The Warmest Winter
Every winter I volunteer to give out gifts to kids. I try to go to as many places as I can, but as much as I love to do it, it’s as hard as a regular job. Their smiling faces, their overjoyed energy as I hand out their presents, it gives me a warmth that I need as the cold weather starts to come in. I never ask for anything in return, a smile on a little boy or girl’s face is all I really need. No, really! I promise!
The wind chilled, its white-cold air freezing as it attempted to penetrate through the windows of a classroom, largely successful as the glass condenses inside. Thick coats, scarves, and gloves become add-ons to the usual uniforms as students scurry out of the school building to escape into warmer abodes.
Footsteps got louder as they approached a particular classroom. By the frequency of steps, they’re in a hurry. To spend a second longer here in such a cold hallway should be avoided at all costs. By now they’ve ascended into a brisk jog as they descended deeper into the darkened hall, each step echoing across the now empty corridor. It’s nothing less than a relief when those steps arrived at their destination.
“Haa, haa… Finally, I’m here.”
A girl quickly enters the classroom. Long black hair that normally sits at her lower back flow behind her as she got to her desk. “Ah, there it is.” She snatched her bag of school supplies that was latched to the side of her desk. Her chestnut peacoat and olive gloves also sat neatly folded on the top of the desk as well.
“Ah, I can’t believe I got caught up with student council work. I wanted to walk home with the others.” She thought aloud as she collected her belongings and smoothly put on her warmer wear. “Oh well, it can’t be helped.” Fixing her hair as she prepared to leave the classroom, heading towards the door, she realized the light switch in the classroom was still on.
In her haste of leaving, the girl didn’t see another person sleeping at a desk in the back of the class. It was only now due to their loud snoring. The noise was actually quite grating. Their breath was visible in the cold air, inhaling and exhaling as their head napped on the wooden desk.
Slightly irritated at this person’s disregard for the time, she made her way closer to this mystery to find what they were still doing here.
Upon further investigation, it was indeed another girl. Her head snugly nested in her arms as she continued to doze off. She had dazzlingly white hair, and a slender frame that complemented her other doll-like features. Aside from the standard school uniform of a dark blue blazer, she was covered in thick scarlet coat. The only thing that was seemingly unfit about this girl was her snoring, the loud and heavy rumble was not at all charming.
“Oh yeah,” the dark haired girl continued to think aloud. “This is that new transfer student that came only recently, right?” She played with her straight-cut bangs as she racked her memory. “What was her name? I think it was-“
The mystery girl had woken up, eyelids heavy and halfway open from doing so. In addition to her white hair, her skin was equally as pale, shining in the light of the fluorescent bulbs of the room. Fair skin only attracted more attention to her cheeks and nose, which were red as a rose. A tinge of drowsiness crept into her voice as she softly spoke again.
“You’re Yuki, right? The girl who sits at the front of class?” Bright blue eyes pierced into the dark haired maiden. Yuki normally had a thing for blue eyes, but the way these stared with such intensity made her take a step back in hesitation.
“Me? Y-yeah. May I ask what you are still doing here? The school day ended thirty-five minutes ago.” She spoke firmly, as if scolding a small puppy.
Rubbing her eyes while lifting her head up more, the girl sitting continued to mumble. “Hmm, I must’ve… Fell asleep again…”
Well, obviously, Yuki thought. “It’s just that guy keeps talking on and on and on, and I just get…” The girl yawned. Not ladylike in the slightest.
‘That guy?’ You mean the teacher? Why are you talking like you don’t know how schools work?
Yuki crossed her arms with indignation, her pose statuesque. Dismissive attitudes like this do nothing but grind Yuki’s gears to dust. She also happened to recall her introduction when she transferred at the beginning of winter. All she managed to accomplish was mumble incomprehensibly her name and take her seat in a back corner. Any foreign charm she had was soon lost on the other students as all she did was sleep the class away. To think a student sat back here so carefree while Yuki slogged through journals of notes everyday was almost annoying. Almost.
Yuki agreed to herself as she made up her mind on judging the character of this particular girl.
