a christmas gift to readers

so, i lovelovelove christmastime. i love the music (yes, shut up, you know you do, too), the decorations, the trees, gift-giving, the excitement children feel, and the general sense of togetherness that binds us all together.

so it’s interesting that i never write about christmas in any of my stories. i guess i’ve just never felt the need to, even though i know, surely, some of my characters must celebrate it? and then this year, as i’m working through AMOF 2, i realized i actually DID have a christmas story to share. but it wasn’t for AMOF 2, it was a flashback that happened years before AMOF. and it wasn’t for chloe, or jonah, or kellan, but for karl. who, as some of you may know, happens to be one of my very favorite characters.

i always knew, going into his story, that karl was one of those guys who loved winter time. and i knew why–it was just, i never had room to tell any of this stuff. until now.

so, this is my christmas present to you. i hope you like discovering how karl finally found the girl of his dreams.

* * * * *
It was snowing again, light, small flakes that stuck rather than melted. Annar was pretty when it white—not that Karl would ever admit that out loud to anyone. He preferred winter to summer, always had, ever since he was little and fell in love with the literal girl of his dreams while building a lopsided snowman named Fred.
            Fred made an annual reappearance for ten years straight every Christmas Eve, down to the exact row of crooked seashells used for buttons and weathered beach glass used for eyes. He’d been painstakingly reconstructed, not from a photo, but shared memory. It became a game of sorts, rebuilding Fred, especially as it was done amongst much laughter and teasing and eventual kissing, slow kissing that melted the snow under bodies—but in all honesty, it was probably Karl’s favorite holiday tradition.
            Until, of course, he turned sixteen and there were no more snowmen to be made in his dreams or in reality.
            For an entire year, he’d refused to go skiing with his parents or snowboarding with any of his friends. He was the lone holdout for a New Year’s trip to Aspen to stay in some fabulous cabin that was more like a chalet, which, for months, his friends ragged on him for. And whenever anybody challenged him to a snowball fight, which he used to live for, because damn, was he a good shot, he practically bit their heads off with his insistences that only babies play in the snow.
            But then, shortly after his seventeenth birthday and a series of stern talking-tos from his father, grandfather, and friends, he drug his snow boots out of his closet and allowed himself to be drug to Switzerland for a ski weekend. He told himself that he was going to reclaim winter as his—that he wasn’t going to allow some fantasy girl that’d never been real in the first place take away something that meant so much to him.
            And now, now he was set to head to Aspen after all, with a group of friends and his girlfriend of the last five months who, frankly, hated the snow but loved him enough to give snowboarding a try. “I’m Australian,” she teased him when he brought the trip up. “We surf, not ski.”
            A deal was struck. He’d go surfing with her in Australia if she went skiing with him in Colorado.
            But before they could go, he had to have the obligatory Christmas Eve dinner with his parents. It was the first time he’d be bringing a girlfriend, and his mother was beyond ecstatic. She had begged Karl to invite his girlfriend. As far as Karl could tell, his mom was already knitting baby hats. It made him nervous, and he’d been wishy-washy for weeks before deciding once and for all to actually invite Kiah to come.
            He hadn’t even bought her a present yet, which definitely made him a crappy boyfriend. And it was going to make him late to dinner for sure, but he wasn’t going to show up at her door empty handed.
            Annar’s streets were crowded—they always were—but he knew where he wanted to go. There was a Dwarven jewelry cart a block over, and he’d noticed the perfect necklace for Kiah just yesterday when he was rushing to class. It was a silver moon surrounded by dark blue stones, which made him think of nighttime and dreams, which was apt as she was a Dreamer.
            Which was truly ironic, as he felt like it had been his dreams that had messed him up good for years and probably still explained why he was the kind of crappy boyfriend who forgot to get his girlfriend a present until Christmas Eve. Because, really—who falls in love with girls they meet in their dreams?
            Lunatics, that’s who, he thought sourly.
            Finally, the cart came into view; Karl checked his watch—he still had twenty whole minutes before Kiah expected him to knock on her door, thirty minutes before they were to meet his folks at the restaurant two blocks from her building. Maybe, just maybe, he thought to himself as he trudged toward the cart, he’d come out of this alive. Make it through Christmas Eve like a normal person rather than feeling like he’d lost a central piece of his soul.
            A group of girls were hogging space at the cart, giggling over rings and bracelets. Normally, Karl would wait until they moved on—his dad would kick his ass if he ever presented himself to be anything other than a gentleman—but time was a’wasting. He gently shoved his big frame into a small space in between two of the six girls while murmuring apologies. They stepped aside, oohing and awing about how sweet it was that a guy was buying jewelry.
            The necklace found, Karl stepped back, ready to head over to the cashier, but froze in his tracks. One of the girls who’d been at the end of the cart was now standing right in front of him, not a foot away. She was short and had corkscrew dark hair that always frizzed in the snow and a constellation of freckles across her nose. She was wearing a ratty yellow peacoat that was a hand-me-down from her grandmother with buttons that she’d found in thrift stores across America.
            He knew these things about her. He knew her.
            It was like someone had punched him in the gut. Impossible. Absolutely impossible. He felt his mouth fall open, like some thirteen-year-old asshole who was staring at the first hot girl he’d ever really noticed. Only, this wasn’t the first time he’d ever seen this particular girl—not so much hot, but more like incandescently beautiful, which made him sound like more of a pathetic asshole for even thinking such a corny thing.
            Her dark eyes went wide, like she’d been punched, too. “Karl?”
            This girl, who’d he’d dreamed about for most of his life, had fallen in love with while building a snowman on a snowy beach year after year, was somehow standing right in front of him while he was right about to buy his girlfriend a Christmas present.
            He didn’t know what to say. What to do.
            “You know that guy, Moira?” one of the other girls asked her. But Moira didn’t answer. She just kept on staring at Karl, like she expected him to say something.
            You left me, he wanted to say. You made me love you and then you left me. Even more importantly, he wanted to kiss her until she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. He wanted to lose himself in her. And then he wanted to kick himself, because hello. The whole fact that he wanted to do any of this with a slip of girl was just as crazy as he must be. 
            “You’re not real,” he finally told her.
            The girl standing next to Moira laughed, like what he said was the funniest thing she’d ever heard.
            It was enough to snap him out of his reverie. He took a step back and then side-skirted Moira, like she was contagious. An illness, or worse yet—a weakness, which she was, he couldn’t help but think. She’d broken him when all his life, he’d been invincible.
            If she was even real. If he was even awake. If he wasn’t hallucinating.
            He threw a wad of cash at the Dwarf—more than the necklace cost, that was for sure. And then he practically fled from the cart, wishing it was summer.

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