Fairytale of New York
It looked the same as it always had. Emily could swear that it was even the same tired tinsel that was unevenly sellotaped to the top of the bar, occasional bald patches describing a geology of previous Christmases. There was a time when this pub was the centre of all their lives. Friday and Saturday nights all radiated around the Red Lion. They had been hostages to its matted-carpet, sticky-tabled embrace and its generic, brewery-supplied playlist. When they were teens it didn’t occur to them to want anything else, but gradually of course, they acquired cars and dreams and educations, and one by one they radiated away from this small pub, in this little city.
But for twenty-somethings everywhere, Christmas occupies a timeslip. Each of them beckoned in by their parents for the festivities. They find themselves back in their old single beds, under unlikely, anachronistic duvet covers looking up at the blue-tack smudged walls of their youths. Car headlights sweep a particular and familiar beam of diagonal light across their bedroom ceiling in a secret arc that only they know, and the radiators tick-tick-tick the intimate night-time percussion of their childhoods. They almost fit right back in, into the old routines and family mythologies, into the pecking order of the house; all the old patterns.
Emily sat on the bottom step of the stairs in her parent’s hallway putting her shoes on.
“But Emily, sweetie, I thought you’d be coming to midnight mass with us…the Campbells and the Turnhams will be there… they’re so looking forward to seeing you.”
She knew that her mother was more excited about this prospect than the Campbells and Turnhams would be; her maternal pride in her girl made her want to show Emily off, all grown up now, but back in the fold for a limited period only.
“Sure mum, I’ll be along later, I’m just going to the pub for a quick drink with the crowd first.”
It’s not how her mother would have preferred the evening to go, but she knew Emily had old friends to catch up with. Traditional Christmas could wait to start until they were all together in that seventh pew back with the Campbells and the Turnhams at 11.30pm.
Emily could hear the Christmas revelry as she walked out of Deangate and turned the corner of the Minster. The noise from the pub was quite shrill, the new generation of seventeen year olds were squawking over each other’s voices, vying for the alpha spot (“guys… guys… listen….”) shout/singing the choruses of ‘Fairytale of New York’ and hum-mumbling the verses between. Growing up sometimes felt like a revolving door.
Sound and light spilled onto the Minster’s precinct as she opened the pub door and went in scanning the room for her old friends. They’d found themselves a decent corner, snagged a couple of tables and nearly enough chairs for the nine of them. Suzy, her closest friend from those days, was the first to spot her;
“Emmmm, hey there”
Suzy came over and pulled her into the centre of the group
It was so good to see these people. She didn’t keep in touch with them all closely but they had a shared history that shaped them all and knitted them together somehow. And anyway, Facebook had done away with the natural selection of friendships, all connections were forged and inexorably carried forward by the internet giant whether you chose to maintain them or not. Under her more gregarious friend’s arm she felt herself settle back into her position in the hierarchy.
Emily moved to the settle at the back of the table and her friends squashed up to let her on. In the bubble of this time slip each of them had adopted their old roles; Barney guffawing and showy, cashing in on his school rugby star currency, Matt, handsome and aloof, talking about the scandal of arts funding, Joe, (the most professionally successful of them all since his tech start-up floated last year) was cast once again as a lowly, uneasy bespectacled geek. Rachel too, always the party girl, already slurring a little.
It was no mistake that she found a place next to Barney. When they were in the sixth form she often fantasised about his broad shoulders towering over her and her reaching her hands around his back to run her fingers over the contours of his muscles as he hammered into her. But that was just a fairy-tale for the secret hours in her bed. He had dated long legged, swish-haired girls from the netball team, glossy and victorious from their games and full of the confidence of people that get selected for things. Girls who laughed like flutes, not mousy, bookish types like her.
Barney smiled up at Emily and accommodated her by hooking his right arm over the back of the settle to allow her some room so she could press into the final space around the table. The heat of his muscled thigh radiating though her tights made her feel as she always had around him; prickly and awkward, short of conversation and out of place.
This was not Emily’s demeanour when she was in London. She’d grown out of this all this awkwardness long ago. These days she was confident in her ability and her career, free to flirt with whoever she liked. Free to take them home and fuck them if she wanted, admiring the curve of her back and her own sexual power in the full-length mirror she’d hung beside her bed. She leaned back onto the oak panelled seat and spectated the rowdy conversation, sipping her drink and dropping her smiles in like punctuation to signal her arm’s length involvement. Barney leaned back too.
“So what you been doing Em?”
She downplayed her career as a lawyer;
“…ah, you know, turning up to the office, putting the hours in, same as all of us”
Suzy overheard and chipped in;
“Em, stop doing that! Barney, she’s a bloody star, she’ll be a partner in that law firm before next Christmas, you watch!”
