Dec 11, 2023

My finger hovered over the mouse button, but something stopped me from making the final click. Was I buying the right one? Should I even be buying either of them? Maybe she would think it was really silly; that I was being daft for spending my money on her like this. Creepy, even.

I hit the back button to return to my previous choice. T111 SEL. It would spell ‘tinsel’ if you put the black screw between the last two 1s and made them look like an N. Or the other one? I went forward again. GL17 TER. The 7 did look a bit like another T, so it would spell ‘glitter’.

Tinsel or glitter? Which one for the gorgeous party planner I had met when she had organised a birthday bash that my kids had gone to a couple of weeks ago?

Was it only a couple of weeks? How had it happened that I was even considering buying something as personal as a number plate for someone I had known for such a short time? And to tell the truth, it was not as if I was even looking when we had first met. It had only been a year and a half since Amanda had died, and I was starting to get into the groove of being a single dad looking after my feisty five-year-old twins.

I hadn’t even clocked her when I first ushered the twins into their school friend’s kitchen diner, trying not to flinch too obviously at the ear-piercing screams of the children already round the large dining table. I made sure my kids were securely seated, before doing that usual dad thing of crossing my arms and standing back by the window with the other grown-ups. We all gazed at our little darlings with a mixture of indulgent pride and nervous apprehension. At what point would the sugar rush from the jelly, cakes, ice-cream and chocolate send the already-high energy levels into the stratosphere?

“That is – or rather, was – a very impressive Smartie volcano,” I observed to the woman beside me, looking at a particularly well-made chocolate cake that my daughter Isobel was busily destroying with her spoon.

“Thanks,” the woman replied. “Nice of you to say.”

“You made it?” I asked, turning to look at her. She nodded. “Oh, gosh,” I said with a rueful smile, “I am so sorry. My daughter can be really destructive.”

“It’s not a problem,” she said. “That’s what it’s there for.”

She was tall, nearly my height, and had long blond hair pulled back into a pony tail. Her sloppy sweat top, short skirt and Doc Martens should have made her look like a woman desperately trying to recapture her teens, but somehow on her it had a rather sophisticated look. Stylish, even.

“Which one’s yours?” I asked, waving a hand vaguely in the direction of the children.

“None of them, actually.” I raised an enquiring eyebrow, so she explained, “I’m the party planner and caterer, not a mum.”

“Oh, right.” The conversation stalled a moment, starved of the usual oxygen of grumbling about one’s kids.

“You must be a saint to put up with so much screaming and shouting all the time,” I volunteered. “Don’t you have any kids yourself?” I shuddered inwardly. Basic chat-up fail – asking if they have kids. The kind of thing that gets you fired from an American corporation just for asking. How could I be so un-woke? I’m a single dad for goodness sake.

“No,” she replied, leaning her head slightly towards me as a piece of chocolate cake hit the window behind her. “I cater for them, but don’t have any myself.” She smiled. Maybe I had got away with it. A sudden thought occurred. “You aren’t also the entertainer, are you? Making dogs out of balloons and pulling 50p coins out of their ears? That sort of thing?”

She gave a small grin. “No, I book those in. Mr. Marvel is no doubt stretching his balloons in the utility room even as we speak.” She paused, then held out her hand. “Claudia.” We shook hands, a bit like we were being introduced at a networking breakfast. Hers was cool and dry, and her grip firm. “Andrew,” I replied, hoping my own wasn’t too clammy. “Nice to meet you.”

Just then Izzy ran up and tugged at my jacket. “Daddy, daddy, daddy, Ollie just took my bowl of jelly and ate it all!”

I crouched down to Izzy’s level, and felt Claudia squatting as well with her hand still in mine. “He’s your brother. Be nice to him.”

“There’s plenty more jelly,” added Claudia.

Izzy didn’t reply, but looked at Claudia, then at me, then back at Claudia. It was if she was saying, ‘Daddy, why are you holding hands with a strange woman?’ She frowned, then ran back to the table and grabbed another bowl of jelly.

“Sorry,” I said as we stood up and separated. “Kids can be so judgemental.”

“No, no,” Claudia replied. “She’s just checking out the competition.”


We got home a few hours later. Izzy and Ollie ran into the house shouting for the cat, who, quite sensibly, was making himself scarce. My suggestion of bath and bed was completely ignored.

I let them play a while, hoping that their sugar highs would come down soon, while I sat at the kitchen table clutching a coffee. I opened my phone case and carefully withdrew the little card, turning it over and over. ‘Claudia Darrin, Party Planner,’ it said on one side. On the other was the name of her business, ‘Tinsel and Glitter’. I looked at my phone. Should I text her? She had said to ‘keep in touch’ when she gave me the card – but was that just politeness? What did she mean by the significant look when she handed it over? Was it ‘keep in touch – I have to say that but please understand, I don’t actually mean it.’ Or ‘keep in touch, and I really do mean it?’ Why was I so shit at reading signals? And if she actually did mean it, would it be too soon to text her? I tucked the card back into the phone case and closed it. Too soon. Way too soon.

The phone pinged but I left it closed. Probably some meaningless notification from Instagram. It was not as if Claudia was texting me. No way was that going to happen.

It pinged again and I quickly flipped it open.

[Hi, this is Claudia. Do you fancy meeting for a coffee?] There was a second text right below it. [If that’s not too forward? Worried face emoji]

Should I text back now? Respond too quickly and she’ll think I’m desperate. Too slow and she’ll think I don’t care…

I gave it ten minutes. [Love to. Where and when?]


The coffee shop was quiet as I went inside, blowing on my hands to warm them. She was already sitting at a corner table. I ordered a cappuccino and went over.

“I hope you didn’t mind me texting?” she said as I sat.

“Not at all. Delighted,” I answered, hoping my smile was ‘warm and friendly’ rather than ‘weird and scary’. There was a silence, which I felt compelled to fill. “Great party the other day. Izzy and Ollie thought Mr. Marvel’s balloon work was great.”

“Thanks. They’re sweet kids.”

Not when it’s bath or bedtime, I thought. “Do you do parties every weekend?” I asked aloud.

“Most. I’m booked up for the next three weeks, then I am taking the weekend off.” She paused. “As it’s my birthday.”

I grinned conspiratorially. “Noted!”

Aaagh! Did that mean she wanted me to get her something? This was only the second time we had met, and she was already sharing her birthday info. Although to be fair, I had dropped the ‘widower’ thing in fairly early on myself.

“Any plans for the big day?” I asked.

“Not really, just avoiding organising any parties.”

“It must be nice not to have to plan anything,” I said. Then found myself adding, “We could have a celebratory dinner..?”

WHAT? You arsehole, Andrew! Where did that come from?

“Dinner would be lovely!” she said. “Where are you taking me?”


I poured Claudia a celebratory glass of bubbly as she studied the menu. “Happy birthday,” I said, chinking my glass on hers.

“Thanks, Andrew,” she replied, looking at me over the rim. “You know…” she began, and my stomach tightened in apprehension at what she might be about to say. “It’s only been a few weeks since we first met, but I feel like I’ve known you forever.” She paused, her lips slightly parted; her eyes twinkling in the candlelight. “You really seem to understand me.”

“Gosh,” I replied, biting my own lip. “I might be about to blow that with your present.”

“Ooh,” she said. “What have you got me? Something completely unusual, I hope. If it’s chocolates I’m outta here!” She paused. “It’s not lingerie is it? That would be such a cliché.”

I breathed a sigh of relief as I took out the licence-plate sized gift box. She smiled as she tapped it thoughtfully her hand. “What’s this I wonder? And why is it covered in glitter?