Penny wiped the corners of her mouth with the linen serviette, wondering if the breakfast in bed service would continue after their wedding. She thought not. George had spent the last week scoring points; pegging out the washing as she had shown him; tidying his man drawer (though it still refused to shut); tickling her back; painting her toenails and keeping her away from Roger, their best man, whom she had threatened with physical harm after George had returned home after his stag night.
She wrinkled her nose. What was that smell? Her gaze fell on the bottle of ‘Lollipop Bling’, the ghastly perfume George had presented her with as another token. He described as divine. She thought not. It reminded her of their dog, Hector, after a swim in the river.
‘George!’ Penny shouted as she scrambled out of bed. ‘What the hell are you doing, ironing for the whole England team?’
‘Coming, my love. Won’t be a minute.’
Penny detected a certain amount of hysteria in George’s voice, the kind that made her nervous. She closed her eyes. Please. Not today. Of all days.
Stepping out onto the landing, she hovered at the top step. ‘What have you done? George?’
George stood at the bottom of the stairs, a tight smile plastered across his face.
‘Hmm, you look good enough for me in that nightie, poppet.’ He licked his lips and stepped on the first stair.
She stuck her hand out. ‘Don’t you move an inch further, George or I’m calling the whole thing off.’
George’s smile slipped and replaced by his hurt little boy look, though all Penny saw was the red patch on his forehead where he’d been trying to scrub away the indelible ink. She dug her nails into her palm. That damn Roger, she would never forgive him for that stupid stag night trick.
‘What’s happened? You only call me “poppet” when something has happened or you feel guilty about something. George, please don’t mess me around today, I’m stressed enough as it is.’
George wore a pair of bright orange boxers and navy blue socks; his hair stuck up on the front his head like a question mark. And this was the man she would commit herself to—she checked her watch—in three hours. Penny sighed.
Well, too late now. Today was their blessing and tomorrow they were off to Florence to get married for real. Just the two of them. It was safer that way. The arrangements were a bit arse about face, but that was also down to George, who’d got the dates mixed up and Penny’s grasp of the Italian language was such that she’d only made things worse. Then onto their ‘retirement’ project, a small tumbled down house in rural Italy, that they had plans to renovate.
‘It’s nothing, Pen. Honest. You won’t be able to see it.’
Penny’s reverie burst like a bubble and she remembered she was angry with George.
‘Nothing? See? What? Exactly? ’ Her voice rose an octave and George dashed up the stairs. He wrapped his arms around her, almost squeezing the breath out of her.
‘George, put me down. Now. ’
George dipped into the bathroom. ‘Look, why don’t I run you that bath?’ His voice competed with the sound of running taps and a musky earthy aroma drifted through the air.
Penny stood in the doorway.
‘Fine, but you still have to tell me what you’ve done.’
A list of the things she had written on his ‘to do’ list went through her mind.
Feed the dog. Check.
Clean the BBQ. Check.
Pack passports, ferry tickets and hotel booking reservations. Check.
Wash car and polish. Check.
She’d been following his progress all morning and was sure that everything had gone smoothly. She looked down at her scantily clad torso, freshly waxed and toned after weeks of dieting and rationing of red wine. Well, the rationing was questionable, but then again, wine was good for the heart. So some Z list celebrity in Bella magazine had said. Yes, she was feeling very confident about her outfit; it was perfect.
‘My dress!’ Penny remembered the last thing on George’s list.
Iron shirt and dress (carefully)
‘What was that, love?’ A red face appeared out of the steam, a bottle of Patchouli bubble bath in his hand.
‘What have you done to my dress?’
‘N… noth… nothing, exactly.’ stammered George. ‘Well, it’s a minor burn, nothing that can’t be mended. You won’t see it. It’s kind of in a crease.’
‘A burn! On my silk, wedding dress? The only Valentino I’ve ever owned? The one that has just cost me a month’s salary? George, how could you?’ Penny sobbed.
