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.