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