Chapter 2 : December 8th
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"Clementine, darling," Mum said, interrupting my daydreaming, and giving me a small fright. I dropped the spoon down into the bowl of porridge on the table before me, giving a start.
"What?" I asked, slightly annoyed. Some of the porridge had splattered onto my dress, and I wasn't happy about it.
"You've been quiet all week," Mum observed sternly, walked over to the sink and got me some paper towels. While handing them over to me, she sent me a grave look. You know, one of those looks mothers enjoy giving their teenage daughters when they're trying to pry secrets out of them.
I usually cracked under those looks, but this time I kept my mouth shut, and dried the porridge stains off my dress.
I had no intention of telling my pregnant, overly hormonal mother that I'd met a wizard and almost kissed him after only knowing him for about five minutes.
She'd definitely go into labour before I'd finished the word 'wizard'. My mother had a strange view of witches and wizards, even though her own mother was one.
I kept my eyes on the porridge, and refused to meet my mother's stare.
After standing over me for a while, she sat down on the chair opposite mine.
"Clementine," she started in a serious voice, "I can-"
But at that exact moment, loud footsteps interrupted our conversation, followed by a tall, white-haired man entering the kitchen.
"Morning, my beauties!" My father's voice boomed through the room, and his wide smile made his eyes twinkle like Christmas tree ornaments.
"Good morning, Dad," I greeted back, and he gave the top of my head a gentle pat before walking over to Mum and kissing her cheek.
"Hello, Nick," Mum said with a giggle.
Yes. My mother, the forty-year-old, round-figured, pregnant, cynical woman, giggled. But only because of Dad. Especially when he kissed her. And the giggles were usually followed by some serious blushing.
Like right now, when the colour of her cheeks rivalled the redness of her clothing ensemble(which was very red).
Even after twenty years of marriage she was still head over heels in love with my father, and vice versa. It was kinda sickening sometimes, to be honest.
"And how is little Nick Claus Jr. doing today?" Dad asked as he put a large hand on top of my mother's round, portruding belly.
Mum giggled again. Barf.
"I told you," she said, smiling sweetly up at her husband, "I am still not sure it's a boy. I have a feeling it's a girl."
"Well, seeing how you had a feeling our dear Clem would be a boy," Dad teased, and winked at me, "please allow me to disagree."
Still, at the age of seventeen, I was my daddy's little girl. He was very protective of me - sometimes overly protective, hence my un-kissed state - and it would probably always be like that.
"So what are my two best girls doing today?" he asked as he sat down around the kitchen table. He filled a glass to the brim with thick, ice-cold milk, and took a long swig before smiling at Mum and me.
"Considering how preoccupied Clementine has been with God knows what lately," Mum answered, eyeing me, "we're far behind schedule."
I rolled my eyes, and was just about to retort when Mum continued complaining.
"We're nowhere near finished baking, there's still a lot of decorating left to do - especially in the main street, and we haven't even started planning the annual Send-Off, and-"
"Mum, it's only the 8th," I reminded her. She looked offended. "The annual Send-Off is always the same, so there's really nothing to plan there. It's all: 'Hello, let's eat, dance and sing before we bid a collective farewell to the guy on the sled with all the presents' - nothing new there."
Mum's mouth was a straight line by now, but I kept on going.
"And if you'd only let the witches of wizards do the outdoor decorating around town, it would reduce the amount of time-"
"I don't want them to do it," she snorted, buttering her toast with unnecessary force. "I want it done the good old-fashioned way."
I rolled my eyes yet again. "Witches and wizards have existed just as long as the rest of us non-magical people, Mum."
Mum turned her nose in the air and oretended she hadn't heard me. She did that a lot.
"And we're not entirely non-magical ourselves, dearest Nellie," Dad tried in a soft voice, but Mum's eyes shot daggers at him.
"Nicholas Claus! Do not compare us to them!" she hissed. "You, Nick, may posess certain abilities one would describe as magical, but you're certainly not a-a wizard."
Dad and I exchanged glances. Mum's hormones and occational outbursts had just brought us closer, and by now we had our own "eye-language". If you've ever been in a somwehat similar situation, you'll know what I mean.
"And going back to what we were talking about," Mum said and looked at me with a sour expression, "you, Clementine Claus, have been neglecting your chores lately." She looked over at Dad for support, but he just kept right on drinking his milk. I hid a smirk behind my own glass.
"Nicholas!" Mum reprimanded, making Dad choke on the milk and spend about twenty seconds coughing. "Speak to your daughter."
"Erhm, well," he cleared his throat again as he turned to me. His brown eyes silently told me that whatever he was about to say wasn't to be taken seriously. I was tempted to grin, but refrained from doing so. Mum would've gone bonkers.
"Yes, Dad?" I urged him. He sighed uncomfortably, throwing a glance at his wife and establishing that she was in fact staring at him. He scratched the white stubble on his cheek(he refused to have a full-on beard on any other days but Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) before opening his mouth.
