Sorry this one is a bit late. I had intended to have it up Christmas Eve, but I ran out of time, and I ended up writing the final scene on my new tablet, which took forever because Ihaven't quite worked out the mmechanics of it yet. Anyway, enough with my excuses. This is based off another prompt slenderpanda597 gave me.
This one does fit At The End Of The Day universe, and will be added to the list, and despite being Aveline-centric, of course Joey has a cameo. Because of course. This is set exactly a year after my last year's Christmas fic, There's A World Outside Your Window, and does draw on some of the things mentioned in that fic.
Forgive Aveline's somewhat questionable logic and the fact that she changes her mind a bit. She's another one who doesn't know what she wants. And forgive the Are You Being Served? reference I sneaked in.
Anyhow, enjoy, and Merry belated Christmas.
Aveline Carter, nee Boswell, is not happy about the change taking place. Not at all. Not a bit of it. She's never adjusted well to transitions—her marriage was an example of that—but this is, without a doubt, beyond the pale.
There are grey hairs on top of her head.
How, how are there grey hairs? She's thirty-four, that's still young, for goodness' sake—she's got mates who are still single and living it up at parties every night—and here she is, a vicar's wife, tied down to two children she's not sure what to do with, with a fat stomach and grey hairs. It's not exactly how she pictured her future. Her future was supposed to be a Flora Margarine advert: a huge white house with butter-coloured walls inside, and a green lawn with a little cream pram on it and white washing. And at the same time, it was supposed to be glitter, seven-inch heels and her name up in lights—Aveline Boswell, model, superstar. The reality is disappointing, and Aveline isn't sure how she came to this.
And now to have grey hairs—and they aren't even the first she's found!—sprouting from her head just adds insult to injury. She doesn't like her life. She doesn't like this at all. She's been dropped completely from the modelling books, now considered too old, too squashy around the middle and too tatty (oh, how she hates that word, but Mr. Andre, whom she'd thought she could rely on even for low quality adverts once in a while, has said that this time she's taken the meaning of the adjective too far, and he won't use her in even the most cheap-jack of shoots) to appear in the glossies. To appear in anything. She's had it. So much for the career she'd worked towards all her life.
Aveline examines her face in the mirror, poking at her cheeks. Is it just her, or is her skin starting to sag? Has she got jowls, or is it just that her cheekbones and jawline used to be more pronounced? She has bags under her eyes, and her breasts droop. It's everything she's feared, and it seems to be happening far earlier than she imagined it would. She hasn't even hit forty yet! Her Joey has (most of the family are still recovering from the party, despite it being back in May) and somehow, he looks a lot better than she does, making getting older, as he somehow manages to do with everything, into a triumph. And here she is, over half a decade younger than him and looking as though she's about ready to go on the scrapheap.
It must be the stress. When she'd talked about having babies, back when she and Oswald were engaged, she'd never imagined it'd be this difficult, or that it would ruin her quite so much. When she'd cried every month, back in their first year of marriage, realising once again that she wasn't going to be hearing the patter of tiny feet, she'd longed for it all the more, imagining only the happiness it could bring, never the complications. And then on what should have been that joyous day, when she actually had fallen, it came at the worst possible time, getting in the way of that elusive stardom she'd desired even more than children, which she'd been dreaming of since she was a little girl and had paraded around in her mother's shoes and bead necklaces.
She hadn't been ready to get married, she realises now. She should have held off on it for a while, pursued her dream, as Joey always told the lot of them to do, followed it until it came true, and then think about settling down and starting a family.
Trouble was, she'd never met anyone quite like Oswald, and he had completely swept her off his feet, and before she knew it she'd been established in that cold, stony vicarage across town, waiting by the window for a man who rushed about doing favours for his parishioners during the week and held three to four church services a day on the weekends, and never seemed to have time to sit and chat to her, dote upon her, make her feel like the Princess Joey had always proclaimed her to be. And before long, babies had inflated and deflated her body, the odd crinkle and grey hair had crept up on her, and it had begun to seem like she was being forced, against her will, to become the stereotype of a vicar's wife, no matter how hard she'd tried to stop it happening.
She understands now what her Mam meant when she warned her about love being a two-edged sword. It forces one into situations one never would have volunteered for. This isn't how she pictured married life, and it isn't how she pictured her life.
And now she's been dropped from the books, all that's left is to resign herself to her fate, and try to fit the role of vicar's wife—the only role still available to her.
The door to her bedroom creaks open, and Oswald's head appears around it.
'Did you phone Mrs. Willis back about the use of her trestle tables for the Bring and Buy?' he asks.
'Yes, Oswald,' she replies, trying to keep the sigh out of her voice.
'Oh, good,' he smiles, an expression that once seemed charming and wonderful to her, but now just makes her sad, 'and did you go into town and pick up a turkey?'
Oh, yeah. The turkey. Aveline has remembered it, but she's been trying to forget about its existence. When she'd given up modelling (given up, as if she had a choice), she'd tried to sound positive about it, and promised Oswald that this year, rather than relying on relatives from either side of the family, or the generosity of their parishioners, she was going to provide the Carter family's Christmas dinner herself, and for once they were going to have a proper Christmas at home. It had been too harrowing to actually get a bird from one of the farms, the sight of those poor, unknowing creatures provoking onslaughts of tears akin to those she'd suffered from when working as a vet's assistant, and so she'd gone to the supermarket and grabbed a frozen one, struggled to get it home, ruining a new dress in the process, and then shoved it in the freezer and hoped she wouldn't have to look at the huge, ugly thing for a while. Having a turkey that doesn't resemble a bird anymore makes her feel a little better about cooking it, but the thought of having it drip everywhere as it defrosts, potentially leaving salmonella bacteria all over the place, and then having to work out how long to cook it for and actually transform it into a broadly feasible Christmas feast, is a daunting prospect.
'Yes, Oswald,' she replies, feeling her shoulders droop (and probably another layer of flesh fall to hang lower on her bones.) 'It's in the kitchen.'
Oswald takes her in, his eyebrows slanting, and then he comes all the way into the room, standing behind her and putting his hands on her shoulders.
'What's the matter, my darling? You sound…deflated.'
It's been so long since Oswald touched her with any degree of affection. Their conflicting schedules, with him being busier than ever in the leadup to Christmas, Aveline trying to develop some sort of fondness for domesticity and their alternation between who attends the children's social functions means that they barely speak during the day, and are far too tired for intimacy at night. They just collapse side by side at nearly midnight, Oswald's alarm screeches them into the barely-conscious state at six, and off they go again, with perhaps all of a good morning and a good evening passed between them in twenty-four hours.
'I'm fed up, Oswald!' she wails, grateful that for once, at least, he's paying some attention to her. 'I'm permanently tired, I never see you, I've got the kids' things to sort out, and the parishioners, and this turkey, and now all this stress has given me grey hairs! Look!' She jabs a long-nailed finger at the top of her head, and Oswald, moaning and rolling his eyes, nonetheless dutifully leans in for a look.
'Oh, one…two at most!'
'One or two more than you've got! One or two more than a model should have!'
'Oh, not this again!' He no longer sounds sweet and sympathetic, but harsh and impatient; the Oswald she always seems to see nowadays. 'I thought you said you'd given up that model nonsense now! I thought this Christmas we were going to have a proper dinner, and none of that glitter and glamour talk!'
'Given it up…' Aveline is nearly crying now, 'I was forced to give it up! Models 'ave to look unblemished! And I'm blemished now! Now I'm a mother with a vicar's wife's body, nobody wants me! Me life is ruined!'
'And this is all you can see that's come out of nine years of marriage, is it? The fact that your body has changed? No mention of any of the more fulfilling aspects of our relationship—and I know I find it hard to recall them myself these days, but I remember they used to be there—or the two beautiful children we have? Do those things not matter to you at all?'
'You can't remember the fulfilling aspects of our relationship?!' Aveline howls, ignoring the rest of the sentence, and bursts into tears. The awful truth of it is, she can barely remember them herself, but to hear Oswald echoes the sentiment seems to solidify the fact that their marriage is going nowhere. Wasn't it better than this once?
'Oh..' Oswald says again, coming to sit beside her, 'there now…I didn't mean that, my darling! I'm just frustrated, and I know you are…I was just trying to remind you, there are other things in this life that have some meaning! Can't you try and focus on those just this once?'
Aveline sniffles into his shoulder and tries to take his words to her heart.
'Now, what about this famous Christmas dinner you've been going on about making? We can have a lovely time together this year, just us and the children, if only you'd stop thinking only about your appearance for once. I've cancelled all my engagements, apart from the morning service—we can have a proper family occasion!'
She has to admit, the prospect of a family Christmas does appeal to some long-nurtured parts of herself, which still long for the old days of Kelsall Street and her, her Mam and brothers all gathering around in unity. She would love to have that, if she could. She would have loved for her life to have a little of that flavour, to be warm and centred around a family unit, but she'd always imagined that would just fall into place on its own, not that she would have to create that herself, form it around herself, and sacrifice so much to make it happen... Realising now just how much work Nellie put into their family increases her respect for her mother tenfold.
Still, if she could pull it off…
'You're right, Oswald,' she says slowly, 'it'll be lovely.' She doesn't sound entirely convincing to herself, let alone her husband, but Oswald, at this stage, seems willing to settle for less.
'Now that's the spirit! Why don't you start showing some appreciation for what you do have, instead of this silly show-business nonsense? All right? And we'll have a wonderful Christmas together and get to know each other again properly.' He leans in and kisses the top of her head (did it have to be right on the part with the grey hairs? Aveline thinks in dismay) and stands up.
