THE BIG LITTLE WEDDING IN CARLTON SQUARE: Chapter 2

She’s fun, she’s funny, she’s a mystery! HarperCollins wants you to read get a sneak peek at the book and see if you can guess who Lilly Bartlett really is. So here’s Chapter 2!
Be sure to enter your guess in the competition – link at the end.

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THE BIG LITTLE WEDDING IN CARLTON SQUARE by Lilly Bartlett

CHAPTER 2

‘Bollocks!’ Dad’s already got his arms crossed. His re-crossing is just for emphasis. I’ve got more chance now of winning the EuroMillions than getting him to change his mind. I didn’t even want to have this conversation again. But Mum, being Mum, wouldn’t stop going on about the wedding plans. Like I haven’t worked out for myself that most decent places are already booked up. We’ll probably end up paying over the odds for a garage under the arches.

I really don’t want to have our wedding in a garage under the arches.

‘I’m just saying that they can afford it.’ The words are out before I can stop them.

Mum closes her eyes and sighs.

Why can’t I ever quit while I’m not too far behind?

The set of Dad’s jaw tightens. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ he says. ‘You know I think Daniel’s a good lad, but you don’t need a big fancy wedding to get married. You’re committing to each other and you can do that just fine at the registry with a little party after. Your mother and I were married–’

‘“In the town hall not ten minutes from this house,’” I finish for him. He’s trotted out the same lines ever since I first dared to ask for Dr. Martens when I was ten. Real ones, not the Junior Dr. Martens rip-offs they had down the market. What’s good enough for my parents is good enough for me. I’ve heard it a million times, and quite a lot recently. ‘“We had our do at the Cock and Crown,”’ I continue, ‘“with our family and friends, and everybody was happy.”’

‘“We stuffed ourselves on prawns from the prawn man till we were nearly sick,”’ Mum finishes. ‘“We didn’t need to spend a lot of money and it served us just fine.”’

Mum and I grin at each other.

‘Exactly,’ Dad says. ‘So you know the story, Emma.’ His voice grows as soft as his expression. He’s a handsome man, my father. He’s usually got a sparkle in his eye and a cheeky grin for everyone, but he can be a pit bull if you push him. ‘Why not have a simple wedding?’ he says. ‘The important thing is that you love each other.’

When I hug him his beefy arms squeeze me tightly. ‘I know that, Dad. We do love each other, and I don’t want anything fancy. I’m going with Kell to see some places tomorrow. We’ll find something that works.’

I just hope it won’t cost the earth. Mum and Dad are really stretching to give me two thousand quid for the wedding. I know it’s draining their savings, but whenever I protest they change the subject.

So I’m not about to tell Dad that my future mother-in-law is probably expecting ice sculptures and a synchronised dove release. Our parents haven’t met yet. The last thing I want to do is make Mum and Dad even more preoccupied with Daniel’s family than they already are. When I told Mum about the engagement party she asked me to take photos of Philippa’s bathrooms. As if rich people don’t poo the same way as everyone else.

I had to explain that no, they don’t have fancy quilted loo roll or one of those hand soap pumps – just a plain old bar of soap in a dish. And drapes on their windows – no nets.

Maybe that’s what the great social divide really comes down to: the haves versus the have nets.

Our parents will need to meet before the wedding, as soon as we figure out the best way to do it. It was hard enough introducing Mum and Dad to Daniel. The fact that he’s from West London is enough to make them uncomfortable. As soon as I mentioned Chelsea, Mum started going on about redecorating before he came over.

Our house is perfectly fine. Maybe it’s a bit dated, but we have lived here my whole life, and Mum hasn’t exactly got an interior design budget to work with. It’s a typical sixties council house on a red-brick two-storey terrace where most of the gardens are kept up pretty well. We’ve got wood floors all inside and tile in the kitchen and bathroom. The suite isn’t new, but Mum doesn’t let anyone eat their dinner on it so it’s not too stained, aside from Dad’s chair, and there are stacks of coasters everywhere so there’s not a water ring on any of the tables. When I was little I wanted a bay window like Kell has at her house, but other than that I haven’t really wished for anything different.

