Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Great Expectations

New Year's Eve will never be my favourite holiday. Never has been, never will be. And it's never been about the place or the people; this year I'm in London, last year was euro Disney, and the year before that a house party with friends back in Australia. But no matter where I am or who with, the new year has failed to make much feel all that special.

Now, it may seem pessimistic at first, but I assure you it's not. See - I don't hate the holiday - I just don't get excited about it and I'm not a huge partier, singing aud lang syne never appeals, and wishing everyone around me a happy new year usually just makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable. And it's pretty much the same wherever I am.

I'd suppose I'd sleep through it if I didn't always feel so guilty that I was letting both myself and the world down that I didn't make an effort to be awesome. And so every year I try to make an effort to be excited only to end up sober, bored and half asleep by 11.30 every time. Being in my early twenties, that practically makes me a unicorn. 

Sitting in the pub in London around the corner from Trafalgar Square with less than an hour to go until the fireworks explode on Southbank and the new year begins, I'm pretty much ready for bed. And yet I feel like a failure for not 'making the most' of my New Year's Eve in London. Weird, right? 

And no one can say that I don't make the most of my time in London. I spend every waking moment enjoying the city from every breath to blink. It really bodes a question about society and the pressure to celebrate New Year's Eve a certain way, and that people like me go against the grain by not conforming to that picture.

I had a great day - went out to lunch, to a musical, for drinks, for a three course dinner and then more drinks. You can't say I didn't celebrate. But it's cold, busy and crazy in London tonight so I think I'll get into bed rather than get my drink on more and stand around to watch the fireworks. Like every year I'm just not that fussed.

Maybe one day I will be - but it hasn't come yet. 

I don't even have any New Years resolutions - I just didn't bother to make any. What for anyway? To not keep them? Why not just take the year as it comes and enjoy it while it's happening? Be a good person every year, be healthy if you want to be, get a little crazy, meet new people, go on adventures, try something new. Don't just stick a resolution to yourself and expect it to work out; you have to make it happen, you know.

So I didn't make any - I didn't write anything down. I'll do what I want to, be the person I want to be and make the most of it without a list of impossible tasks to guide me to my yearly failure. 

This year I'll give up chocolate, lose 20kg and run a marathon? Please. This year I'll meet a man? I'll get right on that. This year I won't buy anything I don't need? Uh huh.

Baby steps, go with the flow. It's good to have goals in life, but New Years resolutions are stupid - they don't come true just because you made them. Just be yourselves and work hardto reach your goals every year like it's your last, not because it's a new year. 

Don't give me that 'new year, new me' bullshit. Just be the best you can be every year.

And on that note it's time for bed, see you next year!

Sam xox

Thursday, December 26, 2013

I'm getting too old for these all-nighters.

I'll keep this brief because I've only got so long. Priorities and all.

Did everyone have a merry Christmas? I hope you all ate enough, drank enough, indulged in the spirit of giving and goodwill, and feel sufficiently satisfied. I know I do - even if I'm so tired I want to drop and it's still ridiculous o'clock. 

But the reason for my all-nighter and the decision to post when I'm not at my most intelligent is because now that the festive season is (half) over, it's adventure time again. 

I know, I seriously can't stay still. Although the inactivity and weight I out in the past month would suggest that I need to travel. Or rejoin the gym. The prior seems like much more fun. 

I'd probably be super excited and dancing a little more if I wasn't so insanely tired. And it's only because I somehow thought a 6am flight was a good idea and knew I'd never sleep if I had to get to the airport for 3. Idiot. Much caffeine later, I'm stumbling around the airport and trying to take energy drinks through security. Yeah. The moral of the story is it's too goddamn early and I'm getting too old for all nighters. 

See you in London! 

You know, if I don't try anything else stupid.

Sam xox

Monday, December 23, 2013

On the twelfth day of Christmas...

Abby woke up on Christmas Eve and took a few minutes to remember where she was. She wasn’t hungover and didn’t have a headache, but she was in someone else’s bed.
          And that someone else was roughly six feet of darkly handsome male snuggled up against her back.
          The memories from the night before came back in a rush, not an unfamiliar sensation over the past week the way that things had been going. On the contrary, she didn’t make a habit of waking up in friend’s beds, especially not when they were men.
          But this wasn’t the morning after of some innocent sleepover if memory served correct. No, if her memory was indeed right then the whole episode that started with snuggling on the couch and ended up with the two of them in Damien’s bed then it was nowhere close to innocent.
          She slapped a hand over her mouth before a girly giggle could burst free. With a quick glance behind her to make sure that Damien was still asleep, Abby bolted out of bed and gathered up stray bits of clothes, pulling them on and making for the door.
          When she was safely away, down the street and sinking onto a seat on the Tube Abby finally gave herself the opportunity to let the events of the previous night sink in. She and Damien had slept together. Damien and she had had a shag. Or two. She had spent the night in his bed.
          A wide, side splitting smile crept across her face.
          She had never felt so amazingly incandescent in her entire life. She felt like a school girl who’d just had a first kiss with her crush, or like someone had told her Christmas was coming early this year. She was a little at a loss for the right words to actually express herself and shied away at asking the elderly woman beside her for help.
          But she forced herself to rein it in a little in lieu of the secret admirer that was still rather prevalent in her current situation.
          This, whilst amazing and wonderful and all sorts of magical, violated the terms she’d used to govern herself with in relation to her conduct before discovering the identity of her secret admirer.
          What was wrong with her? Damien crooks one finger at her and she throws herself at him like he’s oxygen she needs to breathe? She should have been far more ashamed than she actually was.
          Because she was a bad, bad person.
          Speaking of, it had been a really long time since Abby had done the walk of shame and thanked her lucky stars that she’d worn a pair of jeans and knit jumper under her coat the night before and didn’t look too out of place on the Tube. At home in the flat though it was another story and Abby had to make sure the coast was clear before making a mad dash to the bathroom to shower.
          She was already torn enough between the right and wrong of her situation without Jess giving her the evil eye.

