A/N: This was the piece I wrote for the Twilight Gift Exchange. The story was originally written for Gondolier, but in the end was given to Profmom72.
Gondolier's original prompt: Two people meet at an airport on Christmas Eve when their flights are delayed. Run with it!
This is dedicated to Gondolier, Profmom72, Mrs. TheKing, and all you wonderful readers. Thank you! Keep on being awesome.
A Shadow of a Wing
The snow fell steadily, big flakes as soft as eyelashes, swatches of cold, delicate lace kissing my cheeks. On my walk to the subway, I'd twirled in it, my mittened hands out. I was reminded of Winona Ryder in Edward Scissorhands, dancing in the ice shavings of Johnny Depp's speedily carved ice sculpture.
I knew I was nowhere near as beautiful as that, with my uncombed hair and ratty knit cap, but the gentle snow kisses made me feel beautiful and clean and graceful.
I'd gotten a couple of catcalls as I twirled. You just didn't do that in New York. Everyone pretended to be so cool. And maybe they were. I knew I'd never fit in here, with everyone stomping around like supermodels on a catwalk. A lot of them probably were actual models, their seemingly casual bohemian style so carefully studied and most likely ridiculously expensive.
New York could steal your soul after a while—everyone was so concerned about their outsides, of one-upping each other at parties with stories, namedropping, social climbing. Every guy who seemed like a potential somebody turned out to be a pothead or a cokehead or gay, sometimes a combination of all three if I were particularly lucky that night. The not-nice guys were also probably potheads and cokeheads, but they talked so much about themselves that I, bored to tears, would slip away before I could find out for certain. It was amazing how lonely you could feel in a city where every square inch was packed with hipsters upon hipsters.
Hipsters didn't make for very good company.
I was glad to be going home for Christmas. It had been a while, and I'd been saving up for the cross-country flight. I hadn't been home for Christmas in forever. Renee was even going to fly up to Forks with Phil so I could have a facsimile of the semi-normal Christmases of my youth with both my parents. Both my parents … and Phil.
"Why this newfound family rah-rah togetherness?" I'd asked when Renee lobbed the idea to me around Thanksgiving.
"Bella, I just want to see my baby at Christmas. Is that so wrong?"
I guess it wasn't. Still, I had no idea what it would be like to have all of us in that one house together again. The three of us, plus a spare. Sure, Phil was cool. I liked him a lot more than I thought I might, and I certainly liked how happy Renee seemed to be, but even so, the thought of him and Charlie in the same room kind of made my head explode.
I traveled light, so I had all my Christmas trip things jammed into one backpack and my gigantic purse. It made the trip to JFK easier, although I had to wait forever at the Fourteenth Street platform for the Far Rockaway A train to arrive. The platform was crammed with other holiday travelers, the cheap ones like me who were too poor or stubborn to take the $50 cab ride to JFK from Manhattan. Most people had a lot more luggage, some of their battered pieces tied together with twine. I smiled to myself, thinking of the presents that were squashed inside, of happy relatives, long-separated, reuniting, hugging, reconnecting. Of children's faces, lit up with joy and excitement, wide-eyed and eager for midnight to come, for sleep to take them, for Santa Claus to visit.
I missed that. I missed believing in Santa Claus, in magic, having that fiery, shimmering ball of anticipation in my belly, my body hardly able to contain my eagerness, my neurons practically visible, flickering, my fingers twitching with excitement. Now Christmas Eve was just another night of going to bed alone and knowing tomorrow would be exactly the same.
My bag should have been filled with presents, but I'd done that Bella thing of flaking out. Well, it wasn't so much flaking out as it was entering a state of Christmas-shopping-induced catatonia, where I'd stare at the lit glass display counters in Macy's, elbow to elbow with cranky shoppers bundled in wools and goose-down, and have no idea what to get anyone. So I'd chickened out. My bag was filled with gift cards—Home Depot for Charlie, iTunes for Phil, and Victoria's Secret for Renee. I didn't want to think too much about what she'd buy there or what she'd do with it afterward, but it was a safe choice. Ha, ha, "safe." Which made me think "safe sex." Which made me think, "Renee and Phil having safe sex." Which kind of made me want to blind myself Oedipus-style.
