I've never had a girlfriend over Christmas. So when I started dating Emily in early December, I began thinking it might be the year that I'd finally be able to sing along to Mariah Carey while truly understanding and appreciating her words. I was thrilled to think of the potential that all someone would want for Christmas would be me.
We'd enjoyed a couple of very pleasant dates and when she text me to invite me to her place for an intimate Christmas dinner and drinks with a close group of her friends one snowy evening, I was delighted. The day before she text me:
HEY. EVERYONE IS COMING TO MINE ABOUT 8PM BUT WHY DON'T YOU COME OVER IN THE AFTERNOON AND WE CAN SEE EACH OTHER BEFORE THEY ALL ARRIVE? xx
Even better! She was clearly keen to spend some time alone with me. I could picture the scene already: a crackling fire, Christmas music in the background, mulled wine flowing, wrapping presents, decorating the tree together, me making an innocent comment about her 'pulling my cracker', which she misinterprets, and we then have a jolly good laugh about it for some time. Perfect!
I pop on my best Christmas jumper, pick up a bottle red wine and a pack of mince pies and head to her place.
She swiftly gives me the tour and shows me in to the living room. A room which couldn't look less Christmassy if it tried. I look around. No tree, no nothing. Emily pushes open the door to the kitchen.
"Okay, so here are the boxes," she asserts. "The tree is in that box there, tinsel in that one, ornaments in that one and everything else is in that one there." Emily looks back at me and then the bottle of Merlot in my hand. "Oh if you're going to drink that can you do it in the kitchen? It's a new carpet and I don't want to stain it."
"Oh are you not-..."
"Same with those mince pies. I don't want to find crumbs when I come back!" she adds, with a laugh in her voice but daggers in her eyes.
"Wait, aren't are you-..."
"I'm just going to pop out to get something to wear for tonight. I wont be long. Good luck, see you later!" she says, grabbing her coat and bag and leaving the flat before I could ask her what the hell she was playing at.
It takes me a good fifteen minutes of standing still and staring at the ground to fully comprehend what is happening. She didn't really want to spend quality time with me. She didn't really want to decorate together or get to know each other better or practise a duet to Fairytale of New York with me. She just hadn't gotten around to decorating her house and wanted someone to do it for her! There'd be no Christmas music or crackling fire.... I doubted I'd even get to use any of the bauble-based innuendos I had prepared on my way there.
Close to two hours go by. I'd never before had to fully assemble and decorate a full-sized Christmas tree on my own and I don't I fancy doing it ever again. I take it like a man though and decorate the crap out of that flat. Despite my now being incredibly sweaty, tired and pissed off deep inside, the place was looking great. Emily eventually texts me to say she'd been 'held up' and was on her way back. I took in my handy work, proud at my accomplishment. I celebrated with a glass of red and a mince pie. In the living room. Lying down. On her new carpet.
I then freshen myself up a bit try and focus on the positives. It would be worth it when everyone arrives and they see what I'd done for Emily. I reminded myself that the fun part was still to come and that I'd demonstrated my value, at least. It was the most gruelling manual labour (and I'm counting it as that) that I'd done in a long time. And I'd done it for a girl. I could literally feel myself maturing.
Emily returns and is suitably excited at the transformation. I grab her a glass and start pouring her a wine and tell her to sit down and put her feet up. She stays standing though and starts fidgeting with her phone.
"Everything okay?" I inquire.
"Yeah....well....ah, you know what? I'm so sorry James I totally forgot that I'd actually arranged tonight as a girl's night only. They'll be here soon so...."
"Oh, oh okay. Right well, that's a shame, I-....." but before I can continue, Emily thrusts my coat at me and starts ushering me along her hallway to her front door, accompanied by plenty of "so sorry's" and faux embarrassment. I stand there at her door, a little taken aback. I then spot the mistletoe above her door frame.
"I'll give you a text, James, yeah? Soon, yeah?"
"Oh, okay no problem," I reply, before looking up at the mistletoe, smiling a wry smile and looking back at her. "Do you see what I see?"
She glances up and then back at me.
"Oh yeah I forgot about that." mutters Emily, a little less enthused than I'd have liked.
I give her one of my top three best smiles, and tell myself that at least I'll get a Christmas kiss out of all of this. I pucker up, close my eyes and lean in. But before I could feel her lips on mine, the door slams shut. My nose is pressed up against it and I open my eyes to a face full of Christmas wreath and plastic berries.
I frown, turn away dejected and exhausted and shuffle down her stairs and out of her building. I can hear Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas blaring out from one of her neighbours and I take in a deep sigh and stifle a fair amount of swear words exiting my mouth.
I look over at the flat and see written above the letter box in red glittering letters: 'Tis the season of goodwill!'
I laugh to myself at the irony. "Aye, you're not wrong there," I mutter to myself as I trudge out in to the snow.
There's always next year.
You can read more of James' work at his blog - In The Space Between All Things and you can follow him on Twitter @jambags38