A Country Village Christmas – Suzanne Snow

Olivia Bradshaw closed the door, heading out into the November afternoon with a rush of something she knew was a mixture of guilt and relief. She hadn’t planned this latest visit to her dad properly, and the wool peacoat she usually wore for the office was no match for the dreadful weather. The wind seemed to be trying to lift her clean off her feet and carry the bag from her hands as icy rain slashed at her face. Christmas lights had been wound around a fir tree close to the entrance of the retirement flats, but she barely glanced at it as she ran past. She reached the car and flung her bag onto the passenger seat, already feeling for the phone that was in her coat pocket and never far from her hand. She unlocked it as she tugged her reading glasses down from her hair and checked the number of unread emails she had, already nineteen more than an hour ago. Another one landed in her inbox as she stared at the screen; sometimes it seemed like they arrived as often as she blinked. She sighed, resisting the impulse to open them this minute and deal with everything she knew they would contain. Weather notifications were more of a concern right now and she clicked on one, not really needing its warning to inform her that the rest of this awful day was now at the mercy of a winter storm threatening chaos. Olivia didn’t often bother with a forecast and it wouldn’t have changed her mind about this visit to her dad if she did. An online client meeting had been postponed and she’d jumped in her car to get here. Opportunities between her work hours were few and far between, and she’d taken this latest one in spite of the weather. Starting the engine so as to activate the heated seat, she put the phone down and pushed her glasses back into her hair. She was only fifty miles or so from home and she ought to get going. At this time of day, in this weather, with rush hour traffic to come, the journey would take at least a couple of hours and probably much more.

Her phone was already ringing but she ignored it. The call was from her business partner Julian, and he would have to wait. She expected a voicemail to follow, hoping she would still make their planned dinner this evening. She guessed he was ringing to update her about the meeting he’d had earlier with a new and high-profile client. Pulling out of the car park and onto the road, Olivia settled in for the drive. She loved her quick, sleek Jaguar, although her dad had expressed concern earlier about her driving back through the Dales countryside in such weather and in a vehicle not built like a Jeep. She’d dismissed his unease with raised eyebrows and a gentle reminder that as the mother of a grown-up daughter, she was long past his needing to worry about her. They both knew it didn’t stop him, though. She had been thirteen when her mum had died and until she had given birth to her beloved daughter Ellie in her late twenties, it had always been just her and her dad looking out for one another. Boyfriends had come and gone, and university had brought a first-class degree in law followed by professional qualifications in human resources. She’d balanced her career with unexpected singlemotherhood, finding the strength firstly to cope and then to thrive by herself. Once Ellie had settled at university, Olivia had felt a gradual return to those days of just her and her dad. It was one of the reasons why she hadn’t yet got used to visiting him in his new flat instead of tucked up in his old house in Thorndale with his beloved books and his friends around him. Ellie came up when she could, but Olivia knew her daughter’s life was flourishing as her finals drew near and Ellie had already organised a year outside the UK to gain her master’s degree. They shared a number of characteristics and a desire to achieve was just one of them.

Olivia felt a spike of anxiety as she headed out of town, trying to avoid water gathering into deepening puddles on the roads. The wind was still battering the car, and it was four o’clock and dark already. She made a quick decision to avoid the motorway she would normally use, instead taking a route she knew well and one she was certain would bring less traffic. The wipers were flipping furiously in an attempt to keep the windscreen clear while she drove steadily on. As the town disappeared behind her she passed through darkened countryside, saw the odd person still about, the few houses brightly lit and bringing a brief sense of not being entirely alone out here. It was six miles or so to the next village and she breathed out a sigh of relief when she saw the welcome glow of lights and a sign hanging outside a pub blowing in the gale. Once through here, it was less than ten miles to the main road before she could join the motorway after that. It was a horrible journey alone in the dark, and a glance at the screen on her dashboard told her she had virtually no phone signal barring the emergency number. The buildings were petering out and she shrieked, jumping on the brake as she saw a huge tractor rearing up in her headlights. Her heart was still thudding as she realised the tractor wasn’t actually moving but parked across the lane instead, barring all exit and further entry from the opposite direction to this new village. Someone was sitting inside the tractor and Olivia watched, despair mounting, as a man jumped down from the cab and ran around to hammer on her window. She opened it enough to reveal a worried face beneath the hood of his yellow waterproofs, greying hair plastered to his forehead. ‘You can’t get through,’ he yelled, waving his arm to the trees framing the road and threatening to buckle beneath the wind. ‘River’s burst its banks half a mile on and flooded t’lane. I’ve parked tractor here to keep folk from tryin’.

