Jennifer Gilby Roberts

Women's Fiction/Chick Lit Author

Mel Flash Fiction #4: Christmas Dinner

This is actually a short story rather than flash fiction, because it’s 2500 words.  This takes place the Christmas after The Dr Pepper Prophecies.  It’s set around the same time as the book I’m writing now, but doesn’t have any spoilers for that.

This was part of a story I wrote last Christmas called Christmas Crackers.  Goodreads fans might have seen the cover come up there.  I eventually decided not to release it, because the second part had some spoilers in it for the book about Brittany that I’m writing now.

You can also read this on Wattpad.

~~~~

I’m having two Christmas dinners this year.  In theory, this is fantastic.  In practice, not so much.  This is because I have to have the first one with my boyfriend Will’s parents (who are still convinced that Will should have married his evil ex-girlfriend) and the second with mine (who think I should have dragged Will down the aisle in June, despite the fact that we only got together in April).

Admittedly we have been best friends for twenty-six years, so I don’t think we could be accused of rushing into it, but even so.

We approach Will’s parents’ house laden down with gifts and I try to psyche myself up.  Every time I come here I destroy something of great value – monetary or sentimental.  Thus further proving to them that I Am Not Worthy Of Their Son.

I hate this house.  Will’s dad made a fortune selling posh furniture to people with too much money and moved the family from the other half of my parents’ semi into a detached, mock Tudor home in a much posher suburb.  I think it’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen and not remotely homely.  So does Will, but his opinion wasn’t asked either.

‘It won’t be that bad,’ Will says, kissing my cold cheek as we approach the front door.  ‘Honestly.  Charlie will be there this year.  We just skyped this morning and he promised to help keep their minds off you.’

Charlie is Will’s older brother, who lives in Australia so we hardly ever see him.

‘How’s he going to do that?’ I ask morosely, as Will presses the doorbell.

‘Oh, you know Charlie.  He’ll find a way.’

 

I’m perched on a sofa that costs more to buy than my flat costs to rent (and I live in London, so even my matchbox costs half a lottery win), holding a glass of mulled wine (which I can’t stand) and trying not to drop mince pie crumbs on myself.  I succeed.  I drop the filling instead.  Sigh.

Will’s parents (read, his mother) have bought me a book on modern etiquette.  Just what I wanted.  I wonder if I should try to explain that I’m a lost cause, because – even if I know the rules – put me in a formal situation and something always goes wrong.

And yes, I know it’s the thought that counts.  Unfortunately, in this case, the thought is ‘she’s not good enough for my son.’

They got Will a Kindle.  I’m going to have to check it when we get home to make sure she hasn’t downloaded something titled How to Get Your Ex Back onto it.

Everything in Will’s parents’ house is immaculate.  Will’s mother makes Brittany look like one of those poor sods on How Clean Is Your House?  I find it hard to believe she ever had children.  When they were small, she used to keep Will and Charlie confined to the playroom and garden to contain the mess.  It’s no wonder Will spent so much time round at my house.  So really, she has only herself to blame for our relationship.

I see her looking sideways at me, as I attempt to clean myself up with a napkin.

‘By the way, Will,’ she says.  ‘I saw Natalie in town while I was Christmas shopping.’

Will’s most recent ex.  Who only I ever seemed to realise was an evil bitch.

Will glances at me.  ‘Oh.’

‘She’s doing so well – yet another promotion!  And she’s looking wonderful.  Just come back from the Caribbean apparently.  Isn’t that exciting?’

‘Mmm.’

‘She asked after you.’

‘Oh.’

‘I sent your love.’

Will gets up.  ‘Mum, could you show me which glasses you wanted on the dinner table?’

‘Of course, dear,’ she says, leading the way through to the kitchen.  ‘And she was just telling me how…’  Her voice is muffled as they shut the door behind them.

I smile uneasily at Will’s dad, sitting beside the (fake) log fire and sipping brandy.  He looks back.  And says nothing.

A minute passes.

‘I’ll just pop to the loo,’ I whisper.

 

On the way, I stop outside the kitchen door and listen.

‘I’m just saying you should keep in touch,’ Will’s mother is saying.  ‘Just in case.  It’s such early days with Mel.’

‘Eight months after 25 years of friendship is not early days.’

‘Yes, but for most of that you were just children!  Making mud pies with a girl is hardly preparation for marriage.’

‘I don’t know.  A willingness to get dirty is pretty important.’

‘William!’

‘Sorry, mum.’

‘I get enough of that from Charlie, thank you very much.  Honestly, I don’t know where you learnt to be so crude.’

‘Uncle Brian.’

