Day 20 - Story Advent Calendar.

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Advent Calendar 20th December.
Love and Lies at the Village Christmas Shop

By Portia MacIntosh.

I sit up in my bed and stare straight ahead, as though that might make my ears more efficient. Did I just hear something or was I dreaming?

After a few seconds I hear the noise that woke me again and realise it’s a knock at the door.
I grab my phone from next to me and look at the time. Uh-oh, it is 8.45, which means I’ve overslept – I never oversleep.

I grab my brown reindeer dressing gown (complete with antlers on the hood) and throw it on over my nightshirt before dashing downstairs to answer the door, combing my hair with my fingers and wiping sleep from my eyes as I hurry down the stairs.

As I approach the shop front door, I can just about see Pete, the postman, on the other side of the glass, which, now that I think about it, I maybe went a little too heavy on with the spray snow. The white, frosty edges frame his face, giving him this angelic white glow. I don’t suppose I look so festive from where he’s standing; all he’ll be able to see is me hurrying across the shop floor undressed, with my bed head hair, fumbling with my keys.

He waves at me, all smiles, as I unlock and open the door.

‘Hello, Ivy, sorry, did I wake you?’ he apologises as he clocks my dressing gown.

‘Hey, Pete. I’m glad you did,’ I admit. ‘I need to open the shop in 15 minutes.’

‘It’s not like you to sleep in,’ he says, handing me a parcel. ‘Is everything OK?’

‘Everything is fine,’ I assure him. I don’t tell him that I was up late looking over my finances, worrying a few years’ worth of wrinkles onto my face until I finally dropped off some time after 3 a.m. ‘I was up late reading.’

‘Now that I believe.’ He laughs. ‘Is that what’s in there?’

Is there not some kind of law that prohibits postmen from asking you what’s in your parcel? There could be anything in this box – what if I’d ordered some super sexy lacy underwear or something? I mean, it is from Amazon, and it is book-shaped, but still. I’m not always so predictable (I am).

‘Yep, another book,’ I tell him. ‘Something to read while I’m working.’

‘Business still quiet?’ Pete asks.

‘Yeah,’ I say with a sigh. ‘It’s December 1st though, so things should pick up a little.’

‘I’ll be in for a few bits,’ he assures me.

‘Thank you.’

‘I’m sure I had something to tell you,’ he says, hovering outside the door. I appreciate that it must be uncomfortable, talking about my difficult livelihood – especially for the man who delivers my bills. I usually enjoy his friendly small talk, but today I just want to get back inside and get some clothes on.
Pete furrows his brow for a second, visibly racking his brain until he has a thought. The second it hits him his face relaxes again.

‘Oh, some gossip for you,’ he starts, setting his bag down on the floor and taking his phone from his pocket. ‘I saw a man in town today.’

‘A man?’ I gasp, faking shock.

Pete laughs. ‘No, like…a mysterious man. He isn’t a local, and he doesn’t look like a tourist. He’s walking around, wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase. Seems like he’s scoping the place out.’
‘Hmm. For what, I wonder.’

‘Indeed,’ Pete replies. ‘I snapped a photo of him, put it in the Facebook group. Just in case he’s one of those white-collar criminals – you know, in case he steals something or what have you.’
‘I don’t think a white-collar criminal is just a criminal in a suit,’ I point out with a laugh.

‘See,’ Pete says, holding up his phone to show me a photo of a man in a suit, eyeing up a building on Main Street. ‘He’s weird.’

He’s gorgeous – but I don’t say this out loud. I study the photo for a moment, as my head fills with fiction-worthy reasons why this mysterious man might be hanging around town. The eligible bachelors in this town are few and far between. All the good ones are taken. This guy is definitely not from round here – take it from a single girl who knows.

‘Weird,’ I say in agreement, pushing all fantasies of handsome, mysterious strangers from my mind. ‘Well, I’d better get on with opening up the shop.’

‘Yes, I suppose the post won’t deliver itself,’ he says. ‘Not yet, anyway.’

I don’t have the heart to point out that emails are pretty much that.

