~*This came out surprisingly well, and surprisingly fast. I kept meaning to write it, but only got around to it last night, yet already here it is, edited (somewhat…I apologize for anything I may have missed) and ready to go. Happy Holidays to everyone, and enjoy.*~
Tiny white triangles fell gently, covering Wendy's desk as she snipped expertly with scissors at the folded piece of paper. She studied her work for a moment and then, satisfied, unfolded her creation. She held the lacy, six-pointed shape up by the window, comparing it to the real things, which were falling fast outside.
"It's just not the same," she murmured wistfully. Wendy's chemistry teacher wandered by. "I'm done with my snowflake, Ms. Gardner," she announced. "But that one's anatomically incorrect." The teenager pointed out a snowflake on the wall with only five points.
The teacher smiled a bit. "No, that won't do at all. I'll have to take that one down."
When Ms. Gardner was a reasonable distance away, Wendy put away her snowflake. There were still a good thirty minutes of class left. It would be nice to not have homework over Christmas break. Wendy took out her geometry book. She finished the few proofs she had left from the morning and promptly put math out of mind. She sat quietly, anxiously awaiting temporary freedom. The class chatted loudly around her.
The bell rang. High school kids poured out into the streets like ants from an anthill after the rain. Wendy quietly slipped to her locker, collected her possessions, and slipped out. She donned her coat, gloves, and scarf and headed for home. Her jet-black Converse scuffed the pavement through the blanket of white; the edges of her new Levis dragged in the snow, quickly becoming soggy. Wendy shivered, cramming her gloved hands into her coat pockets. She exhaled frostily, watching her breath freeze and hang in the air. She looked to the sky every once in a while, where the pale grey clouds swirled and sent down snowflakes that clung to her smooth, black hair. Wendy walked slowly; there was little hurry to get home. Nothing worthwhile waited for her there, and in any case, and it was such a lovely winter's day. The sun showed itself briefly as Wendy arrived at her door. The girl watched her shadow dance on the sparkling snow for a moment. She gave herself a mental shake and stepped inside.
The house smelled of gingerbread, but it was a fake gingerbread. Wendy's mother could never be bothered to bake. The faux fragrance was provided by a lonely votive candle burning feebly on the dining room table. The tree in the living room looked fabulous, but on closer inspection one could see that it was plastic (though the finest quality plastic) and the restrained ornamentation (all silver) looked coldly dreary. Gifts lavishly covered the feet of the tree, wrapped in every manner of thick, rich papers, apprehensively trying to fill a gap that lurked just below the surface of the façade.
Wendy climbed the stairs to her room. She tossed her slim backpack to the floor and fell onto the spare sofa that loitered against the wall. She grabbed the remote for her stereo, flipping through the CD changer to find Good Charlotte.
"I don't ever wanna be like you, never wanna do the things you do…"
Wendy remained prone until she was called down for sushi. "From that new place downtown," her mother told her. "Only the best, of course." Wendy ate slowly and without gusto, but was filled quickly nonetheless. Such is the nature of sushi. Satisfied, the teenager was quick to bolt back to her safe haven, but her mother stopped her on the stairs.
"A package came for you today," she said. "From Grandmother."
Wendy took the small parcel, gave her mother a look halfway between disgust and condescending pity and retreated to the upstairs, closing the door hard.
Calming herself, the girl studied her grandmother's gift. Awfully small, jewelry, perhaps. Under the brown cardboard shell was flimsy red wrapping paper, decorated carefully (if not so artfully) with gold ribbon curled by hands unused to scissors. Deftly and deliberately, Wendy ripped away the paper to reveal shiny shrink-wrap. It was a CD. Classical, some old, dead, Russian composer, the teenager noted with contempt. What was the point in having a rich grandmother if the old woman didn't even give decent gifts? Wendy threw the gesture down, frustrated. She thumped down the stairs and out the door, grabbing a cashmere sweater on her way.
Wendy wandered the dark streets waif-like and directionless, blown about by a cold, swirling wind that refused to cease. Snow filtered down first in gentle flurries of powdery flakes but quickly evolved into big clumps coming hard and fast. It was about at this time that Wendy, thoroughly chilled and covered in white, came to the bridge.
It was a small footbridge, and old, one of the first ones officially built to span the river that ran through the middle of town. Though sure and sturdy, it creaked and swayed a bit under Wendy's tentative footsteps. She made her way to a railing and looked down, examining the way the snow made foamy wave crests higher and how the surging water seemed goaded on by the rapid precipitation. The cold wind stung at her eyes and before long Wendy felt one hot tear slide down her cold, pale cheek.
"Girl, why are you crying?"
Wendy started and looked around. There, not ten feet away, was a boy. He sat on the edge of the bridge, watching her with his head tilted just so. His eyes shone with that unbridled, naïve inquisitiveness that is the trademark of the very young. His fair hair fell ragged and rakish to his slim shoulders. Oddest of all about him were his clothes. He appeared to be dressed in fallen leaves, held together with spider webs and something else that glimmered, there, in the corner of Wendy's eye.
She blinked at him. "Wasn't crying," she replied, trying to look as bored and nonchalant as was possible. She regarded him offhandedly with icy blue eyes.
