Emma's First Christmas Without Him
December 22, 2023
Stars. I've always loved stars. Constellations, galaxies, visions of light dancing across a dark sky. He knew that. He knew how much I loved these things. So I find it incredibly cruel that he would ruin the thing I had always found so much comfort in.
"Emma, I have to go."
Now every time I look up at the bloody winter sky, I hear his voice. I see the constellations drawn onto a pitch dark sky behind him. I see stars shinning, when my world was dimming.
"I swear to you, I will come back."
"Liar." I mutter as I shut the window. My room has gained a chill, snowflakes gathering on the sill. I dust them off angrily, still remembering the promise he had so blatantly broke.
It has been ten months.
Niall left ten months ago, today.
From what dad tells me, his dad is alright. Not better, but not worse. So Niall wants to stay with him. It's not a terrible thing he's doing, it's not like he's doing it to torture me.
The world does not revolve around me. I have to keep reminding myself that.
But as I hear the lull of Christmas music traveling up the staircase, I can't help but think how utterly unfair it all was. I hadn't spent a Christmas without Niall. My "Uncle" Niall. He doesn't even deserve the title anymore. He was supposed to come back. It's Christmas for godsakes. Why can't he just come back for the day?
"Emma! Come down! Ollie wants to make cookies!"
I roll my eyes, "He's two, he can't make cookies!"
"That's why you need to get down here!"
I huff, reluctantly sliding across the wooden floor in my fluffy socks.
"Dad, you really can't just help him make them?" I ask as I come down the stairs.
"Christmas is a time for joy, not for brooding, Emma." He says with a smirk, handing me cookie cutters.
"I'm not very much in the Christmas spirit." I say, angrily stamping some rolled out cookie dough with one of the cutters. It comes out like a deformed snowflake from the roughness and dad frowns.
"Okay, Scrooge. I know you don't want anything to do with Christmas this year," He says walking over and grabbing the angrily made snowflake out of my reach, "But for me, you can at least try."
I sigh, "Dad."
"Ems. Please. You know how much I love the holidays. And what about your mum? What about Ollie? You still have us, baby."
He knew. He knew why I was so mad, but he refused to even say it. "I know."
"Then come on, let's have some fun."
Ollie giggles from his high chair and throws some red and green sprinkles at us. I giggle and blow powdered sugar in his direction. He looks at it in wonder as it billows all around him.
"See, making cookies can be a magical experience for everyone." Dad says with a very wide smile as he watches the wonder in Ollie's eyes.
"I guess so."
The next snowflake I make, doesn't come out half bad and it wins me an approving smile from dad. Cookie making, check. I hope there isn't much else I have to do to keep him happy.
"Only two more days til Christmas!" Uncle Lou says rather cheerfully as we walk down the aisles of Tesco.
He had been even more chipper than usual since Auntie El had sad yes when he proposed to her a few days back. I mean, of course she would, they've only been together forever. But with the baby on the way, I imagine he was pretty much bursting at the seams with joy.
I on the other hand, have obviously been far from being in the Christmas spirit. Dad had sent me shopping with Uncle Lou just to get me out of the house. I know he had, and I didn't mind. But it was so blatantly obvious. I look at the list in my hands and roll my eyes, he had made it even longer than usual so we wouldn't come back so soon. Half of the things on this list we have in bulk at the house.
"Oh, look, Ems! Look at how pretty these are." He says pointing at the cookies by the bakery. "Those snowflakes look so bloody real."
If only his happiness were contagious.
"Yeah. So pretty...for a cookie." I say walking past them.
I could hear him sigh behind me, and I'm not surprised. That was the reaction I was getting from everyone, really. But I can't help it.
"Ems." He calls, wheeling the filled cart a bit faster to catch with me.
I turn to look at him, seeing that he had placed a whole tray of the snowflake cookies at the very top. "What?"
He sighs again, "You know...it's not like he didn't want to be here."
"You're not being fair to anyone. You know, we all want him to be here. He wants to be here too. But sometimes, you just can't have your way."
"So are you going to stop with the bloody attitude?"
I pause for a second before I turn around and reply, "No."
"Ems." He pleads, "You know how much Christmas means to your dad. Are you going to let Harry down?"
