Note: A gift for my Secret Santa recipient, AsianFlipGurl. Surprise! Now this was majorly difficult for me to come up with, but as of the night of December 22nd, I was struck with inspiration…thank God. I'm hoping you enjoy it, and I hope it being last minute didn't impact the quality too much. Well, read away!
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Which is nothing new.
Snowdrops. They fall one by one on my lashes, and I blink them away with a simple bat of my eye. I can't see too well today, but that's the snow's fault; it's blinding everything in a sheet of white. My partner in crime, a rosy-cheeked little May, is patting on the finishing touches of her snowman when she asks me, "Claire? What should I get Stu for Christmas?"
"Oh, honey, I don't know. I've never been a six-year-old boy. I don't know how they think." I blow a strand of blonde hair from my eyes. "Don't ask me questions about men, baby, I don't know them very well."
I don't tell her I'm not looking at the adorable man she's built out of white, but at the lit window of the shop down the way. I'm wondering if that shadowy figure is looking back at me. I'm wondering if he's, by some miracle, reading my mind.
"Boys are weirdoes," May agrees. Her little pigtails bounce as she nods. "The other day, Stu wouldn't stop shoving this icky bug in my face. A bug! Ew!"
"The other day…" I bite my lip and think. My brain needs to thaw a bit, I think, because I have to pry each memory with the force of an ice pick to loosen it free. Two cups of hot cocoa, one blanket, lips that touched but never…
"He could use a scarf," I murmur, and without thinking I add mine to the snowman's head. He's a smidge lopsided, not entirely sturdy. Yet his silly coal grin tells me he doesn't mind that one bit. "Looks a little more cheerful, don't cha think?"
May appraises him gravely. "Red suits him."
Just because I can, I smirk at her and tease, "How do you know it's a him?"
"Oh! Um." The girl blushes. "Well, they don't call it a snowwoman…so…"
"That's okay." I smile and pack on more snow. "And if you ask me, it makes sense. After all…men are made of ice, aren't they?"
My hands slip, but I could swear I saw something move in that window. My breath fogs up before me, panting as my heartbeat goes wild. "Miss Claire?" tiny May chirps. My breathing hitches. I clutch at the snow in my fist.
He's most certainly leaving the building. It's him, I'd know that hat…any…where.
"Miss Claire, I was also wondering…what do you want for Christmas?"
Cold blue eyes. Eyes of ice. Even amidst the flurries, I can recognize them. I know they see me. I know it. I stiffen up my back and I realize my knees are buckling, but I fake a smile. I even wave.
He keeps on staring. Then he walks away.
"Miss Claire, what do you want?"
It's nothing, nothing at all, but I hug myself. Something's been stomped upon, but I can't pretend to know what. "…A heart," I murmur, and May raises her eyebrows.
"A—a gift from the heart," I correct myself. Hah, I'm sweating. It's the middle of winter, and I'm sweating.
May beams at me. "I can do that!"
I watch her footprints as she leaves, and I imagine that it's my emptiness being filled as the snow covers them all anew.
The quilt was pulled back and forth between us, and he finally won, laughing at my frown. "Cold, are we?" Gray taunted, and I remained silent. I mumbled a maybe, and he smirked. "Thought so."
"I'm not the one begging for a blanket here."
"But it's mine! This is my house…"
I should've known better. I should've known he'd pull close to me, wrap those strong arms about my tiny frame, and whisper, "Warm enough yet?" into my ear. It tickled, it always tickled, not that I'm complaining. Snuggling close, I squeezed him tighter. He felt like summer, that was it—warm summer in the middle of frost.
"I said you're comfy, Gray, deal with it."
I stared at the mementos hanging on the wall—proof, all, of his presence in my life. The broken fishing rod from that one time in the mountains I swore to never repair, the shining brooch I wore on days I needed to feel beautiful, the love letters poking out from my secret hiding place in my nightstand drawer: this man, the man holding me safe within his grasp, had given me all that and more.
"I could stay like this forever," I mumbled, and I saw an unsure smile spread across his lips at my words. He ran his fingers through my hair, and I waited, of course I waited, and as always nothing came. "And you?" I found myself needing to ask.
"What about you?" What's forever mean to you?
His lips drew closed, but so did his arms as they squished me tighter. So I sat there, locked in his embrace, and to my embarrassment I couldn't help but wonder. "Gray…you're not answering me."
A grunt. That single sound caused a stone to sink in my heart, and I tried to concentrate on the toasty blanket warming my toes instead of the ache forming within me.
