Christmas Wonderland (from novel Welcome to Wonderland)

Christmas tree bauble

They walked back to the Bistro. The Christmas rush of swarming bodies covered in a patchwork of holly green, cranberry red and navy wool apparel. There were less fur-topped bobbing beanies, less huddles of parka jackets dashing past. Everyone had completed their last-minute gift-buying and hurrying home to wrap them up. It was perfect. The city to themselves, it was the first Christmas snow in 7 years and it was worth the wait especially to walk through it holding hands. Jack got his phone out to take photos. Olivia posed childlike her mouth open to taste snow. Alas the snow wasn’t deep enough to lie back on and make snow angels. But who knows maybe by tomorrow it would be just right. They had settled and found a cosy seat by a window and fireplace and spent the afternoon indulging in another gratifying endeavour to stand-in for their true Christmas wish to give each other.

Before dessert Jack gave her Christmas present. Evidently more than the simple card she gave him. She quickly handed him his card and he opened it first. As he read the imprinted words of his bookmark, Olivia felt self-conscious and started to open her card and prettily wrapped present.

First came a card marked with “Love Jack”. She quickly closed the card and unwrapped her gift. It was clearly a book, she felt a little disappointed. As she tore away the red wrapping she saw the word “dream”- then “poetry.” Could it be? This was the poetry book she mentioned when they first met. It was the book of her first ever published poem. A bookmark was attached to where her poem sat. She placed the bookmark down and stared at it. It was beautiful. Her eyes filled with tears. How could he have known? No, he couldn’t have- she never told him the title. Maybe he understood her more than she dared to hope. The bookmark had a print of her favorite painting. She had never been so enthralled by such a simple gift in her life.

After supper they said their goodbyes, Jack invited her to his place for Christmas day. It would just be him, his brother Joe and girlfriend with a couple friends. She wanted to, but it felt too rushed. “I’ll call you anyway,” he said as they parted.

The Mariams went to Midnight Mass. For years everyone in the city hoped for snow at Christmas and this year their wish came true. Started off slowly and timidly but now as they walked into the steps of the church the snow fell magically in time for children across the city to get out and make snowmen for Christmas morning.

Christmas day was spent in the Mariam family home. Olivia was back home in her childhood bedroom. Her room dusty pink with wood and white furniture, stacks of books and her batik painting hung on the wall. She walked around the room as if a stranger, she picked up photo frames, read the titles on the bookshelves and sat on the edge of her bed tense. This was not a home of tradition, no turkey and trimmings. She walked down the elaborate stair case and helped herself to the nibbles. Even in the drawing room she felt unease, like a stranger, a foreigner unable to recognise this place called home.

The only tradition to be found this Christmas morning was not from within the home but from looking out through the windows. Snow had fallen deeply, neighbours had fairy light rimmed windows and the air filled with festive frost.

Under the deeply lit evergreen tree lay few gifts: a mix CD for her father which included a rendition of Ave Maria sung by Perry Como, Bvlgari fragrance set for her mother (which she’d never use.)

It would just be her and The Parents or The Rentals as she’d like to say. Looking out the window she reminisced childhood dreams of a White Christmas that rarely came. This time of year, usually left her cold, she never felt festive. Was she a fool to not take up Jack’s offer?

After the Mariam Christmas dinner which was essentially a Sunday Roast with copious party food from Marks & Sparks she checked her phone surprised to see a text from him earlier in the day saying she could stop by anytime.

She knocked on the door. A beautiful brunette opened it. Her heart sank. Too late to turn back now. “Hi.”

“Oh, hi… Is Jack there?”

“Of course, come in.”

The lady tried to take her coat but Olivia pulled away from her. “I’m Adelisa, Joseph’s girlfriend.” Olivia’s warm demeanour returned. Adelisa was Jack’s brother’s girlfriend!

“I’m Olivia, are there many people here?”

“Olivia it’s lovely to meet you at last. I’ve heard so much about you.” She leaned in and hugged her.

“Yes, well Jack is in the kitchen- we haven’t eaten only a few nibbles and champagne. I think Joe and Jack will be another hour in the kitchen- no matter what they say.” She made her way into the kitchen, fiddling with her hair patting down her dress. Jack had his glasses on and looked so suave in the kitchen.

“Hi gorgeous.” He went to the sink, washed his hands and got a hold of his girlfriend. “Merry Christmas Beautiful I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Thank you. It’s good to see you, how’s things?”

“We’re almost done, he pointed toward the dining room table, would you like something to drink.”

“Uh I’ll have,” she walked over past the dining table toward the feast laden one. “I’ll help myself thanks.” She opted for apple juice the only non-alcoholic drink.