‘Poppet, it’s a singe really, not a burn. I promise. I forgot to turn the iron down after my shirt and it sort of, well stuck…’
‘Stuck!’ Penny ran downstairs with George following closely behind. Her dress hung on the laundry door. It was the colour of aubergine and she had fallen in love with it as soon as she had seen it in the shop window. She could hardly get married in white. Not again. She’d married for the first time at sixteen, against her parents’ wishes. Four years later she had returned home with only the clothes she’d stood up in. Her ex was never talked about again. She and George had been living on and off together for the last five years, more off than on. And anyway she liked this deep plum colour, it was sensual and suited her swarthy colouring. She’d only been brave enough to wear striking colours since a Colour Me session, after which she had emptied her wardrobe of all the navy blue and beige. She ran her fingers over the front and turned it round. Mouth agape, her hand hovered over a crinkled singe along the hem.
‘Oh, George, it’s ruined! That’s it. Call the whole thing off. I can’t marry someone who can’t iron properly.’
‘Well, that’s steep coming from you, Pen, the woman who can’t hold an iron for a minute because she gets blisters! I can sort it, honest. Just go and have your bath and it will be all right. I promise.’ George raised his chin in defiance for a second and then raised his hands. ‘What more can I say other than sorry?’ He hummed the Cold Play tune ‘I will fix you’.
Penny stood her ground and stared back at George.
‘If you want to call it off, fine. But you can tell everyone why. We can sort it. And anyway, I told you it didn’t need ironing. You insisted.’
‘That’s right, blame me,’ Penny placed her hands on her hips to stop herself shaking.
‘Come on, poppet. Let’s chill. This is supposed to be our happy day.’
George kissed her forehead, and she took a step back. He followed and kissed each eye. She sighed and shrugged her shoulders. Then he kissed the tip of her nose.
‘George, we haven’t time for this, the guests will be arriving—’ He kissed her lips, holding her tight before standing back and grinning. He guided her back up to the bathroom.
‘One minute,’ he said, holding up a finger. Seconds later he returned with a bright pink plastic beaker of sparkling wine. ‘All the glasses have been polished for the party,’ he explained. Penny took a sip as the tension released from her shoulders.
‘Right then. You have a good old soak while I pop out for half an hour. And don’t forget I’m in charge, it’s on my to do list.’ He winked and started down the stairs.
‘Haven’t you forgotten something?’
‘What’s that now, Pen?’
‘Your trousers, George.’
Half an hour later, George returned whistling. He stood at the bedroom door with her dress over his arm.
‘Ta Da! All fixed as promised.’ He beamed a Colgate white smile.
Penny took the dress and examined it along the hem. Sure enough, the wrinkling had disappeared. She slipped it over her head, allowing the cool, soft fabric to fall over her curves, kissing her skin. She turned and looked in the mirror.
‘You look stunning.’
‘But it was ankle length, now it’s calf length.’ Penny smoothed and pulled at the hemline.
‘But you have such lovely ankles, poppet, why would you want to hide them? You look good enough to eat.’
George followed his ex-wife’s bottom sashaying from right to left as she arranged the floral centrepieces on the top table.
‘Great form, like two large petals,’ Roger muttered and then drained his glass.
‘Mmm,’ agreed George, ‘but a tongue as sharp as a thorn.’
‘Always a price to pay, my dear friend, for beauty.’
‘Oh my God, quick! She’s spotted me, get in front.’ George hid behind Roger, but as he was at least four inches taller, he had to bend his knees.
‘Watch out, George. People will start to get the wrong idea.’ Roger spoke out of one corner of his mouth.
‘Don’t be silly, just try to divert her attention.’
‘Hi, George. Hello, Roger.’ Melinda had a voice that sounded like a seven-year-old. It had once attracted George, brought out his hunter-gatherer instinct, but now it grated on his nerves like chalk running down a blackboard. The charming damsel had turned into a moaning Minnie.
‘Uh, hello, Melinda. The flowers look great.’ George stepped out from behind Roger, his cheeks burning.
‘Don’t they just? I just had to make a special effort for my little Porgy.’ Melinda pouted her red lips.
‘Porgy?’ Roger thumped George playfully on the shoulder.
‘Yes, Georgy Porgy, that’s what I always used to call you, didn’t I, George? Especially after—’
‘No,’ George interrupted, his face felt like it was about to explode. ‘I mean, yes, I think you should check the flowers on the tables.’
