Steve Berry had always had a distinct dislike for Christmas, in fact he hated everything about it, despite all the jollity and faux fun because unlike many of his Christmas mad friends he had no happy Christmas memories to anesthetise him against the season.
His parents were chronic alcoholics and each year their Christmas came in a bottle and thanks to his ill-tempered father, Steve’s came with a slap, so his childhood Christmases were festive memories he would rather have forgotten.
But adulthood brought no relief from the season and it always seemed to him that when shit happened Christmas just magnified the misery.
If someone died at Christmas the very season makes it more keenly felt and he could testify to that fact as his own mother died on Christmas Eve when he was 19.
He had no idea where his father was and quite frankly he didn’t care he never bothered to show up for the funeral and for all he knew he could have been dead as well.
So as a result he had never trusted Christmas, because he knew that shit lurks beneath the coloured lights and paper chains.
That was until Holly Davis opened his eyes to new possibilities and he realised that Christmas could also magnify joy.
After an excess of alcohol and some sneakiness from Holly he found himself working behind the bar in her Uncle Phil’s pub, the Pig and Whistle in Abbeyvale.
He was still uncertain quite how she managed to affect that, but affect it she did and during the ten days he spent working for her, she had turned his life upside down and it culminated at closing time on Christmas Eve as the church bells at St Mary’s chimed midnight, with him wishing her a Merry Christmas and kissing her.
Judging by the way Holly responded Steve hoped that the kiss on Christmas Eve might have been the start of something between them but alas for him it didn’t lead anywhere.
Holly had indeed responded to his advance and in fact had been hoping for it, but she knew it was far too soon to throw caution to the wind.
There were scabs as yet unpicked regarding Steve Berry that needed to be attended to before she completely let down her guard.
Holly considered him to be a work in progress she thought he had potential but he still needed work but there was certainly hope for him, but he was progressing nonetheless.
The other event that occurred on Christmas Eve was a prolonged fall of snow which resulted in them being snowed in.
Holly was due to go to lunch at her cousin’s house but as she lived 30 miles away it was not possible to make the journey safely with the amount of snow that was still laying.
Steve was due to spend the day alone in his flat, not celebrating Christmas at all, but Holly invited him to spend the day with her instead as he hadn’t risked driving home the night before.
He would have been quite happy to have slept on one of the bench seats in the lounge bar as he had once before, but Holly insisted he use the spare room.
So that was how Steve Berry came to celebrate his first ever Christmas and why he was sitting at the bar nursing a cup of coffee in the clothes he had been wearing the night before.
It was as a result of them being snowed in at the Pig and Whistle on Christmas Eve which led to Steve Berry celebrating his first ever Christmas at the age of 30 and why he was sitting at the bar nursing a cup of coffee in the clothes he had been wearing the night before.
“Morning” he said as Holly appeared behind the bar
“Happy Christmas” Holly said and reached over and kissed his cheek.
Now it was not the kiss he was hoping for and it was not possessed of the passion that accompanied the embrace of the night before but that simple peck on the cheek held within it something very special, and that was hope.
“God its cold in here” she said
“Yes, there was a power cut during the night and it knocked the boiler out” he said
“I’ve relit it but it’ll take a while to warm the place up”
“This was not the Christmas day I had in mind” Holly said putting the collar of her dressing gown up
“Nor me” he added
She was supposed to be dining on a sumptuous feast at her cousin’s house, while he was supposed to be in self-imposed exile at his flat pretending that Christmas was just a bad dream.
“Do you want a drink?” he asked
“Oh yes please” she replied and Steve got up and went to the kitchen returning a few minutes later with a steaming mug of tea
“Thanks hon” she said and winced at her involuntary over familiarization and quickly went on.
“I don’t know what we are going to eat today” Holly said
“We will need to ferret in the freezer”
“I didn’t know ferret was traditional Christmas fare” Steve said “but I’m no expert on Christmas.
