Halfway to paradise… and not a bounty bar in sight…
Jeanne smiled over the Formica tables at Chas. He was sitting at his usual table, the one furthest from the door. He didn’t seem to have seen her, again. The café radio was playing the current number one: Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? Outside it was raining, inside the windows were steamed up with condensation; it hardly seemed like Christmas in Canterbury.
However, the girls were discussing their plans for Christmas, now the holidays were in sight. The textile design project, and thousand word essay on research into Victorian lingerie, featured low on their list of things to do.
Clare looked over at Jeanne, ‘All you want for Christmas is Chas, ah, Jeanne?’ Jeanne couldn’t argue; Chas asking her out would be the ultimate Christmas present.
In terms of coolness and aloofness, he had it all. He sat at his table with his friends, and it was almost as if they would all bow down and clean his Dr Marten boots for him.
‘One more day of college,’ sighed Amanda. ‘I can’t see much point coming in tomorrow, we finish at noon.’
‘Are we going to the bar after that?’ asked Clare. ‘I heard it stays open until all the beer barrels are empty, a pound a pint. It doesn’t keep over the holidays.’
Jeanne gazed again at Chas. ‘I’m coming in,’ she said.
The following day a group of them sat in the college bar. It was a bitterly cold day, and some of the students on their course hadn’t come in, many of them packing up and travelling back home. They had spent the morning tidying up their studio. For Jeanne that had consisted of a lengthy trip to the library to return some books, mainly in the hope of seeing Chas.
Finally allowed to pack their bags and go, only Eloise had gone home, with the rest of them heading to the bar, to test the beer theory. The sandwich bar wasn’t open, and they drank pints of beer on empty stomachs.
‘I’m feeling a bit pissed,’ said Clare when they got to their third round.
After the fourth round they decided lunch in the café might be the best thing, and headed into town. Jeanne had hoped to bump into Chas in the bar. She wasn’t sure what she’d say to him, but maybe just Merry Christmas would do.
When they got to the café he wasn’t there either. In fact, a group of the first year graphics students were sitting at his table, drinking coffees and smoking roll-ups. The girls ordered chips and orange juices and found an empty table to sit at. They all felt ill from the beer, and began moaning about how little money they had left. As they pushed cold chips around their plates, Chas sauntered in, alone. Jeanne felt sure he would join the graphics students on what was “his table”, but they all reeled with shock as he walked towards them with a mug of coffee.
‘Is there room here?’ he asked, pointing at the bench Jeanne was sitting on. He sat down and quizzed them on their day. Jeanne was quiet, leaving Amanda to do most of the talking. ‘Who’s around tomorrow?’ he asked, running a hand through his dark hair, lighting a cigarette and getting up to go.
‘Oh, we all are,’ said Clare cheerfully. ‘Until Tuesday.’
‘See you for breakfast,’ Chas said. He slung his leather jacket over his shoulder, and wandered off.
Clare and Amanda looked at Jeanne. Amanda spoke: ‘You’re about as melted as that Snowman in that cartoon where they fly to the North Pole. Come on, let’s go home.’
They spent Friday evening watching television, still suffering from the lunchtime drinking. But Jeanne was up early on Saturday, and sat at the kitchen table with the radio on, cuddling a cup of Nescafe. There was no sign of Clare or Amanda, and she wondered what to do. Time passed, no one else woke up, so she went and dressed, backcombed her hair, applied flicks of eyeliner and layers of Yardley pink lipstick. The sky was dark, heavy with snow clouds, and it was a half hour walk to the café; once there she hung around, scared to go in.
As she stood looking into the window of the art shop next door, Chas walked round the corner. Her heart dropped into her creepers.
‘Hi,’ she said, ‘I was just going to get a coffee…’
He smiled, and held the door open for her in a gentlemanly fashion. ‘I’ll buy it – take it as a Christmas present.’ They queued, unsure of what to say, two people on a date that was never written in a calendar. He sighed – ‘My time is over, look, they’re sitting at “my” table again.’
‘Could you ask them to move?’ joked Jeanne. ‘Or shall I?’ And with that she took her mug of coffee and walked to the table. ‘Hi, can we join you?’
The students looked over at Chas, then back at Jeanne.
‘We were just going,’ said the tallest, a girlishly handsome man with a blonde fop of a quiff. Brideshead Revisited thought Jeanne as he stood up and the others followed.
As Jeanne went to sit down, Chas grabbed her by the waist and kissed her on the lips.
‘That,’ she said, ‘was a Christmas present.’
The retro sounds of Billy Fury’s Halfway to Paradise came onto the radio, and outside it began to snow. Sometimes the most unforgettable presents are the smallest gifts.
However, don’t forget what happened to Jeanne d’Arc after she helped Charles VII….
© Carolyn Gray (2015)
Cafe image © Joe Regan under creative common license