Home > Surprise Me(5)

Surprise Me(5)
Author: Sophie Kinsella

‘Stop being so miserable!’ I exclaim. ‘It was good news, remember?’

‘Do you want to work till ninety-five?’ he shoots back.

‘Maybe.’ I shrug. ‘I love my job. You love your job.’

Dan scowls. ‘I don’t love it that much. My dad retired at fifty-seven, do you know that?’

His attitude is really starting to piss me off.

‘Stop being negative,’ I instruct him. ‘Think of the opportunities. We have decades and decades in front of us! We can do anything! It’s amazing! We just have to plan.’

‘What do you mean?’ Dan gives me a suspicious look.

‘OK, here are some of my ideas.’ I shuffle forward in the bed and fix my gaze on his, trying to inspire him. ‘We divide our life into decades. Each decade we do something different and cool. We achieve things. We push ourselves. Like maybe for one whole decade, we speak only Italian to each other.’

‘What?’

‘We speak only Italian to each other,’ I repeat, a bit defensively. ‘Why not?’

‘Because we don’t speak Italian,’ says Dan, as though I’m totally nuts.

‘We’d learn! It would be life-enhancing. It’d be …’ I gesture vaguely.

Dan just gives me a look. ‘What are your other ideas?’

‘We try new jobs.’

‘What new jobs?’

‘I don’t know! We find amazing, fulfilling jobs that stretch us. Or we live in different places, maybe. What about one decade in Europe, one decade in South America, one decade in the States …’ I count off on my fingers. ‘We could live everywhere!’

‘We could travel,’ Dan allows. ‘We should travel. I’ve always wanted to go to Ecuador. See the Galapagos Islands.’

‘There you go, then! We go to Ecuador.’

For a moment we’re both silent. I can see Dan digesting this thought.

His eyes start to gleam and he suddenly looks up. ‘Let’s do it. Fuck it, Sylvie, you’re right. This is a wake-up call. We need to live life. We’ll book flights to Ecuador, take the girls out of school, we’ll be there by Friday … Let’s do it.’

He looks so excited, I don’t want to dampen his enthusiasm. But wasn’t he listening? I was talking about the next decade. Or possibly the one after that. Some far-off, unspecified time. Not this week.

‘I definitely want to go to Ecuador,’ I say after a pause. ‘Absolutely. But it would cost a fortune—’

‘It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.’ Dan bats my objection aside. ‘We’d manage. I mean, Ecuador, Sylvie.’

‘Totally!’ I try to match his level of animation. ‘Ecuador!’ I leave a pause before I add, ‘The only thing is, Mrs Kendrick doesn’t like me taking unscheduled holidays.’

‘She’ll live with it.’

‘And it’s the girls’ school play. They can’t miss it, and they need to be at rehearsals …’

Dan makes a small, exasperated sound. ‘OK, next month.’

‘It’s your mother’s birthday,’ I point out. ‘And we’ve got the Richardsons for dinner, and the girls have got sports day …’

‘All right,’ says Dan, sounding as though it’s an effort to stay calm. ‘The month after that. Or in the summer holidays.’

‘We’re going to the Lake District,’ I remind him, and wince at his expression. ‘I mean, we could cancel but we’ve paid a deposit …’ I trail off.

‘Let me get this straight.’ Dan speaks evenly, but he sounds like he wants to explode. ‘I have endless years ahead of me, but I can’t fit in one spontaneous, life-enhancing trip to Ecuador?’

There’s silence. I don’t want to say what I’m thinking, which is: Obviously we can’t fit in a spontaneous, life-enhancing trip to Ecuador because, hello, we have lives.

‘We could go and eat at an Ecuadorian restaurant,’ I suggest brightly.

Although from the look Dan shoots me, maybe I should have just kept quiet.

At breakfast I pour out muesli for myself and Dan and add some extra sunflower seeds. We’re going to need good skin if we’re going to last another sixty-eight years.

Should I start getting Botox?

‘Another twenty-five thousand breakfasts,’ Dan suddenly says, staring into his bowl. ‘Just worked it out.’

Tessa looks up from her toast and regards him with bright eyes, always ready to find the joke. ‘If you eat twenty-five breakfasts your tummy will explode!’

‘Twenty-five thousand,’ corrects Anna.

‘I said twenty-five-a-thousand,’ Tessa instantly retorts.

‘Honestly, Dan, are you still thinking about that?’ I give him a pitying look. ‘You really have to get past it.’

Twenty-five thousand breakfasts. Shit. How am I going to keep that interesting? We could start having kedgeree, maybe. Or spend a decade eating Japanese food. Tofu. Things like that.

