Ivy dreaded Christmas. The lights, the tree, the having-to-be-merry spirit, the mistletoe, the carols…you name it all. Because at Christmas, Ivy more than ever knew, she was alone.
Having lost her parents and sibling at the young age of four, Ivy had grown up in a foster home. Alice and Adam had loved dearly all their foster children, Ivy among them, investing in their education and ensuring they felt cared for and cherished. Ivy had had a happy childhood after all.
Years had gone by and with adulthood the need of living independently had brought Ivy to London. All her life, Ivy had dreamt to become a fashion designer and although Alice had always provided her with as much financial support as possible, Ivy could not afford University fees, so she had ended up with a seamstress apprenticeship. After securing a job making alterations at Selfridges, Ivy had started her new life in the city, the big capital where dreams happen, and where Ivy was convinced, one day she would succeed.
Now, age twenty-seven and with little more than two hundred pounds in her savings account, Ivy had started to lose hope that London would bring her the desired designer job she had wished for. She was on her fifth seamstress job, this time working for Paolo Corrali, the latest Italian prodigy to hit the catwalks, who had opened his atelier in the chic neighbourhood of Mayfair.
Like many other artists, Paolo was a demanding man and some weeks, Ivy had to work additional shifts, giving her very little time to enjoy her few friends and other pleasures in life.
After a fifty-hour work week, Ivy had agreed to meet Eliza for Sunday brunch. Eliza was Ivy’s best friend, having both shared a tiny apartment in Fulham Road when they had just moved to London.
“So, what would you like for Christmas?” Eliza asked Ivy, while scanning the menu.
“You don’t have to buy me anything, Liza.” Ivy replied “Knowing that you are always there for me is enough.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Eliza exclaimed in disbelief. “You are my best friend. And besides, Christmas is the time to spoil your dear ones.”
“You know I don’t like Christmas.” Ivy said sadly “It makes me feel old and lonely.”
“Old? Dear Lord, Ivy, you are not thirty yet.” Eliza pointed out, raising her hand to attract the waiter’s attention. “And you have lots of friends!”
“I feel it though. Months pass by so quickly and another Christmas comes. And I am still a seamstress, single, living on my own in a tiny flat, two roads away from where we used to live, with hardly any spare cash or a boyfriend who cares for me. And then I look at you and see your life changing and evolving. Mine never does.”
“Don’t be fooled by appearances, my sweetheart. The grass is never greener on the other side. Living with Tom can be difficult and expecting your first child when you have just been promoted is not ideal.”
“Precisely. You have been promoted, again.” Ivy emphasised “I, however, am still a seamstress.”
“You are…but the best seamstress in London and working for the adorable Paolo Corrali. What’s he like?” Eliza asked curiously. “He’s cute.”
“He’s full of himself.” Ivy responded rolling her eyes. “Impertinent, scatty and neurotic.”
“All right, Miss Happiness, let’s say Christmas can make all our wishes come true. What would yours be?”
“Love, of course, and my own design label.” Ivy wished smiling.
“May the Christmas Fairy bring what you desire!” Eliza whispered, turning to face the waiter, who had finally come to take their order.
Nick had spent the last three months following the red hair beauty that caught the District line from Fulham Broadway at seven every morning. He first saw her at the ticket office, arguing with the officer for being overcharged. She had a temper and the most incredible blue eyes he’s ever seen. Since then, he had waited at the platform every day, hiding behind a copy of Metro and keeping up with her all the way to Earls Court, where miserably, he would lose her in the crowd. It was now December and he was still trying to find out where she headed to.
“Today is the day.” Nick told himself confidently while looking at his reflection on the window of the little coffee shop at the tube station entrance.
From the corner of his eye, he saw her crossing the barrier, all wrapped up in a beautiful tweed coat that emphasised the copper hues in her hair.
Nick run after her and managed to get in the same carriage. After a two-stop journey, they reached the usual destination. The platform at Earls Court was surprisingly quieter than normal. Walking along the mazy alleyways, he kept a fair distance from her, just close enough not to lose her sight. Few minutes later and he found himself in the same carriage again, this time on the Piccadilly line.
