A Merry Mistletoe Wedding (9 page)

BOOK: A Merry Mistletoe Wedding
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It was five thirty in the morning and Thea was only half-sleeping. She was having a dream in which she was wearing an ancient lace wedding dress, yellow-faded with age and tattered and ripped. She was clambering through deep snow, clutching a bouquet of brown-edged drooping roses and she was painfully out of breath. The church was in sight, only a hundred yards away, but no one was around and however hard she tried to tread her way through the snow, she was making no progress. More thick snow started to fall and she struggled to stay upright, pushing against the drift that was now engulfing her, preventing any more movement.

‘Aaaagh!' she spluttered, waking herself. There was something white and soft all over her and it took several moments to realize she was trying to free herself from the duvet that had got twisted tightly round her. She lay still for a few minutes, gasping, gradually waking, and then she reached over and switched on the light. She sat up and ran her fingers through her hair, trying to push the dream out. Miss Havisham, she thought, remembering the age-mottled lace, the faded flowers: the bride in
Great Expectations
whose wedding never happened. But this was only a dream, not an omen. And just because last Christmas at Cove Manor had been a crazy, snowy white-out with the whole village cut off, it didn't mean it would happen again, probably not in their lifetime, let alone only twelve months later. And even if it did, everything would be fine, really it would.

But as she got out of bed to go downstairs and make some reviving coffee, she had a little twinge of guilt and confusion. When Sean had called late in the evening to wish her a loving goodnight, what had stopped her from telling him she'd been out for a drink with Rich?


‘Oh bloody 'ell, what a day. I'm
glad it's the weekend.' Thea slammed her bag down on the staffroom table and went to run herself a glass of water. ‘I wish this tap dispensed wine. I could drink it dry,' she said.

‘What's up?' Jenny was there, sorting some paperwork to take home. ‘Can it be that bad in only the first week?'

‘I know. Who knew? The children are great, they're over their first wobbles and settling in fine. It's not them, it's …' Thea pointed in the direction of the head teacher's office. ‘… it's
. Sodding Melanie.
inflexible. I mean,
? Just cos she's the school head, surely it doesn't mean
has to run the way she says? What about a bit of class-teacher freedom to make decisions?'

‘You'll have to tell me, Thea. What's she done now? And here' – Jenny went to the tin that was kept by the kettle – ‘if you can't have wine, have an emergency Hobnob.'

Thea took the biscuit, sat down and waved a hand towards the window. ‘The weather. I mean, look at it! How fabulous and hot and stunning is that? And for how long? All I did was take the children outside this afternoon and had them sitting under the chestnut tree for story time because I thought it was too great a day to waste cooped up inside. But oh no, apparently that's not allowed. Melanie comes storming out and asks for “a little word”, so I left Chrissie to carry on with the story and Melanie starts telling me off and says there are “safety issues” about being outside and that it's not on and I was to take them back inside,
. It isn't as if they hadn't been outside all lunchtime so what's the difference, safety-wise? I felt as if I was one of the seven-year-olds and I'd just kicked a football through a window. Honestly, has she never heard about outdoor classrooms? They're a
? Or about how children respond to nature and how being outside has a massive effect on their ability to concentrate and absorb information?'

‘I do sympathize. Melanie would have them all completely silent in tidy rows of desks with tests every week if she thought she could get away with it. Talk about old school, literally.'

‘It's made me feel like quitting. I mean, what am I doing
? I've just spent the summer in Cornwall with the gorgeous, lovely man I'm going to marry and I came all the way back here to work just to be told off for giving my class a bit of fresh air. It'll be winter in a few weeks and they won't even notice a change in season unless they get out there and
it. I want them to sniff the air, feel the differences in the days, not just have autumn coming on with them in centrally heated oblivion.'

‘You sound like you're on a mission,' Jenny said. ‘Maybe you should get a job in a Forest School? Don't they have the children outside almost all the time?'

‘If I could find one round here, I think I'd love to,' Thea said. She gathered her bag up again and took a few deep breaths. ‘Anyway, it's the weekend. Wheee! Sean's on his way. Can't
to see him. Have a good one, Jenny.'

