How to Score (On and Off the Pitch)

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Chapter 7

Carlos did a great job organising Christmas at Bradley’s villa and made sure everyone was picked up from Malaga airport on time which was no small task considering they all arrived from different points at different times. It turned out to be a larger affair than originally planned. Bradley’s friend Jose who was injured while playing for Arsenal and was going to be out of action for a few weeks, also accepted Bradley’s invitation as his family weren’t doing anything much. They generally spent Christmas wherever Jose was playing and as he wasn’t this year, they decided to go on a cruise around the Canaries, so Jose was at a loose end.

So, the total head-count for Christmas at Bradley’s was ten including Carlos which promised to be something special. It reminded him of happier Christmases in the past when he and Sam were young. As they had a large house in Dunfermline all the grandparents used to come and stay for the duration along with the odd cousin, uncle and aunt from time to time. There was always a house full and someone usually made an arse of themselves after too many Sherries, especially his mum looking back. This time, he would have to make sure she didn’t relapse so him and Sam would be keeping a close watch. He understood how difficult it could be for a recovering alcoholic to turn down a drink, just one mind, especially at a time like this. At least she wasn’t going to be sober alone as neither Bradley nor Jose drank and although Archie would balance that out, he wasn’t going to worry too much.

Carlos had discussed all the plans with Bradley and Jessie when they arrived at the villa, Bradley still on crutches with his injured foot which was starting to feel better but still needed rest, especially after their flight from Barcelona which had caused it to ache once again.

He had a problem finding a turkey; it wasn’t a popular dish in Spain so Carlos came up with the idea of a traditional Spanish menu which delighted Bradley immensely. He wasn’t a big fan of turkey anyway and he should still watch what he ate, as he had to keep himself fit even if he was injured.

Traditionally in Spain, Christmas Eve is the big feast with family and friends and usually starts quite late after the locals had been to celebrate mass. Even presents weren’t traditionally exchanged until January the 6th which was Epiphany and that was going to cause a problem as everyone would be home by then, so they agreed to do presents on Christmas morning, as was the tradition in Britain.

Christmas Eve was known as La Noche Buena or the ‘Good Night’ and Carlos had put together a menu of tapas (lots of differently small morsels) for starters followed by a huge traditional paella made with prawns, chicken and chorizo sausage which sounded perfect. They didn’t realise Carlos used to be a chef before retiring but once they had tried the paella they were smitten. Everybody complimented his cooking skills and thoroughly enjoyed all the different tapas dishes, even Barry who was very much a ‘meat and two veg’ type of person.

Celebrations began earlier than the locals with everyone seated by eight, eager to get stuck in, especially after a few decent Sherries and some fine Rioja that Carlos had sourced. By midnight, everybody was still seated at the huge table laughing and swapping stories with Barry’s unbelievable yarns centring on his taxi getting the most laughs.

Even Martine was enjoying herself even though she couldn’t drink which pleased Bradley most of all. She was seated next to Carlos and they seemed to have hit it off splendidly. He was a good ten years older than her but they just clicked and once or twice he noticed them looking at each other with a twinkle in their eyes. Carlos was handsome in a rustic kind of way; neatly trimmed grey hair and a body that he obviously maintained very well. Why shouldn’t they get friendly? Mum was divorced and Carlos was a widower and they enjoyed each other’s company.

Archie was seated between Barry and Sharon and they were having a good time swapping stories with a bit of English/Scottish banter thrown in for good measure. Even Barry had to admit that the England team were rubbish and when he mentioned to Archie that he was now an unpaid member of the Tartan Army Archie hugged him so tightly he thought his dinner was going to come up.

Everybody was having a great time and Bradley didn’t want the evening to end. It had all gone perfectly, thanks in no small part to Carlos and his amazing culinary and organisational skills.

Christmas Day was a lot quieter as most of the guests had decided to sleep in after the previous evening’s festivities. Bradley was up around eight and was pleased to see it was warm enough outside to go for a swim as he gingerly limped on to the terrace. It would help his foot heal he reckoned as he watched the sun come up over the mountains and listening to the few birds singing in his well-maintained gardens.

