Another empty house, thankfully free of corpses or the undead, just layers of dust and cobwebs. She doesn’t mind scavenging, it can be quite enjoyable actually, stepping into a moment of someone’s history: The owners’ lives, frozen in time.
She likes to guess before entering, will this be a tidy home? Cozy blankets and trinkets on the mantle? Family portraits? Or maybe an old man’s house with dirty dishes in the sink and flannel in the closet?
Daryl doesn’t like to turn their excursions into games. Of course he doesn't, focused on the task, always looking out for danger while she gets swept up in nostalgia over a Home Alone DVD. But the way she sees it, once the house is safe and cleared, it helps her to cope, to not feel bad about rummaging through a stranger’s underwear drawer, reading their love notes taped to the fridge, or judging the cleanliness of their bathroom sink. After so many years and so many homes, it is still uncomfortable, to open cabinets with filled with someone’s memories, to imagine what once was, and wondering if maybe these people, against all odds, are the lucky ones. Out there somewhere, happily living in a community and protected from all the evil constantly chasing them. Empty houses are her favourite, looking at the photos doesn’t leave a bad taste in her mouth as long as she can still have hope for whoever originally resided here.
They are fairly lucky this time, and she makes note to be thankful for that later. Not that this place hasn’t been searched before, but whoever did so before them was mostly focused on the kitchen and the pantry, as well as the master bedroom. The attic, like so often forgotten, is a treasure trove- boxes full of vacuum sealed winter clothing, beautifully preserved. The sizes are off, but they’ll be warm and that’s all that matters. She’s excited about her find, curious to see what else can be useful. Assuming they’ll spend the night, she can take her time to unbox and let her imagination wander- she saw photo albums in the living room and really wants to rest here if possible. They are both exhausted, but too proud to admit it.
Daryl is busy in the garage, so she lets him do his thing. They are a well-oiled machine at this point, and it doesn’t escape her how domestic it feels, and weirdly cozy. Before the turn they may have never met, never considered moving in together, least of all buying a home, but she likes to imagine for a moment how that might feel. By the time she’s done moving things from the attic, cleaning off surfaces, and arranging things for Daryl to see, she’s rosy-cheeked and a little sweaty, but giddy with excitement. It’s silly, and will definitely earn her an eye roll, but she couldn’t resist.
“S’all that for, hmm?”
He snuck up on her, or maybe she was daydreaming and reminiscing a little too much. His breath tickles her ear as he leans close and hugs her from behind, an embrace so innocent and yet it sends goosebumps across her skin.
“Don’t be mad, I jus’ couldn’t help myself. This was always a big holiday in our home.”
He hugs her a little tighter and hums gently in understanding. “Ain’t mad. ‘S real pretty.”
She giggles. “But it’s totally crooked!”
“Still nice, with those glittery balls ‘n tassel-y bits.”
“Gosh, Daryl, did you ever decorate a tree?” She’s laughing now and he pulls at her ponytail playfully.
“Hey you, better watch your tongue if you wanna get your present!”
He nudges her lightly to turn around, and time slows down as he lets his eyes take in every detail of her face, like he marvels at the very fact that she stands in front of him, despite all those scars or maybe because of them. His warm fingers tip up her chin seeking eye contact, his other hand rests on her hip, and the butterflies in her stomach multiply.
“Already got you, girl.”
Says it kindly but with emphasis and her heart beats hard in her chest, because here’s the truth she knows: she’s his, and has been for a very long time, and he is equally hers. They shouldn’t be so lucky or so happy but they are, no matter how dangerous life is or how many loved ones they’ve grieved before.
Moments like this make it all worth it, just standing in a living room which is now decorated to the nines like a store showroom in December: a little plastic tree slightly deformed from its time in a box, covered with tinsel and baubles in all colours, and every available surface sparkling with angels, snowmen, Santas, reindeer, as the numerous candles shine a warm light and reflect the glitter that now sticks to her hands and clothes like glue.
But she only has eyes for him. Raises her hands over his shoulders, pushing her body to his and feels his hands tighten on her hips as he pulls her closer and their foreheads tip together.
“I love you, Daryl.”
Loving him is the only thing that feels right in this world, and when his eyes flutter shut and he exhales deeply, she knows he feels the same. This kind of contentment fuels them, and while he doesn’t say those three words a lot, he says it with his actions, like the tenderness with which his lips capture her mouth in a sincere longing. She sighs into his mouth when his tongue gently parts her lips, and heat travels through her body, seeking friction and closeness with such sudden intensity she feels dizzy in anticipation.
He breaks the kiss before they get too carried away, probably to remind her to lock the house down first, but instead licks his lips and narrows his eyes in curiosity.
“Oh! Yes! That’s part of your present!”
She already misses his warmth when she moves toward the box on top of the fireplace, only to practically skip back, presenting him with a red white and green striped candy cane.
Just as he reaches for it, she’s throwing a handful of glitter at him that twinkles it’s way slowly from his hair all the way to his shoes.
“Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal!” She tries to look serious but the grin gives away the laughter she can hardly contain. “And a happy New Year!”
Still holding out the candy cane, she tries to gauge his reaction, as he seems to be too stunned to let on what he thinks of her unexpected attempt at movie referencing. Finally he breaks out into a smile so wide she gives into her urge to laugh, in which he joins her. Belly laughs, that fill her with glee, especially seeing him so unguarded.
Shaking his head in an attempt to stifle his laughter, he dryly announces, “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!”
And she can’t help but keep laughing, even though the curse word makes her blush all the way to her ears.
He keeps smiling at her excitement, and that smile is all she could ask for this Christmas anyway. Taking the proffered gift from her hand, he doesn’t correct the fact that it’s probably only late November, and instead indulges this holiday fantasy when he finally says, “Merry Christmas, girl.”
When they fall asleep on their improvised Christmas Eve, glitter in his beard and the taste of sugar on their tongues, she revels in the feeling of childlike excitement that she hasn’t felt in a long time, a giddiness of what joys Christmas Day will bring.