The Far Rockaway train was jam-packed, and I clung to a pole in the middle of the car as everyone else jockeyed for position with luggage, squirming children, and obscenely expensive strollers. The train thinned bit by bit as we wove underneath Brooklyn. Sometimes when I took the subway, I imagined all these tunnels underneath the city like the Minotaur's labyrinth and wondered how many of us were zipping along the dimly lit tunnels at any given moment. How did we find our way without the ball of twine? New York was like that, a city of lost souls groping along dank walls in the dark.
When we arrived at Howard Beach, the remaining travelers all looked wearily at the sky. The snow was falling harder now, dusting the cars in the parking lot behind the chain-link fence with sparkling sugar, royal icing on a gingerbread house. I glanced at my watch. I'd allowed three hours to get from the West Village to JFK International and get through security. I was still ahead of schedule, about ninety minutes before my flight to SeaTac.
The AirTrain came right as I got to the waiting area. I always loved taking the AirTrain. It reminded me of the monorail at Disney, where Charlie, Renee, and I had once taken a rare family vacation, post-divorce. They'd wanted to book separate rooms so there wouldn't be any confusion, but in the end it had been prohibitively expensive, so they'd opted for a shared room with a rollaway cot. Charlie, ever the gentleman, took the cot, leaving Renee and me in the king-size bed. My mom whispered secrets in the dark to me, and we laughed at the outrageous volume my father could achieve while snoring through his mustache. Renee said she was surprised the mustache didn't fly off his face and get sucked back down with each breath, and I'd had to put my head under the pillow so I wouldn't wake Charlie up with my giggling.
It was bittersweet though, both the vacation and the memory, because Charlie and Renee seemed to get along so well, and it was so wonderful to have both of my anchors in the same place at the same time. But even at my young age I knew this was just a temporary armistice, Disney a neutral zone. A Switzerland with mouse ears. But the AirTrain still made me feel secure, even as I gazed out the window at the blinding white. Christ, that was a lot of snow. Maybe I should have checked the flight's status before I left my tiny studio.
I grabbed my iPhone and tried to tap in the airline's website. It took me to one of those crippled mobile versions where you couldn't see shit. Oh well. I'd know soon enough.
The announcer's cheery, pre-recorded voice told me we'd arrived at my terminal, so I pushed my way off the train, clomping down the long, echoing, Habitrail-like pedestrian walkway. The lines to get through security were ridiculous, so I was almost relieved to see that my flight was delayed two hours. It took me nearly that long just to get through the long line.
Honestly, the way some of these people went through security—you'd think they hadn't watched TV or read the news since … I didn't know, fucking Gutenberg or something. No, you can't walk through the metal detector wearing your Mr. T chains. No, you can't take your Bowie hunting knife in your carryon. No, your six-pack of chocolate pudding cups might blow up the plane. Jesus.
By the time I got to my gate, I was exhausted from standing and silently seething for so long. Thankfully, I found an empty seat. Traveling already seemed less romantic already than it had when I was on the platform, waiting for the A train. Now I saw the screeching children, the exasperated parents, the inconsiderate buffoons squawking on their cell phones as if they believed everyone within a twenty-foot radius wanted to know if their sores were sexually transmittable.
I slumped down in the fake leather seat, resting my head on the chair-back, my chin on my chest. I thought again of Forks. Charlie. Renee. Phil. Me. All in the same house.
I heard a gruff young man arguing with the airline employee at the gate. He was, from the sound of it, trying to get a spot on the standby list, already quite long due to the holidays and the weather. His quarreling grew louder and louder, but the airline gate agent managed to keep her voice pleasant and steady, even if there were overtones of "I wish I were dead" in her calm speech. You couldn't pay me enough to work in the travel industry at this time of year. No fucking way.
