This Christmas, everything will change…
When Liv Latimer says goodbye to her fellow nurses and finishes work for the holidays, she’s looking forward to a Christmas to remember with her boyfriend Eddie.
But as she leaves the hospital, tragedy strikes and Liv is faced with a choice. Will she ignore her instincts and go home as planned? Or will she stay, and potentially change the course of her life as she knows it?
Whatever choice she makes, Liv is about to discover that fate finds a way…
From the bestselling Irish author of The Ladies’ Midnight Swimming Club, comes an emotional and uplifting festive story about love, family and how a split second decision can change your life.
On the First Day of Christmas by Faith Hogan is published by Aria, an imprint of Head of Zeus in both ebook and paperback on 12 October. I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour and my thanks to Amy for the invite and for providing the extract together with a Netgalley widget – I am very much looking forward to reviewing this one.
Liv sat in the coffee shop. It was a treat she normally didn’t allow herself, but it was her last break of the day and it had been a very long day. In the grip of Christmas holiday madness, everyone was emptying out of the hospital now, patients and staff getting home as quickly as they could make their escape. She could feel the hospital almost growing larger around her, as if it was echoing, looming; the attempt at cheery seasonal spirit falling short when everyone would far prefer to be somewhere else.
For the next three days, it would operate on a skeleton shift. For the most part, unlucky rostered doctors, nurses, porters and catering staff. You could spot a mile off the few who actually volunteered to work Christmas for their own reasons, and they would do their best to pretend that they actually wanted to be here. Not everyone loves Christmas, one of the older nurses had told Liv when she started out, and Liv had shivered, knowing too well that for some, it was the loneliest time of the year.
Of course, Christmas in Ballycove, with her family, her mum and dad and Maya – well, it felt like a million miles away from the sterile, whispery atmosphere of the hospital at this time of year. Yes, it was probably traditional, maybe even boring as far as some people might be concerned: there’d be midnight mass, turkey and Christmas carols; if they had the energy, after dinner, a walk about the farm and maybe a game of charades to finish off the day.
If Liv counted herself as lucky any other day of the year, it was even more pronounced at Christmas. Her mum would have spent the last month preparing for it in her own many small ways: making puddings and Christmas cakes, pretending that she’d made half the amount and giving most of them away to neighbours and friends well in advance of the holidays. Her dad, well, she could imagine him now, making hourly pilgrimages up and down the old stone sheds to check on whichever ewe was about to give birth next. And Maya would be swearing under her breath in the sitting room, trying to decorate the wonkiest Christmas tree her father could manage to find in the small plantation they’d set years earlier.
Maya was Liv’s baby sister who, it always seemed to Liv, had been born with far more sense than she needed, probably enough for both of them, not that she’d ever admit that to Maya of course.
Liv loved going home for Christmas. She adored every cheesy tacky tinselly bit of the holiday and even that first Christmas after losing Rachel, her identical twin, although she was achingly sad, somehow she had managed to feel closer to her twin sister than she had expected. Of course, Rachel loved Christmas. The year they found out she was sick, they’d volunteered at a homeless shelter near the training hospital. Liv found herself smiling remembering that time: it turned out that even in death, Rachel could cheer Liv up in spite of herself.
Was it weird that she still felt as if her twin sister might only have stepped out of the room temporarily? It wasn’t something you could go telling people. Well, she’d told Pete once, but they were both very drunk and she wasn’t sure Pete really counted. He already thought she was a little crazy and anyway, he was Rachel’s best friend and in some ways, she figured that the idea might give him the same sort of comfort that it gave her.
She waved across the foyer at old Bill Hickey the porter. He’d worked at the hospital since he left school, never missed a Christmas shift, he told her once. She had a feeling this might be his last year. He still had a spring in his step, but even Bill would have to retire at some point. She wondered if he’d come back as a volunteer or if he would be one of those colleagues who just vanished from the hospital as completely as if they’d been wiped away.
Liv sipped the last of her coffee. It tasted good, strong and sweet just the way she preferred it. She looked at her watch; she wasn’t due back on the ward for another five minutes, so she pulled her phone from her bag and began to check through her messages. Her boyfriend Eddie had travelled home to Ballycove already, but there was no word that he had arrived safely. But then, that was Eddie, a man of few words. He’d always been the strong and silent type – Liv adored him, but he could be mildly infuriating when you wanted to know that he’d arrived safe and sound. He was the opposite of Pete who had filled her inbox with funny memes and Christmas jokes, most of which she was ignoring until she finished her shift.
