Day 16 - Story Advent Calendar.

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Advent Calendar 16th December

The Christmas Present by Anna Bell

22nd December 2015

I slip my shoes off for a moment and I stifle a groan of pleasure at the relief. I wiggle my toes and give my soles a quick rub.
‘You are going on the naughty list,’ I say to the unassuming black heels that were definitely not designed to wear for eight hours of silver service waitressing. 
‘Are you ok?’ asks Lydia as she appears with her clipboard clutched to her chest.
‘My feet, my poor, precious feet. How do you do it?’
‘You get used to it,’ she says shrugging. ‘So are you having fun?’
‘Hmm,’ I say. It had seemed like such a good idea when she’d suggested it. I’d get to earn some extra money for Christmas and spend time with her. I hardly get to see my best friend at this time of year. Lydia works for an events company that runs huge corporate Christmas parties.
If I’m honest I thought it’d be a right laugh, drinking a few glasses of bubbles and bopping away to Mariah Carey as we served people but it’s really hard work. I’m not used to being on my feet for hours on end or catering to the whims of ever-increasing drunk people. And the worst of it is I’m starting to hate Mariah. I can totally see why Lydia gets more and more bah humbug as the years go by.
‘I did warn you it was going to be tough.’
‘I thought you were exaggerating.’
She’s got a smug smile on her face.
‘At least it won’t be much longer. Taxis are booked for one, so,’ she says tilting her wrist. ‘Only another hour and a half.’
I groan and look at my feet.
‘Do you think anyone would notice if I don’t have any shoes on?’
‘Trust me, it’ll hurt more if someone stamps on your feet. This is the part of the night where it’s like playing human dodge ball as people stagger about. So,’ she says raising her eyebrow, ‘how did it go with that guy on table 9?’
‘Oh,’ I groan. ‘Not well at all. I gave him extra potatoes and the biggest slice of cheesecake and nothing.’
‘Don’t tell me that there’s a man that’s impervious to your charms?’
‘I know. It’s like this uniform has turned me invisible. Or almost invisible in his case,  at least he would say a polite thank you rather than ignoring me like everyone else.’
‘So maybe he did like you.’
‘No, I don’t think so. Did you see him?’
‘I did, he was cute.’
I sigh. If this was any other night I’d talk to him, yet another reason I’m not enjoying this formal waitressing.
‘Right, I’m going to see if the kitchen’s got any leftovers.’
‘I’ve got truffles if you want one?’ I say pulling my apron pockets open up a little so Lydia can see.
‘Weren’t they supposed to be on the tables?’ she says panic spreading on her face.
‘Relax. They were, but there were a couple of tables that didn’t touch them.’
She grabs one and stuffs it in her mouth.
‘Oh, they are so good. So, I’ve got to go and check on the fairground rides, but I’ll catch up with you a bit later? I’ve got a Christmas present for you.’
‘What? It’s tradition that we give them to each other at Rob and Gavin’s party on Christmas Eve.’
‘This one can’t wait,’ she says with a mysterious wink.
Her face changes and she suddenly looks all serious as she whips her hand to her ear presumably to listen to her walkie talkie.
‘Got to run,’ she says and she hurries off.
I’d naively thought that when the main dinner was over the catering staff would have less to do, but it’s just as full on as there’s been a cheese station, a tea and coffee station and now we’re all getting ready to serve bacon butties.
I help the rest of the team set up the plates and condiments and bar the butties, we’re ready to go. Whilst we wait for them to arrive I mill over to a corner where I’m preparing to kick off my heels again when a man walks up to me. Not just any man but the one from table 9.
‘Hello, are you Lucy?’ he asks, with a smile that makes my insides melt.
‘I am,’ I say my heart racing.
‘Lydia told me to come and see you.’
‘Did she now,’ I say purring. It takes a moment before it all fits into place. That’s why she said she’d give me her present early - she went and talked to him for me.
‘Yes, she did.’
‘Well, Lydia’s done very well this year, hasn’t she? I mean, what a lucky girl I am. If I’m being picky she could have put a bow on you and perhaps she could have planned it so that we were stood under mistletoe, but Merry Christmas to me. I’ve got a break in ten minutes, if you wanted to get a drink?’
He smiles back at me and I’m starting to realise that love at first sight might not be as ridiculous a concept as it sounds.
‘I’d love to get a drink with you, but I think there’s been a slight misunderstanding. I asked Lydia for some extra truffles and she said you might be able to help. She said you’d been squirrelling them away.’
The butterflies in my belly are replaced by feelings of nausea as embarrassment washes over me.
‘I . .. oh, of course. Of course I do,’ I say shoving my hands into my large apron pockets and filling his hands with truffles.
‘One or two will do.’
‘No, no take them. Take them all. Have a good evening,’ I say tottering off as quickly as my dying feet will let me.
‘Hey, wait,’ he calls. But I don’t. I head straight to the behind the scenes area and I close my eyes.
Lydia spots me and walks over.
‘What’s going on? You ok? Did the guy from table nine find you? Can you believe he wanted extra truffles, what were the chances?’
‘Oh yes, he did, but I thought he was my bloody present from you?’
‘You what?’
‘He came up and was all like, Lydia sent me and I thought that was why you needed to give me the present tonight,’ I say before I tell her the whole story.
‘Oh my, that’s hilarious,’ she says clamping her mouth shut so that she doesn’t laugh. ‘Your present’s a spa session tomorrow. I thought you’d want it after tonight.’
That makes much more sense.
‘I’m mortified. How am I going to go out there now?’
‘Relax, there’s two thousand people on site, I bet you don’t see him again.’
‘You think?’
‘Yeah, he’ll get lost in the crowd. Go out the back way over there and you’ll be fine.’
I desperately hope that Lydia’s right but on the other hand there’s part of me that’s sad that I might not run into him again. There was something about him.
Not that I have time to dwell on it, who knew a bacon buttie station would be so busy. Especially after the four course dinner they’ve had, not to mention canap├ęs and cheese. At least it keeps me busy and my mind off my humiliation with the man from table 9. Before I know it we’re ushering the last of the guests out the door.
‘Did you see him again?’ asks Lydia.
‘No.’
‘You seem sad.’
‘I think I am, there was something about him.’
‘The fact that he wasn’t interested?’ says Lydia, laughing.
‘Very funny. There was something about the way he smiled at me, it felt like we had a connection. Not that it matters now.’
‘Come on, let’s get you home,’ she says linking her arm through mine.

