THE BIG LITTLE WEDDING IN CARLTON SQUARE: Chapter 3

Here’s the last chapter before HarperCollin’s reveals Lilly’s identity tomorrow! Be sure to register your guess (link is at the end) for a chance to win a fantastic prize.

 

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THE BIG LITTLE WEDDING IN CARLTON SQUARE by Lilly Bartlett

 

CHAPTER 3

Kell and I did go see the library at Queen Mary’s, but my heart wasn’t really in it. Or at least, my wallet wasn’t. It would have been perfect, grand and Victorian and stuffed with books – two soaring balconies surrounding the huge and airy octagon-shaped room with sunshine streaming through enormous windows to light the elegant vaulted dome high above. It was slightly less expensive than Stationer’s Hall, in the way that sirloin steak is slightly less expensive than a fillet. No matter how many places we’ve visited, and it seems to be all we’ve done for the last two weeks, Kell and I can’t find a nice, cheap burger of a venue. At this rate we really are going to end up under the arches. Won’t Daniel’s mother just love that?

This is turning out to be so much harder than I imagined. I can’t concentrate on my coursework with the wedding hanging over me. I’ve been rereading the same page for the last twenty minutes. Anti-social behaviour, looting, blah blah blah.

But my final exams start in two weeks and I haven’t gone to uni for the past five years to bungle it now. It’s been hard enough getting this far.

Just try telling everyone you know that you’re studying criminology when everyone you know has at least second-hand experience with the Old Bill. The mistrust of authority round here won’t go away just because one of their own has enrolled at the Open University.

People only tolerate our neighbour, PC Billy Bramble, because he gets them out of scrapes and drinks in the Cock and Crown.

Dad still suspects I’m going to end up working for the Met like Billy, that one day he’ll see me walking the beat in a Kevlar stab vest and one of those hats with the checkerboard bands. And Mum wishes I would for the pension, as long as I find a nice, safe desk job.

Dad doesn’t have to worry, though, and Mum shouldn’t hope. I don’t want to be the one catching or punishing the kids who go off the rails. I’d rather be the one making sure they don’t derail in the first place. I’m not exactly sure yet where I’ll work, but I can imagine what the job will look like. It’ll be something that keeps kids in school and out of prison or gives them interesting things to do so they don’t feel so hopeless.

A couple of do-gooders, that’s what Kell calls Daniel and me. She’s right. Daniel’s kids walk miles for clean water and, once I find my job, I’ll have to keep mine from nicking stuff.

I knew all about Daniel’s kindness streak by the time we had our first date, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when he took me to a fundraising gig that his charity was doing. I was tempted to ring Kell when we walked into the venue and I saw who was playing. She’d headlined at Glastonbury and won Grammies. And there she was sitting on a stool, in a jumper and jeans, with her voice floating over the piano that accompanied her. I’d never been that close to someone so famous.

‘We don’t need to stay long,’ he’d said into my ear. ‘I’ve just promised my boss I’d stop by, that’s all.’

‘You didn’t tell me your job was so glamorous.’ As far as I knew, he was just a lowly staffer at a water charity.

He’d laughed and grabbed my hand, shifting our month-long flirtation up a gear. My tummy flipped. ‘It’s usually very unglamorous. I talk about drilling and well specifications with engineers a lot,’ he’d said. ‘This fundraiser has been a treat. She even came into the offices to see what we do. I was completely tongue-tied when I met her.’

‘You met her?! Wait, are you trying to impress me by basking in reflected celeb glory?’

‘Yah. Is it helping at all?’

I’d nodded. What I didn’t add was that even without the eye-wateringly famous connection I already knew I was nuts about Daniel.

Auntie Rose stirs. ‘You’re up with the birds,’ she says.

‘Just revising before work.’ I close my book. There’s no chance of getting anything done once the house starts to wake. ‘I’ll do more later.’

She sits up with a grunt. ‘I don’t know where you came from,’ she says, not for the first time.

