Lydia was woken by a ringing bell. This wasn't unusual - her mother had a bell secured to the wall in the hall downstairs. It was a present from her exhusband, and she rang it every morning - indeed, any time she had the chance.
There was groan from across the hall. Lydia heard her father getting up and groaned. Her mother didn't like any causal disregard for punctuality. When the bell rang, you'd better hurry downstairs unless you wanted to be the last person downstairs in the morning. Unless you wanted the cold shoulder for the rest of the morning. It was the unspoken rule, and it had brought out the worst in Lydia and her father.
Lydia was tugging on a pair of jeans as her father bounded down the stairs. She silently cursed before pulling a pullover on and leaving the room.
She saw her mother warmly greeting her father in the hallway. As usual, she had been up since early morning, tidying and making the place smell nice. She wore a freshly ironed dress and a glittering gold necklace.
'Thank you for joining me Derek,' she beamed, kissing her husband on the cheek. 'I was wrong about you. Obviously you CAN get up in the mornings. I'm very proud.'
'Thank you, dear,' Lydia's father said, glancing at her. Her mother also looked up, and her expression turned frosty.
'So, you've decided to grace us with your presence at last,' she said. 'How did you sleep?'
'Not very well.'
'Well it shows. Go upstairs and don't come down until you're fit to be seen, please.'
Lydia sighed. Her dad had won again. This early morning business had turned into a competition; a means of currying her mother's favour. And he nearly always won.
Grumbling, Lydia climbed the stairs again and entered the bathroom. She glanced in the mirror. It was true, she wasn't very well turned out. She ran her fingers through the mop of hair, stuck out a big pink tongue, and examined a spot emerging on her forehead.
It took a few minutes to sort herself out, but she eventually sloped downstairs, looking, as her mother said, almost fit to be seen.
She found her parents sitting at the breakfast table, enjoying bowls of crisp golden cornflakes and cups of tea. Lydia was craving toast, but there was no bread.
'Mum, can I go and get some bread please?'
Her mother looked at her from under a perfectly groomed head of hair. Her hair was long and black, like Lydia's, but now it was twisted into an ostentatious topknot.
'Er, to make into toast, you know, to eat?'
'But we have cornflakes here, Lyddy. Why don't you sit with us for a change?' she said, with the faintest hint of menace.
Lydia sighed. Foget it. There was no way she could stand breakfats with her parents; not this morning. She couldn't bear the thought of listening to her mother talk about this ghastly party they were going to, or hear her father chat about the weather.
'I'm not very hungry actually,' she said. 'Is there anything you want me to do?'
'Yes,' she said, taking a sip of tea. 'You can go to the shop and get some drinks for tonight. Do you think the Smiths would prefer white Shloer or red?' Her mother didn't hold with alcohol.
'I don't know, Mum.'
'They do like people to bring drinks - can't stand gifts like flowers or a book; I'm the same, I mean a book doesn't do much for the party atmosphere, does it!' She laughed a high pitched laugh. 'But people can't help their ignorance I suppose. So, white or red?'
'Red,' Lydia said.
'Are you sure, Lyddy? I mean the Smiths are the rather more refined types. I think white would be better; it's rather more sophisticated somehow.'
'Sure,' Lydia sighed, walking forwards, and held out her hand for the money.
Lydia's mother smiled and planted a five pound note in her palm, with a little flourish. 'Now don't waste any of this on sweets!' she said with that crocodile smile of hers.
Lydia nodded unsmiling, and let the front door slam behind her. She stormed off towards the shop, growling to herself. She hated her mother. She hated the banality of life. And she HATED being called Lyddy.