Three days later and I still haven’t forgotten about the guy from table 9, but at least I’ve got Rob and Gavin’s party to take my mind of it.
‘I can’t believe you’re wearing that,’ says Lydia laughing at me.
‘Come on, you’re just jealous,’ I say shaking my tinsel round my waist. I’m dressed as a sexy Mrs Claus and I think I look pretty darn good.
‘What is it with all this mistletoe?’ I say as I realise that I was just about to stand under it. ‘It’s ok for you, you’ve got a boyfriend to kiss under it.’
‘Please, since when do Ross and I kiss? That doesn’t happen once the honeymoon period’s over,’ she says with a laugh that doesn’t meet her eyes.
It breaks my heart to watch her and Ross together. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ross, he’s a great guy - he’s just not the right guy for Lydia at all.
‘So have you got your Christmas decoration from Danny this year?’ I ask deliberately to see the contrast in her reactions.
Her whole face lights up, ‘I did, it was a mooning santa.’
It’s the worst when someone can’t see what’s right there in front of them. Sometimes the hardest thing about being a good friend is keeping quiet and letting them make their own mistakes.
‘Oh my god, is that the time?’ she says suddenly. She tugs my hand and she drags me into the hall way. ‘Answer the doorbell when it rings.’
‘What’s going on?’
‘You’ll see.’
‘If it’s a pizza I haven’t got any money on me, this outfit doesn’t have any pockets,’ I say smoothing the skirt of my dress to illustrate my point.
She runs off and I’m left in the hallway feeling like an idiot when the doorbell rings. I curse the boys for not having a spy hole and I cautiously open the door.
I can’t help gasping. There standing on the doorstep is the guy from the other night, from table 9.
He’s dressed more casually in jeans and a shirt but I’m drawn to the giant red bow that he’s wrapped in.
‘Merry Christmas,’ he says. ‘I heard you were short of a present.’
I look over my shoulder and I see a flash of Lydia’s face before she hastily shuts the kitchen door. That girl. I bloody love her.
‘I’m Ed.’
‘Lucy.’
‘It’s nice to officially meet you, do you mind if I come in? It’s freezing out here.’
‘Of course,’ I say.
He walks in and I shut the door behind him and we stand there looking at each other, it’s almost hypnotic.
‘I love the bow, it brings out the colour in your eyes.’
‘And there was me thinking it was a bit OTT.’
‘This is OTT,’ I say doing a cheesy model pose to show off my dress.
‘It looks great,’ he says, with that smile. ‘Look, I’m sorry about the other night. I wanted to talk to you, all night, it’s just that I’m a supervisor and I didn’t want my staff giving me stick for chatting up the waitress.’
‘Still got it,’ I say doing a little fist punch.
‘What?’
‘Never mind. ‘Do Christmas presents give kisses?’ I ask.
Ed’s eyes follow mine to the mistletoe above us and a hint of a blush spread across his cheeks.
I thought the days of kissing strangers stopped years ago but there’s something about him that makes me want to break all my rules.
‘They do as it happens and pretty good ones too,’ he says.
‘Yeah?’
‘Yeah,’ he says as he slowly leans down and kisses me gently. But he’s wrong, it isn’t a pretty good kiss - it’s an absolutely knee-quiveringly, amazing kiss.
‘‘So do you like your present?’
‘I do, but I can’t help wondering if you’re like a puppy and not just for Christmas.’
‘Some presents last a lifetime,’ he says giving me a look.
Suddenly all the banter falls away and he looks serious. He leans forward and kisses me again and I can’t help thinking that he might just be right.

***

Anna Bell is an author of romantic comedies including the bestsellers The Bucket List to Mend a Broken Heart and It Started With a Tweet. Lucy is a character in her new novel If We’re Not Married By Thirty which tells the story of Lydia, who once made a pact to marry her childhood friend Danny if she was still single at thirty - but nobody really goes through with those pacts do they . . . ? Out now in ebook https://amzn.to/2St7dIA and from 27th December in paperback: https://amzn.to/2QAgbqd


Find Anna Bell at the following links:


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