‘For Christ’s sake, we’re not made of money! Why on earth did you buy that bloody awful thing?’
Sylvie stroked the figure’s long white beard. ‘Don’t be such a Grinch; he’s lovely. Anyway I thought you’d had a big Christmas bonus.’
‘Yeah – but not to spend on this old tat,’ Chris said with a derisive sneer. ‘Creepy old tat at that.’
Sylvie’s fingers froze, hovering over Santa’s snowy white curls. ‘What do you mean creepy? He’s Santa Claus; Santa’s not creepy.’
Chris’s top lip curled upwards, his nostril’s flaring. ‘Santa bloody Claus dresses in red, you idiot, not grey.’
‘Silver,’ Sylvie said. ‘He’s a Silver Santa. He was twenty-five quid cheaper than the ones dressed in red. I thought you’d be pleased I’d saved money.’
‘I’d’ve been happier if you hadn’t spent any money at all. Not on this old crap anyway.’
‘You spending a monkey on a bottle of fizz last night wasn’t a waste? Not to mention how much tonight is going to cost us.’
‘Works do; you need to show some class and your “Silver Santa” isn’t bloody well classy.’
‘Well,’ she said with a toss of blonde curls, ‘I think he is. He’ll look good in the hall welcoming the guests.’
‘I thought you were going to do a tree.’
‘I changed my mind.’
‘Hmm, just don’t blame me if the creepy, little bugger climbs up the stairs and strangles you in your sleep.’
Sylvie hugged herself and shivered, stepping away from the diminutive figure. ‘Stop it. Are you trying to freak me out?’
He gave her a mean smile. ‘Up to you, but I’d take it back if I were you.’
She glanced down at the Rolex swamping her wrist. ‘Too late. It’s Christmas Eve; every where’s shut by now.’ She didn’t mention that she’d bought it off a stall down the market. He hated her shopping there – said it was common.
She supposed he was right, but she loved the buzz of the place, particularly at Christmas. The market traders always had a line to make you buy and more often than not she fell for it. Silver Santa was a case in point. ‘Take him home and I promise all your Christmas wishes will come true,’ the guy had said with a soft Caribbean accent and a twinkle in his eye. And it was that promise more than anything that had her reaching for her purse.
‘Anyway we need something to make the house look Christmassy.’
‘Christmassy? The ugly little sod’ll more likely give everyone nightmares.’
Sylvie knew not to argue with him when he was in this sort of mood. Needless to say he’d been drinking most of the morning with his boss and their staff. She could always tell; it was when he was most likely to start a fight.
She picked up the figure and, to the tinkling sound of the bells that decorated his staff and hood, carried him out into the hall and placed him on top of the small table directly opposite the front door. She wanted him to be the first thing their guests would see as they entered the house. She took a few steps back to see how he looked.
Pretty, damn good I’d say, she thought to herself, and a lot less time and trouble than dressing a tree.
The first part of the evening went well. Chris was in his element playing mien host. Champagne flowed and when it ran out the men started on the brandy in the sitting room while the women congregated in the kitchen drinking wine or on the patio having crafty cigarettes.
‘So you decided not to bother with a tree this year,’ Darcy asked in her usual supercilious tone. She was the wife of Chris’s boss and considered herself top of the pecking order.
‘I thought I’d do something different.’
‘Hmm, not quite the same as having presents under a tree.’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Amanda, Chris’s secretary said. ‘Sylvie can always put their presents in his little sack.’
‘It’s rather tiny,’ Darcy commented.
‘It’ll probably be big enough for whatever Chris has bought her,’ Amanda said and started to bray with laughter with the other woman joining in.
Sylvie didn’t rise to the bait. ‘Anyone for nibbles?’ she asked weaving her way between the other women towards the oven.
She heard Darcy mutter something fuelling Amanda’s laughter and forced herself to carry on across the kitchen. I will not let them get to me she repeated again and again inside her head. She handed out some plates of food then excused herself and hurried up to her bedroom to have a moment’s peace.
