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Authors: Sheila O'Flanagan

From The Heart (5 page)

BOOK: From The Heart
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‘But is it Kirstie or is it me and Laura you actually want on Christmas Day?’ he asked.
‘We want you all,’ said his mother. ‘We want to be a family together.’
‘We’re all family,’ said Laura’s dad, Fred. ‘We don’t have to be together for that.’
Laura felt as though she was a spectator as the conversation whirled around her. Angela, adding to her suggestion about Christmas Eve, suddenly said that perhaps Caroline and Louis could stay overnight with Jim and Laura and so would be there on Christmas morning to see Kirstie with her presents. Louis said that this was quite a good idea, although Laura had caught her breath at the thought of it. But then Caroline reminded him that they did have another son and that David would be devastated at being left on his own at home, because obviously there wasn’t enough room at Laura and Jim’s for him too. Not that he’d been asked. Laura exhaled with relief.
‘Nobody is being asked.’ It was Jim who finally lost his temper.
‘Maybe we could just call around,’ murmured Caroline.
‘And we could too,’ said Angela.
‘Quite honestly, I don’t want either of you to do that,’ said Jim. ‘I’ve listened to more rubbish tonight than I could’ve believed possible. You’re both being silly and selfish, and Laura and I will spend Christmas on our own.’
‘There’s no need to be rude,’ said Angela.
‘He’s not being rude,’ Caroline told her.
‘I am,’ roared Jim. ‘I’m being so rude I’m telling you all to sod off home before I lose my rag completely.’
‘You know they’ll come anyway,’ said Laura later that night when he told her that they would stay at home on Christmas Day, lock the door and not let anyone in. ‘And then they’ll probably have another row. And so will we, because I can’t stand you being rude to my mother. Even if she deserves it.’
‘I’m not having my marriage wrecked and our first Christmas with Kirstie ruined because of our families.’ Jim’s tone was forceful. ‘No matter what it takes.’
He’d left it very late. Even though hotels were advertising on the back pages of the newspapers, many of them didn’t have availability any more. Which made Jim think that the whole thing about recession was a con – it was only fools like him and Laura who were struggling; everyone else had plenty of money to splash out on expensive seasonal packages. Because even the cheapest of them wasn’t really cheap.
The Sugar Loaf Lodge was a last-gasp attempt. They didn’t have an ad in the paper but he remembered going to a friend’s wedding there a couple of years earlier and it had stuck in his mind as a really nice place. Secluded but not isolated. Stylish but not stuffy. It would be lovely, he thought, to spend a peaceful, family-free Christmas there with his wife and baby. It would definitely take the pressure off Laura, who was looking pale and harried and even more tearful than usual. And although it could never become a tradition – his bank balance wouldn’t stretch to it – it would be a wonderful first Christmas for Kirstie.
Laura was both relieved and horrified when he told her what he’d done. She was relieved that he’d decided something and that she simply had to go along with it. But she was horrified at the cost – Jim wouldn’t tell her how much it was, but she looked up the website and nearly had a heart attack when she saw the rates; she was also a little concerned that Kirstie wouldn’t wake in her own bed and have presents under her own tree and experience her first Christmas in her own home.
‘My head has been done in so much with all this parental arguing that I don’t care how much it bloody costs,’ Jim told her. ‘It’s worth it. As for Kirstie’s memories – there’s no way she’ll remember this Christmas, no matter what we do. So it doesn’t matter about the bed and the tree and whatever. To tell you the truth, I only wish I’d thought about going away sooner. We could have gone somewhere hot. As it is, we were lucky with this booking. It’s one of their annexe rooms that they don’t normally use for visitors in the winter.’
‘Are we going to freeze to death?’ asked Laura.
‘It’s not that at all,’ Jim told her. ‘It’s just that it’s in a separate building a couple of minutes’ walk from the house. The walkway isn’t covered. All their other rooms were booked, and when I asked if there was any chance of a cancellation, because it was really important to us to get away, they suggested this.’
‘It won’t be awful, will it?’ asked Laura. ‘I’m not sure about being away at all, but if it’s awful . . . well, you don’t want to have a bad experience at Christmas.’
‘Bloody Christmas,’ said Jim. ‘Honestly, you’d swear it’d blight your life for ever if everything isn’t perfect.’
