The automatic door slid open as two customers with grocery bags in hand walked out of Superstore. Following them, a young woman with curly auburn hair exited the store. With her newly bought, grey jacket being buttoned up, she marched through the cool air towards her car.
One of her friends and fellow employee's at Superstore came up to her. "Are you going to Melina's party tonight?" She had on a bright orange vest, which she was still trying to strap on properly.
Cerise was eager to get inside her warm car, shaking her head.
A gust of frigid air blew over them, sending a grocery cart nearby to roll down one of the parking lot aisles towards two cars. Swearing, her friend ran after the cart before it scratched up the car it was rolling towards.
"I'm busy, sorry! See you tomorrow." She called out before opening her car and getting into the driver's seat, fixing her hair, which had been blown into disarray by the wind. The car was already started.
She giggled as her friend ran after another cart being pushed by the wind. This time the cart was faster then her, as it slammed against a van, while a customer inside it gave a startled scowl. "Oh gosh," she felt for her friend and would gladly have helped if she wasn't pressed for time.
Fortunately Drake was also out on the parking lot, helping her friend gather the carts before they tallied up a nice lawsuit from the vehicle owners.
Driving out of the parking lot, Cerise made her way towards Kildonan Park. Earlier in the day, Steven had suggested that they try some of the best coffee in all of Winnipeg. Since there was supposed to be a major snowstorm that night, he wanted to go before it closed for the winter season.
There'd been a lot of conflict inside her when he first asked her in the afternoon. Melina had invited her days ago to attend her party, which would be for only the seniors at her school. Desmond wouldn't even be there, while lots of hot guys, alcohol and crazy times were to be had. She'd never been one to miss partying with her girlfriends.
Still, this was Steven.
There was no better an opportunity to win his heart then tonight. There were numerous guys, better looking then Steven, who would gladly fall in love with her. They would be easy to handle, since they'd be casual and exciting. After her heart-wrenching break up with Desmond, she wasn't sure if another committed, deep relationship was the right thing.
Still, this was Steven.
So she decided that for once she'd miss a party and attempt once more win back Steven's heart. Perhaps it wouldn't be as fun as throbbing music, alcohol, hot guys and her girlfriends, but it held the promise of being far more rewarding. That night and its events would be confined to that one, crazy party.
Going with Steven could bring so much more.
The darkening sky, filling with clouds, let out a light sprinkle of snow as she entered the park. Surprised to see snow falling so early in the year, she parked her car in the lonely parking lot and eagerly stepped out. Staring up at the sky, she watched the thick, white flakes fall all around. One of them landed in her open mouth.
Around her, the trees swayed in the strong, pressing gust. Leafs swirled and eddied around in the current of air; she let her hair be free in the wind, no longer caring. With a delighted laugh, she went bright red when Steven came towards her.
"Cerise." He laughed, wearing a form-fitting black, fur-lined jacket. An orange toque covered his curly hair, which came close to covering his perfect blue eyes. With a smile, he stepped forward, giving her a friendly hug.
She returned it, pressing her body close to his. Underneath his jacket, she could feel the slight outline of muscle, not too much, but more then she expected. Stifling a giggle, she swept loose hair out of her eyes and resisted the urge to kiss him.
It wasn't the right time.
Not yet anyways.
"Steven. What brings you here on such a cold night?"
"Trying the world's greatest coffee. Join me, will you?" He smiled, hesitated, and then put out his elbow so she could link arms with him.
Pleasantly surprised by the gesture, she gladly hooked arms with him. Last time they'd talked, there'd been walls she felt Steven was putting up to keep her out. Though she had no idea why, she suspected that he might be scared to break her heart again. Yes, it was four years prior, but it was still a haunting break up.
She had to let him know that it was alright to fall for her. Stubbornly fear held onto her heart that it was once more about to be smashed to pieces, but she did her best to subdue such doubts.
Steven was no Desmond. Was he dangerous? A little, she would concede that much.
Was she still going to give him her heart? Yes, because he was different, better then the young kid she had met those four years ago. That he was as considerate towards her feelings to conceal his own, only made her like him that much more.
"So it's the world's greatest coffee now? Not just Winnipeg's?"
"For now, Winnipeg is our world." He led her down a darkening path that wove in and out of the tall, thick trees. Every three meters or so, a lamppost was erected to shine dull, warm light. The snow was illuminated in the light, as it fell thicker and faster.