Halfway up the stairs Sylvie stopped. ‘What the hell?’ she muttered to herself. Silver Santa was standing on the landing looking down at her. ‘I’m going to kill Chris one of these days.’
When she reached the top she laid her hand on the figure’s head. ‘Actually this isn’t a bad place for you to be. Out of harm’s way should the boys get raucous,’ she told him, remembering how a couple of years previously two of Chris’s drunken underlings had thrown her gold weave Rudolph into the swimming pool. She stroked a finger down his long, silver-grey velour hood. A dip in the pool would ruin him.
Leaving Silver Santa she carried on to the bedroom and once inside closed the door and leaned back against it shoulders slumped. She was so weary of it all. She glanced at the bedside table clock. It was only twelve-thirty and the party probably had at least another two hours to go.
She knew she should be downstairs looking after her guests, but she’d had enough of Chris’s work colleagues. How could it be that in her own house and surrounded by people she still felt so lonely?
She checked her hair and makeup, forcing herself to smile at her reflection. She was getting to be such a good actress she should get an Oscar.
As she went to leave the door swung open and Amanda appeared in the doorway. Upon seeing Sylvie her lips curled into a smile and her eyes glittered with amusement. ‘I wondered where you’d got to,’ she said.
‘I’m just coming back down.’
Amanda pushed the door closed and leaned against it just as Sylvie had done a few minutes before, only there was nothing weary about her posture, quite the contrary. ‘I was hoping to get a few moments alone with you,’ she said.
‘I should be getting back,’ Sylvie said, reaching past the other woman to open the door. ‘Excuse me.’ The woman didn’t move. ‘Amanda, I really need to get back downstairs.’
‘Not until we’ve had a little talk.’
Sylvie took a step back and crossed her arms then, realising it made her look defensive, let her hands drop to her sides. ‘What do you want?’
Amanda’s smile cranked up a notch. ‘Everything,’ she said.
Sylvie frowned at her. ‘’Scuse me?’ Amanda’s colour was high and Sylvie thought it more than likely that the other woman was a little drunk.
Amanda began to laugh. ‘Oh come on Sylvie, don’t be so thick. You must have had some idea, surely to God.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Me and Chris.’
Sylvie’s mouth went dry. ‘I . . .’
‘Chris wants a divorce,’ Amanda said.
Sylvie just stared at her.
‘His solicitor will be serving papers after the holiday.’
Amanda’s smile became a derisive sneer. ‘Make me.’
‘This is my bedroom and this is my house and I’m telling you to get out.’
‘Really?’ Amanda said with a smirk. ‘Chris told me about the pre-nup he got you to sign. So if I were you I’d start packing – oh – but I forgot. There’s nothing for you to pack. None of it’s really yours. Not the clothes, not the shoes, not the car and certainly not any of the money.’
‘Get out,’ Sylvie said again.
Amanda laughed. ‘Don’t worry, I’m going.’ She reached back for the door handle. ‘Happy Christmas Sylvie,’ she said and then she was gone.
Sylvie stared at the closed door. She knew her husband could be an utter bastard, but not even he would do this – would he? And what was all that about a pre-nup? She’d never signed . . . She sank down onto the bed, her legs suddenly feeling very weak. He had got her to sign something; he’d told her it was to do with some sort of tax dodge.
‘No, he wouldn’t,’ she muttered, but deep inside she had an uneasy feeling that maybe he had.
What to do? What to do? Confront him now? Or wait until Christmas morning? Then she remembered it was Christmas morning. She’d been so looking forward to Christmas Day, but Amanda had ruined it.
‘Well, I hope someone ruins her Christmas too,’ Sylvie muttered close to tears and wished things were different between her and Chris. If only it could be like it’d used to be.
A shriek from outside on the landing followed by a thumping sound had Sylvie jumping to her feet and hurrying to the door. Outside she could hear raised voices.
‘She pushed me,’ she heard Amanda whine.
Sylvie opened the door a crack.
‘No one pushed you, you silly mare,’ she heard a voice say. ‘You fell.’
‘She pushed me.’