‘I knew it.  I told your father he wasn’t a suitable babysitter.’

I hear footsteps towards the door and scuttle upstairs.

 

‘When’s Charlie getting here?’ Will is asking when I go back in.

His mother checks the clock.  ‘Any minute, dear.  He said they should be here by one.’

‘They?’ I ask, before I manage to bite my tongue.  ‘Charlie’s bringing a girl home?  To Christmas dinner?’

‘Just a friend,’ she says, waving a hand dismissively.  ‘A man he works with.’

If Charlie actually did bring a girlfriend to meet the parents, I could guarantee no more attention would be paid to me.  This having never happened in his entire 32 years of working his way through the female half of the world.

I think that’s why he moved to Australia.  He just ran out of potential bed-partners over here.

I should have got Will to email him and ask him to bring an escort or something.  Knowing Charlie, he’d probably have done it.

‘Ah, this must be them,’ she says, as the doorbell rings.  She heads into the hall to answer it.

Will moves over to sit with me in the place she’s vacated.

‘Just wait,’ he whispers in my ear, squeezing my leg.  ‘Things are about to get interesting.’

‘What do you mean?’ I whisper back.

‘You’ll see.’

I hate it when he keeps secrets.

 

Nothing momentous happens.  We all greet Charlie’s friend.  He’s tall, blond, fit and looks like a surfer, so does improve the scenery.  So does Charlie, who’s tall, dark and cute like Will, but I’ve never quite forgiven him for stealing my knickers in primary school.

Will’s mother ushers us all through to the dining room.  As with everything in this house, the dining table is overdone.  It wouldn’t be out of place in Downton Abbey.

So we’re sitting round it, tucking into a genuinely delicious Christmas dinner and gamely pretending that Will’s mother cooked it herself.  Will and I are one side, Charlie and Riley on the other and Will’s parents at the head and foot.  I’ve already spilt gravy down my reindeer jumper (a present from my flatmate Beth) and dropped a potato into Will’s lap.  Fortunately he’s used to it and didn’t even pause in his chat with Charlie about his work.  Apparently they’re designing a really tall bridge for people to hurl themselves off.  Bungee jumping, that is, not suicide.  Though I suppose these things are dual purpose.

‘So you work with Charlie, Riley?’ Will’s mother asks politely.

‘He’s my boss,’ Riley replies, flashing a naughty grin.

Will’s mother’s eyebrows shoot up to her hairline.  ‘Charlie, is it entirely appropriate to socialise with your underlings?’

‘I’m only technically in charge of him,’ Charlie says, a trifle defensively.  ‘And it’s not like he’s the office junior or anything.  We hadn’t even met until the Christmas party.’

‘And that was only because he got rat-arsed and tried to…’

‘Anyway!’ Charlie interrupts.  ‘Mel, when are you going to become my sister-in-law?’

I resist the urge to roll my eyes at him.

‘Oh, it’s far too soon to think of that,’ Will’s mother puts in, waving her hand dismissively.

I’m not actually sure whose attitude I find more irritating: hers or my dad’s.

‘Of course,’ Charlie says.  ‘I mean, it took him 25 years to ask her out.  We obviously can’t expect an engagement before middle age.’

‘Hey!’ Will protests.

‘That’s a bit rich coming from you,’ I say crabbily, annoyed that even Mr Free Love himself can’t back me up.

‘Yes, when are you going to settle down, Charlie dear?’

‘Actually mum, I’m tying the knot next Christmas,’ Charlie says, calmly helping himself to more potatoes.

There’s a stunned silence.  I look at Will, who clearly knew about this.  I’ll have to have words with him later.

Will’s mother recovers first.  ‘To whom?’ she enquires, in a strangled voice.

He looks up.  ‘To Riley.’

Bloody hell.  Charlie?

Will’s mother has gone completely white.

‘He even got me an engagement ring,’ Charlie says blithely, displaying his left hand round the table. ‘Cool, huh?’

I stare at Will’s mother in fascination.  She’s starting to turn a blotchy red colour that looks distinctly unhealthy.  I’m sorely tempted to snap a photo.  Or maybe a video.  I’m positive it would go viral.

‘Charlie, how could this happen?’ she whispers finally.

‘The engagement?’

‘This…  Him…  You…’

‘Well, it involved some handcuffs, a rabbit and a tub of ice cream.  I’m not sure you want to know.’

‘But you’ve always dated women.  You love women.’

‘I know.’

‘And he’s a man!’

‘Is he?  Goodness, you’d think the penis would have given it away.’

‘Charlie!’

‘Mum,’ Charlie says, looking straight across the table at her, ‘I know you’re surprised.  If it helps, I was surprised too.  But the fact is that I love Riley, he loves me and we’re going to get married next Christmas regardless of whether you approve.’

Will’s mother pours another glass of wine with shaking hands and downs the lot in one go.  ‘But you can’t marry another man.’

‘Yes I can.  Not in Australia, admittedly, but we can have a civil union there and then get married in Canada on honeymoon.’

