“What on earth would a cat want for Christmas anyway?” muttered Dave to himself as he trawled through the shopping centre for what felt like the millionth time. He was certainly paying the price for several weeks of delaying tactics and excuses by having to go out the day before Christmas Eve to find a present for Tara’s cat. But the truth was; he didn’t want to buy the cat a present. While there was no denying that he was becoming fond of him, he definitely hadn’t reached the stage of being happy to fight through a crowded shopping centre days before Christmas to buy the cat a gift. But Tara had made it quite clear that Marmalade should have a Christmas present too, and Dave certainly did not want his fiancé in a bad mood for their first ever Christmas as an engaged couple. Eventually he settled on a toy mouse, which with any luck would at least reduce the chances of him coming downstairs to find a real one in the kitchen.

Perhaps he was being a bit harsh with his thoughts, he had seen from first meeting Tara that there was clearly a special bond between her and Marmalade, and it was very cute to watch them play together. He recalled with a smile one weekend where he had been called upon to untangle the two of them from a ball of string. It was a miracle that he had been able to stop laughing long enough to do so. But the madness of Christmas shopping was not a situation to make him appreciate the relationship between Tara and her cat, however adorable it might be.

After another half an hour queueing at the till, he was finally able to escape the shops and decided to give his fiancé a quick call to check how the packing was going. There seemed to be a loud noise in the background when she picked up the phone:

“Hey Tara, how’s it going?”

“Oh, hi darling. I’m nearly done with the packing, although Marmalade keeps tapping at the Christmas presents under the tree – it seems as if he’s excited too.”

Dave gave a sigh as he reached his car and switched on the engine. He did love Marmalade and his weirdly quirky ways, but there was no denying that Tara’s cat could also be exasperating,

“How on earth could Marmalade know that it’s nearly Christmas? And even if he could, why would he be excited about it?”

“Well, I don’t know, but have seen that he’s been acting strangely these last few days, even by his standards”

“I know, I know”, Dave replied, “Well you’ll be pleased to know that I have got him a present now.”

“Good”, remarked Tara, “Especially as we won’t see him for a few days after tomorrow. See you later.”’

As he pulled out of the car park and began the drive home, Dave couldn’t help but think that he was looking forward to a few days away from the cat as well as everything else.

*

The next morning passed in a whirlwind of last minute packing and organising, which actually made quite a nice change from usual – the usual pace of Christmas Eve being about as slow as Tara had been when walking past jewellery shops in the months prior to their engagement. A few months ago though, Dave had decided that he really did want to take the hint, so here they were heading away for their first Christmas together as an engaged couple.

The day not dragging like a usual Christmas Eve was also helped by the fact that their flight was at 11am, which Dave was especially glad for as killing time in an airport departure lounge wasn’t easy at the best of times. They had dropped Marmalade off at their friend’s house, and while at first he had been far from happy at the idea, he did seem to settle down eventually, and the friend promised to take good care of him for them as she and Tara stood by the car chatting and trying to prepare her for his special ways. She’d just opened the rear door to fetch a magazine which she was talking about when Dave had to step in and remind her with a tap of his watch that the plane would not wait for them if they were late, Christmas or not.

“Oh yes, of course. We really should get going.” Tara exclaimed as she turned away from the car to give her friend a hug goodbye. As soon as she’d closed the door and quickly zipped up one of the bags on the back seat, they were on their way.

“Have a lovely time, you two. And don’t worry about Marmalade, he seems to have gone inside already,” called the friend as they drove off.

*

“I knew it. I just knew it couldn’t be this perfect, and that something would go wrong”, Dave moaned 5 hours later, as they stood forlornly by the empty baggage carousel alone in the airport at Geneva, the other passengers having long since taken their bags and departed for their resorts.

“Don’t panic, we can still make this work.” Tara tried to reassure him, “Look, we’ll go and speak to the people at the lost luggage desk.”

“Yes sir, madam? Which flight were you on?” The young woman behind the desk clearly wanted to go home as soon as possible.

“We flew in from Heathrow.” replied Dave, who was also rather keen to get away from the airport.

“Hmm, let me have a look…” The woman frowned as she checked her computer, but her colleague cut in;

“Did you say you were on the flight from Heathrow just now, would this be your bag?”

“Ah yes, that’s ours!” Tara cried out with relief.

“I think we need to have a word with our colleagues in London,” the official said with a slight smirk, “I’m aware that from Heathrow they’re often just happy to get the bag on the right plane on time, but we were under the impression that they checked them first.”

And with that he stepped aside to reveal Marmalade the cat sitting smugly on the counter.

*

Several hours later, and still in disbelief Dave, Tara and now Marmalade were finally settled into their alpine chalet. After a lot of wondering, they had concluded that he must have jumped back into the car while Tara had turned away to say goodbye. And not only had they discovered their mischievous cat inside their luggage, but they had also had a moment of panic upon remembering that the chalet was self-catered, and that they would have to find a shop on their way to the mountains in order to have Christmas dinner tomorrow. Thankfully though, it was now mission accomplished and time to go to bed. A place had been found for Marmalade to snuggle up, and Dave had even offered to do the cooking the next day. The weather had even decided to add to the cosy cliché by starting to gently snow.

*

The cosiness of that first evening had stayed with them throughout Christmas morning, and Dave had just gone through to the kitchen to check on the turkey when there was suddenly a loud shout. Quickly setting down her wine glass, Tara rushed through to the kitchen to see what was the matter. The reason for the shout was immediately apparent, as there in the middle of the floor lay Marmalade, who had just finished eating, and was now playing happily with the string that had until recently been holding the turkey together.

Dave had stopped shouting and now looked at Tara rather sheepishly, realising that she would quickly notice his mistake, as indeed she did.

“You left the turkey out of the oven, didn’t you?”

“Erm yes, a bit…” Dave replied, still a little sheepish. “I was just so keen to join you building that snowman that I… why are you laughing?”

“I just can’t help it!” Tara giggled, “I mean, it wasn’t exactly how we’d planned this trip, but it does look as if Marmalade’s managed to get himself a perfect family Christmas this year …and anyway, you’re laughing too.”

“Well, he’s so cute playing there with the string. See, Christmas presents are best when they’re bought in a last minute rush on Christmas Eve.”

A quick raised eyebrow from Tara showed Dave that he hadn’t quite won her over on that point, but for now the three of them couldn’t be happier, and they sat down to the items of the Christmas dinner that Dave had remembered to put into the oven. They weren’t quite sure how they were going to fly back to London with Marmalade, but on the evidence of the last few days he didn’t need their help with arranging that anyway.

*Danny earned a special mention from the judges in the Christmas short story/poem 2014 competition which is why his story is published on the website. 

My grateful thanks to Anthony Smith for his wonderful illustration.  See more of Anthony's illustrations here:

https://www.facebook.com/learntospeakcat 

In the Middle of a World...

"In the middle of a world that has always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence."

Roseanne Anderson

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