I have a Christmas present for you!
Remember that one time I wrote a book called The Boy Who Steals Houses and it came out in April this year and I basically never talk about it ever? 😌HA, okay what a joke since I never shut up about it. But I couldn’t contain myself and I absolutely can’t leave these characters alone. So I’ve written a Christmassy short story for The Boy Who Steals Houses! And it’s called…
I am so excited to share this with you! It’s a prequel-story, so set before the events of The Boy Who Steals Houses. If you haven’t read TBWSH, this should still make sense, but it will make 110% more sense if you go read TBWSH first. And which, am not going to lie, you should read TBWSH because I poured half my soul into it and you want to make that horcrux worth it.
It’s set one week before Moxie meets Sam.
I hope you enjoy the short story! (I managed to make it both cute AND sad, as is my brand.)
The super gorgeous cover was designed by Melissa @thereaderandthechef 😍who pretty much saved my life with design help. And Mia @cosyreads and Sam @shewritesaboutbooks made sure my actual WORDS made sense, so I love them a lot!!! Thank you everyone for your advice and encouragement. 😭💛
This short story is totally free 😚 and you can read it here on my blog or download the PDF file below!
It’s the crumpled-up letter to Santa stuffed into the bin and splattered in bloody cherry juice that changes Moxie’s mind.
She’s been at war with herself for a few weeks now, trying to decide whether to acknowledge that it’s nearly Christmas. The hotter it gets, the harder it is to ignore the summer nostalgia of childhood Christmases: cherries and mangoes on sale, air-conditioners punching out coolness, the babies playing in the sprinkler, gingerbread men dipped in white chocolate, walking into shopping centres stuffed with tinsel and huge inflatable surfing Santas and hearing Jingle Bells blasting at full volume. It feels like the whole world is deep in holiday cheer — except at the De Lainey house.
Not a single bauble can be seen.
All their Christmas junk is still packed away under the stairs, untouched for years and likely chewed out by mice. Unpacking it would be a huge hassle. Moxie would be the one getting all grimy and sweaty alone. And for what? So she could feel like she’d been stabbed in the heart again?
Last year Christmas didn’t happen because their mother had just died.
It hurt to think about, it would always hurt. Inside her chest a black star had imploded and everything good and bright and hopeful had been sucked into a swirling vortex of nothingness. Either she felt too much or she didn’t feel at all. Her mother was gone, leaving a tiny baby in the house, and Moxie kept finding her dad in the laundry with both the washing machine and dryer going to cover the sound of him crying. It wasn’t the pretty crying that happens on TV either, where someone stands in the rain with a single tear dripping down their cheek as violins sing sorrowfully. This was ugly, messy, body-wracking sobs. It scared Moxie out of her freaking mind, because if her dad had broken into a thousand pieces, then how was she ever going to be okay again?
The De Lainey’s world had ended last year. Nobody is going to pull out a Christmas tree and pretend things can be sweet and magical when the world is rotten and cruel.
But now Moxie stares at this ruined letter in the bin and all her resolve to ignore the season begins to feel like melted sludge. Dash is only ten, ten, and she’d known to screw up her letter to Santa instead of tacking it on the fridge, because the De Laineys don’t do Christmas or gifts or happiness or…family anymore.
And suddenly the truth of this really really sucks.
I’m probably too old for this now, but I totally remember Jeremy still writing letters when he was like, thirteen. Besides Mum always said: “if you don’t tell Santa what you want for Christmas, how’s he going to know? He’ll give you socks.” I KNOW Dad is Santa and I KNOW Mum does did all the Christmas shopping, but it’s fun to write the letter. And I never want socks.
I’ll throw this out later anyway.
I’m not being crazy this year with my wish list. Esther is asking for a new video camera so we can make Thirteen Elven Kingdoms Of War movies over the summer holidays. She’ll definitely get it because she always gets expensive stuff. She says it’s weird I only get one big present (and crappy stuff from my brothers), but I have a zillion siblings. She doesn’t get that means there’s less to go around.
