Three More Bless­ings

Friend­ship is for ever in this per­cep­tive com­plete story by Emma Can­ning.

The People's Friend Special - - REAL LIFE -

IT’S New Year’s Eve and there are just two hours un­til mid­night. I’m sit­ting alone on my sofa, sip­ping a cup of tea and think­ing about two im­por­tant things that I’ve vowed to do be­fore the end of the year. I’ve been putting off th­ese tasks for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons. The f irst task in­volves the rekin­dling of a fam­ily tra­di­tion which I’ve saved de­lib­er­ately for the last hours of 2015.

The other task is more daunt­ing, and in­volves a painful de­ci­sion that I’ve come to re­gret.

I’ve been dwelling on it a great deal re­cently, and I’ve promised my­self that I’ll put things right be­fore the year is out.

My mo­bile phone is ly­ing be­side me; with a deep breath I pick it up. There are three peo­ple I’m long­ing to speak to. But it’s so diff icult. Which of them should I phone f irst?

My courage deserts me and an eas­ier op­tion si­dles into my mind – per­haps I could con­tact all three of them to­gether with a text mes­sage. I be­gin typ­ing. Hi, it’s Grace! Re­mem­ber me? No, that sounds far too flip­pant. With one thumb I delete the words and start again. Dear Jenny, Lou and Kat, It’s Grace. I of­ten think of you all and I’m so dread­fully sorry . . .

****

It’s f ive years since I last saw my three friends, whom I’d known since sec­ondary school, and I can still pic­ture the hurt in their eyes.

We’d met for a meal in a pub as we did ev­ery couple of months, to spend the evening catching up on each other’s news. We chat­ted about our jobs, our hus­bands, our house­hold rou­tines . . . and they talked of their chil­dren.

I al­ways en­joyed lis­ten­ing, of course, but on that par­tic­u­lar night each word caught like a barb in my heart. Jenny’s chil­dren were teenagers; Lou’s were tod­dlers and Kat had a new baby.

Harry and I had been try­ing for a baby for four years, and I had just re­ceived the test re­sults that conf irmed it was never go­ing to hap­pen for us.

There were tears in my friends’ eyes as well as in mine as I broke the news to them. “Oh, Grace, I’m so sorry.” Each of them said the words in their own way; each reached out a hand to touch me, want­ing to take away some of the pain I was feel­ing. “Thank you.” I swal­lowed and met their gazes in turn. “If you don’t mind, I don’t think I’ll come out with you next time. It’s more than I can bear at the mo­ment. I can’t ex­pect you not to talk about your lovely chil­dren, so I’ll drop out of our get­to­geth­ers for a bit. Just while I come to terms with ev­ery­thing.”

They were very dis­tressed but I was de­ter­mined, and in the end they’d ac­cepted it sor­row­fully.

“We’re al­ways here for you,” they told me. “Join us again when­ever you’re ready.”

I fully in­tended to go back, but I never did, and even­tu­ally their phone calls and texts pe­tered out.

I joined a sup­port group and sur­rounded my­self with peo­ple who were go­ing through the same diff icul­ties as I was, but still I strug­gled to cope.

My mar­riage to Harry broke down un­der the strain. This was a point when I needed my three friends more than ever but, newly sin­gle and feel­ing low, I sadly had to con­clude that I now had even less in com­mon with them.

THEN, two years ago, I met Craig, who was a wid­ower with three chil­dren. I fell in love with him and with the chil­dren, too. We’re go­ing to be mar­ried in the spring.

Tonight they’re all here in my house to cel­e­brate New Year, and right now he’s up­stairs with the chil­dren, try­ing to set­tle them down.

There’s a shriek of laugh­ter from my largest spare room, where the girls are sup­posed to be sleep­ing – the ex­cite­ment of New Year has been keep­ing them awake.

I can’t help grin­ning and I dash my tears away. The sound of thun­der­ing feet on the stairs sweeps aside my rem­i­nis­cences and the girls ap­pear, fling­ing them­selves on the sofa be­side me.

“Dad was telling us a story, but we want to see the f ire­works,” Sasha, the el­dest, tells me.

“Yes, there’ll be lots at mid­night!” Rhi­an­non yells.

Six-year-old Joe has ap­peared, too, doubt­less wo­ken by the shout­ing. He stum­bles down­stairs in his lit­tle blue and white striped py­ja­mas, rub­bing sleep from his eyes, to join us.

I hug all three of them, and Craig smiles.

“You don’t mind them stay­ing up, do you, Grace?”

I shake my head and kiss each flushed cheek, hug­ging their warm lit­tle bod­ies close.

Mind? Of course I don’t. Not a day goes by that I don’t marvel at my good for­tune at meet­ing a won­der­ful man and three beau­ti­ful chil­dren who have come to view me as their sec­ond mother.

“I’m glad you’re awake,” I tell them, “be­cause tonight I’m re­vis­it­ing a fam­ily tra­di­tion. One that helps me count my bless­ings.” “The bless­ing jar?” Sasha asks. “That’s right.” “Let me fetch it!” Rhi­an­non wrig­gles off

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