I really hope you’re enjoying my sparkly Christmas treat – it’s been lovely to have your input on which characters I have to write about each day. Today, you voted for NELL SULLIVAN and MAX ROSSI from my fifth novel, Take A Look At Me Now, although a few more characters also split your vote – so watch out for them below…
Here’s PART FOUR – and read on to find out which characters you can vote into tomorrow’s penultimate episode. Happy reading!
Anna Browne’s Surprising Christmas Party ©Miranda Dickinson 2015
‘Elsie! You made it!’ Anna hurried across the stateroom to gather Elsie Maynard into a huge hug.
‘I was starting to think we’d never get here,’ Elsie grimaced, casting a glance at her companion’s pained expression and quickly changing tack. ‘But Woody saved the day.’
‘Just call me Zorro,’ Woody grinned, planting a kiss on Anna’s hand.
‘Look at this place!’ Elsie said, her eyes bright as she took in every detail of the room. ‘You’ve done an incredible job.’
‘Thank you. It’s come together really well.’ Anna watched her guests mingling, laughing, chatting, making new acquaintances and celebrating old friendships. For weeks during the planning of this party they had been simply names on a list, with little to suggest what they might have in common, or how well they would gel in a shared environment. Ben had joked that it was like organising a wedding reception, where only you were the glue that held everyone together.
‘No matter how well you know everyone there will always be that worrying risk that they might all hate each other when you’re not in the room.’
‘Oh, thanks for that. I feel so much better now,’ she’d replied, pretending to take offence. ‘I’ll make sure the local police have their riot squad on hand, just in case.’
‘Anna Browne, you think of everything…’
The memory of his cheeky smile warmed Anna’s heart as she stood with Elsie and Woody, watching The Pinstripes band working their way through their first set. An older couple were already on the dance floor, the man twirling his wife to Lovely Day, much to the delight of their fellow guests. It was so wonderful to see a couple still so much in love and Anna knew enough about them to know what their love had cost them.
Was she the glue that held everyone together? She was probably the only person in the room who understood why each of her guests were special, but that made Anna feel even more privileged to have been able to bring such an incredible group of individuals together. Some she knew by acquaintance, others she had known for a long time, but one thing united them besides her: each person had amazing personal stories. Her grandmother used to tell Anna and her brother Ruari when they were little to pay attention to the stories people told.
‘A hundred-thousand stories pass you by every day as you walk down the street,’ she’d say. ‘Often the most ordinary-looking individuals carry the most exciting stories.’
Anna considered the countless stories in the room tonight, the experiences, loves and losses that each guest carried with them; and gazed down at her beautiful red dress, evidence of her own real-life adventure.
‘Great band, angel.’ Woody was nodding appreciatively as he watched The Pinstripes. ‘So together and tight. Reminds me of a support band Hellfinger had in Tokyo, ’86…’
Anna smiled as Woody launched into one of his incredible reminiscences. Tonight was a night of stories: hidden, known, shared and yet to be discovered…
* * * *
‘Magsie Parker, you dance like a dream,’ grinned Dudley as he twirled his wife gently underneath their joined hands.
‘We’re the only pair on the dance floor,’ Mags replied, blushing as she saw the group of guests watching approvingly. ‘You could have waited until more people were dancing.’
‘Not when I’m with the woman of my dreams,’ her husband said, chuckling as he pulled her close. ‘I want the world to watch us.’ He grinned over Mags’ shoulder at the lead singer of the band who gave him a huge smile and blew a kiss. ‘Our Rom’s singing up a storm tonight.’
Mags gave a little wave at her niece, feeling a swell of pride. ‘She’s a star. They all are. And to think that motley crew of scruffy teenagers who used to hang out on Our Pol could make music that beautiful.’
‘I reckon that’s your doing, Magsie.’
‘Now how do you work that out?’
‘Well, all those Saturday afternoons they spent nattering on our narrowboat, eating your cakes. I’d say your baking was responsible for making them chase their dreams.’
‘Dudley Parker, you daft beggar! My baking has nothing to do with that. They’re a talented bunch.’
‘I’m telling you, your cakes are magic, bab. They change the way people think about themselves. You look at those customers at the café. Right bunch of misfits they were before they tasted your baking. And now look at them! We’ve had weddings, job changes and even a round-the-world cruise that started out as a conversation over your Lemon Drizzle. It was your cakes that got them talking.’
‘Shut up and dance.’
‘Right you are.’
* * * *
The last song of the band’s first set ended and the room was filled with warm applause. Battling a sudden attack of nervous butterflies, Anna approached the microphone, cue card in hand.