          The last card was on her desk, a collection of red roses, holly branches and pine leaves in a vase with a red ribbon beside it. It embodied Christmas love and she felt pangs of guilt as she reached for the card, almost sure that the drummers were judging her.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, your true love gives to thee: twelve nights in Paris, eleven piping (hot) pictures, ten teas of England, a gown pimped to the nines, eight maidens in your favourite movies, seven swans for your favourite ballet, six aspirin and a decent lay-in, five golden trinkets, GTA on PS4, three French pens, two turtle gloves and a partridge named Frosty. I’ve given you one ticket, because that’s all you need. You don’t need someone to make an adventure for you or hold your hand; you’re strong and I know you can make it up on your own. But in case you change your mind, and you would like the company, I’ve got one for myself. If you decide that you want me. All I want for Christmas is you – X.
          All I want for Christmas is you. That was it then, she had no choice but to let things lie with Damien now that she knew how amazing it was between them. She owed it to her admirer, someone who had been better to her than anyone, knew her so well and treated her like an absolute queen for the past twelve days.
Not to mention twelve days in Paris! What? He must have known how badly she’d wanted to go and capitalised on it, bringing her fantasy to life and without even pressuring her to take him with her. It was the best gift she’d ever received, even more so than the tea set or the turtle gloves or the partridge, adorable as he was.
And she’d gone and slept with Damien. She was going to hell.

          So she did what any woman would do in the situation: she avoided Damien. All day. When she went to photocopy something and saw him standing not so far away, she post-it noted it for later. When she saw him in the staff room, she threw away her sandwich and went for sushi. When he came to knock on her office door, she actually hid under her desk and held her breath.
          No one had said she was the most mature, but she was just trying to be fair. Sort of.
          But hell did it hurt.
          Abby thought she was in the clear later when she made a quick trip to the ladies only to have a heart attack to find Damien sitting on her desk when she returned, leather-encased ankles crossed. He didn’t look massively happy.
          “You bailed this morning.”
          She didn’t have time for a light-hearted response, nor could she think of one. “I did. I’m sorry.”
           He nodded. “Why?”
          “I’m sorry, Damien, really. But you know how things are right now with the secret admirer, what we did was wonderful,” she didn’t meet his eyes at that; slightly worried he was going to say it was a mistake. “But I have to do the right thing by him – whoever he is. He deserves a real chance and my full attention.”
          Damien nodded again, lips a thin line. “I see.”
          “So, I’m sorry, Dee. I really am. We never should have let it get that out of hand last night, even if it was what I’d wanted for so long.”
          She looked up again and Damien had hopped off the desk and taken a few steps towards her.
          “Well, Merry Christmas, Abby,” He said, with a wry smile. He gave her a brief  nod then moved past her towards the doorway.
          “Merry Christmas,” she whispered back, unsure if he heard her because when she turned to look he was already gone.
          Most of the office staff left around two o’clock with the last few out before two thirty, but Abby worked a bit later feeling a little less than festive.
          Jess knocked on the door before she left to check in on her.
          “Hey, I’m heading home now – will you be home late? Don’t forget we’ve got Christmas breakfast tomorrow morning before we head off for our family time. I’ll pick up some extra things from M&S on the way home. Do you want anything in particular?”
          Abby shook her head, eyes trained on the slightly tear-stained manuscript in front of her. “No, that’s ok, Jess; I think we’ve got pretty much everything. I’ll see you at home.”
          Jess nodded, twining the scarf around her neck. “I’ll head off then. But before I do, here.” She came forward and placed a tiny card and cinnamon stick wrapped in Christmas ribbon onto Abby’s desk. “Your admirer gave me this to give to you.” Abby gasped in surprise and looked up at her friend. “Go get him, Abby,” she smiled.
          Then she blew her a kiss and left. And Abby was alone in the office.
          She put aside her manuscript, her red pens and her post-its, and reached for the card.  
Do you want me or not, circle yes or no; Baby, I’d go crazy if you meet me at the mistletoe – X.
          Beneath the inscription there was ‘yes’ and ‘no’ written in silver, standing out against the rest.
          This was it – this was finally the end and Abby was going to come face to face with X. Could she? Did she want to?
          She needed to know, and as much as she’d loved him for so long now she knew that she couldn’t just wait for Damien forever to realise that she was the one. Even after last night. She had to be open to the possibility of meeting someone who could reciprocate her feelings, and where better to start than with someone who cared enough to have spent the last twelve days showering her with affection.
          Abby grabbed her hat, scarf and coat and made a beeline for the elevator.

          Mistletoe could be hung pretty much anywhere, but there was only one place that she knew her admirer would be waiting. The black London cab that she’d hailed took her straight to Covent Garden, where the giant hedge reindeer and Christmas tree would soon pull into view with their magic as she drew closer to her destiny.
          Covent Garden at Christmas was usually teaming with people; wreaths hung everywhere and windows were frosted both by mock snow and by the cold in homage to the Dickensian days past.
          Abby was dropped off at the corner of Long Acre and Neal Street, not too far from the tea shop. She paid her driver and stopped to take a deep breath before forcing her feet to move closer towards the Apple markets.
          It was Christmas Eve, and there were people all around marvelling at the decor, the lights and accumulating last minute presents before the big day.
          She had never felt so full of Christmas spirit than at that moment, tiptoeing closer and closer towards the multi-coloured lights of the historic Covent Garden marketplace. Her heart beat a rapid tattoo in her chest as she rounded the corner and stepped into the centre of the market, right across from Punch and Judy.
          The note hadn’t been clear after that and she found herself panicking for a moment, unsure whether to go to the left, towards the Christmas tree, or to the right towards the reindeer. People were everywhere, chattering loudly around her and she needed a second to compose herself.
          Abby closed her eyes, reflecting on the past twelve days. There had been reindeers and trees and snowmen and angels. There were presents and lessons and memories made. But one thing that had never changed was her intuition; she’d always followed it.
          And then she knew. Abby opened her eyes, clarity dawning, and turned to the left towards the tree. A few years ago it had been a kissing tree, its lights powered by kisses, just like the mistletoe tradition. That was where she needed to go.
          She moved like a wind sprite, slowing just as the large and glittering tree finally came into view, and with it answering the question she’d been pondering for what had felt like forever: the identity of her secret admirer.
Damien stood in front of the tree, beneath a sprig of mistletoe tied to the archway above his head, a wide smile on his lips and a small, beautifully wrapped gift in his arms.
          “Are you surprised?” he asked somewhat sheepishly, as Abby drew near in shock and awe.
          He must have noticed how low her jaw had dropped when she’d first seen him, the look of utter disbelief that had crossed her face.
          “You have no idea,” she whispered, tears started to build in her eyes and she thought that keeping her voice low would disguise the catch in her words.
          But as a fat tear escaped from the corner of her eye and rolled down her cheek, Damien drew up a hand to brush it away. “Hey, now.” His smile disappeared and was replaced with consternation, fear. “What’s all this? Please don’t be very angry with me. Are you disappointed it was me?”
          Abby bit her lip, emphatically shaking her head but refused to meet his eyes. “No.” Then her voice finally broke. “Because I was so hoping that it would be you!”
          Then she was in his arms, his lips meeting hers beneath the mistletoe and for the first time in forever it felt like her greatest wish was finally coming true.
          Damien had been X all along, he would tell her later. It wouldn’t matter to her when he’d first loved her because he did then, and he had proved it beyond the shadow of a doubt for the past twelve days. Oh, she’d kill him later for the turmoil of the day and all the confusion, he sure had that coming, but not until after the New Year.
          Christmas was a time for miracles, magic and new beginnings. It was a time for wishes and love and giving, and Abby felt like she had just been granted the greatest gift of all.
          It was the best Christmas she could have ever asked for, and as Damien kissed her that cold Christmas Eve she was happier than she had ever been in her life.
          Damien had given her Twelve days of Christmas, but the best gift he ever could have given her was himself; and she got to keep him long after the holidays were over.
          Wishes really did come true because this was truly Abby’s merriest Christmas of all.

