Mistletoe And Miracles (Part One)
It was Christmas Day at my parents’ house and it was heaving with all my happy semi intoxicated relatives, Mum and Dad, my kid brother, two older sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins.
And I’m glad they were happy even if I wasn’t.
I just wished they would take their happiness elsewhere I had no need of it.
Even if I was the reason the entire clan had assembled that day.
It was my mother’s idea to invite everyone to make Christmas noisy and happy and jolly to keep me distracted.
My mother was something of a force of nature so when she “invited” it was generally accepted to be an order, she meant well of course.
Christmas Dinner was tolerable enough, the jollity was blissfully muted when they had their mouths full of my mums excellent cooking.
But then as soon as the last spoonful of Christmas Pud had been consumed it all ramped up again.
Mum organized the girls in the kitchen and Dad got everyone else clearing away in preparation for an afternoon of fun.
I retreated to the hall and got my coat on the last thing I needed was fun.
“Where are you going Nick?” mum asked
“I just need to walk my dinner off” I replied patting my stomach
She nodded her understanding and knew it was nothing to do with needing a constitutional.
“Do you want some company?” she asked
“No mum I’ll be fine, I won’t be long”
“You’ll need your hat and scarf” she insisted and draped a scarf around my neck and pulled my woolen hat on my head.
Then she put a hand on each cheek and kissed me like she did when I was a boy.
I smiled a weak smile.
"You’ll need gloves as well" she said “its bitter cold out there”
Her voice cracked and she walked quickly back into the kitchen.
I wished for her sake I could hide my sadness, it had almost been as difficult a year for her as it had for me.
"I'll be fine mum," I said to myself "I just need time”
I braced myself as I opened the front door and then walked outside and saw it was still snowing.
I reached the end of the path and turned back to look at the Waterfield house where I had spent such a happy childhood.
It was midafternoon and it was already getting dark so I decided to stick to the main road until my eyes became accustomed.
It was years since I had seen a white Christmas, it was a shame I wasn’t in a better frame of mind to enjoy it.
Even in the semi darkness there was clear evidence the village children had been out in force.
There was no sign of them as the light began to fail they were probably lured back indoors with mugs of hot chocolate by their concerned families.
As I made my way up the hill towards St Jane’s church the snow started to fall harder.
I looked at the houses as I passed them with coloured lights resplendent and wondered at what sadness lurked in their homes and then I chastised myself for my self-pity.
It was just that I had had such high hopes for that Christmas, it had held so much promise.
I’d started a new job the previous February, I am an engineer by profession.
And as every other new hire I got the first day office tour, on this occasion conducted by my new boss Gary Ash.
After shaking hands with an indeterminate number of employees I began to understand what the Queen had to contend with.
“This is the procurement department” Gary said and half a dozen heads turned around to greet us and one smartly dressed young woman stepped out of a corner office.
“Ah Gina” Gary called “This is Nick Waterfield the new head of Engineering”
Gina reached out her hand and I took it
“Gina Davies” she said and that was that, she had me hook line and sinker, we had our first date that Friday and we were married just after Easter.
It was a whirlwind romance and we had our whole lives ahead of us and we made plans upon plans.
Of course what we never planned for was a drunk driver to cross the central reservation and hit her head on as she drove home the day before Halloween.
I should have been with her, we always drove home together but at the last minute I had to go to Aberdeen so she died alone.
I wished I’d been in the car with her, I wished I’d died with her then I wouldn’t have felt so shit.
Mistletoe And Miracles (Part Two)
The snow was falling fast and the wind was blowing it straight at me so discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to take refuge in the Church of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal.
I hadn’t set foot in a church since the funeral, God and I had not been on speaking terms since he took Gina.
I didn’t plan to go in I just intended taking shelter in the porch until the snow eased off a bit, but the door suddenly opened.
"What on earth are you doing out here?" said a voice behind me
I turned around to see it was Charli Newcombe.
They had gone to school together and had even dated briefly on two separate occasions.
Once when they were still at school and again when he returned from university.
But it never seemed to happen for them.
“Hey Charli” he said "I was just out for a walk."
“In this?” she said
"So what are you really doing out here?"
“Trivial Pursuits” I replied
“The family are all playing Trivial Pursuits, I didn’t really fancy it”
"Anyway it’s Christmas Day” I retorted “Shouldn't you be at home watching The Sound of Music?”
"You’d think so wouldn’t you, My folks are both asleep in front of the TV and I had sole control of the remote, and I suddenly got the notion I should come and get the church ready for tomorrows service” even she seemed surprised by her answer.
Apart from running the general store and post office Charli was also the church warden.
Her late husband Tony had been the Vicar.
Charli was the same age as me give or take a month or two, I was thirty and she was a month short of that milestone.
