Two days later the last of the timber was removed revealing the full extent of the damage to the boundary fence, the garden shed and what used to be the lawn, miraculously the wishing well sustained only minor damage.
Paul was on site and talking on his mobile organising the next phase which would be to remove all the debris and replace the fencing, erecting a new shed and generally tidying up.
The new lawn would have to wait until spring and the replacement shrubs and plants would be replaced at the same time.
Julie went out into the garden just as he was finishing his phone call and I was standing by the remains of what used to be the shed, the shed erected by my own two hands, I was amazed it had lasted twenty years, I never did master DIY.
I was too far away to hear what Paul and Julie were saying but they were headed back inside the house, I was already in the kitchen when they arrived.
“We’re cutting Christmas trees on the estate at the moment I will have them cut you one by way of an apology, what size would you like?”
“I don’t really do Christmas” She said “It’s just an empty commercial festival”
“But thanks anyway” She added.
“Oh, and when did you become so cynical?”
“From the moment I discovered Father Christmas doesn’t exist”
“Who says he doesn’t?” he asked
“Ho, ho, ho” she said sarcastically
“I think everybody has a little bit of Christmas in their heart” Said Paul
“That would be tiny in my case” she said, and Paul looked a bit deflated after she said that but perked up when she added.
“A meal would be a perfectly acceptable apology though”
It was a week later when Paul picked Julie up and drove her over to Abbotsford for their meal, I would say their date, but Julie kept insisting it was not a date.
It was quite late when he brought her home and I was a little disappointed when the evening ended on the doorstep with a peck on the cheek, I had high hopes, but Julie was holding back for some reason.
“Good night” Julie said and came in and closed the door.
“Nice evening?” I asked
“Yes, very nice”
“Good meal? Good company?”
“Yes, to both questions”
“I really like him, but I don’t know if I want to go through it all again”
“Nothing ventured nothing gained” I said
“I’ve done my share of venturing in the past and I haven’t yet gained” Julie said
“I’ll probably just screw it up again Harry so it’s probably best if I stop it before it starts”
She waved away any protest from me and went up to bed.
“Night Julie” I replied and to myself I added
“That won’t do at all”
The next day before Julie was up and about I sent a text to Paul from Julie’s mobile.
It was quite exciting as I’d never done one before, even while I was alive.
I was quite surprised that it was more difficult than it looked and really rather complicated to get the letter you wanted and then it kept changing the word.
I came very close a number of times to throwing the damn thing across the room, but eventually I managed to write:
“Thank you, Paul, I had a wonderful time last night I really would love to do it again. Julie x
PS, just ignore me if I play hard to get, Lol”
Within a couple of minutes, I got a reply.
“I had a wonderful time too I will call you soon. Paul”
Then I quickly deleted my text to him and his reply and then put the phone back in Julie’s handbag with only minutes to spare before I heard Julie coming down the stairs.
I felt very pleased with myself and my subterfuge and I thought it was just a matter of time before the two of them got together again, however when a week had passed, and nothing had happened I was not so confident.
There had been a couple of texts which I didn’t get to see before she deleted them and there had been a phone call, but it didn’t last long, so it was to be another evening of chess and conversation.
I set up the board as Julie entered the room from the kitchen carrying a glass and bottle she opened a bottle of wine the first she’d had for several weeks.
I frowned at her and nodded in the direction of the wine.
“It’s ok I haven’t taken any pain killers for three days, so this is by way of celebration”
“Excellent” I said “I wish I could join you”
“Bad luck” she said taking a long sip
“But I would prefer Christmas Ale” I added
“Oh, don’t start on Christmas again”
“Why do you hate Christmas so much?” I asked
“How long do you have?” She replied without humour.
“I have as long as it takes, I’m dead remember” I said trying to inject a little humour as I sat down opposite her.
“Where should I start” she looked around the room as if seeking inspiration.
“Christmas has been a disappointment all my life, I grew up with the constant disappointment of not getting the presents that I asked for” she said with a wry smile “Which I blamed Santa for”
I started to speak but Julie interrupted me.
“I know that’s very childish and pathetic” she said and even laughed a little.
“When did you stop believing?”
