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[personal profile] perfidiousfate
Name: A Winning Hand (on AO3)
Fandom: I am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak
Wordcount: 5700
Summary: The thing about messages is that they linger long after the messenger had gone.
Notes: Written for Yuletide!




"LOCAL CAB DRIVER PUBLISHES BEST-SELLER"



 If you asked Sophie - and most people didn't - the best time of the day was the hazy gray right before the sun rose. When it was light enough that you couldn't call it night, and dark enough for day to be a distant dream. In that time, the world was perfectly still and soft. Like it was holding its breath. The drunks from the night before had gone home. The working people from the day ahead were still asleep. The air was heavy, laden with the promises of the day ahead and the lingering memories of the night before.



That time belonged to Sophie.



 When she woke up, blinking sleep out of her eyes, the first thing she did was prop herself up on her elbows and glance out her window. The horizon was just beginning to lighten. She breathed it in, deep and content. And then she got up. She brushed her teeth, and got dressed. An old hoodie and athletic shorts.



No shoes.



 She stretched for a couple of minutes, getting her blood flowing and waking herself up some more. She opened the door, looked out into five in the morning, rocked back and forth on her feet a little bit. Anticipation, maybe. She took a deep breath. The air tasted like dew.



And then she ran.



 The world crystallised around her. She felt it, everything, all at once. The way the wind whipped through her hair. The burning in her lungs. And most of all, the feel of ground under her feet. The solidness. Just her skin and the earth beneath her. Again and again and again.



Most people didn't notice it. Most people floated about their day to day lives.



Not Sophie.



With every step, every connection between her foot and the earth, every heart beat that sent blood flowing through her body, Sophie felt the world running through her veins. The essence of morning tingling in her fingertips. Pure freedom in each and every breath.



The thing about messages is that they linger long after the messenger had gone.



(The beauty of an empty box.)



When she got home, maybe half an hour after she left, her family was stirring awake, slow and sleepy like a yawning cat. She stepped in, knocked on her parents’ bedroom door to let them know she was back, and took a shower to wash off the sweat she’d worked up. By the time she got out, her family was in the kitchen, waiting on her father’s famous chocolate chip pancakes.



“Morning,” she said, taking her place at the kitchen table.



“Hi Sophie,” her mother said from behind her cup of coffee. “Did you have a nice run?”



Sophie hummed her assent; there wasn’t any question about it. There was no way her run could be anything but glorious.



“That’s my girl,” her father said. Then, “Hey, check out the paper today.” He laughed, as if there were no worries in the entire world. “I think you’ll get a kick out of it, sweetheart.”




“OVERWHELMING SUCCESS FOR LOCAL WRITER”



 Every Saturday after lunch, Angelina and her mother would walk to the park; her mother’s hand clasped tightly around hers. Her fingers were always warm. On the way there, they would talk about their week. Angelina would talk about her friends and the funny jokes they made, and her mother would talk about her new job as a secretary, and how her boss told her she was doing well.



Neither of them said a word  - ever - about Angelina’s father.



When they got to the park, her mother would kiss the top of her head and let her go play by herself while she read. If it wasn’t too hot, she would sit down in the unflickering warmth of the noon sun, while Angelina played on the grass nearby.



It was nice, in the park. There were winding pebble paths, and the smell of flowers. Birds would sing, chirp chirp chirp, and she could hear the sound of people’s laughter wafting over with the wind! Angelina liked it there.



 She especially liked kicking around a football, trying to do fancy things like curving it or kicking it higher and higher. It was fun! The only problem was when she was trying out different angles, sometimes the ball would go flying through the air in a completely random direction, and Angelina would have to embark on a journey to get it back.



That part wasn’t as much fun, she thought as she watched the ball spinning from the patch of grass she was in and rolling halfway across the park. It wasn’t fun at all.



“Angelina!” Her mother called from where she was lounging on the bench. Even though she looked tired and frustrated, her voice was light, like sunshine dancing over the creek. She sounded like Angelina’s friends when they got an extra piece of ice cream cake, or to stay up an hour past their bedtime to watch TV.



