Hundreds of christmas trees decorated the shopping centre. Snowflake and candy cane motifs were brazenly displayed in shop windows, on t-shirts and on the covers of illustrated children's books. Carols played quietly in the background as Odin did his gift shopping.
Christmas was everywhere.
Odin placed another tin of gingerbread cookies in his basket and continued down the honestly had no idea what the appeal of Christmas was. Ava got all misty eyed when she talked about Christmas, and started reminiscing about all the Christmases she'd spent with her family. As if it was any different to other days with the family.
Odin didn't like spending time with his family.
Boy did he love spending time with Ava, though.
Odin had gifts for everyone else. He had a terrarium for Maggie, and an ant farm for Tuls. He had an aquarium tank, complete with hermit crabs, for Gil and Nevy. He had a single bottle of nail polish for Wrathia, and two - wait, three - tins of generic gingerbread cookies for Pedri. Those were the easy presents. He had no idea what to get Ava.
He passed an aisle of cook books, and had a look through. Ava loved cooking; the house was always filled with amazing aromas of roast chicken, potato and leek soup, and Odin's favourite, baked salmon. He decided against a cook book. Ava was the best cook for miles around; she didn't need a book to tell her how to prepare dishes worthy of a high class restaurant.
A few aisles over was the baby clothing. He picked up a tiny onesie and inspected it. It was brown with a white belly area, and had a black belt printed around the tummy. The little hood had reindeer antlers sewn into the top seam, and a red bauble in the middle acted as a nose. It was cute, and Ava liked cute.
Odin considered it for a while longer, but eventually thought better of it and put it back on the rack. Ava would probably get the wrong idea. They didn't have a dog who could wear such a thing, let alone a baby.
He wandered a while longer, picking stuff up, putting it back on the shelf. None of it was right; none of it was Ava.
Odin finished a lap of the shop and started around again. He passed the cookies for the fifth time that day and picked up another tin, this one for himself. They probably weren't as good as the ones Ava made, but they'd do while he was in such a low mood.
He gazed over at the outdoor section, and his mind filled with ideas born out of desperation. A chicken coop; an outdoor beanbag; a banana shaped pool floatie. These were all useful gift ideas, he was sure; however, none of them seemed to shout, "Merry Christmas!"
The clothing section was never a welcome sight, but Odin passed through again anyway. He hated clothes shopping, for women especially, without Ava here to guide him. He gazed around hopelessly and was about to give up his hunt when he found it. He found his gift for Ava.
It was a unisex red sweater, with extra long sleeves and a pattern of white snowflakes and green Christmas trees sewn on the front. Black text on the front read, "Happy Holidays". Odin looked surreptitiously around to make sure nobody was watching him, and then sped over to the sweater before anyone else could snatch it up. He clutched it to his body like a newborn child and looked around, the corners of his mouth tugging upwards in a slight smile. A few other people, also intent on finishing their last minute gift shopping, shot him dirty looks. Odin didn't care. He'd found the perfect gift in this happy Christmas sweater, and it was the last one on the rack. His small smile grew into a huge grin.
Odin held the sweater up to check the size and his face fell. This sweater was to big for Ava. He couldn't give this to her. He looked around to see if there were any other sweaters around in this design. Maybe this one had simply been returned to the wrong rack. After a bit of milling around, Odin was forced to admit to himself that this was the last one left. He had no idea what to do.
He ran his hands over the sweater regretfully. In all other aspects, it was the perfect sweater. It was made of thick material, perfect for cold winter days, and the inside was lined with fleece. Odin knew for a fact that red was Ava's favourite colour. It even had pockets.
One of the retail assistants approached him. "How is everything going today?" She asked, with glazed over eyes and a smile that looked plastered on.
"G-good thanks," Odin replied, "Just f-finishing off the Christmas shopping. Long day?" He asked by way of conversation.
"Yeah, this is my last shift before my Christmas break," she replied tiredly. "I've still got to finish off my Christmas shopping as well. I was considering getting one of these sweaters myself actually," she said, running her hands over the sweater in Odin's hands. "They've been really popular this season."
"Do you know if there are any more sizes available?" Odin asked hopefully. "This was the smallest size I could find."
"I don't think so, unfortunately," the girl said, sounding genuinely sorry. "I can check in the back if you want, but I believe all of this style have been put out on the shelves already."
Odin realised that the decision had been made for him. He had to get this sweater for Ava. "D-don't worry about checking out the back, I'll take th-this one. Thanks for your help!" He said.
He looked once more around the clothing section to see if there were any other nice Christmas sweaters closer to Ava's size. Unfortunately, they were all either too big or too ugly. It didn't take Odin long to realise that he had the best one in his hands. He decided to risk giving this one to Ava and hope that they had a few reserved for after Christmas so they could exchange it. He took a deep breath and made his way up to the register.
Christmas was at the Arrow-Ire household this year. Gil and Nevy made sure to arrive a good half hour early to help with last minute preparations. Gil looked happy as usual, and helped Odin set up the Christmas table. Nevy preoccupied herself by fussing over the Christmas tree, which Ava and Odin had been sure to put up on the first of December; Nevy made a lot of exclamations about how wonderful the tree looked, and made the odd adjustment of decorations here and there. Presents were rearranged every time a new one was added.
