• Cold. So cold.
    That was the thought that echoed through my brain constantly while I stood at the corner of the street, watching the soft snowflakes cover the ground. My thin jacket didn't give any protection at all to the biting cold, and I tfelt that my eyelashes would freeze together if I didn't kept them moving.
    Shivering I looked down at the basket of christmas candles at my feet. 1$ each, the note said, but I hadn't sold a single one yet, the basket was still filled and the candles were covered with a thin blanket of snow. With a sigh I bent down and brushed the snow away, not even feeling it's cold anymore. Actually, I didn't have any feeling at all left in my fingers, which had now taken on a slight shade of blue. I rubbed them together to get some reaction, but it just made them tingle a little with pain.
    With a quick glance at the churchtower I noticed it was almost midnight, and the streets were completely deserted. As to be expected on Christmas Eve. Everyone was at home now, enjoying the companion of friends and family, celebrating and having fun. My thoughts wandered to the cold apartment that awaited me, the sodden blankets in my bed and the empty refridgerator. I didn't even have the money to buy some bread, so I knew the tearing hunger I felt would not be silenced in a while either.
    I decided to wait until the hour was full, then go home and hope that people would be more good-hearted tomorrow. After all, it was Christmas, maybe someone would feel pity with me.
    The minutes passed by slowly, and I remembered something I had heard in some movie long ago.
    ”When the clock strikes twelve on Christmas Eve, watch the stars and your love will find you before the last strike sounds.”
    Smiling a bit of my own stupidiousness I looked up at the stardotted sky. Behind me I heard the first strike sound, and the second. I waited, listening and counting the times.
    ”nine... ten... eleven...twe-”
    -”You should not stand here outside for too long. It is really cold these winter nights.”
    The soft voice startled me and I quickly turned around to face the speaker, who was standing only some steps away from me, though I hadn't heard him closing up at all.
    He was tall and slender, with a leather jacket that looked expensive and reached down to his knees. His hair was black as night itself and very long, it reached down to his waist and the snowflakes decorated it like the stars did with the sky above. His face was pale and his eyes were black diamonds glimmering in the light of the streetlamps.
    It immedeatly struck me how incredibly beautiful he was.
    -”You'd better get inside, before you'll catch a cold.” His voice was concerned, and his eyes explored my face with an intensive but also curious gaze. I felt as if those eyes burned right through me, into the center of my being and shamelessy explored what they found there. Stuttering I made my tounge form words.
    -”Y..yes sir. I-I will...” I bent down and picked up the basket with hands barely able to grip it. The strangers eyes followed my movements.
    -”Candles? How many do you have left?”
    His slender hands took the basket from me and only able to stare at him I watched him eye the content and then meet my gaze with a friendly smile.
    -”Will 50$ do for all of them?”
    I tinted my head a little to the left and stroke back my hair from my eyes. I must have heard him wrong, there were only 30 candles in the basket, at the most! Didn't he read the note?
    -”B..but sir. That's too much! They only cost-”
    -”I'll add 10 more if you carry them home for me.” He was still smiling and returned the basket to me. ”What do you say?”
    I really didn't know what to answer to that, startled as I was, but I felt how I started smiling. If he wasn't joking around I was really lucky! 60$ was enough for food in an entire week, or if I saved it I could maybe even buy a new jacket!
    -”O..of course sir! With pleasure!”
    He chuckled a little at my entusiasm and started walking down the street. I quickly followed him, carrying the basket with care.
    -”Please don't 'sir' me, my name is Mika. And yours is?” He lowered his pace so we walked side by side.
    -”Karu si-...I mean Mika.” I quickly corrected myself and smiled at him.
    -”Karu? That is a nice name.”
    The comment made me blush and because I couldn't come up with any answer to that and he didn't say anything either, we remained silent while walking.
    I noticed we were coming into the wealthier parts of the city, something I should have expected, thinking of his expensive coat and the amount of money he wanted to pay for the candles, but I still couldn't keep my eyes of all those magnificent houses, with large gardens and big, lighted windows.
    I wondered what it was like to come home to such a place every day, walk up the lane and entering those beautiful rooms. Must be like entering heaven every day.
    Mika came to a halt before the last house which, unlike the other houses didn't have any Christmas decorations, not even a garland on the door.
    I followed him to the door and then casually reached him the basket. For some reason, leaving suddenly felt like a hard thing, the silence between us had been comforting and the thought of not seeing his face again hurt for some reason. He hesitantly took the basket, but when our hands touched he stiffened and grasped my fingers.
    -”Your fingers are icing cold! You could get serious freezing injuries like this!” His voice was worried, and he held my fingers tight between his own while rubbing them. His hands were warm, almost burning against my frozen skin and I let out a small yelp of pain. He sighed and took the basket under one arm while letting go of my hand.
