Stella was the consummate hostess. She knew that. Her friends knew that. Every monthly magazine worth its gloss knew that. In the 20 years since her Christmas wedding to Sebastian, replete with candlelit church, choral dinner accompaniment and tasteful smattering of fake snow, Stella had gone from strength to strength. Her 40th birthday “festival” and the twins’ circus-themed 18th birthday party had been of particular note. But then the plagiarism had begun. These days, there was no such thing as a party without a major rock band performing; plus the last 50th she’d been to had come complete with pop-up spa and personlised champagne bottles as going-home presents.
Naturally, she had no choice but to up the ante. And with Sebastian’s 50th in her sights, she had the perfect opportunity. This wasn’t going to be just a great party. This was going to be an immersive party where their top 300 friends would be transported to an alternative reality.
It hadn’t taken her long to settle on the Blade Runner theme. Not only was it Sebastian’s favourite film – he had watched it 75 times in his teenage years – but it also meant hiring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford lookalikes as waiting staff.
As she stood at the entrance to the marquee, surveying her creation before the guests arrived, Stella – whose red-lipped femme-fatale allure did not seem lost on the gratifyingly Gosling-like barman, who held her gaze as he handed her a martini – felt a thrill of anticipation. The air, which flickered with the light from neon street signs, was thick with the sound of falling rain and car horns; mist rose from the vents at street level, while men in trilbies and mackintoshes hopped over puddles, and women smoking cigarettes in holders appraised them from behind the curled licks of hair that covered their eyes. And then there was the smell: an intoxicating mix of Japanese incense and dumplings, steaming up from the street stalls that would serve food all night.
She turned to see Sebastian who, unbeknownst to her, had followed her into the vast marquee. “What on earth have you done to your hair?” she squeaked.
“I’ve bleached it,” he grinned. “So I look like Rutger Hauer.”
As it was his party, Stella squashed the urge to say something derogatory. At least it covered up the grey.
As the first guests entered the marquee, Stella was gratified to see their jaws drop in amazement. This party was going to be out of this world and nothing, not even the rain, was going to get in the way. If anything, it would make it more authentic.
Far too many martinis later, Stella was happily swaying to Vangelis on the black gloss dancefloor when she remembered, to her horror, that the cutting of the cake and the celebratory speeches hadn’t yet happened. Looking around the marquee, straining to see through the fog of dry ice, it dawned on her that her perfect party was turning into a dystopian nightmare. Nobody was dancing, as all the women were gawping at the waiters – “Ryan”, at this point, had set up a black leather dentist’s chair and was pouring vodka into willing mouths – and all the men were shooting each other with laser guns. Frantically scanning the party, she realised she hadn’t seen Sebastian all night. She ran out into the rain, calling his name.
It didn’t take her long to spot him as his hair looked like a lightbulb. He was sitting on the roof of one of the mini skyscrapers she’d had artfully dotted around the garden. Stella scrambled up alongside him. He had his shirt off and was crying.
“Aren’t you enjoying your party, darling?” she asked through gritted teeth.
He shook his peroxide head.
“I saw you flirting with that waiter,” he said. “And who can blame you? I’m just an overweight, middle-aged man with a bad dye job and I just don’t know what any of it is all about any more. I don’t know who I am or who I should be.”
“You’re the host, darling,” Stella replied, trying – and failing – to sound sympathetic. “And you need to get off the roof and pull yourself together.”
“But I can’t!” he wailed. “Don’t you see? We’ve chosen the wrong theme! We should have chosen one that could have fixed how I’m feeling!”
“Oh, really?” she snapped. “And what theme would have pulled off that particular feat?”
Sebastian looked up at her pathetically, his tears bleeding into the rain.
“Back to the Future,’’ he whispered faintly.