Mack's Progress Ch. 06byDenham_Forrest©
It was a Sunday lunchtime in early June when Millie decided it was time to make her big announcement, but as it was Millie, it had to be done in her own inimitable fashion. I wasn't working that lunchtime; normally I always did the Sunday lunchtime shift. But for some reason that day I was playing darts with Philip, Barry (Jean's husband) and John.
Some holidaymaker had just made an inane comment about Millie's appendages and she'd put him down very nicely with one of her ribald comebacks. Everybody had laughed at the poor guy, and he was sitting there doing a very convincing impersonation of a beetroot.
But then as Millie walked back across the pub to the bar with her usual wicked grin on her face, she literally shouted to Philip. "'ere Luvver, you're gonna have to buy me a wheelbarrow before long you know, you realise that, don't ya!"
Phil who was just about to throw his dart stopped in mid-swing and looked at his wife, with a confused expression on his face, quite obviously having no idea what Millie was talking about and preparing himself for whatever ribald comment Millie was about to come up with next. I think the whole pub had gone quiet, because Millie had everyone waiting with bated breath for the punch line to whatever joke she was planning.
But Millie just stood there and stared at Philip, who eventually was forced to ask the question.
"What in heaven's name would you want a wheelbarrow for Millie?"
"Yeah, well, I'm told that when they get filled up with milk, they get even bigger. I'm gonna need something to carry these buggers around in, ain't I!" Millie grinned at her confused husband and continued on her way towards the bar as if what she'd said was nothing out of the ordinary.
Phil stood there looking like a complete fool with that same confused look on his face for some time. Then someone, god only knows who shouted "Congratulations!" and slapped Phil on the back so hard that he dropped his dart. Within seconds everyone was slapping Phil on the back and congratulating him, but he still hadn't twigged it. That is until Michelle kissed him and I do believe she whispered to him that he was about to become a daddy. At that point Philip nearly fainted and had to be helped to a seat, but Millie had soon returned from the bar and was sitting on his lap reviving him by giving him her personal version of the kiss of life.
So that's how the village learnt that Millie was pregnant. Regretfully the following week brought bad news for everyone. Old Bert didn't turn up one morning; he'd been slowing down for sometime by then but normally showed by about lunchtime. Beverley must have got worried when he hadn't telephoned and she tried to call him. There was no reply, so George and Beverley set out for Bert's cottage to investigate.
They found him sitting in his lounge where he'd obvious sat himself down on arriving home the evening before. He had left us! George informed us later that Bert had gone with a smile on his face.
Bert's funeral cortège took a protracted route to the church, driving out of the village to stop in the Willow's car park where everyone (holidaymakers included) stepped outside to participate in a toast to Bert's memory, then all the staff from the pub joined the cortège for its journey back into the village and on to the church. After the service we followed the hearse to the crematorium.
Beverley's sister had travelled down from Norwich with two of her barmaids to look after the Willow's whilst we were away.
The following week there was another short ceremony in the pub garden, when his ashes were sprinkled over what Bert considered to be "hallowed turf" by the vicar. For many years Bert had been the pub's gardener.
A little brass plaque of remembrance was put up near Bert's usual stool in the bar and for a long time that stool was never soiled by a local resident's behind. Holidaymakers knew no different though and some of them did get a little confused by the toast of "To Bert" that was often sung out if one of them made the mistake of sitting upon that stool.
It must have been only a couple of weeks after Bert left us that my cousin, Billie, turned up one day on one of the cruisers. Billie was with her boyfriend and another young couple; I had no idea they'd arrived or were even coming.
I'd just put some customers drinks on their table when out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a lithe female form that was clad in several small pieces of red materiel - making a vain attempt to pretend that it was a bikini - threw itself at me. Both the body and I finished up rolling on the grass whilst Billie kissed me.
Billie had always been my favourite cousin - my kissing cousin. We'd sworn our undying love for each other at about the age of about seven or eight, I believe. Those sentiments had cooled a little as we'd got older, but not by very much. Billie still always hugged and kissed me whenever we met.
"Christ, Billie, have some decorum will you. I'm supposed to be working here!" I managed to say once she'd broken her hello kiss and let me breathe again.
