‘For the last time, I don’t know why anyone would let a little drummer boy batter his drum next to a new-born baby,’ Andy said. ‘It’s just a bloody song.’
‘It’s a very silly bloody song,’ Erimem argued.
Andy humphed and plucked another strand of tinsel from the box marked “Christmas Decorations”. ‘That’s nothing. Wait till you hear Agadoo.’ She peered over her friend’s shoulder. ‘So, what are you doing?’
‘You can see what I am doing.’
Andy glanced automatically at the piles of glittery cards on the coffee table. ‘Okay, how are you getting on with the Christmas Cards?’
‘Slowly,’ Erimem answered. ‘Writing the messages requires great thought.’
Andy’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. ‘Really? I always write something basic,’ she said. ‘You know… “Have a great time” or “Happy Christmas”. That kind of thing.’
‘Oh!’ Erimem put her pen down.
That sounded like it was worth following up. ‘What does “Oh!” mean?’ Andy asked.
Erimem picked her words very carefully. ‘I have been more personal than that.’
Andy picked up an envelope. “Tom” was written on the card in Erimem’s very elegant handwriting. ‘What did you say to Tom? “Stop being a twat” or something?’
‘Not quite,’ Erimem answered evasively.
‘So what did you write?’ Andy pressed.
Andy opened the card, read the message and closed the card again. ‘No,’ she said. ‘Just… no.’ She put the card down. ‘Well intentioned though it was, pointing out why people avoid him is not, perhaps, in the spirit of Christmas.’
‘I thought it might help him find more friends,’ Erimem protested.
‘Or find him jumping off a bridge,’ Andy countered. ‘What did you write in Helena and Ibrahim’s?’
Erimem slipped a card from her pile into a wastepaper basket. ‘Nothing.’
‘I’m not going to read that.’
Erimem nodded solemnly. ‘That is probably wise.’
Andy sniffed. ‘So, have you sent the dishy copper a card?’
‘I don’t know who you mean,’ Erimem answered just a little too primly.
‘You little fibber,’ Andy snorted. ‘Adam Docherty, the good looking policeman who seems to find reasons to look into the university a lot. The one you danced with a bit too much at Helena and Ibrahim’s wedding.’
‘Oh,’ said Erimem. ‘Him.’
‘Him,’ Andy confirmed.
‘I might send him a card,’ Erimem said casually.
‘You’ve already written one haven’t you?’
‘Yes,’ Erimem admitted.
Andy sighed. ‘What does it say?’
‘I can’t remember?’ Erimem didn’t sound as if she convinced even herself.
Andy shook her head. ‘Bollocks.’
‘No. I would remember if it said that.’
‘You know what I mean, your Majestiness. What does it say?’
‘No,’ Erimem protested, ‘I really can’t remember. I wrote it after the University’s staff Christmas party.’
‘Oh,’ Andy nodded her understanding. ‘Tipsy.’
‘A little.’ Erimem flipped through her cards and found the envelope she was looking for. She opened it and read the card. ‘Probably too much,’ she said.
Andy held out a hand. ‘Let’s see.’
Erimem handed the card over.
‘So, “May all of your enemies drown in their own blood,” eh?’ Andy read out loud. ‘Yeah, hon, you’re right. It’s a bit much.’
Erimem pushed her card away and puffed out her cheeks. ‘Christmas is hard work.’
‘It is,’ Andy agreed. She plucked up an envelope Erimem had set aside from the others. ‘Who’s this one for?’
‘Don’t!’ Erimem reached for the card but for once she was too slow. Andy had already read the card.
‘Oh…’Andy dropped an arm around her friend’s shoulders. ‘I didn’t realise. I’m sorry.’
Erimem’s shrug was forced. ‘It doesn’t matter.’
Andy sat beside her friend and squeezed her shoulders tight, in the way only real friends do. ‘Writing a card to your family – your brothers and your father and your mother… that might just be the most Christmassy thing I’ve ever seen anyone do.’
Andy nodded. ‘Christmas is bittersweet. We remember the people we love who aren’t here anymore.’
‘Then why celebrate such a day if it only makes us sad?’ Erimem asked.
‘Because it doesn’t only make us sad,’ Andy answered. ‘It makes us stressed and irritable; it makes us eat too much and drink far too much.’ Her tone softened and she squeezed Erimem’s shoulders again. ‘It also makes us happy because we spend time with friends and loved ones, and we see them smile and laugh when they open presents or hear a stupid joke or catch up with a bit of good news.’ She sighed. ‘If it helps at all, I know I’ll be thinking about my parents as well.’
Erimem slid an arm around Andy and gave a quick squeeze in return. ‘Christmas is strange, but I like it. I like to see my new family here happy, and I like that I will think of happy times long ago in Thebes.’
‘Congratulations, kiddo, you just nailed Christmas.’
‘Thank you. I like Christmas.’ She lifted her pile of Christmas cards and dropped them back on the coffee table. ‘I must rewrite these.’
‘Or,’ suggested Andy, ‘we could go to the pub? Christmas disco’s on at the Union. Fun and laughs. People wearing tinsel and bad jumpers. Snogging under the mistletoe.’
Erimem gave the cards another look. ‘All right,’ she said. ‘Pub for fun and laughs. But none of this snogging for us. You must wait for Olivia for any of that.’
‘Spoilsport,’ Andy chuckled. ‘You’ve idea what you’re missing.’
‘And what makes you think I haven’t kissed a woman?’ Erimem asked innocently.
Andy’s mouth dropped open. ‘We’re definitely talking about that little bombshell in the pub.’
Erimem nimbly sprang to her feet. ‘All right, we are going to the Union.’
‘Before we go,’ Andy said, ‘is there anything we need to do? Any alien planets we need to visit? Any alien invaders we need to punch in the tits before we can have a few light refreshments?’
‘No, we did that earlier this afternoon,’ Erimem answered. ‘You have to pick up your girlfriend from three hundred years ago but you can do that tomorrow.’
‘Right,’ Andy pushed herself upright. ‘Technically it’s a school night and we both have to be at the Uni in the morning so just a few drinkies.’
‘And Slade,’ Erimem added. ‘There must be Slade.’
‘Okay,’ Andy agreed, ‘I’ll give you Slade.’
Erimem led the way to the door. ‘And Wham. I demand Wham.’
‘Can’t do Christmas without Wham.’
Erimem nodded. ‘And the man who saved the world last year, Cliff Richard.’
‘Oh, now you’re just being silly…’
‘Well… isn’t that what Christmas is about?’ Erimem asked. ‘Family, friends and being silly?’
‘Yeah,’ Andy agreed, ‘that’s Christmas… family, friends and being silly.’