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Christmas tales to warm the heart

Pique writers offer up a selection of stories to enjoy over the holidays.

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Houses in this part of town were all post-war redbricks, and once-upon-a-time they all looked the same. Now they were as varied as the saplings planted out front.

They all looked warm and homely, and Charlie wondered in passing, as he always did, who lived behind those frosted windowpanes.

Charlie wasn't dressed for the snow and the icy northern wind tickled his almost bare scalp. He plucked up his collar, fastened the top button of his jacket, and made a mental note to dig his old checkered, wool hunting cap out of storage.

The cap was hopelessly out of place and time, but he was still very attached to it, as he was to all the trappings of his childhood.

In fact, he still very much resembled the boy he once was, only on a slightly larger scale. He was a round head on a stout body that bobbed up and down as he passed from streetlight to streetlight. Each step fell in rhythm, a soft shoe accompaniment to the little jazz melodies that often ran through his head.

His face was plain but youthful, his eyes young but sad. He dressed as well as he could afford, but plainly valued comfort over style.

At last he reached a familiar stone bridge over a little creek that ran through town.

When he was younger, he would often prop his elbows on the edge of that bridge, bury his chin in his hands, and contemplate the world and the meaning of his life. He spent hours there thinking, wondering, marvelling, and yet so much of the world was still a mystery.

And time, the biggest mystery of them all, didn't bring the answers he hoped for—just harder questions.

The others made it look so easy.

Charlie stood there for a moment, listening to the creek, absently fingering a scrap of paper in his jacket pocket. It had been a business card once, but he had rounded off the sharp corners and broken its stiff back as he nervously fingered and fiddled with it over the last few months. By now he could barely even read the phone number.

Almost unconsciously, he lowered himself to his knees and propped his elbows on the bridge. Settling in, he let out the sigh that had been building in his chest since he arrived at the party that evening.

Tonight's Christmas party was also the engagement party for his younger sister Sally and his best friend Linus.