When the school gates finally opened, crowds of keyed up teens stormed out into the snow, animated at last by the prospect of being free for the winter holidays. Nothing could stop them from building snowmen, rolling snowballs down the hill to watch them grow, and laying down to make snow angels. Not to mention having massive snowball fights. Before long, hordes of students were forming groups, pelting each other with snowballs, and the park near the school was filled with howls of delight. They were going to be there till the cows came home, possibly even longer.
But for Cloud Strife, he was happy for a different reason. Christmas was only two days away, which was plenty of time for him to get that sculpture he saw in Barrett Wallace's pottery shop. It was an intricate clay sculpture of an angel, with her hands clasped in front of her chest and her wings spread out from behind her. He had his eye on it for quite some time, since he knew exactly who to give it to.
Aerith Gainsborough, the girl of his dreams.
The excitement at finally getting a shot at telling her how he felt about her nearly got him weak at the knees and sick to his stomach. That's how he almost always felt when he was nervous. As he packed his school bag to go back home and escape the snowball fight, he prayed that his voice wouldn't go up an octave the way it did when he was anxious around a girl or her parents. He shook his spiky golden hair, hoping to clear his mind. The hell with it, he thought, I'll be fine. No need to worry about tomorrow today. Right now, the important thing is to get that gift.
As he quietly snuck off into the alleyways that led to his house and his neighbourhood, he turned over his memories of Aerith. His mind flashed back to the day he met her in his biology class. He sat in the middle row of the classroom as he usually did in his classes. He never cared much for sitting in the front row, like the kids who could do biology in their sleep. Yet, he wasn't the type to sit in the back, where he was likely to doze off from another boring lesson only to be hit over the head with a piece of flying chalk or a blackboard eraser. He wasn't looking forward to the first quiz of the semester, which he was sure he would barely scrape by in.
That was when his day suddenly got better. That was when she walked into the room.
A tall, attractive girl walked in, wearing a pink turtleneck jumper over her blue jeans. Her light brown hair was tied up in a long braided ponytail that trailed down her back. But what enchanted him were her eyes. Never before had he seen such enchanting eyes. They were emerald green, a perfect contrast to her hair. And when their eyes met for the first time, Cloud actually felt like his heart was being drawn towards her. But it didn't last long, because the teacher had finished introducing her to the class and she took her seat in the row behind him.
When school was finally out for the day, he saw her at the bus stop on the way to his house. He rarely took the bus home, but he just had to see her, if only to hear her voice. She sat down, looking forward and waiting for the bus. As he sat down next to her, he exhaled sharply, letting the words flow into his head. But she still sat there, waiting for her bus.
"Hey, Aerith," Cloud began feebly. She turned to him with a slightly confused look.
"Yes?" she asked, looking at him.
just wanted to say hi. We're in
biology class together."
"Oh, right, I remember. Nice to see you again," she replied with a smile. Cloud silently added sweet voice to the list of things he liked about Aerith.
I'm Cloud, by the way" he introduced himself.
"Nice to meet you, Cloud. Were you waiting for the bus, too?"
" he hesitated "No
I was just passing by
I don't live too far from here
I just wanted to say hi and maybe
talk to you a little?" his last words came out in almost a choked voice and he wondered if he made the right impression.
"That would be nice. At least it would give me something to do while I wait for the bus."
And talk they did. It was during their conversation that Aerith told him about her father had to give her up for adoption after her mother died when she was still a baby. Since then, she had been living with her adopted mother, the neighbourhood florist. And just like her adoptive mother, she loved gardening and flowers. Which was why she was so gifted in botany; it also explained why when Cloud sat next to her, his nostrils were filled with a flowery fragrance.
Cloud told her about his life in Sector 5, the rougher neighbourhood of Midgar where he lived with his mother after his father died. They moved out of their home in Nibelheim soon after. Since then, Cloud's mother had been working as a waitress and bartender at Cid Highwind's old tavern, the Shera. Cloud wasn't much of a prodigy in school and was a little skinny for his age. The only thing he had to look forward to was a job as a deliveryman over the summer. He slumped, resting his elbows on his knees. But it was at that moment that he felt Aerith's hand on his shoulder. He looked over at Aerith, who gave him a closed smile. With a surprised look, he noticed her face getting closer to his. His eyes began to flutter as if he were falling asleep, only he was nowhere near sleepy. Her hand had touched his by that time, and before long
Cloud heard the sound of a vehicle pulling over.