And like me she was born and bred in the village.
She had married Tony shortly after he got the job as Vicar he was quite a few years older than her but she loved him to distraction, and you can’t argue with love.
She was devastated when he had a heart attack in the church and died.
That was shortly after he had performed the wedding ceremony for Gina and I.
I had seen a lot of her since I came back to stay with my parents in the village.
I suppose I sought her out because of our history together and I knew she would understand how it felt to lose someone.
And maybe help me come to terms with the grief.
We had talked it through endlessly and had burnt the midnight oil many times.
And some of the old feelings I had for her had come to the surface, for which I felt immensely guilty and disloyal to Gina’s memory.
“You look like you could do with a hot drink," she said opening the door
"No I won’t come in thanks" I said
"It’s Christmas, you could call a truce for the sake of the day at least”
"Ok" I relented and hesitantly followed her into the church.
The most overwhelming feeling washed over me.
It was one of great happiness as I remembered that wonderful day when Gina and I were married.
I would have expected to feel sorrow at the memory but it was pure joy I felt and immense pride.
I took off my hat, scarf and gloves and I know it will sound silly but the moment I crossed the threshold into the sanctuary of the church I’d felt a weight lift from me.
Charli had gone into a side room and switched on the light but I found I was walking down the aisle towards the altar where I paused briefly before an effigy of the saint and then sat down on the front pew.
Mistletoe And Miracles (Part Three)
When I got up from the front pew I found all the anger and resentment had washed away I felt more positive than I had in weeks and I felt I could even look forward.
I stood up and smiled at St Jane and went in search of the drink I was offered.
I found Charli in the little kitchen sat at a small table and she looked up at me and smiled and as I walked in I returned her smile.
"Is this mine?" I asked pointing at a mug by the kettle
"Yes" she replied "but I’ll make you a fresh one”
“No this will be fine” I said and took a sip “urgh”
“I told you” Charli said laughing
“How long was I sitting out there?” I asked her
She checked her watch
“About forty minutes”
“I’m sorry” I said “it only seemed like two or three”
“So how do you feel?” she enquired
“Surprisingly good” I replied and sat down “St Jane was very helpful”
“Yes she is isn’t she” Charli said as she re-boiled the kettle
“I’m still angry that I didn’t get to say goodbye to her” I admitted
“I know that feeling” Charli retorted
“We had such a short time together, we should have had decades, and instead we only had months”
And then I surprised myself when I smiled at her and added
“But those months were so special and so filled with joy that the time we had together was priceless”
“Amen to that” Charli said
“Which is precisely what you’ve been telling me all these weeks” I confessed
“Uh huh” she responded and we sat and drank our coffee in a comfortable silence.
Charli’s flicked her eyes upwards and caused me to do the same and I saw the mistletoe hanging above the table then she leant across the table and kissed me.
After the kiss it was me who broke the silence
"So do you have someone special in your life?”
"Do you mean a boyfriend?” she replied
"Yes" I said
"I was kind of hoping you might want the job” Charli said
“I think I would” I said and reached across the table and took hold of her hand.
“If you’ll have me”
She leant across the table and kissed me again this time it was a long lingering sensual kiss.
“Are we allowed to do that in church?” I asked
“Only on Christmas Day” she replied and kissed me again.
She locked up the Church and we stepped out from the shelter of the porch and the snow had abated but it was still falling and I smiled as it accumulated on top of her hat.
I offered her my hand which she accepted gladly and then I walked her home hand in hand through the snow.
Her parents’ house was only two doors down from mine so walking her home wasn’t out of the way not that it would have made any difference if she had lived on the other side of the village.
We stopped by the front gate and stood facing each other and I leant in and kissed her, her response was immediate and yielding.
It was a long purposeful kiss full of tenderness and hope for the future.
When I reluctantly broke away I said
“I’ll see you tomorrow then?”
“Yes” Charli replied and went up the path, pausing at the door to turn and wave before she went inside.
“Are you alright dear?” Mum asked with concern
“Yes” I said and smiled “I rather think I am”
And the effect on her was instant as the worry and anxiety melted away and she looked five years younger in an instant.
“I’m so glad” she said and rushed forward to hug me.
I have to admit I have given a good deal of reflective thought about exactly what happened that snowy Christmas Day afternoon.
Was it coincidence that I chose to walk in the direction of St Jane’s Church, or that I needed to take shelter precisely as I passed its sanctuary, or that Charli would open the door to leave just as I stood sheltering beneath the porch?
And what possessed her to leave the warmth and comfort of her parent’s cozy fireside on Christmas Day to tidy a cold and draughty Church.
I know what I believe and as to what transpired between me and the Saint as I sat on that Church pew is between me, St Jane and God.