‘But… what will people say?  What will we tell the neighbours?  How will we tell the neighbours?’

‘Well, we could always shag in the garden.  That would probably get the point across.’

‘Charlie!’

‘I don’t think you should do that.’

‘Thank you, Will.’

‘It’s -2 out there.  Everything would shrivel up.’

‘William!’

I can’t resist.  ‘Hot tub?’ I suggest.

‘Melanie!’

‘We could email round a video.’

‘Riley!’

Is it wrong that I’d like to watch that?

‘You could always just say: ‘Charlie’s finally fallen in love and he’s getting married next year’ and then go from there,’ Charlie suggests.  ‘And if they freak out when you tell them it’s to another man, you could tell them to sod off.’

‘I am not telling the neighbours to do that.’

‘Or you could just not tell them.  In fact you could disown me.  Up to you.  It won’t change anything.’

‘Charlie!’

‘Your choice.’ Charlie shrugs.  ‘Nothing to say, Dad?’

Will’s dad sips his wine.  ‘Just one thing.  If you’re trying to keep something like this a secret, don’t Skype people with your boyfriend wandering around naked in the background.’

‘Riley!’ Charlie exclaims.  ‘I told you to stay out of sight.’

Riley pulls a face.  ‘Sorry!  I thought I was.  I was just trying to work out where you’d thrown my underpants.’

I try my best to hide my laugh behind my napkin at the horrified look on Will’s mother’s face.

‘No, no problems, son.  You’re just a chip off the old block.’

A moment’s silence.

‘Pardon?’ Will says.

His dad shrugs.  ‘Well, you know I liked the ladies before I was married, but I also had a fling with this chap called Kenneth in 1962 when we were on holiday in Germany.  Gorgeous he was.’

He shakes his head, apparently lost in tender memories.  ‘God, that man could suck like a Dyson.’

Then again.

Will starts coughing as a mouthful of wine goes down the wrong way.

‘You all right, son?’

‘Oh fine,’ he wheezes.  ‘Just the tiniest bit surprised to find out that my dad is gay.’

‘Don’t be silly son,’ Will’s dad says briskly.  ‘Knightley men aren’t gay, we’re just flexible.’

Will goes a bit green.

‘Amen to that,’ Charlie says, holding up his glass.  ‘A toast to being flexible.’

Charlie, Riley and Will’s dad clink glasses.

‘Are you flexible?’ I ask Will.

He swallows.  ‘I don’t think so.’

‘Never say never,’ Charlie chips in.  ‘I’d never fancied a man either until I met Riley.’

Will does not look comforted by this.

 

Will’s mother drinks a large glass of scotch and goes to bed ‘with a headache’.  The other men start getting quietly hammered and sharing increasingly explicit stories.  Will and I take our leave.

‘I love you,’ I tell Charlie fervently.  ‘And you,’ I add to Riley.  ‘You’ve completely taken over Christmas and totally distracted your mother from my inadequacies as a potential daughter-in-law.’

‘You’re welcome,’ Charlie says, giving me a hug.  ‘It was fun.  I’ve been looking forward to that ever since me and Riley got together!’

‘You evil bastard,’ I whisper, as I hug Riley too.

‘Bastards,’ he corrects, with a wink.  ‘I’m the one who suggested he wait until Christmas dinner.’

I look from one to the other.  ‘I’m starting to see the attraction.’

They chuckle.

‘Can you save up another bombshell for next Christmas?’ I ask hopefully.  ‘Announce you’re going to adopt or something?’

Charlie laughs.  ‘I’m sure we can come up with something.’

 

I drive us to my parents’ house in Will’s car, since he’s had a stiff drink and is slightly in shock.  I, however, am loving my Christmas so far.  Christmas dinner hasn’t been that entertaining… well, ever.

On the way I sing along to Christmas carols on the radio.  Just a couple of hours of my parents dropping hints about Will’s and my future wedding to endure and then we can go home and actually celebrate.

‘I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about Charlie,’ I complain to Will.

‘Sorry!’ Will says, holding his hands up.  ‘I just thought you’d enjoy the surprise.  The look on Mum’s face was priceless, wasn’t it?’

‘It was.  How long have you known?’

‘Only since this morning.  He called while you were in the shower.’

‘How long have they been together?’

‘A bit over a year, apparently.’

‘And he’s just telling you now?’

Will shrugs.  ‘I’m quite surprised he gave me advance warning at all, actually.’

‘How come you two never really talk?’

‘We talk as much as you and Brittany used to,’ he points out.

‘True,’ I admit.

Will sighs.  ‘We’re just too similar, I think.  Although, after today, I find that rather worrying.  We can both see some of our major flaws in each other and so we rub each other up the wrong way.  He invited us out to Australia for the wedding, though.  Or the civil whatever.  Fancy going?’

Christmas spent on a beach on the Gold Coast in the middle of summer and on the other side of the world from my parents?  Hmm…

‘I love your brother,’ I say happily.  ‘Not as much as I love you, though.’

‘Good to know,’ Will replies.  ‘Hang on.  Shouldn’t you have turned off back there?’

Oh, crap.

