Challenge #23: "So Many Songs, But I'm Feeling So Lonely!"

by Megs

General Idea: Write a one-shot based on a song, either one from the SKoW playlist or another of your choice - as long as it's even remotely related to love, it'll do.

Required:

- the story must follow the plot of the song

- the title of the song must be the title of the story, or at least a part of it (ex: Walking By: Pete's Story, with the song in question being "Walking By" from Something Corporate... you get the gist)

- you must use at least three lines from the song as narration or dialogue. Be sure to bold or underline them.

- give us what song you're using at the beginning of the chapter, along with all the usual skow challenge requirements

- must be at least 6000 words

No:

- this is not a "songfic" so no free-hanging verses in the middle of the story (all song lines added in must make sense and flow with the rest of the story)

Optional: you could turn the one-shot into a chaptered story by using a different song for each chapter; if you're feeling really creative, use the same artist and/or album for the whole story.


~ The Christmas Song by Owl City ~


Have you ever just sat and watched the world sweep by? Ever stared unabashedly at the stream of people that flow past, trying to make some sense of their lives, wondering how they connect with your own?

I have… frequently in fact.

Maybe it's because I don't believe my own life isn't interesting enough. Maybe it's because there are certain things that I don't know if I'll ever achieve naturally, but still want to experience. Maybe it's just the uncertainty that my own life, mundane as it is, will never have certain sparks that other people have. Some people read books to go on adventures. Others watch movies to escape from reality. Me? I watch people. I live through them. It's free, it's accessible, and it's oh-so-raw and real. There are badly written books, badly directed movies, but there will never ever be person with a poorly dictated life. My senses spin the tale with all the skill of reality, and even if their life is boring and pathetic, I can pretend and imagine it's something interesting.

I'm like Rumpelstiltskin. I spin gold out of straw.

A group of rowdy teenagers run past me, laughing, their warm breath vaporizing into the chilly winter air. Snowballs fly in the air, bright and sparkling amidst the backdrop of their merry faces and tinkling laughter. What are their stories?

A teenage girl strolls past, scowling as an energetic dog pulls her forward, tripping her into the powdery snow. Laughing, a tall gangly boy eases the handle of the leash from her fingers. Girl in one hand, dog in another, the trio sweeps past me, their cheek pink, and eyes suddenly shining. I wonder what their story is.

An old couple hobbles past, each carrying a cane, each foot placed deliberately in front of the other as not to slide on the slippery road. Their heads are bent, their lips moving, jabbering away to one another in some foreign language that I cannot understand. They have a story too.

Two hawks soar, spiraling around each other, their feathers unruffled by the cool wind. As they dive and swoop, their brilliant plumage glinting with a myriad of strange colors, I find myself wondering about them. Even they have a story of their own.

I feel a bit like a stalker, a bit like a creep, as I sit here, playing my own little game in my own little world, stealing a slice of the happiness of others, to assuage my own hollow void.

Snow falls lightly, its gentle flakes swirling in a sudden breeze. It flicks at my eyes, my lips, and any part of me that is exposed to the cold winter air. Go home. Enough angst, it's Christmas after all, the small crystals urge as they glint at me.

But home is far and out of reach. Home is across the country, over two thousand miles away. Home is two thousand miles I can't trek by foot, over three hundred dollars that I can't bear robbing my family of. Sitting here, sucking the warmth out of others like the leech that I am, is the closest I'll ever get to happiness, to home.

I don't even know what Christmas means anymore. It's just another day. I don't believe that believing in Jesus is truly the only way to salvation. I don't celebrate Christmas because it's his birthday. I'm not a Christian, and I don't believe in God. I know that Christmas is a time to appreciate family, appreciate life, love and take in the world that we are always too busy to notice, and have faith and happiness despite everything that life throws at us. I don't need a religion to celebrate Christmas. I think.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that's why I'm having such a miserable Christmas. Maybe I don't understand Christmas after all. Maybe Christmas is for those who really believe in Jesus and his myths. Maybe it's not for me to experience, only to watch and long for.

Soft footsteps jerk me out of my reclusive thoughts.

"Hey."

It's that kid that I've seem around. Maybe he's in one of my classes. Maybe he's just a mutual friend. He has one of those generic faces that I think, but can't be sure, I've seen before. I find myself wondering, because my brain is in that strange philosophical thinking and wondering mode, what his story is.