'Now, I've got some wedding arrangements to organise with Mr. Wellshorn. You try not to think about your hair, all right, my love?'
He shuts the door behind him, blowing her a kiss as he goes. Aveline immediately looks with despair at her head and wonders what she's going to do.
'Mam, why are you wearing that bow?'
Aveline frowns and pats down her hair. The large gold bow she's placed there is a bit moth-eaten now, a bit outdated, almost ten years old, too young for her and too big for her head, but until she can get her hands on some dye or find time to go to a hairdresser (that'll be the day) it'll have to do. She's aware, as she stands by the school gates, Tracey Ursula's hand in hers and little Nick standing in front of her, that other parents are staring at her. And so they might, all these drab, two-piece-suit type mothers, ten years older than Aveline and twenty times more serious. The entire place is just comprised of different shades of grey—grey stone walls, grey uniforms, parents in identical suits but in just slightly lighter or darker greys. And then there's Aveline, a pink lycra miniskirt hugging her hips tightly enough to cut off her circulation, red jacket bright enough to stop traffic, and that bow in her hair.
She doesn't blend in with the other public-school twits around here, but then again, she wasn't brought up to a public-school life the way Oswald was. She hadn't seen the point of sending their children to an expensive, snobby school, but then again, Oswald had been the one making all those arrangements, not her. When the time had come to enrol Ursula in a school, she'd been too focussed on an audition she can barely even remember now, and hadn't even been interested enough to argue about it. There had been no point putting up a fight about Nick. The two of them might as well be in the same place, and once again, she hadn't been bothered to pay the issue much attention.
A part of her cringes at the thought. She's always been a model first and a mother second, and Oswald's been left to do everything where their children are concerned—take them for their jabs, get them into a school, teach them to read, the lot. Not only that, she's embarrassing her children now, standing here looking hideously out-of-place as she collects them, having made a fuss over (and subsequently a mess of) her appearance. Oswald is right when he says she should take more care in her maternal duties. She's depriving her children of a mother who makes an effort for them, who looks after their wellbeing and knows and cares about their lives.
A mother like Nellie was to her.
' 'ey, how was school, then, Nick?' she asks self-consciously, having a go at acting the part. He looks at her as if she's gone mad.
'It…was fine.' He's still glaring at the bow.
'Ugh. Last day of school. At last!' Ursula throws her arms up in the air as she announces the words. She's a natural-born drama queen, is Ursula, a touch of the Billy in her tantrums, when she has them, an affected lilt to her voice in nearly everything she says. Oswald has been talking about getting her acting lessons, something the little girl has been vocally enthusiastic about. Aveline had insisted she stick with beauty pageants, ignoring her whining and entering her in every Little Miss Something that has come under her radar, but now she wonders. If she encouraged her in pursuing what she wanted to do, rather than what Aveline wished she could be…
'Mother,' Ursula tugs on her sleeve. 'Can we please go home now?'
'Okay, okay,' Aveline says, taking hold of Nick's outstretched hand and veering them through the crowd of disapproving grey-suiters, out through the gates and towards the street. The sky is darkened by clouds, thick, ugly grey masses that are threatening to burst and spill at any second, and Aveline only hopes she can get them home before the three of them are caught in a downpour. It's a fair trek to the vicarage.
'Where's Daddy?' Nick demands as they set off. 'I wish we could go in the car.'
Aveline laughs uneasily. 'Church business, Nick,' she says, hoping that this will suffice to stop him asking questions. 'He'll see yer when he gets back.'
Oswald isn't off doing church business. Not right now. He's where he always seems to end up, sooner or later—at one of yet another round of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Aveline doesn't know if it's the stress of all his duties that started him drinking again, or simply the fact that a kind but unknowing parishioner had given him a bottle of Chardonnay as a thank-you gift, but he's spiralled yet again. At least that's one thing she can say for Oswald: as soon as he did, he got himself help immediately. He won't let himself hit rock bottom, not ever. He cares too much for his flock. He cares too much for the children. He won't let either of them down.
He's an inspiration.
Still, sometimes Aveline wonders, with a sinking heart and a churning stomach, whether if it hadn't been for her, he'd never have been driven to alcoholism in the first place. All that leaving him and running off home in the early stages of their marriage, leaving him to keep house and raise their children single-handedly on top of all his regular duties—no wonder the poor man has been driven round the bend so many times, and into the comforting death trap of drinking. A twinge of guilt has her intestines writhing. She grasps Nick's hand tighter as they walk.
This time, hopefully, it'll be the last time. Now she can't be a model anymore, she decides, trying to force the wistful thoughts about the grey hair aside, she'll focus on being the best Mam there ever was. Or, at least, a less neglectful one.
Then, perhaps, Oswald won't need to drink anymore.
Oswald is still out when they arrive home. Aveline deposits the children in their rooms, making some wannabe-stern comment about changing out of their school things that they won't listen to (they always manage to get their uniforms filthy, no matter what she says to them, and much to her chagrin, she still can't use the washing machine) and sets about pulling pots and pans out in the kitchen. She hasn't mastered cookery—far from it—but the more she practises between now and Christmas, the better her turkey dinner will be, she reasons. If she's going to do this thing, and she is, she's going to do all she can to ensure it goes well.
She opens the freezer, almost being clonked on the head by the turkey as it escapes from the few inches of space it's been shoved into and falls.
'Oh!' she cries before she can stop herself, skittering backwards and wincing as it lands with a crash on the ground. It could be used as a murder weapon, it's so huge and hard, she thinks. Like that lamb leg in that story Joey read to her once. It nearly murdered her, anyway. She reaches down to pick it up, trying not to cry out as the cold, wet packaging drips water down her front. One of her favourite blouses ruined. She's really not cut out for this.
No, no. She's going to try. She vowed she would. With a grunt and then a shriek, she stuffs the turkey back in, holding one fist against it to keep it wedged into place, and using the other hand to pluck out the frozen pastry she'd gone in for in the first place.
'What are you shouting about?' Nick stands in the doorway, inhaler in one hand, the other on his hip. Aveline shoots him what she hopes is a reassuring smile and tosses the packet of pastry onto the counter, wrestling the freezer door shut with another small shout of triumph.
'Nothin', nothin',' she says, trying to cover up her distress. She's never been all that good at hiding her emotions, not like her Joey was. She still remembers that awful day, a decade ago now, in Mr. Andre's studio, bawling her eyes out and ruining the shoot because her Dad had turned up and taken all their pot money. Not much has changed, in that respect, since then. Given the chance, she'd still be sobbing and ruining her makeup.
'I'm just tryin' to get dinner started.'
'You're not cooking it, are you?' He doesn't mean to be rude by this, she's sure; he's just young enough, at five, that his words all still have that painful ring of truth to them.
She picks him up on being rude anyway. It's what a normal mother would probably do. He doesn't seem that bothered by her reprimand, though. Her little gentleman stands there, impassive, looking past her rather than at her, somehow dignified in his silence. He's every inch a little Oswald in, except for the eyes, which instead come from her, the moustache, which of course, he can't grow yet, and not counting Nick's skinny scrawniness, the result of a myriad of health problems during his formative years. She'd nearly lost him during her pregnancy (twice), and then, when he miraculously survived his way to birth, she felt she'd never laid eyes on such a sickly baby in all her born days. God has been looking after him to get him through his heart problems, his asthma, his allergies, and deliver him to the age of five. Whether that's the Catholic God or the Proddy God she's not sure, but then Aveline never has been. Oswald, Joey, Martina and Billy all maintain they're one and the same. Nellie insists they're separate entities. Aveline follows every 'dear God' she utters with 'whichever one You are,' just in case.
'I just meant,' says Nick, bringing her thoughts back from the divine to the mortals that surround her, 'I thought maybe we were going out tonight.'
He's not very good at lying, but then he's only little, and Oswald is quite stern about untruths. Aveline frowns, then quickly turns it into a smile.
'It'll be good, Nick,' she says, picking up the packet of pastry and bashing it against the counter in the hope of separating the sheets, 'it's gonna be your favourite—steak and kidney pie!'
Nick eyes her dubiously. She doesn't blame him. Last time she'd attempted a kidney recipe the dish had tasted like a tree a dog had lifted its leg on, something both her children had been quick to point out. Still, that had been the day before an important shampoo commercial; she hadn't had time to wash her hair enough for the part and cook a meal. She's a full-time mother now, and that has to count for something.
'Well, it will,' she insists, her voice weakening.
She's saved from hearing whatever her son might say by Ursula flinging the door open, ever the dramatist, and flouncing in.
'What's going on down here?' she inquires, staring curiously at the package in Aveline's hand.
'Nothin',' Aveline wails. Sometimes she feels that somehow she's the daughter, and Ursula's the one filling the role of mother. 'Just dinner.'
Ursula throws her head back. 'You're not making it, are you?'
The phone rings and rings. Aveline holds the receiver between her ear and her shoulder, looking forlornly at the bubbling substance in the pan before her, which resembles something one would fine on the sole of one's shoe after a run-in with a dog more than a delicious pie filling. What did she do wrong? She'd followed the recipe to the letter, and yet it doesn't look like the picture.
At last, to use Tracey Ursula's favourite expression. The familiar voice wraps around Aveline's ears, warming her like a hug.
'Mam!' her cry is the verbal equivalent of falling on Nellie.
'Oh, 'ello, Aveline! How are you, love?'
'Mam, I'm in dead trouble!'
There's silence on the other end, which she's sure means Nellie is pausing to Cross herself.
