Out With The Old

Allison Hay © Lady looking harassed at buffet table Illustration: Shutterstock


Pru dreaded her grandmother’s New Year parties, but this year, someone rather special had been invited…

The family party again, Pru thought flatly as she started up the stairs to get ready for her grandmother’s perennial drinks party. It was tradition to hold it on the first Saturday after New Year. She so didn’t want to go.

“Couldn’t you say I was ill?” she asked her mother, hopefully.

Her mother raised her eyebrows. “At least we don’t have to put up with that dreadful Harry this year,” she replied. “I was so afraid you were going to marry him. I wasn’t keen on him, you know.”

Yes, Pru thought. Her mother had made her feelings about Harry abundantly clear. In the end, of course, Pru had been forced to agree with her, but he had been very useful as a buffer between her and the rest of the family. He’d at least been at her side at last year’s party. This year she’d look like Bridget Jones, all alone and conspicuously single, but without the consolation of a Mark Darcy to make it all worthwhile.

“Do I really have to go?” she asked again, aware that she sounded more like a grumpy teenager than a woman of twenty-five with a responsible job at the local hospital.

“Of course you do,” her mother said. “Who else is going to hand round the canapés and offer people more drinks. Gran can’t do everything herself. I think she’s wonderful still to have her party, now that grandad’s gone. It’s not easy being on your own. She goes to a lot of trouble – she makes all her own canapés.”

“Yes, and they’re always delicious, but it does always seem to be me who acts as waitress. Aren’t any of the cousins coming? Couldn’t they help?”

“Oh darling, how can they? They’ll be watching the littlies,” her mother said.

It was true, Pru’s smugly married cousins would be showing off their adorable toddlers. Lucky them. To add insult to injury, every one of them would ask how she’d spent New Year’s Eve.

“New year, new beginnings,” they’d cry, nudging her in the ribs. It was humiliating. In fact, she’d seen the New Year in alone, but at least she’d been in her own flat, without having to endure anyone’s sympathy. The undisguised post-Harry concern in her family’s eyes was the real reason she didn’t want to go to the party. The only one of her cousins who wasn’t married was Annabelle, who was a model. A proper model who was on the cover of glossy magazines. She’d even been in Vogue. So needless to say, she was taller, thinner, more sophisticated, more glamorous and altogether superior to Pru.

When Pru had asked her mother whether Annabelle was going to be at the party, her mother had given her another of those head-on-one-side worried looks and patted her arm, and then said, “Never mind, darling, she may be very beautiful, but you’re my practical Prudence.”

Talk about damning with faint praise!

“And you’re very pretty as well,” her mother added, several seconds too late.

“Are you ready yet?” her mother’s voice floated up the stairs.

“Almost,” Pru called back, scrambling into the only dress she’d brought with her, and putting on her earrings as she ran down the stairs. Then she turned and ran back upstairs again. It was no good, she couldn’t dash in and out of her gran’s kitchen in such high heels. She changed into sensible low-heeled court shoes. She was going to look like a midget next to Annabelle whatever she wore – she couldn’t compete with her cousin’s willowy height, and today Annabelle would be in four or five-inch killer heels.

Pru reached the hall and summoned a convincing smile to her lips.

“Right, let’s go!”

Her grandmother’s house was already crowded when Pru and her mother arrived, and Gran kissed them both hurriedly.

“Thank goodness you’re here. Do you think you could just have a quick look at the mini quiches in the oven, Pru dear? And put them on a plate and offer them round? Oh – and could you check there’s enough wine open? I really must go and talk to my guests! And there are sausage rolls in the oven… You are a love – what would I do without you?”

It was a good half hour later when Pru at last emerged from the kitchen, hot and flustered. The first person she saw was Annabelle, who was – unaccountably – standing alone, and gazing at the large collection of family photos that Gran had on her walls.

“Hello Pru,” Annabelle said frowning. “You’re rather pink. Too much wine?” Before Pru could answer, Annabelle was looking beyond her at someone else.

“Oh Luke, there you are,” she said, instantly dazzling the whole room with her smile.

Pru turned to see a very good-looking man – whom she’d definitely seen before – but what was he doing here?

He was carrying two glasses, one of which he handed to Annabelle. Then he looked enquiringly at Pru.

“Oh. Yes,” Annabelle said unwillingly, “Pru, this is Gran’s new neighbour, Luke. Pru’s a cousin.”

“You look familiar,” he said, pursing his lips. “Haven’t I seen you at the hospital? Can I top up your glass?” He looked down at Pru’s empty hands and frowned. “Where is your glass?”

“I haven’t had time to get myself a drink yet, but I’d love…”

Luke looked scandalised.

“But you’ve been here ages. I saw you arrive, and you’ve been dashing around ever since…”

“Pru!” It was her mother. “Ellie and little Noah want to play outside, would you mind…? Poor Kate’s exhausted. You know she’s expecting another, don’t you? She’s going to have her hands full with three of them!”

To Pru’s surprise, Luke intervened…

“Pru hasn’t even got a drink yet, I was just going to get her one…”

“No need for you to bother, Luke, she can get herself a drink on her way out, can’t you, Pru?”

Pru headed for the back door, collecting two small and fractious children on the way and picking up some lego from the sitting room carpet, as well as a toy car or two.

She was just helping the children on with their wellies when a voice behind her spoke.

