Once everyone was supplied with a glass, Sam raised a toast.
“Let’s drink to love and friendship.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Danny agreed.
“Mind you I’d drink to misery and dislike if somebody would only feed me…’
Amid roars of laughter, Anna fetched a tray of tiny biscuits spread with pate, stuffed cherry tomatoes, and cubes of salty feta cheese.
“Just to stop my big brother fading away while I make the gravy.”
She went to the range, with Sam at her heels.
“What can I do?”
“Nothing. Or do you fancy carving?”
“Can do. What is it today?”
Sam put his glass down and picked up the carving knife and fork. Anna watched respectfully, as slice after slice of perfectly carved meat landed on the serving platter.
“Well bugger me,” she said almost reverently as she stirred the gravy.
“You want both joints carved?”
With the meat carved and the gravy in two jugs, Anna and Sam got the food on the table, and everyone dug in.
“Can you pass the water jug?”Jim asked, “I’m driving, so no more booze.”
“Me too,” Rod concurred. “If I was to touch a drop before driving her boy, Pats would have my nuts for a necktie.”
“I’ve got non-alcohol lager if either of you would prefer,” Sam offered.
“If it ain’t too much trouble that’d be great.”
Sam went to the booze fridge and got two bottles, while Anna fetched beer glasses.
“Thanks both,” Jim said somewhat thickly around a mouthful of succulent roast lamb.
“Manners Jim,” Patsy giggled.
He finished his mouthful and looked hurt.
“It’s a worry,” he said, “it’s rude to talk with your mouth full, and it’s rude not to say thank you. So which rude do you go for?”
There was a shout of laughter, and Patsy rapped his knuckles with a serving spoon.
“Can you imagine Sunday lunch at ours?” she said despairingly. “It’s a fucking bear garden.”
Charlie lifted his face from his dinner.
“T’isn’t, it’s worse than that. Last week the twins went to fight over the last roast potato…”
He subsided and Patsy took up the tale.
“Jim was no help. Could do nothing for laughing. I had to prize them apart with a serving spoon. Which broke…”
The laughter rose in waves again.
Danny patted her hand.
“Never mind, Pats. You wouldn’t be without them, would you?”
“God no. I love every smelly, sullen argumentative inch of all of them. And if they grow up to be like their dad there will be five lucky women out there one day.”
Jim put a beefy arm around her and dragged her over for a kiss.
“Love you too, you silly old bat.”
“You see how it is.”
Jim grinned at the assembled.
“This parenthood thing is a minefield. I dunno how most people navigate it. Me? I just follow Pats.”
“Yeah. And I go by my gut and the seat of my pants. And by dog training principles…”
This had the rest of the table in stitches.
“It’s true,” Jim mopped his streaming eyes. “I come in from work one night. Late. The twins were about two. She had them on the kitchen floor chewing bones.”
“They were teething. Doing my head in. Bones helped.” Patsy said irately, then she laid her head on the table and laughed until she almost cried.
“Sorry everyone,” she said between guffaws.
“But you should have seen Jim’s face that night. He didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or call a social worker. In the end he phoned his mum, who told him not to be a worry-arse. Apparently, he cut his teeth on his old man’s riding crop. At least there’s a bit of goodness in a beef bone.”
It was Bill’s turn to look up from his plate of roast beef and grin engagingly.
“I remember you putting me and Charlie in the puppy pen one day when we were whiny. Grandpa Cracksman took us out and fed us potato chips and Coca-Cola.”
Patsy laid her head on the table and laughed till she cried.
All in all it was a very happy Sunday, and when Patsy, Jim, Rod and the boys drove away Sam put his arm around Anna and pulled her close.
“I really like all of them. They’re real. In an increasingly plastic world they are as refreshing as a swim in a cold Scottish loch. However, we now have packing to do. We are catching a plane at eleven tomorrow morning. Pack for warm weather. Nothing formal.”
“For how long will we be away?”
“Sadly, I could only book a week. Even then I had to call in some favours.”
“And where are we going?”
He tapped her nose with one long finger.
“You’ll find out when we get there. Paul is driving us to the airport. So no need to leave the car in one of the overpriced car parks.”
“Good. Talking of cars. It having been ages now, I’m guessing the garage can’t fix the Audi?”
“Oh yeah. I forgot that. It’s fucked. When we get home I’ll have to get me a new car. I can’t keep using yours.”
“You could. In fact, maybe you should. I only need a small runabout. Perhaps it would be best to replace the Audi with something a bit less ostentatious than the Range Rover.”
“Anna. It’s your Range Rover.”
“Ours numbskull. If it’s our house it’s our Range Rover. And I’m sure it’s just the kind of car a consultant should be driving.”
“It certainly looks more at home in my parking space at work than the Audi did. It sits between a Jag and a four-wheel drive Merc, and seems to sneer at both. But what will we buy you to replace it?”
“Oh. I dunno. A Golf maybe?’
“Nope. Not a VeeDub. I think you should have an Evoque.’
“Okay. If that’s what you think. We’ll have a look when we get home. Now I’m off to pack my bikini.”
“Good. Is it itsy bitsy teeny weeny?”
“You’ll find out when we get there?”
She ran upstairs, leaving Sam to go and hunt up Danny for a bit of a chat, about cars among other things.