    -”Come on, get in. You need to warm up a bit.” He opened the door and went inside, holding the door open with his foot so I could enter. My mind was confused still by his unsexpected actions, but me feet had already taken me inside, into the large, dimly lit hall were Mika was already hanging up his coat.
    He looked questionally at me, but the only thing I wore underneath my jacket was a grose old T-shirt, so I shook my head and kept it on. I looked around and felt so wrong-placed in this large, beautiful hall, with an expensive rug under my wet sneakers and oilpaintings on the walls. The whole place breathed wealth, order and cool elegance.
    Following the owner of the house into the living room, I let out a breath and relaxed a bit. The air was warm and smelled vaguely of cinnamon, a spice I had always liked. But while our steps echoed in the huge room(it was about the size of my whole apartment) I noticed the strange silence. No voices were heard, no doors opening or closing or laughs filling the rooms. Just complete silence.
    -”Do you live alone?” I asked casually while taking in the room with its heavy oak table, comfortable chairs, ligthed fireplace in the corner and its several couches and sofas in both leather and fabric. This house seemed much to big for just one person.
    He didn't answer immedeatly, but silently put the basket on the table and brushed away the last flakes of snow.
    -”Yes. I have no girlfriend or children if that is what you ment.” His face didn't show any emotion.
    ”Would you like something hot to drink? You can sit by the fireplace while you're waiting.”
    He was already on his way to the kitchen, not waiting for me to answer. I turned towards the fire and went to a small sofa in front of it. There was a fur of some kind draped over it, white and incredibly soft, maybe from a sheep of some kind. I curled up in the sofa, resting my head in the fur and feeling the warmth from the fire slowly spread across my body, heating me all up again.
    My eyelids fell closed and I felt sleep embrace me gently, but I didn't even try to fight it. For some reason I knew I was safe here, in this house, with Mika who had eyes like diamonds.

    I woke up some hours later, sleeping in a bed of clouds and soft feathers. Or, at least, so it felt.
    The room was spacy and light, and the sun was shining in from the large window in the opposite wall. The bed I was resting in was big enough for at least two persons, and both the matress and the sheets were in soft yellow coloured silk. It was years ago since I slept this good, and for some minutes I just remained like that, cuddled up between the sheets in my comfortable velvet pyjama...
    Wait a moment there... pyjama? I sat up quickly and looked down at myself. I was dressed in a grey velvet pyjama with silver broderies, more beautiful than any clothing I had ever wore( I had to admit that) but still, how did it get on me!? And where were my clothes?!
    I searched the room with my eyes, but didn't see any sign of my old clothes. On a chair there was something folded though. I got out of the bed and took up the clothes, examining them several times before my brain could accept that they maybe were ment for me. A shining white sweater that looked really comfortable, jeans in soft fabric and brandnew sneakers. Socks and underwear too were included I noticed while feeling my face turn red.
    I could not remember seeing any bedroom, nor removing any clothes yesterday. What meant... Mika had done it. The thought of him carrying me to this bed and removing my clothes made my face blush even more, and I quickly changed into the new clothes. Really, I should be grateful he didn't just throw me back out after I had fallen asleep on his couch.
    The sweater and the pants were only a little to big, and the sneakers fit perfectly. I wondered how he had managed to get those clothes so right, but I knew it would be very unpolite to ask.
    A little sad that I had to leave the beautiful room I opened the door carefully and sneaked outside in search of my host. The kitchen was empty, and so was the living room so I continued my search, taking in each of the wonderful rooms on the way.
    I found what I was searching for in one of the back rooms. It was at least as big as the one where I woke up, but it felt a lot smaller because of the dark red walls and covered windows where no sun could enter. The scent of spices (cinnamon and others) was stronger here, and every inch of the room was perfectly in order, from the papers on the dark wooden desk to the folded socks in the wardrobe.
    Mika was sleeping, his long hair spread out over the cushions as a black cape, his dark eyes peacefully closed. Now that I could see him more clearly it again struck me how pale he was, his skin seemed whiter than snow against the red blankets and black hair.
    Silently not to wake him up I walked up to the bed, not really knowing why I did so. His breathing was slow, and I felt a sudden urge to touch his perfect face. Shivering I reached out a hand, feeling his warm breath carress the fingertips. Until it suddenly stopped, and I froze when I felt his intense gaze lock me to the spot. Slowly I redrew my fingers and I felt myself blush while I tried to come up with something to say.
    -”I..I'm sorry sir... I didn't mean to wake you up. I j..just wanted to say thank you for t..the clothes...” I stuttered, backing away from the bed, but he sat up and got a hold of my hand just before I was out of reach. His hand was cold nor warm, but quite soft.