I play dumb. She loves having this conversation. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I couldn’t abide school, neither could your mother or your Gran. Your mum bunked off every chance she got. And there’s no Einstein on your father’s side, either. Must be some rogue gene making you so bookish. I’ve never seen another like you.’ I can hear the pride in her voice, like I always do.

‘That’s good,’ she continues as I pack away my books. ‘Look at you, about to graduate from university! You’re the only one of us who didn’t quit by sixteen. You’re going to do good things, Emma.’ She smiles. ‘You might even get out of here.’

‘I don’t want to get out of here!’ I say.

‘But you will, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.’

Her words echo in my head as I make my way to work. I know every single shop, school and business along the route, and quite a few of the people too. Some of them wave when they see me – there aren’t that many powder blue Vespas about. The rhythms of the street and its characters are as familiar to me as those in a little village would be to someone from the countryside. There might be more buildings and pollution and graffiti and crime, but this is home. Why would I ever want to leave?

My colleague pulls up at the same time as me. ‘All right?’ Zane asks. I’ll smooth out his accent for you, which is Jamaican courtesy of Hackney Wick. If I were to spell it out, it’d have only vowels. He likes to lean and gurn when he talks too. He thinks it’s street.

I pull up the shutters on the Vespa dealership while Zane starts wheeling the bikes out front. ‘Where’s the golden boy?’ he asks as he brings out my favourite scooter so I can motorhead all over it. It’s the Vespa of my dreams, the one they’ve put out for their seventieth anniversary. It’s top of the range with a 300cc engine, front and rear disc brakes and all the glamour of the old bikes.

I don’t bother answering Zane’s question. It’s not really a question anyway. It’s an accusation aimed at our boss, Marco. The golden boy is his son, Ant – it’s short for Anthony, but he hates when anyone uses his full name.

Our boss has a few scooter shops so he doesn’t spend much time at ours. Neither does his son, even though he’s paid to.

I don’t mind that much. We’re not usually very busy anyway, and since the scooter sales are commissioned, the less competition the better. It bothers Zane, though. Which is why he asks every morning.

I crack open my criminology book and Zane pulls a tattered paperback from his bag. This is the perfect job for me, really. It’s steady money – not much but steady – and I can do it with my eyes closed. I should be able to by now. I’ve worked here since just after my sixteenth birthday. It was either work in a shop or start The Knowledge to get my taxi badge. And Dad really didn’t want me doing that.

‘Why not?’ I’d asked. ‘Because I’m a girl?’

He’d shaken his head. ‘Don’t be daft. It’s because I want more for you.’

‘Dad, I hate to break it to you, but working at the scooter shop isn’t exactly climbing the corporate ladder.’

‘No, but you won’t work there forever. It takes years to do The Knowledge. Once you do it, you’re not gonna want to change to something better.’

I hadn’t known what to say to that. Dad never complained about being a cab driver. He had lots of friends in the business and it kept the roof over our heads.

Now I know what he meant. Cab driving would have made me just comfortable enough to be stuck. Why give up a bit of comfort to start all over?

Dad was right. As usual.

I try to study, but it’s no use; I can’t concentrate. And Zane’s frustrating disinterest in my wedding plans means I have to wedge it awkwardly into conversation myself. Lucky him. He’s stuck with me till we clock off at five.

‘Zane, your sister got married, didn’t she?’

‘Both of them did,’ he says, sucking his teeth. Tall and slender with baby-smooth warm brown skin and cheekbones that are wasted on a guy, he’s good-looking when he’s not pulling faces. He’s got a tattoo all up his neck that I know for a fact made him cry when they did it, but maybe people who don’t know him are impressed when they see it.

‘Where’d they have their receptions?’

Teeth suck. ‘Eyeono.’

‘How can you not know? Didn’t you go to them?’

‘Aw, yeah.’ He thinks, nodding his head, which is covered in little braids that stick up in all directions. ‘We had a party at the Jam Club, in the room at the back.’