“You know what I mean” she said smiling “Can you cook?”
“A bit” he replied
“Good because I’m rubbish” Holly admitted
Steve actually undersold himself when he said he could cook a bit
He could in fact cook very well, exceptionally well.
Steve not being a traditionalist or a fan of the season could certainly make something out of what was on hand in the kitchen.
Holly however wanted to have a roast lunch, with all the trimmings, but after they checked the freezer they had to rule out a roast dinner as the joints would never have defrosted in time, and they were too big for the microwave and as they were frozen hard, impossible to cut down to size, but there were alternatives.
The fresh vegetable stores were limited but more than sufficient for two people.
Although she couldn’t cook herself, Holly was determined to help, firstly by peeling the potatoes and carrots and then by getting out of his way so he could get on by taking herself off upstairs to get ready for the day.
While Holly was gone Steve finished preparing the food and when he was done he was very pleased that he had achieved something to suit Holly’s traditional wishes, at least in part.
Steve Berry had just reached the point where he could safely leave the kitchen and get showered and shaved when Holly reappeared and he was stopped in his tracks.
She looked stunning, her mousy hair, washed and styled was adorned with Christmas slides and she was wearing a white wool dress decorated with poinsettias.
And her shapely legs were covered by black tights with motifs of bows and parcels and as he looked at her from head to toe he thought to himself that he’d like them to be stockings rather than tights, but nice legs were nice legs regardless of what they were sheathed in.
“Wow” Steve exclaimed
“Wow” he said again and Holly blushed
“It’s a Christmas dress you know” she said
“I don’t care” he said “wow”
“But you don’t like Christmas” she pointed out
“It’s growing on me” he said unable to take his eyes off her
“Good” she said “you won’t mind wearing this then”
When would he ever learn, he now had to wear another blessed Christmas sweater.
“Where do you keep getting them from?” he asked
“They’re Uncle Phil’s” she replied “I buy him one every year”
“But I’ve never seen Phil in a Christmas jumper, not ever” Steve said
“No nor of I” Holly agreed
Steve went upstairs, showered and shaved and returned to find Holly had laid a table in the lounge bar, complete with festive serviettes, candles, party poppers and crackers.
On the CD player the Puppini Sisters were in full voice and his natural aversion to Christmas music was tempered by the fact that he caught Holly singing and dancing along with the music.
He stayed out of sight in the doorway so he could enjoy the spectacle as long as possible.
When she eventually became aware of him she blushed redder than the poinsettias on her dress.
“How long have you been standing there?” she said suddenly flustered and began fussing with the table.
“Long enough” Steve replied
“You should have said something” Holly said as she headed towards the kitchen still flushed red
“What and spoil the show” he replied as he followed close behind her and chuckled.
Holly carried on with the table while Steve checked the oven and ten minutes later he was transferring everything to serving dishes which Holly took to the table.
All he had left to do was make the gravy and get the Yorkshire puddings out of the oven.
Christmas dinner was as traditional as he could manage given the limits of the provisions available but it was Holly’s turn to say “Wow” as he served Chicken breast wrapped in bacon, served with Roast potatoes, roast parsnips, carrots, peas, stuffing and Yorkshire pudding.
“What no starters” she said tongue in cheek
Holly lit the candles and Steve opened the wine, then they pulled the crackers and she made him wear a paper hat.
For desert he served apple pie and ice cream after which they watched the Queens speech.
As soon as the Queens speech was over Holly switched off the TV
“What now?” he asked
“Now we sit and talk” She replied
“You mean “talk”” Steve said
“Do we have to” He said “It’s been such a lovely day”
“How are we supposed to learn about each other if we don’t talk?”
