Anna giggled as she reassembled her clothing.
“This is one mighty sturdy table. Not a drop of coffee spilled.”
“I made it as unwobbly as I could, though I didn’t have that in mind.”
“You made it?”
“With my own fair hands.”
“I’m deeply impressed.”
Then she grimaced at the cold coffee.
“We need fresh cappuccino. I’ll do it. You sort out your trousers.”
Sam grinned and bent to untwist his jeans from around his ankles. Once he was sorted, he snaffled a cookie and took a huge bite. Bonnie came over wagging happily, and he found her a treat from her own tin.
“Got you where she wants you, ain’t she?”
Anna remarked as she brought the fresh coffee to the table.
“I expect so,” he replied amiably. “But then, so do you.”
She came and kissed him.
“Might have. Does it bother you?”
“No. I like being wound around your finger. And any other bit of you I can get close to…”
“Dirty boy,” she sniggered, then sat beside him and reached for a cookie. “Right. How many invitations do we need printing, and how many should be emailed?”
“Off the top of my head? I haven’t a clue. When we’ve actually drunk this coffee, we’ll work it out.”
“That’d be good.”
As it turned out, most of the invitations were sent by email, although Mrs Jackson, and the few neighbours Sam actually talked to, got print versions, and Anna printed one for Danny and Paul, knowing Paul would want it as a keepsake. Plus, she popped one in an envelope to post to Jim and Patsy – writing a few affectionate words in the card to reassure her friend that she was really wanted.
“While I have your attention, love. I’ve ordered beds: six more king size for upstairs: one king size, one double, two singles, and a put you up for the annexe. And lots of bedding and towels. You want to look at what I’ve chosen?”
“If you want me to, of course I will, but I can’t promise much enthusiasm. Soft furnishings leave me cold.”
Anna giggled. “Fair enough. But, in that case, how come we have tasteful curtains in every room?”
“Simples. When Mrs Jackson moved, she had loads of what I was assured were very nice curtains going spare. Carrie made them fit the windows. I also bought the leather settees, the big leather chairs, and the rugs in the hallway, from the same source.”
“I see. And it is, indeed, very nice stuff. Not a bit old lady.”
“No. Furnishings wise Mrs J’s taste leans towards Scandinavian minimalist. No ornaments; she calls them dust catchers. No family photographs. Just clean lines, blonde wood, and superb comfort. She had her present bungalow completely remodelled to offer a modern open-plan living space; it scares the shit out of the other old dears in the development.”
“I bet. She sounds fascinating.”
“She is. And boy was she pissed off to see what a chintzy horror her old home has been turned into. And that isn’t the half of it. But I won’t spoil it by telling you any more. What I will do is take Bonnie for a walk, during which I’ll deliver the local invites, and post the one to Jim and Patsy. You coming?”
“No. I’ll do food for when you get back.”
“That would be lovely. I’ll probably be a couple of hours, by the time I have a nice visit with my best girl. You don’t have a few spare cookies I could take her, do you? She cooks, but she don’t bake.”
“Sure. I’ve even got a nice box. You go get your walking shoes on and I’ll do you up a box of mixed cookies.”
Sam got his boots and a battered flying jacket, by which time Anna had put a cloth bag on the kitchen table.
“Invitations, cookies, towel for Bonnie’s feet if you are going visiting, and a torch. If you are going to be later than six thirty will you give me a buzz? I’m planning steak and I don’t want to overcook stuff.”
He kissed her fondly, put Bonnie on her lead and loped out.
Anna half expected a call to say Sam would be late, but at six fifteen she heard his key in the door, and Bonnie came bustling into the kitchen. Sam followed her grinning all over his face. Anna went into his arms and received a very satisfactory hug, before he went out to the boot room to take off his shoes and dump his coat and bag.
He came back into the kitchen and petted Bonnie extravagantly.
“This dog is a miracle. Mrs J isn’t ordinarily a great fan of animals, but Bonnie had her wrapped around her paw in about two minutes. I dunno if it was waiting so nicely to have her feet dried, or sitting at my feet doing her doting dog impression, or permitting herself to be stroked without jumping up or getting pushy. Whatever. The old dear fell in love.”
Anna laughed. “She’s a very calculating canine. But we love her, don’t we?”
“We do indeed. Before I forget, we already have one extra for the party. Mrs J’s favourite nephew is visiting her that weekend, so I said he was welcome. Is that OK?”
“Yes. Of course it is. The more the merrier.’
“Just one thing. He’s a gangster.”
“No. Seriously. He is. He’s Jim’s friend Geordie Jackson. About five feet of Glaswegian hard man, with more tattoos than I have ever seen on a human being before. Plus a flick-knife in the top of his sock.”
“That should be a laugh. Danny will be enchanted. He really likes gangsters, and they seem to like him. When he was working in Brazil he used to go to the favelas and play poker with the hard boys on his days off.”
“Rather him than me.”
“Oh indeed. I always felt sorry for Paul who lived in constant terror that something would happen to Danny.”
“I can see that. But I’m guessing that Danny couldn’t.”
“No. He’s fearless and deeply unimaginative himself, and can’t understand worry. There are times when I could clip his ear for him. However, Paul loves him and understands his odd ways. So.”
“So indeed. Now then. You promised me steak did you not? Do you have time for a nice glass of wine with me before you frizzle it?”
“What does the word frizzle signify?”
Anna demanded, trying very hard not to giggle.
“The word frizzle, woman,” Sam replied in lofty tones, “indicates any one of the many cooking processes of which I have no knowledge whatsoever. I leave such things to those into whose area of expertise they do fall.”
Then he spoilt his high-minded pose by grabbing Anna and tickling her until she screamed. She lolled against him sniggering.
“You are very, very silly, my love. Don’t ever get too grown up will you?”
“Shouldn’t think it’s very likely. My dad was as daft as a brush; he used to drive Mum mad by refusing to conform to the way a psychiatrist is supposed to behave. Mum was a bit more conventional, until he got her going – then she was hilarious. Half a glass of wine was enough…”
He looked down at his hands.
“I miss them, you know. I just wish you could have known them.”
He sounded so sad and strained that Anna put her arms around him and cuddled him strongly; slowly she felt the strain drain out of him. He looked down at her and smiled.
“You are my personal miracle,” he said wonderingly.
“Right back at you love. Now go get me a big glass of wine while I hunt up some nibbles before frizzling you a nice piece of steak.”