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Snow for Christmas
“The turkey’s looking great. Can’t you smell it?” Mrs. Lawrence closed the oven and took a deep breath. “Mmm…all that extra butter is really paying off.”
“Yeah, cause you packed that thing with three sticks.” Her daughter Rosalyn added. “I hope no one dies of cardiac arrest in the middle of the meal.”
“Well if they do, more pie for us, right?” Mrs. Lawrence gestured to the half a dozen pies lining the counter.
“Yes, remind me again why we needed to make six pies? We saving up for World War III or something?”
“I already told you. Your father invited a few of his business buddies and of course our neighbors, the Carltons, will be here as well.”
“Humph. You know I hate big parties. Why is everyone coming over here? Don’t they have their own lives?”
“Again, we talked about this. The Carltons have no family near them, and with just them and Peanut, they’d have a very quiet Christmas dinner. As for your father’s friends, I don’t know why they’re coming. Maybe they’re having a family dinner on a different day. I hear the one couple has a son. He’s twenty-two and planning on becoming a doctor.”
She put a little too much emphasis on this last part, and Rosalyn snapped in her direction.
“My god, Mom! Are you trying to set us up or something? Seriously, I am perfectly capable of finding someone. Just because you haven’t met any of them doesn’t mean I haven’t had boyfriends! It’s not like they’re going to drive all the way up here just to meet you. Mom, are you listening?”
During this rant, Mrs. Lawrence had started to carry the food out to the table, humming all the while. On her return to the kitchen, she started to sing, “Going to the chapel, and I’m gonna get mar-ar-arried.”
“They don’t do arranged marriages much anymore, Mom.” Rosalyn called from the kitchen. “Join this century, will ya?” Her mother ignored her, and Rosalyn could hear her singing from the echoing kitchen. She let out a groan. “You are so embarrassing,” Then shaking her head, but still smiling to herself, she grabbed the platter of roasted potatoes and followed her mother out to the table.
Christmas was a big deal at the Lawrence’s. The dining room was decorated with stuffed snowmen and holiday wreaths. The tabled was dressed with a heavy red tablecloth with gold embroidery. The good dishes and silverware was set out and crystal glasses sat sparkling at each place setting. It was the silver set from the Lawrence wedding, twenty-five years ago in April, but the set looked practically brand new. There was a slight tarnish to the inner grooves of the complicated rose pattern, but Rosalyn liked this. It gave them an antique feel. She set the potatoes down in the middle, closest to her own seat, as they were her favorites, and paused for a moment to inspect the doneness of the table. The turkey was out, golden brown and crispy. The side dishes, ranging from brown sugar-glazed carrots to homemade buttery rolls, were arranged on either side of the massive bird. Steam rose from every hot dish, the smells mingling in the air, stopping to greet Rosalyn’s freckled nose and then flying off again in haste, as if to explore all parts of the house before the guests arrived.
Rosalyn returned to the kitchen and rested on one of the bar stools surrounding the island. Her hand immediately began to tap at the granite countertop, her nails clicking out a rhythm. She was not tall, and in continuation to this fact, was not of a model figure. However, her sturdy frame was filled out in such a way as to give her a shockingly apparent hour-glass shape. Today she had dressed it in a pair of close-fitting dark jeans and a knitted green sweater. It was her favorite sweater because her grandmother had picked it out for her birthday. It was tight at the waist, but the sleeves were bell-shaped at the wrists and this always made Rosalyn feel like she was living in a different time period. Its hunter green color played up her bright green eyes and contrasted heavily with her bright red curls. Every time she wore it her father would call her an Irish wood nymph, which Rosalyn always took as a compliment.
The doorbell echoed throughout the house, and Rosalyn heard her mother swish towards the door. In the hall mirror, she quickly double-checked her makeup, for even though she was not trying to impress anyone, she still figured she’d look her best, especially since there was a boy her age coming. Rosalyn was uniquely pretty as she had been told before. There was something off about her face at first glance, perhaps her nose was too sharp or her smile was crooked, but it was always her eyes that people noticed and commented on. Satisfied with her appearance, Rosalyn straightened her shoulders and joined her parents in greeting the first guests. It was their neighbors the Carltons, Charles and Rebecca. They were about the same age as the Lawrences but had no children within visiting distance. Their eldest son was living in Luxembourg with his wife and two little boys, and their daughter Eliza was in college in Canada. They both had tried to come home for Christmas, but a serious snowstorm had delayed the flights in Luxembourg and Eliza had secured a major role in A Christmas Carol and was not able to make it home in time after the final performance. All in all, Rosalyn was glad that her parents had invited them, for it would have been lonely for them this Christmas.
