‘I have some news for you, Mum,' my daughter Jenna began over the phone.
My heart leapt. My husband David and I were anticipating an engagement. We really liked Jenna's long-term partner, Ian.
A year ago, we'd warmly welcomed him to the family.
Jenna was our only child and we wanted to see her settled.
The couple were both solicitors and had met at a classy festive legal do last year. Soon after, she'd shyly asked if she could invite him to our big Christmas dinner.
'His parents have emigrated to the States. He'd love to see them, but he's a nervous flyer and doesn't relish the prospect of a ten-hour flight. He hasn't any siblings, his distant family are spread far and wide, and his friends and colleagues have already made plans,' she'd explained.
I beamed. 'Of course, he can come!'
'The more, the merrier,' David had added.
The four of us had a fabulous time.
We all helped prepare and cook the three-course dinner with wine, then after a mammoth washing-up session, we'd opened gifts by the tree, played board games, and then lazed about stuffing ourselves silly while watching TV and telling daft jokes.
Jenna was now thirty-five, but when her ex, Max had jilted her at the altar, she was twenty-one, trusting, sweet and naïve, caught up in a wedding fantasy land.
We'd comforted and soothed, yet when the groom didn't turn up, we were secretly relieved. We'd never taken to Max.
A male model, he had film star looks, and a trim, muscled figure. He could be very charming, yet he was unreliable with dating and liked things his own way. If he didn't get it, he'd sulk, punishing poor Jenna for hours with the silent treatment.
But Jenna was blinded by love – or as we'd thought- infatuation.
'She's gone for passion instead of security,' I'd said.
'Well, once the honeymoon period's over, marriage isn't very exciting, is it? Someone has to clean the loo and empty the bins,' David had put in.
'You're right. I couldn't see that marriage lasting.'
'Jenna won't face reality.' David had been a counsellor for a charity, so he had an insight into these things.
We discovered, during all the weeping and wailing, that it was Jenna who'd pushed for a wedding. Max hadn't actually proposed at all.
No wonder he hadn't turned up at the church!
Anyway, back to Ian...
When Ian moved into Jenna's place at Easter, we were thrilled. David and I were pleased that she'd finally gotten over Max.
Ian was down to earth, polite, cheery, yet sensible. A saver too, yet he enjoyed treating Jenna.
Her voice jolted me to the present. 'Ian and I have broken up.'
I sat down with a thud. 'What?'
Concerned by my tone, David looked up from his newspaper.
'He's moved out and found a place to live.'
I was stunned. 'Has he?'
It was early December. Out of the window, I watched as thick snowflakes began to dance and swirl.
I was so disappointed by this announcement. I knew David would be, too.
'What happened, love? Do you want to talk about it?' I kept my tone gentle.
'I ended it. We just drifted apart.'
'Well, that can affect a lot of people in long-term relationships.'
She didn't elaborate. 'I'll see you both on Sunday for lunch, as usual.'
'Bye, love. Take care.'
I turned to David and explained.
'It doesn't surprise me, Helen. I reckon it's those fishing jaunts of his that's caused the split,' he said.
'They both worked hard and were entitled to downtime,' I pointed out.
'Granted, but these were all day affairs, weren't they? Setting off at seven in the morning and not getting back until nine at night.'
My memory flew back... at Sunday lunch at ours, Jenna had often joked that she was a weekend fishing widow.
Ian had shifted in his seat. 'Come on, chicken. It's only one day a week and I don't go out boozing like other men, do I?'
She'd given a tight smile. 'No. I'm lucky in that respect. Can you pass the gravy, Dad?'
I turned back to our conversation. 'She liked to spend that spare time on Saturdays meeting friends for shopping trips and lunch.'
'I know, but she must have felt abandoned.'
'All couples need separate interests.' Which is why David beetled off to his rambling group and I had my Knit and Natter circle.
We were both retired. I idly wondered if this snow would put both of our hobbies on hold.
'Jenna seems very matter-of-fact about the split,' I went on.
'She's probably spent a lot of time and energy in reaching the decision,' he said.
I nodded. 'I'll make us a cuppa.'
In the kitchen, as the snow flurry fiercely whipped up, I realised that we could kiss goodbye to our future hopes for Jenna – a happy, steady marriage and children.
On Sunday, it was a different kind of atmosphere without Ian's presence. We mainly talked about Jenna's work, Christmas and the weather.
Snow had continued to fall.
We were getting used to waking up to that morning daylight dazzle of pure white.
Around three inches thick, it covered pavements but the gritted main roads were clear.
As usual, the media created panic in the air. There was talk of schools closing early and events being cancelled.
Everyone pondered - would it be a white Christmas?
I felt sad when I realised Ian wouldn't be a part of our celebration this year.
I'd actually made him a gift –a knitted scarf, gloves and hat set. Should I gift it to someone else?
'Your dad seems to think it was Ian's fishing days out that caused your break up,' I remarked to her when we were washing-up.
She shrugged. 'Well, that didn't help matters.'
'How do you feel now?'
'Sad, yet relieved. Things haven't been going well for a while. We often spent entire evenings in separate rooms. The tense silences were the worst.'
Then a thought occurred to me. 'Is a third party involved?'
She flushed. 'What – Ian was having an affair instead of going fishing? The answer to that is no. He's too nice for that. He's loyal and solid, too – he's just not the type. Anyway, I happened to spot him tramping his way along the canal towpath once. So he definitely wasn't seeing another woman.'