‘Same time tomorrow,’ he says as he walks off down the path.

‘Yeah, if I don’t sleep in,’ I joke. ‘Have a good day.’

I watch Pete head for his van before he drives off. My lonely little shop is his only stop here. The shop sits alone, on a quiet country road, outside the town. It’s an old, stone cottage, which used to be a big house, sitting smack bang in the middle of a massive, beautiful garden. Just like a house, it has a little gate at the bottom of the garden, and a cute little pathway that leads up to the shop doorway.
When my mum took on the place, she converted the downstairs of the cottage into the shop, with a kitchen at the back, and the upstairs became our living space. It was strange, growing up above a shop when all my friends lived in big houses, but come summer time, when I had this massive garden to play in, I didn’t think twice about how cramped things were indoors.

I notice a bill, hiding under my package. I shove it in my dressing gown pocket, to be worried about at a later date – probably tonight, when I should be sleeping.

I unlock the fire exit at the back of the shop before flicking the switch that turns on every fairy light, every musical statue and snow machine. The things that make the shop seem alive, even when there’s no real people in it.

I check the shop floor to see if anything is out of place, or if any rubbish is lying around, before turning the sign around on the door to say that we’re open…for all the good it will do. I don’t tend to see any customers until the afternoon mid-week – usually tourists in the middle of a hike, or, at this time of year, the occasional local in need of some new decorations or wrapping paper.

I was only standing in the doorway chatting for ten minutes and I’m positively freezing. I’m almost always freezing, sometimes even in the heat of summer. I don’t know how long it has been since my last summer holiday, but I’m pretty sure it’s a double-digit number of years now. I don’t like to think about it; it makes me feel old.

What I need right now is a steaming-hot cinnamon latte, with a generous dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of tiny golden white chocolate stars, to make it extra festive. I’ll make myself a drink, warm up a little and then head upstairs to throw some clothes on before the lunchtime rush which, yesterday, was a whopping four people.

I plonk myself down on the stool behind the counter and fire up the usual Christmas playlist. The dulcet tones of Mud drift from the speakers, with ‘Lonely This Christmas’ – not exactly the vibe I need this morning.

I take my phone from my dressing gown pocket and load up the Marram Bay residents’ group on Facebook. It’s a private group, strictly for locals and businesses in Marram Bay and over on Hope Island, mostly used for selling things, announcements and a good old gossip. People in small towns just love to talk – mostly about each other.

Today’s gossip du jour is the ‘mysterious man’ Pete was telling me about. I see Pete’s paparazzi-style photo of a man wearing a suit, and carrying a briefcase, and otherwise not doing anything at all unusual other than being uncharacteristically good-looking. A glance at the comments tells me more about the man. He’s been spotted all over town this morning, driving around in his convertible Porsche – some reckon he’s a professional athlete buying one of the mansions that sits just outside town, someone else swore blind it was Henry Cavill, while someone else has corrected them that, no, it was in fact Jamie Dornan.

It’s only now that I’m thinking about it that I realise Henry and Jamie do actually look quite similar and the thought of this man being a hybrid of the two is, coincidentally, exactly what I asked Santa for this year – well, it would be, if I were remotely interested in having a man in my life.

Hmm, no, he’s definitely not a famous actor. I suppose he could be a sportsman. He’s got the build for it, but I don’t know nearly enough about sports to recognise anyone other than David Beckham.
Perhaps he’s a prince, visiting from a sexy European country, looking for a woman to be his queen, or maybe he’s a spy, deep under cover in Marram Bay for some Secret Service operation… Perhaps I’ve just read too many books.

Speaking of which, I unwrap my latest Amazon package to find a copy of Little White Lies, the latest Mia Valentina romcom. I do feel guilty, buying books when money isn’t exactly great, but the day I begrudge myself a £3.99 book (when reading is my favourite thing to do) is the day I really need to think about selling a kidney.

