Christmas had always been Belle’s favourite time of the year when she had been younger, and now that she had a family of her own, it was definitely back to being at the top of the list of celebrations. Christmas with a baby, however, was proving to be something of a challenge. Rosie was coming up for four months and was getting to the grabbing everything that looked interesting stage, especially when Belle was walking around the house with the baby against her shoulder. At first, Rosie had been content with just grabbing Belle’s hair, something easily resolved by Belle keeping her hair in a ponytail all the time. Then, though, the sparkly Christmas decorations had gone up and her little fingers had made a beeline for the baubles whenever they were in reach. General consensus had been to keep Rosie as far away from the tree as possible.
When Belle looked back to the first time she had seen this Christmas tree in the corner of the living room, that first Christmas when Rum had invited her for Christmas dinner with him, Bae, and Aunt Elvira, she couldn’t believe that so much time had passed. Four years had gone in the blink of an eye. So much had happened during that time. She and Rum had begun their relationship, become engaged, got married, and now had a baby. Bae had started university, and Belle still couldn’t get over how the fourteen-year-old she had met that first Christmas had grown into the young man he was today. Aunt Elvira, well, she was just the same as she had always been, and it was good to know that some things never changed. Belle continued to gaze at the tree, holding her daughter close. The tree hadn’t changed either. Always the same decorations, the same fairy (knitted by Aunt Elvira) in pride of place at the top, the same tangled strings of lights. Since moving in with the family, Belle had been privy to all the same yearly arguments between Rum and his aunt about where the decorations should go.
It wasn’t as if Belle’s touch was completely overlooked in their Christmas decorating, but the tree itself had always been Elvira’s domain, with Rum rarely daring to break any of her traditions. As good-natured as Elvira was in all aspects of their lives and as incredibly influential in Bae and Rum’s lives as she was, Belle was more than happy to let Elvira keep the Christmas tree. Presently her train of thought was interrupted by the arrival of the woman herself in the living room, wiping her hands on a tea towel as she flopped onto the sofa beside Belle.
“Well, everything’s ready, we just need to wait for the errant nephew to arrive. He did promise that he would be home on time, and if he ruins Rosie’s first family Christmas, then I won’t be held responsible for my actions.”
“Right now, I don’t think Rosie really cares whether Daddy’s home on time or not.” Belle looked down at Rosie’s sleeping face, tucked in against her shoulder. She probably ought to put her down in her Moses basket, but Belle loved holding her daughter whilst she slept, the slight weight of her little warm body was a comfort to Belle as much as Belle’s touch was a comfort to Rosie. At least her maternity leave meant that she didn’t need to worry about working over Christmas like Rum did. He was working a regular day shift today and ought to be home in time for dinner, and then they would open their presents afterwards, having a Christmas evening rather than a Christmas day. It had been the strangest experience, waiting for him; she had never yet worked a different shift to him at Christmas except if he’d had to go in for an emergency, so whether they were at home or at the hospital, they were generally always together.
Bae popped his head around the living room door. They had seen comparatively little of him whilst he had been home for the holidays; Belle knew that he had a lot of reading to be done and papers to be written for when he went back, but she had also found out that he had found himself a girlfriend and was spending most of his free time talking to the mysterious Emma. No doubt Bae would divulge more details when the time was right, but thus far he was keeping tight-lipped, probably for fear of Aunt Elvira finding out and causing some form of embarrassment for him.
“Haven’t you started on the Prosecco yet, Aunt Elvira?” he asked.
“Well, you know your father doesn’t like me getting it started without him.”
Bae raised an eyebrow. “That has literally never stopped you before.”
“I know, but I can’t share it with Belle this year,” Aunt Elvira said, before giving Bae a Cheshire grin. “Besides, I’ve got something far better than Prosecco.” She shook the glass of gin and tonic that she was holding, making the ice cubes rattle, and Bae rolled his eyes.
“Sometimes I wonder how you managed to live to be nearly eighty,” he said.
“Gin is the secret to a long and happy life, Bae,” Elvira said sagely. “This is a philosophy shared by medical professionals!”
“I don’t think Ella Furrier counts.”
Ella was a nurse and colleague of Belle’s from the emergency department, and a good friend of Rum’s. Tales of gin-soaked antics were never very far away when Ella was around, and it was really no wonder that she and Elvira got on so well.
Bae just rolled his eyes and left the room again as there was the sound of the key in the lock, and moments later, Rum appeared, his cheeks and nose pink with the cold.
“I get the distinct impression that it’s going to snow tonight,” he muttered darkly as he entered the living room, still shivering, but his dour expression soon melted on seeing the Christmas tree with all the gifts under it, and Belle and Rosie in their matching Christmas jumpers, and he gave a warm smile. “Merry Christmas, my lovely girls. Yes, even you, Aunt Elvira.”
He came over and kissed the top of Rosie’s head gently before planting a rather more passionate one on Belle. Aunt Elvira cleared her throat pointedly and Rum rolled his eyes, pecking her cheek and wishing her a Merry Christmas before he left to go and wash the hospital off him. Now that Rum was home, Christmas could truly begin in earnest, and Belle reached over to take a peek out of the curtains. There was no sign of any snow yet, but she could make out heavy clouds in the sky overhead, and there was already frost on the ground outside. A white Christmas would truly make everything perfect, and as Aunt Elvira went to go and sort out the turkey, Belle crossed her fingers that snow would fall before the evening was over.