‘I know. I know.’
be perfect,’ Jim promised. ‘Don’t worry.’
Easy to say. Not entirely easy to do. Laura wondered how much they’d pay for Jim’s decision in the future. And not just in monetary terms, either.
He was right about it, though. It was perfect. The room was warm and toasty and had a wonderful view over the rolling gardens. When they arrived on Christmas Eve, there were carol singers around the piano and a happy buzz of conversation in the bar. Because they’d had to wait until both of them finished work, it was late in the evening before they reached the hotel, but the charming woman behind the desk told them that the dining room was still open, or if they preferred, she could arrange for them to have dinner in their room. And she’d smiled at Kirstie and told her that she was the loveliest baby they’d ever had in the hotel, which, although Jim and Laura knew was just being polite, was still nice to hear.
They decided to have dinner in their room, and Laura nearly cried with delight when a waiter arrived with an extending table and proceeded to lay it perfectly. There was a half-bottle of wine ‘on the house’ and some puréed fruit to go with the jar that Laura had asked them to heat up for Kirstie.
‘The thing is,’ she said when they’d finished and were sitting on the enormous bed watching an Indiana Jones DVD on the flat-screen TV, ‘I feel as though I should be doing this at home. But it’s wonderful to be looked after.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘And we’re away from the warring parents, so that has to be a good thing.’
‘We haven’t even had a row ourselves yet.’
Jim nodded. ‘It’s been stressful,’ he said. ‘Everything has over the past couple of years, but these last few weeks have taken the biscuit altogether. I’m sorry if I snapped at you.’
Laura smiled at him. ‘I’m sorry too. Christmas is supposed to be a relaxing time. Why does it have to get so bloody complicated?’
‘Relaxing?’ Jim laughed. ‘Everyone gets stressed out at Christmas. We’re not the only ones, I promise you.’
‘True,’ said Laura as she stretched her feet out in front of her and closed her eyes. ‘But nobody in the whole world is more relaxed than me right now.’
They stayed relaxed. On Christmas morning they opened the small gift boxes of chocolates that had been left in their room, then brought Kirstie for a walk through the grounds of the Sugar Loaf Lodge in her pram. They passed a couple on the frosted pathway pushing a top-of-the-range stroller in which an absolutely divine Asian baby was bundled up in a red woollen jacket and matching hat. Laura smiled in acknowledgement at the woman, who beamed back at her, sharing a connection that all mothers with babies had. When they came back to the hotel, they had hot chocolate with rum, which, according to Laura, made her feel as though she’d died and gone to heaven.
‘I know we’ll be broke after this,’ she told Jim as they sat in the lounge together before they went to dinner that evening. ‘And I know that our parents will be mad at us. But it’s so, so worth it. Oh my God!’
‘What?’ For a moment he thought that either his mother or hers had turned up. It had been a possibility that had worried him ever since he’d told them both that he and Laura were going away for Christmas and that they’d been forced into the decision by their incessant bickering and pressure.
‘I’ve just seen a guy who works in the Department of Finance,’ she said. ‘I know him because he often drops into the office and I’ve seen him at one or two of our nights out. He’s quite senior there.’
‘See, now you’re hobnobbing with the high-ups.’ Jim grinned.
‘Maybe.’ She grinned too. ‘Meryl Chambers told me he was gay! But I so don’t think so. Look at the woman sitting with him. She’s gorgeous.’
Jim’s eyes narrowed. ‘She’s vaguely familiar,’ he said.
‘Well, fair play to Liam, and now I’ll be able to gossip about him.’ Laura chuckled, then picked up her bag and took out her mobile phone.
‘Are you taking a photo?’ asked Jim. ‘For evidence?’
‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘I thought that maybe my mother would have phoned. It’s Christmas, after all.’
‘Well, it did all get a bit heated last time we spoke.’
Which hadn’t been at the disastrous dinner they’d had at Jim and Laura’s. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, both Angela and Caroline had begged Laura to reconsider, and as they were her child-minders and doing her a favour, she’d felt under an avalanche of pressure. Caroline had talked about being denied her rights as a grandmother. Angela had said that she was being shut out. And Laura had been forced to harden her heart and say that Jim had made up his mind and that was that. Angela had wanted to know where they were going and she’d refused to tell her, which had caused even more anguish.
