Home > The 14 Days of Christmas

The 14 Days of Christmas
Author: Louise Bay

 


One

 

 

Sebastian


Last time I checked, I wasn’t Santa Claus and this wasn’t a public holiday, which meant there was nothing to explain the Christmas music blasting through my office door. I took a deep breath and tried to unclench my jaw. Did people give up working for the entire month of December? Didn’t they know I was in a meeting, and they should be doing their jobs?

“I need a breakdown by end of business tomorrow,” I said to Ali as the image on Luke’s jumper caught my attention. Reindeer? Really? My head of compliance was usually so reliable.

“Don’t you fly out tonight?” Ali asked.

I didn’t reply. I wasn’t sure what me taking a plane to Barbados had to do with anything.

“Yes of course, I can get you that breakdown,” she spluttered, rifling through her note pad.

“Good, then that’s everything.” I stood and everyone scooped up their papers and headed out in silence—my preferred background noise for the office. Rather than Mariah Carey or Wham! or Michael bloody Bublé.

As I opened my office door, there was no mistaking the dulcet tones of Slade wishing me a Merry Christmas. I stalked to the outer office where my assistant sat.

“Get. Them. To. Turn. It. Off,” I said through gritted teeth.

“People are just happy, Sebastian,” she said on a sigh. “But yes, I’ll ask them to turn it down.”

“No reason for them to be any happier now than they were last month. Or the month before that.” I couldn’t tell what got me more irritated—the idiocy of the Christmas season, or my rage at the idiocy of the Christmas season. “Is that . . . tinsel around your screen?” I asked, incredulous. What was it about this time of year that sent everybody sideways? Made people wear terrible clothing, listen to terrible music, and eat too much terrible food? I couldn’t wait to leave the country and escape it all. Just a few more hours and I’d be headed to a Caribbean beach. One of my oldest friends, Griffin, was due to fly out to join me for a couple of days, but apart from that I’d be blissfully alone.

My mobile vibrated on my desk, and I headed back into my office to see who it was. I accepted the call. “Granny?” She never called me in the week.

“Sebastian. I need your help.”

My pulse thudded low in my eardrums and I sent up a silent prayer that nothing was wrong. There was no one more important to me than Granny. I called her every weekend and she came to stay with me several times a year, and we’d stay up drinking too much whiskey, swearing, and putting the world to rights. She’d been a guiding force for me growing up, more of a parent to me than my mum and dad. She was the one person I trusted more than anyone in the world, the one person I’d do anything for—no questions asked.

“What can I do?” I asked.

“I’ve sprained my ankle and—”

Why wouldn’t she just come and live with me as I’d asked her to a hundred times before? “I’m sending a car to bring you back to London.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not coming to London.”

“I’ll send a nurse to you—”

“Sebastian, I’m seventy-three years old. I’m pretty sure I’ve earned the right not to be interrupted when I speak.”

No one on this earth could get away with talking to me like that. No one except Granny. “Sorry. What do you need?”

“The doctor told me that I have to keep my ankle elevated and can’t put any weight on it.”

Sounded like good advice.

“We’re in the second week of December. The Snowsly Christmas market is due to open in three days and we’re not nearly prepared. I’ve not even finished putting up the decorations in the Manor.”

“I’m sure you don’t need to worry about Snowsly. And get the reception staff to put up the Manor decorations.” Granny had a small hotel in the Cotswold village of Snowsly. She had a manager in there these days but she liked to keep busy, bossing everyone around.

“The village relies on me. You know I chair the Christmas committee. Even in the two days since I sprained my ankle—”

“You’re only calling now when you sprained your ankle two days ago? Why am I the last to hear?”

“Me and my ankle are going to be fine. That’s not my concern. The problem is that by the time I’ve recovered, Christmas will be over and so might some of the villagers’ livelihoods if we don’t pull off a Christmas to remember. The shopkeepers in the village make most of their money in the run-up to Christmas. I need you to come to Snowsly and be my eyes and ears. There’s only so much I can do, sitting on my sofa.”

“Come to Snowsly?” I was hours away from a first-class flight to the Caribbean, where Christmas was almost forgotten. The last thing I wanted to do was change my plans and head to Christmas headquarters in the heart of England.

“You know how much the village businesses rely on the custom they get at the Christmas market.”

I did know, but only because I’d heard it from her. I’d never actually seen Christmas in Snowsly with my own eyes. Since I was eighteen years old, I’d always spent the holiday season on the beach or by the pool, somewhere far away from the madness of Christmas. It was ludicrous how people abandoned their sanity in December, pretending they were having such a marvelous time. And why? No one had ever adequately explained it to me. I much preferred the reality of a margarita by the pool, guaranteed sunshine, and no mention of the festive season.

“I’m sure everyone will be just fine. Do you want me to send someone up?”

“No, Sebastian.” I could count on one hand the number of times Granny seemed to lose patience with me, and based on her exasperated sigh, this was one of them. “Everyone won’t be fine and no, I don’t want you to send any of your poor staff up who, no doubt, have their own Christmas crises to deal with. I need you to come up and help. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”

I sighed. I wasn’t going to say no to her. I couldn’t. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Granny. It was just that if the powers of hell had devised a bespoke way of torturing me, making me go to Snowsly to organize Christmas was about as bad as it could get. I’d take having my fingernails ripped out, being forced to cross a crocodile-infested river, or even flying economy before I’d endure a Christmas in England. Especially a Christmas in Snowsly. There was nowhere more festive.

 

 

The car wound its way up and down hills, through the narrow, winding roads that joined each small village and hamlet of the Cotswolds in a lumpy web of picturesque England. Nothing and no one traveled anywhere quickly around here.

The roads had been designed for horses, not cars, and so at least half of any journey between villages was spent with two wheels in a ditch, waiting for an oncoming car to tentatively inch forward, the centimeter of space between cars the difference between onward travel and an insurance claim. In summer the roads were long, green tunnels, made of the branches of the trees on each side interlocking above as if joining hands in some kind of three-hundred-year-old country dance. The sides of the tree-tunnels were lined with hedgerows, bursting with nuts, berries, and the animals that feasted on them. At the end of each tunnel waited the reward of a guaranteed spectacular view of farm or woodland. Some vistas stretched across to the distant blue-grey shadows of the Malvern Hills.

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