Christmas Eve

The snow all but silenced her footsteps as she half-walked-half-ran through the trees. The ground shimmered subtly as it reflected the little moonlight that managed to penetrate the foliage and touch the ground with its silver fingers. She was late. She had to be quick. He was never late. And there wasn’t much time.

He was in the same spot as last time, though last time had been long ago. In fact, she was surprised that she remembered how to get there. The forest wasn’t an easy place to navigate, and any trace of a path had been obscured by the snow. But she had found it. She had found him. And as her eyes rested on his face, she felt a sense of completeness, as though she was a broken person finally fixed back together again. It had been so long. Too long. The fiery sensation that she got whenever she thought about him had almost been doused by the icy hands of time that crept through the days, weeks, months. But now it was back. Now she was burning, even in the freezing temperatures of just before midnight on Christmas Eve.

Joe’s face was tilted towards the ground. He had sensed her, but he hadn’t yet looked up. His blonde hair looked almost silver in the winter moonlight and his light skin glowed white; a frozen Ice Prince sitting in a winter wonderland. His legs were crossed and one hand was holding a small twig, no more than ten centimetres long, drawing patterns in the snow.

‘Lily?’ His eyes finally flickered upwards, meeting hers for the first time. Now she truly felt whole again. ‘I was scared…scared you weren’t coming.’

She hurried across the small clearing towards him. ‘Well, I’m here now.’ Wrapping her arms around his shoulders and kneeling down in the snow, she embraced him tightly, feeling his hand gently stroking her back. Her mum would ask why her jeans were wet, but she couldn’t bring herself to care about that right now. She was with Joe. That was all that mattered.

‘Aren’t you cold down here on the ground?’ Lily asked, pulling away from him.

‘I’m fine.’ He managed a small smile; the smile that she loved so much. But there was something else behind his eyes. Something that suggested he wasn’t fine.

‘How’ve you been anyway?’ she asked, shuffling closer to use his body heat as warmth. ‘It’s been so long.’

‘Too long,’ he agreed. ‘It hasn’t been easy. Really, it hasn’t.’

‘What do you mean?’ She leant in closer still. Joe was always happy around her—however he felt about the rest of his life, it had never impacted on their meetings before. To hear him speak so brutally and so honestly was like a stab in the chest.

‘It’s been three months, Lily. Does that mean it’ll be March before I see you again?’

‘Let’s not think about that.’ She noticed how her voice had taken on an ever so slightly frantic edge. ‘Let’s just enjoy the time we have tonight.’

It hadn’t been easy, spending so long away from each other. Neither of them wanted it to be that way. The problem was parents. Lily and Joe had met in their penultimate year of school, shortly after they both turned seventeen. That had been almost a year ago—January 23rd had been the day Joe had asked Lily out for coffee. But Joe’s parents weren’t happy. His grades began to slip as he devoted more time to Lily and less time to his studies. He’d always had an obsessive nature; Lily had seen it for herself as well as been told it by multiple people, and it had cost him dearly. After his exam results had come in during the summer, his mum had pulled him out of school and enrolled him in a private all-boys college right on the far side of the city. His parents expected him to get straight As, they wanted him to go to Oxford University and become a doctor. But it wasn’t going to happen. It had been the same with their older son, Harry. He’d been on course for Oxford until he’d met a girl. Mr and Mrs Sarson had been determined it would not happen to their second son too. Joe was now eighteen—technically he could do what he wanted, but his parents repeated their motto of ‘our house, our rules,’ practically on a daily basis. In other words, if he disobeyed them, he would end up getting kicked out.

Lily’s mum was little better. She didn’t have a problem with Joe in particular; she just had a problem with all boys. Men were pigs, according to Mrs Gibbs. Her husband had abused her for years until she’d finally had the courage to walk out with her six month old baby. Managing to seek refuge in her mother’s house, she had lived there with Lily ever since, never marrying, never falling in love with any other man. She was career-focused and also had many friends, so insisted that a person could be happy without a partner as long as they had success in other parts of their lives, but Lily disagreed. Her mother had disapproved of Joe from the first time she’d ever heard his name, long before she’d even met him.

