Last Christmas

I am bound and determined not to give my heart to anyone this holiday season. Whenever you open your heart up to people, you only end up getting hurt. The only way to prevent this from happening is to not simply give it away. I don't know how else to put it. There's just simply nothing good whenever it comes to love.

It's been a year since you left me on Christmas Eve and I wonder if you would even know who I am now. I gave you my heart, but you just gave it away and left me in tears. It was almost you didn't even care what you did to me and how you ruined this special time of the year. I don't know how I will able be able to open my heart again.

I don't know how else to put it, but there was no magic last year, only darkness. Sure, I went through the motions of having a good time, but it just wasn't there. I don't know if anyone picked up on it and I really didn't care. It was just wrong to ruin it for the other people in my life. They didn't deserve to suffer.

I just don't know what I'm going to do from here on out. I don't want to spend the rest of my life without having someone, but I don't want to open my heart and get hurt. It's just so hard and so confusing. I know great things can happen whenever you open your heart up to people, but I haven't had that experience. So far, it's only left me standing out in the cold with warmth in sight. I don't know what I'm going to do.

I pull my coat up around me as the rain beats down all me. The weather can't even get it right. It's been raining nonstop for the past week. It's Christmas; it's supposed to be snowing. The Christmas lights have even lost their luster and are just barely hanging on.

It's just sad. I wish that there was something to look forward to, but it really does seem like everyone is going through the motions. There's only five days left until Christmas and, yet, no one seems to be fully embracing the holiday season. Everyone is rushing around, like it's just any other time of the year.

The schools aren't even letting out until two day before Christmas.

I lean against the bookshop counter, watching as people whisper all around. I don't get why people think they can't speak in normal tones in a bookshop. It's not a library. It's fully okay to talk in a normal speaking voice.

I glance up at the clock as another Christmas carol comes on the radio. Only four more hours of this nonsense. They start playing these songs on Halloween and don't stop until Christmas. I know a lot of people embrace it, but I can't wait until we can listen to normal music again. I am tried of hearing "Frosty the Snowman" in my head all the time.

I stare at the mountain of Christmas books stacked on the counter. I don't even know if people are even looking at them. From what I can tell, most people just glance at them without any interest. Most of them are probably going to end up in the bargain bin.

I tap my fingers on the counter as I look back up at the clock. It's almost like someone is torturing me and isn't making the time move. I huff as I stare out at the people. Surely someone is going to buy a book today. It will give me something to do instead of standing here waiting like an idiot.

I glance around at the shoppers. It really doesn't seem like anyone is going to buy anything. I sigh. My life is slowly slipping away from me; I can feel it. I was supposed to go places. I have a good degree, but a crappy job market has not gotten me anywhere. Now, I'm not saying that working at bookshop is a bad deal. I know that for a lot of people that this would be their dream job, but not for me.

"Is this good?"

I raise an eyebrow as I turn toward the book. A young man about my age stands off the side with a confused look on his face. He's holding the newest romance in his hands. "Pardon?" I ask, not sure if he's really talking to me.

He taps the cover of the book. "Is this a good book? I'm trying to find a book for my mum, who loves romance." He frowns as he looks at the hardcover. His British accent coming out more and more with each word. "I don't want to spend all of my money on a crappy book. I want to get her one that she is actually going to enjoy instead of faking it. Do you know what I'm saying?"

My eyes flicker from the book in question, then back up to him. "Huh?"

He sighs as he shifts around from foot to foot. "I knew it. I knew I wasn't making a bit of sense. You're giving me the same look the clerk at the Walmart gave me."

"Um…To be honest, I haven't read that one."

His face falls a little bit. "Oh." He looks back down at the cover. "Well, if you were to judge it by it's cover, what would you say?"
"I would tell you that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover."

"Okay, what if we were to put that aside, then what would you say?"

I squint my eyes at the cover. "I would say that the cover looks cheap and, therefore, it must a cheap story."

He looks back at the cover. "I must say that I have to agree with you on that one. It does look like a very cheap cover." He frowns. "I wonder if Mum would like it."

I shrug. "I don't know. It depends on if your mother is into cheap stories or not."

"Well, she does like bad movies."

"Then, there you go."
He opens the book and flips through it again. "I don't know. What if the book is just bad? Do you realize how many bestsellers out there are not good? Doesn't it make you wonder how some of that stuff even got published?"

"I know." I pause. "So, are you going to buy the book or not?"
He sighed as he looked back at the price. "Why do books have to be so expensive?"
"I don't know. It just happens."