With a small jerk, he realised that Aerith's bus arrived. Just my luck, he thought to himself despairingly. Aerith stood up and grabbed her school bag, walking towards the bus. As she got in, she took a seat by the window and glanced at him. Before the bus pulled away, he could have sworn he saw her give him a small wave. He waved right back, just to be sure, before the bus left the station.
It had been three months since that day at the bus stop. And now, he was about to show her just how he felt about her. He had gone down to Mr. Wallace's shop to find the statuette of the angel still on the display case. With his allowance money held in his clenched fist, he walked over to Mr. Wallace to pay for the gift.
"Getting it for someone special this year, Cloud?" he asked the young man as he put it in a box.
"You bet, Mr. Wallace." Cloud answered.
"You made a good choice. Merry Christmas, and give my best to your mom."
"Will do," Cloud said over his shoulder.
Not long after he left the shop, he realised he needed some wrapping paper and a card. Well, there goes my weekly allowance, he thought with a sigh, but it'll be worth it. Good thing I bought my subway ticket ahead of time. He got the wrapping paper and took his time choosing a card for her. He finally settled on a card with a picture of a frost covered flower before he went to his room to go wrap his gift up. He wrapped up the gift as best as he could, attaching the loose ends with some scotch-tape. When he was finally done, he looked at his handiwork and gave a small, satisfied shrug.
On Christmas Eve, he left his house at around 5:30 PM. By that time, it was already dark out. He said bye to his mother before she left to go to work for the Christmas party at the bar. She glanced at his Christmas gift and gave a surprised smile.
"Who's that for, Cloud? A friend?" she asked him before he left.
yeah, just a little something I got from Mr. Wallace's shop." Cloud responded sheepishly.
"Oh! I'm sure she'll like it very much," the older woman replied knowingly.
"I hope so. See you later tonight, mom!" he said as he waved goodbye.
"Take care of yourself, Cloud. It's expected to be really snowy tonight!" she called out to him before he left the house.
He rushed out onto the streets. True to what his mother had told him, it was freezing and snowing hard. He rushed to the subway, trying to advance his way through the bodies that pushed and stood in his way and running when he had the chance. He knew exactly where to find Aerith's house. He had been there many times with her friends Zack and Cissnei to do their homework together. All he had to do was get past the mob of people with their bags of Christmas shopping and get on the stupid train.
Just as he made his way to the platform where his train was expected to take him to the richer area of Midgar, he read the sign:
Platform closed due to defrosting of rails
All trains are expected to be delayed by at least 45 minutes, while some are cancelled until the 26th.
Sadly, Cloud's train was cancelled. And he was flat broke, with no money to take the bus. He sat down on the bench on the platform edge and let out a frustrated sigh. Well, this sucks, he thought to himself, cursing his bad luck. He sat down for a few moments and stared at his gift before he finally got up with his gift. He had no choice but to wing it, to brave the snow and to walk to Aerith's house in the freezing cold.
He navigated his way to the exit, where he had just as much difficulty getting out. But he persevered, and before long he was out on the street. With his gift in his hand and his card in his pocket, he walked towards Aerith's neighbourhood. The snow began to pick up and he felt his face getting pelted with snowflakes. He tried to close his eyes, but it made the journey harder still. But he was determined to do what he had sought out to do in the first place. Seeing her smile, if only for a minute, was worth all the hardship, the cold that numbed his fingers, and the snowflakes that took away the feeling from his face.
Before long, Cloud felt something hard hit his neck. He nearly stumbled over as he was shaken from his reverie by a cold stinging projectile. He turned around, only to get pelted again in the chest. He hugged the gift box close to him, while trying to shield himself from the snowballs that were being hurled at him by the neighbourhood bullies. "Oh, you have got to be kidding me!" Cloud exclaimed, breaking off into a run. He ran as fast as he could with the package in his hands, letting the back of his parka absorb most of the impact from the snowballs and praying that the card in his pocket wasn't getting wet or damaged.