I hoped you enjoyed Abby Leightley's Greatest Christmas like I did, whether it touched your heart or not. I had a whirl of a time writing it and I certainly went on a bit of a journey myself. 

Abby learnt some very valuable lessons and made some wonderful memories on the way, as I hope becomes true for everyone this Christmas. Wherever you are and whoever you're with I wish you all the best and a very happy holidays. May all your wishes come true

Merry Christmas

Sam xox

On the eleventh day...

The next day was the last full day Abby had to spend in the office until after the New Year. She loved her job, but with everything going on the past few days what she really needed the most this Christmas was just a day or so to sleep in. Maybe she’d even convince Jess to come with her to the Build-a-Bear workshop for once and make the bear she’d been coveting for months.
          That, and with the excitement going on around her, Abby had managed to clock an all time low productivity. She was just lucky Byers hadn’t picker up on it – the old iron woman wasn’t swayed by love stories even if they were happening outside of the pages of literature.
          Not that this was a love story of anything.
          Her card for the day was taped to the microwave, a cup cake inside it with a tiny marzipan reindeer perched atop the icing.
          It was gone in seconds, she needed the sugar.
          On the eleventh day of Christmas, your true love gives to thee: eleven piping (hot) pictures, ten teas of England, a gown pimped to the nines, eight maidens in your favourite movies, seven swans for your favourite ballet, six aspirin and a decent lay-in, five golden trinkets, GTA on PS4, three French pens, two turtle gloves and a partridge named Frosty. I know that you love cinema and stage so I brought the means to you. There is plenty of Shakespeare this season and films I know you’ll love, so whittle down your favourites and do what you love. It's in the giving of a gift to another, like a haul of gifts from a lover, It's all the ways that we show love that feel like Christmas – X.
          Eleven movies? With Boxing day releases just around the corner and the tough choice on what to see, the movie tickets were more like a gift from the angels than her secret admirer.
          She was half in love with him already, though she accepted it was sort of superfluous and superficial.
          Last night she’d dreamt that the admirer had turned out to be someone she didn’t yet know, and he’d been ‘the one’ from first sight. Damien had been there, teary, and saddened that he hadn’t realised earlier how perfect she was for him before the Twelve days of Christmas had begun. It was a sort of variant of a recurring dream she’d had for the past couple of years.
          But there was the other thing, the one she felt like a total cow for thinking: sometimes, when she was sure no one could read her mind, Abby pretended that her admirer could actually turn out to be Damien. He’d tell her that he loved her and that he was blind to not have seen it straight away. He’d take her to Paris, they’d kiss atop the Eiffel Tower for all the world’s clich├ęs, and then they’d live happily ever after like a fairytale.
          You see, in Abby’s mind, she was the heroine of her very own romantic comedy. It was better than starting to freak out that she was approaching thirty, albeit in a few more years, and hadn’t so much as a long-term boyfriend. She was an optimist.
          As a matter of fact, a lot of the films she’d pinned to see over the next few months were optimistic ones designed to make people feel optimistic and inspired.
          Unconsciously Abby raised a hand up in a fist, determination crossing her features like a cartoon character.
          And that’s how Jess found her when she waltzed out of the bathroom in a puff of steam looking refreshed and perfect to greet the day.
          “The cupcake was a treat! No need to punch the microwave!”

