On the first day of Christmas, my true love… dumped me.
Poppy loves Christmas and always goes all out to make this magical time of the year extra special for her boyfriend George. But George is strangely not in the Christmas spirit this year. As Poppy wrestles him into her Christmas jumper built for two for a holiday snapshot, she finds out why.
He’s leaving her. With only twelve days to spend together before Christmas.
Poppy is heartbroken. Her perfectly planned Christmas lies in tatters. She knows they are meant to be together and she’s not going to give up on their five-year relationship without a fight. She still has twelve days to get her man back and save Christmas…
But festive surprises aren’t only found under the tree. In her quest to make George see they are destined for each other, Poppy might end up finding out the truth about him. And discover the man she is truly meant to spend this Christmas with…
This delightfully fun, festive romantic comedy is perfect for anyone who has had a Christmas that didn’t quite go to plan. Fans of One Day in December, Sophie Kinsella and Mhairi McFarlane will be completely enchanted by Elizabeth Neep’s witty and warm story about finding true love and discovering yourself along the way.
Readers can’t get enough of Elizabeth Neep:
‘A magical romcom with a difference… It truly had something special. I mean this story had it all going on and had a real taste of Bridget Jones.’ Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘This book is everything… Relatable and real, my heart absolutely ached… Witty and just an all-around amazing book.’ Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘I absolutely loved it, truly one of the best books I have read.’ Goodreads reviewer
‘I loved this book! It hooked me from page one and I couldn’t put it down… Relatable… Mesmerising and so cute. I highly recommend you add this to your must-read list!’ Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘This book is fab! I have loved it from start to end… An addictive read and one I've devoured in just one sitting.’ NetGalley reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘I freaking loved it… I can't say enough good things… Standout book.’ Amy’s Booklet List
‘Awww! How cute was this book?… I laughed with this book, I cried with this book… I highly recommend it.’ Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘A total “escape from the madness of the real world” book…
Release date: October 19, 2021
Print pages: 350
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Twelve Days to Save Christmas
‘I wouldn’t even know how.’ George sighs heavily, his broad shoulders stiffening as he takes a step back from his knitwear nightmare.
‘Oh, it’s easy,’ I say, shaking away his cynicism, refusing to let it steal my cheer. Mere minutes ago, I was in our bedroom, FaceTiming Dee and walking her through the winter wardrobe I have bought for our trip to the Cotswolds next month, the one I’ve planned for all our friends. Dee thought the two-person Christmas jumper was funny.
‘I put my arm through here…’ I explain, diving into the fabric and emerging with a Mrs Claus body on my own.
‘And you put your arm through here…’ I say, gesturing for George to become my Santa Claus. He just stands there. ‘Come on, this is meant to be fun. There were no complaints when I dressed up as Mrs Claus last year. I guess this isn’t quite as sexy as that.’
‘Can’t we just…’
‘I need you to be my Santa Claus.’
‘I don’t want to be Santa Claus.’
‘No,’ I say, reaching my hands to his hips, the spare arm of our two-person jumper flopping lifelessly by my side. ‘Clearly, you want to be the Grinch.’
‘Poppy…’ George whispers my name softly, kindness in his eyes. But I know what he’s doing. He’s trying to distract me from my one-woman mission to get my man in a two-person jumper.
‘George, I won’t tell you again,’ I narrow my eyes in fake disdain, putting my hands to my hips, both of us watching the spare jumper-arm dangle by my side. ‘Put the jumper on.’
‘I don’t want to put the jumper on.’
‘It’s just a jumper.’
‘Yes?’ I say, hands still on hips.
‘It’s not even close to Christmas.’
‘Tell that to London.’
George shakes his head. I know from the five Christmases we’ve been together that he’s one of those don’t play me a Christmas song before the first of December people. I’ve never understood those people. If something makes you happy, why wouldn’t you want to extend the celebrations? It’s the reason I still buy George a coffee every second Monday of the month, to mark the first cautious coffee we ever shared together. Yes, some people may think that’s overkill, that once you’ve shared a thousand coffees together you don’t really need to commemorate the first. But I like remembering how two relative strangers can become the kind of close-knit couple that squabble over knitwear.
‘Plus, it’s only a month until Christmas,’ I go on, mustering the excitement I had felt when talking to Dee on the phone. Our trip is going to be perfect: five full days, four couples, three day trips, two hot tubs (two!), one wonderfully wintery getaway.
