Welcome to the fifth – and final – part of my #WurdyChristmas treat short story. Yesterday I asked you to make a tough decision for Lucy – so did she choose to stay in the beautiful winter world, or return home to change her own life?
Thank you for getting so involved in this story – it’s been so much fun to write! Read on to find out what happens when Lucy makes the biggest decision of her life…
SILVER BELLS AT TONY & FRANK’S ©Miranda Dickinson 2o16
You can stay here. Permanently. And you’d never want for anything, never feel lonely again. Or you can go back. Make things different in the way you’d like them to be. It’s your choice…
What kind of a choice was that?
Lucy looked at her grandmother – her beloved Gran who, even this evening before everything happened, she would have given anything to see again. Here Gran was, as vibrant and vivacious as she had ever been in life, dancing with Bing flippin’ Crosby for heaven’s sake – and Lucy wanted more than anything to stay by her side. Who decided Gran would be the one asking her to make an impossible choice? It seemed unnecessarily cruel. But, if it meant Lucy could see her grandmother whenever she wanted, was it worth the risk?
Who would miss me if I stayed here? Her parents, for sure. Maybe her workmates at Tony & Frank’s. Certainly not Aaron Morgan. Had he ever really cared about her, or only about what he got out of their relationship? She could be safe here in this startling winter world. She could be happy…
So, she should stay.
‘Gonna have to hurry you, kid,’ Bing said.
Lucy’s choice was easy, wasn’t it? She was surrounded by beauty – the dazzling snow sparkling like diamond dust on everything in sight; by joy – the look in Gran’s eyes when she danced with her hero; and by possibility – the village in the distance that invited her to explore and the handsome stranger in whose arms she had found such freedom. Beauty, joy, possibility – what more could anyone wish for?
Choose carefully, the note back on Sophie’s desk had said, your choice will change your life…
Tony had been right – Lucy wanted her life to change. What better than a fresh start in a beautiful place? Because what was the alternative? Return home as a dumped girlfriend, face the inevitable questions about what happened and maybe even get in trouble for spending the night in the restaurant. Not much of a choice.
‘Lucybobs, what does your heart tell you?’ Gran asked.
How can you ask me that? Lucy felt tears prickle her eyes. Her heart longed to stay where people she loved were. Given the chance to remain in contact with Gran why would she ever choose to walk away?
‘I don’t know,’ Lucy said. ‘What would you do?’
Her grandmother held up her hands. ‘I made my choices in life, dear. This has to be one of yours.’
Bing nodded. ‘It’s your gig, kid. If anyone else made this decision for you, you’d regret it.’
He was right, of course. This whole experience had begun with someone else’s decision. It had to end with Lucy’s own.
And that’s when it hit her.
This is my choice. It’s all been about my choices.
Without realising it, Lucy had been slowly taking back control of her own life tonight. The choices she had made hadn’t seemed like they belonged to her – investigating a song she remembered from childhood, picking a gift, choosing a door to walk through – but with each one she had felt stronger, become braver.
They were all looking at her now, Gran, Bing and the beautiful stranger – all willing strength and courage into her with their smiles.
‘I think –’ she began…
A huge pile of snow glanced across her right shoulder, almost knocking her over.
‘He shoots! He scores!’
Lucy regained her balance and turned to see two familiar faces engaged in a snowball fight. Both were still dressed in evening suits but each had added a candy cane-striped scarf and camel-coloured overcoat to their attire.
‘Boys, boys! The lady was just making her decision,’ Bing frowned.
Tony and Frank’s gaze instantly dropped to their snow-covered feet like naughty children being reprimanded for too-rough playground games. ‘Sorry.’
‘I should think so, too. My granddaughter deserves more respect. So, Lucybobs, are you staying here?’
The snow had begun to fall again and Lucy felt the soft kiss of pristine white flakes against her skin. This world – wherever it was – was breathtaking. The prospect of staying here forever threatened to steal Lucy’s heart…
Apart from one, tiny detail.
It wasn’t real.
