Love and Lies at the Village Christmas Shop

By: Portia MacIntosh

Prologue – 1998

‘Holly Jones, what have you done?’ I hear my mum ask through gritted teeth, with enough volume to show that she’s angry, but not so much that the shop full of customers can hear her.

I remove my nose from my copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to see what exactly my sister has done now. I wouldn’t usually jump to conclusions, but this is Holly, and Holly will do anything if it has enough shock value.

We went our separate ways at the school gates no more than a couple of hours ago. Holly wanted to go into town with her mates for a while before tea, but I wanted to come here and read my book, sitting on my stool behind the counter of my mum’s Christmas shop. I always enjoy spending time here but now that it’s December – and actually Christmas time – the place feels all the more magical.

This afternoon the shop is overflowing with tourists, who have travelled from all over to check out Marram Bay’s open-year-round Christmas shop. Christmas Every Day is so much more than just a shop though, it’s like a magical Santa’s workshop, with wall-to-wall Christmas decorations and gifts, with glitter and twinkly lights everywhere you look. Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ is pumping out through speakers around the shop. It’s such an infectious song, which you can’t help but love and sing along to. I’m not even sure I can name another Mariah Carey song, but this one is a Christmas classic.

Despite the trees in the shop being artificial (they do have to stay up all year round, after all), my mum has these special pine air fresheners which, combined with the locally made gingerbread she’s selling at the counter at the moment, give the place a real, irresistible Christmassy smell that I can’t get enough of. Perhaps my favourite part of all – and a favourite feature of many of the customers who visit the shop – is the steam train that runs on a track around the shop, over bridges, through tunnels and even around the shop Christmas tree that stays up all year.

From the second you walk through the door there’s just this magical feeling in the air. That warm, hopeful, festive feeling you only get at Christmas time. It makes you want to eat gingerbread, sing carols and be happy with your loved ones – and I get to experience it all year round.

But while I might share my mum’s love and passion for all things festive, my twin sister Holly absolutely does not. In fact, she has such a strong dislike for the most wonderful time of year that she always acts up around the holidays. And now, here she is, like clockwork, on 1st December, with a drastic new hairstyle that my mum did not sign off on.

Holly’s previously shoulder-length blonde hair, along with her hairline and most of her neck, is now bright red.

‘It’s just like Lisa Scott-Lee’s,’ my sister says, running both (stained red) hands through her hair, by way of an explanation. I think it’s safe to say that her obsession with Steps has reached its peak.

‘You’re my 14-year-old daughter, you’re not Lisa Scott-Lee,’ my mum reminds her as she serves a customer. When the shop is so busy, my mum is forced to parent around working – or work around parenting, whichever needs to take priority at the time.

I laugh quietly to myself, although not quietly enough.

‘Oh, should I want to be a wizard when I grow up, like Ivy does?’ she says mockingly.

I clutch my book to my chest self-consciously.

The customer my mum is serving laughs as she watches our little family drama play out in front of her.

‘Sisters, huh?’ she says to my mum politely, like perhaps she has daughters of her own, and she knows exactly how tricky they can be.

‘Would you believe they’re twins?’ my mum replies. ‘Non-identical, in both appearance and interests. Fascinating really. Can I get you anything else?’

‘No, that’s great, thanks.’

‘Have a very merry Christmas,’ my mum says brightly as she hands over a receipt, before turning her attention back to Holly. ‘Who did that for you?’

‘I did it myself,’ she says proudly. ‘Only 99p from Boots.’

‘Will it come out?’

‘Yeah, well, in three washes,’ she admits.

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