"Fine," the man said, slamming his fist on the counter. Jesus. When would guys like that realize they needed to be nice to get their way? All it took was a smile and a simple "I know this isn't your fault, ma'am, and I'm so grateful for all your help" to get these women to become pliable and friendly, so starved were they for the smallest kind gesture. I rolled my eyes to myself. "I'll just tell my family I won't see them for Christmas Eve," he muttered.
"Sir, everyone here is in that same situation."
"I'm sorry," he said, his voice breaking a little. "I know. I … just haven't been home for a while, and I was looking forward to this, and I hate letting them down again. They already half-believe I'm not coming anyway. I'm such a screw-up."
"Sir, there are others in line behind you," she said, sounding uncomfortable at his oversharing.
I'd started staring at this man's back when he began that tearful exchange, my interest piqued by his display of humanity. The more cynical part of me wondered if it was just a story to get sympathy or an airport meal voucher. He was wearing what looked to be an expensive, expertly tailored overcoat. When he turned around, I stopped breathing.
It couldn't be. No. I probably just had reached the point in my life when everyone I saw reminded me of someone I'd already met. But then he raked his fingers through his hair as he frowned, and I knew.
"E-Edward? I stammered, standing up. "Edward Cullen? Is that you?"
His head whipped toward me. "Yes … ?" He looked me up and down. "And you are …?"
Figured, the prick. "Isabella Swan?" I jogged his memory and tried not to sound too irritated. "Bella? We had bio together—Forks High?"
"High school," he muttered to himself. "Jeez," he said, raking his fingers through his unkempt hair again. "I kind of was out of it a lot … a big blur, really."
I remembered how he'd barely look at me during class, even though we shared a lab bench. His eyes were often rimmed with red, and he did seem excessively interested in Cheez-Its. Suddenly it all made sense.
"Oh my god, you were a pothead!"
Edward looked from side to side to see if anyone had heard. "How about you say that a little louder, Swan?"
I clapped my hands over my mouth. "Sorry," I said after lowering my hands. "It just … all makes so much sense now! I thought you hated me!"
"Well, you were kind of a pain in the ass about doing the classwork and saying that Cheez-Its might contaminate the lab results of blah blah blah."
I pointed accusingly at him. "So you do remember me, asshole."
"Are you on your way home? Forks?" I asked.
"Were you making that shit up about your family expecting you and thinking you're a screw-up?"
"Were you eavesdropping, naughty Swan?"
I rolled my eyes. "Look, I can't help it if your dickwad emo whining voice carries all through the airport."
"Nice." He grinned. "Well, we're delayed—want to grab a drink?" I looked wistfully behind me at my prime seat in the gate area. I looked at the seat, back at Edward, then to the seat again. I sighed and reluctantly picked up my things. I knew my seat would be gone the minute I stepped far enough away for another body to slither in.
"Yeah, why not?" I shrugged. I walked a few more paces, and sure enough, someone had already slipped into my seat so quickly that it was probably still warm from my ass. Motherfucker. They were like vultures.
The bar nearest the gate was pretty crowded, and the piped-in Christmas music made me involuntarily clench my teeth.
"I bet this is the soundtrack in hell," said Edward, noting my grimace.
"Totally. Ugh. I mean, unless they want to play that kickass version of ''Twas the Night Before Christmas' by Henry Rollins."
"What are you having?" Edward asked me as the bartender, grumpily wearing a Santa hat, approached us.
Crap. What to say? Should I confess my love of fruity, girly drinks, or should I try to appear butch and order up a shot of something? And why the hell am I still trying to impress Edward Cullen?
"Um," I said, stalling. "What are you having?"
"Club soda with a lime wedge?" asked Edward, daring me to mock him.
"When did you turn into a 1950s dieting housewife, Cullen?" I asked.
"Shut it," he said, flicking his wrist and presenting me with his palm.
"Oh my god, did you really just give me 'the hand'?"
