By 8.30, everyone had arrived. The soundtrack to the early part of the evening was the best of Tamla Motown, too loud for Molly’s taste but ideal for a party atmosphere. Tom and Jennifer were the ever-smiling, warm-welcoming, newly-married couple.
“Could I have your attention please, ladies and gentlemen,” called Tom. The room’s noise ebbed into a hush, then silence as Jennifer turned down the volume on the CD player. Everyone looked at Tom.
“I just wanted to say a few words before we get into serious drinking, eating, dancing and whatever else we all like to do at parties, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, to welcome you all to our humble home and to say hello officially, it’s great to meet you all, thanks for coming and we both hope to get to know you better as the weeks and months go on. So, have a great time and cheers.” Everyone raised their glasses and shouted cheers in return. Jennifer looked down at the carpet throughout Tom’s speech. Molly had raised her eyebrows at the “whatever else we all like to do at parties” bit but she sat in an armchair, happily sipping from a small glass of white wine and was enjoying watching her neighbours. Sophie and the students had already established themselves as a little group near the kitchen door. One of the students seemed to have a bruised face, Molly thought, but it might just be a trick of the light. Another one of them had a face like fizz, as the old dancers used to say about sourpuss audiences. Something had gone on there. The young lad looked timid in amongst three girls but they were all young and, no doubt with the help of a few drinks, they would have a good time. Jonathan was talking to Dot but keeping his eye on his wife Annie and her pencil-thin young man. Dot’s eyes seemed to be fixed on Jonathan’s face, locked like a laser beam from an old James Bond film. Every time he looked away, her head would alter position to try to maintain a connection. Molly sensed a smitten woman and an uncertain man. Tom and Jennifer seemed like a nice couple but after a couple of hours, Molly had not seen them look at each other, touch hands, kiss or do anything that young lovers do naturally even in the company of strangers. Molly thought of herself not as a gossip out loud but she stored away little nuggets of information in her head, things that would keep her occupied when she was alone, jigsaw pieces of people’s lives to stop her wasting away staring at blank walls and, worse, daytime television. The other day she had thrown a slipper at Churchill the insurance dog in frustration at the number of advertisements about personal finances, compensation claims and mortgages. But, it was nice just to sit and relax in company for a change.
“Oh, Jonathan,” cooed Dot, “Diana Ross and the Supremes, Baby Love, let’s dance.”
“I’m not much of a dancer,” said a horrified Jonathan. Dot grabbed his hand.
“Looks like you’ve got great hips to me. Let’s see you shake them.” Jonathan moved with Dot to the centre of the room.
“Oh my God,” said Sophie to her friends, “a daughter’s worst nightmare, seeing her father in close proximity looking like an epileptic ape. And he’s doing it with the devil woman, a double embarrassment.”
“You mean the deli woman,” corrected Matt.
“I know what I mean,” she sneered back. Matt looked at the others, shrugged his shoulders and asked if anyone would like a drink. He took the order and sidled over to the makeshift bar. Jennifer was pouring herself some red wine.
“Thanks for inviting us Jennifer,” said Matt, “it must have taken a lot of work to put it all together.” Jennifer sipped from her glass as Matt poured rinks for the girls.
“Tom did most of it. He’s a supermarket manager and it seemed to make sense that he bought most of the food and drink. It was just a matter of putting it out, and Tom did most of that too. He’s great like that, takes on most of the household chores and never complains.” Jennifer wiped her eyes.
“Is there anything wrong,” asked Matt. Jennifer composed herself.
“Oh, no, everything’s fine. It was just something in my eye.” Matt touched her arm.
“Thanks again. We’re really enjoying the party.” Jennifer smiled as Matt returned to his friends. He noticed a brief but serious look from Tom who was on the other side of the room choosing more music.
Tom saw the young student touching Jennifer’s arm and wondered what he was up to. Jennifer didn’t pull away and she looked concerned. He would keep an eye on things as the night wore on in case anyone else fancied their chances with his wife, the woman who was still his wife, his not-yet-divorced-from-each-other wife. In his irritation, Tom dropped several CDs, attracting attention from the others in the room.
“Sorry, clumsy me,” said Tom, “my mind’s mixed up and my hands wouldn’t reach the first round of Strictly Come Clapping.” Everyone laughed, except Jennifer, who managed a slight smile more for her guests than her husband. She dreaded him drinking too much and then trying to be sarcastic or funny with cryptic or none too subtle clues about their private business. Westlife replaced Tamla Motown provoking a few good-natured groans from around the room. Tom looked at Jennifer. She looked away immediately. Maxine witnessed Jenifer’s body language and then looked at Tom. Their eyes locked for a few moments. Tom smiled. Maxine smiled back. They looked away from each other but a message had been sent and responded to. She detected a weakness in this relationship and she fancied Tom. She reckoned that he would be an easy touch, but needed to observe and listen for other signs and signals to be sure of her ground. She would be playing with fire, trying to attract a married man, but she was fed up being fuddy-duddy boring Maxine. Excitement beckoned.