It was Christmas Eve and Samantha Dunlop, who worked at Hanratty’s Department Store in Abbottsford’s Phoenix Centre, was just on her way back to work after having had lunch with her boyfriend Darren.
“Bastard” she muttered under her breath as she entered the centre.
Sam was running the lunch time conversation through her head which was why she was so angry.
“You’re breaking up with me?” she asked in disbelieve across the table in McDonald’s.
“Don’t take it so hard babe” he said
“You’re breaking up with me on Christmas Eve?” she repeated
“I didn’t see why not I haven’t got your present yet so it was a win, win babe” he said
“You cheap bastard” she yelled and poured his chocolate shake over him
“I can see this is going to be another shit Christmas” she said to herself as she walked into Hanratty’s.
She went into the staff room and took off her coat and woollen had and shook her black hair like a wet dog.
The day before she had been passed over for promotion and then she gets dumped on Christmas Eve.
She was a 29 years old divorcee and she had worked for the department store in the cosmetics department for seven years and she was passed over for Abigail Subhan,
A 22 year old University graduate who had to take her head out of her arse to smell the perfume.
About 4 o’clock that afternoon a middle aged man entered the department and walked up to Samantha’s counter
“Good afternoon sir how may I help?”
"I would like to buy some perfume for my wife." he said
"Certainly sir" she replied. "What does your wife like?”
“I’ve no idea” he replied
“Do you have anything particular in mind?" she asked through gritted teeth
"Not really." he said "but nothing very expensive."
"I understand sir” she said and reached behind her “How about this one?"
He picked it up and looked it over and asked
"How much is it?"
"£150” she replied
“No, I did say nothing very expensive”
She place that bottle back where she had got it from and picked up its neighbour.
“This one is Eighty pounds sir”
"That's still too expensive" he replied
She presented him with a smaller bottle
“How about this one?" she said
"How much?” he asked.
"Fifty pounds sir."
"Do you have anything else?" he enquired.
"Well, there's this small bottle at twenty five pounds."
"Look love" he whispered "I want you to show me something really cheap"
Samantha smiled and said conspiratorially
“Come this way”
She led him to the makeup counter and said
“Just stand there and look straight ahead”
“What for?” he asked
Her green eyes narrowed and she said
“Because you said you wanted to see something really cheap, and that is as cheap as I’ve ever seen”
“Mrs Dunlop!!” Ms Subhan called “My office now”
So on top of missing out on promotion and being dumped by her boyfriend she was also sacked from Hanratty’s.
But then maybe saying to her boss that even with the biggest nose in Abbottsford she couldn’t tell the difference between Chanel and Dettol, didn’t really help her case.
Her first reaction was to go straight to the pub and get plastered but she was driving to Shallowfield that evening.
And the way her luck was going at that moment she was bound to get stopped by the police and lose her license along with everything else.
Samantha had phoned her best and oldest friend Emily as soon as she got back to work after Darren dumped her and Emily invited her to stay with her and her husband Matt for Christmas.
The Charlton’s had a Flat in East Cliff Lodge, on Teardrop Lake, so she went straight home after she was canned and packed a bag.
As she left Abbottsford it started to snow and the snow that had fallen ten days earlier was still evident on the ground so the fresh fall quickly settled.
Samantha didn’t like driving in the snow, well she didn’t like driving full stop if she was honest, and so she was driving very cautiously.
The snow was obviously coming from the direction she was heading because as she was driving between Childean and Shallowfield the snow on the road was getting significantly deeper so she went even more cautiously.
But as she approached the last significant bend before the Shallowfield she lost control and after fighting with the steering she careered off the road into a ditch.
Richard O’Sullivan was in his mid-thirties and was one of the partners in O’Sullivan and Springthorpe Auctioneers in Shallowfield.
He had been driving in the same direction to Samantha Dunlop but then he received a phone call from his friend Jon cancelling their dinner date so he turned around and was heading back home when he witnessed her car briefly skidding across the road before disappearing from view.
He stopped the car and looked down into the ditch, the car was nose in and tilted upwards 20 degrees on the driver’s side.
The lights were on and the engine was still running and the driver’s door was open but there was no sign of the driver.
He got out of his car and shouted
He got no response so he clambered down into the ditch and approached the car.
