This is solo short story fiction!  Hannah has been writing fictional short stories for Solo Living. She writes character-driven stories about single life and solos living alone. Here is Jenny’s Christmas story – Part 1 of 2, with the second instalment Amanda’s New Year Story found here.  To read more solo short stories you can find them here.

Jenny’s Christmas Story Part 1

Short Stories | 24th December 2021 by Hannah Westman

This is solo short story fiction!  Hannah has been writing fictional short stories for Solo Living. She writes character-driven stories about single life and solos living alone. Here is Jenny’s Christmas story – Part 1 of 2, with the second instalment Amanda’s New Year Story found here.  To read more solo short stories you can find them here.

Jenny's Christmas Story festive short story

Christmas was one of Jenny’s favourite times of year – the decorations, food, gift-giving. Most of all, though, she loved spending time with her family. Everyone was always so busy with work or children or whatever else, that they rarely all had the chance to get together and just enjoy themselves. 

Honestly, given how busy the last few weeks had been in Edinburgh, with people desperate to finish last-minute shopping and organise nights out, Jenny was also grateful to be hosting Christmas this year, because it meant that – bar an emergency like running out of ingredients or family getting lost on their way in – she didn’t have to leave the house.

She was working on dessert now, which if anyone asked she would say it was the best part about the entire meal. Behind her, her sister Amanda was focused on the cookies.

“Thanks for the help this year,” Jenny said as she wiped fresh cream from her hands. It turned out that tiramisu wasn’t as simple as she had hoped. “I don’t know what I’d have done had you not been able to come this morning.”

While Jenny was still in pajamas, Amanda was already fully dressed in a pair of stylishly baggy jeans and a bright red Christmas jumper that matched the ribbon in her dark curls. She was probably only going to end up with cookie dough down her front, but Jenny really did appreciate the help.

Whatever else she might have said, though, was interrupted by tiny feet as they hammered against the floor. Suddenly Jenny’s narrow kitchen was full as her two children came speeding past. “When will everyone be here?” Eve demanded, bumping into Jenny so she could see what was in the mixing bowl. “Oh, cream! Can I taste some?”

“It’s for dessert tonight,” Jenny chided, and then turned to grab Dean, the youngest, before he could swipe an uncooked cookie from the tray. “And those are raw.”

Dean pouted, but slinked away to stand by Eve without complaint. At only nine, he was already better behaved than his older sister. 

“I asked everyone to be here by three,” she continued, “which means that everyone should start arriving just before, and Rory probably won’t get here until half four.”

“He’s never been on time to anything in his life,” Amanda said with a sigh, “but he does make the best mashed potatoes, so he’s forgiven.”

It was a family tradition of sorts for Rory to bring his mash, and their grandparents usually brought homemade snacks for the kids to pick at while dinner was cooking. All families had their odd little traditions like that, Jenny thought, it was just that all of theirs revolved around food.

“Can I please taste some cream?”

Jenny glanced down at Eve. She looked more and more like her dad every day, with his strong jawline and fluffy blonde hair. Sometimes, Jenny wondered what Lewis was doing now, but cut herself off before she could think too hard. There was a reason that they hadn’t spoken since the divorce. “You can have a small taste once I’m done, okay? Now go and start getting ready – and where’s Megan?”

Eve shrugged. “Upstairs on the Xbox, I think.”

“Well tell her to start getting ready too, please.”

Although twins, Eve and Megan couldn’t have been more unlike each other. Eve still clung to her childish behaviour, more like Dean than a twelve-year-old; but Megan was quiet and preferred her own company, even at Christmas. Still, Jenny knew she would come down to investigate once the family started arriving.

Soon enough, the kids were trundling upstairs to wash and get dressed, leaving Jenny and Amanda alone with the mountain of food needing prepared. As Jenny glanced down at her two-page list, she almost regretted offering to host this year. Almost, because she still felt that giddy feeling in her stomach that rose whenever she thought of Christmas, and then suddenly her worries vanished and she couldn’t wait.

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It was clear that Amanda felt the same, wide-eyed and eager. She beamed as she squeezed past Jenny to reach the oven, and cast a glance into the hall, too. “Not long now,” she said with a grin, “I hope we can get most of the cooking done before everyone arrives.”

“Leave most of it to me. You’re a guest too, Amanda.”

“But I’m also your sister, and I’m here to help.”

Jenny couldn’t help but smile. She was tired and her pajamas were covered in chocolate and she felt like an absolute mess – but it was Christmas, and she couldn’t wait for the day ahead. “So, cookies are done and tiramisu just needs to be assembled. What’s next?”

Amanda glanced at the list. “Onion soup and fresh bread – wait, you make your own bread now?”

“I’m trying something new for Christmas,” Jenny answered, “although, in hindsight, I should maybe have practised the week before…”

Amanda laughed and rolled her eyes, but there was a softness there. “Today is going to be chaotic, isn’t it?”

“With me in charge? Absolutely.”

At the very least, the two of them worked like a charm together. While Jenny did the bulk of the work, Amanda made little things like the cookies and side dishes. Jenny was glad to have her here because it made the whole prospect of hosting Christmas that little bit less terrifying. 

