The wind roared through the trees, bending the boughs, and causing the old oaks that filled Roseville's central park to creak under the duress. The icy breath of the North Wind hissed through the branches, tearing down the red and orange leaves as they struggled in vain to hold on to their perches.
Protected from the vicious, biting breeze by only a hoodie, a lone Somali walked through the park. His feet left slight, near invisible indents in the frost-tinged grass, the only indication of his passing. His breath hung on the wind as he breathed heavily, clutching at his side.
Reaching the edge of the park, Paulo coughed, and in doing so, lost his footing, and stumbled. Catching himself at the last minute, he straightened, and made his way towards his house, which he could see in the distance. Growling, he breathed on his hands to warm them up.
Ugh, damn it, Paulo thought, I could really go for some hot chocolate right now.
The orange cat picked up his walking speed, his ground-eating lope now carrying him swiftly towards the front of his house. He turned on to his driveway, and broke out in to a sprint, scrambling up to the door. Paulo wrenched it open, and threw himself inside, panting heavily.
"Damn it's cold," he hissed, breathing heavily. Even from the short time he'd been taking in a semi-large amount, the cold air had burned his lungs. Taking off his hoodie, Paulo shivered, and threw himself down on the couch. He pulled a blanket over himself, and shivered once more.
After a few minutes, after he'd warmed up infinitesimally, he got up, and made his way in to the kitchen, where he poured some cocoa powder in to a glass mug, and poured in milk. He then stirred it, and placed it on the stove to heat up, and was about to go back to the couch, when the phone rang. Frowning, the Somali reached over, and picked up the wireless landline.
"Hello," he said in to it, leaning against the fridge as he waited for the hot chocolate heat up.
"Hey Paulo, it's Lucy. Can I come over? I need to talk to you about something."
"Hmmm," he mused, sniffing in the scent of the warm drink. "Sure thing. I'm making hot chocolate, want some?"
"…No, I'm good thanks. See you in a bit."
The line went dead, and Paulo raised an eyebrow. Placing the landline back in its cranny, he picked up the hot chocolate, now steaming hot, and made his way back to the living room. Placing his hot chocolate down on a small coffee table, he crawled under the blanket, and then picked up the drink, and after a few moments of blowing, drank. The heat it provided rushed through his body, and he let out a contented sigh.
Groaning, Paulo rose from the couch, and slouched over to the door. Pulling it open, he was confronted with a slightly shivering Lucy. Wearing a thick, furry pink parka, Lucy's eyes were surprisingly clear as she stepped over Paulo's doorframe, and unzipped the clothing that had kept her warm.
"Hey Paulo," she remarked as she hung the parka on a small coat-holder standing behind the door. "Sorry to come over so suddenly like this…"
"Nah, it's ok," Paulo grinned. "Besides, I get to see you all hot and sweaty this way."
Lucy frowned, and attempted to punch the Somali in the stomach. Paulo, however, laughed and dodged out of the way, and her attack missed by a number of inches. The white cat rolled her eyes, and gave up the attack. Paulo led the way in to the living room, and sat down on the couch, pulling the blanket aside to make room for Lucy.
"So anyways, what's up?" Paulo enquired, glancing down at Lucy, who had bunched up on the sofa and was holding her knees. Lucy glanced up at him, and then glanced away, and said, "I… uh, I just kind of needed to talk to you about something. It's about that whole thing with Mike a couple of months ago."
Paulo felt a twinge of annoyance at the mention of the "whole thing with Mike." Lucy was referring, of course, to her confession of love to the aforementioned Korat, and his following rejection of her.
Damn it, why does it always have to be about goddamned Mike?
"Yeah, go on…"
"Well," Lucy continued, still looking away from him, "Mike still isn't talking to me. I was thinking about it… and I guess I was thinking about why. My first idea is that maybe he's feeling guilty about talking to me – you know, because he… he's together with Sandy now."
"Lucy, I'm sorry, but that's-"
"Bull, I know," muttered Lucy. "Don't cut across, jerkface. Anyway, I realized that was bull when I saw him talking completely normally with Daisy and Sue – we all know Daisy still likes him a bit, and I think Sue likes him too…"
Paulo snorted derisively, and said, "He doesn't know that. He's oblivious."
"Not that oblivious."
Lucy turned her gaze to Paulo in a quick glare, and then continued. "My next thought was that maybe he's bitter, because, you know, I used to hit him a lot. I was a total jerk to him, and he never really blew up at me until then. Maybe he had a lot of built up resentment – but that also doesn't make any sense."
"So what'd you come up with," Paulo said, trying hard to keep a level voice. He was finding this conversation incredibly upsetting – it essentially proved, in his eyes at least, that Lucy still loved Mike, and perhaps always would. His mind and heart burned with fire, but through sheer willpower alone, that fire didn't burn through to his face. "What's this brilliant answer?"