~~~~

Previous Mel flash fiction:

The Office Christmas Party

The Flight

The Toaster

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Mel Flash Fiction #3: The Office Christmas Party

This mini story takes place after The Dr Pepper Prophecies, previous flash fiction and the book I’m writing now (no spoilers).

You can also read this on Wattpad.

~~~~

Mel’s Diary

23 December

I’ve got a bit of a hangover today.  Last night it was the office Christmas party.  With all the trimmings.

It started badly, with the Secret Santa.  Some bright spark had decided that, as well as a name, we should also pick a colour and an adjective to describe our present.  I got ‘pink’ and ‘hard,’ which wasn’t a good start.

The name I picked was ‘Jerry W.’  Now, it so happens that there are two Jerrys in the office.  I thought I was buying for Jerry in marketing, who’s young, has a wicked sense of humour and is completely shameless.  So, I bought him some love beads.  I knew they’d give him a good laugh and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he actually gave them a go.

Unfortunately, it turned out that I was buying for Jerry in Accounts.  He’s forty-odd, has no sense of humour and – judging by his reaction – may well be in the closet.  He went ballistic.  I can’t tell you how grateful I was that the Secret Santa was anonymous.

After someone had calmed him down and the rest of the presents had been given out, we returned to our office.  I work at a PR firm, but I’m PA to Helen who’s head of the events team.  We have our own little cupboard office, which leads into a bigger one with four other people in it: Simon, Gav, Tara and Amy.

Anyway, an email came round the whole building from the Big Boss (her PA, more realistically) saying that the photocopier room was going to be closing in one hour due to “abuse at last year’s Christmas party.”  No prizes for guessing what that was.  Moments after this message came through, Simon and Gav (who are currently friends) looked up from their PCs, exchanged a look and left the room together.  A short time later, the entire building was emailed two pictures of photocopied male genitalia.  I suspect these events are not unrelated, especially since Simon and Gav then disappeared to the pub for the rest of the afternoon.  They’re just lucky that everyone in IT was already too drunk to track who’d sent it.

Tara was deeply offended (or so she said).  Amy and I passed a happy half hour trying to decide which one belonged to whom.

The actual party started off quite dull, but, once most of the staff had drunk half their body weight in alcohol, things livened up.  Simon and Gav reappeared and set about their apparently traditional bet on who could snog the most women from the office.  Amy and I were required to keep score.  Simon was in the lead, but then Gav hit on Simon’s ex which was Against The Rules and they ended up having a fist fight on the conference table.  Then someone from the Big Boss’s office turned up, having apparently worked out that it was they who had sent the aforementioned email, and that was the last of them we saw that night.

I’m not entirely sure if they’ll still be there after Christmas.

This done, I took Amy under my wing and introduced her to Malcolm from Design who I’d been certain ever since I started was perfect for her.  And they got on brilliantly!  They spent ages sitting together and chatting (I wasn’t spying on them, obviously.  I was just… keeping an eye out) and I’m pretty sure they left together.  I can’t wait to see Amy after Christmas and find out what happened.

After that, all was peaceful and quiet.  Right up until news went round that the Big Boss’ PA had been caught in the stationery cupboard with the Head of Marketing.  The good news is, these two are married.  The bad news is, not to each other.  Someone snapped a photo and it zipped from one mobile to another all round the party until it reached the aforementioned Head of Marketing.  He stormed up to the top of the room, yelled at the DJ to ‘Shut the f**k up’ and demanded to know who had taken the photo.  Strangely enough, no one volunteered this information.  But, given that it was immediately beamed onto the big screen behind him, I’m leaning towards someone in IT.

At this point, the office party was declared over.  So, we all went down the pub.  Two hours later, I called Will to tell him I loved him.  I wish I could remember what happened in between.

