Title: Evesdropping

Warnings: some language


The candy store was a mad rush of color, harshly bright lights and shimmering cellophane against the dark and rainy air outside. The clerks looked disheveled and weary, wrapping candy gifts as quickly as they could, grabbing pre-wrapped boxes off shelves, packing them into the bulging bags of bustling mothers, handing glistening candy canes to slobbering children. The air smelled distinctly of chocolate and perfume, almost sickeningly sweet. It was Christmas Eve, the last minute shoppers were out, and this year—sadly—Gavin Ross was one of them.

He squeezed uncomfortably between two young boys fencing each other with sticks of rock candy and a cozy couple arguing between choosing salt-water taffies or chocolate-coated nuts, trying to make his way up to the counter. His own purchase he clutched under his arm, a decorated box of candy soldiers. He hadn't meant to be caught this late without a gift, but in the hectic week before Christmas the existence of his sister's five year old son had completely slipped his mind. And since he was supposed to be making an appearance at her house in a little over two hours, joining the last minute shoppers had been his only choice.

Gavin finally made his way to the counter, fumbling the candy soldiers beside the register, pushing it towards the frazzled female clerk. She ran the price scanner over the box with a brusque chopping motion.

"Would you wrapped this like?" she asked, then shook her head. "Like this wrapped, I mean," she amended, then gave Gavin a smile. "Sorry, little distracted right now."

"Understandable," Gavin said, returning the smile. "And no, don't bother. I'll do it myself."

"Great," the girl said with a sigh of relief and a look of gratitude. "Thanks." She tapped a few rapid keys on the register. "That's going to be ten seventy-six. Bag?"

"Sure." Gavin dug in his pocket for his wallet, fished out a ten, three quarters, and a penny as the clerk scooped his purchase into a paper bag. "Exact change." He slid it over the counter to her with a smile.

"Wow," the girl said. "Can you just be like…all our customers? Right now?"

Gavin hid his grin in his scarf, taking the bag from the clerk's hands. "Merry Christmas," he said as a reply, sliding away from the counter as a bundled-up woman toting a squalling child on her hip bustled up to take his place.

Well, that's done, he thought, glancing down into the bag at the colored box. Maybe I'll survive Christmas Eve at my sister's yet.

On his way to the door, an impatient-looking woman pushed by him, catching him in the side with her overlarge handbag. He stumbled, one hand going into a bin of foil-wrapped candy, the other shoving into the small of another man's back. The woman strode by, unaware, as Gavin righted himself and turned to make his apologies to the person he had just unwillingly shoved.

"I'm sorry, I—" Gavin broke off, temporarily startled as the young man he'd pushed also regained his balance, the four or five bags and boxes he was carrying shifting precariously in his arms. For a brief, anxious moment he'd thought it was—the sandy hair and pale blue eyes, so close to being…but it wasn't.

"Sorry," Gavin continued, recovering himself hastily. "Crowded in here."

"Yeah," the young man agreed distractedly, trying to get his boxes balanced again. "S'ok, don't worry about it."

Without another word the blond man turned and pushed out through the door of the shop, the overhead bell tinkling cheerily as he did so. Somewhat surprised, Gavin mentally shrugged, putting the man's behavior up to Christmas stress. He was just about to follow the same path and leave the shop when something bright and glinting caught his eye from the floor.

A couple of kids ran past him, nearly stepping on the thing on the floor and Gavin hastily bent down and rescued it, cupping it into his hands. It was a small gold box, tied with a shining ribbon—a box of chocolate or something similar. It had probably fallen off a display, and Gavin was looking around for somewhere to put it when he noticed the little red tag hanging off the side. He turned it between two fingers, read the small typed note on the back—

Wayne and Linda Geary

-love from the Hodgkins

For a moment Gavin wondered why anyone would bother to address a note like this, then remembered the immense number of bags the blond man had had, and figured it was probably the easiest way to keep that many presents straight.

Oh, obviously. He dropped this when I ran into him, Gavin thought. Bad luck for him, especially since he's definitely long gone at this point.

Even so, Gavin slipped the gold box into his coat pocket as he pushed out of the shop, into the dark afternoon, the wind blowing the sharp rain sideways down the street, against other late shoppers struggling down the street with umbrellas and heavy coats. Gavin hunched his shoulders and tugged his scarf up more securely around his ears, trying to ignore the way the wind and rain lashed his hair into his eyes. He glanced around circumspectly, but there was no sign of a distracted blond with lots of packages.

