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Christmas Fiction Friendship

Melodic sounds of Christmas danced through the icy air. The small town of Winona, Minnesota where Sara Stanley lived was aglow with lights, decorated cheerfully for Christmas with abundant trees, and punctuated with a huge blow-up Santa stationed right beside the tiny brick library. The sidewalks were full of laughing people walking briskly around the city square in their colorful hats and gloves and coats. Radio speakers along the path played classic heartfelt Sinatra, with a little Nat King Cole thrown in. The swishing of ice skates could be heard in the distance, trickling over from the man-made skating rink by City Hall, the scene complete with the squeals of skaters taking their first tumble.

Sara loved Christmas. As far back as she could remember it had held a magical place in her heart. She nodded to a miniature Santa in a stroller as she passed, and stopped to say hello to a black Labrador suffering through the torture of his Rudolph costume, complete with bells on his felt antlers. She continued on through the crunchy snow toward the library, waving to a group of schoolchildren from her English class as they passed by, headed for the rink, she sighed and was grateful it was finally Christmas break. 

She jogged up the concrete steps and pushed open the heavy door, grateful for the blast of warm air that hit her in the face. It immediately thawed out her frozen cheeks, her pale skin stinging with the sudden change in temperature, but she barely noticed it. The brick walls were hung with ornaments and little Christmas cards scrawled on with crayons, as well as abundant boughs of greenery and miniature sleigh bells. The entire library felt like a miniature Christmas village. 

There was only one important thing missing. 

Her fiancé Andrew. 

He was supposed to be here. Except now he wasn't. He was gone. Never coming back. Deleted from her life. Erased from her day-to-day existence. 

And it hurt. 

Car accidents had a way of doing that. 

She sighed as she walked down the aisles, trailing her hand along the old, worn spines of the rows of books - stories bigger than life on the inside, full of magic, laughter, and happy endings. 

She considered for a moment how ironic that concept was. A book could hold the grandest adventure in all the world, tucked between two sheets of cardboard covered in fancy paper. The characters would get to go home from their journeys and live their little lives, while in the real world bad things conspired every day to make a real happy ending unreachable - a far off luxury for dreamers. 

"Can I help you, miss?" 

Looking up from her reverie, Sara found herself face to face with a sweet faced older lady, red glasses perched atop her perfect puff of silver hair, and a kind glow in her crystal blue eyes. She pointed helpfully to the candy cane shaped tag on her white sweater that indicated she was a "Library Assistant". 

"Uh - no – no, thank you. Just browsing." Sara stammered, trying to put on her most convincing smile, although she knew that large, dark eyes would easily give away the pain of her inner emotions. 

The lady smiled concernedly at her and nodded slowly. "Okay, just let me know if you need anything." 

Nodding her agreement, Sara continued down the narrow aisle, watching the lady walk away out of the corner of her eye. 


Smiling, dark. Handsome. Quite handsome. 

They were going to do so much together. See the world, visit ancient ruins, have picnics in a sunny meadow, jump in rain puddles on a summer night, chase each other along the seashore while trying not to get wet, shoving each other into the pool, watching movies for hours while snuggling on the couch, walk to teach their classes together, walk home together. 


Such a final word.

It was also a connecting word. Two people doing the things they love - together. 

She glanced at her watch. It was almost noon, the anniversary of his death, just moments away. Since his passing, she had developed a habit of sitting somewhere every year, solemn and quiet as the clock struck twelve, just thinking of him, grieving the chapter of her life that fate had forcibly closed. 

She smiled at the memory of Andrew racing her to the entrance of the high school where they both taught, a very immature thing to do, but every single time he initiated the challenge, she clutched her schoolbag close and gave chase. He always won, but only because he wanted to arrive at the front door first, open it and let her enter ahead of him.

She brushed the back of her hand across her cheek, feeling the dampness of the lone tear that crept from her eye. Sinking slowly to the floor, her back found a sturdy resting place against the sturdy shelves, and she rested her head on her arms, propping them across her knees. The smell of old paper drifted to her senses, the sound of children running down the book aisles in excitement, the door opening and closing as people exited and entered the quiet sanctuary of the library. The scent of pine from the many trees in the small building brought back memories of her childhood, and she clenched her hands together tightly at the emotions welling up inside her. It felt so much harder today. People were supposed to be together at Christmas, not mourning. Yet, the awful truth that she knew in her heart was that many people around the globe were giving various loved ones their five minutes today. 

"It's been six and a half minutes." A gruff voice spoke to her left. 

Startled, she raised her head to find a tall, black clothed figure gazing down at her. It was Andrew's brother, Matthew. His hands were stuffed in his pants pockets, and his chiseled face was lined with ill-concealed concern. 