    -”Don't go please. I would like you to stay.”
    His voice didn't sound angry at all, but I quickly pulled my hand away anyway. What did he mean? Why would he want someone as me to stay in his wealthy house?
    A terrible thought emerged in my head. Maybe... it wasn't at all out of charity he had brought me here. Why couldn't I remember what happened after I fell asleep, before I woke up in a strange bed with strange clothes?! I had heard of other boys and girls being stalked, kidnapped, raped or even killed. Could it be this man had drugged me yesterday, maybe molested me without me remembering, and just wanted to keep me here as his slave!?
    All these thoughts raced through my head while I backed off, faster when he also got out of bed and looked at me pleadingly.
    -”I am sorry if I scared you... I assure you that was not my intention.”
    His words seemed so hollow now in the morning light, so fake. I didn't understand how I was able to trust this man yesterday... He must have hypnotized me or something.
    -”P...please... Just give me my money...and I will go...” I still couldn't keep my voice up, and the disappointment that flickered across his face made me even more sure that I had to go. The only reason why he would want to keep me here was for his own desires, something that made me sick of fear.
    He was standing some feet away, dressed in a raven black pyjama, a color that made him look even paler. Then he sighed and looked down.
    -”Are you sure you don't want to say? You must be hungry, at least eat some breakfeast before you go.”
    I felt his eyes on my thin body and suddenly I didn't hold it anymore. As fast as I could I sprinted out of the room, through the corridors and kitchen and the great hall, snatched my jacket from the hanger and ran out to the street. I kept running for some reason, although I didn't hear anyone behind me and I soon was more than three blocks away. My thoughts didn't sound as loud when I was moving, something that was comforting, but I probably should slow down, for with every pace I got away from the house I felt a sort of unfamiliar aching in my chest. Funny also, that the cold wind made tears form in my eyes, made them stroll over my cheeks as cold raindrops.
    Still I kept on running.

    Five days later

    I didn't return to my old streetcorner after that incident, but found one in the other end of town. It was a little more rough neighbourhood, but I didn't dare to go back, in case he would return too.
    The nights were still icing cold, but my new sneakers were warm and comfortable, so at least my feet didn't freeze as much.
    My business didn't go much better though, this evening the basket by my feet that I had filled with new candles wasn't even half empty... And it was saturday evening, so lots of people were out. I held out the basket to a young couple that passed by, but they didn't even notice me. My sigh showed as a little cloud of evaporate before me, and I decided it was time to go home. Saturday night was not a time I wanted to stay out for to long.
    Behind me I heard the churchtower sound for twelve, and for some reason I glanced over my shoulder, but no dark-haired stranger stood there watching me. Why did I feel so empty then?
    I hurried home while counting my pay for today, and noticed it was just enough for a hot chocolate in my favourite café! How lucky!
    With red cheeks from the cold I hurried to the café and stumbled inside the warmth. It was a cosy place, with small tables and brown walls, and it always scented of newbrewn coffee. I sat down and asked Fanny, the waitress for a cup of hot chocolate. She smiled at me and went to get the order, skillfully balancing some cappucino glasses on her way through the labyrint of tables and people. I followed her with my eyes and smiled. She was a really nice girl, and used to buy candles from me, although I was almost sure she didn't need any. And sometimes she gave me some leftover cookies for free.
    Leaning back and closing my eyes I enjoyed the hot liquid Fanny served me. She also reached me a small pastry hidden under a serviette and giggled mischievously.
    -”It's on the house,” she smiled and hurried away to serve some other customeres. Surprised but happy I took a bite of the pastry, but immedeatly stiffened. The scent of cinnamon and spices tickled my tounge, and suddenly made it hard to breathe. I quickly dropped the pastry and shove it away, unable to eat any more.
    On the way home I had mixed feelings. Why did I keep thinking of that incident? Was it because I didn't have any proof that he had actually done anything? No... no one would be that naive. Besides, what other motive could he have had? And the amount of money he was willing to pay, could mean nothing else either.
    But when I thought of his eyes, intensive and dark, I felt nothing but a strange longing that I did not understand (and didn't want to understand either!).
    Anyway, it was not like I was going to meet him again, so I should stop brooding over it. I crossed the street again, only three blocks til home now. The streets were mostly deserted at this hour, but behind me I heard some people laugh and talk quite loud.
    I fastened my pace a little and turned right in the next crossing. The group behind me did the same, and I quickly glanced over my shoulder to see what kind of people they were. The sight didn't really made me feel better...
