All I Want For Christ­mas

Her solo fes­tive break had be­come a full-blown fam­ily oc­ca­sion. What had she let her­self in for?

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - HELLO! -

Lonely at Christ­mas? Then come to beau­ti­ful Devon! Last-minute spe­cial ho­tel deal for sin­gles. Jan glanced at the ad that had popped up at her. She wasn’t that des­per­ate!

As if on cue, the Skype ring­tone started.

‘Hi, Mum,’ said her daugh­ter, loom­ing up on the lap­top screen. ‘How are you do­ing?’

‘Fine, thanks. How are you and those two ras­cals?’

‘Good. Ac­tu­ally, I wanted to run some­thing past you. Dad has asked if he and Al­ice can come out for Christ­mas.’

‘That’s nice,’ Jan man­aged to say through grit­ted teeth.

‘But I can’t bear to think of you on your own, Mum.’

After a year of be­ing ex­actly that, Jan was tired of the sym­pa­thy. When Roger had sug­gested they both took early re­tire­ment, she hadn’t re­alised he wanted to go in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion al­to­gether – with his new as­sis­tant.

‘Ac­tu­ally, I’ve been in­vited some­where my­self.’

‘Re­ally..?’

Later, per­haps be­cause of the sur­prise in her daugh­ter’s voice or the need to prove to her ex that she could man­age with­out him, Jan found her­self di­alling that ho­tel num­ber… ‘What would you like for Christ­mas, Poppy?’ asked Dad.

Grown-ups could be so stupid! ‘Gran, of course.’ ‘That’s not pos­si­ble, dar­ling.’ ‘But Mum said Gran would al­ways be here for us.’

‘Yes. But in a dif­fer­ent way.’ ‘But Christ­mas is her favourite time of the year! She’ll miss it, like I miss her.’

Dad looked upset now. Oh, dear. Mum said they needed to be kind to him be­cause Gran had been his mum and that, now Poppy was nearly 10, she had to be brave, too.

‘Guess what?’ said Mum, com­ing into the kitchen. ‘We’ve been in­vited to Un­cle Ge­off’s for Christ­mas.’

‘Great,’ groaned Dad.

Un­cle Ge­off was Mum’s older brother. They’d al­ways called him the black sheep of the fam­ily. Gran said it was be­cause he was a naughty boy who could get away with any­thing, but that he was great fun with it.

‘The change’ll do us good. Don’t you want to see Ge­off’s new place?’

‘It’s only an­other of his hair-brained schemes.’ ‘What’s that?’ asked Poppy. ‘Noth­ing,’ said Mum quickly. ‘Now let’s start pack­ing.’ It was a five-hour jour­ney down to Devon. Roger had al­ways done the long-dis­tance driv­ing, so this was a new chal­lenge for Jan.

When she ar­rived, she couldn’t be­lieve it! The place was more like a down-at-heel B&B than a ho­tel – shabby and in need of a good lick of paint. What a fool she’d been to pay up­front! With her ex­pe­ri­ence in hos­pi­tal­ity, she should’ve known bet­ter. Still, she was here now.

‘Wel­come!’

Wow! Jan might be nudg­ing 60, but she ap­pre­ci­ated a good-look­ing man when she saw one. It was his broad, warm smile that re­ally got her.

‘I’m Ge­off. Had a good jour­ney, did you? Now let me take your bags and I’ll show you to your room.’

Now was the time to say this place wasn’t right for her, Jan thought, as she fol­lowed him up the rick­ety stairs into a small room with a bright­pur­ple velour head­board circa 1970. Yet Ge­off’s en­thu­si­asm seemed to make up for the ho­tel’s short­com­ings.

‘I’ve given you the best view in the house. Stun­ning, eh?’

Amaz­ing! The bay stretched out be­fore her and, even though it was al­most dusk, she couldn’t wait to ex­plore with the rest of the group! Jan be­gan to feel brighter.

‘I’m look­ing for­ward to the “mys­tery game” evening,’ she said to her host.

‘Ah, that won’t be un­til to­mor­row now,’ he said, ‘as the other guests are ar­riv­ing late.’

‘All of them?’ ‘They’re com­ing as a group.’

‘So they al­ready know each other?’ Jan be­gan to feel alarmed. The whole point of this break was that she wouldn’t be the only ‘sin­gle’!

This was aw­ful! What had she let her­self in for?

Jan found her­self di­alling that ho­tel num­ber

‘Are we nearly there yet?’ asked Poppy. They’d been in the car for ab­so­lutely ages! If

Gran had been here, they’d have played games all the way.

They turned a cor­ner and stopped by a lamp­post.

‘You got here!’

‘Un­cle Ge­off!’ Poppy flew out of the car and into his arms.

‘Come on in, all of you. I’m afraid Jan and I ate ear­lier.’

‘Oooh,’ said Mum. ‘Do you have a girl­friend, then?’

‘No, she’s a guest. I had to open be­fore the house was ready, to get some money in. Do make her feel at home. She’s the only one here.’ Next morn­ing, Jan came down to find a fam­ily ar­gu­ing with Ge­off over break­fast.

‘This is my sis­ter, brother-in­law and niece Poppy,’ said Ge­off. ‘Calm down, you lot; this lady is my first guest!’ ‘

‘But I thought this was a sin­gles break,’ burst out Jan.

‘Ah. Well, no one-else has booked yet,’ he said, rub­bing his chin rue­fully. ‘Still time! Christ­mas isn’t un­til to­mor­row.’

This was out­ra­geous, and she felt more alone than ever.

Tears pricked her eyes. Was she des­tined to be on her own this Christ­mas? The thought of Roger with her daugh­ter made it harder to bear. She de­cided that, after break­fast, she’d drive back home. At least there she wouldn’t have to make po­lite con­ver­sa­tion with strangers.

