Brodie picked up the cup I had just washed and began to dry it.
“What are your plans for later, Mum?” It was my soldier son’s first evening home in a while, and I had cooked all his favourite foods to celebrate. Brodie had made short work of the meal, which I was grateful for when he had such a big night ahead of him.
I smiled at the question.
“I don’t have any plans.”
“You’re not doing anything for Hogmanay?”
“Nope,” I confirmed.
The fact was, I was looking forward to an early bedtime with a good book. My son wouldn’t understand the appeal of that, though, not at his age. He reached for the matching saucer and nodded.
“Right, a night in front of the TV for two it is. I’ll ring Nate in a minute and tell him I’ll be giving the rugby club a miss.” I looked up from the sink, shocked he would even suggest such a thing. I placed my hands, soapy from the washing up, firmly on my hips.
“You are not staying in!”
Brodie was only home for a few days, and he hadn’t seen any of his friends for ages. There was no way he should be babysitting me when he ought to be out enjoying himself with them. He looked forward at me and shrugged.
“I’m staying put. You can’t be here on your own.”
“Of course I can, Brodie! Since you joined the Army I’ve been home on my own a lot, you know – and as you can tell I’ve been perfectly fine.”He shook his head.
“It’s Hogmanay. You shouldn’t be celebrating on your own. No one should.”
I sighed. Couldn’t Brodie tell that celebrating was the last thing on my mind?
This had not exactly been my best year, with the divorce and everything, and I had no wish to bid it a fond farewell. The fact was I was going to be glad to see the back of it!
I put the clean and dried plates away and smiled at my son. I decided to be honest with him about my plans.
“Tomorrow morning I will wake up and toast a brand-new start,” I promised him. “But tonight I intend to be fast asleep before the bells. So, you see, you might as well go out.” Brodie looked thoughtful for a moment.
“Ok,” he agreed reluctantly. “If you’re sure, that is.” I hadn’t been surprised he had tried to talk me out of my desire for a quiet Hogmanay. I had raised my wonderful son to make the most of every opportunity – to enjoy life and live every moment to the maximum. It was possible he thought. I was a hypocrite for retreating to lick my wounds on the biggest party night of the year.
“Nate is here, Brodie!” I called up the stairs to where Brodie was busy getting ready for the Hogmanay party at our local rugby club.
“He won’t be long,” I told Nate, ushering him into the kitchen.
As we waited for my son to appear, Nate made himself comfortable at the kitchen table. I busied myself cutting a mountain of sandwiches into triangles. It seemed ages since teatime and I didn’t want the boys doing too much celebrating on empty stomachs.
“How is your father doing these days?” I asked Nate as I brought the sandwiches over and set them down in the centre of the table. “I haven’t seen him in years.”
Nate’s father, Jimmy, had raised his son by himself. He’d become a school-gate dad, and had been part of the group of parents I’d made friends with. But as our children had grown, and everyone had started to work longer hours, we had all drifted apart.
Nate reached for one of the sandwiches and grinned while thinking.
“Dad’s great, though I worry he spends too much time on his own.”
“Really?” That didn’t sound like the Jimmy I’d known from all those years ago. He had always been very sociable. I felt a twinge of guilt that I hadn’t made enough of an effort to keep in touch with everyone.
“He’ll even be spending tonight on his own. Daft, I call it.” Nate took another bite of his sandwich.
“There’s a lot to be said for spending time in your own company,” I told him. “You mustn’t worry. He’ll be fine.” Nate nodded.
“Brodie said you didn’t have any plans for tonight, either.” I smiled.
“By the time you get to our age you’ll probably appreciate an occasional quiet night in, too.”
I sat down opposite him, hoping Brodie wouldn’t be too much longer. Nate was a lovely boy, but I was keen to get back to my book. Nate shook his head.
“It just seems a shame.”
“You both spending New Year’s Eve alone.”
“Sometimes that’s just how life works out.” I got to my feet. “Why don’t I make you a cup of tea to wash down that sandwich?”
“My dad had a soft spot for you, you know.” Nate’s voice came from behind me as I filled the kettle. I smiled and turned to face him.
“I was very fond of your father, too.”
“In fact, he…” Nate stopped mid-sentence as my son appeared in a cloud of aftershave. And I never did find out what he wanted to say.
A short while later I was heading to bed when the doorbell rang. A glance at the clock showed me it was only 10:30 – too early for first footers. I opened the door cautiously.
“Jimmy!” Even if I had been thinking of him after my chat with his son earlier, I was still very surprised to see Nate’s dad after all these years.
“Hello, Rachel.” He’d always had a nice smile and he used it to a good effect now.
“Have I missed the boys or are they still here?”
“I’m afraid they’ve gone.” I pulled the door wider and stood aside. “But come inside from the cold.”
“The thing is Nate forgot his wallet.” He held it aloft as he walked in. “He left it on the hall table. I was hoping I would catch him here. His mobile’s switched off and, well, I didn’t think that I could face the rugby club on New Year’s Eve!”
“Don’t worry, Jimmy. Brodie will make sure he’s all right.” His face cleared.
“Of course he will. I should have thought about that.”
“Well, I’m glad you didn’t.” I poured drinks for us both. “It’s so nice to see you again. If you’ve got a few minutes, why don’t we go into the living room and we can catch up?”
It seemed Jimmy’s life, since we last chatted, had been uneventful while mine had been turbulent, but the end result had been the same, for here we both were, on our own on Hogmanay.
“Your ex must be mad, you know,” he told me when we had finished our drinks. “I can’t believe he would leave someone like you.”
For a moment I didn’t know what to say. But then I recalled what Nate had said earlier. I hadn’t given it much thought at the time, but as I looked into Jimmy’s eyes now, I felt that, maybe, Nate had been trying to tell me something significant.
I felt my face grow warmer.
“I reckon it’s all for the best,” I told him with an attempt at levity. It was crazy logic and we both laughed. It was good to be happy.
“Look at that,” I said, pointing to the clock on the mantelpiece. “It’s after midnight.”
After everything, the old year had ended so painlessly that I hadn’t even noticed. It might not have been the way I had planned, but I had started this year laughing – and that had to be good.
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