A Christmas Tale by: Sandy Hyatt-James
Katherine lay back and let the warm bubbles swash over her body. Her head now resting on the back of the bath, she gazed at the high ceiling with its wood-panelling and old-fashioned light fitting. Looking around the bathroom she then viewed the wall panelling, the old-fashioned chain-pull toilet, and thick tiles around the Victorian basin. What a good idea, she thought to come to a place like this for Christmas.
She usually spent Christmas in large houses, but going to a converted medieval castle, in the Northumbrian hills, like this one, was a novelty. She’d wanted her family to come. It’s been made into a five star hotel, she told them and there will be so many different people to see there. And anyway, why do we always have to do the same old thing each year, let’s go somewhere different. But, her family refused to come, and they urged her not to go as well. “Being on your own won’t be as productive as being with us,” they said. “You might be lonely. Your place is with us and together, we can make have much more seasonal fun.” But she wanted to know what sort of people visited a castle for the Festive Season and whether any were like her.
She closed her eyes, basked in the steamy stillness and listened to the echoing drip, drip of the basin’s tap. She told herself that she really should get out and dry herself before the water got cold, but she was too comfortable to move.
The first thing alerting her that something was wrong was when the swoosh of the bath water rose up like a tsunami and splashed over her face. Then she felt two feet which, if she hadn’t moved her legs in time, would have stood right on her. When the shower fitting seemingly lifted out of its cradle and ejected freezing cold water, she jumped out of the bath.
Then, she saw the intruder. With his back to her, he closed the curtains and sang in a pleasant baritone: Deck the Hall With Boughs of Holy. While he showered, she grabbed the towel and ran out.
Now in the bedroom, she dried herself and threw on her dress. But, still in shock, her fingers fumbled over the fastenings. She’d just got to the last one when he appeared in the doorway with a towel round his waist. She made for the door, hoping he wouldn’t see her.
“Wait,” he called out.
She turned and noted his athletic build and dark brown hair.
“Do you live here,” he asked.
“Er no, I’m just a guest.”
“Oh, so am I.” He looked her up and down with an expression which told her that liked what he saw. “There seems to have been some sort of mix-up with the rooms”
For a moment, they stared at each, as though discovering chocolate for the first time.
“Are you going to the Christmas Eve fancy dress tonight?” he asked.
“I, well I should think I will be.”
He walked up to her. “Then, maybe I’ll see you there?”
She gazed at his blue eyes and – didn’t answer.
“In the meantime,” he said, I’ll see if I can find another room. The hotel obviously messed up with the bookings somewhere.”
“Oh, no need,” she replied. “I can make other arrangements.”
He smiled. “That’s generous of you. So, I’ll see you tonight then.”
“At the dance.”
“Oh, of course. Yes.”
“My name’s Edward,” by the way. And yours?”
* * * *
Katherine didn’t join the other guests at the fancy dress dinner. However, her heart lifted when, peeping through the dining room door, she saw Edward. Clad in medieval knight’s finery he sat on the end of the long refectory table. She turned away and told herself that really, she shouldn’t let herself get interested in him because such a relationship would never work. If she were to allow herself to fall for somebody so….different like him, what would her friends and family have to say? She knew they would disapprove.
Once the dinner was over, he saw her sitting at the large bay window in the ballroom, and strode across the floor to greet her.
He seemed so pleased to see her. In fact, she found the way he treated her: as though she was the only woman in the room, quite intoxicating. I don’t give a fig about convention, she told herself at that moment and….to hell with…more suitable men. An encounter like this comes only once in a lifetime, so I’m going to make the very most of every minute of it!
They danced all night, only stopping now and again, to gaze at each other, chat a little, and feel so very glad that they’d met. So oblivious to outside forces were they, it was as though the other guests weren’t even there. Only once, when several of the dancers passed by the bay window and looked at them oddly, were they aware that, actually, they were in the middle of a noisy, social occasion.
Later, when the dance finished, they spent the night together, ending a special day with the most sublime moments of all.
* * * *
The next morning, Edward descended the hotel stairs to meet his fiancé. He kissed her on the cheek and said, “They’ve forecast snow for today and knowing this part of the country, I thought you might be delayed!”
Jenny smiled, kissed him and didn’t note the hint of disappointment in his eyes. “Merry Christmas, darling. You know I’m so looking forward to everything! The receptionist told me that Christmas dinner will be at one o-clock; and then guests generally gather in the lounge for the Queen’s speech.” She hugged him. “What could be better? Spending Christmas Day in a spooky castle hotel with the man I love!”
He helped the porter carry her suitcases up the stairs. Glancing upwards, he saw Katherine standing at the top. She stared down at Jenny for a second, before blowing Edward a kiss and disappearing down the hall.
Edward thought back to the night before. While laying together, he’d told Katherine about Jenny. She said she understood and even said that, given the circumstance, she didn’t mind if he continued his relationship with Jenny, as long as he still saw her from time to time. But in his heart, he knew Katherine was the only woman for him now and, he couldn’t be dishonest and live a double life.
“So, how was your Christmas Eve,”Jenny asked. Was the fancy dress do good.”
He hesitated, feeling wretched about what he knew had to do. Should I tell her now and get it over with, or later, he thought. He decided on later; feeling that he had to honour the holiday arrangements since they’d gone to so much trouble to arrange them. “Oh, I went as a medieval knight.” he said.
She laughed. “Very fitting in surroundings like this!”
She took his arm and they continued ascending the stairs.
* * * *
On January the second, Edward and Jenny stood at the Reception Desk, ready to check out of the hotel. Jenny, now subdued and still red-eyed from the ghastly revelation of the night before stood some feet away in the Foyer, waiting for their taxi.
When we get back, he’ll move out of our flat and, we won’t meet again, she thought, sadly. Oh, he’d said he still thought a lot of her and that now and again, they could meet up for lunch. But their relationship was now over; as stale as last week’s mince pies, and all that remained was to keep her dignity and play along with the, “let’s still be chums” bit.
She didn’t see Katherine until she sat and glanced into the dining room. Good grief, she thought, there’s a beautiful woman dressed in a medieval gown over there.
Katherine brushed past her, cutting a route straight to Edward. After slipping her arm through his, she watched while he paid the receptionist. Moments later, she kissed him on the cheek, turned away and dissolved through the wooden wall panelling.
When Edward joined Jenny, she asked, “Who was that woman?”
“She was here: dressed in a long green velvet dress. She had long, brown hair and a yellow sash around her waist. I saw her! She kissed you and then….just disappeared through the wall!”
He checked a smile. “Oh the hotel says this place is full of ghosts. But I didn’t see anything.”
While driving away, Edward glanced out of the window and saw Katherine standing on the castle’s turrets, waving to him. If he’d been on his own, he would have waved back. But he didn’t want to hurt Jenny any more than he already had.
He wanted to be with Katherine all the time now. If only he could. But she told him she could only manifest for fourteen days each year and always it had to at Christmas. Carrying out a relationship with such restrictions might seem bizarre to most people. But as smitten as he was, he knew he would comply with them.
As the taxi crunched along the gravel, out of the castle grounds, he looked down at the piece of paper in his hand. It was receipt from the hotel securing his stay there for the following Christmas.
Wishing everybody a merry Christmas and a happy new 2019