He just shakes his head as he steps forward. "I suppose I'll take it."

"Are you sure?"

"No, but I guess it is the thought that counts, isn't it? Isn't that what they all say?"
"I guess." I scan the book. "You could always keep your receipt and return it if it doesn't work out."
"That is true." He takes his paper copy. "The only trouble is that I always lose these things."
"Then, thinking about your mother's happiness should give you more reason to keep track of it."

He nods. "Yes, it should."

I hand him his bag. "Have a good holiday season."
He gives me a small smile. "You too." He says it like he means it. He turns and walks out.

!

When my shift finally ends, the rain has turned into this rather unfortunate mist. I sigh as I turn up my collar. This is just getting downright ridiculous. The wind howls around me, threatening to bring down more and more Christmas lights. At this rate, there will not be any up for the big day.

I fight my way down the street. Even though I only live a block away from the bookshop I really do wish that I had driven. At least that way, I would had been dry and warm instead of soaked to the bone.

When I finally reach my sorry excuse of an apartment building, I can no longer feel large parts of my body. I fumble with the main entrance as I step inside the dark building. A few lights tinkle as I make my way upstairs, reminding me that I need to finish my own shopping.

My one bedroom is the same wreck as it was this morning. My tiny Christmas tree stands in front of the only window in the sitting room. The only reason I even bothered to put one up was because my sister insisted that I have one.

I throw my soaking wet things down on the floor as I stumbled toward the thermostat. Heat is the only thing that is the only thing that is going to make me feel better. As soon as the heat hits me, I go over to the window and peer out.

There are less people out and about now that the mist is starting to pick up.
I am just about to drop the curtain when I see him, standing there beneath my window with his bag from the bookshop tucked under his arm. My eyes narrow. It's probably just one of those things. I am just about ready to turn away when he raises his arm and actually waves at me.

My frown only deepens. There has to be a mistake. He really can't be meaning me. I peer out again. Oh, but it is. He is now looking directly at me, waving and now pointing at the door. Great, now this creep wants to meet with me.

I drop the curtain. There is no way that I am going to meet a strange young man at this time of night, no matter who is he. I don't even know what he wants.

However, it is cold and wet out and he did look like he had been out in the elements for awhile. It just wouldn't be good manners to leave him out there like this. Isn't this supposed to be the season of goodwill toward men?

I take my pepper spray out of my purse. If I am actually going to do this, I want to be prepared. It's hard to tell just what is waiting for me out there.

I open the door and find him standing outside with his hands shoved into his pockets. "I was being to think that you were going to leave me out here," he said, his teeth chattering.

I step to the side. "I thought about it, but then I remembered it is the Christmas season and that was not how we are supposed to act this time of year."

He carefully steps around me. "What about the rest of the year?"

I shrug. "The jury is still out on that one."

"Huh, I'll have to keep that in mind." He stands in the entrance, dripping water all over the place. "I don't want you to think that I'm a stalker or anything like that. One of the girls you work with told me where you lived."

"I see." I cross my arms over my chest, staring him down. "And why did you want to know where I lived?"
He runs his hand through his hair. "I really don't know. It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"Does it seem like a good idea now?"
"Well, you are drilling me kind of hard, so I'm really not sure." He wraps his arms around himself. "It's one of those times that I really didn't think this through and am probably going to end up making a fool of myself."
"I see. I don't want you to make a fool of yourself.'

"Yeah." He pauses. "I think it may already be too late for me on that element."

I nod. "It really does seem that way."
He sighs. "Maybe I should just leave." He looks outside. "How hard is it to get a cab in this town?"

I snort. "Good luck with that one." I pause, looking him over. "So, you're from England?" I mentally groan as the words leave my mouth.

He nods. "Yes, but my parents job bought them over here about five years ago." He looks out the window. "The weather has certainly been acting like England."
"Has it?" Once again, I mentally groan. The weather…Out of the all the things we could be talking about, we are talking about the weather. Maybe it means that he's not going to kill me.

"So, I probably should explain what I am doing here. I promise you, I'm not here as a stalker." He shifts his weight around. "I just got to thinking about what happened in the bookshop."

I eye him. "I wasn't aware that anything happened in the bookshop."
"I don't know, maybe I'm reading into it, but you just seemed a little bit sad."

"I'm fine."
He looks at me. "Are you sure?"

