The Grotto (Part 3)

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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.

Willow nodded.

‘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!’

‘Another one?’

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…

The Grotto (Part 2)

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We walked through a plastic curtain that was meant to be dripping icicles and entered the igloo. There was a thick patterned rug on the floor and a huge red plush throne which Santa was sat upon. There was a female elf at his side with a fake book holding loose papers. I remembered that we had been asked Willow’s name soon after we had joined the queue.

Santa looked like anyone you’d find in other shopping centres and events. He was tall and fat – though his stomach was probably padded out. His red suit was bright and the buttons shining. He had a huge white beard that looked almost real but really couldn’t be and matching long white hair. The face peering out from all of that was wrinkled and brushed with make up. Santa looked tried, but he was hiding it well behind that smile and twinkling blue eyes.

‘And who do we have here?’ Santa asked in a deep, jolly voice.

Willow walked over to him, her head and shoulders high, determined to gather more evidence for her mission. I hung back, hoping that she didn’t embarrass me.

‘Ah, Willow!’ Santa said with quick glance at the elf’s open book.

Willow stopped by his massive black boots and as if she was a toddler, Santa lifted her up and on to his knee. I had a flash thought about wondering how okay that was now a days. Willow seemed happy enough.

‘Have you been a good girl this year?’ Santa asked.

Willow nodded, ‘yes,’ she added.

The elf slide the book further down, allowing Santa to look at the pages.

‘Ah, I can see from the good list you have been! What would you like for Christmas?’ Santa asked.

‘A unicorn,’ Willow said quickly, ‘with a rainbow mane and tale, a golden horn and she has to be pink.’

Santa chuckled before saying, ‘I should be able to do that for you.’

‘Thank you,’ Willow replied then, ‘Can I ask you a few questions? It’s for a report at school.’

Santa looked a little worried and the elf’s big smile turned into a frown.

‘Go on,’ Santa said slowly, some of the jolliness gone from his voice.

‘How are you related to the real Santa? And don’t say you are ’cause I know that’s not true as the real Santa is far too busy right now.’

Santa looked thoughtful and in a whisper said, ‘I’m his cousin.’

‘Santa has a LOT of cousins,’ Willow mused.

‘He sure does but we must keep it a secret.’ Santa winked.

‘Are these elves real or just cousins too?’ Willow questioned.

‘Cousins. All the elves are needed at the moment to make all the toys.’

The elf shot me a look then give a small side nod to Willow. A clean sign she wanted me to remove my niece. I looked away, pretending I’d not seen and forcused on the glitter covered wall next to me as if I thought it was real ice. We had waited so long for this and I wasn’t about to drag Willow away…Unless she got too embarrassing.

‘But do know Santa right?’ Willow carried on talking.

‘Of course! And I’ll tell him you were asking about him,’ Santa replied.

‘What about the reindeer? Do they really fly by magic? Why doesn’t Santa get a motor, like on a speed boat?’

‘The reindeer do fly by magic dust but there is also a motor. It helps to get the sled around faster. That’s why it’s very hard to spot.’

‘What happens if things go wrong?’ Willow pressed.

The elf give a small cough and Santa glanced at her, she was tapping her empty wrist.

‘Santa has many back up plans if anything goes wrong. But everything is fully tested, so nothing ever does. Is that all? There are lots of other children waiting to see me,’ Santa explained.

Willow looked across at me then back up at Santa, ‘I guess….I’m still not closer to the truth though.’

‘The truth?’ Santa echoed.

‘Yes,’ Willow uttered as she swung her legs, ready to get down.

‘You want to know if Santa is really real don’t you?’ Santa voiced.

Willow looked startled at him and I bit my lip. It was so time to leave.

‘If you believe,’ Santa begin, ‘then he is real inside of your heart.’

Willow give a nod and slide off his knee.

‘Oh, don’t forget your present!’ the elf called and she handed Willow a gift wrapped in girly unicorn paper.

‘Is it a unicorn?’ Willow asked excitedly.

Santa laughed loudly and replied, ‘you’ll have to open it and see!’

‘Thanks for coming,’ the elf added.