'Aveline! What's the matter? Are you hurt? Are you raped? Is it Nick? Is he—'
'No, Mam, I'm all right, Nick's fine—Mam, how d'you cook pastry?'
Another pause. Her mother's voice returns after a moment, nowhere near as frantic or as high-pitched. There are a few rounds of disappointed oh, Aveline-s, and then she launches into a set of instructions so complicated they make Aveline's head spin. How Nellie does it, she'll never know. All this domestic stuff is just so difficult, and she doesn't quite know how she's ever going to manage it. When she was beautiful, she didn't need to—she could get by on looks alone and somehow everything fell into place, and it didn't matter if her puddings didn't taste even vaguely like pudding and mostly ended up on the ceiling. Now she's got grey hairs and can't rely on her loveliness to get her out of awkward situations. She should have prepared better for this time, learned more when she was younger so she'd be in better stead for now, but truth be told it had just never occurred to Aveline that one day she'd lose her looks, and need something to fall back on. She'd always fretted about it, as some distant ear, but it had always been something in the faraway future, not something to imminently comprehend.
And now look at her. Unattractive and rubbish at everything.
'Thanks, Mam,' she says anyway, despite knowing she's never going to get this right.
'That's all right, love—oh, Aveline? Do you need me to mind the children again on Christmas Eve?'
'Aw, hey, thanks all the same,' Aveline replies, 'but we're gonna do Christmas at 'ome together this year. Oswald's got someone in to do the midnight service, so the kids'll stay with us.'
'Awww!' come two cries from behind her, and she realises Nick and Ursula had both been eavesdropping on her phone call for Heaven only knows how long.
'We're not going to stay at Nan's?' asks Nick, voice dripping with disappointment.
'But that was good last year!' Ursula throws up her hands yet again.
They look so disappointed, and Aveline cops a load of their little faces and is sorely tempted to change her mind and accept her mother's offer. They'd had a blast last Christmas at Nellie's, being spoilt rotten by their grandmother – and Freddie, and Joey, who'd been staying along with Martina—and Aveline had had a few blissful hours of peace with Oswald on Christmas morning, able to enjoy his company alone for the first time in nearly a year before they'd had to go and collect the rugrats again. The rest of the day they'd been at Christmas dinner with Oswald's family, so mercifully she hadn't had to interact with them too much. Apart from picking them up from school, buying them the odd present, pushing Ursula into the odd beauty pageant or Nick into the odd school play, she really doesn't know what to do with them at any time, let alone on Christmas. Billy had asked her once, when minding Francesca, how to keep children entertained. She'd mumbled some noncommittal rubbish about spontaneity and modelling, completely dumbfounded by the question, and the fact that her brother would even think to ask her.
'That midnight service,' Nellie is spitting, drawing Aveline's attention away from her temptation, 'pathetic Proddy preaching. It's good to know at least you presumably won't be at that damp, watered-down imitation of a Mass…did you say you were having Christmas at home?'
Nellie sounds as gobsmacked by the prospect of this as Aveline feels every time it comes back to the forefront of her thoughts.
'That's right,' she ventures.
'You mean…no Proddy parishioners, no Oswald's parents with their snooty voices, looking down on everyone…'
She's getting a bit carried away again, as she often does when the topic gets round to Oswald's parents. Aveline tries to get the conversation back on track.
'Yeah, we're stayin' at home, just me and Oswald and Ursula and Nick…and eh, Mam, I'm doin' the turkey!' Despite all her apprehensions about the whole turkey business, she still manages to sound excited and proud of herself as she informs her mother. It's the sort of thing Nellie would like to hear.
'Are you, love? Oh, well, Aveline, that's…wonderful…'
'I've never done a turkey dinner before…I'm a proper family woman, aren't I, Mam?'
She's not exactly sure the expression 'family woman' exists, but there's such thing as a 'family man,' so it has to.
'You're not missing the modelling, then, love? I've been worried, you know, Aveline, that you might've been a bit disappointed with your life now…' Nellie is more right than she'll ever realise. She's gone and hit the nail on the head. Aveline is disappointed. Immensely. It would help if she was a bit better at this life, the 'family-woman' life as she's just dubbed it. And she wants to be better at it, but it's just so hard, and there are just so many things she doesn't know how to do…
'No, I'm excited about doin' the turkey,' Aveline says, lying a little and choosing not to respond to the part about the modelling at all, 'only, Mam, I'm dead nervous—I want it to be nice for Oswald, and the kids, you know—but it's me first time doin' this, isn't it? I'm not a model anymore, am I? Can you give me some…some tips or somethin'?'
'Tips?' she sounds like she's never heard of the word. 'On making the turkey, you mean? Are you sure you wouldn't rather just come to me, love? You're more than welcome, you know.'
Another temptation, this one bigger than the last. To be back in Kelsall Street for Christmas, with her Mam doing the difficult bits, which she always did so well, to be somewhere warm and loving, where she'd spent the happiest days of her life… Aveline bites her lip.
'I can't…I can't,' she says, and it's the hardest thing to say, the words feeling like lead on her tongue. 'I really wanna do this for Oswald. I 'ave to try, Mam!'
'Well, all right,' Nellie sounds disappointed, but as if she's trying to hide it, 'I'll write down the turkey recipe and bring it round tomorrow, how would that suit?'
'Aw, 'ey, thanks, Mam!' Aveline smiles with her voice, waiting until she puts the phone down before she allows herself to grimace. If only she could have gone to her Mam's. It would've been so much easier.
She takes a look at her pan, now spewing acrid smoke. Her pie filling has turned into a foul-smelling, burnt lump of glop on the bottom of the pot.
'Uuuuurgh,' Ursula wrinkles her nose.
Aveline starts. She's forgotten the children were still in the room, listening to her every word, critiquing her every action.
'We don't have to eat that, do we?'
'It's not so bad,' Aveline begins, but then she looks down at her handiwork and retracts the statement. It is so bad. All it's good for is binning.
'The menu for the Chinese is in the other room,' she says, defeated.
Aveline waits until they've both run out in search of it before she shuts the door behind them and has herself a minor breakdown.
Nine o'clock and Oswald hasn't returned. Aveline has wrestled the children into bed at long last, after nearly an hour of giving in to their refrains of but it's holidays, Mam! And now she waits alone by the fire for her husband. The flames crackle away, an ugly, messy dance playing out before her eyes, and she ponders everything, thinking about the parallels between that fire and her life. They're both big, unstoppable waves of destruction, leaving behind an ugly pile of ruins which used to be something good.
She misses modelling. She misses her old self. She wants to begin anew, appreciate her family and show it's not too late for them to be happy together, work as a proper unit. And yet a part of her is still so unwilling to let go of the knockers of the doors which are now closed to her. She wants everything, but she can't have it. And she's not quite sure how she feels about the piece of it she's trying to acquire.
If only she could talk about this with someone. There was a time when the lot of them—her siblings and herself—took their burdens to Joey. But Joey has a new baby, and a visit to him usually now entails sitting like a lemon while he plays around with little Annabelle, showing off about how pretty and talented he thinks she is, while Martina skulks in the background and tells him off for overexciting the baby so she won't go down later. Adrian would be her next choice but Adrian and Irenee have taken their kids to America this Christmas, along with Leonora, Ryan and Jack, who's organised the trip in order to give Uncle Eddie one last family Christmas before he dies.
She wants her Mam to be proud of her, so she's out.
Her dad wouldn't understand.
That only leaves Billy, and it's impossible to have a sensible conversation with him while he's still moping over Fiona, his latest failed attempt at a girlfriend, and grumbling about how Francesca is caught up with the baby sister Julie and Julian gave her for Christmas.
She has no-one to turn to. Not that any of her family would particularly understand her dilemma, when she doesn't fully understand it herself, but even so.
A jingle of keys resounds in the vestibule.
'Rolling round the world, oh, looking for the sunshine…' the key concerto is joined by Oswald's singing voice as he lets himself in, and Aveline springs from her seat, running into the front room as fast as she can in her shoes. Oswald sounds happy. She can't remember Oswald sounding happy for such a long time now.
'Hello, my darling!' he beams, throwing his coat in the direction of the hook and missing.
'Oh, Oswald!' she purrs, delighting in the sight of him. 'You're smilin'!'
'Well, of course I am!' he picks her up, spinning her around, and she revels in the contact. If it's been a long time since Oswald seemed happy, apart from the cheerful façade he often puts on for the kids, then it's been even longer since he touched her with this much affection. 'It was my last meeting for the year! I'm free of it, Aveline! And what's more, with the clergyman from St. Vincent's coming down to do the services over Christmas, I've got nothing more to do until the 27th! And you and I,' he kisses her, chastely, then again more passionately, and thankfully there's not a trace of alcohol on his breath, 'and Ursula and Nicholas are going to have a wonderful Christmas together!'
He's so joyful, so alive, so full of spirit—and not the kind procured from a bottle—that Aveline hasn't the heart to tell him of all the anguish she's going through over this Christmas lark. She wants Oswald to be happy. She wants them to have time together and truly be a couple, truly be a family. She wants things in their household to be good, for Oswald to never have to attend another AA meeting, to be happy in this part of her life.
And so Aveline doesn't say anything to shatter his illusion, just murmurs a yeah in vague agreement, giggles when he whispers 'why don't we go upstairs?' and sweeps her into his arms, and lets herself enjoy one of the far-and-few-between moments when she and Oswald actually seem to be getting on.