"Do you love me?"
"I asked if you love me, Gray."
The candles in the room flickered, their reflection dancing in his eyes. His rough hands cupped my face. I couldn't read those eyes as they studied me; I could hear ringing in my ears. "Hmm." His lips moved, but instead of words, they landed upon my neck, slowly traveling upward, planting kiss after kiss with each movement. I shivered.
"G-Gray, I asked if you—" My words faded as he reached my cheek, and I fought back the blush I knew was coming on. "Stop that—"
"Oh?" Gray sat upright and studied the result of his actions: a single beet-red face. "You don't like it?"
"That's not the question. I asked you one first."
"Didn't I answer that?"
I pulled the blanket up to my neck; my blood, it's all rushing to my head. "No, Gray, you didn't." You…never do.
Gray grunted once more, and instead of replying, stood up. He fished about his pockets. Looked about. Sighed.
"You got any hot chocolate left?"
I blinked. "What? Um, no, we've used it all up."
Could you choke on silence? I used to think such a thing couldn't be possible, but since meeting Gray, I've tried to learn so many things that the men before him could never tell me. Like how to speak with your eyes. How to talk without your tongue.
I've never spoken his language, but I can teach him mine. "Last year, you promised something, remember?"
"Has it already been a year?"
Gray paused in his pacing. His hat spun to the side some when he did so, and I couldn't help but notice a little hesitation in his eyes. I cringed—I could sense the ice beneath us cracking.
"Yes, Gray. Technically, almost two years."
"Damn, time sure does fly."
Just five words. Five useless words to me, when all I needed were three of value.
To my complete shame, he'd turned his back to me, and those kisses that had caused heat to flush up in my cheeks had long since turned cold. I was no stranger to these evenings. But I'd become tired of never knowing. I had to…ask, until he told me.
"Do you love me?" It came blurted out, almost scared. He just stared at me, and I babbled on like a fool, "I—I mean it's been two years, Gray. I need to know these things."
His eyes bored into mine. "What do you think?"
"I don't know what I think, because I don't know what you think! You never—"
"I what, I never what?"
Silence. I played with the fringes of the blanket, and he snorted. "You're making something out of nothing."
Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn't really matter in the end, when nothing doesn't feel like nothing. Not to me, anyway. "When are you going to meet my parents, Gray?" It's a whisper now, a dying breath.
"Wh-what? How the hell should I know?"
"Do you love me?" I insisted.
"I'm not a mind-reader, Gray! Do you love me?"
A long, heavy sigh. I suddenly realized how accusing I sounded and looked down at the quilt. Hah, the corner was unraveling. Just like my confidence.
"Well, Gray? Do you?"
Maybe I shouldn't have pushed him. Maybe I shouldn't ask questions I don't know the answer to. Maybe—
"If you have to ask me that, then… Claire, I don't need this."
"You promised we'd see my parents this year, Gray."
"Well, a lot of damn notice we'd be giving them ahead of time, wouldn't we?"
"Don't yell at me—"
"Oh, but you can yell at me?"
The candles trembled. Since when had our voices risen? Shaking, I got up from my seat. "Gray, I just want to know. Do you love me?"
"What good is an answer when all you'll do is hold visiting your parents over my head, and ask for God knows what else? Haven't I answered this enough!"
"Do you love me!" My eyes stung. But they couldn't be moist with tears, could they? "Gray, do you love me?"
"The hell with you! The hell with…all of this." A kick to the table. A swear. A slam of the door, a gust of cold air, the darkness of a dozen candles going out.
It's Christmas, and Santa doesn't reward the foolish.
I've spoken his language all day, a steady draw of silence as I pack my bags. It's a last ditch attempt to free myself from self-pity and self-doubt, leaving here for the holidays. I should've known, huh? That I was in love with a man as hard as the rocks he smithed.
Three words. That's all I wanted.
Staring at my suitcase, I'm sure there's no one who will mind my change of plans. All I'd had to look forward to was a date that had abruptly ended with my explosion two days ago. I could just ride home, surprise the rents, overdose on eggnog. Call up old friends. Enjoy the days I'd spent chopping firewood in clubs, shopping malls, rooms with indoor plumbing.
'Course, Mom will ask about Gray, and I'll give her my standard answer for men: "They're just not worth our time, as always." Which is a lie. They're completely worth our time, it's up to them whether we're worth…
No, I refuse to accept that. I'm worth something, regardless of the fact that Gray disagrees. It's not my fault he's got a hammer up his…urgh, it's funny how people you love can make you so angry so soon.
