Make a Christmas Wish, page 1
Published by Avon
An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd
1 London Bridge Street
London SE1 9GF
First published in Great Britain by HarperCollins 2015
Copyright © Julia Williams 2015
Julia Williams asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.
Source ISBN: 9781847563590
Ebook Edition © October 2015 ISBN: 9780007464500
To my fabulous twin, Virginia Moffatt,
my first reader and greatest cheerleader.
About time too xxx
Table of Contents
Two Weeks Till Christmas Joe’s Notebook
By the Same Author:
About the Author
About the Publisher
Two Weeks till Christmas
• What makes a mother?
• A mother cooks
• A mother picks me up from college
• A mother falls asleep in the afternoon
• A mother is always there.
When I was little my mum always told me to look at the brightest star in the sky and make a Christmas wish, and it would come true.
The brightest star in the sky is Polaris: the North Star, the star that guides travellers home.
Tonight I looked through my telescope and made my Christmas wish.
Maybe Polaris can guide my mum and bring her back home.
Then we can be a family again.
I come to in the car park, sitting on the ground, feeling very confused. I remember the car, the kid, and an incredibly painful bang on the head, and lots of people flapping around me, but nothing else. But that must have been hours ago. It’s dark now, and I am alone and I can’t quite remember why I am still here. Did they leave me behind? Why didn’t they take me to hospital? That’s weird. I feel in my pockets for my mobile. I must ring Adam, my husband. He and our son Joe will be so worried. That reminds me, I’m cross with Adam for some reason, but I can’t think why. I can’t find my phone. I must have dropped it when the car hit me.
The. Car. Hit. Me.
I stop for a moment and try and absorb the logic of this. If the car hit me, why am I not hurt? And why am I still here? And why is it dark? – Oh no …
When I hear my wife is critically ill in hospital I’m standing out at the front of our office having a surreptitious conversation with Emily – I don’t want everyone at work knowing what’s gone on. It doesn’t make me proud to know how secretive I’ve become in the last few months.
‘How did she find out?’ asks Emily in a tense whisper.
‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘That’s not really the point any more.’
‘This changes everything,’ says Emily.
I sigh. ‘I know. Still, it had to come out some time, but I wish I’d been the one to tell her.’ I don’t know. I’ve wanted to, so many times in the last few months, as my home life has been deteriorating to beyond even what I could possibly have imagined. During that time Emily had become the one beacon of light in my life. But would I have ever found the courage? And then there’s our son Joe of course. What on earth is this going to do to Joe? Guilt and misery lodge uncomfortably in my stomach. We’ve had some rotten Christmases in the past, but this one could be shaping up to be a humdinger.
‘Adam, there you are! I’ve been looking for you everywhere.’ It’s my PA, Marigold. She looks really upset. The words come tumbling out of her so fast I can’t quite take them in. ‘I’m so sorry, Adam, but you have to go to the hospital. There’s been an accident. Livvy’s been badly hurt.’
‘What?’ I’m not sure I’ve heard correctly. ‘Emily, I’ve got to go, Livvy crisis.’
‘You have to go,’ Marigold says frantically. ‘Now. She’s in the hospital.’
I’m ashamed to say that my first thought is that Livvy’s pulling a stunt – her way of getting back at me. But when I finally speak to someone at the hospital, it seems she really has had a bad accident. ‘I’m sorry to tell you she’s in a critical condition, Mr Carmichael,’ says the doctor. ‘I suggest you come immediately.’
I dither about whether to pick Joe up or not. How will he react? But if things are as bad as they say, will Joe forgive me for leaving him behind? So, in the end, I grab him from his sixth-form college, and we get to the hospital to discover that Livvy is in Resus. We’re
I start to remember. It was two weeks until Christmas Day and I was on my way to Lidl to get some Christmas shopping, still staggering from the news I’d just heard. Adam, my lovely husband Adam, had been unfaithful to me. I mean, I knew we had our problems, and I’d felt for a while that he’d been quite distant, but Adam, having an affair? I was reeling with shock, and mad as hell. There I’d been, sorting out a lovely Christmas for us, and he’d been playing away.
As I got out of the car, a part of my brain was still calmly planning our Christmas dinner, while the other part was concentrating on angrily texting Adam: You bastard, how could you? Talk about multitasking. I knew how and why he could of course – I’d given him enough cause over the years.
I was so angry I wasn’t paying attention, so I foolishly stepped into the road in front of a car driven by a 17-year-old learner driver whose dad had taken him to Lidl’s car park to practise safely. The poor lad panicked when he saw me, and accelerated instead of braking. I could see his terrified face staring frantically from the dashboard, as to my horror I realized the car was speeding towards me, and I could do nothing to stop it.
I didn’t feel any pain on impact, but the car hit me side on, spun out of control and crashed into the recycling bins. I flew through the air and landed head first into the trolley man who was collecting stray trolleys abandoned by lazy shoppers. I’d have got away with a few breaks and nothing more if it hadn’t been for the damned trolleys. Unfortunately for me, I received a glancing blow to the head, which resulted in a haematoma.
Just my luck.
I felt a moment of excruciating pain, and then people gathered excitedly around me, and the boy driving the car was wailing loudly, ‘What have I done?’
I could just make out the sounds of sirens in the background before everything faded to darkness. The last sound I heard was the music blaring from the store: ‘Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time’. Just peachy.
The next thing I knew I was lying on a stretcher and the lights were hurting my eyes. I seemed to be in a vehicle of some kind and we were going at a hell of a lick. I heard a voice saying, ‘Livvy, stay with me,’ before everything faded again.
When I came to I felt as though I was floating in a dreamlike state. I couldn’t quite work out where I was, until I looked down and saw lots of people dressed in blue overalls, wearing face masks and looking grave. They were standing over a body. I was beyond spooked: what the hell was going on?