"I don't drink anymore, okay? Jesus."
The bartender looked profoundly uncomfortable.
Not knowing his reasons but feeling there was much more he wasn't saying, I asked, "Can I have a Shirley Temple?" The bartender nodded, making the little silver bell at the end of his cap jangle, and he sighed heavily. I turned to Edward. "Sorry, guy," I said. "I didn't know."
He smiled a tight little smile. "Well, how could you?"
"Dunno," I said, absentmindedly trying to fold the cocktail napkin into a crane. It tore apart in my hands. "Napkins make piss-poor origami paper," I said, tossing the would-be bird aside.
Edward just shook his head, waiting for his club soda. "That's a sad bird," he said.
"Why come here, then?" I asked. "Why suggest we get a drink?"
"I decided I'd rather try to resist temptation than live like a recluse, refusing to go anywhere with alcohol. Loneliness is worse than…" He trailed off with a lost look in his eyes.
"We … don't have to talk about this," I said, wishing I hadn't brought it up.
Our drinks were here. "Cheers," I said a little too energetically, raising my glass and sloshing some of the liquid out.
"Isn't it bad luck to toast with water?" asked Edward.
"Why do you expect me to know shit like that?"
"Very well," he sighed, clinking his glass to mine. "Bottoms up."
"So," I said after taking a big sip of ginger ale and grenadine. "Do you live in the city?"
"Brooklyn," he said. "I hate the Park Slope mommies, but I suppose I am a glutton for punishment. You?"
"I live in the West Village, near NYU."
"Why do I live in New York, or why do I live in the West Village specifically?"
"Either. Both. Neither. Whatever," he shrugged.
"I love the city. I hate the city," I said.
"What does that mean?"
I stirred the drink with my straw. "It means … jeez, I love how New York feels like it's this thrumming epicenter, that great things are happening, genius around every corner. But I look again, and all I see is the garbage, the dog shit on the sidewalks, the poseurs, the way people assess you in one glance, how everything is some competition. It makes me feel alive and completely insignificant all at the same time."
"I just hate getting side-swiped by those fucking Bugaboo strollers. Those things are a menace."
I laughed. "I'd love to see you get into a brawl with a Park Slope mommy."
"Don't think it hasn't already happened," he said with a smirk.
Just then the intercom announced the unthinkable: Flight 269 to Seattle has been canceled due to inclement weather. Please see the gate agent for rescheduling.
"Shit," we said in unison.
"Jinx; you owe me a Coke," Edward said.
"Seriously? I never even said that when I was a kid."
"Reflex," he said, blushing.
"Did people ever give you these Cokes they supposedly owed you?"
I shook my head. "Kids are weird."
"So, what now?" I glanced back toward our gate and saw the line of irate passengers.
Edward took his cell phone out of his pocket. "I saw something on TV that said when your flight gets canceled, it's better to call the airline directly, because there are more operators who can help you, instead of the one or two taking care of the passengers on the entire flight."
"Doesn't that work only if you have a seat on the flight that's canceled?" I asked, recalling his earlier encounter with the gate agent.
"Right," he said sheepishly, disconnecting the call.
"When is your flight?" I asked. "Do you even have one?"
"It's for tomorrow morning. Everything else was sold out."
I glanced out at the snow, which was falling even more steadily, looking less like delicate lace and more like tiny, fluffy sheep. "I'm thinking no one's getting out tonight," I said. "You might be better off holding onto that ticket."
"What about you?"
I pulled out my phone and looked up the airline's number. While I was on hold, I watched Edward tear my sad attempt at the paper-napkin crane into skinny strips, rolling them into strange little snakes between his rapidly rubbing hands. I wondered why he couldn't sit still for even one moment.
"You don't have to wait for me," I said after I'd been on hold for a good fifteen minutes.
He shrugged. "I've got nowhere else to be."