Then, he heard a crash followed by a crunching sound. He looked down and saw shards of broken glass from a bottle of vodka. Then he heard another bottle crash next to him. Now Cloud was really getting nervous. Not only were they causing mischief, but they were most likely drunk out of their skulls. He could hear their guttural laughter behind him and he hastened his steps. At length, he managed to lose them by running into an alley and ducking behind a dumpster. When the coast was clear, he finally walked until he found himself at his destination. He could see her door at the end of the lane where he stood, and began to walk towards it.
He didn't notice, however, the black ice on the floor. He had barely taken ten steps before he felt as though a carpet had been pulled from below his feet. With a startled yelp, he lost his grip on the package and fell flat on his back, sliding a few feet before he came to a stop. He lay on his back, groaning from the pain for a moment or two before he slowly sat up on his elbows. Aerith's present lay just a few inches from him, and he slowly got to his feet to pick it up.
His back hurt from the fall and he limped slightly, walking up the stairs that led to the house. When he arrived, he rang the doorbell and waited for a reply. Aerith answered the door, wearing the same pink jumper she wore the day they met. She let out a gasp when she saw him. His face had gone scarlet from the cold and he was covered in snow.
"Cloud! Are you all right?" she asked worriedly.
fine," he replied wearily, his back still aching.
"Come inside, it's freezing out there," she ushered him in "Take your jacket off, and I'll get you something warm to drink."
"Thanks," he managed to give a weak smile as he took off his wet parka and jumper and sat down on the couch in the sitting room. The brunette went off into the kitchen to prepare the hot drinks. As he sat down, he placed the box and its card on a coffee table and heard a strange noise. He picked it up, put it to his ear, and gave it a shake. It sounded like something was broken
Just then, Aerith returned with two steaming mugs and placed them on the same table. She noticed the box and the card and gave him a curious look:
"Huh? What've you got there, Cloud?
for you," the blond stammered nervously.
"Really? That's really sweet of you," she gave him a smile, "Should I open it?"
"If you want, it's up to you," Cloud replied, with a little more confidence in his voice.
She delicately removed the gift paper around the present and opened the box to peer inside. Cloud's heart sank as he saw what had happened to the sculpture. The wings had been broken off, and there was a fragment where the face used to be. His card didn't do any better. It was soaked from the snow, and the message he wrote in pen had been smudged.
"Oh, no," Cloud uttered putting his head in his hands "It was supposed to be your Christmas present. But
some guys chased me and I slipped and fell down. I'm really sorry
Cloud felt completely depressed and his head slumped. He felt the couch seat next to him slowly settle down as though a weight had been dropped on it. Aerith sat down next to her despondent friend and put her hands on his shoulders just as she did the first time they met.
Cloud, it's really no big deal. It was really sweet of you to go through all that trouble," she began.
"I knew you'd say that
" he muttered.
"No, I mean it. The truth is I already got what I wanted for Christmas. It came just now."
Cloud looked at her, puzzled. What did she mean?
"I got exactly what I wanted this year," she continued, looking into his deep blue eyes.
"All I really wanted
was you, Cloud. To be with you and to have you..."
Cloud was startled, but he had forgotten his disappointment. Did she really mean it? Before he could think of an answer, he found himself staring into her emerald eyes. Her hand fluttered to his cheek and he put her hand on her shoulder. Their eyes quivered as they got closer and joined each other in a heartfelt kiss.
"Merry Christmas...Cloud." she whispered softly in his ear.
His heart was beating faster as his nostrils captured her heavenly perfume. Aerith's kiss warmed him better than any fire could, even the one that cackled in the chimney nearby. Her arms slowly entwined themselves around his neck, while his arms went around her waist. He leaned back on the couch as they kissed again, not caring about the time or the storm outside. Cloud reclined on the sofa and Aerith cuddled him. Cloud's weariness caught up with him and his eyes fluttered, and before long, both he and Aerith fell asleep on the couch.