A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER PART 3
“Don’t be sorry Joe, I’m not.” For four days those words had been echoing in my head making this one interminably long Christmas break. It wasn’t just the words, it was the way Melody said them, or the fact she said them at all for that matter. Then there was the Christmas card.
It had been a long-standing Slater and Webb tradition for the staff to exchange Christmas cards on the last working day before the Christmas break. Normally, come the allotted hour, Melody would wander around the office distributing her cards to everyone but me. She’d always seemed to make a point of giving Mark his last before turning her back on me and walking back to her own desk. I would have liked to say I didn’t care, and it didn’t hurt, but that would have been a lie and it hurt a lot. Even if in a childish tit for tat fit of pique I did the same. Looking back now it was a shameful mark of how petty things were between us.
Needless to say, when Melody made her way around the office with a bunch of white envelopes in her right hand there was an air of expectancy, and more than one knowing look was cast in my direction. Even Mark poked his head above the screen separating our desks and raised his eyebrows as if to say here we go again. I’d truly hoped this wasn’t going to be the case this year and it was with mixed feelings of dread and hope that I’d watched her work her way around the room, the number of cards steadily diminishing until she arrived beside Marks and my workstation with…one card.
There are no words to describe the sick, bitter disappointment I felt when she passed that last card to Mark. Leanne had been right, it had all been in my head, Melody had no feelings for me, or if she did they were ones of utter contempt. On every previous occasion I’d managed to maintain my composure and continued as if nothing had happened. Not this time. This time my face fell, and I found myself wishing I were anywhere else but there. Humiliation is never an easy pill to swallow and that’s how I felt, totally humiliated. How could I have been so stupid? I had to get out, I had to walk away. Making a conscious effort to avoid all eye contact I got to my feet only to realize Melody was still there delving into the depths of an over the shoulder bag.
“This one’s for you Joe,” she said producing a large pink envelope. For one long moment everything went very quiet as a tidal wave of unbridled joy slammed against a crumbling wall of despair. I was vaguely aware of Mark’s jaw bouncing off the floor in utter disbelief on the other side of the desk whilst further down the office Lucy stopped dead in her tracks and focused her attention on us.
“Thank’s Mel,” I stammered taking the card which we both knew signified so much more than wishing me a happy Christmas. “I’ve got one for you too,” I said thanking God I’d had the foresight to buy a card on my way to work. No one was more aware than me as to how much my hand was shaking when I passed it across to Mel. She took the card and said thank you before turning to walk away, only to change her mind and turn back and wish me a very meaningful merry Christmas. I’m sure she did it on purpose and it was meant for everyone else in the office just as much as it was for me. Whether it was or wasn’t it certainly wasn’t lost on Mark who throughout the rest of the morning would intermittently hum or whistle the opening bars of the song Love is in the air.
You have no idea how much I wanted to tear open and read that Christmas card and see what was written inside. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one judging by the way my colleagues kept glancing in my direction. Internet trained body language experts like Lucy for instance, who would no doubt analyse every nuance of my facial expression before going into office gossip overdrive and launching a thousand and one unfounded rumours. It was for this reason I tucked the unopened envelope inside my coat pocket to open later, far from prying eyes.
It was Christmas eve and in time honoured tradition many of us went to one of the local pubs for a Christmas drink. On arrival Mark made a beeline for the jukebox and after feeding it with an inordinate amount of pound coins Donna Summers I feel love reverberated about the bar, this was followed by more up to date Love songs by artists I’d never heard of, then came the piece de resistance, Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers. I didn’t say anything and instead made my own way across to the jukebox and browsed through its selection of song titles. Disappointingly CeeLo Green’s “Fuck You” wasn’t listed and in the end I opted for Martha and the Vandella’s Nowhere to Run which I thought got the message across.