He confirmed the car was empty and reached in and switched off the engine and killed the lights.
He could see footprints in the snow so he decided to follow them and resumed his calling.
After four or five minutes he found a young woman in a clearing blundering about in aimless circles.
“Are you ok?” he asked and she turned around towards him the snow was still falling and accumulating on her Wooly hat.
"It's Christmas Day. Shouldn't we be watching “White Christmas?”” she said
"No” he replied “it hasn’t started yet”
“I like “White Christmas”” she said
“Why don’t you come and watch it with me then?” he suggested and took her arm
“I wouldn’t want to miss it” she slurred and turned towards him which was when he noticed blood on her face.
He guided her slowly back the way they had come and helped her up out of the ditch and into his car.
Then he opened the boot and took out his torch and went back to her car, and located her handbag from the foot well and an overnight back and coat from the back seat and clambered back up to the road.
As he was only half a mile from his cottage and the snow was falling thick and fast he decided the best thing to do would be take her to the Old Mill Cottage.
After he settled her on the sofa he took a moment to look at her closely.
She had a bump on her forehead and a cut above her right eye but apart from that her face had a lovely shape and symmetry.
Richard got the first aid kit and cleaned and dressed her cut then he gave her another appraising look.
He noticed she had high cheekbones and flawless skin.
But her shinning black hair and wild green set her apart from every other girl he had ever met.
"My dad wants to play Monopoly" she said "Not me though”
“Quite right” he said and tucked a blanket around her legs and then he went to phone the Health Centre and was put through to the on call Doctor.
“Hello Doctor, its Richard O’Sullivan, there’s been a car accident, a young woman has banged her head, she has a bump on the head, a cut eye and she’s a little confused”
“Ok where are you?” Doctor Philips said
“Old Mill Cottage in Shallowfield” he replied
“I can’t get there myself, the roads are terrible and I’m stuck in Mornington” he said
“What should I do then?” he asked
“I will get to you when I can or failing that I’ll get someone closer to you to attend” he said
“Just don’t let her go to sleep”
He hung up the phone and sat on the floor in front of her and had a nonsensical conversation with her until an hour later there was a knock on the door.
He got up stiffly and answered the door to find two snow covered figures.
“Hello Richard, where’s the patient?”
“Doctor Lutchford? Is that you?” he said “Come in, come in”
“It’s a bit Wintry” Claire said and stamped the snow off her boots “Where is she?”
“On the Sofa” he replied “Is that Peter under all that snow?”
“The roads are un-drivable” he said and shook Richards hand “so we walked”
“I guessed as much” Richard said
“It’s just as well we did there are two trees down so the Childean road is blocked”
“Come into the kitchen and let Claire do her thing” Richard said “I’ll make a hot drink”
Claire joined them in the kitchen about 10 minutes later.
“How is she?” Richard asked
“I’ve glued the cut and redressed it. The bump seems superficial and there’s no sign of a concussion”
“Good” he said
“Is it alright if you keep her here overnight?” Claire asked “Getting about is problematic at best”
“Of course it is” he said “Peter was just telling me what it’s like out there”
“Thank you Richard that’s very good of you” she said
“I’ve given her some pain killers, just let her sleep now, but keep an eye on her and call me if there is any change”
They stayed long enough to finish their drinks and then said their goodbyes and disappeared again into the snowy night.
Richard made himself another mug of coffee and went back to the lounge.
His houseguest was fast asleep on the sofa, he could have carried her into the bedroom but as she was a diminutive girl she fitted quite comfortably on the sofa, so he saw no point in moving her.
He did go upstairs and brought down the duvets, one he draped over her and the other he would use himself.
Before he settled down he put another log in the burner and picked up her handbag and rummaged inside until he found her purse.
In the front pocket of a rather gaudy pink purse was her driving license and he checked the photo and confirmed it was her.
“Samantha Dunlop” he said out loud and smiled
He also checked her mobile phone and noticed a lot of missed calls, all from the same number.
“Someone is worried about you” he said and dialed the number
He pulled the armchair closer to the fire and made himself comfortable and covered himself with the duvet.
That was the last thing he remembered until he awoke in the eerie light of Christmas Morning with a stiff neck.
He got up and stretched and then winced when he turned his head.
He checked first his watch and saw it was after eight and then his guest and found she was still sleeping peacefully.