By now the said dismissive student was already sitting up straight in her desk, mindlessly staring off into some nowhere corner of the room. Eyes land upon Yuki again, and a loud bang is heard as she instantaneously leapt from her seat.
“May I join you?!” the girl boomed.
Expectedly Yuki yelped in response, falling back until a few desks prevent a full fall from behind. The clattering of wood and metal reverberated throughout the classroom and the adjacent hallway. She was within centimeters of Yuki’s face, with a sense of vitality and life that most definitely wasn’t there earlier.
“Eh?” was all Yuki could bring herself to say before the other one snickered, posturing her back to stand fully straight.
She was about twelve and a half centimeters taller than Yuki, who was of average height, surprising since she looked so small while she slept.
“May, I, join, you?” starkly she repeated, now with a warmer smile on her face.
“Why? What does that even mean?” Yuki tried to maintain her composure, her voice as icy as she could make it. The last thing she needed was to be bothered by this strange classmate any longer, also not wanting to admit that the considerable height difference made her just a bit intimidating.
“I’ve seen you around, I live in the same area.”
Shoot, Yuki blinked as she made sense of that piece of information. I really do have to walk with her now, don’t I? Turning around, she massaged her temple, a gloved finger cooling her head down. “Fine, I suppose. Let’s fix these desks first.”
Swiftly they complete their task, cleaning up the room before collecting their belongings and closing the door behind them as they exit. The first few steps out of the school building chilled Yuki down her spine, it was a lot colder than she anticipated. Cold air strikes the two mercilessly, Yuki shivering as it does. Her unwanted partner, however, didn’t seem fazed. Yuki vigorously rubbed her hands together while staring at her breath, materializing as a frosty mist.
“C-come on, the bus stop is only up ahead,” the way the white haired girl blankly agreed to that statement made Yuki question herself all the more. Does she really live near me? Quickening her pace, she tried to escape the cold a little, but also hoping to escape from this stranger’s company. Yuki ran to the bus stop.
The school building and gates were now behind them, gradually getting smaller as they made their departure into the city. They both made it to the bus in time. Taking her seat, Yuki sighed as that is indeed the case, the taller girl sitting right next to her, the differences in height still apparent as they sit.
The way bus rocked along the road, and the girl pinning Yuki to the window side, piling up her frustration upon each rickety bump. It didn’t help that the bus wasn’t crowded, at least not crowded enough for her to sit this close. Or near her at all, in her mind. She felt the girl’s body heat as they sat silently. Dark eyebrows beginning to tremble, she tried once again to question this enigma of a woman.
“By the way,” she says slowly, “I don’t think I got your nam-“
“It’s almost Christmas, isn’t it?”
It was such an obvious fact, the holiday in question was about less than a week away, the decorations and holiday related activities that have been popping up in frequency made it even more evident. Why bring that up?
“Hah, I wish we had a longer break, I’d get a lot more time to volunteer, and it’d be a lot easier on me.” She looked back at Yuki, another warm smile lightly set on her face.
“Every winter I volunteer to give out gifts to kids. I try to go to as many places as I can, but as much as I love to do it, it’s as hard as a regular job. Their smiling faces, their overjoyed energy as I hand out their presents, it’s really rewarding against the cold weather…” The longer she talked the sooner words melted into obscure details. That rambunctious boy whose cheering for a toy could be heard the next street over, the grandma who kept handing her letters of what her grandchildren wanted for next year, the little girl who wanted world peace (she got a puzzle of a map instead), Yuki ended up being raptly attentive to all of it.
Staring studiously into her companion’s features, she also noted a few more details. Her pearly hair sitting at mid-length onto her shoulders, her face scrunching as she tried to remember a particular nut that was in a cookie she had received as thanks, her silver socks only reaching to the edge of her skirt, with only a bit of pale skin showing. She’s tall, but she really is pretty.
“…is all I really need. Um, is something the matter?”