"Erhm, quit wandering about, and-and, erhm... Listen to your mother. Alright?"
I nodded, and put on an apologetical front.
"Sorry, Mum," I said, and her stern face loosened up as if by magic.
"Everything's peachy, my dear!" she basically chirped.
Dad and I exchanged another glance, both of us still not having gotten used to her emotional ups and downs.
"May I be excused?" I asked as I stood up, and Mum's cynical expression tainted what used to be a jolly and kind face.
"What for?" she inquired. "Where are you off to now?"
"Helping to clean up the stables," I lied smoothly. "Apparently Dasher has had a tantrum again and there's hay everywhere - from the basin to the-"
"Yes, yes. That's fine." Mum waved me away, getting bored with my tenuous description of the raindeer stables. It was her least favourite place in the whole town(I suspect it was because of the smell), and that way I knew she'd not come checking up on me.
So I dashed out of there at full speed, and barely took the time to check my reflection in the mirror. But it was a good thing I did, because I had come large pieces of pumpkin pulp between my teeth.
After running into the bathroom and giving my teeth a quick brush, I was out of the house in a flash. I walked briskly through the town square and down the main street while buttoning my coat and pulling on my red woolen mittens.
I was in front of the large, fully decorated building in less than five minutes, and I pushed open the heavy wooden door without hesitation. A vast collection of various sounds came over me like a wave when I stepped into the three-storey building. Elves singing, the giants' echoing steps, machines buzzing, wiches and wizards calling out incantations and spells, dwarfs arguing, and other sounds that were just too difficult to separate from the rest.
My father's workshop was like a hornet's nest. Only this was filled from floor to ceiling, wall to wall with magic and Christmas spirit(and the faint smell of spiked eggnog).
I smiled to myself as I walked the familiar path up to the second floor, zigzagging between a wide variety of workers and ending up right behind the gift wrapping section. With sneaky steps, I moved behind a large Christmas tree, from which I had a perfect view of the whole section before me without being seen myself. My eager eyes immediately sought the man whom I'd been watching from afar this past week.
I couldn't find him. He wasn't here? Blast. I must've caught him when he was off on his break or someth-
"Looking for me?"
I wheeled around with a hand over my overly pounding heart.
What met me were the black eyes of Ted Lupin gazing down at me. His full lips were quirked into a teasing grin, and I shot my nose in the air. I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing I'd basically been stalking him for a week.
"Absolutely not," I told him. He scoffed in return. "I just, I-I... I just needed to water this- this tree. Can't you see it's parched?"
Ted folded his muscular arms over his broad chest, which I wish he hadn't done, because now I was only aware of how fit he looked in his haphazardly buttoned work shirt.
"Where's the water?" he asked, and I blinked.
"I've already watered it. So it's in there, you know, in the...ehm, earth."
Oh, how meek.
"Right," he said, smirking.
"So what are you doing next? Now that your tree watering mission is accomplished."
I found a random shiny ornament on the tree inhumanly fascinating when he asked me this. At least I pretended I did. But Ted kept on staring at me until I cleared my throat uncomfortably.
"Ehm, nothing right now. I-I'm on break," I told him. Break? I didn't even work there!
"I see..." he said, still staring at me.
What followed this was what we called in the business an awkward silence.
"Don't you have to get back to work?" I nodded over to the sash ironers in the corner. Ted smiled after I asked this.
"As it happens, I'm on my break as well," he told me, pearly white teeth contrasting his olive skin.
"Oh, well... That's...excellent." I. Want. To. Die. My own awkwardness was too much to bear.
Ted chuckled as his arms loosened and now gestured to the exit. "Want to go get some breakfast?"
"I already ate breakfast."
What was I doing?! He was asking me to go with him! Which other answer was there to that question but a booming YES?
"Eat another one. You could use some fattening up," he said while taking off his cap and shoving it in his trouser pocket.
"Excuse me?" I put my hands on my hips.
"Oh, come on. Precious seconds of my thirty-minute break is being wasted on trying to convince you to come with me. Could you do me a favour and make up your mind on the way to the bakery?"
I had no response to his request, but followed him like a faithful spaniel down to the exit and out the door and into the main street.
"Why didn't you tell me you were the boss' daughter?" Ted's dark voice asked me suddenly, while walking through the square and turning a corner. The powder-like snow crunched under our feet, and it made me feel all warm inside. It was a typical Christmas sound.
I shrugged. "Didn't seem important, I suppose."
My voice sounded weak from lack of use(and a fair amount of nevousness).
"Is that the reason why you said your situation was 'intimidating'? Your father being good ol' Saint Nick is the 'situation'?"
He turned his head and smiled crookedly at me. My heart did a weird fluttery thing while he did that.
"I was surprised to find him so...beardless," Ted admitted, and I let out a chuckle.
"Most people are, when they meet him the first time. And they're also confused about his weight."