Then the turkey was in the oven to slow-cook, and the sides were done, and all that was left was to tidy up and get ready. There were dirty dishes on every available surface and the floor was a mess, but with two of them, it only took half the time. Then Jenny went upstairs to fuss over the kids and attempt to get ready in between before the first guests started arriving.

Mum and Dad were first, piling through the door with Jenny’s brother in tow. Poor Kyle had been left with the bags, and he struggled to fit through the door with his hands full.

Jenny greeted them all with a bright smile, feeling her heart warm at the sight of them. Mum looked good in her flowy dress and high heels, she always did know how to dress up; and Dad looked about as tired of her antics as he always did. 

“It’s so good to see you,” Mum chirped as she shuffled inside. She was blocking the entire hallway but didn’t seem to notice. She hugged Jenny so forcefully that her ribs ached, laughing brightly into Jenny’s ear. “I love what you’ve done with the house – displaying your old dance medals on the wall is such a good idea. You were such a good tap dancer as a child.”

“Mum,” she reminded, “I still dance. I literally work at a dance school.”

“Yes yes, I know, but you could have gone professional.”

Behind Mum, Dad offered an apologetic look. “Why don’t we say hello to the kids?” he suggested brightly, “in the living room.”

He and Mama shuffled away, giving Jenny a minute to breathe. “Not a minute in and she’s judging already,” she muttered, but it was no more unexpected than Uncle Rory being late, or Dean falling asleep before the last guest left tonight. It was one of those things that she had learned to manage.

Kyle, now finally able to come inside properly, set his bags aside. Other than Mum’s handbag, there were two bags full of presents and another, smaller bag full of boxes of treats. “From Mum and Dad,” he said with a grin, “including Mum’s famous peppermint traybake.”

“Better keep those away from the kids, or it’ll all be gone in an hour,” Amanda said with a smirk. 

“They can have one, and I’m not letting Mum coerce me into giving them more-“

She was cut off by the ring of the doorbell and turned to see Kyle already opening the door for the second round of guests. Aunt Kirstie beamed at them from the front steps, bundled in an enormous fluffy jacket and matching hat. She looked like a glamorous woman from those old fashioned Hollywood movies, complete with expensive handbag and pearls. 

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Behind her stood Jenny’s grandparents, still steady on their feet despite their age, and they all came bustling in with bright hellos and hugs.

Jenny’s heart leapt as more and more family began piling in. Soon her quiet house was full of chatter and laughter, and more people just kept coming. Even her cousins from Glasgow had made it, and her two aunts travelled all the way from Aberdeen – when asked, Aunt Jade revealed that they had stayed in a hotel overnight just to make sure they made it on time.

Most surprising of all, however, was that Rory was only forty minutes late – he sauntered in with his wife, holding an enormous dish of perfect mashed potatoes and enveloped Jenny and Amanda both in a hug. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, “but in my defence, I have a good reason.”

“You always do, Rory,” Amanda answered with a laugh.

Then, with everyone finally here and the turkey almost ready, it was time to eat. They didn’t sit at the table in the dining room, because there were seventeen of them in total. Instead, Jenny opened up the wide doors that separated the dining room from the living space, opening it up into one huge area, and everyone simply milled about or sat where they pleased.

Then Jenny served, spreading the feast across the tables like a buffet, and finally had a chance to sit down. No sooner had she sat, however, when Dean came ambling over and plopped to sit at her feet.

“Is there a reason you’re at my feet and not in a chair?” Jenny asked, glancing down with a smile. He had a plate full of mostly roast potatoes and gravy, which was his favourite, and the tiniest slice of turkey.

“Megan took the seat I wanted, so I’m ignoring her,” Dean said with an air of firmness. Then, he dug into his meal.

Jenny was about to do the same when she caught Mum staring at her. Well, staring wasn’t the right word; she had more tact than that, but not by much. “Is something wrong?” Jenny asked, expecting judgements about the food or the kid’s behaviour or something else.

“Just you hosting Christmas this year?” Mum asked, and Jenny didn’t realise at first what that meant.

“Amanda helped, she stayed over last night… Who else would host?”

Mum quirked a brow in that way that said you know what I mean. Her blue eyes watched intently. “What I mean is, are you spending this year alone too?”

What did… oh, right. Since Lewis moved out three years ago and the divorce became official, Jenny hadn’t dated once. Well, save for the odd blind date set up by Rory or Kyle, but those never worked out. “Yes, Mum,” she said with a sigh, “just me. You know I’m not interested in remarrying.”

“Think about the kids-“

“The kids do just fine with me,” she replied, and it was becoming more and more work to keep her voice even. Here, surrounded by family, she really didn’t want to argue.

At her feet, Dean remained blissfully oblivious to the conversation happening just above him. He munched happily on potatoes soaked in gravy while watching Megan in the other room, and Jenny was grateful that he didn’t pay the best attention to his surroundings.

