“The guest ‘powder room’ as you call it is on the right of the stairs.” Georgina pointed Lucy towards the plain wooden door on which hung a large photograph of a Cape Weaver, then turned towards the other guests gathered in the lounge. She and James hadn’t entertained at home for months and so it felt good to hear the room filled with happy conversations.
“Would you like me to help you bring in the food?” Lucy glanced around the kitchen and opened her hands tentatively. “The plates at least, Georgie. You must be run off your feet.”
“Thanks Lucy. Put them on the sideboard please. I think people can help themselves today.” A strong smell of hand cream lingered in the kitchen. ‘She must have made lavish use of it,’ Georgina mused as she carried the dishes through. “Dinner is ready,” she announced cheerfully. “Help yourselves before you sit down. It’ll be easier that way.”
James set about replenishing the wine and pecked Georgina on her cheek in passing. “It all smells delicious, I can hardly wait to tuck in.” He always said that, so she smiled while keeping an anxious eye on the servings. ‘Please let there be enough of everything,’ she muttered in her head.
The others were already seated when James picked up a plate to serve himself. He turned to Georgina in surprise. “Who is this extra plate for?”
“Oh, it must be mine. Sorry, I got caught up with things.” Lucy brushed past him to serve herself the salmon mousse. “Clever you, Georgie! Where on earth did you find Melba toast?”
“I made it.” Georgina was puzzled. Lucy looked different and why was James wrinkling his nose? “Something wrong with the fish, James?”
“Not at all, I was just alarmed Lucy wouldn’t leave me any,” he joked. “Never mind Lucy. I happen to know there’s an excellent chicken dish to follow.”
Georgina caught Catherine’s eye as she bent over her food. That raised eyebrow meant her gut feeling wasn’t wrong after all. She looked up again, watching Lucy flirt with Andrew in a friendly way. She waved her fork about while she talked and looked at him demurely over the top of her wine glass before breaking into fits of giggles.
“Have you bought shares in a perfume shop, my girl?” Tom, Lucy’s husband, spoke to her pointedly. “You’re letting the fumes get to your head,” he grumbled good-naturedly.
Catherine and Georgina rose together to clear the plates. “That’s your perfume she’s wearing.” Catherine picked up the casserole dish. “She didn’t smell of anything obvious earlier, George. We arrived together. Tom’s right – she reeks of it!”
Lucy rose dramatically from the table while the others were still eating the main course. “I loathe monkeys and baboons are even worse, so I’m going to retreat until your conversation about them is over!” She stifled a giggle and playfully wagged her finger at the men. “I’ll be back for dessert. I saw it in the fridge and wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
A wooden door banged shut. “I wonder if she has a stomach problem,” Georgina whispered to Catherine. “This will be her third trip to the bathroom since you all arrived.”
“She hasn’t eaten much either. She usually drinks a lot more wine at dinners: only two glasses so far. I wonder what’s up.” They both glanced towards her husband. “Tom seems to be fine.”
The conversation turned to wild dogs. “Their survival ultimately relies on the human factor.” Tom placed more salad on his plate and addressed the company at large. “The African Wild Dog often comes into conflict with humans. The only viable population is in the Kruger National Park.”
“We encountered several packs in Botswana,” James cut in.
“Talk about encounters, Andrew you must tell them about the Giant Bullfrog in your brother’s garden.” Catherine leaned forward. “They are fearsome frogs that apparently emerge from underground at the start of the rainy season.”
Georgina listened to the conversations start and finish, cross over and run parallel to each other. James rose to refill wine glasses against the background of encounters with Barn Owls and the African Grass Owl. He paused at Lucy’s empty glass and looked enquiringly at his wife.
“I need the loo.” Catherine scraped back her chair. “I’ll check.” She smiled impishly at Georgina.
“Great. I’ll bring in the dessert.”
Just then a blood curdling scream came from upstairs followed by the sound of high heels clip-clopping rapidly down the wooden staircase. “A snake! A snake! James, there’s a snake in your bathroom!” Lucy burst into the dining room, fear contorting her beautifully made-up face. She rushed into Tom’s arms, her own shaking uncontrollably.
Noticing the newly applied nail varnish and the freshly applied lipstick, Georgina couldn’t resist saying “I told you the guest bathroom is downstairs.”
“What were you doing upstairs, my love?” Tom eased her into her chair next to him while James poured her a glass of wine, his shoulders shaking with mirth.
“That snake lives there,” he smiled.
Lucy put her wine glass down with such a thump that wine slopped onto the table cloth. “James Taylor, how can you allow a snake to live in your bathroom?”
“It’s only a rubber one Lu. I put it there to deter thieves.”
The assembled company roared with laughter at Lucy’s expense, except for Georgina, who realised what her friend had been up to. “I’ll bring in the dessert,” she said to no-one in particular and turned on her heel.