This is the first of several holiday stories I'll be posting, and it also is a present for the amazing Crescent Moon Dancer, who has been a very special friend and is a great author!
I hope you enjoy the story.
You waited under the small canopied area, shivering in the cold as a light snow and yet a heavy wind fell around your shoulders, making the air colder than it actually was. Despite the freezing temperature, the town square was the place to be on Christmas Eve, filled with lights, carolers, and even bakeries that glowed with warm firelight as the smells of their wares drifted along with the wind, tempting the passersby inside.
After an hour of walking, you'd seen all the sights, wandered around to hear the carolers, and had bought a packet of cookies that rested in your jacket pocket, providing some measure of warmth along with several good smells.
Going on a carriage ride was the fastest way to take in the final lights and sights, and it stopped near your home, so a ten dollar price tag was worth it. Anything was better than walking home in the cold.
You watch the last carriage clip and clop to a stop, the brown horse covered in a light dusting of snow as the large wheeled carriage rolled to a halt, a jolly man in a suit and top hat smiled down. Clicking a pen to life, he began to speak.
"Last ride of the day! You ready to go?"
Nodding, you move to hand the man his money when the sound of feet slapping the snow makes you turn to see the cause of the commotion.
It was a woman, her face covered by a scarf and hat as she skidded to a stop.
Her eyes, burning blue, betrayed her disappointment at seeing this stranger taking the last carriage ride as puffs of her breath escaped out of the scarf. The woman's arms held several baked goodies, proof that the smells of the bakeries were hard to resist, and you smile unconsciously fingering the bundle in your own jacket. At least you weren't the only one who fell to the temptation.
"Let me help you, and if you would like to come with me, I'm alright with that." You add, helping her shift the packages to a more comfortable state in her arms as the Carriage driver smiled.
"Ah, good!" He smiled, mistaking the simple act of kindness for intimacy, "I'll put you down as a couple!"
Before you or the woman could say anything, the man had already scribbled the names on the paper. "It's a five dollar discount!"
You nod futilely, accepting the discount as it was offered, before smiling at the woman and placing the packages on the carriage, helping her up as she warmly gripped your hands, thawing them out in her tight grasp.
You hand the driver the money, and a crack of the whip signals the start of the ride as you turn to you unlikely companion, unsure what to say to this stranger. From her silence, she didn't know what to say to you either, so you both shiver in silence as the light snow descended upon you both in white puffy flakes.
The woman removed her scarf from her face, pulling it down to her neck as she turns towards you slowly, her eyes alight with recognition as the blue orbs met yours.
Your mouth, despite the cold and the snow, instantly went dry as you blinked, unsure if this was just a snow caused hallucination. If heat could cause visions, surely cold could too.
After squeezing your knees tightly to reassure yourself that this was real, your brown eyes glide across her face, locking onto her eyes.
You whisper her name like a prayer, with all the reverence and respect those two syllables deserved, wondering if she was just a woman who looked like your best friend, or maybe a doppelganger from another Earth who was stranded here.
As a writer and a nerd, you had to consider every option.
"Hello," She smiled, shifting against her packages as you slowly began to melt, even with the intense cold. Her voice when she spoke could turn the most hardened man's heart to stone, and if you were lucky enough to have her sing to you, as you often did, it was as intoxicating as the fabled Siren's song or the strongest liquor a man could ingest.
Snapping his mind away from the past, he smiled back, hoping and praying that the cold would hide his flustered state. "I never thought I'd see you again." He stammered to the not quite real woman and/or possibly doppelganger, looking down at his hands as the carriage rattled over the streets.
Her hands reach out to rest on yours again, squeezing softly to reassure you, she was real. The woman you knew.
"Same here," Belle whispered, drifting back into uncomfortable silence as you drifted back into the past.
You and Belle had been friends for over ten years, meeting in college and instantly clicking as a mutual love of fantasy and music began to forge bonds, bonds that became deeper with time. Your conversations ranging from reviews of books and television shows to debates on writing stories, the best way to cook chocolate cake, and the which band's cover of a classic song was better.
Soon you were inseparable, and when you finally revealed your hopes and dreams about the future to one another, you found a well of endless support. She wanted to be a fashion designer, there was a drive in her that needed to create trends and design styles of clothes that would be worn by millions, and with those clothes, she'd change the world.
You were a writer and a singer, two passions that went hand in hand, as you made careers out of both as you let your massive imagination out into the world. For the readers, worlds of fantasy and science fiction would be injected with a surprising amount of emotion and passion, and everything would feel tangible and real. His stories could be enjoyed by everyone, and if they had one drawback it was that the vivid and lifelike worlds were just that, stories.
On those days when Bella needed the most support, whether it was mass producing a dress or calling up her staff with an urgent announcement, he was there. She could give him the barest of information and he'd understand exactly what she needed, always appearing out of nowhere like a guardian angel and giving her the highest quality work.
