A Perfect Paris Christmas - Mandy Baggot Page 0,1

blueberry jam, before Keeley could even take another breath, her mum arrived at her side and plucked the fork from her fingers.

‘What are you doing?! Keeley! For heaven’s sake!’

‘What?’ Keeley asked. Her heart was thumping now and she put a hand to her chest in case she needed to push it back in. ‘What have I done?’

Lizzie brandished the fork like it was a light sabre and she knew exactly how to use it. ‘Do you know how many people die each year from toaster accidents?’

‘Er… no,’ Keeley answered. She had a feeling her mum was just about to tell her though.

‘Seven hundred,’ Lizzie said. ‘Seven hundred idiots who should know better. You know better!’

Keeley could see her mum was getting emotional, and not simply the kind of emotional she usually got when she started making festive wares for afternoon teas, Christmas fairs and fundraising afternoons. This was almost the kind of emotional she got when she talked about Bea.

‘Sorry,’ Keeley offered.

Lizzie put the fork down on the worktop with a bang, then shifted past Keeley to tackle the toaster herself. ‘Why are you toasting a crumpet anyway? There’s low-sugar muesli in the cupboard or there’s fresh fruit – clementines and a Galia melon – or…’

‘Blueberry jam,’ Duncan offered. ‘The Forresters won’t be able to have it now the seal’s broken.’ He let out a grunt as finally the globe was hooked in place. ‘There we go! Perfectomundo!’

Keeley watched her mother deftly, somehow, pull the crumpet from the toaster. It was dark brown, slightly burned around the edges, just as she liked it. She could almost taste it. A thick layer of butter melting into the fluffy inside…

‘I’ll leave it out for the birds,’ Lizzie said, taking it towards the patio doors and their small patch of decking, leading to grass and then her dad’s man-cave where he kept his dart board and homebrew kits.

‘What? Wait!’ Keeley said. ‘That’s my breakfast!’

Lizzie stopped, crumpet between thumb and forefinger like it was a land mine she had unearthed from the kitchen tiles and she needed to keep really still in case it exploded in her face. ‘Keeley, come on, don’t be difficult, darling.’

Difficult? Keeley pushed her tongue to the roof of her mouth and pressed hard into her palate. She could already feel where this was going. It would start out as caring, then move swiftly on to running down a tick list for those people living a heavily monitored life. It would end up with Keeley feeling incredibly guilty.

‘Lizzie, love…’ Duncan began, slowly descending the ladder, the ball above his head turning the kitchen into something akin to a Eurovision stage. Keeley wasn’t sure it was rotating as evenly as it would have if Bea were still here.

‘No, Duncan, don’t you get involved now. You never usually want to be involved. It’s always me who has to do the tough love while you stand behind me encouraging our daughter to put her health in jeopardy.’ Lizzie made a face, crumpet still dangling. ‘“Nothing wrong with Dominos in moderation as long as you avoid the stuffed crust”. “You are what you eat… and no one ever wanted to be a guava”. It’s not funny! None of this is funny! I’ve lost one daughter. I don’t want to lose another one!’

The crumpet crumbled and Lizzie crumpled, folding her body in on itself like she was an origami swan someone was making very badly.

‘Mum,’ Keeley said, rushing forward and putting her arms around Lizzie’s slender frame, drawing her close. ‘It’s OK. I’m fine.’

‘You’re not fine,’ Lizzie said, the words rushing out through the tears, voice muffled against Keeley’s bright red festive jumper. ‘And you definitely won’t be fine if you eat giant crumpets and sugary jam.’

‘Is the jam that sugary?’ Duncan asked. ‘Because if that’s the case I’m not sure Tommy Forrester needs the boost. He’s stopped playing squash completely now, you know. Something to do with a frozen calf.’ He put a finger to his temple. ‘At least I think that was his injury. Although, thinking about it, it might have been what he had planned for Christmas dinner…’

‘Mum,’ Keeley said softly. ‘I do watch what I eat. All the time.’ She caught a look from her dad then and rephrased. ‘Most of the time.’ She sighed. ‘More often than not. But… it’s Christmas.’

‘It’s November,’ Lizzie countered, raising her head from Keeley’s shoulder. ‘People who say “it’s Christmas” the moment Halloween is over should be… tied to a chair and made to listen