She sounded happy. (Or something like that.)



“Angelina, don’t lose your ball!”



“Sorry, mummy!” Angelina called out. “I’ll go get it now.” She rose from where she’d plopped down on the grass, brushed dirt off her yellow dress, and looked around.



 The ball had rolled to a stop at the feet of an old lady. She was sitting on the bench, a wide-brimmed hat perched on her head. She looked like a pretty flower, Angelina thought. When she walked up to her, the lady smiled and her wrinkles creased around her eyes and the corner of her lips.



"Is this your ball, sweetheart?" she said, peering down at Angelina. Her voice was kind and soft and raspy, like a pile of leaves you could jump into, whoosh! Angelina liked it. She blinked up at the lady and gave her nicest smile; her mother always told her it was good to be polite.



"Yes,” she said. “Can I have it back, please?"



The old lady beamed at her. "Oh, of course." She moved her foot slightly so it was out of the way; Angelina kneeled and grabbed her ball, hugging it to her chest. Her mother would get mad at her for the dirt stains on her dress, but she didn’t care. "How old are you, love?" the lady asked her.



 Her trophy secured, Angelina bit her lip. Technically, she wasn't supposed to talk to strangers. But this lady seemed kind. Plus, her eyes were alight with this excitement, like she was genuinely pleased to talk to her.



Angelina would stay up late, sometimes. Lay in bed for hours at a time, as the moon made its leisurely way across the sky. Staring at darkness, listening to silence. Breath baited in anticipation of something that would never happen. Not again.



If there was one thing she knew instinctively and intimately, it was loneliness.



She couldn't resist.



She hopped up on the park bench besides the old lady, putting down the ball at her feet and swinging them back and forth. The bench felt scorching hot, even through the fabric of her dress.



The lady made this soft, happy cooing noise, and Angelina smiled despite herself.



"My name is Angelina," she said. "I’m nine!”



"What a lovely name," the lady said. "I'm Milla. It’s an absolute pleasure to meet you.” And she held out her hand.



Angelina was overjoyed. How adult this was! She held out her hand too, and gripped Milla’s, and shook it. Maybe a bit too enthusiastically, but, well, it was her first handshake! She hadn’t gotten much practice yet.



"Oh, you have a very firm grip!" Milla said after she let go. Judging by the way her voice lilted, she was absolutely delighted.



A compliment. Angelina held her head up, a childish pride rearing in her. "I'm very strong!" she boasted. "I can run really fast and jump really high. I can do anything."  



Milla laughed, and if her voice was like a pile of leaves her laughter was like fresh laundry, still warm from the dryer. “How absolutely marvellous! Your parents must be very proud.”



“My mum is! She said that I’m the bravest and best daughter she could have ever have hoped for.”



“And your father?” Milla said, nothing but gentle curiosity in her voice.



Angelina stilled.



“My father – ” The words died in her throat. She hadn’t said them for a year. She tried again. “My father is – ” But her voice broke. It hurt, deep within her, and she tried to swallow the pain down.



She was supposed to be stronger than this.



Milla frowned at her, and put a gentle hand in Angelina’s hair. Her skin was wrinkly and dry, and her bones were feather light. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”



“Nothing!” Angelina squeaked. “I’m okay.” She was perfectly fine. Her mother was happy, and so was she! “I’m really strong,” she added, just to be sure that everyone understood what was going on.



A couple, holding hands and laughing, passed them. The sun beating down felt like it was leaving a trail of fire on her skin. She closed her lids and breathed in and out. In and out.



Her mother’s tired face flashed before her eyes, and Angelina flinched with guilt and love and pain.



She bit back the beginnings of a sob.



She had to be stronger than this. She had to –



Then Milla’s gentle voice broke through her reverie. “I’ve lived a long life, you know. And sometimes, I think you can be strongest when you let yourself be weak for a little while.”



