Authors: Cathy Hopkins
Tags: #General Fiction
We’d just finished our bowls of gloop and I’d been
trying not to imagine what I would have been having
for breakfast if I was at home (fresh almond pastries
flown in from a little deli in Belgium, fresh raspberries
with fresh cream with a hot chocolate), when Mario
appeared with boxes of Christmas decorations.
He spilled tinsel, red and gold stars and baubles out
onto the table. “Mark, Jake, you two go out into the
grounds and cut holly and ivy. Girls, you make a start
in the hall.”
I’d behaved myself for three weeks and today I
wasn’t in the mood. I picked up the last spoon of
porridge and turned it over so that it fell back into my
bowl with a splat. “D’er. Why?” I asked without
“To make it festive,” he said.
“Do it yourself,” I said, putting down my spoon and
crossing my arms. “Like what did your last slave die
“What did your last slave die of,” Mario mimicked.
“Not that routine again. Come on, Hedley-Dent, if
you’re going to insult me, for heaven’s sake come up with
something new. In the meantime, decorations,
Christmas, the season to be jolly. Let’s do it.”
“The others can, but count me out.”
“It’s a team task,” said Mario. “We’ll all muck in.”
“And pray, why not?”
“I don’t do Christmas.”
Mark, Jake, Lynn and Marilyn were all watching the
exchange like they were watching a tennis match.
“Ah,” said Mario. “You might not, but we do.”
“Listen, soldier boy,” I said. “You might not have
noticed but I have been brought here against my will.
I have been separated from my parents. And so far I
have played along. Hiked when you said hike. Cleaned
when you said clean. Jumped when you said jump. But
decorate this hellhole? Forget it. As I said, I
Christmas. End of story.”
Mario narrowed his eyes. “You either co-operate or
take time out on your own to think things over.”
“So bite me. You can’t make me.”
“I… think… it would be…. in your best interest to
help with the decorations.”
. What part of that do you
is your problem, Hedley-Dent? Would you like
to share it with the group?”
“Yeah. Sure. Mark, Jake, Lynn, Marilyn. I hate
Christmas and everything that goes with it. I can’t wait
for it to be over. Okay. I’ve shared? Happy now?”
“Okay. Fair enough, but you have had it explained
to you a thousand times,” Mario droned on. “Three
weeks you’ve been here and you still haven’t got it. As
with all exercises that are done as a team, your
behaviour affects everyone else.”
“What? So we all have to go and sit in your stupid
“No. Only you. But I’m giving you until five o’clock
exactly. If you aren’t ready to join in by then, your bad
mood will affect the whole group.”
“Yeah, like they care for one second what’s
happening with me.”
“Oh I think that they will today,” said Mario,
“because if you don’t come and join in, no supper. For
“That’s not fair, sir,” said Jake.
Mario turned to Jake and fixed him with a stare.
“Did I give you permission to speak?”
“Then be quiet. You were saying Hedley-Dent?”
“Ooooo, no supper, sir. Like there’s anything to
miss. A bit of mouldy old potato and carrot. They’ll
probably thank me.”
“Ah no. Tonight is special. It’s Christmas Eve and a
friend of ours is bringing up a feast from the local deli.”
“Yeah, right,” I scoffed. “It’s all part of the torture.
You’re teasing us.”
“No. Didn’t you read your horoscope this morning?
Lynn suddenly pointed out the window.
“Ohmygod,” she interrupted. “No. He’s telling the
truth. Look what’s being unloaded out the back.”
Jake, Mark and Marilyn got up and went to join her
at the window. Jake punched the air. “Yesss! Get a load
of that grub coming in!”
I waited a few moments, but then I got up and
sauntered over to the window, but I did it in a really
casual way, to show that I wasn’t really bothered.
Outside, the sky was dark with heavy black clouds
but, sure enough, by the kitchen door was a big white
van with the back doors wide open and a light on. A
big, jolly-looking man was busy unloading boxes and
platters. He had dark hair, but, in the right wig and
beard, he was the sort who would have made an
excellent Father Christmas.
“Come on, let’s go to the kitchen,” said Lynn, then
glanced back at Mario. “Oh yeah. I mean…
permission to go, sir?”