Well, I guess we're about to find out.

"Hi." Smile for anti-angst effects. Lame as I am, I don't want to ruin anyone else's Christmas. No, I'm not that cruel.

"Wotcher up to?" Brown hair flops in front of brown eyes. A genuine soft smile arches up from a remarkably sweet face. The boy is so nondescript, he could be from anywhere. It bothers me so much, that even as I try to push him away, I can feel myself being drawn to him.

"Nothing much."

He brushes the snow off the bench next to me and takes a seat. I scowl.

"Ummm, did I say you could sit there?" How am I supposed to be an antisocial angsty lady with you here?

My rude remark is politely ignored. He grins at me, a pink face framed by a hooded jacket, face rosy from the chilly air, and I can't help but grin back. Just a small smile, nothing drastic. Human interaction always makes me happy. It's just unfortunate that everyone dear is has left me during the period of festive joy and cheer.

"I would shake your hand, but it's way too cold for that. I'm Derek and I think you're in my Chem class."

Oh is that where I know you from? Or rather, you know me, since I still don't think I know you.

"Hey, I'm Ann." I mumble back, trying to be curt. He doesn't take the hint, and pretty soon, I give up trying.

As much as I want him to go away, there's a part of me that wants him to stay. It gets lonely watching festive cheer from afar. It's like a fire that I can only admire at a distance. The more I look at it, the more I want the real thing, but somehow, subjecting myself to the torture of an illusion is better than not having anything at all.

The wind has picked up, driving the fine flakes against my face. They're everywhere, on my lashes, up my nose, eating away at my skin, like small hooks or shards burrowing into my skin. I wince involuntarily.

"Crap-its-so-freaking-cold… why are you here anyway? Normal people don't sit in the middle of snowstorms on Christmas…" I cast him a suspicious glare.

"Yeah, well, then I conclude we're both not normal?" Derek raises his eyebrows, smirking. I can't help but grin back. Laughter is contagious, and for once, I'm a part of it. It warms me.

"No really though, who are you and why are you here?"

"You looked lonely."

"Oh. Seriously?" I flush in embarrassment. I may have my pessimistic thoughts, but I try not to spread them to the rest of the world. His words draw a pool of guilt that puddles in my stomach and makes me a little sick. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you by looking this way."

"No, don't be sorry," he replies cheerily.

Who is this kid and why is he so blatantly friendly? To me of all people? Look at my pouting miserable face. I reek of inhospitality. Go away, let me emo and happy-suck people in peace.

"Wanna go inside?"

Inside. Logically, by all rights, I should be inside instead of freezing my butt off. But its strange emptiness in the wake of festive cheer only reminds me of where everyone else is, what I don't have. My empty dorm, for all I've decorated it, only reminds me of what I should be feeling. Reality bites, so I've tried to avoid that.

But at his words, the storm picks up even more, turning the floating flakes into a furious whirlwind. My eyes sweep across the park, bleached with a deathly chilling white. There's not a soul left in these vast grounds, and even I can't see the point of staying out here any longer.

"Alright. Fine. We might get lost though. I can't see a thing," I answer reluctantly.

His blurred outline laughs back at me. "Don't worry. I know the way. Follow me."

"Uhhh…"

His warm hand latches onto my wrist, and I find myself being pulled along. I don't resist. I'm helpless and blind in this storm, but I'm not lost, because this semi-stranger knows the way. Because, somehow, I'm sure, I'm making my way towards Christmas.

As we stumble towards wherever we are going, I gaze upwards, my thoughts drifting off course again. If I weren't me, if I had seen this from my perch, what would I have thought? It's Christmas, and we walk alone, two strangers with no one to miss us. We're on our own, out in the cold, alone as we trek towards an unknown destination. What's our story?

The door slams shut, sealing off the wrath of the storm outside, and I find myself in a building that looks suspiciously like my own dorm.

"Oh. Is this your dorm?" This is a stupid question. No duh.

"Yup. Hey wanna see something?"

"Alright."

"C'mon. This way… yeah, look through that."

There's a window on the very top of the stairs. If you weren't careful, you'd just walk past it. It's shoved in a lonely corner, and hairline cracks spider across its surface. He nods at the window, and I lean towards it, pressing my nose against the glass to peer outside.