‘No.’ George looks from Mrs Claus to my face. ‘It’s a month until Christmas Eve.’
‘Everybody knows that’s when Christmas begins!’ I throw my arms out but only one of them is visible under the weight of the fabric. ‘Now. Put. It. On.’ I push one arm into the air, followed by the other, becoming the cheerleader I always am for George. Even when what I’m cheerleading him into is way out of his cool-guy comfort zone.
‘But I need to talk to you about something,’ George says softly. That old chestnut. But I shall not be deterred. He’s been so busy with work lately, not to mention his band, which started as a side-project but is now making its way onto centre stage.
He needs cheering up and ’tis the season for cheer. It’s a month until Christmas. Less than four weeks until we go away. And I know George wants to get on this holidays-are-a-coming train with me, he just needs a bit of coaxing to get on board.
‘Well, we can talk and look dashing at the same time.’
‘Is that a reindeer pun?’
‘It’s not not a reindeer pun,’ I say, and I see his face dimple at the cheeks. There it is. The smile I love most in the world. The one I always manage to probe and poke and kiss out of him, no matter how busy or stressed or tired he’s been.
‘I’m not sure I…’ George begins as I twiddle Mrs Claus’ pigtails on my front, which are unfortunately positioned in the exact same place as my nipples. ‘Poppy, are you even listening?’ he asks. ‘If I put the damn jumper on, will you listen to me?’
‘Deal,’ I say, as George disappears underneath the jumper until his messy mop of dark hair pops through the neck and he becomes the Mr to my Mrs. He turns to me with a smile so soft that I fear that if I hold him too tightly, I might just scare it away.
‘Almost.’ I begin to shuffle in the direction of the mirror. George follows. He has no choice not to. Together, we look at our reflection. We look ridiculous. Gloriously ridiculous. I study our shapes, the way his big frame towers against mine. Mr and Mrs Claus dangle from our fronts, almost as good a double act as us.
‘Now I’m happy,’ I say, turning my body around to face him as the fabric holding us together forces George to do the same. He looks down at me, his eyes widening as if to take me in, flicking through my features, from my eyes to my nose to my mouth, lingering on my lips for a moment that seems to stretch on forever. The fact that I am still desperate for him to kiss me after five years of kisses feels like a dream come true.
‘But I’m not,’ George says slowly. ‘Poppy, I… you’re…’
‘Fine, you can take it off now,’ I laugh, reaching to pull the jumper up.
‘No, Poppy,’ George objects as I wonder whether he just likes disagreeing with me. ‘It’s not the jumper. Well, it’s kind of the jumper,’ he admits, catching another glimpse of himself in the floor-length mirror. ‘Look, shall we sit down?’ He smiles again but for some reason it doesn’t feel like all the smiles that have gone before.
‘No.’ Now it’s my turn to object. ‘If it’s not the jumper thing…’
‘It’s the whole thing,’ George interjects, the volume of his voice inching louder.
‘What thing?’ I say, my heartbeat quickening to match the urgency of his tone.
‘Us. You and me.’ The way he refers to us together before breaking us into two parts feels ominous, like he’s trying to warn me of something I can’t quite comprehend.
‘We’re not a thing,’ I object breathlessly. We’re a couple. We’re in love. We’re best friends. How can five years of shared life and growing up be bundled into a single thing?
‘What I’m trying to say, Poppy,’ George says, still standing before me as the fabric holding us together begins to itch. ‘Is that you’re wonderful…’ Okay, well, that’s not bad. ‘And gorgeous…’ These are all good things. So, why is he looking at me like he’s about to punch a puppy? ‘But… I think we should break up.’
Everything stops, from my breath to my heartbeat, as I wait for the punchline. Come on, George, where is that smile? The one that tells me that everything will be okay. George tries to take a step backwards but still attached, I come with him. I always come with him. Ever since that first coffee date on the second Monday of the month, we’ve rarely left each other’s side. We’ve woken up every morning together, gone to sleep every night together. First at his place, then at ours. I look from Mrs Claus to my Mr Right and everything feels wrong.
‘Poppy, shall we sit down?’ George echoes again, eyes darting to the sofa, the one we picked out together to go perfectly with the one-bedroom flat we rent together. He motions to lift the two-person jumper up so that we can become two separate entities. But I can’t move.
‘Wh…’ I manage to make a sound, neither one of us knowing where it’s going next. We both know it’s a question though. What? Where? Why?