Turning, Gavin started making his hunched way down the street, his back to the wind, towards the bus station. His rapidly chilling fingers were still wrapped around the box in his pocket—now he felt slightly guilty about it, like he was stealing something. What if the blond realized it was gone, and went back to the shop for it?

Unlikely, Gavin told himself. He's not going to notice until he gets to whatever Christmas Eve celebration he's going to, and he figures out Wayne and Linda Geary are a bit short in the gift department.

Just as he thought this, he happened to pass by a water-logged phone booth, dingy glass windows running with trails of water. And he had an idea. Slipping his icy fingers out of his pockets long enough to pry the resistant phone booth door open, he slipped inside, tugging it closed behind him. Taking this moment of relief from the rain to push his sopping hair out of his forehead first, Gavin dug in the shelf under the phone and pulled out the tattered phone book there.

I can look them up, he thought to himself. Maybe, if they're close, I can leave this in their mailbox or something. It says who it's from so…they'd still get their gift. Best idea I've got, anyway.

He propped his foot up on the shelf and opened the phone book over his thigh, flipping to the 'G' section and quickly scanning down it.

G…Geagan….Gearhart….Gearing…Geary! Man, a lot of Gearys in here. All right, Wayne…Wayne and Linda Geary—there. 176…Magowan Dr.

Blinking, Gavin reread the address. The coincidence was almost comical—his sister lived on Madison Dr…a street that intersected Magowan.

"That's fortunate, I guess,"he muttered aloud. He fished a pen from his pocket and scribbled the number on his hand, being lacking somewhat in paper. This would be an easy task then—he could just drop the gift off sometime tonight, before or after doing the family thing at his sister's house.

He shoved the phone book back and slipped out of the booth, back into the cold and damp. It was only another block to the bus station, where he joined a couple huddling beneath an umbrella and a grey-haired old woman hunkering beneath a ridiculous clear plastic poncho. Gavin sat himself at the edge of the damp wooden bench, wondering.

Wondering why he was doing this, exactly. It wasn't like he knew the Gearys, or the man who had dropped the box, or that he was in any way involved in this. What he really should have done, Gavin thought, was just go and give the box to a clerk in the candy store, with an explanation. Why he hadn't thought of that fifteen minutes and four blocks ago he wasn't sure. But it wasn't like Magowan Dr. was out of his way, and the idea of doing this also gave him a bizarre 'good Samaritan' feeling. He kind of liked that. Even if it was a little odd.

The bus screeched up to the stop after a few minutes, hot steam puffing out from beneath it, the tires slogging through the deep gutter puddles. The couple instantly leapt on, and Gavin let the elderly woman shuffle aboard in front of him, even though it meant he stood in the rain for the minute it took her to procure her pocketbook from somewhere in her many layers of clothes, and also the other minute it took her to fumble through it for change.

Finally aboard, Gavin took a seat near the front. He was going less than a half dozen stops anyway, since his apartment was right on the outskirts of downtown. Not a fantastic place, but good enough for a poor and often broke college student, like he was. He'd been saving money for a while in order to buy Christmas gifts for all the family he'd be seeing tonight at his sister's—his father, his grandparents, one aunt, two—or perhaps more—uncles, his older sister, her son, his younger sister, and any number of cousins that he didn't really know that well. Luckily only the first nine required presents—but even that was still a lot.

No one ever seemed to notice Gavin's money problems—since he was attending a fairly good school and also working on the side, the family seemed to assume he was in good financial standing. Anyway, they never offered to help, and no one had told him that they didn't require any presents this year. And Gavin had been in a good place, money-wise, up until a semester ago when Barrett had moved in.

Despite himself, Gavin sighed aloud, annoyed with himself for letting his jerk of an ex into his thoughts again. He had promised himself, after the hellish week he had just had,never again…

But it was inevitable anyway. Barrett had been such a large part of his life for the last year, it was going to be difficult to shun him completely from Gavin's mind. Gavin hadn't been upset about the breakup—if anything, he'd been relieved. He had almost been ready to do it a semester ago, just about the time that Barrett had announced, uninvited, that he was moving in with Gavin. Which had been intrusive and awkward, but Gavin had also just lost his previous roommate, he'd been pressed for rent, and for that moment he'd been fine with Barrett moving in and helping him.

And Gavin had enjoyed having someone live with him—someone who wasn't a typical straight, messy college guy who left the apartment in shambles and expected Gavin to always clean it. Which he had, grudgingly, but only because he wanted to live there comfortably, not like half a garbage dump had been transported into the place. But Barrett had been his boyfriend, and they'd had the place to themselves, the walls were made of brick, thick and nearly soundproof, and well…it had been fun. Invigorating and something like freedom.