Yuki finally caught herself still staring at the girl’s legs. Eyes widen in surprise, and a splash of pink washed across her face as she turned away to face the foggy window. “N-nothing…” Accepting that answer without much thought, Yuki’s classmate ended her rambling. They sat in a minute silence before the bus makes the appropriate stop. “W-we’re here.”
The bus route strolled through the surrounding neighborhoods before stopping the girls off at the city plaza. Braving the chilling freeze once again, it took a while before Yuki could soak in the visuals around her.
Streets and spotlights and stores were adorned with red and green lights, and people bustling to and fro to attend to late night shopping. Even for a city, the populace was busier than normal. Of course this was nothing new to Yuki, a native to this urban jungle.
Indifferently, she took her first step away from the bus stop, and another before getting pulled in the other way by her free arm. It was rather forceful.
“Just come with me!”
This time it was her turn to lead. They walked in the opposite direction. Yuki looked with longing as her usual path back home faded from distance, and decided she finally had enough.
“Just wait! I don’t know what this is about!” Yuki yanked her arm out of the girl’s grasp. Silver hair in the light twirled as she turned around to face the frustrated Yuki. “We’re here right? Why don’t you go home already?!” A few passersby stare as the two stood frozen in place on the sidewalk. She didn’t care anymore.
Yuki paused to cool off before attempting to walk back to her normal path. Once again she feels her hand grabbed as a signal to stop. She was forced to raise her head to make eye contact. Yuki’s dark brown met bright blue.
It had to have been her most soft smile and the most gentle grip she could maintain. “May you join me for a walk? It won’t take long, I promise.” She squeezes Yuki’s hand more tightly for effect.
People still continued to stare, and from her perspective, she was still a stranger of the strangest kind. Embarrassingly, Yuki was put on the spot. Those eyes were calming, and the blue color matching the wintry air that nipped at their cheeks. Maybe I’ll indulge her one last time. “…Fine,” Yuki sputtered. “B-but it’s not for your sake!”
Delighted, the girl led on again, still holding Yuki’s hand. It looked so small in the taller girl’s palm. Rationalizing it was so they don’t get lost in the crowd, she was willing to accept the contact. They pass by more people as they walk on. A turn of a corner and they find them themselves soon entering a thick crowd. Maneuvering through such a large gathering proved to be an arduous task. The pair had kept bumping shoulders and arms as they pursue to go deeper. The collective noise rose as well with the urban sounds of cars passing and people chatting enveloping the cold ears of the girls. Yuki could only faintly hear her partner’s energetic voice as she gets tugged along.
“You play bass right? You look like you need a new amp!” Her voice somehow made its way to its intended destination.
“Huh? How did you know that?” Yuki tried yelling over the racket. That fact was known only by a handful of people, but not something that she tried to hide. Nevertheless, it was odd that she knew of something Yuki thought so trivial of herself.
The white haired girl halted in her steps, Yuki running into her from momentum. Rubbing her nose, she looked up as the girl turned to give a semblance of an explanation.
“I could feel your fingertips. They’re tough, but they feel smooth.” Yuki’s face flushed at her reasoning, but it sounded half unconvincing, as if waving it away with a few words. Wait, but I’m wearing gloves… “Hey,” she said, derailing Yuki’s train of thought “we’re here.”
Yuki took in her surroundings. Snow had already begun to fall, white crystals slowly beginning their descent from high above. Shining stars speckled across the night blue canvas that was the sky. The soothing cold weather added to the comfortable atmosphere, with all the people present. Then Yuki saw why there was such a gathering in the first place.
Acting as a centerpiece for the plaza was a decorated Christmas tree. Impressive in size. Dressed in brilliantly bright ornaments of various Christmas iconography. Reindeer, snowflakes, poinsettias, and stars glittered across the tree in precise alignment. Red and green lights flickered in random arrays. The long branches reaching out to collect some of the falling snow. And to crown what was a colorful feast for the eyes was large glowing star, red as a strawberry. It was like a light tower signaling in the upcoming holiday. Yuki stood in awe at the marvelous display.
“Cool, huh?” She heard by her side.