Several others also took to the path, walking their dogs or speaking in quite, hushed tones.
"Is it alright if I ask about your dad?" Cerise moved closer to Steven, wondering if she could get her hand to hold his. She still remembered how flawlessly his fingers interwove into hers. Not since Cinderella slipped her foot into that glass slipper, had there been a more perfect fit.
"Okay. Is he doing any better? Have they tried any new treatments?" Cerise had never lost someone, so she knew not if Steven wanted to talk about it or wished to keep silent. Sometimes, people needed to talk about a tragedy to come to grips with it, while others healed from silence and physical comfort.
Others just let their hearts bleed.
Steven swallowed, his pace slowing. "No." He turned off the main trail, down a straight, narrow path cutting in-between two parallel soccer fields. "At the moment, all treatments would do is hurt him more. I guess, they're main concern is keeping him as comfortable as possible."
"Oh," she looked up at him. "He'll be alright though, things will look up."
His face only darkened, then lightened when their eyes met. "Thanks."
"I'm sorry." She sighed when she heard his hurt, aggravated tone. "I just don't know what to say, I'm terrible at comforting people." Her laugh dried up and died quicker then the leaves on the nearby trees.
There was a hint of smile when he looked down at her. "No one ever knows what to say. Really, there is nothing you can say. Just being with me helps. I need a good friend, and you're being that right now, Cerise."
At the word 'friend' she stiffened a bit. "Of course I'll always be here for you."
"I hope so."
Neither of them said much after that until they reached the coffee shop. Cerise distracted herself by staring at the snow as it fell from the darkening, thickening clouds. The last rays of light were piercing through the trees, while the clouds smothered the rest.
Warmth radiated from Steven as they continued walking in unison.
"Actually, I'm hot."
"You're funny." She chuckled, elbowing him playfully. "But seriously, you're so warm."
At this he laughed, nodding his head.
"Girls must love cuddling next to you." Well, she sure would love to.
Again, he laughed, his deep, rich voice carrying in the strengthening wind. "What girls?"
"Pshh, whatever Steven. There must've been lots of girls after we broke up. You should tell me about them."
"Not much to tell. Really, I haven't had much time for a relationship." He paused, then chuckled sardonically. "Okay, plenty of time to, but no takers. I've enjoyed living the single life."
"Even now?" Cerise tried to sound hopeful, just not obviously so. There was something to be said in the subtle inquisition of a love interest, rather then proclaiming that love.
There was a long pause before Steven cleared his throat and answered. "At camp I met someone. You know that I went to Alberta, right?"
"You mentioned it."
"Well I met someone there, and we fell in love, you could say." His cheeks went red, while his eyes remained downcast. "But we had to go our separate ways, guess I learned that lesson the hard way." Though there was something unconvincing and fake in his tone.
Cerise hardly noticed.
"She broke up with you?"
"We broke up with each other, I guess? It was a silly camp fling, we both knew it wasn't going to last." Steven explained briefly and hastily.
"Do you still like her?"
"Not really," he let go of her arm, indicating where the coffee shop was down the path. "I mean, it's really hard to stop liking someone. Like with Desmond, even though the relationship was over, you still had feelings for him. Same with me, except my feelings aren't so strong. It's hard to just forget someone like that.
"I don't think that people were meant to go through heartache and feelings like that, follow? Like, when you give your heart to someone, such a powerful connection is built-which is only amplified when you fall in love. And to just cut those connections, those bonds, is emotionally devastating, I don't think people were made to go through that. It's why some of us are so screwed up; having your heart torn and twisted like that eventually takes its toll."
Cerise only smiled sweetly at him. "Maybe we weren't meant to, but we do anyways. A lot of things that happen to us shouldn't happen, but they do anyways. Sometimes those heartaches can lead to our greatest joys."
"Maybe." She repeated, her smile turning into a laugh as he smiled goofily at her. "Let's just get some coffee."
"I know a place." He cocked his head, stepping over to the front doors of a cozy, small café. Three trees towered at the back it, their branches hanging over the low roof and protecting it like a mother holds a child in her arms.
As the snow built up on the ground, they walked down the worn out path towards the café, getting a glimpse of the inside through a small, open window. The exterior was made to look like a log cabin straight out of Little House on the Prairie, as if Charles Ingalls had built it himself.
There was even a small, metal chimney puffing out smoke into the snowy air.
"Quaint," she thought of the house party she could be at, realizing this was at the opposite end of the spectrum. She also realized how happy she was, walking and talking with a boy she'd once fallen in love with.
