For the first time in her life, Catherine Benson faced the prospect of spending Christmas alone. With a mixture of fond thoughts of the past and the sadness, she recalled the Christmas’s of her childhood happy times full of love, laughter and family togetherness. However, this year, her parents were spending Christmas with her brother, who was happily married and with a family of his own. He lived In Wales. Of course, ever since college there had been Anthony. But even thinking the name now bought pain of sadness and loneliness. Anthony and Catherine had been inseparable. They has so many plans for the future. They’d shared dreams and so she thought, they shared lives. But that had all crumbled to dust in the last few months. The love she thought would last forever had failed to stand the first major test of their relationship.
Sighing, she draped the last piece of tinsel over the branches of her small tree and stepped back to cast a critical eye upon it. It barely seemed worth the effort just for herself. Some how the tree and the fireplace, served only to make her situation seem little more worthwhile. If only she could get Anthony McBride out of her mind as effectively as he had removed himself from her life. But he crept into her thoughts at the most weirdest times and though it had been several hard painful weeks since they had split up, she’d been unable to let go of her deep feelings for him, she couldn’t ignore them.
“We’re having a couple of friends over for Christmas Eve. Catherine please say you’ll come.” Louise Andrews enticed at work the next day.
New friends and a new job had given her something to focus on after Anthony. But, unused to being single, and still nursing her broken heart, Catherine had shied away from taking up a social life again.
“I don’t know, Louise.” She said answered cautiously.
“Come on.” Her friend replied joyfully. “It’s Christmas-the last of the century! It’ll only be a small gathering I promise.”
Smiling, Catherine allowed herself to be persuaded. Perhaps Louise was right. With the millennium coming up, it was time to cast off the past and to look forward to the future with hope and new years resolutions. So on the night before Christmas, she found herself hovering anxiously outside the door of the flat that Louise shared with her fiancï¿½, Dominic. Very nervously she took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.
“Catherine I’m so glad you decided to come.” Louise greeted her with a warm smile.
“These are for you” Catherine handed over a bottle of wine and a big box of chocolates. “Sorry it’s not very original.”
“They’re lovely! Let me take your coat and get you a drink, then I can introduce you to everyone.”
Catherine hesitated in the doorway of the nicely decorated living room. Soft relaxing music played in the background, and half a dozen people stood in small groups, chatting and laughing.
“You’ll soon relax and find everyone really friendly. Dominic has invited a friend from the gym. He’ll be feeling just as nervous as you, trying to get back into the swing of things as a single person after the break up of a long-term relationship.”
“Now I hope you’re not matchmaking.” Catherine protested with an anxious smile.
“Maybe just a bit.” Louise teased. “Dominic says his friend is funny, generous and compassionate, and if he’s half as good looking as I’ve been lead to believe, you’ll be thanking me before the evening is over.”
Catherine doubted it, but she held her tongue. Slipping her wine, she curbed the sudden instinct to run. She had to face some people some time.
“I thought you’d ducked out on me.” Dominic greeted his guest when the door opened.
“I did wonder about coming, but I knew if I didn’t I would never hear the end of it. Sorry if I’m late.”
“That’s okay. It’s only a buffet supper and we haven’t started yet. Come and meet the others, what will you have to drink?”
“Beer if you have it, thanks.” He replied.
Stepping intensively inside the flat. Anthony asked himself for the hundredth time what he was doing here. Parties weren’t his thing; he’d tended to shy away from social gatherings of any kind in the last few weeks, turning himself into work and sport instead. Following Dominic into the kitchen, he leaned on the counter and watched as his friend poured the drinks.
“Louise has bought a friend from the bank I think you should meet.” Dominic said cautiously.
Anthony’s heart sank.
“I don’t want to meet anyone, not like that anyway.”
“She’s lovely Anthony, she’s been hurt badly herself, so she knows how difficult it is to take the plunge and meet new people. Give her a chance; she’s funny and intelligent. You’ll like her.”
