A Perfect Paris Christmas - Mandy Baggot


Kensington, London


‘Duncan, not that awful disco ball of your mother’s again! Please, I beg of you. Last year it gave Lydia Mumford some sort of aura migraine before I’d even served the Waitrose arancini,’ Lizzie Andrews said, raising her eyes and glaring at her husband who was stood precariously at the top of a stepladder. He was about to fix the large revolving silver sphere to a hook above the kitchen island where, on the hob, something containing cranberries was simmering.

Twenty-six-year-old Keeley hid her face in her mug of super-hot, extra-strong coffee and tried to stop a laugh from escaping her lips. Her parents’ conversation over her long-since-passed-away gran’s festive regalia had been treading the same path since the decorations had been left to them in the will. Her mum had always insisted it was because the old lady never liked her.

Joan loathed me. Loathed me, Duncan. Right from the get-go. Ever since the first time I came to your house with peonies for her and she shoved them in an empty tin of Heinz beans as a vase. That was when the die was cast.

But Keeley liked the decorations. None of them matched together – there were vibrant purples and emerald-greens alongside 1980s-style robots swinging on bunting and Chinese paper lanterns that probably should have caught alight long ago. At first glance, they might not seem to correlate, but somehow they worked. Her sister, Bea, had loved them too. Bea would always be fighting their dad for use of the ladder, having somehow actually worked out complicated things about balance, or the optimum angle to enable the globe to spin in a completely symmetrical way that would please Lizzie’s need for order. Bea had always plunged into things with full-on gusto but never without the knowhow to back it up.

Thoughts of her little sister made Keeley’s heart squeeze and she took another sip of the coffee before the toaster popped with the crumpet she was cooking.

Lizzie shook her brown curly hair and sniffed, nose in the air like a prized perfumier. She dropped the pinecones she was painting to the newspaper-covered work surface. ‘What’s that smell?’

‘Is that one of those giant crumpets I bought yesterday?’ Duncan asked, grinning down from the ladder, both hands still holding the whole giant reflective world in his hands.

‘Yes, it is,’ Keeley replied, trying to wiggle the large crumpet out of the sleeve of the toaster. She had got it in without too much effort, but now it seemed it was impossible to remove.

‘Keeley!’ Lizzie exclaimed in horror. ‘A giant crumpet!’

‘Would you like one, Mum?’ Keeley asked. The crumpet still wasn’t moving and with every pull she was shaving the outer crust away from the body of it. It wasn’t going to stay ‘giant’ for long if it kept this up.

‘What you putting on it, Keeley?’ Duncan asked, tongue sticking out of his mouth, eyes concentrating hard on the hook on the ceiling. ‘Bit of peanut butter? Or… how about that wild blueberry jam? That’s nice, that is.’

‘Duncan!’ Lizzie said. ‘That wild blueberry jam was meant for the scones for the advent afternoon tea with the Forresters! I can’t believe you’ve opened it!’

‘Sorry,’ Duncan answered. ‘Perhaps you should stick labels on things you don’t want opened by the mere mortals of your family.’

‘Well,’ Lizzie continued, still sounding exasperated, ‘it should be obvious that it isn’t for you. When have I ever bought wild blueberry jam for you?!’

‘A change is as good as a rest though, so they say,’ Duncan replied. ‘I thought it might have been one of your “new opportunities” like the yoga and the… Crap Gaga.’

Keeley really couldn’t stop the laugh this time as she opened the drawer for a fork. Her fingertips were not going to move this sucker, so it was time for reinforcements. ‘It’s Krav Maga, Dad.’

‘He knows!’ Lizzie said, taking her glasses off and putting fingers to the bridge of her nose like she was getting a headache. ‘I’ve invited him to join me,’ she carried on. ‘Except he’d rather spend his time playing darts than doing something that’s classed as real cardiovascular exercise.’

‘Are we going to have the “darts isn’t a real sport” discussion again?’ Duncan asked, taking one foot off the ladder in a bid to reach out further. ‘Because, if we are, I’ll find that article from The Telegraph.’

Keeley lowered the fork towards the crumpet in the toaster. And it was then that Lizzie screamed. Running like someone might again be about to infiltrate the coveted