Anyway. All I’m asking for is:
– new shoes (those pink ones in Kmart. they’re glittery and I checked the price and it’s not that much!!)
– Elven cosplay ears (for acting in Esther’s movie)
– massive bag of lollies that I don’t have to share with ANYONE
– someone in this family to remember it’s Christmas (Moxie will yell at me if I ask)
This list is so stupid.
Dash De Lainey
An angry knot of guilt blossoms in Moxie’s stomach. She wouldn’t have yelled.
Alright, fine, maybe she yells at Dash too much, but things have been awful since school let out and she’s stuck in this house with all her siblings (all of her brothers being insufferable) and her best friend Kirby just left to spend the whole summer up in Darwin with her dad. Thank you, universe! For making everything a thousand times worse!
Moxie wipes cherry juice off the letter and stuffs it into her back pocket. The writing is all smeary, but she’ll give it to Dad later. Hopefully those shoes are still there. She doesn’t know where you’d get elvish cosplay ears — what the hell — but she can probably make Dash an Elvish sort of cloak with a cowl and tassels and embroidered elfy words on the hem if she googles it. Wanting lollies all to yourself is unrealistic in this house. But the part that makes Moxie forget how to breathe is, of course—
Moxie wants to scream, just up and scream and scream, until her voice breaks. It’s been a year and she’s supposed to be healing now.
She doesn’t know if it’s part of healing to wish you could punch holes through the entire world.
What she does know is this: they’re having Christmas.
They can fake the magic, the smiles, the silliness, for Dash and the babies. It’ll be wrong and painful without Mum, but Moxie can picture her mother scooping her chaos of brown curls into a bun, hair tie clenched between teeth even as she barks out orders for festivities to begin. She’d be really pissed off if she knew their lives had stumbled aimlessly to a stop without her.
But Moxie chews her bottom lip and glances out the window at their driveway, where the old rust-bucket van will eventually pull up, and wonders about Dad.
It leaves her heart in charcoal ruins to think this might make him cry again.
Still. She has to make a decision and she’s nothing but a cyclonic force when she puts her mind to something. It isn’t time for hesitation; it’s time for war.
The letter to Santa burns in her pocket like guilt and a promise as she storms out of the kitchen to bully Christmas to life.
The De Lainey house is a sprawling thing of butter-yellow walls and open-plan living, wood floors and big windows. The dining room falls into the kitchen, which falls into the play area. Her sewing corner is tucked behind battered shelves crammed with material and boxes of lace and bobbins. The “play area” is actually “every single place in the entire house” so there are Duplo blocks and little cars and trikes and baby dolls absolutely everywhere. Her three older brothers are supposed to keep the house together: Grady cleans, Jack does yard work, and Jeremy is on laundry. That just means all three of them do those things at the last possible minute.
Plastic blocks are scattered from the bottom of the staircase over to the front door and Moxie has to do a delicate hopscotch routine to avoid stepping on a small shiny piece of hell. The entire place needs cleaning. Also, everyone needs a good shake out of their funk.
She can’t tackle this all alone.
Only four of her siblings are currently countable: Dash is sprawled out on the sofa with a fan two centimetres from her face as she watches an Elven Warrior Whatsit movie. The babies tip more toys out of boxes and argue companionably in a language that is definitely not English. Jack is setting up a tent. Indoors.
He’s the biggest disaster of the hour, so Moxie zeroes in on him.
“Why aren’t you doing that outside?” she says.
Jack is squinting at a sheet of instructions. He doesn’t look up. “It’s too hot. I’m just making sure all the pieces are here before the camping trip.”
“Is that the new tent you just bought?”
“Isn’t it kind of small?
Moxie surveys the actually super tiny tent that looks like a delicate sneeze would end its days.
“You don’t know how to set it up and you’re practising, aren’t you?” she says.
