We walked back down the queue which was full of chatting children and parents. Willow hugged the present as if she was never going to let it go. I really hoped there was a unicorn inside of there. Glad that was over, I realised I needed the bathroom and a drink.
‘Hey, how’d meeting the Big Man go?’ the male elf said loudly.
I stopped and grabbed my niece’s arm as he suddenly stood before us all green and bells tinkling. There was a huge grin on his face and he was just too happy. He reminded me of the Grinch after he’d stolen everything.
‘It’s fine thanks,’ I muttered.
‘I got a present,’ Willow said proudly and showed him the box.
‘Wow, that’s just great! You must have been good this year then!’ the elf said in fake shock.
‘I’ve been good! Can I have a present?’ a little boy’s voice shouted from the queue.
The elf turned and replied, ‘of course you can!’
We slipped past him and hurried away into the crowd. I’d had enough of this. Heading into the toilets, there was another queue to join but at least it wasn’t as long. I sighed and lent against the wall. Feeling tried and fed up of all these people. I shut my eyes but still the sounds came. A baby was crying loudly behind a closed door, a child was singing Jingle Bells, a young couple were having an argument and there was a constant chatter of other voices.
I felt Willow tug on my coat and I looked down at her.
‘That elf was a bit weird, wasn’t he?’ Willow asked.
‘He was just really happy, that’s all. It’s how they are, I guess…and I really needed the loo,’ I added.
‘Auntie Angel, tell me the truth, is Santa real?’
I rolled my eyes at her use of my name. God, I hated it with a passion. Like how people hate the taste of fish or the sight of a spider or the same Christmas song on repeat. And how I was meant to answer her question? I didn’t want to be the one to spoil Christmas but I hated to lie.
‘What did Santa say?’ I asked instead.
‘If I believed in him then he was real,’ Willow replied slowly.
‘Do you believe in fairies and unicorns and magic?’
‘Yes, I do! but Santa is just different…somehow.’
‘He’s more magical then the rest?’ I suggested as we become the head of the queue.
Willow shrugged and studied the colorful wrapping on the present.
After we’d been to the toilets, we went to a coffee shop, got drinks and small cakes then we walked to the bus stop. I avoided going anywhere near the Santa’s Grotto which meant we went the back way out of the shopping outlet and had to go around. Willow was quiet for the rest of the time, lost in her thoughts.
The bus was busy and I had to stand. A kind, older lady moved her shopping so Willow could have the seat next to her. I placed the bags at Willow’s feet and hung on tight. The bus driver must have been running late as he zoomed off and raced the traffic. The bus smelt like sweaty bodies, dirty water and oil. People were trying to keep to themselves with headphones, newspapers and phones whilst a few chattered about this person or that present or how they were tried of Christmas already!
‘Have you been to see Santa today? the older lady asked.
‘And that’s a present from him? You must have have been good girl then,’ she added.
Willow smiled a little and with a quick glance at me, said to the lady, ‘yes.’
‘Your sister’s so nice to take you shopping isn’t she? Did you buy a present for your mum?’
I pulled a face but held the words back in. I was too use to people guessing the relationship between us now. At least no one had called me Willow’s mum today! That’s always the worse, especially when you then work out the age difference.
‘My Auntie,’ Willow corrected, ‘she took me shopping for my family. We are best friends and she’s far more fun then my parents or baby brother.’
‘I bet she is!’ the lady said and smiled more brightly at me. ‘Are you going to save your present till Christmas day?’
‘Maybe…Do you believe in Santa?’ Willow asked.
‘Willow!’ I snapped.
‘It’s fine,’ the lady waved away, ‘yes I do believe still. It’s hard with all this technology and growing up so fast now. But Santa’s out there still, a symbol of hope and happiness for anyone who keeps believing.’
‘I like that,’ Willow said then under her breath, ‘but I’m still not any closer to the truth!’
The rest of the bus journey was normal and we got off before the lady did. We said good bye and merry Christmas then found ourselves stepping into a sleet storm. As the doors closed the bus pulled away, we hurried up the street we both lived on. My older brother’s house was first and the house I currently shared with my grandparents was close to the end of the street. Willow ran up the pathway and rang the doorbell. I had a key somewhere…
The door opened and we both rushed in.
‘It’s almost snowing!’ Willow cried to her dad.
‘It’s really meant to start tonight,’ her dad added, ‘what’s that? a present for me?’
‘No! It’s from Santa!’
Willow giggled and ran off to find her mum without taking anything but her boots off.
I looked at my brother, we were so alike we could still be mistake for twins at a distance. Same brown hair and brown eyes, same slightly over weight bodies, though he looked better then I did at the moment. There was four years between us but we’d been through everything together.
‘Hi Alex,’ I said, ‘it was hard to say no to her! but at least all the present buying is done now.’
‘Thanks, Angel. She’s really attached to you,’ he replied.
‘I should go…’
He pulled me into a hug then we said our goodbyes.
To Be Continued…