Wish Upon a Star

By: Sarah Morgan

‘MUM, where are we spending Christmas?’

Christy glanced up from the letter she was reading. ‘I don’t know. Here, I suppose, with Uncle Pete and your cousins. Why do you ask? Christmas is ages away.’ And she was trying not to think about it. Christmas was a time for families and hers appeared to be disintegrating.

And it was all her fault. She’d done a really stupid thing and now they were all paying the price.

‘Christmas is a month away. Not ages.’ Katy leaned across the table and snatched the cereal packet from her little brother. ‘And I don’t want to stay here. I love Uncle Pete, but I hate London. I want to spend Christmas with Dad in the Lake District. I want to go home.’

Christy felt her insides knot with anguish. They wanted to spend Christmas with their father? She just couldn’t begin to imagine spending Christmas without the children. ‘All right.’ Her voice was husky and she cleared her throat. ‘Of course, that’s fine, if you’re sure that’s what you want.’ Oh, dear God, how would she survive? What would Christmas morning be without the children? ‘I’ll write to your father and tell him that you’re both coming up to stay. You might need to spend some time at Grandma’s because Daddy will be working at the hospital, of course, and it’s always a busy time for the mountain rescue team and—’

‘Not just us.’ Katy reached for the sugar. ‘I didn’t mean that we go without you. That would be hideous. I meant that we all go.’

‘What do you mean, all? And that’s enough sugar, Katy. You’ll rot your teeth.’

‘They go into holes,’ Ben breathed, with the gruesome delight of a seven-year-old. He picked up the milk jug and tried to pour milk into his cup but succeeded in slopping most of it over the table. ‘I learned about it in school last week. You eat sugar, you get holes. Then the dentist has to drill a bigger hole and fill it with cement.’

‘You are so lame! What do you know about anything, anyway?’ Katy threw her brother a disdainful look and doubled the amount of sugar she was putting on her cereal. ‘Stupid, idiot baby.’

‘I’m not a baby! I’m seven!’ Ben shot out of his chair and made a grab at his sister, who immediately put her hands round his throat.

‘Why did I have to be lumbered with a brother?’

‘Stop it, you two! Not his throat, Katy,’ Christy admonished, her head starting to thump as she reached for a cloth and mopped up the milk on the table. ‘You know that you don’t put anything round each other’s throats. You might strangle him.’

‘That was the general idea,’ Katy muttered, glaring at Ben before picking up her spoon and digging into her cereal. ‘Anyway, as I was saying. I don’t want Ben and I to go home for Christmas, I want all three of us to go.’

The throb in Christy’s head grew worse and she rose to her feet in search of paracetamol. ‘This is home now, sweetheart.’ Thanks to her stupidity. ‘London is home now.’

As if to remind herself of that depressing fact, she stared out of the window of their tiny flat, through the sheeting rain and down into the road below. There was a steady hiss as the traffic crawled along the wet, cheerless street. Brick buildings, old, tired and in need of repainting, rose up high, blocking out what there was of the restrained winter light. People shouted abuse and leaned on their horns and all the time the rain fell steadily, dampening streets and spirits with equal effectiveness. On the pavement people jostled and dodged, ears glued to mobile phones, walking and talking, eyes straight ahead, no contact with each other.

And then, just for a moment, the reality disappeared and Christy had a vision of the Lake District. Her real home. The sharp edges of the fells rising up against a perfectly blue sky on a crisp winter morning. The clank of metal and the sound of laughter as the mountain rescue team prepared for another callout. Friendship.

Oh, dear God, she didn’t want to be here. This wasn’t how it was supposed to have turned out.

As if picking up her mood, Ben’s face crumpled as he flopped back into his chair. ‘It isn’t home. It’ll never be home, it’s horrid and I hate it. I hate London, I hate school and most of all I hate you.’ And with that he scraped his chair away from the table and belted out of the door, sobbing noisily, leaving his cereal untouched.

Feeling sick with misery, Christy watched him go, suppressing a desperate urge to follow and give him a cuddle but knowing from experience that it was best to let him calm down in his own time. She sat back down at the table and tried to revive her flagging spirits. It was seven-thirty in the morning, she had to get two children to a school that they hated and she had to go on to a job that she hated, too. What on earth was she doing?

She topped up her coffee-cup and tried to retrieve the situation. ‘London at Christmas will be pretty cool.’

Katy shot her a pitying look. ‘Mum, don’t try and communicate on my level. It’s tragic when grown-ups do that. I can say cool, but it sounds ridiculous coming from anyone over the age of sixteen. Use grown-up words like “interesting” or “exciting”. Leave “cool” and “wicked” to those of us who appreciate the true meaning.’ With all the vast superiority of her eleven years, she pushed her bowl to one side and reached for a piece of toast. ‘And, anyway, it won’t be cool. The shopping’s good, but you can only do so much of that.’