Saturday, November 14, 2015

Lost And Found In The Snow.

Have you ever walked through a room so crowded with people that you couldn't tell where one person started and another began? This was the reality of Tina, twenty-one and lonely.

Every week was a confusing stream of cocktails, mindless bros, annoying house music and predatory drinks. Tina would drift from one club to the next, not even aware at times of where she was. Concurrently, no one else seemed to know she was there, either. The flashing aurora of the non-stop party would envelope her in a shrink-wrapped tomb of hollow depravity. One more drink. One more dance. One more guy to forget.

Unfortunately, this was the high point of Tina's existence.

Most of Tina's days were spent in class at her university, surrounded by other students, drifters and phantoms. Three days a week, her evenings were occupied by a middle-aged professor and his recitations about long-dead philosophers. The stale nonsense wasn't her cup of tea, but she needed the credit. The class usually let out around 9 PM, with the city coming to life soon after. Tina would glide out of the cold brick gateway of the school and meander to the warm glow of downtown.

On this evening, a shiver crawled beneath Tina's skin as a light snow began to fall. She remarked at how the chill cut right through her, but the snow seemed to not tickle her skin at all. Unfortunately, Tina had lost her coat a few days before in a random bar and was forced to huddle her arms together for warmth. As she walked past the front of a recently closed bakery, a young man inside with a broom in hand caught her eye. He swiftly handled his instrument back and forth, trying to tidy up the establishment before heading home. The fellow glanced up for a bit, catching notice of Tina's gaze. Most of the lights were turned off, but a string of lamps in the ceiling behind the service counter seemed to give him a peculiar aura. Placing his broom against a corner, he approached the front door and unlocked it. His dark black hair was a stark contrast against the ivory snow, now falling a bit faster. Peeking his head through the doorway, he called to the girl in the snow.

"Summer vacation ended months ago. It's warm in here, though. Care to come in?"

Taken aback at someone actually noticing her existence for once, Tina fumbled through her thoughts for a second.

"I could be a deranged serial killer. Wanna take that chance?"

The young man smiled.

"I have a broom... and I know how to use it."

The awning above the bakery's entrance was quickly turning from striped black and green to a solid white. Fearing she wouldn't make it downtown without freezing to death, Tina accepted his offer of warm refuge. A series of tarnished bells clamored as he braced the door open, allowing her to rush inside and shake off the snowflakes. Honestly, she looked like a wet, depressed dog.

"Sit, sit! I'll grab you a cup of coffee. You walked by at the right time. Hadn't yet poured out the pot I brewed before closing."

Tina thanked her host as he spun around the kitchen. The interior of the bakery was quite catching, with a cheerful explosion of pastel green and orange all throughout. A display case next to the counter still had a few stragglers left from the day's business -- a couple of bear claws, a trio of strawberry tarts and what looked to be a giant cinnamon bun.

"I'm Emil, and you're my last customer of the day. Though, I've already closed my register, so I guess you'll be dining on my tab."

Emerging from the kitchen like a whirling dervish of aprons and silverware, he placed a steaming cup of coffee, a fork and a plate next to where Tina had taken a seat.

"Do you like cinnamon buns? Because I love them. Would you share the last one with me?"

Before Tina could release a single word, Emil had already placed the lone pastry on her plate and sliced it in half.

"Baked it myself this afternoon. I promise... nothing to hurt you in it. That is, unless you count the calories, which if so then this is a nightmare of edible terror!"

For the first time in what must have been ages, Tina smiled. It was tiny like a wispy eyelash lost to a sudden gust of wind, but a smile nevertheless. Parting her chapped lips to accept the first bit of the dessert, she couldn't understand why this stranger was being so nice to her. Was he dangerous? No, couldn't be. His soft eyes and humorous nature didn't possess the stench of a monster. The spicy taste of cinnamon danced on her tongue, only to be outdone by the crispy glaze of sugar resting between each delicate fold of the pastry. She swallowed, thinking how this cinnamon bun must have been the greatest thing she'd ever tasted. Admittedly, it could have been the juxtaposition of the cold weather influencing her opinion, but such context was irrelevant this evening.

"I have to be honest with you... I see you walk by the shop a few times each week around this time. I've always wondered where you're going with such a sad look on your face. I never seemed to have the courage to speak to you until tonight. And to think, I don't even know your name."

Placing her fork across the plate, she could barely bring herself to look at him directly.

"My name is Tina. I go to college here. All the clubs and bars are downtown, so I usually walk there at night."

Emil wiped a smudge of the cinnamon bun off his chin and retorted.

"I figured you might be a student, but wasn't sure. You always look so focused on where you're going. I never see you with anyone else, or talking on your phone."

Tina looked down at the crumbs on her plate, wishing there was more of the bun. She kept her head low, unsure if she could look at Emil without bursting into tears.

"You're the first person that's talked to me like I'm real in ages. Most of the time, I wonder if I'm a ghost. If not for my footprints in the snow, I might believe it."

With that, Emil realized that Tina was not in a good place. She'd probably not been joyful for quite the while. She was vulnerable and scared... of life, of herself, of what could go wrong. He had to be careful in what he said. Tina was fragile, much like the pastries he prepared.

"Of course I can see you! You cast a shadow along the floor. Your cup is now only half full. The cinnamon bun has been thoroughly enjoyed. Indeed, you are here!"

Emil reached for the empty plate and silverware, ready to run them into the kitchen. Tina placed her cold hand over his. She didn't say anything, but just continued to stare at the empty plate. He could feel her squeezing ever more slightly, not wanting to let go.

"Hey now, it's alright. Look at us; we've been given a wonderful gift. We get to become friends under a light blanket of snow. Who else can say they've done that? You'll have a memorable story to share with your grandchildren one day!"

With her face steadily rotating upwards to meet the eyes of her impromptu dinner date, Tina smiled at Emil again and accepted his silliness.

"I don't know what to say, really."

A giant grin blossomed upon Emil's face, only matched by the pure light beaming from his eyes.

"Nothing for you to say Tina, but lots for us to do. Come with me into the kitchen. My mom owns this place. She's told me for years that the best way to feel better is to bake something delightful. I can't believe I'm quoting my mother to a girl I just met... but life is funny like that. Have you ever tasted fresh zucchini bread, just popped out the oven and warm?"

"You mean you can make bread from a vegetable? And it tastes good?"

Helping his new found friend to her feet, Emil walked hand in hand to the kitchen with Tina. She appreciated his gentle grip -- not too firm, not too soft. It was just right, much like this accidental evening. For the next few hours, they mixed and stirred, baked and laughed. The zucchini bread came out wonderful. As Emil locked the bakery up, he lent Tina a jacket and escorted her back to her dormitory. They didn't scuttle their night with awkward glances and passion. There was plenty of time for that later on. But tonight, this oh so serendipitous night... it was all about just being there in the moment.

That evening, the clubs and bars downtown still bustled as they always did. Drinks were served. Promises were made. Hearts were broken. Tina wasn't there to see any of that, though. She baked her first loaf of bread and met someone amazing in the process. Emil, just by being a decent human being, pulled Tina back from the edge. And sometimes... that's all you need.

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