I miraculously was able to get a seat on a flight for the next morning, on Edward's flight. It was a center seat in the last row of the plane, and while I didn't relish the thought of an early-morning flight in a seat that didn't recline, squashed between sleeping and possibly drooling neighbors, I knew I was lucky to have a seat at all. Still, I couldn't help feeling disappointed that I wouldn't wake up in Forks on Christmas.
But maybe that was for the best, since it couldn't possibly hold the magic it did for me when I was small. There would be no Santa. There would be no cozy snuggling between my mom and dad. There would just be awkwardness and the shadow of Charlie and Renee's dead love for each other.
"What are you thinking about?" asked Edward, touching my arm and drawing me out of my trance.
"Just thinking about not being in Forks when Christmas Eve blurs into Christmas," I said. "I mean, I shouldn't really care. We would have gotten there so late tonight anyway, and … what? I thought there would be reindeer and sleigh bells? That's stupid, right?"
"Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point," Edward said.
"The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of. Pascal. You want what you want, whether or not it makes logical sense."
"Hmm," I said, acting as though I was struggling to understand him when I was actually doing my best not to melt into a puddle beneath the barstool because oh my god, Edward was speaking French to me. But then his words sank in and somehow filled the cracks in my heart, and everything overflowed, all the tension I'd been holding in about the trip, about my parents' divorce, about hating the joyless reality of growing up.
I didn't intend to cry, but then again, I'd never had much control over my tears.
"Why are you crying?" he asked, handing me his cocktail napkin, since mine was in little snake-like shreds. It seemed somehow significant that the bird I'd tried to make was unable to fly, had instead been transformed into snakes forced to crawl on their bellies and eat dust. Banished from the Garden, I thought, and that's pretty much how I felt.
"I don't know," I said. "Just … overwhelmed. I'm dreading going home and am so sad I'm not already there. How can I feel both of those things at once?"
"I could say something pithy and most likely plagiarized from Garden State, but I'll spare you," said Edward, resting his head on his folded hands. "Do you want to get out of here? Neither of us is leaving the ground tonight."
"Yeah," I sniffled, grateful that he hadn't laughed at me or thought me foolish.
I reversed my trip—walked past security, out into the snow, to the AirTrain, to the subway, with Edward by my side, mostly. Neither of us quite knew if we should be walking next to each other or behind the other. I wondered if he thought I was standing too close to him and wondered if he wondered the same about himself.
As we waited in the blinding snow and biting wind, I said more to myself than to him, "I really don't want to be alone tonight. It's Christmas Eve."
"Do you, uh, want to come to my place?" Edward looked past me, down the tracks to see if a train was coming.
"Oh!" I said, flushing. "I wasn't fishing for an invite or anything. Just thinking out loud."
"I mean, I'm not asking you, like, in a skeevy way." Edward coughed.
"No, of course not. I'd never think that." I really wouldn't—he'd never paid any attention to me when we were in school. It was just because right now we were two souls stranded in the biggest, loneliest city on earth on the one day when you ached for family, the one day when being by yourself was unbearable. "Yeah," I said, considering the alternative. "You said Brooklyn, right? That's closer than my place anyway."
We stood with our arms crossed, stamping our feet, jumping up and down, waiting for an A train that refused to come.
"Fuck this noise," said Edward. "We are cabbing it."
"Good idea," I said, teeth chattering.
We hopped in a cab, and already it was an improvement: the thick, warm air inside, the fact that the cabbie wasn't playing saccharine Christmas music. Even the angry talk radio he had on was a relief. Anything was better than standing in the cold; I still couldn't feel my cheeks.
Edward gave the cabbie his address, and we were off. We couldn't have been sitting farther away from each other, each of us staring out the window closest to us. "So much snow," I said.
"White Christmas. I never thought those actually happened," Edward mused.
"It's not Christmas yet," I pointed out.
"This shit's not letting up anytime soon."
And then we were quiet for another long while.
I took my phone out to let Charlie know I wasn't coming in tonight. When he picked up, I could hear Christmas music in the background, Renee and Phil laughing about something. Charlie called out to them, "Bells is stuck in New York until tomorrow morning."
