15 / mistletoe and wine

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Night fell hard and fast, the black sky dropping like the curtain at the end of a show, heavy and dark and smothering, but at least the snow had ceased at last. Rain had taken over as they wound their way further south, the roads slick with grey slush that splattered beneath the wheels.

The first few hours had been a breeze, a peaceful drive along a long and quiet motorway, but once night had struck, so had the traffic. By six o'clock, a sea of red brake lights punctured the thick sky like bullets through a canvas as they joined a slow trail that led the way to the end of the year.

March was asleep in the back. He had woken up for lunch a few hours ago and played several rounds of I-spy, but driving made him woozy and the journey had knocked him out by three, the rumble of tyres on tarmac lulling him to sleep as the light began to fade.

His father was much the same. He was dozing against the window with Tala's jumper beneath his ear, and he hadn't woken when she had stopped for petrol and a coffee. Her latte was cold now, but she still sipped it for a pick-me-up as she drove alone.

A sense of peace had settled over her when both March and Raphael had fallen asleep and the night had engulfed her. She was alone but not lonely; the night was hers to conquer. There was something strangely magical about night driving that conjured up childhood memories of family holidays. Alon got carsick so he always sat up front, which meant Tala got to snuggle against her mother in the backseat.

She missed those days, in the nostalgic way that childhood slipped away. She missed falling asleep on a long car ride, waking up when her father carried her to bed or her mother gently roused her, and she couldn't wait to relive those days in another role: her own sleepy child clinging to her after a night-time drive.

Glancing at Raphael and then March, she felt as though she was on the most important mission, driving their dreams home.

It was eight o'clock before her junction was signposted at last, and a strange feeling budded in the pit of her stomach when she left the motorway for Farnleigh half an hour later. Just a few miles to go and she would be home. It felt like she had been away for far more than eleven days. Not even a fortnight had passed, and yet she felt as though she had gained a lifetime.

Her eyes filled with tears, with no idea where the emotions had stemmed from. She wasn't sad, far from it. She wasn't even feeling overwhelmed anymore, no longer drowning in a sea of her own feelings: she had a raft now, bobbing on the surface.

It wasn't a feeling she could put her finger on, not one she could stuff neatly into a box and stick on a label, but it made her smile when she glanced at Raphael's sleeping face and her heart soared when she caught a glimpse of a smile in his dreams. That was all that mattered.

At eight forty-three, she pulled into her parking space and shut off the engine. The sudden silence pulled Raphael out of his dream. He rubbed his eyes and looked out of the window, dazed by the unfamiliar surroundings, before he turned and squinted at Tala. She sat with her keys in her hand, her eyes on a dark window at the top of the tower block. He followed her gaze.

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