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This Time of Year

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The sun shone brightly on the wooden table that stood in the middle of the garden. A table, covered in Christmas decorations and some festive fairy lights. Fairy light also lit up the counter which had been transformed, for one night only, into a bar. Paul looked around before looking at Toadie.

“When we said you could choose, I didn’t expect this.”

Toadie looked at him with a confused look on his face.

“The location” he said “It’s a bit.”

“A bit what?” Toadie replied

“Fresh?”

“It’s a Nursery Paul”

“Yeah, a stinky one”

“Wait is that the Nursery” Susan joined in “I thought it was Karl.” She looked around the table “I made him bring the expensive wine”

The sound of laughter and teasing filled the air. The fun was interrupted by the sound of a phone ringing. Paul reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out his phone and looked at the screen.

“I better take this” he said looking at Terese as he got up on his feet and walked away from the table. Karl watched him leave and shook his head.

“Does he go anywhere without that stitched to his hand” he asked, looking at Terese

“No, that thing’s definitely a part of him” she answered with a smile on her face

“Just another charming addition to his already sparkling personality” Toadie said sarcastically

“Yeah, along with arrogant, self-righteous, smug” Karl said counting his way through the list with his fingers as Toadie nodded his head.

“Caring” said a voice from the other side of the table. Karl looked up, squinted his eyes.

“Caring?” he questioned “Are you sure we’re talking about the same person, Jane?”

“Yes.” Jane said looking towards a very animated Paul. “Oh, I know he’s not perfect. And he can be the biggest idiot at times. But he’s been a good friend to me this year. Looked after me at times when I really needed it.” she looked at Terese “And when I didn’t”

Terese smiled.

“No. You can point out his flaws, but he will always be in your corner when you truly need him.”

“I can relate with that” Susan joined in “He did risk a lot to help me that day at the school”

“Yeah, and I probably wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t helped me. He did get me held hostage but then saved me again, so you know” Toadie agreed. He looked at Terese. “Does he talk about that day, about what happened?”

“I know he regrets not being able to help everyone. Otherwise, like all of us, I think he’d just rather forget about it”

Toadie nodded as the table fell silent. Paul came walking back and looked around.

“What did I miss?” he asked looking at Terese while taking his seat. Knowing he wouldn’t be comfortable being the centre of attention at the dinner she decided to change the subject of conversation.

“We're just talking about the year. How crazy it’s been.”

“It’s been one heck of a year” Paul said “Amy left, Ned almost ended up in jail and Harlow nearly died”

“I second the die thing and I nearly lost my son to his crazy mother” Toadie added

“And we nearly broke up” Karl said looking at Susan.

“Yes, but what about the good things.” Jane quickly changed the direction “I will always be grateful that this year bought me back home. Back to family and friends”

“I guess it did bring us some joy.” Terese agreed “Our vow renewal at the wedding extravaganza” she carried on looking at Paul. “And young Emmett”

“I suppose I’ve met some interesting people this year. Oh, and I finally got rid of Andrea from our lives”

“Haven’t we heard that before?” Paul asked

“Yeah, yeah” Toadie replied with an unimpressed look on his face “What about you then. Pick one highlight from the year. One thing you’ve done without upsetting anyone”

“I got our hotel back.” He answered proudly

“I said without upsetting anyone”

“Greyson handed me a gift on a silver platter, it would’ve been rude not to take it. Don’t you agree darling” Paul answered turning to look at Terese.

“Don’t drag me into this. You know how I felt about your handling of that situation.” she said looking at him sternly. “Although it is nice to call Lassiters ours again.” she carried on with a smile.

“At least that should keep you busy and away from other people’s business” Karl said

“Terese and Lassiters are all I need. For now” Paul said with a smile on his face.

“So, I won’t have to worry about you coming here to volunteer for a while then?” Toadie asked

Paul smiled at him sarcastically

“Poor flowers never stood a chance” Susan joined in

“What was this” Jane asked looking at Susan

“Paul volunteered here for a while. Let’s just say he won’t be winning any gardening awards any time soon”

“There was an unfortunate incident with the hose, it really wasn’t my fault”

“Did you drown the flowers?” Jane asked

“You see, plants are like us.” Karl interrupted as they all stopped to look at him.

“Excuse me?” Susan asked looking at him with a confused look on her face

“We’re 70% water yet we can still drown”

“Are you serious Karl. You bring work to dinner. Again.” Susan said looking unamused as Toadie shook his head. At the same time Jane looked at Paul.

“How did you end up working here”

Terese looked at Paul as he looked at Jane.

“It’s ok darling” she whispered as she rubbed his back in a calming up and down motion

“It was after I lost Kate. I wasn’t in a good place but the nursery offered me an escape.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize” Jane apologized

“It’s fine.” Paul answered lifting his hand to stop her “It was hard” he said turning to look at Terese and giving her a smile. She reached out and placed her hand on his. As everyone else turned their attention to the conversation, he looked round the table “but I had good people there for me.”