‘Do me a favour,’ Mum says. ‘Go get Auntie Rose with your dad. She’s at the pub with her ladies. I’ll get the tea on and then I’ve got to be to work for seven.’ When she leans down to kiss my dad, the curtain of thick straight ginger hair that she wears in a long bob covers their faces.

‘Right, to the pub, Dad?’

‘Ready when you are.’ He awkwardly pats his pockets. ‘I’ve got me money. Off we go.’

‘One pint, Jack, and then come back. I mean it. Otherwise the tea’ll burn. Half an hour.’

He waves over his shoulder as I grasp the handles of his wheelchair and carefully manoeuvre out the front door and down the ramp.

We had the ramp installed on my twentieth birthday. I remember because Kell joked that it was for when I came home pissed from the pub. We all made out like it was the greatest invention in the world. Now Dad could come and go as he pleased, we said. He put on a brave face, but everybody knew he’d have preferred not to need it in the first place.

If he wasn’t a taxi driver, he would probably have realised a lot sooner that he was ill. But, like he said, sitting on your arse all day is bound to cause some pins and needles. It was when his vision started going funny that he finally admitted his symptoms to Mum. She had him down to Helen at the GP’s surgery almost before he’d finished telling her.

The doctors did loads of tests that Dad got pretty sick of by the time they told him he’s got multiple sclerosis. That was over ten years ago. It’s the kind that comes and goes and gets worse over time, which is why we had to get the ramps fitted on my twentieth birthday. He’d had to stop work a few years before that, though. He can walk with crutches if he has to, but he doesn’t usually have to with the wheelchair and all of us to push him around when he gets bad. Their bedroom’s on the ground floor now, in the old dining room, and we had an en suite added so he doesn’t need to worry about going upstairs at all.

Of course, Kell was worried about me when it all first happened. At fourteen everything is a huge deal anyway, so when it really is a big deal it seems catastrophic. But she didn’t really need to worry because my dad is still my dad; he’s still with us and he’s still himself. He can’t drive the cab anymore and it’s pretty bad when he relapses, and Mum’s gone down to part-time work, what with looking after Dad and Auntie Rose, but that’s why I’m working. It’s lucky I’m here.

But once I get married I’ll have to move out. Imagine the row if I try to keep giving them money then. You’ve seen how Dad reacts when Daniel offers for his parents to pay for our wedding. I’ll have to hide tenners down the sofa cushions or something.

Auntie Rose is doing a victory lap around the pub when we get there, shouting, ‘Persimone! Get IN!’

‘She’s winning, I take it?’ says Dad to Uncle Colin once he’s finished nodding his hellos to the half-dozen men sitting round the battered tables.

‘Insufferable!’ Auntie Rose’s friend, June, shouts from the big square booth by the door. ‘Take her home, Emma, she’ll only be a dreadful winner again.’

‘Sour grapes,’ sings Auntie Rose as she throws her ample frame back down in the booth, jostling the Scrabble board on her landing.

‘Mind the game!’ Doreen adjusts the tiles. ‘Don’t spoil it for the rest of us. Next week we’re playing cribbage.’

Auntie Rose takes a sip of her lime and soda. ‘Where’s your fighting spirit?’

‘I’m about to fight,’ Doreen grumbles. She will too if they let her have too much sherry. She might look like a sweet old lady, but you’d do well not to cross her. There was once a husband, but he disappeared after getting caught playing away once too often. Maybe he’s living with his mistress out of town, maybe he isn’t. That’s all I’m saying.

So all’s well at the Cock and Crown. Nobody’s surprised to see a seventy-five-year-old woman fist-pumping her way round the bar. Technically she’s my great auntie, my Gran’s younger sister. She’s been meeting her best friends here every week for about the past forty years for a game of cribbage or cards or, when Auntie Rose gets to choose, Scrabble. No matter what else happens in their lives, they wouldn’t miss a week unless they’re in the hospital, like when June broke her hip, or one of them dies, like my Gran did seven or eight years ago. That’s when Auntie Rose came to live with us. She’s not so good at being on her own.