After the Lawrences conducted their usually small talk, Mrs. Lawrence led them to the coat closet while Mr. Lawrence stayed near the door and soon spied the lights of another car. Rosalyn perched herself in the old-fashioned chair just inside the door, and then remembering the instructions her mother had given her earlier, went to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. From the kitchen she heard the voices of strangers, a man and woman, and assumed that these were her father’s friends. The voices got progressively louder which could only mean the arrival of more people and the return of Mrs. Lawrence and the Carltons from the coat closet. Shaking the coffee grinds from her hands, Rosalyn crossed the kitchen and came around the corner to the front entrance. Her mother and father were chatting with the nearer couple, while the Mrs. Carlton talked with Mrs. Burdleson, a woman of an impressive girth and an even more impressive laugh. Her husband stood behind her to the right, as if afraid of intruding on the affairs of women, and was soon rescued by Mr. Carlton and a topic of discussion involving the new basketball season. When Rosalyn walked up to them, they all turned and looked at her, which made her blush. Immediately, Mrs. Lawrence broke off her conversation with a tall and stately gentleman, who Rosalyn later discovered was a Mr. Hawthorn, and pulled her daughter into the mess of strange voices.
“This is our daughter, Rosalyn,” she announced to the group. They all smiled in her direction.
“It’s nice to meet you all,” Rosalyn replied and then gave a silly curtsy in light of all the unnecessary formality. All three couples laughed and tension was broken.
“Where is your son?” Rosalyn heard her father ask Mrs. Hawthorn. She was a sharp faced woman with light blonde hair and chocolate eyes. Her outfit choice was probably more suited to a country club banquet than a Christmas dinner, but she seemed a nice enough sort of person.
“Oh, Eric is parking the car,” she answered in a voice that sang rather than spoke. “He should be here any second. We had a terrible time finding the place though, given all the lights and lawn ornaments.”
Mr. Lawrence laughed, “You can blame my wife for that.”
Just then there was a slight knock on the door, followed by the appearance of a Mr. Eric Hawthorn. A scarf was wrapped haphazardly around his neck, his black coat buttoned all the way up. The burst of cold air created by his arrival made them all shiver, but it wasn’t long until the warmth took over again.
“This is our son, Eric.” Mr. Hawthorn proudly, clapping his hand soundly on his son’s back. “Home from UVA.”
Eric smiled weakly at everyone and then immediately resumed a default expression that said “Don’t talk to me.”
“Well, now that we’re all here, I said we move this little party to the food room,” and throwing one finger in the air as if to signify a charge into battle, Mr. Lawrence shouted, “To the food!” and led the way down the hall.
Eric hung back looking uncomfortable and began to take off his coat. He eyes searched the warm rooms, settling on the vibrant bows of the Christmas tree and then spying a portion of the clean kitchen with the excessive desserts lined up on the far counter. He now held his black coat in his hands, waiting it seemed for someone to take it. Though she dearly wished to wait and see if he would be bold enough to ask where the closet was, Rosalyn gave into her good manners and approached him once the adults had followed the battle cry, offering to hang up it up.
“Thank you,” Eric replied curtly, still looking around. He was not nervous, nor did he show any sign of timidity, in fact on the contrary, Rosalyn surmised, he seemed to be rather disappointed with his current situation. His mouth was twisted down into a grimace, and when his eyes rested upon her, seemed to be looking down at her more figuratively than literally despite his tall stature. But she still reached out for his coat, and said cheerfully, “Merry Christmas,” before walking away.
When Rosalyn entered the dining room, Eric was already there, sitting to the right of his mother, and directly to the left of Rosalyn’s. She stopped for a moment in surprise, but upon catching her mother’s eye, reluctantly sat down next to him. Mrs. Lawrence had placed herself in just the right seat as to be able to see them both together without too much trouble. Rosalyn shot her a look of distain that was soon softened by the warmth of the impending meal. She let her fingers touch the crystal goblet. The candle lights were reflected in it cut surface, created little beams of light across the table. One of these was directly aimed at Eric’s pale forehead, and Rosalyn chuckled to see it there.