"Matthew?" She hated how broken her voice sounded when she finally gathered enough composure to speak. "What are you doing here? Why aren't you working?"

"Well, would you believe me if I said I was looking for a mint condition hardback copy of A Christmas Carol to add to my collection?" He kept his eyes on the ceiling as he answered, then let them drift down to her round, pained face. 

She smiled crookedly, a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Matthew, you would go to the antiques shop and get one if you really wanted to." 

"Ah, but I can't" he replied smugly, pointing at her with a long finger. "Because you wouldn't have been there, and we wouldn’t have had this meeting. Besides, it's my day off. Even physicians have to take a day off now and then." 

He couldn't tell her that the brokenness he saw in her eyes hurt his heart with a pain he had never stopped to allow before. As a doctor, he did not often have the luxury of dwelling on the losses, but this one was hard on him too. His brother had been his best friend, and Sara had been the light of his brother's life. He had taken today off specifically to try to be there for her, but now that he was standing in front of her, he was clueless as to what exactly to do. He wished Andrew’s ghost would come and give him instructions, but that idea equally unnerved him. Comforting people did not come easy to him, and it was even harder when they looked so incredibly broken.

"Do you want to go get coffee?" Matthew finally asked, pointing awkwardly toward the general direction of the coffee shop next door with his shoulder, his hands still tucked in his pockets. That was a good choice. Coffee. The girls always liked coffee, most of them. At least that's what he had always heard. 

She sighed, a bit disappointed that her time of mourning was interrupted by the shadowy scarecrow of a man that she knew Andrew’s brother to be. But he was still waiting expectantly for her answer, and she knew he wasn’t going to go away without her agreement.

"I can't drink coffee, Matthew. Caffeine and I don't go together well."

“You still need a distraction,” Matthew replied, his voice uncharacteristically soft. “Doctor’s orders.” 

She didn’t especially want to go spend time with the very person that would make her think of Andrew for the entirety of the day, but the dark eyes that looked down at hers were so expecting, hoping that something he offered would erase that haunted look from her eyes, that she couldn't help but give in. 

"Hot chocolate would - be - nice, doctor."

He smiled crookedly and reached out a long arm to help her up and she gratefully accepted it, quite sure that her knees were as weak as her emotions felt today. They gave way slightly as she stood, and his arm settled easily around her, a steady strength against the shaking in her core. 

"You miss him a lot, don't you?" 

She looked up into his face drawn with concern, feeling as if all her tomorrows were drowning in those simple words. She had never admitted it aloud before. It would make it all too real. Maybe if she just refused to, then it would all remain a bad, bad dream in the back of her mind. But if she admitted confessed her grief, then it would be true that her Andrew had died in a car accident, instantly, with no chance to say goodbye. He would no longer just be Andrew Grey, the science teacher that she hung out with and laughed with. They would always be known as ill-fated lovers, lost to eternity and lost to each other. Yet he deserved that remembrance, as someone who had deeply loved. He deserved to have been her soulmate. And he deserved that she let his memory rest. 

Sara placed both small hands on the lapels of the doctor’s long wool coat, feeling the beat of his heart beneath its rough cloth, while trying to find courage to speak. He watched her, patiently, his gaze steady. Sensing her struggle, his larger hands covered hers and held on tight. 

"Yes. I – I miss him. A lot." She spoke gently, quietly, unable to break the contact of the glance they shared. His eyes were tender as he clasped one of her hands in his own and brought it slowly up to his face. She thought for a moment that he was going to kiss it, but he didn't. That would be taking advantage of her emotions, and he knew it.

"You deserved to be with someone like him, Sara," he finally spoke, resting his chin on their interlaced fingers. “I am sorry that it ended like it did. You are quite alone now, aren't you, dear Sara?” 

"I have you," she replied gently. “You were there for all of it, the funeral, the eulogy, the burial. I will never forget the strength you gave me simply by being there, standing beside me. I knew no one else there as well as I knew you, and I would have been quite distressed, if I'd had to do it all on my own.” 

His eyebrows crooked upward in slight surprise. "That is good to know. I was unsure if I was helping you or hurting you.” 

“You were always helping, Matthew. Always. You couldn’t hurt me, it’s just not in you.” She breathed a heavy sigh and leaned forward, resting her head on his chest. He froze in place, surprised by the move, then his arms settled comfortingly around her shoulders, tucking her close against his chest.

"I have an idea, Sara." 

She tilted her head backwards, resting her chin against his coat, eyes searching his face. "And what would that be, Matthew?" 