"Well, that's nice! No, "hello, Billie"; just, "get off me." You never used to say that when we were little."
"Hello, Billie, it's nice to see you. Why didn't you tell me you were coming?" I replied, still trapped beneath her on the ground, by the way.
"We weren't sure when we would get here. We booked up at the last minute and had to collect the boat from miles away. That's my boyfriend, Laurence - no, my fiancée now; he asked me to marry him last week. I thought I'd better bring him up here to get your okay. You never come down to see us! Oh, and these are our best friends, Debra and Griff; they've just got engaged as well, so we're planning a double wedding sometime next year."
"Hi, folks," I said looking at them through Billie's mop of auburn hair as best I could. "It would be easier to shake you fiancé's hand, if I was standing up, Billie, and besides I think he's looking a bit jealous," I pointed out.
Billie rolled off of me, then her friends helped us to our feet. But Billie still hung on to me as if I was her fiancé. We did the formal introductions, hand shaking and congratulations bit, then I I was steering them towards one of the picnic tables when a voice disturbed us.
"'Ere, luvvy, I'd put him down if I was you. You don't know where 'e's been!" It was Millie's dulcet tones. "And I'd put something a bit more chaste on, as well. We can't control 'im when he gets excited! Besides that, this is supposed to be a family pub."
"Sorry, I dropped my wrap when I was sneaking up on Mack," Billie said a little contritely at the same time as taking the sarong that Debra was holding out to her and winding around her waist, after disentangling herself from me that is. Then she went over to Mille and gave her a hug. "You must be Millie; I've heard so much about you. Congratulations!" Then seeing the slightly confused expression Millie's face, she added, "Julia and I chat all the time. She told me about the baby."
"But how did you know she was Millie?" I asked.
"Don't be bloody silly, luvver!" Millie chastised me with a grin on her face. "Everyone knows who I am the moment they see me, don't they. Jesus, Mack, you've been around 'em too long."
"Oops, yeah, forgot for a minute," I replied, realising that there weren't likely to be another pair like Millie's within a hundred miles or so.
Millie stepped close to me and kissed me on the cheek. "Should have married the bugger when I had the chance," she said to Billie, as if I wasn't even there.
"I tried to throw a rope on dream boat more than once, but the bugger kept dodging it," Billie replied.
I suddenly realised why I'd got on with Millie so well. Except for the obvious differences, the Norfolk accent and that front suspension of Millie's, she could have been Billie's twin. No, that don't sound right. They don't look like each other at all really. Billie had an extremely slim and lithe figure; well, they both had really, but Millie had those knockers that would look big on someone twice her size. Billie and Millie, well, they just had the same personalities and sense of humour. They both cracked the same sort of ribald jokes and had the same habit of flirting with any handy bloke.
What's more, I was soon to discover that they got on together like a house on fire. You'd have thought Billie had dropped in to visit her long lost cousin Millie, instead of me! Most of that evening was spent with Laurence and Griff chatting with me at the bar, whilst the four girls (Michelle had joined them) held court at one of the corner tables in the room.
When Bev and George came down into the pub, Bev Joined the little clique in the corner and George came to help me behind the bar.
"Don't like that!" Laurence said suddenly during the evening.
"Don't like what?" Griff asked.
"When they go all quiet and turn round and look over here. I think they are talking about me!"
"Look, lad," George offered. "If they are talking about you, you ain't got much to worry about. The same goes for if they are talking to you. You pretend to be paying attention and watch the telly at the same time. When they ain't talking, that's when you got to worry about women!"
Billie and her little gang had only hired the boat for a week, so the following morning they set off up river and returned two days later for an evening on their way back down river to the hire yard. Millie dragged Philip in for Billie's inspection that time. A friendship was built between those two girls in those couple of visits that lasts to this day.
It was Millie who two months later persuaded me to go to Billie's wedding. I don't know what happened - I can only assume that Billie and Laurence must have got a little lax about taking precautions, either that or a condom burst. Billie explained to me that she was one of the few whose bodies refused to tolerate birth control pills.