“Ok, I’m going to make this short and sweet,” Mr. Lawrence announced, standing in front of his chair. “The food is getting cold, so let’s eat!”
“Here, here!” replied several of the others in unison. Mr. Lawrence began to carve the turkey, while the rest of the table passed around the side dishes. Rosalyn managed to start herself off with the potatoes, and taking several from the salad bowl sized dish, passed it to her mother on her left.
After several minutes of food gathering and laughter, they all settled down to eat. The men immediately arguing over whose wife was more obsessed with Christmas decorations, and the women shaking their heads over the debate and occasionally throwing in a line of defense. These playful jabs went on for some time, with Rosalyn helping herself to the plump turkey, delicate roasted potatoes, and warm, buttery rolls. Rosalyn listened happily to their silliness, her mouth filled with the tastes of Christmas, but she could not ignore the black rain cloud sitting to her left. Eric sat perfectly straight in the curved and cushy chair, his left hand in his lap, his right busied with the chore of scooping and serving the contents of his plate to the space between his tightly drawn lips. He chewed with no enjoyment, no contentment, and because of this, Rosalyn hated his being there. He was ruining her blithe. How can anyone be miserable surrounded by his family on Christmas? But Eric continued his silence, mechanical eating, pausing neither to rest or speak. Rosalyn felt crushed by his melancholy mood, but desperately tried to engage herself with the cheerful chatter of the adults near her, however her secluded position at the table made it difficult. After almost twenty minutes of unbearable silence, Rosalyn couldn’t take it anymore, and without turning her head to look at him, announced an observation that only he could hear over the roaring laughter of their parents.
“I can’t believe it’s Christmas Eve, and there’s no snow,” she started. Immediately she kicked herself, this man was dead set on only using his mouth to chew, and yet she has just tried to engage him in a conversation of one of the most cliché topics in existence.
Eric looked up from his food, but similarly did not turn his head, as he replied, “Yes, I suppose. But with snow comes the annoyance of shoveling.” He spoke with no emotion or sign of thought, as if he were a news anchor reading off a particularly boring story. Having taken off his coat, he was wearing a gray fitted sweater; the kind skinny men wear to show off their wannabe muscles. His white blonde hair was shockingly transparent and his gray eyes were dull like worn steel. Rosalyn sighed a bit inside at these observations. It was not looking like a promising conversation. Still, she would try.
“I never mind the snow in December. It’s when we move into January and February that it kills me.” Eric said nothing.
Rosalyn felt like she was pulling teeth. If he didn’t want to take, that was his choice, but then another thought crossed her mind. It would be way more fun to tease her disagreeable companion than to allow him to hid his head in his green beans. Thinking carefully about her approach to this new idea, she began with, “You’re rather quiet, you know, for it being Christmas Eve and all. Normally at this time people are more ‘jolly.’”
The affect was just what Rosalyn expected, Eric sighed, seemed to struggle with some internal conflict, and then answered finally, “I guess I just don’t have much to say.”
“Well, I for one, think that if people think they have nothing to say, they simply aren’t thinking hard enough.”
“Yes, that seems to be your policy. But for me, silence is a virtue.”
“I didn’t mean any offence.”
“Oh, I’m not offended by what you meant. I just hate clichés.
“My apologies. I’ll have to keep that in mind.” He paused, and then without the least bit more emotion, added, “You know a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
Surprised by this small joke from such a dull man, Rosalyn considered briefly her next response. She laughed playfully, almost flirtatiously, though this she later censured herself for, and exclaimed, “Oh, stop! If people can’t come up with new things to say, all of humanity is lost.”
“That’s a little extreme don’t you think?”
“Not really. Without imagination and creativity, communication would be lost and everyone would spend the rest of eternity having monotonous superficial conversations. Similar to this one, actually.”
Eric’s expressionless face broke, and he turned to look at his verbal attacker, leaning back in mock offense as he did so. “Whoa. Let me just pick up the broken pieces of my self-confidence and…”
Rosalyn, seeing this change, played along. “Oh, please! You probably have more stashed up than you can feasibly carry.”
