All I Want For Christmas
Her solo festive break had become a full-blown family occasion. What had she let herself in for?
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.’
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.
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!’
‘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.’
‘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’