Lucy had always been a strong presence, but Tracy wasn’t sure how she’d face having to depend on others for some time ahead; how she’d deal with this early warning of her mortality.
Mel asked her what support Tracy could expect from the hospital trust to be able to spend time away from work with her mum. Tracy said that the trust was being brilliant, but that, in any case, she was getting a lot of help from Jake and his mum and dad. They were looking after Elaine until she got home. She told them that she’d been glad that they’d had a chance to talk, but she’d just pop-in to see her mum for a moment to say goodnight. Jamie said that he and Mel would head off.
December – the lead up to Christmas
In the few working days remaining until Christmas Eve, Jamie, Mel and Marcus were kept busy in the shop – dealing with last minute shoppers and, behind the scenes, getting ready for the “New Year” sales that would actually begin on Boxing Day this time.
Every weekday evening, Jamie drove with Mel to the hospital to see how Lucy’s rehabilitation was progressing. Tony and Fiona spent as much time at the hospital each day as they could.
On the Saturday, after work, Mel told Jamie that she was going to do some last-minute shopping, so she’d make her own way to the hospital. She planned to wrap whatever she was able to get before bedtime that evening.
It emerged from Tony’s visit on the Saturday, that Lucy’s progress with the physiotherapist had been going so well that it was likely that she’d be allowed to leave the hospital on Christmas Eve. There had, however, been some caveats. Lucy had been doing quite well on exercises relating to climbing stairs, but the physio had asked whether there was a bed and downstairs bathroom at home for her to minimise risk until she was ready to move back upstairs. Tony had to agree that there wasn’t, but the physiotherapist had said that they’d review the situation nearer the time.
Tracy explained that the hospital would always try to get as many patients as possible home in time for times such as Christmas. Everyone’s hopes were up. Lucy was determined to be home.
Mel’s time was salami-sliced between home, work, hospital and Jamie’s. Finding time to talk to Stacy was limited, especially because her work in the police was also extremely busy in the lead up to Christmas. There had been no opportunities to get out with a camera – in fact, she had not yet completed all the tasks associated with processing and publishing her New Zealand photographs.
At home, her mum and dad were dressing the house for Christmas the way that they’d done since Jack and Mel had been toddlers. Jean had finished work once the school had closed until New Year and Brian had closed his office until early January.
Both were worried about Mel. She never seemed to stop from early morning until late at night. She looked as if she’d lost even more weight and she was eating hardly anything. She was seldom at home. They felt sorry for Lucy, but their concern was Mel.
On the Monday morning – the day before Christmas Eve – Jamie handed Mel some cash and asked Mel if she’d mind nipping out to buy something for Marcus. He wanted to give him a gift and a card to thank him for his hard work in the shop. Having looked at what was left in the shops and found nothing suitable, in desperation, and not really knowing what else to choose, she’d bought him a gift card for use at a well-known online shopping site, a Christmas card, and some wrapping paper and ribbon.
Towards lunchtime that day, Tony received a ‘phone call from the hospital physiotherapist who had been dealing with Lucy, informing him that an ambulance would be bringing her home that afternoon and checking that someone would be in between two and four.
The physiotherapist explained that she was confident that Lucy would be able to cope, but a paramedic would be accompanying her on the ambulance, just to assess how she could cope with the stairs at home. Lucy would be given medication to take home with her. The physio also explained that the paperwork that Lucy would be given by her consultant to bring home would include New Year appointments for speech therapy and occupational therapy.
Tony let everyone know, and Lucy’s mum and dad said that they’d come and welcome her back with Tony.
On Christmas Eve, a Tuesday night, after the shop closed and they’d had time to complete the preparations for the sales, the staff were able to sigh with relief. When Marcus left for his Christmas to begin at home, Jamie and Mel fell into each other’s arms – tired but happy. The coming few days would be the first time that they’d really have time just for themselves since her return home. They promised each other to make time over Christmas to talk about their own future.
‘We have to create some time for each other,’ he said, ‘I know how chaotic this past week has been, but I haven’t forgotten what you said before your month away. I need to show you that I’ve changed.’
‘My brain is frazzled right now,’ she said, ‘I don’t even remember what I said, or why I said it. You’ll have to remind me in January – that’s a good time for New Year resolutions.’
Before they left the shop to go to Jamie’s home to see how Lucy was getting on, now that she was out of hospital and on her own turf, they talked through how they’d divide their time on Christmas Day between their two families.
This would be Mel’s fifth Christmas with Jamie, in the years since 2015. In previous years, on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, the two had followed a pattern of having lunch with their own families but having an evening meal and the evening with the other’s family. This year, because Lucy would be unable to do the food preparation herself, a different approach was needed.
