Home > Surprise Me(16)

Surprise Me(16)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

Mrs Kendrick, needless to say, responded to it at the time with a charming ‘I don’t think so, dear’. So we didn’t use any of my ideas. Willoughby House just went on its own sweet, quirky way. And we’re fine. We’re happy. Do we need to change? Isn’t there room for one place in the world that isn’t like everywhere else?

With another sigh, I consult the typed notes which one of Mrs Kendrick’s pet experts compiled for us – but he hasn’t added anything about this fan. Honestly. Is there nothing else to say about it? I’m not just putting Feathered fan. It sounds totally lame. The V & A wouldn’t just put Feathered fan, I’m sure of it.

I peer at the photo of the fan, which is large and rather flamboyant, then add probably used by a courtesan.

Which I expect is true. Then my phone buzzes and I see Tilda on the display.

‘Hiya!’ I fit my phone under my ear and carry on typing. ‘What’s up?’

‘I have a hypothetical for you,’ says Tilda without preamble. ‘Suppose Dan bought you a piece of clothing as a surprise and you didn’t like it?’

At once my mind zigzags like lightning. Dan’s bought me something! Tilda knows about it. How? Because he asked her advice, maybe. What’s wrong with it? What could be wrong with it?

What is it?

No. I don’t want to know. It’s supposed to be a surprise. I’m not going to ruin his surprise.

And anyway, I’m not the type of person to pick holes in a present, just because it’s not ‘perfect’, whatever that is. I’m not some kind of mean-spirited control freak. I love the idea that Dan has gone off to choose me something, and I’m sure it’s wonderful, whatever it is.

‘I’d appreciate it, whatever it was,’ I say, a little sanctimoniously. ‘I’d be really grateful he’d bought me something and value his effort and thought. Because that’s what presents are all about. It’s not the things themselves which matter, but the emotions behind those things.’

I finish typing my sentence with a flourish, feeling rather noble for being so unmaterialistic.

‘OK,’ says Tilda, not sounding convinced. ‘Fair enough. But suppose it was really expensive and really hideous?’

My fingers stop, midway through typing the word embroidered. ‘How expensive?’ I say, at length. ‘How hideous?’

‘Well, I don’t want to give anything away,’ says Tilda cautiously. ‘It’s supposed to be a surprise.’

‘Give a little bit away,’ I suggest, lowering my voice instinctively. ‘I won’t let on.’

‘OK.’ Tilda lowers her voice too. ‘Suppose it was cashmere, but a really odd colour?’

Again, my mind does lightning zigzags. Cashmere! Dan bought me cashmere! But oh God, what colour? Tilda is actually quite adventurous with colour, so if she thinks it’s bad …

‘How do you know what colour it is?’ I can’t help asking.

‘Dan asked me to take delivery, and the box was already a bit open, so I peeked inside the tissue paper and …’ She exhales. ‘I don’t know for sure … but I don’t think you’re going to like it.’

‘What colour is it?’

Tilda sighs again. ‘It’s this weird petrol blue. It’s horrible. Shall I send you the link?’


I wait anxiously for her email to arrive, click on the link and then blink in horror. ‘Oh my God.’

‘I know,’ comes Tilda’s voice. ‘Awful.’

‘How did they even create that colour?’

‘I don’t know!’

The jumper itself is quite nice, if a little dull in shape. But that blue. On the website, they’ve put it on this stunning Asian girl, and given her blue lipstick to match, and she can carry it off, just about. But me? With my pale skin and blonde hair? In that?

‘They talked Dan into it,’ asserts Tilda. ‘I’m sure they did. He told me they were “very helpful” on the phone. Like hell they were. They had a shedload of vile blue jumpers to sell, and along comes Dan like an innocent lamb, with his credit card and no idea …’

‘What am I going to do, Tilda?’ My voice jerks in slight panic. ‘What am I going to do?’

I’m not feeling quite as noble as I was. I mean, I know it’s the thought that counts and everything … but I really don’t want an expensive petrol-blue cashmere jumper in my wardrobe, reproaching me every time I don’t wear it. Or having to put it on every time we go out to dinner.

Or saying I love it, and then Dan buys me the matching scarf and gloves for Christmas and I have to say I love those too, and then he gets me a coat and says, ‘It’s “your colour”, darling …’

‘Exchange it?’ suggests Tilda.

‘Oh, but …’ I wince. ‘I can’t say, “Dan, darling, that’s amazing, it’s perfect, now I’m going to exchange it.”’

‘Shall I say something to Dan?’