…I loved him, didn't I?
That's why I wanted him to say it first.
I hide my face in my gloved hands. Urgh, so stupid! Always so stupid. He's like a jellyfish, just, avoiding any and all conflict with his lips and his arms and his affection. I can't pin him down, I can't force him to say anything.
Not even three simple words.
I'm all packed. My boots click clack on the path to the dock, and when I pass by the blacksmith's, I'll admit I look. No silhouette there today. Even if there was, I doubt he'd come out with arms spread wide, begging me to stay. He doesn't say things like that. If he says anything at all.
And it's not my fault. I have to remind myself, his failure to say he cares for me is not my fault. Because if it is, I just know I'll never forgive myself for letting this slide. Let him handle his own problems. If he wants to say anything to me, maybe I'll stay.
But he won't. He never does.
"Miss Claaaaaaire!" I stop in my tracks at that boy's voice. Stu gasps for breath, panting as if he's run a marathon. Which he might have, with those stubbly little legs. "Why are you all packed n' stuff?"
"I'm going home for the holidays, dear," I respond.
The smile on his face drops like a brick. "Oh, but—but you can't!"
"May has a gift for you! She worked so hard on it, too, it's so awesome, you can't miss it!"
My heart breaks a bit at the idea of May's disappointed little face. Oh, I don't want to be thinking about that on Christmas, I…I'd be such a Scrooge if I did.
But the boat. If I don't board soon, then—
"Send her over to the dock, I'll ask Zack if we can wait for her," I promise the boy. Immediately, he beams.
"Alright! Stay right there, Miss Claire, don't you move at all!"
Going to the beach in Winter feels odd. It's like you're breaking the natural flow of time—the ocean and the season just don't mix. "Need any help gettin' your stuff hoisted up there?" the ever helpful Zack inquires, and I just smile at him in thanks.
"You're a sweetheart, Zack. I really appreciate this."
"Not a problem at all! So, we're waiting for someone, eh?"
I remember being that girl's age. Heh, I think I gave someone a mud pie once for a gift. Truth is, I love being with the girl. Stu, too. Kids just fill me with happy memories, bring out that maternal instinct in me. I wonder if—
No, I'm not going to think about him. It doesn't matter if he'd make a good father or not, if he's a lousy lover.
Lousy. Well, that might've been harsh. He certainly could be attentive…in his own silent way. There were reasons I'd spent the past two years on him, after all. Good reasons. Real reasons. Like the fact that I loved…him.
I clutch my coat tighter about me. It's still past tense, right? You can't love someone who doesn't tell you they love you back. Or a coward too scared to answer.
"Miz Claire?" Zack turns to look at me, and I promise you, I didn't mean to cry.
Was it too much to ask for three…oh, God, who am I kidding? It was two words all along.
"Hey, why the long face, stupid girl?"
I blink. The blur before me is too tall to be May, and as I rub away the silly selfish tears, I recognize the man standing there. His hat, as always, gives him away.
"H-homesick. I'm on my way to visit my family, you know." I sniffle. "I'm not a fan of spending the holidays alone."
Gray runs his hand through his hair and raises an eyebrow. "So, uh, what's stopping you from going?"
"Not you, if that's what you're asking. May's bringing me a gift."
He nods, as if he's known this all along. "Oh, that. Right."
"And—and how dare you, come now, to try and keep me here?" I stumble out. "You've got no say in where I go anymore!"
I expect my words to faze him, but instead he smiles. "Don't think so highly of yourself. I'm here 'cuz of May as well."
"…Oh." He couldn't be—May wouldn't give me a boy as a gift, I hope?
"Hold on, it's in my pocket."
Oh, thank God! I come forward to grab it, but Gray pulls back the paper at the last minute, looking at me. I don't know what he's seeing, but it infuriates me. "Well? Aren't you going to give it to me?"
"Hold on just a minute." He cocks his head at me, gives me that serious look I've become too used to. "Claire, can I ask you something? Since y'know, you've been asking me all this…stuff."
"Give me the paper, Gray."
"See, this is my insurance here, you have to listen or you get nothing."
"B-but, you're crushing a little girl's dreams just so you can selfishly rant at me?!"
"Now, hold on. You got your selfish day, alright? I think I deserve a few damn words."
"Words? You? Words!" I laugh, I can't help it. "You had your chance, okay? Give me the gift."