‘Hey, hang on, Thea – why did you say round
? Do you need to carry on living here?'

Thea hesitated, her hand on the door. ‘Well, no – of course not! Sorry that must have sounded mad! Actually we haven't even talked about it. But I think I'll have to see out the school year here, won't I? I mean, I can't leave my class – and all of you – in the lurch.'

‘That's very noble of you, but what will Sean have to say about that?'

‘Good point. I'll talk to him. It seems ridiculous that we haven't given it that much thought. In fact there's masses of stuff we haven't really thought about – we just drift along in a soppy haze.'

Jenny laughed. ‘Well, that doesn't sound so bad, does it?'

‘No, it's bliss, but at some point we'll have to get a little bit practical. Sad, but true!'

She was here again, had been for a good hour, being helpful with the children. Emily could hear Charlotte singing ‘Mockingbird' in the kitchen as she clattered about with cutlery and plates. Emily presumed she would be staying for supper. She hadn't been invited but it would be horribly rude not to include her. Not that Charlotte tended to need asking. Did the woman do anything at her own home except sleep? And even then, who knew where she spent the nights.

Emily had her feet up on the sofa and was trying to remember not to cross her ankles (danger of thrombosis) as she fed the baby. He was a calm little soul and did nothing but sleep between feeds and nappy changes so she slightly felt she didn't quite know him yet. Milly had been a busy sort even at this age, already alert and looking round and protesting at being put in her crib after feeds. Alfie as a baby had been a bit calmer, but Milly had been so curious about him that she would slyly prod him awake, so Emily had spent a lot of time trying to soothe him. Milly, she remembered, had been so envious of the attention he got that she'd forced her toddler body into his newborn-size knitted jackets and mittens and stretched a tiny hat over her hair. With this new one, both the older children had lost interest the day after she'd brought him home.

‘He doesn't do anything. When can he play with me?' Alfie had demanded.

‘Babies don't
,' Milly had told him scornfully. ‘They just have sucky-yucky milk and then they

‘Ugh, smelly poo-poo!' Alfie had been delighted and ran round the house pretending to be a train while bellowing ‘Poo-Poo!' till even Sam ran out of patience and parked him in front of CBeebies.

‘Just for the sake of ten minutes' peace,' he said when Emily was about to protest. ‘I thought you could do with some quiet time.' She couldn't argue with that but wished he'd sat down with the boy and some Lego or a story instead of using the TV as a baby-minder. It set a precedent. In the end, of course, thank goodness for Charlotte.

‘What time is everyone coming? Shall I do the children a quick stir-fry?' Charlotte appeared in the sitting-room doorway holding a wok.

‘Would you mind awfully? It's a lot of trouble for you.' Emily shifted the baby across to the other breast and he snuffled close, his mouth panicking around the nipple till he found it and latched on, sucking greedily.

‘No trouble at all.' Charlotte beamed at her and pointed the wok at the baby. ‘Isn't he good? I had endless feeding trouble with Louis. It used to get embarrassing out in public, flashing a massive tit at the whole bus when he wouldn't get on with it. One old colonel-type once yelled, “For goodness' sake, cover yourself, woman,” at me but he didn't think about looking somewhere else. He kept turning round for a good eyeful.'

Emily, who wouldn't dream of breastfeeding on a bus (or even travelling on one unless it was an emergency), smiled to show solidarity.

‘I hope Sam's given you a glass of wine, Charlotte,' she said.

‘Ho, yes, we're well down the bottle, don't you worry.'

Emily thought as Charlotte bounced back to her chores. She could feel tears prickling. They came even more easily than usual at the moment and although she knew it was hormones, she still felt a bit left out. Sam and Charlotte and Milly and Alfie were being a unit of their own out in the kitchen and she was isolated here on her sofa, still sore and stretched and flabby and uncomfortable and not yet quite as mobile as she'd expected to be. Still, only an hour or two and the cavalry would be there – her family knew how to make her feel better. It seemed silly at her age but what she really needed was a hug from her mum.

