“Dillan’s here,” Mari said as she entered my bedroom. I looked up from my laptop, meeting Mari’s concerned gaze. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
Closing my laptop, I set it down beside me with a sigh. “I told you, Shawn will pick me up and take me out to dinner. I’ll be fine.”
Crossing her arms, Mari leaned against the doorframe. “It’s just . . . I can’t help but worry, especially after you came home so distressed. You wouldn’t even mention his name for the past couple of days.”
“We had a little fight, is all.” Looking down, I fidgeted with the hem of my shirt. “We made up yesterday, not wanting to ruin Christmas over a little argument.”
“Alright,” Mari said with a sigh, combing her fingers through her hair. “I hope he made a reservation.”
“And you should go now before you miss yours.” Standing, I started pushing her out of my room and to the front door where Dillan was patiently waiting. The moment he saw my sister his eyes lip up as bright as his smile.
“Ready to go?” he asked, holding out his hand. Her brows were still furrowed as she hesitantly took it, glancing back at me.
I nodded, waving her off. “Go have fun, Shawn will be here in half an hour, no need to worry about me.”
She touched my arm, giving me a tender smile before turning to her boyfriend. “Yeah, let’s go.”
Together they left the apartment. After the soft click of the door closing did the silence return. Wrapping my arms around myself, I walked over to the couch. With a soft blanket and a few pillows, I buried myself in one corner with no plans of moving any time soon. It was all a lie after all.
Shawn wasn’t coming. I wasn’t going out to eat. We didn’t make up.
It wouldn’t matter. At least Mari could enjoy her Christmas eve with Dillan without having to worry about me. She would forget me as soon as she left the building, and I wanted her to. Reaching for the remote, I turned on the TV. There should be enough Christmas specials on tonight to entertain me.
Settling deeper into the couch, I sighed contently as a movie started to play. Either way, it was better like this. Shawn could enjoy his evening with a pretty girl with no burdens and I could enjoy mine as I had always done.
I only realized I had started to drift off when loud knocking on the front door startled me awake. Rubbing my eyes, I stretched my limbs, seeing that the movie I had been watching had long since ended and had switched to a different one. For a second I wondered if the knocking had been coming from the TV when it sounded again, though this time followed by a familiar voice.
“Darcey, I know you’re there, open up!” Shawn called, once again followed by knocking.
Grabbing a pillow, I hugged it to my chest. “Go away!”
He stayed quiet for a second. “That’s rude.”
I scoffed in my pillow. “Just go already, there is no need for you to be here!”
Quiet again, and I thought he had left until I heard the clicking of the lock, followed by the door swinging open. I immediately got to my feet, still holding the pillow. Shawn casually walked in, a grin on his thin lips as he said, “You ready to go?”
My heart skipped a beat. Though, instead of expression my slight joy in seeing him, I threw my pillow, which he caught with one hand.
“Did you just pick my lock?”
Looking back, he shrugged. “It wasn’t locked. I tried, though.”
“Please, just . . . leave.” Shaking my head, my hands wrapped themselves around myself to keep me from reaching out. Shawn’s hair was a mess from the wind, his wavy curls prominent. He didn’t straighten them before coming here, and the realization caused my cheeks to heat. He remembered what I had said.
“Why?” Undoing the buttons on his coat, he took it off. “Would you rather be alone?”
I nodded, looking back at the TV so I wouldn’t have to look at him. More specifically, his reddened cheeks and nose from the cold. His watery eyes. His challenging smile. “I do.”
Running a hand through his hair, he followed my gaze. “We can stay inside if you prefer. I can order a pizza, but it might take a while for it to get here.”
“Hasn’t anything I said stuck with you?” I snapped, still keeping my eyes on anything but him. “It’s just the curse and loneliness that brings us together, nothing more. It’s better for both of us if we just stop this before either of us get hurt.”
“Why would anyone get hurt?”
Biting my lip, I wished I hadn’t thrown the pillow, now missing the pressure it had put on my chest. “We don’t belong together. I’m a lonely, damaged burden that no one deserves to carry. Go find someone else, I’m sure any girl is willing to spend Christmas eve with you, don’t waste your breath on me.”
“Nah.” My head snapped up at him, but he had already turned to walk to the kitchen. Opening the fridge, he bent down to look inside. “You got any beer? Or are you more of a wine person?”
“W—What do you mean ‘nah’?” I stammered, dropping my arms and stepping forward.
Glancing over his shoulder, he gave a knowing look. “Ah right, you did enjoy the wine back at the hotel.”
“Answer me.” My heart picked up speed, but for what reason, I wasn’t sure. Shawn had closed the fridge, his hands in his pockets as he stalked over until he stood right in front of me.