Jack rotates the instructions and ignores her.
Even small, it’s still a tent and its taking up too much space in the already overcrowded living area. It is officially impossible to exit the sofa, which is probably why Dash is onto her second rewatch of that Elven movie today. It is the school holidays, but Moxie is rapidly strangling in the realisation that Dash is suffering from chronic-middle-child-overlooked-syndrome. The babies are minded and coddled, and the four older teens take care of themselves, but what about Dash? She does her homework and zones into her fandoms and writes quiet, morose letters to Santa.
Moxie crosses her arms and glares at Jack. “Can you put your tent disaster on hold? I need you to get the Christmas box out from under the stairs.”
Jack rotates the instructions again as if that will help the fact his tent poles are swaying. Something probably should be re-tied or hammered down or zipped up, but that’s his problem. Just before New Year’s Day, her brothers are supposedly going camping with friends while their dad takes Moxie, Dash and the babies for the yearly visit to their grandparents who have not yet — not ever — remembered one of their names correctly. Yes, there are seven De Lainey kids. But their grandparents just make up names! Last time, Moxie was Maureen and they referred to Dash as a boy.
“I’m busy so get it yourself,” Jack says. “Also, who the hell cares about Christmas?”
“Maybe we should,” Moxie snaps. “For the babies.”
Jack finally crumples the instructions and shoots her a disagreeable look. His hair is usually crammed into a spiky ponytail but it’s hanging loose and damply sweaty about his ears from the tenting effort. He matches her, scowl for scowl. They’ve always been too similar, matchboxes flung into tinder and splinters jutting from chopped wood.
“You want to celebrate,” he says in a low snarl, “the anniversary of her being gone?”
He still can’t say Mum, and Moxie knows she should take that into consideration. But she’s hot and her throat has already grown thick with thorns over this, so it’s easier to get angry back at him.
“Mum wouldn’t want us to be miserable for the rest of our lives,” she says. “Mum loved Christmas. Mum—”
“Go be a little shit somewhere else.” He throws the instructions, climbs into the tent, and zips it up.
“Real mature, Jack.” Moxie considers kicking it, but she’s sure the whole thing will fall.
Dash peers slowly over the back of the sofa, watching. She says nothing. Her eyes are wide and hopeful.
Three-year-old Toby runs past, stark naked except for yellow goggles. He’s laughing hysterically.
“Toby!” Moxie says. “Put your undies on. Where’s Jeremy?”
Dash points upstairs. “He’s going through a break up.”
“Oh my god.” Moxie rolls her eyes. “Again?”
Muttering to herself, she stomps upstairs to pound on the twins’ bedroom door.
“Enter the pit of despair if you wish,” says the most dejectedly pitiful voice in the entire world.
Moxie has to take a deep calming breath and remind herself to be thoughtful and not sarcastic before going in.
It would be easier to care about Jeremy’s breakups if (a) they didn’t happen bi-weekly, (b) they weren’t always over the same person who was obviously an utter loser, and (c) he didn’t act so melodramatically, wearing this horrible lime green dressing gown and listening to depressing music for hours, when they’d be back together next week. Moxie hates his breakup playlist! No one needs to listen to this much Michael Bublé! Eating pretzels in bed all day isn’t going to help! Why can’t his moodiness inspire him to clean something? The twins’ bedroom is even worse than downstairs, because something is growing on the dozens of crummy plates stacked on a desk, there are boxers in places boxers could never get naturally, and it smells so very overpoweringly of boy in here. None of that cypress and cinnamon scented nonsense books lead you to believe (she read a lot of romances this year while hiding in the library at school to avoid people saying “sorry about your mum”). Lies. Boys smell like socks and sweat and deodorant called MASCULINE MAN or something equally obnoxious.
“Look, Jeremy.” Moxie tries to find someplace to stand. “I need help. It’ll distract you from crying into a teacup for ten minutes.”
