Short Story: A Christmas Tale

All I want for Christmas . . .

Annie Lawson sipped her afternoon coffee as she scrolled through Facebook, her page filled with posts of grinning, woolly-hatted children, sparkling Christmas decorations, masses of presents piled under beautifully adorned real trees, and copious images of drunken revelry. Her friend’s lives were fun-filled and brimming with seasonal goodwill. She thought of her small cottage, LED table-top Christmas tree and empty rooms. She’d be on the last train back to her parent’s place in the country tonight, and a tight knot of dread clenched her insides.
There was a reason she only went home when she absolutely had to. She was thirty-three, single, and childless. She also had a great job as PA and general assistant to a media powerhouse, but that didn’t matter to her mother. Her sister was twenty-eight, married to a lawyer, with a kid on her hip and another on the way. Mrs Louise Lawson had two daughters. Only one of them pleased her, and it wasn’t Annie.
She checked her watch. She’d been in since 8am, had skipped lunch, her boss was in a meeting, and it was almost Christmas – she deserved a little break. Thoughts of her boss, Carla, sent her fingers searching for her Facebook page. The images drew her in as if she was peering through a window into someone’s life, and of course, that’s precisely what she was doing.
One picture grabbed her attention. A huge tree was covered in tasteful lights, golden silk bows, and delicate glass baubles. Mounds of presents surrounded the tree, wrapped in variations of white and gold papers. Carla and her handsome husband smiled out from numerous seasonal posts.
Annie sighed as she thought of the elegant people who’d crowd around that tree later tonight. Carla always held a swanky soiree on Christmas Eve. Just for once Annie wished for a Christmas where she wasn’t ducking her mother’s jibes, her sister’s smug glances, and her father’s consoling smiles. She just wanted to be relaxed and happy, and have a laugh. No chance of that.
“Annie, have you sent those emails yet?”
She jumped at her boss’s voice, and hastily dropped her phone into her bag. “I just sent the last one.”
Carla belted her cashmere coat, a saucy beret covering her hair. “I’m off. Don’t stay too late, and remember you’re locking up. Hope you have a lovely Christmas with your family.”
“Thanks. Hope you guys have a fab time. Enjoy your party.”
She still had ages before her train. She opened Facebook to a message from her friend Sophie. The post said. “Make a wish, watch it come true, pass me on to someone who needs me, just like you.” The accompanying picture was of a story-book fairy with gossamer wings. She twirled around, her lilac ballerina dress flowing as she moved. Annie smiled. She’d have that relaxed, laughter-filled Christmas, thank you very much!
Her friend Carol was tucked up in bed with the flu. She’d forward the message to her as a little pick-up. She quickly sent it on to Carol and then, taking another look at her screen, groaned. She had mistyped and sent it to Carla, who was the last person who needed a wish from a twee Christmas fairy. Her cheeks burned. God only knows what her boss would think of her?
The ringing of Carla’s desk-phone shattered the quiet and made her jump. She answered it, with a sigh and the caller immediately started talking.
“Carla, it’s Caviar Deli. We have your order.”
Annie quickly cut across them. “Sorry. Carla isn’t here. She’s left for the holidays.”
A loud groan was followed by a frantic plea, “She isn’t answering her mobile. I can’t leave the shop. I’m the only one here. I have her party order. We supply it every year. I must’ve lost her confirmation, and I’ve just realised I didn’t schedule her delivery. I don’t know what to do.” The voice ended on a wail.
Annie’s mind raced. She had time. She could get to the deli, pick up the caviar and take it to Carla’s in a cab, before heading to the train station.
Annie waited outside Carla’s wreath festooned front-door. This part of London breathed elegance, style and privilege.
She rang the bell again. No answer. The downstairs curtains were drawn tight, and a narrow band of light slithered through a gap in the dark material. She couldn’t hang about much longer. If she missed the train, there wouldn’t be another until Boxing Day. She’d be spending Christmas entirely alone. Not exactly what she’d wished for.
