Charlie takes a trip down memory lane as he packs away the decorations for another year.
|Well, that was it for another year. Christmas was over. Time to out the decorations away.
Charlie pulled himself up and decided to tackle the window decorations first, humming to himself as he unpeeled the clings from the glass and let the static pull them back down to the laminated card.
"Alexa, play uplifting music," he ordered the speaker. That was thing thing about Christmas. Once the decorations and the pretty lights came down, winter was cold, miserable and long. Alexa started playing a crooning love song.
"That's not what I asked for!" Grumbled Charlie. "Alexa, play happy music."
The speaker continued with its original song.
"Alexa! Play the radio."
The device obliged, and selected Classic FM.
Charles huffed. It wasn't what he wanted, but at least it didn't make him want to heave. He started to tackle the window lights.
Five minutes later, it was time to do the tree. Charlie paused, staring wistfully at the symbol of hope he'd put together. Now, that hope was dead. There had been no gifts for him under the tree. His family hadn't come home. His wife was still gone. Only the red velvet tree skirt with green stitching stopped the base of the tree from looking barren.
"No use dwelling on it," he told himself as he picked the nearest bauble and lifted it off the branch.
It hadn't always been this way, of course. Not so long ago, he and Liz had sat under the tree and exchanged gifts with a kiss, before visiting relatives and walking hand-in-hand to the pub for Christmas Lunch.
He placed the ornaments carefully into their box.
Then the kids had come along, and Liz had cooked the Dinner, while the relatives came to them. The kids would scream and chase each other around the table while the adults exchanged news and showed off the newest member of the family.
Charlie grabbed a length of tinsel and tugged it from the branches.
Then the kids had grown and gone their separate ways leaving him and Liz alone. They'd gone back to the pub for lunch.
The Christmas tree lights were next. It was the bit he dreaded the most. There was always a game of Tug o' War with the tree when it came to the bloody lights. This time was no different, as Charlie cursed and sweated and swore he was not putting damned lights on the damned tree next year.
Presently, the grandkids had come along, and the old house filled with the sounds of excited children once more. Charlie smiled at the memory, his battle with the tree lights forgotten.
Finally, just the skirt was left. Charlie ignored the branches of the tree as he reached around and carefully undid the velcro at the back. Liz had made this skirt herself. He held the soft fabric in his hands and rubbed it against his face, unwilling to let go.
It took a moment for his brain to register what he was looking at.
At the base of the tree was a small, oblong gift, wrapped in metallic blue paper and tied with gold ribbon. Charlie frowned. He couldn't remember using such paper to wrap presents. Couldn't remember buying anything oblong shaped, either, for that matter. He abandoned the skirt and reached for the gift. The paper was thick, of good quality and as smooth to the touch as it looked. Charlie got to his feet, the tree forgotten, and sank into his armchair as he turned the gift over in his hands. The tag hung down from the bottom of the gift and he prized it open with his thumb.
"To Dad. Merry Christmas. Love from The Kids."
They hadn't forgotten. The old man's lip wobbled as his fingers carefully undid the bow. He didn't hear the sound of the door opening, and barely registered the presence growing in the doorframe.
"Merry Christmas, Dad," said his eldest, Simon, leaning against the doorframe.
Charlie blinked back the tears as he looked up from the present to see his family gathered in the doorway.
"Aren't you going to open it, Grandad?" Asked Lucy.
Simon pushed himself away from the frame and stepped over to his father. "Sorry we couldn't make it for the big day."
Father and son hugged as the family spilled into the room and gathered around them.
"Open it! Open it!" Demanded Lucy, jumping on the spot.
Charlie ruffled the little girl's brown, curly hair as he laughed through his tears. "Okay, young 'un," he said. "Have patience." He gazed at the child fondly as he lifted the lid off the box. Inside was a gold fountain pen gift set, inscribed with his name. It was the very one he'd wanted for months.
"And that's not all," added Peter, coming to stand beside his brother. He reached into his jacket and retrieved an envelope, then presented it to his stunned parent.
Charles stared at his son through faded brown eyes. "What's this?" He croaked, taking the rectangular envelope.
Peter grinned. "You're going to Italy. Mum will meet you at the airport."