But not for long. Barrett hadn't helped with the rent anytime past the first month, he also decided halfway through the semester that he wanted a break from school, and simply stopped going. Which meant he hung around the apartment all day, bored, and expected Gavin to entertain him when he got home, even if he was tired with plenty of schoolwork to do. Their relationship, as Gavin saw it, had deteriorated rapidly from there.

When he had come home early from his job at the corner bookstore in mid-November and found Barrett and a tenant from the apartment floor below them doing unspeakable things on the couch, Gavin hadn't even been upset. Betrayed a little, and angry definitely, but hardly saddened. At that point, he'd hardly even been surprised Barrett had been sleeping around behind his back.

Gavin had kicked him out and had hoped that would be the end. And he hadn't heard from Barrett for nearly a month, until Monday of last week when he'd suddenly showed up at the door, announcing that he was going to take his stuff back. It had been nearly a month and he hadn't yet taken all his things out of Gavin's apartment. And he had to choose the week before Christmas to do it. Which was mostly why that week had been Gavin's personal hell. Barrett wouldn't take all his things at once—he would simply show up, take one or two items, and disappear for a few hours, or a day, until the next time he showed up to take another two or three items. Some of which weren't even his to begin with.

That ridiculousness had finally ended on Friday, the day before Christmas Eve—yesterday. He'd barely had time to squeeze Christmas shopping in between Barrett's visits—since if he wasn't at the apartment when Barrett showed up the man would simply call Gavin's cell and demand he come back to let him in. It had been easier to just stay there. The semester had ended the previous week and there was nowhere he really had to be.

But finally Barrett was gone, with all of his things and some of Gavin's as well—he was distinctly missing a blender—but he'd been so glad to finally be rid of him that Gavin hadn't even cared. But the memory and anger still hadn't left his mind—it was why he'd reacted initially to the boy in the candy shop. They both shared the same sandy hair, same blue eyes. Except now that he thought about it, Barrett's hair was a darker color, more brown in it than blond, and his eyes were also a deeper blue than the young man's had been. They didn't actually even look that similar—it was probably just Gavin's mind, projecting his source of angst everywhere.

Maybe that's why he was doing this thing with the gift. Some sort of subconscious proving to himself that…that he wasn't affected by this, or anything. That he wouldn't be dwelling on this, on Barrett, for the next few months. That he could still do nice things for people without them taking advantage of him, like Barrett clearly had.

The bus was at his stop now, a few people shuffling in out of the rain, and Gavin had almost not noticed. He rose from his seat quickly, swinging around the metal pole onto the rubber-coated stairs, stepping off into a large puddle at the bottom. He tightened his fingers around the box in his pocket reflexively, somehow afraid it would fall out and he would lose it. It was a ridiculous fear, but Gavin couldn't make himself let go of the box until he was a block away and climbing the creaking stairs to his apartment. The elevator was a risk to use in the rain, since the shaft apparently leaked—the elevator car was always suspiciously damp in bad weather.

He let himself in, depositing the bag of candy soldiers on the countertop as he shrugged off his waterlogged coat and threw it over the radiator, careful to extract the gold box first. His pants and shoes were soaked, along with the cuffs and collar of his shirt, and the general coldness of the room didn't really help things. Grimacing, he checked his watch—5:49. Just about an hour to get everything together before he had to head to his sister's.

Gavin headed back to his bedroom, intent on a shower and a change, leaving the box on the back of the couch where he'd be sure to see it, and remember.

Half an hour later he was showered and dressed, his dark hair still damp and tousled, his skin feeling slightly raw from the hotness of the water. The water heater wasn't any good in the building—it was always either obnoxiously cold or ridiculously scalding. He was fishing in the kitchen cabinets for a bag, like a grocery bag, that he could carry all the various family gifts to his sister's in. He also needed to wrap Dylan's candy, but that would only take a second.

The gold box on the back of the couch kept catching his eye, and belatedly Gavin realized he'd written the address on his hand and he'd probably just washed it off.

"Shit," he cursed quietly, and when he lifted his right palm there were only faint traces of the letters that had been written there. Annoyed with himself, Gavin rubbed his thumb over his skin, trying to recall the number. The street was easy enough—Magowan—but what had the number been? Dammit, he should have remembered that.