‘Could I have a quick word?’ asked Ge­off’s sis­ter, stand­ing up and lead­ing Jan into the old-fash­ioned lounge.

‘I’m so sorry you’ve been landed with us, but Ge­off asked us down for a break. We’ve had a dif­fi­cult year. My mum-in-law, who lived with us, died in the sum­mer, and Poppy misses her ter­ri­bly.’

Jan felt a sud­den pang of sym­pa­thy. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘She and Poppy were joined at the hip. They were al­ways play­ing games and go­ing for walks to­gether.’

‘I like walk­ing,’ Jan said, think­ing about how she never could get Roger to come with her.

‘Re­ally? Maybe you’d like to come for a walk on the beach now?’

‘Ac­tu­ally, I’m leav­ing.

This so-called “Christ­mas sin­gles break” is a sham.’

‘Oh, please don’t,’ said Ge­off’s sis­ter, touch­ing her arm. ‘Ge­off would be so upset. He re­ally wants this project of his to work.’

Feel­ing sud­denly sorry for her, Jan re­lented. ‘Look, said Poppy run­ning up to Jan. ‘A shell. Gran used to say you could hear the sea if you held it to your ear.’

‘That’s very true. Have you seen this one? It’s called a mus­sel and it lives on a rock.’

‘I thought you had mus­cles in your arms and legs.’

‘Yes, but a dif­fer­ent kind.’ Poppy frowned. ‘Is that a puz­zle? Gran and I liked to do puz­zles. Un­cle Ge­off says we’re hav­ing a games evening tonight, and af­ter­wards we’re hang­ing out our stock­ings for Santa.’

‘But I don’t have one.’

‘That’s all right. I brought Gran’s with me so she didn’t feel left out.’ Poppy’s eyes shone. ‘I want a paint­ing set. What do you want?’

‘Some­thing I can’t have,’

Jan heard her­self say­ing.

‘You just have to wish harder. Gran al­ways said noth­ing was im­pos­si­ble.’ To Jan’s sur­prise, Christ­mas lunch was bet­ter than she’d ex­pected. Af­ter­wards, they played blind man’s buff at Poppy’s in­sis­tence. When it was Jan’s turn, she ac­ci­den­tally bumped into her host and he gave her a brief hug. The cheek of it! Yet it was also rather flat­ter­ing.

It wasn’t un­til she went back to her room to freshen up that she re­mem­bered the Christ­mas Skype date with her daugh­ter. ‘Are you all right, Mum?’ ‘I think so.’

‘Who ex­actly are you stay­ing with? ‘

‘Just some friends.’ That wasn’t too far from the truth. ‘Are you en­joy­ing your time with your dad?’

‘Hmm. Al­ice won’t have Bill or Bob near her.’

Jan would’ve given any­thing for grand­chil­dren, but her daugh­ter pre­ferred an­i­mals. ‘Well, cats aren’t for ev­ery­one.’

‘Jan!’ There was a rap at the door. ‘We’re play­ing hide-and­seek now. Hurry up!’

‘Who’s that?’

‘One of the crowd. We’re hav­ing lunch on the beach!’ ‘Isn’t it too cold?’

Jan laughed. ‘Ge­off says that’s the whole point.’

‘Ge­off?’

‘Just an­other friend. Sorry, must go.’ Poppy wanted to cry. ‘Why do you have to leave?’

‘Poppy!’ said Dad. ‘You mustn’t bother peo­ple with all your ques­tions.’

‘That’s all right. I like them. It shows she has a bright mind.’ ‘Gran used to say that.’ ‘Talk­ing of bright minds,’ said Ge­off, look­ing at Jan in­quir­ingly. ‘Did you read the note Fa­ther Christ­mas put in your stock­ing?’

‘I did in­deed.’

‘Why are you go­ing red?’ asked Poppy.

‘Well, the thing is,’ said Jan, bend­ing down to Poppy’s height. ‘I used to work in the ho­tel mar­ket­ing busi­ness, so I’ve agreed to come back ev­ery now and then to help your Un­cle Ge­off get his busi­ness go­ing.’

‘Does that mean we’ll see you again?’ gasped Poppy.

‘We’ll have to wait and see.’ In Novem­ber, al­most a year on, the ho­tel was fully booked.

‘That’s the last room gone,’ said Ge­off, putting down the phone, ‘all thanks to you!’

Jan flushed with plea­sure. She’d thought she was done with ho­tel busi­ness after her hus­band left her in the lurch, but see­ing this place made her re­alise she needed a new chal­lenge. Over the year, she’d be­come good friends with Mag­gie, Ge­off’s sis­ter, who said she’d never seen her brother look so happy.

Ge­off had been good for

Jan, too, mak­ing her feel more ca­pa­ble than Roger ever had. And this place had en­chanted her! How she loved walk­ing along the beach with Poppy and her mum. She’d never pre­sume to think of her­self as fam­ily, but it was so nice to have a small per­son in her life.

‘We’d make a great team,’ said Ge­off, tak­ing her hand.

Gen­tly, she brushed it away. ‘We’ve been through this, Ge­off. I like be­ing on my own.’

‘But you’re al­ready part of the fam­ily! Poppy adores you.’

‘That’s ex­actly why we need to stay friends.’

It was true. Be­sides, Jan told her­self, Poppy and her fam­ily might not re­alise it, but they’d given her the best Christ­mas present ever – the con­fi­dence to move for­ward and en­joy all those ex­cit­ing years ahead. What more could you ask for?

THE END Jane Corry, 2018

‘You just have to wish harder. Gran al­ways said noth­ing was im­pos­si­ble’

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