Your first glimpse of the mafia was breathtaking. Candles flickered from every corner, placed in long rows, hung from the chandeliers high above, and threaded into the wreathes twisted around every pillar. Still more glistened from the evergreen tree towering near the back of the room. Tinsel, too, was draped generously through its boughs and over the mantel, under which a fire was already roaring. Throughout the room were constantly moving figures, festive clothes rustling quietly under the strains of music. All of this you took in before the door closed the cold out behind you.
Everyone seemed preoccupied with the dance. Though a long table covered with food stood to one side, very few of the party’s patrons seemed to be interested in it. They also seemed completely disinterested in you. Slowly, the stiffness faded from your bones and you sighed with relief. Clearly, gate crashing a mafia party was not the disaster you had thought it would be. You had trouble even believing half of these people were part of such a secret society. That woman there, was she not the innkeeper where you family was staying? And was not the man eyeing the turkey the same one you had bought that book from this afternoon? Surely most of the town was not trained killers. Then again, how were you supposed to tell? You knew nothing of Italy or its customs.
To be honest, you would much rather be back in your room at the inn. There it was not overly hot and though the food choice might not be as varied as it was here, at least you would get to be with your family. Still, your mother had gone to all of the trouble to find this dress when she had heard about the party. You could not find it in yourself to tell her no when she insisted you put it on and spend some time with people your own age.
With your shoes clacking lightly beneath you, you made your way deeper into the room. Soon you were having to dodge whirling couples as the music changed from the light waltz it had been playing to something more upbeat. You gave one that came particularly close to smashing into you a shy smile, then ducked your head and made a run for the food. You would stay only long enough to grab some extras for your parents and little brother, and then head home. The party had been in full swing for quite some time, after all. If anyone else had come without a date, they would have found someone or left by now. Eyes still darting cautiously about the dance floor, you nibbled at a piece of cheese, still trying to figure out how much you could sneak away without being caught.
Then you saw him: A boy across the room with a bush of blond hair and a smile that reached his warm orange eyes. For a moment, you wondered what Italian beauty was making him laugh like that and then you caught sight of his companion, another boy his age with red hair and a tattoo of flames across one side of his face. Were they not interested in dancing? They were certainly handsome enough to get a girl’s attention. You shook your head and turned your attention back to the hors d’oeuvres. If he was not interested in any of the young women here, there was no way he would be interested in you.
“Hey, she’s looking over here.” Giotto blinked and pushed away the elbow G. had aimed at his ribs. Turning his head slightly so G. could not see the faint blush spreading across his cheeks, he said:
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t you?” G. smirked. “You’ve only been watching her since she walked in the door an hour ago.”
Giotto laughed. “I’m sure she doesn’t want to dance with me.”
“How would you know that?”
“She seems much more interested in the food.” G. rolled his eyes. “Oh, come, G. There are plenty of other young men here. I am sure she would be much more interested in them.”
“Then why is she not dancing with them?” Giotto shrugged. “You are too modest. Just go ask her to dance!”
“No.” Giotto shook his head. “Besides, the party will be over soon.”
“Wait…you’re actually scared to ask her!”
“No, you are!” G. looked gleeful. Still blushing, Giotto turned away again and took another sip of his drink. “You are hopeless.”
“Maybe.” Giotto said with a smile. “But in case you have not noticed, my friend, you have not danced with anyone either.”
“That would be because I am babysitting you.”
“Would you be quiet if I asked her to dance?”
“Yes.” G. nodded. Giotto paused, glancing at the girl who was still eyeing the food with a calculating gleam in her eyes. Then he looked away and drained his cup.
“…You are hopeless.”
“I think it is about time to head back,” you murmured as you took your last bite of turkey. The snow outside the windows was bright against the black sky and had long since piled itself against the windows. It was bound to be even colder outside now and you did not want to risk being snowed inside. Against your will, your eyes went back to where the blond boy and his friend had spent the entire evening. With a jolt, you realized they were gone. They must have decided to leave early as well. For some reason, that depressed you more than it should have. With a sigh, you fingered another piece of food before placing it back. Your mother was sure to scold you for spending the entire night worrying about them if you returned with it. Feeling that the evening had been a bit of a waste, you made your way toward the door as the orchestra music swelled around you.
“I believe it is time we take our leave,” Giotto said. He placed his glass back on the table and started to walk to the exit. G. snorted and followed suit.
