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  • Writer's pictureJacqueline Heron Wray

Lonely This Christmas?

 




” Jen’s blue eyes prickled and filled with tears.

“Are you sure? There is still well over a week to go. It might change?”

“I am sorry, darling, but we must take the weather reports seriously. The locals remember dreadful accidents before they put the snow gates in place. We will keep you posted, dad and I feel terrible about this too. Christmas without you just won’t be the same”

Jen slumped onto the sofa beside her slumbering terrier and propped her blonde pony-tailed head up with her hand.

“It has been an awful year for you, darling, I know that. You have coped so well, and now you have moved into Grannie and Grampas, you can draw a line under everything and …”

“I need to go, Mum; I think someone is at the door,” Jen lied. “Love you, speak soon” She ended the call before allowing the sobs lumped in her throat to escape and flow freely like her fat salty tears.

                                                                                        

 A thick layer of frost covered the lawn, white, crisp, and even, just like the icing on one of Jen’s cakes. Dazzling rays of winter sunshine danced on frozen dew drops, making them shine like tiny diamonds strewn among the trees and bushes. Her grandmother's old summerhouse was in the bottom right corner of the garden. Baskets of wool remnants and threads had lined the shelves alongside paint brushes and tubes of paint. Her gran loved crafting and had offered to teach Jen numerous times, but she had always been too busy and now it was too late. In the left corner of the garden stood an abandoned vegetable patch. If she closed her eyes, she could almost see her grandad on a hot summer’s day tending to his beloved plants, hoe in hand, hat on head.

  Jen had known the bungalow would be hers one bittersweet day. She just couldn’t imagine living in it until now. Six months ago, her parents moved from Gloucestershire to the far north of Scotland to raise rare breed sheep!  Jen had known about the plan but never imagined it would come to fruition. Then, she lost her job. Her fiancé was less than supportive, and Jen instinctively knew that there was no future for them. She took her grandparents' bungalow off the rental market and moved in, aware that she was extremely fortunate to own such an asset and vowed never to take it for granted.

She could almost hear her grandparents’ voices in her head. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself Jen and just get on with it”

Turning her attention to some cardboard boxes labeled ‘kitchen’, she noticed Daisy scrutinizing one intently. Turning it round, Jen read ‘Daisy’s stuff’ written in her own neat handwriting.

“Shall we open that one next?” Jen dropped to her knees and ruffled the little dog’s velvety ears.

 Daisy looked earnestly at Jen, as if to say, “at last,” performed one of her very best head tilts and offered a paw to seal the deal.

 “Oh, look Daisy, what is this? It’s your jingly ball. Shall I throw it into the garden for you?” said Jen in perfect dog speak.

Jen’s face was slapped by needle-like fingers of crisp frosty air as soon as she stepped outside. She sent the ball bouncing down the shimmering stone steps towards the glistening lawn. It jingled all the way, hotly pursued by Daisy, who left a myriad of crunchy paw prints in her wake. Daisy launched herself at the red rubber ball and skidded before catching it adeptly in her mouth. Unperturbed, she then attended to her morning ablutions and began to excitedly sniff the hedge that ran the length of the garden. She did not notice when the doorbell rang, or Jen heading indoors to see who was there.


A postwoman was on the doorstep holding a parcel addressed to Jen and Daisy.

“Moved in at last,” she stated.

 “Welcome to the village, I’m Pat, and yes, I have heard every postman Pat joke out there,” she said grinning from ear to ear.

“I am not sure if your neighbour is at home. May I leave a package with you if he’s out? He lives on his own, divorced I think” she disclosed conspiratorially.

“Of course,” the sound of excited barking brought the conversation to an abrupt end. Jen said goodbye before rushing into the garden to see what the ruckus was about.

Walking towards Daisy, Jen saw a man in the garden next door. He was tall, about her age, she guessed, and good-looking in a rugged sort of way. His arms were tightly folded across his broad chest.


“I am so sorry; she doesn’t usually bark this much” Jen smiled, shrugging her shoulders.

“I hope not. I had to stop what I was doing to come out and see what all the commotion was about.  My cat is scared stiff” He huffed, creating puffy white clouds in the air as he spoke.

Scooping Daisy up into her arms, Jen looked over the man’s shoulder. There was indeed a cat, but rather than looking scared, Jen thought it looked quite pleased with itself.


“I am Jen, this is Daisy, she loves cats by the way”  

“And I am Allan, and that is Polly. Now I need to get back to work. Please try to keep your dog under control,” He turned on his heel and walked off, leaving Jen open-mouthed, her nostrils flaring with anger.

It took Jen most of the day to unpack the remainder of the boxes, but it was worth it. The bungalow now looked cosy and lived in. A much loved and polished bookcase crammed with books stood beside the fireplace.  The mantlepiece was adorned with candles and a chiming clock. A pre-loved leather sofa took centre stage, brightened with squishy cushions and a snuggly throw her gran had knitted. Jen hugged the throw, wrapping it tightly around her slender shoulders

“What did you make of our neighbour this morning, Daisy? What a rude objectionable man. I sincerely hope we won’t be seeing much more of him. His cat was adorable, though. No more barking at it, understood? Daisy snored softly in agreement.

