Amid all the frantic preparations, it’s a lost sheep that threatens to ruin Daisy’s perfect Christmas…
Daisy was looking for something. I’m a close observer of my people’s habits and activities. It’s how I can tell the best time to beg for doggy treats.
Now, I was almost certain, would be a bad time. Daisy had mostly disappeared under a pile of sheets and towels in the airing cupboard, and probably wouldn’t hear my asking-nicely bark.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t been a good time to ask Daisy for an after-dinner snack all evening, and I was getting peckish. First, she’d been wrapping shiny paper around boxes and bottles, and complaining when someone got their paws tangled in her ribbons.
Then Oliver had gone out while she was putting the twins to bed – which had left her decidedly grumpy. And then Jay had said something about a costume for tomorrow, and Daisy’s mood got even darker.
I was starting to think I might never get another treat.
Resigned, I went to sulk under the Christmas tree, where I could keep an eye on the situation.
Honestly, I don’t know why they call it the most wonderful time of the year. If it was that wonderful, there would be doggy treats all the time.
Where was that blasted pillowcase? Daisy was sure there’d been a spare one in there somewhere. The one from the duvet set with that awful beige and green tartan pattern that her mother-in-law had given them. That would look suitably shepherd’s-robe-like, right?
“Aha! Got it.”
“Mum? I’m going out.” Bella’s voice echoed along the landing, loud enough to risk waking the twins up.
Daisy yanked her head out of the airing cupboard and rushed down the stairs to catch her, making sure to only tread on the outer edges to avoid creaking.
“You’re not going anywhere,” she told her daughter. “It’s a school night, it’s already seven-thirty –”
“Mum, I’m fourteen,” Bella said with a roll of her eyes. “I think I can stay out past eight o’clock at this point.”
“And exactly how far past eight are you thinking?”
Was it too much to ask for to have a little company for the evening, while Oliver was out at his company Christmas do? Besides, Bella was much better at sewing than Daisy.
“Oh, I won’t be late,” Bella said non-committally as, right on cue, the doorbell rang. “That’s Rose. See you later, Mum!”
“No later than nine-thirty!” Daisy called after her, in a sort of shouted whisper she hoped carried far enough. In the kitchen, the microwave pinged.
“Right, then. I’d better stop talking to myself and make the most of it.”
After all, a night in alone wasn’t to be sniffed at.
The twins were asleep, Jay was at least in bed, Bella was occupied with her friends, and even Claude was snuggled up under the Christmas tree, his bat-like ears twitching as he dreamed of doggy treats.
She could settle down with her M&S ready meal, a bottle of wine, a Christmas movie on the telly – and this stupid shepherd’s costume for Jay’s school Nativity play.
What sort of school trusted six-year-olds to tell their parents they needed a costume anyway?
It was a miracle Jay had remembered before they reached the school gates next morning, really.
Juggling her plate, glass and smartphone, Daisy sat down beside the twinkling Christmas tree and tried to read the instructions one of the other, more organised, mums had posted on the school social media group.
It looked simple enough. Basically, it was a pillowcase with a belt, a tea towel with something to hold it in place, and a stuffed toy sheep. Even she could manage that.
Ten minutes later, as she stabbed her finger with a needle sewing up where the pillowcase had split between the head and arm holes she’d cut, she was beginning to regret both her gung-ho attitude and her third glass of wine.
“That doesn’t look much like Nathan’s,” a small voice piped up from the doorway.
Daisy bit back a curse as she sucked the blood from her finger.
“Jay, you’re supposed to be asleep.”
“I want to wait up for Daddy,” Jay said, plaintively.
“Daddy won’t be home until late.”
Very late, if last year’s Christmas do was anything to go by. And possibly wearing some very festive headgear made out of beermats.
“But I want him to tuck me in.”
Jay’s lower lip started to wobble, and Daisy put aside her pillowcase. Time to stop this drama before it began.
“How about this? I’ll come and tuck you in – an extra special tuck-in – and then when Daddy gets home he’ll do it too. Only you’ll be asleep by then, so you probably won’t notice.”
“What’s an extra special tuck-in?”
“I’ll… sing you a special song,” Daisy improvised.
Jay’s face brightened instantly.
“The one with the lords jumping!”
“Lords-a-leaping,” Daisy corrected with a sigh, following him as he skipped back up the stairs.
All twelve verses of The Twelve Days Of Christmas later, she trudged back into the lounge to resume her craft endeavours.
“Claude!” Daisy stared down at the sofa, hands on hips, as her French Bulldog blinked sleepily up at her from where he’d curled up on Jay’s costume. How he hadn’t got stabbed by the pins she had no idea.
She shooed him off the sofa and Claude slunk back under the Christmas tree.
“OK. Time to get this done,” Daisy announced, as she reached for her wine glass, then the sewing kit.
Thirty minutes later, she was finished, and feeling pretty proud of herself. She had her pillowcase robe, and an old curtain cord to belt it. She had her checked tea towel, and one of Bella’s old ballet headbands to hold it in place.
