It had been an amazing year, a life changing year, a year never to be forgotten, a year that began with love at first sight and ended with a miracle, and it all began of course, as all years do on New Year’s Day.
Now you might think that very little occurs, let alone starts, on New Year’s Day, as everyone is either nursing a hangover or is just too tired to even contemplate participation in anything new, or very much at all, and that may well be true for some, but not for everyone.
For me New Years Day is no different to any other day of the year, after all isn’t every day the first day of another twelve months?
You might deduce from this that if I have such disdain for the first day of the year, that my feeling for the last day of the old year might be like wise, and you would be right.
I am and always have been a Christmas person and I love every aspect of the season but New Year’s Eve has always left me cold.
In fact I dislike everything about it, I hate the crowded pubs, the noisy house parties, “Old Lang Syne”, first footing and of course the bloody fireworks.
So I always spent the evening with likeminded people, namely my younger brother Greg, eating Chinese takeaway and watching DVDS.
We would prefer to go out to eat but to go anywhere decent you have to book at Easter.
On the other hand my friends Dave and his wife Emma loved New Year’s Eve but they didn’t celebrate it for quite different reasons.
Dave worked shifts as a porter at The Royal Downshire Hospital, he’d been there since he left school, which was nearly fifteen years, it didn’t pay well but he really loved it.
As a family man he always managed to trade shifts so he had Christmas off but subsequently he always had to work New Year’s Eve.
Emma was a housewife or homemaker or domestic goddess or whatever the PC speak is, she had worked at the hospital as well until she fell pregnant with their first child now they had three children all under 5 years old, so she never had time off.
So with all those in mind who do not participate in the Old Year’s Night rituals, either by design, as in my case, or by circumstance as with Dave and Emma we set the scene for the tale and so with all that said we get back to the beginning of the story, the start of that amazing year.
It was New Year’s Day and I was invited to spend the evening with my good friends the Parkers for one of Emma’s wonderful dinners, a culinary experience for which I would have gladly paid a king’s ransom but for which the only charge to me was my attendance.
Well as the saying goes “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” and that goes for dinner as well.
I was a bachelor and happy to be so, I was comfortable in my own company, I liked my life, I could do what I wanted when I wanted and I had a good job which paid well and allowed me to indulge myself if I wanted to.
This for Dave and Emma was an alien concept, they were a couple and were happy, ergo I was single and therefore must be unhappy.
So every time they had a dinner party, a picnic or BBQ there was always some poor unfortunate unattached female guest who was propelled towards me.
Even at their wedding they tried to pair me up with the matron of honors younger sister.
They were relentless and never gave up but it was always to no avail.
It wasn’t because they were horrible or unattractive young women, in fact they were normally very nice, it was just that they were just not for me, and we didn’t connect.
So the price for a very excellent dinner was to be aimed at yet another single/unattached/divorced woman.
Still it was a price worth paying for a very exceptional meal with good company.
I arrived late afternoon so I could spend some time with the kids before they went off to bed it was sufficiently dark for the Christmas lights to be on and Dave did like a good Christmas light.
His house was in no way as gaudy as many were but he did like his lights.
I was greeted at the door by a very bleary eyed Dave who had clearly just risen from his pit.
“Oh dear” I said as I looked at his sleep filled eyes and the unmistakable bed head
“Yeh” he replied then yawned.
I had known Dave from infant school and we had been best friends for most of the years since, I had been best man at his wedding and am Godfather to his first born.
He turned away sleepily and I followed him into the kitchen where I was greeted by Emma, who standing on her tip toes drew herself up to all of five feet four, hugged me and kissed my cheek and I breathed in her scent, a mixture of heady musk and baby sick.
Noticing the bemused look on my face she pointed to the milky stain on her top and laughed.
I hadn’t known Emma as long as Dave, just over 10 years but we became friends instantly, she was one of that rare breed of humans who are just impossible to dislike and you feel instantly at ease with.
“Happy New Year” she said still chuckling
“Ditto” I replied
“You won’t even say the words” She said incredulously.
“I can’t believe you dislike New Year that much”
She left the room laughing, and while all this was going on Dave had boiled the kettle and made drinks.
He put a steaming mug of instant coffee on the kitchen table and I sat down on the chair nearest to it.
“What are you doing here so early anyway?” Dave asked.
“I thought I could help out by entertaining the ankle biters while you two got yourselves ready”
“That’s very sweet of you Bernie” Emma said as she came back into the kitchen and sat down next to me.
“But Jake and Kenny are at Karen’s until tomorrow and Molly is asleep”
Jake was my Godson and was almost five, Kenny was three and Molly was barely six months.
“Your sister Karen?”
“I thought you didn’t get on with her”.
“I don’t” she replied
“But I made a New Year’s resolution to get closer to her” she said without enthusiasm.
”She’s the only family I have so I thought I should make an effort”
I was going to ask Dave if he had made a similar resolution but I thought better of it, I knew there was too much bad blood there.
“Well as my entertainment skills are not required I will ….”
I was about to suggest that I would finish my coffee and come back later when Emma interrupted me.
“I can use you in other ways”
“Oh” I said and raised my eyebrows slightly as I considered the eroticism of the image in my mind of my best friends wife naked and smelling of baby sick “using me” when she placed a potato peeler in front of me.
The next three hours passed by in the same way that so many of the hours we had spent together had, good old fashioned fun I could imagine nothing better than spending time in their glorious company.
As I said I liked my life.
By seven thirty everything was done that could be done, Dave and Emma had made themselves presentable, though in truth Emma scrubbed up better than Dave.