‘I’ll have to somehow square it with my mum,’ she said, ‘but would it help if I offered to come and work with Tracy in the kitchen for both Christmas and Boxing Day lunches? Feel free to say “No” if you think that my barging my way into your folks’ traditions is likely to upset anyone or anything. We can do both the evenings with my mum and dad. They won’t mind.’
‘Don’t feel that Tracy will be on her own,’ he said, ‘Fiona and Carol will be there and might not even allow Tracy to do the cookery. And with Alec and Neil coming too, Dad will need a shoehorn to squeeze everyone around the table. One extra pair of hands won’t be noticed – or missed.’
‘If you’ve got so many people coming,’ she said, ‘might it be better for me to just come to your house to join you for your evening meal? You could come to our house for tea on Boxing Day as normal.’
‘That makes sense. If there’s any change, I’ll message you,’ he said, ‘but I haven’t bought any presents for your mum and dad this year. I just never seemed to have the time. I should have, though, shouldn’t I?’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ she said, ‘All that I’ve got for your folks are some small things that I bought for them while I was away. I’ll tell you what, let’s get a couple of bottles of sprits each to take with us. What do you reckon?’
They agreed and called in at the supermarket on their way to Jamie’s house.
That evening the whole family, now understood to include Mel, was at Jamie’s house to celebrate. Tony and Tracy wanted to ensure that Lucy didn’t become overwhelmed or over-tired by so many people at once, but everyone understood the situation. Lucy herself was just grateful to be home. She’d been worried at the prospect of being kept in over Christmas.
Brian and Jean let Mel sleep late. They were glad to give her a chance to rest for the first time since her return. By the time she came down to join them, Jack had arrived with Elsa. Everyone was sitting in the family living room.
Mel looked around. She hadn’t properly looked at the work her mum and dad had done putting up the decorations. The house looked lovely – comforting, good memories of Christmases past. The aroma of food being cooked drifted in from the kitchen and her mum was wearing an apron – signifying that she hadn’t finished yet. They all greeted her.
‘What time do you call this?’ Jack asked, walking over to hug her.
She held her brother tightly, feeling safer because he was there. He’d always been fiercely protective of her. When he released her, she turned and wished everyone a happy Christmas before asking her mum what she could do to help in the kitchen.
Over lunch, Mel sat next to Elsa, seeking to get to know Jack’s fiancée better and asking about any marriage preparations that might be in progress. She was told that they were hoping for a small wedding the following June.
“The month after Stacy had hers,” she thought, “Is there something in the air?”
In turn, Elsa wanted to know everything about Jamie and what there was between them. Jack saw from Mel’s face that she felt embarrassed and unable to say anything – beyond that it was still early days.
‘Early days?’ he teased, ‘You’ve been going out with him for more than four years. He must be a slow worker.’
She blushed, unhappy at Jamie being criticised.
‘It’s not that,’ she started, but Jack was straight back in.
‘So, you’re the slow one, keeping him in suspense are you?’ he asked, ‘speaking of which, where are the photos you promised me last week?’
Their dad intervened.
‘Leave the poor girl alone,’ he said, ‘Stop teasing her. You know how busy she’s been these past couple of weeks.’
Jack apologised and Elsa told Mel to take no notice of him.
After lunch, Mel and Elsa insisted on doing the clearing up in the kitchen, after which it was soon time for Mel to leave to go to Jamie’s. Jack explained to her that he’d be going to Elsa’s on Boxing Day, but Mel was to bring Jamie to visit them at his house.
When Mel arrived, Jamie’s family were effectively split between the living and dining areas of the open plan downstairs area to enable everyone to have a seat. Alec and Carol were sat with Jamie and Tony around the dining table, while Neil, Fiona, Lucy, Tracy, Jake and Elaine were in the living room.
She could hear the older generation, as usual rehearsing their pasts. She heard Duncan’s name being mentioned and remembrance of his role in the family business.
Tony had obviously done his best with the decorations and the tree, but to Mel’s eyes, they lacked a woman’s touch. She felt sure that Lucy would have done things better, but she understood the constraints of the situation.
She could see that Lucy was the centre of everyone’s attention in the living room – made more necessary by the difficulties she was having expressing herself. She seemed relieved to see Mel and attempted to stand to greet her, but she was urged to sit down and take it easy. This clearly exasperated her, and she had a mini tantrum trying to express her frustration.