I wrap my arms around myself. "I'm fine. It's Christmas, why wouldn't I be fine?"
"There is actually a lot of depression at Christmas. Everyone knows that," he points out.

I glare at him. "So, you really did come all this way to make sure I was okay?"
"Err…It does sound a bit strange now that I think about it. Anyway, I should go now." He turns away and before I can stop myself, I have my arm out on his.

"No, wait." I look at him. "I think it's really sweet that you came to check up on me. Not a lot of people would have done so."

"Well, I am known as the nice guy," he says.

"It's not bad to be known as that. Sometimes it is better to be with the nice guy instead of the jock."
"I see." He makes no move to free his arm. "There is also a lot of tears at Christmas. Forgive me, but I sense that last Christmas was not a good one."
"It was fine, but I'm trying to forget about it."

He just raises an eyebrow. "You do realize that was one of the worse excuses I've ever heard."
"You can't tell that," I snap.

He shrugs. "I'm just saying that you are lying to yourself. Maybe it you were to just talk to someone, then maybe it would you feel better." He moves closer. "You shouldn't let him win. You should make this Christmas all about you."
I look up at him with big eyes. "You don't know me and you have no idea what went down. For all you know, he could have died."
He takes a step back, breaking my grip. "Oh, I didn't realize."

I wave him away. "He's not dead, but for someone who prides himself in being so aware, you may want to think about that the next time you open your mouth."

He nods. "I'll have to keep that in mind." He looks back at me. "Do you really want to talk about it?"

I raise an eyebrow. "With a stranger?"

"Well, why not with a stranger? The chances of you seeing me again, are slim to none, so I'm really not going to judge you."

"Or you will just go and tell the world what you've heard."
"Do you really think that I would do that?"
The honest answer was no, but I couldn't be sure. Sometimes it was these situations that always got people in trouble. "It was just a bad breakup. We spent a good Christmas Day together and that night he ended it for no reason. Two days later, he was with another woman. I know, it's one of the most cliched things in the world, but I haven't been able to move on from it."
"Oh. Did you know the other woman?"
I nod. "Yup, my sister and they're getting married this spring."
His eyes grow wide. "Oh."
I nod. "Yup. He's going to be there this year. I try to make it out like I'm okay, but I'm really not. I'm even supposed to be the maid of honour."

"Well, that's not good."

I shake my head. "No, it's not."

"Wow."

"Yeah."
He moves closer to me. "I wasn't expecting something like that. I only thought those kinds of things happened in the movies."
"So did I until it actually happened to me." I pause. "I guess the world really is like a movie."

"It would seem so."
"And the only person who really knows how I feel is a stranger."

"My name is James. There, now that you know my name, I'm not a stranger." He smiles. "You don't have to me your name if you don't to. If I don't know your name, then I can't spill all of your secrets to the world."

I shake my head. "It's fine. My name is Sarah."

"Well, then I guess we aren't strangers now."
I laugh. "No, I guess not." I look up at him. "You aren't going to write a book about this, are you?"
"My lips are sealed."

We both look out the window, just as a strand of Christmas lights come crashing into the window. The wind howls as the rain starts coming down in sheets. It really does look unpleasant out there.

"I think the chances of me getting a cab have pretty much went out the door."

I nod. "It looks that way." I bit my lip. "I could drive you, you know."
"I don't want to make you go out of your way. I'm sure I'll be able to get back without losing my life."
"No, just let me get my keys and I'll take you."
Before he can say anything more, I turn on heel and rush up the stairs. I can't believe that I am really going to do this. I barely know him, he stalked me, and now I am giving him a ride home. Granted, he doesn't actually seem like the type of person who will kill me.

I grab my keys and held back downstairs. He is still there with his hands shoved into his pants as he looks outside. It really does look bad out there.

"Ready?"

He turns and nods. "Look, you really don't have to do this."

I roll my eyes. "It really is nothing. I would feel really bad if you had to walk in this." I push open the door. "Are you coming?"

He nods. We dash out to my car, soaked by the time we get there. I turn the heat up as high as it will go before turning to him. "Where do you live?"
"Sarah, look," he whispers, pointing.

The rain is mixed with something else. Something white and fluffy…Snow…It's snowing, which means ice…No, snow; it's the sign of Christmas. I look at the roads, which remain clear.

James elbows me. "I guess it means that maybe everything will be okay."
I roll my eyes. "Don't get your hopes up." I put the car into drive. Maybe it is a sign and everything will be okay.

Who knows? Maybe this Christmas will not be like last Christmas….