So he revived the fire and dropped in another log and crept out of the room.
Showered, shaved and dressed he returned downstairs to the kitchen.
He looked out of the window and could see it was still snowing though much lighter than the night before.
He flicked on the kettle and turned his attention to lunch.
As he lived alone he didn’t bother with Christmas lunch and all the trimmings, not because he couldn’t cook, he was a very good cook, he just didn’t bother for himself.
In fact he hadn’t done Christmas lunch since his wife died.
Helena loved Christmas and everything that went with it and so did he.
But five years earlier his love of it died along with her.
And even though that was at a different time in a different house he still didn’t put up the decorations like Helena used to.
First things first he looked in the fridge and the freezer and checked the cupboards and set about his task.
It wouldn’t be a Christmas Lunch per se but it would be a cooked lunch on Christmas Day.
Once he had everything prepared he made his drink and went back to the lounge.
It was 10 o’clock, Samantha had been asleep for more than 12 hours so he thought it was probably best if she began to come round.
He drew back the curtains and put on the radio, nothing too raucous he thought so he selected Christmas worship on the BBC, then he sat down in his armchair and drank his coffee.
Within ten minutes, helped along by a vigorous rendition of “O come all ye faithful”
She began to stir.
He was leant back in his chair as first her breathing changed and then her eye flicked open, a little at first, and then fully as her eyes tried to locate something familiar.
Eventually her eyes settled on Richard.
“Where am I?” she asked
“You’re in Shallowfield” he replied
“Have you kidnapped me?” Sam asked
“No” he replied and chuckled “You crashed your car”
She closed her eyes again and tried to remember
“How’s your head?” he asked and her eyes opened again
“Ow” she exclaimed after touching the bump
“Are you sure you didn’t bop me on the head and kidnap me?”
“I’m quite sure” he said “Merry Christmas by the way”
“Merry Christmas?” she said puzzled “I thought I’d already had that”
She sat herself up and asked
“Did I have a bag?”
“Two actually” he replied “Your overnight bag is in the hall, and your hand bag is here”
He leant over the arm of his chair and retrieved it and handed it to her.
“I took the liberty of checking your mobile last night after the doctor left”
“The doctor was here?” she asked
She closed her eyes tight and tried to remember.
“You’re friend Emily called you numerous times, she was clearly quite worried, so I called her and told her what happened”
“Emily” she said in a eureka moment “that’s where I was going”
She grinned broadly at successfully accessing the memory.
“They will come and get you when the roads are passable again” Richard said
“Why don’t you call her while I make a drink?”
“Ok” she agreed
“Tea or coffee?”
“Tea please” she replied and then as he was leaving the room she asked
“Who are you?”
“I’m Richard but my close friends call me Tripp”
He had had the nickname Tripp since he first started big school he was now 35.
It was all thanks to his namesake Richard O’Sullivan whose most famous character portrayal was of Robin Tripp in the shows “Man about the house” and “Robin Nest” and thanks to reruns of the shows when he was a schoolboy the name stuck with him.
While he made the drinks she made her phone call to Emily which dispelled her fears of being kidnapped and she was much happier.
He entered the room with the drinks and a pack of Paracetamol
“I spoke with Emily” she said “And I am now happy that I haven’t been kidnapped”
“Good” he said putting her mug down and giving her the pain killers
“Of course Emily and I could be in it together”
“No don’t say that” she said “my head is already messed up”
As she finished her tea she asked sheepishly
“Could I be really cheeky and have a shower”
“Of course you can” he said and laughed “I took your bag up and put it in the spare room there’s an en suite so you have complete privacy”
“Thank you Richard” she said
“Call me Tripp” he said
“But were not close friends” she pointed out
“That’s very true” he agreed “But we have slept together”
He watched her gingerly climb the narrow stairs and found himself once again admiring her.
He had not looked upon a woman in that way for a very long time, when his wife was alive he only had eyes for her and after her death he focused only on his work.
When she reached the top he said
“It’s the room on the left”
“Thank you” she called back and then she turned towards him and added “Merry Christmas Tripp”
Richard smiled and walked into the kitchen and got on with the lunch
He was an ordinary looking man in fact he was so ordinary if he were to commit a crime the witnesses to it would supply a description that would fit half the population.