‘Mmmm. Do we really have to get up again?' Sean stretched out in the bed and pulled the duvet back up from the floor and snuggled it over Thea's naked body. ‘Couldn't we just cut out the middle bit and stay where we are for the night?'

‘Sounds very tempting,' she said, thinking about how she was slightly dreading this evening. She was a little bit nervous about holding a tiny baby without feeling sad all over again for the one she hadn't had last year. She hoped she wouldn't cry. ‘But in another hour you'll be starving and wishing we'd gone to Emily's for that supper after all.'

‘True. And it's gift-horse
. We don't even have to wash up. OK. We'll go, of course we will. And when we tell your folks about the wedding plans, let's hope it goes down better than it did with my mother.'

Thea sat up abruptly. ‘What? Doesn't she approve? I thought she quite liked me. Oh, bummer. What did I do wrong?'

‘No, no, she likes you a lot. But when I said we wanted a really small simple wedding in Pentreath Hall she got a bit funny. I told her about it being Paul and Sarah's pretty-much-stately home, only a mile from Cove Manor – she's met them and liked them – and that it was beautiful and had lots of atmosphere. But she was still a bit sniffy, said it wasn't a “proper wedding” without at least a hundred people and a sit-down do and she wasn't travelling three hundred miles from Lancashire to have a sausage on the beach and no confetti. She also requires … er, a church.'

‘But most people don't get married in a church these days, do they? Especially people like me who haven't been in one since their nephew's christening.'

Sean laughed. ‘Hey, me neither. But don't worry about it. She'll come round. It's just that every now and then her Catholic roots start to show. She also hasn't been in a church since her ancient Auntie Dot died and even then she grumbled about the lack of a proper requiem mass. It'll be fine. She'll rock up in the end, I know it. She was just putting in her three p's' worth.'

Thea reached down to the floor for her robe, which Woody the cat was now lying on. He rolled over and purred as she tickled his ears. She felt quite a lot like purring herself just now. Everything felt so wonderfully perfect. ‘And with any luck, we'll tell my lot we're getting married and maybe there'll be no unexpected hitches and they'll all be pleased. Apart from Rosie and Mum, nobody has thought to ask what it was I was going to tell them when Emily went into labour, so now I've got this really juvenile urge not to mention our wedding plans and just tell them very casually a week before it's going to happen.'

‘And don't forget, there's always eloping. Or does that only seem a dramatic option if you're both teenagers?'

‘Like the old days with running off to Scotland? Probably teenagers. If we do it, it'll just look like a massive sulk. At least, that's what Emily would say. Jimi would just say, “Oh cool.” I think his vocab has regressed to Elmo's level.'

‘He'd have made a good surfer. You can't be a pro surfer without the forever-young vibe.' Sean sighed and stared at the ceiling.

‘I'm not even going to ask about how much you mind not being one any more. I can see it.'

‘It's a young dude's game. However much you've still got the sea fever in your head, your body knows different. There'll always be some twenty-year-old carving a massive bomb with that hundred per cent fearless thing and superhuman skill. But at some point, and definitely after thirty, you don't see Hawaii's Pipeline as an exciting challenge so much as something that might just kill you. You look at it and think: Hey, if I'm rag-dolled in there I might never see the surface again.'

‘Mortality,' Thea said, climbing out of bed.

‘Yep. That's the bastard,' Sean said. ‘The grim reaper in a wetsuit. Not a surfer's best friend.'

Sean and Thea were the last to arrive at Emily and Sam's house.

‘Whoo-hoo, I don't need to ask what kept you, do I?' Charlotte's laugh as she opened the front door to let them in could only be described as filthy. ‘You've got that naughty glow.'

‘You're absolutely right,' Sean said as he hugged her. ‘But let's not tell everyone. We don't want unseemly displays of envy.'

‘Too late in my case, sweetie, I'm already seething with jealousy, you lucky, lucky bastards. I haven't had carnal shenanigans in ages. Anyway, come in. They're all here, baby-prodding and making the right cooing noises at the poor kid.'

BOOK: A Merry Mistletoe Wedding
5.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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