          Lunch time was never a grand affair in the publishing house, but for some reason the majority had deemed to stay in to eat and the rec room was over-packed.
          It did turn out though that Abby’s romantic Christmas story had gotten around to all departments and most present knew that she was being serenaded by some mystery man. She had been prepared for that, privy to numerous little titbits of office gossip over the years; but what Abby had not been prepared for was that quite a handful of people actually knew who the admirer was.
          Ebony Harrison, ironically no relation to the Beatle despite the fact she looked kind of like him, slipped into the chair beside Abby at the table she shared with Jess.
          “Hey Abby – I bet you must be practically dying to meet your secret admirer tomorrow, right?”
          Abby, sandwich halfway to her mouth, blushed. “Uh, yeah I guess.”
          “You’ll be so surprised when you find out who it is! But you’ll love it – I just know it! Did you like the tea set?”
          Abby spat a piece of lettuce out. She hadn’t even told Jess about that yet.
          “Jeez,” she coughed, wiping the flecks of grin from her chin. “Does everyone know everything around here?”
          Ebony laughed, tossed her hair. “No, not everything, but rest assured that we all approve.” Then she stood up and went over to join some of her editing buddies.
          Abby watched her walk away with her mouth open before turning back to gape at Jess.
          “What the hell? Does everybody know who it is but me?”
          Jess hid a grin behind her coffee cup. “Well not everyone.”
          “But most of this room? Most of everyone?”
          “Well, yes.”
          Abby shook her head in disbelief. “When did I become such hot news?”
          “When your secret admirer decided to come clean and declare to all who knew you that he loved you.”
          “But what if I don’t go for him? Won’t it make him look silly.” Her face fell. “I’m going to look like a total bloody cow if I don’t fancy him.”
          Jess – and the inhabitants of the table over who had made no attempt to cover up the fact that they had been eavesdropping – barked a laugh. “Trust me, Abby, not likely.”
          Abby huffed, collected up her lunch and scanned the room. Most of the room wasn’t paying attention to her, but the ones who were cast surreptitious winks and hoots in her direction. Abby took stock of every single man in the room and tried to gage their body language, searching for a sign.
          Unfortunately Abby’s judge of body language was as terrible as her judge of character and simply staring the men down gave her no more clues to the identity of her admirer.
          So she stormed off, laughter following in her wake.
          And walked, literally, right into Damien.
          “Whoa, whoa, steady on.” His arms came up to grasp her biceps to stop her from tumbling over. “What’s happened?”
          Abby pointed back towards the staff room. “Everyone knows about the secret admirer, and who he is, except for me. I feel like an idiot! I know I’m hardly Sherlock Holmes but how come I can’t figure it out on my own?”
          Damien stared at her in astonishment. “I-
          “And what if he decides not to reveal himself? I keep imagining some incredibly romantic meeting under the mistletoe somewhere like Covent Garden with someone who’s pretty much the one, but what if I’m indifferent? I don’t have a good track record with romance, Damien!”
          “Shh, hold up now, Bee; take a deep breath.” He mimed at her to take one in and let it out, doing it with her like she was having a panic attack. Which, in a way, she sort of was. “Calm down – I’m sure it’s all going to work out just fine.”
          “But how do you know? You’re not the one who’d going to look like the office bitch if I don’t fall head over heels for the man showering me in these incredibly thoughtful gifts.”
          Damien gave her his winning smile. “Because I know.”
          And he thought that that solved everything.
          Abby opened her mouth to say something but he cut in.
          “Hey, they’re playing It’s a Wonderful Life on the telly tonight around eight. I know it’s supposed to be a Christmas classic but I’ll admit that I’ve never seen it. Would you like to come over and watch it with me?”
          Abby nodded before her brain even got onto making a decision. “I’d love to – I actually haven’t seen it either.”  
          Damien clapped her on the shoulder. “Great, well come around about seven; you have my address.” And with that, he strolled off in the direction of the staff room, Abby pretending not to notice how his bottom looked in the pinstriped suit he wore in his wake.
          It wasn’t a date, she quickly told herself as excitement bubbled up; it didn’t violate what Jess had told her and her reasoning for letting Raj off the hook the other night. It was completely innocent, just a Christmas film between friends.
          Even if she had spent a few hours thinking about him naked in the past.

          No intentions meant. It would be just fine. 

Merry Christmas

Sam xox

Sunday, December 22, 2013

On the tenth day...

Abby woke up the next morning still in her gorgeous dress but with pine needles in her hair. She took a second to brush some out and wonder where the hell they’d come from before the memory of the night before came rushing right on back.
          All of it.
          Her arms were covered in scratches, too, from falling into the Christmas tree.
          Fortunately, she remembered, no real damage had been done except to herself and her pride, and none of the presents had been crushed by her body weight as she landed.
          Unfortunately she’d flailed around in the tree for a few shocked moments to the ever-lasting laughter of the crowd, probably flashing her knickers, until Damien and Raj had managed to extract her. It had not been her greatest moment standing leaning against Damien with a bauble entangled in her hair, spiky green leaves littered through her hair and some really unfortunate glitter stains on her brand new dress.
          Her pride was ruptured for now, but at least this time she wasn’t hungover. Much.
          She rolled over to find two painkillers, a glass of chilly Berocca and the next Christmas card on her nightstand. A week ago she’d have wondered if her admirer had ninja’d into the flat again to take care of her, but she figured that it had probably been Jess who’d arranged this little setup.
          She had a thought then; could the secret admirer have been Jess?
          Popping the pills and downing half the glass of Berocca, Abby struggled to sit up to better read the card. Her head didn’t turn into a spinning top and no bile threatened to fizzle the sides of her throat – so far so good. She flipped open the card.
          On the tenth day of Christmas, your true love gives to thee: ten teas of England, a gown pimped to the nines, eight maidens in your favourite movies, seven swans for your favourite ballet, six aspirin and a decent lay-in, five golden trinkets, GTA on PS4, three French pens, two turtle gloves and a partridge named Frosty. Neal street Tea House isn’t too far away, and Twinings just around the corner. Mention your name to gather your surprises. It’s the greatest time of year, and it’s here, help me celebrate it – X.
          Well, never say the man didn’t know the way to her heart.
          Abby dragged herself out of bed with a smile and shuffled towards the shower.