I know the place. It’s a reggae bar that makes Uncle Colin’s pub look like Hampton Court Palace. Imagine Daniel’s family toasting our nuptials with cans of Red Stripe while everyone twerks to Bob Marley on the sound system.

Daniel is outside the Overground station after work, watching the market’s ebb and flow as he waits for me.

The fish traders are starting to clear up, emptying their styrofoam crates of ice and water and stacking them. If it swims, they sell it. Technically they’re Kelly’s competitors, but in reality they’re not. Everyone’s got their place in the market. They know their customers, and there’s an unwritten rule that nobody steps on toes, so everyone has enough custom.

That’s not to say that tempers don’t flare with everyone living cheek by jowl here. But the shouting today is just the vendors trying to draw the punters’ attention, especially now it’s nearly the end of the day and they want to flog the perishables before going home.

If I change my point of view, I can just about see what Daniel is seeing, though it’s not easy. Everything is so familiar to me. I see my neighbours in the veiled faces of the Asian women and old schoolmates in the lairy hoodies out-boasting each other next to the camera and phone stall.

Daniel isn’t sticking out too badly in his navy V-neck jumper and jeans. The guys around here do wear V-necks, though not usually over button-down collared work shirts. And definitely not tied over their shoulders. For his own good I had to put a stop to that the first time Daniel tried it here.

It’s the rest of the area that doesn’t quite fit with Daniel. The market isn’t neat and neutral like where he’s from in Chelsea. There you know you’ll see manicured trees and grass, shiny black railings and white-fronted houses, well-dressed people, clean cars and designer shops. The sounds will be of traffic and, in quiet corners, birdsong.

Just as Daniel sees me, two of our neighbourhood junkies reel by with their cans of Strongbow. Daniel jams his hands in his jeans pockets.

‘Don’t worry, they won’t nick your wallet,’ I call as I approach for a kiss. ‘They never bother anyone.’

He drapes his arm round my shoulder. ‘Yah, I wasn’t worried.’

‘Then stop looking like you’re about to face a firing squad. We’re only going for a walk before the pub. It’s perfectly safe.’

He’s already worked out that this is Jack the Ripper territory, though he doesn’t know that one of the murders happened right behind the train station he just came from. The less grim local history that he and his family know, the better, I think.

‘Am I that obvious? It’s not rahly my milieu, is it?’

Who says milieu in normal conversation? ‘Not if you talk like that, it’s not. You know, Chelsea is just as hard for me to get used to as this is for you.’ I look round at the older women in colourful sarees and young ones in trendy hijabs. Two Caribbean women sweep by in brightly embroidered caftans and matching head wraps. This is my milieu, as long as we’re being poncey about it. ‘It’s intimidating seeing all those people walking around your neighbourhood wearing expensive clothes.’ I’m only half joking as I lead him away from the station.

‘East End girl meets West End boy,’ he says.

‘There’s a song in that.’

He laughs. ‘The Pet Shop Boys beat you to it.’ His humming is so off-key that at first I think he’s joking. I only know the song because he’s just said what it was.

‘Wow,’ I say. ‘I’ve never heard you sing before.’

‘Rahly? I’m sure you have. I love to sing.’ Off he goes again. Cats up the road start mewling in protest.

‘No, I’d have remembered.’

But really, who am I to tell him his voice qualifies as torture under the Geneva Convention when he clearly loves it? I don’t always see him being this unselfconscious. Daniel is one of those people who never seems to put a foot wrong – jumpers tied round his shoulders notwithstanding, although in his world everyone does that, so maybe it’s not a good example. My point is that I feel like I’m special when I get to see him totally at ease. Though I know he works hard to look that way all the time.

We take a turn off Whitechapel Road, leaving the hustle, bustle, noise and fumes of the main thoroughfare behind. ‘Here’s what I wanted to show you,’ I tell him proudly as we turn into the narrow cobbled road. ‘Welcome to Stepney Green.’

‘Gosh, this is unexpected. It looks a bit like Hampstead. Do you remember?’