It's spitting outside, the rain making little baby pitter-patters on the roof of the vicarage. Aveline wakes with a fuzzy feeling in her head, as though it has been filled with cotton wool and then that cotton wool has been doused with brandy. She rolls to face the window, squinting at the morning light, aware that her face must look terribly old when she does so, and watches the raindrops. As she watches, the light hits her eyes, and she remembers what caused her disturbed sleep last night, what made her wake up feeling so tired and dizzy.
It's Christmas morning.
Christmas used to be a time of joy for Aveline Boswell. Aveline Boswell was surrounded by loving siblings and secure in the knowledge that everything would work out for her.
Aveline Carter finds the prospect of Christmas terrifying. In a few moments, Ursula and Nick will be up and about and making an unholy noise and mess, tearing into the presents Aveline had little say over, Oswald tried to be conservative about and the rest of her siblings went overboard on, and then after that it'll be off to the kitchen for her, to meet her fate.
That horrible bird has been defrosting all night, preparing itself to be the bane of her existence for the next few hours. She only hopes it won't still be a frozen lump when she gets down there. Nellie had assured her leaving it overnight will work, but it's a huge beastie. She's desperately relying on her mother's advice, on the four pages of instructions, done in such tiny writing she practically needs a magnifying glass to distinguish all the words on each line, which are supposed to get her through the gruelling process and produce something vaguely edible. Nellie, when she came round, had offered once again for her and Oswald to come back to Kelsall Street instead, and then, when she realised the extent of Aveline's determination to have a go at this, and try to get it right, had altered the offer, promising that if it didn't work out, she was still welcome to come round. Aveline had huffed indignantly, offended that it seemed such a given that she wouldn't succeed, but now she lies here and thinks about it, and wishes fervently she hadn't been so stubborn about it. She wouldn't have to be facing all this stress. It would be…easier.
'Good morning,' comes a muffled voice from the other side of the bed, and now Oswald is awake and sitting up, his tousled sandy hair and his crumpled blue silk pyjamas making him look alarmingly fetching, even when she's been with him eight years now, and should be used to his appearance first thing in the morning. And that determination wells up inside her again, because he's smiling at her, reaching for her, and she wants so badly to impress him, prove he wasn't wrong in choosing her for a wife.
'Mornin', Oswald,' she replies, shooting him her sweetest smile, the one that had captured his heart the day they met. 'And Merry Christmas!'
Oswald has his arms around her, and he kisses her with the passion that has enshrouded them like a guardian angel's wing these past few days. He's so happy, so incredibly happy, and Aveline doesn't understand why, when not that much out of the ordinary has happened. It must just be the decrease in stress—he's barely had a single day off all year, and now he's been resting for a week, gleeful at having whole days stretching ahead of him with no engagements to fill. If only their lives could be like this always. But they can't. They have until the 27th, when Oswald takes up his robes again, and Aveline wants to make every day they have left count. She kisses him back, raking her long nails up his back, wishing she hadn't had them refilled, because it might be easier to work the buttons of his shirt without them getting in the way…
'It's Chriiiistmaaaas!' And there's Ursula, interrupting the moment and taking her hopes of a few more tender moments with her husband before the hurly-burly begins. Nick is close behind him, and they climb all over the bed, emptying their stockings over Aveline and Oswald's laps. Aveline feels bruises forming where a variety of toys have landed on her thighs, but she puts on an obligatory smile for the kids, stroking Nick's hair absently as he shows her each and every item and asks her to take it out of its packaging, and tries to use this moment as a warm-up for the day to come.
The turkey has defrosted, all right. It's dripped several litres of meat juices all over the fridge, and Aveline's first task is wiping it all up, hoping with all her might that it hasn't dripped into all the other food in there. They'll all be poisoned for sure, if it has, knowing her luck.
She looks up at the clock. Ten a.m. Her aim is to get this served up by one; she's given herself as much time as possible to get things right. She's got carrots lined up to peel, sprouts, and a packet mix of gravy (she's not going to go overboard on the extras on her first go; the turkey has to be the main priority), and a pre-made microwave pudding for afterwards. If she sticks to her instructions, and keeps on schedule, it'll get done. Whether it'll be good, she doesn't know, but it'll be done.
Aveline pulls out Nellie's list of instructions and sits down at the kitchen table. Preheat oven blah blah blah… Pre…heat? What does it mean, pre heat? She crosses to the oven, checking the settings. There are a number of temperatures, a number of different settings—bake, fan-forced and several more, though Aveline had never realised there was more than one, but no setting for 'preheat.' She considers ringing Nellie and asking for clarification, but to go disturbing her on Christmas morning for this seems a little embarrassing.
She checks the instructions again, twists the dial to the first setting, and the temperature Nellie has prescribed, jams the turkey inside and slams the oven door.
Well, it's in. The oven is heating up. She looks at the list again. Add water to roasting pan…
'Aw, no!' She yanks the oven door open, pulling the tray out and slamming it onto the bench. Water, right. Water in. Back in the oven.
Place turkey breast-side up.
'Aw, noooooo!' Another trip to the oven, to check what side is facing up.
Right. Now surely she can just leave it to cook?
Brush turkey with melted butter.
Aveline runs to the oven again. 'Aaaw, no!'
Two hours of cooking time pass surprisingly quickly, what with Aveline botching the peeling of several of the carrots, accidentally hacking one of her nails, cutting her finger and taking a big hunk out of one of them along with a lot of the peel in the process, and trying to check in on Oswald and the kids every so often so they don't feel neglected. Her timer shrieks into life just as she's draining her boiling pot of vegetables (they seem a bit overcooked, but live and let live; she could've done a lot worse) and she clatters over to the oven, pulls the door open and grabs the tray.
The metal burns her hand, and Aveline realises that in the rush she's forgotten to use an oven glove.
'Is everything all right in there?' comes Oswald's voice from the next room.
'It's fine, really, it's okay!' she calls back, withholding a whimper of pain until she hears an all right! from the next room, and then hastening to stick her hand under the kitchen tap.
An angry blister is beginning to form on the heel of her hand. Aveline grimaces, wipes it on her mouth, her own kiss failing to soothe it the way her Mam's would have done when she was a girl, and shoves her hands into the oven gloves. She will not be so easily defeated. That turkey is coming out of there, and she is going to get it served up and looking lovely come hell or high water.
The bird looks golden and the skin crisp, and she rejoices when she sees it. It's perfect, just like Nellie's, just how she'd been hoping and dreaming it would be. She turns to the instructions again. Nellie has written several lines on how to test if the turkey is cooked, where to stick the knife (the thigh), what colour the juices should be, but she's far too excited, and instead, rams it through the top, peeling away layers of cooked flesh just to make sure it's all right. When her knife alights on something hard, though, she freezes, peering into the middle of the turkey in worry.
No, no, this can't be right. The white layers meet pink halfway through, and a reddish-pinkish substance oozes through it, staining the cooked parts, ruining them. Raw bits, still cold and hard, which can only mean…
It's still frozen in the middle.
Two hours it's been in the oven, and it's still frozen in the middle. And now, in her stupidity, she's ruined her chances of returning it to the oven and cooking that last little bit, because the juices from the raw bits have spread to the cooked, and she may not know that much about cooking, but she's heard enough to know that somehow bacteria can spread, and they could all be spending Christmas with a severe bout of food poisoning.
Aveline puts her head in her hands, ignoring the fact that they smell of turkey, and sobs.
'Aveline, my darling, I just came to see if—are you all right?'
She looks up at Oswald, her face probably wreckage to behold (even without her usual extra face of makeup there to run) and walks over to him, burying her face in his shoulder.
'Aveline? What's the matter?'
'It's ruined!' She sobs. Her tears cascade from her eyes in fountains. All she'd wanted was to successfully make one Christmas dinner, and she hasn't been able to do it. It's just not fair. 'The turkey, it's ruined, Oswald! It's all raw on the inside and the raw bit's spread to the cooked bit, and…'
'Oh, never mind, darling, never mind!' He's rubbing her back now, stroking her hair, comforting her the way he did back in the days of courtship, before he started getting annoyed by her distress at having lost a nail or the suchlike. 'It doesn't matter…'
But he's disappointed. He must be, surely. And she is, immensely so.
'It does matter,' she wails, bursting into a fresh flood, 'I wanted to make Christmas dinner, and to make it all nice, 'cause I'm a mother, aren't I, and not a model, am I, and look!' she waves a hand at the disaster of a bird, sitting smugly on her kitchen counter, a triumphant monument to her failure. Oswald laughs, a soft, sunny little laugh, full of amusement but not mockery.
'You are a mother, Aveline, anyway! Look, you tried—and the top of it does look nice…'
'But it's inedible!'
'Never mind, my darling; you were close! Maybe next year!'
'But what are we gonna do now?' she whines, even though she knows the answer already. Oswald holds her closer, waiting for her to say it.
'Maaam, is lunch ready yet?' Ursula bursts in, followed by Nick.
'What is that?!' They look genuinely surprised that, although it's clearly a mess, the turkey still vaguely looks like a turkey.
'We can't eat it,' Aveline sniffles. 'It didn't cook properly.'
The little grins on their faces multiply her misery.
'Hey! Great!' Nick receives a stern look from his father and pipes down.
'Er…does that mean we're having takeaway?' he asks meekly.
Another glare from Oswald.
'Don't worry, children,' he says, turning to face them, keeping a protective, supportive arm around Aveline, 'your mother and I have a backup plan.'
'Aveline! I wondered if I'd be seeing you—Merry Christmas, love!' Nellie looks overjoyed to see her, smothers the kids in kisses, even grabs Oswald in for an embrace, but Aveline is too full of self-pity to really notice. Nellie probably would be pleased to see them—last year she'd had the kids, Jack, Billy, Joey and Martina all around her, with occasional drop-in visits from Freddie, and this year, with only Billy to share her dinner, it can't have been much of a spectacular Christmas. She's always been happier when there's a large group around her for her to fuss over and cater for.
