Between the PMS and the HRT, that room is so thick with hormones, it could make a man sterile. I guess I should be grateful that my ageing face has been left to my own devices. "She's lived with it for 28 years, Margaret, she knows what suits it best." Aunt Ruth had barked at my mother, before they all closed in on Jill like a pack.

Ah yes, sister darling, sister dear; mirror, mirror on the wall... or was that a stepmother? I forget. Who cares? Bitch. Who would have thought such a sunny disposition would eternally rain on my parade?

And what a lovely bright, sunny day, too. I bet if I ever do get married - and statistically speaking that's not likely to happen now that Jill's snared my leading man's cousin. But if I did manage to do it, and chose the middle of the Sahara in the middle of winter, there'd probably be a thunderous downpour that not only ruined the day, but also linger far longer in the guests' minds.

I'm sure that it was the 18th Century when last the bride, groom, maid of honour and best man were so horribly interconnected. Or since the maid of honour and best man have been so widely speculated about. Picture it: brothers-in-law and cousins; sisters and cousins, even. Uug. It's making me queasy just thinking about it. And I don't think it would go down well if I did hurl all over this bridesmaid's dress. Such as it is.

I do wish Aunty Mabel would get here. It's only in her company that I'll bet any respite from all the "Now, now, Katherine, don't be glum. Tony will make an honest woman of you one day." Not to mention the hushed tones of: "Have you thought about getting pregnant - by accident of course?"

Without spending too much time on the irony of suggesting pure deceit to make me honest, I must say that I am quite convinced that I couldn't be more honest. Living in sin in this small town for over 6 years! That's one little record Jill let me keep all to myself. For the first year or so I kept looking over my shoulder for someone with a great big Scarlet A.

Now about this pregnant thing. Have I thought about it? Only since I was eight. It took me a while to get over the shock of where babies really come from. And yes, I've been seriously contemplating it now that the end of my fertile years is rapidly approaching. But frankly, Mother, Nana, Aunts Ruth and Sue, one has to have sex, as you so rightly pointed out to six-year-old me, in order procreate. There hasn't been too much of that happening around my watering hole lately.

In fact, it's been in steady decline since doey-eyed me realised that Tony asked me to move in with him for convenience's sake, not as a try before you buy scheme. Yip, sex seems to have lost its lustre for Tony, now that it's neither stolen in my childhood bedroom nor done in brazen defiance of the town's sixteenth century ideals. Or maybe Tony's just in cohorts with Jill (since in a few hours they'll be family) and he read somewhere that I was approaching my sexual prime.

Oh fuck! Here comes Aunty Ruth. Good thing I'm finished.

"Aw Katherine! Less is more!" followed, in what she thought was a whisper, by "Did you realise that you can't polyfiller in the wrinkles?"

Well, no, actually. I just figured Jill had enough on for the whole congregation and someone ought to consider the lab animals. If only I had Aunty Mabel's courage - or brazen disregard, more likely. She'd have said it for sure, instead of offering that reticent smile. No wonder they think I'm stupid.

"What's the point of doing herself up, Ruth?" Every face in the room, besides my own, cringed as they recognised the voice. "It's not as if anybody's going to take any photo's of her except me." Everyone spun around, the matriarchs glaring at the source of their offence. "Besides, she's beautiful and radiant the way the Good Lord made her. Not that that dog-turd of a boyfriend-come-cousin-in-law notices anymore."

"Aunty Mabel!" I cried, leaping to my feet and beaming like a Cheshire Cat, before adding, mid hug, for her ears only, "I'd have died if you'd come a minute later." I was so relieved to see her I completely missed her attack on Tony.

"Now settle, Petal. Wait until you see the wedding present I've brought you." Mabel replied.

"Mabel," interjected Sue tiresomely, "It's Jill who's getting married today. Isn't the gift for her?" Ruth stifled a giggle as she and Sue exchanged knowing glances.

My silent gaze shifted from aunt to aunt, and Mabel responded: "No, Susan. Jill's fondue set is on the table right next to the cheap one you bought her. I'm talking about the present I brought the best lady. But enough about that. I'd better be off. I wouldn't want to upstage the bride by arriving late. Sweet Jesus knows I've had my fair share of being last into the church."

With a "Petal, we'll talk at the reception", Aunty Mabel whirled out of the room.

That silver lining was beginning to show. Now if someone could just get all the oestrogen out of the house, the sun might break through for a spell or two.

Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5