The words were like gongs that went off in her brain. They shook everything up.



Angelina stayed silent, processing this. Then, in a tiny voice, she asked, “Really?”



“Really.”



 And, like it was waiting just for that one word, something in her burst.



She cried, right then and there, with the scorching heat of the sun beating down on her, the buzzing of the insects around her and the soft susurrus of people’s conversations in the distance. She didn’t cry much – not like how she’d cried every single night, back then, with her mother’s screams reverberating through her headand her father’s grunts. But by the time she finished, her cheeks were wet and her nose was leaking and her eyes stung.



Still, Milla’s thin hand remained on her head the entire time. An anchor.



 After she was done, she felt like someone had scrubbed clean her soul. It was like something had ruptured, deep inside of her. Like a bubble of fear and pain had burst in her heart, leaving behind an empty rawness. It hurt. But instead of the pinprick of pain she was accustomed to, it hurt like after you ran around all day. A good hurt.



“Thank you,” she said, when she felt ready. Her voice came stronger than she thought. She turned around and hugged Milla, quick and easy, and waited until Milla squeezed back before hopping down to grab her ball. “I need to find my mummy now.”



Milla reached forward and brushed a lock of hair out of Angelina’s eyes. “I’ve always wanted a little girl,” she said. Her smile was wistful. “Especially a strong one like you.”



Her words were warm, and something in Angelina melted at that. She smiled. "We come every Saturday!" she said. "Can I come play with you next time?" She hoped so.



“I’ll try and see if my Jimmy can come,” Milla said, and smiled a goodbye.



Angelina ran, clutching the ball to her chest. Her dress swayed against her knees. The midday sun beat down on her shoulders, and it was the warmth of an embrace. She felt a laugh bubble out of her lungs, and let it go in one big burst, surprised at herself.



Her mother was sitting there, still reading.



She wrapped her arms around her mother's shoulders in a hug. Her mother's hair smelled like flowers and exhaustion; her new perfume and her new job. Her mother hesitated, but just for a moment - then, she was hugging back. They stayed like that, mother and daughter, for a long moment.



Angelina imagined her strength like a long spool of string inside her heart; she bit her lip and imagined unwinding it, passing it out through the tips of her fingers and into her mother's veins. That way, her mother could have her strength too! They could share it.



If she thought about it hard enough, it would be true! All you ever need to do, after all, is believe in happy endings hard enough. (There was a man who whispered that he would save them; and then he didn’t, but then he did. If that wasn’t a miracle, then nothing was.)



After a while, her mother let her go and leaned backwards. The way her eyes crinkled was probably one of the prettiest things Angelina had ever seen. "You okay, darling?" her mother said.



Angelina nodded, quick and furious like a hummingbird, and smiled brighter than she could ever remember. "I'm okay!" The words tasted like victory in her mouth, sweet and bright like crystallised sunshine.



And she absolutely, totally meant them.




“ZERO TO HERO: THE STORY OF A BEST-SELLING AUTHOR”



Most people hated their jobs.



 Angie was luckier; she didn’t mind hers too much. Working at a chemist wasn’t the most glamorous job – wasn’t what she’d dreamt of when she was younger – but it was satisfying. She would put on her dress and her brightest smile and spend all day trying to help people who needed it the most. Her co-workers thought she was off her rocker, but she enjoyed it. It was hard, the hardest thing in the world sometimes, but when she locked up the doors at the end of the day, she knew it was all worth it.



 It made her worth it.



She loved her kids, she really did. They were absolutely beautiful. She woke each morning to the sound of their bickering, and ended each day with a story and a kiss. Everything she did, she did for them. Still. It was nice to get out of the house, three days out of the week, and let herself be Angie Carusso.



 Sometimes, when there were no customers, she would stare out the window and watch the sun move across the sky, and make up moods for it. (It was a silly thing, maybe, but she didn’t have very many silly things in her life; except for, sometimes, the sweetness of ice cream on her lips.) The sun was shy in the morning, she thought, beautiful but restrained. It was brash in the middle of the day, shining strong and bright for all to see. And at the end of it, it was absolutely glorious – changing the whole world into a sea of oranges and pinks. Proud, but also kind.