‘Amanda dear,’ Darcy said, ‘you’re making a scene.’
‘No one pushed her,’ the first male voice said. ‘I was standing right here and looked up when I heard her fall. There was no one else on the stairs. Unless of course you count Santa,’ and he started to laugh.
‘I felt someone push me,’ Amanda said, but didn’t sound so sure.
‘I think you’ve had a little too much vino lovey,’ Darcy said and Sylvie could almost see her nose wrinkling in disgust.
Sylvie plastered a plastic smile on her face, stood up straight with shoulders back and walked out of the room and across to the top of the stairs. ‘What’s happened,’ she asked, looking down upon the group of guests surrounding Amanda, sitting on the bottom step.
‘Amanda’s fallen arse over apex,’ Barry, Chris’s boss said and winked up at her, his message clear.
‘Oh dear,’ Sylvie said walking down to join them. ‘I hope you haven’t hurt yourself.’ Too much!
‘Only her dignity,’ someone muttered and there was another wave of laughter.
Chris was standing on the periphery of their guests nursing a tumbler, his expression inscrutable. He must have felt her eyes upon him as he suddenly looked her way. She forced herself to give him a megawatt smile. She was damned if she was going to let him see that he and his latest fling had broken her heart.
He stared at her for a moment and then his lips curled into a smile of his own, the kind, gentle one that had made her fall in love with him in the first place. He began to move towards her; ignoring Amanda, who Barry was unsuccessfully trying to help to her feet.
‘You all right?’ he asked.
‘Shouldn’t you be asking her?’ Sylvie said gesturing with her head to Amanda.
He glanced Amanda’s way and a strange expression passed across his face. ‘No, I don’t think so. In fact I may well ask Barry for a change of secretary in the New Year.’
‘I thought you liked Amanda,’ Sylvie said keeping her tone neutral.
‘So did I,’ he said, his expression slightly puzzled, ‘but it’s time for a change.’ He frowned for a moment. ‘Yes, it’s time for a change,’ he repeated and put his arm around her shoulders giving her a hug, then a peck on the cheek.
Sylvie could hardly believe it. He hadn’t shown her this much affection for months. She glanced back up the stairs to where Silver Santa was perched. Take him home and I promise all your Christmas wishes will come true.
Could it possibly be? She had to find out. ‘I wish it would snow,’ Sylvie murmured.
‘No chance of that Chris said. ‘The weather forecast said it’s gonna be unseasonably warm over the holidays.’
Sylvie was relieved when the last of the guests had stumbled out of the front door to get into the waiting taxis. She hadn’t seen Amanda leave, but then neither had Chris as he’d hardly left Sylvie’s side.
It was only as they made their way up the stairs to bed that Chris asked, ‘what was Amanda doing up here anyway?’
‘She’d come to have a little chat with me.’
‘Ah,’ Chris said looking down at his feet.
‘I told her that I didn’t want to hear anything she might have to say,’ Sylvie lied.
Chris glanced at her face. ‘I’m a fool,’ he whispered almost to himself and paused at the top of the stairs in front of Silver Santa. ‘You know something? He’s really beginning to grow on me.’
Sylvie just smiled and took Chris’s hand to lead him into the bedroom.
As they walked to through the doorway he pulled her to a halt. ‘Oh, Sylvie look,’ he said pointing at the window and grinning like an excited child. ‘You’ve got your wish; it’s snowing.’
Sylvie rested her head on Chris’s shoulder as she gazed out at the swirling snowflakes dancing in the lamplight and laid her hand upon her stomach. She had just a couple more wishes, but one was really important and she wouldn’t know if it’d been granted for at least a couple of months. She had a feeling it would though; there was a magic in the air this Christmas morning.
‘Merry Christmas,’ Chris said, holding her close.
‘Let’s wish for all our Christmases to be happy ones,’ Sylvie said snuggling up against him.
And much later, as a drowsy but happy Sylvie lay in bed with her head resting upon Chris’s chest, she could have sworn she heard the tinkle of bells and a muffled “ho, ho, ho” just before she sunk into a deep and contented sleep.
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