“As if we have not just been standing here the whole time.” Giotto answered him with a noncommittal flourish of the hand. G. rolled his eyes. “Well, if you want to leave without even checking to see if she would dance with you…”
“I thought we had already finished this discussion,” Giotto said without even looking toward his friend. G. lifted his hands anyway.
“I know, I know. It is just that it is Christmas eve and I would like you to be at least a little happy.”
“I am happy, G. I have you.”
“Yeah, but I do not look that good in a dress.”
Giotto paused and cocked his head to one side, looking thoughtful. “We could try.”
“No thanks.” G. chuckled. As he did so, Giotto stopped. Not taking notice, G. continued walking until he smacked his face into Giotto’s back. “Ow! What the–oh.”
The girl from before was standing at the door. She had it opened only a crack and was peering apprehensively out into the street. No one else at the party seemed to be taking notice of her, with the exception of Giotto who had froze completely, turning redder than ever. G. had never seen the young man act this way. For about a minute, the redhead merely looked back and forth between the two of them. Finally, he heaved a last sigh, lifted his arms, and shoved Giotto with all his might.
“Ah–” Giotto had no time to berate G. before he stumbled to a stop in front of the girl. Startled, she gasped and allowed the door to snap shut behind her. G. rather thought he should be commended. Now both of them were a brighter shade of red than his hair. Giotto turned to glare at him, but G. cut him off with a shooing motion. With a huff, Giotto did as he was told, only to jump slightly when he saw the girl still blinking up at him. Awkwardly, he coughed and rubbed the back of his head, then lifted one hand toward her. “Would you like to dance?”
G. grinned. Mission accomplished.
“Would you like to dance?”
You were fairly certain you had never blushed more. The boy, too, seemed nervous, as the silence continued to loom between you, interrupted only by the loud giggling coming from the dance floor and the music that continued to weave itself around the room. He coughed again and looked away. You gulped and finally found your voice:
“The party is almost over…” The boy cocked his head slightly and smiled.
“You might as well enjoy it while you can, then. One dance?” You paused and then, still blushing furiously, took the offered hand.
“Not at all,” he said as he led you toward the crowd already in motion in the center of the room. He waited until the song ended and the orchestra started up a new one, then placed his hand on your waist and began the dance. You thought your heart might burst from your chest you were so nervous. Your mouth felt dry and your mind was suddenly quite blank. You were desperate to think of something to say so that he would not find you a complete idiot, but nothing seemed to come to mind.
“That dress looks nice on you,” he said and you felt the blood rush to your face again.
“T-Thanks,” you managed to stammer. “My mother found it this afternoon, when she heard about the party.”
“She made an excellent choice,” he said. Though you had been doing your best to avoid his eyes thus far, you managed to catch his grin. “But by ‘heard about,’ I take it to mean you were not invited?”
You gave him a small, mischievous smile. “I’m crashing.”
“You and half the town.” The young man chuckled.
“You are not planning to turn me in, then?” Giotto shook his head.
“And ruin our dance?”
The last few notes of the song faded away. The crowd began to disperse, speaking of travel plans and whether or not the weather was going to clear up. The young man’s hand remained on your own and your eyes locked, [color] to orange. Slowly, he bowed his head and brushed his lips across your fingers. You bowed your head in return, then spun around and disappeared into the crowd.
Giotto stared after you, refusing to move until G. found him again and placed his hand on his shoulder. He nodded and left after his friend. But one problem remained etched in his mind.
He had never caught your name.
Two years later and it was Christmas eve again. Though Giotto would have preferred to be in Italy, urgent business had come up several days ago in Britain and he had had no choice but to come take care of it. After a very long day of negotiations, Giotto was finally done, but there was no chance of getting home in time to celebrate the holidays. Not wanting to stay cooped up inside his room all night, Giotto had took to wandering the streets. Though the snow had long since quit falling, the roads were slick with ice now that night had come.
Giotto paused and stared up at the sky. The clouds had drifted away, leaving nothing but twinkling stars and a sliver of moon. His sigh came in a puff of smoke and then disappeared into air. He should go back–he had a long day of travel after Christmas day, and he was hungry, but still he did not want to return.
To his left, a door creaked open. As the little pool of golden light spilled across his feet, Giotto looked up. A middle aged woman with a rag in her hand was standing in the doorframe.