Her mother and her sister had been messaging over and back on the family WhatsApp group all day, everything from checking who was picking up the shopping to trying to figure out what each gift contained under the Christmas tree. Obviously, things were quiet in Maya’s office. Liv tapped out a message, letting them know that she was looking forward to finishing up in another few hours. Pete had offered to stay back until the end of her shift and they’d travel home together after she picked up her bags and the family gifts from her flat. She could have sent them home with Eddie, to save the round trip, but she knew Pete wouldn’t mind.
It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Eddie to bring them safely, but with Eddie, you just never knew. Her boyfriend could as easily toss a mountain of wet clothes on top of her lovely wrapping and it would have been a whole load of effort for nothing. That was the problem with being so creatively talented – sometimes it meant that the mundane practicalities didn’t really mean as much to him. Poor Eddie, he was so busy the last few weeks, they hardly saw each other. But busy was good, because it meant that his business was making money and if he was going to propose to her this Christmas, they’d need plenty of money for a wedding and then, down the road (hopefully, not too far) they could look at selling her flat and getting a bigger place to start a family.
This thought warmed her.
It had always been her biggest ambition to get married and have children – lots of children. She didn’t want to be alone. She wanted a family of her own, a dog, a little house and a husband who’d be her partner until the very end. Just knowing that Eddie had gone to the trouble of making that ring for her, well, it was probably the best Christmas gift he’d ever given her and he didn’t even realise it. Even thinking about it made her feel a rush of love for him; he really was the best.
She hadn’t told a soul – not even Maya. Well, how could she? It was meant to be a surprise, even for her! She’d found the ring one afternoon in the workshop, quite by accident. It was her ring. It was everything she’d ever dreamed of, tiny emeralds shooting across a narrow golden bar. It was a miniature of those shooting stars that had filled the sky the night Rachel had slipped away. If she’d sat down and drawn it for him, she wasn’t sure she could make it more perfect.
Automatically, Liv put her hands to her neck, but of course, Rachel’s locket had gone missing years ago. It wasn’t that it had been expensive, but to her it was completely priceless. It had been their grandmother’s, passed to Rachel and then to Liv. It was a strange thing, but she still missed it, still felt its loss, as if with it she’d lost some little connection to Rachel.
She’d dropped a tear when she spotted the ring Eddie had made for her. He’d managed to make the perfect ring, bringing together the future she hoped for and still including Rachel in it even if she wasn’t here to share it with her. But that was Eddie – sometimes he made her happy without even thinking about it. Perhaps it came from having a mother who was, Liv thought for a moment, what was the word? Difficult? Exacting? She thought of that old saying: the man who’s good to his mother will be good to his wife. Well, that was Eddie all over. He’d spent a lifetime trying to keep his mother happy. In Liv’s mind, it meant that one day he’d do the same for her – hadn’t he already started by secretly making the perfect engagement ring?
A couple leaving the hospital with two babies in matching navy carry seats bustled by her. Liv loved twins, well, she’d been one herself. But Rachel had died before her twenty-fifth birthday. Cancer – what else. She still talked to her regularly (in her head, not out loud – she wasn’t completely nuts!) She even still regularly wrote notes to Rachel in her journal, just to keep her up to speed with how life was going. Sometimes, she felt a striking pressure to live life well enough for both of them.
She sneaked a peek at the baby nearest to her. It was a perfect baby boy with a powder-blue hat falling down about his ears. He was all scrunched-up features and balled-up hands. She imagined being in that woman’s shoes right now. Bringing home not one, but two newborn babies. What could be more perfect? Christmas with twins! It sounded like the title of a romcom, but Liv felt it was exactly the sort of happy ending she wanted her own life to turn into. The woman looked tired, completely washed out, but then everything about her changed as she peeked into the carry chair she’d popped up on the seat next to her and Liv was glad. It would be a shame to have two lovely new babies and not be transported to a state of complete and utter bliss at just having them close by.
The alarm on her phone reminded her it was time to get back to A&E. She tidied away the empty paper cup and slipped her phone back in her bag, giving one last glance across at the new mother who seemed to be completely lost in rapturous contentment. Bliss.
Faith lives in the west of Ireland with her husband, four children and two very fussy cats. She has an Hons Degree in English Literature and Psychology, has worked as a fashion model and in the intellectual disability and mental health sector.