"I like it too," he grinned, opening and holding the door for her. When she stepped past him, he followed her inside, both of them greeted by warm air and the heavy aroma of coffee.
Small, round tables dotted the cozy, warm café. There were only several other patrons inside sitting at booths lined up against the wall. The interior was built like a log cabin, just as the exterior was. Planks of wood made up the floor, while rough beams of timber gave the walls a rustic feel.
Only the counter at one end of the café, where the kitchen and cashier was located felt out of place.
"Wow I love it," Cerise commented as memories of going out to the cabin as a family overwhelmed her. "What are you getting?"
"Café mocha and an apple fritter, which I must say they make the best of. It's warm, sugary and melts in your mouth." He grinned, his eyes glowing. "C'mon, I'm treating, what do you want?"
"Thanks, I'll just play it safe and get what you're ordering."
"Are you sure that's so safe?" He winked, walked up to the cashier and ordered their beverage and pastry. In a few minutes time, as they were both talking near the counter, they received their food.
Steven carried it over to one of the booths near a window, away from everyone else and took a seat. Cerise got on the other side of the table, as they both sipped their mochas and devoured their apple fritters. She conceded that both were excellent, thanking him for treating her.
For an hour they were lost in conversation, which continued long after their cups and plates were home only to crumbs and drops. She confessed to him many things that she hadn't told anyone else, but found that telling him made her feel a thousand times lighter. Steven listened intently, telling her equally embarrassing stories and truths about himself.
Another hour went by, before turning into two, still they kept on talking.
Their stories, laughter and memories slowly began to take a more serious turn, when their break up was finally mentioned. Cerise began to say how she felt; he began to say how he felt. She learned, surprisingly, that Steven had regretted the break up for years, even up to this day.
It was the perfect avenue for her to take so she could say what had been on her heart all evening. "Steven," she said with an irrepressible smile. "I still like you, I really do." She laughed; surprised that she'd been able to say that. Her heart was beating faster and stronger then it had in such a long time.
His reaction was not at all reciprocal. Instead, with a fixed gaze, his lips tilted in an odd, amused smile, he took a crumb off his plate, rolling it up into a ball with his index finger and thumb. For a good, long moment, he said absolutely nothing at all.
Blinking, she felt her cheeks go red. She waited a few more moments, but Steven said nothing in return. "Sorry, I guess you don't like me back. I was being stupid." She snatched her purse off the bench, sliding out of the booth.
Still, he said nothing. He only stared straight ahead, a concentrated, contemplative expression in his deep, blue eyes. Then, as if snapping out of a trance, he turned to face her. "You can't like me, Cerise." Standing up, he noticed the intrigued glances from others in the café. "Let's go outside and talk."
"About what?" She tried to keep her disappointment in check, yet found that her urge to cry was substantial. Sighing, she buttoned up her jacket. "You're just going to say 'you want to be friends' I get it, okay. I've given that talk to others a lot of times as well."
"Don't be so quick to assume." He smiled, then faltered as she took a step past him.
Turning around, she stared at him pointedly. "Then what, Steven? What do you want to talk about?"
"There's a lot going on inside of me, I'm a broken, hurting, complicated person. If you fall for me, I'm afraid that you will land quite roughly, perhaps enough to break you. I'm not safe, Cerise, I'm not Desmond, but I'm not someone you can fall for either." He walked towards her, then outside of the café as she followed along hesitantly.
"Maybe I don't care."
"Maybe you should."
"Well I don't, Steven." They were now both outside, ankle deep in cold, slushy snow. She reached for his hand, afraid that he would pull back. He kept them out, squeezing his fingers delicately as she wrapped her fingers around his palm. "I like you, for your faults and your attributes. And no, you're not a rebound, you're a good friend that I feel so much more for."
"There's more to my faults then you know." His eyes clouded over, yet he held onto her hand.
"I can't-won't." He pulled her in closer, his eyes widening. "While I may have feelings for you, Cerise, I can't risk hurting you again."
"Risk means nothing to me." She stepped up closer to him, their bodies only centimeters apart. "I know you're an amazing guy, Steven, you're just scared to hurt me again, I understand."
"There's more to it."
"I guess I'll just have to find out then." Their faces came even closer, so that she could feel his warm breath on her cheek. Led by her strong desire, she closed the gap, meeting him with her lips.
And she kissed him.
But he did not kiss her back.