‹ Prequel: Smirt
Status: finished.



“What did you get Carter for Christmas?” I asked nonchalantly, taking a sip of water and avoiding Dahlia’s eyes. She didn’t hesitate to respond so it was a wasted effort.

“A bunch of his favourite CDs along with a case to hold them all. And this stuffed bear that has a voice chip. I recorded myself saying ‘You’re awesome’ so whenever you squeeze its paw, that’s what you’ll hear,” she said with a small smile, her cheeks turning slightly pink, as if she were sharing something she hadn’t told anyone. I was willing to bet that she’d gone with Gavin to buy the gift though.

I nodded. “That’s thoughtful. He’s always losing his CDs, that Hulsey.”

I couldn’t say I was more organized than him but I knew for a fact that Carter was as forgetful as me. We were the type of people who had to be reminded where we put stuff or the exact location of places we needed to be. My sense of direction was skewed and sometimes it was admittedly a blessing in disguise as a source of inspiration. I often found myself lost in Joplin or even in another part of Missouri, driving aimlessly without a care in the world (unless I had less than a half tank of gas; then I was mildly concerned). Those moments of not knowing where I was exactly made me realize I was just an iota in the world. It was up to me if I wanted to become more than what was expected of me. Once I dropped out of high school, people overlooked me. I lost a few friends and gained some as well, and for awhile my parents wouldn’t even acknowledge me. But I knew they cared and I pushed myself to persevere and make them proud.

If there was one thing I could never be; that would be a quitter.

“Is there a possibility that you’ll tell me what you got me?” I was feeling a bit anxious now at the thought of what she’d gotten me. I thought of the vegan moccasins and song I’d written about her, my gift and true feelings conveniently packaged together, and smiled.

“Not a chance, Chris.” She shook her head. “I want it to be a surprise. And I expect your gift to me to be a surprise too. I’m not going to ruin the holiday spirit, alright? I’m traditional like that.”

“Lemme guess, you open your gifts the morning of Christmas day, not at twelve AM on Christmas Eve like everyone else.” I snorted derisively at the thought. How traditional was she?

Dahlia shot me a guilty look which was quickly replaced by a vehement one. “And what if I do? It’s how I’ve always done things. Ever since I was young, I would wait until Christmas day and open my presents with my family and. . .” Her mouth clamped shut. I urged her to continue her sentence.

“Caprice and her family?” Even now, hearing her name must’ve felt painful. Caprice Avery was Dahlia’s best friend and partially the reason why she’d had counseling with a therapist. Caprice had been involved in a car accident caused by her designated driver being, well, drunk. It took awhile for Dahlia to trust me like she did now because of what had happened to Caprice. I knew that her death anniversary was soon which could’ve been another reason why she seemed uncomfortable talking about her.

“Yeah.” She traced circles onto the tabletop absentmindedly. “I remember one Christmas when we were thirteen and Caprice wanted these high heels because every girl in eighth grade was starting to wear them. She didn’t even know how to walk in high heels but she kept telling her parents she could handle it. So, she got them. Once we got back to school after winter break, she wore them and nearly nosedived into a vending machine because the hallway floor was slippery. After that she started practicing walking in them at my house and hers. Then she taught me. I’ll never forget that.”

“Are you going to visit her soon?” I reached over and placed my hand on hers, her gaze lifting to meet mine.

Dahlia bit her lip thoughtfully. “I want to but I’m not sure if I’m ready, you know? I haven’t been there since the funeral. Could you, uhm, maybe, go with me?” Her eyebrows drew together. “I think you are the only one I’d want to be there when I go to visit her.”

Although it was selfish and completely unrelated, I felt triumphant that she hadn’t confided in Carter or Gavin or anyone about this. I relished the idea that she wanted me of all people to be there when she overcame this obstacle in her life. I didn’t think twice before replying “yes, of course I’ll go with you” and continuing to eat lunch with a satisfactory grin permanently etched on my face.
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