"Yup. It's definitely looking a lot like Christmas."
The giant, furnished pine tree didn't reply back. It just stood as majestically as before, bathing in the attention by the public.
"Where is he? He's already half an hour late! Did he forget our date? Let me call him up..."
She rummaged through her red leather handbag. Normally she didn't wear red, but given the festivities it seemed appropriate to dress for the occasion... or in anticipation of it. Ah! There was her phone. She pressed "1" on her speed dial. Made sense, since he was number one in her heart at the moment.
The winds were getting chillier by the minute.
"We're sorry, the number you're calling is unavailable. Please try again la–"
Darn it, does he even know about the date? The lady grew more and more impatient, pacing around in her red stilettos. Again, to reflect the festive mood. But that seemed to matter less and less, as she was feeling a mix of anxiety and frustration. She could have been hanging out with her "sisters", gossiping and shopping in the newly opened mall down town. Perhaps she should ditch him... yeah. That'd teach him a lesson on punctuality and keeping promises.
"this is wat u get 4 takin ur sweet time gettin here. >:(" And send.
With a flick of her rouge hair she briskly marched her way to the mall. "Hey Melanie? Yeah it's Sylvia. Are you still there? Yeah I don't think my boyfriend's coming, mind if I join you gals?"
"So I was like, who's this creep behind me? And that guy just kept on following me! I made a few detours here and there, and he was still there when I glanced back! I was soooo freaked out!"
"Oh Melanie, I can't imagine what you've been through at that time. If I were you I'd have just run the hell out! Hell, even ditch my heels if I had to be faster!"
The girls were all laughing and chatting away in the food court. Normally they might have been chased out for the noise, but people were more forgiving this month. Nothing should spoil anybody's Christmas mood, including chatterboxes.
The sound of jingle bells suddenly chimed from inside Sylvia's handbag.
"Sorry girls, must be my boyfriend calling for an apology or something. Carry on!"
"Yeah sure, go ahead Syl!"
While the remaining girls huddled around the table listening to the haunting tale of Melanie's stalker, the lady in her red heels quickly answered her phone, preparing to brace herself for his boyfriend's lame excuse this time.
It was the boyfriend's number, but that wasn't his voice.
"Excuse me, do you know ... er... give me that name tag he was wearing ah yes, a man named Erick?"
"...? Uh yes, I'm his girlfriend. I-Is something the matter?"
"His phone received a few missed calls and a message from you. I need to find someone to come over for him."
"Wait, what happened? What's wrong?"
"What. Is. Going. On?"
"He was killed in an accident on his motorcycle."
The world froze for a moment.
Did she hear him correctly? Was she dreaming? She wanted to pinch herself, but she couldn't move. Please let this be a joke. This is a prank call, she was certain.
"...I'm terribly sorry madam. I suggest you come over to the hospital as soon as possible, you can aid in the identification of the body. His closest relatives are out of the country at the moment, so you're all we got at the moment."
No. This can't be happening.
The cell phone slipped from her hand and crashed onto the tiled floor.
"Thank goodness I got rid of the ugly cre– Sylvia? What's wrong?"
She couldn't respond any longer. She could only gasp for air as she sobbed.
"Oh no. What happened? Sylvia!"
Everything spun into a muddy mess of colours.
She found herself in the waiting room of the noisy hospital. Apparently she had gone into a daze from shock, and her friends escorted her here upon discovering the bad news. The hospital was normally busy this time of the year, as accident rates tended to pick up during the holiday season.
She really must have looked a mess, with mascara stains on her face. But she didn't care. She just lost the number one person in her heart. Why would looks matter if the person who appreciates it the most wasn't around anymore?
"Looks like you're back to your senses."
Sylvia almost jumped from her seat. She might have, if her heart weren't weighing her down so much now.
All this time she didn't notice the old man seating next to her– wait... he's a young man! The white hair threw her perception off.
"Your friends explained your situation to me. I told them that I'd help look after you while you recovered. Don't worry, I also told them to just wait around the area, and that you'll call them when you're done."
"...who are you? Why do they trust you?" She sounded dry and raspier than ever.
"Dunno. Strangers somehow like to approach me, thinking I'd be trustworthy enough to be entrusted with big favours. They're not entirely wrong though."
The man sent a gentle smile at her to cheer her up. It seemed to have some effect, because she started to warm up a little.
"...why are you helping me? Aren't you busy with... you know... whatever it is you're here to do?"
"Oh don't worry about that! I've already collected the medication for my friend earlier on, but it's not that urgent. You, on the other hand, look like you could need some support right now, and I can't neglect that. Everybody has their weak moments where we require pillars of strength to make it through the hard times."
She finally returned the smile.
"You're weird. In a good way. You remind me of how my boyfriend was also doing favours for everybody around him with a positive attitude."
He leaned forward a bit. "Then you two must have been a really happy couple."
"Actually... no. I..."
He waited patiently for her to craft her response. He knew she was quite shaken.