‘How could I forget?’ We both smile.

A few days after the charity gig date we met again in Hampstead village and made our way to the swimming ponds on the Heath. Before Daniel, my dates invariably involved drinks in a pub somewhere or, at a stretch, a film before drinks in a pub somewhere. This felt different, and not just because there were no beer mats. We already had that comfortable certainty about each other that usually comes after months of going out. We got a running start at it during our course together.

I’d been at the Open University four years by the time I took our architecture class, up to my back teeth in criminology courses, so it felt pretty decadent to take something so unrelated. But that was the point of Kell and my family giving me the City Lit voucher for Christmas.

Daniel signed up for the same reason. On the other side of London he’d been up to his back teeth in the water charity where he worked. So we were both branching out. It just so happened that our branches intertwined perfectly, first as study friends and then as something a lot more exciting.

That didn’t mean I was crazy about the idea of swimming with Daniel in a duck turd-filled pond, though. It’s hard to be alluring when you’re trying not to drown.

For the record, I can swim. I just don’t like putting my head underwater. But with Daniel going on about how much he loved the weekend swims he’d done there with his dad since he was a teen, I couldn’t very well tell him that the only time my swimsuit came out of the drawer was to sun myself in the back garden.

I sneaked glances at his lean torso and muscular just-hairy-enough legs as we made our way to the dock. ‘Jump straight in?’ he asked, reaching for my hand.

‘Or go down the ladder?’ I said, snatching it back.

‘Yah, of course, if you’re more comfortable that way. Do you mind if I jump in?’

He sliced easily through the water with hardly a splash, emerging several yards away to grin at me. ‘It’s lovely!’

Slowly I lowered myself down the ladder, not showing Daniel my best side.

I managed to swim with him to the other side of the pond, all the while imagining what might be living in the murky water. The more I imagined, the more I was sure there were things, live things, dangerous things, swimming just out of sight under the water.

So nobody should have been surprised when Daniel’s fingers on my leg unleashed such blood-curdling screams. I stopped swimming, naturally, and dove for my date.

Reader, I climbed him.

‘Emma, it’s okay!’ he said, between gasps as I pushed him underwater. ‘You’re all right, just relax. What’s wrong? Here, hold on to my shoulders. That’s it. I’ll swim us in.’

As I floated on Daniel’s back to reach the ladder, he calmly suggested that we dry off in the sunshine and then have a picnic on the Heath. My hysteria hadn’t fazed him.

Daniel found my attempt on his life perfectly understandable. That’s a sign of true love. Though we haven’t swum together since.

We walk over the blue cobbles of Stepney Green to peer through some imposing wrought-iron gates at the tall red-brick house. ‘It was built in the late sixteen hundreds.’

Daniel nods. ‘Yah, Queen Anne style. As you know.’

‘I do know.’ We grin at each other. I’m not just showing him this to prove it’s not all market stalls and junkies round here. It’s a nostalgia trip. And actually, we nearly didn’t meet. I would have taken an art history course instead if it hadn’t started during my exam week. ‘Imagine if one of us hadn’t signed up for that course.’

‘My life would be quite literally unbearable,’ he says, ‘without you.’

‘You are such a kiss-arse.’ I love when he says things like this. ‘You wouldn’t know about me, so you wouldn’t know what you’re missing.’

‘Right, but I do know. Unbearable.’ He turns me to face him and plants a soft kiss on my lips. ‘I know I tell you this all the time, but you’re rahly not like anyone I’ve ever met, Emma. You never take anything for granted. It’s so rare and I love you for it.’

I squeeze his hand. ‘You don’t take things for granted, either.’ There isn’t a silver spoon anywhere near Daniel’s mouth. It’s not even hidden in his cutlery drawer.