Jeremy lies on the lower bunk with one arm draped languidly over the edge. His phone is on his chest crooning a love song and he stares blankly up at the bunk slats.
“I can no longer cry,” he says listlessly.
“Great,” Moxie says. “You can get a life and get up. You’ll literally be back with him in what? A week? Aren’t you all going on this New Year’s camping trip?”
“Guess not. I can never look at him or face life again.” Jeremy rolls to face the wall.
Moxie tries to think of gentle things, understanding things. “Then close your eyes. Now get up. I need help with the Christmas box. Also Toby’s not wearing any clothes and I think Dash is depressed and Jack is sulking in his tent, which is not big enough for the three of you, so I hope you and Grady and him all enjoy cuddling.”
Jeremy sits up. “I told him to buy a big tent.” He fights out of the twisted bedsheets and falls on his face on the floor.
It takes him a bit to sort his limbs out and then he limps from the room in a torrent of pretzel crumbs while retying the sash of his dressing gown.
Moxie follows. “Pretty sure Jack genuinely needs glasses. Also I need the Christmas box. Did you hear me?”
“This tent-crisis is a bit more pressing, Moxie. Maybe I should go on this trip and like…win Yeats back.” He snaps his fingers in inspiration, eyes wide as his brain clearly begins to overheat, “Maybe this trip is fate and we’ll reunite under a moonlit waterfall. Wait, did you say Christmas box? Did you ask Dad? It’ll make him sad. I know skipping it sucks, but the babies won’t know the difference and Dash understands.”
“I can’t believe I’m the one fighting for Christmas,” she growls. “Me. The least cheerful person in the universe. I didn’t ask you anyway. I told you. And seriously, Mum wouldn’t want us to be stuck like this.”
Moxie hangs off the bannister as Jeremy gallops downstairs. He pauses on the last step and turns back, his eyes soft. “It’ll hurt too much, Mox. Just leave it.”
But isn’t everything going to hurt forever without their mother?
Their mum is tangled into every Christmas memory: making mince pies, fighting through knotted balls of lights, wrapping presents, making snowflake cards and getting glitter in their eyelashes. Moxie isn’t here demanding they replicate those memories or replace them. She just wants their story to have a chapter two.
It’ll hurt like hell, but Moxie wants to hurt, just to remember she’s still alive.
She battles the cupboard under the stairs herself.
If Christmas won’t come quietly and free, then looks like she’ll have to steal it.
She drags miscellaneous crap out from the gloomy cavity until she finds the taped-up Christmas boxes. She falls on her butt trying to wrestle them out and when she finally heaves one box of decorations into the lounge room, Dash has cleared a corner. She stands anxiously on her tiptoes as she watches.
Jack has exited his sulk tent and now stands with arms folded while Jeremy walks around it in distress with his horrendous lime dressing gown flapping anxiously.
“It literally says two–person-tent on the box, Jack.”
“Then they put it on the wrong shelf because this is exactly where the three-person-tents should have been.”
“Or maybe you need glasses,” Moxie calls. “Or to own your mistakes.”
“I got it right,” Jack insists.
“You haven’t gotten any of it right!” Jeremy points to the sagging poles. “That part is backwards. Look, the baby’s drooled on this corner and it leaked.”
Toby suddenly hurtles over, still outfitted in goggles but now accessorised with two stickers in creative places, and jumps onto the tent.
It falls with a small sighing poof.
Jack looks like he’s struggling very hard not to yell (or cry) while Jeremy is struggling very hard not to laugh (or gloat).
“I thought you were supposed to be the rugged outdoorsy one of us two,” Jeremy says.
“I thought you weren’t coming because your boyfriend dumped your pathetic ass,” Jack shoots back.
Jeremy had apparently forgotten, and he melts back into the dejected floppy consistency of an abused pudding. He flops face first over the back of the sofa and moans. “I’m undesirable.”
