9 / silent night

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The sky was pitch black, the only light in the dark forest filtering down from the moon. The soft glow caught the twinkle of the snow and the ripple of the lake beyond the trees, a gentle breeze dancing across the water and through the trees. Somewhere outside the cabin, a wind chime tinkled. Inside, a melodic playlist provided the soundtrack to a tender evening.

A candle flickered in the middle of the table, fragrant wax pooling around the wick. The soothing scent of cinnamon and clove filled the room as Tala poured two glasses of wine, draining the bottle, and she bent in front of the microwave to top up her lipstick in the reflection.

Tonight was her third date with Raphael and this time, she was in charge.

Glancing down at herself, she wished she had packed at least one half-decent outfit but given her reason for the trip, the last thing she had expected was to find herself on a third date. Ordinarily, she would make an effort with a dress but the best she could offer was a pair of leggings that wrinkled around her ankles and a woolly jumper that made her look two sizes bigger than she was.

Not that Raphael cared.

When he came out of the bathroom, raking his hand through his hair, his face lit up when he saw her.

"Oh my God, you look so soft," he said with a sparkling grin.

Tala beamed right back, her confidence growing with each minute that they spent together. She cocked her hip, one hand on her waist and the empty wine bottle in the other, and she attempted to wink.

"Didn't we establish that last night?"

He laughed, pulling himself together to say, "That we did." He came to a stop a couple of metres from her and stretched his hands out to the sides. "How do I look?"

"Strangely adorable," Tala said, taking in the image before her. Raphael was wearing a virtually identical outfit, dressed in a pair of her leggings and another of her thick jumpers. He was taller than her but he wasn't much broader: the purple sweater fitted snugly. The leggings ... even more so.

"I feel it," he said, doing a spin on the kitchen tiles and almost falling over. "Why don't more guys wear leggings? They're so comfortable."

She briefly nodded downwards. "Maybe because they're borderline pornographic."

"Shit. Sorry." He tugged at the hem of the jumper, trying to cover himself a bit more decently, until Tala tapped him with the neck of the bottle.

"That's one of my favourites. Don't stretch it out," she said, and then she added, "And I wasn't complaining."

He shuffled closer, hardly making a sound with a pair of Tala's fluffy winter socks on his feet, and he leant forward to kiss her. His hair still smelled like her shampoo; his body smelled like her deodorant. He had wasted no time making himself at home and it gave her an odd sense of comfort: he could have made the situation awkward but it had been anything but. The thought made her smile as they kissed, and she felt him smile too.

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