The Millionaire's Christmas Wish

By: Lucy Gordon

She did not reply.

On Butterfly Ward it was the same as before, except that now he was full of confidence and performed his part with a touch of swagger that went down well.

Corinne stayed long enough to see him settle in before leaning down to murmur, ‘I’m off now. Back soon.’

It was only a few minutes’ drive to the house where the party was being held. Bobby and Mitzi piled into the car, wearing party hats, clutching gifts and giggling.

‘No need to ask if you had a good time,’ Corinne said.

‘And now we’re going to see Father Christmas,’ Mitzi yelled gleefully.

Bobby touched Corinne’s arm and spoke quietly. ‘Is Daddy still coming?’

‘Yes, darling, he’s still coming.’

‘He didn’t cancel while we were at the party?’

‘No, he didn’t.’

He searched her face.

‘Are you sure?’

Until then Corinne had been feeling in charity with Alex, but at the sight of Bobby’s painful anxiety she discovered that she could hate him again. No man had the right to do that to a child, to destroy his sense of security in his parents, so that every moment of happiness had to be checked and re-checked to discover the catch.

‘Darling, I give you my word. Daddy has not cancelled and he isn’t going to.’

He settled into the car, apparently satisfied.

‘By the way-’ she said as she drove to the hospital ‘-Uncle Jimmy had an accident. He fell over on the icy road and broke his collar-bone.’

They were loud in their cries of dismay.

‘Will Uncle Jimmy be in hospital for Christmas?’ Bobby asked.

‘I don’t know. They’re putting him in plaster now. When I’ve delivered you to Santa I’ll go up to see him.’

At the hospital she took them straight to where Alex should be sitting by the tree, only half expecting him to be there.

But of course he was there! Alex had run his pride up this flagpole and it was really no surprise that he was doing well. He had one child on his knee and another standing beside him, while their mother looked on, smiling. There were three others waiting.

Corinne inched forward carefully, keeping her eyes on Bobby and Mitzi, waiting for the moment of recognition.

It didn’t come.

Of course it was the beard and hair, she realised. The disguise was magnificent. It would be different when they were closer.

At that moment Alex looked up. His eyes went first to Corinne, then to the children, then back to Corinne, while his eyebrows signalled a question. Almost imperceptibly she shook her head.

She took them to the end of the little queue, said something to them and walked away.

Alex was glad that he’d bothered to dress up properly when he heard one child mutter, just audibly, ‘He looks like a real Santa, Mummy.’

At last his own two children stood before him, Mitzi keeping back a little. It was weeks since he’d seen her, and he’d forgotten how fast children grew. Her hair, which had been short, was now long enough to wear in bunches which stood out from her head, giving her the appearance of a cheeky elf. He couldn’t help grinning at the picture she presented.

But right now she was solemn and seemed unwilling to come forward.

‘Go on,’ Bobby urged her.

But she shook her head.

‘She’s a bit shy,’ Bobby confided to Santa.

‘But I’m-’ He checked himself, and amended the words to, ‘But I’m Santa Claus. Nobody is shy of me.’

He waited for one of them to say, Daddy! But neither of them did.

Of course, he thought. They were pretending not to know, enjoying the joke.

He leaned down to Mitzi. ‘Aren’t you going to tell me what you want for Christmas?’ Big mistake. Mitzi was surveying him, wide-eyed with astonishment.

‘But I already told you. I put it in my letter. Didn’t you get it?’

‘Of course I did,’ he improvised hastily.

Over her head his frantic eyes met Bobby’s. The boy mouthed ‘Marianne doll set.’

Since he’d never heard of this, Alex had to signal bafflement with his eyebrows. Bobby mouthed it again, more emphatically, and this time Alex understood. ‘Ah, now I remember. You want a Marianne doll set,’ he echoed, and saw his daughter’s eyes light up.

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