The next morning, Penny has barely stepped out of the shower when she hears Sander call out, “They’re here! They’ve arrived.”
She gasps – she’s way behind schedule – then wraps a towel around her middle, and runs up the three stairs that separate their bedroom from the main bathroom. As she passes Sander’s studio, she ducks in and joins him as he looks out of the window. Below them, Martin’s BMW is shuffling back and forth into a seemingly impossible parking space.
“Kiss?” Sander asks, turning to face her.
Penny pecks him on the lips, then comments, “You’ve been smoking? Already?”
Sander shrugs. “Just a little one to take the edge off things.”
Penny rolls her eyes. “How can they even be here?” she says. “It’s not ten yet, is it?”
“It’s ten to eleven actually.”
“Jees…” Penny says. “Can you do me a favour and go stack the breakfast things in the dishwasher? Vicky will have apoplexy if she sees the kitchen as it is. It looks like a Ramsay kitchen nightmare down there.”
“Sure,” Sander replies.
In their bedroom, next door, Penny dresses quickly, towels dry her hair and applies her minimum level of emergency makeup before running downstairs to find Victoria, Martin and Bertie watching Sander stack the dishwasher.
“Hello, hello!” she gushes, performing an actual double take at Martin and Bertie. Martin is wearing a blue sharkskin suit with a white shirt and a pale blue tie. Even Bertie is wearing, for some reason, an ironed shirt and a blazer. “You two are looking very swish.”
Martin grins amicably and nods in the direction of his wife. “Ask her,” he says, simply. “We resisted at first, but…”
“You know how Mum is,” Bertie says, completing his father’s sentence.
“I just wanted to see him in his new suit,” Victoria says. “I had to go and pick it up from Savile Row for him, so the least he can do is let me actually see him wearing the damned thing. Don’t you think he looks gorgeous, though?”
Penny nods. “I do,” she says, honestly. She actually thinks Martin is looking almost embarrassingly sexy in the sheer new suit.
“That doesn’t explain why I had to dress up,” Bertie complains. “I feel stupid in this blazer.”
“You look fine,” Victoria says, then turning to Penny for confirmation, “doesn’t he?”
“Yes, you look lovely, Bertie,” Penny agrees even though she thinks that they all, Victoria included, look a little overdressed for a trip to the seaside.
“You’ll need to rinse those off, first,” Victoria tells Sander. He’s in the process of loading the eggy breakfast dishes into the dishwasher.
“We don’t rinse anything off first,” Sander replies, carrying on regardless.
“But don’t you get–”
“Vicky,” Martin interrupts, fiddling nervously with his tie and grimacing as if he has toothache.
“Hang on,” she tells him. “So, Sander, surely you must get loads of food stuck in the…”
“Vicky!” Martin repeats, more forcefully. “Let the man stack his own dishwasher however he wants, OK?”
“Sorry, I just… Of course. You’re right,” Victoria says, emulating Martin’s gesture and fiddling with her bead necklace.
“Actually, you’re right,” Penny says, trying to defuse the tension. “But you know how lazy we are around here. And they seem to come out cleanish anyway.”
“I think you must just have a better dishwasher than I do,” Victoria comments.
“We don’t, believe me. So where’s Mum?”
“We left Gran in the car,” Bertie says. “She’s fast asleep. Shall I go check on her?”
“Yes,” Victoria says. “And try to wake her up maybe? Gently, though.”
“So can I change now?” Martin asks. “Now you’ve seen the suit. Honestly, I have to dress like this every day of the week.”
“No,” Victoria says, matter-of-factly. “No, you can’t. I’m enjoying seeing you dressed smartly.”
Martin grins at Penny and shrugs again. “See?” he says. “Shall I take our bags upstairs?”
“Yes,” Penny replies. “You’re in the top back bedroom. It might smell a bit of paint still. Mum’s in ours. We’re in the studio. And Bertie’s in with Max.”
“Bertie?” Victoria calls out. “Are you OK going in with Max?”
“Sure!” Bertie calls back from the hallway. He’s already imagining the late night Xbox session that this will facilitate.
Penny, a little surprised that Victoria even asked him the question, frowns. She’s not sure where they would have put him had he said that it wasn’t all right. “I’ll, um, go wake Max and Chloe up then,” she says.
Upstairs, Penny has to shake Chloe repeatedly to wake her up. She gags at the smell coming from the guinea-pig’s cage. “Wake up, get up, and clean Beethoven’s cage,” Penny says. “It stinks to high heaven in here.”
“Oh, do I have to?” Chloe groans, “I’m so tired, Mum.”
Max, on the other hand, she finds awake and typing messages into Facebook. “Can you get washed and dressed?” she says. “And wear something nice, please. They’re dressed up like the royal family down there.”
“Martin’s in a work suit and Bertie looks like he’s just about to start public school or something.”
“He will be soon. And then he’ll be in the Bullingdon Club I expect. And after that he’ll be PM or mayor of London or something.”
Penny laughs. She enjoys these little moments of complicity with her son. “He’s not that bad,” she says.
“Why are they all dressed up anyway? Is something happening?”
“No, I don’t think so. I think it’s just because Vicky said so. You should consider yourself lucky I let you slob about in your trackies.”
“I wouldn’t mind a change,” Max says, “But you’d have to actually buy me some nice clothes.”
“You have nice clothes! Why don’t you wear that blue shirt you got for Christmas?”
“Um, maybe because it doesn’t fit me anymore,” Max says.
Penny twists her mouth at this. Max, who has grown at least twenty centimetres since Christmas, is almost certainly telling the truth.
“OK, what about the flowery one then? Your James May shirt. I’ll bet that still fits.”
“It needs ironing. It’s all crumpled up.”
“Oh, just wear anything then,” Penny says, caving in to the inevitable. “But try to choose something reasonable, please. Try not to let the side down, OK?”
Max looks at his mother strangely, and she hesitates and then glances down at her own slacks and jumper. “What? This is OK, isn’t it?”
“Sure,” Max says. “You look nice. But, you know, talking of not letting the side down…”
“Do you think you can get Dad out of his favourite jumper for once?”
Penny sighs and nods. Sander’s favourite jumper has become so permanent a fixture that she barely even sees it anymore. But Max is right. “Yes, Max,” she says. “I’ll see what I can do.”
She leaves Max to shower and dress and then climbs to the top floor where she can hear Victoria and Martin settling in. Preparing to bask in the warm glow of praise for her decorating skills, she pushes the door open and asks, “Is everything all right for you, then?” But her smile fades almost immediately.
Victoria has frozen in mid gesture, caught in the act. In her right hand she has a small square of tissue and in her left, a package of moist, Dettol antibacterial wipes. She’s been caught in the process of cleaning, or more precisely, disinfecting, the bedroom light switch.
Martin, who has removed his jacket and is busy unpacking his suitcase, grins amusedly. “Yes,” he says. “It’s lovely up here now, isn’t it Vicky?”
Victoria bites her bottom lip and nods nervously. “Yes, lovely… So much, um, brighter than before,” she splutters.
Penny looks her sister in the eye for a moment. She considers saying, “I have just spent the entire week painting this room. And the first thing you do when you arrive is disinfect it?” But then her eyes drift to the light switch in question and she sees that it truly is disgusting. It is grey and sticky and smudged and paint splattered, and has probably never been cleaned since the house was built, whenever that was. So her anger vanishes and is replaced, instead, by a hot flush of immature shame. “Great,” she says crisply. “I’ll, um, leave you to it then. See you downstairs.”
END OF SAMPLE #7
Let the Light Shine will be published on the 30th September
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