‘No,’ Lucy replied – noticing the sky dim a little, ‘I don’t think I can.’ The sun hid behind a vast bank of white cloud that had appeared from nowhere. ‘I love you, Gran – and it’s an honour to meet you, Mr Crosby. But this isn’t the change I want to make.’
One by one the tiny white lights on the bandstand began to extinguish. A long shadow passed from the top of the rolling, snow-covered hills to the valley far below, lights in the small village that huddled there disappearing, too. Seth gave a low bow and was lost in the encroaching dusk. Bing saluted Lucy, kissed Gran’s hand and, with a slow turn, vanished.
Lucy felt her heart swell when Gran stepped forward and took both her hands. It was bittersweet: this could only be another, more final, parting.
‘My darling girl,’ Gran said, her falling tears sparkling as if they contained glitter. ‘You did it.’
‘I love you. Don’t leave me yet!’
But Gran was shimmering now, her body becoming stardust. Lucy felt the pressure of her grandmother’s hands on hers becoming less and less – and she let out a sob as Edith Smith finally melted into the darkening snowscape.
‘I – I didn’t say enough,’ she cried, her hands still outstretched as if she could catch the last few stars where Gran had stood. ‘There was so much more I wanted to tell her.’
Tony’s almost-transparent hand rested lightly on Lucy’s shoulder. ‘You did good, Lucy Smith. We should get you home, if that’s where you want to go?’
It hurt, but it was the only choice.
Go back. Make things different in the way you’d like them to be.
Gran had known the best decision all along.
‘Aww, boss, just one more snowball,’ Frank pleaded, as the last of the light faded from the incredible winter world. His voice seemed to be coming from a long way away now. As Tony’s laugh rang out with a metallic, hollow echo, Lucy braced herself…
Lucy’s cheek was cold and her head hurt. An indistinct sound was playing somewhere nearby, repeating over and over. Not a song this time, but something Lucy couldn’t yet place. Slowly, she lifted her head and found herself at the red vinyl table in the first booth where she’d fled as soon as she had reopened the darkened restaurant.
Except Tony & Frank’s was dark no longer.
From every table, booth wall, serving hatch, window and stool that lined the bar, tiny sparkling white lights shone. It was almost as if the interior of Tony & Frank’s had become the bandstand in the winter world Lucy had just left. The restaurant was ablaze with light. At the far end where the serving hatch revealed the now illuminated kitchen, the Founders’ busts sparkled with scarves of looped silver tinsel Lucy couldn’t remember them wearing during her evening shift. Tony appeared to be grinning, while Frank grumpily surveyed the empty restaurant.
Had she dreamt it all?
The nondescript sound came again, this time more insistent. Bewildered, Lucy rose and moved towards the front door, her shoes leaving damp footprints across the black-and-white chequerboard floor. She couldn’t think how her feet could have become so wet. Unless…
This time when the sound repeated, Lucy immediately recognised it. The knocking continued until she found the front door key on the giant bunch of keys in her pocket.
‘Okay, okay, I’m coming.’
‘Police,’ said a gruff voice from the other side of the door.
Great. Turning the key in the lock and pulling open the heavy oak-and-glass door, Lucy dug out her brightest smile. ‘Hello, officer.’
The middle-aged police officer at the entrance didn’t smile back. Instead, he peered around Lucy to look into the restaurant. ‘Are you alone, madam?’
‘I am. I’m supposed to be finding a taxi to take me home.’
The police officer’s brown furrowed into a frown. ‘Can I ask why you were here, alone on Christmas Eve –’ He checked his watch. ‘– Ah, my mistake. Christmas Day…’
Soon it will be Christmas Day…
Not soon. Now! Lucy looked at her watch – and saw the hands had moved to read three o’clock. She had come back to change her life, just as she’d told Gran she would.
‘Well?’ The police officer’s radio crackled into life and he turned away to angrily bark a reply into it.
How Lucy was going to change her life was still an unknown. Like the song that first sounded in the kitchen, like the destination behind the impossible doors. But she had already made choices that had changed her experience tonight – and she was determined to change the rest of her life for good.