"...I admit it. I was more of a bossy snob rather than a lover to him. I know he was madly in love with me, but I didn't express that same kind of love back to him. Erick was so willing to listen to me, to do as I told him, even to set aside important family matters for my self-benefit. But I didn't pay it back to him. I was so selfish.
"Why couldn't I just do even a small gesture to show that I did love him? The kisses I gave were empty kisses. The hugs I gave were too brief. The efforts to make myself pretty were for my own sake rather than for him. I put him through too much. I made him into my own loyal servant! That isn't love, that's slavery!"
The man didn't respond at all. Not even a twitch of movement. This was her moment to let it out.
"And I was so bloody stupid to not realise what I was doing to him all these years! I was the reason why he failed to go for important family meetings. I was the reason why he worked extra hard as a salesman so he could save money to buy something for. I was the reason he rushed out of work today so he could meet me. I caused him to be killed on his way here! If I weren't so selfish... he would still be able to snuggle up with me during Christmas!"
Her face was wet again. This time they weren't tears from fear or confusion... but from anger and hate.
The man said nothing. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a packet of tissues. Gingerly, she took some to wipe her face clean. It took longer than usual, as her hands her viciously trembling.
Both of them didn't speak for a while. Just the sound of patients and staff echoed the waiting room.
Finally he spoke: "I'm certain he knows how much you do love him."
"...how do you know? You weren't there with both of us together."
"You're right, I wasn't. But if he doubted the love you have for him, would the two of you still have been together as a couple for so long, before the accident? Surely he must have understood that, before he'd want to continue this relationship. Perhaps he trusted that in time you'll eventually show your feelings explicitly to him..."
Sylvia's eyes brightened up a little. "You're certain he knew I loved him?"
"I'm very sure."
She couldn't help but believe him. Even if it were false, at least it was a comforting lie. It'd be one of the few pillars of strengths she'd need now.
A spectacled woman came up to the two of them. "Excuse me miss... are you Sylvia?"
She hesitantly nodded. It was almost time.
"I'd like you to come with me to examine the body. I hope you're ready."
She wasn't as petrified as before, but this was still a horrifying experience for her. Was she ready?
Just then the white-haired man whispered: "It's going to be okay. I can hold your hand and accompany you in, if you want to. You don't have to be alone."
He turned to the woman: "It'd be alright if I can join in, right?"
"Umm... sure, if you're just there to offer her support. Just don't disrupt anything important. I'll give you a few minutes to prepare."
And with that, the woman adjusted her spectacles, and headed back into the morgue. That oh so dreaded room, where Sylvia must face the hard truth.
He whispered once more: "It's okay. I'm here with you."
Sylvia took a deep breath. She closed her eyes.
And she held his hand as they entered.
"See? You're a brave woman. And it wasn't that scary, was it?"
The two were loitering next to the vending machine. Sylvia firmly grasped the cup of coffee as she calmed her nerves down.
"Look Sylvia, what's done is done. You can't dwell on it anymore. We all make mistakes that we can't take back, and we can only move on."
She took a sip. "Yeah. You're right. I can't be stuck in this slump hoping for him to come back and forget that all this happened."
As she swirled the remaining black liquid in the cup, she continued: "I was expecting something horrible like from the horror movies, but he actually looked so peaceful and calm. If I hadn't known better I would have thought he was just sleeping and having a sweet dream."
The man slurped some of his own coffee. "So you can go on and have a nice Christmas with your family and friends, I presume?"
Sylvia shook her head. "Unfortunately no. All my 'sisters' will be off on their own individual trips elsewhere, and I'm stuck here for business reasons, so no relatives either..."
He finished off his drink and tossed the cup into a nearby bin.
"Tell you what, if you feel better, why not come to my place on Christmas night? You don't have to be alone."
"Really? But surely you have your own friends and relatives visiting and all that–"
"Nonsense! I have that taken care off! I can accomodate one extra guest. And I think you deserve the company of others more than ever."
Just who is this guy, offering such kindness to people he only knows for barely a few hours?
"Uh... okay, I guess. I'll try to make it."
"It's alright if you can't come, but it'd be so much better if you'll be around to enjoy the festivities! Here, I've scribbled my name and address on this paper."
Sylvia took the yellow square note from his hand.
"That's not too far away. So... you're Dominic? Interesting name and hair you have."
Dominic rustled his snowy hair a little. "Yeah, that's the first thing people notice when they see me! It's actually natural, but I'm used to it now. So I'll see you then?"
And with that he gave a slight nod, then walked through the hospital exit. No trace of him remained, except the note in Sylvia's hand.
She stared at it for a while, then carefully folded it into her pocket.
Looks like her phone was put in there too. It got slightly chipped at one corner.
"Hello? Yeah Melanie, I'm done. ...it's him, no denying it. ...I'm okay now. Yeah he was really nice, he helped me out a lot.
"...yeah, let's just go back to the hotel. I'm really tired..."