“Life can be so cruel.” Jane said “And you’ve lost so much.”

“We all have” Paul answered.

Silence filled the air. Susan looked at Toadie and comforted him as Paul moved his hand on top of Terese’s and squeezed it tightly. An unspoken moment of silence was shared between them.

Paul was the first to break the silence.

“I had a dream once that I’d found a way to bring people back from the dead.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me” Karl said “Paul Robinson thinking he could play God”

“Was it a dream or a nightmare” Toadie said looking at him suspiciously?

“Well you know”

“Nightmare then” Toadie concluded

“How come you’ve never told me about this before” Terese asked

“Because it didn’t end particularly well for any of us, and I didn’t want you to think that my mind was going crazy.” he said looking at her “And judging by the way you’re looking at me now, I was right not to.”

“I don’t think Terese needs a dream scenario to think that mate” Karl teased.

“Oh, very funny.”

“Can I just ask; did you have a particular reason for your actions in the dream? Susan questioned

“It was a dream Susan; they don’t tend to have an explanation” Karl answered

“No, but Paul has an answer for everything. I’m just curious” she said looking back at Paul

“Apparently, I wanted to bring back the ones we’d lost, the ones we loved. I guess I was trying to fix something that’s was never in my control.”

“But ironically you all died?” Jane questioned

“See nightmare, right there” Toadie said raising his hand and pointing towards the middle of the table.

Paul turned to look at Terese.

“You don’t need to worry though darling, you weren’t there.”

“Oh right. Not important enough” she said looking disgusted at him

“Nah” he said shaking his head “You lived in my dreams. You were safe there.” he said looking at her with nothing but love in his eyes. Susan and Jane looked at each other and smiled as Terese placed her hand on his cheek. They both looked at each other for a second and smiled before leaning in for a kiss. Karl looked at Toadie and rolled his eyes.

“Some of us are trying to eat here”

“You eat away darling. When that guitar comes out later that’s when we got to be careful with the food.” Susan said pointing to the guitar that was leaning against the table.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Why is that even here Karl.” Toadie questioned “We were never going to drink that much!”

“Ha Ha, very funny. I just thought we could do with a”

“With a what Karl. A festive sing along” Paul joined in

“Why not?”

“That sounds delightful” Jane agreed

“Any tomatoes here Toadie” Paul asked

“Paul” Terese exclaimed hitting him on the arm “Maybe just use secateurs to cut the strings.” she carried on with a cheeky smile on her face.

“Terese that is genius” Toadie agreed

Susan looked towards Paul and smiled “You’ve had a bad influence on her”

“Believe you me she needs no encouragement “Paul replied with a proud smile on his face.

“Well I think it would be nice to hear some carols” Jane joined in

“Thank you, Jane,”

“Please don’t encourage him Jane.” Susan pleaded.

“Well can you play without singing? That would be a compromise?” Terese asked

“A negotiation from the business couple, what a surprise”

“So?” Terese said

Karl leaned down, grabbed the guitar from the case and placed it on his lap.

“Any requests?” he asked

“Last Christmas” Terese said

“What about a classic carol?” Jane offered

“How about this one” Karl suggested

As he started playing, the first chords were notable to all of them. They sat there for a while listening to the melody. His singing might be frustrating but if there was one thing he could do, it was play a tune. Terese shifted herself closer to Paul and snuggled next to him. He put his arm around her as she rested her head on his shoulder. She looked around to see Susan, Jane and Toadie all swaying along to the music. This was wonderful. This was perfect. This was Christmas.

Toadie suddenly broke the silence.

“There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting.” he sang on the top of his voice.

“And caroling out in the snow” Susan continued as Paul and Terese looked at each other and smiled

“There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories” Paul and Terese sang together caring on from Susan as Jane looked on before joining in.

“Of Christmases long long ago” she finished as they all joined together to sing the chorus.

“It the most wonderful time of the year” they all sang as Toadie waved his hands, conducting.

“Oh, the most wonderful time” Karl sang, finally getting his part in as he carried on strumming.

As they finished the song and the music ended a round of applause echoed around the table as everyone congratulated each other on the fine singing.

“Oh, this has been a wonderful evening.” Jane said

Paul lifted his glass “To family, friends and neighbours. May life bring us the happiness and love we deserve”

“Here hear” Karl echoed as they all raised their glasses. As he put his down, he grabbed his guitar and started strumming and singing.

“Jingle bell, jingle bell…”

“Right fruits and veg section here we come” Toadie said

As fun and laughter spread around the table Jane sat there smiling. This is perfect, she thought. This is Christmas