‘We’ve got to be home in half an hour for tea,’ I tell my auntie, who’s gone back to studying her tiles. Her lips move as she considers her next play. She’s got an impressive vocabulary considering she left school so young. She credits that to my great grandad being a newsvendor. He let her do the crossword from The Telegraph every day, as long as she never creased the page and ruined it for sale. She used to trace out the crossword onto a sheet of paper and fill it in.

‘You all right?’ June asks me in her twenty-a-day voice as everyone shifts round to make room for me and Dad. I catch a waft of June’s Mentos. ‘How are the wedding plans coming along?’ Her pale blue eyes are lined with life and worry.

‘We’re really just getting started.’ June and Doreen nod their bright blonde heads. Auntie Rose does their hair too. She’s got a very limited colour palette. She figures if it looks good on her, it’ll do for everyone else. ‘But it’s less than three months away so we really need to make a start.’

‘That’s plenty of time,’ June says, rolling up the sleeves on her knock-off hoodie. She always dresses in a range of nearly-Nike and almost-Adidas, like she’s on her way to aerobics. ‘Your parents did it in less time than that.’

Looks shoot between the older women as Doreen fidgets with the little gold cross nestled in her cleavage. You wouldn’t catch her out of the house in trackies. She’s always in a wrap dress. The wrapping job’s a bit hit and miss, though, given the shape of the package inside.

‘In those days things weren’t so formal,’ Auntie Rose says. ‘Nowadays everything is so fancy. I saw in the news about couples who spend a million quid on flowers! I bet the Queen doesn’t spend a million quid on flowers.’

When Auntie Rose says the news, she means The Sun. The Telegraph is good for the crosswords, but she gets all her information from the tabloid.

‘Oh, I know!’ says June. ‘My Karen’s youngest had two hundred people at her wedding. They had to get a second mortgage to pay for the whole palaver. Those payments’ll probably last longer than the marriage.’

‘We’re not taking out any loans,’ Dad says. ‘We’ve got a bit of dosh saved. We’ll do right by you, Emma.’

‘I just wish you’d let Daniel’s parents give us money,’ I say, even though I know I’m pushing my luck. ‘They won’t even miss it.’

His fist slams on the table, making Auntie Rose’s lime and soda jump. ‘Goddammit, Emma, why can’t you get it through your head that I don’t need your in-laws’ charity! Isn’t it bad enough–?’ He shakes his head. ‘Don’t be fooled by the wheelchair, girl. I might not be able to do most things anymore, but I can look after my own family. Now that’s the end of it, Emma. I mean it, this topic is closed. We’re doing this for you, and that’s the end of it.’

His pride will never let him accept help from Daniel’s parents. ‘All right, Dad,’ I sigh, ‘and I’m really grateful for everything you and Mum are doing. Incredibly grateful. We’ll keep it very low-key, like you suggested.’

I don’t want to cry here in the pub. The very idea of Mum and Dad draining their savings for me when they’ve got so little as it is.

‘Aw, you’re a good girl,’ Doreen says. ‘You’ve got your head on straight, don’t she, Jack?’

Not necessarily. I just know when I’m fighting a losing battle with Dad. And it’s not like I want an extravagant wedding anyway. I just don’t want Mum and Dad using all their savings for it.

But I’ll never budge Dad now, so the least I can do is spend their budget wisely. We’ll have a nice little wedding and everyone will love it. They might not get gold necklaces or exotic fish, but they’ll still have a laugh.

It is just one day out of the rest of our lives. We don’t want to go into debt like June’s Karen’s youngest, do we?

I know Uncle Colin would be really touched if we asked to have the party here. He’s rightly proud of his pub. But as I stare round, trying to see it as an outsider would, my heart sinks. I love a fruit machine as much as the next person, but their blinking lights don’t exactly give off the right ambiance for a wedding party. The chairs and booths that I’ve sat in my whole life look clunky and tired, and there’s no getting round the faint odour coming from the swirly green carpet. Even if we could turn off the machines and take down all the football paraphernalia that Uncle Colin has collected over the years, it’s not the Ritz in here.