‘I do try not to,’ he says, ‘but sometimes I catch myself. Then I’ve got to remember that I’m where I am because of everything my parents gave me. This charmed life of mine is an accident of birth. People love to say they’re self-made when that’s bullshit. Excuse the expression, but when you’re born into a family that has the time to read to you instead of working day and night jobs to make ends meet, or that can afford to send you to a good school or even just properly feed and clothe you and put a roof that doesn’t leak over your head, then you’re not rahly self-made, are you? People congratulate themselves when they’ve benefitted from small classes and motivated teachers and tutors to help with revision, when they haven’t had to worry about paying tuition or working through uni or parents who can’t pay their bills. That’s why I admire you so, Emma. You haven’t had any of the privilege that I’ve been handed and yet here you are, about to graduate from university.’

‘I see what you mean, but that’s not really true, Daniel. I had most of those things too. I’ve had the supportive family who read to me, despite working multiple jobs, and teachers who believed in me and I had enough money to go to uni. We might have had to work for those things, but I’ve had a lot of help too.’

He shakes his head. ‘You’re right, I’m being too literal. Privilege can mean more than one thing. So we’re both wealthy.’

I do feel pretty rich as we walk hand in hand from Stepney Green to Uncle Colin’s pub where I know everyone is waiting. It’s best not to tell him what I suspect: that it’s probably not just my family inside. ‘Just remember not to mention Uber. My dad’ll go spare.’

Dad may not drive a cab anymore but a lot of his friends do. You want to start an argument, try telling one of them you’ve got an Uber account.

He’s about to push open the door when he hesitates. ‘Should we get a bite to eat first?’

‘There’ll be seafood later,’ I tell him. ‘Go on, don’t be a coward.’

I run into the back of him, though, when he stops dead in the doorway. Everyone in the packed pub is staring at us. ‘Erm, welcome to my side of the wedding,’ I whisper, giving him a gentle shove.

‘Hi Daniel!’ they all chorus over and over as they fall about the place laughing.

Shyly he raises his hand in greeting.

Mum waves us over to their table, where Daniel kisses her cheek and shakes my dad’s hand.

‘Mum, this is cruel!’ I say. ‘The Inquisition ended in the Middle Ages, you know.’

‘Don’t blame me. Everyone wants to meet Daniel.’

Mrs and Mr Ishtiaque are sitting opposite my parents. They have smiles plastered to their faces. I can’t remember the last time I saw them in a pub. Don’t blame Mum, my arse. ‘I suppose you just fancied a pint tonight, Mrs Ishtiaque?’ I tease. She’s never drunk anything stronger than prune juice. ‘Mrs Ishtiaque, Mr Ishtiaque, this is my fiancé, Daniel. Daniel, the Ishitaques are our next-door neighbours.’

Mrs Ishtiaque clasps Daniel’s hand in her tiny ones. ‘We’ve known Emma since she was coming home from the maternity ward,’ she says in her sing-songy Bangladeshi accent. ‘She is like our daughter.’

‘How d’you do?’ he says. ‘Emma’s told me all about you. I gather you make the best curries in East London, Mrs Ishtiaque.’

Mrs Ishtiaque blushes at the compliment.

‘The best,’ Mr Ishtiaque confirms. He’s a man of few words.

‘Let’s get this over with,’ I tell Daniel when he’s finished trading smiles with the Ishtiaques.

‘Yah, now I know how you felt at Mummy’s drinks,’ he murmurs as we make our way to the bar.

Uncle Colin is pretending not to notice us. If he was in one of those old-timey westerns, he’d be polishing a glass and whistling.

He does a comedy double take as we approach. He’s destined for the stage, honestly.

Hands are shaken across the bar. ‘Barbara’ll be down in a minute,’ Uncle Colin says as he spritzes the shandies. ‘You’re very welcome here, Daniel.’

When Daniel visibly relaxes I feel like kissing my uncle. But he’d only get embarrassed if I did.

The ladies at Auntie Rose’s table aren’t backwards in coming forwards when we join them with our drinks. They’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. June’s even traded her tracksuit for trousers and one of those silky printed tops with a pussy bow that office workers liked to wear in the eighties.