Billie had invited Millie and Philip to her wedding as well as me of course. She'd also invited Michelle but we couldn't have too many of us away from the pub at that time of year.
I wasn't going to go when the invite first arrived, but Millie wasn't having any of "that nonsense" as she called it.
"Time to put your toys back in the pram, Mack!" Millie ranted, "Besides Phil and me would have to spend the whole damned day making excuses for you not being there!"
I drove Millie and Phil down to town in my old car; Phil wasn't one for driving very far, unless it was on a tractor. The wedding had been organised at short notice so the reception was in a hotel some miles from where the family lived and the three of us had booked into the same hotel as the reception was being held in. The excuse I'd used for not staying at my parents' place was that I wouldn't have to worry about drinking and driving.
So we checked into the hotel before we went to the church, where my family pounced upon us. Julia dragged Millie and Philip off to introduce them to everyone; but not before asking me where Michelle was. I couldn't understand how several people who asked about Michelle even knew that she existed.
After the service we all went back to the hotel for the banquet and then the reception afterwards. Considering the short notice I thought it was a bloody good do, but Laurence told me later at the bar that they'd struck lucky and the hotel had had a wedding cancellation. They'd literally taken over the booking.
Once the formal side of things were out of the way, the party started; friends and guests who hadn't been invited for the meal began to arrive. The guest list had apparently been a little restricted because the numbers who could be invited were limited by the original booking. It showed how much Millie and Billie had bonded together because, as almost strangers to the family, Millie and Phil had been invited to the formal stuff.
It fell to Julia again to warn me. I was sitting at the bar talking to another cousin of mine when Julia came up to join us. I'm not sure if it was pre-planned, or if Julia made some gesture to my cousin that I didn't see, but he vanished almost the moment Julia climbed on the stool beside me.
"I thought I'd better give you some advanced warning!" Julia said after ordering herself a drink. "Lynn's coming later with her fella." Then she turned to look at me. I got the feeling she was watching for my reaction to the news.
"So why should Lindsey being here with Conway worry me?" I replied.
"No, not with Conway, Mack. Lynn's been going out with some other guy."
'Strange.' I thought 'I wonder what went wrong between Lindsey and lover boy?' but I didn't voice the question to Julia.
However Julia must have decided that the point needed clearing up in my mind, even if I attempted to show no interest.
"Conway and his wife have reconciled, Mack, or at least they are trying to. They should be here later as well!"
"That's of no interest to me, Julia!"
"Oh, well I thought that you'd be interested in who organised their reconciliation at least."
"Stephanie, I should imagine; she's always into everyone's business. Or was it you, with your interfering hat on again?"
"No, it was Lynn. Apparently we all misunderstood what was going on between Conway and Lynn. We discovered that Conway's wife and Lynn have always been friends since she first moved up to town from Bath. Conway wasn't so much chasing after Lynn, as asking her to play go between. That's why he always liked to have Lynn around. He knew that she'd tell Maria that he was behaving himself and she was happy to leave the children under Lynn's watchful eye."
'No, I don't believe a word of it, Julia!' I was thinking to myself. Lindsey and Conway have really pulled the wool over everyone's eyes. This had to be more of their smoke screen. One thing that was bugging me, though, was this Lynn instead of Lindsey bit; it was really getting my goat. I'm not sure why I asked Julia.
"What's with this Lynn bit, Julia? When I was going with her she would go ape-shit when I wanted to call her Lynn?"
A slight exaggeration on my part there, but Lindsey would always make a point of correcting me.
Julia just stared at me for a few seconds. "Work it out for yourself, Mack. And while you are at it, think. Was there anything you used to go on at Lynn about?"
"I don't understand what you're on about, Julia."
"Well, what about her hair?"
"Yeah, didn't you tell her you preferred it long, when she had it cut short that time?"
"Probably. I just happen to think it looked better long."
"And didn't you tell her that you liked her in that red dress of hers?"
"Most likely. I thought the colour suited her."
"Well, dumb arse, Lynn is the lady in red nowadays. She hardly ever wears any other colour and her hair is almost down to her waist now. Does that mean anything to you at all?"
"No, should it?"
"Oh, god, give me strength," Julia said, then slid off of her stool and walked away.
