One week, two men, three Christmas trees…
and hopefully a fairytale romance!
© Clare London
He came through the door of my café-cum-bookstore today like a great forest beast, I kid you not. Tall—he barely cleared the top of the door frame—and wide-shouldered, dressed in dusty working jeans and red flannel shirt, and with full facial hair that would have made Santa himself proud.
Or maybe a younger, fitter, way more handsome relative of Santa’s.
The weather had been minus whatever every day this week, so cold air rushed jubilantly into the café the minute the door opened. I swung around before anyone could complain, expecting to see an inconsiderate customer had left it open in their wake. Books’n’Brews is my business, my haven, and it’s my responsibility to keep visitors cosy. Equally mine is a pathetic bank balance that can’t cope with the cost of fixing the draft around the old wooden frame, not this month anyway.
I was about to call out to whoever it was to shut the door behind them—were they born in a barn? as my Nan used to say—and instead, I saw him. The bear. He was scowling. A small trickle of sweat gleamed on his forehead in the reflection from the counter display lights. And behind him, he tugged a gigantic pine tree by the roots.
“Gil?” My part-time assistant Molly tugged worriedly at my sleeve. “I can see old Mr Brooke out there on the pavement. It’s his usual time to arrive, but he can’t get past the…” Her eyes were round like cappuccino cup saucers as she stared at the door. “Past that tree.”
“Excuse me?” I hurried towards the giant man, pushing my hair off my forehead for the umpteenth time today: the damn curls resist any product, especially faced with steam from the coffee machines. “Can I help you?”
He looked me up and down and his eyes widened. Maybe his gaze had lingered appreciatively here and there, but that may just have been wishful thinking. It is nearly Christmas, after all, and I reckoned I deserved a gift of some kind this year, even if it was merely some attention from a burly young man. It’s been too long since anyone looked me up and down in any context at all, you see.
“Help me? Not unless you can grow twice your size,” he replied, and chuckled. Chuckled! Only he could have carried off such a deliciously warm, relaxed sound. His smile was generously wide, his teeth white in amongst all those russet-coloured whorls of hair. “Or you’ve got a winch somewhere to hand?”
For God’s sake. “This is a coffee shop,” I said. “Not a builders’ yard.”
“Can see that,” he said. “Smell it, too. I love it.” He lifted his face and sniffed the air. His eyes were dark brown, like espresso. Deep. Alert. And twinkling.
Twinkling? I appeared to have fallen into my own Christmas pantomime.
“Cuban, is it? The coffee, I mean.”
“Sorry?” I blinked hard. He looked back down at me, his gaze lingering over my hair. Bloody curls. I pushed them away from my face again. God, I wasn’t blushing, was I? “I mean, yes, it is. Cuban. Well spotted. It’s a special blend I buy in.”
“This is your place?” He scowled again, but it seemed to be from frustration rather than anger. He peeled a folded slip of paper from between two of the tree’s branches and peered at what was presumably a delivery note. “170 High Street, Mr. C. Hirst?”
I sighed. It had happened again. “No. I’m Mr. G. Hurst. And with a “u”. Charlie Hirst has the motor repair shop at 170, it’s further up the road. Though I’m always getting his post by mistake.”
“Well, actually yes, sometimes—oh.”
We both turned to stare at the tree behind him. The lower half, including the thick trunk, had come easily over the doorstep, but at some stage the netting that kept it in place had torn, and the branches had sprung free. They stretched either side of the doorway, at their full extent, and inside the café. One side reached half way up the open door, now pressed flat against the wall, and the other side had upended two chairs at a front table. Behind them, still on the pavement outside, the branches from further up the tree had mushroomed out like the upper half of an egg timer—with the café doorway as the squeezed middle. It was a magnificent tree: its needles shone a bright, clean green. The trunk was sturdy, copper-toned wood. The whole thing reeked of health and beauty and Christmas spirit.
And it was crushed up in my café’s doorframe until I was afraid the old wood would split asunder. I may even have heard it creak in protest.