So different from her last Christmas, the Christmas with her Mum and Dad, Grandparents, Uncles and Aunts, cousins, and of course her elder sister Solaris.
Now, it’s just her.
But, not just her.
Amber’s eyes glide around the table, a meager feast laid out before her.
A large salmon, Bray had managed to catch in the river takes center stage. Flanked by bowls of steaming, roast potatoes, tinned carrots and peas.
Amber had worked hard helping Trudy and Ryan to peel those potatoes, her fingers bare the silent testament in a number of red, angry looking cuts.
Her stomach rumbles at the thought of desert, caramel candy apples, which Zandra has managed to emotionally blackmail out of Lex, Amber’s not sure how the other girl does it.
Well she is, but she doesn’t like to dwell on the subject.
Her eyes drift upwards, colored banners, pattered paper snowflakes, and brightly colored balloons hang above her the industry of Salene, Tai-san, Patsy, Cloe and KC.
The girls had done a good job of keeping the younger kids busy and out of everyone?s hair, making the most of their excitable pre-Christmas energy at the same time.
Not, just her.
Suddenly, Amber notices her glass being filled once again.
In the last couple of months water as gone from the most boring liquid in the world, to the most important.
‘Thanks.’ She smiles at Dal.
Earlier on there had been an odd moment, a tussle between herself and Jack as they’d both assumed their natural position was next to Dal. In the end Cloe had been the one to move, swapping seats so that Dal could sit comfortably between both Amber and Jack.
On the other side of her is Bray, who is currently juddering an alert looking Brady on his knee.
Things aren’t easy between Bray, Trudy and Salene, but they are getting better, some of the tension is beginning to flow out of the center of that particular threesome.
‘Speech!’ KC exclaims as he bangs his hands down on the table, causing it to shudder.
‘KC, be careful.’ Ryan chides the spiky haired boy, but it’s already too late, the infection quickly spreading to Patsy, Cloe, Zandra, Lex, Jack and even Dal.
‘Speech, speech, speech!’
Amber finds the expectant pressure of the groups gaze pressing down on her, and without really thinking she glances in Bray’s direction for support.
She can’t help, but notice the expressions that pass over Trudy and Salene’s faces as Bray leans in against her.
‘I think, you better give the people what they want.’ Amber can’t help but notice how warm his breath is against her neck.
‘Oh no, I don’t think so.’ She blushes.
‘Oh go on, Amber.’ Dal wades in.
Suddenly, Amber feels outnumbered, as yet another trend sweeps through the group, this time everyone but Lex and Trudy are calling for her.
Giving in to a round of applause, she clears her throat awkwardly, pushing her chair backwards she stands up.
Public speaking has never been a chore for her, she could talk for hours on a soapbox, but this is different.
‘Hang on’ Zandra scrapes her chair backwards, she looks just like a Christmas decoration, all bright and sparkling, Amber’s not sure she’s ever seen so much tinsel on one person, the other girl literally glows.
‘You need this.’ From the top of her head Zandra pulls of the bright blue paper crown she’s wearing offering it to Amber.
She stairs at the crown for a moment, touched by the other girl’s excitable gesture, but also puzzling over how exactly she’s going to fit it over her Zulu knots.
‘Thank you.’ She grins at the girl who had spent most of the day preparing her outfit and painting her nails rather than doing anything particularly practical, although she had helped secure those caramel candy apples.
Amber graciously accepts Zandra’s help as the pair try to ease the electric blue crown over her many knots without tearing the paper.
Finally it’s on, and Zandra is off giggling as she heads back for her place sandwiched between Lex and Ryan.
‘Thank you, Zandra.’ Amber says as she reaches for her tumbler of water.
‘Well, you all know how good I am at giving speeches.’ The light hearted mood of the event causes Amber to poke fun at herself.
Her comment garners a ripple of laughter from the table.
The words don’t come easy to her, not at first.
‘I just want to say,’ She struggles for a moment glancing down at Bray, who gives her a quick reassuring eyebrow raise in response.
‘Thank you.’ The words begin to come now, flowing like water from her heart rather than her head.
‘Thank you to Bray, Trudy and Ryan for helping to provide such a wonderful dinner.’ She raises her glass at Bray and Brady and then Trudy and Ryan.
‘I for one, can’t wait to try it.’ Her stomach rumbles in agreement.
‘Well hurry up then, some of us are starving!’ Lex calls out, before being hushed by Zandra and the rest of the table.
‘For once Lex, I agree, so I’ll make this short.’ Amber address Lex, he’s already beginning to sulk.
‘A thank you is also in order to Salene and Tai-san for organizing the wonderful decorations, and to Patsy, Cloe and KC for helping them.’ She repeats the action from earlier saluting the two girls, and three younger children with her glass.
Amber pauses for a moment, before continuing, watching the clouds of steam rising from the fish and potatoes growing less with every passing moment.
‘I know if any of us had our way, this isn’t how we’d want to spend Christmas.’
‘Speak for yourself!’ KC interrupts.
‘Shut your mouth KC!’ She’s flustered in surprise as Lex gruffly warns the boy who has become his smaller shadow.
‘Since when did you become Mister Sensitivity?’ Zandra questions him, her attempt at a whisper failing terribly.
‘Can it Zandra.’ Lex replies, normality restored as he proves without a shadow of a doubt he will never be able to hold the title of Mister Sensitivity, unless he steals it.
‘Anyway,’ Amber struggles to regain her train of thought.
‘I can’t think of a better second choice.’ She finishes, feeling like the momentum of her off the cuff speech is flagging.
‘So, let’s eat!’
Amber takes a sip of her water, before finding the security of her chair back underneath her.
It seems to take only moments for this first Christmas Dinner in The Mall to be finished.
The fish and vegetables at been a welcome change, but as Tai-san helps Trudy bring out the tray of caramel candy apples Amber is in no doubt she has room for more.
‘Can I say something now?’
She’s only half listening to KC as her teeth slowly sink into her apple, splitting through the sticky, deliciously sweet coating.
The taste explodes across her tongue, causing her mouth to water with a taste that reminds her more of Bonfire Night rather than Christmas, but she isn’t about to complain.
Someone must agree, because she hears KC talking.
‘Okay well, Christmas usually comes with snow right?’ She watches silently chewing on the apple in her hands.
‘That’s in the Northern Hemisphere, we live in New Zealand, it’s the summer.’ Salene corrects him, without noticing the blob of caramel on the end of her nose.
‘Yeah, whatever, it’s traditional.’ KC concludes as if Salene had never said a word.
Amber notices the glance that passes between him and Cloe.
She raises one brow quizzically as she watches the younger girl quickly leave her seat and race up The Mall’s staircase.
‘Be careful, Cloe.’ Tai-san calls out to the girl, forgoing her own apple, letting Salene enjoy it instead.
Cloe doesn’t take the slightest bit of notice, giggling as she reaches for a rope Amber hadn’t seen before.
Suddenly everything turns instantly white, and it takes Amber a moment to realize what’s happened.
A flurry of feathers float around them, coating the apple in her hand.
Unpredictable, the situation to erupt into a fight or a fit of giggles at any moment.
The laughter flows, starting at one end of the table and rolling around to the other.
‘I told you there will be snow!’