Maybe it'll be on their mailbox, or a sign on their house, Gavin thought. He had no idea what the number had been—he'd have to depend on luck. Once again he wasn't sure why he was so determined to do this, but it just seemed…right.

He found a bag, managed to fit all the sloppily wrapped presents inside it—no one had ever taught him how to wrap things properly—wrapped Dylan's candy and put it on top. His coat wasn't exactly dry yet, but it was his best coat for bad weather, and better than nothing. He threw it over his shoulders, put on one of the thick, scratchy woolen scarves his grandmother had knit for him—she would be pleased to see him wearing it tonight—and left the apartment after carefully placing the gold box back into his pocket.

He caught another bus, taking it far beyond downtown to the more residential area of town—also a much richer area. The houses were much larger and nicer here, trees lining the streets. Christmas lights twinkled in almost every window, blinking snowflakes and reindeer figurines, Santas on sleds and illuminated snowmen. The bus dropped him off at the start of the residential area, and he only had to walk a half dozen blocks to get to his sister's. Her house was decorated also, white icicle lights dripping from the eves, the lights of the Christmas tree inside fuzzy and blurred through the white curtains.

Gavin climbed the steps to the front door, and was just about to ring the doorbell when he heard a door slam open loudly to his right—he glanced over the next house to see a boy storm out down the steps, a blond girl coming to the doorway after him. It took Gavin a brief moment and a strange sense of irony to realize that the boy was the same sandy-haired young man he'd run into at the candy store, the one the gold box belonged to. He was wearing a heavy coat and a black scarf with a red and green stripe around both ends—obviously leaving the house for a while. The girl at the door was much less bundled up, and looked aggravated.

"We don't need to have this argument right now!" she yelled, pushing hair out of her face as the wind whipped it around. "It's Christmas Eve, goddammit!"

"I don't care!" the boy shouted back, red-faced. "We'll have this goddamn argument any goddamn time I want, since I'm never going to be accepted until its goddamn settled!"

The boy whirled on his heel and stomped off down the street, while the girl looked exasperated. "Cole!" she yelled after him. "Cole, you get back here! Mom is going to kill me!Shit."

She glanced around the street then, probably to see if any neighbors had come out to witness their argument. Gavin slid deeper into the alcove of the doorway until the girl threw her hands in the air, growled irritably, and disappeared back indoors, slamming the door behind her.

Gavin could still see the shadowed figure of the boy—Cole, apparently—stalking down the street. He felt the gold box in his pocket and knew it was probably the worst time—but still, probably the only time. He'd just risk it.

He turned from the doorbell and back onto the sidewalk, hurrying his pace to hopefully catch up with the boy. About two houses down, he saw something like a black, crumpled snaked, caught in the thorny branches of a bush. It was a black scarf, with a green and red stripe at both ends—the one the young man had been wearing.

"Hey!" Gavin shouted down the street, even though he wasn't sure he could even see Cole anymore. "Hey, you forgot your—you dropped your—!" And he's gone again, Gavin thought wryly. Great.

The scarf was flapping in the wind, little strings tearing out of it from the prickly leaves of the bush. Gavin reached down and carefully untangled it, trying not to ruin it even further. It was soft and cold in his fingers, some material that felt like cashmere, much softer than his own woolen monstrosity. He bit his lip as he looked down at it and the gold box in his hands. It would easy—so easy—to just walk back to that house, ring the bell, deliver the box and the scarf to whoever answered—the girl maybe—with a vague explanation…and be done with it.

But as he looked down at the scarf, a small square of white caught his eye. He peered at it in the darkness, reading by the faint light from the nearby houses—

Cole Moer

328 Alta Vista Dr.

Followed by the name of the city. Again, Gavin had to wonder why someone would mark a scarf like this, and couldn't come up with a reasonable answer this time. He knew when his own mother had used to make clothing for him and his sisters she would often sew nametags into them—in case they ever forgot their own names, Gavin used to think—but never addresses. But maybe Cole liked the scarf enough to put a return address, in case he ever lost it.

Still not sure what he was doing, Gavin slipped the gold box back into his pocket and mindlessly draped the scarf over his shoulders. He turned to head back towards his sister's house, wondering why he had already decided not to return the items to the other house. It just seemed like some sort of invitation, finding the address on the scarf—this was far more than just one coincidence now. He almost felt compelled to find this boy, to return the things personally, to talk with him. And he would, at least try, after Christmas Eve.