After a while, Jessie appeared on the terrace in her bikini and slid into the warm water of the pool, swimming up to Bradley and giving him a cuddle.

‘Happy Christmas, darling.’ She said as she planted a kiss on both cheeks.

Bradley held her tight and kissed her firmly on the lips. ‘And a very Happy Christmas to you too, gorgeous.’

They stayed in the pool for ages, just cuddling and smooching until Bradley felt aroused.

‘Naughty! Stop it! Not with all these people here. Someone might catch us in the act,’ Jessie laughed. ‘Anyway, you’re on the injured list.’

Bradley just laughed with her. He was so lucky to have met such a wonderful girl as Jessie. They were perfect soulmates and he loved her to pieces. She didn’t have any faults as far as Bradley could see.

It was just as well they hadn’t succumbed to their lustful urges as a few minutes later Carlos and Martine emerged on the terrace to wish them a Happy Christmas and Feliz Navidad in Spanish. Bradley and Jessie thought that they looked happy together and maybe this was the start of a beautiful friendship. He would be happy about that; they thought the world of Carlos and he would be good for Martine. They could be running away with the idea, but it was a nice thought. He wanted her to be happy ultimately.

‘What would you like for breakfast?’ Carlos called out.

‘Surprise us Carlos. It’s bound to be good.’ Bradley replied.

‘Vale! Leave it to me Senor Bradley.’ Carlos smiled as he followed Martine into the kitchen and left the two lovebirds to emerge from the pool and get dried off.

Thirty minutes later, Carlos announced that breakfast was ready and one by one the guests all emerged bleary-eyed from their rooms and sat at the table where Carlos and Martine had placed cups for everyone and two large cafetieres of coffee, along with jugs of local freshly squeezed orange juice.

As everyone sat down and talked about the amazing evening they had all enjoyed, Carlos brought in a plate piled up with pancakes and churros, with various jams and spreads to accompany them.

They all tucked in to Carlos’ wonderfully simple breakfast and wished each other Merry Christmas. Barry tried dipping churros in his coffee, as the Spanish do, but only succeeded in losing half of it by leaving it in too long.

After breakfast was finished and everything cleared away, Bradley and Jessie brought out everyone’s presents to unwrap. They had been restricted as to how many presents they could bring from Britain due to baggage limits, so it was mainly small gifts that wouldn’t take up too much room. When it came down to the final present to be opened, the room went quiet.

It was Bradley’s main gift to Jessie and a few of the guests had worked out what it might be, due to the size and shape of it. Jessie didn’t have a clue and thought it might be a pair of earrings, but when she finally opened the box she was stunned to find the most exquisite diamond ring encrusted with a number of small stones and a sapphire in the middle. Bradley took the box away from her and removed the ring before asking the question.

‘Jessie Tennant. I know we’re young and impetuous, but I know when I have met the girl I want to spend the rest of my life with. Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?’ Bradley blushed.

The rest of the room went deadly quiet as they waited for Jessie’s response.

With tears in her eyes, she looked at Bradley and gave him her answer.

‘Of course I will! I couldn’t be happier.’ She cried.

Everybody cheered and clapped at the happy couple and Carlos went to the kitchen to bring in a large tray of glasses and popped the cork off a bottle of decent local Cava. He alone had been in on the secret and had everything prepared for a ‘yes’.

There were tears all around from the ladies and hearty back-slapping and handshakes from the men as the happy couple circled the room. The ring fitted perfectly, thanks to Rosa the Player Liaison Officer at the club. She had helped Bradley choose the ring and make sure it was the right size. He texted her to wish her Feliz Navidad and tell her that Jessie had accepted as she wanted to know. Rosa texted back immediately and congratulated them. Everyone needs a PA!

The rest of Christmas Day was spent relaxing, nibbling at Carlos’ amazing tapas and playing games. No TV for them; no Queen’s speech and no Bond film to watch in the evening. Instead, they all made use of the pool and the sunshine making this the best Christmas any of them could remember.

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