But it is home. Plus it’s where Mum and Dad had their party, though Uncle Colin was only a barman then, not the landlord.

‘When do I get to meet your bloke?’ Uncle Colin asks as he empties a rack of pint glasses on to the shelf behind the bar. ‘You can’t keep him from me forever, you know.’

‘I’ve only met him once myself, Colin,’ pipes up Auntie Rose from the booth, ‘so you’re not the only one.’

Dad and I exchange a look. Auntie Rose has met Daniel four or five times at least, but we smile at her indignation. It’s better than correcting her. She only gets upset when we do that.

‘I’m not keeping him from you, Uncle Colin. I’m planning to bring him round next week to meet everyone.’

‘Barbara’s still up north,’ he says, pulling a pint of ale for one of the men sitting at the bar. ‘The week after would be better. Or you could always bring him round twice. We’ll have to get used to him eventually.’

‘He’ll have to get used to you lot, more like,’ I say. ‘I’ll bring him the week after next then. That way he can brace himself to meet everyone at once.’

I haven’t been keeping Daniel away. He’s met Mum and Dad several times, and my best friend Kell, of course. It’s just tricky trying to entertain when you’re still living at home. There isn’t exactly room for romance in our house. There’s barely room for the family.

We have to pry Auntie Rose away from her friends, as usual, to get home in time for tea. She’s won at Scrabble again, but I don’t think they let her. She may be losing her marbles, but she’s still a dab hand at board games.

Later, in bed, just when I’m about to drop off to sleep, Auntie Rose’s voice floats over from the other bed. ‘I don’t have to tell you about the wedding night, do I?’

What am I supposed to say to that? First off, the idea that my old auntie might explain the Kama Sutra to me makes me shudder. Secondly, she’s not technically even supposed to know about that, since she’s never had a wedding night. And even if she does have some inside knowledge, I’d definitely rather not hear it. ‘No, I know what happens, but thanks all the same,’ I say, really hoping she’ll fall asleep quickly.

‘Well, I should bloomin’ hope you do, with a man like Daniel around.’

She’s quiet, but I know her. She’s not finished. If she asks me any intimate questions about Daniel, I’m going downstairs to sleep on the settee.

‘Then you also know you’re going to be too tired to do anything after the wedding, so my advice is, find a quiet spot during the do and get your leg over. Got it, girl?’

I stifle a laugh into my pillow. ‘Yes, Auntie Rose, thanks for the advice.’

The walk to Kelly’s fish van the next afternoon is as familiar as my walk to the corner shop each morning to pick up Auntie Rose’s Telegraph. Long before Kell became the reigning fishmonger in her family business empire (if a single van can be called an empire), we used to come together after school to beg spending money off her dad. Going bass fishing, that’s what we called it. We’d get some coins, or not, depending on whether he’d shifted the sea bass – a big ticket item that only the people in the houses on Stepney Green splashed out on. So Kell’s pocket money was dependent on who wanted fancy fish for tea.

We’ve been inseparable since childhood, except for a terrible two weeks in year six when we stopped speaking over something neither of us can remember, so Kell knows everything there is to know about me. Which should give her hours of material for her bridesmaid’s speech.

I tell her about Auntie Rose’s advice after making her swear not to mention it at the wedding. She reminds me a lot of her dad when she’s working, and not just because she wears the same white coat and white mesh trilby hat that he always did. They’ve also got the same relaxed, efficient way that makes it seem like they don’t mind when customers take all day to make up their minds. Her dad, Mr McCarthy, doesn’t come to the market as much now, preferring to take care of the buying and the restaurant deliveries, so Kell does most of the retail trade. She ends up covered in fish scales, but it’s better than getting up at 4 a.m. to haggle over the day’s catch at Billingsgate.