Aveline steps inside the house, taking in the festive atmosphere, smelling the wonders that must await in the kitchen, all fully-cooked and edible, as hers wasn't, eyes dazzled by the shimmering of the Christmas tree, which her Mam has taken great care with. She'd allowed Nick and Tracey Ursula to do theirs, and they'd simply thrown strands of tinsel at it and then proclaimed it done. It's not the same as Nellie's. Nothing is the same as Nellie's.
'We were just sitting down to eat—it's a good thing you lot are here, actually! There's plenty here—far too much for just me and Billy.'
With cries of yay, food!, Aveline's two children have run into the kitchen. Oswald allows a few moments of decorum, smiling and thanking Nellie for her generosity, and then he too has bolted in the direction of the dinner. Poor man. He's always so grateful to get here, to partake of something real and actually digestible, and it just breaks Aveline's heart that she can't be the one providing it. She follows slowly, listening to the distant cries of her kids as they rattle on and on to Nellie about what sort of presents they received, and relate, in rather dramatic detail, making it sound worse than it actually was, the story of how Aveline single-handedly trashed their Christmas lunch.
'Sit down properly, please,' Oswald is saying as they enter the kitchen, and Aveline is greeted by the sight of them climbing all over their seats, trying to grab at the serving dishes. Of course, when he speaks, they listen.
She takes her own place, relieved that at least she can sit in her old chair, like in the good old days, and Nellie takes up the helm.
'Billy!' her mother calls. 'We're about to eat!'
' 'ey, I'm comin'!' comes a shout from upstairs, and then Aveline's youngest brother comes crashing down the stairs, wearing what appears to be a new shirt (his first in several years, probably; he never throws them out or buys new ones). Billy's shoelaces are untied, his shirt buttons done up wrong and his hair a tangled mess that desperately needs a cut, and he barrels into the room, leaping into his chair. 'Yeah, dinner! I've been lookin' forward to—' He stops, looking around, noticing Aveline and co. for the first time.
Aveline smiles tentatively at him.
'Aw, 'ey!' he groans, thumping his fist. 'What are you lot doin' 'ere? It was supposed to be just me and Mam this year!'
'Billy!' Nellie reprimands. 'Don't be so rude! Aveline and Oswald are always welcome here for Christmas dinner!'
'And us!' Nick pipes up. Nellie's scowl softens into a smile.
'And you, love. I'd never forget you two.'
'It's injury to insult, that's what it is,' Billy sulks. 'I've 'ad a rubbish time without Fiona, and with Julie and Julian makin' that stupid baby…now Francesca's all rapt in Julia and 'asn't got time for me…I ask you, 'oo 'as matchin' names the way they do? Julie and Julian and Julia… and I was gonna 'ave a nice Christmas, just Mam and me, to make up for all that rubbish, and now you lot are 'ere.' He gives them all filthy looks before lunging for the nearest serving dish and dumping three large slices of pumpkin on his plate.
'Billy! Prayers!' Nellie folds her hands, looks at Billy, then turns her meaningful look on Oswald. 'Proddies included.'
'I was going to…' Oswald protests, but she ignores him and proceeds.
'We thank Thee, O Father, for Christmas, for family,' Billy snorts at this, but Nellie takes no notice, 'for the food on the table,' Aveline holds back a sob, 'and for all good things. Amen.'
'A-men!' Ursula and Nick chant, the way they've been taught to at school, and then the two of them and Billy all attack the food.
The dinner is depressingly good, the turkey perfectly moist with crispy skin (and cooked all the way through), the vegetables the right side of done, the pudding homemade and an amazing festival for the mouth. Oswald and the kids scoff everything placed in front of them, serve themselves seconds, carol on to Nellie about how wonderful it all is, and Aveline has to half-heartedly join in the compliments so as not to look bitter.
'Yes,' snaps Billy, 'it is good. It was supposed to be for me and Mam.'
Nellie shoots him a withering look. The others take no notice.
Billy remains behind when they move into the parlour with cups of tea and a tray of shortbread, still huffing about the Carters' intrusion, and it's the usual festive Boswell afternoon, Christmas specials on the telly and everyone sitting round, chatting about this and that, proudly discussing and displaying what everyone got for and from each other, and normally Aveline would love this, but she'd wanted to do it herself this year. She'd wanted to be hostess and mother, she'd wanted to be the one her family flocked to, the one who provided an enjoyable Christmas.
She can't be a model, and now, it seems, she can't even be a family-woman either. She can't be anything.
She doesn't join in the conversation all that much, which has Oswald occasionally frowning at her in concern, but for the most part Nellie dominates the talking anyway, reminiscing about Christmases past with all the children still in the fold, occasionally going on a mini-rant about Freddie, recapping on last Christmas and the trip away Joey had unexpectedly given her the money for, which had seen her spend a lovely three days in a plush hotel in the countryside.
Aveline realises with a gulp that she hasn't gotten Nellie a present at all this year. Another thing she's done wrong.
She's just wondering whether anyone would notice if she ran out now and tried to find something when the sound of a car pulling up outside has everyone halting mid conversation.
'Is that someone heading our way?' Nellie wonders aloud. They hear footsteps, and then the front door rattles open, effectively answering her question.
The Boswell matriarch is up and heading for the door before anyone else has time to react.
Aveline cranes her neck, sensing she can already tell who's going to be in the other side of it.
'Greetings! Anybody home?' Yes, Aveline knew it would be him.
'It's Joey!' Nellie calls ecstatically, coming back into the parlour with a shining smile. 'It's Joey and Martina!'
Oh, and here they are, Joey looking resplendent as always, grinning from ear to ear and holding his arms out for his niece and nephew to run into, and Martina, self-conscious as she usually is at the beginning of family visits, their startlingly ginger baby balanced on her hip and happily playing with her mother's necklace. They're always happy, every time Aveline sees them, and though she knows realistically it can't be all smiles in their household, and that, after having more than his fair share of hardship, Joey deserves something good, it always seems to get her where it hurts that the most unlikely couple of any of the matches in her family have so easily made it work. If even Martina, who never used to be without a frown and a nasty comment, can turn out to be Perfect Wife Material, why is it that Aveline, little, soft, delicate, feminine Aveline, has been such a flop?
'Joey!' Nellie is in raptures. 'I wasn't expecting you, love! How are you? How has your Christmas been?'
'Just fine, Mam, just fine. It was just gettin' a bit quiet, and we thought, why not drop in on me Mam and give her our love? Besides, I think Martina has really missed bein' surrounded by Boswells.' He nudges his wife, and she shifts Belle onto her other hip in order to elbow him in the ribs.
'Aww, well I'm just that pleased to see you both,' Nellie moves in to embrace Joey herself, having to carefully manoeuvre past Aveline's offspring, who are clinging to his legs, as she does. 'Ahh, my Joey…and Martina, love,' she kisses her daughter-in-law, who, to Aveline's surprise, returns the gesture with affection. 'And Annabelle, lovely girl! Is she…can I…would she be…'
'O' course, love,' Martina says, picking up on the hint at once and carefully shifting the baby into Nellie's arms. 'She's fine, if a little talkative. She bent me ear this mornin', didn't you, Belle?'
'Mammmammmam,' the baby gurgles on cue.
'She's practisin' for her Social Security visits,' Joey smirks.
'No, she's not claimin', she's gettin' a proper job, she is…'
'I think she'd rather follow on the Boswell fam-i-ly tradition…'
'It's not a tradition, it's just you…'
Aveline would be tempted to clear her throat—she's had enough of this fighting/flirting, but she's beaten to it by her own daughter.
'My turn to hold her next!'
Martina bites her lip. 'I don't know, love….'
'I'm responsible!' Ursula insists, puffing out her chest. 'And careful!'
'Is she?' Martina looks to Oswald, who nods, something odd coming over his face.
Aveline doesn't like the fact that whenever Joey's wife looks at her husband, a strange smile passes between them. She isn't sure if there's any degree of fancying going on there, or if they just have some sort of mutual understanding she cannot comprehend, but whatever it is, it unnerves her. Stay away from Martina, she wails every time the two couples meet, and of course, every time Oswald reassures her that she's just being silly, that he and Martina happen to be semi-decent friends and that's about all, and he drops the subject and henceforth ignores her words altogether.
Right now, though, she's more concerned with the fact that, when asking about whether their daughter would be mature enough to handle holding the baby, Martina had asked Oswald, not Aveline. Isn't she the mother? Shouldn't she be asked? It makes her sick to her stomach, the fact that it's known by all her family that she knows so little of her children, that she's not the one who's been around, that she's not the one looking out for them. She feels an utter failure.
'It's turnin' out to be a more eventful Christmas than I expected!' Nellie is still in overjoyed mode, clutching the baby to her like she's made of gold, her face aglow. 'First Aveline dropped in, now you three! Come into the kitchen, and I'll make you some coffee.'
Oswald prises Ursula and Nick from Joey, telling them to 'settle' and 'sit quietly' while Joey and Martina have their coffee, and they go to him instantly, flopping down beside him and amusing themselves with some of their new toys. Aveline, unable to bear the fact that they respond to him and argue with her, another sign of her apparent failure as a mother, trudges along after her brother and sister-in-law, seeking refuge in the kitchen.
'You?!' Billy says rudely when they all come in. 'Why's everyone invading? It was supposed to be just Mam and me!'