You can’t beat a good book, can you? The way it just drags you in, taking you into someone else’s life, into their home, their relationship – into their everything. It’s a sneak peek into something you don’t usually get to see, and I think that’s why I love it so much. Whether I’m walking through the streets in King’s Landing in A Game of Thrones or being a fly on the wall in Nick and Amy’s house in Gone Girl, people are living a million lives far more interesting than mine, and with books, I get to live them too.

I have my coffee, I have my book, I’m all snuggly and warm in my dressing gown. I know that I won’t have any customers until after lunch at least, because I never do, so there’s no harm in starting my book and enjoying my drink before I head back upstairs to get ready. One chapter turns into two, and before I know it my cup is empty and I’m almost four chapters deep. I’ll finish this one and then I’ll get back to reality.

‘Hello,’ I hear a man’s voice say in an attempt to get my attention.

I glance up from my book to see him standing in front of me – the mystery man, the athlete, the Henry Cavill-Jamie Dornan hybrid, (almost) all I want for Christmas.

‘I’m so sorry,’ I say. ‘Have you been here long? I used to do the exact same thing when I was younger, just sit here behind the counter, lost in a book while my mum did all the hard work.’
‘Am I in your living room?’ he asks with a laugh.

I pull a puzzled face as I close my book and place it down in front of me. It’s only as I do that I notice the brown sleeves of my reindeer dressing gown and I remember what I’m wearing.
‘Oh, God, no, sorry,’ I babble. ‘It’s a long story. This is a shop and we’re open. I run the place. I’m Ivy.’

I hope down from my stool and walk around the counter to shake his hand.

‘Nice to meet you, Ivy. I’m Seb.’

Seb holds my hand for a few seconds as he peers over my shoulder.

‘Are…are those antlers and a red nose on your hood?’ he asks with an impossibly cheeky smile.
I feel my cheeks flush the same colour as the nose on my dressing gown. ‘Yes,’ I reply with an awkward laugh. ‘I wasn’t expecting any customers yet and it was cold…’

‘No, I like it,’ he replies. ‘It’s cute.’

If it’s even possible, my blushing intensifies.

‘So, business is quiet?’ he asks, walking across the shop, picking up a snow globe from the shelf before shaking it up and watching the flakes fall.

I can’t help but stare at him – not watch him, really stare at him. Taking him in. Seb must be over 6 feet tall, and he’s so muscular that I feel like an elf next to him, my petite, 5’3” frame resulting in me not even coming up to his shoulders.

He has perfectly neat, swept back dark hair, and a thick but short beard – combined with his sexy blue eyes, his chiselled cheekbones and those gorgeous dimples when he smiles are probably the reasons why people so easily mistook him for a Hollywood actor.

‘It’s picking up for Christmas,’ I assure him.

‘It’s a strange thing, a Christmas shop that’s open all year round,’ he muses as he strolls around.
‘It’s not that,’ I insist, following him closely. ‘My mum opened the place up when I was a kid and it was always heaving back then. I took over, after she died, and we were busy for a while. It’s since satnavs became popular. This road used to be the main way into town, so tourists would always pass the shop on their way in or their way out. These days, satnavs lead everyone along the new road, so no one even knows we’re here. We get hikers, and other shops let tourists know we’re here, and they usually remember to stop by.’

‘Hmm,’ Seb says thoughtfully. ‘So, is it just you working here?’

‘You ask a lot of questions,’ I point out.

‘I do,’ he replies. ‘It’s been said before.’

‘What do you do for work?’ I ask.

‘At the moment, nothing,’ he replies.

I raise my eyebrows.

‘What?’ Seb laughs, and there are those dimples again.

I suddenly remember what I’m wearing and tighten the belt of my dressing gown self-consciously.

‘You do nothing?’

‘Nope.’

‘How does a man who does nothing afford a suit like that? And drive around in a Porsche?’ I ask suspiciously.

‘You’ve got me, I’m a drug dealer,’ he says sarcastically. ‘No, I’m just between jobs at the moment. Does this train work?’

Seb runs his hand along the track until he reaches the miniature steam train that used to run all around the shop.

‘Not anymore,’ I admit. ‘It needs repairing.’

‘Shame,’ he says. ‘I like it.’

