Yes, yes, yes, I know it's August!! But the fantastic travelling blog hop Written Fireside is covered in tinsel and wearing a Santa hat and who am I to argue? And as if that isn't exciting enough, there's a monster giveaway running alongside the hop - see the rafflecopter below to enter for your chance to win lots of lovely books, e-books and a $70 Amazon Gift Card.
This time all fifteen authors have been given the same opening paragraph, written by competition winner Georgia Beyers, and challenged to write a Christmas short story with the theme 'Christmas by the fire.'
These short stories will be published later this year as a Christmas e-book anthology by HarperImpulse and I am so excited to be one of the contributing authors. Today and tomorrow I'm sharing snippets from my story 'The Christmas Burn-Up', before I pass the mantle to the next author. So without further ado...
Here is the starting paragraph written by Georgia Beyers...
Charlotte sat at the bus stop wondering whether she would make the naughty or nice list this year. Last year she had rescued a stray kitten and therefore considered herself most definitely ‘nice’. This year she had broken Daniel's heart into a million tiny pieces, so ‘naughty’ seemed to be the only answer. There’d be no Santa Claus coming down her chimney anytime soon.
The Christmas Burn-Up - Part 1
Then again, she supposed it all depended whose side Santa would come down on if he knew the facts. Did Santa realise that for all his repeated claims that she had broken his heart, Daniel had broken hers first?
And Daniel might have told her, repeatedly, that he was heartbroken when she refused to take him back and give things another chance, but could his heart really be broken into a million tiny pieces when three weeks earlier he’d ended their relationship himself? He’d made a mistake, he said, as if that was somehow a good enough reason for her to take him back. He’d decided the grass wasn’t greener after all. That’s what it boiled down to. She’d broken his heart because she wouldn’t let him change his mind. How the hell was that HER fault?
She’d stood her ground firmly in the face of his apologies.
Her stubbornness or his desertion? Whose side Santa would come down on? Santa was a man. She bet he’d back Daniel, just like Daniel’s gang of firefighter mates had closed ranks.
The air was cut-glass cold as she breathed in and she pulled her coat around her more tightly. The bus stop seat was freezing against her butt. She watched the soft snowfall in the headlights of the early evening traffic. It was the last Friday before Christmas. The cars were full of people free of work for the holidays, full of excitement and Christmas cheer, heading off to visit relatives or to get ready for parties. Her stomach gave a miserable churn. Maybe if she tried really hard to block out all things Christmas and holed herself up at home for the next few days, she could convince herself it was a different month. March perhaps. No big events that time of year, no Valentine’s Day, nothing to remind you that you were tragically single.
She got to her feet as the bus came to a standstill at the kerbside and the double doors flipped open to reveal an interior festooned with tinsel and a driver wearing a Santa hat.
She deliberately chose an empty double seat near the back of the bus, the better to stare out of the window and deny Christmas. Unfortunately the plan only worked until the next stop, when the doors slid open and an old woman got on. She inexplicably ignored the plentiful empty seats and sat down instead next to Charlotte, parking her shopping trolley-zimmer frame combo in the aisle. She wore a knitted hat with tufts of grey hair above each ear and a massive hairy coat, and her eyes were bright blue in her wrinkly face. Charlotte caught a whiff of gardenia that made her think of childhood visits to her grandmother.
She stared sideways out of the window thinking that if maybe she just ignored the old dear she could avoid a conversation.
‘Looking forward to Christmas?’ The old lady had a crackly voice.
Oh great. The last thing she needed right now was a cosy seasonal chat with a geriatric. She just wanted to get home and hide until the New Year.
‘Not particularly.’The woman pursed her wrinkly mouth.
‘No big family parties? Turkey and stuffing?’ She waved a fingerless-gloved hand in the air.
The woman raised her eyebrows. The expectant silence begged for an explanation.
Charlotte sighed and gave in.
‘I live alone,’ she said.
Charlotte sighed and gave in.
‘I live alone,’ she said.
‘No one special?’
She shook her head.
‘We broke up.’ Maybe that would put paid to twenty questions. Surely the old lady wouldn’t want to pry. It was basic politeness after all.
‘Sorry to hear that. What went wrong?’
It seemed the basic politeness rule didn’t apply to old people. The woman sounded genuinely interested and sympathetic and Charlotte brightened up a little. If they had to have a conversation, it was unexpectedly nice to have a fresh person to offload to. She’d bored her friends rigid with the Daniel debacle over the last six months. Any mention of him now was perceived as a refusal to let go of the past.
‘He decided he felt tied down,’ she said. ‘Didn’t want to be with me anymore. I’d thought everything was fine between us and then out of the blue he packed his bags.’
Not strictly true. Describing their relationship pre-walkout as fine was bending the truth bigtime. But you didn’t throw in the towel just because things were difficult, not in Charlotte’s world anyway. She threw up a hand.