'Well, that's a nice welcome,' Joey half-laughs, eyeing his younger brother with concern. 'What's the matter with you, then?'
'Oh, same as always, Joey—he's sulking about Fiona and Francesca's baby sister. It's no use trying to get him in a good mood about anything these days!'
'Ah, plenty more in the sea, sunshine,' Joey says, ruffling Billy's hair and earning himself a scowl and a geroff! 'You'll get over it. And then you'll make brothers and sisters for Francesca of your very own!'
The youngest Boswell slumps forward, folding his arms.
'It was supposed to be just Mam and me.'
Nellie and Joey exchange glances and shake their heads.
'Can I get either of you any food?' Nellie asks, her joy at playing hostess to even more people impossible to conceal, even with the dark cloud of Billy hanging over them, fouling up the atmosphere.
'That's okay, Mam, no sweat,' Joey holds up his hands. 'We 'ad our Christmas dinner before we came.'
'Have you got any turkey left?' Martina ventures, and Joey glares at her with all the horror of one beholding their betrayer. 'What? I want some meat, all right?'
He shakes his head and wanders off back into the parlour, where Aveline hears him strike up a friendly conversation with Oswald, and make a muffled gasp as presumably one of her children climbs on him, knocking the wind out of him.
'You didn't have a turkey, love?' Nellie is asking Martina now, mortified.
'Well, 'e won't eat it, will 'e?' Martina jerks her thumb in the direction of the doorway Joey has just passed through, 'and I don't see much point in buyin' one just fer me.' She hums, taking a seat at the table and settling Belle into her lap.
'P'raps next year, when she's got a few more teeth.' She jiggles the baby lightly against her knee, being rewarded with a giggle. 'She 'asn't got too many meats in her repertoire at the moment.'
'She's not being brought up a vegetarian, then?' Nellie asks, placing a plate with a cold turkey sandwich on it in front of Martina. The plate seems to have barely touched the table before she's eaten half of it. She must really miss meat…and her being married to Joey. Fancy.
'No,' Martina says, putting her hand over her mouth as she swallows what's inside it, 'I'm puttin' me foot down there. Joey can believe what he likes, but I'm seein' to it that my daughter gets the nutrition she needs ter grow. She can make up 'er own mind when she's older.'
'Joey can believe what he likes, eh?' the man himself echoes, reappearing in the doorway. 'Why thank you, sweetheart. I think I will.'
'Good,' Martina says, returning to her sandwich. Joey makes a dramatic face at the sight of her eating it. In retaliation, she rips a piece of it off quite savagely with her teeth.
'I do 'ave principles, you know!'
'Of course you do, Leatherman.'
Joey looks down at himself, trying to restrain a laugh, and then gives up and lets it ring out through the kitchen.
'Touché, sweetheart. You always get me on that one, don't you?'
'Because it is such a glarin' flaw in your logic, dear,' she returns, and then Joey is round the table and has his arms around her, and baby Annabelle is laughing despite not understanding what it is the other two are laughing about, and it's the three of them there, in a little cluster, being a perfect museum exhibit of a model family.
Aveline observes them and wonders. If there's one thing that can be said for Joey and Martina, they have a very alive marriage. They're always joking around with each other, always so doting despite the constant niggling that goes on between them; they just let their relationship play out without having to force the affection to come. Granted, they've barely been married two years, are still in the honeymoon stages, at a push, but Aveline thinks back to when she and Oswald had been married two years, and she can't remember being like this. Even one year in there were the upheavals, the rows about having babies or not having babies, then the year after came the rows about modelling versus staying home looking after Ursula, Oswald's drinking to compensate for being left with most of the parenting duties, and the fact that she could never cook anything to his satisfaction (or to a state where it could be broadly considered edible.) When they'd been newlyweds he'd pretended to like it all. After a while, he got sick of eating garbage.
Aveline thinks back to her turkey and a lump sticks in her throat. She'd wanted so badly for this year to be different. Giving up modelling was supposed to help (and she doesn't count Tracey Ursula's beauty pageants, because they don't count. She's given up modelling herself, not on having the concept in her life altogether. Although, with her recent thoughts about allowing Ursula to have acting lessons instead, it seems like sooner or later, that'll be squeezed out as well) – and yet it hasn't. She still thinks of her waistline every time she stands in front of the mirror, still squeezes herself into the same miniskirts she owned when she was twenty, despite no longer having the stomach or thighs for them. She still can't cook to save her life. If she were on a desert island, she'd die within a day, completely unable to take care of herself.
Martina has finished her sandwich now, and Nellie slices up the rest of her Christmas cake and places it on the table, urging them all to help ourselves.
Joey immediately reaches out. Martina slaps his hand away.
'You've 'ad 'alf ours already!'
'But it looks so good!'
She rolls her eyes and lets him take a piece.
'I'm not 'avin' any!' Billy announces as loudly as possible, ensuring everyone in the room (and probably the street) has heard him. 'I'm too depressed.'
'You carry on, then, son,' Joey mutters, though he, Aveline is sure, along with everyone else, is just a little surprised by the action. Billy refusing food is akin to Grandad taking up extreme sports—so unlikely it's been written off as impossible. Either he really is depressed, or it's a ploy for attention.
Nellie tuts, Crosses herself and turns away from him.
Billy may be more vocal about it, but she too is depressed. The sight of it, a perfect piece of Christmas cooking, just reminds her that she'll probably never be able to make one like it, and she holds her hand out to decline.
'Aw, 'ey, I can't!'
'Why not, love? Have you got indigestion? I've got Bismuth somewhere, if you'd like…'
Aveline briefly contemplates explaining herself to Nellie, but decides against it. She's jealous of her mother, if truth be told, jealous of the lot of them. Aveline has never been one for envy, but now it comes to her in tidalwaves, tsunamis of bad feeling crashing over her and then washing out to engulf everyone she loves. They're all able to do so well, to have family lives without giving up their dreams (except Billy, but then…well, he's Billy, he doesn't count), and here she is, having lost her aspirations and still not able to get it together, family-wise.
'I've already lost me figure,' she says instead. 'I look like a deflated Lilo…'
Oops. Why Lilo? Of all the inflatable things to make a comparison to… Nellie's face visibly reddens; she's revving up to an outburst, and a don't you dare mention rant. Joey grabs his mother's arm at once.
'Er…I mean, a deflated beach ball!' Aveline amends as quickly as she can, and Nellie calms down. 'When I was in me twenties I looked dead slim! But now I just sag…everywhere…and there are rolls of fat on me…' As she brings it up once more, it dawns on Aveline just how much this still affects her. Wanting to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, still can't quash those feelings of misery she encounters when she thinks of her lost looks.
Martina tut-sighs—almost inaudibly, but Aveline hears her. Evidently she thinks she's above all that; it's probably why she and Oswald get on too well, them with their little anti-vanity brigade. It's all right for her, anyhow. She's four years older than Aveline, but could probably pass for younger these days, what with Aveline's grey hairs, and despite having had her first baby at thirty-seven, when one's body is already losing its elasticity, Martina had seemed to lose the baby weight almost straight away. Perhaps it was having a C-section that had done it. Maybe cutting open one's stomach is a better way to go, letting all the air and fat out of it before it can settle back down. Aveline's not sure. She doesn't want to think about it too much. It's just another thing that she probably did wrong, not considering it.
Joey, in contrast to his wife, is laughing at her.
'Aveline, nobody 'as the figure they do when they're in their twenties!' He snorts, looking down at himself. 'What I wouldn't do to 'ave the figure I 'ad in me thirties!'
'You would if you didn't eat so much cake,' Martina says pointedly.
Joey has another piece of their Mam's fruitcake en route to his mouth. He looks at it, torn, and then puts it down on his plate. 'Well, how can I help it when everyone around me makes such good ones? Between you and Mam, me 'ands are tied.'
'They are not,' Martina shakes her head affectionately, 'at least, not at present.'
They grin at each other, sharing a joke Aveline isn't privy to, and one she's not sure she wants to be privy to.
'Not in front of the baby,' Joey says.
'Yer mother and yer sister are sittin' in earshot and you're more concerned about a ten-month-old who can barely understand English yet hearin'?'
'Well, she's impressionable, she is. T'others are beyond help,' he's sniggering again, and Aveline decides it's better to forget asking Joey for the time being. He's too loved-up (still), too cheery about his new baby (still), too busy with his own Christmas at the moment. She might try and talk to him later, when he's not busy flirting with his wife (Aveline doesn't understand it. Her definition of 'flirting' was always batting her lashes, thick with several layers of mascara, and posing in a short skirt. Joey and Martina's involves saying all sorts of awful things to each other, and somehow finding this funny.)
'Eh!' Billy's head reappears from within the nest of his folded arms. 'Has anyone forgotten I'm in earshot too? You never acknowledge my existence, any o' you! I'm invisible, that's what I am!'
'Er—did someone say somethin'?' Martina asks innocently. Joey narrows his eyes at her. 'Just callin' 'is bluff…'
'I'm goin' upstairs!' Billy says, getting up and shoving his chair in with brute force. 'You all carry on without me—like you were anyway. It won't make any difference!' He stomps up, uttering another it was supposed to be just me and Mam as he goes.
'I suppose one of us should go and talk to him,' says Nellie. All eyes begin to drift in Joey's direction, Aveline's included, but at the last second lightning strikes and she jumps up instead.
'I'll go!' She doesn't know why this sudden desire to comfort Billy has arisen, but she just knows, with all her heart, that she needs to do this. It might be simply to get away from them, but then again, perhaps forces are at work here. Catholic forces, Proddy forces, Christmas forces, she can't say.