The same couldn’t be said for Aunt Kirstie, who had picked the armchair beside Jenny. She turned to them both now, holding a glass of red wine, and said, “are you sure you wouldn’t want to date again? Ever? When John moved to Ireland I said the same, and it took me years to think about romance again – but I’ve recently started dating this lovely younger guy from Stirling, and I’m sure if you gave men a second chance it would be so worth it.”

Jenny gave her an even look, blue eyes wary. “You mean well Kirstie, I know that, but we’re very different people. I don’t need a guy in my life.”

“Not even if he was perfect?”

“Nobody’s perfect Aunt Kirstie, not even you.” Amanda appeared just in time, her expression soft. She carried a plate piled high with a bit of everything, which made Jenny wonder how she kept her slender figure and settled into the seat beside Jenny. When she set the plate on the coffee table, she turned her bright gaze to Mum and Aunt Kirstie. “If Jenny says she’s happy, then she is.”

Mum, of course, wouldn’t be deterred. It was like this every year because she was the kind of woman who loved to pick apart her children for the strangest reasons. Even Rory, her favourite, wasn’t always safe. “I’m just trying to say that it would be beneficial of her to start looking again – and don’t think that I’m excluding you from this, Amanda. When was the last time you were serious with someone?”

Amanda answered instantly. “Two thousand fifteen, Alexander Barrie. We dated for a year.”

Jenny winced, anticipating Mum’s words before they had even left her lips.

“That was six years ago, Amanda. You’re not getting any younger, and it really is time that you settle down.”

“I live in a small town and dating is hard,” Amanda answered, “and besides, I’ve decided to take some time for me.

Jenny couldn’t help but smile at Amanda, feeling herself slowly relax. It was true that they were both well into their thirties, and it was true that neither of them had put much effort into dating or men recently, but so what? There was more to life than settling down. Jenny had her kids and her job, which she loved. Working full time and raising three kids wasn’t easy, but it helped that her three showed interest in dance and loved it almost as much as she did, so being a dance teacher definitely had its perks. Besides, despite what Mum and Kirstie seemed to think, she didn’t need a husband to be happy.

When it looked as if Mum was about to say more, Jenny quickly interjected. “I know you think I should find someone new, but I don’t need to. Let me remind you that Amanda and I did all of this today, with three kids running wild the entire afternoon, and there was no man involved in any of it.”

The group took a moment to look around, and so did Jenny. People spilled into every room now – the living room, dining area, even the kitchen where there was nothing but dirty bowls and messy surfaces. Her family chatted and laughed as they told stupid stories and enjoyed the food, some already going back for seconds. Christmas music played faintly over the chatter, probably Eve’s doing as she had learned how to use the Alexa, and someone had turned on the Christmas lights hung over the doors so that they twinkled gently in yellow and red.

Even Mum was impressed, Jenny could tell by the quirk of her lips and the way she looked around. “Personally, I would have had a bigger tree,” she said with a shrug, “but it looks lovely. Did the kids help decorate?”

“The girls did the Christmas tree,” Jenny replied, “and Dean helped string out the lights and put up the cards.”

Mum smiled and nodded, which was about as close to good job as she ever got, and turned back to her meal. “Well, I’m glad that the pressure was off me to host this year, that’s for sure. So thank you, Jenny – and you too, Amanda.”

Jenny and Amanda shared a smile. Maybe it wasn’t glowing praise or anything like that, but it was enough. They had each other, their entire family filling the house with laughter, and what else could they really need? Sure, maybe Mum and a few others didn’t agree with Jenny’s choice to divorce Lewis – or Amanda’s choice to never even marry in the first place – but at the end of the day, it was their choice.

There was something in Amanda’s eyes, a thoughtful sort of look, that said she was thinking something similar. Then she clicked back to attention with a smile, dug her fork into Roy’s fluffy mash, and took a grateful bite. “I actually think being single has some benefits – like not having anyone in the way when you’re trying to prepare Christmas dinner. You know a man would only try to pick at the food and complain that there was nothing for him to do.”

“Lewis was just like that,” Jenny cut in – and now she was fighting back laughter as she, too, started to eat. The roast potatoes were perfectly crispy, the baked vegetables were tender enough to melt on her tongue, and the turkey was herby and delicious. Even the bread, which Jenny had worried would end up stodgy and dry, was perfectly fluffy.

“Do you remember one year when the girls were still small,” Aunt Kirstie asked with a grin, “and Lewis tried to make that leek and potato soup for Christmas? He was so proud of himself when he arrived and practically shoved the whole tub at me, but when we tried it, it was like eating salt!”

Jenny groaned because she remembered that day too well. “He insisted on making it again to practice, but he never got any better at it.”

“Which is why,” Amanda said with a grin, “Jenny and I are both perfectly happy as we are. Single.

“Well,” Aunt Kirstie said with a grin, “single or not, I think this is the best Christmas yet!”

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Hannah Westman
As a young Scottish writer residing in Glasgow, I’ve been writing almost as long as I’ve been old enough to hold a pen. I started out writing short stories, and over the years I have branched out into many styles of writing. Someday, I hope to publish a novel series - but freelancing as I am now will always be part of my life. It has given me great opportunities to develop my writing skills, delve into many genres, and work with wonderful people.

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