All Wrapped Up

A des­per­ate plea for help pulls at Lizzie’s heart­strings as she tries to save Christ­mas for a very hand­some cus­tomer…

My Weekly - - Contents - By Mandy Bag­got

Two more sleeps. Two more sleeps un­til Christ­mas Day. The day every­one seemed to have spent months pre­par­ing for. Blonde-haired Lizzie sti­fled a yawn as she turned the sign to “closed” on the frosted glass door of the toy shop.

Franklin’s Toys and Amuse­ments was one of the few sur­viv­ing in­de­pen­dent stores on this street and, as Lizzie gazed out onto the snow-cov­ered cityscape she took in the melee of shop­pers to-ing and fro-ing. The brand names had all but forced every­one out of busi­ness. Ex­cept her… yet.

It would take more than a lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion, more than the death of her fa­ther and more than her husband leav­ing to rock her foun­da­tions. It was busi­ness as usual as far as Lizzie was con­cerned.

Her sleeves were rolled up – de­spite the mi­nus tem­per­a­tures out­side – the shop was cov­ered in baubles and bead­ing and she was do­ing what she had to do. Dig­ging in, lit­er­ally.

Turn­ing back from the door, Lizzie stepped over to­wards the hand-crafted sand pit she had made to order for a boy called Archie. She had used olive wood to cre­ate it. Thick, wide planks you could sit on, all planed un­til the edges were smooth and splin­ter-free. Each side with its dif­fer­ing knots and swirls was unique, just like its new owner. The three-year-old with im­paired vi­sion al­ways laughed like his world was full to the brim de­spite his con­di­tion.

Hope­fully, he was go­ing to get hours of happy play from Lizzie’s cre­ation. She tweaked at the bright red, sparkling tin­sel wrapped around the frame. Archie’s life was chal­leng­ing. Not hers. Hers had just been a lit­tle chaotic for a while.

When her dad died it had sounded the death knell on her mar­riage to David. David had never quite un­der­stood the joy she got from her job at the toy shop. He had seen him­self as her knight in shin­ing ar­mour, sweep­ing in and sav­ing her from a life she was ac­tu­ally con­tent with. He took her to Rick Stein restau­rants and opera on ice. Every­one said how won­der­ful it must be to have all these new op­por­tu­ni­ties open­ing up to her. And, back then, she had felt in­cred­i­ble guilty that she didn’t fully ap­pre­ci­ate David’s ef­forts. Fi­nally, af­ter over six months of seabass din­ners and the Mikado, she had ac­cepted his mar­riage pro­posal.

For a while, she had been happy. Well, con­tent. How she imag­ined peo­ple are sup­posed to be: work­ing nine to five, com­ing home to a part­ner, sleep­ing the req­ui­site seven hours. Ex­cept Lizzie had al­ways felt there was some­thing miss­ing. In the end, David needed her to be some­one she wasn’t. He needed her to be his, with no room for any­thing or any­one else. And she had Franklin’s. She wanted Franklin’s.

Lizzie had con­cluded that a re­la­tion­ship shouldn’t be about chang­ing some­one. It should be about en­hanc­ing each other. Per­haps she would never find that per­son, but she knew she wasn’t will­ing to com­pro­mise on that stance. What would be would be and if she stayed sin­gle with only her lathe for com­pany, well, so be it.

Lizzie put her hand to the dap­pled rock­ing horse she had been work­ing on for the past month and smoothed her fin­gers over the glossy skin she had painstak­ingly painted long into the night. Lis­ten­ing to the church bells and carol singers, steam­ing hot choco­late on

“I made a PROM­ISE… a SIN­CERE prom­ise I DON’T want to go back on”

her work bench, Lizzie had cre­ated Dob­bin.

Dob­bin looked real. His eyes and mouth alive, his mane made from an old broom head. She had used all her skills and ex­pe­ri­ence, com­pletely un­hur­ried, de­spite the need to sell the horse be­fore Christ­mas. It had to be per­fect. And it was. But here it still sat for sale.

Abang on the front door star­tled her and Lizzie looked out into the white flurry of flakes that were now de­scend­ing thick and fast. A man was at the door, two hands ei­ther side of his face, gaz­ing in. He was tall, with dark hair that sprung about a lit­tle as he

looked from right to left, tak­ing in what the shop had to of­fer. He tapped again, then put his palms to­gether in prayer.

Lizzie couldn’t help but smile. She had seen that ex­pres­sion a lot over the last few days. Ill-pre­pared fa­thers sud­denly re­al­is­ing that Christ­mas was com­ing. She walked over to the door, putting fin­gers to the latch. She opened it a crack, icy wind im­me­di­ately whoosh­ing inside.