          Abby may have managed to avoid waking up hungover that morning, but by the late afternoon she had a raging headache. It was probably from the lack of water she’d drunk since she’d spent the whole day fantasising about promised tea.
          So when it became apparent that she wasn’t actually succeeding in getting any work done, Abby asked the reception ladies to take her messages, donned her coat and went out for a walk along Fleet Street.
          Fleet Street had seen the best and the worst of humanity. And not just on the Monopoly board. It was a place of history, age, intrigue and the set of so many tales such as the one of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber. Most notably memorialised as the wonderful Johnny Depp.
          But like many streets of London, Fleet Street was an old place – a magical place – and Christmastime was ever it’s time to shine, shown up only by Regent Street’s light show.
          Twinings was not far from Fleet Street.
          As one of the oldest tea merchants of all-time English history, Twinings was established as early as 1706 and was still going strong after over 300 years. Which was more than you could say for most businesses.
          Abby loved that store. It was small, but cozy and warm and walking into it on a cold day like that day was it was more comforting than a hot bath. Abby wasn’t a Londoner by birth, but there was no denying that she was English because she genuinely thought that a hot cup of tea could solve many of life’s problems. In fact, one of the first places that Abby ever came to when she moved down to London was Twinings.
          It was a haven.
          X knew that about her as well, it would seem.
          Stepping into the heavily wooded confines of the tea shop, Abby took a deep breath and savoured the scent of different flavours of tea.
          Since its more humble beginnings with a very small selection, Twinings had since collected more than a hundred different flavours and tastes from different corners of the globe. Abby’s favourite was one they called ‘Golden Rose Hearts’ because when she’d first tasted it, on a cold, dreary day like today, it had had all the flavour of a thick fresh, buttery slice of bread and it never failed to soothe her. There was an ever-full tin in the pantry reserved for sad days and that time of the month.
          A saleswoman came over to Abby as she was taking off her hat. She had bright red hair like the Little Mermaid and a wide smile.
          “Hi there,” she breezed. “How can I help you?”
          “Hi – My name is Abigail Leightley, a...friend told me to mention my name.” And yet she still felt kind of like a celebrity wannabe. Do you know who I am?
          The woman’s smile got brighter, if that was possible, and when she grabbed Abby’s hand to lead her to the back where they did tastings, she was practically channelling the Cheshire Cat.
          “You’re Abby?” She asked, although Abby was sure the question was probably rhetorical at this point. “You are so so lucky! I mean wow! To have that man coming and buying you special gifts! Wow! I’m so jealous!”
          Mermaid, as Abby had decided to call her, sat her down at the tastings counter and patted her hand, then went to drop herself onto a stool on the opposite side.
          “Er – yes, I guess I am lucky. Did, um, what did this man look like?”
          Mermaid giggled and shook her head. “No, no, Abby – no cheating now. Suffice it to say you’ve got yourself a super catch in that man and I’m not just talking about his generosity or his taste.”
          Abby mentally cursed – foiled again. At least that crossed Jess off her suspect list. As open as she was to people loving whoever they would regardless of race, colour, sex or gender – Abby wasn’t sure how she’d have handled that kind of relationship dynamic shift with her best friend.
          “What did he say, exactly, about me?”
          Mermaid started piling different teas onto the counter, a couple were gold and black labelled. “Just that you were his true love, he was surprising you for Christmas, and that you were a very avid tea enthusiast.”
          Abby had to smile at that, picking up one box of tea to look at it. ‘Raspberry Rose Hearts’. Wow, she hadn’t seen that one before.
          “Well, he’s right. In fact he sent me here today, sort of.”
          Mermaid nodded again. “I know – he set up a sort of private little tasting session for you. You get to choose five different teas – to keep. All paid for.” She tossed her hair and lifted up a small packet of ‘Silver Serpent’ tea. “Ready to start?”
          Over the next hour Abby was certain she’d never been more plied with hot tea in her entire lift and waited on for her opinion. It felt a little like being a Princess or a Lady, probably in the old tea rooms that the Twinings store had once been. She and Mermaid, who she later found out was actually named Katia, must have gone through at least 30 or 40 different flavours before Abby had to make a mad dash to the staff bathroom.
          Finally, she’d whittled her decision down to just five – a collection of greens and blacks – and waved a happy goodbye to her new redheaded friend. Her mood was much improved, her headache gone and her bladder recently emptied. Times were good.
          But it was dark outside now and colder than it had been an hour ago despite the hot tea in her belly. So, she decided to just take the Tube to her next stop since it was likely to be warmer than the chilly London evening air.

          The Tube was wonderful at Christmas.
          Most people wouldn’t have agreed, but Abby loved it. There were carollers and people milling about with a ‘Happy Christmas’ and ‘Wonderful New Year’, the occasional decoration and even a Christmas tree or two. It got even better the closer you were to the Golden triangle, where Abby headed, and when she stepped out at Covent Garden it was all she could do to stop grinning at everyone.
          Her next stop was the Neal Street Tea House. Another personal favourite and always a treat, it was the remnant of yet another old tea room in the heart of London’s West End. Barely around the corner from the Apple Markets, decorated to the nines in festive colours, the Tea House called to her from inside.
          A little bell tingled above the door when she entered.
          The warmth from Twinings had dissipated a little on the journey, so when Jonathan, the shopkeeper, came over to greet her she was more than ready for tea-time round two.
          But there was no tasting waiting for her this time.
          “Abby – good to see you! Your man told me to expect you today!”
          Abby was starting to wonder if she was officially in a relationship now and everybody knew about it but her.
          “Hey Jonathan – good to see you too. You don’t happen to want to tell me who my man is, do you?”
          Jonathan, who looked quite a lot like Santa with his ruddy red checks and white beard, shook his head. “Now now. Instead of struggling with impatience, wouldn’t you rather see what I’ve got for you?”
          Abby gave him her coat, he hung it up, and then he took her upstairs.
          She’d been up there before – it was so full of beautiful tea pots and assorted other crockery that Abby usually balked a little. She wasn’t known for being the most coordinated and managed to remain constantly at fear that she’d trip and break absolutely everything in the shop with one false move. Like dominoes. She’d even dreamt about it before.
          “I have something very special for you, Abby.”
          “Is it tea?”
          Jonathan guffawed. “Very clever, pet, but no – it’s actually not.” He gestured to the small coffee table in front of the sofa set up at the back of the small loft. On top of it sat a vintage bone china tea set. From far away it looked like it was decorated with splashes of black, blue, yellow and brown but on closer inspection Abby was astounded to see familiar quotes and scenes from Alice in Wonderland.
          “Oh my god.”
          “I thought you’d like it, pet.”
          “Oh my god!” Abby rushed, carefully as possible, towards the tea set and dropped to her knees to pick them up.
          It was designed for two people; a teapot, two cups with saucers, milk jug and sugar canister. Five pieces if one considered the cup and saucers collectively, as one should.
          Combined with the five teas she’d picked out at Twinings that made ten. Just like X had promised. He hadn’t just given her tea; he’s given her an entire tea party.
          “It’s fine china, pet, hand painted and made around 1937, I believe. Don’t rightly know how it got through the blitz, but I’m sure glad it did. Beautiful set, don’t you reckon?”
          Abby was transfixed and had probably never felt so in love in her entire life. X was a dream man.
          “Yes.” A tear pricked the corner of her eye. “I do.” 

          Abby didn’t take the tea set home that day. She hadn’t wanted it to get broken on the Tube so she arranged for it to be couriered to her after Christmas. It was safe as chips in the tea house until then.
          Feeling too fuzzy and alive to go straight home, she wandered through Covent Garden and down towards the Apple Market.
          Standing on the edge, beneath a sprig of mistletoe, Abby stared up at it and remembered singing the night before, before the unfortunate issue with the tree happened.
          There were only two more days until Christmas, three more sleeps, and then she would know who her admirer, seducer, and dream man was. And she couldn’t wait.
          Maybe he’d meet her at the mistletoe. 

Merry Christmas

Sam xox

Saturday, December 21, 2013

On the ninth day...

