There was no possibility of playing Mariah Carey that day. On a regular Christmas, the seasonal smash hit would have been playing the second October 31st succumbed to its own decorative cobwebs and buried itself in the graveyard of holidays past, never to be seen again. It was time for a season of pre-December yuletide: The Nightmare Before Christmas, navigating Christmas light scaffolding in town, and the actual nightmare before Christmas- Black Friday sales.

This year was different. There were no gay tidings to be had. In a room condemned to mould behind wardrobes and condensation dripping down walls, the Mariah Carey Christmas vinyl was packed away under a desk. Atop this desk lay, faceplanting into a keyboard, a sleeping second year. Having far outgrown the usual holiday traditions of believing in Santa and playing one of three Kings in the nativity, he still dreamed of his Christmas list. He didn’t really want a lot for Christmas this year other than a fancy coffee machine and money for a bus pass- there was just one thing he needed. There was no care for presents underneath the Christmas tree because, more than you or I could ever know, all he wanted for Christmas this year was peace.

It would have been noble of him to wish for peace on Earth- for conflicts across the world to stop and everyone to hold hands together and sing in the biggest choir the world had ever seen a rendition of Silent Night. Really, he just wished for an end to the relationship woes that had befallen him, one after the other. He used to live for the possibility of Mr Darcy, his Romeo, his own Hugh Grant. But at a certain point, he realised that this thing- love, relationships, kisses in the rain, all of it- just wasn’t for him.

It was at this certain point, much like the lights hugging a Christmas tree, that something had burned bright. Every corner of every room was filled with the bright white heat of the electricity between he and him. The crackle of their fingers touching. The fizz from heartbeats racing. But every lightbulb that burns too bright comes to break. The filament between wires violently splits. When this happens, both wires could remain unscathed, missing only the bond. Both could break. But sometimes, and perhaps loneliest of all, there is one wire that remains standing as the other one falls apart.

Unfortunately, when one bulb breaks so spectacularly, it forces the rest into darkness. It is the most tedious task trying to locate the bulb that broke the rest. When the nights get darker and the Christmas looms closer, there isn’t enough time in the day to make that repair. The next best thing to do is to accept that the lights won’t be turning on again for a while, if they ever do.

As Silas snored, his pomodoro timer counted dangerously down, the red light from the screen cascading across the room, until it finally reached 0. Sirens wailed through the speakers and bounced around Silas’ head. He bolted upright, the imprint of the letter ‘L’ across his forehead.

It was 21:49. The green and red flashing on the computer simultaneously woke him up and reminded him that time was running out to finish his coursework, due in exactly 14 hours and 11 minutes. He rubbed his eyes, let out a groan at the sight of his desk- the empty coffee cup, crumpled paper hosting plans for a still unwritten essay and the small Christmas tree whose lights still won’t turn on. He rubbed his eyes again.

It was 21:52.

Huffing and puffing and nearly blowing the walls down, Silas trudged into the kitchen. His flatmates were all out. Cara was with her boyfriend at Bath on Ice. Aaeesha had said she wanted to go out tonight so would probably be at pres. He heard John and his mates in the kitchen earlier so he was probably out with them at a radio event. The house was dark. There was some tinsel stuck on the fridge but there wasn’t much else that screamed Christmas cheer. There was a menorah by the sink though, courtesy of Cara, who knew she would forget to celebrate if she didn’t see it and remember to check if Hannukah was starting that day.

Silas’ usual late-night academic rituals revolved around coffee. He would simply put his cheap coffee pods in and close his eyes to the magical whirring of the machine. A self-identifying coffee snob, he would of course prefer freshly steamed oat milk and pressing his own coffee grounds, but he didn’t have a real coffee machine.

Keeping with this year’s Christmas theme, he couldn’t find any more coffee pods in the dark kitchen. The rain had stopped meaning a trip to Sainsbury’s local might not be the worst thing in the world so off into the cold December night he went, suited in his joggers, puffer jacket and booted in bright orange crocs.

