The shopping centre was crazy.
Noah told me he hadn’t bought a present for his mum yet, and since I was a girl, I was required to help. I trailed along behind him as we walked from shop to shop. Wasn’t it usually the teenage girl’s job to force the guys to go shopping? It wasn’t like I hated shopping. Every other time of year I could handle it. But at Christmas, it was a whole different ball game. I couldn’t even count how many times I’d been elbowed by rushing shoppers. Noah’s little plan really wasn’t off to a good start.
“Makeup,” he said as we walked past a cosmetics store. “All Mums like makeup. You’ll be able to pick some out for her, won’t you?” I highly doubted I would, but Noah was already walking through the door so I had no choice but to follow him. He quickly headed towards some tester lipsticks.
“Try some of these?” he suggested.
“Why don’t you try them on?” I scoffed, looking at the dark red lipstick in his hand.
“It’s not quite my colour,” he replied in a serious voice. A couple of women standing nearby gave him a strange glance. I had to stifle a laugh.
“Move over,” I said, pushing him out of the way.
I evaluated the lipsticks. Cora, Noah’s mum, liked to keep things simple. She definitely wouldn’t want dark red lipstick. In fact, she didn’t even wear makeup that often. She didn’t need to; she always seemed to glow without it.
“You know, I think getting her a perfume would be a better idea,” I told him. “She’d use it more than makeup.”
Noah shrugged and let me lead him over to the perfume counter, where I spent a good few minutes testing plenty of gorgeous scents. I came across one with a hint of vanilla, which I knew Cora would love.
“I’d say this one,” I decided, handing him the bottle.
“You’re the expert,” he said, walking over to the counter to pay for it. We left the shop a few moments later with the perfume in a little gift bag. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Noah asked, gently nudging me.
“It could’ve been worse,” I admitted.
“Ready for number 11?”
I rolled my eyes. “I guess I’ll have to be.”
Number 11 turned out to be Christmas food. We went back to Noah’s house and created some homemade mince pies. Neither of us had a clue what we were doing, and the pies ended up tasting disgusting, but even I had to admit it was fun trying.
In the hours that followed, Noah had me running around all over the place doing various festive things. The 10th thing on his list was gift wrapping, and the 9th was decorating. Even though his house was already covered in plenty of pretty decorations, he insisted we make paper chains. I felt like a kid again, sitting on his bedroom floor, surrounding by hundreds on coloured paper loops.
The 8th item on Noah’s list was homemade cards, and then we drank eggnog for the 7th, which was completely gross but I drank it anyway. I was actually having fun by the time we got to the 4th item; Christmas songs. Even though I’d heard all of the songs a million times before and was convinced I never wanted to hear them again, Noah and I sang along to them embarrassingly loud.
Later that night, we settled down on his sofa to watch a Christmas movie, number 3 on Noah’s list. The movie he decided on was Home Alone. I’d already known he was going to pick that one, he watched it every Christmas without fail.
We were about half of the way through the movie when I spotted Noah watching me out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head slightly and he quickly looked back at the TV, running a hand through his light, ash blonde hair. Completely unexpectedly, I wondered what it would be like to kiss him. I was taken aback by the thoughts that were creeping up on me. Why was I thinking about Noah that way? He was a friend, a very good friend, but nothing more. He’d never expressed any interest in being anything more than just friends. At least, I didn’t think he had.
I was pulled from my thoughts when Noah turned back towards me and asked if I wanted a drink. Whilst he went to the kitchen, I had firm words with myself. He was a friend, and if I started seeing him differently, it would cause a whole lot of trouble.
I had calmed down a little by the time he returned to the room with a couple of Coca Cola cans. I spent the rest of the film sitting tensely, trying not to let my mind wander to places it shouldn’t.
“So, what’s next?” I asked when the credits rolled.
“The penultimate reason why you should love Christmas,” he said, a look of guilt flashing across his face, “is…ice skating.”
I gawped at him. “You can’t be serious?”
“I thought we could all go together,” he said quickly, trying to explain. “Nick and your mum will be really pleased. Come on, Lily, just this once?”
I looked at his pleading eyes and sighed. “Fine, but I’m not happy about it.”
That was how we found ourselves getting out of Mum’s car at the ice rink that had been set up in our town centre, like it is every year.
“I used to love ice skating when I was younger,” Mum said excitedly as we put on our boots. “One of my favourite Christmas presents was a pair of white skates from my parents. I adored them.” I could see the enthusiasm in her eyes as she prepared to go on the ice. “Your dad and I went skating together many times. He was hopeless, but he’d always come along with me.”
Nick shot a warning glance in my direction, clearly to make sure I wasn’t going to spoil anything. He followed Mum as she took off onto the ice, speeding away. I took a few cautious steps into the rink before straightening up. I turned around and saw Noah already clinging onto the barrier.
“You wanted this,” I reminded him as he struggled to stand upright.
“You may have to hold my hand,” he joked.
I laughed at him. “That’s not happening.”
I looked around at some of the couples who were skating around with their hands entwined, and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealously. I shook it off and skated away. I quickened the pace of my skating and almost felt free for a moment. Free from the constant feeling of missing someone. I didn’t even see Mum approaching until I almost crashed into her. She laughed as she gripped the barrier for support. Even I couldn’t help but giggle as the two of us struggled to stay on our feet. Nick and Noah skated over to join us.
“I saw that,” Nick said, laughing. “It would have been better if you’d actually fallen over.”
“Your dad would have loved this,” said Mum quietly.
Just like that, the fun was sucked out of the air again. I was reminded of Dad’s smiling face, thinking of how different it would be if he was here with us now. I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t enjoy myself at times like this when he wasn’t able to enjoy it with us.
I backed away from the barrier and turned to skate back towards the entrance. I saw Noah shake his head at me. I didn’t bother to look back at him as I stepped out of the ice rink. He couldn’t say I didn’t try.
I was taking my boots off when Nick appeared in front of me. “What are you playing at, Lily?” he asked, raising his voice. “Do you have to spoil everything? Mum mentions Dad once and you’re off acting like a brat!”
“How do you want me to act, huh?” I shouted back at him, standing up. “Shall we all join hands and sing Christmas carols, acting like everything is perfect? I can’t act like I’m fine, Nick! You might be able to, but I can’t!”
“You’re going to have to learn to,” he hissed through gritted teeth. He sharply turned back towards the ice, not giving me another glance.
Noah must have followed us when we left the rink, because I noticed him standing a few metres away from me. He must have seen the argument.
“You didn’t even try,” he said, leaning back against the railing of the ice rink.
I walked away from him, towards the lockers to retrieve my bag. “I told you I didn’t want to do this. I warned you, didn’t I?”
“So you’re just going to walk away?” he called after me. “You’re not even going to apologise to your mum?”
I spun around. “This was all your stupid idea, Noah!” I yelled at him. “I told you it was stupid from the start, but you never listened. You think you can fix everything.”
“I was just trying to be a good friend,” he said, taking a few steps forward. “I just wanted you to start seeing the magic in Christmas again. You can’t go on grieving forever. As much as you hate it, life can and does move on.”
I felt tears starting to burn my eyes. I didn’t want to cry, but I knew that I was going to if I didn’t get away from the ice rink, so I turned my back on Noah walked away.