The snow tickled Melanie’s pink face as she strolled up Darley Street, and she smiled. It was late afternoon, and she loved the way the colours of the Christmas lights shone through the white flakes floating down from the darkening sky. Melanie was snugly wrapped in a thick blue coat, sweater and scarf, her blonde hair protected by a woolly hat. She had her thermals on under her jeans and sturdy walking boots, so the cold didn’t bother her. She was pleased to see the snow; it made her feel like she was living inside the scene on an old-fashioned Christmas card. Melanie had just finished buying her presents. She had no more lectures to attend this year, and soon she’d be back home with her folks. Mum always cooked a gorgeous Christmas dinner: there’d be turkey with all the trimmings, trifle to follow, and then she could have a lovely lazy time in front of the telly with chocolates and wine. It’d be brilliant.
The snow made Suzanne sneeze as she strode down Darley Street, almost slipping on the icy pavement. The white flakes contrasted with her long black hair and matching leather coat. God, thought Suzanne, I ing hate this time of year: having to push through crowds of chavs stocking up on cheap crap, and the pathetic tatty decorations that the council put up every year. Worst of all, she’d soon have to spend some time with her family. She pictured herself sitting at the table and nibbling her vegetables while they gorged themselves on fatty factory-farmed turkey. She’d be expected to talk nicely to aunties who said how much she’d grown (she was 20) and uncles who wanted to know if she had a boyfriend yet. It’d be hideous.
Suzanne turned and swore as someone bashed into her ankle with a pushchair. And then she looked down the street and groaned inwardly. Oh, That was all she needed – that silly cow Melanie from Uni, smiling in her direction.
Suzanne briefly considered blanking Melanie, but the blue-clad figure had already stopped in anticipation of a chat, so Suzanne decided to force a faint smile and bear it. Melanie bubbled away about her coursework, some bloke she’d met in a club and how great Christmas was going to be. Suzanne granted her questions brief responses. No, she didn’t think she’d done well in the exams, and no, she wasn’t looking forward to Christmas. Why? Because, Suzanne explained, her relatives made her feel like Lisa in The Simpsons – embarrassed, isolated and in dire need of intelligent conversation.
Melanie nodded and made a sympathetic face. ‘Yes’, she said. ‘I know how you feel.’ Suzanne silently stared at her for a long moment, and then replied: ‘I very much doubt it. ‘Bye.’ Then she strode off down the slope.
Melanie watched her go. Poor girl, she thought. She’s obviously got problems. She turned around, and almost fell over a couple of small, laughing children who were chasing each other through the busy pedestrian precinct. Melanie smiled at the happy little darlings. Then a pretty display of fairy lights drew her attention to a shop window in which she could see a lovely turquoise top. She decided that she’d treat herself to some new clothes when the January sales started. She had a little of this semester’s loan left over, and she’d probably get some more money from her family soon, because it was Christmas. And Christmas was great.
Not very far away, Suzanne was smiling too. Talking to Melanie had been infuriating, but also useful. Suzanne had suddenly realised that she truly couldn’t stand another Christmas like all her other ones, and had begun plotting ways to make this one different. She’d tell people what she really thought of them on the cards she gave them. She’d buy them the presents they actually needed. And when the uncles started bugging her about boyfriends, she’d say no – she had a girlfriend. It wasn’t actually true, unless you counted that drunken snog with Emma, but so what? She imagined Uncle Ron’s face after she told him her ‘news’, and laughed out loud in the street. Then she went into Waterstone’s to look for a diet book for Mum’s present.
Melanie and Suzanne were both really looking forward to Christmas.