christmas eve

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t h i r t e e n

The tension in the was awkward as we stared at each other. Cade seemingly didn’t know what to do with himself because he took a step forward and then retreated again, rubbing over the back of his neck.

A sigh left my lips, and I looked around. There were all the tables like usual, the door to the kitchen was open, and light protruded from its windows.

But my gaze stayed stuck on what stood behind him.

“Did you do that?”

The question was so stupid that I just wanted to sink into the ground. I really wanted to hit myself.

Of course, he had done that. There was no one else but him and me in this building. My hand clenched into a fist, and I dug my nails into my skin. Stupid. So fucking stupid.

A small, hesitant smile grew on his lips, and he threw a brief look backward. His eyes met mine again. “It took some time to get all the blankets, but yes, I did.”

I stepped from one foot to the other, moving from side to side. My shoulders were tense.

“Are all these from your room?” I asked, looking at the blanket fort he built. He had made it so that one blanket was fastened over two tables that stood a few feet apart. There were fairy lights everywhere, lightening everything.

Many pillows were stagged up inside. And there was a fuzzy, white blanket that covered the grey, hard ground. I swallowed and sighed.

What he had done was very thoughtful. And I had to admit, it was cute.

Finally, that stupid grin I knew blossomed on his lips again. He tilted his head to the side. “A few of the pillows are mine, but that pretty stuff is from my neighbors.” He winked at me. “You know, I’m familiar with breaking into places I shouldn’t be in.”

My eyes widened. “Cade-”

He shook his head and chuckled. “I’ll bring everything back where it belonged, Holly. I promise. They won’t even notice.”

My brows furrowed. It took me a second, but then I nodded. With Cade, I had to get used to things like these. I knew that.

I couldn’t hide my chuckle as I rolled my eyes. “Typical.”

A few seconds passed in silence. I bit my lip and then remembered what I was still holding in my hand. I lifted my left hand. “I brought some M&M’s,” I muttered loud enough so that he could hear. “I didn’t know if I was supposed to bring anything.”

He nodded immediately, crossing his arms over his chest. “That’s perfect.”

My heartbeat started to speed up. I was too nervous about all of this.

He gestured to the blanket fort and tilted his head to the side. “Want to get inside?”

I swallowed and then nodded, my hand falling to my side again. I made my way past him and kneeled down to crawl inside. I had to admit that it was quite cozy in here. There was enough space for both of us, and neither would have to be squished into an uncomfortable corner.

Cade was quick to follow me and then let a blanket fall over the opening in front so that there was no one but us. I sat down between the pillows, stuffing one behind my back.

I watched as Cade moved to the side and turned on another pair of fairy lights. I smiled as the lights that were shaped like little stars brightened. They hung above us. In here, it felt like it was just us two.

Like we were alone in this world.

My eyes dropped to the white, fuzzy blanket under me. I laid down the package of M&M’s in a bowl that stood not far away from me and leaned back again. I didn’t know what to do. Or how to start. But maybe, I didn’t need to.

It was Cade that had wanted to talk to me. He had asked for this. And he would have to know how this would go about. At least I hoped so.

Motions to my left made me focus on Cade again. He didn’t say anything but just stretched out next to me. I stared as he settled a pink pillow under his head. His eyes were set on the star-shaped fairy lights.

I may have stared at him a bit too long because I only noticed that he was petting to the ground next to him after he had moved his head to the side. He looked at me.

“Come and lay with me, please.”

I got lost in his brown eyes for a couple of seconds. But then I moved to the side, lying down next to him. He helped me lay a pillow under my head, and then we were engulfed in silence again.

The tension around us wasn’t as bad anymore. Yes, it still felt like neither of us really knew how to start this. But at least we were on the same page at this moment. There were no thrown words or anger. It was just the mess I always liked to call uncertainty.

I breathed in deeply and stared at the fairy lights. It almost felt like I was staring at the night sky... This was definitely better than being alone in my room.

If anything happened, this moment had still been worth it.

“I’m sorry, Holly,” Cade breathed out.

My lips opened, and I breathed out. “For what?”

I knew what he was apologizing for, but I just wanted to hear him say it. I didn’t know why, but I needed that. It was a sort of... declaration.

He shook his head and lifted his hand to his face. “I don’t know, Holly... I guess for messing up? What I said was messed up, and I know that.”

I stayed silent. It felt like there were still words that were flying around the air beneath us... something he had left to say.

And I wanted to give him the space to talk.

“I just wasn’t expecting all of this... I- I thought that I’d be alone again this year and-” I heard him sigh. It felt like my heart had stopped. Alone again?

“I wasn’t expecting you.”

A few seconds passed in silence. Now my heart was pounding against my chest. I felt it hammer against my ribcage. “Alone again?” I asked. My head moved to the side, and I stared at him.

“Fuck,” he whispered, closing his eyes. He rubbed his hand over his face, his eyes. “Did I say that out loud?”

I nodded my head, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to see it.

He licked over his lips and murmured something under his breath. My brows furrowed, but I didn’t say anything else. I tried to give him time.

I watched as he let his hand fall back to his side. He opened his eyes but didn’t look at me. He was staring at the fairy lights. “This is the second time that I’ve stayed here during Christmas.”

My breath got stuck in my throat. I didn’t know what to say.

A smile blossomed on his lips, and he sighed. “I never had a dad- he left before I was even born... And my mom... she died four years ago.”

My heart dropped, and coldness spread through my chest.

He blinked a few times.

“Before college, I used to live with my stepdad and her. We always celebrated together.”

A second passed in silence, and he closed his eyes.

“And now that she’s gone, he couldn’t care less about me. It’s better this way, anyway. He’s been happy to see me gone.”

“Cade-”

He shook his head before I could continue. “No. No sympathy or something of that sort. I just wanted to tell you so that you can understand what was going through my head.”

He turned his head. Our eyes met, and he smiled despite the tears that rimmed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Holly,” he whispered. “It was so stupid of me to assume that I’d be the only one with problems. I regret the things I’ve said- that I hurt you.”

A single tear ran down his cheek. I gave him a small smile and lifted my hand to wipe it away. “It’s fine,” I whispered. “I understand now. I get sad too.”

He shook his head, his hand reaching up to grab mine. “No- Holly, I wasn’t sad... I just-”

“I often don’t choose to think about my dad during the holidays, but I can get very emotional too.”

He pressed his lips together and stared at me. He breathed in deeply and sighed. “I guess I was just jealous... These last few days, I couldn’t stop thinking about what would’ve happened if the snowstorm hadn’t hit the town.”

He let go of my hand. “You would have left and spent Christmas with your family. While I would have been here, all alone.”

My heart was breaking for him.

“And Holly, right now, I’m so fucking sorry that you have to spend it with me. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” I whispered.

He stilled and stared at me. I rolled onto my side and laid my left-hand flat between us. I waited. It took him a second, but then he finally understood. Our fingers entwined. I smiled at him and squeezed his hand.

I let out a chuckle. “Why do you think I wanted to leave so late? I didn’t want to see my stepdad anyway.”

I could see that he was fighting a smile. We stared at each other, lost in each other’s eyes. There was this galaxy I had seen, in his eyes and his freckles. I couldn’t stop smiling like an idiot.

I was so glad that everything had come out this way. If we had continued fighting, Christmas would have come to ruins for both of us. And now, in this mess, we still had each other.

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