‘Do you like East London?’ Doreen asks, doing her trademark cleavage cross-twiddling.

‘Yah,’ he answers politely.

‘What do you like about it?’

‘Oh gosh, yah, I like that Emma was born and raised here amongst so many people she loves. And once I’ve spent more time here, I know I’ll love it as much as she does.’

‘Lor’ love a duck, ’e ain’t half charming!’ says June.

‘She likes you,’ I tell Daniel.

He flashes them all his killer smile. I happen to know that those teeth took two and a half years to straighten out. I never had braces, so my own overlap a tiny bit. ‘Thank you. I was just telling Em that it’s not my natural milieu, but I hope I don’t put my foot in it too badly!’

I cringe. Must get him to stop saying milieu. ‘It’s not his usual part of town.’

My family and friends don’t seem to know what to make of Daniel. His poshness would normally set their teeth on edge, but their curiosity at this exotic specimen overcomes any ingrained mistrust. Before long they’re showing Daniel how to play cribbage, firing questions and answers back and forth, and even though I’m sure they don’t completely understand each other, they’re laughing like old friends.

Doreen meets me at the bar. ‘Your Daniel seems nice.’ She doesn’t bother keeping her voice down, so half the bar can hear her. ‘Can’t play cards worth a damn, though.’

‘He’s probably just letting you win,’ I say.

‘You and your auntie, both too cheeky by ’alf.’

‘How is she? With you all, I mean?’

Doreen puts a leathery hand on my arm. ‘She’s all right, my love, not much more forgetful than the rest of us. She’s been all right at home?’

‘Usually. She’s wandering more lately, though.’

‘She’s safe here.’

Most of the time you wouldn’t think there was a thing wrong with Auntie Rose. She never gets muddled up and she doesn’t forget words. She just gets into her head sometimes that she’s got to be somewhere else. If someone’s around when she grabs her coat or handbag and announces ‘Right, I’m off’, then we can go with her. But every so often she makes her announcement to nobody, and we have to send out a search party.

So far she hasn’t left the neighbourhood, but you can’t turn her around once she gets going, either. It might be the laundromat or the café or a specific shop. No amount of coaxing will get her to turn back. It doesn’t matter that she never has laundry to do or a shopping list to tick off. She’s going wherever she’s decided to go, and that’s all there is to it.

She doesn’t seem distressed or frustrated that she can’t tell you why she wanted to go in the first place. Whenever we ask her she just shrugs and says, ‘One of life’s mysteries.’

But what if she decides one day to go to Heathrow, or Downing Street via a rough estate? That’s what I worry about.

I hear Barbara behind me as I’m carrying the drinks back to the table. ‘So where is this young man I keep hearing about? Hello, my love!’

‘Uncle Barbara!’ I throw myself into his waiting arms. ‘Come and meet Daniel. He’s heard all about you.’

Of course I’ve told Daniel about Uncle Barbara, but nothing prepares him for meeting my uncle in the flesh. First of all, he’s Uncle Colin’s identical twin. All six foot three hairy inches of him. Secondly, he’s built like a railway siding. And thirdly, he’s wearing a swingy red and white dress and shiny black knee-high boots.

He claps Daniel on the back with more force than someone in a frock should have. As everyone shifts round to make room for him I catch Daniel’s eye. He’s grinning like he can’t imagine anything more fun than being surrounded by old ladies and cross-dressers.

Uncle Barbara used to be Uncle Mark, but I haven’t called him that in a very long time.

‘You’ve picked bridesmaids and groomsmen now, yeah?’ Uncle Barbara asks us. ‘They need some warning, you know. And you need time to find outfits. Once that’s set, everything else can work around them.’

Of course he’d know all about it. I don’t often think of him that way, but when he was Uncle Mark he was married. His wife took off with their two boys after finding him in one of her frocks. They moved away up north, and it’s only in the past few years that his sons have even started talking to him. He goes up every few months, and I have to give him credit for that because it doesn’t sound like it usually goes very well.