The red hair beauty finally left the tube at Green Park. It was a cold and misty winter morning, giving the streets of Mayfair an eerie feel. Nick put his hands into his pockets to keep warm without taking his eyes away from her. They left Piccadilly Road, turning left into Berkeley Street, then right into Hay Hill, where Nick watched the red hair beauty walk into Preston House, head office of the world-acclaimed designer Paolo Corrali.
Nick had met Paolo in Italy a few years back. Those were the days when the young designer was starting his empire and had little more than a humble shop in Florence. Nick had admired the courage of the outspoken man that had come to him asking for a bargain when negotiating the cost of his fabrics. Since he had left University, Nick had taken over the run of his family business, now more than two hundred years old, which specialised in the manufacturing of high quality British wool for clothing, furniture and homeware. He hence had travelled a lot, selling to companies in North America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Nick had kept a close friendship with Paolo and become the preferred supplier for the Italian talent, providing him with custom-made fabrics at an exceptional price. It was now time for the designer to return his many favours. He would give him a call and find out who the red hair beauty was.
“Ivy!” Jane Armstrong shouted while rushing upstairs.
“Yes, I’m coming.” Ivy answered, leaving the cutting room.
“Ivy, I need you to go to the showroom immediately. There is a gentleman who’s placing an important order and needs to be attended.”
“Anne-Marie normally looks after the bespoke orders, Jane. I wouldn’t want to step into her shoes.”
“She called earlier and said she was feeling unwell. She won’t be coming in today, so this is your chance, my dear, to show everyone here how good you are. Believe in yourself.” Jane explained reassuringly and left.
Ivy head down to the showroom, excited as well as a little apprehensive. She had taken orders before, but always as Anne-Marie’s subordinate. Today she would need to ensure she captured the specification correctly and understood every single detail that needed to be incorporated in the design of the garment.
Ivy closed her eyes and took a deep breath before entering the showroom. Sitting on the velvet coach was a man. He had a juvenile complexion, with bright green eyes and velvety tanned skin. His hair was chocolate brown and nicely styled. He was immaculately dressed in a tailored tweed suit and was carrying a copy of The Times in his hand.
“Good Morning Madam,” the gentleman said smiling while getting up and approaching Ivy. “I’ve been told you could help me with a very special order.” He concluded, showing a perfect row of straight teeth.
“I’ll do my very best, Sir.” Ivy replied, slightly intimidated by the perfection of the handsome man that stood in front of her. He was extraordinarily good looking, she thought.
“Nick, please call me Nick.”
“That would be inappropriate, Sir.”
“I insist.” The handsome gentleman responded with another killer smile, accentuating fine lines around his eyes and lips that suggested he was in his mid-thirties.
“Alright! In that case, you must call me Ivy.”
“Ivy,” Nick repeated, looking straight into her eyes. “I am looking to have made a very special dress. It is for someone who I carry deeply in my heart, you see, and must be ready for Christmas.”
“Sure, that should be fine.” Ivy reassured him. “Do you have the measurements and specifications?” She followed.
“You won’t need them.” Nick responded. “I would like you to design a dress that you would wear, obviously supervised by Mr. Corrali,” he continued “a dress that would fit you, you’d feel comfortable in and you’d choose to put on for significant events. I’d like you to create your perfect dress.”
“But what if the lady, your lady, doesn’t like it?” Ivy asked confused.
“I have no doubt she is going to absolutely love it. I will leave my details in reception, so that you can contact me when ready. It’s been a pleasure, Ivy.”
And with that, Nick turned around and left.
Ivy stood in disbelief in the middle of the showroom. It took her another ten minutes to return to the studio and share with Jane the conversation she had just had with the gorgeous gentleman.
“Off you go!” Jane exclaimed jokingly. “You better start drawing and have some ideas to show Mr. Corrali by the end of week.”
In the meantime, Nick stood at the reception desk chatting to the young girl, who was front of house, in his most persuasive manner.
“I don’t suppose you have Ivy’s contact details at hand?” He asked with a cheeky smile.
“I’m sorry, Sir. I am not allowed to disclose any personal information related to our members of staff. Company policy.” She answered flustered.
“Ok, don’t worry. Could you do me a favour then?” Nick proposed. “If I were to hand you a parcel for her, would you kindly send it to her home address on my behalf?”
“Absolutely Sir.” The girl agreed flirtatiously.