“Granted,” said Mario.
Mark, Jake, Marilyn and Lynn sped off. Mario
looked at me and raised an eyebrow as if to say, are you
going to go too?
“Well, I might as well,” I said as I got up to go with
the others. “Anything’s better than staying in here with
The first thing that hit me when I opened the
kitchen door was the warmth coming from a roaring
fire in the grate and a lovely smell of cinnamon and
orange coming from a pan on the aga. The room had
been transformed and felt delightfully festive. There was
even music, carols playing out of hidden speakers, but,
best of all, the long table was groaning with food fit for
The jolly-looking man came in, put an enormous
platter of the most scrummy-looking mince pies down
and pointed at the aga. “I made some punch,” he said.
“My own special recipe. You all look like you could do
with a bit of cheering up. Non-alcoholic of course. Help
“Meet Joe,” said Mario coming in behind me. “He
runs a deli in a village not too far from here. Best chef
in the land – in the world, in fact.”
Joe nodded and beamed. “In the universe!
the manifestation of Jupiter. Jupiter being the planet of
expansion and jollity.”
Lynn and Marilyn exchanged glances. “Nutter,”
said Lynn under her breath.
“Who cares?” commented Marilyn. “As long as we
get some of that nosh.”
“So where’s the Zodiac Girl?” asked Joe.
“Zodiac Girl? What
this stuff about zodiacs?”
asked Jake as he looked around. “Leonora mentioned
it the other day. What’s going on?”
I could see that Joe was about to come out with some
nonsense similar to that which Mr O came out with,
and I didn’t want him drawing attention to me with any
mad ramblings. I’d learned long ago that, if you’re
singled out as odd, you get picked on.
“I think it’s some kind of club they’re all in, like a
zodiac club. Best play along with these crazy people
especially if we’re to get the grub,” I whispered to Jake,
Mark, Marilyn and Lynn, then I turned to Joe. “Yeah,
yeah, me, them, we’re all zodiac people here. Hello
Jupiter. Welcome to the lodge. The grub looks good.
Need a hand bringing it in?”
Joe raised an eyebrow and exchanged looks with
“She’s a tough one,” said Mario. “A double Leo.”
“Ah,” said Joe, and he rubbed his hands and gave me
a wink. “Okay, guys. Help yourself to punch.”
Jake was over by the pan in a flash and ladled out
five cups of the hot amber liquid, which he handed
around. I took my first sip and had to hold back from
gasping with delight. It was the most divine drink I had
ever tasted, spicy and sweet at the same time. If the food
was as good as this, we were in for a real treat.
We drank the first cup, then Jake refilled our glasses
and all the while Joe brought in more and more food.
I thought I’d never seen anything more beautiful. An
enormous turkey. Platters of sausages wrapped in
bacon. Little mini pizzas. Roast potatoes. Pastries and
cakes of every kind – iced and fruit, some with
marzipan. Chocolate mousse. Trifle. A banoffee pie.
bliss, layers of cream, toffee and banana, one of my favourites
Great bunches of grapes. White and red. Strawberries.
Raspberries. A platter of cheeses. Tubs of ice cream:
toffee pecan, pistachio, toffee fudge, chocolate chip.
And trays of sweets: liquorice all-sorts, jelly beans, jelly
babies, dolly mixtures and chocolates of every shape
My mouth began to water and I could see that the
others were feeling the same. Mark was almost
“Thank you, God or Jupiter or Santa or whoever’s
up there,” cried Jake and pointed to what looked like
a pork pie. “Get a load of that big pie. Yeee-um. Bagsy
“So,” said Mario coming up behind to join us,
“Leonora, do you think that now you might join us in
the team task of decorating?”
He must think I am such a pushover
, I thought as I
dragged my eyes away from a triple-layer vanilla slice
that oozed custard.
“This is bribery,” I said. “And it will all go in my story
to the press.”
“Oh knock it off,” growled Marilyn. “Stop acting the
brat princess. We’re all starving and know that you are
too. And you don’t need to worry about being fat any
more, cos you’ve got thinner in the past few weeks.”
