The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled as Jill bent to push the brightly wrapped presents underneath its spiky branches. It gave her a sense of pride to know the tree came from her own wood and would be returned there once the festivities were over. The new bike Toby hinted about sat against the wall. The light from the sitting room fire dancing across its metallic red paint, made it glow and she smiled, imagining his delight when he saw it. Her parents were coming next day for Christmas lunch and planned to stay until the New Year, a prospect that would have once horrified her. A deeper understanding developed between Jill and her mother and she now found it easier to talk to the woman who offered her life in exchange for hers. So much had changed over the months she was forced to brush aside the memory. Tom would also be there for lunch, but not Paul who was spending the holidays with his sons. He had not forgotten them though, and his presents, brought along earlier in the day, sat beneath the tree.
The turkey, an enormous one, presented to her by one of the women at the surgery, would need to go in the oven at 6am, but that would not be a problem. Jill slept very little now after abandoning the sleeping pills on which she had become too reliant. Switching off the downstairs lights, she climbed the stairs, glad of the feel of Bess’s hot breath on her legs. Toby was fast asleep, but the excitement of what lay in store would wake him earlier than normal.
The old dog lay down beside her mistress’s bed. Jill’s eyes were too tired to read so she sat in bed and drew her knees up around her. It was still many hours until dawn and it was doubtful sleep would come. All around her the house stretched and yawned as it settled for the night. She now knew every creak of its floorboards and the small scurrying from the mice in the attic overhead no longer made her heart pound as it used to do. It was Christmas Eve; they were safe and there was nothing to fear. She repeated this over and over in her head. They were safe, and there was nothing to fear. Soon it would be a New Year, a new beginning and the memories would fade with time. Still, she looked towards the window, picturing the inky blackness outside. She couldn’t wait for summer and the long, bright days. Maybe then she would sleep.