𝓡𝓲𝓭𝓲𝓷𝓰 𝓲𝓷 𝓪 𝓸𝓷𝓮-𝓱𝓸𝓻𝓼𝓮 𝓸𝓹𝓮𝓷 𝓼𝓵𝓮𝓲𝓰𝓱.
The snow is soft and unbroken when I pull back the heavy curtains and peek out the window. I pull on my winter gear as quickly as possible, fighting the desire to make a snow angel in only my pyjamas. When I am finally bundled up and sheltered from the relentless gusts of wind creaking the windows, I open the door and walk outside.
There is something extremely satisfying about being the first person to wake up on a snowy morning. Being the first person to make a footprint in the blank canvas. It feels like the entire world changed into a mystical kingdom during the night.
I carefully pick up a handful of snow with my gloved hands and let it sift between my fingers. It is just the perfect consistency; fluffy and light, but wet enough to stick to itself. Perfect for making snowballs and snowmen.
I spot another trail of footprints, the only sign that I’m not completely alone. I follow them through the bare leafless trees, wondering who else would be up and outside already. At the end of path the answer to the mystery presents itself to me in the form of a lopsided snowman. Or, more accurately, the figure placing a knitted scarf around the creation’s neck.
“Hey, Riella,” Aria says, cheerfully pulling me into a clumsy hug, “It’s nice to see you here! I was worried you wouldn’t be able to make it, you know, because of the icy roads.”
“By the time I got in the snow was already starting to sprinkle down. Good thing I started driving when I did.” I tell her, thanking anyone out there listening for this piece of good luck.
I haven’t seen any of my old friends or family in a while. The thing about living in a small town is you get restless. After being confined to the same area for so long, it feels less like home and more like a cage. By the time I got out of college, and had complete control over my life, I was desperate to be free.
Traveling the world as a photographer is perfect for me, my dream job. It keeps me on my toes, living on the edge. But in the midst of all the excitement, I never noticed how long I spent away.
It’s the people back home that felt my absence the most.
“Want any help?” I ask her, gesturing toward her project. She hands me a few jet-black buttons and I place them in a small curve to finish the mouth.
“Finished!” I declare, patting the snowman on top of his round head, “He looks almost lifelike.”
Aria just snorts in amusement, not believing me for a second.
“Come on,” she says, pulling me away from the snowman, “Since I barely ever get to see you, I planned something special for us to do!”
I follow her through the trees, panting as my heavy boots drag up the steep incline of the hill.
“Where are you taking me?” I ask her, curious, but she just shakes her head and continues on the way.
When we arrive at the top of the hill, a sleigh is waiting on the empty street. The manes of the pure white horses dance in the wind, while the bells around their necks jingle to a holiday tune.
She offers me her hand as we step inside and take a seat. I didn’t know they still had people that drove around sleighs pulled by horses, let alone ones that you could rent for the day. A thick blanket is draped over our lap as the horses take off at a steady pace.
“Wow. This is definitely a surprise!” I say to Aria, “It’s so beautiful!”
“I hoped you would think so. I wanted to take you on a little adventure of our own.” she says, overjoyed by my response.
We ride in silence for a little bit, enjoying the quiet serenity of the snowy morning. The sleigh glides smoothly along the surface, leaving a long, winding track behind it.
Aria then turns to me, shifting in the small seat to better look me in the eyes. The shift in the mood is difficult to overlook, one moment we are cheerfully laughing and the next she stares at me with a serious look.
She reaches into the deep pocket on the inside of her coat and pulls out a small box. It is a velvety and the color of the deep ocean. The corners are rounded and it sits perfectly in her hand.
She flips open the top revealing a sparkling diamond ring. Thin strands of sparkling metal are weaved together to form a beautiful pattern.
“Riella, please marry me,” she asks, her voice filled with ephemeral hope, “I don’t want to spend another second apart.”
I open and close my mouth, not knowing what to say in response to this unexpected question. I don’t want to crush her dreams, but I don’t see a way not to. I love her, I spent the best memories I have with her, but I still have places to go.
