Afternoon Tea

by Graeme

Felicity’s expression was one of joyous rapture. “Oh, this tomato vol-au-vent is absolutely divine!”

Margaret preened. “Thank you, dear. Richard didn’t follow my instructions precisely, but the results were satisfactory, I suppose.”

“I also noticed that your gold-embossed imported antique bone china tea set goes so well with the furniture. Are these new chairs?”

“Of course not. Replace my expensive genuine imitation French provincial chairs? No, I merely had them re-upholstered with more appropriate material.” Margaret frowned. “They were supposed to have arrived yesterday morning but the delivery man was late, which completely disrupted my carefully planned social calendar. He had the infernal gall to suggest that I had listed the address incorrectly; that there was no Brighton North in Melbourne, and that we live in Caulfield South. Needless to say, I set him straight. That is one delivery man who will know his geography better the next time he has to deliver something of importance to this area.

“Now, what is this wonderful news you said you had for me?”

Felicity leant forward across the small hand-veneered coffee table. “You remember me telling you about how I was so depressed after the death of my husband last month…”

Margaret sighed as she settled back into her chair. “Yes, dear. It was such a tragic event. Who could have known that the hair dryer would fall into the water just as poor old Manuel was taking a bath.”

“Phillip. Manuel was the one who fell asleep at the wheel and drove off that cliff.” Felicity winked. “I wasn’t really surprised at what happened to him; disappointed but not really surprised. After all, we had been very busy the night before, if you know what I mean.”

Margaret gave a refined twitter of amusement. “Yes, dear. You always were one that brought the best out in your men. I’m sorry I got Phillip’s name wrong, but you’ve had six husbands, and it’s difficult for me to keep them all straight.”

“I do apologise for correcting you, but I’ve been married seven times, now.” Felicity lifted the delicate bone china tea cup to her lips and took a sip.

Margaret frowned. “Seven? Are you sure? There was Alexander, Raphael, David, Clifford — such a beautiful name, and oh so suitable for a fine upstanding young Englishman – Manuel and Phillip. Who have I missed?”

“Mario. He was husband number three, between Raphael and David, and how I met David. Don’t you remember? David was the detective investigating Mario’s death. They thought the bruise marks around his neck were indications of foul play, not foreplay. They actually accused me — me! — of pushing him off the ninth floor balcony while we were on our honeymoon.” Felicity sniffed. “We had only been married four days.”

Margaret leant forward and patted Felicity’s hand. “I’m so sorry, dear, to bring up such painful memories. I had completely forgotten, because that was when Richard took me sailing through the Whitsundays in Queensland, and David had already exonerated you by the time we returned. If I remember correctly, you and he were married two months later.”

Felicity pulled out a delicate lace handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. “That’s okay. I can understand why Mario slipped your mind. I remember you telling me about that ghastly vacation and how you were constantly seasick.”

“I don’t know what Richard was thinking when he selected that for our destination. It sounded lovely when he first talked about it — sailing through the idyllic waters, just the two of us — but the reality was completely different. Richard was not a competent sailor, and he had a great deal of trouble managing the sailing, as well as all the essentials such as cooking, cleaning, serving champagne, and generally pampering me. After all, we were on vacation and he couldn’t expect me to do any mundane chores. He hadn’t thought it through, and I was extremely disappointed in him. To top it off, he had the infernal gall to tell me that it had been my idea in the first place!”

Felicity shook her head. “He’s normally such a nice, gentle man, but sometimes he makes mistakes. We both know that men need a firm hand at times, to guide them in the right direction. If we take our eyes off them for a second, they’re off doing something silly.”

“Too true. Too true.” Margaret shook her head sadly. “What would they do without us?”

“And that brings me back to what I wanted to tell you. To get over the depression, I followed your advice and hired a personal trainer. To cut a long story short, Rodriguez became a very personal trainer, and last night, after a bit of encouragement, he proposed! I’m getting married, and I do so much want you to be my matron of honour again.” Felicity smiled shyly. “You’ve done such a brilliant job the other seven times that I couldn’t ask anyone else to help me out.”

“Rodriguez. What a beautiful name!” Margaret frowned. “I’m deeply touched that you would ask me, and I know that no one else could do the job as well as I could, but maybe you should ask someone else. I’m still getting over organising Sebastian’s little ceremony.”