The previous day, Christmas Eve, when she’d arrived home from work, her mother had barely spoken to her. She’d left presents under the tree, which had made Laura feel an absolute bitch (even though she’d had a bag of presents to give to Angela).
‘The girls texted,’ she said. ‘They said that Mam and Dad were a bit subdued.’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Jim. ‘I haven’t heard from my mother either.’
‘I told Celine that we were having a wonderful time here, and she said “lucky you”. I bet the atmosphere at home isn’t great. Now I feel bad for wrecking their Christmas too.’
‘You’re not to feel bad,’ commanded Jim. ‘We’re shelling out a fortune for us not to feel bad. We can argue with them again afterwards, but let’s not think about it now.’
‘OK.’ But Laura couldn’t help feeling a little bit guilty all the same.
It was after dinner before her phone vibrated with another text. This time it was from Angela.
‘Hope you’ve had a lovely Christmas,’ she said. ‘All fine here.’
Laura felt a tear trickle down her cheek. ‘We should’ve stayed home,’ she said. ‘We should’ve done something . . .’
‘Would you stop!’ Jim grabbed the phone from her and switched it off. He’d had a text from Caroline saying more or less the same thing, but he refused to allow himself to feel bad. It was right, he thought, to put his foot down over this. The two grandmothers had been interfering more and more in their lives since Kirstie’s birth. He knew that they needed them to help with looking after her. He appreciated everything they’d done. But there had to be a line over which they didn’t cross. There had to be boundaries. He wished they’d been able to afford to put Kirstie in a crèche. Then their parents wouldn’t have felt such a degree of entitlement. But it was nice for Kirstie to have her grannies at home. He was exhausted thinking about it. Parenting was so bloody difficult, he said to himself. It really was. Especially when you ended up parenting your parents too.
After dinner they went to the lounge and took part in the charades. They teamed up with a pretty young girl who said that she was from Poland, and an attractive, though slightly tired-looking man, who they originally thought was her father. Laura had remarked that he was probably divorced and it was his year to have her for Christmas, and Jim had nodded in agreement. They’d been startled to find out they were wrong. But they’d had a good laugh with the couple, who said they were having a great time at the Sugar Loaf Lodge and that it had definitely been the right thing to do this year. A shadow had crossed the man’s face even as he spoke, but it was fleeting and not mirrored in his companion’s expression. And then they turned their attention to the charades again. They weren’t doing that well at them. But they were having fun. Which was all that mattered in the end.
Laura and Jim agreed, as they went to reception to check out the following day, that it had been a fantastic break. Being looked after had been wonderful, and Kirstie had behaved beautifully for the entire time. They also agreed that it had been difficult to get over the guilty feelings, but that there were times when you had to do things that made you feel bad. At least we’ve made a stand, Jim said as the woman at reception, who he knew was also the owner, handed him the bill. It might have cost us a lot of money, but it was important to do it.
He scanned the bill, knowing that there was very little to add to the rate for their package as he and Laura hadn’t ordered much from the bar, but wanting to make sure it was right anyway.
‘That’s all right, Mr Devanney,’ said Claire as he took his credit card out of his wallet. ‘It’s been taken care of.’
‘Sorry?’ He looked at her in puzzlement.
‘Your bill has been taken care of,’ she said. ‘And I was asked to give you this message.’
He opened the envelope she handed him and took out the Sugar Loaf Lodge Christmas card inside.
‘We hope you have had a very special Christmas,’ he read. ‘We realise that you have to have your own time and your own traditions. We also want to say that we love you both, and Kirstie, very much, and if you want to call into either house on your way home we’d be delighted to see you. Love Angela, Caroline, Fred & Louis.’
Jim passed the card to Laura, who read it wordlessly.
‘You both have lovely families,’ said Claire as she looked at them. ‘And I hope you have many more happy Christmases with them in the future.’
‘I’m sure we will.’ Jim cleared his throat. ‘But we can’t let them pay . . .’
‘Mrs Devanney and Mrs McIntyre were very insistent.’ Claire smiled at him. ‘I spoke to both of them last night.’
BOOK: From The Heart
10.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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