"Greg! You didn't tell me it was black tie," she hissed.
"Black tie is a bourgeois construct, Minnie. I wouldn't wear it to my own funeral." Greg scanned the room and then waved to a tall blond girl in a tight red dress. "Lucy!" The girl turned, gave a smile of recognition, then started making her way through the crowd toward them. "Better late than never, hey," Greg said, reaching out to touch her arm. "This is Minnie. Someone was sick on her shirt on the way in."
"Hi," said Lucy. Her pillowy lips closed over perfect straight teeth into a sympathetic smile. "Sorry about the sick. It's ridiculous they make you wade through all the plebes to get up to the VIP suite."
Minnie shook her head, shrugging it off.
"Quite a party," she said, looking around at all the free-flowing booze. How much would a party like this cost?
"It's my boyfriend's birthday on the first. We thought we'd use it as an excuse to throw an excessive New Year's Eve bash," Lucy said with a flick of her hand. Then she turned to Minnie with a beaming smile. "Hey, didn't Greg say you were a first of January baby too, Minnie?"
"Oh, happy birthday," Greg said hurriedly. Lucy turned to look at him wide-eyed.
"Greg, you didn't even wish her a happy birthday yet? Dump him, Minnie!" Lucy laughed and nudged Greg in the ribs. Greg blushed and looked at his feet.
"I'm not big on birthdays." Minnie smiled weakly.
They stood in silence for a moment.
"So, um, Lucy is the food columnist at the paper," Greg said. "I'm queuing up for a jammy gig like that. I saw you were at La Petite Assiette Rouge last week. So bloody jealous, Luce."
"It has its downsides, darling. I'm getting fatter and fatter the amount of Michelin-star dinners I'm being forced to eat. I feel like a foie gras goose being stuffed to bursting," said Lucy.
Minnie glanced down at Lucy's svelte, gym-toned figure in the skintight look-how-thin-I-am dress.
"Oh, diddums, such a hardship," said Greg, nudging his elbow into hers. "Smart, beautiful girl force-fed fine food: Human rights campaigners on standby!"
Lucy threw her head back and gave a half-snorting, half-silent laugh, then she clutched Greg's arm, as though she might fall over.
"You must have an absolute hoot with this one, Minnie."
Minnie nodded, though she wondered if Greg's hilarious newspaper headlines might be starting to get annoying.
"Mins is in the food world too," said Greg, standing a little taller. "Runs her own catering business in the charity sector."
"That sounds interesting," said Lucy, looking over Minnie's shoulder and waving to someone behind her.
"I don't think making pies for the elderly counts as being in the 'food world,' but thanks for bigging me up, hun," Minnie said, rubbing Greg's back.
"Do you cater events? Maybe I've come across you?" asked Lucy, turning her attention back to Minnie.
"No, we just do savory pies for the elderly. The company's called No Hard Fillings, it's a bit like Meals on Wheels."
Lucy blinked her eyes a few times. "No hard feelings?" she said.
"No," said Minnie. "No Hard Fillings, as in pie fillings. It's, um, supposed to be funny."
"Oh, I see. Ha-ha," Lucy said, wrinkling her nose and giving another silent laugh. "Well, that must be very . . . fulfilling."
Greg let out a snorting cackle. "Good one, Luce." He tapped his elbow to Lucy's. "See, the thing is, Minnie's company would be a lot more successful if she didn't keep giving stuff away for free and employing a load of time bandits with zero work ethic."
"I don't, and that's not true," Minnie said, bowing her head.