 This sun was somewhere between the bright and the proud; the sky was turning murky on the horizon, the first streaks of orange seeped across it like melted caramel on cotton candy blue. She was staring out the dusty window, trying to determine its mood, when heard the bell ring; a nanosecond before the door crashed opened and her co-worker, Maryanne, sighed with gusto. Like she had suffered a grievous personal slight.



 A boy, maybe fifteen, stomped in. He had reasonably long hair, wore the biggest sneer she’d ever seen, and his face was covered in little cuts and bruises. They were still bleeding sluggishly. The way he moved suggested that his limbs weren’t much better; he held his left arm awkwardly to the side, and flinched whenever he jarred it.



In short, he was an absolute mess.



 “Can I help you?” Angie called out, pasting on a bright smile. The kid was absolutely useless. She knew it. He knew it. They stared, sizing each other up. The way the kid looked at her was mean; she could tell he had a sharp word or two on the tip of his tongue, before he swallowed them down.



“Where’s the disinfectant and the bandages?” he wanted to know. He didn’t say please. Maryanne, a heavyset middle-aged woman going through her second divorce, looked positively disgruntled.



But Angie didn't mind too much; she had grown up with useless people. This kid wasn't any worse than any other sorry specimen of humanity. Besides, he was only maybe fifteen and the scowl on his face was a shadow outlined in blood, like the moon peeking out from behind a cloud.



 He looked lost.



 Angie had three kids, whose laughter filled her house and her heart both. Exasperation bordering on weary fondness was her mode d’être.



“The bandages are in aisle two, and the disinfectant is up against that wall,” she told him. “Do you need any help getting - ?”



“No,” the boy cut her off, already shifting his attention towards the faded yellow signs that declared the aisle numbers. He studied them like they held all the answers to life. Or maybe he was just distracted by the pain.



By the time he picked out everything he needed, Maryanne had lost interest in him and had resumed flipping through a magazine instead (it was at least a decade old, judging by the celebrities smiling on the cover, and Angie had absolutely no idea where she’d gotten it). Angie rung up his items; he fumbled with some crumpled notes from, then shoved a twenty at her. When she handed him his change and the receipt, he shoved it all in his pocket like he didn’t have a care in the world, and walked away without even a “thanks”.



Teenagers,” Maryanne said as soon as the door slammed shut behind him. “Absolute shitheads. Eh, Angie?”



“Sure,” Angie said, but she was distracted. From her vantage point behind the counter, she could see out the window into the street. She had the front row to the boy walking out and plopping down on a nearby bench, then starting to rummage around inside the bag.



For a moment, she hesitated. But then she thought about how she was trying so hard to be Angie Carusso, and what that meant, and what she wanted it to mean. She remembered a young man, in a park one day. Mint and passionfruit. Dark hair, lost expression in his eyes. A gesture of kindness. Something small that meant a lot.



And she knew she had no choice.



"I'll take my break now," she told Maryanne, who scowled at this.



"Make sure to come back in half an hour!” she snapped. Angie smiled despite herself. She knew Maryanne wasn’t really angry; she just liked putting on certain airs, sometimes. It was the sort of thing that would have bothered her a decade ago. But now, with the weight of adulthood on her shoulders and the laughter of her children in her ears, she found it endearing more than anything.



"Don't worry, I will!" she said, and then walked outside. The boy was sitting out near the road, a frown on his face as he sprayed disinfectant in the general direction of his various cuts. His movements were short and jerky. Annoyed. There was no way he was applying the product correctly. But he didn’t look like he cared.



He'd never looked as much of a kid as he did then.



Being a mother had changed many things for Angie. It made her more responsible; gone was the party girl who would let anyone buy her drinks until she blacked out. It made her weary.



But it gave her strength, too.



