there but I don't know how to change her mind, or if I should even try. Maybe we should change
our
plans rather than expect her to go along with us? But it would be so exactly what we'd love and Sean said he's kind of booked the venue now, though I suppose it could be unbooked …'

‘I'd leave it for the moment,' Jenny advised. ‘When it comes to it, she won't want
not
to be there for you, will she? And she might get over the travelling thing once she knows the reason for going.'

‘I hope so. I really do. But I can't be sure,' Thea said. ‘Other priorities and so on. Anyway, into the fray – let's meet this year's tiny terrors.'

Anna got off the bus in Chiswick and went across the road and up a side street to the address she'd written in her diary. It was Miriam's turn to host the book group and she'd managed to get everyone to agree to an afternoon meeting instead of the more usual evening ones. ‘We'll have tea and scones,' she'd promised, but Anna had brought a bottle of white wine as that was what they usually had at their meetings and sometimes, given how heated the discussion could get, you just needed something calming. It was surprising how vehement people could get over whether Jane Eyre was a put-upon mouse or deep down a scheming gold-digger.

She felt slightly nervous, even though she was 90 per cent sure Alec wouldn't be there. He wasn't a book-group member but he was Miriam's son, lived fairly nearby and might have called in for a quick visit. In her head, Anna practised being casual about seeing him again. It would be the first time since Christmas, when he'd mistaken a flippant remark of hers for an actual invitation to join them all in Cornwall. OK, he'd been, briefly, her good-fun lover, but what on earth had he been thinking of, arriving out of the blue like that? He knew she was still married, even though – back then – she and Mike had been planning a divorce and were going through a bit of a play-act that involved pretending they didn't mind each other having other relationships.

Miriam's garden path was a hazardous tangle of overgrown lavender, trailing nasturtiums and morning glory that had spilled down from its trellis and was snaking across the paving. Typical Miriam, Anna thought as she gently pushed the foliage aside with her foot. Miriam was exuberant, colourful of dress and uncoordinated of movement. If a garden could mirror the person, this had got it just right.

‘Come in!' Miriam opened the door before Anna reached it and ushered her in, waving a full wine glass rather dangerously. Her hand hit the wall as she moved, but she salvaged the glass's contents with long-practised skill. ‘Everyone's here but
some
haven't read the book. It's not much to ask, is it?' she said as she took Anna into the kitchen to get her a drink. ‘After all, the clue's in the name: Book Group. It involves a group. And a book. You've read it, of course?'

Anna had. The person who last got to choose what they read had opted for
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
so Anna, who had last read it as a teenager but had recently seen the film, wasn't completely lying when she said yes.

Women of a Certain Age, rereading the classics they hadn't gone near since their schooldays, Anna thought as she took her glass into Miriam's sitting room. It was like something from a Barbara Pym novel; all they lacked was a shy archdeacon to simper at. There they all were, eight or nine still-energetic lady pensioners doing their best to keep their brains active. Anna had a bit of a heart-sink moment. Was this what it came to, in the end? Finding things to do to keep you away from a couple of decades of daytime TV and a lonely decline? Mike had his music and she had her painting but even so … She told herself not to be so ridiculous. People of all ages met to discuss books. It was a
thing
and, besides, she enjoyed it. And yet, just as Miriam opened the discussion with a question about whether Hardy, if writing today, would come under the genre of
domestic noir
, Anna had a wistful recollection of the afternoons she'd spent in bed with Alec the previous year. Twenty years younger than her and so exciting to be with at the time – at least until she'd had to spend that Christmas week in Cove Manor with him and he'd turned out to be a bit mopey and wet. (Although, as it turned out, not so wet that he hadn't managed to spend the nights secretly shagging Charlotte.) She'd never thought of herself as a woman who was brave or wild enough for an affair but it had been such fun, and, in the end, essentially pretty harmless, as Mike had been up to the same at the time with Charlotte.

‘You can hardly put Hardy in any “domestic” category, surely?' Miriam said, waving her hand about. The hand contained a scone and crumbs and a blob of strawberry jam fell on the rug. A black cat rushed across and licked it all up and Miriam took no notice at all.

‘Well – it depends. I mean—' Anna began but the doorbell rang and Miriam whirled off to open it.

‘Hello, Mum. You said it would be OK – I'm not intruding, am I?' And there, in the doorway, stood Alec. Hair longer, a bit greyer, possibly a little less of it. He was wearing a cream linen jacket and old jeans and looking, well, probably what Thea would call ‘totes buff'. Anna could feel her face going pink. ‘Hi, everyone,' he said, ‘I hope you don't mind me joining in but
Tess
is one of my favourite books. Mum said I could come if I promise to behave.' There were a few giggles and a general murmuring of approval. Then he crossed the room and sat beside Anna on the fuchsia velvet sofa. ‘Hello, Anna. You're looking well. It's been a while.'

SEVEN

‘So how was day one back at the chalk face? Survived?' Sean called Thea just as she was beginning to water the big pots of Japanese anemones in the back garden. They were flagging in the heat and deserved a long cool drink, as did she, and she'd brought out a glass of ginger beer to have on the terrace once the watering was done.

‘It was fine, just. Two who wouldn't stop wailing – they kept setting each other off. But there was only one pair of damp knickers, which is pretty good for day one.'

‘Were they yours?'

‘No!'

‘Oh. I'm disappointed. Does that mean you weren't thinking of me at all?'

Thea giggled. ‘You are so naughty! And of course I was thinking of you but I'm not going to tell you that. It'll go to your head.'

‘Or to my … No, sorry. I just can't help it. I'm missing you like crazy here. I have to keep getting in the sea. Woody is looking well fed up with me running down the beach the whole time. He's bored with following me down there and stands on the top of the dune, miaowing crossly.'

‘Aw, sweet. I miss him. You too, of course, but definitely him more.'

‘Heartless woman. I'll be up at the weekend to remind you what you should be missing most. But anyway, how is Emily and the sprog? Have you seen them yet?'

BOOK: A Merry Mistletoe Wedding
10.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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