‘Kelly’s my bridesmaid,’ I tell him, ‘and Daniel’s sister and one of his best friends.’

‘And my flatmate, Jacob, will be my best man, along with three of my school chums as my groomsmen,’ Daniel adds. ‘It’s going to be an awful lot of fun!’

‘An awful lot!’ croaks June as smirks dash round the table. I can tell they’re not making fun of Daniel. Only his odd figures of speech. I can’t blame them. He does talk like Bertie Wooster sometimes.

‘You’ll need another bridesmaid, Emma,’ Uncle Barbara says. ‘It’s bad luck to have an odd number. We had three at my wedding and look what happened.’

‘It made you queer,’ Auntie Rose chips in. ‘Only joking. I know the difference between a queer and a trannie.’

But not the difference between being offensive and not, clearly. ‘Mum,’ I shout over to their table. ‘How many bridesmaids did you have?’

‘Four,’ she says. ‘Why?’ She gasps, throwing her hands over her mouth. ‘Have you got only three? Oh no, Emma! You’re doooomed.’

‘You’re all taking the piss,’ I say. ‘Hilarious.’

‘It does look better for photos to have an even number on each side, though,’ Uncle Barbara points out. ‘If you’re looking for another, I’d be willing to step in.’

He sounds jokey, but he’s blushing under his beard.

Aside from my parents, Uncle Barbara is my closest relative under seventy and I’d love for him to be one of my bridesmaids, but can you imagine the looks on my new in-laws’ faces seeing him come up the aisle? ‘Thanks, Uncle Barbara, I’ll let you know, okay?’

‘Just don’t wait too long, like I said. I’d have to get me dress. And shoes, accessories …’

‘There is such a lot to think about,’ Daniel says, turning to me. ‘So many decisions to make. How would you feel about chocolate?’

‘I’m all for it!’ Auntie Rose says.

‘Is this another question like your mother’s about fish? You’re not going to suggest making the entire reception out of seventy per cent dark, are you, or have a Kinder vicar filled with toys?’

He laughs. ‘Mummy mentioned a chocolate fountain, that’s all. Guests can dip fruit in it. She thinks it will be such great fun.’

Of course she does. She’ll probably want fruit that has to be airlifted in individually by private jet and chocolate sourced from some remote Aztec civilisation and made with leprechaun’s tears.

‘Mmm, maybe.’ The reception would look like there’d been a massacre at Willy Wonka’s factory five minutes after this lot gets into a chocolate fountain. ‘Let’s see where we find for the reception first.’

Daniel grimaces. ‘Right, it’s just that she’s got an image of the wedding in her head now,’ he says. ‘Of course we’ll do what we want. It is our wedding. It’s only that I wouldn’t want to disappoint her if we don’t use any of her ideas.’

‘The last thing I want is a disappointed mother-in-law, so of course we’ll use some,’ I say. Just don’t ask me how.

The pub has thinned out by the time Kelly nudges me later. ‘The prawn man’s here.’

‘Told you we’d eat,’ I say to Daniel, who can’t take the grin off his face. ‘What is it?’

‘I’ve read about them,’ he says.

‘What, prawns? They swim in the sea.’

‘You sometimes eat ’em with Marie Rose sauce,’ Kell adds.

‘Cockle men,’ he says. ‘Or prawn men. I didn’t think they were real.’

‘Aw, bless, he looks like he’s seen a unicorn,’ Kell says, waving the man over.

‘All right?’ the prawn man asks, tipping his basket of seafood toward us so we can have a look. We politely glance into the basket even though he always sells the same things. He’s getting on a bit now and I’ve been eating his prawns since I was a little girl in here with Mum and Dad. He never says more than he has to. He just tips his cap as he goes from table to table, passing out snacks and collecting money.

We get three pints of prawns, which we demolish in about a minute. As I watch Daniel go to the bar to get his round in for us all, I get a little misty watching everyone’s smiling faces. That’s my fiancé, the most popular toff in East London.

 

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