 

                                                                ***

Jen stepped into the charming, deceptively large, village shop, greedily inhaling the heady aromas of pine, orange, and cinnamon, blended with coffee and peppermint.  The shelves were laden with jewel-coloured preserves and local produce. A small tree, garnished with sugar mice and gingerbread shapes, twinkled in the window. Jen noticed that the pillar box outside the shop was wearing an intricately designed woollen nativity scene. She felt pleased to see that the yarn bombing craze had reached the village. It looked very festive and cheerful.

There were tables at the back of the shop, all occupied and groaning with pots of tea, coffee mugs, and steaming bowls of homemade soup. Smiling she turned and saw him. It was Allan. Her eyes narrowed. He was reading while he sipped his coffee. Just as Jen was about to leave, he looked up and spotted her glowering at him. His blank expression changed to recognition. He smiled and beckoned her to sit in the chair opposite him.

“Hello again, it’s Jan, isn’t it? Please let me buy you a coffee”

Jen flushed, and her mouth fell open. “It’s Jen” she snapped.

“I owe you an apology Jen, I was rude to you the other day” he looked suitably ashamed of himself, and then a huge smile crinkled the corners of his twinkling eyes.


“We all have off days, and Daisy was being extremely noisy” She smiled tightly. This was not what she had been expecting. A server approached the table.

 

“I am sorry. We have no cakes left, just a couple of scones and some shortbread. My regular baker moved away recently. I am having to make do and mend, as the saying goes. What can I get you?”

“Just a pot of tea thanks” Jen’s chilly mood was beginning to thaw as Allan went on to explain

“I had a deadline to meet. My Christmas bonus depends on my report being on time, and my renovations are depending on the Christmas bonus. Plus, I had just found out that I may have to attend a meeting involving an overnight stay, leaving me little or no time to find a cat sitter. No justification I know, please say I am forgiven” he looked at her with what could only be described as puppy dog eyes.

Jen laughed. Her chilly mood melted like the salted snow on the pavements outside.

She raised her teacup and nodded. “Consider yourself forgiven, here's to being good neighbours”

“And you know what they say about good neighbours becoming good friends,” Allan replied with a grin.

 

                                                                           ***

Jen was surrounded by baking tins and cooling trays when the doorbell rang. She glanced in the mirror and wiped some flour off her eyebrow before opening the door.

“Wow, it smells absolutely amazing in here,” Allan said, slipping off his boots on the mat.

“Do you have time for a hot cup of something before you set off? I make a mean hot chocolate”

“I’d love a hot chocolate” he grinned and took off his jacket, hat, and scarf.

 “I have left Polly’s food on the table, and here is my key. This is for you to say thank you for looking after her” he handed Jen a huge poinsettia plant.

 Daisy was scrutinising Allan’s stockinged feet. She offered him a paw and performed her cutest head tilt before launching herself onto his lap.


“Oh, I am so sorry Allan”

Jen covered her mouth with her hand.

 “Daisy down, at once!”

“She is fine, honestly, he beamed as he took another sip of creamy hot chocolate.

“This is the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. It is amazing”

Jen glowed with pleasure at the compliment.

 “My secret recipe,” she said, briefly touching her nose with the tip of her index finger.” I might share it with you when I get to know you better”

“Is that a promise? I would love to learn how to bake too,” he said, looking around the kitchen at the selection of delicious-looking cakes and pastries.

Jen stared at him incredulously.


“Are you serious? It would be my pleasure.”

“Actually,” she crossed her fingers dramatically, “I discussed the possibility of supplying the village shop with my baking. I will take some samples over tomorrow. If they like them, they may place a regular order, and they have put one of my flyers in the window advertising my specialty cakes, you know bespoke wedding cakes, Christmas, and birthdays, etc.” Her eyes were gleaming as she spoke.

“That is amazing. Well done you. I am sure they will bite your hand off, especially if there is a cake in it” he chuckled at his own joke.

The clock chimed seven o’clock.

  “I really must make a move,” he said regretfully as he put on his jacket.

“Don’t forget your scarf and hat” Jen picked them up, admiring the pattern and softness. “They are unusual; what an unusual pattern, and so soft, did you buy them locally?”

“I knitted them. Knitting is my secret hobby. I knitted the nativity scene on top of the pillar box too. Ta Dah, I am the local yarn bomber,” He gave a little dance for emphasis.


Jen gasped, gawping in astonishment.


“Keep that to yourself” Postwoman Pat is desperate to find out who put it there!”

Jen laughed aloud. She instinctively hugged him and planted a kiss on his cheek.


“Safe journey Allan. Take care. Polly will be just fine. When you get back, I will teach you to bake if you teach me to knit. Do we have a deal?”

“Most definitely” he blew her a kiss and waved goodbye just as Jen’s phone rang.

“Hi Mum, I have so much news to tell you, and guess what? I don’t think I will be lonely this Christmas after all…”

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