“JACK thinks that if we stay in a motel for Christmas, Santa won’t be able to find us.”
Michael frowned, rubbing his forehead with his free hand, the corner of the business card he held between his fingers blocking his vision for a moment. His frown deepened as he looked at the card, throwing it down on his kitchen bench as he spoke. “Did you tell him that Santa’s magical and can find kids anywhere?”
“Of course I did.” His sister Jen sighed. “I told him we could leave a note for Santa telling him where we are, but he’s not buying it. Santa still won’t know what our room number is, he says.”
“I suppose telling him that Santa’s not real is out of the question?”
Jen snorted softly. “Yes.”
Michael sighed. “I really want us to spend Christmas day together, Jen.” With his asshole of a father dying six weeks before, this would be the first Christmas in years where Michael didn’t have to worry about avoiding him. “I’d come back down to Sydney, but I’ve only been back in Burreela a couple of weeks. I can’t take any more time off.”
Michael looked around his bedsit, mentally trying to fit four extra people into the available floor space. Even with two of them being kids, there was no way. The sofa bed was barely big enough for two adults, and with it pulled out there was no room left. Even if his nephew slept in his bed with him, there was no place for the baby—his niece, Lilly—to sleep. “My place is too small to hold all of us. Not comfortably.”
Jen sighed again. “I know, Mikey. I’ll talk to him again. I mean, we’ll be coming anyway, but I’d rather not spend eight hours driving with a distraught five-year-old if I don’t have to.”
“Of course.” Michael nodded. “I’ll… I’ll try to think of something.” He paused, running through his options in his head; maybe he could sleep downstairs in the vet surgery. It’d only be for a few nights. “You’re still going to be coming up in time for Burreela’s Christmas thing, right?”
Jen laughed softly, and suddenly her tone was warm again. “The hoedown? Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Jen! It’s not a hoedown. For a start, we’re not in America, so we wouldn’t even call it that, and for another….” He struggled to think of another reason. “It’s just not! I told you that.”
“And you can keep telling yourself that too, Mikey. It doesn’t make it any more true,” she said, laughing again. “I’m just looking forward to watching you out on the dance floor, boot-scooting your little heart out.” She dissolved into uncontrollable giggles.
Michael pinched the bridge of his nose. “Oh, my God,” he said. “That will not happen. There will be no boot-scooting. None at all.” If there was, he would absolutely die.
“I bet Ryan’s an excellent dancer,” Jen said slyly after she’d recovered her composure. “You ever seen him dance?”
The thought of Ryan dancing struck Michael speechless for a good few seconds, so long that Jen started laughing again. He cleared his throat, his face heating. “No, I haven’t, and I’m not likely to at the Christmas thing, am I? Because it’s not a bloody hoedown.”
“Like I said, keep telling yourself that.”
“I’m hanging up now.”
“Okay. Bye, Mikey. See you at the hoedown,” she said, and he could hear her still laughing as he took the phone away from his ear and hung up on her.
He glared at the phone for a moment, then looked down at the card he’d chucked onto the kitchen bench next to his mobile. He reached for it, pausing when his mobile beeped twice, telling him he had a text message. He picked it up and opened the message. It was from Jen.
Don’t forget to get a Christmas tree. Not a fake plastic one, either.
He started guiltily at the message, looking up and around at his bare lounge room, with not a pine needle or piece of tinsel in sight. He texted a message back to her, saying of course he’d remember a tree, as if he wouldn’t, then picked up his keys. He took a few steps toward the door, then came back into the kitchen, swiping the business card off the bench and shoving it into the pocket of his jeans before heading for the door again.