“At least have a glass of wine,” Luke said, smiling and holding one out to her. “Aren’t you an administrator at the hospital? Can I help you with the children?”

Before Pru could reply, Annabelle’s voice cut in, “Luke, don’t be ridiculous, of course you’re not going outside. You haven’t got a coat on, and I can’t possibly go into the garden in these heels. Pru will be fine, won’t you, Pru? Come on, there’s someone Gran wants you to meet.”

At least she’d got a drink, Pru thought miserably, as she refereed what was clearly a running battle between two-year-old Noah and his sister Ellie.

Only a few minutes later, though, their squabble was interrupted by a crash and a yell from the kitchen, followed by an anguished cry from Gran.

“Pru! Help!”

Pru ran inside to find Annabelle – who’d been in the hall and heard the cry – standing over Gran, who was sitting awkwardly on the kitchen floor with blood gushing from her head.

“I think she tripped over a toy car,” Annabelle said feebly, as blood trickled down Gran’s face. “I did notice one on the floor.”

“Go and get Luke,” Pru commanded, wondering why Annabelle hadn’t moved the car, “And call an ambulance, and tell Katie the children are still in the garden.”

“Get Luke?” Annabelle repeated.


Annabelle teetered away, looking put out at being given orders

There was still the babble of voices from the sitting room – loud though the crash had been, it clearly hadn’t reached the party.

“Gran,” Pru said gently, “you’re bleeding a lot. Can you lie down?”

Pru had just found a clean tea towel and was pressing it firmly on the wound when Luke arrived.

He took in the situation at once and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Thank goodness. You’ve done exactly the right thing, Pru, but I think she probably needs stitches, and a CT scan,” he said. “Has anyone called the ambulance?”

“I asked Annabelle…”

“Then I’ll call one myself,” he said shortly, and within a very short space of time Gran had been whisked off by the paramedics, sirens blaring, watched by the shocked guests.

“How wonderful that you were here, Luke,” Annabelle said, giving him the full benefit of her mesmerising gaze.

Pru had seen it before and waited for Luke to melt into an adoring puddle at Annabelle’s feet.

“Actually, I really wasn’t needed. Your gran was in good hands. Pru was coping very competently. She just needed someone to call an ambulance, while she kept pressure on the wound.”

“I was about to…” Annabelle began, but Luke wasn’t listening.

“I said I’d go to the hospital, just to check she’s OK,” he said, “would you come with me? You’ll be able to tell them the details I don’t know.”

Annabelle opened her mouth to agree, but Luke wasn’t looking at her, he was looking at Pru.

“I need to stay here and clear up – I don’t want Gran coming back to all this mess,” she groaned, waving a hand round the kitchen.

“Always practical,” Annabelle said, smirking. “It’s all right, Luke, I’ll come.”

Pru’s heart sank. Annabelle could have anyone. Anyone at all. Couldn’t she see this was Pru’s Mr Darcy moment?

“No thanks. I’d rather Pru came. But it was lovely meeting you, Annabelle. Maybe you could organise the clearing up, Annabelle?”

Pru was still gaping in amazement as they drove to the hospital in Luke’s car. Had anyone ever turned Annabelle down before?

He seemed able to read her mind.

I hope I wasn’t too rude to your cousin. She seemed to latch on to me the minute she arrived. I never got the chance to talk to a few of my new neighbours.

“Gran said you’d moved in,” Pru managed to say, wondering why Gran hadn’t told her a bit more about her new neighbour. Like the fact that he was drop-dead gorgeous and worked in her hospital, for starters.

“She told me a lot about you,” Luke said, looking at her sideways and smiling. “But most of it was wrong.”

“What do you mean, wrong?” Pru asked, frowning.

“Well… look, we’re nearly at the hospital, and I didn’t get to talk to you at the party either. Why don’t you come and have supper with me tomorrow night? I shouldn’t be hard to find – I live right next door to your gran and I’m a pretty good cook. And modest, too,” he laughed.

“I’d love to,” Pru said, conscious that she’d gone pink, “But what’s my gran been saying about me?”

Luke didn’t answer, but parked the car, and Pru found herself walking swiftly through the hospital to get to her grandmother’s bedside.

Gran beamed at them both.

“Have you asked her out yet?” she asked guilelessly, and Luke laughed.

Pru narrowed her eyes.

Just exactly what’s going on?

“Confession time,” Luke said, still laughing.

“OK,” Gran said, grinning. “When Luke moved in, he came round and saw your photo on my wall and said he’d noticed you at work. So, I invited him to the party.”

“And what else did you say?” Pru persisted, one eyebrow raised.

“Er… I said you were practical… as well as pretty.”

Pru frowned.

“And exactly which bit of that was wrong?” she asked Luke.

“You? Pretty? Rubbish! You’re absolutely beautiful.” And he kissed her on the cheek, in full view of her smiling gran. “Here’s to a new year and a new beginning!”

Our My Weekly Favourites series of lovely feel-good fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.
Don’t forget – you can find brand new, uplifting short stories every week in My Weekly magazine! Subscribe now for a great money-saving deal, or enjoy one of our Little Escapes short story collections.

Allison Hay

I joined the My Weekly team twelve years ago, and I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazine. I manage the digital content for the brand, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters. I also work for Your Best Ever Christmas - perfect as it's my favourite time of year!