“So what do you want to know?” he said resignedly
“You’re childhood” Holly said with great interest
“What about it?” he replied
“Well, it’s not just Christmas that was unhappy was it”
“No it wasn’t” he replied and Holly settled back to let him unburden himself
“It wasn’t just Christmas, it was New Year’s, Easter, Halloween and birthdays”
He paused and took a drink
“You see my parents were alcoholics, when I was young they managed to somehow keep it under control and were functioning alcoholics, they held down jobs and to the outside world they seemed normal.
But once I got to school age I pretty much raised myself, which is how I came to learn to cook, because if I didn’t cook I didn’t eat”
They had spent a very pleasant Christmas day together, snowed in at the pub, the last thing he wanted to do was regurgitate the unpleasant moments of his life, particularly as he had been doing his best to forget them.
But once he started he couldn’t stop and by the end of it he was exhausted as they sat in the gathering darkness.
Holly was largely quiet throughout and just added the odd word of encouragement and support.
Holly broke the short period of silence.
“How do you feel?”
“Surprisingly good” he responded
However, despite his feeling unburdened by the lengthy afternoon revelations there was an awkward silence in the aftermath, so Steve disappeared down to the kitchen to make them both a snack.
He wondered if he should have held back and if he had unnerved Holly with his total honesty.
“I should have drip fed her” he said as he walked around the kitchen “Let her absorb it and then I could have said more, but no, you had to blurt out every sordid detail of your pathetic life and now she probably thinks you’re a nut job”
When he had finished with the rant and the snack he put it on a tray and carried it upstairs to the lounge where Holly greeted his arrival with a smile, but not a nervous smile, it was a kindly open smile, from someone happy to see him return.
“God that was good” Holly said after consuming the snack he had prepared with relish.
“Every cloud has a silver lining” he said referring to the reason that he had learned to cook in the first place.
“There is always a positive in life” Holly said sagely “you just have to look for it”
“Well that’s what I plan to do” he said and cleared the plates away
“I’ll pour us another drink” He added
When Steve returned to the lounge Holly was sitting on the sofa with a Christmas present on her lap and she was smiling broadly.
“Happy Christmas” she said as she handed him the gift
“What’s this?” he asked
“Well open it and find out” Holly answered
“I wasn’t expecting a present” Steve said and sat down beside her on the sofa and squeezed the package
“Oh no not another Christmas sweater” he said and Holly giggled as he tore the paper open.
But when he had removed all the paper and unfolded its contents he saw that although it was indeed a sweater, it was not a novelty Christmas one like those she had made him wear for the previous ten days but a plain blue one in cashmere.
“That’s fantastic” he said enthusiastically “I love it
“Try it on then” Holly insisted and stood up
Holly took hold of the new one while Steve removed the one he was wearing and then they swapped.
As Steve pulled the cashmere over his head Holly held the novelty one he had just removed up to her nose and inhaled his scent.
“That looks great” she said when he had put it on
“It feels it” he said “can I keep it on?”
“Yes” she said and held the other one to her breast and he walked over to the Christmas tree and plunged his hand in between the branches.
It was perhaps testament to the progress that he had made over such a short period of time that he had actually bought her a present, which he removed from its hiding place and said
“When did you put that there?” she asked in amazement
“This morning” Steve replied
“That was sneaky” Holly said and ripped the paper off like a mad woman until she was left with a little blue presentation box embossed with gold relief.
She looked at it in wide eyed wonder, it was jewelry, he had bought her jewelry and from a quality jeweler’s.
Holly took a deep breath and then opened the box and then she gasped.
“It’s lovely” she said as she took it out the box and held the gold pendant in her hand.
It was in the shape of a holly leaf and it had her name engraved on it.
“I love it, I absolutely love it” she said “put it on for me”
Steve took the pendant from her and when Holly turned her back to him, she reached back and scooped her hair out of the way while he fastened it.
Then she went to the mirror, stood on her tiptoes and looked at herself and admired the pendant.
“I really love it” Holly said and then she let out a squeal as she rushed towards him and then for the second day running they ended the day with a passionate kiss.