Sunday, 21 June 2020

Afterwards

by Pauline Howard

house wine

Jo checked the table one more time. It was a nervous thing. The table was perfect, it had been laid by the caterers. She knew this evening was important to Greg. He wanted to impress he’d said, show he was up to it all – whatever it all was. The girls were both out on a sleepover. The caterers were in her kitchen, so she’d really had little to do except get herself ready.
         ‘They’re here darling.’ Greg put his hands on her waist steering her into the hall. ‘Let’s answer the door together.'
          Jo thought this a silly idea, but made no argument. It was the guilt, she knew that, but no regrets. She would change nothing and she would wholly support her husband.
         As it happened it was for the best – his daft idea meant him being right behind her – because as the shock hit she leaned back against him and he hugged her possessively, completely misinterpreting her seeming act of solidarity. Greg made the introductions. ‘Jo, this is Sara, my colleague.’ Then he turned to the man with her. ‘And you have to be Mark,’ he added, ‘I’ve heard so much about you, I feel I know you already.’
         “Likewise,’ replied Mark as they bumped elbows, and Greg ushered the couple into the dining room.
         There were a few awkward moments as Jo showed them to their places at the table. Thank goodness there were only four of them, no one had to sit opposite. Greg had wanted it as informal as possible.
         Sara and Greg were talking shop, and Mark was having no trouble keeping up. Jo could have joined in of course, but she took the opportunity to weigh up the other woman and steady herself as she was still inwardly reeling from finding Mark on her doorstep. The realisation that she knew next to nothing about him. Sara and Greg obviously knew each other very well, as close work colleagues did she supposed.
         ‘How long is it since we’ve had a dinner party, darling?’
         Jo blinked and shuffled in her seat. ‘Well, it was some months before lockdown, so must be well over a year now.’ She had to pull herself together. She’d only just caught that from Greg.
         ‘All I can say is thank goodness we can invite people back into our homes. I’d quite forgotten how pleasant this is.’ Greg picked up the bottle of wine. ‘Can I top you up Sara?’
         Sara smiled and watched as the rich, red wine glugged into her glass and Jo sneaked a glance at Mark. His eyes met hers and he raised one eyebrow. She actually felt her cheeks flush.
         ‘Shall I clear the table ready for desert, Mrs Walker?’ Jo looked up at the gowned and masked woman, grateful for the distraction. She couldn’t help the thought that the woman looked more like she was about to operate than serve food.
         ‘Yes please.’ Jo replied. ‘Shall we ask … no, just bring everything in on the trolley would you please and we’ll go from there.’ She didn’t want to have to speak to Mark right at this moment. ‘Oh, and we’ll take coffee in the other room. Out of your way.’ She leaned back as a gloved hand reached for her plate and looking up through her lashes noticed that he was now watching the other two quite intently. She looked at them and then back at Mark. What was going on – what was she missing here? And as an inkling of realisation dawned, wondered where on earth they could go from here.

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