Chapter 19:


Life Eats Us Now

The excitement that flowed through me was like a lively river, a sensation entirely new for a Christmas Eve. With the bag of gifts firmly grasped in my hand, I dashed to my room, feeling like a child on the eve of a long-anticipated adventure. I had already collected the wrapping papers in advance, scattering them across my desk, ready to adorn the presents. 

With utmost care, I began to wrap each gift, my hands moving with meticulous precision to ensure they appeared flawless.

For John, I had chosen a bound journal. I noticed him carry one with him one day. While I briefly considered other options, I found myself circling back to the journal because it seemed like the most fitting choice. Truth be told, it was the same for all the gifts.

Emma's gift, on the other hand, was a burst of color embodied in a cheerful handkerchief. The hues seemed to waltz together, much like her spirited personality. As for Adica, I settled on a ribbon set, even though I wasn't entirely certain if she had a penchant for tying her hair with ribbons.

I hoped she would wear them to school; they should really suit her well.

If Liam was with us this Christmas, then I would've exchanged gifts with him too. I still have memories of decorating the Christmas tree with Liam and my father, and exchanging gifts by the warm glow of the fireplace. This year, however, was different. It was my first Christmas away from home, spending it with my school friends for the first time.

After waking up on the morning of the eve, the first thing I did was placed the bag of gifts by the door of my room, ensuring I wouldn't forget to take them with me. Around noon, I received a text from John, reminding me of the time we were to be at school. Throughout the day, I counted down the hours, watching as morning turned into afternoon and then evening. As the sun began its descent, I stole a quick glance at the clock and realized it was time to head to school. Descending the stairs, I found my mother busy in the kitchen, tending to dinner.

"Reol, don't forget to take your gifts," she reminded me as she stirred a pot on the stove.

I nodded and waved the bag towards her. "Yeah, I've got it with me."

She smiled warmly. "Have a wonderful time, and don't get lost on your way back. It will get really dark, after all. And say hello to your friends for me."

She was actually quite surprised to hear that I was going to be with my friends for the party. I hardly ever talked about any friends from school, so it was definitely something new for her.

I assured her that I'd pass along her greetings and stepped out into the chilly winter evening. By the time I reached school, darkness had settled in already. I used the flashlight on my phone to illuminate the gates. Giving it a little push, I noticed that they were already open. I looked to my right, then on my left... the paths were as empty as you'd find in a horror movie.

I gave it another hard push and they were wide open now and stepped inside. Walking in a few steps, my gaze turned toward our classroom, hopeful to spot a few lights on by now, but it appeared I was the first to arrive. Not a bad change of pace though; usually, I am the one who is always fashionably late. I made my way toward our classroom. And now that I think about it, walking down these hallways while sticking along the walls, it felt more like I was at a Halloween party than a Christmas one. The entire campus, which is typically buzzing with student chatter, now lay cloaked in eerie silence. It's not like I'm scared or ghosts or anything... they're as unreal as good grades in my exams, but what if one just spooks out from that open window beside me. Who knows?

The hallways were dimly lit, with only the faintest traces of moonlight seeping through the windows. This part of town, where our school was situated, had few lights and buildings, creating an atmosphere that felt strangely enchanting, like stepping into a haunted mansion from a storybook. My footsteps echoed softly as I walked, creating a sense of solitude that was both eerie and captivating. Upon entering the classroom, I was greeted by a sight that took my breath away. Or should I say had my soul leap inside my body. The first thought that came to me... "Did I actually mistake Christmas for Halloween?" Candles had been arranged around the room, casting a warm, flickering glow that danced across the walls. 

The soft light created a shaded ambiance, transforming our usually mundane classroom into a magical... and also haunting setting.

The first thing that caught my eye was John, still busy lighting all the candles with a wide grin plastered on his face. He sported a festive sweater adorned with reindeer, and a Santa hat perched jauntily atop his head. It kind of puts off the cool air he always seems to have, though somehow it managed to suit him perfectly too, blending seamlessly with his overall style.

"Reol, you made it! Merry Christmas!" John waved me over, and I happily joined him and his friends, who had already gathered. "Merry Christmas, John!" His smile was overbearing, and I couldn't help but return it. "This place looks amazing. Who set it up?"

John grinned and replied, "We all pitched in. It's our class party, after all!"

There were still a few tasks left to complete, like lighting the remaining candles and hanging the decorations on our makeshift Christmas tree. I decided to put in some extra effort to speed things along. As everyone else in our class began to arrive one by one, they joined in to lend a hand. With everyone's assistance, we finally completed the decoration.

Taking in the sight of the fully decorated room, I couldn't help but feel that all the effort had been truly worth it.

By this time, both Adica and Emma had arrived too. John took charge of placing the final star on top of the tree and switched on the power. In an instant, the entire room was bathed in the bright lights of the tree's decorations. A chorus of applause and cheers erupted from all of us, celebrating the magical transformation of the room.

"It looks so much better now, more Christmas-like!" Emma said, joining us in admiring the bright colors. "Honestly, I felt like I had walked into a graveyard or some occult club earlier."

