Bought for Christmas

By: Doris O Connor

Chapter One

Emilia stopped at the top of the stairs and sighed when she heard the raised voices. So much for the season of goodwill. With a week left to Christmas none of that was present in her father’s house. Papa and Leo were arguing again. That’s all they ever seemed to do these days, and, yet, still Papa favored her twin.

God only knew what Leo had done now, but words like ruin, it’s all over, and well, she can finally do something useful sent a shiver of unease down her spine.

Sure enough the door opened to reveal a flustered looking Leo. With his blond hair stylishly falling over his blue eyes, and the permanent tan due to their father’s Mediterranean heritage, he had the rakish good looks that meant he was never short of female company. Too bad he was a chauvinistic ass with it—another trait he had inherited from Papa.

Christmas is just a week away. You can smile and put up with it for a week. It’s what Mama would have wanted.

Emilia repeated the mantra in her head, as she slowly descended the mahogany carved staircase and fixed a smile on her face. One that wasn’t returned by her brother. No, Leo looked downright furious, his complexion ruddy and his eyes glassy as though he was drunk, or high—maybe even both.

He sneered when he saw her staring, and Emilia squashed the impulse that made her want to reach out to him. To help, to make him see that he couldn’t go on like this, but she couldn’t take another rejection.

“There you are, thunder thighs. Papa wants you.”

The old insult stung, especially as Emilia was the slimmest she had ever been. Well, as slim as she would ever get. Leo was the one who had inherited the skinny gene from their mother. Annalisa had been tall and willow-like and so beautiful it still hurt to look at her picture. Especially considering the frail cancer riddled woman they had buried a mere two years ago. Emilia blinked back tears and wondered when Christmas would get easier. Would she ever get back the joy she used to feel at this magical time? Even when Emilia had become a fully grown woman Mama had always made the season seem special, as though this truly was the time for miracles.

One was sorely needed this Christmas, if the state of Leo was anything to go by.

“Don’t just stand there gawping at me. Go see Papa, thunder thighs.”

Emilia took a deep breath, and somehow managed to keep her cool. “If I told you once, I told you a thousand times, do not call me that.”

Leo shrugged and almost fell over as the action made him overbalance. “I’ll call it the way I see it. Not exactly model material are you, little sis.”

Emilia crunched her teeth and resisted the urge to lash back at him. Besides he had a point. Unfortunately for Emilia she took after their father’s side of the family, where the women were on the cuddly side. Emilia had long since come to terms with her body shape, but hearing Leo be extra spiteful took her right back to that painful time when she’d stopped growing taller and had started to grow curves instead. Curves that had kept on growing. Still, something was eating at Leo. Even he wasn’t normally this cruel.

Before she could say or do anything else the doorbell chimed, and their father appeared out of his study, clutching a decanter of brandy in his large hands, and Emilia suppressed another sigh. It was barely afternoon, and he was already drinking. He took another large swig when the bell rang again, and then he glared up at Emilia.

“Don’t just stand there. Make yourself useful, and answer the door. It was your idea to give Jenny the day off after all.”

“It’s Christmas, Papa. The woman needs to do her shopping some time.” Their trusty old housekeeper had been delighted when Emilia had given her several days off, reassuring Jenny that they would manage just fine.

“I’m perfectly capable of looking after the house and cooking some meals. There’s only the three of us, after all,” she’d said.

Her father pulled a face as though he was sucking on a particularly sour lemon, and gestured to the door.

“Go and answer it. He’s here for you anyway. Time to earn your keep, girl.”

Again that shiver of dread threatened to steal her breath, but she had learnt long ago to never show any weakness in front of her father. He didn’t appreciate it, and the cruel streak Mama had tempered when she was alive had only become stronger at her passing. With as much grace as she could muster Emilia walked across the foyer and swallowed nervously at the imposing shadow she could see through the frosted glass.