"Oh?" The corner of the boy's mouth twitched. "What do you call it then?" He hopped down from the bridge railing, his bare feet crunching in the newly fallen snow. Wendy noted this with disdain. How was he not cold?
She looked back across the water and into the dark, pointedly avoiding the question. "What do you care?" she snorted.
That twitch again, barely perceptible. "Wasn't caring," he mocked gleefully.
Wendy turned to look at him, tilting her head as she retorted, with all the sarcasm she could muster, "Well what do you call it then? Who the hell are you, anyway?"
He studied her for a moment. "Don't know if I should tell you," he sing-songed. "Hmm… Nope! I shan't, I shan't!" he taunted, leaping backwards, sidestepping, cartwheeling with mirth.
"Oh, come on." The girl raised an eyebrow. "Whaddaya got to lose?"
Here he stopped his cavorting. He grinned impishly. "You really want to know?"
"Yeah, sure, whatever."
"Yeah, I wanna know, so tell me already."
He giggled at some private joke. "Very well then. PETER!" he shouted with a whoop and began his acrobatics again, peals of his laughter echoing through the nighttime black-ice air.
Wendy watched him, one eyebrow raised skeptically. "Peter? Peter what?"
"Just Peter, is all."
"Yup." He gave her a sideways glance. "Tell me yours?"
She hesitated, biting her lip. Hell, she thought, what can it hurt? "Wendy."
"Sure. Just Wendy."
Peter stood up straight. He bowed, low and formal. "My pleasure to meet you, Just Wendy."
She laughed a bit. "Pleasure's mine," she said, playing along. She turned to lean on the bridge, looking out once again into the nothingness. Peter joined her.
"So, Just Wendy, why'd you come out here?"
She gave him a look. "Me? I'm just sick of it all. I hate this time of year. Too fake, too shiny, and really, it's pointless. All the free stuff is nice, but it just gets in the way, y'know?"
The boy watched, head tilted once more, saying nothing.
"How 'bout you, Just Peter?" Wendy smirked. "What business have you here?"
"Oh, I'm just doing my job," the boy replied with casual earnest.
Wendy waxed intrigue. "Your job? And what might that be?"
He looked at her straight on for the first time. His eyes held little of their curious gleam, so serious he was. "Caring," he stated frankly.
Wendy remained silent, dumbstruck, but only for a moment. "What," she mumbled, regaining her composure, "makes you think you have to do that?"
He swallowed. "Someone's gotta do it."
The two shared stillness for long moments, listening to the gentle murmur of the river. The snow's enthusiasm seemed to have waned. Tiny flakes fell now, like glitter, into the inky waters.
Wendy glanced at her watch. Had time really gone that fast? "My gosh," she gasped, "it's nearly midnight. I've got to get home, my parents will be worried."
"Alright," Peter sighed, "but before you go, I would very much like to give you a kiss."
"A-- a kiss?"
"Yes. Hold out your hand."
She gave him a look that clearly stated, "You're entirely off your rocker, you know that?" After some hesitation, she complied.
He dropped something small into the palm of her hand, vaguely round, remarkably heavy--
An acorn. Perfectly formed, all smooth edges and a powerful potential for life and growth.
A hint of sadness lingered in his smile. "Good night, Wendy."
"Good night?" The girl remembered her practicality. This one did not look like the type who had somewhere to sleep. "But where are you going?"
He touched her shoulder, pointing to the horizon where the clouds were beginning to clear and, if she looked close enough, Wendy could see faint glimmerings of stars. "Second from the right, and straight on 'till morning," Peter announced matter-of-factly.
Wendy found herself, for the first time in her life, utterly speechless.
"Goodbye, Wendy." And with that he was gone, over the railing and off into the darkness. Wendy swore later that she saw a streak of light, speeding off towards some place in the sky that only children know the name of, but it might've only been a falling star.
The girl made her way home slowly, fingering the kiss in her pocket the whole time. When she walked through the door, she was immediately embraced by her mother.
"Oh, you poor dear, out in the cold, we were so worried!" Wendy's father nodded, silent and stoic.
The girl smiled. "It's ok. I went for a walk. Lost track of time. I'm fine. Really."
After having sufficiently calmed her anxious parents, Wendy returned, once again, to her room. She carefully placed the kiss on her dresser and thought briefly of planting it in the spring. Then she picked up the CD from her grandmother, reading the cover with careful attention. Tchaikovsky. The Nutcracker Suite. She popped it in her stereo and let the joyous sounds of dancing sugarplums fill the space. Only one thing would make it better.
Wendy pulled back her curtains and gazed out her window. The snow had ceased, the clouds had cleared, and a first-quarter moon shed light on everything, reflecting the ground's white mantle and giving the world an ethereal glow. Now, where was it? Ah. There. Second from the right. That one, winking so mischievously from its perch, millions of miles away (or was it closer, if one knew the proper route?) Had to be it.
"Thank you," Wendy whispered.
The answer came as a resounding stillness, muffling sorrows, smoothing out roughness, and lighting the candles that lie at the center of every heart in the world.