‘Why are you wrinkling your nose?’ Dan stares at me.

‘No reason!’ I hastily brush down my pink floral skirt. I wear a lot of floral skirts to my office, because it’s that kind of place. Not that there’s an official dress code, but if I’m wearing anything spriggy or rosy or just pretty really, my boss Mrs Kendrick will exclaim, ‘How lovely! Oh, how lovely, Sylvie!’

When your boss is the owner of the business and has absolute power and has been known to fire people on the grounds that they ‘didn’t quite fit in’, you want to hear her saying ‘How lovely!’ So in the six years I’ve worked there, my wardrobe has become more and more colourful and girly.

Mrs Kendrick likes lemon yellow, periwinkle blue, Liberty print, frills, pearl buttons and pretty bow-clips decorating your shoes. (I found a website.)

She really doesn’t like black, shiny fabrics, low-cut tops, T-shirts or platform shoes. (‘Rather orthopaedic, dear, don’t you think?’) And as I say, she’s the boss. She may be an unorthodox boss … but she’s the boss. She likes things done her way.

‘Ha.’ Dan gives a snort of laughter. He’s been opening the post and is looking at an invitation.

‘What?’

‘You’ll love this.’ He gives me a sardonic look and turns the card round so I can read it. It’s a reception for some new medical charity being launched by an old friend of my father’s called David Whittall, and it’s taking place at the Sky Garden.

I know about the Sky Garden. It’s thirty-five floors above ground and it’s all glass and views over London. And just the thought of it makes me want to clutch at my chair and anchor myself safely to the ground.

‘Sounds just up my street,’ I say with an eye-roll.

‘That’s what I thought.’ Dan grins wryly, because he knows, only too well.

I’m so scared of heights, it’s not funny. I can’t go out on high balconies. I can’t go in a transparent lift. If I watch TV programmes where people skydive or venture out on wires, I get all panicky, even though I’m sitting safely on the sofa.

I wasn’t always like this. I used to ski, cross high bridges, no problem. But then I had the children and I don’t know what happened to my brain, but I started feeling dizzy even if I went up a stepladder. I thought it would pass in a few months, but it didn’t. When the girls were about eighteen months, one of Dan’s colleagues bought a new flat with a roof terrace, and when we went to the house-warming, I couldn’t go near the ledge to look at the view. My legs just froze. When we got home, Dan said, ‘What’s happened to you?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know!’

And I realize it’s something I should have sorted out by now. (Hypnosis? CBT? Exposure therapy? I do look it up on Google occasionally.) But it hasn’t exactly been a priority recently. I’ve had other, more pressing concerns to deal with. Like, for example …

Well. OK. So, a key fact about me: when my father died, two years ago, it was a bit of a thing. I ‘didn’t cope well’. That’s what people said. I heard them. They’d whisper it in the corner: ‘Sylvie’s not coping well.’ (My mum, Dan, that doctor character they brought in.) Which started to annoy me, actually. It begged the question: What’s ‘coping well’? How does anyone ‘cope well’ when their father, their hero, just suddenly dies in a car crash with no warning? I think people who ‘cope well’ are either deluding themselves or they didn’t have a father like mine, or perhaps they just don’t have feelings.

Maybe I didn’t want to cope well. Did they think of that?

Anyway, things went a bit haywire. I had to have some time off work. I did a couple of … stupid things. The doctor tried to put me on pills. (No, thanks.) And in the scheme of things, a fear of heights didn’t seem like such a major inconvenience.

I’m fine now, absolutely fine. Apart from the heights issue, obviously, which I will deal with, when I have time.

‘You should really go and see someone about your phobia,’ Dan says, reading my thoughts in that spooky way he has. ‘PS?’ he adds, when I don’t answer at once. ‘Did you hear me?’

‘PS’ is Dan’s occasional nickname for me. It stands for ‘Princess Sylvie’.

Dan’s whole riff is that when we met, I was the princess and he was the poor working guy. He called me ‘Princess Sylvie’ in his wedding speech and my father chimed in, ‘I guess that makes me the King!’ and everyone cheered, and Dan did a charming mock-bow to Daddy. The truth is, Daddy looked like a king, he was so distinguished and handsome. I can remember him now, his golden-grey hair burnished under the lights, his morning coat immaculate. Daddy was altogether the best-dressed man I’ve ever known. Then Daddy said to Dan, ‘Carry on, Prince Daniel!’ and twinkled in that charming way he had. And later on, the best man made a joke about this being a ‘royal wedding’. It was all really funny.

   
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