When he grappled with the elusiveness of his muse or fought his way through writer's block, when he needed to talk an idea out with someone, or when he just needed comfort after another rejection letter from a publisher, she was there. Always ready to give him her shoulder and let him rest his mind on it.
You were the perfect two, always able to joke around, cuddle, and fulfill any need the other might have. Whether you needed a video game partner to blow off some steam, or she needed someone to simply hold her after a long day, every wish of one was granted eagerly by the other.
Then she got a phone call from a fashion designer in Europe, someone prominent and noteworthy who had seen her work online and wanted to see more.
Bella's life became a whirlwind of interviews, skype calls, and back and forth indecision before she finally accepted a consultant's job in England.
The process of her getting accepted was a double-edged sword for you, you were happy that she was living her dream and advancing in her career, but she was moving a whole continent away. The month she'd spent studying in a different state was something you had to white knuckle, and being okay with her going to a new continent was going to be almost impossible.
You were supportive, kind, and even spent the whole day helping her pack before driving her to the airport.
A long hug, a few last words, and a promise to call when she landed ended the conversation, and she was gone.
In the months that followed, you gradually accepted the absence of Belle in your life.
Your newest book was selling well, you worked with your other friends, and you tried to get your social life back on track. For so long you hadn't considered going anywhere without her, or even dating anyone, she was just that important to you.
As you rebuilt your social life and expanded your career, you kept a close eye on her own career in England, watching her fashions become more popular with the London and American crowds. The time difference made Skype difficult, email unreliable, and phone calls almost impossible.
She was rich, famous, and most of all, happy. You watched her get interviewed by famous journalists after every fashion show, saw the recordings of the shows, and even bought some of her menswear when it was stocked in United States stores. That was enough to keep all your emotions at bay, and your brain and heart knew that she was gone but you were okay.
And now she was home again, and everything came flooding back.
Belle's voice snapped you from your memories as she let her gaze drift over your body. "So, you're looking well."
You blush deeply, hoping to attribute it to the cold. "Thanks, and you look wonderful Ms. Famous Fashion designer. Are you wearing your products tonight?"
Belle giggled at your tease, tucking her feet under herself and shivering slightly. "Nope, but I wish I was, this fur-lined parka does nothing to keep the heat in. Come on, move over!" Squirming her way under your arm like the world's cutest cat, she sighed deeply, resting her cheek against your shoulder.
"You're always so warm under your clothes." She whispered, nuzzling you with her chin. "I never understood it."
You smile softly and rub her back, feeling your heart begin to bubble with the emotions only she could stir, and her next words only made them stronger.
"I missed you. All those guys in England are nice and proper, but they don't treat me like you do."
A squeal partially escapes your lips as you giggle, score one for the US because you didn't ever have nightmares where a famous and well respected English gentleman with more money than you could shake a stick at would sweep her off her feet and wine and dine her throughout the romantic sights of London.
Good to know those fears were based on nothing.
"I missed you too, but what are you doing back here? Are you here to see family for Christmas?" You ask, wondering what else could bring her back home.
"I actually wanted to see you." She whispered, reaching up to twine your fingers with hers, as her other hand brushed your shirt with a soft gasp. "Are you wearing my brand?"
Her other hand gripped her phone, turning the light on to inspect the familiar pattern of stitches and fabrics that signaled her work.
"Yep!" You smile, bunching the sweater about yourself as Belle smiled.
"You bought my sweater?"
"And all your other menswear too." You add, smiling "Shoes, belts, even one of those scarves, anyway know that you've got a friend buying your stuff in the United States. Besides, you know I spend money when I need to cope with emotions."
This time her face was red, and for a long time only the clip-clop of the carriage was heard before she spoke again.
"I'm coming back home, the managers of the fashion bureau I work for want a US brand for our work, and I was selected to lead it. I'm moving to the city and won't be leaving for a long while."
At the silence, Belle looked up, seeing the tears roll down your cheeks. "What's wrong?" She asked, sitting up so she could look you in the eyes. "I thought you'd be happy?"
You take a few deep breaths, trying to dispel her confusion as you hug her tight with one arm. "N-no, I am… I am happy. It's just a shock."
You both got a second shock as the carriage rolled to a stop at the end of the town, the driver smiling as the ride finished. "I hope you both enjoyed the ride!" He chortled as you helped Bella off the carriage, before handing her the packages.
"So where to now?" She asked, "I still need to book a hotel."
Chuckling as you took some packages from her, you slowly lead her towards your home.
"Or you could crash at my place, watch some old holiday movies, and spend some time together this holiday weekend."
Belle's smile told you all you needed to know as she followed you eagerly, having chosen her answer.
I wanted to make this a one-shot, but it got too big! Read on!