It’s that time of year again and if you’re in need of some festive reading, look no further than Christmas Kisses by Alison May – a collection of three gorgeous, cleverly interlinked Christmas stories featuring three girls in desperate need of some Christmas spirit after their own personal ‘years from hell’.
We’ve met Holly and Cora and now, finally, it’s time to meet Jessica, who is still struggling to trust her husband after his betrayal …
Christmas drinks before Michelle and Sean headed up to Scotland. Jess took a deep breath. It was nice, just her and her best friend, her best friend’s husband, and the youngest of Jess’s three big brothers, Simon. These were probably the three people she was closest to in the world. Apart from her husband, of course.
Simon picked up a card from the pile on the table between them ‘Okay. The question is … your first kiss? Truth or dare?’
Jess shook her head and sipped her wine. ‘I don’t think so.’
Her best friend, Michelle, and Michelle’s husband, Sean, stared at her expectantly.
‘Because you’re sober, so I’m at a disadvantage. And you already know anyway.’
Michelle patted her growing belly. ‘Well I’m only sober because of this little one. And Sean doesn’t know.’
Simon laughed. ‘And I’m not sober, so it all works out.’
Jess shook her head. ‘I thought it was Sean’s turn anyway.’
There was a second of silence, before Jess realised why Sean wasn’t talking. Sean’s first kiss would have been with his childhood sweetheart, wouldn’t it? An image popped, uninvited, into Jess’s head. Cora. She tightened her grip on her wine glass. ‘What about you Simon?’
‘It’s not my turn.’
Jess pursed her lips. ‘Well I’ll tell mine, if you tell yours.’
Her brother shook his head. ‘Well there were a couple of girls during school, but my first proper kiss was a boy called Craig on the school residential trip to Norfolk.’ He grinned. ‘I saw him again a couple of years after when I was with Anthony, who was insanely jealous of course.’
The group fell quiet for a second. Anthony had been Simon’s first, and only, serious boyfriend. He’d died, after a long illness, when Jess was in her teens, but she could still picture her brother’s devastation.
Simon broke the silence. ‘Right. Your turn.’
Jess took a drink. ‘Fine. ’ She closed her eyes for a second and thought back. ‘It was 2000 I think. It was Christmas Eve, so I was fifteen.’
‘Fifteen’s not that old.’
‘It is,’ Sean insisted.
‘Well maybe if you grow up with nothing but trees for miles around and there’s nothing else to do.’
He opened his mouth to protest before Michelle whacked him over the head with a cushion. ‘Let her tell her story.’
‘Thank you. Anyway I was fifteen. It was Christmas Eve. I was at some horrible party at this friend of my mum’s house.’ She turned towards her brother. ‘Aunty Janine, you know?’
Simon shook his head. ‘Not a clue. Definitely not a proper aunty.’
Jess pursed her lips. The twelve year age gap between her and her youngest brother meant that more often than not their childhood memories failed to overlap. ‘Well anyway, it was all vol-au-vents and mini sausage rolls …’
‘I like a mini sausage roll.’
Jess shrugged. ‘Well everyone likes a mini sausage roll. That’s not the point. Anyway it was a horrible party, and I was in a massive sulk because I hadn’t been allowed to go to Keeley Andrew’s party at her house which everyone in our year went to.’
Michelle pursed her lips. ‘I didn’t.’
Jess grinned. ‘That’s because you refused to engage in any form of Christmas celebration. All the normal people in our year went.’
‘Get to the point.’
‘Sorry. So anyway, it was in the kitchen. He had dyed hair and an earring, so I basically thought he was the most worldly and glamourous being I’d ever met.’
‘So you snogged him?’
Jess didn’t meet Sean’s eye. ‘I did. And so that’s that. My first kiss story.’
But of course that wasn’t quite that, was it? Jess let her mind take her back to that kitchen, and that boy with the shock of black hair hanging in front of his bright green eyes. She remembered the touch of his fingers against her cheek, and the taste of his lips – cheap cola and a hint of salt. She remembered the cheesy Christmas music coming through the wall. She remembered the cupboard door handle that had been digging into her side, and she remembered not caring at all. She remembered friends at school describing their first kisses as gross or sloppy or icky, but hers had been nothing like that. It had been warm and soft and she’d felt somehow like she’d arrived home. She wondered if she’d ever been kissed like that since.
‘What was his name?’ Sean interrupted her thoughts.
Jess heard Michelle and Simon snigger. ‘She doesn’t know.’
‘What?’ Sean frowned.