People making comments about whether I was fat
or thin always made me cross. Seeing all the food
made me cross. The way everyone was acting so
desperate made me cross. Cross. Cross.
. In my
previous life, I could have snapped my fingers and a
similar feast would have arrived in a flash. Okay. So I
hadn’t eaten much for a few weeks, but I wasn’t going
to crack that easily!
“No. You knock it off. And if
princess once more,” I said as I took a step towards her
and squared up to her, “I’ll show you
and how princessy I can be!”
“Now then, girls,” warned Mario.
But Marilyn and I weren’t listening. We stood
opposite each other.
“Oh god,” said Lynn. “Eye fight. Eye fight.”
“Don’t do it, Marilyn,” Jake pleaded. “She could
really ruin things.”
“Yeah,” begged Lynn. “Just leave it.”
But Marilyn’s eyes didn’t leave mine.
And my eyes didn’t leave hers.
We were in eye lock. Single combat. No weapons
This I can do,
I thought as I stared back at her. Never
mind calling me a princess, when it comes to staring an
opponent down, I was queen – champion of all my
previous schools. I could make my eyes go out of focus
so that the person I was looking at went blurry. They
couldn’t tell by looking at me, but it meant that I didn’t
get intimidated by the other person’s stare. It had
worked every time apart from with Mario, but he was
in a league of his own.
Seconds went by…
The only sound was the fire crackling in the grate.
And seven people breathing.
Then finally Marilyn blinked.
… Pr…in…cess,” she said very slowly, almost
spitting her words.
I nodded smugly. “Your choice.” I turned to Mario.
“Noooooooooo,” cried Jake and Lynn in unison.
“Please Leonora. Think of all that lovely food. Please.”
“Noooooooooooooooooooooo,” cried Marilyn.
“Please, Leonora. Don’t mess it up for the rest of us.
Please. I didn’t mean it.”
“Too late,” I said.
“N… n… noooooooooooooooooo,’ cried Mark,
and all eyes turned to him in amazement.
!” Jake exclaimed.
I wasn’t moved. It took more than a chicken pie and
vanilla slice to break me. “Stone circle, please, Mario.
And you can tell that fat deli man he may as well put
the supper back in the van.”
I heard a collective gasp and a sob from Jake.
Mario nodded. “Follow me,” he said. “You have
until five o’clock to change your mind. And bear in
mind that you will not only be ruining Christmas Eve
for yourself, but also for your fellow guests.” He shook
his head sadly. “You just don’t get being a team player
do you? It’s still me, me, me in your world. Where does
it get you, huh?”
“Suits me,” I said, and I pointed at Marilyn. “
asked for it.”
I took one last look at the feast then walked out after
Mario like a condemned prisoner going to the gallows.
Marilyn, Mark, Jake and Lynn stood to one side,
their heads bowed.
“Brat Princess walking,” said Jake as I went past
him. “Stand back. Let her through.”
I sat in my stone circle in the hallway. I stared at the
wood-panelled walls. I stared at the high ceiling. The
paint up there was dingy with age. There was a cobweb
in one corner. The only sounds were the ticking of the
antique clock on the wall and the occasional gust of
wind outside that rattled the windows and doors.
It was boring being there. And it was lonely.
But I wasn’t giving in for anybody.
I had a doze. I rearranged the stones. I rearranged
the stones again.
So much for Mars moving into Aquarius and
life getting more relaxing,
It’s so relaxing, I feel
Over the afternoon, Mark, Jake, Lynn and Marilyn
crept into the hall, one after the other, and tried to
reason with me.
Lynn offered to give me her pillow on nights when
I’d lost the privilege of mine.
Jake offered to help with my chores.
Even Mark came and, having recovered his voice,
had a lot to say. “Please, Leonora. Don’t ruin it for the
others. It’s bad enough being in this miserable place on
a night like this. Let’s at least have a decent supper. And,
speaking for myself, I’ve never had a feast like the one
in the kitchen. And neither have the others. You’ve
known what it’s like to have the best. None of us has.”
I shook my head. I couldn’t back down and lose face.
Not at this stage of the game.