The volume of chatter was all but deafening and even when Agnes brought in plates of cheese and crisp brown rolls and a crock of yellow butter the volume just seemed to go up.
Jamelia stuck a plate in her hand. “Grab some food and we’ll go sit in the window seat. You can observe the gruesome foursome from a safe distance.”
Ginny did as suggested and slowly began to sort out the characters in her head. The four who stood around the table and howled with laughter at their own jokes were, she thought, the extroverts of the family. They appeared to be having a whale of a time although most of the gags were filthy enough to have her blushing even from the other side of the room. She found Jamelia’s presence a comfort and when they finished eating it seemed perfectly natural to have their own quiet conversation about Ginny’s new status.
Jamelia finished with a smile. “So you see it’s not scary at all. And those four are as good as gold. They just need to let rip every now and again. They aren’t like us.”
“What do you mean, us?”
“You and me, Ginny. We’re used to hiding stuff. Those four live on the extreme outside of their skins so it comes hard to them. This is like a catharsis for them.”
“Yes. I can see that.” She took a breath and reminded herself that sharing was a good thing to do. “I used to hide behind the words I wrote on my lifestyle blog and the persona of Virginia Creeper. I guess I only really hit real problems when I couldn’t do that anymore. Not being able to write my blog meant I’d lost my place to hide. But you?”
Jamelia’s mouth twisted. “Oh me? Trained in law because all my cousins were doctors and my parents wanted to outdo them. Given in marriage to a man twenty years my senior with heavy fists. Widowed at forty. Expected to return to my father’s house and be my stepmother’s unpaid servant whilst working flat out to earn their keep. Met Em. Got Made. Told my father to find another fool. Alone now save for my nest sisters. It will be nice to have a sister of a more contemplative turn of mind.”
Ginny felt a rush of empathy and friendship for the proud beauty at her side but understood it behoved her to tread carefully. “I expect you will find me a sad trial. Most people seem to…”
Jamelia gave her arm a squeeze. “You are too hard on yourself, you know?”
The door opened quietly and Em came in. There was no fanfare nor noise nor anything, but the atmosphere changed immediately. What had seemed like a pissup now felt to have purpose and import.
“I don’t know how she does it, either,” Jamelia breathed.
Agnes took one look at Em’s face and stuck a glass in her hand. Em necked whatever it was in one go and sighed.
“I fragging well hate demons.”
“I guess we all do. But Ishmael is the best at what he does.” Lilian spike sturdily and Em smiled.
“I guess he is, but he stinks of hell and brimstone.”
Agnes handed her another drink. “You going to tell us then?”
“Yes. But nobody interrupts please.” She held up a hand to add visual impact to her request. “Alright, what we know is this. DumpCorp somehow thinks it is perfectly okay to turn people out of their homes in order to make an imposing entranceway to its latest ‘leisure facility’. According to the planning application it already owns all the land. I rather doubt the truth of that assertion. And even if it is true for Harmful-Galoshes’ land, the housing association does not have the power to sell the estate. According to a certain not particularly tame hotshot lawyer, the association runs the housing on behalf of a charitable trust. The trustees being the chair of the parish council, the bishop, and a representative of the tenants. Which means. With our lawyer friend nominated to represent the tenants, and the bishop on side even if HG has voted to sell he is outvoted. So actually they are stuffed. They just don’t know it.
“What we plan to do is confront DumpCorp’s earthly representative when he comes to gloat. Ginny is our parish council mole who will give us the details.”
Then bedlam broke out. Everyone seemed to be shouting at once. Only it wasn’t everyone. It was Agnes, Lilian, Ellen, and Petunia.
“They will shut up in a while,” Jamelia promised. “In the meantime I’m going out for a smoke. Are you coming? You can enjoy some fresh air or join me having a fag. Can’t do you any harm now.”
“Fresh air sounds good,” Ginny agreed, and still holding her drink she followed her new sister and friend into the garden.
Two days later the company Ginny was in was far less comfortable than that of her new nest sisters. Sitting in the plush conference room in the Bedchester Council offices which she had found following the directions of Major Harmsley-Gunn (“Can’t be slumming it in the village hall, what?”), she looked at her fellow Parish Councillors and realised they were all representatives of the extremely wealthy demographic of the village. They gave her odd, distant, smiles as if uncertain why she was even there and talked amongst themselves ignoring her completely.
Harmsley-Gunn arrived in company of a man whose face made Ginny’s guts cramp. The spiderlike, bespeckled Dominic Schilling. For a moment their gazes locked and she had a terrible dread that he might recognise her. But his look swept on and past, taking far more interest in the blonde sitting next to her who was wearing Versace and Dior and with a heavy diamond dripping from each earring.
The introductions were made quickly and no one objected when Harmsley-Gunn announced that they were being joined by new resident Virginia Cropper. Again no reaction from Schilling, but then he would only have known her by her married name.
“Right,” the Major said when the pre-meeting formalities and minute reading had all been done, recorded by the silent and capable parish clerk. “Now let’s make sure those crazy old bitches of the Ladies Association can’t stop us making this sale and bringing fresh blood and prosperity to the village. Mr. Schilling is here to tell us how to do it.”
Ginny sat back beside the Major, said nothing when his silver ferruled cane slipped off the table and landed unnoticed in her large canvas bag, and took many notes.