He was neither tall nor short or fat nor thin, his face was not unpleasant to look but it wasn’t handsome, his hair was mousy in colour and was unremarkable.
In summary he was not the type of man who would attract the attention of someone like Samantha.
In fact it occurred to him that only the particular chain of events that had already occurred could have brought them together on Christmas day.
“Apart from kidnap” he said to himself and laughed
While the Roast Potatoes were cooking he set the table in the dining room, he always ate at the dining room table, and it was a hangover from when Helena was still alive.
It was her Latin upbringing, she would always say
“Meal times are for more than just refueling”
After he’d laid the table he went into the lounge to check on Samantha and found her back under the duvet watching TV.
“Do you want more tea?” he asked
“Yes please” she said “can I do anything to help?”
“No, you just need to relax and enjoy the hospitality” he replied and returned to the kitchen
He was lacking too many key ingredients to make an authentic Christmas Lunch, Turkey, Cranberry sauce chestnut stuffing and Christmas pudding and brandy butter, so in lieu of a Turkey he cooked duck breasts, accompanied by Roast potatoes, and a selection of vegetables, desert was an apple crumble.
He had taken everything to the table, apart from the wine, which he retrieved from the fridge he then pushed open the Lounge door and said
“Luncheon is served madam”
“Oh goody” she responded
When she was seated at the table he said
“It’s not your usual Christmas fare I’m afraid, but I did quite a lot of it as I wasn’t sure how hungry you’d be”
“Wow it looks great and I’m absolutely starving” she replied “I can’t remember when I last ate”
Although she couldn’t remember at the time her previous meal was actually lunchtime the day before prior to Darren dumping her.
Richard needn’t have concerned himself about cooking too much because Samantha ate more than her share and still had room for two helpings of Apple Crumble.
Richard cleared the table and took the plates to the kitchen and found Samantha stood running the taps at the sink.
“Hey what do you think you’re doing Samantha Dunlop?” he asked crossly
“I’m washing up” she retorted
“You are my guest and guests don’t wash up, now go and sit down”
“I can’t” she replied
“You can’t what?”
“I can’t sit down” she said “I’m too full”
“Ok then I’ll let you off”
With the washing up done and two reviving mugs of tea made they adjourned to the lounge.
As the day wore on the snowfall had petered out and by late afternoon the skies cleared just as the light began to fade and the temperature dropped like a stone.
So Richard put on the lights and drew the curtains then he attended to the wood burner before sitting down in his chair.
“Would like music or TV?” he asked
“Is “White Christmas” on today?” she asked “Or did I imagine it”
“Yes it is” he replied “would you like to watch it?”
“Yes please, it’s one of my favourites”
“I know, I remember you saying”
He then explained the conversation they had in the woods the night before and she put her head in her hands
“Oh God how embarrassing” she said
“And then when we got back here you announced "My dad wants to play Monopoly””
“Now you’re making it up?”
“Not at all, you said, "My dad wants to play Monopoly, but not me though"”
“Because I wanted to watch White Christmas” she said “I was seven when that happened”
Samantha laughed at the memory and Richards’s rendition of her and then she shivered.
“Are you cold?” he asked and got up from his chair and retrieved the folded Duvet she had used the night before
“Here put this over you” he said unfolding it onto her lap
“Thank you” she said and smiled
“It’s definitely chilly I think I might get my fleece” he said
“We could share the duvet” she suggested and flapped the duvet aside
“Oh, ok, yes” he said and sat next to her on the sofa and she flapped it over him.
As he nervously fumbled with the TV control Samantha’s phone rang for which he was grateful as it diverted attention away from him.
“Hello” she said
“Hi Em, Merry Christmas”
Suddenly he wasn’t so grateful for the interruption once he realized it was her friend Emily presumably to arrange a time to collect her.
There was a long tortuous silence until she said
“Hold on I’ll ask” and Samantha turned her attention back to him
“Emily says the road is still closed so they can’t pick me up until tomorrow, and could you put me up for another night, or put up with me for another night”
“Of course, you can stay as long as you like” he said struggling to keep the delight out of his voice
“Ok Hun bye”
“I’m sorry” she said
“Imposing on you”
“It’s no imposition Sam, it’s a pleasure” he said
“Now watch the film”
When he woke up on Boxing Day he was thrilled to see it was snowing again and settling fast on the frozen snow of the day before.
