I Heart Christmas, page 1
I HEART CHRISTMAS
Partly for Bernard’s dancing, partly for Matt’s beard and entirely for Terri White.
Table of Contents
About the Author
Also by Author
Angela’s Guide to Christmas
About the Publisher
‘Can you explain to me exactly why I’m dragging this thing through the streets of Brooklyn,’ Jenny asked, huffing and puffing behind seven feet of majestic Christmas tree, ‘when you have a perfectly acceptable husband to do these things? What’s the point in being married if he’s not going to carry heavy shit for you?’
‘Because we’re strong, independent women who don’t need men to carry things for us,’ I offered, shivering as I fumbled for my front door key. ‘We are woman, hear us roar.’
‘I am woman, hear me call a delivery service to do this so I don’t have to,’ she grumbled through a mouthful of the finest Douglas fir. ‘Where is Alex anyway? Isn’t this the kind of cutesy shit you two should be doing together?’
‘He’s out, somewhere.’ I shuffled backwards, pulling Jenny and the tree towards the lift and pretending not to see the trail of pine needles. ‘God knows.’
‘You really make marriage sound like a dream,’ she replied.
Getting the tree up to our floor would not be the perfect crime. Our building super already disliked me with a fiery passion. I couldn’t quite work out if it was because he had trouble with my accent and never quite understood what I was saying or because I still couldn’t remember which bin was for recycling and which was for rubbish. Or there was a small chance that it was due to all those times I’d locked myself out at three a.m. when Alex was away on tour and I’d had to call him to let me in. Regardless, the fact of the matter was, he just wasn’t that keen on me and this unquestionably seasonal, yet unrequested new carpet of Christmas tree needles in the lobby was not going to go down well.
‘I don’t know where he goes.’ I tiptoed backwards into the lift, trying not to fall over my own feet. Again. ‘That boy is a wanderer and it’s too bloody cold for me to wander with him. Besides, I wanted to get the tree. I wanted to do it with you, oh bestest friend in the entire universe.’
Jenny poked her head around the tree to fix me with a narrow-eyed stare.
‘He said you couldn’t have a tree yet, didn’t he?’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ I nodded.
‘And why not?’
‘Because I still haven’t cleared away all the Thanksgiving dishes,’ I admitted. It wasn’t like I hadn’t put them in the dishwasher, I just hadn’t taken them back out again. For over a week. ‘But I needed it. It’s been a weird day.’
‘You’re disgusting.’ She yelped as she pricked herself for the eighteenth time in two minutes. ‘And it’s been a weird day so you picked up a Christmas tree? You couldn’t just buy shoes like normal people? You’re what’s weird in this scenario.’
‘Something’s going on at work,’ I said, jabbing at the buttons and willing the doors to close faster. ‘I’m sure of it. Delia and Mary are being all whispery behind closed doors.’
‘Don’t you and Mary share an office?’ Jenny asked. ‘What are you doing, following them to the ladies’ room?’
‘Um, yeah, we have separate offices now.’
Mary, the editor of Gloss, and I had started off sharing a big, beautiful office but since I apparently couldn’t stop singing show tunes when I was trying to concentrate and occasionally enjoyed the odd YouTube video of kittens with narcolepsy, she’d had a wall put up in the middle of the room. I tried not to take it personally. If she couldn’t appreciate my celebrated (by me) rendition of ‘I Know Him So Well’, that was her loss.
‘Something’s definitely going on, though. They’ve both had time blocked out in their diaries and—’
The silver doors slid together for just a moment, before springing back apart to let another passenger inside.
‘Not the super, not the super, not the super,’ I whispered into the branches of my glorious tree.
‘Hi, I’m Jenny.’
Before I could deliver my admittedly paranoid work theories, Jenny interrupted me with her best ‘hello, you’re a hot man’ purr. Nestled behind the bulk of the tree, I might not have been able to see either of them but I could hear her sparkliest smile twinkling through her introduction. Lowering myself into a squat, I squinted through the branches to get a better look at her target but all I managed was an eyeful of sap and the suggestion of some very shiny brown hair.