“Oh, I know how much you throw yourself into these things; selflessly managing Richard and Sebastian to make sure the special day goes perfectly. No one else could do what you do. Please, won’t you do this for me?” Felicity brought her hands together in a prayerful manner. “I’ve already told Roddie — he likes it when I call him Roddie; he says Rodriguez sounds too formal — about your extensive skills in organising, and how he wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. You would have it all under control.”

“Yes, but I won’t have Sebastian to help me this time. Now that he’s almost married, he and his partner have left for Perth and I may only see him now once or twice a year. He warned me that it might not even be that often!” Margaret pulled out her hand-embroidered French-made handkerchief and noisily blew her nose. “I’m still missing my little baby. I can’t believe he’s just turned twenty and gone. I think he’s very brave to be going out in the world without his mummy to look after him, but he’s always been a special boy.”

Felicity raised an eyebrow. “You never told me what happened when he showed up that night with Jonathan and said he was moving interstate. You were going to, but you never found the time to do so.”

Margaret rolled her eyes. “I definitely wanted to, dear, but I’ve just been so busy! I’ll admit that I was shocked, initially, but I recovered gracefully, as I’m wont to do when something unexpected happens.”

Felicity nodded. “Indeed! That’s one of your great strengths — managing when someone does something to muddle up your wonderfully organised events.”

“Thank you. I know I don’t like to blow my own trumpet, but coping in the face of adversity is something that one just has to do at times.” Margaret paused to take a sip of her Earl Grey tea. “Now, where was I?”

“You were saying how you were initially shocked.”

“Oh, yes. Well, it was multiple shocks, of course. After all, while Sebastian had never brought home a girl to meet his mumsie and get her approval, I had never had any inkling that he was otherwise inclined. I think the word Sebastian used was oriented, but I think inclined is much less formal, don’t you?”

“Unquestionably. The youth today seem to think that fancy words are the bee’s knees, but those of us with more mature and refined palates recognise that sometimes simplicity has an elegance all of its own, and is therefore the more appropriate choice.”

“Too true. Anyway, when I thought about it afterwards, it was obvious that it was going to happen. After all, what boy doesn’t measure a future wife against his mother, and, alas, I have set an impossibly high standard as a goal. It seems that Sebastian decided that it wasn’t possible for any girl to be as good as his mumsie, and thus he turned to other options.” Margaret sighed. “It appears that by striving to be the perfect mother, I failed. Perfection, my eternal goal in life, still eludes me.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Margaret. Sebastian is still a wonderful young man, and you should be proud of how you shaped him into the person he has become.”

“You are quite right, dear. If only Richard could have delivered on his side, Sebastian may have had a chance, but with only my perfecting influence, Sebastian wasn’t able to reach his full potential. My son’s minuscule flaws are clearly Richard’s fault.”

“So that was the first shock. What happened next?” Felicity settled back in her smaller chair, which was not quite as elegant as Margaret’s, holding her bone china cup and saucer close to her face.

“Then there was the news that he was moving out, and going to live with Jonathan in Perth. Well, let me tell you that I actually fainted when he said that. I only had a moment to glance behind me and take two steps so that I could collapse onto our tastefully upholstered genuine reproduction French chaise lounge. Otherwise, I might have been seriously injured.”

Felicity carefully put her cup and saucer on the table and then lifted her hands to her mouth. “How ghastly!”

“Quite! Once I came to, I took control. It was completely unthinkable that my only child could live in sin, so we had to organise a wedding straight away. Jonathan — a dear boy, though probably not good enough for my Sebastian; but then again, who would be? — tried to object that marriage between two men isn’t legal here in Australia, but I was having nothing of it. I told him firmly that there would be a wedding, even if I had to march to Canberra and berate the politicians into doing the right thing. It was my baby’s wedding we were talking about, and I was not going to let some measly-mouthed political bureaucrats prevent it.”

“Bravo, my dear! But I thought you said Sebastian was almost married?” Felicity picked up her cup and took a sip.

“That’s right. Richard was keen for me to go to Canberra, and offered to book the flights immediately, but Sebastian, bless his heart, pointed out that getting Canberra to do anything would take time and it would be too late for a wedding to take place. He also said something to Jonathan about not wanting to ruin their chances for the future. I asked him what he meant and he pointed out that politicians tend not to be as reasonable and understanding as I am, and that perhaps it would be better to let others, more used to political shenanigans, lobby for equal rights in marriage. He didn’t want to see his mumsie being dragged into the gutter with the rest of those in Canberra. Reluctantly, I agreed.”

“What happened next?”