She walked forward and sat down beside the boy, very casually. He froze, mid-dab, and swung his head around to blink distrustfully at her. "What do you want?" he snapped, puffing up like a threatened skunk.



She looked over at him, a sudden awkwardness rearing up. "You okay?" she asked him carefully.



His eyes flickered away, and she knew the answer. "I'm fine," he said. Then, "So you can piss off." Take your pity and shove it. He didn’t say that. But she heard it anyway.



"I'm Angie," she told him. "Nice to meet you."



 The boy hesitated, torn between snapping at her some more and responding. She waited patiently, staring out on the road and watching the cars go shooting by. After several long moments, the boy must have figured out that she meant business. He gave in, and muttered a quiet "Gavin."



She knew what to do.



"Stay right there," she told him. Gavin scowled at the ground, a recalcitrant general. He still had a bottle of disinfectant in his hands, and a box of bandaids to cover up the scratches. He wasn't going anywhere.



...There was an ice cream shop. The next street over. She'd never been there, but passed it on the way from her house. The park where she usually took her kids on Thursday was the opposite way, so they'd never gone there before; still, she could sometimes see small groups of children queuing up, excitement shining in their eyes.



 Sometimes, she wished she had more to give her kids. A better life. Ice cream every day. Or some other treat, if not ice cream. Trips to amusement parks. New toys. Adventures. Still, she could barely afford the ice cream every Thursday. She struggled just to provide that.



She didn't have much. But some things were important.



Ice cream didn't solve everything. Angie knew that from experience.



But it sure helped.



"I hope you like chocolate," she said when she got back, and held out the cone. A drop of creamy brown rolled down the side and landed on her hand. Gavin, who'd been leaning back against the bench like there were no cares in the world (or like he was tired to death) jerked up and stared at her like she was a lunatic. His eyebrows furrowed like a great big storm cloud. He shook his bandaid-littered head – who the hell was she, Angie could almost hear him think – and then, after a moment's hesitation, reached out and took the cone. 



"Thanks," he said, petulant as any teenager. Angie took it as her cue to sit down beside him, smoothing out the skirt of her dress. To her right, Gavin was licking the ice cream. Something of the sneer in his expression melted away like the ice cream he was holding, and he looked about four years younger. Blood and ice cream mixed on his lips, before his tongue flicked out and he licked it away. He was a sloppy eater, like her oldest son, Angie caught herself thinking.



They sat there. Two people. Side by side.



The sun inched across the sky, just a little bit. A few minutes passed. Gavin talked to her in between bites. "My brother is an asshole," he told her. "We've been getting along better, but you know. He's a bastard."



“I’m sorry,” Angie said. She didn’t have anything else to say; she never was good with words. But she knew it didn’t matter. Sometimes, just sympathy was enough.



They sat there until a shitty, beat-up car slowed down in front of them. Gavin stiffened. The window rolled down and a young man stuck his head out. "Hey, Gav!" he called out. He looked exactly like Gavin, only older and with only a couple of bruises darkening his face.



“What do you want, bro?” Gavin spat out at him.



The brother (this was obviously him) cleared his throat. “Uh. Want to go out with me and my mates tonight? We’re going to the river. "



 It wasn't an apology. Not in so many words. But Angie could tell it was something. A plea for forgiveness, perhaps.



 Beside her, Gavin breathed in deep, then sighed out. “Yeah. Okay.”



Gavin’s brother’s face lit up.



“Uh,” Gavin said, and Angie startled when she realized he was talking to her. “Thanks. For, you know.”



“Any time,” Angie said, and found that she meant it. She smiled. He still had a chocolatey stain on the side of his mouth. “It was nice meeting you, Gavin.”



“Yeah,” he mumbled, and smiled at her for the first time. She only had time to blink in surprise before he was sliding his way into the passenger’s side of the car, and then the brothers took off. Angie watched them for a while, long after they had disappeared.



A trial by fire. Who was Angie Carusso? Not an actress, or an engineer, or a wife. But a mother. A shop girl. A buyer of ice cream for the ones who needed it the most.