“So now you’re calling me arrogant?”
“No, not arrogant. There are much better words to describe you.”
“I see. Such as?”
Mrs. Lawrence was looking at Rosalyn with eyes of flashing interest. Rosalyn ignored her even when she saw her mother whisper something to her father that made them both look.
She continued, “Such as haughty, egotistical…”
“Those are better than arrogant?”
“Ok, I’ll give you “supercilious.”
“Mercenary, miserly, niggardly…”
“Are you calling me cheap?”
“Seriously, is that even a word?”
“Well, you asked. I can keep going if you want.”
“Far be it from me to deny you this pleasure.”
“So are you.”
“Only on occasion.”
“The cost of your sweater could probably feed ten families in Africa.”
“Well, it’s cashmere.”
Rosalyn searched desperately for more material, and catching the view of Mrs. Hawthorn’s smartly pressed Ralph Lauren ensemble, shot out another accusation. “You are an affluent member of a snooty country club.”
“I should think that would be obvious,” Eric replied smiling and pulling lightly at the silver cuff links of his button-down.
“You’re an only child.”
“Wrong, I have an older sister in Vermont.”
“You act like an only child.”
“And I suppose it’s just you and your parents?”
“Actually, it is. I suppose they couldn’t repeat perfection.”
“Or perhaps they knew the world couldn’t handle another Rosalyn.”
“Better than another Eric Hawthorn. I suppose your sister is much of the same?’
“Actually, she’s is. Not married yet because she just can’t find anyone good enough.”
“It seems we would have a lot in common.”
“Yes, I forgot to mention that she went on her first date at twenty-six.”
“I suppose you had your first girlfriend when you were still in kindergarten?”
“What can I say? The ladies love me.”
Rosalyn snorted into her soup. Eric remained stoic, looking at her with complete innocence, but his eyes gave him away. Eventually he was faced with Rosalyn’s new hypothesis. “You’ve never had a serious relationship,” she insisted.
“And you’ve never had any relationship. With a real person that is.”
“You’re a misogynistic pig.”
“And you’re a bleeding heart feminist.”
“I still tolerate the opposite sex, as difficult as it is sometimes.”
“So do I, or else how would I eat?”
“Have you looked in the mirror, sweetheart. Your brazen hair has a voice of its own.”
“And you, sir, greatly resemble that of a water-logged corpse. And don’t call me sweetheart.”
“Many would view this shade of epidermis attractive.”
“The same people who spend all their free time reading crazed fantasy romance books and dreaming of marrying vampires?”
“The very same. Apparently, I am their poster boy.”
“Oh, yes. Can we add “delusional” to your list?”
“Only if we add “pig-headed” to yours.”
“How dare you! May I remind you that you are at my house, eating my food!”
“Yes, and it is absolutely scrumptious.” He speared a large potato with his fork. “A true work of art.” He popped the potato into his mouth, but underestimating its size and density, was stuck with chipmunk cheeks for several moments. Rosalyn did not miss this opportunity.
“Oh how wonderfully attractive you look at the moment.” Eric glared at her. “In fact, I have just spotted a squirrel outside the window. Perhaps she will make a good wife for you. I cannot of course comment on her cooking abilities, but I have heard that her acorn-gathering skills are greatly revered.”
“Don’t make fun of my wife,” Eric pouted after swallowing. “If you had a husband, you’d probably kill him in his sleep because he forgot to do the dishes.”
“And if you, sir, had a wife, human or rodent, she’d “disappear” at some point and you’d conveniently be married to one of your mistresses.”
“Ah, but which one?”
“To the one you already pay child support to.”
“Well, it seems to me that we have each other figured out.” Eric said with a small smile.
“Yes, we are both cold-blooded murders.”
“So it would seem.”
They remained silent for remainder of the meal, each attempting to process the conversation that had just taken place. Both the Lawrences and the Hawthorns had watched the banter take place, and now viewed with much satisfaction, the affect that the afore mentioned had produced on its two participants.