~~~~

Previous Mel flash fiction:

The Toaster

The Flight

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Mel Flash Fiction #2: The Flight

Here’s a mini story (flash fiction is stories under 1,000 words) about Mel and Will.  This one takes place after The Dr Pepper Prophecies (and after previous flash fiction The Toaster.  It happens during the book I’m writing now, although it won’t appear in that directly, as that’s written from Brittany’s POV.

This can also be read on Wattpad.

~~~~

‘Didn’t you already take one of those?’  I ask Will, as he downs another tranquilliser.

‘It’s not working,’ he says.  He is looking a bit pale.

I grab the box off him and stuff it in my bag.  ‘No more.  We’re not even on the plane yet.  Just try to forget what’s to come.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Why didn’t the doctor just give you sleeping pills?’

‘Well, we weren’t going to find out if I’m still afraid of flying if I was asleep the whole time.’

I look at him.  He’s not only pale, he’s sweaty.

It’s going to be a long flight.  Even if it is only 70 minutes.

***

The first real sign of trouble comes as we’re just levelling out after takeoff.

‘I’ve never noticed before,’ Will says, ‘but clouds are really pretty, aren’t they?’

I stare at him.  He doesn’t look pale and sweaty anymore, which is good.  Instead, he’s slumped in his seat and has a rather dazed expression on his face.  Alarm bells start ringing.  ‘Will, exactly how many pills did you take?’

‘Oh, you know,’ he says, waving his hand vaguely.  ‘A few.’

Oh my God, he’s overdosed.  We’re at twenty something thousand feet and he needs hospitalisation.  Where‘s the nearest hospital?  I’m not even sure what county we’re over.

Okay, don’t panic.  Breathe deep.  Need to find help.

I jab the button for the stewardess repeatedly.  I drum my feet on the floor while I wait, looking anxiously at Will.

‘How can I help?’

‘I think my boyfriend needs a doctor.’

***

If there’s one question guaranteed to shake up plane passengers, it has to be, ‘Is there a doctor on board?’  Everyone is now staring at us.

‘There’s only three missing from the packet,’ the pharmacist – the closest thing available – says.  ‘When did you say he took the first one?’

I think back.  ‘About an hour ago.’

‘It’s very unlikely to have done any damage, but to be safe he’d better go to hospital when we land.  Luckily, it’s only a short flight.’

I breathe a sigh of relief.  I try to calm myself down.  I should have just checked the packet myself.  Three’s only one too many.  ‘Thank you.’

‘Just keep a close eye on him.  If you notice anything worrying, call for help.’

I turn back to Will as the pharmacist heads back to his seat.  He’s waving a hand slowly back and forth in front of his eyes and watching it avidly.  Does that count as worrying?

We’re flying from London to Cornwall to visit my sister, as part of our ongoing efforts to “rebuild our sisterly bond.”  Racing straight off to the hospital is really going to help.

Will starts humming.  ‘What’s that song?’

‘Which song?’

‘The goblin one.’

I wrack my brain.  It ignores me.

‘See the little goblin, see his little feet…’

Oh, God.

‘… and his little nosy-wosy.  Isn’t the goblin sweet?’

Oh, help, he’s gone Blackadder on me.

The singing continues and gets louder.  People nearby start putting earplugs in.  I slide down in my seat and promise myself I will never, ever embarrass Will in public again.  Honestly, I don’t know how he puts up with this.

Though, to be honest, my chances of keeping that particular resolution are not high.

Then it stops.  Oh, thank God.

‘Mel, I want to get out now.’

I start undoing my seat belt.  ‘I think I’d better go with you.’

‘But you’re afraid of heights.’

‘Huh?’

‘Well, it’s a long way down.’

It takes me a minute to tune into his thought waves.  ‘Oh no, you can’t get out of the plane.’

‘But the clouds are so pretty.’

‘No.’

‘Yes.’

‘No.’

‘Yes.’

My boyfriend has morphed into a toddler.

‘I’m going!’ he says, starting to fumble with his seat belt.

I jab the button to call the stewardess again.  I can’t contain him by myself.  And if I sit on his lap without explanation, we’re going to end up on some kind of clips show.

‘How can I help?’

I grin nervously.  ‘You wouldn’t happen to have any handcuffs on board, would you?’

***

I call Brittany as soon as we land.

‘We’re going to be a bit late.  I have to take Will to hospital.’

‘Hospital?’

I look across at Will, still handcuffed to the chair.  ‘Don’t ask.’