Moxie drags the massive Christmas tree box into the room. It scrapes across the floorboards. “Agreed,” she mutters.
“I’m unloveable,” he says, voice pitching pitifully higher.
“Right now you are,” Moxie says.
“Whenever I take a breath,” Jeremy says, “I think of all the memories we made.”
“Want me to punch you?” Jack says. “Make some new memories?”
Moxie pulls out two branches and falls into the box. It’s one of those old plastic Christmas trees that they’ve used since Grady was a baby and every time it’s set up, it sheds five kilos of plastic pine needles.
Jeremy covers his face. “You two don’t understand because you’ve never been in love.”
“Neither have you,” Jack says. “You’ve been in stupid. You’re still there now. Yeats is an ass. Now help me with this tent.”
“Or help me with this tree!” Moxie shouts.
Dash slips over and digs through the box of baubles. She finds the angel that goes on top just as Toby and the baby realise something exciting is happening and stampede towards them. Great, they’re officially doomed. In two seconds flat, the baby has the plug for the lights in its mouth while Toby has found a Santa figurine and asked, “Dis Spiderman?”
“This is so depressing,” Moxie says. “It’s Santa.”
“Tata!” says the baby.
“It not a tato,” Toby corrects the baby gently. “Moxie said we say potato.”
Dash finds a string of paper snowflakes and her eyes brighten. “Can we wrap these on the stairs? Oh can we make a gingerbread house? Can you help me make Christmas cards?”
“Can you explain,” Moxie says with a grunt at the tree, “the difference between Santa and a potato to the babies? Because that’s where we have to start.”
The tree, however, refuses to go together and the more baubles the baby and Toby unpack, the more overwhelmed Moxie feels. Synthetic pine needles litter the floor and it doesn’t feel like Christmas.
It feels like a mess.
With Mum in control, the house would be decorated in a single morning. They’d have carols going, Jack and Jeremy would hang lights outside, while Moxie and Dash taste-tested gingerbread from the mixing bowl. Those memories feel impossibly long ago. Moxie had been thirteen? She feels a hundred years old right now and ready to snap at the kids, or maybe cry. Jeremy had been right: this hurts too much.
The front door creaks and Moxie whips around, wanting it to be Dad but also scared what he’ll think of this. But it’s the oldest De Lainey sibling with car keys jangling in one hand as he takes the stairs two at a time. If Jack has gotten angrier since Mum died, and Jeremy more dramatic, then Grady has simply gotten less. He’s nineteen now and if he’s in the house at all, he’s reading, oblivious to the family chaos, and Moxie knows he deferred uni indefinitely. Now he’s always out with his girlfriend, which is absurd, because who actually needs to socialise that much? An exhausting concept.
Moxie looks at him helplessly and he gives her a quick wave. “Just grabbing something. I have to meet Isla.” Then he’s gone.
She lets the plastic tree pieces droop in defeat.
Meanwhile Jack has half the tent back up and is giving Jeremy relationship advice, which can’t go wrong since he’s never successfully flirted with someone in his life.
“…and then if it doesn’t work, I kill him for you,” Jack says earnestly.
“You’d go to jail for me? Bro.”
“Nah, we’re identical. If it got to that, I’d say it was you. But the point is, you need someone who isn’t seventy-four percent trash.”
“He has a super nice car.”
“That’s the twenty-six percent we like.”
Grady jogs back downstairs with his phone charger, but slows when he sees the tent. “Um, I’m coming too, remember? I’m literally driving us. You were supposed to get a three-person-tent.”
Jeremy is still lying on the sofa, so his arm comes up like a periscope and swivels accusingly to point in his twin’s direction. “His fault.”
“It was a three-person!” Jack says. “On the box—”
“Well, I’m not sleeping in your arms,” Grady says. “Youngest sleeps outside with the mozzies.”
Jeremy claps. “I’m older, hurrah.”