I can see individual snowflakes, curling, circling along the flat pane, and forming a haze that shields me on the outside world. It's beautiful… but…

"What about it?"

I move away share the view.

"Oh." His voice is disappointed. "You can't see it anymore. Darn."

"See what?" I ask curiously.

"You know how you look at people in your spare time?" He asks cautiously.

"… yeah?" Wait how did you know that? Twitch.

"I do too."

I blink.

"Oh."

"You see," he winces, as if uncovering a completely shameful fact, "I've been watching you watch other people through that window."

"Ahh."

It doesn't surprise me that other people do the same things that I do. Sometimes our own lives are so insignificant, so mundane, that we seek to bring the brilliance of other lives into ours, to live vicariously through these stolen moments.

Besides, when did I claim that I was original anyway? No, I'm just another little human watching the world through the same colored, same shaped, window. Nothing special.

"… and I wondered what your story was."

That surprises me. My mouth drops open in shock. "That's what I do!"

"So anyway, I figured I might as well say hi sooner or later, because or else it would make me feel stalkerish."

He laughs nervously. "Alright, that's all I really wanted to say. You can run away from my strange confession now… except I do want to get to know you if that makes it any better."

Blink.

"Don't you feel lonely too?" I blurt out suddenly. "Where's your Christmas cheer anyway? Why are you even talking to me? Where's your friends and family?"

Silence.

I just overstepped the boundaries of social etiquette. Ann, you are amazing in your thoughtlessness.

"Uhh. Sorry, that came off as really rude didn't it? All this lack-of-social-contact is getting to my head."

"Don't forget pent up wanting-to-know-about-people, but not being able to ask." He adds wryly.

"Haha, that too." I laugh awkwardly, but laugh all the same. Here is a kindred soul, who watches people as I do, who understands why I do what I do. He will not judge me for what I do, for he has trod down the same beaten twisted path.

"It's alright." I am reassured. "So to answer your questions, my family died last year. Car crash on the way driving to visit me… ironic isn't it?"

He is suddenly silent, dark eyes downcast, Adam's apple bobbing, as the memories so obviously painful swirl through his mind.

I'm sorry for your loss. I'm sorry for asking. I'm sorry for everything, I'm on the verge of saying, but bite back my words. Part of me is shirks from this, even as part of me nods, because now I know.

"As to why I decided to talk to you…" He shrugged. "I don't really know. It just felt stupid wallowing in self-pity you know? Especially today, on Christmas. Just because all my friends are gone, it shouldn't mean I should spend my time moping? Besides… you've always intrigued me."

I glance at him doubtfully. "Me? Intriguing? Do tell please."

"You sit there and you watch the world go past. And I can tell you're thinking hard. So I sit here and watch you watch everyone else, wondering what in the world you're thinking, and what stories you're making up."

"I don't think that hard. Really." This is a side of me that I've never seen depicted before. Lonely, yes. In lack of actual hobbies, yes. Deep, thought provoking, and actually worth thinking and analyzing? No way.

He grins. "Tell me about yourself."

"Oh." I flush, twiddling my fingers as I search for words.

"I'm not that interesting, so sorry to disappoint. Yeah, no tragic past like you or anything… just… my dad lost his job, and my younger sister still has to go to college in a few years. Tuition is expensive, and so are plane tickets. Financial aid doesn't always work out, and… better safe than sorry?"

I don't expect him to be sympathetic. My own situation seems so much better than his, that I feel like I can't compare, as if I don't have any right to be staring out into the snow wishing I were someone else.

But he makes an understanding face. "Boy, that sucks."

And who are you to say this mister? I still don't know you.

I can't bring myself to be snarky and sarcastic today. Too much has happened, and it's Christmas for goodness sake. I want to be happy. And I am happier right now, unfolding, bit by bit, the story of that-random-person-whose-life-barely-touches-mine, than I was staring wistfully at the people in the park.

"Uh. So. Uhh. Let's do something Christmasy and un-emo-fy ourselves…" I stutter lamely.

"Let's play cards."

"Oh gosh." I cry, woes of the past five seconds suddenly forgotten. "I'm the master at Egyptian war."

An eyebrow goes up skeptically. "Oh really."

"Really!" I insist.

"Alright. Well, I happen to be pretty amazingly good at that game too, so… game on."