"The candles were nice, but with the lights on, it's definitely cozier. I have to agree with you, Emma," John added with a chuckle.

While everyone around me was immersed in laughter and the joy of the festive season, I was still thinking of how to present the gifts I had brought. It should have been a simple matter, but being my first time, nervousness had a firm hold on me. Should I approach them casually and offer the gifts with a simple "Merry Christmas"? Or should I wait for the perfect moment? Did such a moment even exist though?

I made my way to my desk where I had placed the bag containing the gifts. I picked up John's gift and began to walk toward him. However, as I moved closer, I couldn't help but have second thoughts. Was a journal too plain of a gift? Would he even like it?

"Reol, do you need something?" It was only when I looked up that I realized John was standing right in front of me.

"Oh... actually..." I brushed my doubts aside for the moment and extended the gift toward him. Without hesitation, he broke into a warm smile. "A gift, thanks a lot!" He began to unwrap it, and my mind raced with thoughts about his reaction. How could I forget my own words? Friends would appreciate any gift they received. Friends.

"Thank you so much, Reol. I'll take great care of it!"

After taking mine, John too handed me a beautifully wrapped box. I tore through the wrapping paper to reveal a beige wool hat, the same color as the muffler Liam had given me. My heart felt like it had swelled up. "John, thank you! It looks really nice!"

He laughed, "I'm glad you like it, Reol."

Emma and Adica were next on my list. I went straight to them, handing them their gifts one by one. Emma took hers and eagerly began to unwrap it. "A handkerchief? It's so colorful."

Adica glanced at her, then handed me a small box wrapped in silver paper, tied with a graceful ribbon. "Reol, here's my gift for you."

I graciously accepted the gift, and together, we began to unwrap them. Inside, I discovered a beautifully handcrafted bookmark. "It's so pretty! Thank you so much!"

"I'm glad you like it, Reol. I made it myself."

"By the way, Reol..." Emma chimed in, "Can you guess what I gave Adica?"

I pondered for a moment, then looked at Emma. "Can I get a hint?" Emma pointed to her ears with a playful grin.


"Aren't they pretty."

I leaned closer to inspect them. They were a pair of earrings with a silver ring hanging down, featuring an aquamarine stone shaped like a teardrop.

"As for me..." Emma extended her left arm towards me, a bracelet hanging on her wrist. "Isn't this bracelet stunning? Adica gave it to me!"

"Yeah, it's nice."

I had never imagined that simply exchanging gifts with friends could be so enjoyable. Yet, it wasn't just the gifts; it was the time I was spending with them that felt like the greatest gift I could've asked for on this day. "It's truly wonderful..." I whispered softly to myself, my thoughts wandering back to that moment when I first walked into the classroom on my first day.

Who could've imagined that things would change so much like this?

Adica, hearing my mumbled words, turned to me with a curious expression. "Did you say anything, Reol?"

"Um... just thinking out loud. This night has been wonderful, hasn't it?"

"You're right. I'm so glad we could all spend Christmas together like-"

All of a sudden, John's voice burst through the air, capturing our attention like a sudden burst of fireworks. "Everyone, want to go stargazing?" We turned our focus to him as he stood in the front of the classroom, an excited glint in his eyes. "Let's head up to the roof!"

"But how are we going to access the rooftop?" Emma inquired, her gaze shifting between John and the classroom's exit.

John's grin widened, carrying a hint of mischief that matched the starry sparkle he hoped to unveil. "Don't worry about that. The lock's been broken for a while now, and the teachers haven't caught on."

His words were like a magic spell that ignited a rush of excitement within the class. "Did someone mention the rooftop?" A few more classmates sauntered into the classroom, lured by the conversation.

"So, are we all in?"

With our little band gathered, we made our way to the rooftop. Climbing the stairs, memories flooded back to me of my old school, where I'd often sprawl out during breaks, gazing skyward. It had always been a sort of hide-out for me, a retreat to lose myself in the boundless expanse of the universe.

The night was crisp and clear, and the stars sparkled in the velvety sky, brighter than I had ever seen them. In most places, the city lights usually drowned out the stars, rendering them almost invisible. I approached the edge of the rooftop, ready to lie down and lose myself in the sky's beauty when I felt an unexpected chill through my hand socks. Startled, I jumped back to my feet. John directed our gaze upward. The stars, countless and radiant, resembled a multitude of diamonds scattered across the inky canvas of the night sky. Their brilliance transcended mere beauty, approaching the realm of sheer transcendence. For a moment, I forgot about the winter's chill, completely absorbed in the overwhelming grandeur of the cosmos. It felt as though the universe had unveiled everything it cherishes, solely for us.

The Christmas party had already gifted me with newfound friendships and joyful laughter. Now, beneath this awe-inspiring celestial canopy, it added yet another treasure to its offerings, one that words could hardly convey.

So this is the essence of Christmas - sharing moments of joy, wonder, and connection with those who mattered most. Tomorrow, I couldn't wait to call Liam and tell him all about today. I knew it might not be the most extraordinary party, but it meant the world to me. I would surely be bragging about our rooftop adventure too, can't miss that one.