She’s slicing a trout from gills to tail and stripping out its guts. ‘You want me to take the heads off, right?’ she asks the customer standing next to me.

‘Yeah, but I’ll keep ’em,’ says the woman. ‘Don’t throw ’em away!’

‘You’re here every week, my love. Have I ever thrown them away?’

‘Well, don’t.’

Kell wipes her hands on the apron over her coat. ‘She’s probably right,’ she says to me, meaning Rose about the wedding, not the customer about her fish heads. ‘Give me five minutes to pack up, okay? I’ve got a change of clothes in the van. I can close up and move it when we come back. Sorry, my darlin’, I’m closing,’ she tells the grey-haired black man who’s just arrived. ‘Unless you want the fillets. The snapper, yeah? Okay, give me a minute.’

I wander down the row of market stalls to wait till Kelly’s ready. Not that there’s anything new to see since I was here a few days ago. It’s busy, as usual, with mostly women shopping. I like to think I know my way around a kitchen, but I haven’t got a clue what some of the fruit and veg is on the Asian stalls. If you promised me a hundred quid, I couldn’t cook it for you. Mrs Ishtiaque next door buys it all the time, though. She’s definitely the best cook in our road, but I’d never admit that to Mum when she needles me. It’s just different food, I tell her. Of course curries are more interesting than plain old roasts when they’ve got all those spices in them.

Auntie Rose won’t eat any spice at all. She’s even suspicious of basil and won’t touch garlic. ‘I like me food good and plain,’ she says. It’s definitely plain, but I don’t know about good.

Stacy Boyle is at my favourite shoe stall, on her phone as usual. ‘All right?’ I ask her, because I know she can carry on at least three conversations at once.

‘Yeah, all right,’ she answers, pushing her silvery pink fringe off her face. ‘How were the shoes for your party?’ Then, to her caller she says, ‘’e’s got no right. Well, tell him to fack off.’

I don’t have the heart to tell her they killed my feet so I tell her everyone loved them instead. Stacy’s grandad was a cobbler. Her dad was too till it got cheaper to buy new shoes than fix old ones. Like Kelly’s dad, he comes to the stall sometimes, but mostly it’s Stacy who works here now. When my parents were my age the Boyles had a tiny shop just behind the stall. It’s like that with a lot of the market traders. Take Kelly, for instance. She’s a fourth-generation fishmonger. But instead of a stall, she has a repurposed ice cream van, with a big window in the side. Mr McCarthy had that converted into a fold-down display area to hold the fresh fish on ice. He also wanted to turn the giant ice cream cone on the roof into a sea bass, but Kelly didn’t think that painting scales on it would fool anyone. They sold the cone, which is a shame.

‘’e’s always saying that,’ Stacy says. Then, to me, ‘Anything else for you today?’

‘Nah, I’m just waiting for Kell to finish, thanks. We’re going to look at some venues for the wedding.’ Just saying it is exciting!

‘All right for some,’ Stacy says, either to me or her caller as Kelly approaches. ‘Good luck!’

Kell’s been working on a list of places to check out for the reception. Not that she’s telling me anything about her ideas.

She’s not the only one with ideas. Philippa barely waited for me to leave the party before she started firing off emails. Wouldn’t it be amazing, she’d written, to have it at Kensington Palace? Yes, the Kensington Palace, where the future king of England lives. Like we’re the Middletons or something.

‘I don’t suppose we’re going to West London?’ I ask Kelly as we shuffle down the bus to make room for a lady with a double pram.

She gives me the same look she’s done since we started school together. To me, she doesn’t look that different than she did then. She’s got the pale round face and upturned nose of her Irish ancestors, and her eyes turn into crescents when she smiles. She says her thick straight brown hair just hangs in her face to annoy her, which is why she wears it in a ponytail with a heavy fringe.

‘We don’t need West London,’ she says. ‘We’ve got better.’

Kelly’s always been suspicious of anything that’s outside our postcode. It may as well be France as far as she’s concerned. She’s not interested in going there, either.