Derek leaves to fetch the cards, his footsteps echoing faintly up another flight of stairs as he makes his way up to his room. I am left sitting by the window, gazing out at the frosty world outside. The snowstorm rages still, completely wrapping everything in a blanket of soft puffy white. It's breathtaking in its purity, in its uniformity, and in its loneliness. Without people to break up its overwhelming outline, it makes me feel small.

The footsteps thud down, heralding the arrival of both boy and cards.

"I hope you don't mind that I basically kidnapped you and forced you to entertain me, but I don't have anyone at home to talk to, and you don't have anything to do. So would it be okay if I've decided I'll spend my Christmas with you?"

I watch his deft hands flicker in the bright indoor light, swiftly dealing the deck into two separate and equal piles.

"You flatter me. I don't really have anything else to do. You should know that." I roll my eyes.

"Well, of course, that's why I asked." He gives me an impish grin.

"Geez. Alright."

I flip the top of my desk to initiate the game.

"Game on."


The afternoon passes in a blur. Time flies when you're having fun, as Kermit the frog was so fond of quoting. I find myself in a paradox of sorts. Too much to do, and not enough time, in this one magical sliver that is Christmas.

Before, it was always, too much time to use, not enough productive (key word there) things to do. Use the extra time, eat it up, by watching the world go by. It had never really been about me. Not until now.

"Ooooh. Beat that. I completely owned you!" I chortle triumphantly, as my hand comes smashing down on a sandwich, leaving my opponent with nothing in his hand.

He looks up in defeat, grinning. "Psssh. Whatever."

Simultaneously, we both glance out at the window. The darkening sky is evident. The sky is a clear lucid blue-gray. The setting sun glints dully over the foamy field of snow, setting it ago with an eerie blue sheen. Soft flakes continue to float downwards, like feathers carried in the wind, but lacking the ferocious intensity of before.

"Huh. I should go." I voice my thoughts out loud. As cold and intimidating as the evening is right now, nighttime is even worse. It's positively creepy, especially considering how little people there are today. I shudder involuntarily.

"Thanks for everything. Really." I stand up, pushing my hard-won stack of cards reluctantly back towards their rightful owner.

"Christmas today wouldn't have been the same without you."

He stands up as well, shrugging modestly. "Well. Christmas wouldn't have been the same for me either without you." His large hands pocket the cards, sliding them deep inside his the pockets of his jacket, and I wonder, briefly, if I'll ever see them again.

"See ya later then?"

There are no ways to really express my gratitude towards this stranger who has jumped into my life and pulled my out of my wallowing. There's no way to express how much this afternoon of friendship, of laughter, of cards, of Christmas, to him. But by the flattered flush of his cheeks, the knowing glint in his eyes, I know he knows. No words are needed.

"Bye."

I push the door open, and breeze out into the clear night. Snow crunches satisfyingly under my sneakers as I stroll away from the dorm, whistling jolly tunes under my breath. But my grin dies from my face as I take in the scene before me. I've never stayed out this late before, and suddenly, everything looks different. The shadows are all in the wrong places, the colors and shapes are completely warped.

Thud thud thud. My heart clamors in my chest.

Today was so close to perfect. So close to starting perfect, so close to being perfect, so close to ending perfect. I almost feel like crying for letting this perfection, this opportunity at making things alright, end so carelessly.

I backtrack to the door that I've so carelessly let slam shut, and tug on it. But it won't budge.

Darnnit… it auto-locks at night?

Bang bang bang. The rhythm of my fist banging against the wooden frame of the door is a counter beat to the pounding of my heart. THUD bang THUD bang THUD bang.

Fortunately, the door creaks open.

"Hey look, you came back." Derek's mouth crinkles with delight.

"Are you mocking me?" I narrow my eyes.

"No, I was just going to run after you…" He answers seriously.

"How did you know I got lost? Gee, you seem to know everything."

"You got lost? Nah, I was just going to give you this."

A pack of cards, still newly packaged in its transparent wrapping, is tossed my way. Glittering and multicolored, it glistens and catches the fluorescent light, strangely reminiscent of falling snow in the sunlight, before it arcs solidly in my hands.

"Merry Christmas. Everyone likes presents."