‘I do know. He was called Alan.’
Michelle shook her head. ‘Only you checked and there was nobody called Alan at that party.’
Sean grinned. ‘You got fake named.’
‘I did not.’
Michelle was staring down at her glass, but Jess could see the smirk pulling at her best friend’s lips.
‘Well I never met him again anyway. He was there at that party and then he was gone.’
‘Oh I get it.’ Sean was grinning. ‘He’s the one that got away.’
Simon nodded vigorously. ‘That’s what I said.’
‘Wise man. One perfect kiss and then he vanishes. Definitely the one that got away.’
Michelle sighed. ‘You are such a girl when it comes to romance.’
‘And you have no soul.’
Jess let them replay their regular argument. Of course the boy at the party wasn’t her “one that got away”. Okay, so she might have thought that once, but she wasn’t a teenager any more. She was an adult and that meant not getting swept away by silly romantic ideas. There was no perfect guy out there pining for her. There was her husband, Patrick, and she was going to find ways to compromise, and they were going to make things work. That was realistic, not some hopeless teenage fantasy. Another memory forced itself to the front of Jess’s mind. Cora. Was she Patrick’s “one that got away”?
Jess had actually been to confront the other woman, and had instantly regretted it. Cora’s apartment was a penthouse on the South Bank, and the woman herself was a picture of old school glamour. Perfect chestnut-brown hair, creamy skin, and the sort of figure that would have made Cindy Crawford look a bit frumpy. Jess was a scruffy, dowdy mess by comparison. And rather than Cora apologising to Jess for trying to steal her husband, Jess had found herself apologising for taking him back. Nothing about the visit had worked out like she’d imagined it.
Michelle glanced at the clock. ‘I guess we’d better get going.’
A knot formed in Jess’s stomach. Her friends wanted to leave before Patrick got back. He’d gone for a drink with some friends from where he used to work, at least that’s what he’d told her. Jess took a deep breath. That’s what he’d told her, and she believed him, like she believed him every time he popped out to see a recruitment agent, or go for a run, or to the gym. On the settee, Sean glanced at his watch and raised an eyebrow to his wife. Even he didn’t want to stay, and he was Patrick’s best mate. At least he had been. Was it always going to be like this? Jess frowned. ‘You could stay to say hello.’
The look they exchanged was fleeting but Jess saw it. Michelle shook her head. ‘It’s not that. We’ve got a long drive tomorrow. Back to Scotland for Christmas.’
A noise in the hallway interrupted Jess’s reply. ‘That must be him now.’
She pulled herself to her feet and dashed the four paces to the door. Patrick was peeling off layers of coat, scarf and gloves. He was handsome. Properly handsome. Underwear model handsome. She watched him run his fingers through his hair and waited for the pang of desire she was used to feeling to hit her. It didn’t quite come. Jess pushed the corners of her mouth wide. ‘Michelle and Sean are still here. And Simon.’
Patrick nodded and flashed his perfectly even smile. ‘Great.’
Jess followed her husband into the lounge. He asked after Sean’s business and Michelle’s health. Both replied grudgingly. Jess could feel her muscles tightening. Patrick was trying to put everything with … her brain pushed the details of the thought away … Patrick was trying to put everything that had happened behind them. She could see that he was trying. Why wouldn’t her friends see that too?
She took a deep breath. The fairy lights were twinkling on the Christmas tree in the corner. Her present for Patrick was wrapped and waiting. In a couple of days it would be Christmas and then New Year. Once January came they really would be able to make a fresh start. All she had to do was hold on until then.
Holly hates Christmas with a passion and can't wait to escape it - but then the flight to her once-in-a-lifetime holiday destination is cancelled ...
Cora has had the year from hell, and faces a bleak Christmas working in Golding's department store - in the most unflattering reindeer costume imaginable ...
Jessica is in denial after her husband's betrayal, and can't help but think back to when her life still seemed so full of hope and promise ...Three years from hell, three sets of broken dreams, three girls in desperate need of Christmas spirit.
Is the perfect Christmas kiss all it takes?
Christmas Kisses is now available to purchase in paperback from all good book stockists and retailers. Click HERE to order from Amazon.
Christmas Kiss series, Midsummer Dreams, and Sweet Nothing. I won the RNA’s Elizabeth Goudge Trophy in 2012, and have been shortlisted in the RoNAs and the Love Stories Awards. I’m represented by Julia Silk (in association with MBA Literary).
For more information on Alison, follow her on Twitter @MsAlisonMay.