‘And clear!’ someone said, and a charge went through the body, but nothing happened.
The man holding the defibrillator shook his head and someone said, ‘Time of death: two fifteen p.m.’
Gradually they moved away from the body, unclipping monitors and drips, and suddenly I realized I was looking down at myself.
What just happened? I was thinking. I can’t be … can I? I must be having some kind of strange dream. In a moment Adam and Joe are going to be by my side and I will wake up and everything will be OK.
Telling Joe I’m off to fetch us a hot drink I go out to the A & E reception desk to ask if there’s any news, but no one can tell me anything. When I’m coming back with a weak hot chocolate for Joe and a tepid coffee for me, I overhear one of the nurses say something about how long they’ve been working on her, and my alarm rises. Oh God, what is happening? One moment I’d been thinking the worst of my problems was facing up to leaving Livvy and now – I seem to be caught in a terrible, unbelievable nightmare. However unhappy we’ve been together, I don’t want anything to happen to Livvy. I feel I am standing on the edge of a swirling abyss, unsure where my future lies.
Guilt, remorse and an overpowering sorrow threaten to overwhelm me but I am trying to hold it together for Joe’s sake. Yet, when he eventually asks, ‘Mum is going to be all right isn’t she?’ I have nothing to offer.
‘I don’t know, Joe,’ I say, sipping my insipid coffee and feeling sick with fear and anxiety. This can’t be happening to Livvy. It just can’t.
But it is. As soon as the nurse comes into the room, I know, without her saying.
I make out the words ‘I’m so sorry,’ but I don’t really hear them, and I’m aware that Joe is rocking back and forth. I try to hug him, but he pushes me away, and then I hear a terrible howl.
It is some moments before I realize it’s coming from me.
There is a shout from somewhere, and suddenly I feel as though I have been yanked from the room I am in, and now I am floating in another, smaller white room, where a nurse is sitting down with a shocked-looking Adam and Joe, saying, ‘I am so so sorry.’
Joe is rocking backwards and forwards and I can feel his distress. I try to go to him, but I can’t reach him. I can feel the pain coming from him in waves, pain beyond anything that I have ever felt before, and I find myself howling with him. And then I hear Adam break down and I can see into his jumbled thoughts. One thing stands out very clearly: he is very very sorry and he loves me very much. Whatever else he has done to me, losing me has cost him dear.
Suddenly I am dragged into a long dark tunnel. I am screaming and shouting, ‘Bring me back! I need to go back!’ but to no avail. The darkness overtakes me, and after that there is nothing.
And here, now, in the car park in the dark, I hear a voice pipe up beside me: ‘And the penny drops …’
I would have jumped out of my skin if I’d had any to jump out of. I look around suspiciously in the dark, but I can’t see anything.
‘Oh my God, I’m—’
‘’Fraid so,’ says the voice cheerily.
‘Very,’ says the voice.
This is getting extremely weird.
‘Who are you?’ I say.
‘A friend,’ purrs the voice, which doesn’t exactly reassure me.
I look around me at the empty car park. I can’t quite believe it: I’m still here. I’m still standing. I feel the same. How can I be dead?
‘Common reaction,’ is the response. ‘But sorry, you’ve definitely shuffled off your mortal coil.’
‘Aren’t there supposed to be choirs of angels or something?’ I say. If I have really died, shouldn’t I be entitled to a fanfare of sorts?
‘That’s not quite how it works,’ says the voice smugly.
I’m beginning to dislike its owner intensely.
‘Why am I here, then?’ I ask.
‘Where do I start? You’re still here, because you’re not ready to pass over yet.’
‘What do you mean?’ I am instantly on edge. ‘Why do I get to hang about? If I’m dead, why can’t I just go on to wherever I’m supposed to go in peace?’
‘In the words of the trade, you have unfinished business.’
‘Damn right I have unfinished business,’ I say. ‘This is ridiculous. I have to get back to my husband and son. They need me. I want to talk to someone in charge.’
‘Afraid you’re stuck with me,’ says the voice patiently. ‘And your attitude ought to give you a clue.’
‘What’s wrong with my attitude?’ I say. ‘I’m a nice person. There’s nothing wrong with me.’
‘Well, for a start, why are you so angry all the time?’
I bristle again. I’ve been carrying my anger around for so long, I can barely remember sometimes what I’m so furious about. It’s the sort of thing Adam has been saying to me for years, and I’ve always thought he was exaggerating. But now I’m here alone in this car park, apparently dead, with a disembodied voice for company, I think perhaps he has a point. There’s a dark pool of fury inside me, something I’ve suppressed for years and one of a number of places I don’t want to go. But I am not going to tell the voice that.
‘Who are you?’ I say instead and, to my astonishment, a mangy-looking blac
‘Call me Malachi,’ says the cat, stretching out its paws. ‘I’m your spirit guide.’ This is not in the slightest bit reassuring.
I must be delusional. It’s the bang on the head. I’ve fabricated that I’m dead and in a car park talking to a cat. In a moment I’ll wake up in hospital and see Adam and Joe peering worriedly at me and everything will be normal again.
‘Right, this has gone beyond a joke,’ I say. ‘I am going to leave now.’
‘You can try,’ says Malachi, ‘but you won’t get very far. You need to listen to what I say. Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can ignore the rules.’
‘I can’t be dead,’ I wail again. ‘This isn’t happening.’
‘Sorry to disappoint, but you’re very very dead. Anyway, in the situation you find yourself in, what’s so odd about talking to a cat? This isn’t who I really am. Just a convenient shape I take on in moments like this. I could be a tramp, but the police would probably move me on. A cat’s more convenient. No one pays much attention to a cat scavenging through the bins at midnight. More to the point, I’m here to help you.’
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