I was just about to follow her to get her to explain what she had been talking about when Phil and Laurence arrived at the bar. Those two appeared to get on well, which was lucky considering the way Billie and Mille got on so well. Phil was explaining something about the sugar beet harvest and for some reason Laurence sounded enthralled.
After a couple of minutes of hearing about sugar beets, a regular subject of conversation amongst the locals back at the pub around September and November time, I wished that I had chased after Julia. So as subtly as I could, I slipped away to find someone else to talk to.
I'd no sooner stepped into the function room than four children surrounded me; actually there were a damn sight more than four, but you know the four that I'm referring to. I managed to ditch them after ensuring they all had replenished soft drinks.
Anyway the presence of Conway's two informed me that he had arrived. I don't think I went looking for Conway on purpose, but I might have done to see what his wife looked like. I found them along with Lindsey and some other young guy, sat at a table at the far end of the room. Pretending that I hadn't noticed them, I carried on out into the hotel's foyer and through into the bar that was open to residents.
I'd been safely hiding in the resident's bar for some time when Millie found me.
"What-ya doing in here, Luvver?" Millie asked dropping in the seat beside me.
"Hiding. What-ya think? Millie, I've spent most of the day replaying the story of the last two years of my life to relatives that I ain't going to see again for donkey's years. And one of the first thing most of them, asked is how is Lindsey? Now they are going to spot her in there and wonder what the fuck is going on."
"Well, you've only yourself to blame, maybe you should have visited home a few times, Mack!"
"Millie, let's not go there please; I just ain't in the mood!"
"Fine, I'll mind my own business, Mr Misery, but only if you dance with me. You haven't asked me to dance yet and that should get them wondering what's going on."
"Where's Phil? I thought he'd be dancing with you."
"Yeah, well, he did, but for the last hour him and Laurence have been chatting; I think they are cooking something up between them. Billie's getting a bit narked about them as well."
Millie and I did our thing on the dance floor for a while - well, until Billie spotted us; it was pretty obvious to me that she manoeuvred Griff over to where Millie and I were dancing. Then she ditched Griff, and grabbed hold of me for the next dance.
"You can have him for this one, Luvver. But if I can't find our husbands, I'm having 'im back for the next!" Millie said to Billie as we glided away from her.
"What's with Laurence and Phil?" I asked Billie at the first opportunity.
"Don't know. Some big secret they're cooking up, I think. I'm not sure if it's a surprise for Millie or me they are planning. When I asked them, they both got little boy grins on their faces."
"Well, providing it isn't a surprise for me, I don't mind," I replied. "You seem to have hit it off well with Millie."
"Yeah, she's great fun. I wish I'd met up with her years ago. She's like having a sister; we have the same sense of humour."
"Yeah, I noticed."
"And we have the same big brother."
'What the hell are you talking about now, Billie?' I thought, but I just said, "Pardon?"
"You, you great lump. Having you about was like having a brother," she said, grinning at me again.
I'm not sure what expression came on my face, but Billie must have read a lot more from it than I intended.
"Oh, shit, you didn't, did you? Christ, that was almost incest! --- Oh damn, now I'm jealous of my newest best friend. How come you never took me into your bed?"
"It's nothing of the kind, Billie. I'm no relation to Millie."
"You might not be but I told you she's like a sister to me now. And you bedded her. How many times?"
"Wilhelmena, can we please change the subject?" The use of Billie's given name, I was pretty sure, would bring her back under control.
"All right, providing you don't start calling me that all the time. Okay, what do you make of him?" Billie asked.
"Who?" I asked. I had no idea if she was talking about Laurence or Philip.
"Lynn's new fella," Billie said.
"Haven't seen him," I lied. "Are they here?"
"You're a piss poor liar, Mack, you always were. You know full well that Lynn is sitting over there with Conway and his wife. And I know you've checked out the guy she's with. I watched you when you went out earlier."
"I might have seen them, now that you mention it. But I really didn't take any notice."
"Okay, have it your way, but there's really no sense in lying to yourself, Mack. You know that neither of you will be able to move on until you've talked over this thing that came between you, don't you?"