He lifts it higher. "You think this is easy?" Gray sighs, and I stop in my retaliation for a moment. "You know that I don't…talking doesn't…hell, I'm no good at it. Never have been."
"I—I've noticed." Despite my best efforts, I can't sound bitter, but regretful. Because it's something I wish that I could bear.
The blacksmith shuffles his feet a bit. "Claire, you know, are we really going to end two years over…over me being unable to say what I mean?"
"No, Gray." I'm mumbling now, but he can hear me fine. "We're ending this over two years of me never understanding you."
"Heh, you just agreed with me."
"That this is your fault, not mine."
"Wh-which is not true at all!" I retort. "All you had to do was just answer me."
"I did." A pause. "I…just didn't use words."
I turn away, because if I don't he'll see the crestfallen look on my face. "The words you did use said plenty."
"Yeah, well, that's the problem with words. Sometimes the wrong ones can tumble out." Gray's hand holding the paper present has lowered, but for some reason I don't see myself grabbing for it. I'm listening, because Gray's face is betraying just a shred of the sorrow I know I'm feeling inside. "Y'know, Claire, I'm never going to change in that respect. I don't say what I mean, it's easier to blow up at people or avoid people when I'm talking. Cuz that other stuff, it doesn't come naturally."
His voice trails off, and I whisper, "It's okay. Keep going, I'm not going to leave." This time, I know it's not because of May.
"So I try not to say that stuff. Haven't you ever heard that saying, Claire? About actions speaking louder than words. That one. I do that." He lowers his hat over his eyes. "I'm too much of a wuss to admit things like…that love junk. I'm better at showing it."
And I know this, I've always known this. He answers in kisses, in hugs, in subtle glances and smirks. It's lovely, some days, but…not all.
"I just need to hear it sometimes, okay?" I want to sound stronger here, but the truth is I'm too vulnerable for that. And correct me if I'm wrong, but so is he. "Sometimes I want…to hear your voice."
"Yeah. I got that." A slow nod. "But I want to be straight with you, Claire. If, uh, if we don't end today, I'm not going to magically transform. I'm still going to slip up every once in a while. Probably—hell, probably a lot."
I shut my eyes. I try to imagine, for a moment, what that'd be like. But I already know, don't I? Slamming doors, tears, shouts at a rock that will suddenly become a volcano, nights where all I want to do is cry myself to sleep and wonder what I did wrong—but that's not all. Long walks where no words are necessary, cold nights spent by a fireplace with each other for company, blissful moments where the world just goes still, and I know that I'm…
"—loved." The thought has escaped my lips, and I try to laugh it off. "That doesn't mean, um, that I'm not…loved."
I take his hand, and Gray goes silent for a moment. And for once, I love this silence, as his eyes widen at my first act of reconciliation. "And, uh, you know…you could, um, fix some stuff, too."
"I'm sure." I giggle.
"Because forever is, well, forever. And I can't deal with this moodiness thing every day."
"Your first question. I didn't forget." Gray kicks the sand and makes sure to avoid eye contact. "Yeah, forever would be cool. Because, uh, I love you and stuff."
Happiness bursts like a dam within me. It fills me up, so full I can barely speak, but I manage to. "I…love you, too."
"Well, that's, uh, that's great." Embarrassed, Gray stuffs his hands in his pockets, then draws them out quickly. "Oh, yeah, that thing May wanted to give you. It's probably all wrinkly now, sorry."
"That's okay," I assure him. "Just, uh, wait one second."
He raises an eyebrow.
"I need to tell Zack I'm not going anywhere." I feel kind of foolish, but it's a good kind as I skip over and smile my way back to where Gray—my boyfriend, my ex of two days, but my boyfriend—is standing. His face has this amused expression, as if the world has decided to turn upside down so you can slide down rainbows. "What? What is it?"
He laughs, truly stunned. "Uh, well. I took the liberty of looking at this gift."
We smooth it out together in our hands, and I jump back, mouth covered in shock.
"TO MISS CLAYERE: I had a serteen purson give you this for a speshil reeson. Love, May."
And there, in perfect crayon, was a blue feather, accompanied by the two words I'd wanted to hear all along, but were spoken by my lover's lips:
It only took one to respond.
End Note: Ahh, experience is the best teacher sometimes. xD As always, I do best at the last minute, so the third section kicks way more butt than the first two. Sorry about that, haha. Anyway, I enjoyed this piece, and I especially hope AsianFlipGurl enjoys it, too. Happy holidays! :)