Home > Surprise Me(15)

Surprise Me(15)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

‘I didn’t mean …’ Olivia’s hands are clenched harder than I’ve ever seen them. ‘Sylvie, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you.’

‘It’s fine, honestly—’

‘You’re a disgrace to quizzes!’ The voice of the flowery-shirted man makes us all jump. ‘You had that phone under the table all the time!’

‘We did not!’ the purple-polo-shirt man shouts back. ‘That’s fucking slander, that is!’

He pushes a table roughly towards the flowery-shirted man, and all the glasses jostle and chink together.

‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’ calls out Toby cheerfully.

‘Be quiet, Toby!’ snaps Tilda.

‘So!’ Dave is saying desperately into the microphone, over the hubbub. ‘Let’s carry on. And the next question was: Which Briton won an ice-skating gold at the—’

He breaks off as the flowery-shirted guy charges at the purple-polo-shirt team. One of them tackles him, as though they’re playing rugby, and the others start roaring encouragement. All around the pub, people start exclaiming and gasping. The Russian girl even shrieks as though someone’s stuck a knife into her.

‘People!’ Dave is imploring. ‘People, calm down! Please!’

Oh my God, they’re fighting. They’re actually punching each other. I’ve never even seen a pub brawl before.

‘Sylvie,’ says Dan in my ear. ‘Shall we go?’

‘Yes,’ I say at once. ‘Yes.’

As we’re walking home, Dan takes out my love poem. He reads it. He turns the page over as though expecting more. Then he reads it again. Then he puts it away. He looks touched. And a bit flummoxed. OK, maybe slightly more flummoxed than touched.

‘Dan, listen,’ I say in a rush. ‘I have this whole big explanation to give you.’

He looks at me questioningly. ‘Of your poem?’

‘Yes! Of course of my poem!’ What did he think I meant, of thermo-combustion?

‘You don’t need to explain it. I got it. It was nice,’ he adds after a moment’s thought. ‘Thank you.’

‘Not the poem itself,’ I say, a bit impatiently. ‘I mean, the concept of the poem. The fact of the poem. It’s all part of my new brilliant idea which will solve everything.’

‘Right.’ He nods; then he takes the poem out and looks at it again under the light of a street lamp, frowning slightly. ‘Is there supposed to be a second verse?’

‘No,’ I say defensively. ‘It’s pithy.’


‘And it’s only the beginning. Here’s my idea, Dan. We need to surprise each other. It can be, like, our joint thing. We can call it …’ I think for a moment. ‘“Project Surprise Me”.’

To my gratification, Dan looks surprised. Ha! It begins! I was hoping Dan would latch on to the idea straight away, but he’s looking a bit uncertain.

‘Right …’ he says. ‘Why?’

‘To pass the endless weary decades, of course! Imagine our marriage is an epic movie. Well, no one gets bored in a movie, do they? Why? Because there are surprises round every corner.’

‘I fell asleep in Avatar,’ he says promptly.

‘I mean an exciting movie,’ I explain. ‘And anyway, you only fell asleep in the middle bit. And you were tired.’

We’re at the front door by now, and Dan reaches for his key. Then, looking over my shoulder, his face changes to one of horror. ‘Oh God. Oh my God. What’s that? Sylvie, don’t look, it’s awful …’

‘What?’ I swing round, my heart tripping in fright. ‘What is it?’

‘Surprise!’ says Dan, and pushes open the door.

‘Not that kind of surprise!’ I say, furiously. ‘Not that kind!’

Honestly. He has completely missed the point. I meant nice surprises, not stupid wind-ups.

The sitter we used tonight is called Beth and we’ve never used her before. As we walk into the kitchen she smiles cheerily, but I can’t quite smile back. The whole place is littered with toys. It’s toy carnage.

I mean, we’re not the tidiest family in the world, but I do like to be able to see some floor space in my house.

‘Er … hi, Beth,’ I say faintly. ‘Was everything OK?’

‘Yeah, great!’ She’s already pulling on her jacket. ‘They’re sweet, your girls. They couldn’t sleep, so I let them have a little play. We had fun!’

‘Right,’ I manage. ‘So I … see.’

There’s Lego everywhere. Dollies’ clothes everywhere. Sylvanian Families’ furniture everywhere.

‘See you then,’ says Beth blithely, taking the money that Dan is proffering. ‘Thanks.’

‘Right. Er … see you …’

The words are barely out of my mouth before the front door has slammed behind her.

‘Wow,’ I say, looking around.

