December 1990. Cochem, Germany
The scents of cinnamon, hot roasted almonds and gluhwein mingled with the tang of bratwurst and garlic mushrooms. A small choir of schoolchildren started to sing ‘O Tannenbaum’, and the snow began to fall.
Sue Simmonds inhaled deeply, and took a sip of her gluhwein. The sticky, warm, sweet, spicy liquid warmed her and she smiled.
Bob Cleaver came over to join his girlfriend and couldn’t help but beam as he saw her, drifting away somewhere, lost in her own thoughts. He loved this girl. He couldn’t believe she liked him.
‘So’, said Sue. ‘You ought to think about what you can get for your mum and Jo’.
‘Yeah’, Bob replied. It was hard. This would be the first Christmas without his dad, and the first Christmas he and Jo were with their new partners. It wouldn’t be easy for his mum. He really wanted to treat her, but was really unsure what would be the best gift.
Here, there were so many things she’d love: candles, lebkuchen, wooden decorations – but he wanted to find something a little special as well.
Then he saw the craft stall – his mum would love this stuff – and his eyes rested on the perfect gift.
His mum had a favourite photo of the four of them, 1970, in Greece. The picture frame he’d picked up would be perfect for it.
Sue, meanwhile, was looking for toys for her newly born nephew, Anthony. She idly wondered whether one day she would have children herself, and though she almost didn’t dare to think it, as it was far too soon, she wondered if Bob would be the one she had those children with.
Bob was thinking the same thing. He had never known a woman ‘get’ him in the way Sue did. He had never loved a woman like this. He wasn’t sure he’d ever been in love before, and though it was still early days, he knew. He loved this woman. And he was beginning to think she was ‘the one’. He’d never even understood what that meant before.
As they walked around the stalls, Bob felt his heart pounding in his chest and his breath become shallow. His stomach was in knots. He had to tell her, but he was so afraid she wouldn’t feel the same.
He took her to one side and reached out his hands to hold her. The warmth of her suede jacket was very welcome. He hadn’t realised until then how cold his hands had been. The choir began to sing ‘Stille Nacht’ and Bob knew that the moment was right.
‘Sue. I’ve loved spending this time away with you’.
‘Me too. It’s been a wonderful weekend. Thank you for agreeing to come with me, it’s been so nice having you here’.
Bob leaned in. Sue smelled warm, and faintly spicy, the traces of the warmed wine still lingering.
‘Sue Simmonds, I think you are the most incredible girl I’ve ever met. I know we’ve not been together very long, and…. I’ve never said this to anyone before… I hope you don’t think I’m being silly or too eager or anything’
‘Sue. I love you’.
‘I love you too.’
Although the night was bitter, Sue and Bob felt nothing but warmth, and though they tried to tell themselves it was just the romance of the evening talking, both knew inside that something today had been cemented. Now they each had someone to shelter them from the cold.