Gina crossed the café and submitted to her mother’s brief, cold embrace before sitting at their allocated table and giving her order to the hovering waitress.
She took her time getting settled, playing what she secretly called ‘the silence game’ with her mother. As always, her mother lost.
“I was surprised to see you with Michael last week.”
“At your party? We simply thought it made sense to attend together.”
“Darling, he wasn’t actually invited.”
“Oh dear, how awkward. And yet, when we gave our names at the door, we were waved straight through.”
“Yes, well I suppose they couldn’t really make a fuss when he was with our daughter but it made things a little uncomfortable and I do hope you won’t be making a habit of having him squire you about.”
Which complaint to poke at first? She gained a little thinking time with the arrival of her tea and cake – which of course her mother eyed disapprovingly.
Gina cut off the incoming criticism with a question. “Why was Michael’s presence unfortunate?”
“We had hoped you’d be able to enjoy a little time with Fabian. He’s such a lovely young man, so cultured.”
“Thank you all the same, Mother, but I prefer men with brains, spines and the inclination to earn a living.”
A deep voice sounded behind them. “Darling, you do say the sweetest things.”
Gina lifted her face for Michael’s kiss and cudgelled her mind for a reply. Unfortunately, the kiss was scrambling her thoughts past repair, horrible man. Her mother again lost the silence game.
“Michael, what an, unexpected, pleasure. Much like last week.”
He acknowledged the comment with a smoothly smiling nod but didn’t deign to reply. One of the reasons her mother disliked Michael was his thinly veiled contempt for her manipulation. And her inability to make it work on him.
Gina reclaimed his attention. “What does bring you here?”
“The best carrot cake in the area. Your grandfather adores it, and when Joyce says ‘fetch’, I’m a very good puppy.”
Gina’s mother humphed, then stretched her lips into a facsimile of a smile. “Fabian. How lovely to see you. Do join us.”
Gina stood. “Oh dear, look at the time. I really must be going. Meetings you know.”
Michael said. “I’ll walk you out. They’ll have the cake boxed up and ready by now.”
Fabian grabbed Gina’s hand and went in for a sloppy kiss on the cheek. “You’re so driven. I’m looking forward to some down time with you tonight.”
Gina stepped back into Michael. “What?”
“Tonight, you know, we’re having dinner.”
“First I’ve heard of it.”
Michael sniggered. “It’s generally a good idea to ask a lady to dinner before making arrangements and assumptions. Such a pity we already have plans.”
Gina’s mother asked. “And what might they be?”
Gina gaped at her. “Do you really want the details?”
The older woman flushed and glared.
Michael shifted his hand to the small of Gina’s back. “Come on, we’ve taken up enough of these nice people’s time, and I know you’ve got the big planning meeting with your team this afternoon.”
Gina held in a grin as they collected her grandfather’s cake from the front counter and left the café. “Planning meeting?”
“Ancient and honourable code for pub session, it is Friday after all.”
“And what plans do we have for tonight?”
She looked up at the small, mischievous smile playing at the corners of his lips. Nope not thinking about that, way too dangerous.
“I can think of three options, dinner out, with or without friends. Dinner in, your place or mine. Or, we see if your grandfather’s country home is available and disappear for the weekend.”
“Disappearance is very tempting, but grandfather’s place is too obvious and Mother is clearly on a mission.”
“There are a couple of other company houses – I can check with Joyce and see if any are available.”
“Just us, or a house party.”
He tugged them out of the flow of pedestrians and into the relative quiet of an alcove between two buildings. “What would you prefer? It’s a bit last minute for a group thing but you have good friends.”
“This is getting a bit out of hand.”
“It is. Do you really have meetings or do you have time to come and talk with your grandfather?”
“I was making blatant excuses, let’s go see him. Hopefully he has a way to shut things down.”
“And we can get an antiseptic wipe or something for you at the same time.”
“You’ve been scrubbing at your cheek ever since lover-boy slobbered all over it.”
“Eugh. What did I do to deserve a mother who thinks the ultimate husband for me is a lazy, ignorant freeloader?”
“Maybe his mother’s blackmailing yours?”
Gina giggled. “Oh fun. I wonder what over.”
Michael tucked her under one arm and steered them back onto the pavement. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you giggle before. I might have to try to make it happen again.”
“Don’t put yourself back in my bad books.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”