‘Let’s leave it,’ says Dan. ‘Get up early, get the girls to help …’

‘No.’ I shake my head. ‘Mornings are such a rush. I’d rather get at least some of it put away now.’

I sink to the ground and begin to gather a Sylvanian table and chairs. I set them up together, and add tiny cereal packets. After a moment, Dan sighs, and starts grabbing Lego bits, with the resigned air of a convict settling in for a day with the chain gang.

‘How many hours of our lives …’ he begins.


I put three teeny saucepans on a teeny cooker and pat them. I do rather love Sylvanian Families. Then I sit back on my heels.

‘I’m serious,’ I say. ‘We both arrange little surprises for each other. Keep our marriage sparky.’ I wait for him to put the Lego tub back in the cupboard. ‘What do you think? Are you up for it?’

‘Up for what exactly?’ He peers at me with his most scrubcious expression. ‘I still don’t know quite what I’m supposed to do.’

‘That’s the point! There isn’t any “supposed”. Just … use your imagination. Play around. Have fun.’ I head over to Dan, put my arms around his neck and smile up at him affectionately. ‘Surprise me.’


I’m actually quite excited.

Dan said he couldn’t launch straight into some programme of surprises for me, he needed time to think first. So we’ve had a week of preparation time. It’s been a bit like Christmas. I know he’s up to something, because he’s been on Google a lot. Meanwhile, I’ve been all over this project. All over it! I have a special notebook, labelled Project Surprise Me. He’s not going to know what’s hit him.

I’m gazing with satisfaction at my Surprise Me: Masterplan page, when Mrs Kendrick’s tread becomes audible on the stairs. I hastily shut my notebook, turn to the office computer and resume typing out captions for the Fabulous Fans brochure. We’ll print the brochure on creamy paper and then write all the labels out by hand in blue-black fountain pen. (Rollerballs are very much not a Mrs Kendrick thing.)

Nineteenth-century fan, hand-painted by Parisian artist (unattributed).

‘Good morning, Mrs Kendrick.’ I look up with a smile.

‘Good morning, Sylvie.’

Mrs Kendrick is wearing a pale-blue suit, her cameo brooch and her customary worried frown. Customary as of the evil nephew arriving, that is. Apparently he’s staying with her at the moment, which explains why she looks so downtrodden. I expect he lectures her about modern working practices over the toast every morning. She gives the room her usual anxious sweeping gaze, as though to say ‘something’s wrong here but I don’t know what’. Then she turns to me.

‘Sylvie,’ she says. ‘Have you heard of “Museum Selfie Day”?’ She utters the words with care, as though they’re a foreign language.

‘Yes,’ I say warily. ‘I have. Why?’

‘Oh, just that Robert mentioned it. He thinks we should participate.’

‘Well.’ I shrug. ‘We could. But I’m not sure the patrons would really go for it, do you? I think it’s for a certain demographic. I think, to be honest, taking selfies might put some of our patrons off.’

‘Ah.’ Mrs Kendrick nods. ‘Quite. Quite. Good point.’ Then she pauses, looking still more worried. ‘Sylvie, may I ask you …’ She lowers her voice to a whisper. ‘What is a “selfie”? I keep hearing this word, everywhere, but I’ve never quite … and I couldn’t ask Robert what it meant …’

Oh God. I bite my lip at the thought of poor old Mrs Kendrick having some long conversation about ‘Selfie Day’ with no idea what a selfie is.

‘It’s a photo,’ I say kindly. ‘Just a photo of yourself somewhere. You take it with your phone.’

I know this won’t mean much to Mrs Kendrick. In her world, a phone is something that lives on a side table and has a curly wire. She meanders out of the office, probably to go and look dolefully at the Tesco Value biscuits we now offer, and I type another caption.

Feathered fan.

As I type, I feel a bit conflicted. Obviously I still resent this Robert character for trampling into our world and freaking out his aunt. But on the more positive side, if he’s suggesting we do Museum Selfie Day, maybe he’s not going to turn us into condos? Maybe he actually wants to help?

Should we do Museum Selfie Day?

I try to imagine any of our regular patrons taking a selfie – and fail. I can see where Robert’s coming from, I really can, but hasn’t he picked up the vibe? Hasn’t he looked at our clientele?

Even so, I write Museum Selfie Day? on a Post-it and sigh. It’s the kind of forward-thinking idea I would have been really excited about when I first joined Willoughby House. I actually wrote a whole Digital Strategy document when I arrived, in my spare time. I dug it out last night, to see if there was anything useful in it. But when I read it through, all I could do was wince. It felt so old. It referred to websites that don’t even exist any more.

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