Well. It wasn’t a bad list she was building up. She smiled at the sky, and sent a quick prayer towards Gavin. And towards the man who gave her ice cream on that fateful Thursday.



The sun was still slowly sinking from late afternoon to evening. It was, she decided as she headed back in to face Maryanne’s wrath, a hopeful sun. 




“BEST-SELLING AUTHOR ED KENNEDY IS ‘STILL WRITING’”



 It wasn’t hard to get Ed’s address. She just went through the address book until she found a tough-sounding lady who must have been his mother. It wasn’t too hard to convince her to give up his address; Sophie just had to ask and then tell her she and Ed were friends, and his mother was barking out his address so fast she had to scramble to write it down.




413 Frog Street



The address felt like a promise in her hand. To whom, she didn’t know. But a promise nonetheless.



 She wanted to go at five in the morning, but she knew Ed well enough that she could tell he wouldn’t appreciate it. So she asked her dad to give her a ride after dinner instead. He acceded without asking too many questions; so at eight, they drove out together.



 The drive was silent. Sophie pressed her forehead against the cool of the glass and watched the world flicker by, darkness interspersed with bright lights from windows (yellow) and streetlights (orange) and early Christmas lights (every colour of the rainbow).



 Soon enough, they slowed, and then stopped. 413 Frog Street. “We’re here,” her father said, voice quiet, as he killed the engine. “You gonna go knock?” It was a question for politeness’ sake. He already knew the answer.



 The house was nice. It didn't look too expensive, but it was cosy. Flowers grew intermittently in the front yard. Christmas lights have been strung up already, the bulbs that flashed red, green, yellow, blue; simple, but brilliant. (Power and glory, she caught herself thinking, but she didn’t know why.) It was a house that was built more for function than for style – but it was attractive-looking nonetheless.



 Heart in her stomach, Sophie walked up and knocked, a few short raps like her mother had always taught her. The world stilled for a moment, before the door cracked open. A friendly looking woman peeked out from behind it, with sunshiney hair up in a messy ponytail.



“How can I help you?” she said, cheerfully enough. She was wearing a man’s shirt that was falling off one shoulder, and old jeans that were obviously well-loved.



Sophie bit the inside of her cheek. "Is Ed there?" she said, in her quiet voice. “Ed Kennedy.”



"He's around," the woman said, and the way she tilted her head was inquisitive. "Who should I tell him is calling?"



"Sophie."



"Oh! Sophie," the woman said, and winked at her. Her smile was wide and crooked. "I've heard of you. My name's Audrey. Would you like to come in while I call Ed? He’ll be happy to see you."



Sophie swung around to look at her father, who was waiting in the car. He waved at her, and then pointed at the radio – he’d be fine. She looked back at Audrey, and nodded.



“Come in, then,” Audrey said, and then pulled at the door. “Oh – move, Doorman, we have a guest – there you go. Good boy.”



The Doorman looked up at her, and yawned. Sophie couldn’t be sure, but she thought that it sounded a little reproachful. Did she interrupt his sleep?



“Hi, Doorman,” Sophie said, and gave him an apologetic pat on the head. He gave her a big doggy smile; apparently, she was forgiven. Sophie couldn’t help but grin back. Something about his moist, kind eyes was enthralling. It almost kept the smell at bay.



“You’re friends with the Doorman?” Audrey, who’d been watching, exclaimed. “That basically makes you family to Ed. He loves that bloody dog.” She leaned down and scratched his ears, and smiled at her.



Sophie couldn’t help but smile back.



Audrey showed her the living room, and left her there while she went to rouse Ed from a nap (his sleeping schedule had gotten all messed up, apparently; he’d just gotten back from America). Sophie perched at the edge of the couch, hands on lap, and waited.



Ed had an absolutely shocking TV, peeling wallpaper, a shelf overflowing with books, and three pictures in the exact perfect place to draw the viewer’s eye. Sophie couldn’t help but look.