I used to think the same thing till I started taking courses in Central London. It’s no use trying to convince Kelly that there’s a world west of the City, though.

The bus lurches past grand stone buildings that are tall enough to block the sunshine from the narrow streets weaving between them. It’s easy to imagine men in bowler hats hurrying from their clerking jobs instead of the office workers who’re all walking with their mobile phones out.

She pushes the button to let us off near a tiny lane. There’s a low arch between buildings leading into a big square. ‘Holy shit, Kell, this isn’t for us. It looks like a church. You know Dad–’

Her eyes crinkle. ‘Keep your wig on, it’s not a church. It’s for your party. You wanted something to impress Lord and Lady Muck.’

‘Mucking.’

‘Whatever.’

Its Portland stone façade and huge arched windows look official, like a town hall.

‘It’s Stationer’s Hall,’ she explains as we look around outside. ‘You know, one of the guildhalls, for stationers and newspapers, publishers and the like. It’s as close to books as I could get and still be posh. I figured you wouldn’t want your wedding at the newsagent’s and you’re such a booky swot that I thought you’d like this.’

I love it. Plus, I know my great grandfather was only a newsvendor, but I like this slight connection to my family. ‘How’d you even know it was possible to have a reception in a place like this? I figured it’d have to be in a hotel.’

Kelly nods. ‘I know. That’s why you made me your bridesmaid.’ She taps her forehead. ‘Lateral thinking.’

‘I thought I made you my bridesmaid because you threatened to kill me otherwise.’

‘I only threatened to kill you when you made Cressida bridesmaid.’

‘Don’t start on Cressida, please.’ Her feelings about Daniel’s friend are a whole story that’s not worth getting into just now.

She pretends not to hear me. ‘With me you get your life, and you get your lateral thinking for free.’

‘A two-for-one offer.’ Once a market trader, always a market trader.

She leads us down some steps to a big wooden door that swings open as soon as she presses the bell.

The man standing in the doorway might be around our age, but he’s got about nine strands of blond hair left on his head, which are swept back with some kind of unfortunate gel that makes it look like the raked sand in a Japanese zen garden.

We just about keep straight faces when he calls us Miss Liddell and Miss McCarthy and introduces himself as Mr Thompson-Smythe. He’ll make a perfect head teacher if this job doesn’t work out.

‘After you, Miss,’ Kell says to me.

‘No, after you, Miss,’ I say back.

Mr Thompson-Smythe smiles blandly.

He leads us down a corridor lined with oil paintings of old men who all look like Margaret Thatcher, asking about my wedding plans so far. I feel his disappointment when I say there aren’t many. Emma must try harder.

‘We’re keeping it small,’ I offer him. ‘Maybe around sixty?’ As long as Philippa doesn’t go overboard with the invitations.

‘Terrific,’ he says. Sixty is obviously the perfect number for a wedding in his opinion. ‘Well, this is the Stock Room. It can seat up to sixty guests or have a hundred guests standing. Are you thinking of dinner or just a drinks reception?’

‘Erm, I don’t know,’ I say, looking up. Giant brass chandeliers hang from the lofty ceiling, which is painted white, gold and blue. It’s not a huge room, and with the walls all clad in dark wood and covered in livery shields, it feels a little oppressive.

‘Terrific,’ says Mr Thompson-Smythe again to reward my indecision. ‘The oak panelling dates from the seventeenth century and we do allow candlelight in this room.’

Seventeenth-century panelling! I wouldn’t let anyone light a candle near it.

Mr Thompson-Smythe pushes through the wooden double doors at one end of the room to let us into a huge hall that’s panelled like the one we just came from. It’s a lot brighter, though, thanks to an enormous stained-glass window at one end.

Henry VIII banqueting tables are pushed up against the walls and a few colourful flags hang high up to round out the medieval feel.

Mr Thompson-Smythe watches us take it all in. ‘The floors and panelling in this room are oak and date from the sixteenth century. The original liveries are on the carved shields above the panelling and candlelight is allowed in here too. Would you have candles?’