I didn’t know if any of our colleagues appreciated our musical shenanigans or not, what I did know was Melody wasn’t there, which was probably just as well. I learned later from Naz she was driving her parents to Cardiff to spend Christmas with her gran and wouldn’t be back until the day after boxing day which suddenly made the Christmas break seem even longer. More so when I finally arrived home and read the brief message she’d written in the Christmas card which not only wished me a merry Christmas, but also said how much she was looking forward to working with me. It was remarkably similar to what I’d put in my card only I hadn’t gone as far as adding my own personal phone number, unlike Melody who’d also added a note saying feel free to call whenever I wished.
I was in the process of sending Melody a text with my own personal phone number when my doorbell rang. fully anticipating it to be Bill and Ella my elderly neighbours who always invited me around for a drink on Christmas eve I opened my front door. It wasn’t Bill and Ella which I found out when a raven-haired whirlwind swept past me the moment I slipped the latch.
The whirlwind, which was wearing a full-length wool coat, came to a halt halfway down my hallway and turned to face me, eyes positively smouldering with desire. In her right hand was a sports bag of the type carried by tennis players which she let drop to the floor. The coat followed a second later and it was my jaws turn to drop. Rosemary is a beautiful woman who’s beauty shines through no matter what she’s wearing. She could wear an old cloth sack and still turn heads, when she’s wearing a figure hugging red basque along with a pair of thigh high boots there’s only one word and that’s mind-blowing.
“I think that’s mistress Rosemary to you,” she said placing her hands on her hips and fixing me with a “come and get me stare.” Normally this would have been the point where all self-control went out of the window and we’d throw ourselves against each other with an unbridled passion which would only subside once we’d fucked ourselves to a standstill. Only I couldn’t. When Rosemary and I had first got together the one and only stipulation of our “friends with benefits” arrangement was if either of us became romantically involved with someone else we had to be honest and tell the other party. The arrangement would be over, and we would continue as normal friends. It was something Rosemary had been adamant about right from the start. Not that I was involved with anyone, not yet which was why I was in a quandary. All Melody and I had done was exchange Christmas cards and telephone numbers which didn’t make us an item, no matter how much I wished it did. So why was I hesitating?
For me it was a matter of respect. How could I be intimate with Rosemary when all I had was Melody in my head. It wouldn’t be right and would make me no better than the piece of shit she used to be married to, which was why Rosemary made the rule in the first place.
“What’s wrong Joe?” Rosemary asked, the fire going out of her eyes as she sensed my hesitation.
“Nothing’s wrong Rose, it’s just I’ve met someone.” I don’t know what I was expecting, and in hindsight maybe I should have been a little less direct, but in that moment I broke Rosemary’s heart. Or at least I think I did, the truth is I don’t know what happened. One second Rosemary was stood before me, the next she was gathering up her coat prior to storming out of the door. I tried to speak to her, to explain, to say I was sticking to the rules of our arrangement. Rules she made, but for whatever reason she wasn’t listening and fled past me with tears streaming down the side of her face, which only served to make me feel even lower than I already did. “Rosie, wait,” I called after her, only to have the door slammed in my face.
Perplexed I sank back down on my sofa and tried to comprehend what had just happened. Right from the very first time Rosemary and I got together she’d made it abundantly clear she never wanted it to be anything serious, just sex. We both did, although for very different reasons. I was focused on my career & Rosemary had just escaped a toxic marriage which left her with a serious phobia of relationships. So why did this suddenly feel like a break up? If Rosemary had told me she’d found someone I would have been more than happy for her. I really would.
I lost count of how many unanswered calls I made, or how many text messages I sent, only to be ignored and ultimately blocked. All I could assume was despite what she’d said Rosemary had harboured some unspoken hopes and desires. In my head I heard Leanne’s voice asking why I didn’t make things more permanent with Rosemary. “She seems like a really nice lady.”
Leanne was right, Rosemary is an extremely nice lady. Nice, intelligent, witty with a beautiful warm personality, and through a total lack of tact I’d just cut her in two. It went without saying this had rapidly become the most miserable Christmas Eve ever. Christmas day wasn’t much better, the only high light being when a furious Leanne called to tell me exactly what she thought about my choice of Christmas presents.
“Can you hear that?” she growled to the sound of somebody rat a tat tatting on a drum, which I assumed was my nephew Reece. “He’s been banging on that bloody drum since six O’clock this morning.”
