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Out of the Cold

By someclarafication All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Drama

Chapter 1

The wind bites at her cheeks as it blusters and blows. It picks up the snow and swirls the white powder into thick clouds that curl and dance in the air. A grey sky looks on as the flakes fly this way and that, some settling and some melting. Black water churns angrily beneath the high stone bridge she leans against. Strands of her hair pull free of her long braid, flowing across her face, straining to follow the haze of white that clouds the world around her.

Still the girl does not notice. Still she stands staring silently at the rushing river under her. The lapels of her black woolen pea coat flap slightly as the whispering wind gradually raises its voice to a bellowing howl. The whirling snow blows towards the ghostly pale white sun outlined in the chromium clouds. In a world of white and grey and black, the only spot of color is the shock of red hair slowly whipping free of its plait. Yet the girl does not bother to push it back from her face. She can't bring herself to bother, in truth. She can only watch the river, lost in her swirling thoughts.

He isn't sure how long he's been sitting at the café table, watching the redheaded girl who stands in the whistling winds and the whirling snow. He's had at least two croissants and three coffees, he knows that much. But he is almost positive that he'd gotten to the café around ten that morning, and it's now, according to his watch, almost one in the afternoon. He winces, and then shrugs. Guess he wouldn't be meeting with Ginny after all, not if he's still here on this side of town and she is over on the other—practically an hour's drive away. He sighs and picks up his phone. Scrolling idly through his contacts, he looks up again through the large picture window. The girl is still there, not that he'd really expected her to move, to be perfectly honest. He leans back in his chair, his phone in hand, not paying much attention to the other line until a soft "Hello?" sounds in his ear. The guy turns his focus away from the girl by the bridge and towards the girl on his phone. He circles his finger in the condensation on the table as he listens and talks and explains by parts. When he finally hangs up with a vague apology, he waves over the waiter.

"Can I help you, sir?"

"Yes, I'd like another coffee and a…" he casts a speculative glance through the glass before continuing, "hot chocolate, please—with whipped cream."

"For here, sir?"

"Hm?" He turns back to the young man waiting patiently. "Oh, ah, no, actually, to go, this time, thanks, man."

"Sure thing. Shall I bring you the drinks or would you rather pick them up at the counter?"

"The counter, thanks. And I'll go up and pay for them there." With a nod, the server leaves him.

Slowly, pensively, the guy stands up from the table and loops a crimson scarf around his neck. He pays for his drinks and stands by the glass door, watching—waiting—thinking. Finally he steps out of the shop, and into the blustery snow-winds.

She hasn't moved. The wind has grown harsher and the air has grown colder, yet she still hasn't moved. She can faintly feel the ice beneath her fingers on the grey stone, but she doesn't move to put gloves on. Her body has long gone numb from the frigid air, and yet she stays where she is, staring sullenly at the angry black water freezing below. She doesn't take note of her surroundings, doesn't check to see if someone is watching her or maybe approaching her. She just stands against the bridge, lost in her thoughts until a voice by her elbow startles her out of them.

"I wasn't sure if you were a coffee person or a tea person, but I wasn't really up to getting both just in case, so I figured that since almost everybody likes hot chocolate, that you'd probably be okay with it." Out of the corner of her eye, she sees a black leather glove-clad hand set a white cup next to her elbow. "Of course with my luck, you're that person who doesn't like chocolate."

At that she scrunches her eyebrows, the first movement she's made in…a while. It lasts a split-second though, before her forehead smoothes back over and her eyes fasten again on the river. "Hm, okay. You don't want to talk, fine, I won't make you. Could you do me maybe a little favor, though?" The voice from behind her wheedles relentlessly.

The girl doesn't move again, trying desperately to find the blissful emptiness she's had for the past few hours. Instead, it's as though the voice has punctured her numb state of ignorance, and now the awareness that floods her body will not leave. She starts shivering slightly. She can feel her face sting from the force of the wind. Her fingers are practically frozen and she doesn't think she can feel her toes. In the back of her mind, something pushes her to remember that it's snowing and she's outside without a proper coat or gloves or a hat or a scarf. And suddenly, she moves.

He watches as her eyes slowly clear and lose the glazed look they had when he'd first come to offer her the hot drink. He'd been silently amazed when her eyebrows had knit together, although it was gone quicker than he could blink. Now, his eyes widen fractionally as he sees her hand dart out and grab the cup of chocolate. She wraps her fingers slowly, painfully, around the hot cardboard, and she holds it close to her for several heartbeats together. Then carefully she lifts the plastic lid and inhales the steam that rises, her eyes closed. He takes advantage of the moment to observe her more closely. She has a long, elegant nose that ends in a point and has a dusting of light brown freckles. Her shocking red hair had been set back in a long braid, but the wind has pulled some strands free. She opens her eyes and he finds himself staring into a pair of stormy grey irises.

"What's the favor?" Her voice is raspy, as if she'd just woken up from a deep sleep. And it hits him to the core.

Instead of answering though, he pulls an extra pair of gloves out of his pocket and wordlessly hands them to her. Her head moves down to look at them, and setting her cup down, she moves to take them. She slips her hands into the wool and he thinks he sees her shiver. "Thank you."

She clears her throat. "For putting on a pair of gloves?"

"Yes," he replies simply. They look at each other for a long moment. Finally, he places his hand on her back and gently guides her to the café he's just walked out of. "C'mon, let's get you out of the cold. Then you can tell me your story."

With a silent nod, and a short glance back towards the old stone bridge, the girl allows herself to be pushed forward towards warmth. As they walk, her bright red hair shines in the grey atmosphere, enhanced by the color of his deep crimson scarf.

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