Gloria turned to greet Danny and Paul with considerable affection, and he introduced Ben and Colin who were both obviously fascinated by Pats and her exotic dress sense. She looked at their faces and howled with laughter.
“Sorry boys. I ain’t a drag queen, but you can think of me as one if it helps.”
“What’s a drag queen?” Charlie demanded.
“None of your never mind young Cracksman,” Danny pretended to be severe, before bending to hug both small boys and offer a simple explanation.”
Jim took advantage of the moment of relative privacy and wrung Sam’s hand.
“Congratulations, mate. You do right by Anna and the Cracksman family has your back for the rest of your life.”
Sam grinned and gripped Jim’s huge hand.
“I will. I had a lousy marriage, now I have the woman of my dreams. I aim to spend the rest of my life showing her how much that means.”
“I know, mate,”Jim said quietly. “That’s exactly how I feel about Pats. She may not be to everyone’s taste but from where I’m standing the sun rises and sets in her eyes.”
“I get that,” Sam agreed. “Sometimes I look at Anna and my heart just stops.”
They might have said more, but were interrupted by another knock on the door. Mrs Jackson arrived, escorted up the path by her taxi driver and her nephew.
“I’ll collect you at six-thirty if I don’t hear to the contrary,” the taxi man said before sloping off.
“You look lovely Mrs J,” Sam said, kissing the papery old cheek.
“Get along with you flatterer,” the old lady blushed to the roots of her immaculately coiffured snowy-white hair.
“Mrs J, this is my wife, Anna.”
“Yes we were married privately yesterday. This is our wedding party.”
Mrs Jackson studied Anna for a moment, then positively beamed at her.
“Congratulations to you both.”
She kissed Sam, and pressed Anna’s hand. Danny crooked an elbow and escorted the tiny, upright figure to the dining room, where she could inspect the wedding pictures.
A rather shy knock at the door heralded Sam’s cousin, Lucie, who proved to be a big shouldered girl with the brown complexion of somebody who lived outdoors. She looked at Anna for a few moments, taking in the aura of serenity that Anna wore as easily as her skin.
“It looks to me as if my idiot cousin has made a sensible decision at last. I hope we can be friends.”
After that, people started arriving in earnest, and soon the house was full of laughter and chattering, and hugging and a few tears, as everyone studied the wedding pictures and wrote good wishes, and the odd cheeky comment in Colin’s book.
When everyone had arrived Colin appeared at Anna’s elbow.
“Nibbles before this lot get too pissed?”
Once the nibbles had been enthusiastically hoovered up, Anna called everyone to help themselves to lunch. Instead of the expected stampede there was an ordered progression to the buffet. Patsy had taken a hand, and ensured that everyone was served smoothly. She made sure that Mrs Jackson was first, and waited until last herself. Anna stood back and laughed. Sam joined her with plate and fork in hand.
“I love that woman,” he remarked.
The woman in question appeared at Anna’s elbow, with a plate in her hand.
“You cooked. Now eat. I know what you like.”
Then she was gone.
Sam looked at the plate.
“She does know what you like.”
“Oh yeah. And she means to look after me. I just have to not let her bully me any more.”
“Think you can manage it?”
She grinned crookedly.
“Surprisingly enough, I do. I’ve got you now, and I find that gives me more courage than I have ever had in my life. I want Pats as a friend like she always has been, but I ain’t going to let her tell me what to do.”
Sam studied her determined face.
“I think you’ll manage it. Your Patsy doesn’t strike me as stupid and I’m convinced she want to stay your friend. Anyway I’m hardly the right person to lecture anyone about not allowing themselves not to be bullied. I let Christina grind me down so far that I didn’t even respect myself.”
Anna squeezed his hand.
“We won’t let anybody bully us any more. We’ve got each other now.”
“We do.” He lifted her hand to his lips, only to hear a choking sound from behind them.
“Oh yuk”, Paul exclaimed, “stop slobbering will you.”
Anna aimed a cuff at his head.
“People that want pudding had better zip their lip.”
He grinned cheekily, but made a zipping gesture with his left hand across his mouth. A chuckle from under the table revealed that the smallest Cracksmen were ensconced on the stretcher that ran along under the middle of Sam’s handiwork.
Paul bent and grinned down at the grinning children.
“Yo men. What you doing under the table?”
“Mummy always lets us sit under the table when it’s a buf-fet,” Bill explained. “We are nice and near to the food and we don’t have to listen to grown-ups talk…”
“Sensible men. I may just join you.”
Bill crowed with delighted laughter, but Charlie looked severe.
“How old are you?”
Anna laughed out loud.
“In his head he’s seven-and-a-half.”
“He can come in then. If he really wants.”
Paul was on his knees and under the table in a flash.