Winter Glow

WINTER GLOW
a glimpse of a world

Snow was falling on the waking city, covering it with a thin white blanket that would disappear as soon as the sun would rise from the shadows again. It was always so in Destrim, never did the cold stick long to the glass city.

Nuala was looking outside the airport windows expectantly. Now and then, she would glance at her silent phone, wondering why he hadn’t picked her up yet. Half-leaning on her carry-on sized luggage, she watched the monotonous ballet of cars coming and going, dropping off or picking-up still drowsy travelers.

It was very unlike Ricky to be late. He was supposed to have been here an hour ago and he wouldn’t answer her calls. Nuala thought he would’ve messaged her to at least let her know if something was delaying him. Fidgeting with her phone unconsciously, as if it would make it ring, she stared at the strangers hoping to recognize the familiar face.

The teenager was close to her brother. Since their parents passed away a few years ago, it was just her and Ricky until she got that scholarship to study abroad for a year. Today was her day back and they were supposed to celebrate. She was nervous to see him again because she had changed so much. Even if she was still the same girl that loved candy and romcoms, she had learned to rely on herself a bit more while away from her protective brother. Would things be the same as before she left? Was he still the kind of guy that would embarrass his sister at the airport with a giant stuffed bear so she wouldn’t be lonely while she was away?

Ricky wouldn’t forget to pick her up, she was sure about that. He might have changed in the past year, but he had promised, and when they spoke on the phone a few days ago, he had sounded so excited to see her again. What if something bad had happened to him?

Unable to wait any longer, Nuala grabbed her bag and went out in the cold. The glacial wind bit in her skin; she knew she should’ve brought a coat. One year only, and she had almost forgotten how freezing it would be at this time of the year.

The young girl lifted a hand and walked to one of the many lined-up yellow cars, just waiting for an assignment. Thinking she should try their apartment first, Nuala gave the address to the driver. If Ricky wasn’t home, then she’d worry. In the meantime, she tried calling again only to hear the happy automated message they had recorded together three years ago.

Before she knew it, they had crossed the city and reached her home. Nuala recognized the street, even covered in white. It hadn’t changed much in a year. She remembered the small coffee place where she and Ricky used to have breakfast every Sunday morning, and the flower shop where they’d pick up a bouquet every year to bring to their parents’ grave. The candy store was still there too, the one where she could buy for fifty dollars of pure sugar and eat it all during one of their movie nights.

The taxi stopped in front of a small apartment building. From here, Nuala could see the window on the third floor decorated with those hideous washed out pink curtains that belonged to their mother. She had chosen them for the apartment, and they were never able to throw them away, even though they clashed with the dark mahogany furniture they had in the living room.

Stepping out of the car, Nuala thanked again the driver. Her small suitcase in one hand, her silent phone in the other, she started crossing the street. She couldn’t help herself picturing walking in on her asleep brother and making him pay for making her wait. That was the scenario she deeply wished for, as her mind kept wandering down a dark path involving a dead body.

Nuala didn’t see it coming. The taxi driver’s warning came too late; she was already in the middle of the road when the truck collided with her frail body. Her suitcase crashed on the sidewalk, revealing her clothes. A book fell, pages melding in the snow. A door opened and a man screamed. She could faintly hear people calling for help, but her thoughts were all tangled. The gray sky kept pouring icy flakes on her face. Funny how she couldn’t feel the cold anymore…

***

He had promised he’d pick her up. Nuala. It was late, he shouldn’t have drunk so much. Ricky had spent the night partying with friends and celebrating early the return of his younger sister. He hadn’t had seen her in a whole year. Sure, they had called each other, sometimes even video-called, but it was not the same. He had imagined all the late nights catching up, thought of how easy it would be to go back to their old routine.

He had been woken up by his phone, had seen the time and freaked out. Late. So late. How had it been so late already?

Head still pounding from drinking too much got up and got dressed. He was so tired, he wasn’t sure he was up for this, but he had promised. He looked at himself in the mirror and thought of how much he had changed in the past year. His skin was gray, and his hair grew longer. He looked horrible, he knew it. And Nuala would’ve hated it.

Ricky stopped by the flower shop as he left, the one they used to buy flowers for their parents’ death anniversary. He picked up her favorite, white lilies. Flowers wouldn’t be enough to make up for this, he knew it. Still, he bought them because there was no way he would show up empty-handed.

Snow was falling and the ground was covered in thin layer of cold. White lilies on a white grave. One year had passed since Nuala had died. Ricky hated himself so much, knowing she had been right there. So close, and yet so out of reach. Finally awoken by his persistent ringtone, he had seen the hour and freaked out. It had been so late and the voice on the phone had been the one of a police officer announcing his baby sister had been hit by a truck. The five missed calls from her hadn’t even slightly disturbed his sleep; he had been drinking too much. After that night, he hadn’t stopped.

“I’m sorry…”

And he could swear Nuala was sitting on her tombstone, looking like she did in his memories. She would smile as if she was forgiving him, a faint light glowing in the dark of winter.

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