“Well maybe he’s a budding Ringo Starr,” I answered tongue in cheek.
“I’ll Ringo Starr your bloody neck when I see you,” my darling sister retorted as the sound of her four-year-old daughter playing a stilted version of Frere Jacques on a recorder added to the din. I was going to ask if she found the packet of headache pills I’d wrapped up with her favourite perfume but decided maybe it wasn’t the time.
Normally I spend Christmas with my mother or Leanne this year however I spent it on my own and believe me if there’s anything bleaker than a bachelors flat on Christmas Day I’d like to know what it is. It was whilst I was cooking my modest Christmas dinner that I had a moment of clarity and realised I had been on my own for far too long. This came about when I was rooting through a cupboard looking for Bertie bowl who I found hiding behind Bella and Beatrice the Pyrex twins. Yeah, when you start naming kitchen utensils it really is time to get a life…
And I intended to get one, only because of Rosemary’s unexpected reaction every time I thought about Melody I was overcome with an overbearing burden of guilt. Somewhere around three O’clock I decided the only course of action was to drive across to Rosemary’s house on the other side of town and clear the air. It was the right thing to do for both of us.
It was just turning four when I turned into the quiet Cul-de- sac where Rosemary lived in the very end house, my heart sinking like a stone when I saw its windows were devoid of any form of light. Still, she could be watching TV with the curtains closed I reasoned pulling up on her short driveway, except there weren’t any curtains. If anything, the place looked deserted something I confirmed seconds later when I peered through what had been Rosemary’s front room window and saw a bare empty room.
“Can I help you?” A voice asked from the neighbouring garden. Peering through the gloom I saw the outline of a tall, well-built man holding a lead attached to an equally large dog of undetermined parentage. I’d seen him before and even though I’d never spoken to him knew he was Rosemary’s neighbour.
“I 'm looking for Rosemary.”
The man scoffed and shook his head. “You and about half a dozen others.”
I wasn’t sure what he was alluding to, and I certainly didn’t appreciate the sarcastic tone of his voice, something he picked up on when I asked him in no uncertain terms what he meant by that.
“I meant she didn’t tell anyone she was leaving,” he said rapidly back peddling. “Not even her landlord who she owe’s four month’s rent.”
Now I really was confused. Rosemary had a high-flying job in a city investment bank and struggling to pay the rent shouldn’t have been an issue. There was also the man’s sarcastic comment which hinted I wasn’t the only bloke who’d come looking for her. Knowing Rosemary’s recent history as I did I found this hard to believe, there again why would he have said it if it weren’t true? I could only assume something catastrophic must have happened in the life of Rosemary Graham, what I couldn’t work out was if that were the case why didn’t she reach out to me, she must have known I would help. I still would if I could find her...
Out of the corner of my eye I spied Rosemary’s erstwhile neighbour heading off down his garden path and quickly asked him how long was it since she moved out?
“Three weeks ago mate. Not long after all that bother with her ex. The cops were here every other day.”
Now I really did feel shit. Rosemary had suffered all sorts of mental and physical abuse during her marriage. Abuse which didn’t automatically cease once she was divorced, so much so the Police had been involved on numerous occasions and there was a restraining order in place prohibiting her ex-husband from coming anywhere near her. Something he must have chosen to ignore.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” I replied, sickened at the thought of what Rosemary may have been subjected to.
“No, nor did…” for whatever reason the guy checked himself and never finished the sentence. I chose to let it go over my head and instead asked him if he had any idea where she went.
“Nope, she moved out during the day when I was at work. The house was empty when I came home.”
I thanked the man for his help and went and sat in my car for a minute or two whilst trying to reconcile the image of the lips pouting, eyes smouldering Rosemary I saw last night with the empty house and tale of woe I’d just heard from her neighbour today. I tried ringing her and messaging her again to no avail and toyed with the idea of calling a few mutual friends and asking them if they knew what was going on. In the end I decided to leave it until tomorrow, it was Christmas Day, and I didn’t see the point in spoiling it for someone else.