It was a typical Christmas with his family. His family was all very polite and genial with each other, loosening up more as more wine was drunk, doing a round of gift opening both before the dinner and after the dinner, which had been prepared by his sister, Moira, and her husband Dave. The three-year-old Dylan was oohed and aahed over, his uncle Roland's new entrepreneurial business was discussed at length, and Gavin faded mostly into the background. And he was fine with that, never having been that much of a social group person. He spent most of the evening sipping Martinelli's and talking with his eighteen year old cousin Virginia, who was currently fretting over colleges and

It was a pleasant evening, a successful Christmas, even though Gavin had been distracted and thinking of other things through most of it. For a reason he couldn't explain, he'd been wearing Cole's scarf the entire night. At first he had simply forgotten to take it off, and then had felt weird and somewhat stalkerish when he had noticed. Then he figured that the man would never know, and it was a really nice scarf anyway. It was just a scarf.

It was nearly ten o'clock by the time Christmas Eve with his family finally disbanded, cousins and aunts and uncles sliding through the front door one after another and dispersing. Gavin stayed to help Moira and Dave with the kitchen, even though they insisted he didn't have to help. Dylan, slobbering over one of his candy soldiers, attached himself to Dave's leg and laughed delightedly as Dave dragged him around the kitchen that way.

At ten thirty Moira called a cab for Gavin, and disallowed him to pay the fare. He felt guilty about it, but Moira gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek and told him she would hit him unless he let her pay, and he finally laughed and relented. So at ten forty five, when he was climbing into the cab and feeling the cashmere scarf around his neck, he felt slightly guilty when he told the cab driver the address printed on it instead of his own apartment.

He hadn't known where Alta Vista Dr. was, but it turned out to be on the outskirts of downtown—the opposite side of downtown from his own apartment. Not an apartment, but a house—a small, slightly run-down looking house, but with an obvious attempt at upkeep. Gavin paid the fare with the money Moira had gave him—feeling another pang of guilt—and got out, hovering by the sidewalk until the cab drove away.

The lights were all on in the house, and Gavin felt both anxious and ridiculous walking up the front walk, pulling the scarf off his shoulders at he did so. Now that he was here, facing the actual scenario, he couldn't remember why this had seemed like a better idea than giving the box and the scarf back at the other house. This right now was just…stupid.

Nevertheless, he found himself standing in front of an off-white colored door, one hand suspended over the doorbell. He only had a moment to change his mind, and he didn't take it. He pushed the bell, and the faint chime rang responsively inside the house.

Oh, damn, Gavin thought faintly. He'd wadded the scarf into a ball in his hands, and he quickly straightened it out, folding it up instead. His breath came out in short, wispy puffs in the air, and he was just about to forget this whole thing and leave when he heard footsteps inside, and the door suddenly swung inwards.

The young man—Cole—was standing there, looked ruffled and slightly confused, wearing a stretched white t-shirt and gray sweats. Over his shoulder Gavin saw a TV going. He frowned up at Gavin, one eye slightly squinted.

"Do I know you?" he asked, and Gavin had to clear his throat before he found his voice.

"I, um…I found this, tonight," he said awkwardly, holding out the scarf like an offering. He wondered if his hands were shaking, and if Cole would be able to tell. "It's yours, right?"

"I—" Cole said, taking the folded black material slowly. "I didn't realize I'd lost it," he finished. "How did you—"

"It's—your address is on it," Gavin said. "I didn't know what else to do with it." A lie, but he wasn't sure what else to say in this situation. The young man was already looking freaked out enough.

"I—oh. Right." Cole scratched a hand up through his sandy hair, ruffling it even more. "Yeah. I, uh—well, thanks. You didn't have to."

"I wanted to." Shit—Gavin winced; that had come out wrong. "I mean, it wasn't really a problem."

Cole looked up at him again, now squinting both eyes. "What's your name?" he asked, and Gavin blinked. He hadn't expected that.

"Uh, Gavin. Gavin Ross."

Cole paused, considering the information. "Do I…know you?" he asked again, but this time sincerely. Gavin shook his head.

"No, I…don't think so."

"Oh. Huh." Cole rubbed at his temple. His cheeks were turning slightly pink—probably from the cold, Gavin reasoned. "Well, I'm, uh, Cole. But I guess you knew that—scarf and everything."

"Yeah, kind of." The gold box was like a burning weight in his pocket—he didn't know how to casually slip its existence in to this already highly awkward conversation. "You, uh…might recognize me from this afternoon—I kind of ran into you in the candy store."

"You, in—oh." Cole's eyes widened slightly. "Yeah. You shoved me."