“I’m doing all the work setting it up!” Jack says. “Anyway, Jeremy’s not going because Yeats broke up with him.”
Grady checks the time on his phone. “He’s an idiot.”
Jeremy peers over the sofa looking doleful. “I know he is, but…”
“No,” Grady says, “I mean you. Get a grip, Jeremy. And put some pants on. And put pants on Toby. I have to go.”
He’s off towards the door while Jeremy switches from sorrowful to offended. “I’m being emotionally neglected.”
Grady’s got his hand on the doorknob, but at the last second he glances towards Moxie and their eyes meet. It’s only a second of contact. She doesn’t expect help by now. She sits surrounded by tinsel and a dismantled tree and baby-slobbered-over lights and knows this mess is her reward for trying.
But Grady gently closes the door and slips his phone into his pocket.
He picks his way over and pulls the baby off the lights (it makes a wetly squelching sound like disengaging a squid from its tank) and crouches next to Moxie.
“Hey,” he says gently.
Moxie realises her face must be doing something traitorously wobbly. She brushes a hand over her eyes and scowls. “Did you know the baby doesn’t understand who Santa is?”
“Did you know,” Dash says, “that I don’t even know what the baby’s name is?”
Toby pets the baby’s head with the same enthusiasm one would use to beat a rug. “I wuv our baby. It name is Baby and he will grow up to be soup.”
“Ba!” the baby says in a satisfied way.
Grady just stares. “I can’t. No one in this family makes any sense at all. No one.” He accepts the proffered pieces of Christmas tree and begins assembling them. “Dash can you put undies on Toby? Moxie, why didn’t you get the twins to help out?”
Moxie gives him a flat look.
“Right.” Grady stands, the metal pole of the fake-tree-trunk now slotted together like a weapon. He marches to the sofa where Jeremy languishes and Jack looks at tent pegs like they’re going to bite him. “You two are absolute assholes. You can see your little sister needs help. Jeremy, get up.” He hurls his car keys at Jeremy’s stomach. “Buy some stuff for mince pies and gingerbread.”
“Um, I’m having a crisis?” Jeremy says.
“Yeah, and it’s about to increase when I spit in your ear. Go.” Grady points the tree-weapon at Jack. “You’re going to put lights in the windows and clean up the kitchen. Uh, don’t whinge at me or I will soundly beat your ass.” He swivels back to Jeremy who is slinking towards the front door, still in his dressing gown. “NO. PUT PANTS ON FIRST! If I have to tell one more De Lainey to be properly clothed—”
Jeremy flees to the laundry.
Toby struts over, finally in underwear, puffing out his stomach and petting it. “I want to eat Santa.”
“What?” Grady said.
“Santa is a potato!” Toby shrieks.
“You probably should’ve left while you had the chance,” Moxie says.
But she’s secretly relieved that Grady’s taken over. Usually she will fight indignantly if anyone shuffles her aside, but today she doesn’t feel like owning the world. She will direct while Grady assembles the Christmas tree and Toby hangs all the baubles on the two lowest branches. Grady lifts Dash to put the angel on top and then gives her his phone so she can play Christmas music. Dash holds hands with the baby and Toby and they dance in a dizzy wild circle, giggling to All I Want For Christmas on a floor covered in glitter.
The wreath goes up on the front door. Jack stacks the dishwasher with moody ferocity. Grady untangles reams of Christmas lights that sparkle green and gold. Dash puts on a Santa hat and wraps herself in tinsel and looks so happy no one minds that she’s shedding all over the house.
The kids get more chaotic. They just turn the music up.
When Jeremy gets back with baking supplies, he seems to have forgotten his sulk and, with stolid relish, he puts on the Mother Claus apron Mum used to wear. He whisks eggs and folds pastry.
And maybe everything they do hurts a little.
And maybe they do it all messily and lopsided and backwards.
And maybe their life is a glitter snow globe with duct tape over the cracks.
But it feels like some sort of Christmas.
