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The Best Christmas Present

Anna Fitzgerald stood outside The Shelbourne Hotel and wondered if he was already inside. The five-star hotel on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green was bustling with Christmas shoppers coming and going through its ornate entrance. It was the 20th of December and although the sun was shining, a frosty wind whipped up the street keeping people hurrying along. Through the frosted windows, Anna could see an enormous Christmas tree decorated with red and gold baubles. The light from the roaring log fire reflected off the shiny Christmas tree decorations, hugging the room in a warm red and gold glow.

She looked at her watch. She was two hours early. A later train from Wexford would have gotten her here on time but she just couldn’t wait around the house any longer so she left as soon as she could. Anna had chosen The Shelbourne Hotel because she had a lovely memory of having afternoon tea here with her late mother many years ago. Her mother had given out to her for spending so much money, but then couldn’t hide her delight at the beautifully presented sandwiches and cakes and her awe at the luxurious surroundings. The memory made Anna smile. Her husband Dan thought The Shelbourne was overpriced and stuffy which is another reason for picking it. It was the one place she could be sure he would never come to. This was just as well because today Anna was meeting the other love of her life, Liam. 


Anna shivered. Just two more hours until I see Liam again, she thought feeling butterflies in her stomach. Maybe some window shopping will calm my nerves, she said to herself as she turned and headed off toward the Grafton Street shopping area. Grafton Street looked wonderful at Christmas time. As Dublin’s premier shopping street, the shopkeepers made a special effort to decorate every window. Overhead, giant chandeliers lit up the sky making the street look classy and stylish. Young children in buggies pointed up to them, their rosy cheeks smiling with delight. Older school children wearing Santa hats were carol singing at the corner of Duke Street and Anna stopped for a moment to find some change in her handbag to donate to their charitable cause. Their Santa hats and noisy rendition of Jingle Bells put a smile on the faces of people passing by.


The wonderful smell of Bewley’s coffee lured Anna further down Grafton Street and, as she had time to kill, she popped in for a creamy cappuccino. A smiling waitress directed her to a small empty table at the window so she could watch the Christmas shoppers rush by. Sitting down she draped her coat and scarf on the empty seat beside her. As she stirred her coffee her thoughts turned to the man she was meeting at the Shelbourne Hotel. 


Thirty years, she thought to herself, thirty years since she had last seen Liam. She could feel her heart swell with love when she thought of him, but her heart also ached when she remembered saying goodbye to him. She remembered that cold rainy day in London so well. Looking into his big brown eyes, she tried to explain why she was leaving. Her heart didn’t want to leave him, but her head overruled. Her parents would never approve of Liam, and it would never work out back in Ireland. So, broken-hearted Anna said goodbye and although she tried to put him out of her mind she always wondered what might have been.


She met Dan very quickly afterward and although Anna didn’t fall head over heels in love with him, he was a good man and he adored her. They had some great times together and Anna grew to love him. She told him that Liam was the reason she returned from London and Dan was very understanding and was happy to take things slow in their relationship. They got married two years later and they had twin girls a few years later. Dan was a kind and gentle man and a wonderful father to their girls. Together they worked hard to give their family a lovely lifestyle and they were very happy together.

  

Then, two weeks ago out of the blue, Anna got a letter from Liam. She was thankful she had been sitting down when she opened his letter. Her legs felt weak, and her hands shook as she read his words. Memories came flooding back and Anna could not stop the tears from falling. He was still living in London and had wanted to meet her after all this time. He left an email address for her to reply to. Anna must have read and re-read Liam’s letter one hundred times. He would be in Dublin for a few days from the twentieth of December and wanted to meet her. With a pounding heart, Anna carried her laptop to the kitchen table where she replied and agreed to meet him at the Shelbourne Hotel.


She decided not to tell Dan or the kids the real reason she was going to Dublin. She told them she had a bit of shopping to do, which was true, so she didn’t feel guilty. She would explain everything when she got home. This was something she needed to do by herself.


Anna looked at her reflection in the window beside her and felt anxious. What would he think of her? She had carefully chosen her clothes this morning and had had her hair done yesterday. She had felt confident before leaving home that she had looked okay. But now she felt unsure. Too much make-up? Too little make-up?


Oh dear, nothing I can do about it now she thought as she looked at her watch. It was time to go. Anna finished her coffee and put on her coat and scarf. Taking a deep breath she left Bewley’s and made her way through the crowds, back up Grafton Street to The Shelbourne Hotel.


As soon as she walked into the foyer she saw him. She recognised him immediately. He was the image of his dad. Not Dan, her husband, but Robert, the musician she had met and fallen in love with over 30 years ago. A young and naive Anna, studying nursing in London, had fallen head over heels in love with Robert who broke her heart and left her pregnant and alone in London.


“Anna?” Liam said as he stepped forward.


Anna looked into Liam’s eyes, the eyes she had looked into thirty years ago and she started to cry.


“Oh Liam” she cried “I’m so glad you found me and I’m so sorry…. for everything”


Liam smiled and held out his arms wrapping his arms around his mother for the first time.


“It’s okay,” he said, rubbing her hair and looking into her eyes. “Everything is going to be fine,” he said, hugging her tightly. “Is it…is it okay if I call you mum?”


“Oh yes my son, yes you can,” replied Anna looking once again into Liam’s deep brown eyes.


All around them, people were arriving to meet friends for a Christmas drink or a coffee in the foyer of the Hotel and some to exchange Christmas gifts.


Anna had already received the best Christmas Gift ever. And as they stood there hugging each other, to everyone else they just looked like a mother and son meeting up for coffee. And that’s exactly what they were……..


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