"On accident!" Gavin hurried to say, but Cole was grinning.

"Yeah, I know. You made me drop something though."

"Uh, this?" Gavin asked, hesitantly producing the box from his pocket. Cole's gaze fell to it like it had a magnetic pull.

"Holy shit," he said. "Fuck yeah, that's it. You picked that up too?"

"Yeah, I—I thought I could catch you and give it back, but you were gone and I—just kind of held onto it, and then I was at my sister's tonight and she lives right next to…uh, wherever you were. That's where I found your scarf." Gavin was babbling, he knew it, but his mind had been seized by a kind of frenzy, a desperation to explain himself and why he was here, why he wasn't a stalker because he really hadn't tried to be, and—

Cole took the box from him, his expression unreadable. "That's really…weird," he said. "You picked up everything I lost. That's gotta be some sort of coincidence."

"Yeah, I…I guess so." God, this was awkward. So awkward. Now Gavin just wanted to leave. Why had he done this? "I think I should, uh…go, now. Yeah. I'm sorry to have…bothered you, or…anything."

Cole didn't reply, and Gavin turned away, swallowing hard, and started down the walk. He wasn't sure how he was going to get home from here, but there was probably a bus stop within a few blocks, and buses ran until eleven thirty. It was maybe eleven now, he could catch one, get home…yeah. Just forget about this whole miserable, embarrassing mess.

He heard a door close behind him, and knew it was definitely for the best. God, this whole thing, it must have just been because he was so lone—

"Wait! Hey, wait a second!"

Gavin stopped, almost a pure reflex. He turned to see Cole, coming down the walk towards him, looking somewhere in between determined and embarrassed. He stopped in front of Gavin, who wasn't sure what the hell was going on now. He hadn't expected this.

"Look, I—" Cole said, his teeth digging furiously into his lower lip. "Thanks, really. I mean it. Sorry if I…was rude or something, I just…why did you even bother? You don't even know me."

"I needed to," Gavin said, and then flinched. "I just—I wanted to. I guess. I have this bad habit of being too nice to people, and I—"

He broke off. Cole was touching his arm, the sleeve of his coat, hesitantly.

"I guess I'm not used to that," he muttered. "I don't know very many genuinely nice people any more. So I—I'm really glad you…whatever. Christmas spirit, right?"

Gavin smiled. "Yeah. Christmas spirit."

"Uhm," Cole said, and he was turning pink again. "Can I just—um—"

Cole's hand moved to Gavin's shoulder suddenly and he found himself being pulled slightly forward, warm and slightly chapped lips pressed hesitantly against his own. Despite his shock and surprise, he nearly lost his balance and had to catch hold of Cole's shoulder, accidentally pulling him closer. And he was kissing back, because it was so warm and different and new and maybe this was what he had wanted, maybe he had known, somehow, and all the coincidences hadn't been only coincidences—

They both pulled back at the same time, slowly, Cole now flushing darkly and Gavin slightly slack-jawed.

"You don't even know me," he managed in a whisper, and Cole's mouth twitched into something like a smile.

"If you ever wanted to—" he said, pulling away from Gavin and taking a step back. "Know me, I mean."

He took another few steps back until he was almost under the eves of the house, while Gavin was still frozen to the spot, reeling and dazed. He couldn't even move when Cole finally reached his doorway, backing inside, watching him the whole time. The door shut behind him.

Oh God, Gavin thought faintly, touching his lips with cold fingers. That, what had just happened…it had been something near perfect. He didn't know how, but it had been. Even if that was all, and it never happened again, if he never even saw Cole again, he would still have the memory of that—

A white square on the ground suddenly caught his eye—a folded piece of paper getting damp from the wet pavement. Out of what felt like a habit now, he bent down and picked it up, turning it absently between his fingers. He should probably start walking, try and find a bus station at this point. It was getting later, probably nearing eleven thirty now. There was—

He stopped, frozen again. He'd flipped open the white paper while he'd been fiddling with it, and now saw it wasn't just random litter. It was a note, purposeful, addressed to him.

Gavin -

Thanks again, and Merry Christmas.

And, in case you ever want to know me…555-6750

Gavin stared at the note for a long moment, wondering if it wouldn't suddenly just change, reform itself into something else, something that wasn't so…hopeful. But finally, he slipped it into his pocket, into the place where the gold box had occupied before, curling his fingers possessively around it. When he glanced up, he thought he saw a silhouette briefly at one of the lighted windows, but maybe he was just imagining it.