"Since when do you care about letting dad down?"
"Are you kidding me? He may act like a twat now and then, but you know I love him."
I smile, "I should have recorded that."
He smiles back, "Yeah, well, it's the first and last time you'll hear it."
"We just made cookies at home." I say pointing at the tray.
"Yeah, but do they look like these?" He asks as I attempt to pick up the tray and put it back where he had gotten it from.
He slaps my hand away, "Then we're buying these."
I sigh, "They're just cookies, they're going to be eaten anyways."
"That's not the point though, look at how Christmassy they are." Uncle Lou says marveling at them.
"Is 'Christmassy' even a word?"
"Well, not with that attitude it isn't."
We both laugh, and suddenly there's a lull. A silence that isn't quite silent. That's when Uncle Lou looks at me and smiles, "He'll be back, Emma. He'll be back soon enough."
I smile sadly at him, "I know."
"He'd want you to be happy."
"Then come on." He says, grabbing the list out of my hand and lifting me up.
"Hey! Put me down! I'm a bloody teenager now, I'm too old for this!"
He puts me into the full cart and smirks, "Hush! We're going to have some fun."
"Don't they have an age limit on these things, at least a height limit?"
"You could still pass for ten." He says laughingly.
"I can not!"
And that's when the cart jolts and I let out a scream, "You can't run in the store!"
"Really? Then why am I doing so?"
I look at him wide-eyed as he pushes the cart at full speed, dodging old ladies and new mums.
"Hey!" He turns slightly to see a security guard chasing after him, "No running in the store!"
But Uncle Lou doesn't listen and instead picks up the speed. We go aisle through aisle, each one zooming by. I grip onto the side of the metal cart and try to close my eyes. How Uncle Lou found this fun, truly astounded me.
"We're going too fast!" I yell, losing feeling in my hand from gripping the cart.
"Don't be a buzzkill, Ems."
"Stop running!" Yells the large security officer chasing after us. Uncle Lou turns to look at him and then I see it, a large chocolate display with a evil looking elf. It gets closer and closer and before I could scream, "Watch out!" Uncle Lou crashes into it.
Somehow, I manage to stay in the cart, but the display come crashing down around us. The snowflake cookies also manage to fly out of the carts, sparkling sugar and broken cookies all over the tacky white tile floor.
"Ah, fuck." Uncle Lou says wiping a bead of sweat off his face. He looks at the damage, then smirks at me and says, "Think they'll make us pay for that?"
"What are you!? Six!? I told you to keep her preoccupied for a little while! Not to give her a criminal record!"
Dad's livid as we walk out of the Tesco, empty handed. He had to come pick us up, since Uncle Lou was getting himself into deeper and deeper trouble. Sometimes sarcasm truly only makes things worse.
"I was just trying to make her have some fun." Uncle Lou protests.
But dad's having none of it, "Fun!? How was any of this fun!? Is it fun to be banned from the Tesco!?"
Both Uncle Lou and I chuckle while dad simply shakes his head and goes to open the passenger door of our car, "Get in." He says addressing me.
"Isn't Uncle Lou coming back to the house?"
Dad turns to him and Uncle Lou shakes his head, "I'l be coming around the twenty-fourth with El, Ems. Don't worry."
Dad simply nods at him as he gets into the car.
I turn to look at dad as he puts the key in the ignition, "I'm sorry."
"For what, baby?"
"Making a mess of things."
"Did you have fun?"
I roll my eyes, "I guess."
"Then that's all that matters."
"Dad. You don't have to try to make me forget that he's gone you know?"
"I'm not...trying to do...that." He says avoiding eye contact and looking at the road.
"Then what are you trying to do?"
He smiles, "To make you happy, baby."
December 23, 2023
"Dad, seriously?" I ask as I watch him pick out a pair of ice skates. He holds them up to me and smiles, ignoring my pointed glare.
"These should fit you, right?"
He picks out his own and ushers us out to two benches where he proceeds to untie my own shoe and slip on the skate. I sigh loudly but he ignores me completely.
"Perfect fit." He says smilingly.
I glare at him as he laces up his own skates. I thought he had given up on this stupid tradition last year when he had managed to twist his ankle in the first three minutes we were on the ice.