Suddenly, the door was wrenched open. Carla’s face was ashen and her eyes red-rimmed. What was wrong?
“Carla, the deli called. They almost forgot your caviar order. I collected it.” Annie indicated the large container balanced against her hip, her small travel bag by its side.
Carla just stared at her. Annie didn’t have time for this. She brushed past her unmoving boss, dumped her small case in the hall and carefully placed the caviar box on a low, wooden table.
Great, she’d be out here in five. Turning, she glanced through an open door into the main lounge. She froze. A huge Christmas tree had fallen to the ground, baubles, bows and lights strewn alongside it. There were no golden wrapped gifts, the presents were all gone.
Annie choked back a gasp. “You’ve been burgled.”
She stared at a pale-faced Carla, whose mouth hung open, no sound escaping.
“Have you called the police?” Colour returned to Carla’s cheeks and mottled her skin with a vivid flush. She shook her head. Annie said, “I’ll do it, then make you some tea.”
She pulled her phone from her bag and started to punch in the emergency number. Carla rushed across the room and grabbed her. “Stop.”
Annie reared back. “What is wrong with you? You have to call the police. Your guests will arrive soon. Do you have their numbers? I can help you telephone them.”
Carla’s face flushed a dark red. “There is no party, and I haven’t been robbed. I couldn’t be bothered putting the tree up. Just go. Leave me alone. Please?”
“What? I don’t understand. Where’s your husband?”
Carla slumped against the wall. “Gone. He left me.”
“On the night of your party. What a swine.”
“He is, but he left weeks ago. There is no party this year. I need a drink.”
Carla was a shadow of herself as she slowly walked to a console table laden with bottles. She poured two large gin and tonics and passed one to Annie. “Here, I hate to drink alone.”
“I don’t get it. You looked so happy in your Facebook posts.”
Carla snorted. “Don’t believe what you see on social media. They were old pictures, recycled from the last couple of years. I was busy working, while James was busy working on his secretary. A story as old as time but I feel such a failure. You’re the first person I’ve spoken to about it.”
Annie looked at her watch. If she left right now, she could make her train. Carla smiled, but her lips wobbled. She took a large gulp of her drink and said what she had to. “My train was cancelled due to the snow, so I’ll be staying in London for Christmas. Why don’t you get me another drink.”
A second G&T and half a bottle of prosecco later Annie curled up on Carla’s sofa as her hostess presided over the coffee table laden with caviar, crackers, canapes and thick slices of glistening ham. Carla shrugged, “My head was so over the place I forgot to cancel my usual orders. I’ve got enough food to feed twenty people.”
Annie happily tucked in. “I’ll have some of this then I better go and catch the tube. They’re bound to be jam-packed tonight.”
Carla looked at her, opened her mouth to say something, and then snapped it shut.
“What is it?”
Carla hesitated. “Why don’t you stay here for Christmas? I’ve got plenty of room.” She looked away. “I could use the company, but I totally understand if you’d probably prefer to be on your own.”
Annie thought of her empty cottage and even emptier fridge. “I’d like that. Thank you. We can always eat caviar.”
Carla laughed, “Oh, we don’t have to worry about that. I forgot to cancel my turkey, so a particularly plump one was delivered this morning, as were all the trimmings.”
Annie laughed. “It’s like this was meant to happen.”
Carla’s tone was mocking, “I thought that fairy message you sent me was a load of twaddle. I wished for someone to spend Christmas with, and to have fun. Looks like it came true.”
Annie stilled. She’d wished for the same. It must be coincidence-or was it? She shook her head. What a load of fanciful rubbish.
And somewhere, unseen by mortal eyes, a happy Christmas fairy fluffed out her lilac, tulle frock, fluttered her wings and flew through cyberspace and onto the next recipient of her festive gift. Will it be you?
Merry Christmas

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