Renee sounded disappointed. "We miss you, Bells!" she shouted while Charlie asked me for the new flight information. Edward was on his phone too, and I assumed he was telling his family the same, although it had been a long shot for him to get home today anyway.
The roads were actually fairly decent—salted and sanded and surprisingly free of holiday traffic— so it didn't take us long to get to Park Slope. It always amazed me how much smaller New York felt when you were in a cab—at least when you were coming from the airport. Inside the city, traffic was so bad that it made more sense to walk or take the subway. But when you got on the highway, wow, everything seemed to fit in the palm of your hand.
I reached in my wallet to split the cab fare with Edward, but he waved off my twenties. "Aw, come on," I protested.
He gave me "the hand" again.
A few feet down from his apartment was a little bodega that amazingly was still open. "Hey, do you mind if I run in there a second?" I asked. "I, uh, have feminine … needs."
Edward visibly shuddered. "I'll just wait for you on the stoop, okay?"
I waved at the bodega owner and went to the back of the store, knowing exactly what I needed. It was small and silly, but I wanted to give Edward a little something when midnight came. I paid for the item and put it in my coat pocket.
"Okay, let's do this," I said as I climbed up the stairs to Edward's stoop.
We tromped up his stairs, and he apologized for living on the fifth floor. "But I do have access to the roof deck," he said as he unlocked the door.
I didn't know what I was expecting his house to be like—honestly, I hadn't thought of him in so many years. He'd been exceedingly nice to look at in high school, but distant, and, now I knew, stoned. Edward the adult had remarkably few furnishings. Everything was stark and simple, but I could tell each piece was exquisite, finely crafted. I thought again of his well-tailored overcoat, noted his expensive shoes, his refusal to let me pay for the cab. His place had glossy hardwood floors, high ceilings, and exposed brick. Things looked a little nicer out in Park Slope. I could almost imagine we weren't even near the city anymore. The snow falling outside the windows was cheery and didn't fill me with gloom—as long as I didn't think about what I was missing in Forks right this moment.
Edward plugged in the Christmas lights draped around his tall windows and flipped off the overhead lights. "So beautiful," I murmured, walking to look out on the snow-covered sidewalks. No one had been out, so the snow was clean and mostly untrampled. Even our footsteps from getting out of the cab were already blurred, looking like tiny hills and valleys. I sighed, fogging up the pane of glass in front of my nose. "What time is it?" I asked, forgetting I had a watch on.
"A little past eleven," he said.
"Can we go up to the roof deck?" I asked right as Edward started taking off his shoes.
"Sure," he shrugged, bending down to re-lace them. "Are you warm enough?"
I patted myself, trying to remember how many layers I had on. "I could use a scarf, maybe."
"Hold on." He went to the hallway closet and dug around, emerging with a navy blue scarf. He draped it around my shoulders like he was Fat Vegas Elvis. I wrapped the scarf around my face and inhaled. If this was what Edward smelled like, then wow. You know how people say that perfumes and colognes smell different depending on the particular chemistry or pH or whatever of the person wearing them? Whatever cologne Edward wore, I bet only he was able to make it smell this good. I was almost hyperventilating from wanting to draw that scent into my lungs more and more.
"Ready?" he asked.
"Uh-huh," I said, muffled through the scarf. "Let's go."
"You sound like Kenny from 'South Park,'" he laughed, opening the door and shaking his head.
"So does your mom," I said.
He turned around with fire in his eyes. "Don't you dare talk smack about my mom!"
Oops. I held up my mittened hands. "Sorry, man. Just a joke."
He grinned. "I'm just messing with you."
"Well then, your mother's a whore," I said.
He threw back his head and laughed. "God, you are so much nastier than you were in high school, Swan."
I shrugged, but he probably couldn't see the movement under my layers. "I was always this nasty, Cullen. You just didn't take the time to find out."