’ ‘But I need to get home and it’s the quickest way now.’ Olivia had to shout as well. ‘I don’t know if I can still get through if I go back and it’ll mean a huge detour.’ ‘Aye, well, I wouldn’t even be tryin’ if I were you.’ His voice lowered slightly, and she saw him point to the pub nearby. ‘Best sit it out, lass. Get yourself inside and stay put, home’ll ’ave to wait. Don’t suppose you’ll want to see your car floatin’ down t’river or sat in three feet o’watter.’ She wanted to scream, despite knowing he spoke perfect sense. She’d seen enough clips on the news of cars washed away in swollen rivers and sandbags piled up outside houses, trying to keep the worst of the water from their doors. She couldn’t risk it. She clearly couldn’t leave the village by the route she’d intended unless he shifted the tractor and there looked to be little chance of that. And neither did she really want to have to retrace her steps and risk a longer drive across lonely moorland or spend hours crawling back through town. Olivia thanked him worriedly, backing her car up and turning around. The pub was only a hundred yards or so away and she parked behind it and grabbed her bag.

The torrential rain hadn’t relented for even a moment and her coat was sodden by the time she’d run to the door and shoved it open, bursting inside with a gasp of relief at the sudden heat and light. She shook the water from her hair, feeling its chill slipping down her neck. A few heads had turned to see her arrival but she ignored them as she approached the bar. She knew nothing about the pub. She couldn’t have named it and right now it didn’t matter whether the food was up to standard or the service average: there were lights, a roaring fire and something that smelled like shepherd’s pie being carried past by a waitress. Olivia’s stomach rattled with sudden hunger; she’d forgotten to eat lunch before she left the office earlier. A quick glance around revealed subtle Christmas decorations arranged throughout the room and she could hear the inevitable seasonal music playing. She guessed the building had been recently renovated, judging by the modern decor still retaining a traditional element to its Georgian history. A stone-flagged floor and white-painted beams interspersed with oak sat nicely with leather chairs at the tables and high-backed stools dotted along the length of the bar. Most tables looked to be occupied by people tucking into hearty platefuls of food and Olivia had already noted that the pub offered rooms. She made an enquiry, not really expecting one to be free, and somebody went to check. Looking around, she couldn’t see an empty table, wondering how long she might be stuck here. A cheerful young woman came to tell her that she was in luck, they had two rooms available and Olivia accepted one immediately, following the woman to check in. Her business bag contained a few basics that would see her through until tomorrow. She could do nothing more with her clothes other than smooth them out when she went to bed.

Once in her room she hung up her wet coat, thankful that her understated, knee-length green work dress was still more or less dry. She picked up her phone, glancing at the email app and ignoring the number sitting there as she listened to Julian’s voicemail. It was indeed about their new client, his enthusiastic voice quickly outlining the client’s requirements. But she didn’t want to speak to him now and be drawn into a long conversation about business. She wanted something nice to eat instead and sent a text to let him know what had happened, apologising for not being able to make dinner tonight. She put the phone down and took in the room with an experienced eye. Attractive oak furniture complemented a king-size bed, and she noted subtle modern touches in cream and grey, with floorlength curtains concealing the darkness and the storm outside. She freshened up, dislodging her glasses to run her fingers through a layered, caramel-blonde bob, and reapplied the plum-coloured lipstick she used for work, making her feel more presentable. She left the room and returned downstairs.


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Updated: 24 November 2021 — 02:21

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