“I believed right up until I was seven, that was the year I discovered Santa Claus was actually my drunken father” She said flatly and took a long drink
“So, with a drunk for a father and a violent bully for a mother my childhood was just full of Christmas joy”
“Not brilliant then” I added
“Then three Christmas’s ago at one of our merry Christmas family gatherings my own sister stole my husband and my mother took my sisters side” she paused thin lipped remembering the pain of it, feeling it fresh as if for the first time, she gathered herself then continued.
“My dear mother said if I’d kept him satisfied in the bedroom he wouldn’t have strayed, not that he had to stray too far with my slutty sister sniffing round him like a bitch on heat”
“What did you say to your mother?” I asked
“I said that if she’d kept my father satisfied in the bedroom he wouldn’t have turned to drink”
“I haven’t spoken to her or my sister since” she confessed and took another drink.
“Then last year two weeks before Christmas a drunk driver ran a red light and broadsided me shattering my hip and putting me in hospital for months”
She reached out and grabbed her cane.
“And now I still have my trusty stick as a constant reminder of what Christmas means to me”
I wished I could have given her a fatherly hug, but I couldn’t, so we fell silent after that and concentrated on the chess for a while.
I was out and about in the garden early next morning it was less than a week before Christmas and I was beginning to despair that as far as we had come together it was not going to be far enough to save us both.
But it was more than that, when I started it was about helping Julie in order to cross over and be reunited with Rose.
But I had come to care about Julie more than I thought possible and furthermore I had come to realise just how much I had wasted the final months of my own life.
I had brought her back from the brink and I resolved that I would succeed in opening her heart, not for my own sake but for hers.
I transported myself to the sitting room only to find it empty but there was the sound of cooking coming from the kitchen and perhaps more alarming the sound of singing.
When I appeared in the kitchen I found Julie frying bacon and singing along to an Eva Cassidy song playing on the radio.
“Are you ok?” I asked with false concern.
“I thought you must have had a relapse and your hip was hurting”
“Very funny Harry” she said with a smile.
“Would you like some bacon? Oh, I forgot you can’t eat can you I’ll have to eat it all myself then”
“You can be a very cruel young woman” I said indignantly and tucked the newspaper under my arm and withdrew to the sitting room.
After she had devoured her bacon, which I was denied the pleasure of eating, but perhaps worse even than that
I was also denied its smell, she came into the sitting room and sat opposite me and we started a tug of war over the newspaper.
“You’re in a very playful mood today” I suggested after I had lost custody of the paper.
“I feel happy today, I don’t know why, I just do”
As she was in a good mood I decided to chance my arm and enquire as to the state of play between her and Paul.
“Have you heard from Paul?” I said directly.
“What? It was an innocent enough question”
“Hmm, well as it happens he did phone me”
“Really?” I said keenly
“He invited me out for dinner on Christmas Eve”
“I declined his invitation” she said
“Look Harry I’m sure he really is a nice guy and I do like him” Julie said
“But, I am finally getting my life back on course, and that’s due in no small part to you, and I don’t need any complications”
“That really is a shame” I said sincerely.
“I just don’t think I’m ready” She added
With that she handed me the paper and returned to the kitchen I left it ten minutes or so and then joined her just as Bruce Springfield’s gravelled tones emanated from the radio and I dueted with him in a fine rendition of “Santa Claus is coming to town”.
When we had finished more or less together I took a bow or two.
“Ha-ha I do love a good Christmas song”
“Oh God protect me from the happy Christmas ghost” Julie was laughing.
“What is it with you and Christmas anyway?” she asked rhetorically, then she stood and looked at me, my portly build, white beard and the hateful red sweater, shaking her head despairingly.
“In fact, come to think of it you even look like Santa, in a rather jaded retired to the old folk’s home kind of way” she said and then chuckled her rich velvet chortle.
“Oh, and why is that, just because I’m a jolly fat man with a white beard?” I said striking an indignant pose.
“No, you have a fair point you would only qualify on two out of three” then her chuckle morphed into a full belly laugh and then I was laughing with her.
Our merriment was interrupted by a knock at the door and Julie was still wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes as she opened the door.
It was a smiling Paul Warwick who had knocked, and his expression instantly changed to one of concern when he saw Julie’s tears.
“Is everything alright?” he asked with genuine concern.
