When she had finally got Janey settled down for her morning sleep, she went into the dining room. It was dark and smelt stalely of cigar smoke and the last fumes of the old paraffin heater. She drew back the velvet curtains and the grey morning light shone in on the wreckage of crumpled napkins, wine-stained glasses, brimming ashtrays. She found a tray and began to collect the glasses. The telephone rang.
She thought it was probably Evie. 'Hello?'
'Alison.’ It was Mrs Fairhurst. 'My dear child. What can I say?'
Alison frowned. What, indeed, could Mrs Fairhurst have to say? 'I'm sorry'?
'It was all my fault. I've just looked at my diary to check a Save the Children Fund meeting I have to go to, and I realise that it was tonight you asked us for dinner. Friday. You weren't expecting us last night, because we weren't meant to be there.’
Alison took a deep breath and then let it all out again in a trembling sigh of relief. She felt as though a great weight had been taken from her shoulders. It hadn't been her mistake. It had been Mrs Fairhurst's.
'Well . . . ' There was no point in telling a lie. She began to smile. 'No.’
'And you never said a word. You just behaved as though we were expected, and gave us that delicious dinner. And everything looked so pretty, and both of you so relaxed. I can't get over it. And I can't imagine how I was so stupid except that I couldn't find my glasses, and I obviously wrote it down on the wrong day. Will you ever forgive me?'
'But I was just as much to blame. I'm terribly vague on the telephone. In fact, I thought the mix-up was all my fault.’
'Well, you were so sweet. And Jock will be furious with me when I ring him up and tell him.’
'I'm sure he won't be.’
'Well, there it is, and I'm truly sorry. It must have been a nightmare opening your door and finding us there, all dressed up like Christmas trees! But you both came up trumps. Congratulations. And thank you for being so understanding to a silly old woman.’
'I don't think you're silly at all,’ said Alison to her husband's chairman's wife. 'I think you're smashing.’
When Henry came home that evening, Alison was cooking the fillet of beef. It was too much for the two of them, but the children could eat the leftovers cold for lunch the next day. Henry was late. The children were in bed and asleep. The cat had been fed, the fire lighted. It was nearly a quarter past seven when she heard his car come up the lane and park in the garage. The engine was turned off, the garage door closed. Then the back door opened and Henry appeared, looking much as usual, except, along with his briefcase and his newspaper, he carried the biggest bunch of red roses Alison had ever seen.
With his foot, he shut the door behind him.
'Well,’ he said.
'Well,’ said Alison.
'They came on the wrong night.’
'Yes, I know. Mrs Fairhurst rang me. She'd written it down wrong in her diary.’
‘They both think you're wonderful.’
'It doesn't matter what they think of me. It's what they think of you that counts.’
Henry smiled. He came towards her, holding the roses in front of him like an offering.
'Do you know who these are for?'
Alison considered. 'Evie, I should hope. If anyone deserves red roses, it's Evie.’
‘I have already arranged for roses to be delivered to Evie. Pink ones, with lots of asparagus fern and a suitable card. Try again.’
'They're for Janey?'
'Larry? The cat?'
'They are,’ said Henry, trying to sound portentous, but in point of fact looking bright-eyed as an expectant schoolboy, 'for the wife of the newly appointed Export Director of Fairhurst & Hanbury.’
'You got the job!'
He drew away from her and they looked at each other. Then Alison made a sound that was halfway between a sob and a shout of triumph and flung herself at him. He dropped briefcase, newspaper, and roses, and gathered her into his arms.
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