The others give her a bit of an odd look, but she trots off before anyone can question her decision.
Since Billy got a room of his own, he's become territorial, his mess spreading like fungus over the entire space, marking it out as his. An unintentional line of clothes an inch in front of the door creates a boundary, the border into Billy-land, population one. Aveline steps gingerly across it, breathing in the smell of unwashed garments and dodging the sweet wrappers and pairs of underpants strewn across the floor as she approaches Billy's bed. Her brother is face-down on it, buried in his pillow, either breathing heavily or crying judging by the noise he's making, and Aveline finds herself wondering why she's doing this. She's not Joey. She's not even a good mother to her own kids, let alone capable of mothering her brother. But she wants somehow to prove herself, and so she presses on regardless.
He flips her the bird, but otherwise doesn't move. Aveline, with a great strain, maintains her composure despite the shocking gesture.
'What?' now he's sitting up, glaring at her, and yes, she concludes as she beholds his wet, red-rimmed eyes, he's been crying. 'Why are you 'ere? Why are you even in our 'ouse?'
'Now, Billy,' she tries her slightly maternal voice out; the one which never succeeds in getting Nick to sit down and do his homework, 'we're all entitled to see Mam on Christmas Day.'
'But you've got your own family!' Billy snaps. 'You've got Oswald, and your kids are actually around. Fiona's left me—she says I'm narcissistic, whatever that's supposed to mean—and Francesca's got a new family without me, and now she's got a baby sister she never wants to spend time with her dad 'cause them lot are all happy together. Not that she ever wanted to see me anyway. All I've got is Mam. And now you're intrudin' me time with her—a monopoliser, that's what you are.'
Aveline wants to cry herself, but she doesn't know whether that's at Billy's last remark or due to the fact that she now feels utterly sorry for him.
It can't be easy being Billy. Now Francesca is ten, with a mind of her own, (or more to the point, a mind of Julie's own) she makes no secret of the fact that she finds no pleasure in Billy's company. Sometimes she protests seeing him at all, stomping and grumbling and pleading with Julie and Julian to let her get out of her fortnightly visits with him, and more often than not, they give in, throwing in a nasty comment about the Boswells for good measure. At least, although they barely do what she says, have little respect for her and whine about her cooking, Aveline's children are still around. She still sees them every day, albeit for a short time, most of the time, she still has plenty of chances to make it up to them.
And though her marriage to Oswald isn't exactly perfect, it's still going on. They've not thrown in the towel yet. They still love each other, even if the spark isn't always present. Billy has been through a string of relationships, each seemingly shorter and less fulfilling than the last, undoubtedlyall coming to an end because of the same two reasons: Billy's immature, irresponsible nature and his much-denied, but very visible , undying love for Julie. True love, for him, came at the age of sixteen, and was only reciprocated for a short time, before it was replaced, on her side, with vitriol and hatred. Now he's got emotional scars and an inability to form a proper connection with any special person.
'Billy, I'm sorry,' she says, because really, what else can she say? She can't do anything to fix the problems Billy is facing right now, but she can show pity and understanding at the very least.
He doesn't answer her.
'Why are you 'ere, anyway?'he asks.
'I... I ruined our Christmas dinner.' Boy, how it hurts to say that, even though to many it might not be such a big deal. It's humiliating, even to tell Billy, who has never gotten anything right ever, that she has messed up what was supposed to be an opportunity to make things better.
'HAH!' Billy caws, before noticing the wayher lip is trembling and trying to change tack. 'Oh, I mean, that's bad, innit, that's really bad. .. I suppose. I mean it's not anythin' to cry about, though, is it? I mean, you know Mam's always fine with us comin', if...'
Aveline has really lost it now, blubbing all over her little brother.
'I didn't want to come 'ere,' she cries, taking no notice of the slightly disgusted look on Billy's face at her behaviour, 'I wanted to get it right! I've been a failure at being a model, and I've 'ad to give up me dream, 'cause nobody wants me body anymore, not even for manky old newspaper adverts, and I thought maybe now was a good time to start bein' a better Mam and wife. But I can't do that at all! I've left it too late. I can't do anything, I just 'ave to watch me life slip away and do nothing about it!'
It's probably a silly thing to do, telling Billy about all this, and perhaps not tactful given his own troubles, but she can't help but let it all pour out. Aveline expects him to shout at her, to order her out his room or shoot her back with a complaint to match or outdo hers, but instead, he simply stares quizzically at her, eyebrows creeping towards his nose.
'You think all that just 'cause you didn't make Christmas dinner?'
'Well it was supposed to be me new start,' she whimpers.
'But if it's the start, you've not finished yet,'ave you?'
Aveline is taken aback by this. Billy rarely knows what he's saying half the time, and yet his bluntness has a strange wisdom to it. Oswald had told her, again and again, in the car on the way over here, that this isn't the end of the world, that it's only her first attempt and things can still go uphill from here, but it's her younger brother's rendition of the words that actually drives that point home.
'No,' she says, 'but what if it's always like this? No matter what I do? I'll have given up me dream for nothin'.'
'At least you 'ad a dream, ' Billy says bitterly. 'It's more'n I 'ad. I got with Julie before I'd had chance to think o' what I wanted, and now Francesca is all I've got, and all I want, and she doesn't even want me back. At least you got to 'ave kids and modellin' for a bit. '
'But all that time I spent modellin' I didn't pay enough attention to me kids, and 'avin' kids in the first place ruined me for modellin'! I did too much at once. I had too many dreams. You can't be a top model and 'ave a family.'
'You were never a top model anyway,' Billy says, and Aveline feels hot tears coming again. It's true; she knows it is, has known since Mr Andre told her she had a tatty face, but she still doesn't like to hear it.
'But you're a good Mam.'
All right, now she knows Billy is just trying to grovel, to soften the blow, to stop her crying. if there is one thing she is not, it's a good mother.
She begins to say something, but Billy goes on before she has the chance. 'I mean, you ain't all that, but you still do stuff wi' your kids, like go to them pageants with Ursula. At least you 'ave them in your 'ouse and they know 'oo you are. Francesca hardly knows me, even though I'm 'er father. I just get 'er presents every time I see 'er, and she never likes them, and she just goes on and on about Julian this an' Julian that, and Julian is such a great step dad that she wishes 'e was her real father...' Billy's voice seems to be clagging up now, a stray tear leaking from his face. 'I wasn't ready for all this.'
'Neither was I,' Aveline wails, and the two of them fall on each other and sob.
It turns out they've been up there for nearly two hours when they finally come down, neither of them feeling particularly better, but somehow strengthened by each other's misery and the fact that at least there's someone else in the family feeling the same way they do. Both of them sit in the parlour with the others, revitalised with a new energy to be amiable, and they manage to join in the conversation as if nothing ever happened at all.
The Joeys are still here (so much for just 'dropping in,' and they're showing no signs of going anytime soon) , Belle sound asleep in Martina's arms, Joey with his feet on the coffee table as if he still lives here, but Aveline finds she's no longer resentful by their functionality as a family, merely reverently awed by it. She may have to ask Joey, before he goes, if he'd impart just a little of his wisdom on raising children so well. After all, he managed to do it with Oscar before they were separated. He basically did it with all of them, too, growing up. Perhaps it really is something that comes with practice. He's had a long time to perfect his parenting skills. Aveline has had significantly less time - and a large portion of that time she hadn't been trying as hard as she could have- but if she starts now. ..
She reaches forward to where Ursula is playing on the floor, running a hand over her daughter's hair. It's only a little gesture, and Ursula mutters in annoyance at being interrupted, but it signifies to Aveline a promise that she will take more of an interest in her children's lives from now on.
The cooking will take more than just a little practice, but she'll figure it out somehow. Maybe. Possibly. Someday.
Oswald notices her, smiles, puts his arm around her shoulders, and she leans into him gratefully. Her husband seems content, if in a sleepy sort of way, a satisfied smile playing about his lips of the sort which only seems to appear when he's filled with a good meal. It still disappoints her enormously that it couldn't have been her who put it there, but at least his good mood is holding up, despite her failure, and they've got two more days of relaxation ahead of them to enenjoy. Aveline doesn't know what they'll be doing yet, and is quite sure she isn't up to having another go at preparing a terrific meal just yet, but she'll ensure she and Oswald get to spend at least a little bit of the time alone with each other. Having him home and cheerful these past few days has reminded her of the early days of their relationship, when they didn't exasperate each other or get so flustered they barely had time to speak, but simply enjoyed each other. There's still something between them worth fighting to save and rekindle, and Aveline wants to so very dearly. She'll really make the best of this time, try to set a foundation. And then, when he's back working again, she might see her way to taking the kids somewhere nice before they go back to school, see where that gets her. That sounds like a start to her, anyway. Probably won't make too much difference, but she'll give it a go.
The assembled company spends a few more moments in a peaceful sort of quiet, Nellie beginning to doze off in her chair, Ursula and Nick running out of steam and playing their games more languidly, the remaining adults sitting intertwined in their respective couples while Billy catches up on the eating he'd missed out on when he refused cake and stormed off earlier. This has always been one of the parts of Christmas Day Aveline likes best, when the excitement and panic of the buildup have died down and everyone just basks in the glow of the season, and she would gladly have them all stay like this for several hours more, only Belle chooses that moment to wake up and crankily demand some attention. The baby's grizzling, crescendoing into loud, ringing wails, has them all groaning and stretching, broken out of the spell.