‘Poppy, let’s take this jumper off…’
I watch as George wriggles his way out of the jumper, the one he never wanted to put on in the first place. I keep it on, letting the arm that George was filling once again fall limp. My whole damn body is limp. My eyes follow his frame as he moves to sit on the sofa, not looking back to see whether I’m following. I’m not following any of this. Somehow, I move from the mirror to stand mere metres in front of him but unable to stomach sitting down, I stand there, still drenched in a jumper made for two. I feel like a melted snowman.
‘Poppy, I know this may be a bit of a shock…’ George begins, his voice still butter. He can’t even bring himself to say that I probably saw this coming too. We both know I didn’t. Not even an hour has passed since Dee was laughing through my phone screen commending my cashmere, telling me which outfits to share photos of on social media, promising I’ll look every inch like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday. ‘Who does that make George?’ I had asked, already knowing her answer: ‘Jude Law, who else? You guys are perfect together. I wish Charlie could be a bit more like him…’ Not even an hour ago I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. Now, I’m standing here before the man I love, jilted and shivering. If Baby thought it was cold outside, she has no bloody idea how icy it is in here.
‘I’ve been feeling this way for a while,’ he says, looking too sad for me to hate him.
‘A few months.’
A few months? We’ve been together for years. Surely, a few months isn’t worth throwing five years of love and friendship away? I search his face for signs I should have seen earlier, the ones that would have warned me something wasn’t right but there are none. We were perfect. We are perfect. I’ve made sure of it.
‘Yeah, a few months,’ he repeats, eyes drifting into the middle distance as he tries to pinpoint the precise moment he started to feel differently. ‘Around the time you lost your—’
‘I didn’t lose my job,’ I don’t let him complete the sentence I know is coming next.
‘Okay, yeah, sorry,’ George continues to speak softly but more quickly, like he just wants to get this thing over with now. ‘When you took voluntary redundancy.’
I know from the way he says the word ‘voluntary’ that he’s struggling not to make air quotes with his fingers, struggling not to make a mockery of my decision to abandon the sinking PR start-up I was working at in favour of a freelance lifestyle, one that has started so slowly that you’d be forgiven for thinking it hadn’t started at all. But I’ve been busy. It’s not my fault that the exact moment my career started to stall, George decided to turn up the volume on things with the band.
‘I guess since then you’ve been… well, we’ve been a bit…’ George hurries to correct his misplaced word but we both know he means it. I’ve been a bit something, a bit what? Loving? Supportive? So scared that I’d look like I wasn’t happy about him finally trying to make his boyhood fantasy become a reality that I pushed aside job-hunting to meet him on his lunchbreak or clap along front-row at every single one of his gigs?
‘Needy?’ George says reluctantly, like he knows it’s a mistake even before he’s muttered it. Even so it floors me, my legs chattering together at such speed that I decide it’s better to sit on the carpet, kneeling by his feet for a second before I try to muster a more powerful pose. I cross my legs, feeling like a child. A bit needy. Needy?
‘Well… I don’t know if that’s the right word,’ George goes on, reaching for my hand. Words were my thing before I took that redundancy. Despite being a musician by night, George is an accountant by day, and I know he still thinks in numbers. Five years of happiness plus three months of doubt and this still isn’t an outcome I can compute.
‘But ever since you lost… since you decided to go freelance…’ I feel the invisible air quotes again. ‘You’re always…’ He searches for the right word again. ‘…here.’
‘In the apartment?’
‘No, not here here.’ He shakes his head hurriedly. He’s not making sense. None of this is making sense. I study the symmetry of his face, from his strong jaw to his crinkled brow, searching for signs of exhaustion or mental breakdown or something else going on that his confused brain has decided to pin on me. ‘Just here, as in, where I am. You’re wonderful…’ I wish he’d stop saying that. ‘But…’ I’d wish he’d stop saying that even more. ‘I wake up and you’re here, I go to sleep and you’re here. I go to work and you’re there, waiting to take me on my lunchbreak or surprise me with my favourite coffee…’
I watch on, stunned, trying to see how adding any of these things together can equate to a mistake. These are nice things. And you do nice things for the people you love. Not that my family taught me that, but George did, right around the time he became my family.
‘I play a gig and all the guys have this, like, air of mystery around them,’ George says, and I want to shout that if it’s mystery he’s after then bravo because he’s sounding as clear as a flipping raincloud. ‘But no, not me; there’s my girlfriend standing front row, shouting my name.’