‘Oh, uh, hi,’ a deep voice that most definitely did not belong to my gnarled Italian super replied. ‘I’m Doug.’
‘Doug?’ Jenny repeated his name like it was the most interesting thing she had ever heard. I wondered whether or not someone had actually pressed a button. I was desperate for a wee. ‘You must be new to the building, right?’
‘Pretty new,’ he confirmed. I leaned back against the wall of the lift and pushed up onto my Converse tiptoes, trying to get a look at this ‘Doug’. If that was his real name. ‘You live on the top floor?’
‘More or less,’ she replied, with a tinkly laugh that made me want to punch her in the boob. ‘I’m a Manhattan gal. This is my best friend’s place, which I guess means I almost live here, right?’
‘Nice to meet you,’ I shouted in his general direction through a mouthful of tree. Which did not taste as good as it smelled. ‘I’m Angela.’
‘Oh shit,’ Doug replied. ‘I didn’t know you were hiding in there. Hi.’
‘She’s behind the tree,’ Jenny explained. Doug made an ‘oh’ sound. Doug was clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
‘This is my stop,’ he announced as the bell sounded and the doors opened on the third floor. ‘Have fun.’
‘Oh, we will,’ I heard Jenny promise. ‘We always do.’
‘You massive slag,’ I said as the doors closed quickly, slicing through the sexual tension. ‘Haven’t you got a boyfriend?’
‘No, I don’t have a boyfriend and I was just flirting.’ Somehow Jenny managed to find a way through the tree to punch my arm. ‘Relax, Mom.’
I paused, thought better of my question, then asked it anyway. ‘Was he hot?’
‘Super hot,’ she sighed. ‘He looked like Clark Kent. Real gentleman. Can I set off your smoke alarms? See if he comes to help us?’
‘That’ll be a fun one to explain to Alex,’ I muttered, pushing Jenny backwards out of the door as we arrived at my floor. ‘Oh, sorry, darling, we burnt the apartment down to see whether or not the new neighbour downstairs was as chivalrous as Jenny assumed he was after a fourteen-second conversation.’
‘Screw you,’ she replied, giving me the finger for extra emphasis.
‘A real lady, worthy of a real gentleman,’ I smiled over the top of the tree.
One hour, two arguments and three beers later, the Christmas tree was safely(ish) in its stand and towering proudly over my apartment. It only leaned ever so slightly to the left and somehow we’d mana
‘So, you didn’t finish your story.’ Jenny picked a single stray pine needle from her sweater and tossed it on the floor with disgust. She was so thoughtful. ‘What’s going on in the office?’
‘I didn’t finish because you were too busy cracking on to “Doug” to let me finish,’ I stated. ‘Actually, I’d barely even started.’
‘Then stop whining and start now,’ she said, curling her legs up underneath her. ‘What’s the goss at Gloss?’
Gloss had launched ten months earlier and, against all odds, it was doing really, really well. While other magazines were disappearing from the stands, our weekly freebie was everywhere. We had even launched an enhanced iPad edition that people were actually paying for – it was crazy. And while I was the first to put my hand up and say the editorial was fantastic (possibly because I was deputy editor), it really was all down to Delia. She was an incredible businesswoman and no one on earth was able to say no to her. Every time I saw her, I wanted to do a little dance and sacrifice a goat. Or maybe just give her a Kit Kat. Admittedly, I saw her less and less as the magazine got bigger and bigger. I knew her grandfather, Bob, the president of Spencer Media and ultimately our big boss, was grooming her to move up in the company and while I was happy for her, I wasn’t ready for her to disappear from the mag. Bob was basically the Donald Trump of publishing, which might have sounded like an exaggeration if I hadn’t known for a fact that Delia and The Donald were on first-name terms. While the New York billionaires’ club was bigger than you might think, it was still pretty cliquey.
