The residents of Maple Court were at various stages of preparing for the party at Jennifer and Tom’s place. Jonathan was shaving in the kitchen while Sophie showered in the bathroom. He had calmed down a lot from the ordeal at the gym, although he remained shocked at seeing a man die and appalled at his own deficiencies. She had held her tongue about the appearance of her mother at the door and the general air of conspiracy around her. She knew her father wanted his own space and that meant she had to move out at some point. She was suspicious about her mother and her true motives for moving back to the block. The party, in many respects, was going to be very interesting.
Cass was in her room, still fuming about her altercation with Maxine. She was lying on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. She had wedged a tissue under her nose to hold the bleeding. It wasn’t a serious injury, more humiliating than life threatening and the tissue was a kind of comfort, just the kind of comfort she missed when her mother died. At the time she was furious with all the people around her saying that it was for the best and that her mother was in a better place. It was all that shallow talk about something as horrendous as cancer, all the meaningless platitudes. Her mother had suffered for months and despite the best care possible and the love and attention of her family, it was not enough to save her. Cass has lost count of the number of times she had cried herself to sleep after the funeral. Every now and then she just wanted a hug or a cuddle, confidence that there was someone there to make her feel protected, safe and warm. She was close to her father but he was away most of the time on international financial business. They talked on the telephone two or three times a week, but she missed her mother’s touch, the laugh, the reassuring words and the kick in the pants to maintain some degree of ambition. It was at times like this, after a trivial incident, that Cass felt vulnerable. She could look and sound tough, but under the veneer, there was an emotional weakling. She would go to Tom and Jennifer’s and get drunk. She was determined to get the dog out of the flat and to hell with Maxine.
Maxine had put some ointment onto the scratch on her arm. She was applying make-up and thinking about what to wear. She didn’t have much of a wardrobe. Her clothes were mostly the daywear of students, jeans, tee shirts, jumpers, casual shoes, but she did have a decent enough blouse and a black skirt in case she had to go to an interview. Billy Bob was lying on her bed, looking up at his mistress.
“Don’t worry Bobs, I’m not going to let anything happen to you. You’re mine for keeps, well at least after I convince the vet to hand you over officially.” She blew the dog a kiss and continued to get ready. Maxine regretted fighting but she wasn’t going to be bullied by anybody. She’d had enough of that at school. But she was beginning to crave some male companionship, a proper relationship and she had her eye on someone, a special someone who would be at the party.
Matt was dozing on the sofa. He had spent a few minutes calming down by watching the rest of the sports results. He was not good with conflict and had witnessed a very ugly scene. He wondered if the three flat-mates would ever get over this incident. The last thing he wanted to be was piggy in the middle, having to choose sides. He had chosen sides before when his parents separated, preferring to live with his mother. He hadn’t had any contact from his father in nearly two years and had to think hard sometimes to picture him in a happy mood. Most of the time before the separation, he was angry or grumpy or just stone-faced. The last things he said to Matt were not said at all, they were shouted words, laced with disturbing venom. The words “to hell with you” made Matt shiver then and even now. He hoped the party atmosphere would allow everyone to get back to a sensible friendship again.
Dot had closed the deli half an hour early to give her enough time to get ready. She was still seething at Tom and Jennifer. Perhaps they weren’t providing any food, in which case, there would not be a problem. But, if they were, she would make her point about any buffet arrangement and the need to support local businesses. If things got ugly and they didn’t like a bit of straight talking, then sod them. However, Dot didn’t really want to spoil the party. She wanted to find new ways of grabbing Jonathan’s attention and she was aware of the return of his wife. If she was there, it might lead to awkward moments but nothing ventured, nothing gained was Dot’s current philosophy. She would try not to drink too much, but if it happened, it happened.
Annie had been shopping. She was trying on various combinations of tops and trousers, even a mini-skirt but that was more to tantalise and amuse Chico rather than for public display. She had decided on a tight pair of black leather jeans and a white top, red high-heels, matching red belt. The neighbours who knew her would see that she had reinvented her image and with a new young buck on her arm, she would be the wow of the night. Jonathan might be shocked, Sophie would be appalled but everyone would know that she was a woman to be reckoned with. Chico was due in from the wine bar and, once again before a social occasion, she would remind him not to talk like or admit to being a bartender. To the outside world he was a life coach, her personal therapist and live-in, loving partner. He knew it made him sound a bit inferior but he also knew that he got his rewards. After this little talk, he would kiss Annie and say: ‘Great gig, baby, I am anything you want me to be.”
Molly realized, as she powdered her face, that it had been at least ten years since she had been invited to any social occasion. She wanted to turn the invitation down because she wasn’t always comfortable in party environments, all the noise and chatter and the potential consequences of too much drinking but, as this was a nice request from a lovely couple, she thought she had better make an effort to get to know them. As she was getting older, she needed the security of friends around her if she wanted help and support. Anyway, she thought, it would be nice to see all of the Maple Court residents in one place for a change, time to rekindle relationships and get up to date with all the hews and gossip.
Tom and Jennifer, if not completely relaxed with each other, were ready to greet their guests. Tom thought the party atmosphere might soften Jennifer’s mood and maybe change her mind about wanting to split the marriage. Jennifer’s aim was to get the party over with and get on with the future. The party to her was a kind of smokescreen for the neighbours, allowing them to assume that all was well. If any of them had an inkling that Tom and Jennifer were not the ideal loving couple, then things might be different. The party would give them some breathing space, even though there was a risk of friction and, worse, a spill over of frustration and anger.