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Friendship Fiction Christmas

The whipped cream towered over the rim of Rachel’s mug. It had a gentle dusting of cocoa powder and a layer of marshmallow melt cushioned below the swirl of cream. It smelled as inviting as it looked: like carefully collated Christmas memories in a cup. Eve had arrived just in time for them to both make it to the head of the café’s queue. A minute later, the whole town seemed to spill in. There was a blizzard after all. The coffee shop was the engine at the centre of everything; like a heart that kept pulsing no matter what transpired around it.


Eve gave Rachel a smile of satisfaction as she took the first sip of chocolate. It was everything it promised to be. The scene outside the window was picture perfect. The snow was falling in December, like everyone always hoped it would. Ordinarily, it never arrived in such a timely fashion. It was ready for the Christmas season, and so was Rachel. Their friendship had held together through so many moments. They’d met in Paris as two foreigners. English-speaking alone hadn’t brought them together; they had the exact same taste in books. They didn’t need any news of their own lives in order to schedule a catch-up. Reviewing their recent reads was conversation enough for them. They had the quiet understanding between them that passes from one bookworm to another, without the need for extroverted expression of it.


Eve had brought Rachel a thoughtful gift. They weren’t the kind for regular gift giving, but it felt like the occasion called for something: some worthy acknowledgement of their friendship. Eve hadn’t expected the outpouring of emotion that she got from Rachel when she unfolded the tissue paper. It was a crocheted bookmark with a little charm hanging from it. Rachel thought it was the perfect gift. She chided herself for not having had the foresight to get Eve something in return.


“Oh, Eve, it’s beautiful,” she gushed. “Such a personal gift – I love it.”


“Well, you always say you can never find a bookmark. I saw you were using a folded post-it last week, so I decided it was time to intervene,” she smiled.


It was a lovely memento. It was something she knew Rachel would keep for ever, provided it didn’t get worn out from overuse. The two women had created their own reading group of sorts. After realising how coordinated they were in their reading material, it made sense to coordinate their reading on purpose. The books gave them enough content to discuss for a lifetime, and they always returned reluctantly to their regular lives after their café meetings.


The cafe overlooked the canal Saint-Martin, and the huge windows and dreamy views were what drew them back time and again. That day, the scene was particularly evocative of Winter and traditional Yule. The snow swirled thoughtfully but relentlessly. It presided over the day, like a supreme ruler, bringing everything that wasn’t the weather to a halt. There was the impression that Rachel and Eve were imprisoned in their favourite café, and Eve couldn’t think of anywhere she’d rather be in that moment. But she knew that feeling would last as long as the snowstorm. She could see it melting in her mind’s eye, and she knew it was time to disclose the truth. Getting the words to find form wasn’t an easy undertaking. She wanted to phrase everything just so. There was no need to upset her most cherished friend whenever she was someone who prided herself on being a wordsmith.


They had so much history between them. They hadn’t consciously created it, but it had formed by its own volition. The moments she’d spent knowing Rachel pieced together in her mind, like quilting fragments that came together into a complete picture in the end. Rachel was sipping her hot chocolate gingerly. She looked like she wanted to savour every drop. She’d brought their current read to the tabletop: Wintering. It felt seasonally appropriate, in every way. It wasn’t just about the onslaught of Winter; it was about transition, discomfort and succumbing to seasonal change. It felt fitting to Eve. Rachel didn’t know the full extent to which it was relevant. Her paperback already looked battered. It had started off as a clean copy bought first hand from the internet, but now it looked like it would have fitted in with its friends that resided on her second hand, much preloved bookshelf.


Eve delayed her message. The more she watched her friend, the more she wanted to protect her from the sorry facts. She was clearly happy; the kind of happiness that comes from blissful ignorance, and Eve didn’t want to be the one to shatter that illusion. She took sips from her own hot chocolate, feeling it growing cool as the cream melted into the milky cocoa. She nestled her fingers into the dip beneath the cup handle, wishing she could stay as sheltered as that forever. Change was frightening, even whenever it was something you knew you wanted or needed.


Her memories flipped through her mind, like she was flicking through pages of a photo album. Rachel was more than a friend to her; she was a sisterly figure. Eve had never had a sister, by blood or by name. She’d only had a brother with whom she never saw eye to eye. He thought she was an impulsive dreamer. He was in a solid career, with a less solid marriage. They barely made contact with one another anymore. Eve knew that was for the best. He would only strip away the parts of her identity within which she felt comfortable. He was cruel like that, in that way that’s hard to pinpoint. It’s just a feeling someone leaves you with, like an aftertaste even vigorous toothbrushing can’t shift.


Her best friend was waiting expectantly, like she was reaching into the depths of her eyes for answers, whilst looking out the window and taking in the scenery. Rachel was always a sensitive soul, but Eve thought it was strange the extent to which she picked up on others’ feelings. You could leave so many things unsaid and Rachel would manage to decode them. But not this: Rachel would never expect this.


Eve cleared her throat. It felt like she had a frog in it – and a collection of amphibians. She couldn’t force out a word without her voice breaking. It didn’t matter; at least Rachel would know she felt something.


“I have something to tell you,” said Eve. She was talking quickly, going for the fast tear band aid method rather than the slow pull that resulted in plucked hairs. “I’m leaving Paris.”


She saw devastation move through Rachel’s eyes. She read a million unsaid words in that instant. And then came the cover-up smile; the kind of smile that changes the lips but not the eyes. Rachel’s lips were upturned, her eyes still filled with tragedy.


“Where are you going?”


“I’m going to Germany with Bruno. He wants to return home and he asked me to go with him.”


“But what about Paris?” she said it like Eve was betraying my city. On some level, Eve felt like she was too.


Germany was completely new to her. She’d never seen an inch of it, but she would, no doubt, uncover it all in due time. She just hoped Rachel would be ok while she went in search of a new adventure. She hadn’t met anyone yet, and maybe she didn’t want to. They didn’t tend to dwell on matters like that, so distracted they were by their romantic world of reading.


“I’m happy for you,” she said, unconvincingly. “I’m just a bit shocked.”


“I know, we’ve run around this city for a decade. She remembered whenever she first arrived here and didn’t know a soul. Will you come and visit me?” she pleaded.


She didn’t want to lose the threads of their friendship just because she was forced to drop them due to distance.


“Of course,” she said, “that’s the benefit of living in this age. We can still have our reading group, but remotely.”


“You could still come to this café without me. Maybe you could show me the canal on your webcam?” Eve asked, beseechingly.


She knew she was going to miss it with every fibre of her being, but she felt compelled to follow the path laid before her. Just like whenever she’d first encountered Rachel, all it took was one invitation and she was completely absorbed in a new story.


December 03, 2023 10:19

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2 comments

Mary Bendickson
16:01 Dec 04, 2023

Created a close friendship. Towards end started using 'I' where before had been both 'she'.

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Keelan LaForge
18:53 Dec 04, 2023

Thank you for drawing that to my attention.. I will fix it :)

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