‘Ha! Well you’re way too young and I’m sworn off men so it’ll have to be Paul if it’s going to be anyone.’
‘Who’s getting married?’ Their dad was leaning against the doorway to the hall. Neither of them had heard him arrive.
‘Oh… We were just talking about Paul and how he doesn’t like settling down.’ Erin coughed self-consciously, well aware of her own disastrous romantic history.
‘Well, according to your mum, this latest lady could be the one.’ Their dad wiggled his eyebrows as he took a seat next to Zara.
‘Really?’ Erin was surprised.
‘Possibly.’ Her dad bobbed his head. ‘But who knows? I don’t usually get a chance to learn their names before he has a new love interest.’
‘We were just saying that,’ Zara said, turning her phone to face her dad. ‘Smile!’
Their dad grinned at the phone. ‘It’s so unfair the way he hops from one lovely lady to the next one and it makes me look like I’m losing my memory when I call them by the name of the last girlfriend.’
‘We all tend to forget their names, Dad,’ Erin said. ‘It’s not just you.’
‘I might write it on my arm so I can look at it when I have to speak to her.’ Their dad pulled up the sleeve of his jumper. ‘If I write it just by the strap of my watch, no one will be any the wiser.’
Erin laughed. ‘But it will wash off.’
‘Imagine if I wrote her name and some of it washed off and I called her the wrong name.’ Their dad widened his eyes. ‘Phil instead of Phillipa or Miran instead of Miranda.’ He tilted his head. ‘Then again, they’re not that different so that wouldn’t really matter.’
Erin checked the clock on the wall and realised that she needed to take a look at her mince pies. She crossed the kitchen to the oven and looked inside. The pastry was turning golden brown and the smell of spiced fruit and brandy wafted towards her making her mouth water.
‘They smell divine,’ their dad said. ‘Can’t wait to try one.’
‘I used a shortcrust pastry recipe I found online so I hope it’s not too heavy,’ Erin said.
‘I’m sure it will be perfect.’ Zara was pointing her phone at Erin again. ‘Smile before you eat a mince pie and put on three stone!’
‘Ha! Ha!’ Erin shook her head. ‘You’re so funny.Not.’
‘Right then, girls.’ Their dad slid off his stool and tucked it under the island. ‘I’m taking your mum to the supermarket to get what we need for dinner. She wants to make sure we impress Paul’s lady friend and anyone else he’s bringing with him. He mentioned something about bringing a friend or two when we spoke a few weeks ago… but I haven’t heard anything since so perhaps it’s not happening. Either way, it’s fine because we have plenty of room here.’ He gave her a quick hug then did the same to Zara and left the kitchen.
‘The more the merrier, I guess,’ she said, meeting Zara’s eyes across the island.
‘If he’s hot and old, he’s yours. If it’s a she and she’s hot, she’s mine.’ Zara winked.
‘I don’t want any hot men in my life, thank you very much.’ Erin opened the dishwasher and started loading it. ‘I’m very happy as I am right now and I don’t ever want to take a chance of getting hurt ever again.’
When she stood up straight, Zara was gazing at her with compassion on her face and it made Erin’s stomach lurch. Her sister felt sorry for her and that was something she’d been trying to avoid. She didn’t want her family seeing her as someone who needed pity. They had enough to worry about without worrying about her.
‘I’m fine!’ Erin said, pushing back her shoulders and plastering on her most dazzling smile. ‘Absolutely fine.’
Zara gave a small nod. ‘I know you are. You have us.’
As Erin put on the oven gloves and got the mince pies from the oven, she allowed herself to believe that it was the heat making her eyes water and not emotion at knowing how lucky she was to have such a loving family.
Erin slicked on some lip gloss then gave her hair one final brush. After baking all afternoon, she’d needed a shower to wash the flour and the smell of mince pies and gingerbread off her. Paul was due to arrive soon, and she’d wanted to be fresh and clean to meet his girlfriend and whoever else he might decide to bring along for Christmas. He’d always been the same, taking people under his wing and trying to help them. Even though he was a bit of a ladies’ man — and Erin had her own thoughts about why he was afraid to commit to someone — he was a good man with a good heart and he’d always tried to be there for his friends. He could come across as being arrogant and big headed but Erin knew it was a front and that underneath it all, Paul was one of the kindest people she knew.
She gave her reflection one last glance then opened her bedroom door and padded down the stairs. The hallway was truly magical in the evening gloom with twinkling lights on the tree in the hallway and entwined around the banisters, the scent of spice and pine that permeated the air and the festive music that she could hear drifting from the lounge.
Pausing at the bottom of the stairs, she listened for a moment, taking it all in. Sometimes she felt that she should take a mental snapshot of special times because goodness only knew life could deal some tough blows. Just a year ago, she’d been on a completely different trajectory. So much had changed since then and while it still saddened her that she’d lost the life and the future she’d thought she’d have, she wanted to treasure what she did have because who knew how long things would be this way?