“I’m sorry, that was impulsive,” she says before I can speak, obviously sensing my response won’t be what she wished for, “I just don’t know when I’ll see you again.”
“I promise I’ll be back by Christmas Eve next year.”
𝓓𝓮𝓬𝓴 𝓽𝓱𝓮 𝓱𝓪𝓵𝓵𝓼 𝔀𝓲𝓽𝓱 𝓫𝓸𝓾𝓰𝓱𝓼 𝓸𝓯 𝓱𝓸𝓵𝓵𝔂.
Now, two years from the day we both hoped to move past, Aria and I are hanging wreaths and stockings in her house. To us, Christmas just isn’t the same without festive decorations. Her home is looking more and more fit for the holidays with every red, green, or white item we hang.
Aria holds one end of the twisted strand of lights as I dance around the tree, wrapping it in tiny, golden spheres. Christmas carols play in the background as we sing along to them under our breaths.
Aria has baked a plate of chocolate gingerbread cookies that we snack on along with mugs of steaming hot chocolate. It is the perfect Christmas scene.
Well, until she drags up the topic I thought we agreed to put in the past. The topic that still hangs over us, a constant reminder of what could have been.
“Please don’t return to your travels in the new year. I want you to do what makes you happy, but why don’t you want to stay? We could be happy, start a life together.”
All I want is to change the subject, so I don’t have to tell her I am still leaving when the holidays end. But I feel I owe it to her, after all the pain I have put her through, to be honest.
“I wish I could, but the more time I spend here the more suffocated I feel. I have to see the world, it has always been my dream.”
Aria just nods, no anger or disappointment clouding her soft features. She was always the understanding one. The selfless one, giving up her dreams so others could have theirs.
It’s too bad it seems I'll never be able to pay her back. I’m not the nice one, that’s why I walk out of the room, fleeing this uncomfortable topic.
It seems all I have been able to do is bring us both down.
𝓡𝓸𝓬𝓴𝓲𝓷' 𝓪𝓻𝓸𝓾𝓷𝓭 𝓽𝓱𝓮 𝓒𝓱𝓻𝓲𝓼𝓽𝓶𝓪𝓼 𝓽𝓻𝓮𝓮.
I return to my small hometown, and Aria, the following year. Hoping against the odds that we can spend Christmas Eve happily ignoring what happened past years.
Hoping Aria won’t ask me to marry her again.
I knock on her decorated front door, my hand tapping nervously at my side. When she opens it and sees me, she pulls me into a warm embrace.
I step through the front door, already feeling more at ease the moment the scent of fresh evergreen meets my nose. When I am out on my travels, I always look forward to spending the holidays here.
Inside her familiar home, carols radiate within the walls. Spreading Christmas spirit. I smile softly, glad to be drinking in the sight once again.
“The place looks the same as usual,” I say, smiling fondly.
“It must look drab, compared to all that you have seen, but it’s cozy.” Aria says, shifting her feet awkwardly.
“Nonsense, this is perfect.” I assure her, grinning as I hang my dripping coat on a hook by the door.
She fetches the remote from the television stand and turns up the music. I grin as I hear the song playing, “All I want for Christmas is you,” one of my favorites.
Aria gently takes my hand and pulls me toward a cleared area beside the Christmas tree. Our sock feet softly tap on the hardwood floor as we spin around happily. In this moment, all the burdens of our jobs and relationship are lifted, leaving behind only carefree cheer.
That is for a few joyous minutes, until Aria breaches the poisonous topic between us.
“Please tell me you want to stay by my side, Riella. Please marry me.” Aria pleads, her voice sounding more desperate than usual.
I just shake my head sadly, not having the energy to put my rejection into words. I told myself I would spend my time traveling from one distant place to another. It feels wrong to stay in here. The timing just isn’t right.
“I just don’t understand why I’ll never be enough for you,” Aria says, looking close to tears. I want to tell her that isn’t true, that she is everything to me, but I don’t get the chance.