Maggie and Tuls arrived pretty much on time, if not a few minutes late. Maggie looked artfully flawless, as if she had put a lot of work into a natural look. She said a quick hello to Odin and the other guests, and quickly slipped into the kitchen to help Ava prepare lunch. Tuls recited a somber holiday greeting, and complimented Odin on the decorations. He then settled himself into a chair in the corner, more content watching people interact rather than interacting with them himself.
Ava, for her part, put on an amazing Christmas lunch. For the main meal she did her traditional roast, with two meats - this year lamb and turkey. Joining them was an array of vegetables; pumpkin, potato, carrots, beans and eggplant. Ava made sure that Tuls, an avid vegetarian, had enough vegetables on his plate before putting some aside for Wrathia and Pedri, whom everyone had come to assume would be unfashionably late.
Dessert was a range of puddings, cakes and brownies in all different flavours; butterscotch, lemon, chocolate, cinnamon, raspberry. There was no need to save any for the late-comers from this meal, for Ava had made more than enough.
Wrathia and Pedri eventually turned up, and ate their lunch while regaling Ava, Odin and the other guests about their travels around the world. Odin zoned in and out of the conversation, but Ava clung on to every word. While Wrathia gushed about the Greek Isles, Odin put some puddings in the oven to reheat, and brought some cakes over to the table. Ava smiled at him in thanks, and took a brownie while she listened to Wrathia. She ate so daintily, Odin couldn't help but notice. Her smile lit up a room, and her eyes were so full of love and warmth that Odin would have been happy to just sit there and admire her for the rest of the afternoon.
But before he knew it, it was time to open presents.
Nevy took her usual spot on her knees by the tree, and Tuls was sitting in the large armchair before anyone else had the chance to take it. Wrathia and Pedri sat on the two-seater, and Maggie balanced herself on the armrest of Tuls's armchair. With only two seats left, Odin pushed Ava towards one of them, left the other for Gil, and took the opportunity to do some of the washing up.
Odin was pleasantly surprised to see that most of his gifts were spot on. Gil and Nevy adored the aquarium tank, and enthusiastically discussed decorating it in between handing out presents. Maggie immediately took the terrarium out of its box and started admiring it from every angle. Tuls walked over halfway through the gift ceremony to help with the dishes, and gave Odin a somber thank you as he found a tea towel. Pedri, although he had filled up on a big lunch and lots of desserts not half an hour ago, opened one of his cookie tins and shared some around. Only Wrathia seemed openly dissatisfied with her present; Odin couldn't quite tell if she didn't like the colour, or if she was upset with such a small present.
In return, Odin got a few really nice presents. Pedri returned the cookie favour by gifting him a tin of cookies with a mural of ancient Rome on the lid. Wrathia had got him a stick, which looked suspiciously like the one that he kept on stepping on when he got out of his car each night after work. Maggie got him some kinetic sand, and Tuls had found a beautiful set of coloured pencils. Gil and Nevy had made a picture frame for him, with a tastefully coloured border, that would look great in his and Ava's bedroom.
Finally, Odin and Ava were left to unwrap each other's presents. Odin was nervous all of a sudden; thoughts of what would happen if she didn't like the sweater flew around his head. He smiled nervously. "You go first," he said as casually as he could. His hand reached into his pocket where the receipt lay, so he could quickly take it out to show her in case she wanted to swap it.
"No, we're opening them together," Ava said in a voice that would allow no argument. She smiled up at him with a cheeky grin across her face. Odin sighed, and took his hand out of his pocket. They both held their presents with both hands. Ava grinned, and counted down from three. On one, they ripped open the wrapping paper and each pulled out a Christmas themed sweater.
The sweater in Odin's hands was large and blue, with alternating rows of reindeer and Christmas lights. Along the middle, it read 'Merry Christmas'. The inside was lined with polar fleece. He turned it around and pulled it over his head in time to see Ava do the same with hers. Odin's sweater was way too big for him, and Ava was practically swimming in hers, but they were both delighted. Ava had the biggest smile on her face, and Odin felt like his own face was going to break in two.
As they went in for a hug, Maggie snapped a photo. "That's the cutest!" she exclaimed, and scrolled back through her photos to show Tuls.
"I was worried that you'd hate this sweater," Odin admitted, "But I couldn't find a smaller size."
"No way! I had the same problem, this was the last one I could find," replied Ava, taking handfuls of Odin's jumper and waving it around playfully.
"So you really like it?" Odin asked hopefully.
"Of course I do!" Ava exclaimed, and Odin sighed in relief. Ava tilted her head up and stood on her toes. Odin obligingly leant down and kissed her. "This is the best Christmas ever," Ava said contentedly.
Odin pulled Ava in for a hug, and rested his chin on her head as he observed the room. They were surrounded by their closest friends,and had had a delicious lunch, and they now had matching Christmas sweaters. He had to say, Ava was on to something there.