‘Would you?’ I collapse in relief.

‘I’ll say I caught sight of it and I know the company and there’s something that would suit you much better. Just a friendly suggestion.’

‘Tilda, you’re a star.’

‘So what shall I suggest?’

‘Ooh! Dunno. I’ve never looked at this website before.’

I’m quite impressed, actually, that Dan headed there. It’s not discount cashmere, it’s posh, high-end Scottish cashmere.

I flick through a few of the pages and suddenly come across a cardigan called the Nancy. It’s stunning. Long-line and flattering, with a belt. It’ll look fantastic over jeans.

‘Hey, look at the Nancy cardigan,’ I say, in excitement.

‘OK, just clicking …’ There’s a pause, then Tilda exclaims, ‘Oh, that’s perfect! I’ll tell Dan to order you that instead. Not in vile blue. What colour do you like?’

I scroll down the colour options, feeling like a child in a sweetie shop. Choosing your own surprise present is fun.

‘Sea foam,’ I say at last.

‘Gorgeous. What size?’

‘Ah.’ I stare at the website uncertainly. ‘Maybe ten. Maybe twelve. What size is the jumper?’

‘It’s size ten,’ reports Tilda. ‘But it’s a bit small-looking. Tell you what, I’ll get Dan to order both and then I’ll look at them and judge. He can send the other one back. I mean, if you’re going to get it right, you might as well get it right.’

‘Tilda, thank you!’

‘Oh, it’s no trouble. It’s quite fun, secret packages arriving like this …’ She hesitates, then adds, ‘Very nice of Dan to order you a cashmere jumper out of the blue. Is it in honour of anything?’

‘Er …’ I’m not sure how to reply. I haven’t told anyone else about our little project. But maybe I’ll confide in Tilda. ‘Kind of,’ I say at last. ‘I’ll tell you when I see you.’

I’m not expecting to hear any more from Tilda that day, but two hours later, as I’m in the middle of typing out a newsletter, she rings again.

‘They’re here!’

‘What are here?’ I say, confused.

‘Your cardigans! Dan changed the order, they biked them over and took the jumper back. It’s a good delivery service, I must say.’

‘Wow. Well, what do you think?’

‘Gorgeous,’ says Tilda emphatically. ‘My only issue is, which size? I can’t tell. And so I was wondering, why don’t you pop over quickly and try them on?’

Try them on? I stare uncertainly at the phone. Choosing my own surprise present was one thing. But is trying it on going too far?

‘Shouldn’t I keep some of the mystery?’ I say.

‘Mystery?’ Tilda sounds scoffing. ‘There is no mystery! Try them on, choose the one that fits, job done. Otherwise, I’m bound to pick the wrong one and it’ll be a great big hassle.’

She sounds so matter-of-fact, I’m convinced.

‘OK.’ I glance at my watch. ‘It’s time for lunch, anyway. I’m on my way.’

As I arrive at Tilda’s house I can hear thumping noises coming from upstairs. Tilda opens the front door, scoops me in for a hug, then yells, ‘What are you doing?’ over her shoulder.

A moment later, Toby appears on the stairs. He’s in an old white T-shirt and black jeans and is holding a hammer.

‘Hello, Sylvie, how are you?’ he says politely. Then he turns to Tilda, before I have time to reply. ‘What do you mean, “What am I doing?” You know what I’m doing. We discussed it.’

I can see Tilda breathing in and out again, slowly.

‘I mean,’ she says, ‘why are you making so much noise?’

‘I’m putting up speakers,’ says Toby, as though it’s obvious.

‘But why is it taking so long?’

‘Mum, have you ever put up speakers?’ Toby sounds irritated. ‘No. So. This is how long it takes. This is what it sounds like. Bye, Sylvie, nice to see you,’ he adds, in his polite-Toby manner, and I can’t help smiling. He turns and marches back upstairs and Tilda glowers after him.

‘Don’t damage the wall!’ she calls. ‘That’s all I ask. Don’t damage the wall.’

‘I’m not going to damage the wall,’ Toby shouts back, as though highly offended. ‘Why would I damage the wall?’

There’s the sound of a door shutting, and Tilda clutches her head. ‘Oh God, Sylvie. He has no idea what he’s doing, he’s got some set of power tools from somewhere …’

‘Don’t worry,’ I say soothingly. ‘I’m sure it’ll be fine.’

‘Yes.’ Tilda seems unconvinced. ‘Yes, maybe. Anyway.’ She focuses on me as though for the first time. ‘Cardigans.’

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