Breakfast is unusually quiet all that can be heard is the clink of silverware on plates, the odd cough of someone clearing their throat and an intermittent ‘can you pass the... please.’ It would seem Esther has kept it to herself, either that or they’re all lost for words, which is highly unlikely for my family. They all have plenty to say on just about everything. Dad shoots the odd glare in our direction; maybe he thinks we’re going to do something to disturb the peace. Esther has her best everything is perfect face plastered on, and Granny has an odd smirk on her face. I think it is where I get my devil may care attitude from. Much like me, Granny is none too fond of her daughter in law. Everyone else appears to look like they usually do, stepbrother Eric has the usual I didn’t do it look he gets when Beatrice his bride to be has caught him eyeing someone he shouldn’t be. Beatrice, she’s sucking lemons, as always. Phoebe and Edward the half-siblings, spawned by dad and Esther have the same scowl on their faces which I think they were born with. They seem to hold everything and everyone in contempt, why I have no idea. The clinking continues as do the low mumbles of requests for jam or another slice of toast; even the normal tension is thick in the air, I’d forgotten just how intense breakfast time here could be. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice Alice become a little twitchy. It happens when she doesn’t know if people know something about her or if they do and are just hiding it.
“God, you people never change.” She says, sighing she slams her napkin onto the table, Dad looks up from his eggs Benedict a surprised look on his face, he glances over at me as if I were somehow responsible for her outburst. Rising to her feet. “Such bloody hypocrites all of you.” She rushes from the room, excusing myself I go after her, finding her in the garden which is still being set up for the wedding tomorrow. I almost trip over a string of fairy lights that have been left lying on the path.
“Here.” I say handing her a tissue to wipe her eye.
“Why did you listen to me when I suggested we arrive early?”
“I dunno I was probably drunk at the time,” I reply, I’m not sure why I had agreed. Maybe I was surprised at the suggestion that she would want to spend some time with me. “Yeah, no doubt I had to be drunk, no way I would have been sober and agreed to this.”
“It never does change here, does it?” She asks, looking back up at the house looming in the distance. Parkgate Abbey, a former monastery built in around 1170 was converted in the mid-1500s to a domestic dwelling after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, has been in grannies family ever since. It was an odd place to grow up, and it wasn’t because of the history or what it had once been, that always fascinated me, still does. It was the atmosphere that always loomed over the place, first between my mother and father. They always had a tempestuous relationship, mostly due to my fathers philandering ways. She put up with it for as long as she could, but after almost nine years and four children she threw in the towel. Dad married Esther a year or so later and not long after that; mum married Patrick, Esther’s ex-husband. That was a tough one to explain to people for a long time. It was decided that we would all remain at the Abbey, mum and Patrick moved into the east wing. Oddly enough it never really caused any problems, other than the odd altercation between mum and Esther when they would have to spend holidays together around the same table. Fun times those were. That arrangement lasted for several years until both mum and Patrick had to relocate for work. It made no sense to uproot us, children, so we remained at the Abbey, visiting mum and Patrick in the holidays.
“Do you want to get out of here for a bit?” I ask sitting down on the grass beside her; it’s still a little damp from the morning dew.
“And go where?” She snaps, shredding the tissue, it falls to the ground like confetti.
“Anywhere, the park, the shopping arcade, for a coffee, to the pub.”
“Pubs aren’t open this early.” She replies, shooting down my offer; I’m getting the feeling any suggestion I make will be shot down in flames.
“Oh well then not the pub, even just down to the river, we used to love going there.”
“You mean you and August loved it, I just went along because everyone else was going.” My heart sinks a little at her candid confession. She always appeared to be having fun; now I find out she wasn’t, is there anything else she’s hiding from me.
“I can’t deal with those people right now.”
“You don’t have to like I said we could go somewhere.” She looks at me blankly; then realisation sinks in, I’m one of those people too.
“I need space; this place makes me feel like I’m suffocating.” She bolts up and all but runs away towards the courtyard. I’m left wondering should I go after her or give her the space she so clearly wants. Not feeling like going back in just yet I move over to sit under one of the cherry trees. Watching as the workmen busily go about setting up the marquee, there is no doubt it will be quite the spectacle tomorrow. Somewhat surprised Esther isn’t out directing operations, she’s probably still in shock. I say give her a couple of hours, and she’ll be out telling them how to do their jobs. It’s fun sometimes to watch her boss dad around, he nods his head and says yes dear and does whatever it is she asks of him. This fact irritates my mother to no end; the two of them spent most of their marriage arguing. Just over 24 hours and I’ll be out of here; the thought makes me smile.
“What are you smiling about?” Joey asks, handing me a fried egg sandwich; I love those and a cup of steaming hot tea. “Mrs B made one up for you, seeing as you didn’t get to eat your breakfast.”
Taking a huge bite out of it I say in a rather unladylike fashion, my old etiquette teacher Mrs Hollister would throw a fit if she saw me now. “Thanks.”
“So where’s Alice at?” Shrugging my shoulders I take another bite, the tomato ketchup oozing out the sides, there is no civilised way to eat a fried egg sandwich. “Oh, didn’t you find her?”
“I did.” I reply, his brow furrows, explaining to him what transpired between the two of us.
“Oh, she didn’t mean it Livi, she’s just upset about what happened this morning.” Thanks for trying to sugar coat it Joey but I'm not an idiot, it has nothing to do with this mornings fiasco.
“It’s not like Esther or dad for that matter will think she was the ringleader, so I don’t see why she would be upset about that.” He sighs and rolls his eyes, he has such beautiful deep brown eyes, but when he rolls them at me, I get an urge to punch him on the nose.
“You want to punch me, don’t you?” He comments, sitting down beside me, am I that transparent with him. Shaking my head in denial, his eyebrow shoots up almost into his hairline an mm-hmm expression on his face.
“Damn good sandwich, Mrs B always makes a mean fried egg sandwich,” I comment polishing off the last morsel of it.
“Oh, oh, look.” Joey says, nudging me with his elbow. Looking up I see Frau Esther emphatically gesturing to one of the workmen as to where he is to place a giant bouquet of lilies.
“Aren’t lilies funeral flowers?” I ask, not remembering anything I learned from Mrs Hollister's etiquette class.
“I can’t say I know the answer to that.” He was lucky he didn't have to attend etiquette classes, biggest waste of 3 hours a week if you ask me.
“Maybe it’s symbolism.”
“Of what exactly.”
“The death of Eric’s freedom.” We both giggle, I doubt Beatrice clamping the gold band around his finger will stop dear Eric's eye from roving about.
“That was a bad one even for you Livi.”
“Made you laugh.”
“Yeah well, I’m a sucker for your bad jokes.”