After dinner, Mrs. Lawrence brought out the six different pies and insisted that everyone have a piece of each. Coffee was served along with the dessert, and then Mr. Lawrence brought out the liqueur cabinet and suggested holiday shots. In order to escape the imminent chaos, Rosalyn caught eyes with Eric and the two slipped out into the hall. Fetching their coats from the closet, they met out on the front porch and took two of the rocking chairs that sat to the left. Eric, dressed in his dark wool coat melted in to the night, while Rosalyn’s bright red pea coat seemed to defy all shades of darkness. They remained quiet for several minutes, taking in the freezing air, letting it chill their throats and pacify their thoughts. Finally, Eric turned to her, half his face illuminated by the warm porch light, and asked if she was enjoying herself.
“I always enjoy myself at Christmas. Snow or no snow.”
“Yes, you and snow seem to have something going on. But if it were snowing right now, there’s no way we could be out here. We’d probably still be in the dining room, watching our parents challenge each other in rum shots.”
Rosalyn laughed. “Rum shots?” She shook her head, but then continued, “This is nice, but every year for as long as I can remember there had been snow for Christmas. I guess it just feels like the one pieces that’s missing this year.” She sighed, and quieted. Eric was looking at her, but she didn’t notice. The moon was just so clear that night.
“Are you having a nice time?” she asked suddenly.
“Yes, of course. What could be more fun than a feast fit for a king and a conversation about the weather on the porch in the middle of December? Our second actually, if I remember correctly.” Rosalyn smiled. Eric paused, and then “Where do you go to school?”
“I forgot about that. I heard your father say that you go to UVA?” Eric nodded. “So do I. It’s so funny that we’ve never seen each other there.”
“I spend a lot of my time in the business school. I’m working on a business major so that I have a fall back in case I don’t get into med school. My dad’s idea really.”
“Well that explains it. I live east-bound library, College of Arts and Sciences.”
“What’s your major?”
“I’m still undecided. There’s just so much out there, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to decide on just one career path.”
“That surprises me. I pegged you for a woman that knew exactly what she wanted.”
“It’s not that I don’t know what I like,” Rosalyn corrected indignantly, but then letting her sarcasm escape again added, “It’s just that I’m good at so many things Trying to decide how I’m going to change the world is my biggest obstacle.”
“You’re modesty becomes you,” was the matching reply.
“You’re certainly one to talk.”
Eric looked down. “My future’s been pretty much laid out for me since I was three. I never got to explore, so I don’t know what I’m really good at. I’m guess I’m still searching for that one passion that I can stake my life on.”
“Careful now. If you keep talking like that, you’ll turn into a hopeless romantic like me.”
“I’m already there.”
Rosalyn tilted her head at the sallow-faced boy across from her. Romantic? Him? “I guess we don’t have each other as figured out as we thought,” she said finally.
Eric looked up; a thin smile crossed his lips. “It’s not too late,” he replied.
Just then, the porch door was thrown open, spilling the yellow hall light onto the wooden planks. Mrs. Burdleson poked her head out of the doorway. “What the heck are you two doing out here? It’s 20 degrees!” She clearly had a bit too much to drink for her words slurred slightly as she said, “Come on, you’re missing all the fun!” She shut the door again and raced back to the excitement, apparently forgetting the couple on the porch.
Eric and Rosalyn looked at each other. “You want to go inside?” he asked.
“I guess we better. We wouldn’t want our drunken parents to worry about us.” They shared a laugh over their predicament, and reentered the warm and sparkling house.
The evening ended with a riveting game of charades. The team of Mr. Hawthorn and Mrs. Burdleson emerged victorious for their unique interpretation of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Rosalyn and Mrs. Hawthorn were a close second. Then in varying states of drunkenness, the adults shuffled to the coat closet to gather their things. The keys were tossed to Eric, who was declared the smartest boy alive by Mrs. Burdleson for not touching a drop of the “sweet stuff”, and his mother remarked at how fortunate it was that they had all decided to come in one car. Mr. Hawthorn began singing, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and soon the lot of them joined in, with Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence harmonizing on the down beats. Eric shot Rosalyn a pained looked as they headed out into the cold. The two couples had at that point switched to “Silent Night,” and were singing at the top of their lungs as they filed out, an irony that did not go unnoticed by those inside the house. Soon after their departure, the Carltons readied to leave, and with Mr. Carlton leaning on his wife for support, they staggered down the front steps and across the street.
The three Lawrences sighed. It had been a magical evening. With Mr. Lawrence still humming Christmas carols, they tidied up the dining room and put away the extra food. There were still three whole pies left, but they were all too tired to make a joke about it. At around eleven, the older Lawrences decided to retire to their room, and fell asleep on the thought that there was still Christmas the next morning to look forward to.