It’s late by the time they’ve finished decorating and the house has been punched in the face with glitter and flour and wrapping paper and tinsel and We Wish You A Merry Christmas banners hung over the windows. They eat way too many mince pies for dinner and Dash wants a Christmas movie, which is incredible since she only ever watches those Elven King War Thingies. Jack sprawls on the sofa, and Dash and Toby sit on his chest and shriek about the Grinch.
Grady didn’t leave at all. He ends up picking through this tiny box of fluffy snowmen at the kitchen table while Jeremy sits across from him with the old Christmas cookbook and pours over Mum’s dog-eared recipes.
Moxie pokes about the mess looking for the baby and finds it has fallen asleep under the Christmas tree with a plastic candy cane clutched in a chubby hand. The entire scene is so suffocatingly adorable and she can’t bear to move the little sticky creature with pie-stained cheeks. But they should probably not let it nest this close to tangled light cords.
She’s prying the candy cane from from the baby’s paws, when the front door yawns open and their father walks in.
Moxie shoots to her feet and her entire heart leaps into her mouth. Their dad is a mountain of a man, broad shoulders and big hands, his smile a warm kind of softened caramel. He never raises his voice, never gets more than mildly annoyed at them, no matter how raucous the antics. But his eyes are always sad. If all of this makes him sadder, it will be her fault.
They’ve switched off most of the lights while the others watch the movie, so Moxie can’t see her father’s face as he slowly takes off his work boots and looks around. He’s been building and the lateness of his arrival says it’s been a rocky day. His quietness says he’s exhausted.
He leans over the back of the sofa to kiss Toby and Dash’s heads and mush Jack’s hair into his face, which earns him a disagreeable grunt. But they’re all so absorbed in the Grinch that they barely look up.
“Heyyy, Dad,” Jeremy says.
“Hi,” Grady says. “We had a mess for dinner, but there’s casserole in the fridge from last night.”
“That’s great, boys, thank you.” Dad sets his lunchbox in the kitchen and looks quietly at the plate of half-eaten mince pies.
His eyes go to the tree (not how Mum decorated it), then to the lights (not how Mum hung them) and then to Moxie (nothing like Mum). No one’s said it out loud, but since she’s the oldest girl, she feels like they expect her to hold the thousands of threads that pull a family together. But she’s fifteen and angry and messy and loneliness is always bunched up tight in her two fists.
She slouches by the Christmas tree, arms folded.
Dad comes over and groans a little as he sits in front of the tree with the lights glowing softly on his face. He pulls the baby into his arms and settles its fussing little body against his shoulder. Then he tilts his head to Moxie.
She flops down beside him and puts her cheek on his shoulder even though he smells of sawdust and sunscreen and sweat.
“So Dash wrote a letter to Santa,” she says, “and I found it in the bin. All this made her really happy.”
“I think it made all of you really happy.”
“Except you.” Moxie rests her chin on her fist as she stares at their horrifically decorated tree.
“What? No. You all being happy makes me incredibly happy.” He kisses the top of her head. “Your mum would love this too. She’d also yell at me for leaving you kids to do this alone. I’m proud of you, alright? I know it hurts.” He untangles one arm from the sleeping baby and gently covers Moxie’s eyes. “Remember when you were the tiniest little thing and she’d have all you kids close your eyes and make a wish under the tree?”
Moxie bats his hand away, but she’s smiling.
“I’ll put the baby to bed.” Her dad struggles to his feet and takes the baby upstairs.
Moxie ends up balling up Santa hats to use as pillows and stretching out under the glossy Christmas tree lights. She crooks her hands behind her head and thinks of wishes that are lovely or impossible, clever or selfish.
If wishes came true, she’d ask for something selfish tonight.
I want a friend, Moxie tells the Christmas lights. I want a friend to appear like magic and stay with me all summer and love me when I’m angry or sad or soft. I want a friend who will steal absolutely all of my heart.