What Goes Around...(4)

By: Carol Marinelli

‘I’ve just shown everyone around, but I’ll give you a little private tour later,’ Jess says and we smile at the thought of brief escape.

I don’t often drink but thank God for wine tonight because dinner is hard work.

Conversation starts sticking at the starter.

It probably has something to do with the mini sticky onion tarts with Teifi cheese getting in their dentures. I mention Charlotte and her Skype and that sort of grinds them slowly towards the present date, gets their miserable goats going and the conversation re-started. They really are the most opinionated, boring, disapproving lot. They start moaning about adverts, not just on the internet but also on the television and radio, about how everything is discussed these days.

‘There was one on the radio the other morning, about erectile dysfunction!’ Shirley says and I start to laugh, because I had Charlotte in the car when it came on.

‘Yes I know,’ I say, joining in. ‘Charlotte asked me what it was.’ There's a small ripple of laughter.

‘And what did you tell her?’

‘I told her to ask her father,’ I smirk and now they really do laugh, only I wish they wouldn't. I can feel his disapproval. Shit, I want to take it back! I didn't mean it like that, I wasn't talking about him, I was just trying to make conversation.

I struggle through the crispy duck we’re having for main and when Jess gathers up the plates I help her, just for the excuse of a quick bitch in the kitchen.

‘It's your turn next month!’ Jess reminds me. ‘What are you going to make?’

‘Cyanide casserole.’

‘That's not elegant enough Lucy.’ She’s warming up sauces and I’m waiting for her to open the fridge – for the inevitable Trio of Desserts we all have to make these days. ‘We could add arsenic to the desserts,’ Jess grins as she stirs, ‘just a little bit each month.’ She does make me laugh. ‘Can you get the ice cream cake out of the freezer?’ Jess calls over her shoulder. She doesn’t notice my silence as I stare into the freezer; she’s chatting away as she makes one jug of hot chocolate sauce and one jug of butterscotch.

‘What happened to my trio of desserts?’ I try to make a joke but my voice has gone all husky.

‘Who's got time?’ Jess says and she proceeds to tell me the recipe. ‘You get a good ice cream and a mud cake which you break up and stir in to the ice cream, along with Crunchies and Snickers, all chopped up, add Maltesers and a big slug of Baileys too. Then, wrap it in cling film, put it in a cake dish and you shove it all back in the freezer. Great isn't it?’ Jess says, peeling off the cling film and sprinkling chocolate flakes over it as I watch. ‘Don't worry.’ She must have seen the slight horror on my expression. ‘I used gloves to mix it.’ Then she winces as she remembers that I’m allergic to ice cream. ‘Lucy, I forgot!’

‘It doesn’t matter.’ It’s no big deal, I tell her. ‘I’ll just skip to the cheese.’

‘Are you sure?’ Jess checks and I nod. We start to carry the desserts through and I see my husband look from the plate and up to me as I hand him one and I know I’m being served another warning to behave.

I go to get the next lot of plates and, as I do, Jess asks would I mind putting the rest of the cake back in the freezer?

I do so, and then I carry the last couple of plates through.

‘Not for me, thanks.’ Luke pushes the plate away from him and carries on with his conversation and I try to focus on what’s being said. They’re talking about something that happened around the turn of the century and, of course, I can’t concentrate. My eyes keep moving to Luke’s discarded plate. To the ice cream that’s melting. I don’t get how he can just leave it; I don’t get how Jess has eaten half of her slice and seems finished.

‘Lucy will know.’ Luke drags me into the conversation. ‘Remember that guy who headhunted Cameron - you remember don’t you? We were on that boat on the Thames – when you still worked there.’

I have no idea who he’s talking about.

‘Anyone want seconds?’ Jess stands.

It’s the only thing I can hear.

‘You must remember him,’ Luke insists. ‘He was talking to you for ages.’

‘I don’t remember him.’ I shake my head, but Luke won’t let it drop.

‘The time you got sea-sick,’ Luke prompts and I take a slug of wine, though I feel like tossing it at Luke, or picking up his melted ice cream and slamming it into his gob, because I know what he’s doing, I know what’s coming next.