“Was that Skye Francis?” Biff looked up at me as I finally returned with three pints – a pint of beer each for Biff and Conner and my pint of lemonade.
I nodded shortly, “Yup,” I didn’t look him in the eye; instead I glanced at Conner. I’d told him that if I ever saw him again I would do something really stupid like tell him that Marcus was no friend and that he’d been trying to get in my pants at the party from hell. To begin with Conner warned me never to get in the way of someone’s friendship with his best mate – that no good would ever come of doing something stupid like that – but as the years passed, he’d changed his mind and had actively encouraged me to tell him – if we ever crossed paths again, of course…
Conner raised an eyebrow. “Did you do something stupid?” he asked with the ghost of a smile.
I nodded, maintaining my no-eye-contact façade, “Yup,” I sighed.
He brightened and sat forward in his seat, “What? You mean… did you actually tell him?” he sounded pleased and incredulous all at the same time.
I rubbed my eyes and looked up at him sheepishly; I was never any good at the whole no-eye-contact thing anyway. I nodded, “Yup.”
He looked hopefully at me, “And?” he asked with a hint of a smile.
I looked at the two eager faces before me. There wasn’t a trace of gleeful mickey taking in either of them. They both knew the way I’d felt about Skye back in school and sixth form – hell, sad git that I am, they knew that I’d never felt that way about anyone since, too.
I shrugged, “He already knew,” I said, defeated, “He reckoned that he looked for me to tell me he’d made a mistake but…” I trailed off. There was just no way – he was just being nice – letting me down gently…
Conner frowned and looked across at Biff guiltily, “Well, there was that day when we went for our results…”
I nodded. They’d told me that he was there asking about me, but I was too hurt and too stupid and I thought he should have come to tell me himself. What a prick. I should have gone and sorted it out with him – I only had to see it from his point of view… I should have known Marcus would lie… And it was far too late now. Six years too late…
Conner sniffed nervously. He always did that before he was about to impart words of wisdom. I looked at him. “What?”
“Well, why don’t you go over there and ask him to go out for a drink with you one night, then?” he nodded in the general direction of where I’d been stood talking to him.
I scratched my neck nervously, “I can’t do that – I’ll look all pathetic and needy.”
“I don’t want to knock your confidence, mate – but you are all pathetic and needy,” Biff leaned forward and patted me on the shoulder, “– we’ve been propping you up for years mate – but it’s Christmas, dude. And you know – things are different at this time of year – everything gets sprinkled with a bit of magic.” I looked at him with a smile. Sometimes he was really sweet… “Just get laid already,” he added making me realise that actually he was exactly the same as he’d always been. Biff had such a nice turn of phrase…
“What was my other present?” I asked Will. I’d seen a box in the corner and I swear it had moved a couple of times since he’d sneaked out this morning really early. He thought I was asleep but he really should know better – I’ve been getting up to feed the animals before work – and school before that – for years. I’m used to getting up at four or five in the morning. Still – the fact that he’d tried to sneak out to surprise me was what it was all about – he was by far more romantic than I could ever imagine being.
I had an idea of what he might have got for me, but I didn’t like to assume – even though I’d heard a couple of whimpers coming from the corner too.
He grinned, “Close your eyes.”
I chuckled as Trey and Toby exchanged a roll of their eyes to each other but I still closed my eyes.
“Hold your hands out.” Will said gleefully, “I promise you’re gonna love this.”
I nodded and held my arms out.
“Here,” he murmured and leaned forward as he placed the box on my knee, brushing a light kiss over my forehead, “All yours.”
I opened my eyes. He’d put the box on my knee. I looked up at him questioningly. He just grinned back at me along with Trey and Toby.
“Open it.” Trey urged.
Toby nodded. Will just stood there chewing his lip nervously. I really wished he’d stop – it was terribly distracting. All I wanted to do was stop him so I could chew on it instead…
I concentrated on my gift. It had gone alarmingly quiet.
I ripped the paper off and lifted the lid. Inside, all curled up and fast asleep was a puppy. I damned well knew that was what he’d got me – I’d been banging on about having a sheep dog if we were to expand the farm and Will being Will had gone and done his research.
“She’s from a great pedigree,” he started.
I held my hand up, “She’s perfect.” I said, “I couldn’t give a shit about her pedigree – I just love her.”
She yawned and opened one eye, “Hello, little cutie.” I held her up and kissed her on the end of her nose, “Aren’t you beautiful?”
Trey nudged Toby, “We’d better get out of here, dude,” he joked, “Will’s gonna be getting all jealous in a minute! Tom’s got himself another new woman.”
They both burst into a fit of giggles. I rolled my eyes, “Get lost guys.” I laughed, “I’m a reformed character. I’m a one man man now.”
Will chuckled too, “I wouldn’t have got him a bitch if I thought he’d fall out of love with me.” He said coming up and putting his arms around me, “Do you like her?” he asked, “Is she okay?”
I turned around and kissed him firmly on his mouth, “She’s perfect.” I said, “What are we gonna call her?”
“Meg.” He said.
Toby snorted behind me and I closed my eyes. I could have predicted almost word for word what he was whispering to Trey. Seriously – I think I’ve totally tuned into their telepathy with all the time I’ve spent with them over the years.
“What?” I snarled at him. I could always pull rank on the boys – they totally crumbled.
“Nothing.” They said in unison, their eyes wide.
“Tell me?” I warned.
“He said she should be called Smeg,” Trey blurted out.
I threw the wrapping paper at him, “You dirty little bastard,” I said, but we were all laughing.
I was really excited to see Chas. I’d got his present tucked inside my coat and I could hardly keep the grin off my face as I thought about our time together the day before. It was Christmas Eve now and I planned to wake up with his face next to mine on Christmas Day...
I pushed the door of the pub open, eager to see his smiling face. There was laughing and chattering going on all around us but as soon as I saw his expression as he was stood behind the bar, I knew something was off.
He looked pissed off. I frowned as I approached the bar, “What’s up?” I asked.
He nodded to the far end of the bar, “You’ve got company.” He muttered, “Your fancy boyfriend is back looking for a reconciliation. Says he’s seen the light or some such shit.”
I blinked, “My fancy boyfriend...?” Holy shit. No way....
I turned around and looked to the end of the bar. There was Kai. He smiled and stood up. Chas huffed and disappeared inside the door marked, “Staff Only”.
I swallowed and tried to gather my wits. I’d never expected to see him again. I didn’t know what he was here for – and I wasn’t sure how to handle it...
“It’s so good to see you, Jules.” He gushed, sliding his hand over mine.
I really couldn’t say the same for him so I didn’t reply. I pulled my hand away from his touch and looked at him, “Uh-huh.” Was all I managed.
His smiled widened, “I uh, I came to see if we could, you know – talk.”
Talk? What the hell did he want to talk about? I shrugged, “Sure.” I said, jamming my hands in my pockets and rocking on my heels, “What do you want to talk about.”
“Us.” He said, reaching for my hand again.
I frowned as I took in his hopeful expression and backed away from him, “There is no us, remember – you found someone better.”
He shook his head, “I just needed a little time to get my head in the ‘couple’ game. I’m so sorry to have messed you about, Jules – I was such a fool.”