“Well, Jonathan tried to say that they didn’t need anything special, that he and Sebastian loved each other and that was all that was important, but I promised him it would only be a small affair, and to leave everything to me. Richard and Sebastian supported my viewpoint, telling Jonathan that it was easier to go with the flow.”

“Life is always much easier when men let us take control. I suppose they need their little things to keep them amused, but if they just let us manage all the important items, life is so much simpler and happier.” Felicity smiled. “You did a magnificent job, as always, and especially on such short notice. Of course, keeping it small did help.”

“I don’t know if even I could have achieved a successful wedding if it had been any larger. A couple of hundred people was enough — more would have been too much. Jonathan seemed surprised when I insisted on all his relations, including first, second, and third cousins, be invited, but it is inexcusable to not invite family to a wedding.”

“I heard that Father Jackson was a problem.” Felicity looked over the top of her cup as she took another sip of tea.

Margaret sniffed. “Not for long. He kept raising objections and muttering something about being against church doctrine, but I was having none of it. I told him quite firmly — and I can be quite firm when faced with obstinate men — that I would be staying there until he agreed to do the wedding. He obviously saw that resistance was futile and quickly agreed to conduct the ceremony. He must have been concerned that spending too much time arguing with him would have taken me away from my other activities that are critical to the running of the church.”

Felicity smiled. “And that’s why I would really appreciate it if you could be my matron of honour at my wedding. You know how things should be done, and you make sure that they are done to perfection.”

Margaret sighed and then nodded. “Very well. For a dear friend like you, I’ll do it. But the planning will have to wait until tomorrow, as I have an important dinner to prepare for tonight.”

“Thank you! It just wouldn’t be the same if you weren’t there to help me.”

Margaret smiled. “I know, and though it will be a terrible imposition, I can’t let you down.” She glanced at the new but antique-looking grandfather clock that she had insisted Richard import from Switzerland. “It’s almost time for me to start preparing for the dinner party, dear. We’ll have to finish our afternoon tea very soon.”

“I understand. You have so much to do that I appreciate whatever time you can spare to spend with me.” Felicity reached out, and then paused. “Would you mind if I have the last of the vol-au-vents? I know it’s selfish of me, but they are so tasty that I just can’t resist them.”

Margaret waved a hand. “Of course, dear. I doubt Richard will be able to make them quite the same next time, given the rather unusual seasoning he used.”

Felicity paused with the tomato pastry close to her mouth. “Oh? What ingredient was that?” She bit down, and another expression of rapture appeared. “You must tell me, as these are absolutely heavenly. I must have the recipe.”


“Blood?” Felicity exclaimed, both eyebrows rising.

“Yes, blood. He managed to slice his wrist while cutting the tomatoes, and spilt blood everywhere. It made a right awful mess. He tried to sit down, but I was firm. I wrapped a tea towel — naturally, not one of my good ones that I bought near Buckingham Palace on our trip to England last year, but an older one that wasn’t as good as the ones from Harrods — firmly around his wrist and made him finish the cooking. We waited until he was finished before calling for an ambulance.”

“Oh, dear. Is he all right?”

“Naturally! The paramedics tried to take him to the hospital, but I insisted that he was needed here. He still has dinner to prepare, and the garbage must be taken out. It would have been totally unacceptable for him to be away.”

“What did the paramedics say to that?”

Margaret stared down her nose at her friend. “It wasn’t important what the paramedics — male, of course, and clearly not understanding the importance of preparing for a high society dinner party — thought. I let them bandage Richard’s arm and put him to bed. In the spare room, naturally, since I didn’t want any blood staining my pearly white satin sheets. After the paramedics left, I told Richard he could rest until afternoon tea.”

“That’s very kind of you, but then you’ve always been so generous to others.”

“Of course. It is my duty, as one simply must be better than the general riff-raff, to show them how to act in a compassionate and caring way. But do you know what my ingrate of a husband said to me as I was leaving the room?”

“No, what?”

“He said that he didn’t think he’d be able to help. His exact words were that he was beyond help. I can tell you that I most certainly shall not put up with that. He is my husband and he will do what I tell him to do.”

Felicity rolled her eyes. “Men! If they weren’t so useful, I don’t know why we would have anything to do with them.”

Copyright Notice — Copyright © July 2010 by Graeme.

Dedicated to my loving wife, who is nothing like Margaret and Felicity.

The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.

Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.

I would like to thank C James for the advice he gave me on this story.

I would also like to thank Rain from The Mail Crew for editing this story for me. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.