Strongly wishing he hadn’t come, but unable to walk away, Anthony followed his friend through to the other room. The sound of the lively conversation daunted on him for a moment, and he hesitated on the threshold. As soon as he entered the room, a tingle of awareness caught him by surprise. He scanned the room, and then he saw her. Catherine. His breath caught in his throat. Suddenly, it was as if the last painful, lonely weeks had been stripped away. She was here, in the same room, looking as lovely as ever, but unapproachable and out of his reach. Before he could retreat, Catherine turned and saw him. Shock registered on her face. His mouth tightened, just as she had been shutting him out in the last few weeks they’d been together.
“Come and meet Carolyn” Dominic suggested.
His friend brushed his protest aside.
“She was very broken up over the split with her fiancï¿½. But she told Louise that he just never listened to her.” Dominic confided quietly.
Catherine had said that? Stunned, Anthony didn’t resist as Dominic steered him across the room.
Catherine couldn’t believe that Anthony was here. What a disaster. Just the sight of him had brought back all the pain and heartache and it had taken only a second to confirm her worst fears. Despite everything, she still loved him.
“That’s the friend of Dominic’s I was telling you about.” Louise whispered, pushing her forward.
They met in the middle of the room. If it hadn’t have been so embarrassing it would have been funny. But she was too hurt, too shocked to laugh. And it was clear that Louise and Dominic had no idea what was happening.
“We’ll leave you to get to know each other.” Louise smiled.
“You have so much in common.” Dominic said innocently.
Louise and Dominic sneaked off quietly.
“I didn’t think I would ever see you again.” Catherine managed to say after a tense moment.
“How have you been?” Anthony said awkwardly.
“Not good.” She admitted. “You?”
Anthony absorbed everything about her, every single feature of her was the same, except the fact that she was thinner and her complexion had lost the happy healthy glow that it was had.
“Did you really say that I never listened to you?” Dominic enquired.
She nodded, her hands nervously fiddling in front of her.
“Well you thought that I didn’t need you anymore.” Catherine replied.
“You shut me out!”
“No I never, you weren’t interested you were always so busy with work, you never had time for me. You never took time to really listen to me, not like used to.”
Anthony took a step back, remembering all the silly quarrels that had taken their toll on their relationship. Catherine realized that neither of them had listened to each other. Everyone regrouped to enjoy the buffet supper.
Neither of them ate anything, they were too busy thinking about what they had said to each other. And what now, did he still care for her as she cared for him?
She met his gaze across the room. How could she loved him so much and not realize how he was feeling? Was there a chance they could get back together, could he forgive her?
Anthony tried to mix with the other guests, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Catherine. Could she forgive him for all the hurt and pain he had caused her? The weeks without her had been dreadful, and seeing her again had only made him realize how much he really needed her. Was it too late?
At last the gathering broke up. Anthony said goodbye and left the flat, but instead of going straight home, he waited outside for Catherine to appear.
“Thank you for this evening.” Catherine murmured. She slipped on her coat and left. As she was leaving the building she felt disappointed that Anthony had left and nothing happened between them.
A figure emerged from the shadows as she left the building and stepped onto the pavement.
“Oh.” She gasped. “I thought you had gone.” She said. Relieved with the fact the he had waited for her.
“Can I walk you home?” Anthony asked.
“Thank you I’d like that.”
They walked side by side. Catherine felt nervous, uncertain what to say, but scared if she said nothing at all. Just being near her made him feel better.
He didn’t want this chance to slip, but could he find the right words to say? They began to walk slower and slower and gradually they came to a halt, where they turned to each other.
“I’m sorry.” They said in harmony along with a nervous smile.
Anthony reached out a tentative hand to take one of hers.
“I’ve missed you, Catherine.” He whispered.
“I’ve been so miserable without you.” She replied.
Very slowly they drew together and hugged.
“We haven’t been very clever.” They agreed with each other.
“Will you take me back, give me a second chance?” Anthony questioned.
“Only if you will. Look it’s snowing.”
Across the road the church bell struck midnight. Christmas day.
“Shall we go in?” Anthony asked.
“Yes please, we have so much to give thanks for.” She agreed.
Behind them another couple strolled slowly towards the church.
“They’ll be alright now.” Louise pronounced with satisfaction.
“Shall we tell them we knew all along?” Dominic asked.
“Maybe one day, but not just yet.”
Squeezing her hand as they walked up the steps, Dominic knew he was equally lucky in the love that he had.
“Happy Christmas, Louise……”