Yet, here we were again, at London's Nature Museum's ice skating rink. I pulled out my phone and set it to 999 knowing that sooner or later the ambulance would be needed.
"Alright, come on then Emma!" He yells, heading towards the door of the rink. He turns back and looks at me when he's upon the ice and smiles his signature smile, "Baby, don't be scared! I'll hold your hand."
I skate past him and say "I'm not five, I know how to skate."
"Oh do you now?" He says brushing out his long coat and spinning in a circle.
He continues skating as if he believed he were a professional. But he does it with a certain look, one that he has used time and time again to make me laugh.
But it doesn't.
"Come on now, baby." He says coming towards me chuckling. He looks completely delighted as he watches the couples around him, the kids skating for he first time, and of course the wanna be professional skaters attempting some outrageous trick. "Look at that." He mutters, crossing his arms in front of him.
"Yeah." I say, obviously unimpressed at the man grabbing the girl by her waist and lifting her up into the white winter sky.
"Let's do that!" Dad says looking at me with wide-eyed wonder.
"Dad no-" But before I could talk him out of it, he skates towards me, arms extended and reaching for my waist. He lifts me up, but only for mere seconds before I come crashing down upon him.
"Alright Harry, I hope you realize that at your age you can't be pulling stunts like his anymore." The middle aged paramedic says to dad as she gently wraps his arm in a sling. "You're lucky you didn't fracture it."
Dad sat in the back of the of the ambulance in the parking lot of the skating rink.
"I'm only thirty two." Dad says pathetically.
"But your daughter isn't four, Mr. Styles. You can't lift her anymore." She says with a smile looking at me. I simply glare back. "She seems to have gotten the worst of it though, poor girly."
She comes towards me and hands me a pack of ice to place on my swollen ankle, "He meant well." She says patting my shoulder with a slightly wrinkled hand.
"Yeah. He always does." I huff.
Dad looks at me from the ambulance and mouths "I'm sorry."
I roll my eyes and look down at my swollen foot.
What a wonderful Christmas this is turning out to be.
December 24, 2023
Christmas was never a big deal when we were out on the road. I know that our first Christmas, the first one I had ever spent with dad, was a big deal. And although I barely remember it, I know that it meant a lot to dad. But after that, it was just the day that everyone looked forward to because we would all finally be together. There wasn't as much stress about the food or the presents or the decorations. It was about us. It was about finally getting to spend some time together.
It was about family.
But what is the bloody point now? Uncle Lou and Auntie El have a baby on the way, I'm sure next year they won't be around anymore for Christmas. Uncle Zayn and Liam are both getting married. And of course, of course, Niall is in bloody Ireland.
As the years have passed, am I the only one that's noticed that this family is slowly growing apart?
"Ems?" Mum calls from my door. I look up and she smiles wearily, "How are you feeling."
"You don't look fine."
"Maybe that's because I twisted my ankle."
Her smile falls into a straight line and she replies, "You know we talked about this. Your father promised he is never to set foot into a skating rink again."
"Didn't he make that same promise last year?"
"No, that was with sledding. Remember?"
How could I forget, dad and Niall had thought that it would be a marvelous idea to take me sledding. The only thing they didn't realize was that at the bottom of the slope there was a huge oak tree.
Dad got four stitches on his forehead, Niall got two on his cheek, and I ended up fine because they both tried to protect me from the impact.
Bloody idiots they are.
"Emma, your Uncle Niall called."
"Said he's going to ring your phone soon." She says nodding towards the pink phone on my bedside table.
"Oh. Nice of him." I reply in a bored tone.
"Give him a break, Ems. You know he wanted to be here." She pleads.
"No, actually I didn't know he wanted to be here since this would be the first time in two months that he bothers to call me."
"We're a family! We're all supposed to be a bloody family but it doesn't feel that way anymore." I try to say in a stern voice, but it quivers at the end of my sentence.
"Baby girl." Mum whispers, pushing back hair from my face, "What makes you think we're not a family anymore?"
I try not to cry, I'm a teenager, I can't be pulling this rubbish right now. "I just..I...Everyone is moving away and getting married."
"And making their own families?" Mum says with a raised brow.
"Baby, that's life."
"I know. But...Aren't we all one big family?"