“I’ve been at my parents’ house so I’ve eaten and everything. Can I help with anything?”

“No, don’t worry.”

“Joe, could you cover this. Take them off the boil in two minutes, I’m going to introduce Olivia to everyone.” She shook his brother’s hands as a greeting and goodbye and followed her boyfriend into the next room. “There’s been more than expected turning up. So that was my brother Joe, that’s Adelisa his girlfriend, an interior designer.”

“When are the chefs going to serve dinner?” enquired a pixie blonde.

“Delilah, be patient, it will be worth the wait. Now I want you to meet my girlfriend Olivia.” They shook hands again. “Olivia is an Editor at Nova Writ.”

“Oh well not exactly, I’m a sort of odd-n-ends doer, I’m just an associate editor,” she said.

“That sounds fabulous, how long have you known Jack?”

“Uh a couple months or so.” Jack put his arm around her, kissed her forehead and went back into the kitchen.

Olivia sat with the Edie Sedgwick lookalike for a while. She was a travel writer, though her focus was on luxury resorts. Her snobbish manner betrayed her dainty gamine features. “If you and Jacques ever go on a honeymoon I’ll advise you on where to stay,” she uttered churlishly. Olivia felt lulled by her pixie looks.

christmas table platter_fl

Dinner was served and Olivia opted to remain away, she sat alone on the sofa, flicking through Phaidon art books. Solitude remaining a compulsion she could not fight off. Jack eventually came over tempting her to eat. She’d never had a proper Christmas dinner before there was only one recollection of a turkey and trimming Christmas feast that happened at age four. She succumbed to temptation, walking in, everyone looking at her; she tugged at the sleeves of her beige and brown stripy top layered under a black dress. She was a rare kind of a beauty, so dazzlingly so that she didn’t even know.

Plate sparsely filled, she tucked in and tasted the frittered years of tradition. Jack and Joe had cooked a roast goose with sage and onion stuffing with a sweeter surprise too an apple and Armagnac stuffing.

Previously Jack had moved to Brooklyn for the summer as his brother studied at I.C.E: Institute of Culinary Education, New York. Joe had even worked at Osteria Francescana, but tired of the strain of a Chef’s life so resorted to be a Food Critic for The Observer back in the UK. On one of his assignments for work he visited Milan and one curious afternoon decided to pop to Florence. Temptation abounded in Italy. He left the Hermes store with a mini collection of ties and pocket squares. Notably this was where Adelisa worked and he left Italy a new man. Initially they wrote to each other, and inevitably Joe returned to Italy, they fell in love and Adelisa returned to the UK shores with her beloved.

Joseph waited on the guests and had such understated elegance. He was beautiful like his brother but with darker almost Italian features, a narrower jaw line, high cheekbones, dark rimmed glasses, a simple Dartmouth green cardigan buttoned up shirt and an Hermes printed tie. Always wearing a tie due to his unceasing guilt from that overindulgent trip to Hermes where he met his Diletto. His trousers cotton & cashmere cream corduroys (Lora Piana’s of course.) And his shoes? Chucks, actually. (White.)

Dean Martin played in the background.

A gathering of Nouveau Bohemians.
Everybody made art and bought it.
A choir of C of E singers.
The auburn haired fellow peered out the window as snow gently fell. He clutched at his Remy Martin, the deceitful pixie came over and wrapped her arms around him. She whispered into his ear. He smiled, nodding back. The Pixie squealed. Delilah fetched her ear muffs. “Who wants to go out and play in the snow?” Adelisa smiled.

Delilah was the first to roll up snow with her fingerless gloves. She threw it at Miles a tall black fellow who was less than amused. He slipped his hand in his pocket and brought out his phone. Joe told Ayumi about the sledge inside. Olivia’s ears perked up. Upon Joe’s return the Asiatic beauties leapt on the sledge and poor Joe had to push them along, almost slipping in his sneakers.

christmas street lamp

“Let’s take a photo,” said Jack.
Miles popped his phone away, Delilah put a hand behind her back then Adelisa and George halted the snowman making.
“1, 2, 3, smile”
Miles’ face lit up with surprise. Delilah had shoved a snowball down the back of his neck!

Olivia and Ayumi remained on the sledge grinning like school girls. George held up his two fingers behind Delilah head; she looked like a little snow bunny.

“And another one, show us that beautiful smile Miles.”
The sledge twins joined in with Adelisa and George’s snowman. Jack gave them a purple parsnip and charcoal from the fireplace. They placed a fedora on its head too.

Upon returning home she felt tired and oddly ill at ease. It all seemed too good to be true, spending Christmas with a boyfriend rather than pining for lost love. It was happening so fast. How long would it last?

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