Home > The Party Crasher(7)

The Party Crasher(7)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

   It was a big shock when I lost my job in events. (It wasn’t because I was crap. At least, even if it was, I wasn’t the only one, because they culled a whole department.) But I’m doing my best to stay positive. I apply for at least one new position every day, and the waitressing is keeping me going financially. And you never know when opportunity might strike. Maybe Salsa Verde will be my salvation, I think, glancing around. Maybe this will be my route back into events. Who knows what might happen?

   My thoughts come to a halt as I notice that the florist, a pleasant-looking gray-haired woman, seems beleaguered. She catches me watching her and immediately says, “Would you do me a favor? Pop this stand up to the hall?” She jerks her head at a huge arrangement of white roses on a metal stand. “I need to save my peonies, but this one’s cluttering up the place.”

       “Sure,” I say, and grab hold of the stand.

   “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” says Elliot, one of the chefs, as I lug it past him, and I grin back. He’s tall and tanned, with blue eyes and an athletic frame. We chatted a little bit earlier, while I surreptitiously checked out his biceps.

   “I know you like white roses,” I banter, with a flirty smile.

   Would it be too much to pluck a single bloom out of the arrangement and give it to him?

   Yes. Too much. Also: theft.

   “Hey, are you OK?” he says more quietly. “I saw you outside. You seemed kind of stressed.”

   His face is so open, so genuinely concerned-looking, that I can’t help confiding in him. Just a little.

   “Oh, I’m fine, thanks. I just heard they’re selling my family home. My parents split up eighteen months ago,” I explain, since he looks blank. “I mean, I’m over it. Obviously. But still.”

   “I get it.” He nods sympathetically. “It’s a shame.”

   “Yes.” I nod, grateful for his understanding. “Exactly! It is a shame. It’s like…why? Because it was totally out of the blue. Our family was happy. You know? People were like, Wow! Look at the Talbots! They’re so amazingly happy! What’s their secret? Until suddenly my parents are like, Oh, guess what, kids, we’re splitting up. It turns out that was their secret. And I still don’t…you know. Understand,” I finish, more quietly.

   “Wow. That’s…” Elliot seems flummoxed. “Although lucky they waited till you were grown up, right?”

       This is what people always say. And there’s no point disagreeing. There’s no point saying, But don’t you understand—now I look back at my childhood and wonder if the whole thing was fake?

   “You’re right!” Somehow I muster a cheerful smile. “Silver linings. So, are your parents still together?”

   “They are, as it happens.”

   “That’s nice.” I smile encouragingly. “That’s really nice. Heartwarming. I mean, it may not last,” I add, because it’s only fair to warn him.

   “Right.” Elliot hesitates. “I mean, they seem solid—”

   “They seem solid.” I point at him triumphantly, because he’s nailed it. “Exactly! They seem solid. Until suddenly, boom! They’re living separately and your dad has a new girlfriend called Krista. Anyway, if it happens, I’m here for you.” I squeeze his arm in a kind of advance sympathy.

   “Thanks,” says Elliot, in a slightly weird voice. “Appreciate it.”

   “No problem.” I smile at him again, as warmly as I can. “Better do these flowers.”

   As I manhandle the floral decoration up the stairs to the entrance hall, I feel a little glow inside. He’s nice! And I think he might be interested. Maybe I’ll ask him out for a drink. Just casually. But also making my intentions plain. What’s that phrase they use in personal ads again? For fun and more.

   Oh, hi, Elliot, just wondering, would you like to go to the pub, for fun and more?

   No. Argh. Definitely not.

   Anyway, as I return to the kitchen, I can tell this isn’t the right moment. It’s busier than ever and the stress levels seem to have gone up a notch in my absence. Damian’s having a row with the house manager, and Elliot is trying to interject comments while piping cream onto a chocolate dessert. I admire his courage. Damian is pretty scary, even when he’s in a good mood, let alone when he gets in a rage. (I’ve heard a story of a chef hiding himself in a fridge rather than face Damian, although that can’t be true.)

       “Hey, you!” barks another chef, who is standing over a huge saucepan of pea soup. “Stir this a moment.” He passes me his wooden spoon and heads over to join in the argument.

   I stare nervously down at the pale-green liquid. Soup is above my pay grade. I hope I don’t do it wrong. Although can you ruin soup? No. Of course you can’t.

   As I stir it round and round, my phone bleeps and I awkwardly pull it out of my pocket, still stirring with the other hand. It’s a text—and as I see the name Mimi, I can already hear her comforting Irish brogue. I open her text and read her message:

        Darling, I just heard about the house. It had to happen. I hope you’re OK. You have a tender heart, Ephelant, and I’m thinking of you. Found this photo today in a clear-out, remember this day?

    See you soon, my love

    Mimi xxx

 

   I click on the attached photo and am instantly overwhelmed by a cascade of memories. It’s my sixth birthday party—the day Mimi turned the whole house into a circus. She tented our huge vaulted sitting room and blew up a million balloons and even learned how to juggle.

       In the photo I’m wearing my ballet tutu, standing on the old rocking horse. My hair is in disheveled bunches and I look like the happiest six-year-old in the world. Meanwhile, Dad and Mimi are holding my hands on either side, smiling at each other. Two loving parents.

   Swallowing hard, I zoom in, studying my parents’ young, animated faces, moving from one to the other as if I’m a detective looking for clues. Mimi’s face is glowing as she beams at Dad. His smile is equally affectionate. And as I stare, my stomach feels like it’s in a vise. What went wrong? They were happy, they were—

   “Oy!” A voice interrupts my thoughts. A loud, irate voice. My head jerks up, and as I see Damian bearing down on me, my heart spasms.

   No. Nooo. Not good. I drop my phone with a clatter on the counter and quickly stir the soup with brisk intent. I’m hoping his “Oy!” might have been directed at someone else—but suddenly he’s two feet away, glowering straight at me.

   “You. Whatever your name is. What’s up with your face? You got a fever?”

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