‘So, you’re just taking a break in Marram Bay then?’ I ask.

‘Just having a look around.’

‘Well, if you need someone to show you the sights,’ I start, before my brain has chance to catch up with my mouth and reality hits me. What am I saying? This isn’t me; I don’t talk to men. Well, I do talk to men, most days in fact, but this isn’t Pete the postman, this is a man man. I don’t know what on earth I was thinking, saying that. There’s just something about Seb that is drawing me in. I quickly backtrack. ‘I’m sure you don’t…’

‘I might just take you up on that, Ivy,’ he replies with a big smile. ‘Do all your customers get this kind of special treatment?’

‘What customers?’ I joke.

Seb takes the snow globe from the shelf and brings it over to the counter. ‘Is this Marram Bay, inside?’

‘It is. There’s a local guy who makes them – I buy them from him.’

‘I’ll take it.’ He grins, placing it down in front of me.

I can’t help but wonder if he actually wants the snow globe, or if he’s only buying it because he feels sorry for me, for seemingly having no customers. I can appreciate that, to an outsider, a Christmas shop that is always open might not seem like the kind of place that would get much custom, but things will pick up in the run-up to Christmas. Either way, I appreciate him buying something. Along with his cheeky smile, Seb has a glimmer of kindness in his eyes, a glimmer that I can’t help but notice twinkling when I look at him.

‘That’s £9.99, please. Would you like me to wrap it up for you?’

‘That’s OK, I’m going straight to my car,’ he says, before furrowing his brow. ‘How did you know I drove a Porsche?’

‘What?’

‘You know what kind of car I drive…’

‘Oh, just a guess.’

Seb laughs. ‘Is that your party trick? Guessing what kind of car people drive?’ he asks.

‘Is it even possible for anyone to be able to do that?’ I reply.

‘Sure,’ he tells me. ‘Hold out your hand.’

I place my hand out in front me, which Seb takes in his hands, examining my palm. It’s amazing, just how warm his hands are compared to mine.

‘Let’s see…you drive…a Honda HR-V,’ he says.

Spooked, I snatch my hand back.

‘A gold one,’ he adds with a smug grin.

‘Ahh, you saw it outside,’ I say, suddenly self-conscious that he’s seen my 1998 plate Honda. It might be old, but it’s an amazing car that never lets me down. It’s no convertible Porsche though, that’s for sure.

‘How could I miss it?’ He laughs. ‘It’s the only car for miles.’

I step out from behind the counter and walk Seb towards the door. He stops in his tracks to say something to me, stopping when he notices the mistletoe hanging above us.

‘How seriously do you take Christmas tradition?’ he asks with an awkward laugh.

‘Pretty seriously,’ I say cautiously. ‘I pretty much live Christmas every day…’

‘Hmm,’ he replies.

There’s an awkward silence between us, but only for a few seconds. I glance around the room awkwardly until I notice Seb’s face just inches from mine. He plants a quick peck on my lips, immediately seeming surprised at himself for doing so. Maybe, as cool and as confident as he seems, he doesn’t do this sort of thing often. I guarantee this sort of thing happens to me even less.

‘OK, well,’ he says, a little flustered, but with a smile on his face. ‘See you around, Ivy.’

‘Bye,’ I call after him, running my fingertips over my lips, where Seb’s lips touched them even if it was only for a second. As I sit back down behind the counter, I look at my book. For the first time – maybe ever – something happened to me in real life that was fresh out of a romcom, and I can’t quite believe it.

He said ‘see you around’ when he left – it would be great to see him around, but what are the chances I’ll ever see him again? He’s not about to need another snow globe anytime soon, is he? He’s got a posh, southern accent, and we don’t have too many men like that in Marram Bay. We have farmers, fishermen – we even have a guy who makes snow globes, but no well-spoken southern men in flashy suits.

Nope, I don’t think I’ll ever see him again. But if I do, I really hope I’m not dressed as a reindeer.

***

If you loved this story, then you MUST read 'Love and Lies at the Village Christmas shop," because this is actually the first chapter!! 


Find Portia MacIntosh here:


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