Christmas Daddy

By: Jade West

For Jana.

Thank you for your awesome friendship.

And for Dick Whittington.





Chapter One





Jenny



Christmas. The season of joy and goodwill to all men. The season of open fires and good food and festive TV.

And family. The most important ingredient of all.

Just not for me, not this year. This time around I was going to be holed up in a tiny box apartment with barely enough room for a sprig of holly, far away from home without anyone to share the good times with.

I ducked my head behind my PC screen, trying to avoid eye contact as my colleague Kristina called over from the desk opposite mine. She was wearing tinsel around her neck and a pair of sparkly red reindeer antlers on her head, clearly counting down the days of work left this week before clocking off for mince pies and family time.

I did my best to be visually engaged in my spreadsheet, praying maybe for a phone call, or an urgent email ping, or for the office printer to spontaneously combust or something, but no. No such luck.

The question came at me unperturbed.

“Back home to Cornwall for Christmas, Jenny? What did you put on your Christmas list? Been a good girl for Santa this year, I hope.”

She cracked a grin, and gave me a happy laugh, and I dragged my head up to face her, laughing along, even though I felt it grate in my throat like a sad piece of sandpaper. My heart pounded as my brain ran riot, struggling for an answer that didn’t make me sound like a pitiful loser without any friends.

I’d been doing pretty well to avoid this inevitable festive line of questioning, or so I thought. I mean, it’s obvious — nobody wants to feel guilty at knowing someone else is alone for the holidays, and these people were really still just acquaintances to me. I didn’t want to bring that grumpy shit down on them.

Even worse than leaving them feeling awkward at my isolation would be the potential mercy invitations. Come spend Christmas with me at my Uncle Bob’s. He won’t mind! Always room for one more!

No, thanks. Even the idea of being a charity guest made me want the ground to open up.

If the pressure of forming a response wasn’t bad enough already, the two other admin girls, Sally and Kay, looked up from their desks, tuning into our conversation. I felt the heat of four pairs of eyes fixed right on mine.

The radio in the background was blaring out Driving Home for Christmas, which didn’t help any, and Dawn from accounts chose that moment to walk on through with an armful of Secret Santa presents to go under the office tree.

I stuttered. I stumbled. I blustered my way around the question like a moron while they waited.

And then, in the very nick of time, I was saved by the bell – the bell being the company accountant announcing that the pre-Christmas planning meeting was being brought forward.

“Change of schedule!” she announced. “Mr Hart wants everyone ready to go in five minutes!”

You could feel the ripple of panic right the way through the room.

I was up on my feet in a heartbeat, and I had to be. I had notes from the previous meeting still to print off and I’d die if I didn’t have a fresh mug of coffee to take in there in case my throat dried up.

It seemed that Kristina was in a similar predicament. She cursed under her breath as her fingers smashed her keyboard, all thoughts of my crappy little Christmas long gone.

I’d been working at Hart Filtration for just two short months as a trainee logistics manager, and I was still far from finding my feet.

It’s not the kind of opportunity I’d have generally considered moving four hours up the motorway for, but my mum knew the Managing Director, Mr Hart himself, from way back when in her school days.

He was a man worth knowing, she told me. Doing very well for himself. Smart. Driven. Successful. Exactly the kind of boss I should align myself with for a firm foundation in business.

I’d applied, as she told me to. I’d bitten my nails as the invitation to interview came back from the Hart Filtration HR team, but somehow I managed to shine in a good light through the meeting with the head of recruitment.

And so here I was, and Mum was right in all those things she said about the big boss himself.

Mr Hart was indeed smart, driven, and successful, and his business was indeed going great guns – supplying specialist filtration technology to water plants across the country.

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