Home > The Party Crasher(5)

The Party Crasher(5)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

   Happy Birthday, Tony Talbot! appears on the screen as a final frame, and we all applaud exuberantly.

   “Really! Children!” Dad seems overcome as he smiles around the kitchen. He has a sentimental streak, Dad, and I can see his eyes are damp. “I don’t know what to say. That’s an incredible present. Bean, Gus, Effie…Thank you.”

   “It’s not from me,” I say hastily. “That was Bean and Gus. I made you…this.”

   Feeling suddenly shy, I present Dad with my present, wrapped in Bean’s paper. I hold my breath as he unwraps the large, flat book and reads out the title.

   “A Boy from Layton-on-Sea.” He looks at me questioningly, then starts leafing through the pages. “Oh…my goodness.”

   It’s a kind of scrapbook I’ve put together of Layton-on-Sea in the era of my dad’s childhood, sourcing old photos, postcards, maps, and newspaper cuttings. It became totally engrossing as I was making it—in fact, I could probably do a thesis on Layton-on-Sea now.

   “The arcade!” Dad’s exclaiming, as he flips over the pages. “The Rose and Crown! St. Christopher’s School…that takes me back….” At last he looks up, his face suffused with emotions. “Effie, my love, this is wonderful. I’m so touched.”

       “It’s not artistic or anything,” I say, suddenly aware that I just stuck all the clippings in and Bean would probably have done something super-creative with them. But Mimi at once puts a hand on my arm.

   “Don’t put yourself down, Effie, darling. It is artistic. This is a work of art. Of history. Of love.”

   Her eyes are glistening, too, I notice with surprise. I’m used to Dad’s sentimentality, but Mimi’s not really a weeper. Today, though, there’s definitely a softening around her edges. I watch as she picks up her mulled wine with a trembling hand and glances at Dad, who shoots a meaningful look back.

   OK, this is weird. Something’s up. I’m only just noticing the signs. But what?

   Then, all at once, it hits me. They’re planning something. Now it all makes sense. Dad and Mimi have always been the kind of parents who have private chats and then make fully fledged announcements, rather than floating suggestions first. They’ve got a plan and they’re going to tell us and they’re both kind of emotional about it. Ooh, what is it? They’re not going to adopt a child, are they? I think wildly. No. Surely not. But, then, what? I watch as Dad closes the book and glances yet again at Mimi, then addresses us.

   “So. All of you. We’ve actually…” He clears his throat. “We’ve got a bit of news.”

   I knew it!

   I take a sip of mulled wine and wait expectantly, while Gus closes down his phone and looks up. There’s a long, weird beat of silence, and I glance uncertainly at Mimi. Her clasped hands are so tense her knuckles are showing white, and for the first time I feel a slight sense of unease. What’s up?

       A nanosecond later, the most obvious, terrifying answer comes to me.

   “Are you OK?” I blurt out in panic, already seeing waiting rooms and drips and kindly doctors with bad news on their faces.

   “Yes!” says Dad at once. “Darling, please don’t worry, we’re both fine. We’re both in great health. It’s not…that.”

   Confused, I peer at my siblings, who are both motionless, Bean looking anxious, Gus frowning down at his knees.

   “However.” Dad exhales hard. “We need to tell you that…we’ve come to a decision.”

 

 

   18 months later

   I’ve had an out-of-body experience precisely three times in my life.

   The first was when my parents told us they were divorcing, boom, out of the blue, for no good reason, as far as I can make out.

   The second was when Dad announced he had a new girlfriend called Krista, who was an exercise-wear sales executive he’d met in a bar.

   The third is happening right now.

   “Did you hear me?” Bean’s anxious voice is in my ear. “Effie? They’ve sold Greenoaks.”

   “Yes,” I say, my voice weirdly croaky. “I heard you.”

   I feel as though I’m floating high up, looking down on myself. There I am, leaning against the front wall of 4 Great Grosvenor Place, Mayfair, in my waitress uniform, my head twisted away from the bright sunlight, my eyes closed.

   Sold. Sold. Greenoaks. Gone to strangers.

       It’s been on the market for a year. I’d almost come to believe it would always be on the market. Safely tucked away on the Rightmove listings. Not gone.

   “Effie? Ephelant? Are you OK?”

   Bean’s voice penetrates my thoughts and I snap back to reality. I’m in my own body again. Standing on the pavement, where I really shouldn’t be. Salsa Verde Catering does not encourage the waiting staff to take phone breaks. Or loo breaks. Or any kind of breaks.

   “Yes. Of course! Of course I’m OK.” I straighten my back and breathe out sharply. “I mean, God. It’s a house. It’s no big deal.”

   “Well, it kind of is. We grew up there. It would be understandable to feel upset.”

   Upset? Who said I’m upset?

   “Bean, I don’t have time for this,” I say briskly. “I’m on a job. The house is sold. Whatever. They can do what they like. I’m sure Krista’s already picked out her luxury villa in Portugal. I expect it’s got a built-in jewelry cabinet for all her bracelet charms. Sorry, what does she call them again? Her trinkies.”

   I can feel Bean’s silent wince through the ether. She and I have different views on many topics, from balconette bras to custard—but most of all on the topic of Krista. The thing with Bean is, she’s so nice. She should have been a diplomat. She looks for the good in Krista. Whereas I just look at Krista.

   My mind automatically conjures up a vision of Dad’s girlfriend: blond hair, white teeth, fake tan, annoying dachshund. The first time I met her, I was astounded. She was so young. So…different. I’d already felt fairly gobsmacked when I heard that Dad had a girlfriend in the first place. And then we met her.

       I tried to like her. Or at least be polite. I really, really did. But it’s impossible. So I kind of…went the other way.

   “Did you see them on Instagram today?” I can’t help twisting the knife, and Bean sighs.

   “I’ve told you before, I don’t look.”

   “Oh, you should!” I say. “It’s a really fab photo of Dad and Krista in a bubble bath together, holding champagne glasses, hashtag sexinyoursixties. Isn’t that nice? Because I was wondering if Dad was having sex, obviously, and now I know. So that’s good. To have that confirmed. Although isn’t Krista in her forties? Shouldn’t she be represented? Oh, and he’s definitely been at the fake tan again.”

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