"Ouch," he said. He pushed with his whole weight against the door to the roof deck. "It must be jammed with the snow." He took a running start and slammed against the door, which finally flew open, sending him sprawling, facedown, into a pile of snow.
I ran to help him up. "Are you all right?"
He didn't accept my help. Instead, he flipped over so he was looking at the sky, the flakes falling on his face. He had snow mashed into his eyebrows and crusted on his knit cap. He was laughing so hard that he wasn't making sound, and I was pretty sure I could see his uvula.
I flopped down next to him. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been lying down in snow this deep. We got a little snow occasionally at home, but nothing like this, and when I was in the city the snow seemed so dirty, or there were always too many people around. It was such communal snow, not like this clean, fresh snow on the roof.
It made me remember visiting one of Charlie's aunts—now long gone—in Vermont one year when I was about seven or eight. She was so frail—when I held her hand I thought her bones might snap like dry twigs, but she'd insisted on taking me to play outside after a big snowstorm. She showed me how to make snow angels. I couldn't believe this old lady lying on her back and moving her arms and legs spastically. I followed her lead, but when I stood and looked at the print I'd left behind, I didn't really see the purpose of it. I'd remembered having stories read to me about children playing in the snow, snowball fights, snowmen, snow angels, and now that I was finally doing those things, I was just … cold and wet. When I saw snow on TV, it seemed powdery and soft. It didn't look as though it crept through your gloves, made your fingers numb, and seeped right through your snowsuit, soaking you down to your underwear.
I'd helped her up, and we'd tried to make a snowman, but that was also disappointing. No one had ever told me that the snow picked up the grass and leaves as you rolled it, or that the balls easily grew too heavy, or that rolling the snow into balls left dark trails behind it, stripping the ground of its pretty covering. Our final product looked nothing like the snowmen from my imagination. I smiled for her, because even at that age I could tell that she wanted me to have a good time, but when she asked me if I wanted to go in to get a carrot for the snowman's nose, I told her I was cold and that he looked just fine without a nose.
Edward was still silently laughing next to me, and without thinking, I started to make a snow angel. Eventually he recovered and propped himself up on his elbow, watching me. "I haven't made snow angels in forever," he said, lying back down and copying my motions.
I tugged the scarf down so it no longer covered my mouth. "Me neither." I was getting cold lying there, so I stood up and gazed at my snow angel, amazed how much taller it was the one I'd made in Vermont with my great-aunt. I tilted my head to the side and looked at it. It still made me feel kind of empty inside.
"What's wrong?" Edward asked, still diligently making his angel's full skirt and wings.
"Nothing is magical anymore," I said. "Like, that snow angel. Why do kids make them? What's the point? They're never going to fly. They don't even really look like angels."
I started dusting the snow off the back of my legs, and Edward stood up, admiring his work. "Speak for yourself, Swan. My angel is pretty kickass."
I stopped brushing and looked. His angel, if anything, looked worse than mine—at least mine had been symmetrical, not lopsided and like it had a gimpy wing. These two forlorn angels looked as if they'd fallen from heaven, and somehow I felt like they represented us, so far from home and missing family.
He noticed I wasn't smiling, so he walked over and helped me get snow off my back. "Maybe that's not the point of snow angels," he suggested. He tilted his head to the side just as I had a moment ago.
I cocked my head to the other side and looked, hoping to see them differently at this new angle. "What is the point, then?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's a way to see the divine in ourselves, that no matter how wicked we are, there is still goodness in us."
"Do you believe that?"
"I'm lucky my family did," he said. "I made a lot of mistakes, but I'm okay now. I'm okay. And there," he pointed at his snow angel, "is the proof. I have to believe, you know?"
"It's just so many things we're told growing up, about how our lives are in our control, how our dreams will come true, and then these flat things, pretending to be angels … they just don't seem special to me. Not special enough to make me believe any of it."
"Maybe you're looking too closely," he said, and he pulled me by the hand to the edge of the deck. "There, what do you see now? Squint your eyes a little; let that orange light split off into beams."
"How do I do that?"