I thought he liked that, that we’ve always been each other’s biggest fans.
‘I thought that’s what you wanted.’
‘Yes, I…’ George softens, but then his body stiffens again as if he’s mustering the strength to break my heart in two. ‘What I want,’ he breathes and it’s like he’s been holding onto this for years. A few months, I remind myself. He’s only been feeling this way for a few months. ‘Is to be with someone whose whole world doesn’t revolve around me. It’s too much pressure. I want to be with someone who takes risks, tries new things…’
Like being the first person to ever cry cross-legged in the centre of their living room wearing a two-person Christmas jumper in November?
‘I want to be with someone who knows what they want and maybe you just need some time to work that out and…’
‘I want you.’
I knew as soon as I’d said those three words that they were basically George’s case in point, but the way he’s saying my name now tells me that for sure. And yet, I can’t help but say the next three words that come to my mind, the only ones with enough power to fix this.
‘I love you.’
‘I know, me too, I just…’ George shakes his head. ‘I think we need this.’
How the hell could I need this?
‘What are we going to do now?’ I say, hating myself for needing George to have the answers. But he always has. Or at least, I stopped asking so many questions about my past around the time I started planning my future with him.
‘One of us needs to move out,’ he says, reaching for my hand again. I pull away.
‘With what money?’
‘I guess, maybe… you need to get a job…’
I thought I had a job, a freelance one. But the way George says this tells me he thinks I’m as employed as my redundancy was voluntary.
‘I have a…’
‘A steady job.’
‘I need time.’
‘We’ve paid the rent until the end of the year, you can stay here until then.’ He forces a sad smile, trying to keep strong for the two of us. Is this the kind of pressure he is talking about? The pressure to be the leader, the decision-maker, the one that makes things happen?
‘Then what?’ Damn it, Poppy.
‘Then we’ll find somewhere new,’ George says, treating the word ‘we’ with a light touch seeing as we’re not really we anymore. ‘Or I’ll stay on here.’
‘In our place? That’s not fair.’ Now I don’t just look like a child, I sound like one too.
‘If you can afford to cover the rent by yourself then by all means…’ he says, the end of his sentence drifting off at the sight of my widening eyes, staring back at him now. If I didn’t love him so much, I’d hate him. But the man has a point.
‘But where will you stay?’ I say, tears making tracks down my face.
‘I’ll stay here too,’ George says, and a glimmer of hope fills my heart. He’s not ready to move on either. ‘But I’ll sleep on the sofa bed,’ he looks to the cushions beneath him, the ones that have made so many of our guests feel welcome at ours.
‘And I’ll be at the office three days a week and out most evenings anyway,’ George goes on, mentally mapping through his routine even though I know every inch of it by heart. I used to love Mondays and Fridays when George was working from home, sleepy Sundays where he had no band practice to run off to. Now these days are going to be excruciating.
‘You’ll have plenty of space, I promise. Then I’ll be back at my parents’ for Christmas,’ he adds, and this feels like the most excruciating thought of all. I’ve only had five good Christmases in my life and each one of these was spent with George and his family. And, though he hasn’t explicitly asked me to spend Christmas with his family this year, after spending the past four festive seasons embraced by the whole clan as if I was one of their own, I assumed it was a given. There is a lot I’ve assumed.
‘So, you’re saying we should stay together until New Year?’
‘Well, in the flat until New Year… not together-together.’
Yes, thanks, George. I got that part, at least.
‘Oh crap, I’m going to be late for practice,’ George says, looking up from his watch to me, as if he’s waiting for me to stop him from leaving or follow him out of the bloody door. I just sit there, in the middle of the floor, drowning in ugly knitwear and even uglier tears.
This can’t be happening. The thought runs on repeat as I watch George grab his guitar and head towards the front door to our apartment. I look down to see Mrs Claus smiling back at me, mocking me, and up to see my should-be Santa Claus leaving his baggage behind.
Twelve Choir Members
Waking up on the sofa, I can’t breathe and it only takes a moment for me to realise why. I look down to see the festive-green arms of the couple’s jumper tangled around my neck and peel off the comedy knitwear. Turns out I’m the joke.