    Four men, they seemed to be of age 20 and up. Two of them carried bottles, and by the way they punched each other and laughed at random things it was clear that they all were drunk Not exactly the kind of people you wanted to meet a late saturday night on your way home.
    The tallest of them wolf-whistled when he saw me looking at them, and punched his friend's shoulder, pointing at me. He wearing a leather jacket and had greesy brown hair, but still a handsome face, although it was now dimmed by alcohol.
    I felt my stomach turn to ice when they started to call at me, and heard how they got closer. I fastened my steps too, trying to ignore their cheeky calls. If I could make it to a more trafficed street...
    -”Hey sweetie, are you deaf or something? We called for you...”
    They had reached me now, blocked all escapeways so there was no way to run. I tried to remain calm but my heart pounded faster than ever.
    -”I..I j..just want to...go home. Please let me through..”
    -”Why don't you come with us? We are having fun, aren't we guys? And pretty girls like you are very fun too. ”
    I felt that I was shivering.
    -”I..I am no girl... I must go home now...”
    Their drunken laughs echoed in the empty street, and I looked down and prayed that they would just go away.
    -”No girl eh? How unfortunate for you cutie...I like your face. Let's see if your a** is as pretty too!”
    Greedy hands took a hold of me and I remembered I started to scream and wriggle as a caught fish in their grips. I kicked and fought, but they were so many it was useless. After that I only remember the pain...
    The cold...
    The snow that was pushed in my face and the hard stone wall in front of me. It never seemed to end, those terrible things they did and made me do.
    Soon everything was black.

    Warmth. Soft, golden blankets. Large windows and a silver pyjama.
    This was too familiar.
    I opened my eyes a little further, taking in the room I was resting in. Yes...It was the same. Just as I remembered it, a big room full of light, and soft blankets. For one moment it almost seemed as if I the past few days just had been a dream, and that it was Christmas Day. Though one obvious difference showed this was not like before... I wasn't the only person in the room.
    Tired, dark eyes met mine, but a little light returned to them when he saw I was awake.
    -”At last...I thought you'd never wake up.”
    I opened my mouth to answer, but my lips were spruck and tasted of dried blood, and my throat was too dry to I get any sound out of it. A pale hand held a cool glass against my mouth, and helped me swallow the liquid. It took two whole glasses before I could't get my tongue moving, and then I couldn't come up with anything to say. I just stared down in the blankets, slowly regaining more consiousness and feeling the thrubbing pain that spread through my body. There didn't seem to be a single part of me unharmed, and my lower parts burned like fire.
    Withouth wanting it, I felt the first, hot, embarrassed tear glide down my cheek. And then the next one... and the next. I sat in the beautiful bed and wet my whole pyjama with tears, trying to control the sobs.
    I didn't hear him come closer, didn't notice before I felt his soft arms being wrapped around me. I let out a small surprised yelp, but I didn't have the power or the will to struggle myself free. Why should I? It was warm and comfortable, and even though he might not care at all, I felt comforted by someone hugging me. I had needed a hug for a very long time.
    So we sat there, without a word, me crying and he holding me tightly, until I fell asleep in his arms again.

    He looked up from the book he was reading, the light from the fireplace flickered across his handsome face.
    -”Why what Karu?” He asked in a soft voice, putting down the book. I sat down on the couch, wrapping the white dressing gown closer around my shoulders.
    -”Why did you take care of me? You have housed me for more than a week now... How can I ever repay you? I'm just a boy with no money...” I stared down at my feet. The question I had held inside me for the last days was finally spoken out loud.
    -”Money I have enough... It is a pleasure to share my house with you, and I enjoy your company.”
    His kindness was almost unbearable and I got on my feet, staring at his calm face while feeling the tears burn behind my eyes.
    -”P..please stop it... Don't... act... like you care. I don't want your pity!”
    -”Then what do you want?”
    Damm those eyes, making me all weak and trembling. I gazed down at my feet again, forcing the tears back.
    -”I... I want...” My voice didn't bear the last words.
    -”You're crying...I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you upset... Karu?” He moved closer, examining my face with a regretful look. ”I do not pity you. What I feel is... far more than pity.”
    I met his gaze but my sight was blurred with tears. I was just a filthy streetboy... Raped and robbed, not worthy to even enter this kind of world.
    -”W...w..what then...d..do you feel?” Why did I even ask this? I should go now... I should have gone many days ago. But this man kept me here for some reason, with bonds stronger than any chains. Leaving him seemed as hard as leaving a part of myself behind.
    -”Maybe such a banal thing as love? Love for the most beautiful and kind person I have ever met?”
    Did he just say what I thought he said?
    Did his lips just touch mine?
    Did I just kiss him back?

    ~A winter of love~