"Yes. Yes we are. We all are. But baby, life changes."
"Does that mean family changes?"
She shakes her head, "It just gets better."
"How is this life getting better?"
"I know you don't understand it now Emma, but it will get better. That I can promise you."
"It won't get worse?"
She shakes her head again, her blonde curls bouncing, "No. As a matter of fact, I believe our guests are about to arrive."
I smile, but as I'm about to say something my phone rings loudly. Mum looks at me, a smile wide upon her face, "Go ahead, I'll leave you two to talk. Call me when you're done so I can help you down the stairs okay?"
I nod as I reach across to grab the phone, and press it to my ear, "Hello?"
"Hi." I say, obviously too happy to hear his deep Irish accented voice once again.
"How are you?"
"Your mum tells me you've a bit of a spill."
"Yeah, well, I went ice skating with dad."
"Ha." He laughs loudly, "That explains it."
I stay silent for a moment and breathe in before I say, "I miss you."
"I miss you too, Ems."
"When will you be back?"
"I..." He stay quiet and I could feel my heart starting to rip apart once more.
"You don't know do you?"
"No, no I don't." He clears his throat and tries to change the subject, "What do you want for Christmas, princess?"
I shake my head and try to blink away the tears, "For you to come home."
"Emma." He says in a sigh.
"I know you can't. But that's all I want."
"Soon, Emma. I'll come back soon."
"Yeah, I know."
"You have the rest of the family there. Don't throw away this Christmas just because I'm not there. Everyone's been trying so hard to make you happy, Emma. Don't think that just because I'm not there that Christmas is ruined. I'm not that important am I?"
"Of course you are."
"But what about everyone else?"
I sigh, of course he was right. Uncle Louis had almost been banned by the local supermarket just to make me laugh. Dad had his arm in a sling and a guilty conscious for making me fall and twist my ankle. And mum, mum was just trying to keep it all together.
"All of you are important to me. That's why I wish you were here."
"But, it's okay."
"No. I'm serious. I know that you want to be here, and I'm sorry for being such a brat. Not only to you, but to everyone. I just... I want things to be the way they've always been."
"But, obviously, they can't be."
"That doesn't mean we don't love you Emma."
"I know that. I know. I think, I think I just need to grow up a bit more. Obviously, I don't like change." I sniffle, trying to wipe the tears that were falling down my cheeks.
"No one likes change, princess." He says chuckling, "Unless it's for the better."
"I think it is, isn't it."
"Yeah, I think it is too."
I pause, before saying "Merry Christmas Uncle Niall."
"Merry Christmas Emma, I'll be home before you know it."
I hang up the phone, wiping away the few tears that I shed and grab my crutches. I've been going about this the wrong way, per usual. Instead of being so bloody critical of everything dad's done along with everyone else, I should have just gone along with their attempts to make me smile.
I think it's time to go downstairs and join my family.
After all, I've heard Christmas cheer is rather contagious. Maybe I'll finally crack a smile at one of dad's jokes.
Long after dinner when the house is quiet and everyone is fighting sleep, I approach dad's slumped over figure on the couch. He looks up at me as he hears my crutches upon the wooden floor and smiles sheepishly.
"I'm sorry about that, Ems. I really didn't mean for that to be your Christmas present."
"It's okay." I say plopping down next to him, "We make quite the dashing pair anyways." I say nodding towards his arm.
"I promise I won't make a muck of things next holidays." Dad says wrapping an arm around me.
I smile, "It wouldn't be the holidays without someone getting hurt, now would it?"
He chuckles, "What should we get banned from next?"
"We have a whole year to plan." I say smilingly as I wrap my arms around his waist and place my head upon his chest like when I was little. He simply grins and brushes my hair with his long fingers.
"Merry Christmas, baby girl."
"Merry Christmas, dad. Thanks for everything. Crutches included."
He kisses the top of my head laughingly, "Anytime."
It may be the first Christmas without Niall here, but still he managed to talk me out of my sadness and salvage the rest of the holiday.
Funny how distance works.
But for now, for now I'll relish this night, lying on the couch lazily with my dad as the rest of my uncles fight off their tipsy sleep.
Christmas couldn't ever be Christmas without each and every one of them.