New Year's Eve
On the radio show they were asking people what kind of a New Year's Eve did they really want. It was very predictable. Those who were staying at home doing nothing wanted to be out partying, those who were too busy and rushed wanted to go to bed with a cup of tea and be asleep before the festivities began.
Cathy Scarlet smiled grimly as she packed more trays of food into the van. There could hardly be anyone in Ireland who would answer the question by saying that they really and truly wanted to spend the night catering a supper party for a mother-in-law. Now that was the punishment posting tonight, feeding Hannah Mitchell's guests at Oaklands. Why was she doing it then? Partly for practice, and of course it would be a good way to meet potential customers. Jock and Hannah Mitchell knew the kind of people who could afford caterers. But mainly she was doing it because she wanted to prove to Hannah Mitchell that she could. That Cathy, daughter of poor Lizzie Scarlet, the maid who cleaned Oaklands, who had married the only son of the house, Neil, was well able to run her own business and hold her head as high as any of them.
Neil Mitchell was in his car when he heard the radio program. It annoyed him greatly. Anyone looking at him from another car would have seen his sharp, handsome face frown. People often thought they recognized him; his face was familiar from television, but he wasn't an actor. He just turned up on the screen so often, pushing the hair out of his eyes, passionate, concerned and caring, always the spokes- person for the underdog. He had the bright burning eyes of a crusader. This kind of whining and moaning on a radio show really drove him mad. People who had everything, a home, a job, a family, all telephoning a radio station to complain about the pressures of life. They were all so lucky and just too selfish to realize it. Unlike the man that Neil was going to see now, a Nigerian who would give anything to have the problems of these fools on the radio program. His papers were not in order due to bungling and messing, and there was grave danger he would have to leave Ireland in the next forty-eight hours. Neil, who was a member of a lawyers' group set up to protect refugees, had been asked to come to a strategy meeting. It could go on for several hours. His mother had warned him not to be late at Oaklands, it was an important party, she said.
"I do hope that poor Cathy will be able to manage it," she had said to Neil.
"Don't let her hear you calling her poor Cathy, if you want your guests to get any food," he had laughed.
It was idiotic, this nonsense between his mother and his wife; he and his father stayed well away from it. It was obvious anyway that Cathy had won, so what was it all about?
Tom Feather was going through the property section of the newspaper yet again. A puzzled look was on his face. He lay across the small sofa - there was never room for his long limbs and big frame unless he draped himself somehow over the whole thing. If he could put a chair at one end for his feet to rest on, it was fairly comfortable; someday he would live in a place where there was a sofa big enough to fit him. It was all very well to have the broad-shouldered rugby-player's build, but not if you needed to sit down and study the Premises Vacant ads. He shook out the newspaper. There had to be something he hadn't noticed. Some kind of premises with a room that could be made into a catering kitchen. He and Cathy Scarlet had worked so hard to make this happen. Since their first year at catering college they were going to set up Dublin's best home catering company. The whole idea of serving people great food in their own homes at reasonable prices was something that fired them both. They had worked so hard, and now they had made contacts and got the funding, all they needed was somewhere to operate from. Cathy and Neil's little town house in Waterview, though very elegant, was far too small to consider, and the flat in Stoneyfield where he lived with Marcella was even tinier. They had to find somewhere soon. He was half listening to the radio program. What would he really like to do on this New Year's Eve? Find the perfect place for their company to set itself up, and then he would like to stay at home with Marcella and to stroke her beautiful hair as they sat by the fire and talked about the future. No, of course that wasn't going to happen.
Reprinted from Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Maeve Binchy. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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