I release her hand, the ancient envy stirring, stretching, in a foul mood.
The waitress comes around and Lana orders green tea. Immediately, I wish I had ordered that. It sounds far more exclusive than plain old Chinese tea. I make a note to order that in future.
We order a selection of dishes and the menus are taken away.
‘I thought your wedding card was really nice.’
Lana smiles. ‘Good. I’m glad you like it. I wanted Sorab to be included.’
‘Personally, I think you should have done a badass zombie invite. Not even death will do us part sort of thing,’ Billie says.
‘You can do that when you get married,’ Lana retorts.
‘I’m never getting married. I need the government to charge me to say I do like I need a f**king hole in the head.’
‘Really? You never want to get married?’ I ask.
‘If I do marry it’ll be barefoot on a beach with not a single official ‘vested’ with the authority to marry people in sight. No wedding dress, no cake, no guests. Just the sun, the sea, the sand, the coconut trees and an obliging bartender.’
‘So how are the wedding plans coming along?’ I ask.
‘Well, to be perfectly honest, I have no idea. Blake has forbidden me to do anything. He says it’s only six hours of our life, and no way is he going to let me ruin four months of our life getting stressed out with preparations. So, I have been confined to choosing the venue, contributing to the guest list, and everything to do with my dress.’
She beams at us, totally unaware of my animosity towards her.
‘Ah, so it was you who picked a small church in Woburn and the reception at Wardown Towers.’
‘Yes.’ She smiles softly.
‘Why? Why not somewhere glamorous like the Savoy or the Ritz?’
Lana touches her son’s cheek and smiles at him before turning to me. ‘Wardown Towers is an amazing place. It is surrounded by a hundred and ninety acre park teaming with deer, forests, lakes and meadows.’ She stops and looks again at Sorab. ‘But the real reason is that I wanted Blake’s sister to be not only present but comfortable. She is in her twenties, but she has the mental age of a child. Since Wardown is where she lives it seemed the perfect location. Besides, I always dreamed of a reception in a beautiful spring garden.’
I wonder about this spastic sister that my search on the Internet did not uncover. Who is she? And why is Lana bending backwards to accommodate her? But all I say is. ‘That’s nice of you.’
On the other side of the table Billie is waving to a waitress. I know what she wants. The waitress comes and Billie points to her empty glass.
‘So,’ I say casually. ‘Who do we know that are coming for the wedding?’
‘Well, a few of our school friends, Amanda, Nina, Sylvia, Jodie—’
‘No, what I meant is who is coming from our neighborhood?’
‘Oh! Uh… Mary—’
‘Fat Mary?’ interjects Billie.
‘You invited Fat Mary?’ Billie repeats, shocked.
‘Yeah, I did.’
‘Why?’ both Billie and I ask in unison.
Lana takes a sip of tea and looks at Billie. ‘Sometimes on my way to visit you, I’d take the way past the flats where we used to live so I could look at our old homes. That one time Mary was coming up the street. I crossed the road to avoid her, but she then crossed the road to join me. She took my hand and said she’d heard that mother had died. “Sorrow is how we learn to love,” she told me.
‘I was shocked. Is this really the woman who tanks up on a bottle of Cava, squeezes into a Lycra dress every Saturday night and goes up the road to look for a stranger to have sex with? “I know what you’re thinking, but it is just something to do in this sad world,” she said. I realized that I had misjudged her. She was so much more. We became friends.’
I look at Lana and suppress the annoyance I feel. This conversation has gone askew. ‘So Fat Mary is coming. Who else from our neighborhood?’
‘Oh my God!’ Billie cries suddenly. She looks totally revolted.
‘What?’ Lana asks.
‘Is that woman eating a chicken foot?’
Lana and I turn in the direction of her gaze. Indeed something resembling a dark brown chicken foot with the claws still attached is dangling from the woman’s chopsticks. Sickened, I watch her delicately nibble at one end. What can be in a chicken foot? Skin, gristle, and in the pads—fat. Uh! yuck. The thought turns my stomach and I turn away.
‘For God’s sake don’t stare,’ Lana whispers.
‘I’d rather starve than eat one of those,’ Billie declares.
‘It’s meant to be a delicacy,’ Lana informs.
I feel like screaming with frustration. Once again the conversation is drifting away from what I want to talk about. I realize I have no choice but to reveal my hand. ‘What about Jack? Is he coming?’ I ask as casually as I can.
Both Lana and Billie look at each other.
‘Jack has been invited, but I don’t know if he will come.’
That look they exchanged. There is more to this and I know exactly what to do to find out. When at an impasse, leave.
‘I need to go to the toilet. Be back soon,’ I say, and smoothly slide off the chair. I make it around the wall, behind where our table is, and drop my purse. Then I crouch down and pretend to be picking up stuff that has rolled to the floor while I hear every word of their conversation.
‘Has he not been in touch then?’ Billie asks.
‘No. I really hoped he would come.’
‘He’s hurting, babe.’
‘I guess I always thought he would give me away at my wedding.’
‘It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t. You’re marrying the man of your dreams.’
‘I know, I know. I don’t want to be selfish, but I love him so much and I really thought he’d be there, forever. To be honest I even find it hard to imagine getting married without him. And… He promised he’d give me away.’ Her voice breaks, and she says something else, but I am interrupted by a stupid woman who has squatted down beside me.
‘Here, let me help you,’ the do-gooder says cheerfully, picking up my mobile phone and lipstick. I could have hit her. Because of her meddling I didn’t hear the rest of Lana’s words or Billie’s reply. I snatch my phone and lipstick out of her hand and she shakes her head, surprised and disgusted by my rude behavior.