‘In less than a year’s time, we’ll both be off to uni,’ Lily pointed out. ‘Then, we can do whatever we like. We can see each other as often as we want. But please Joe, let’s not think about that. It’s been three months, we have so many other things to talk about.’

They talked for several hours as Christmas Eve passed into the early hours of Christmas Day, but as much as Joe chatted and laughed and smiled, Lily could see through it all. His sadness became increasingly apparent as the night wore on. She silently begged that there was something she could do to make him feel better; some way of getting round their parents and the iron grips that were holding them back.

Minutes were moving past like seconds. The night was growing old, and it was still a long walk back for both of them. If Lily wasn’t back by dawn, her mum would know exactly what had happened. And then there would be trouble. She had never been a rebellious daughter; sneaking out in the night was simply unheard of in their household, and Mrs Gibbs would blame it all on Joe without hesitation. And then Lily would never see him again.

‘I have to go.’ There were tears in her eyes before she had even spoken, and they spilled over and down her cheeks as she said the words. An expression almost resembling alarm crossed Joe’s face.

‘No,’ he said. ‘No, not yet. Surely not yet.’

‘It’s four o’clock in the morning,’ she said. ‘It’ll take me nearly an hour to get home. Last time I barely made it back before the sun came up.’

‘It can’t be,’ he stammered. ‘It can’t be that late already! Where the hell has the time gone?’

‘I don’t know.’ More tears spilled over and she buried her face in Joe’s shoulder. ‘But we have to meet again soon. I can’t do this.’

‘I can’t do this either,’ he whispered, holding her close, wrapping his arms tightly around her. ‘I don’t want you to leave.’

‘I have to,’ she said. ‘If my mum finds out I’ve been gone, she’ll never let me see you again.’

‘She never lets you see me anyway!’ Joe couldn’t hide his frustration. It had been three months since they’d last seen each other, and all they got was four hours hidden away in the cold, icy darkness of the woods. ‘How long’s it going to be Lily? How long before I see you again?’

‘I don’t know!’ Her vision was blurring as her eyes swam in yet more tears. ‘Soon…I promise, soon. But I have to go. I love you Joe.’ She got hurriedly and clumsily to her feet. Joe stayed sitting.

‘I love you Lily. I will always love you.’

Lily was no more than fifty paces away from the clearing, back in the dense darkness of the trees, when she realised her house keys were no longer in her pocket. Panicking for a split second, she realised they must have fallen out on the clearing floor.

Hurrying back to the clearing, she scanned the white ground for any sign of the little pink key ring they always hung off. Joe had already left—it was oddly quick of him, especially as he lived so much closer and didn’t have to walk so far to get home.

‘Oh thank god!’ she exclaimed loudly as she saw the tip of the key glinting in the snow. It was just beside where she and Joe had been sitting, curled up together.

Only after she bent to retrieve it did she notice the footprints.

They were obviously Joe’s—there was no one else who they could belong to, but instead of leading left out of the clearing, along the path that he would take back to his house, they headed right. Why was he walking right? Yes, admittedly he didn’t have to hurry home like she did, but it was dangerous for him to linger alone in the forest. Especially as heading right led away from all the main footpaths.

That begged her next question: where was he actually going? Why was he even heading right in the first place? What was right of the clearing?

And then it hit her. The river.

It was like the world had been plunged into slow-motion—as fast as she ran, she seemed to be wading through water, unable to go very quickly at all. Why the river? Why was he going to the river? What was even at the river?

It was only as she rounded the final few trees, the sound of rushing water guiding her way, that she realised the obvious. Skidding on the icy bank, losing her balance for a fraction of a second, she looked upstream.

Just in time to see a dark figure slip silently off the railing of the bridge and hit the water headfirst.
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Gah, I know the ending is rubbish, but I really couldn't work out another way of writing it. I contemplated Joe shooting himself, and I also contemplated both of them dying, but then I decided to go for the simple route. Hope this story is alright and to your liking!