The squeak of the front door summoned her attention. Leaving the police officer to argue with the disembodied voice of his colleague back at the station, Lucy made her way to the entrance – just as another policeman entered.
Hair the colour of a clear midnight sky. Winter blue eyes that sparkled in the light of the fairy lights in the restaurant…
‘Hi,’ he said, looking over at his colleague, then around the lavishly lit restaurant. ‘Are you the only person present?’
Lucy managed a nod, instantly feeling dumb.
‘We were patrolling the retail park and we saw the lights come on.’
‘I’m sorry, that was me.’
‘And how did you get in?’ He had taken a notebook from his pocket and was now awaiting her story. He lifted his pen to the pad and Lucy remembered how strong the stranger’s arms had been as they had held her. What would it be like to be cradled in them in real life…?
What am I thinking? This isn’t the same man…
‘I let myself in,’ she rushed, hoping her answer would mask the growing flush creeping up her neck. ‘I’m assistant manager at Tony & Frank’s.’
‘Right. Any reason you’re here on Christmas Eve?’
‘Christmas Day,’ Lucy corrected him, blushing again.
The PC looked at his watch. ‘So it is. Merry Christmas.’
Lucy was about to reply when the older police officer returned. ‘Have you taken her statement?’
‘I’m doing it now, Sarge.’ The young PC turned back to Lucy. ‘So, you let yourself in – because…?’
Lucy sighed. ‘Because my boyfriend dumped me this evening after work and I didn’t bring my car, so I let myself back in with my keys.’
‘For what purpose?’
‘To call a taxi… Probably to wait it out until daylight. Then I’ll walk home.’
‘Have you seen the weather outside? You won’t be walking very far.’
Lucy peered through the window and gasped. Every inch of the car park where Aaron had trashed her heart was now covered in glittering, shimmering snow. ‘Oh – wow…’
‘Not to worry, Miss…?’
‘Smith. Lucy Smith.’
The midnight blue eyes seemed to sparkle. ‘We can give you a lift home, Miss Smith – can’t we, Sarge?’
The older police officer looked less than impressed. ‘Well…’
‘Aw, come on. It’s Christmas. And we can hardly leave Miss Smith here.’
‘I suppose so…’
Lucy, weary from the rollercoaster she had been on, smiled at the thought of reaching her own bed before daybreak. ‘That would be wonderful, thank you.’
‘Right. I’ll radio in. Miss Smith, could you turn off all these lights and secure the premises?’
Lucy was aware of the young PC’s eyes on her as she closed down Tony & Frank’s for the Christmas break. When the last set of lights had been turned off, she offered him a shy smile. ‘All done.’
‘Great. Our car’s out here.’ Together, they began walking across the newly fallen snow to the police car parked in splendid isolation on the deserted car park.
‘I’ll be glad to get home,’ Lucy admitted.
‘I’ll bet. So, your fella dumped you?’
‘On Christmas Eve? That’s harsh.’
‘It is. It was. But – I think I’m better off without him.’ As Lucy said it, she understood. The first way she could change her life was to make sure she didn’t let anyone else treat her as second best. She wouldn’t waste any more tears over Aaron Morgan. Tonight had taught her that she deserved more. She had left so much behind in order to return here – she had to make her decisions count.
‘Guy sounds like an idiot to me,’ the police officer said.
‘Maybe he was.’
‘Trust me, I see a lot of idiots in my job.’ He gave a self-conscious smile and offered Lucy his hand. ‘PC Seth Bell. At your service.’
When Lucy took his hand it felt warm and familiar…
* * * *
In the darkened restaurant, silence returned. Above the open serving hatch to the kitchen, two plaster busts kept watch over Tony & Frank’s. A length of silver tinsel shuddered to the black-and-white chequerboard-tiled floor, where it sparkled in a pool of pale blue emergency light.
And in the middle of the table in the first booth, a small silver box dotted with diamond-hearted stars began to glow…
©Miranda Dickinson 2016
Thank you for reading, voting and helping Lucy Smith choose! It’s been a privilege to write this story with you and for you. There’s just one last poll for you to vote on…