3 / last christmas

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The motorway was gridlocked. A sea of red lights stretched into the distance, the glow smeared by the rain that tipped down with a vengeance. Tala turned up the radio and tapped her nails on the steering wheel, trying to lose herself in a cover of Jingle Bell Rock before the lack of movement drove her insane. Her junction was just ahead; she could see the sight telling her to exit, but she couldn't get to it.

The entire way from Farnleigh, traffic had been stop-start. She had thought that travelling on a Wednesday might make the roads a little more forgiving but almost every school had broken up for the holidays and everyone seemed to have had the same idea as her. Families were travelling en masse to wherever they were spending the holidays, and she was caught up in the madness that dominated every lane.

The song came to an end, the channel immediately launching into another without a break for the discourse that Tala couldn't stand, but she felt her heart break a little when she heard the intro to Last Christmas.

It rang too true. It was a little too painful, only serving to remind her of the love she had poured into her relationship, love that didn't seem to have been received. She had given her heart to Aditya and he had given it away, spurning the love that he had once reciprocated. On Halloween, he had laughed when she and Lily had dressed up to go trick or tricking but on Bonfire Night, Tala had watched the fireworks alone.

Well, not totally alone. That night, still reeling less than two days after Aditya had taken back the ring she had worn with pride, she had taken Logan and Rosa out to a bonfire party in town. People know didn't know her had assumed she was their mother. She hadn't corrected them. She had just smiled and nodded and agreed that her children were precious and adorable, and she had averted her eyes when they had landed on Aditya with a grin on his lips and a sparkler in his hand, drawing patterns in the air with Lily.

That had killed her. It had only deepened the wound of his rejection to see him so happy, acting as though nothing happened. She couldn't bear to think what he had told Lily: she dreaded that he had brushed her off, that he was relying on his daughter being young enough to forget about her eventually. That wasn't fair on either of them, but the longer they were apart, Tala began to see that Aditya and fairness had never really gone hand in hand.

By the time the song was over, she felt as though she had just relived the agonising past six weeks with the worst moments crushed into five minutes. As one part of her brain insisted that she would be fine and there was no point dwelling on the past, the less rational part screamed that she had lost her only chance of happiness and she would never feel that again. He was the only man she had ever loved, the only substantial relationship she'd ever had.

It was rubbish. She knew that. But all the self-awareness in the world couldn't stop the ache in her gut and the burn in her eyes. Her vison blurred and she tore her glasses from her nose to swipe away the tears that threatened to fall. It was all that damn song's fault, she thought. It was easier to blame the song; she would rather be mad at the traffic than distraught at herself.

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