£100 prize…

She’s fed up with the fes­tiv­i­ties, but will a sur­prise gift make Carol smile?

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Carol Jenk­ins looked at the woman in front of her in the queue and won­dered whether it would be jus­ti­fi­able to a jury if she tied her up in a cor­ner and claimed tem­po­rary shop­per in­san­ity. Her up­per back and shoul­ders were scream­ing, weighed down un­der the amount of bags she had in her hands. Four dif­fer­ent make-up coun­ters to get the right celeb eye pal­ette for her teenage daugh­ter, three dif­fer­ent game shops to get the gad­gets her young son needed for his Lego gam­ing, and Steven had just rung her to re­mind her to buy some more Prosecco as his boss was call­ing in for a Christ­mas tip­ple after work.

It was Christ­mas Eve’s Eve, and spirit was in short sup­ply in the Jenk­ins house­hold. Steven was fin­ish­ing work for the fes­tive pe­riod, but she knew that there was still lots to do.

The in-laws would be de­scend­ing, the house needed clean­ing, a huge amount of presents had to be wrapped. Not to men­tion the din­ner that would take the best part of the day to cook.

Carol used to love Christ­mas, but nowa­days, by the time the Queen’s speech was on and her fa­ther-in-law was treat­ing ev­ery­one to his snor­ing, she’d had enough. Like now. She was try­ing to pay for her shop­ping, which she then had to haul home, and the woman in front was block­ing her.

She was chat­ting to the check­out girl, while thumb­ing through what looked like a book of vouch­ers. She was hand­ing them to the girl one by one: 30p off a tin of beans, 5p off a pot of hum­mus.

Carol could feel her­self red­den, sweat drip­ping down her back as she huffed with her bags. Fi­nally, the to­tal flashed up on the regis­ter, and the woman took out her change purse.

‘Now dear,’ she said. ‘I hope you have room in that till, be­cause I have been sav­ing up all my pen­nies!’

Carol could see it now, her photo in the pa­per, be­side that of a woman wrapped in Christ­mas rib­bon stuffed into a trol­ley. No one would blame her, she was sure of it. Next year, she was go­ing to do the whole lot on­line. Get every­thing de­liv­ered while she camped un­der a blan­ket drink­ing tea, read­ing books

about sun­shine and hol­i­day ro­mance, and ig­nor­ing any­thing red and beard-like. On­line shop­ping had its own prob­lems, of course. It was easy to find out what Santa was bring­ing you. Steven was at work when her present had ar­rived, and her heart sank as she signed for the par­cel.

All this work, and what did she have to look for­ward to on Christ­mas morn­ing? The same old per­fume. She still had half a bot­tle left from her birth­day. Any­one would think she smelled, the way her hus­band and fam­ily bought her gifts. All she ever got was smellies. She had enough body but­ter to slather her­self up and swim the At­lantic, and if she ever saw an­other bath bomb, she would throw her­self into the near­est lake till spring. Bah hum­bug in­deed.

Hours later, shop­ping put away, she reached for a half-empty bot­tle of wine, pour­ing her­self a large glass and putting her feet up on the couch. The kids were out see­ing friends and swap­ping gifts, and Steven was just wav­ing off his boss and his wife. Carol rubbed her poor feet and reached for a left­over cheese stick.

‘Dar­ling,’ Steven called from the hall­way. ‘Close your eyes. I thought we could ex­change gifts early this year.’

Carol tried to sound en­thu­si­as­tic, but all that came out was a muf­fled ‘okay’. Thank­fully, his gift was wrapped and al­ready un­der the tree. Tick one item off the big Christ­mas list.

‘Are they closed?’ he called, and she did as he asked.

She felt him sit down next to her, and smiled at his warmth. She did love him so, de­spite his bor­ing gift ideas. She held her hands out, ex­pect­ing the weight of the per­fume bot­tle, but some­thing much lighter landed on her palms. She felt it with her fin­gers. It was flat. ‘You can open them now,’ her hus­band said glee­fully. Carol opened her eyes and gasped. It was an en­ve­lope from the travel agent! ‘Oh Steven, you didn’t!’ ‘I did,’ he said. ‘We fly on Box­ing Day.’ Carol beamed. She had vi­sions of them strolling around Italy, laid on the beach in Spain, eat­ing choco­lates in Bel­gium. She opened the en­ve­lope, and the dreams in her head popped like a de­flat­ing bal­loon.

‘La­p­land!’ Steven boomed. ‘Can you be­lieve it? I used my Christ­mas bonus, and, best of all, my par­ents are com­ing, too!’

Carol smiled and re­filled her glass. Next year, she would be root­ing for a bath bomb un­der the tree.

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