There had been nothing all day – not at home, not on her desk in the morning, and not magically appearing during the day. She was almost worried the game was over too soon because of what had happened yesterday when she opened the front cover of the next manuscript in her in-pile and was astounded to find a Christmas Card.
          Grinning, she snatched it up, ignoring the ballerinas on the cover, and flicked right to X’s latest message.
          On the ninth day of Christmas, your true love gives to thee: a gown pimped to the nines, eight maidens in your favourite movies, seven swans for your favourite ballet, six aspirin and a decent lay-in, five golden trinkets, GTA on PS4, three French pens, two turtle gloves and a partridge named Frosty. I know you get stressed on what to wear, so I picked something you’ll knock the socks off of everyone in. Don your gay apparel – X.
            After that the manuscript was temporarily forgotten as she turned her office upside down trying to find the promised outfit. It wasn’t until a courier with a big white box with a black ribbon knocked on the door, a look of poignant fear at the hurricane she’d created in the room, that Abby realised the outfit wasn’t in the office. Yet.
          “Delivery for Miss Abigail Leightley?”
          Abby auspiciously dropped the empty takeaway box she was holding – seriously she had no idea how long it had been there – right into the bin she was hovering over and wiped her hands on her jeans.
          “Er, yes – that’s me.” A lightbulb went off in her head. “Hey,” she murmured conspiratorially as she took the sign sheet from him. “The guy that sent this package – what did he look like?”
          The courier shrugged. “Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t see him. He phoned in and I wasn’t the one to take the call.” She handed him back the clipboard numbly and he smiled at he, tipping his hat. Really. “Have a nice day, ma’am. Merry Christmas.” And he left.
          “Dammit,” Abby muttered under her breath, more than a little peeved that her plan had been foiled.
          Well it had been worth a try, but it sure seemed like her secret admirer was covering his tracks to ensure that his identity really did stay a secret. Either that or Abby was bad a sleuthing. Poirot would have figured it out on day two.
          With a sigh, Abby pushed the thought aside and returned to the black and white gift box perched happily on her desk just taunting her with its perfect wrapping. She tore into it with gusto and gasped at what she found.

          Jess left about a half hour earlier to help the last minute set up at the club their work had hired in Shaftsbury avenue to host their annual Christmas function. Abby, who wasn’t ready at the time had had to admit to her best friend that Raj was picking her up and that it was a date.
          Jess hadn’t exactly reacted the way she’d expected; whilst Abby thought she’d be excited Abby wasn’t just pining over Damien, who she was sure had some nameless blonde lined up for the event, Jess had been practically raging. She’d gesticulated widly that Abby should have been waiting to find out who the admirer was and how could she be certain it was Raj.
          Abby wasn’t certain, but who was she to refuse a date from a smart, kind and attractive man like Raj after years of waiting around for someone else to realise she was there. When Jess had left, she’d left with a look of disappointment that Abby hadn’t expected.
          But by the time Abby finished getting ready and Raj turned up on the doorstep she was feeling a little less crappy. In fact Abby, in the dress the secret admirer who could have been Raj sent her, looked amazing and was starting to feel the same.
          The dress, or gown pimped to the nines, was probably one of the most gorgeous things she’d ever seen. It was exactly her size with the tags taken off so she didn’t try to pull them off and therefore from some mystery location or designer. Not that she was too into designer stuff.
          It was a tea length dress with a full white satin skirt and petticoat of black tulle, and black satin bodice that blended downwards from the thick off the shoulder straps. It was amazing – it was like someone had taken a classy white satin dress and glitz-ed it up with some black paint. The effect was stunning and Abby had never felt prettier.
          She even had some black pumps and a winter coat to go with them.
          “Wow,” Raj breathed as she opened the door to see him. “You look gorgeous! I’m going to be the luckiest guy at the party.”

