……..………...All tucked up....…………..….

Lucy had been hearing about her big brother coming home for Christmas for weeks, a lifetime when you’re small. She knew that he’d been in America, though she wasn’t very clear about where or what that was, and, if truth be told, she was a bit confused about what a big brother was, for it certainly seemed to be more important than a big sister, judging by the fuss that her parents and those very same big sisters had been making. Tonight was finally Christmas Eve, her brother was due home and she’d been granted the special privilege of staying up later, much later, than her strict seven o’clock bedtime. Lucy suspected that this had a lot to do with the fact that Daddy wasn’t there to send her off upstairs and that Mummy and her big sisters seemed too skittish to pay much attention to her or her bedtime. It was mild evening for December but the staircase of the tall Edwardian house acted as a funnel so that every time anyone opened the front door, a whirling draught of cold winter air would come rushing up the staircase and under her nightie to tickle her legs. She sat there, slapping her thighs together and fidgeting on the top step, loving the thrill of it all and feeling that she was touching the outer rim of a magic circle. Lucy had been sitting at the top of the stairs for half an hour or so, snorting and giggling at the way the women were running backwards and forwards to peep through the curtains of the bay window every time they heard a car and jostling each other for space in front of the long mirror in the hall to smooth down their skirts or tease wayward curls and fringes into place. The women’s shrieks and hollers reached new heights just after the nine o’clock chimes, as the headlights of father’s car swung into the drive, the engine died and doors opened and slammed. There was such a flurry of hugs and swirl of kisses in the downstairs’ hallway that it took Lucy several frozen moments to realise that the huge, hulking beast in the midst of all this love was the mythical hero she had been waiting for. She wasn’t so much stunned by his size, they were a large family in all senses, but she was totally unprepared for the dark hairy face and mass of long shaggy hair. The only bearded man she could recall was the friendly white haired old man who seemed to be everywhere these days, and who bore no resemblance to this unkempt bear prince.

She blinked to clear her vision, her lower lip trembling and started slowly gasping for breath before starting to cry. Great gulping sobs of fear and misery shook her little body and she was soon screaming as only a small child can, uncontrollably, inconsolably, drowning out the yells of greeting and barrage of questions surrounding her brother. Mother released the young man she had been waiting so impatiently to embrace and rushed upstairs to scoop her daughter up in her arms and bury her little face in her shoulder, turning the child’s body away from her handsome, hippy son and smiling down at her first born, silently mouthing her apologies to him. After a moment, Mother carried her into her bedroom, gently chastising her for making such a fuss about nothing, stroking her hair and laying her down in her bed, sliding her trembling body between cool sheets and perching on the edge of the bed until the child released her grip from around her neck. The familiar sound of her son’s voice drifted upstairs and under the door of the little girl’s bedroom: baritone hoots of derision for the crocheted reindeer cover on the teapot; grunts of approval for the recently laid and oh so modern carpet tiles, and all this interspersed with high pitched yelps and cries of wonder from the girls as yet another American marvel was pulled from a pocket or produced from a duffle bag. Not once did mother get up from the edge of the bed or try to creep closer to the door to call out instructions or catch snippets of the conversation drifting up the stairs. Not once did she lose patience with her distraught youngest child. She stayed with Lucy until she was quite asleep and then, and only then, did she creep downstairs to join in the glee and to hush the family’s peels of laughter and shrieks of delight if they threatened to wake the sleeping child above them.

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