It's been the best Christmas for years in the Graham household. But will single dad Patrick get the one present he really wants? Adele Geras concludes our exclusive Christmas tale. Illustration by Ivan Allen.
Liam sat up in bed and looked at the photographs spread out on the duvet. "I took these pictures," he thought. "All by myself with my special Christmas camera that the angel brought. Dad said it was from him, but the angel brought all the presents, so it must be from her too, kind of. It's the best present in the whole world."
He stroked each glossy print. Baxter, his favourite bear, was propped up between his pillow and the wall, and the camera was on its lap. He imagined its silver eye looking out over his bed all night, and that made him feel happy.
His camera was the kind where the photos came sliding out of the bottom, and you could look at them straight away. Dad said his pictures were ace, and they were. You could look at them and see exactly what Christmas had been like. It'd been brilliant. There was Karen smiling. She didn't often smile, but she loved the glittery blue scarf that was wound round her neck. And everyone loved the tree.
The tree was the best bit of Christmas. And the picture Liam had taken of it was the best picture of all. Lucy, that was the angel's name, helped Liam and Karen and Dad to decorate it with gingerbread men and golden stars and ribbons and tinsel. She put an angel doll at the top. It didn't really look like her because it didn't have ginger hair. She laughed when Liam told her that. All the presents were wrapped in lovely paper and Liam helped to put them in a pile to open on Christmas Day.
Liam leaned back against his pillows and closed his eyes. He'd drawn an angel and it went into the fire and burned up all gold and black. So he wished for the angel to come back and she had. He would try again, and maybe ... "I wish," thought Liam. "I wish she would come again. I wish, wish, wish..."
Karen opened the biscuit tin and took out a star made of iced gingerbread. Dad wasn't back yet. He'd gone out to the bottle bank in the car, but he did say he might be late. She sat at the kitchen table, feeling flat.
Christmas had been really good this year. Was this how normal families felt when the festivities were over? She had always longed for it to be over, but this year had been great, so now she was sad it was just everyday life again. Dad had been chuffed and so had Liam, pestering everyone to pose for his camera. The food had been proper for once.
Lucy had taken Dad into the kitchen and explained exactly what had to be done with it all.
"You watch and listen as well, Karen," she'd said. "You can't trust a man to remember stuff like this."
Now Karen smiled. Dad had been dead panicky over the timings, but she'd helped and she and Liam had laid the table and then Dad lit the candles and the food was just right. Lucy had thought of everything, right down to the brandy butter. There was still some of that left. They were going to finish it for tea with some mince pies.
Karen's best present was a diary with a velvet cover and a key. next year she would write down all her secret thoughts, and no one would be able to read them. The key was already on a chain around her neck.
How did Lucy know that blue was her favourite colour? And that she liked sparkly things? She smiled. Dad can't have told her, she thought, because he doesn't know. If he did, he'd have bought presents like this before, wouldn't he? And he never had.
Patrick peered through the windscreen. Sleety rain was falling against the glass and the windscreen wipers had their work cut out. If there was such a thing as end-of-year weather, this was it. Not Christmassy, not festive, not snowy and sharp and twinkly, but depressing, and grey and wet. Every other nose was buried in a hankie and all the snowmen and Santas and reindeer and tinselly bits and bobs looked ...what was the right word? Sad. Bedraggled. Past their sell-by date. It wasn't time for new beginnings yet, and all the colour that surrounded Christmas seemed to have faded in the past couple of days.
His mood didn't help. Why was he so - miserable was too strong a word - dissatisfied, when for once it had been a proper Christmas. The kids had loved it, even though Patrick himself had felt as though there was something lacking.
"I admit it," he thought. "I wanted Lucy to be there, sharing it all with me. As Karen would say: Sadsville Arizona!
"Karen and Liam will want the same kind of Christmas next year, and the one after that. On a new teacher's salary, that's not going to be easy. And am I going to get over this crush, or what? She's sure to be married, settled, happy - she's that sort of person. Grow up, Patrick! Maybe you could even manage a decent Christmas all by yourself for once, without angelic intervention."
He wrapped his scarf more tightly round his neck as he made his way to the supermarket. I might as well get the shopping done while I'm here, he thought. Should have made a list. Can't be helped.
"Hello, Mr Graham," Lucy said. "I thought it was you. Have you run out of food already? I thought we'd stocked you up till at least New Year."
"Oh..." Patrick noticed with horror that he was blushing again. Would she put it down to the heating? He was losing it for sure...she'd think he was some kind of fool. Maybe he was. Why else would he be feeling like this, like he used to feel in the sixth form, when Trina Chambers looked across the classroom at him during double history? "Behave," he said to himself. "You are 41 years old. Father of two. Divorced. A man of the world. Act as though bumping into her means nothing. Act natural."
"Hello," he said. "I was going to drop into the agency. To thank you. We had the most marvellous time at Christmas and it's all thanks to you. The kids loved their presents. How did you know what to get?" "It's my job," said Lucy. Before Patrick knew what was happening, they seemed to be pushing their trolleys down the aisles side by side.
"Well, you're very good at it, and I'm so grateful. Liam thinks you're an angel." Is it really me saying this? Am I going mad? he thought. "so do I. Are you doing anything when you've finished shopping? Why don't you come home and have a cup of tea with us? The children will love that, and we've got some mince pies left. Unless you've got to get back to your kids, of course."
"I haven't got any kids," said Lucy, throwing a packet of rather exotic-looking cereal into her trolley. "Haven't even got a husband."
"Boyfriend?" Patrick asked, dreading the answer in a way that he recognised as being completely ridiculous.
"No, no boyfriend either," Lucy said and made off towards the washing-powders. Patrick felt light-headed. He followed her down the aisle. She hadn't said whether she was coming to tea or not.
"Dad's back." Liam hadbeen waiting at the window for a long time, wondering why the car wasn't coming, and now here it was, stopping outside the gate. He could see Dad and he could seeI "She's here! The angel! I wished for her and she's here!" Liam began to jump up and down and Karen frowned.
"You're tapped, you are!" she said. "What are you rabbiting on about? What angel?" "Lucy!" Liam ran into the hall to greet her.
"Hello, Liam," she said, coming in just in front of Dad. "I met your Dad in the supermarket and he asked me back to tea. He says you've taken some lovely photos with your camera. Will you show them to me?" \Liam nodded. He put his hand into Lucy's and led her into the lounge. Dad may have met her and asked her to come home, but Liam knew the truth. Lucy was here because he, Liam, had wished for her. She was his angel. He was the one who'd thought of her first. He'd even drawn a picture of her. Karen said there was no such thing as a ginger-haired angel, but there was, and she was in his house. Liam hoped she'd stay a long time.