Home > Surprise Me

Surprise Me
Author: Sophie Kinsella


PROLOGUE


I have this secret little vocabulary for my husband. Words I’ve invented, just to describe him. I’ve never even told him about them: they just pop into my head, now and then. Like …

Scrubcious: the adorable way he scrunches up his face when he’s confused, his eyebrows akimbo, his gaze imploring, as if to say: ‘Explain!’ Dan doesn’t like to be confused. He likes everything straight. Clear. Out in the open.

Tentery: that taut, defensive way he behaves whenever the subject of my father comes up in conversation. (He thinks I don’t notice.)

Shoffed: when life has turned round and punched him in the face so hard, his breath is literally taken away for a moment.

Actually, that’s more of an all-purpose word. It can apply to anyone. It can apply to me. Right now, it does apply to me. Because guess what? I’m shoffed. My lungs have frozen. My cheeks are tingling. I feel like an actor in a daytime soap, and here’s why: 1. I’m prowling around Dan’s office, when 2. he’s out at work, oblivious to what I’m doing, and 3. I’ve opened a secret locked drawer in his desk, and 4. I can’t believe what I’ve found; what I’m holding; what I’m seeing.

My shoulders are rising and falling as I stare at it. My brain is shouting panicky messages at me, like: What? And: Does that mean …? And: Please. No. This is wrong. This has to be wrong.

And, almost worst of all: Was Tilda right, all along? Did I bring this on myself?

I can feel rising tears, mixed with rising incredulity. And rising dread. I’m not sure yet which is winning. Actually, yes I am. Incredulity is winning and it’s joining forces with anger. ‘Really?’ I feel like shouting. ‘Really, Dan?’

But I don’t. I just take some photos with my phone, because … just because. Might come in useful. Then I put what I found back, shut the drawer, lock it carefully, check it again (I’m slightly OCD over locked doors, turned-off washing machines, that kind of thing; I mean, not a big deal, I’m not crazy, just a bit … you know) and back away, as though from the crime scene.

I thought I knew everything about my husband and he knew everything about me. I’ve seen him cry at Up. I’ve heard him shout, ‘I will vanquish you!’ in his sleep. He’s seen me wash out my knickers on holiday (because hotel laundry costs are ridiculous) and he’s even hung them up for me on the towel rail.

We’ve always been that couple. Blended. Intertwined. We read each other’s thoughts. We finished each other’s sentences. I thought we couldn’t surprise each other any more.

Well, that shows how much I knew.

 

 

ONE


FIVE WEEKS EARLIER


It begins on our tenth anniversary. Who would have thought?

Actually, there are two things going on here: 1. Who would have thought it would all kick off on such an auspicious day? And 2. Who would have thought we’d make ten years in the first place?

By ten years, I don’t mean ten years since our wedding. I mean ten years since we first met. It was at my mate Alison’s birthday party. That was the day our lives changed forever. Dan was manning the barbecue and I asked him for a burger and … bam.

Well, not bam as in instant love. Bam as in I thought, Mmm. Look at those eyes. Look at those arms. He’s nice. He was wearing a blue T-shirt which brought out his eyes. He had a chef’s apron round his waist, and he was flipping burgers really efficiently. Like he knew what he was doing. Like he was king of the burgers.

The funny thing is, I’d never have thought ‘ability to flip burgers’ would have been on the list of attributes I was looking for in a man. But there you go.

Watching him work that barbecue, cheerfully smiling all the while … I was impressed.

So I went to ask Alison who he was (‘old uni friend, works in property, really nice guy’) and made flirty conversation with him. And when that didn’t yield any results, I got Alison to invite us both to supper. And when that didn’t work, I bumped into him in the City ‘by accident’, twice, including once in a very low-cut top (almost hooker-like, but I was getting a bit desperate). And then finally, finally he noticed me and asked me out and it was love at, you know, about fifth sight.

In his defence (he says now) he was getting over another relationship, and wasn’t really ‘out there’.

Also: we have slightly edited this story when we tell other people. Like, the low-cut hooker top. No one needs to know about that.

Anyway. Rewind to the point: our eyes met over the barbecue and that was the beginning. One of those kismet moments that influence your life forever. A moment to cherish. A moment to mark, a decade later, with lunch at the Bar.

We like the Bar. It has great food and we love the vibe. Dan and I like a lot of the same things, actually – films, stand-up comedy, walks – although we have healthy differences too. You’ll never see me getting on a bike for exercise, for example. And you’ll never see Dan doing Christmas shopping. He has no interest in presents, and his birthday becomes an actual tussle. (Me: ‘You must want something. Think.’ Dan (hunted): ‘Get me … er … I think we’re out of pesto. Get me a jar of that.’ Me: ‘A jar of pesto? For your birthday?’)

A woman in a black dress shows us to our table and presents us with two large grey folders.

‘It’s a new menu,’ she tells us. ‘Your waitress will be with you shortly.’

A new menu! As she leaves, I look up at Dan and I can see the unmistakable spark in his eye.

‘Oh, really?’ I say teasingly. ‘You think?’

He nods. ‘Easy.’

‘Big-head,’ I retort.

‘Challenge accepted. You have paper?’

‘Of course.’

I always have paper and pens in my bag, because we’re always playing this game. I hand him a rollerball and a page torn out of my notebook, and take the same for myself.

‘OK,’ I say. ‘Game on.’

The pair of us fall silent, devouring the menu with our eyes. There’s both bream and turbot, which makes things tricky … but even so, I know what Dan’s going to order. He’ll try to double-bluff me, but I’ll still catch him out. I know just how his mind weaves and winds.

‘Done.’ Dan scribbles a few words on the page and folds it over.

‘Done!’ I write my answer and fold my own paper over, just as our waitress arrives at the table.

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