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When John knocked on Emily’s door he thought he heard an echo.
“I can hear thunder!” shouted Nancy.
“Look – lightning!” shouted Ruby.
“I can smell the rain coming” said Nancy.
When Emily opened her front door John noticed a familiar smell. As he stepped inside the cool, dark house he heard more thunder and felt a gust of warm air follow him in.
John noticed a change in Ruby, Nancy and Fanta as they came inside. Their faces became serious and they moved carefully and silently.
As Emily greeted Fanta and her sisters John looked around nervously. The floor was tiled in what looked like polished marble but wasn’t. There were paintings on the walls with heavy-looking golden frames and the furniture all looked solid and heavy too. John remembered Emily telling him how she’d had it all custom made from Camphor Laurel because it grows like a weed. John realised that the suitcase had been left behind at the front door but decided he’d go and get it later.
As John followed Emily into the sitting room he tried to work out what the familiar smell was and before he knew what was happening he was standing facing his mother. She put out her arms and gave John a cuddle. John’s mum seemed to have become smaller and more fragile.
As John watched Emily introduce Fanta and her sisters to his mother he noticed that Fanta looked terrified. When they sat down and started talking John noticed that his mother kept asking Fanta questions and he remembered how judgmental his mother was. Fanta seemed to have been giving the right answers though, because John could tell that his mother liked Fanta.
After John’s mother had had a good look at Ruby and Nancy she suggested they go and play with Emily’s kids. John watched the four of them trot off to play in another room and wished he could go with them. John leant back in his chair and tried to relax as he waited for an opportunity to ask where his father was.
“John, you should go and help your father in the kitchen” said John’s mother. As John got up he wondered whether she had been reading his mind.
John stood awkwardly in the kitchen doorway for a few minutes and watched his father making pasta before summoning enough courage to interrupt.
“Hold this” said John’s father, and he draped a sheet of damp pasta over John’s forearms.
As John watched his father he wondered when he’d learnt to make pasta, but he was too shy to ask.
“I wonder what’s keeping Tim. He usually helps me make the pasta” said John’s Dad.
John wondered whether his father might be losing his memory.
“Tim’s minding my restaurant tonight so he can’t come for dinner” said John.
“Yes, he was going to do that but I insisted I send one of my managers over so he could join us” said John’s father.
John felt his whole body become hot with panic. He felt like taking Fanta by the hand and running away before Tim could arrive, but a voice inside him told him that there was no point running because Tim would have to meet Fanta one day. So John stayed where he was and turned his panic into anger.
“Why didn’t you consult me?” John asked his father.
“It was meant to be a surprise – a surprise family dinner, just like your mother and I being here was a surprise” said John’s father.
John realised that Emily must have planned what she thought would be a pleasant surprise and felt guilty for having behaved so passively. He decided to make an effort to enjoy himself, but was still terrified that Fanta would decide that Tim was better than he was.
When John heard a burst of laughter from the sitting room he knew that Tim had arrived. He started walking out of the kitchen but his father stopped him and took the pasta sheets off his arms first.
Emily and Tim were laughing at something. John managed to see Fanta’s expression before she realised he was in the room and was relieved that she didn’t seem to be admiring Tim.
“Tim, this is Fanta” said Emily.
Fanta stood up awkwardly and shook Tim’s hand. John wanted to sit down beside Fanta but Tim beat him to it so John sat down next to his mother and watched Tim try to coax Fanta into a conversation.