This time she is the one who walks out of the room, not looking back.
𝓟𝓪𝓼𝓼 𝓪𝓻𝓸𝓾𝓷𝓭 𝓽𝓱𝓮 𝓬𝓸𝓯𝓯𝓮𝓮 𝓪𝓷𝓭 𝓽𝓱𝓮 𝓹𝓾𝓶𝓹𝓴𝓲𝓷 𝓹𝓲𝓮.
A year later, Aria asks to meet me in a small cafe back home on Christmas Eve.
I have begun to look forward to our holiday get-togethers the entire year, while I am gazing up at the Eiffel Tower, lounging in mountain-top lodges, and trekking through tropical rainforests.
My trips back home are a welcome break from living so intensely.
When I push open the rattling door of the coffee shop, I am hit by the strong smell of pumpkin chai lattes. Aria is seated at a small wooden table by the window, gazing out at colorful lights hung across the street. When she sees me she enthusiastically waves and I wave back smiling.
I make only one stop, to order hot chocolate with as much whipped cream and marshmallows as possible, before sitting down at her table.
“It feels like forever since I last saw you,” Aria muses after we have exchanged pleasant greetings.
“I wish I could come more often,” I agree, “Time just passes so fast for me when I’m out traveling.”
She glares down at the grounds in her empty coffee cup like she is trying to predict my fortune.
“Something wrong?” I ask, praying my lack of commitment is not the thing upsetting her.
“Sometimes I wish your dream wasn’t to travel the world. I wish you would be perfectly content having a simple job.” Aria says, disappointment lacing her voice.
I’m not sure what to say. The truth is, sometimes I wish the same exact thing. I often wish I didn’t feel suffocated after staying in one place for too long.
“Do you really have to leave the moment the new year begins. Can’t we spend the spring and every other season together?”
There is still hope in her question, even after so many rejections, but it is dimming.
“I wish I could stay.” I tell her.
𝓦𝓪𝓵𝓴𝓲𝓷𝓰 𝓲𝓷 𝓪 𝔀𝓲𝓷𝓽𝓮𝓻 𝔀𝓸𝓷𝓭𝓮𝓻𝓵𝓪𝓷𝓭.
Years from the day Aria first proposed, I find myself walking through a snowy landscape by her side. The snow is the perfect height, thick enough to cover all signs of fall, but thin enough that we can easily walk through in our heavy boots.
I catch her beaming at me from under her thick scarf as we walk, and I find myself smiling wide in return. No matter what happened previous years, I’ve discovered that I am never anything but happy in her company.
As the sidewalk winds toward the park, we find ourselves under a roof of sparkling holiday lights. They are strung from light post to light post, creating a tangled, beautiful mess.
We pause beneath a large evergreen tree, its boughs bent down to the ground under the weight of the snow. The needles form a blanket around us.
Aria takes my cold hands in her own soft mittens. She glances down at our linked fingers, then back up at my face.
“It seems pointless now, after having been told no so many times, but I can’t give up without trying one last time.” she tells me, fidgeting nervously with something inside her pocket.
She then pulls out the same small, velvety box from the first time we took a sleigh ride together.
“Riella, I love you and I want to spend every last second of my life with you. Every Christmas Eve when you come back home, it is the happiest day of my life. Please marry me.”
I freeze in place, as still as the icicles that have been forever present on every ledge of every building in town. Every time she asked me to stay in the past, I felt it wasn’t possible for me to linger in one place. But now, after having traveled relentlessly for years, I want nothing more than to settle with Aria.
I hate how her face falls at my delayed reaction, expecting me to reply by saying she wasn’t enough to make me want to stay. She didn’t deserve to be treated the way I treated her, all I can do now I start making it up to her. Starting with the words…
I spent so much time traveling to the ends of the world, hoping that I would find happiness in some faraway, exotic place. When all along, I was pushing away the one person who brought me true joy. I’m done doing that, it’s time for change.
I could search the ends of the Earth, but I will never find a place like home.