Monday 18 December 2017

Christmas Secrets

Sharon Boothroyd

Everything changed when Laura discovered the locket.

The Christmas gifts from her husband Matt had never varied - a beauty gift set, slippers, perfume, a chick-lit novel and a box of her favourite chocolates. Laura had always been happy with this.

Matt normally hid his gifts under the bed, yet the delicate, smooth silver locket was stuffed in the back of their 'winter socks' drawer. 

She'd stumbled across the small, blue velvet box when she'd been hunting for a thick pair of socks for her boots. So far, the winter had been mild, yet a cold snap was forecast – hence the need for socks.

The discovery of the locket had set off a thread of doubt.

Laura recalled all the Tuesday evenings Matt had spent in the weekly staff meetings - then he was busy with evening viewings.... she pondered. 

Was her husband really so devoted to his job or had something else (or more precisely, someone else) taken up his time?

Laura hadn't the time to dwell on it now. It was her works Christmas do this evening. She needed to get ready. 

It was a very different do from last year's extravaganza – a four course lavish meal at a ritzy hotel, plus a free bar and disco. Partners of staff were invited too. 

However this year, due to a lack of profit at the call centre, the Christmas do was scaled down to an employee- only buffet held in the dismal back rooms of the building.

Laura stood about in a quiet corner, clutching a glass of wine. Sue spotted her and wandered over. Laura had always got on well with Sue.

As they chatted, Laura unexpectedly found herself discussing her worries about the mystery locket. 

'Why don't you think it's for you?' Sue asked.

'It's not the sort of thing Matt usually buys me,' she explained.

'He is your husband. Perhaps this year, he'd like to buy you something special.'

She shrugged. 'Maybe.'

'Do you suspect that the locket is meant for another woman?' Sue's question jolted her.

'I think I'll wait until Christmas morning and see what happens.' Laura skilfully swerved answering the question.

'But what if you don't unwrap the locket on Christmas morning? her manager enquired gently.

Sudden tears pricked. 'I don't know.'

'Look, take the day off tomorrow. You need to think things through.'

'That's very kind of you.'

Sue glanced at a group of noisy, laughing colleagues gathered by the buffet table.

'I won't mention this to anyone at work. This is strictly between us.'

She smiled. 'Thanks.'

'Hey - do you want to know a secret?' she grinned.

Laura was intrigued. 'Go on.'

'I'm handing my notice in.'

'Oh.' That was a bolt from the blue!

'And I know the perfect person to take my place. You.'

She laughed. 'I don't know about that.'

'Think about it - but could you keep this under your hat please, Laura?'

'Of course.'

She glanced at her watch. 'It's getting late. I'd better make a move. Matt will be worried. Thanks for listening.'

Laura was touched by Sue's gesture – it was considerate of her to give Laura the day off, and the promise to keep their dialogue confidential meant a lot. In addition, there was the news about Sue leaving to absorb. 

For the majority of call centre staff, fat slivers of juicy gossip brightened the tedious hours dealing with the never- ending stream of complaints. The disappointment about the Christmas party had run deep, too. 

Even though it was grossly unfair, some employees had blamed Sue directly for this year's paltry seasonal knees- up.
    * * *
As the raw December days drifted, and the shops became gaudy with Christmas fayre, Laura's mind preyed on the locket. 

A second peep confirmed that the box had been wrapped, with a tag attached. It said: 'To my darling, all my love forever. Matt. XXX'. 

Sue's probing question 'Do you suspect that the locket is meant for another woman?' haunted her.
Matt's mum had passed away, he didn't have a sister or a daughter, and there was no favoured aunt or niece on the scene either. 

Did he intend to give it to a colleague instead? she wondered. It was a close- knit team at that estate agents and - her mobile bleeped with text. 

It was from Matt: 'I'll be late home. C U later. Love u.'

Laura sighed. It was a familiar story...then, out of the blue, an odd thought occurred to her.
At work, Sue always rushed off on Tuesdays too. When Laura had quizzed her, she'd seemed very vague about her whereabouts.

Naturally, this had been overheard and it wasn't long before the rumours about Sue meeting an illicit lover began. Laura brushed the speculation aside.

Sue's Tuesday evening activity (whatever it was) always fell on the same evening that Matt was busy.

Just like tonight, in fact.

Coincidence? Or not? Her throat ran dry.

She frowned. If this was the case, where had Sue and Matt met? Light dawned. Of course! At last year's company Christmas party.

Could the secret locket be for her? She shuddered. Well, whether he was was seeing her or not, she would apply for the line manager's position. A higher salary would enable her to stand on her two feet.
'I'm giving my Christmas work do a miss this year,' Matt announced the next morning.

Laura was pleased to hear this. 'Oh. Any particular reason?'

'I'd rather relax at home and curl up on the sofa with you.' He grasped her hand. 'I'm sorry I've been neglecting you. I'll make it up to you this Christmas.'

Her heart glowed.

Then Sue rang. 'Could you come in early tomorrow Laura? Around eight thirty?'

'Yes of course.' Her pulse quickened. Was this about her job application - or something more personal?

'We'll chat tomorrow. Bye for now.'

Laura couldn't sleep that night.
With her stomach swirling, the next morning, Laura cautiously knocked on Sue's office door.

'Hello Laura. Take a seat.'

Laura nervously perched.

'I'm pleased to tell you that your application has been successful,' she began.' You start my job in January.'

Her spirit soared. 'That's wonderful news!'

'I'm setting up my own business as a yoga practitioner. I've been attending special instructor classes in the evenings,' she explained. 'And now I'm finally qualified!'

Laura heaved a huge sigh of relief. 'So that's where you've been going on Tuesday evenings!'

'I've kept it secret because I didn't want anyone gossiping,' she went on. 'But they've gone ahead, anyway. You must have heard that they've linked my name to several men here?'

Laura smiled. 'All silly nonsense, fuelled by resentment about the Christmas party. I know the buffet idea wasn't your decision. Even so, it was wise to keep your counsel.'

'By the way, I hope you don't mind me asking - have you decided what to do about that locket?'

'No, not really,” Laura stuttered.

'I'm always here if you need to talk.'

She nodded.

Later, as she threaded her way around the desks to her work station, she thought she and Sue could perhaps become friends.

Feeling decisive, she decided to talk to Matt before Christmas too. Why wait? Why not talk to him tonight... Laura steadied herself.

There was really no point accusing him of being unfaithful if there was no need, she reasoned.
It was Christmas morning.

To celebrate her promotion, they'd enjoyed a glorious breakfast of bucks fizz, plus yummy crumpets spread with butter and tangy marmalade.

Even so, Laura braced herself. The time had arrived to uncover the truth about Matt.

'Come on darling,' Matt rallied. 'Let's open our presents!'

Her heart skipped as Laura followed him into the living room. They sat near the tree and began unwrapping the pile of gifts. 

There was her usual heap - chocolates, slippers, a paperback novel, a beauty gift set and perfume. Then she came to the very last gift – a small, square, perfectly wrapped parcel.
Her fears had counted for nothing. It was the beautiful silver locket! 

'Thank you darling!' She kissed him.

'I told you that I'd make it up to you, didn't I?' He grinned.

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