Ivy spent the next two weeks working on that very special dress. She was giving the task her heart and soul, not only because she needed to demonstrate Mr Corrali what she was capable of, but also because she really wanted to please Nick. Whoever was the woman receiving the dress, she was definitely the luckiest person in the world to have a man like that in her life.
Finally, on December 21st the dress was ready. It had taken Ivy few sleepless nights, many tears and a handful of heated discussions with Mr Corrali to complete the masterpiece. Ivy felt over the moon. She was immensely happy with the result, her best design to date. The gown was simple and elegant, in a deep green forest velvet that flowed loosely to the floor and a wide tartan waistband in mustard and black tones. She had kept the length quite generous, so it would need to be worn with high heels, her favourite going-out shoes.
“Mr. Grey collected the dress earlier this morning.” The girl in reception told Ivy.
“Did he say if he liked it?” Ivy asked with impatience.
“He didn’t unwrap it, Ivy. He simply said it was marvellous.” The girl answered.
“I see. Thank you Valentina.”
It was the longest day in Ivy’s life. She spent every hour in hope to receive some news. A message from Nick to say if he was happy, unhappy or a simple thank you note, but nothing came.
Finally, at 6pm, she was called into Mr Corrali’s office.
“Signorina Browne,” Mr. Corrali greeted Ivy and carried on “the work you have produced in the past few months and in particular, our latest order for Mr. Grey, has blown me away. You have an innate talent for fashion that is meraviglioso, divino e magnifico.
“I’m planning to launch a new label...” he continued “It would be a more affordable range for a younger audience, who likes quality and luxury but have a limited budget to spend. Ivy, I’d like you to be the head designer of my new label. Are you up for the challenge?”
“Mr. Corrali, it would be an honour to head your new label, and yes, I am up for the challenge.” Ivy added with joy. “I don’t supposed you have heard from Mr. Grey.”
“Not yet, but I have no doubt we will.” He stated ending the conversation.
Two days later Ivy was woken up by a heavy knock on her door. Who could it be at six in the morning? Barely being able to open her eyes, Ivy answered the door and was given a beautifully wrapped box by a courier.
“Christmas comes early.” The boy uttered with a wink.
“I suppose so.” Ivy agreed.
With shaking hands Ivy unwrapped the beautiful parcel and what was her surprise to discover it contained the dress, accompanied by a note in an old fashion writing which said:
St James’s Park
Duck Island’s bridge
Was that an invitation for her? Was she to wear the dress? Oh Gosh! Christmas Eve was tomorrow and she was totally unprepared for this.
Nick waited by Duck Island’s bridge carrying a branch of mistletoe in his hand. He knew he was early but he could not have waited any longer. It has been months since he wanted to take Ivy out and today he would spend an evening with her. He had been worrying all week that she may not be able to make it as it was Christmas Eve and most people will be spending it in the company of their families or close friends. However, he still had hope.
Seven o’clock came and went and it was now closer to quarter past when he finally saw her approaching him. She looked stunning. She was wearing the dress with a cropped fur black coat and leather gloves. She had her hair beautifully plaited, like a fairytale princess, with feathery strands pulled out, loosely framing her pretty features. She was an angel, his angel.
“I wasn’t sure you’d come.” Nick admitted shyly.
“I wanted to thank you for my gift.” Ivy said smiling. “And also I wanted to find out why you’ve done it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love it and am grateful that you did, it’s just that you don’t know me.”
“But I do...” Nick confessed, while taking hold of her hands “...You are the red hair beauty that catches the tube every morning at Fulham Broadway. The truth is I fell in love with you a long time ago, it’s just taken me a little longer than I would have desired to find you. I kept losing you in Earls Court. You probably think I am crazy but I haven’t stopped searching for you since the day I laid my eyes on you.”
“In normal circumstances, I would be freaking out.” Ivy acknowledged, widening her eyes. “However, something tells me I can and should trust you. It may be the Christmas Fairy.”
“It may well be. And what did you wish for Christmas, my beautiful girl?” Nick asked holding the mistletoe branch over their heads.
“I asked for love.”
“And here it comes...”
Slowly, Nick lowed his head down and kissed her. A Christmas kiss, a lover’s kiss, the beginning of their story.
© 2017 Isabel GG