Community Spirit – Episode 37

FERGUS and Debbie were standing in the middle of the restaurant, about to reveal the murderer. Debbie’s cheeks were flushed with triumph.

Jeannie felt another shot of anger at having to work for people such as them and longed for her catering business back again.

Her frustration reached boiling point as the champagne she was pouring for Rebecca fizzed over the rim of the glass, ran down her hand and dripped on to her foot.

She wiped herself as much as she could, but as she carried the drinks back to the table she bumped into Mark, who was returning from the toilets.

“Watch out,” he said, swaying from side to side.

“You watch out, you great oaf,” Jeannie threw back, trying to dodge past him.

“What did you say?” he said, blocking her path. “You can’t speak to me like that. I could tell Fergus about it. He’d probably sack you.” Mark grinned to show he was joking, but Jeannie saw red.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Then Tasha would suffer even more.”

“What do you mean?” Mark’s grin disappeared. “What’s wrong with Tasha?”

Jeannie thrust the drinks tray she was holding on to a nearby table.

“What’s wrong with Tasha? Apart from the fact you pay me a pittance to look after her and there’s barely any food in the house? Or that you’re more interested in your new baby than her and she constantly feels second best?

“Or that you said you were taking her on holiday and then, when she was so excited she was packing two weeks early, you said the holiday was off, and to top it all she couldn’t come away for the weekend with you?”

Mark, slowed down by whisky, was having trouble following Jeannie’s points.

“New babies are demanding,” he said finally.

“So are teenagers,” Jeannie told him angrily.

“Hey, that’s not fair. I pay attention to Tasha.”

“That’s not the way she sees it. Half the time you cancel seeing her, and the other half she’s made to feel like she’s unwelcome.”

“She said that?”

“Yes!” Jeannie’s voice grew louder. “Which you would know if you took the time to see what’s going on with her.

“And now you come back into the village and eat and drink your way through seven courses when your daughter has needed new shoes for six months! But you wouldn’t know about any of that, because you just don’t care!”

“You can’t tell me where I can and can’t go,” Mark said, not looking at all sure whether that was the case or not. “I pay for Tasha, you know I do. I pay what the court told me to pay.”

Mark looked wounded but Jeannie was past caring.

“It’s not enough!” Jeannie was shouting and didn’t notice Fergus bearing down on them. “It’s not enough money to keep her. You don’t spend enough time with her. It’s as if you don’t love her enough any more!”

“Hey! That’s not fair.”

“Jeannie . . .” Fergus said in a low voice. “I think this conversation is over.”

He grasped her elbow and tried to steer her towards the kitchens but she pulled away.

“Leave me alone.”

“You apologise to Mark right now.”

Mark’s chest puffed up a little now there was someone on his side, but he still looked like a puppy that had been told off.

Jeannie saw Rebecca rise from the table and move in their direction.

“No way,” she said, pushing past them both and grabbing her bag from the hooks by the store room.

She flung open the door and rushed out into the warm night, gulping lungfuls of air and willing the tears stinging her eyes not to fall.

Alison Cook