“I’m willing to give this a shot,” he said, his voice lower than before, gentler. Raising his hand, he pointed between the two of us. “Us, I mean. I’m willing to see if there is more than just a curse, if that really is the only reason we came together.” Another grin spread across his lips as his eyes roamed my body. “So far I’ve only liked what I saw.”
Remembering I wasn’t wearing much besides a tank-top and my pajama pants, I took a step back, crossing my arms in an attempt to seem unfazed as heat crawled up my neck.
“What if I said I didn’t feel the same?”
“I’d call you a liar.” Reaching out, he brushed away a stray hair before using that same finger to tip my chin. “And a terrible one at that. Besides, how could you not fall for a handsome lad like myself after all those . . . cold nights?” Taking a step closer, he raised a brow. “I doubt anyone has ever touched you like I have.”
The thought alone made my stomach burn, but I wasn’t giving him that satisfaction. Either way, I had given up on the possibility of love, and everything that accompanied it, a long time ago. I didn’t want this to go any further to the point where my death could end up hurting him. If he left now, he wouldn’t care when I was gone at the beginning of the new year.
“I’m not interested in you,” I said, keeping my voice steady. “There is nothing between us and I do not want to explore if there it. Can you please leave me alone now?”
Leaning forward, he whispered, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Fine.” I gritted my teeth. “Then I’ll be in my room.”
Without another word, I brushed passed him and closed my bedroom door behind me a little louder than necessary. If he wasn’t leaving, then I’d give him no reason to stay. He was here for me after all.
Leaning back against the door, I closed my eyes. My head started to throb, my eyes burning. Why did he have to show up?
When I left my room again the next morning the TV was still on, but besides the white noise it offered, the apartment was quiet. Mari had said she would stay at Dillan’s place. Or, rather, I had forced her to do so. It wasn’t often that she stayed at his place, and I no longer wanted to come between the two.
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I walked over to the kitchen to make myself some hot chocolate. Pouring the milk into the pan, I turned on the stove on low heat. I leaned against the counter, taking in the dark room, the only light coming from the reflective, white snow outside. I didn’t remember turning off the light, but I guessed Shawn must have done so when he left. Thinking back, I couldn’t remember hearing him leave, but he must have gone when I was already asleep.
Turning back to the pan, I stirred it before adding the cocoa powder with a sprinkle of cinnamon. When it was ready, I poured it into a mug and turned off the stove. I would clean up later. Stifling a yawn, I went to the couch, reaching for the remote to turn off the TV when a soft snore started me into almost spilling my drink.
There, on the couch, spread out like a starfish, lay Shawn. Holding a hand over my heart, I waiting for my breathing to calm. Carefully, I placed the mug down. I didn’t trust myself not to spill it were he to start moving.
What was he still doing here?
He wasn’t joking when he said he wasn’t going anywhere.
Sitting down on the armrest, I tilted my head at him. He had taken off his sweater, now only wearing a simple white shirt. The blanket that had previously kept my legs warm now covered most of his body with an exception of one foot. Closely held to his chest was the pillow I had thrown, the lower part of his face buried in it.
“Handsome lad, huh?” I whispered, more to myself than to him. “Maybe, but also adorable.”
Shifting slightly, he wiggled his toes as he kept on dreaming, unbothered by my words. Glancing at the clock, I wasn’t too surprised that he was still deeply sleeping. It was only six in the morning. Normal people wouldn’t wake until after eight after an eventful Christmas eve at most. Maybe some parents with young, excited children would be up at this time. But not Shawn, it seemed.
Again, he shifted, mumbling into the pillow. I couldn’t help the smile that spread across my face. Even if I didn’t want to admit it, I was glad he stayed. I was glad he didn’t leave to find another girl to spend his evening with. I was glad his face was the first I saw on Christmas morning.
I would gladly accept him as my present.
Reaching for my mug, I blew in an attempt to distract myself from my thoughts. The image of Shawn sitting underneath a Christmas tree, wrapped up with only his head poking out, a bow on top, was too funny. Staring at the empty corner between the dining table and the window, I suddenly wished Mari and I had gotten a tree.
Taking a sip, my gaze returned to Shawn. His words from the night before returned. For a moment, I wanted to consider them. I wanted to believe there was more between us than a curse. That perhaps fate had a twisted sense of humor in bringing certain people together.
But in the end, would it be enough to keep me breathing? Would one person be enough to continue on with my life in oblivion? My parents had been enough, my sister had been. But that was until they forgot as well. For my parents it wasn’t the same as everyone else, having also forgotten my sister because of dementia, but it didn’t hurt any less. They promised to never forget.
I could try it. I could try to fall in love, try to find meaning, try to live for him. But if I couldn’t, then my decision was final. Setting down the mug again, I kneeled down in front of Shawn, my fingers tangling themselves in his curls.
“Alright,” I breathed, resting my forehead against his. “Let’s see what will happen, let’s see what more there is.”