'Mm,' hums Martina knowingly, 'I think it's about time we got her 'ome.' She stands up, cradling Annabelle to her chest and making soft shushing noises, again taking Aveline aback with her gentleness. This is a woman whose tongue is set to 'sharp' most if not all the time. She'd ask her what it is that makes motherhood come so easily to her, only Aveline's not sure Martina's tongue wouldn't flick back to its 'sharp' setting when speaking to her. She doesn't interact much with Martina, as a rule. She's a bit too frightening for Aveline's taste.
'Yeah, ' Joey says, stretching his legs out. 'You take ger home for a feed and a sleep and all the rest of it, and we'll carry on enjoyin' ourselves.'
'And how do you expect us to get home without yer?' Martina taps her foot crossly. 'Fly, shall we? '
'Okay, okay, I take the point, ' Joey gets up, going over to her and planting a kiss on the top of Annabelle's head, 'you know I was jokin', though, don't you, sweetheart? '
'It's 'ard ter tell with you, sometimes,' Martina replies. They pretend to glare at each other while they say their goodbyes to the rest of the family, but Aveline realises at once that they're flirting again. Joey's real glare can make the roughest of thugs change their minds about trying to dupe him or one of their brothers, and she's heard stories of Martina's frostier faces from Adrian. For goodness' sake, can't they stop?
Billy comes back in to half - heartedly wave them off, and then Martina and Belle disappear into the vestibule. Joey, however, pauses in the doorway, opening his arms and looking directly at her. Nick runs to him immediately.
'Woah,' Joey laughs ruffling his nephew's hair. 'And a merry Christmas to you too, sunshine! ' He releases Nick, gently ushering him in Oswald's direction and reaching his arm out once more.
'C'mere, Princess,' he says, 'I've barely seen you all day, have I?' He wraps her in a hug, at which Nellie aww- s, and, before Aveline fully realises what's going on, he's swept her into the vestibule with him.
'What was all that about with Billy?' Joey asks once they're out of earshot.
Aveline bites her lip. 'We're upset,' she's not sure how much to divulge, given they only have a few seconds to talk. Still, she appreciates the gesture. Of course Joey would care about what was going on back there, would worry about the both of them, would want to see if there was anything he could do. He's unselfish by nature, a family orientation embedded in his very bone marrow.
'Yeah, well Billy... we all know what's wrong with him... what's the matter with you, then, sweetheart?'
'I'm a bad mother,' she bursts out, 'it's the same as what's botherin' Billy - neither of us know how to be good parents, and on top of that, I've lost me dream, me modellin' dream, and I didn't spend enough time with them when I was modellin' so I never learned the secret of how to be a good parent...'
'Joey!' Martina has returned to the house, her hair slightly wet, her coat wrapped around the baby and a cross expression on her face. 'It's rainin' out there, you know. If you're gonna stand in 'ere and chat, could you at least unlock the car fer us so your daughter does not get pneumonia? ' She raises one eyebrow at him.
'Yes, all right, sweetheart, I'm conin',' he waves for Martina to go back outside, making to follow her. 'Aveline, we'll catch up in the New Year, all right? And we can chat properly about this, if you like.'
'Okay, ' Aveline says flatly.
Joey starts to go, then turns back, hovering in the doorway for a few seconds more. 'Before I go, I'll just say this, sweetheart. Don't start thinkin' there's some great secret about bein' a parent, okay? Truth is, Aveline, none of us know what we're doin'. We're just making it up, and hoping we come good. Just keep spendin' time with them; you'll get there. And with Oswald. He was lookin' so happy today. So proud of you for attempting a Christmas dinner, even if it didn't work out., he said. He likes it when you take an interest . You're doin' fine, Aveline, really.'
'Joey?! Before New Year would be nice!'
'I'll be there, sunshine, I'll be there,' Joey calls after Martina. 'I'll see you, Aveline, okay?' And he's gone. Aveline can hear them arguing (only it sounds like flirting again and she can swear she can hear Joey make a comment about his driving in that faux-boastful voice of his, and Martina laughing) as they make their way towards the Jag.
She sighs and heads back into the house.
'Well, then, children, did you have a nice Christmas?' Oswald asks as the car turns into the driveway of the vicarage. They cheer out their positive responses. They're in high spirits, the both of them, and Aveline wishes she'd thought of asking that. Still, even if she didn't have a part in it, they've enjoyed themselves. And, if Joey is to be believed (and according to everyone except his wife, he usually is) Oswald is ecstatic that she's had a go at lunch, if not completed it.
She and Oswald put them to bed together, smiling almost shyly at one another, and when they settle in the lounge for the rest of the evening, sipping at cups of tea, as they no longer keep anything alcoholic in the house, and nibbling at Christmas chocolates, she broaches the subject with him.
'Yes, my darling?'
'Do you...I mean, are you... I mean...I wish me lunch could've turned out better.'
Oswald laughs. 'Aveline, how many times do I have to tell you? It doesn't matter about that! You made an effort with it, and I appreciate that. And it was still a lovely Christmas, wasn't it?'
'But I just think sometimes I'm not a good enough wife. I can't cook, I can't look after the kids properly, and I don't even look nice on your arm anymore. I'm just a washed-up model, who can't do anythin', and I start wonderin' if you'd have been better off married to someone like Martina.'
Oswald splutters. 'Martina?!'
He's laughing now, a tear rolling down his cheek. 'Darling, whatever gave you that idea?'
'She just always seems like such a good wife to Joey; she can do all those things I can't; like she knows what she's doin', and...' it sounds daft as it comes out of her mouth, 'you always smile at each other.'
Oswald's laughter increases in volume. 'Aveline, I don't fancy her, if that's what you're getting at. Nor do I think she's the sort of person I'd rather have for a wife.
'I just feel sorry for her, Aveline! Look, I'm not really supposed to talk about these things, but Martina has come to me for counselling a couple of times; as part of the programme offered by the church, I might add, before you get any nonsense into your head about clandestine meetings between the two of us; and from what I can gather, Joey and her baby are all she has. She gives all of herself to them, because she's got nothing and no-one else at all. No real friends, and she doesn't see her own family...in fact, I get the impression she doesn't know where they are... no real interests or hobbies. She barely leaves the house because she can't drive and doesn't want to learn. And you know the worst part of it? She has no inclination to do anything about it. Any of it. She loathes her job, but she won't resign and look for another. She doesn't try to make friends. No goals of dreams. That's it. Just Joey and Annabelle. It's quite a sad, lonely existence she leads, really.'
'And she's nowhere near as pretty as you, if I'm allowed to say so,' he leers at her, as much as a vicar can leer. Aveline giggles in spite of herself.
'Aveline, I married you, because I love how you are! I love how you look and your style, and I love that you've a kind and gentle heart, but you have a spirit to go with it. And although I must say I'm not thrilled by the way you sometimes put your appearance above all else, I admire that you had a dream, and that you gave it your best shot. Unlike her, you've tried to do something with your life. You've got stuffing, determination, personality. It's what made me fall in love with you.'
'But I made such a mess of Christmas dinner...and I'm always lettin' the kids down, and you down...'
'You haven't let anyone down. Look at how much you wanted Ursula- do you remember the rows we used to have when you weren't getting pregnant? You walked around with a pillow under your shirt, wishing it was real; you wanted her that much. When you nearly lost Nick, you and I came back together properly, and we went to every doctor who knew anything about pregnancy to make sure he came into this world safely, didn't we? It's obvious you care for our children, even if you do get a bit, erm, carried away with the modelling sometimes. It's just about finding a bit more of a balance, not getting caught up in one aspect of your life and neglecting another. And you can do that, Aveline. I'm sure you can!'
He takes a look at her sceptical expression. 'I'm sure you can.'
She smiles at him, unsure she believes him, but grateful that he's trying to reassure her rather than going on about her having her priorities wrong. When he's in this mood, when he's speaking to her so gently and lovingly, she can almost imagine that maybe, in the depths of possibility, one day she might be able to find that balance Oswald was talking about, improve her relationship with her family.
She loves every kind thing that he's said to her, but still, one thing bothers her. She has been trying to resist such thoughts, really she has, but she can't help it.
'Oswald?' she says. 'I just have to ask...'
She fiddles coyly with her hair. 'You said you didn't think Martina was as pretty as me...does that mean you still find me attractive? Even with me grey hair and all?'
Oswald laughs yet again, shaking his head affectionately. 'Oh, Aveline. You are as beautiful now as the day I married you, grey hair, sagging skin, laugh lines and everything else. Now will that satisfy you, or would you like me to start describing your lovely eyes in detail?' He seems to be partially mocking her, and she doesn't like the sound of these 'laugh lines' he's mentioned (does she have laugh lines? Since when has she had laugh lines?) but what he's said will suffice to please her for the time being. He's got that look in his eye again, too; that one he'd had the night he'd come home from his AA meeting, and she doesn't want to extinguish that look.
'Enough about your appearance, anyway,' he says, setting his cup down on the coffee table and putting his arm around her. 'It's Christmas Day, the children are happily asleep in their beds, and we're alone together. So why don't we make the most of that, hmm? You can worry about your hair and the children and whether or not you can cook another day.'
And then they're kissing in front of the roaring fire, and it's such a perfect, cliché, romantic Christmassy moment that Aveline heeds his advice.
This got long. Oops.
Yes, there wasn't really a proper resolution, but this is to set up a branch of Aveline-related fic in this headcanon at some point, addressing things like Oswald's drinking and things at some point. In the meantime, they got a nice Christmas in the end, and isn't that what we all want? Haha.
And, of course, I just had to address the Oswald/Martina flirting in the 1989 Christmas special once again, and detonate it. Because I had to. I do not like it.