I scowl, fisting my hands in my pockets as I drop my newly acquired packet into their bottomless depths. My fingers come in contact with several objects both round and hard. Loose change. I briefly consider throwing a penny at him, a penny for your thoughts sir, ha ha ha, but decide that would be too cheap of me.

"Are you trying to make me feel bad?" I snap. "First I get lost, and now you're guilt tripping me?"

I heave a deep overly dramatic woe-is-me sigh. "Do you happen to have a map. Or know the direction of Ryerson anyway?"

My dramatic sigh is echoed back at me.

"Tsk tsk. Can't even find your way in the dark." Derek shakes his head. "Whatever shall we do with you?"

I wonder when we've become so teasing, so open with each other that we're able to interact with rather than around each other. But then again, having no one else around sometimes forces bonds to form faster than they naturally would. We all crave human contact, and we all crave humor. We have to make do with what we have.

"So are you going to help me or answer to charges of letting an innocent girl freeze to death?" I demand.

"Oh. I don't know." He stands there in the hallway, snug in the warmth of the indoors, hands shoved nonchalantly into his pockets, and smiles at me. His eyes cut straight through me, looking past me into the silent night for a few moments.

After a moment's deliberation, he turns and heads back to his room.

"I think I'll let you freeze," he deadpans.

"Whhhat? You're evil." I whine.

"Gosh, I was just kidding. I'm going to get my jacket. Don't run off now." I can hear the smile in his voice even though I can't see him anymore.

"Why do you need your jacket? Just tell me directions already." Scowl scowl, my mouth twists unpleasantly. And yet the merriment, the giddiness and warmth of that afternoon, is already flowing back. Human interaction; the spirit of Christmas.

"I'm walking you back because you are obviously incapable of finding the way back by yourself. Like you said, I don't want to be accused of attempted murder." His disembodied voice floats from upstairs.

Uggg. Just… whatever. I flail there helplessly for a few moments, unable to come up with an appropriate comeback, before giving up. "Humph."

He comes down with a grin on his face, and I can't help but chuckle along at whatever his source of amusement is (probably me and my stupidity). Laughter is contagious, and life is, after all, too short to be wasted in bitterness. My irritation dissolves, and with identical wide grins on our faces, we step out into the winter wonderland.

We walk down a trail that I hadn't really noticed or bothered to appreciate in my haste to get out of the storm. At night, with the soft light of the moon flickering down upon the ground, everything is different. It's like another world. It's an unfamiliar one, but stunning nevertheless.

Light and dainty, as if they're trying to light on me without noticing, snowflakes find their way onto my face, my shoulders, my hair. Anywhere they can cling to really. They whisper in my ear, refresh my nose, and hover around the corners of my vision so hesitantly, it's like they're afraid of being shunned.

I smile.

Making up stories about snowflakes now huh Ann? But I let them perch on me all the same, relishing the way the soft snowflakes kiss me, their feather-light brushing tantalizingly on my skin before they melt for good. I don't have the heart to brush them away.

Trudging onwards, both too soon, and not soon enough, we reach our destination: my dorm.

The culmination everything that has happened, from the afternoon of laughter, the simple joy of hanging out with a friend, and finally, Derek's simple willingness to help out a friend in need, touches me from to the very core of my being. I hadn't needed to spend so much time in the background, waiting and watching for my story to unfold. So certain I was, that I didn't have a story worth finding, that I had never bothered to look. Derek had pulled me into my own story while finding his own, and that initiative was what had made all the difference.

"My spirit feels warm." I say cheesily.

"Mine too." Derek reiterates.

"Huh?"

"Our spirits feel warm, both yours and mine."

"Oh." I blink. "Aww, what an awkwardly worded yet touching sentence."

"Fitting isn't it?" He casts me a teasing glance.

"Sure sure, whatever. If you say so."

I don't know what to say next. Deep probing conversations have a way of rendering me speechless for a good few moments, which isn't really great when I have an actual conversation to attend to.

"Hey, I have a question. Are you really in my Chem class, or did you just make that up because I sleep in Chem all the time and wouldn't know the difference?"

"Both."

I yawn, lethargic but idiotically happy, almost to the point of being sappy. Something bubbles up within me, something warm that oozes over every cavity in my body, and would send me skipping across the frosted field if it weren't so darn cold. Another thought suddenly occurs to me, and I snicker loudly, the noise echoing into the deathly still air.

