Home > Surprise Me(2)

Surprise Me(2)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

‘Wow!’ I exclaim as I unwrap it. ‘Thanks! And I got you a little something, too …’

He’s already smiling knowingly as he feels the heft of the package. Dan collects paperweights, so whenever he has a birthday or a special thing, I get him one. (As well as a jar of pesto, obviously.) It’s safe. No, not safe, that sounds boring and we’re definitely not boring. It’s just … Well. I know he’ll like it and why waste money on taking a chance?

‘Do you love it?’

‘I love it.’ He leans over to kiss me, and whispers, ‘I love you.’

‘Love that Dan,’ I whisper back.

By 3.45 p.m. we’re sitting in a doctor’s surgery, feeling pretty marvellous about everything, in the way you only can when you’ve got the afternoon off work, your children are at a play date after school, and you’re stuffed with amazing food.

We’ve never met Dr Bamford before – the insurance company chose him – and he’s quite a character. He brings us both into the room together, for a start, which seems unconventional. He does our blood pressure, asks us a bunch of questions and looks at the results of the fitness tests we did earlier. Then, as he writes on our forms, he reads aloud in a rather theatrical voice.

‘Mrs Winter, a charming lady of thirty-two, is a non-smoker with healthy eating habits …’

Dan shoots me a comical look at ‘healthy eating habits’ and I pretend not to notice. Today’s our anniversary – it’s different. And I had to have that double chocolate mousse. I notice my reflection in a glass cupboard door and immediately sit up straighter, pulling in my stomach.

I’m blonde, with long, wavy hair. I mean really long. Waist-length. Rapunzel style. It’s been long ever since I was a child, and I can’t bear to cut it. It’s kind of my defining feature, my long blonde hair. It’s my thing. And my father adored it. So.

Our twin girls are also blonde, and I make the most of it by putting them in adorable Scandi stripy tops and pinafores. At least I did until this year, when they both decided they love football more than anything, and want to live in their lurid blue nylon Chelsea shirts. I’m not blaming Dan. Much.

‘Mr Winter, a powerful man of thirty-two …’ Dr Bamford begins on Dan’s medical form and I stifle a snort. ‘Powerful’. Dan will love that.

I mean, he works out; we both do. But you wouldn’t call him massive. He’s just … he’s right. For Dan. Just right.

‘… and there we are. Well done!’ Dr Bamford finishes writing and looks up with a toothy grin. He wears a toupee, which I noticed as soon as we walked in, but have been very careful not to look at. My job involves raising funds for Willoughby House, a very tiny, niche museum in central London. I often deal with wealthy older patrons, and I come across a lot of toupees: some good, some bad.

No, I take it back. They’re all bad.

‘What a delightful, healthy couple.’ Dr Bamford sounds approving, as though he’s giving us a good school report. ‘How long have you been married?’

‘Seven years,’ I tell him. ‘And we dated for three before that. Actually, it’s ten years exactly since we met!’ I clutch Dan’s hand with a sudden swell of love. ‘Ten years today!’

‘Ten years together,’ affirms Dan.

‘Congratulations! And that’s quite a family tree the pair of you have.’ Dr Bamford is looking at our paperwork. ‘All grandparents still alive, or else died at a very good age.’

‘That’s right.’ Dan nods. ‘Mine are all still alive and kicking and Sylvie’s still got one pair going strong, in the south of France.’

‘They’re pickled in Pernod,’ I say, smiling at Dan.

‘But only three remaining parents?’

‘My father died in a car crash,’ I explain.

‘Ah.’ Dr Bamford’s eyes dim in sympathy. ‘But otherwise he was healthy?’

‘Oh, yes. Very. Extremely. He was super-healthy. He was amazing. He was …’

I can’t help it, I’m already reaching for my phone. My father was so handsome. Dr Bamford needs to see, to realize. When I meet people who never knew my father I feel a weird kind of rage almost, that they never saw him, never felt that firm, inspiring handshake, that they don’t understand what has been lost.

He looked like Robert Redford, people used to say. He had that glow. That charisma. He was a golden man, even as he aged, and now he’s been taken from us. And even though it’s been two years, I still wake up some days and just for a few seconds I’ve forgotten, until it hits me in the guts again.

Dr Bamford studies the photo of my father and me. It’s from my childhood – I found the print after he died and I scanned it into my phone. My mother must have taken it. Daddy and I are sitting outside on the terrace of my old family home, underneath the magnolia. We’re laughing at some joke I don’t remember and the dappled summer sun is burnishing both our fair heads.

