It was hot. The daily temperatures had hovered between 34°C and 42°C for the past week, making Angie feel exhausted. It wasn’t only the heat that drained her of energy, it was having run a three-day training course and the prospect of the next two days filled with meetings. She sat on the edge of the swimming pool, cooling her bare feet in the water while sipping a gin and tonic Ian had poured for her.
“Thank goodness the weekend is beckoning,” she said dreamily. “I just want to feel at peace with the world and not have to deal with any people.”
“You haven’t forgotten dinner on Friday night, have you?” Ian peered at her over his reading glasses.
Angie swirled the not-so-cool-anymore water with her feet, noting the ripples fanning out towards the middle of the pool. She listened to the crickets in the garden and noted the high pitch of the yapping dog that lived further up the street. She studied the last of the melting ice cubes in her glass and counted four vehicles passing the house before she turned round, hoping Ian wouldn’t notice the tears she was willing back into their wells.
“You did say Friday would be a good night.” Ian folded the newspaper he could no longer read in the fading light. “Everyone has accepted the invitation: six-thirty for seven is what you suggested.”
“Remind me why we had to invite the Simpsons.”
“Betty recently started working in my department and William heads the biggest NGO in town.”
“And that makes them influential?”
“It’s not about influence Angie.” Ian could sense a storm was brewing inside her. “As the departmental head, I think that newcomers to our town would find it helpful if they met some colleagues on a more informal basis.”
“William writes such trash in the newspapers, Ian. Who on earth will want to talk to such a self-opinionated person?” Angie gulped the last of her drink and dried her feet on the towel lying crumpled on the brick paving.
The first e-mail from Betty arrived on Thursday evening: Please note that we do not eat fish, red meat or potatoes. Noted. Angie revised the menu in her head.
A second e-mail arrived on Friday morning: I understand Andrew and Alison Fincham are coming to dinner. He is such a bore, please don’t seat me next to him. Fine. Angie gathered her notebook for her meeting.
Another e-mail arrived before lunch: We do not drink red wine.
By the time the first guests had arrived, Angie already felt a wreck with a throbbing headache to boot. The Mannings brought red wine and a box of chocolates; the Finchams brought a bottle of white wine (“Thank you ever so much Alison! I never get enough white.”); and the Beckhams brought red wine and a small bouquet of flowers. There was no sign of the Simpsons.
Angie was plating the starters when she heard a commotion at the front door. ‘Let Ian get on with the introductions,’ she thought darkly. William walked into the kitchen and, without acknowledging her presence, opened the fridge. He pulled two bottles of white wine from a large leather bag and shoved them in between the cheese and the milk. “No-one is to drink these,” he spoke curtly, “they’re for me and Betty.” He eyed the gifted wines on the shelf. “Quite a collection you have here,” he commented more cheerfully and left.
Ian was already pouring wine when Angie brought the starters to the table. Betty was turning her glass of red round and round while staring into the depths of the ruby liquid. As Ian was about to pour red wine into William’s glass, Angie stopped him. “He might prefer white darling.” She turned to the assembled company. “I hope Ian offered an alternative; we do have white wine.” Alison returned the knowing wink. William appeared to scowl at her and accepted the red.
Angie placed the beef roast in front of Ian to carve. The roasted potatoes jostled for attention with the other vegetables on the sideboard. “There is rice, if anyone would prefer, and a chicken dish is at the end.” She looked directly at Betty, who shook her head and giggled girlishly.
“So, this is a rice and potato household! Ian, I thought you were far too refined for that!” She clinked her wine glass against Andrew’s. “Do you and Ali also serve the two carbs together?”
Angie was fuming. “Do serve yourselves,” she announced brightly then sat down, wishing everyone would leave her to nurse her headache in peace. William had been quick to open another bottle of red wine. Angie noted that he hadn’t been into the kitchen once. She also noted with increasing anger that both Simpsons had piled their plates with beef and roasted potatoes! She defiantly served herself chicken on rice.
When the evening drew to a close at last, Angie walked into the kitchen to get the potted herbs she had promised to give Jenny Manning. She nearly fell over William, who was stuffing ‘his’ two bottles of white wine into the large leather bag and then reached for the bottle Alison had brought.
“Excuse me, but that’s not your bottle of wine.” Angie tried to sound light-hearted.
“It’s not yours either, love.” William added it to his bag and followed Angie to the lounge, where everyone was bidding each other farewell.
Amidst the thanks, the compliments about her cooking, and the farewells, Angie was sure William had returned to the kitchen. ‘Perhaps his conscience has got the better of him’ she thought as Betty gave her a perfunctory hug and then beamed at Ian. William pushed past her. “G’night” he mumbled and moved to shake Ian’s hand vigorously.
Angie walked into the kitchen: the bottle of white wine hadn’t been returned and one of the gifted bottles of red was missing too. She turned on her heel and marched down the passage. “Those two are never darkening our door again,” she hissed at Ian. “The man is a thief and the woman is a liar!”