"Can you imagine what would have happened if no one did anything? If you just sat there by the window watching me, and I just sat there on my bench watching everyone else?" I ask, hand on the handle of the door, perfectly capable, but not ready at all, to end this picture perfect adventure.

I'm making conversation just for the sake of making conversation. If Christmas is Derek and playing card games, if Christmas is laughter and happiness and humanity, then Christmas ends as soon as he leaves, and I'm not quite ready for tonight to end yet. Just a little longer, but I don't know what I'm waiting for, if there ever even will be a time, when I'm ready to let go.

He snorts unattractively. "Then you would have sat on your little emo bench, frozen tears trickling down your cheeks, until you froze to death yourself."

Something flashes in those dark gray eyes, something deep, thoughtful, and almost regretful. Glint glint glint. He doesn't want this to end either. Of course, he's lonely too.

"Hey." I protest at his biting words. "You have a twisted sense of humor."

I roll my eyes, and something green above catches my attention.

Oh what the.

It's so cliché, so disgustingly cliché, that I want to punch whoever hung that sprig up there.

Mistletoe.

Honestly, this is college. I thought we were old enough to move past those childish games. But then again, considering I spent the whole afternoon slapping cards like a five-year-old, perhaps not. It is Christmas after all.

I'll just ignore that, I think to myself resolutely. Apparently my silence is a dead give away though, and Derek's gaze follows mine all the way up to the top of the doorframe.

"Uhhhh. Talk about awkward" I wince. "Hey, since no one's watching, we don't have to do anything right? So I'll just be on my merry way and thanks for everything and-"

"If a tree falls and no one's around to hear it, does it still make a sound?"

"… uhh, yes?" I just disproved myself huh?

"Exactly."

"Are you implying something?" Is this doubly awkward or is this doubly awkward?

I'm caught like a deer in headlights, squished and split uncomfortably between two sets of expectations. It's like that time I switched to a new school, and played tag for the first time which my new peers. I automatically cried "not it!" because tag as I knew it involved not wanting to be "it". However, my new classmates all cast me suspicious looks, and promptly argued over who would be "it". They all wanted to be "it", and I stuck out like a sore thumb.

And such is the look Derek gave me when I shied away from my duty that entailed from accidentally-standing-under-mistletoe.

Are you daft? His eyes piece my own, hawk-like, in disbelief. Are you for real? So incredulous, so amazed, that even though it isn't a negative or disgusted look, I shrivel under the intensity of his gaze nevertheless.

"I guess I don't really want ten years of bad luck, or whatever horrible curse will befall me if I don't obey Mistletoe's curse." I mutter weakly, trying, but not really, to worm my way out of this pit. I know I've already lost. If I owe anyone anything today, it's this boy. If I owe anyone a favor today, if I'd kiss anyone under mistletoe, it'd be Derek. Triply awkward then.

"Really now?"

The corners of his lips quirk upward. He's amused, fighting back a smile. Suddenly, I can't help but giggle too.

"Fine, let's just get this over with." I say, quickly, my words tumbling clumsily over each other, tripping and falling the way I sometimes trip and fall down the stairs.

"Oh ouch. That burns. My feelings are hurt."

"Maybe you need a kiss to make it better then."

I lean forward. There's a fine line of balance where I can tip one way or the other. Then, I fall towards him, and there's no going back.

Just a brush across the lips, and I draw my face back again. Quadruply awkward.

"Hey, you cheated." His x-ray eyes see right through me, and I can't summon up the words to defend myself.

"Hmph." I reply.

"Oh geez. You know that shouldn't even count." His hands are framing my face somehow, holding my head in place so I can't move. I don't even know how we got into this position. The good thing about no one being here is that… well… there's no one watching.

"This." His voice is low, his breath like a phantom ghost, soft as butterfly wings across my check. "Is how it's supposed to go."

His lips are warm and soft, and like the soft snow that envelops the ground, his arms envelope me. A cold wind blows past, and somewhere, dimly in my mind, it registers that perhaps we shouldn't be standing here freezing into two human icicles. He feels like Christmas, like the fire burning beside the log, like warmth and security. It can gobble me up alive, and spit me out healthy and whole, even as it consumes me entirely. I can't help it. There's so much there, like a pool of molten gold drawing me in, that I can't help but respond, can't help but what more. I kiss him back.