He showered and shaved and dressed for the day and went down stairs with a spring in his step.
When he got to the kitchen he found Samantha was up before him and was in high spirits.
“Morning Tripp” she said “It’s snowing again”
“Yes I know, it looks like I might have to put up with you for another night”
“Really?” she queried
“Well I can’t see them reopening the road today in this”
"How's the head?" Richard asked her
"Better," she told him
“Do you mind?” she asked
“Do I mind what?”
“Being stuck with me for another day”
“Not for a second” he replied and she smiled
“In that case can I cook you breakfast?” she asked
“I don’t know, can you cook?”
“Go and set the table and then you’ll find out” she said
As she cooked the omelet’s she was feeling very happy with the situation and was not entirely sure why.
Richard O’Sullivan was not the kind of man who would normally show up on her radar, she went for a very different type, he was rather ordinary.
As she dished the omelets onto the waiting plates the thought occurred to her that, that was probably why she had never landed a good one.
Later that day they were playing cards in front of the log burner when Richard said.
“I bet this wasn’t how you envisaged spending your Christmas”
“No it wasn’t” she agreed
“So what was the plan?”
“Christmas dinner with my boyfriend’s parents” she said
“Oh” he said barely hiding his disappointment
“But that was before I was dumped by my skinflint boyfriend on Christmas Eve because he was too tight to buy me a present”
“Then I lost my job because I embarrassed a miserly customer at Hanratty’s who was too mean to buy a £25 pound bottle of scent for his wife’s gift”
“So I called Emily and she invited me to stay and then I crashed the car in the snow”
“That I can verify”
“Me too” she said touching the wound above her eye
“You managed to pack a lot in to one day” he said
“Yes” She agreed “As Christmas Eve’s go, boring it was not”
“Indeed” he said
“Christmas Day on the other hand” she began and then they exchanged a smile.
The road through Shallowfield was finally reopened on the day after Boxing Day so Emily and Matt Charlton arrived mid-morning to collect Samantha.
While Sam was upstairs getting her bag, Richard entertained the Charlton’s in the lounge.
“It was kind of you to take Sam in”
“It was nothing” Richard said dismissively
“It was my pleasure”
Just then he heard Samantha’s footfalls on the stairs
“We’re having a party on New Year’s Eve and you are more than welcome to come” Emily said
“Thank you but no I’m not much of a reveler”
“Oh do come” Sam said
“I’m not really much of a one for parties” he replied
“Well if you change your mind its flat 3 East Cliff Lodge any time after nine” Matt said and shook his hand
On the door step Samantha turned and kissed his cheek
“Thank you Tripp”
Samantha waved through the back window as he watched them drive down the lane and he felt a strange sense of loss.
Since his wife died he had lived in quiet isolation and he had grown content in his existence.
But Samantha had disturbed his calm and muddied the quiet waters of his life.
As Matt drove carefully along the snow covered roads, Emily chatted excitedly at a pitch that was only audile to dogs while Samantha was feeling lost and alone.
When he got up on New Year’s Eve the snow had all but gone and he still planned to spend it alone as had become the norm.
All day long he was content it would be business as usual for the turn of the year.
Samantha was in Emily and Matt’s spare room for hours getting ready for the party.
Hair, nails, legs, the whole nine yards she even borrowed one of Emily’s raciest dresses.
“You look gorgeous” Emily said
“Thank you” she replied “I thought I should make the effort”
“But you haven’t gone to all this trouble just for us, have you?”
“I don’t know what you mean” Samantha said adjusting her makeup.
“He probably won’t come you know” Emily said
“He doesn’t have to” Sam said
Richard was dressed in his smartest suit and was rushing around the lounge muttering under her breath, looking for his car keys when there was a knock at the door.
“Who’s that now” he said to himself
Abandoning his search he went to the door prepared to bark his disapproval in their direction but instead he found Samantha standing on the doorstep dressed to kill and carrying a bottle of Champaign.
“I thought if you won’t come to the party I’d bring the party to you”
She said holding up the bottle
“I was just coming to find you” he said
“Well I beat you to it” she said and smiled
“Shall we go to the party then?” he asked
“No let’s have a quiet night in” she said and closed the door behind her.