Hannah hung the children’s stockings on the extreme ends of the mantelshelf away from the heat of the fire. Emily and Robert looked at her with shining eyes.
“Yes,” she said, “Santa will be here tonight.”
“Will he bring Daddy home?”
Hannah knelt on the floor between her four-year-old twins and hugged them.
“I shouldn’t think he has room for daddies on his sleigh. But at least we do know your daddy is safe and he will be home soon.”
This seemed to satisfy the small ones and they drank their bedtime milk in blissful quiet. Milk consumed they climbed down from the table and went to kiss their grandfather goodnight. He bent and touched their downy cheeks.
“You go to bed now and dream of Santa.”
They took their mother’s hands and she led them to their bedroom, tucking them in and kissing them lovingly.
“Goodnight my loves.”
Hannah put some more peat on the fire and settled the fire guard securely before slipping out of the room. The tired children were already asleep as she gently shut the door.
Downstairs, her father-in-law had left his fireside chair and she wondered where he might have gone. She didn’t have time to speculate, though, as he came out of his office with his hands full of clumsily wrapped knobbly parcels. He smiled the smile that was so like his son’s that it brought a lump to Hannah’s throat.
Hannah took two already bulging striped woollen stockings from a high cupboard in the wall. The old man grinned.
“How long have you been saving stuff, girl?”
“Not so long. I just called in some favours.”
They sat at the table and finished stuffing the stockings in companionable quiet. With the job completed, Hannah replaced the empty stockings with their bounteous counterparts. She stood back hugging her elbows.
“Don’t fret girl. Think of it this way. This’ll be your last Christmas without him.”
“It will. I just miss him.”
The old man cleared his throat, and when he spoke his voice was thick with suppressed emotion.
“Aye. I miss the useless bugger too.”
Hannah didn’t know what to say, so she moved over to the other end of the room where the big kettle sat on the back of the Rayburn. She moved the kettle onto the hotplate.
“I might have got something better than that,” he got up and headed back to his office returning with a brown bottle in one calloused hand. “Whisky,” he said conspiratorially. “I reckon you and me deserve a Christmas Eve dram. Get the glasses girl.”
Hannah needed no second telling, getting a couple of heavy glasses from the dresser. “Toddy?” she asked. “we’ve got sugar.”
He nodded and poured whisky with a lavish hand.
Drinks made, they returned to the fireside and sat sipping their drinks. The big kitchen was cozy and Hannah put her slippered feet on the fire guard. She sighed a contented little sigh. The old man reached over and patted her shoulder.
“You take your drink to bed with you then. I’ll lock up.”
Hannah gave him a grateful smile and took her drink upstairs. She stood in her bedroom window for a minute looking out over the village street where the rolling fog was so thick that she almost thought she could probably walk on it. Not a night to be out at all. She pulled the curtains and made ready for bed quickly, before jumping between the sheets to enjoy the rare luxury of a hot toddy. Once the delicious drink was finished she snuggled down into the soft warmth of her lonely bed.
She wasn’t sure what time of the night or morning it was when she woke up to the feeling of cold feet tangled with hers and rough stubble on the back of her neck.
“Rob Newisham,” she said, sleepily, “will you get to your own side of the bloody bed.” Then she woke up fully. “Rob? Rob. Is it really you?”
She heard a longed for laugh and turned into the arms of the husband she hadn’t seen for more than three years.
“Merry Christmas, love,” he said. Then he bent his head to kiss her and Hannah thought perhaps Santa was real after all.