I watch Dr Bamford carefully for his reaction, wanting him to exclaim, ‘What a terrible loss to the world, how did you bear it?’

But of course he doesn’t. The longer you’ve been bereaved, I’ve noticed, the more muted the reaction you’ll get from the average stranger. Dr Bamford just nods. Then he hands the phone back and says, ‘Very nice. Well, you clearly take after your healthy relatives. Barring accidents, I predict nice long lives for both of you.’

‘Excellent!’ says Dan. ‘That’s what we want to hear!’

‘Oh, we’re all living far longer these days.’ Dr Bamford beams kindly at us. ‘That’s my field of interest, you know, longevity. Life expectancy is going up every year. But the world really hasn’t cottoned on to the fact. The government … industry … pension companies … none of them has properly caught up.’ He laughs gently. ‘How long, for example, do you expect to live, the pair of you?’

‘Oh.’ Dan hesitates. ‘Well … I don’t know. Eighty? Eighty-five?’

‘I’d say ninety,’ I chime in boldly. My granny died when she was ninety, so surely I’ll live as long as her?

‘Oh, you’ll live beyond a hundred,’ says Dr Bamford, sounding assured. ‘A hundred and two, maybe. You …’ He eyes Dan. ‘Maybe shorter. Maybe a hundred.’

‘Life expectancy hasn’t gone up that much,’ says Dan sceptically.

‘Average life expectancy, no,’ agrees Dr Bamford. ‘But you two are way above average in health terms. You look after yourselves, you have good genes … I fully believe that you will both hit one hundred. At least.’

He smiles benevolently as though he’s Father Christmas giving us a present.

‘Wow!’

I try to imagine myself aged 102. I never thought I’d live that long. I never thought about life expectancy, full stop. I’ve just been going with the flow.

‘That’s something!’ Dan’s face has brightened. ‘A hundred years old!’

‘I’ll be a hundred and two,’ I counter with a laugh. ‘Get me with my super-long life!’

‘How long did you say you’ve been married?’ says Dr Bamford. ‘Seven years?’

‘That’s right.’ I beam at him. ‘Together for ten.’

‘Well, just think what good news this is.’ Dr Bamford twinkles in delight. ‘You should have another sixty-eight more wonderful years of marriage!’

Wh—

What?

My smile kind of freezes. The air seems to have gone blurry. I’m not sure I can breathe properly.

Sixty-eight?

Did he just say …

Sixty-eight more years of marriage? To Dan?

I mean, I love Dan and everything, but …

Sixty-eight more years?

‘I hope you’ve got plenty of crossword puzzles to keep you going!’ The doctor chortles merrily. ‘You might want to save up some of your conversations. Although there’s always the TV!’ Clearly he thinks this is hilarious. ‘There are always box sets!’

I smile weakly back and glance at Dan to see if he’s appreciating the joke. But he seems in a trance. He’s dropped his empty plastic water glass on the floor without even noticing. His face is ashen.

‘Dan.’ I nudge his foot. ‘Dan!’

‘Right!’ He comes to, and gives me a rictus smile.

‘Isn’t that great news?’ I manage. ‘Sixty-eight more years together! That’s just … I mean … Lucky us!’

‘Absolutely,’ says Dan in a strangled, desperate voice. ‘Sixty-eight years. Lucky … us.’

TWO

It’s good news, obviously. It’s great news. We’re super-healthy, we’re going to live long … we should be celebrating!

But sixty-eight more years of marriage? Seriously? I mean …

Seriously?

On the car journey home, we’re both quiet. I keep sending little glances to Dan when he’s not looking, and I can feel him doing the same to me.

‘So, that was nice to hear, wasn’t it?’ I begin at last. ‘About living till a hundred, and being married for …’ I can’t say the number out loud, I just can’t. ‘For a while longer,’ I end tamely.

‘Oh,’ replies Dan, without moving his head. ‘Yes. Excellent.’

‘Is that … what you imagined?’ I venture. ‘The marriage bit, I mean? The … uh … the length?’

There’s a huge pause. Dan is frowning ahead in that silent way he gets when his brain is dealing with some huge, knotty problem.

‘I mean, it’s kind of long,’ he says at last. ‘Don’t you think?’

‘It’s long.’ I nod. ‘It’s pretty long.’

There’s a bit more silence as Dan negotiates a junction and I offer him gum, because I’m always the gum-giver in the car.

   
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