          The party was manic when they got there. Drinks were flowing like water, people were laughing, a buffet table was set up to the side with a selection of mouth-watering goodies and a top of the range karaoke system was set up on stage. Abby decided to steer clear of that considering how well she couldn’t sing, and not for lack of trying.
          Jess ignored them at first, seemingly still mad, but Abby and Raj piled their plates with food and ordered a round of drinks regardless. They had a great time.
          “So, did you end up finding something perfect for Jess?” Abby asked, brows rising expectantly to let him know without words she knew he had fibbed.
Raj gave her a sheepish look. “You caught me, I didn’t really have Jess as my secret Santa.”
          Abby’s mouth popped open, faking surprise that she didn’t really feel since she’d already known the answer. Then smiled. “I know, I figured it out – but why make it up?”
          Raj took her hand and traced little circles on the back. “You sure have a habit of making men shy around you, you know, Abigail? I didn’t want to come busting in and scare you off too soon. A man can only take so much rejection so I had to play it a little bit sneakier.”
          “Oh my god – it is you, isn’t it? You’re my secret admirer! You’re the one who’s been sending me those Christmas cards every day, aren’t you?”
          Raj’s face melted into a cornucopia of confusion as she continued to ramble and about halfway through realised that her theory was wrong.
          “You are the one who’s been sending me Christmas wishes every day, right? My secret admirer? Who sent me this dress?” She gestured to herself. “You said you had to be sneaky...”
          “I’m sorry, Abby, but I’m not the one who’s been sending you cards and presents. I wish I was because I wanted to ask you out, but I can’t claim credit for someone else’s bright ideas.”
          Although she wasn’t too surprised, Abby felt a little crushed. That was her one suspect out of the running now and wave of guilt overcame her.
          “If not you, then who?”
          Raj shook his head, silky locks falling across his forehead. “I’m afraid I don’t know that, it’s a pretty closely guarded secret. Everyone in the office knows about it, but no one is quite sure who it is.”
          Closely guarded secret, she scoffed, more like time to call Poirot or Sherlock Holmes.
          Though despite her humour, Abby was a little more seriously concerned. So Raj wasn’t the admirer – that was unfortunate because of how lovely he was – but that should have been that. But Jess’ words from earlier that evening came back to haunt her a little and Abby’s guilt began to choke her.
          Someone who truly cared about her sent her the dress she was wearing, and here she was out with someone else. There was a code of conduct in life and love, and this did actually cross Abby’s. You didn’t wear one man’s corsage and fraternise with another, her mother would say.
          No wonder Jess had been so mad at her. She was acting too soon and had no business accepting dates just yet until the Twelve Days of Christmas were up.
          “I’m not sure I can do this, Raj.”
          “The steak? It’s delicious but a tad saucy for my taste. Don’t tell my mother though – she’s a lot more traditional than I and would probably keel over to know I eat beef.”
          With a chuckle, Abby shook her head. “I meant about our date. I think that we might need to leave it here – at least for now, until I sort out all this secret admirer business.”
          “Does this mean you’re saying no this being a date after all?”
          Abby smiled and kissed Raj on the cheek. “Yes, I’m sorry, Raj. You’re lovely but I’m afraid right now I’m not in the position to accept anymore dates except from my secret admirer. Friends?”
          His smile could have melted butter. “Friends. Dance with me?”
          Abby placed her hand in his and let him sweep her off her feet and pull her towards the dance floor.
          They had great fun, grooving to the beat, doing the YMCA and drinking flute after flute of champagne. Before long Jess, who seemed to have thawed out her attitude, and Damien, who was suspiciously minus one blonde-haired date, joined them on the dance floor.
          They danced as a unit for a few songs before others joined them and Raj swung Jess into a variant of a swing dance. Seizing the opportunity, Damien made a ridiculous bow and offered himself up.
          “Can I have this dance?”
          Abby took him on with a girlish giggle and let him tug her into a riveting fusion of salsa, tango and the Charleston.
          “You look amazing, Bee - hotter than July, for sure.”
          Abby blushed and tried not to stumble in the dance. “You really think so? My secret admirer sent this to me.”
          Damien shot her a look that could have melted butter...or the knickers of a lesser woman right off. “Your admirer has some pretty great taste. And in case you were wondering: I don’t just mean the dress.”
          As one would have predicted, flustered Abby equalled more champagne, more dancing, and a very valiant attempt to not throw herself at Damien who turned out to be the most charming dance partner.
          Things with Raj weren’t weird despite their failed date and she figured they were pretty well back to being just friends when he cut in, grasped her by the waist and hoisted her onto the stage.
          In front of the whole room.
          Someone made the mistake of cranking up the music on the karaoke box and handballing the microphone to Abby before she could say no. The room looked at her expectantly and the first bars of ‘Meet me at the Mistletoe’ began to play.
          Fear ignited – what if she screwed it up? What if she actually was as terrible as she thought? What if people laughed at her like she was Carrie White?
          “C’mon, Abby – you can do it!”
          “Whoo, Abby!”
          Loving to sing when you thought no one was around and being handed the microphone in front of about a hundred people and told to sing were two very different things. Abby was so scared she almost peed herself.
          Thank god she’d had all that champagne earlier.
          But once the initial terror started to subside, Abby found belting the lyrics out became easier and easier, and it really felt like it was coming from the heart.
          “Do you want me or not? Circle yes or no; baby, I’d go crazy if you meet me at the mistletoe.”
          And when the final notes ended, people actually applauded. Abby was delighted, waving a little and blowing kisses like she’d just finished a wonderful concert. She was enjoying it so much that she leant over the dj, shouted “Strike up, pipers!” and rolled right into ‘Jingle Bell Rock’.
          It was a total movie moment; everything was going so amazing, going so well even after the Raj incident, and she felt practically on top of the world.
          At least until she did a fun little twirl, wrapped the microphone cord around her ankles, lost her balance, and fell right off the stage and into the Christmas tree set up with everyone’s Secret Santa presents.

          Next time, Abby wasn’t going to play their reindeer games. 

Merry Christmas

Sam xox

Friday, December 20, 2013

On the eighth day...

On the eighth day of Christmas Abby woke up to find her face pressed against the open pages of a manuscript and a now-cold cup of coffee just out of reach. Apparently that late night editing session she’d pulled to get her work done hadn’t actually ended in getting the work done.
          For whatever reason, after getting home from their sojourn to Oxford Street the previous night, Abby had figured that buckling down with some work would do well to take her mind off of things. Instead, she’d procrastinated for hours watching the Grinch and the nightly news with Jess before spreading some manuscripts out on the kitchen table and popping the lid off a fresh red pen.
          It was only basic editing, she’d have to go over them digitally later, but she liked to comb author’s works this way first. It was how she got a little perspective – kind of the way a teacher would when grading papers. You miss things on the computer you don’t when things are printed.
          Her scripts were usually covered with smiley faces though so she didn’t give anyone the wrong impression. It was something that her bosses both loved and loathed about her methods.
          Standing by the bathroom sink, Abby gave herself the squint eye and groaned at the flicks of red pen streaked across her cheeks. Fortunately it was actually pretty early and she didn’t have to worry to hard about Jess seeing her state of dishabille.
          Abby took a wash cloth to the face and started to scrub, applying enough soapy water to drown a pigeon. It didn’t actually take all that long before the red melted from her face to the sink and she was satisfied, feeling suddenly refreshed.
          She cast a smile at her reflection and drained the bowl before making to head back out to the kitchen when she a very soft knock at the door.
          Assuming that it was coming from the front door, Abby left the bathroom and went to peer through the peephole. There was no none there.
          Puzzled, she fitted the chain and opened the door a fraction. Still no one there.
          More perplexed than before, Abby made a face at the fridge, shrugged and headed back to her bedroom. But as she passed Jess’ room she overheard soft voices coming from behind the door.
Her first assumption was that Jess had fallen asleep with the telly or her radio on and was fine but then she heard a familiar voice. And it didn’t belong to Jess.
It was Damien.
Abby immediately backed away from the bedroom door and slapped a hand over her mouth, suddenly feeling utterly sick to her stomach.
What the hell was Damien doing at their flat at 4.30 in the morning, and what the ever loving hell was he doing in Jess’ room?
Abby would have stormed in there and confronted him, but she had to remind herself that he wasn’t actually hers and she had no say in what woman’s bedroom he woke up in. Her heart feel like it wanted to explode out of her chest and it was all she could do then to throw on her clothes, grab her coat and slam out of the flat before she had a meltdown.
She went straight to Starbuck’s across, thankful that they were even open at this time of night even though it was approaching five by the time she even go there.
It didn’t make sense to her, Damien and Jess. Both were as equally attractive as the other and smart, but there had never been a time before now that Abby had worried there was more than friendship between the two of them. Even wasted there had never been much more than camaraderie between the two of them, and Abby had capitalised on that more than she’d even realised over the past years. It was a small measure of comfort to her that despite Jess’ beauty and Damien’s penchant for hot blonde model types, Abby hadn’t had to have watched them canoodle in front of her.
So, what the hell changed? Or was there more to the situation than meets the eye?
And once again, Abby reminded herself, she couldn’t continue to hold on to Damien forever when there was a man out there somewhere who’d done nothing but worship her for over a week now.
She took a deep breath, a sip of gingerbread latte and sighed. The sun started to rise and soon darkness gave way to crisp December morning and things started to feel a little better.
Abby was sure there was some sort of explanation and she would just have to face up to it whatever it was. Jess and Damien weren’t bad people, they wouldn’t just screw her over without taking her feelings into account and she was confident in that. She knew her friends, she’d just have to be optimistic.
The bell on the door jingled to admit someone new into the store and Abby looked up just in time to see Raj entering the store with a surprised smile.
“Abby – you’re here!”
She blinked in confusion.
“Yes – shouldn’t I be?”
Raj shook his head and put in an order for a black coffee. “No,” he said whilst the barista started pouring shots. “I was just a little shocked to see you here so early.”
It was actually the Starbuck’s on Fleet Street just around the corner from the office. Abby hadn’t actually thought to bring the manuscripts along with her that she’d been working on the previous night, but she had subconsciously headed in the direction of work despite the turmoil she had been facing a few hours ago.
“Oh, yes, I suppose it is pretty early. I didn’t sleep so well last night so I didn’t really think too much about the time and just headed on in. I should do it more often, traffic was much better than usual on the Tube.”
Raj laughed again, accepted his coffee and came over to her small table by the window. “Do you mind If I sit?”
Abby shrugged. “Not at all, I could use the company, I guess.”
And it was true – she was feeling progressively better since the sun had risen and Raj’s presence was doing wonders for her mood. Problems seemed a little less worse with perspective and in the light of day.
“So, the Christmas party is tomorrow night,” Raj began, looking a little more nervous than she had ever seen him. He played with the plastic lid on top of his coffee like a girl would twirl her hands in her hair. “I was meaning to ask you if you’d maybe like to be my date for the night.”
Abby, who’d been looking at Raj’s hands on the coffee cup and mimicking his movements on her own, went shock still and looked at him in surprise. It really was turning into that kind of a morning.
“Like a date?”
Raj nodded emphatically. “Yeah, like a date – you and me.”
Once again the question of Raj being the secret admirer was on the table, although Abby couldn’t remember if it was common practice to actually ask the person on a date face to face. Who was she to tell though; she’d never been a secret admirer so maybe it was a thing. Either way she couldn’t fault the man for doing it his own way.
And if Raj really did turn out to be her admirer in the end, Abby could genuinely say without a doubt that she was very flattered. And so there was only one answer that she really wanted to give.
“Yes. Yes I’ll go with you.”

