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The first day of the holidays was always the day they put up the Christmas decorations. They made a human chain from the loft-ladder down to the front room, passing along boxes of tinsel, tree decorations and bundles of fairy-lights that had very definitely been put away neatly but were now just a tangled mess. They’d have a picnic lunch in amongst the boxes that always involved more chocolate and biscuits than it did real food, and then Mum and Dad would try and balance the tree in the corner on its wonky stand. It would always end in hopeless giggles and was almost James’ favourite thing about Christmas.
This year, it was all horribly wrong. Mum barely spoke at all, and when she did it was short and sharp. Dad was doing his best to be cheerful anyway, but it was just awkward and he sounded far too loud. James tried not to notice and did everything he was asked without complaint but even Lola could tell something was wrong. She refused to eat chocolate at lunch time and took herself off to play in her room before they’d finished decorating the tree.
When they were finally done, and Dad had gone out to buy pizza and chips for dinner because it was too late to cook, the house looked cosy and festive but the atmosphere was stilted and cold.
The whole day, Damien the elf had sat next to the TV and James swore his face had been different every time he’d looked at him. He didn’t say anything to anyone, but when they were starting to put the boxes back up in the loft, he did try to pack him away with some of the normal bits that got packed away for Christmas.
Lola spotted his arm sticking out of the box on the way up the ladder though, and insisted he was pulled back out. Nobody but her looked happy about it.