 The first one looked to be like Ed with his family; they all had the same nose and the same irritated look. The second picture must’ve been Ed and his friends; they were playing cards, and Ed had the most distraught look on his face that Sophie had ever seen. There was Audrey, too, laughing; and a couple of other men who looked vaguely familiar.



The final picture, though, was different. It showed the same people as the second picture, but – somehow, they had changed. They were still playing cards, and Ed still looked distraught. But something in his expression – something in all their expressions – it was maybe warmer? Like they were all lit up by their own personal sunshine.



Sophie wasn’t good with words. She couldn’t describe it properly. But if she had to, she would say that they all looked like her when she ran.



The beauty of an empty box. Or a pack of cards.



"Sophie?”



The voice came from the doorway. She looked up to see Ed. There was no fanfare or anything – only the ticking of a distant clock. He looked sleepy and ruffled, and exactly like he did in the final picture. The same light inside of him.



Something in her heart bloomed at seeing it.



They held an impromptu staring contest before Ed broke the gaze to plop down next to her on the couch. It was weird to see Ed inside, not squinting at the sun at a track meet or breathing in the morning dew of an early run. But then he probably thought the same about her. 



"Sorry for waking you,” she told him. “Congratulations on your book.”



Ed pinked, slightly, just on his cheekbones, and looked away. It was strangely endearing. "Thanks," he said.  Then, “You still running?"



She nodded, once. Of course she was. She knew it. He knew it too, judging by the way his eyes crinkled at the sides. He didn't ask her if she'd won a race yet. He knew it didn't matter.



They sat in silence for a while. It always frustrated her; whenever she needed words the most, they would always get lodged somewhere down in her chest, where she couldn’t get at them. Thankfully, Ed didn’t seem to mind; he just looked at her and nodded slightly to himself, as if saying yeah, take your time. It was funny, how someone who seemed like he always had the perfect thing to say, so completely accepted of her silence.



Then again, maybe they didn’t need to say anything to each other.



She wanted to tell him everything. About running. About life. She wanted to ask him about his book, or Audrey, or the Doorman. She wanted to, but didn’t.



Instead, she looked up at the three pictures. The progression of a life. From a dead man to –



“Ed,” she said abruptly, startling herself as much as Ed. “Your messages. I...What do you think we should do now?”



 Silence fell. Heavy but not uncomfortable. Sophie stared at him, this man who gave her nothing, and gave no quarter as his face twisted through a million different emotions.



Here is a miracle, she thought. A story about a dead man come to life. But what about when the story ended? What then? What did she do with a gift of nothing?



Other than live, of course.



And run.



Eventually, carefully, Ed looked at her. A million words and a million years of silence passed between them in a microsecond. And then he shrugged. "Write your own story."



The simplest answer.



“I’m not really good with words,” she said quietly. “Not like you.”



“I’m not really – ” Ed started to protest, then stopped and smiled a little. “Then write it with your actions.”



The simplest story in the world: a girl who loved the feel of the earth under her feet and the wind in her hair.



The story told her nothing. But nothing was exactly what she needed.



“I miss you,” she told him later outside his front door, resting her hand against the brick wall. His face was illuminated with the red yellow green blue of the Christmas lights. And his happiness.



“I miss you too,” he said to her. His smile was the biggest she’d ever seen him give. “You should come by again. Maybe have dinner with Audrey and me.”



“And The Doorman.”



“Of course the Doorman. He is an immutable feature of this household.” Ed grinned at her, and the Doorman, knowing that they were talking about him, barked lazily. “Oh shut it. I’ll get you your coffee later.”



For a moment, Sophie was on the verge of asking him to get her a coffee too. Asking him if she could stay and they could have a long conversation full of nothing. But her father was still waiting in the car, and Ed had his own life to live.



“Merry Christmas,” she told him.



“Yeah,” he said. “I’ll see you around, Sophie.”



And then she turned away, and headed off with her head held high.



Towards another sunrise. 

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