About an hour later, Georgie and James rejoined Marilyn and Serena in the musty living room. A tray of sandwiches had been prepared along with a pot of tea and a slab of fruit cake.
“Come and sit down,” Serena gushed. “Help yourselves to sandwiches. How do you take your tea, James?”
“Actually ma’am, I wonder if I might trouble you for a cup of coffee?” Serena’s expression momentarily tightened in disapproval before she fixed him with a bright smile.
“Of course. Georgina, darling, go and have a hunt around in the kitchen, I’m sure there’s some coffee somewhere.” Shooting an amused glance in James’ direction, Georgie made for the kitchen unable to contain a smirk as he clung closely to her heels.
She waited until they reached the safety of the kitchen before rounding on him, laughing gleefully.
“Don’t tell me you’re scared of being left alone with two little old ladies?”
“Hell yes! Those two would eat me alive.” Georgie began removing jars from a cupboard, inspecting the labels as she did so.
“Fucking hell, the sell by date on this sauce is 2004. Are you sure you want coffee?”
“Coffee doesn’t spoil does it?”
“I’m sure if it’s been here since the 1800s it’s not going to taste that great.”
“I’m guessing your aunt isn’t the domesticated type?”
“I think she prefers to see herself as the bohemian type.”
Georgie continued rummaging in the cupboards with James peering over her shoulder.
“There’s some chicory,” she observed, “And look, some dandelion coffee.”
“Please tell me there’s some regular coffee.”
“Here we go, a jar of Mellow Birds best before April, 2009.”
“What in God’s name is Mellow Birds? Is that like regular coffee? Take off the lid.” Georgie unscrewed the lid and sniffed at the jar’s contents.
“It smells like coffee,” she said, pushing it towards James’ face. “Do you want to risk it?”
“I never heard of anybody being poisoned by coffee, did you?”
Georgie shrugged, switching on the kettle before systematically opening the remaining cupboards in search of a mug.
“I suppose if there was a nuclear holocaust and we had to hide underground we’d drink it.”
“Where’s the nearest store?”
“Just down the road.”
“I’ll be back in five.” James let himself quietly out of the house and Georgie returned to the living room, helping herself to a huge chunk of cake.
“Where’s James?” Marilyn demanded.
“He’s gone to the shop.”
“The shop? What on earth for?” Serena gasped.
“Coffee, we couldn’t find any.”
“Well that’s probably because most civilised people prefer tea.”
“He’s American,” Marilyn said as if that explained everything.
Taking a bite out of the cake, Georgie was surprised that it actually tasted pretty good.
“This is delicious, Aunt Serena, did you bake it?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Georgina, when would I have time to bake? The girl next door has set up some sort of cake making business venture. To be honest, I can’t keep up with the girl, last month it was jewellery making.”
“Well that’s good, isn’t it?” Georgie spoke around a mouthful of cake. “She’s showing enterprise and they’re both creative endeavours.”
“There’s nothing creative about making a cake, dear,” Serena said sniffily.
Georgie was relieved to hear the slamming of the door, heralding James’ return. Her aunt might leave her alone if she had an uncivilised foreigner to pick on. Nursing a mug of coffee, his face mirroring the intense anticipation of a junkie about to have his latest fix, James made his way carefully to the sofa.
“I hope it’s worth it,” Georgie smiled as he lowered himself into the seat next to her. “What did you get?”
“They only had the one kind, a brand I’ve never heard of.” She pulled a face, her smirk leaving James in little doubt of how much pleasure she was deriving from his distress.
“Well good luck.” Taking a huge sip, a myriad of emotions flickered across his face before he shuddered dramatically.
He turned to Georgie, his face a mixture of revulsion and betrayal.
“We’ll take a walk in a bit and find some real coffee,” she soothed. “Have a sandwich and some cake, you’ll feel better when you’ve had something to eat.”
“I’ve never understood the American preoccupation with coffee,” Serena huffed.
Georgie rolled her eyes, “Aunt Serena, everybody drinks coffee. There’s a Starbucks on every corner for Christ’s sake.”
“I can see you still possess the same sharp tongue, Georgina. I thought the years might have mellowed you.”
“Ahh!” Marilyn crowed triumphantly, “If anything she’s worse.”
Leaning into her, James gave a gentle nudge that she knew was his way of urging her not to bite. Instead she offered her mother a long suffering look, opting to remain silent and take the moral high ground.
“I keep telling her, it’s a very unattractive quality. Men don’t like women who are too tart. It takes a little bit of sugar to get anywhere in this world. Even Mary Poppins knew that and she was a spinster.”
“No dear,” Serena corrected, “She had that chap – the chimneysweep.”
Georgie’s good intentions instantly evaporated into a red mist.
“What?” she screeched. “Have you heard yourselves? Marilyn, you are a fucking black widow and, Aunt Serena, you are like the original spinster. I’m surprised you haven’t got a houseful of cats.”
“That’s enough!” Marilyn rebuked, “We’re guests in Serena’s home and you are being incredibly rude.”
“The problem is,” Serena spoke to Marilyn as if Georgie and James weren’t even there, “We all overcompensated for the fact that she was such a pitiful little thing and I’m afraid we spoiled her.”
Inhaling sharply, Georgie was about to explode when she felt James’ hand on her arm.
“Why don’t we go for a walk now?” he said in a rush. “I think we could all do with a bit of space. I really need some coffee.” Georgie rose stiffly from the sofa, levelling a venomous look at her aunt.
“I think that’s probably wise,” she ground out before flouncing from the room. It was only when she and James had turned the corner and her aunt’s house was no longer in sight that she realised it was drizzling with rain and she wasn’t wearing a coat.