He could have worn something warmer. He really should have worn proper shoes. The rain had stopped but the blustery whip of the wind remained, frost-biting at his exposed heels and ears. Past the deadly blind turn, marching with the will of the strongest soldier, he made it to Sainsbury’s. Following the Oldfield monsoon episode, the Local’s floor was an ocean of sleet and rainwater, a solitary island marked by a single wet floor sign remained as the sparkling coat would make any ice rink jealous. Wearing crocs made this an extreme sport.

Silas crept slowly crept along the floor, tortured squeaks ringing throughout the shop as he carefully placed each foot. Coffee pods, then out. That was all he had to do. Last Christmas played out over the intercom as he stood, deep in thought, trying to decide which coffee pods he should get. He was normally a vanilla macchiato kind of guy, but there was a limited gingerbread latte that had caught his eye. Plus, the hot chocolate pods were back in stock. He could potentially reward himself for all the hard work with a hot chocolate Bailey’s, but then the dilemma of needing caffeine meant that wouldn’t work out. As he pondered over the possibility of extending his student overdraft for the third time this week, a stranger walked over to do the same thing.

At first, there was nothing particularly different about this guy. As the clock skipped again, now reaching 22:17, Silas noticed that the guy standing next to him looked familiar. He couldn’t quite place the face- a brunette guy, he probably had a tinder account with the ‘occasionally gym’ tag. He couldn’t help but admit he was cute. But this Christmas the lights were turned off, and they were going to stay that way. He was probably indelibly in love with his secondary sweetheart, dreaming of her as he handed out tea and toast with the Christian Union at freshers’ week, thinking of her with every scraping of spread on burnt toast.

Biscoff mocha pods. That was the only solution to his dilemma. And there was only one left, Silas felt chuffed. It was clearly meant to be.

He went to reach for them- and so did the stranger.

There was a brushing of fingers, snapping back both of their and turning to face each other. Silas reached for the back of his neck as the stranger gestured for him to take them.

“Sorry,” Silas muttered out “you get them.”

“No it’s fine. I’m all good.” He said through a smile with an accent he couldn’t quite place.

“Nah I’m good I’ll jus-“

“Are you busy?” he interrupted.

“Er, yeah.”

“Ah okay. That’s a shame.” The smile grew cheeky, flashing a night of full of possibility. Silas grew suspicious. Why was this admittedly hot guy trying to find out what he was doing? What did this have anything to do with the last packet of Biscoff coffee pods?

“Yeah. Sorry.” Silas went to turn away, but the hot-guy-with-an-accent took his shoulder.

“Why are you saying sorry? I was thinking,” he looked down, then up. “If you won’t take the coffee pods here maybe you would have one at my place?”

When a person meets something that it thinks might pose a danger, if it frightens them, or stresses them out, the body has a physiological response. Walter Cannon called this the ‘fight or flight’ response. The freeze response causes the digestive system to stop, making the mouth dry. Blood rushes and the face can turn a cranberry-blush. Adrenaline pushes the heart into the throat, beating so loud you can hear it in your ears. Right now, this was all happening to Silas.

He laughed at the joke. Obviously, this was a joke. Christian-Union guy probably noticed his Charli XCX hoodie and just knew. He couldn’t possibly be genuine.

“No sorry, actually I need to go.” Silas pulled his shoulder away, turning on the spot with such force that he couldn’t stop. He stomped his other croc down to steady himself but it made everything worse. A terrible squeak ran through the air as Silas pushed himself immediately back- falling, careening, floundering down towards the floor in the middle of the Sainsbury’s Local.

He stopped mid-air. He hadn’t hit the ground. Two arms were wrapped around his torso. He heard a laugh.

“Are you okay?” The Stranger said, still holding his arms around him. Silas broke free.

“Yeah. Thanks. Bye.” Silas said before fleeing out of Sainsbury’s and into the night. It had started raining again. On his watch, the time read 22:24 through raindrops. Striding through Moreland Road, all he could see to guide him home was the glistening blink of Christmas lights.

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