~~~~

Previous Mel flash fiction:

The Toaster

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Mel Flash Fiction #1: The Toaster

I’ve been re-reading Bridget Jones’ Diary and thought I would have a little fun with an entry from Mel’s Diary.  This is set after The Dr Pepper Prophecies, although you don’t need to have read it for this to make sense.

You can also read this on Wattpad.

~~~~

Sunday

9st 8 (oh God), bars of Dairy Milk 4 (but only small ones), calories – don’t ask

Not a good day.

Forgot toast under grill due to obsessively watching Dr Who while Will out buying chocolate.  Said toast caught on fire.  Discovered when fire alarm went off due to smoke pouring out of the kitchen.  Couldn’t find fire extinguisher Will swore he’d put with the soup tins.  Attempted to smother fire with tea towel but forgot crucial stage of wetting it first.  Tea towel caught on fire as well.  Dropped tea towel, unfortunately next to roll of kitchen towel.  Fire spread.  Spotted fire extinguisher in laundry pile (why?!).  Attempted to use fire extinguisher to halt spread of now quite enthusiastic kitchen fire.  Couldn’t work out how to remove safety catch.  Grabbed bottle of drink to put out fire.  Did not help.  Checked bottle – beer.

Abandoned fire, grabbed phone, ran out of Will’s flat.  Attempted to call fire brigade.  Got no signal.  Ran to neighbour’s door and hammered on it.  Greasy forty-something neighbour answered.  Neighbour leered at cleavage revealed by vest top and no bra.  Explained about fire.  Neighbour stopped leering and dialled 999.  Leering Neighbour and I left his flat and activated fire alarm.  Sprinklers went off.  Got drenched.  White top went see-through.  Leering Neighbour stepped efforts up a notch.  Had to hold breasts to chest as pelted down stairs.  Then had to stand outside building, in rain, with see-through top.  Very cold wind did not help.  Even arrival of suitably hunky firemen did not make up for exposure.  Also, Leering Neighbour very attentive until Will arrived back.

Firemen put fire out.  Returned to flat.  Kitchen smoke-damaged and oven wrecked.  Worse still, now have no bread for toast.

On the upside, Will says I’m not allowed to cook anymore.

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