The Christmas Swap by Sandy Barker

 

Prologue

Twenty-two years ago

“Well, we’re all eleven, so it could be something about that,” said Jules.

“True, but we won’t always be eleven,” retorted Chloe.

Jules wasn’t easily intimidated, especially by someone like Chloe, who was at least six inches shorter than her. “What about The Maui Babes, then? You know, ’cause we’re on Maui.” Chloe made a face and Jules rolled her eyes. “Well, what do you think, Lucy?” she asked.

Lucy had been silently watching the other two girls, an air of awe wafting about her. She’d been reluctant to join the kids’ club at the resort—she didn’t really like large groups—but by happenstance, she’d met two girls her own age, an American and an Australian, and both of them just brilliant. “Um, I don’t mind.”

Chloe put her hands on her hips. “See? She doesn’t care. Sooo … what about …” She tapped a fingertip on her bottom lip like her mum did when she was thinking. “Hang on, when’s your birthday?” she asked, pointing at Jules.

“In May.”

“Oh, wow, me too,” replied Chloe. Lucy was about to say that she was also born in May, but Chloe talked over her. “Hang on, what day?” Chloe narrowed her eyes at Jules, hoping she was older.

“May third,” Jules replied. Where was the Aussie girl going with this?

Chloe deflated. “Hmm, mine’s the tenth,” she mumbled.

Jules clocked Chloe’s pout, not really understanding it. “So, I’m a week older than you,” she stated matter-of-factly. “What about you, Lucy?” she asked. “When’s your birthday?”

“Mine’s in May too. May seventeen.”

“Hey, that’s cool, we’re all born in May,” said Jules, right as Chloe interrupted.

“So, I’m a week older than you.” Chloe perked up as Lucy nodded at her. “Well, if we’re all born in May, how ’bout we call ourselves the May Babies? Oh, and our initials in order of our ages are J-C-L, so how about the JCL May Babies?” She raised her eyebrows and looked expectantly at her new friends.

Jules shrugged in agreement. She really didn’t care what they were called; she just wanted to wrap it up. They were supposed to be going to the beach that day and she’d finally convinced her mom to let her wear a two-piece.

“Lucy?” asked Chloe.

“Yes, that’s good. I like it. Definitely the JCL May Babies.” She pressed her inhaler into her mouth and took a slug. Lucy wasn’t used to this much excitement first thing in the morning. It was much more interesting than when her parents chitchatted about what was in the newspaper.

“Actually,” added Chloe. “Maybe ‘babies’ is a bit … babyish.” Lucy nodded, agreeing—definitely babyish. “How about the JCL May Ladies?”

Lucy grinned. “I think that’s even better. The JCL May Ladies.” She beamed at the others.

“It’s settled.” Chloe’s authoritative voice rang out over her parents’ balcony. “The JCL May Ladies are officially BFFs forever.” Jules couldn’t help but laugh. The Aussie girl was a little over the top, but she was also sorta fun.

Chloe stuck her pinkie finger in the air and, unsure what to do, Lucy pressed the tip of her pinkie to Chloe’s. Chloe tutted and Lucy turned a fantastic shade of crimson, right as Chloe hooked Lucy’s finger into her own and turned expectantly to Jules.

Jules, joining in with good nature, hooked her pinkie with the others’ and recited, “BFFs forever,” with Chloe. Lucy chimed in a beat too late, more excited than she could ever remember being. She was someone’s BFF.

“Now, JCL May Ladies …” began Chloe.

“Uh, shouldn’t we have a nickname?” suggested Jules.

“Why, what do you mean?”

“It’s just … don’t you think it’s a lot to say every time?”

Chloe, in a rare moment of introspection, was quiet. Lucy would normally have been quick to fill the silence, as it made her uncomfortable, but she waited patiently for her BFF to say something, feeling very grown up.

Finally, Chloe nodded decisively. “You’re right, let’s just go with the May Ladies.”

Lucy let out her breath, her mouth stretching to its widest girth. “Great,” said Jules, glad they’d settled on a name. “We’re the May Ladies. Now, can we please go to the beach?”