A Yorkshire Christmas

By: Kate Hewitt

A Christmas Around the World Novella

Chapter One

How To Have A Perfect Christmas. Claire Lindell’s mouth twisted cynically as she read the headline of the article in the airline magazine. According to the featured website BrambleCottage.com, there were no less than twenty-five tips to having a magical holiday. She skimmed the article, her mouth turning down as she read about how scented candles created a mood, and she should buy wrapping paper during the sales after the holidays and save it for the next year. How to make sauce from fresh cranberries, and how mashed potatoes with skimmed milk and olive oil spread were delicious and low calorie. A well-decorated table, using fresh evergreen and holly, could, apparently, make all the difference.

Claire didn’t read past the first ten tips to a perfect Christmas. She’d read enough, and in any case, she’d been part of enough so-called perfect Christmases to last a lifetime.

She crammed the magazine back into the pouch in front of her and stared out the window at the endless black night. The plane was soaring at an altitude of thirty-four thousand feet, had been in the air for three and a half hours, and most of the other passengers on their way to Manchester, England from New York were asleep or trying to be.

All except Claire.

Insomnia had been her unwelcome friend for four and a half weeks, since Thanksgiving, to be precise. Since she’d gone way too far down a road she’d never thought she would have travelled.

But at least you turned back.

Sighing, she shifted restlessly in her seat. Her eyes felt gritty and hot, and her muscles ached with fatigue. She glanced down at her carry-on canvas bag, filled with final exams she needed to mark before she returned to her position as history teacher at Stirling Academy for Girls on Manhattan’s rarefied Upper East Side. She couldn’t face the exams yet and so she looked away, stabbing the button to power up the little screen installed in the back of the seat in front of her. Endless entertainment was what she needed. It might, at least, provide a distraction from the circling of her thoughts.

She scrolled through the offerings of films: gritty thriller, weepy drama, lighthearted rom com. No, no, no. She finally settled on a documentary about Bengali tigers and after ten minutes she closed her eyes, content to let the words just drift over her.

In just under three hours she would land in Manchester, hire a rental car to drive the hour and a half to Ledstow, a small village, thirty miles outside of York where her godmother had a cottage. Her godmother Ruth Carrington was spending Christmas in London, and when Claire had seen Ruth’s status update on Facebook, she had, in a moment of desperation borne of urgency, asked her if she could stay in Ledstow while she was away.

Ruth had said yes, as Claire had known she would. She only saw her godmother every few years, but Ruth was always effusive in her welcome and warmth, and Claire had had a standing invitation to visit England since she was eight years old.

She couldn’t bear another one of her mother’s perfect Christmases. The perfect tree, decorated with color-coordinated ornaments, with a different theme every year. The perfect Christmas dinner, brought in discreetly by high-end caterers. The perfect everything, and all of it completely fake, the trappings of happy family life draped over an empty husk.

Melanie Lindell had been icily disappointed that Claire, for the first time in her twenty-nine years, would not be joining the family festivities at their six-thousand-square-foot home in Greenwich, Connecticut. Claire’s sister Abby would be going, of course, with her perfect husband Andrew and her two perfect children, four-year-old Andrew Junior, nicknamed Drew Drew, and six-year-old Skylar. Claire could picture them now; Drew Drew in his Rachel Riley polo shirt and crisp khakis, Skylar in Lily Pulitzer. The beautiful, perfect family, poster children for prosperity and happiness.

Claire didn’t want to be around all the glossy perfection, not when she fell so short of the mark. So, she’d hole up in Ledstow, in Yorkshire, reading books and marking essays, enjoying the luxuries of solitude and quiet, a bottle of wine, and a roaring fire.

It sounded like bliss. It also sounded like hell. Claire had been alone with her thoughts for too long already, and that had been while working a full-time teaching job, preparing kids for finals and college applications, helping with the Winter Concert, doing the obligatory round of social events even though she’d felt as if she were sleepwalking through life. And that was on a good day.

Okay, enough with the self-pity. This is your downtime, and when you get back to New York, you’ll have put all this heartache behind you. You’ll be upbeat and purposeful and you won’t think about how close you came to the edge again.

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