All she needed now was Jay’s toy sheep, and she knew she’d seen him playing with it that afternoon, so it had to be around somewhere.
Except it wasn’t.
It wasn’t in the toy box, or in the pile of toys Jay had stashed behind the sofa when she asked him to tidy up earlier. It wasn’t in the overflowing basket on the stairs, waiting to be taken up.
It wasn’t even in the laundry basket that had somehow taken up permanent residence in the kitchen.
So where on earth was it?
After half an hour of tearing the downstairs of the house apart looking for a slightly greyish, bobbly toy sheep, Daisy sank on to the sofa with a sigh.
From under the Christmas tree, Claude eyed her cautiously, obviously waiting to see if she was going to tip him off the tree skirt again to check underneath.
She didn’t. It wasn’t there. And the only way she was going to find the stupid thing was to ask the person who’d seen it last.
Which meant waking up Jay.
Unless… Daisy stared at Claude again.
Claude had been playing with the sheep too. He and Jay had been playing that stupid game Jay had invented that usually involved throwing one of the twins’ toys around and waiting for Claude to find it again. What was it called? Flying Zebra. Right.
“Claude… find the sheep, Claude! Go on, find it!”
Daisy put as much enthusiasm into her voice as she could, but Claude just blinked at her as if she’d lost her mind.
Then he turned around and burrowed deeper under the Christmas tree.
Great. Even the dog wouldn’t help her out. All she wanted was to make Christmas perfect for her family, and she was already stressed out. How bad would it be by Christmas Eve?
Maybe she could just cancel Christmas. Call her parents and tell them they wouldn’t be coming over to France to celebrate with them after all. Just shut all the curtains and stay home eating mince pies all day. It could work.
Especially if it meant they could skip the blasted Nativity play. Jay was bound to throw a strop when she told him he had to go without a sheep, anyway.
Daisy closed her eyes and slumped back into the sofa. Maybe she should just go to bed. Except Bella still wasn’t home, and it was nearly nine-thirty…
Right on cue, the doorbell rang, and Daisy dragged herself to her feet.
“We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, and a happy new year!”
Daisy blinked at the sight of Bella and her friends, gathered around a lantern with a tea light inside, faces pink and rosy as they sang.
“We’ve been carol singing,” Bella explained, as she waved her friends goodbye. “To raise some money to buy presents. I think I’ve got enough for Jay and the twins, now. I’ve already got yours and Dad’s.”
“That’s… really lovely.” Unable to help herself, Daisy wrapped her arms around her daughter and held her close.
Bella rolled her eyes and wriggled free. “Mum. I’m off to bed. Night!”
She’d barely made it up the stairs before the door opened again. Oliver appeared, also rosy-cheeked, and holding a wreath made of glossy green holly leaves and bright red berries.
“Hi, love.” He kissed her quickly on the cheek and handed her his prickly bundle. “I saw this at the florists by the station, thought it would look nice on the door. How have the kids been?”
“Fine. How was the do? You’re surprisingly early.”
Oliver shrugged, dropping his coat over the end of the banister. “Thought you might be missing me.”
“I’ve been too busy sorting out Jay’s costume for the Nativity tomorrow to miss anything. Apart from his toy sheep. He and Claude were playing with it earlier, and now it’s missing. You haven’t seen it anywhere, have you?”
Oliver shook his head. “Sorry.”
She sighed. “Jay will be so disappointed. I just wanted to get Christmas right this year, you know? And it feels like I’m falling at the first hurdle.”
Pulling her against him, Oliver kissed the top of her head.
“You’re not falling at all. You’re being brilliant, as always. Christmas will be perfect because it will be us and Bella and Jay and the twins – and even Claude!
“As long as we’re all together, everything will be wonderful.”
“Even if we’re sheepless?” Daisy asked, smiling up at him.
“Even then.” He kissed her.
“Sometimes,” Daisy told him, warmth and happiness and Christmasness spreading through her at last, “you know exactly the right thing to say.”
I knew it had to be there somewhere.
Pawing through the piles of presents under the tree, I tried to find the one Daisy had been wrapping when we were playing Flying Zebra. Was it the one with the snowflakes on?
I sniffed closer, then prodded a parcel with my nose. Soft and smelling like Jay. That had to be it! Daisy had wrapped up Jay’s sheep by accident!
Tugging the present out with my teeth, I trotted through to the hallway with it, looking for Daisy.
But she and Oliver were already gone – I heard their voices upstairs.
I thought for a moment, then headed back into the lounge. Jay’s shepherd’s costume lay on the sofa, so I placed the sheep present beside it.
Daisy would find it in the morning, and I’d bark so she knew I put it there, and then she’d have to give me treats.
Satisfied with my plan, I snuggled back down under the tree. Maybe they were right. Maybe Christmas was the most wonderful time of the year, after all.
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