“I know you’re closed,” the man be­gan. He was pant­ing a lit­tle. “I can see that, from the sign, but I re­ally, re­ally need your help.”

He had blue eyes un­der that dark floppy hair, a strong nose and full lips. Good-look­ing, but more im­por­tantly, hon­est, she de­cided. Some­one who gen­uinely wanted to buy some­thing, not some­one who was go­ing to try and sell her ex­pen­sive, in­ad­e­quate paint­ing ma­te­ri­als or rob her blind when her back was turned. She opened the door wider. “Come in.”

She let him pass, bolt­ing the door again then flick­ing on more lights. Im­me­di­ately all her work was dis­played un­der spot­lights that bounced off ev­ery colour­ful sur­face, face and hooves.

“Wow!” the man ex­claimed. “This is like Santa’s grotto.”

His com­ment warmed her and she felt a shroud of pride slip over her shoul­ders as she joined him in re­gard­ing all her care­fully con­structed train sets, build­ing bricks and fair­grounds.

“Who makes all of these?” the man asked, pick­ing up a par­tic­u­larly tricky pig from a farm­yard set. “I do,” Lizzie an­swered. “By your­self?” he ex­claimed. Then he turned to her. “Gosh, how ter­ri­bly pa­tro­n­is­ing of me to say that. I didn’t mean you couldn’t be ca­pa­ble, I just meant – OK, I’m go­ing now,” he said. “I’ve in­sulted you and you’re closed.” He strode pur­pose­fully to­ward the door. “I’ll leave.”

Lizzie laughed. He made an amus­ing sight, get­ting all hot and both­ered and stalk­ing around like a flus­tered fal­con, al­beit a rather strik­ing fal­con. He was wear­ing a dark blue busi­ness suit and rather nice shoes, de­spite the smat­ter­ing of snow now coat­ing her shop floor. It never usu­ally oc­curred to her to no­tice but she did like nice shoes and dark hair.

Her stom­ach stirred a lit­tle. She had been so busy she hadn’t had time for lunch.

“You don’t need to leave,” Lizzie spoke quickly. “What was it you were look­ing for?”

The man stopped in his tracks and turned back to face her. “Sur­rounded by all these amaz­ing cre­ations, what I’m look­ing for seems a bit lack­ing, if I’m hon­est.”

“Try me,” Lizzie sug­gested, her tone full of de­ter­mi­na­tion, eyes meet­ing his gaze.

“I’ve been ev­ery­where,” he breathed. “All over this town and the next, on­line – Ebay, Ama­zon.”

“Ah,” Lizzie stated. She knew im­me­di­ately what this guy was look­ing for. “You’re look­ing for a Wan­deez.” “Yes!” he ex­claimed. “Yes! I am!” Wan­deez was this year’s toy craze. A glow in the dark wand that was also a voice-changer mi­cro­phone. It was sim­ple, ad­dic­tive and com­pletely out of stock ev­ery­where. Lizzie had had a box, want­ing to jump on the trend, but they had long since sold out.

“Do you have one?” the man asked, look­ing fran­tic. “No,” Lizzie replied. “I’m afraid I don’t.” She al­most felt the look of dis­ap­point­ment that crossed his fea­tures.

“Well, that’s that then,” he started. “I’m done for.” He shook his head, de­spon­dent. “I made a prom­ise, you see. A sin­cere prom­ise I don’t want to go back on. And now I’ll be let­ting her down.”

He sank down and into one of the chil­dren’s rock­ing chairs. His large, ath­letic-look­ing body wasn’t a good fit but he didn’t seem to no­tice.

“I’m sure your daugh­ter will

un­der­stand,” Lizzie re­as­sured.

He shook his head. “If only it were that sim­ple.”

Di­vorced? Like her? Or just ab­sent enough to have to buy a sep­a­rate present? She wasn’t sure which sce­nario was bet­ter. Or why she was so in­trigued.

“So­phie hasn’t had it easy this year,” the man be­gan. “Her mum and… the break up and ev­ery­thing. I wanted to make this Christ­mas special. I asked her for the one thing she re­ally wanted and it was that stupid wand thing,” he ex­claimed. “That stupid, im­pos­si­ble-top­ur­chase wand thing.”

Lizzie felt for him, she wanted to help. She knew what it was like to be sud­denly on your own and, even though you might be com­fort­able with the de­ci­sion, it still felt like wad­ing through trea­cle in the be­gin­ning. And, for her, there had been no chil­dren in the mix.