A soft spoken “Yeah…” was all she could say.
Lights flashed all around the pair from families and couples who wanted to take a picture, some even offering to take a photo of the two. The other girl was more than happy to have one taken, much to Yuki discomfiture. A strong pose and awkwardly held peace sign. A camera snapped and flash. Yuki recovered her phone. It was over in a second. The entire experience was beginning to blindly fly past her. Had she just gone home, she would have missed it entirely. Though it was hardly the first time seeing an impressive Christmas tree, or even this particular one. But having run into this odd student, who was known for her seemingly narcoleptic nature, suddenly demanding her accompaniment and taking Yuki here; she felt like she was floating through the entire moment.
A rush of freezing wind gushed over them, and they instinctively got closer for warmth. Yuki could feel her body heat. At what point in this bizarre day, did we ever get this close? Yuki wondered, her heart thawing.
“Did you like it?” The girl said closely.
“O-of course, but why bring me here anyways, of all people?”
“I wanted to enjoy myself a bit more before I get busy again, and you were close! I don’t get much time for myself, you know.”
“Oh,” Yuki responded with a hint of unexpected disappointment. “Volunteering?”
“Yup! Hmm, and speaking of which…”
The girl faced Yuki yet again, her shorter white hair contrasting Yuki’s long black hair. Yuki of course needing to look up to see her face. This time it felt different. Once again her hand was in the other’s, but Yuki could sense that the firm grip the girl usually had started to shake subtly. The face that exuded a hot confidence was now replaced with bashful red cheeks and a wandering gaze, as if trying to find what she would say in the air around them. Her lips twitched in trying to find the right words. “Eh… um…” Yuki had no clue this side existed in this type of person.
As soon as that side was noticed, the wax melted away. “H- he- HEY!” That fiery tone returned. Startled, Yuki steps back, but her hands still being held, she doesn’t go too far. They stand for another second. The girl then lowered her face toward Yuki’s, her reaction now an anomalous mixture of shock and confusion.
“Wait! What do you think you’re doing?”
She felt two arms wrap around her in a cozy embrace. Like falling into a pile of heated pillows. Yuki stayed unmoving, stunned at the gesture of affection she’s receiving. Snow still dropped, surrounding the two. The Christmas tree acting like as a perfect backdrop to this scene. The hug felt like it was taking forever. The girl leaned back first, maintaining their embrace, staring at Yuki’s dazed face. She radiantly smiled as she asked her request.
“You should be my present for this year!”
The girl lets go. The crowd around the tree had begun to dissipate. “I had a lot of fun,” she said. “You’ve been very nice to me.” Her shoulders shift. Yuki interpreted this as her taking her leave. Yuki reached for her arm, but stopped halfway. What is this feeling? She barely believed she would be missing someone she knew for less than two hours. A small step forward. She asks her own question in response.
“Wait, you haven’t even given me your name yet!”
“Oh that’s right,” she played with her white hair, “it’s-“
“Oof! Oh, please excuse me, I’m so sorry!”
“No, no, it’ okay!”
Yuki politely apologized to the man who bumped into her. Probably isn’t a good idea to stand around here. Regaining her position, she returns to find… no one. The white haired girl was all but gone. Lost in the sea of persons who were leaving to go home. Yuki didn’t even have a name to call out. She still felt the lingering sensation of her hand when she held it. She tried to scan a few more faces, but to no avail. Downcast, she was. Repositioning her schoolbag strap, she reluctantly headed home.
What did she mean by ‘my present’? Ugh…
That smile stayed in her mind the trip back. To think a girl that she didn’t want to have anything to do with, she now couldn’t stop thinking about. Those red cheeks, sparkling blue eyes, and that hair as white as snow. And as a first, the thought of if she’ll ever see her again actually crossed her mind. The last bullet point on the list of surprises this night seemed to bring. She arrived to the front of her apartment door earlier than she expected, her family most likely eating dinner inside. Yuki looked at the high winter sky above her, the moon illuminating its light. She sighed.
“I guess I really can’t wait for Christmas now, huh?”