"I was talking with Augustus recently-"
"Er…" Lucy seemed perplexed for a minute, as if stopped mid-flight. She'd realized a second too late that telling Paulo who she'd been talking to might not be the best of ideas. Augustus had a very negative connotation in their group of friends, and she was sure that the orange Somali wouldn't react well.
"Uh… I think David calls him Final Fantasy Cat or something."
Paulo leaped up and stared at Lucy in disbelief. His empty cup of hot chocolate clattered to the floor, only not spilling due to its lack-of-contents, but he ignored it. He stuttered for a few seconds, before finally getting out the words, "You… you… you were talking to that rapist?"
"He's not that bad," growled Lucy, staring pointedly at the floor. "He wasn't trying to rape Daisy. That's beside the point, though – he made me think, and I realized the final possible option."
Paulo collapsed in the couch, still staring disbelievingly at Lucy. His eyes were wide, and his ears had gone strangely flat, as though he were in a mix of shock and horror, which was appropriate, since those were the exact emotions running through his mind.
"And what's that?" He whispered, almost to himself.
Lucy finally looked up from the floor, and staring directly at Paulo, said, "The third option is that he's purposely pushing me away – out of kindness. He wants me to be more independent, not 'bounce around looking for support'. This way, I'll find my own way to be independent – and not need to use him as a crutch any more."
Paulo stared at Lucy blankly, and said, softly, "Lucy?"
"That is the biggest piece of 'Eternal Hope' bullshit I have ever had the misfortune to hear in my life."
Lucy recoiled, and stared at Paulo in shock. "Wha-what?"
"Lucy," Paulo said gingerly, placing his words carefully, "Mike isn't pushing you away 'to help you become independent,' or whatever reason you've given him. What you can't seem to wrap your head around is that Mike is being a selfish ass, and isn't doing any of this for your sake. He's an asshole, and he's only thinking about Sandy right now. Don't explain his bullshit away. That's all it is – bullshit."
"No, Lucy," Paulo growled, barely keeping his emotions in check. "I'm sorry, but he's a selfish bastard, and that's the end of the story."
"You didn't let me finish, Paulo."
Paulo pulled his legs up on to the sofa as Lucy continued, her eyebrows pulled together in to a 'V' of sorts: "That wasn't the final thing I thought up. The final thing was this – Mike is a jerk, and he and Sandy deserve each other. He's pushing me away because I'm 'high maintenance', and he 'can't deal with my ingratitude'. Well, damn it, I'm done."
Paulo stared wordlessly at Lucy as she looked up at him, her eyes beginning to water as they had done so often in recent months. "I came here to ask you which you think is right… but I guess I know your answer now without asking."
Lucy looked away from Paulo, not wanting to let him see her cry, and muttered sarcastically, "Sorry for bugging you."
Then she jerked upward slightly in surprise as she felt an arm wrap around her shoulder as Paulo shifted over to hold her. He looked down at the top of her head, and murmured, "Lucy, you'll never bug me. I'm glad you came to me with your problems, and I'm totally fine with it. I'm sorry if I came off as… y'know, angry. I didn't mean it that way."
Lucy turned her head to look up at Paulo, her eyes still watery, and said, "It's… alright, I guess… Paulo?"
"That sort of thought session I've been talking about… it was a month ago. I've been agonizing over it since then… it's good to have it off my chest."
Paulo frowned and looked down at the white cat, and said, "Then why did you only come to me now?"
"I don't know, it just felt right."
"…Alright, I guess that makes sense. Sort of."
Lucy turned in Paulo's arm so that she was facing him, and said, softly, "But there's one other thing I realized, that's really a lot more important."
Paulo braced himself mentally, readying himself for the storm that was likely to come. He'd hear about how Mike wasn't really that bad, and how maybe she could somehow convince him to leave Sandy, but still be happy. That was her primary concern – Mike's happiness. Damn it, why can't she be selfish when it comes to him?
"I think I was lying to myself."
Paulo snapped out of his little angry fantasy, and furrowed his eyebrows. "What?"
"I think, after that night I spent here with you, I was just lying to myself about loving him. I wouldn't have come to you... like that if I'd really loved him. I'd have been obsessed with changing his mind."
Paulo's eyes softened slightly, and he looked into Lucy's eyes, and, almost feeling like he was breaking some sort of sacred silence, whispered "…and?"
Instead of speaking, Lucy moved forward the half inch that separated them, and, closing her eyes, wrapped her arms around Paulo's neck, and brought her lips to his, pushing their lips together in a kiss that slowly, and then enthusiastically, Paulo returned. Lucy pressed forward against him, and they fell back on the couch, still kissing. Finally, Lucy broke it off, and leaned forward next to Paulo's ear. She whispered the words that he had waited four long years to hear, the words that consummated his relationship with her, and his struggle for her.
"Paulo… I love you."