“Lis­ten,” Lizzie be­gan. “It’s a long shot but there are a cou­ple of sup­pli­ers I can call. They might have some in stock or they might be able to order one fast.” She swal­lowed, as he lifted his head, those blue eyes catch­ing hers. “I can’t prom­ise any­thing but…”

He leapt up from the chair like a Jack-in-the-Box and caught her up in the weight­i­est of bear hugs.

The air was al­most taken from her lungs but it was so wel­come, so solid and re­as­sur­ing and just lovely. Lizzie hadn’t felt such sim­ple grat­i­fi­ca­tion in so long she al­most wanted to hold on.

“Sorry,” the man said, let­ting her go but still stand­ing close. “It’s just my god­daugh­ter means the world to me and…” He swal­lowed. “It turns out I’m the only man in her life she can rely on.”

God­daugh­ter. Not daugh­ter. Not di­vorced? Lizzie swal­lowed as he con­tin­ued to look at her. Who was this man who was awak­en­ing senses she had closed down? She didn’t even know his name. But, as the chimes of St Michael’s fil­tered into the shop and the nightly carol singers struck up the first verse of Si­len­tNight in the square, noth­ing else seemed to mat­ter apart from gaz­ing at this gor­geous, car­ing cus­tomer with the azure eyes.

She tore her gaze away and ad­mon­ished her­self, blam­ing the over­dose of Christ­mas spirit heavy in this area of London.

“I’ll go and make that call.”

There were no Wan­deez from here to Ar­broath. Lizzie hadn’t just called a cou­ple of sup­pli­ers, she had called every­one she knew and the an­swer was the same. And now she had to break the news to Mr Gor­geous Eyes.

Get­ting up from her desk her el­bow caught and sud­denly a box was tum­bling to the ground, off-cuts of wood, springs and dow­els shoot­ing out and cov­er­ing the floor­boards. What a mess! But then her eyes caught on some­thing in the mid­dle of the pile of as­sorted fix­ings. It couldn’t be? Could it? She plucked it up, a sliver of ex­cite­ment touch­ing her.

As she stepped back into the main room her cus­tomer was by Dob­bin, run­ning strong hands over the wood­work. He seemed to be ap­pre­ci­at­ing ev­ery nu­ance, fin­gers trac­ing just like her paint­brush had.

Lizzie cleared her throat and he stood up straight, look­ing to her like he was await­ing a judg­ment. She opened her mouth to speak but he was quicker.

“There aren’t any, are there?” he guessed. His shoul­ders slouched, a heav­i­ness tak­ing over his de­meanour. “Thank you so much for try­ing.”

From be­hind her back, Lizzie pro­duced what she had found on the floor, hold­ing it out in all its day­glow glory. “My very last one,” she said. “I didn’t even know it was there.”

“I don’t be­lieve it!” The man ex­haled like Lizzie had sin­gle­hand­edly saved the planet from green­house gases. “I don’t be­lieve I’m see­ing one of these wretched things in the flesh. Well, the plas­tic.”

He strode to­wards her then stopped, look­ing first at the Wan­deez and then right back at Lizzie. Those eyes were even more ocean-like up close.

“I could kiss you right now,” he breathed.

The thought of that thrilled Lizzie as much as it scared her. She didn’t know his name. She was so out of prac­tice. She should know bet­ter…

And then there was no more think­ing. Mr Gor­geous Eyes’ lips were slowly de­scend­ing to­wards hers and Lizzie some­how knew this was go­ing to be a Christ­mas to re­mem­ber.

He left her breath­less and red­cheeked, head-spin­ning, as the carol singers moved onto O’Lit­tleTownof Beth­le­hem.

She swal­lowed, mouth alive with sen­sa­tion, not know­ing what to say.

“I’m Damien, by the way,” Mr Gor­geous Eyes in­tro­duced him­self. “And I re­ally don’t make a habit of kiss­ing beau­ti­ful shop own­ers. Even those that have saved my Christ­mas, of which there aren’t many… In fact there are no oth­ers at all.”

Lizzie laughed. “Would you like me to wrap your gift for you?”

“Yes please,” Damien an­swered. “And, how much would it be if I added in the rock­ing horse…” He paused. “And maybe the sug­ges­tion of din­ner in the New Year?”

Lizzie smiled as she moved be­hind the cash desk.

“Well, then,” she said, tap­ping at the till. “Let’s find out.”

He swal­lowed. “It TURNS OUT I’m the ONLY man in her life she can RELY on”

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