It took her the best part of an hour to bathe, devise a hairstyle suited to the wreath of flowers, and slip into the cream cashmere sheath dress with its matching shoes. By that time, Sam was suited and booted and awaiting her with his customary patience. She straightened his tie and pinned a single cream orchid in his buttonhole.
“Yes. He has flowers for everyone, even Bonnie. Reckons she can’t be a bridesmaid without flowers.”
They walked downstairs together to where the others awaited them in the hall. The men wore suits and cream buttonholes, and Bonnie balanced a wreath of flowers on her dark head. Colin walked once around Anna with his head on one side then kissed his fingers.
“You are stunning. Audrey Hepburn with added sex appeal.’
Anna laughed delightedly.
“Thank you for my flowers.”
They piled into the waiting Range Rover and went to have a wedding. It was brief as these things are, but there were a few tears as Sam and Anna made their vows and exchanged rings. The registrar was kind, and praised Bonnie’s exemplary behaviour.
“If all our wedding guests behaved as well as you,” she remarked, “our lives would all be easier.”
Paul took what seemed to Anna to be about a thousand photographs before they were hustled out of the room to make way for the next wedding party, which consisted of about fifty people including a very pregnant bride in a huge white meringue of a dress.
On a bubble of laughter they scrambled back into the car and headed to a pub where Bonnie was welcome for a very giggly lunch.
By the time they returned home it was late in the afternoon and they were all pleasantly tired. Bonnie finally consented to remove her wreath of flowers, and everyone else went to change into more casual dress. When they gathered in the kitchen, Paul started looking through the shots on his camera.
“If I get them down to about twenty or so, can I use your printer Anna?”
“Got any photo paper?”
“Yeah, loads. What are you thinking of?”
“Photos on the wall for the party tomorrow.”
Colin clapped his hands.
“What a splendid idea.”
Anna looked at Sam, and he shrugged his shoulders.
“Okay. If it makes you boys happy,” she smiled.
Paul and Colin retired to the office to squabble about which pictures to print, while Ben, Danny, Sam, Anna and Bonnie went out for a walk. When they got back Paul and Colin had obviously reached an accommodation as they had printed a sheaf of A4-sized pictures, which they refused to let Anna look at.
“Not till we’re sorted out. Now how do we display them?”
Sam thought for a minute. “I have some big folding screens in the garage, left over from some project or other one of the trendy vicars started but never finished. If we stapled some white paper, or fabric to them then we could put the pictures on that.”
“Yeah, but do you have any white paper or fabric?”
“Old sheets do?” Anna asked.
“Okay then, let’s go look at these screens.”
The men trooped out together, and Anna went to the airing cupboard for a couple of clean old sheets. She put them on the worktop, then looked at Bonnie in her basket.
“What’s that bugger Paul up to?”
Bonnie lifted her head and waved her tail encouragingly.
“You’re right Bon Bon, he wouldn’t do anything too embarrassing.”
Anna quietly carried on with her preparations for the party, humming to herself as she worked. Sam came in for the sheets and grinned at her.
“I’ll rein them in if they get silly,” he promised.
A while later, Colin appeared in the kitchen looking a bit shy.
“I’m supposed to keep you out back while the rest of them set up the pictures. Ben said I could always offer to help you with your preparations for tomorrow. But that’s a bit awkward. People think I’ll want to take over, or sneer at their cooking.”
“Instead of just being grateful that somebody else is cooking for a change?”
“Exactly,” he grinned.
“Come out back with me and help me check I haven’t forgotten anything.”
They went out to Anna’s very organised utility room and pantry.
“No starter,” Anna said. “Trays of nibbles: olives, Parma ham, cheese straws, mini quiches, baby pickles, nachos and dips. Only thing left to do for that is warm the quiches. Main courses: coq au vin, boeuf bourgignon, fish pie, veggie curry, veggie lasagne. Vegetable rice, jacket spuds, garlic bread, assorted rolls. Bread all made, just needs warming. Spuds can go in the bottom of the Aga to cook, the mains will go in the Aga to heat. Only thing needing attention will be the rice. Puds: chocolate brownies in the tin there, chocolate sauce in the fridge ready to nuke in the microdoofer, ice cream gateaux in the freezer here, meringue nests people can fill for themselves – strawberries macerating in vodka, ice cream, caramel sauce, cream. Finally loads of cheeses. Cold meats in the fridge plus two raised pies, one chicken and ham, one roasted vegetables, with salad stuff. That’s for for supper, as I expect most of them will still be around at supper time. What have I forgotten?”
“Nothing that I can see. Disposable plates?”
“No. Hate them, and for some reason Sam seems to have plenty of that sort of stuff. And we have a humongous dishwasher. But I am using all disposable serving dishes. Except for the cheese boards.”
“I’m impressed. It all seems to be here except plates for the mains.”
“In the warming drawer. Colin, how much did you have to do with the planning of this kitchen?”
“A bit. Sam was floundering and came to see us with the plans. I stuck my nose in, though this is the first time I’ve seen it in the flesh.”
“I thought someone had helped. It’s all so practical. And the big catering quality range…’
“Well. That’s a story. Sam’s builder had done a kitchen for a woman in Cheltenham. The woman specified the range. Three months later she changed her mind and wanted one of those electric pretend Agas. The builder took the range out and advised Sam to offer her five hundred quid for it. She bit his hand off and he got more than five grand’s worth of cooker for five hundred quid.”
“Silly cow. Those electric things are pointless and even more expensive to run than an oil fired Aga.”
“Truly. But Sam was the beneficiary.”