Anne closed her eyes as another gust of icy wind whistled through her coat, creating a whirl of powdery snowflakes around her. Shivering, she quickened her pace, stumbling as the boxes of glittering gold and red in her arms shifted their balance. She took a deep breath and looked ahead, focusing on the warm bus that was beckoning at the end of the road.
Just another 5 minutes, she thought to herself.
Pausing for a second to look at the Christmas lights glowing in the windows which lined the alleyway, she smiled to herself, looking forward to getting home and seeing her own cosy Christmas display.
Lost in thought, she turned her head just in time to see the fast approaching steps looming in front of her, as if jumping out of the shadows. She stumbled and half ran up the steps while leaning precariously forward, before falling flat on her face at the top. The presents she’d been clinging on to seconds before were now tumbling and rolling down the road, leaving neat little dents in the fresh snow.
Catching her breath and mumbling to herself about the steps ‘which have been there forever’, Anne started to get up. A searing hot pain burst in her ankle and she grimaced and muttered as she sat down again on the steps, and rubbing her injury, she sighed. It was Christmas eve, and all she wanted to do was get home, open a bottle of wine and chill out in front of a Christmas film with some mince pies. Pain subsiding a little bit, Anne gingerly stood up again just as a man brushed past, almost knocking her back to her snowy seat. He looked like he was in his mid-20s, just a little bit older than Anne, and had strands of jet-black hair poking out from under his hat. Seeing the presents lining the alleyway, he stopped and turned around. Seeing Anne standing in the snow, he moved towards her and asked her if she was OK.
Tentatively, Anne put her foot on the floor to take a step towards him and winced, telling the stranger what had happened. Smiling gently and leaving Anne leaning on the wall, he scooped up the presents, pulled a bag out of his pocket, and loaded them in.
“As it happens, I was just on my way to the bus stop too. Number 38 right?” Said the stranger while making his way back towards Anne. Holding out his arm he beckoned her forward.
Feeling a strange sense of comfort, Anne let herself be led by the stranger. Walking slowly and gently through the freshly fallen snow, they arrived at the bus stop, which was glowing an eerie shade of orange against the grey snow filled sky.
The stranger introduced himself as Angus, which Anne smiled at, thinking of her Grandad who had been known by the same name. They chatted about Christmas and distant memories as they waited for the bus, the cold air suddenly not seeming as harsh as it had before.
All too soon the bus came groaning down the street, turning the snow a dull brown colour under its wheels, and splashing their shoes with it. Angus helped Anne onto the bus and persuaded her to sit down while he paid for their tickets, Anne not realising that she hadn’t even told him where she was going, found a seat and gratefully took the weight off her still sore ankle. Angus came back up the bus, tickets in hand, and sat down next to her. He smiled with such warmth it took her breath away.
She felt a sudden wave of emotion wash over her, and turned her head, watching the lights flicker by in a blur of colour from outside the window.
As soon as the bus journey had started, it seemed to end, bringing the conversation to a sudden halt. As Anne got up and said this was her stop, Angus said he’d help her off and walk with her as far as she wanted him to go. Happy for the help, Anne obliged and let him lead her off the bus. Arriving at her front door 10 minutes later, Anne, without knowing why, but feeling a compelling connection to this man invited him in for a drink. With surprising ease she pushed any thoughts of possible danger out of her head, and closed the door behind them, feeling a rush of warmth surrounding her even though the house was still cold.
Bustling Anne into the living room, Angus told her to stay put on the sofa and rest her foot while he took care of the drinks. A few minutes later he was back, armed with glasses of red wine and that alluring smile that seemed to light up the room. Talking as if they were old friends, Anne and Angus reminisced about Christmas’s past, laughing at old family memories and raising their glasses to lost loved ones. Anne confided about losing her beloved grandad that very same day the year before, and the prospect of another Christmas without him. Angus, sympathising, said he knew how she felt.
The red wine, flowing well, prompted her to order pizza and nibbles. Glancing at the clock and noticing it was already gone 9 pm, Anne sat back and smiled.
“What a lovely evening, thank you Angus” she said
Angus looked at her and smiled: “It’s all my pleasure Annie.”
Giggling and slightly tipsy, Anne told him he sounded like her Grandad. He always called me Annie she said while pouring the last of the wine into their glasses.
As midnight crept up on them, Anne’s eyes started to get heavy. She curled up and pulled a blanket over her legs as Angus told her stories about his childhood Christmases.
The ensuing dark soon turned to light and Anne blinked against the sun as she opened her eyes. With no sign of Angus, she looked around the room and spotted a small piece of paper, neatly folded on the table. She picked it up and read it:
Thanks for the memories Annie
Holding it against her chest, she felt like she was being given a warming hug.
With the memories of the night before flitting around her mind, Anne got dressed and drove the 20 minutes to her parent’s house, excited for Christmas day. She let herself in, and made her way down the hallway to the living room. As she reached the door, she stopped, noticing a picture on the wall. She had never seen it before and it looked quite old. It was of a man and a woman standing in a garden holding hands. It must have been the 1950s judging from their clothes. Anne suddenly went cold and felt a chill up her spine as she realised the man standing in the picture looked alarmingly like Angus. Staring at the picture she told herself it couldn’t be, but the likeness was disturbingly familiar.
Anne’s Mum opened the living room door, breaking the silence and making Anne jump. She went to give Anne a hug before noticing how pale she was and took a step back, feeling a tinge of worry creeping in.
“Are you OK love, what’s the matter?” she said trying to sound calm.
Anne, shivering slightly, asked her mum who the people in the picture were.
“Oh this”, she started, “I found it in the attic last night and thought I’d put it up. It’s your grandma and grandad before they were married. Must have been in their 20s in this one. Weren’t they a lovely couple?”.
Anne felt soft tears start falling down her face and tried to cover then up with the sleeve of her coat. Her head was swimming with the thoughts of the evening before as Angus’s face, smiling, came back into focus. Anne touched the picture and felt fresh tears welling up in her eyes.
“Oh Anne, come here” said her Mum before pulling her into a hug.
“I just miss him Mum” whispered Anne
“I know you do, I do too” said her Mum, “But I’m sure he’s still here somewhere, watching over us”
“Oh he is Mum”, said Anne smiling, “More than you even know”.