So I took my self-off upstairs to change into a clean shirt which I swiped from Dave’s wardrobe, and just as I was coming down stairs the doorbell rang.
Dave headed for the door and I ducked into the lounge as I didn’t want to be hovering in the hall when the desperate single woman arrived, in case I gave her the impression I was keen to meet her, although I confess I was curious to see what the latest offering in a long line of potential life partners looked like, but not curious enough to hover in the hallway.
As it turned out the doorbell was rung by Colin, who worked with Dave at the hospital and his wife Clair, who was a nurse, I knew them very well and they were good company.
There were to be six for dinner Dave and Emma, Colin and Clair and myself and the mystery woman.
The new arrivals soon joined me in the lounge and the volume rose as the banter began with barbed jibes mainly aimed at me.
Colin went through a whole tirade of remarks questioning my manhood and my sexuality.
“What’s the matter Bernie couldn’t they scrape up a date for you this time?” Colin inquired.
“Perhaps you should try something in the inflatable line, the conversations not up to much and they always have the same expression on their face, but they never judge”
Thankfully the doorbell went again.
“Saved by the bell” Emma said as she went towards the door, this didn’t knock Colin off his stride for a second as he continued to elaborate on the advantages of having an inflatable girlfriend which he continued to do until Emma led a very attractive brunette into the room.
Colin stopped mid-sentence with his mouth open which he only closed after Clair had inserted her elbow into his rib cage.
“Everybody this is Angela” Emma said.
“Dave you know already, the one with his mouth open is Colin and his long suffering wife Clair”
Then she turned to me “and this is Bernie”
I would be hard pressed to put a figure on the number of attractive young women Emma had steered in my direction over the years, and in many ways Angela was just another in a very long line but there was something else to her which I couldn’t put my finger on.
Maybe it was the way she held herself and how she was un-phased by the realization that she was making up the numbers.
Sometimes when Emma has introduced me you see the shoulders slump in disappointment or you see excitement on the faces of the keen ones that give them the look of kittens on speed.
Angela was poised and confident and…
“Hi” I said and offered my hand which she took.
We obviously held hands for longer than we should have and as soon as we realized we let go and she laughed nervously and I felt myself blush.
“Where do you know Emma from?” I asked trying to regain my composure while being painfully aware that no one else in the room was speaking.
“We were at school together” She said
“And then after University I moved away and we lost touch”
“And now?” I asked suddenly aware the question made no sense, I was normally much more coherent than that.
“And now what?”
“I think he means where are you living now” Said Emma coming to my rescue.
“Oh I see yes, well I moved back to Downshire in November, I’m living with my parents at the moment until I find somewhere I like”
I became aware of a low murmur in the background so I relaxed in the knowledge I was no longer being watched.
“And how did you two get back in touch?”
Emma laughed and Angela said.
“It was here in Purplemere in Stephenson’s and I inadvertently walked off with Emma’s trolley when …”
“I was about to draw it to her attention by throwing a tin of baked beans at her” Interrupted Emma
“But I turned round just in time”
They were both laughing now and soon Angela’s soft infectious giggle had circled the room until we were all laughing.
That kind of set the tone for the rest of the evening as we enjoyed Emma’s wondrous culinary offerings
Each course was punctuated with a mixture of rehashed old anecdotes and previously unheard tales regaled to us by Emma and Angela, and all through the evening my eyes were drawn to Angela almost to the point of staring and once or twice Emma noticed my interest and I quickly glanced away and the she and Dave exchanged a knowing look.
It was when we reached the liqueur stage of the evening when we were all slightly the worse for drink and all guilty of over imbibing that I finally let myself down.
As a veteran guest of the Parkers it always fell to me to raise a toast which I gladly did.
“Please raise your glasses to the hostess with the mostest, Emma and yet another outstanding feast, Emma”
This was greeted with a chorus of “Hear, Hear” and much table tapping.
“And to the man whose mastery of the bottle opener is second to none, Dave”
More cheers and more table tapping.
“And last but by no means least old friends”
And that is where I should have left it but no.
“And new friends” and raising my glass and looking straight at her I said “Angel”
There was a moment of utter silence and then everybody just cracked up, and Dave laughed so much he fell off his chair which only managed to fuel the flames, I just turned crimson and slumped into my chair.
Angela smiled at me though the tears rolling down her cheeks, so I thought maybe I hadn’t ruined my chances.
Colin stood up and did a very credible impression of me saying
“We have an angel in our midst” which isn’t easy to say even when your sober.
Then Dave clambered back into his chair and exclaimed
“It’s better than that I’ve just realized we have two angels present”
“What are you on about” Said Emma and I had a bad feeling about what was coming next so I interceded
“Just ignore him he’s pissed”
But Dave was not to be deterred.
“We have the beautiful young angel Angela, and we have the angel Gabriel”
“What are you talking about?” quizzed Emma
He resorted to pointing to get his meaning over, firstly he pointed at Angela and said slowly.
Then he pointed at me
“What?” Emma asked again with a very puzzled expression so he pointed at me again and said
“GABRIEL Bernard Brophy”
Finally the penny dropped and everybody fell about.
Except me I just leant forward and started banging my head on the table.
I sat up and looked at Dave.
“Over Twenty five years you’ve kept that secret and you chose tonight to give it up”
“It’s alright you’re among friends” Emma said and then broke down again.
“It won’t stay among friends though, not now loose lips knows” I said gesturing in Colin’s direction. “It will be all round the hospital tomorrow”
“Oh now that’s not fair” said Emma
“No it is” Said Colin
“No it won’t be all over the hospital tomorrow” Added Dave reassuringly.
“He’s off until Thursday”