"Yes, I was wondering about that, too," Ted said to me, grinning. "Isn't he supposed to be sort of morbidly overweight? You know, with a 'belly like a bowl full of jelly' and all that?"
I giggled. "It's sort of a...costume. That's the best way to explain it. The very first Santa Claus was as you picture him: Round, bearded, white hair, the whole deal."
"Your dad's not the original Santa?" Ted asked, looking surprised.
I giggled again. Bugger, I was acting like my mother.
A disturbing thought.
"No," I said, smiling up at my tall companion. We'd arrived in front of the bakery, and Ted held open the door for me. I muttered a 'thanks' while I hurried inside, praying that he hadn't noticed my reddening cheeks.
"I guess that makes sense," Ted said, wonderment in his voice. "So it's like a family business?"
"Sort of," I replied, and walked toward a table in the back. I didn't want other costumers to take too much notice of us.
"Care to explain?" Ted pulled out my chair just as I was about to do it myself, and waited for me to sit down before he sat down on his own. I studied him with amazement. How natural it seemed for him to do such things! They seemed so trivial to him. Like second nature.
"Well, it has happened that there hasn't been born a son, and in those cases others would have to take over. Like my great-great-grandad, he was the favourite stable boy of the Santa of that time. It's said that he found my grandaddy to be the perfect Santa Claus."
Ted nodded in understanding. "I see."
There was a pause in out conversation while a cute elf took our order and then danced away.
"So what are your plans for Christmas?" I asked, in lack of anything better to say.
Ted shifted a bit uncomfortably in his seat.
"I don't really do Christmas."
"You don't do Christmas?" I asked, eyebrows raised. "What do you mean, you don't do Christmas?"
"I dunno, I just don't buy into all that holiday madness. I think people go too bonkers over presents and other material things. It's just a lot of boo-hockey, in my opinion."
"I'm not sure I know what that means," I admitted under my breath, looking away and fidgeting with the red napkin in front of me.
"I just don't believe in all that Christmas stuff, okay?"
"You don't believe-?"
"Am I not speaking loud enough for you?" he interrupted with a mocking chuckle. "Cause you keep repeating everything I'm saying."
"Ha, ha," I deadpanned. "What do you mean about not believing in Christmas? You are aware that I'm Santa Claus' daughter, right? I'm pretty much all the reason you need to believe in Christmas. You even work for Santa himself!"
Ted rolled his eyes.
"It's not that," he said with a sigh. "I believe in magic, and that your father exists, and bla bla bla." I started to glare at him, and he smirked. "I just don't believe in that alleged 'holiday spirit'. It's a load of crap. A 'time for family', my arse."
"So," I dragged, and looked up at him in confusion, "why in the world are you working here - at what's literally Christmas central?"
He shrugged, and I sensed that it was all the answer I would get out of him on the matter.
Luckily, our baguettes and cocoas were served at that exact moment, and we spent several minutes in a semi-comfortable silence. After we'd eaten, he walked me back to the stables as he told me of his work, how horrible the nightshift was, and his co-workers.
"I swear," he said, grinning, as we stopped in front of the door, "if André doesn't take a bath someday soon, I'll forever lose my sense of smell."
I laughed and leaned against the doorframe. "He was the dwarf, right?"
"Yes. Just look for the tiny man with a cloud of green smoke surrounding him."
I laughed some more. I felt practically giddy.
With a smile, I looked up into Ted's dark eyes, and found myself thankful that I was already leaning against something. It would be wholly awkward if I lost my footing just now.
"This was fun," Ted said with a lopsided grin. "You're fun."
My cheeks burned, and I looked away. "Ditto."
Ted chuckled, and I gazed back up.
"We must do this again." His hand reached out, silently asking to be filled by my own.
With unsteady movements, I gave him my hand. And then he took me by complete surprise: He swiftly removed my mitten, slowly bent down(or maybe it was my perception of the moment that was moving in slow motion?) and pressed his lips briefly against my exposed skin. With equally smooth motions, he put on the mitten again and bade me goodbye.
I barely managed to choke out a goodbye in return before he was off to work again.
When his figure had disappeared behind the next corner, I pulled the woolen garment off my hand and stared at it. I had been kissed. It might not have been on my mouth, but my skin was no longer un-kissed.
I grinned like a common fool while giving an equally foolish giggle as I pushed open the door to the stable. As you would probably have guessed, I didn't do a lot of chores that day.
I hope you're still enjoying the story! And that it might somehow fill you with the Christmas spirit :) (I've watched A Christmas Carol - the animated one - on repeat just to give me some inspiration.)
I hope you're having a great December so far! I know I am - I'm even (mostly) finished with my shopping :)
And not long until my birthday now! Yay! I love December! I love Christmas! I love my birthday! AND I LOVE MY LIFE!
I don't care if my cheeriness annoys you; I'm just too happy to be bothered xD hahah
I really do wish that you all have a very good December as well!
Love you all,
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