One thing about being a wallflower is that you become a keen observer, the politics and body language of the group was an open book to her and she could see that Barney was grasping at his old status unsuccessfully. How dull it must be for him to hear how each of them were kicking ass in The capital while he had stayed back to work for his dad’s building company which he would eventually inherit. Instead of asking him about work she opted to talk to him about something he must still be confident in,
“You still playing rugby?”
“Oh yes, I’m down the club all winter, and there’s are great social life down there, always something going on in the bar.”
She could see he was grateful to her for this lifeline, he visibly relaxed and they slipped into an easy conversation that they’d never been capable of in their youth.
At 11.30 the Minster clock chimed the half hour. Emily jumped,
“Oh shit! I’m supposed to be in the bloody Minster with my folks now for midnight mass,”
She jumped up, downing the last quarter of her drink and grasping for her coat,
“Typical Em,” teased Barney “got to scamper off to mass just as the party’s starting!”
“Let’s not do that Barney, let’s not do that thing where you’re a party animal and I’m a meek and timorous wallflower. We’ve all grown up now.”
“Yeah I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s a bad habit. I just, I don’t know. What I meant was its been just lovely chatting with you, I just don’t want you to go yet, let me walk with you to the Minster…”
It was nice walking with him out in the fresh air, out of her family home and out of the pub she could feel herself flooding back in. How could she have felt diminished all those years by these people?
He spoke a little about his frustrations. He really valued his place in family business, but he recognised he was also sort of stuck, that some parts of him were envious of them returning like prodigal sons, ebullient with success.
“It seems impossible that you have any of these doubts” Emily said. “I mean I was always full of doubt, but you seemed imperviously strong. You know I always fancied you. We all did I think.”
“No… ! You didn’t!”
Barney seemed entirely incredulous.
She looked up at him, still hot, generous lips and a sideways tilt of his head that had always made her want him, but this a little twist of humility was new. It sharpened all the ways in which she wanted him.
“Yeah, I sure did.”
She leaned in on tiptoes put her lips onto his. And just as she had both imagined, and imagined that he never would, he kissed her back, more tenderly than she had expected, but as strong and sensually as she had hoped.
Her body curved reflexively into him. As she kissed she could feel solid weight of his cock pressing against his jeans towards her. She slipped her hand between them and ran her fingernails over the taut denim seam in a way that she knew would send a delicious buzz into his length.
“Fuck”, he said “fuuuck…. you’re supposed to be in midnight mass by now” said Barney, leaning in to kiss her again.
“Nah, we get to decide what we do now” she said, and she led him by the hand to an alcove between two buttresses in the side of the Minster’s nave and pressed him to its 800-year-old limstone. Mass had already started inside, light from the service shone through the stained-glass window flooding the medieval stonework above them with blue and red. In the shadowed corner below she looked, steady and unblinking, into his eyes in the as she unbuckled his belt and popped the button fly of his jeans. She knelt in the grass in front of him to free his cock from its confines, and Barney watched her earnest face through a haze of breath rising from her nose into the cold December air as her mouth worked hungrily on his cock.
Close to the edge of himself Barney pulled Emily to her feet and turned her to face the Minster wall, she pulled her skirt up, wriggling and stepping out of her knickers and tights. She leaned both hands on the cathedral and tilted her arse up towards him; the very vision of wantonness. Barney smiled his disbelief and joy, as he deftly slipped a condom onto his cock and slicked its length with his spit, Emily smiled back over her shoulder at him, “You see? …not the meek and timorous wallflower anymore”.
He ran the firm sponginess of the tip along the length of the furrow of her vulva and enjoyed the buck of her hips as she tried to catch and guide him inside her with each pass. When he could no longer resist, he pressed firmly in to her – the enveloping warmth of her on his dick after the chill air of the night was delicious.
The first hymn was starting up inside, the deep rumble of the organ and soon the congregation too, loud enough that Barney and Emily could allow themselves free reign to voice their own gladness.
Emily pushed against the wall to meet each thrust, her arse slapped against him, urging him to pick up the pace. He licked his fingers and reached around to her clitoris with his right hand and held her tightly with his left arm as her knees began to weaken and bend with the pleasure. The chorus of the carol, a little louder than the verses drowned out her catching voice (“Oh god, oh god”) as she came, her orgasm tripping him into his own pleasure moments after her.
Afterwards they looked for Emily’s knickers and struggled back into tights, they giggled conspiratorially at themselves and at their own joy.
“I’ll never hear “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” again without thinking about this” Barney laughed.
“Yeah, happy Christmas Barney” said Emily as she smoothed down her dress and buttoned up her coat. They walked together out of the shadows and back into York, this ancient city that they’d known their whole lives, but had come back to somehow new.