Realizing what she was doing Julie quickly dispelled his concern with a tale about something hilarious on the radio.
Suitably reassured Paul’s smile returned to his face and he briefly gathered himself before revealing the meaning for his visit.
“I know you said you didn’t do Christmas” He began.
“But as I said everyone has a little Christmas in their heart”
Julie was about to cut him off in full flow, but he put his hand up to stop her before she could start.
“So, with that in mind” he said ducking down to retrieve something from the floor.
“I thought of this”
He was holding in his hand a small live Christmas tree in a pot, complete with tinsel and baubles, standing about two feet tall and it was even topped by a fairy.
“A tiny Christmas tree for someone with only a tiny bit of Christmas in her heart” He said as he presented the tree to Julie.
“That’s so sweet” She said “Thank you”
“You can plant it in the garden after Christmas, so it will keep growing and hopefully your love of Christmas will grow with it” he said and there were tears in her eyes again, as she looked at the tiny tree and then Paul excused himself as he had some estate business that he needed to attend to, which I later found out was delivering hampers to the homes of his workers.
Julie stood looking at the little tree with a silly grin on her face as Paul said goodbye and was heading up the path.
“I told you he was a nice man” I said.
“Yes” she said looking at me with tears welling up in her eyes.
“Oh God I can’t let him go I have to talk to him”
“Well run after him then” I suggested
“I can’t run” She said.
“Go and slow him down somehow”
Julie set off walking and I transported myself to the gate just as Paul’s hand reached for the latch.
As he tried to open the gate I held it shut and no matter how much he shook it, the gate wouldn’t move.
Julie was only a few yards away now.
“Paul!” She called, and he turned around to see where Julie was calling from.
“Hi, you appear to have a problem with your gate” He said just as I let go of it and the gate swung open.
“That’s odd” he said.
“I’m glad I caught you” She said wincing a little at the effort of pursuing him.
“About dinner on Christmas Eve, is it too late to change my mind?”
On Christmas Eve I sat in the solitude of the cottage for what I hoped would be the last time, hoping that the person I had come to care so much for, would not need me anymore, while at the same time regretting that I would no longer be required to spend the long pleasant evenings in her company.
In the beginning I thought that I was left stranded on earth solely because of the way I withdrew from life, and that my having to help someone escape my fate was my penance, but in fact I came to understand that my predicament was less about a punishment for me but rather more about salvation for Julie and a last chance for her to find happiness.
In truth no matter how, fond I was of her I did not belong there, and though tinged with regret I hoped soon to be moving on.
I became aware of voices outside and thought, was this the moment of a tender kiss goodnight on the door step, but instead the door opened, and Julie stepped into the darkness and my heart dropped and I thought we were back, perhaps not to square one, but we had definitely gone into reverse.
But then the light went on and following Julie was the tall figure of Paul who closed the door behind him.
“Make yourself comfortable while I get us a drink” Julie said before disappearing into the kitchen.
Paul headed in my direction and I had to move quickly before he sat on my lap.
I stood invisible in the corner by the stairs and observed as Julie came out of the kitchen with a bottle of wine and a glass, then she stopped in her tracks and turned on her heels and briefly returned to the kitchen before reappearing with a second glass. She smiled to herself at the force of habit and glanced around the room to see where I was.
Julie set the bottle and glasses on the table then before she could sit Paul stood up and took her hand and pulled her gently towards him and beside the tiny two-foot Christmas Tree he kissed her tenderly and she kissed him back.
At the precise moment she returned his kiss on that Christmas Eve a bright light emanated down the stairs and I knew my moment had come.
I looked up the illuminated staircase and standing at the top was my dear Rose with her hand outstretched towards me.
I turned again to look at the embracing couple, Paul had his back to me and as their lips parted I allowed Julie to see me one last time.
“Good bye Julie it’s time for me to go now, have a happy life” I said and waved.
Then as she stood holding onto Paul her head resting on his shoulder she mouthed the words “Merry Christmas Harry”
I left the young couple and walked up the stairs and took Rose’s hand and we were instantly in another place.
Now I spend most of my time with Rose and all those who went before me, but I still look in on Paul and Julie from time to time, I can do that now I’m a proper spirit, but that is a tale for another time.