He’s really pushing the candlelight. Maybe they’re trying to keep the electricity bills down. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Terrific.’

I’m starting to suspect he’s not really paying attention to my answers.

‘What do you think?’ Kelly whispers as Mr Thompson-Smythe scurries away to pretend not to listen.

It’s definitely right up my future mother-in-law’s street. ‘I like it, but … it just feels a bit formal. That’s not it, exactly, but do you know what I mean?’

‘Too posh for us? It’s like royals would have a party here.’

‘Mmm, no, just not our style.’ I smile at Mr Thompson-Smythe, who creeps back to our side.

‘Do you have any questions?’ he asks. ‘Miss McCarthy checked and the hall is free on your proposed wedding day.’

‘Oh, good,’ I say, not wanting to reject his sixteenth-century décor and hurt his feelings. ‘It’s very beautiful. And there’d be plenty of room for us. What’s the cost to hire it?’

‘The hire fee is four thousand and seven hundred pounds, plus VAT. We’d require a small deposit to hold the booking.’

‘Terrific,’ I say, casually leaning on one of the banqueting tables to keep my legs from going. ‘And does that include … food?’

‘No, it’s the hire fee only. We can supply you with a list of caterers, though.’

Unless they supply me with a bank account to pay them, this is never going to work.

‘The fee does include the whole building,’ he continues, ‘so you’ll have use of all the rooms, and the garden as well. You could have a pre-dinner drinks reception outside, for example, if the weather is nice, then dinner in the Livery Hall and dancing in the Stock Room. We’re very flexible.’

For nearly five thousand quid they should be more flexible than a circus contortionist.

Kelly can see I’m having trouble breathing. ‘We’ve got more venues to see, so can we get back in touch in a few days?’

‘Of course. Would you like to see the Court Room?’

He can tell he’s losing his audience.

‘Nah, that’s okay, thanks,’ she says. ‘We’ll ring you, okay?’

I can’t get out of there fast enough.

Four thousand seven hundred quid to hire a room for the day? They must be insane. All that panelling and candle wax has addled Mr Thompson-Smythe’s brain. I’m trying not to panic, but it’s hitting me just how hard this is going to be.

‘I thought Daniel’s family offered to help,’ Kelly says. ‘Do you need to sit down? You don’t look good.’

I sigh. ‘They did offer, but Dad’s adamant that he doesn’t want their help. He says he should be able to take care of his own family.’

‘That’s so sad, with everything he’s been through,’ says Kell. ‘I feel sorry for him.’

A lump wells up in my throat. That’s been happening a lot lately when I think about how Dad must feel. ‘At first I thought he was just being his usual stubborn self, but it’s really important to him that he and Mum do this for me. He’d be crushed if he thought someone else had to pay for my wedding. I’ve got to figure out a way to do this.’

Kell puts her arm around me as we turn our backs on the Stationers’ Hall. ‘You don’t have to do it on your own. I’ve got some savings that you could have if you need it.’

‘Thank you, but even all our money together won’t cover the cost of something like this. And it’s just the start. We’ll need food and drink too.’

Kelly purses her lips. ‘What if we did a takeaway, fish and chips or a curry or something? That’d only be six or seven quid a head. That’s not too expensive.’

I nod. ‘It’s a bargain. Then we’d just need another five thousand quid to have somewhere to eat our takeaway. No, this is going to have to be on a shoestring. And by shoestring, I mean the flimsiest piece of thread you’ve ever seen.’

The problem is, Daniel’s family is expecting those shoestrings to lace up a fancy pair of Manolos. I’ve got the sinking feeling that a curry and a can of lager isn’t going to cut it for them.

‘There is another place closer to home,’ she says as our bus pulls up. ‘It’s the library at Queen Mary. You could even walk there on your wedding day. Save a few bob on bus fare.’

‘That one pound fifty will come in handy, but it doesn’t really make a dent in the hire fee, does it?’

There’s got to be another option that’s within our budget and, since I can be as stubborn as my dad, I’ll just have to find it.

 

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