That wasn't what I meant by a third party. The more I dwelled on it, the more I was convinced that Jenna's head had been turned by another chap.
I didn't voice my suspicions to David.
He'd say, 'It's their concern, Helen. Leave it to them.' Or, 'So what if there's another chap in the background? She's entitled to live her life as she pleases.'
I couldn't argue with either of those sentiments. Yet why were we expected to suddenly cut someone who we'd regarded as a future son-in-law, out of our lives?
Despite that concern, our loyalty and love were naturally focused on our daughter. I texted Jenna every few days, sending her 'How are you?' texts.
She replied: 'Ok, but it feels strange coming home to an empty house.'
Oh, that must be difficult, I thought. No-one to chat to over the evening meal... well, I reasoned, Jenna certainly wouldn't miss those separate evenings and bad atmosphere.
'Best to be alone than feel alone in a relationship,' I typed.
She mainly texted: 'I'm doing fine. No need to worry. I'm keeping busy at work.'
I was still wondering why Jenna had really called it a day...
Even though I knew David would advise against it, later, I texted Ian.
'So sorry to hear about you and J. Could I pop round one evening with yr Xmas prezzie?'
Instead of receiving a chatty, warm reply, he simply provided his new address and said he'd be at home after 7 pm.
One evening, I said, 'I'm driving round to Jenna's to return a book. I thought I'd call into Ian's on my way back. Just to see how he's coping?'
'Fine. But be careful,' David said, 'Some roads are still very icy.'
I nodded. Snow had become a daily feature.
The white blinding blizzards went on for hours. There seemed no end to it!
Lorries up north had got stuck on the motorway and the local news was littered with cute footage of children building snowmen and dogs running around in deep snow-filled fields.
For David, all hiking had been postponed but I'd managed to don my wellies and wade through the slush to Knit and Natter at the community centre.
Ian was in a Victorian house that had been split into flats. He was on the fourth floor and buzzed me in.
There was no lift, so when I arrived, I was puffing and panting.
When he opened the door, I greeted him with a smile. 'Phew! I need a sit down after that hike up those stairs!'
'Come in.' We'd previously air kissed on hello and goodbye - but not tonight.
His flat had an open-plan kitchen - maybe that gave it a cramped feel.
A big TV dominated the room. There was a wardrobe in one corner and his fishing gear propped up in another.
The coffee table was littered with legal books, pizza boxes and beer cans. Jenna wouldn't have stood for that, I thought grimly.
There wasn't a Christmas tree, cards or any festive decorations. Jenna had an amazing interior design touch at Christmas, with glitter and glamour galore.
I looked around. 'Is this a studio flat?'
He nodded. 'It's all I could find at short notice.'
I took the only armchair, drew out my present and card from my bag and placed them on the coffee table. 'Thanks, Helen. Under the circumstances, I didn't know whether to buy you or David anything.'
'Don't worry. We're floored by this break-up, Ian.'
He slumped down on his sofa. 'Jenna claims we only stayed together out of habit. But I didn't notice anything amiss - until she began to distance herself.'
'She wasn't happy about your fishing -'
He cut in: 'I'd reduced it to one day a month. Didn't she tell you?'
My mouth dried. 'No.'
'She's 'fallen out of love' with me. Those are Jenna's words. What can I do?'
I considered. 'Give her time. Let her understand what she's lost. She'll come running in a few weeks, I'm sure.'
Would she? If there was another love interest on the horizon, perhaps not...
Then his mobile rang.
When he answered, I took that as my cue to leave.
We all continued to battle with the snow, until suddenly, on Christmas Eve, it suddenly stopped. It had frozen, but it was still a huge relief.
I baked a batch of mince pies on that day. Halfway through my mixing, David wandered into the kitchen for a cuppa.
He'd been watching a film - an old black-and-white version of Scrooge.
'She's met someone else, Helen,' he blurted out. 'I saw her holding hands in a cafe with a chap yesterday.'
'Oh.' So my suspicions about a third party had been spot on.
Suddenly, my blood chilled. 'It's Max, isn't it?'
'I'd thought as much. When she said Ian was 'too nice' for an affair... and that he was loyal and solid. That's what most women need from their partners. Well, she had it and now she's thrown it away for that selfish snake!'
I was almost in tears.
'I have a feeling that when she's content with a partner, she gets restless and bored. Ian was perfect husband material, but she seems to be drawn to unpredictable and moody,' he explained.
I sighed. 'Max makes her heart beat faster. Oh, why can't she act her age, instead of a silly lovesick teenager? It won't last!'
'She'll end up heartbroken again. We can suggest therapy, but it'll take time for her to break the spell,' he concluded.
He turned to face me. 'Look, this is our Christmas and New Year too, Helen. Let's bring the focus back to us. When all this blasted snow has melted, we can book a holiday abroad in the sun.'
I hugged him. 'That sounds great.'
Then my phone bleeped with a text. To my surprise, it was from Ian. 'Ma and Pa are over from the States. Merry Xmas to you both!'
I typed: 'That's good. Merry Xmas!' and sent the message.
Yet I knew that we'd never see Ian again.
Before the snow seemed another time, another age.
A new year signalled a new start. That suited me just fine – I had a holiday to look forward to!