Rosalyn decided not to go to bed right away, and instead read a few chapters from her worn copy of Pride and Prejudice in order to calm her still racing adrenaline. Sitting curled up on the living room couch, with the fire crackling, and the cold locked away outside, she felt at peace.
Three chapters of Jane Austen later, Rosalyn suddenly heard a knock. Instinctually she glanced up at the window across the room, looking for any signs of movement by the thin branches of the maple tree. The knocks were heard again, deep and slightly muffled, indicating that they were coming from the front door. Rosalyn stood up and untangled herself from the fleece blanket she had snuggled in, crossed to the main hall, and opened the heavy door.
“Eric!” she exclaimed in surprise. “What are you doing here?” It wasn’t the nicest of greetings, but her shock at his presence at so late an hour trumped her courtesy.
“I… I…I just…” he stammered, partly from the cold, partly from nerves.
Getting over her initial surprise, she managed to invite him in and offered him a cup of hot chocolate. He hesitated but agreed, and followed her into the kitchen. While she heated the milk, he regained his composure.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but my father left his scarf here.”
“Oh, ok,” Rosalyn replied simply. “I think I saw it hanging in the closet. Let me check.”
She returned with the black wool scarf and saw Eric standing at the counter, his hands fiddling with the coffee mugs. He looked so different than when he first walked through the door. His arrogance was gone, and replaced by an appearance of cool confidence. But his eyes gave him away, for when they locked on to hers she saw the fear.
“Here it is,” she said holding it out to him. He didn’t take it.
“That’s not why I’m here,” he said quietly.
“I’m sorry I don’t understand.”
“It’s not just the scarf!” he suddenly burst out, a little too loud. Rosalyn looked scared. “I mean it’s…it’s…I mean sure I’m here to get the scarf. It’s my dad’s favorite scarf.” He seemed to be talking more to himself. Rosalyn stared at him, but then seeing the milk start to bubble, reached in the cabinet for the cocoa mix. “Rosalyn,” Eric said softly. She looked up. “Do you remember when you asked me about whether I missed the snow?” His eyes suddenly lost their fear. They sparkled like silver tinsel.
“Yes, of course,” she replied quietly as well.
“Well, I didn’t answer you correctly. I gave you some pathetic answer and I’m sorry. I just close up around new people.”
She smiled. “You came all the way over here for you father’s scarf and to apologize for giving me a lame answer to a question about the weather?” She turned and faced him. “Have you completely lost your mind?”
Her teasing made him smile. “Yes, I suppose I have lost my mind.”
“The hot chocolate is done, why don’t we take it to the living room and you can tell me again how sorry you are.” Holding the warm mugs in their hands, they settled down into the couch facing the large window. Most of the neighborhood was dark, but a few Christmas lights could still be seen. Rosalyn stared out the window. The two were silent as they sipped their hot chocolate, both lost in thought. There was no mention as to why Eric had come to apologize, the state of his father’s scarf or when he would be leaving as it was approaching midnight.
Suddenly he turned to her, and touched the base of her chin with his pale fingers. Their eyes met. His silver and bright, reflecting the soft light like diamond ice on thin branches. Hers glowed a dark green with all the mystery and wonder of a heavy pine tree forest. Their lips mouthed no words, their voices uttered no sounds. They sat, facing each other, like statues not wanting to move or perhaps incapable of it. They became connected through a silent agreement, an understanding of the most desirable kind, a contract of mutual emotions, of the good, the bad, and of those between these two extremes. The eyes read the fine print and the footnotes, they waded through the complexities of such writing, trying to understand what it never to be understood. But at last, with a substantial amount of satisfaction, they signed their names upon that of the other, clear and bold without any hesitation or regret. At last, with this accomplished, the two broke their gaze.
“I still wish there was snow for Christmas,” she whispered, looking out through the window.
“It’s not too late,” he answered softly, and pulled her close. She rested her head against his chest and listened to the steady rhyme of his heartbeat. Both pairs of eyes were closed.
The fire crackled in the stove, the hot chocolates grew cold in their cups, and outside the first few snowflakes began to fall, just as the clock struck twelve.