‘No staying power. He just chucked it all away and then…’ she leaned in towards the old woman, warming to her subject now ‘…a month or so later, he grovels to come back. He’d made a mistake, he says. Didn’t realise what he’d had. Blah, blah, blah.’
‘And you said no?’
Was there a hint of surprise in the woman’s tone? Charlotte choked amazed laughter.
‘Are you insane? Of course I said no. Take him back as if nothing had happened and wait for him to hurt me again? No chance.’
‘Did he leave you for another girl?’
She shook her head.
‘No. As far as I know he’s still living the single life with his firefighter mates.’
‘And he apologised and tried to explain?’
‘Oh constantly. I had to unfriend him on Facebook and turn off my phone until he gave up.’
Being the one in the right had its own satisfaction. It was only once the attention stopped that she’d realised how bloody lonely the moral high ground was. Since then she’d held onto her pride for grim death.
‘You don’t think that was a bit hasty?’
In terms of what she wanted to hear, it was all a bit pants. Where was the female solidarity?
‘No I don’t,’ she snapped. ‘It was never going to work anyway. We moved in together after three weeks. Big mistake. It was doomed to failure from the start.’
The woman shrugged.
‘If you’re right for each other, it shouldn’t matter whether you marry or move in together on day one or day one thousand and one. You’re the same people. Life is short.’
A surprisingly liberal attitude from a woman who made Charlotte’s own mother look like a spring chicken. Her mum had made it clear from the outset that moving in was madness. But then she would, wouldn’t she? When you had a thirty year successful marriage under your belt you could claim that your relationship advice had merit. Irritatingly, it had turned out she was right.
‘It’s not that simple,’ she said, channelling her mum. ‘On day one you don’t know each other. You don’t know each other’s expectations. It stands to reason that if you uncover all of those BEFORE you move in together, the whole thing has a much better chance of working.’ She sighed. ‘At least I got to keep the house.’
‘It’s only rented and it’s tiny, but at least I didn’t have the hassle of finding somewhere else.’
Daniel had offered to move out, even though it had been his place, probably to salve his conscience. She’d moved in with him, not the other way around. She shook her head lightly. A lease did not make up for a lack of trust.
‘In actual fact everything worked out well. I’m feeling really healthy. Looking forward to the future, dealt with all that old baggage. Onwards and upwards.’ She punched the air to make her point.
‘You think you’ve moved on?’ There was a definite sceptic edge to the woman’s voice.
‘Have I moved on?’ Charlotte heaved out a massive sarcastic laugh. ‘Are you serious?’
The old lady examined her gnarly fingernails.
‘It’s just that this Daniel is all you’ve talked about since I sat down.’
‘You brought him up! And have you heard a single positive syllable about him pass my lips?’
‘He let you keep the house.’
‘Apart from that.’
‘It sounds like he’s apologised until he’s blue in the face.’
‘He’s a fireman.’
Oh for Pete’s sake. Was there no member of the female species who didn’t have a firefighter fantasy? Age was clearly no barrier.‘That’s a negative,’ she snapped. This conversation seemed to be getting way off-topic. ‘It’s a closed-off boys-only group. Trust me. They’re a species all their own. It’s all about their social life, their boys nights out, male bonding, flirting with firefighter groupies.’
The woman held up a hand.
‘And still…’ she said ‘…we’re talking about him.’ She leaned in as if imparting a great secret. ‘Trust me. I’ve been there and I know. There’s only ever one way to really move on. You have to cut all ties, make a proper and total fresh start. Purge your life of all references to him. Clean sweep, removal of all reminders. And when you’ve done that, there’ll be nothing left to make you look back.’ She sat back and clasped her hands in her lap as if her work was done. ‘You’ll be free.’
‘I. Am. Over. Him,’ Charlotte said.‘Of course you are, dear,’ the old woman said in a voice that screamed the opposite, an if-you-say-so smile lurking around her wrinkled lips.
Charlotte stood up gladly as the bus trundled into her road.
‘This is my stop,’ she said, squeezing out into the aisle in relief to be free of the mad old bat who clearly had herself pegged as some kind of relationship guru – I mean, honestly.
‘Merry Christmas, then,’ the woman called after her.
My arse.Charlotte waved a vague hand over her shoulder.
She glanced up at the bus as it pulled away, expecting to see Daniel’s new biggest fan gurning at her out of the window. Maybe the old dear was Daniel’s mad great-aunt or something. That would explain the total lack of female support.
She did a crazy double-take.
She could clearly see her own recently vacated seat on the bus through the wipe mark on the window that she’d made with her glove. Empty. Nothing surprising about that, except that the seat next to it was empty too. The doddery old woman with the zimmer trolley had either moved seats like a dynamo the moment Charlotte left the bus, or she’d never been there at all.
Oh for bloody hell’s sake. She really was losing it.