Willow skipped over to me, a huge grin on her face. She showed me her present, her finger itching to open it.

‘We’ll open it at home,’ I told her.

Saying goodbye to Santa and his elf helper, we left the grotto.

To Be Continued…

The Grotto (Part 1)

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The queue to see Santa at the small shopping outlet was far too long but my eight year old niece, Willow, had really wanted to see him. So, after we had eaten lunch and done some Christmas shopping, we had joined the hour wait behind the red ropes.

‘Haven’t you seen Santa four times already?’ I asked her.

Willow give me a hard stare, her arms folded across her chest and replied, ‘yes, but I’m on a mission.’

I couldn’t help but smile. She was trying to look serious but it didn’t work with the cuteness of the grandma made knitted rainbow bobble hat and bright pink puff coat with unicorns on it.

‘What kind of mission?’ I asked.

‘To prove he’s real,’ Willow said in a low voice.

I lent down to hear her better as she explained, ‘kids in my class say he’s not real and it’s their parents who buy all the presents. I though want to prove he’s real and I can only do that by talking to as many ‘Santas’ as possible.’

I nodded then said, ‘but you know all the Santas are like the real Santa’s relatives, right? The real Santa is far too busy right now.’

Willow pressed her lips together and puffed out her cheeks, ‘I know.’

The queue moved a little and a mother ahead of us stopped a passing male elf to ask how long it would be.

‘It won’t be much longer now!’ the elf cheerily replied, ‘and have you been good children this year?’

I turned to Willow who was watching intently. The elf was too tall and it looked like the green trousers, jacket and hat were far too small for him. He was clean shaven and he had short blond hair. He was wearing fake pointy ear tips, there was a bell on the end of of his hat and also atop each of his green pointy shoes. He had red blush circles on his cheeks too and though it was hard to tell his age, he couldn’t have been more then twenty-six – close to my own age. Actually, if wasn’t dressed like he was I would have found him attractive!

He walked down the line, chatting to adults and kids then he reached us.

‘I think my auntie likes you!’ Willow spoke out.

‘Oi!’ I snapped and give her pink fluffy lined hood a tug.

Willow giggled and beamed at me as I felt my cheeks go red.

‘This is your aunt? Why I thought you were sisters!’ the elf said cheekily.

‘Are you a real elf?’ Willow asked.

‘Of course I am! Fresh from the North Pole! Only the best elves get to travel with Santa.’

‘How much longer is it going to be?’ I asked.

‘Shouldn’t be-‘

‘No,’ I cut him off, ‘the real time. We have a bus to catch.’

Willow look at me in shock but I tugged her hood again to stop her from speaking.

‘Oh….erm….an hour or so. He’s really popular today! I’m sure you could catch another bus….’ the elf trailed with a wide grin, ‘he’s worth the wait!’ he winked at Willow then walked off.

‘Meanie!’ Willow snarled, ‘I’m not leaving till I see him!’

She crossed her arms and turned away from me, nose in the air.

I signed and looked around. The shopping outlet shone and glittered with lights and sparkly decorations. Christmas music was playing in the background but the noise of people made it hard to only make out a few louder notes. The window displays of the near by shops were trying their hardest to compete with one another and also draw customers into spend lots of money. With it being the third Saturday to Christmas, a lot of people were doing just that.

Looking back at the Santa’s Grotto which was shaped like a large igloo covered in glitter surrounded by presents and models of penguins, bears and reindeer, I just couldn’t bring myself to drag Willow out of the queue and leave. So, we waited an hour and twenty minutes watching the shoppers and the elves until we were next.

There were two female elves at the front, one was taking money and the other photographs. They looked like twins with their green costumes, blonde hair, blue eyes and too much make up.

‘It’s five pounds to see Santa and another five if you want your photo taken with him,’ the first elf explained.

I glanced at Willow and she responded, ‘just Santa, please.’

‘Are you sure, sweetie?’ the second elf asked, swaying the large camera around her neck.

‘Yes,’ Willow and I said together.

I handed over the note from my purse and lead Willow up the cotton wool pathway. The family that had been before us came out and we went in.

To Be Continued….