Whilst Christmas was Belle’s favourite holiday, Christmas night had become her favourite part of that holiday. It was on Christmas night four years ago that she and Rum had first kissed and she had first been welcomed wholeheartedly into his family. The food had been eaten and the presents had been unwrapped, and everyone was in that lovely calm and sleepy, satisfied state, that nothing could mar or change. It was almost midnight; Bae had gone to bed, although would likely spend the next couple of hours talking to Emma, and Elvira had vanished off upstairs citing some kind of mysterious errand that was either trying to eavesdrop on Bae’s conversation or was trying desperately to work out what she’d done with the gin and tonic jelly sweets that she’d hidden from herself before Christmas.
“You know, if she doesn’t come back soon, I’m going to get worried,” Rum said. “We might have to get up a search party. On the other hand, it is nice to have some peace and quiet to ourselves for once.”
“You know, Aunt Elvira is a lot shrewder than we give her credit for,” Belle pointed out, snuggling in closer to Rum’s side on the sofa. “She’s probably hidden herself away upstairs for the express purpose of giving us some time alone together.” She peered over Rum’s shoulder to where Rosie was sleeping snugly tucked up in her Moses basket beside the sofa. She had spent most of the evening watching presents being opened with great excitement, even if she couldn’t quite grasp what was going on yet, and she would wake up wanting a feed soon enough, so despite Belle’s sleepiness, she didn’t fancy going to bed just yet. For now though, it was just her and Rum, and she felt that they really needed to make the most of all the cuddling time that they got together. Rum’s arms came around her, pulling her in closer onto his lap, and Belle nuzzled in against his neck.
“I think that this has been the best Christmas with you yet,” she said. “Everything’s complete now. We’re together and we’ve got Rosie, and Bae and Aunt Elvira are here, and if I’m not very much mistaken, it’s started to snow.”
Rum twisted in her embrace to look through the gap that Belle had left in the curtains and groaned. Belle batted his shoulder playfully.
“Oh come on, it’s not like we have to go anywhere in it for a couple of days, and I think it’s fitting that Rosie’s first Christmas should be a snowy one. We got her that cute little snowsuit with the reindeer ears just in case, and you know it’s not going to fit her this time next year. Tomorrow we’re making a snowman.”
“I’m really not sure that Rosie’s old enough to quite understand the concept of snow-based construction yet,” Rum said.
“Fine, you can stay inside away from the snow and I can explain to Rosie the mechanics of building the perfect snowman.”
“We’re not going to get enough snow for a snowman, we never do.”
Rosie waking up and giving a snuffly little cry put an end to their argument, but Belle knew that as soon as they woke up the next morning, if there was still snow carpeting the back garden, they would start it up again. With any luck she could get Bae’s assistance in the snowman endeavours. He had always loved the snow, and hopefully he had not grown out of it since becoming an adult.
“I still can’t get over how blue her eyes are,” Rum said softly, stroking Rosie’s cheek as she nursed. “She’s going to be your spitting image when she’s older. Breaking hearts just like her mother.”
“I’ve never broken anyone’s heart, thank you very much,” Belle said. “Besides, she’s got your nose, so I wouldn’t rule out your influence just yet.”
The snow was continuing to come down thick and fast, and Belle had to spare a thought for their colleagues manning the emergency department over the Christmas period, who would no doubt be dealing with various weather-related incidents on top of all the festive drunkards they usually saw in and out of A&E every December. Rum was just rocking Rosie back to sleep again when Aunt Elvira returned.
“Where’ve you been?” he asked her. “We were about to get the snow boots out and go looking for you outside in the blizzard. I thought a yeti might have got you.”
Aunt Elvira just gave her nephew a look. It seemed to be a look that ran in the family and Belle couldn’t help but end up if Rosie was going to inherit it as well. To be honest, Belle couldn’t decide if the thought of Rosie ending up anything like her great-aunt was a worrying or a welcome one.
“I was on a secret mission,” Aunt Elvira said cryptically. “It didn’t help that I couldn’t remember where I’d put it, but perseverance paid off.”
“Are you going to tell us the nature of this secret mission?” Rum asked.
“I’m getting to that, keep your hair on.” Aunt Elvira pulled out a small wrapped parcel from behind her back and handed it over to Belle. The tag read, in Elvira’s small, spidery script: To Rosie, on your first family Christmas, with all my love, Aunt Elvira.
“She’s a bit too young for it yet, but tradition is tradition,” Elvira said, and Belle looked up at Rum in confusion.
“What’s this about?” she asked.
“I don’t know…” Rum began, but then he tailed off and glanced over at the Christmas tree, looking at it intently, and realisation dawned. “I know. Open it.”
Belle unwrapped the gift carefully and held it up to the light, and suddenly she understood as well. It was a Christmas tree ornament, a delicately painted wooden Santa’s sled, complete with a team of reindeer, and Rosie’s name in curlicued letters.
“I got one for Bae for his first Christmas too,” Elvira said, nodding towards the tree where a matching ornament was hanging near the top. For the first time since the tree had gone up, Belle noticed a gap where a bauble usually hung, and she knew that Aunt Elvira had left it purposefully for this new addition to her festive decoration. “It’s only fitting that Rosie gets one too.”
Belle hung the ornament in pride of place and Rosie, cradled against her father’s shoulder, reached out to grab it in her usual fashion. Belle took her little fist before she could cause any damage, kissing the tiny fingers.
“Merry Christmas, Rosie. Welcome to the family.”