I look up at the clock on the wall, the one we bought on our trip to Paris this time last year. Back when everyone thought George was preparing to pop the question. Only an hour has passed since he left. One blissful hour of release but now I fear I may never sleep again. This can’t be right. I scan our shared apartment for clues, mentally replaying the last few hours. Rewind one hour and I’m asleep on our sofa. Rewind three and I’m dancing in our bedroom. But rewind two and the love of my life is breaking up with me for being too needy.
I want to be with someone who takes risks, tries new things… The injustice of his words pushes me to my feet. I take risks. I try new things. Just three hours ago I was trying on multiple new things for Dee. I walk into the bedroom and it’s exactly as I left it even though by now, everything has changed. I pull on a bright white jumper, hoping to feel something of the joy I had felt just hours ago, but it doesn’t work. I flick through the lifestyle magazine I was reading before, but the same headline catches my eye – Giving Back is the New Going Out – and it just makes me feel as angry as it did earlier.
Dee: did George like the jumper? I read the message that has just popped into my phone as another wave of sickness washes over me. What should I tell her? What does she already know? I leave her question unanswered whilst more of them flood my mind: Will George stay out all night? What do I say when he comes home? What do I do now? Every inch of this apartment reminds me of him. We share everything together.
Well, except our love of Christmas in November…
The cold winter air slaps me around the face as soon as I step outside. I’m too tired for this, too emotional, but I can’t stay in waiting for George to come home. Plus, if anything can make me feel better, it’s the Christmas markets. From the smell of a thousand different street foods filling the air to the twinkling lights and happy pink-cheeked faces of friends and tourists mooching around aimlessly, it’s the kind of barrage to the senses that can just about make you forget yourself. And God knows, I need to forget today.
Tracing the short walk from Elephant and Castle to South Bank, I hear the sound of music and chatter before I see the market coming into view and try my best to shake off my sadness. George is always talking about travelling the world, touring with the band, but it’s the one thing I won’t budge on. London has everything we need; well, it did.
I head to the first stall I pass, allowing my eyes to feast on the stacks of multi-coloured fudge before me. But then I see a banoffee-flavoured block and remember the time that George and I tried to make a pie for Dee and Charlie only to accidentally order one hundred and fifty kilograms of digestive biscuits to our apartment. Next, I come to a hut selling scarves, allowing the very many colours to momentarily wrap around me, making me feel warm. But then I see a simple grey one that George would love. I walk past a stand selling coffee and see the slumped figure of an elderly gentleman, with the kind of grubby hands and unkempt beard that tells me he has been sleeping rough for weeks.
‘My boyfriend just bailed on me,’ I say, handing him the second cup of coffee I have just bought, mustering a lie to give him some dignity along with his drink. Then, I realise it isn’t a lie at all. My boyfriend has just bailed on me. He smiles back at me before the sound of singing distracts us both from the moment. I follow the music until I come to stand outside the heaving Cider Lodge, packed full of smiling faces that somehow manage to make me feel even worse. There, I see a twelve-piece choir swaying from side to side in front of it.
‘On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…’
I look between their shiny faces. Half of them are in their fifties, but I’m surprised to see there are some younger members too. One choir member offers me a massive smile that goes straight to my stomach. He must be in his late twenties, with floppy dark hair, a thick black beard and dark olive skin, even though almost every inch of it is wrapped up in worn denim. He holds my gaze as the choir take a collective and exaggerated intake of breath before listing off the increasing amount of presents they’re receiving from their true loves.
‘On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…’
The stranger smiles at me again, a twinkle in his eyes, before he starts to bob up and down on the spot. Oh gosh, they’re bobbing. He rolls his eyes as if he knows it’s cheesy and I can’t help but laugh. Then I notice another member of the choir: an auburn-haired woman dressed in a multi-coloured coat is looking at me. I watch as she turns to look at my new bobbing friend. For some reason I feel like I’ve just been caught checking the poor guy out.
‘On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…’
As the choir sings on, I try to imagine my life with anyone other than George. Could I just walk up to this handsome stranger and start talking and never stop, just like I did with George all those years ago? Where one coffee had turned into seven, then eight, then…
‘On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…’
I can’t do it. I can’t see myself with anyone else, can’t see myself laughing and joking and spending Christmas with anyone but him. As the choir builds to the crescendo of one of the happiest songs in the world, I feel a rush of emotion run through me. On the twelfth day of Christmas… tears begin to make their way down my cheeks. Eleven, ten… more follow suit. And by that one bloody partridge in that effing pear tree, I am sobbing, shoulders shaking, audibly wailing into my gloved hands. And there is . . .
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