When seconds, and in some case thirds, had been consumed. Anna and Colin cleared the buffet, while Patsy collected plates and cutlery and loaded the dishwasher.
“It’s full, Anna,” she commented. “Will I set it going?”
Patsy grinned engagingly.
“Need any help?”
“Nah. You’re all right. We’ve got it.”
“Good. I’m going back to Mrs Jackson. She’s telling Jim the filthiest stories, and all in the most ladylike of tones. It’s fucking hilarious. Sufiq and Anjali are both pissing themselves.”
She sloped off and Ben came over to Anna with a face full of laughter.
“God. She’s fricking wonderful isn’t she? Got us all sitting up and begging.”
“She would. She actually trains dogs for a living.”
Ben laughed until he nearly fell over.
“Dressed like that?”
“Don’t be silly, though she does have her boiler suits tailored… Now go away, there’s a dear. Colin’s getting twitchy.”
He went and Anna and Colin replenished the buffet.
“Pudding,” Anna called, and people came over in ones and twos to help themselves.
“The Patsy effect,” Colin muttered into Anna’s ear. “I wonder if she’s available for wedding receptions and the like.”
Anna grinned and went to the table. She loaded a meringue shell with lemon curd ice cream, then topped it with clotted cream and a generous spoonful of crushed biscuit. Wandering over to the table where Gloria sat, she put the bowl down in front of her.
“Eat. I know what you like.”
Gloria grinned and took a spoonful.
“Oh my,” she groaned “Jim you have to taste this”.
He took the offered spoonful and made similar noises of appreciation.
“Oh my goodness. It’s lemon meringue pie. Only better. Mrs J, you have to try this.”
“Two more?'”Anna asked laughingly and went to fetch.
Anjali followed her smiling.
“It’s lovely to see Pats. And to see you so happy. I reckon she’ll even stop bullying you now. Seems to think you’ve grown up at last. Now. Did I hear mention of chocolate brownies?”
“You did.” Anna pointed, then made two more lemon meringue nests, which she delivered to Jim and Mrs Jackson.
A heavy hand fell in her shoulder and she turned to grin at her big brother.
She grabbed his hand and pulled him over the the big table. Putting her finger to her lips she pointed underneath. Sure enough, Paul was still with the little ones. He had snaffled a floor cushion from somewhere and was leaning against the table leg absent-mindedly spooning food into his mouth between sentences as he wove a tale of treasure and daring do for his small audience. Danny grinned and stood up silently.
“I don’t always remember how much he loves kids. Maybe we should adopt some…”
“Not something you need to discuss with me.”
He saw the hurt in her eyes and coloured.
“Sorry Anna. Is it still so raw?”
“No. I just look at Sam and think what a lovely Daddy he would be.”
Danny took her shoulders in his hands and gave her a little shake.
“Aren’t you forgetting something? Way I hear it, you aren’t the only reason that won’t happen.”
She winked away a tear and smiled crookedly.
“I know. It just seems sad.”
He swatted her backside.
“Don’t get greedy, love. Wasn’t too long ago you were Miss Marshall in the back office. Now look at yourself.”
This time her smile was genuine.
“Thanks Danny. I needed reminding how lucky I am.”
He flicked the top of her head.
“Totally undeserved, of course. Now what do you recommend I have for pudding?”
Anna did a circuit of the room, making sure that everybody was happy. Back at the buffet table Sam stood irresolute.
“It all looks so good. I don’t know where to start.”
“How about I make you a meringue nest. Not lemon as it’s not your favourite. Otherwise, let me surprise you.”
He grinned and turned his back. A couple of minutes later Anna put a plate in his hand. He looked at the contents and licked his lips.
“Meringue. Strawberry. Chocolate sauce. Ice cream. Yum. Extra hour at the gym this week.”
‘Maybe. Or perhaps lots of sex and a couple long walks with Bonnie.”
He grinned evilly.
“Talking of Bonnie. Where is she?”
“In her basket in the utility. Conked out. Entertaining is obviously very tiring. And Sam. Your Mrs Jackson is telling Jim stories that are so filthy his ears are going red.”
“I bet she is, and all in the most genteel of tones. She used to do the same to me. Give her one glass of wine and all discretion flies out of the window. For all the gentility she’s had a bit of a life.”
“Geordie came to see me just after I moved in here. Just to make sure I wasn’t taking advantage. When he decided I wasn’t he made it clear that any friend of Mrs J’s could walk down any street in Glasgow unmolested. I’ll admit I’ve never had the nerve to try it out. But…”
It was a very good party, and went on until quite late. One of the neighbours went home and got his guitar, which started a somewhat raucous sing-song. Almost everyone joined in, with the exception of Anna and Bonnie, neither of whom could hold a tune. The highlight of the evening, though, came when Jim took a harmonica out of his shirt pocket and played. Anna grabbed Sam’s arm.
“Oh,” she whispered in his ear, “Pats is going to sing. She has a wonderful voice.”
Then the room fell silent as Jim swung into Summer Time, joined after the intro by the most glorious contralto voice. When the song finished there was clapping and cheering, and more than one person had tears in their eyes.
“More. More please!” came from all around the room.
Patsy grinned and wiped her own eyes.
Jim put the harmonica to his lips and winked as he played the first chords of The Mountains of Mourne. Silence fell again.
When the last note had died away, the applause was thunderous once again.