"You know, like, let your eyelashes cut the light into slivers?"
I concentrated, squinting and blurring my vision. I wished I could say they seemed different to me, but there they were, the same lifeless prints pressed into the roof deck. "I'm sorry," I said. "I just can't see it."
"Sometimes the magic is in believing, even if you can't see it," he said. "And look at you, with snowflakes in your eyelashes. I can see the divine in you." He started to lean in, and part of me knew what was happening, but the other part was laughing, like, Ha, there is no way Edward Cullen is about to kiss you on his roof deck on Christmas Eve in the snow—don't be ridiculous! But then his face was right there, and he kissed me, the falling snow feeling like eyelashes on my cheeks, and my eyes fluttered closed, and then I just stopped thinking and let him kiss me.
"Oh," I said when he let me go.
"Sorry," he said, pretending to brush snow off his shoulders.
I laughed. "No, that wasn't a bad 'oh.' Just surprised." I shook my head. "I really didn't think you liked me, Cullen."
"Jesus, that was years ago. People change. And look at you, with the light behind you and the snow in your hair, and that look in your eyes…"
"Like you miss something that you can't even describe, something you may not have ever known."
I nodded, taking in his words. It felt like my soul stretched out inside me, finally a little understood. "It doesn't make me pathetic?"
"God, no. It makes you beautiful, real. You're not trying to hide your shadows, and that just makes your light seem brighter. Contrasts, you know."
"What time is it?" I asked again, remembering my watch this time but feeling self-conscious from his scrutiny and wanting to draw his attention away.
"It's just about midnight," he said.
"Oh. Which way is west?"
He pointed to the other side of the roof, and then asked, "Why?"
"I just want to be looking toward Forks. Maybe if I send my wishes that direction in my heart, my family will feel it."
"I'll do it too," he said, taking my hand. We stepped softly to the other side of the roof, facing west, facing Forks.
"Merry Christmas, Forks," I said.
"Merry Christmas, Forks," Edward repeated.
"I love you, Mom and Dad. And … Phil, I guess."
"Mom's new husband."
"I love you, Mom and Dad and Emmett and Alice," said Edward. He squeezed my hand. "Merry Christmas, Bella."
"You called me Bella," I said, surprised.
"Sometimes I do that."
"Well, hey, Edward, Merry Christmas." I pulled out the bottle from my pocket and slipped it into Edward's hands. "It's a gift."
"A Coke?" he said, turning the bottle over and over.
"Well, I was told by a certain someone that I owed him a Coke. And you said no one ever gave you one, so I wanted someone to make good on a promise for once."
"This is the best present I've ever gotten," he said, screwing the top off and offering me the first sip, which I refused.
"You're a terrible liar," I said.
"I am. But then you know the other stuff I said is true, right?"
"Hmm," I said.
"It's getting cold. Let's go back inside," he said, laying his arm around my shoulders. We stepped carefully around our snow angels already softened by the falling snow, and, you know, they did look almost a little bit divine now.
We'd have to leave for the airport again in a few hours, so we took off our snow-covered shoes and socks, peeled off our wet outer layers, and walked barefoot into his warm apartment. I didn't feel too embarrassed in my waffle-weave longjohns. After all, he was just wearing boxers. He disappeared into his room and came back with pajama pants on. "Are you okay in those, or do you want pants too?" he asked.
"I think I'm fine."
We sat side by side on the sofa, leaning against each other, and then Edward leaned over and draped something over me. It was soft and fuzzy, and it took me a minute to realize it had big sleeves. "Cullen?"
"Is this … a Snuggie?"
"Okay, just checking."
We leaned against each other, neither of us bothering with the ridiculous Snuggie sleeves, as the white Christmas lights blinked on and off, on and off, like the snowflakes brushing like eyelashes against my cheeks. Looking over at Edward in the changing light, I felt I was watching him in an old black-and-white film shown through a flickering projector. I thought of our snow angels on the roof above our heads, mirroring our real selves, hiding us under their wings.