Eventually though, all good things must come to and end, and a blast of wind jolts my face from his.

"I can't believe I just did that."

"What?"

"Was kissed an almost-stranger. Kissed back said almost-stranger."

"Ouch, now that really hurts. My feelings are mortally wounded and I will go cry in an emo-corner and you'll have to kiss me again to make it all better."

"Yeah, I'm also really cold." I quip.

"Well. Yeah. It's cold if you haven't noticed."

"I know that!"

"Right then. That's a hint to run back before I freeze to death and you get accused of murder isn't it?

"No. It's a sign that we should go inside so I can go fetch your Christmas present."

He grabs my hand, his touch freezing me with its warmth, if that even makes any sense, before I can flee into the relative safety of my room. My face is burning and I want to burrow under the blankets and hide. Hide from the world, and relish the moment, and then go hide some more until I have enough time to figure out everything.

"It's alright. You already made my Christmas this year. Wanna know what I wished for for Christmas this year?"

"I think I'm afraid to know." I reply with all honestly.

"I wished for you."

Thud thud thud thud thud. Badump badump badump. All I can hear are our heartbeats, slightly off rhythm, but still somehow in perfect harmony, in the silence that follows. His hand is warm against mine, soothing and comforting, like a blanket on a cold winter day. It seems too intimate of a gesture for the casual friends we are, but we aren't anything more than that for sure. Doubt swims in, stabbing my gut, twisting and wrenching it until I feel almost dizzy. What the heck is he doing? What then heck am I doing?

I jerk my hand away hastily.

"Excuse me?" Gosh, hitting on me already? I thought you were a decent guy too?

"I wanted to know who that girl was, sitting on the bench. She was watching, always watching, the people passing by. She seemed like a little hatchling watching the birds in the sky, unable to join them, aching to fly, yet unable to realize that she also had wings. I wanted to make her happy. I wanted her to teach me to fly, because I was so sure she was the one who could carry me up into the sky."

I blink. "You sure are deep."

He shrugs. "Nah. I've just had time to think about it."

"What are you, my stalker?"

He snickers. "You should be the one to talk. I watch you stalk other people. Does that even count as stalking? Besides, you were sitting in the park. I'm sure everyone who frequents the park on a regular basis could point out that-one-girl-who-sits-and-stalks-people."

"Denial! You are my stalker." I proclaim, even as another question occurs me. "So why then? Why talk to me when no one else bothered?"

"Because you need to make your own dreams come true sometimes. You can't just sit there and wait for life to happen to you, and I knew that if I just sat there and waited, I'd never know your story."

He smiles brightly, moonshine reflecting on his flushed face. I have no words to reply to this statement, but somehow, I think, he understands that I understand. Even as he breaks the connection between us, he knows I know, and it's was enough.

I pat his head, sliding my fingers between the space of hood and hair to ruffle his disheveled brown hairs. "You're not bad for a stalker then. I guess."

"So did I get her then? That girl in the park who I tried to stalk? I don't think she liked me much at first. She thought I was a creep, even though she was secretly a creep too. I think I did, but I'm not sure." His breath is like fine gauze, hanging between us like a silken curtain.

I blow faux-film away with my own breath, laughing a bit at his descriptions.

"Yeah. I'm sure you did."

No words needed, but a dazzling grin on both ends says everything that words cannot. Then, turning, he leaves, his sneakers treading fresh tracks through the moonlit snow.

"Bye Ann." A ghost of an echo comes reaches my ears, and I squint at the blurring figure that grows ever smaller in the distance. Bye Derek.

Soon he is gone, but his footprints remain, proving to me, as I etch the scene into my mind, that this isn't all a dream.

Shaking my head, I dig the key out of my pocket, and let myself into the warmth of the artificially heated structure. Too late now, I know what I want for Christmas. The realization comes with a thrill. I've gotten what I've wanted, even before I ever knew I wanted it.

Now I know. All I wanted was a story of my own. Trudging onward in the thick deep snow, braving a harsh winter storm, Derek and I met, passing by, and I unraveled his own story, while weaving my own. The strands of now, forever locked into what will soon be a distant Christmas memory, will fade and crinkle with time. But the string that connects everything, the story of me that I have discovered, will last forever.