"Let's go do Christmas things. Whatever you and Andrew liked to do at Christmas. Shopping for things you don't want, baking food that gives you a sugar coma, spending ridiculous money on idiotic things, throwing snow at each other." He waved his hand in the air to emphasize the drama of throwing snow before settling it around her again. A glimmer of excitement flickered in her eyes, and a slow smile spread across her face. 

"Really, Matthew? A seasoned, droll-faced doctor like you taking the time to do silly little frivolous things like that with me?" 

He raised his eyebrows again. "Who are you calling droll-faced? If you'd rather sit here and feel sorry for yourself, be my guest. I mean, look what it's doing to your face! It's all – mopey – and long." 

She rolled her eyes at him. "I'm not feeling sorry for myself, Matthew. Really. It's just sadness. You know, an emotional thing that some people feel." 

The doctor laughed, and steered her toward the front door. "I know it is, Sara, that's why I mentioned it. Lead on, to the coffee shop first, then we will get to the snow throwing." 

As she walked next to the grumpy doctor that she had come to know as both her friend and the brother of the man she had loved, she realized something that troubled her, but made her feel secure. He was always there, in the shadows of her and Andrew’s story. Always there to have her back when she was confused by rules on family game night, to snap her out of the sad moments when she got too wrapped up in the events of the world around her, and to scold her when she messed up during driving lessons and ran into the garage door, or stayed out way too late at night, and would plead with her when she almost gave up on her teaching degree, begging her to reconsider her options. He was a constant, someone she never really saw, but knew they were there, in the corner. Now, as she followed him out of the warm library into the crisp air again, she wondered if that had been a mistake. 

At the coffee shop, he stepped up to the counter and ordered for them both, waving her away to find a booth for them. It was only moments later when he sat down across from her, setting two mugs down, a rare boyish smile flitting across his face. 

She got her first look at what he had chosen for them and her face lit up too, much to his delight.

“Oh, Matthew, they are adorable!”

Across the top of the cocoa that he had offered her, the whipped cream had been flattened carefully, and the shape of a holly leaf had been dusted onto the white surface with fine cocoa powder. His mug sported the shape of a bell on the top instead. 

“I asked the barista to make them extra special,” he announced. “And she gave me these!” He held up two tiny spoons made of red and white striped peppermint. “She said they don’t give them out to just anyone.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her, as if they shared the secret of obtaining the only two peppermint spoons in the world.

“I love them!” She reached out and took one, biting off a piece of it, and laughing bashfully at the incredulous raising of his eyebrows. “Peppermint is my absolute favorite.” 

Sara happily crunched the bit of candy, as his frown of consternation gave way to fondness, and she dropped the rest of it into the cocoa, watching it sink into the cream. 

“Thanks for doing this,” she whispered, softly, glancing up at him. He was sipping his own cocoa, but watching her, and as she met his intense gaze again, her cheeks reddened.

“Welcome,” he replied gruffly, turning to gaze out the window. She watched him, realizing she hadn’t really paid much attention to his eyes before, having been wrapped up in the teasing, easy-going person that had been Andrew Grey. Matthew Grey was someone else entirely, brooding, dark, always wearing his long black coat in the world as if it were a shield from the world around him. But it was suddenly painfully obvious that this mysterious man loved her. Not as a lover or a crush. Not as a date or a night out. But this dark, long-limbed, awkward doctor wanted her to be with him, at this table, at this moment, in public, drinking cocoa together - feeling things together.

Using their mugs of cocoa, they made steam circles on the plate glass and drew silly faces in them, laughing over and over at each one, challenging each other to make them bigger and bigger.

He was a balm for her, today. A drug. An escape. He knew it and felt that he should not have allowed it. But she was his anchor - unintentionally, her cheerful ways were his strength, a companion for the lonely man buried away inside of him. There was only so much that Andrew could do for his morose-natured brother, and he dared not imagine what life without them both Andrew and Sara would be like. 

He needed her. 

And right now, she needed him. 

He was sorry Andrew was gone. He was sorry she was brokenhearted. The joy in her eyes had faded in the days following his brother’s demise and he had desperately tried to think of a way to get it back for her. He wasn't a jealous sort, and he would never push her into anything other than what they were. He didn't even deserve what he had. She and his brother had been kind enough to allow the friendship that they had, and he was grateful for that. 

She drew a smile on the frosted glass window, then reached across the table, laughing as she tried to touch his hands with her fingers, now freezing and wet from the glass and frost. He pretended to try to avoid them, eventually letting her capture his hand in hers. Normal people would think the frown on his lean face was angry, but Sara knew him enough to know better. What she didn't know was that he welcomed the touch.

Oh, but he would never admit it.

December 01, 2023 21:05

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1 comment

Prijanga Selva
15:11 Dec 09, 2023

I love reading this, it was so sweet!! :)


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