She and Raj spent the rest of the hour chatting over morning coffee, having a jolly time and then accompanying each other to the office.
They had a lot in common, but she already knew that, and before long the question about Damien’s presence in Jess’ room that morning was practically out of her mind.
She almost hoped that Raj was her admirer, he was so damn lovely.
They parted ways at reception, Abby receiving the thumbs up of approval from the reception Ladies, Joanne and Kensia, before Abby took up the reigns of her day’s work.
After lunch when she came back into the office there was a card on her desk. It was a little crumpled and worse for wear, but still comforting as all hell.
The inscription inside was written in the same flowery lettering, but a post script had been added at the bottom in choppy, messing handwriting.
On the eighth day of Christmas, your true love gives to thee: eight maidens in your favourite movies, seven swans for your favourite ballet, six aspirin and a decent lay-in, five golden trinkets, GTA on PS4, three French pens, two turtle gloves and a partridge named Frosty. I know how you love your historical romances, so I picked out a couple of the ones I know you like but didn’t already have. I’ll deck the halls with the things you love – X.
Then, at the bottom: I had left the films on the kitchen counter for you along with some breakfast, but you weren’t there. I’ll keep the idea by to give you another time when you least expect it.
Abby spent the rest of the afternoon trying to make a list of what the eight films could have possibly been.

That night as Abby was putting the finishing touches on her the Christmas tree they’d erected in the living room, Jess came in with a couple of shopping bags full of groceries. The Muppets Christmas Carol was playing on the telly in the background and a half-full bottle of egg nog that Abby had made was chilling in an ice bucket. She was feeling even better since the morning and was feeling particularly Christmassy.
“Hey – I brought some dinner. Feeling like some roast beef and vegetables? I got the quick-roast kind.”
Abby looked over and noticed the sheepish smile Jess gave her. She couldn’t help but smile back. “Yeah, I’m keen. Nog?”
But Jess was already helping herself to the bottle and whilst Abby raised an eyebrow at her, she only shrugged her shoulders in response.
Abby sucked in a breath and blurted out the question she needed to ask:
“Was Damien here really early this morning?”
Jess froze with the glass of egg nog half way to her mouth. “What? No.”
“Really? Because I was up at about 4.30 and I swear I heard his voice coming from your room.”
Jess suddenly burst out laughing and splashed some of her drink to the floor. “I had him on the phone – the point was to talk so you couldn’t overhear.” Abby’s face must have shown her emotions too well, because Jess waved a hand in the air. “No, no – nothing like that! Gosh, no, he’s like a brother and believe me when I say I would never try to poach someone so obviously...someone you were so obviously over the moon for. No, I called him because he was fishing for a present for you for Christmas, he was on his way to the gym and I was up for some morning yoga.”
Jeez, health freaks and their painfully early morning exercise rituals.
But Abby was relieved that that was all it had been, and Jess was a terrible liar, she trusted her smiling face.
“Oh, ok. Sorry, Jess – I just heard him and freaked out a little.”
The roast went on, the egg nog was drunk and the two of them restarted the Muppet Christmas Carol to watch it from the start.
It had been an oddly crazy day and after a fuzzy evening of hot dinner, Christmas films and cozying up by the fire with her best friend, Abby went off to bed relatively early.
She brushed her teeth, pulled on her fluffy Rudolph pyjamas and went in to retire and paused.
On her bed was an external hard drive with a bright red bow on the top, and, she was sure, a variety of feel-good films within.

Beneath the bow, the picture of a carton of milk was superimposed onto the drive. 

Merry Christmas

Sam xox