‘There’s nothing specific,’ I said. ‘It’s just a feeling. Mary and Delia have been in and out of each other’s offices all week and they’ve both been very quiet around me or so—’
‘They’ve been quiet or you’ve been extra loud?’ Jenny asked. ‘It is December. I figure you’ve been running around in some ugly Santa sweater singing holiday songs since the first, right?’
‘Don’t interrupt me.’ She didn’t need to know that was exactly what I’d been doing. ‘They’ve been weird, all right? Something is up.’
‘You didn’t think to just ask them?’
I stared at her revelatory concept. Oh Jenny, you and your common sense.
‘Right,’ Jenny sighed, ‘because why would you do something as obvious as that?’
‘Oh, fuck off.’ I hopped up and grabbed two fresh beers from the fridge, popping the tops and handing one to Jenny. ‘I want everything to be OK, that’s all.’
‘You’d know if it wasn’t,’ she reassured me. ‘You’re a pain in the ass like that.’
I nodded slowly, considering her sage advice. Tomorrow, I would march into Mary’s office and ask what was going on. Definitely tomorrow or the day after. Although maybe it would be better to wait until Monday. By Monday, I would totally know when I was going to ask.
‘We ought to be drinking mulled wine.’ I frowned at the bottle of Brooklyn lager, changing the subject. ‘Or at least eggnog.’
‘Mulled wine takes too long and eggnog tastes like shit,’ Jenny pointed out. While my old Topshop jeans and Splendid T-shirt were speckled with a year’s worth of dust from the tree ornament boxes, Jenny’s black leather leggings and white cashmere sweater looked like she had just slipped them on. Probably because she’d been about as much help as a chocolate teapot as soon as she’d taken her coat off. ‘Besides, you’re the one who insists on living in hipsterville. I don’t think you would find either of those things on Bedford Avenue.’
‘I can sniff out Christmas like Rudolph the red-nosed bloodhound,’ I said, sipping the cool, bubbly goodness. ‘Christmas makes everything better, even hipsters.’
‘Nothing makes hipsters better,’ Jenny disagreed. ‘Give me a man in a suit any day.’
‘Aren’t you dating a hipster?’ I reminded her, putting my beer down and grabbing my handbag while I was still sober enough to climb the stepladder. ‘And haven’t you been doing so for some time?’
‘Yeah, I think that might have come to a natural end, you know?’ she said, watching me drag the stepladder away from the wonky Christmas tree and position it underneath the air-conditioning vent. ‘What the hell are you doing?’
‘I’m going to hide a copy of The Great Gatsby in the ceiling,’ I explained, holding up a small padded envelope. ‘It’s Alex’s Christmas present and I know he’ll go looking for it if I don’t hide it.’
‘I think you’re confusing Alex with yourself.’ Jenny eyed my climb up the ladder with badly hidden nerves but didn’t offer to get off her arse and help. ‘Never had him pegged for a reader.’
‘Unlike you, he reads all the time,’ I replied, straining to open the vent cover. There was a reason I let boys do things like this, feminism be damned. ‘I’ve tried to get him to watch telly like normal people but he won’t have it.’
‘I read,’ she protested, flat on her back across the sofa. ‘Like, every day.’
‘I don’t know if self-help books actually count as reading.’ I finally got the vent open enough to slide the book inside without trapping my fingers. ‘And have you read them all yet? When do you know if you’re self-helped?’
‘Self-improvement is a process, Angela,’ Jenny announced. ‘It’s a journey without a destination.’
‘It’s a journey that’s keeping Barnes & Noble in business,’ I replied. ‘What’s going on with Craig?’
‘Nothing. Ever. That’s kind of the issue.’ She pulled a thick strand of shiny hair upwards until the curl straightened out, then let it spring back down onto her face. ‘I think I’m ready to date a guy who wants to take me out for dinner instead of ordering pizza. There are only so many evenings a girl can spend watching Breaking Bad until three a.m. without going totally crazy.’