Jamie came into the living room and started to lead her into the dining area, but Lucy exploded, making it clear that she wanted Mel to sit next to her for a while. Neil brought a footstool for Mel. Lucy took Mel’s hands in hers and wished her a Merry Christmas – as clearly as she was able.
She looked Mel in the eyes, wanting to know whether she’d had the talk with Jamie yet.
I’m sorry,’ Mel said, ‘but I can’t really remember what this talk was going to be about. Jamie mentioned something about it to me too, and I told him that we could talk better in the New Year when we had more time.’
‘Well make sure that you do,’ Lucy instructed her, ‘and let me know how he gets on.’
This started off a string of hypotheses about what “the talk” could have been about, but they weren’t given any clues by the embarrassed couple.
Other than that, the evening passed pleasantly enough, as such gatherings often do, revisiting old memories.
While the older generation relived their pasts, Tracy left Elaine with Fiona, and took Mel on one side to ask what Lucy had been on about earlier.
‘I’ve been trying to remember,’ Mel said, ‘I do know that Jamie proposed, and I do recollect that I told him that I didn’t think that he was ready for marriage – something like that. I suspect that I must have given him some sort of to-do-list of things to think about if he were serious.’
Tracy put her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh.
‘Honestly?’ she asked, ‘What did Jamie say?’
‘That’s the thing,’ she said, ‘I can’t remember. One thing that I’m sure of is that I said that, if he felt that I had a cheek asking, or that I was asking too much, he should find someone else.’
‘OMG!’ Tracy said, ‘Wowser! But you two seem totally together at the moment, or am I mistaken?’
‘No, not at all. Can I tell you something in total confidence?’
‘When I was in New Zealand, we kept in touch every day, but one night, towards the end of the trip, I had a terrible fright – this was while I was out taking photographs. It was late, pitch black and I was alone. Out of nowhere, this guy approached me by surprise and seemed to be trying to come on to me. I was nearly shitting myself. He kept coming nearer despite me telling him to go away and leave me alone.’
Tracy had both hands to her face in horror, imagining the scene.
‘Luckily,’ Mel continued, I had a rape alarm, and I pulled the pin. It woke the entire campsite, but it saved me. The bloke didn’t know which way to turn. Anyway, as you can imagine, I didn’t sleep easily that night. The point I’m getting to with this story is that I knew I had to get back to Jamie as soon as possible. I’d always thought of him as a bit dull – staid. That night, dull and staid became the most wonderful values I wanted from a man, and I prayed that Jamie hadn’t met anyone else.’
‘You’re not wrong,’ Tracy said, ‘Heroes are okay in books, but when you need someone to be faithful and reliable – to be there to listen to your worries and so on, it’s different.’
‘Have you told Jamie about what happened?’
‘I’ll have to tell him. I said to him that relationships like marriage have to be built on trust and total honesty. How could I face him if I didn’t tell him, and he later finds out from someone else? In any case, I’d despise myself for being a hypocrite. But I’m scared of what he’ll think of me.’
‘Listen, girl,’ Tracy said, ‘You tell him. You’ll feel better if you do, and he’ll be so horrified at what could have happened that he’ll just want to protect you more than ever. He totally loves you.’
She thought for a moment, taking in all that she had heard.
‘So, are you going to accept his proposal now?’
‘What proposal? I turned him down last time he asked. I don’t know if he’ll ever want to ask again. I think that’s what Lucy’s so interested about.’
‘I remember you saying that you are a career girl and that you’re off men. Have you changed?’
‘I suppose I have, but I’m not going public on that. Things between me and Jamie seem great at present, but I don’t know whether it’s because he’s been worried about his mum, and he just needs me to comfort him.’
‘You’re dodging the question, girl. Do you love him?’
‘Yes,’ Mel said, ‘I love him to bits, but I have to know that he really loves me too.’
‘Don’t be daft.’ Tracy said, ‘He worships the ground you walk on. Get your acts together – and soon. God! Mum will be over the Moon. This is what she’s wanted for years now. She even said so after that first time you came for a meal with us all.’
They embraced and re-joined the others, who looked at them, wondering where they’d been – and what had kept them.
At the end of the evening, Jamie asked her what she and Tracy had been discussing.
‘Don’t be nosey,’ she said, ‘Girl talk.’
She kissed him – to reassure him and to redirect his mind.
Today, I continue my series of photos taken in and around the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge, where I spent a Saturday earlier in June.
I’ll conclude Melissa’s story with a couple of photos of street entertainers in the town centre whom I saw that Saturday. Firstly a guitar player’
For all these shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/160 secs @ f/11, focal length 39 mm, and ISO 400.