A Surprise Called Nick
by Smelly Socks and Garden Peas
The rain poured down, tapping loudly on the windows. As Marley waited to be collected from afterschool club, she sighed. It was alright for Sam, his friends had been at the club earlier and now he was getting a story from Mrs Smith. Marley’s only classmate’s parents had already finished work before the holidays, so he’d been picked up at the end of school and left her to while away time at the club on her own.
One more day until the holidays. But of course mum and dad were “in meetings” until late, as usual. Marley knew mum and dad worked hard, but she hated Thursdays when it was unusual to be collected before the last ten minutes that afterschool club ran. Every now and then a meeting would be cancelled and one of her parents would choose to replace it, not with some extra work, but by an earlier pick up for the children.
Marley sighed again, thinking that she was sure she wouldn’t get the gift she wanted for Christmas – there was no way mum and dad would be getting a cat, they just wouldn’t want to deal with the inconvenience. The number of times she’d heard reasons for no pets over the years were too many to count – mum’s irrational dislike of things with scales, the mess of sawdust, the inevitable trauma of dying rodents, the time needed to walk dogs, the faff having to find someone to look after anything when they went away. Despite the total hopelessness of asking, Marley had still put “cat” at the top of her Christmas list – why did she even write one anymore? She knew it was all her parents and she was just playing along for Sam now. Santa’s not really real, right?
Finally, the doorbell rang and Marley and Sam gathered their belongings, trudging through school to find mum, hassled and rushing them out of the door. As they walked back to the car, mum quizzed Sam about his day; what did he have for lunch and snack, who had he played with, did he do well with his spellings, had he listened well today? Finally, mum said “How about you Marley, how was your day?”
“Alright, I suppose.” she answered.
At least mum had the good grace to frown and ask, “Everything OK love? Has something happened?”
“I’m fine,” replied Marley, “nothing’s wrong.”
Mum barely skipped a beat, she seemed more rushed but somehow happy too this evening, and prattled on, “Well, we need to get on. Dad and I have booked a treat this evening. Since its almost the end of the school term and nearly Christmas, we’re going to have supper with Santa at McGills. What do you think?”
Well, here was an unexpected turn. McGills was the local garden centre and Marley knew most of Sam’s class had been for breakfast with Santa already. Some had taken their older siblings in Marley’s class and it sounded more fun than the usual queue at a grotto only to receive some tatty, cheap plastic junk. Maybe dinner would be something other than mum and dad’s turntable of 10 dishes they could cook quickly.
Arriving at the car, dad was waiting for them, everyone clambered in and the rain from their coats soaked into the seats, making him huff that it had better not leave a mark. At almost 6pm, the traffic was a bit lighter and they made it out of town to McGills quickly, just in time for their booking. A tired and grumpy looking elf showed them over to a table and mum and dad’s festive generosity continued, allowing the children to have fizzy drinks with their meal. Turkey dinners all round, Sam complained about the stuffing and Marley didn’t bother to mention that they’d had Christmas dinner at school yesterday. After the main course, Santa came and said hello and asked everyone to remind him what they wanted for Christmas. Sam listed the Lego, computer games and monster trucks he’d been pining for and Marley just asked for a cat, again. Mum and dad exchanged looks and did their laugh for strangers, dismissing her greatest desire, as usual.
After dessert (at least it was chocolate cake rather than Christmas pudding), each table went over to Santa’s little house. Marley saw the girl who’d changed from her class to another school over the summer go up and Sam exchanged pretend gunfire with a boy from his class. They all came out with packages wrapped in the same paper just in three different colours. Some opened toy cars or puzzle books or plastic fiddle toys, so Marley prepared herself for the usual disappointment. She knew by now not to get too excited and anyway, there was no way mum and dad would let them open their presents now, they’d have to wait until Christmas day.
At last it was their turn, Santa welcomed them into the grotto and asked about their day, said he’d had terrible trouble finding what they asked for. Then he lifted a wrapped box from one side and passed it to Sam, mum and dad snapped a picture and reminded Sam to smile nicely – of course, he grimaced. Then Santa lent down and carefully picked up a box from behind all the others and passed it carefully to Marley. She was sure she saw him glance up at mum and dad and even wink. Another couple of posed photos, first of Marley and then both the children with Santa, then their time was up and they were ushered out.
Winding their way back to their table, Marley’s box felt sort of wobbly and she noticed none of the other children her age had boxes, they all had book-shaped parcels. Sam had started begging to open their gifts and as they sat down, mum and dad said yes. Sam ripped his open immediately; a yellow digger – the same one that the garden centre sold in a range which included a dumper truck and a steamroller.
Dad turned to Marley and said “Aren’t you going to open yours?”
Marley smiled and turned the box round and carefully peeled the first piece of tape, the box seemed to move slightly under her hands. She frowned and looked at dad, maybe Santa had given her the wrong present? But dad smiled and nodded, his eyes twinkling – something was definitely going on here.
Marley pulled the paper off, it was just a brown cardboard box, but why were there holes in the top. This time it definitely shivered all by itself. She popped open the flaps and peered into the dim interior.
A pair a dark eyes blinked back at her and Marley shrieked. Some of the rest of the festive guests turned to stare – there were plenty of babies and toddlers shouting but an older child making a fuss was much more interesting. Marley look from dad to mum and back again, she simply couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Back in the box, the eyes were a bit scared and a little cry escaped.
Marley reached in and gently pulled out a large kitten, dark tortoise shell with a white tip to its tail. She couldn’t find any words and just stared at her family in disbelief. Mum and dad were laughing and mum took pictures “to show granny” (really to wave on Facebook, Marley knew that). Sam was bouncing on his chair, bombarding everyone with questions about where the cat had come from and what it was called and were they going to keep it and how had Santa known before to get one and wasn’t Marley so lucky.
Mum explained, “Santa asked mum and dad to help surprise Marley today. He asked us to find a really special cat for Marley. This poor kitten got left at the cats’ rescue a few weeks ago and when we saw him we just knew that he was Marley’s cat. When we showed Santa, he agreed completely but suggested the cat might not enjoy riding round in a sleigh on Christmas eve and maybe Marley could get an early present today instead. The cat’s not fully grown yet but he’s plenty old enough to come home with us, the rescue have been looking after him until today so that Santa could pick him up and give him to Marley for Christmas.”
Tears rolled down Marley’s face, she was so delighted. She couldn’t believe Santa had really got mum and dad to help out and they’d kept this secret so well, and for weeks.
“Is he really mine?” she asked.
“Of course he is,” laughed dad, “all yours to feed and keep clean and teach good habits to. Mum and dad will pay for his visits to the vets and food, but everything else is up to you. We think you’re old enough now to be sensible and to care for him, it seems Santa agrees too.”
As Marley cuddled her kitten she found herself sure that Santa wasn’t really made up, after all he’d gone to a lot of trouble and the kitten definitely wasn’t imaginary.
“I think we’ll call him Nick – like Saint Nicholas.” Marley announced.
This was the best Christmas, ever.
Notes on the Author
Our blogging journey started with us interacting and following a few bloggers – just to see how it all worked and what people were writing about. We found ourselves compelled by Smelly Socks and Garden Peas. Her straight up, from the heart, no nonsense style of writing spoke to us. And Smelly pours out her struggles and frustrations of everyday life with a wicked sense of humour, that could one day earn her, her own stand up routine. And there is a deep warmth and honesty underneath all her frustrations and that just makes us adore this blogger even more.