‘Yeah,’ I agreed, wondering whether or not that number was as high for Jenny as it was for me.
‘Dude, can you believe Erin has two babies? Two of them. It’s crazy.’
‘It is weird.’ I pretended not to notice that she’d changed the subject. I figured we’d get around to whatever was really bothering her sooner or later. ‘One minute there were no babies, now there are two babies. It feels like she moved away or something.’
Our friend Erin had recently rebranded herself from a super-hot PR maven into a baby-making machine. As soon as she was married, she got pregnant with Arianna and as soon as Arianna was sitting up straight, she was pregnant with Thomas Junior. Obviously, she wasn’t quite so available for manicure dates and spur-of-the-moment cocktails as she used to be.
‘I know, I talked to her yesterday for the first time in a week. Says she’s coming back to work super soon.’ Jenny made a clucking noise. ‘But, dude, one baby and your own business is one thing, but two? It’s not going to be easy.’
‘Erin has two babies.’ I rested my head on the cool steel of the stepladder and shuddered. ‘I can’t even process the fact that she has one. It’s madness. It’s like you having a baby.’
‘And why wouldn’t I have a baby?’ Jenny looked up sharply. I saw her tightly drawn mouth and arched eyebrow and closed my eyes. Oh bollocks. ‘What? I’m fundamentally unbabyable?’
‘That’s not what I meant.’ I was too tired to pick my words as carefully as they needed to be picked. It had been a long day, I’d just put up a Christmas tree and I was halfway inside an air-conditioning vent. Me and my bright ideas. ‘I only meant that it’s strange that when I moved here, we were all single and going out and dating different guys and stuff and now Erin’s got two babies, you’ve been dating Craig forever, I’m married to a boy and it just seems weird when you think about it.’
There. That should do it. And now to shuffle backwards out of the air-conditioning vent and safely back down the ladder. Piece of piss.
‘So you think it would be weird for me to ha
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
‘No, I’m sure you would be amazing,’ I said, shuffling half an inch at a time, clenching my hands into tiny, tight fists and then stretching out my fingers as far as they would go. A yoga teacher had once told me it would calm me down in stressful situations. She was incorrect. ‘What’s this all about? Where’s it coming from?’
‘Well, I’ve been thinking,’ Jenny said, sitting up and fluffing out her hair. ‘I want to have a kid.’
I paused on the ladder, took a moment and considered my response.
‘You mean you want to have a baby at some point in the distant future?’
Jenny shook her head. ‘I mean I want to have a baby now.’
I breathed out slowly, puffing up more dust, and spun my wedding ring round and round on my finger. Maybe if I rubbed it hard enough a genie would appear and I could wish some common sense into my best friend.
‘I’ve been thinking about it,’ Jenny said, launching into her clearly prepared speech before I had a chance to get a word in. ‘There’s never going to be a better time. I’ve got a great job with great maternity benefits and I’d absolutely be able to work around my pregnancy. So many of the girls in the office are pregnant right now, Erin’s been talking about opening a day care centre in the building.’
‘In the building?’ I asked.
‘Next to the gym,’ Jenny nodded.
‘Of course.’ I raised my eyebrows and tried to restrain the tutting noise I was desperate to make. ‘Where else?’
Sometimes I forgot Erin was obscenely wealthy. Most people would just get a childminder but why bother with that when you could open your own nursery?
Jenny had been working for Erin’s PR company for a couple of years and she was good at it. She was also good at making rash decisions without thinking about the long-term effects on her life. Usually it meant spending a month’s rent on shoes, dip-dying her hair badly or indulging in the odd love affair with a complete dickhead, but a baby? This was a worry.
‘I’ve got a great apartment, great friends, I’m healthy, financially stable and I want a baby.’ She sounded so pleased with herself, I didn’t quite know what to do. ‘Why wouldn’t I do it? The longer I wait, the harder it’s going to be.’
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