A Surprise for Christine
I had never seen my friend Christine looking so low. She was normally such a cheerful person, always bouncing back no matter what the trouble. But I had to admit, being made redundant at twenty-seven was pretty depressing on its own without having her boyfriend leave her for some brassy blonde.
Making my way to meet Jean and a few other friends, I wondered if there was anything I could do to put the smile back on her face. Normally she joined us at these Monday evening get-togethers, but tonight she had promised to help her mother with some dressmaking.
Naturally the others were sorry to learn that Christine's boyfriend had left her.
“Isn't that just like a man to kick you when you're down?” said Jean.
I agreed, adding it would be nice if we could do something to cheer her up. “Does anyone have any suggestions?”
The girls sipped at their drinks, while giving the matter some thought.
“What about a party?” said Ann at last.
“I don't know; is she really in the mood for…?” Jean began.
But I quickly interrupted. “Hang on, that's a good idea. It's Christine's birthday next Saturday, why don't we give her a surprise party?”
“Well, if you're sure. I just wonder if she'll want so much fuss at the moment.” Jean sounded doubtful.
“Of course she will,” I replied. “Fuss is exactly what she needs. Throwing this party will show how much we all care. But we only have until Saturday so we need to set out a plan of action.”
By the end of the evening it was agreed that we would hold the party in the community hall. Being on the village green and close to the duck pond made it the ideal setting for a summer party.
We had also made a guest list. Ann, having recently completed a course in computers, offered to print the invitations. We decided that the party should start at 7pm prompt; therefore it was important that all the guests were in the hall by 6.30pm at the latest. Any one arriving after that would stand a chance of bumping into Christine and the whole surprise would be spoilt.
My head buzzed as I walked home. For some reason I had yet to fathom, I'd volunteered to make the cake. I must have had too much wine. My skill at cake making went no further than fairy cakes.
Vi had promised she would decorate it on Friday, which meant I had to make the wretched thing tomorrow; allowing it a few days to settle down. Now, what else had I said I would do? Oh yes. I was going to ask my brother to provide the music.
Suddenly I panicked. It had been very rash of me to offer Jerry's services. He is into heavy beat; what we really wanted was something light for a summer evening.
But he had just set up a band and I knew he would relish the opportunity to play to a live audience, even if it was for nothing. Nevertheless, I would need to make it clear exactly what we wanted.
We all met up again the following evening having decided to get together every day until the party.
“I've made the cake.” I gave Vi a sheepish grin. “I'm afraid it's sunk a little. Well, quite a lot actually; I'm hoping you can do a repair job with the icing.” I hastily went on to say I had explained to Jerry what we wanted and he was more than happy to provide the music.
I crossed my fingers under the table. He had appeared to take in what I said, but I couldn't really be sure. Jerry was always inclined to do his own thing.
Ann told us she had booked the hall for the whole day, giving us time to decorate it. She had also brought a copy of the invitation cards for approval, saying she would post them the following day if everyone was happy.
Some of the others had already started making cakes, sausage rolls and quiches to freeze. Sandwiches and other such items would be made on the day. So far everything was going to plan.
By Friday all Christine's friends had telephoned to accept the invitation to the party, promising faithfully to be there before 6.30. Everyone who knew of the surprise had been sworn to secrecy. I had kept well away from Christine, fearing I may slip up and give the game away.
I was picking up the fresh bread and rolls the next morning, while wine, nuts and crisps were already stored in Ann's garage. Everything was organized; nothing could go wrong. We would simply set up the hall in the morning and then lock the door until we needed to lay out the food.
I awoke to a lovely sunny morning. Normally on a Saturday I enjoyed a lie in, but today there wasn't a moment to lose.
The hall was buzzing with activity when I burst through the door. Ann was in the middle of blowing up a balloon. Startled at my sudden entrance, it slipped through her fingers and whizzed around the hall, making everyone laugh.
“I don't think I can blow up many more of these,” said Ann, when the laughter had subsided. “It's more difficult than I thought; I haven't enough puff.”
“Don't worry, we'll all take a turn,” I assured her. Though I wasn't sure how we would manage it if Ann couldn't. Being a superb diver, her lungs were far superior to ours.
Meanwhile, Helen was making a good job of the floral arrangement, which would be the centre-piece on the table and Ann's rather pompous brother, David was up a ladder. He had volunteered to fasten a large net onto the ceiling. It would hold the blown-up balloons. At the appointed time, a single thread would be pulled allowing them all to fall on the guests below.
“There, what do you think of that? I bet you girls couldn't have made such a good job of it.” David made a gesture towards the net only to lose his footing on the ladder.
His hands, thrashing around at the empty air, caught hold of a cord, which turned out to be the switch for the three large newly-installed ceiling fans. The sudden yank on the cord caused the three fans to spring into action at high speed, blowing Helen's delicate blooms off the table.