‘But I’ve just done that, and everything is just tickety-boo. You look very nervous, George. Just like you did on our wedding day.’ Melinda sighed heavily and George and Roger stared as her large bosom which ballooned under a low fuchsia pink neckline. She patted her bottle-blond hair with one hand and smoothed her dress over her hips with the other.
‘Roger,’ George whispered. Roger didn’t move. ‘Roger!’ George elbowed him.
‘What?’ Roger snapped without taking his eyes from Melinda’s chest.
‘Stop slavering.’ George stamped on his toes.
‘Ouch! What the—’
The two men jolted at the sound of Penny’s voice behind them and turned to her in unison, hiding Melinda behind them.
‘Wow! Don’t you just look ravishing?’ Roger slid his hand around Penny’s waist.
‘And you, Roger, look as though you have had one too many already.’ She snatched the glass out of his hand and scooped up a half empty bottle from the table. Roger pouted, like a boy who’d had his conkers confiscated.
‘So what are you both doing?’ Penny stepped to the side to look behind them.
‘Hello, Penny,’ cooed Melinda, waggling her fingers. ‘What a lovely dress. So flattering for the fuller figure, don’t you think, George?’
George watched a red blotch spread from the base of Penny’s neck and stepped toward her, taking her hand.
‘She looks like a million dollars.’ He turned and kissed Penny, hoping to silence whatever it was she was about to say. He could feel her lips moving like a fish gasping for air. He couldn’t have them fighting it out. Not today.
‘Come on, Melinda. Time for a refill.’ Roger took the glass from Penny and, with one hand hovering over Melinda’s backside, steered her to the bar.
‘Melinda. The FOC. I might have known. Why is she here, George?’ Penny demanded, her nostrils flaring.
George swallowed hard. He hated confrontations. ‘You know why, poppet. Because she did the flowers for free. I could hardly say no.’
Penny swung around and grabbed his arm. ‘You mean she asked you?’
George’s cheeks burned again. ‘No, don’t be silly but you don’t mind do you? It’s best to stay friendly.’
‘Friendly? With the woman from hell? George, have you forgotten how it was – all those phone calls, tears and tantrums. The woman is clearly mad.’
‘Well, she was lonely. Now she’s got Jerry…’
‘Jerry? Who is Jerry? Sounds like a mouse.’ Penny broke out into a giggle. ‘Though that would make sense, the Fat Old Cat will enjoy playing with her prey.’
‘Now, Penny, that’s unfair,’ but George couldn’t help smiling. ‘Anyway, he’s not here today, but I’m sure he’ll be good for her.’
‘As she’s pinning Roger to the wall, seems to me she’s forgotten all about darling Jerry.’
George followed Penny’s gaze.
‘Uh oh and here comes Daphne. Quickly, George, try to get her attention, if she sees…’ Penny faltered and then winced. ‘Whoops too late.’ They watched as Roger’s wife strode over to the bar, smiled sweetly at Melinda and then slapped Roger’s face.
George put his hand over his mouth as Daphne marched over with Roger scurrying behind, rubbing at a reddening cheek.
‘I blame you, George.’ Daphne stated. ‘Oh Penny, you look absolutely stunning!’ Penny beamed. Good ol’ Daffers, thought George, always dependable in a crisis.
‘Why me?’ George did his best to look offended.
‘You invited the FOC. Haven’t you any feelings for your future wife?’ Maybe not dependable at all, George reconsidered, and shoved his hands in his pockets.
‘Don’t answer, George. Innocent until proven guilty, I say. You’re just digging yourself into a hole,’ warned Roger.
‘You,’ Penny stabbed a French manicured fingernail at Roger’s chest. ‘You just stay out of this. George, we have guests to greet.’
Roger sniggered and snorted as George went to follow.
‘What?’ asked George.
‘Start as you mean to go on, old chap.’
George frowned. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘I mean, who will wear the trousers in your house, George, eh? It certainly isn’t going to be you!’ Roger giggled and then belched loudly.
‘And as for you, Roger,’ Daphne said in a determined voice. ‘You can come and help me finish the children’s entertainment. Blow some balloons up with all that wind.’ Roger scowled.
‘What was that, Rog old friend?’ George winked. ‘Trousers, did you say?’
‘George!’ cried Penny.
This is the second story in The Good (Expat) Life series, you can read the first here