‘Um, hello everyone and thank you so much for being here this evening. As you know, we’re raising money for a brilliant charity that does so much to help people with cancer and their families. Many of you here tonight have been personally touched by this dreadful disease or know someone who has watched a loved one battle with it.’ Anna’s gaze inevitably drifted to Elsie, who was nodding in agreement; and Harri Langton to her right, who had lost both parents to cancer. ‘I would like to introduce my friend, Nell Sullivan, who has come all the way from San Francisco to be here. Could we give her a round of applause, please?’
The guests did as they were asked, parting as a smiling woman hurried over to Anna.
‘Hey gorgeous,’ she said, kissing Anna’s cheek.
‘Are you ready?’
Nell nodded. ‘Absolutely. Video is cued and ready to go.’ She took the microphone from Anna. ‘Good evening…’
Anna moved back into the crowd, smiling as a handsome, dark-haired man put his arm around her shoulder.
‘Great party, Anna,’ he whispered.
‘I’m so glad you two could make it, Max.’
‘Are you kidding? We had to be here. This party’s practically by royal appointment. I hope the video works. Some of the art collective put it together for us last week.’
‘It’ll be brilliant,’ Anna assured him.
‘You should see the outtakes,’ he grinned. ‘Our elderly neighbours stole the show.’
Right on cue, an old couple appeared on the screen.
‘Is this thing on?’
‘Stop yanking that, Saul Alfaro. The boy knows what he’s doing.’
‘I never in my whole life thought I’d have one of these little microphones like the newscasters on TV. Testing, testing…’ The party guests laughed as the old man leaned over his tie microphone and spoke loudly into it.
The video flashed and the couple were now seated in what appeared to be a very beige living room.
‘I lost my brother to cancer,’ the old man said. ‘And then my niece found a lump. She’s doin’ good now, but we were all so scared for her for so long.’
‘My mother, God rest her soul. And two of my cousins,’ the old lady added. ‘Too many of my friends, also. You’d think if they can put a man on the moon they could cure this disease already. There has to be a way to stop it.’
The video cut to an American diner, where a woman of uncertain years dressed in a tight-fitting leopard-print top and jeans, a white apron tied around her waist, was serving coffee and plates of enormous cinnamon toast slices to her customers.
‘My sister’s husband survived it,’ she told the camera. ‘But I have plenty of friends who didn’t. It’s an evil disease and it respects nobody.’
A view of the San Francisco Bay flicked onto the screen, Nell appearing walking alongside the water with another woman who looked as if she could be her sister. ‘Here in America I’ve seen the great work cancer charities are doing to support cancer sufferers and their families, with counselling, respite care and help after a loved one has been lost. That’s why I’m proud to support Anna’s fundraiser at Hillford Hall tonight. I ask you to please consider giving generously and thanks for watching.’
The film ended and Nell smiled at the gathered guests. ‘We just wanted to show you all that cancer touches everyone, all over the world. This wonderful party tonight has been put together by our lovely friend Anna and I think you’ll agree she’s done a phenomenal job.’
The room erupted in warm applause, causing Anna’s cheeks to redden.
‘So please, enjoy the night, give what you can and thanks so much for being here.’
Anna embraced Nell when she rejoined them. ‘That was fantastic. Thank you.’
‘Hey, you guys should come visit soon,’ Max said. ‘You’d love it.’
‘I might just do that. So, how are you enjoying your stay?’
Nell smiled. ‘It’s so good to get away for a few days. We’ve been so busy lately and I missed home so much. It’s great to be back, catching up with old friends – and staying in a gorgeous stately home isn’t too bad, either.’
‘She thinks she’s in Downton Abbey,’ Max said, wrapping his arms around Nell. ‘I reckon she’ll be installing a servant bell in our apartment when we get home.’
Nell beamed up at him. ‘We might need one, soon. Although I think we won’t be the ones shouting orders.’
Anna gasped as Nell patted her stomach. ‘No! You’re not…?’
Nell and Max giggled together.
Anna squealed and threw her arms around them both. ‘Oh wow! I’m so happy for you! When?’
‘Due April 5th,’ Max said, kissing Nell’s head. ‘It was a bit of a shock, but we’re getting used to the idea now.’
‘So this will be my last trip home for a while,’ Nell said. ‘But you have to come out and see us when little one’s here.’
‘I will! Definitely.’
Stories, Grandma Morwenna said, were everywhere, jumping out at you when you least expected them. Real life was more remarkable than anything you could dream up in the pages of a book. As Anna hugged her friends again she couldn’t help thinking her grandmother was right…
TO BE CONTINUED…
©Miranda Dickinson 2015 – All Rights Reserved
Who will be the next guests at ANNA BROWNE’S CHRISTMAS PARTY? Choose TWO from my sixth novel, I’ll Take New York:
- Bea James
- Jake Steinmann
- Russ O’Docherty
- Grandma Dot
- Otis Greene
- Jessica Steinmann