“What are you doing out here alone on tonight of all nights?” she asked. When Giotto did not answer, she motioned for him to get inside. “Well come on, come on. We have just got dinner on the table and I am sure the children would love to talk to someone outside of the family for once. Come on!”
Giotto paused, then inclined his head and ducked into the house. The woman closed the door behind her and then led him into a small dining room that housed a table already crammed with her husband and three children.
“Who did you find outside, Mama?” the youngest of the boys asked. The woman smiled.
“I am not sure, but he looked like he could use a family for the night and I thought I would offer our services. What do you think?”
“Yeah!” The children chorused. Giotto smiled and took the seat gestured to by his hostess.
“I feel welcome already,” he said. “My name is Giotto. To whom do I owe the pleasure?”
“My name is Verona,” The woman answered, “And this here is my husband, James. These are Jimmy, William, and Joseph.” The man at the end of the table nodded and each child stood up when his name was called. “Now settle in and get to eating. We do not want you to go hungry.”
“Thank you,” Giotto said again. Soon the food was served and the only sounds filling the little home where those of cutlery clattering against plates and people murmuring their approval of the food. Giotto could not seem to quit smiling, even after he had long since finished his meal.
“Hey mister,” William said and Giotto looked over at the boy. “What’s the matter? Why do you keep staring out the window?” The blond man blinked. He had not even realized he had been doing so, at least often enough to be caught. With a small shake of his head, he settled back into his chair.
“It is a long story.”
“Is it a Christmas story?”
“It happened exactly two years ago,” Giotto said. “So I suppose, yes.”
“Well, how about you tell it to us?” Verona asked.
“Oh, I could not. I do not want to bother you. You have already done so much for me.”
“That is exactly why! What better way to repay us by telling us a Christmas story?”
“Come on, Mister!”
“She will not let up until you tell one,” James advised. “It is her favorite day of the year.”
“Tell the story!” Joseph shouted. Giotto chuckled.
“I suppose, just this once. Just in return for the meal and good company.” He looked around the table, waiting as Verona poured more wine and everyone got more comfortable in their seats. Then he closed his eyes. “It was two years ago. A party. My friend and I decided to go, hoping we would be able to meet up with an old friend of ours who had moved away a few years ago. Unfortunately, he was not there. We stayed, hoping he would show up. G. was desperate for me to dance. I was not particularly in the mood for it…and then she walked in.”
“Oooooh,” said the children. Giotto laughed and continued.
“I had never seen a girl as pretty as she was. She had on this beautiful dress and her hair was done up…and I got nervous. I had been to plenty of parties like this and had danced with perhaps dozens of girls, but for some reason I just could not bring myself to ask her. Finally, I decided to leave, at least to get rid of all the butterflies this girl gave me. The thing is, she was leaving at the exact same time.”
“G. pushed me into her.”
”Oh my,” Verona said.
“For a moment I seriously considered running away–something I had never thought of doing before. But then it hit me: The party was going to be over soon and the thought of this girl was going to plague for the rest of the evening, at the very least. So I took a deep breath and asked her.”
“Did she accept?”
“Was it love at first sight?”
“I would like to think so.”
“Did you see her again?” At this, Giotto frowned.
“I thought of it. The very next day I went out to find her, but no one could tell me who or where she was. I did not know her name, you see. It has been two years and I still have no idea where to find her.”
There was silence at the table. The children all stared at the stranger until Verona stood up.
“What a lovely story.” Giotto stood up as well and followed her out. As he walked back down the frozen street, she called after him, “I hope you find her again, you know…your girl with no name.”
“I hope I find her, too, Verona,” Giotto whispered. But even on Christmas eve of all nights, asking for that seemed a bit too much to wish for.
For several years, Christmas seemed to follow the same pattern. There was always something to be done outside of the country, in Britain, in Germany, in Spain. Giotto could not ask his men to take care of these jobs over the holidays and so he found himself again and again alone and wandering in the streets. Often during these walks, he would wonder if that girl was there, if one of the jewel bright squares of light was preventing him from finding her. He could only assume she lived somewhere outside of Italy, but he had no idea where that would be. He never walked up the paths and knocked on a door. He never tried to describe her to those he met in the hopes they would be able to tell him where she was. Besides, it had been five years. She was sure to have moved. A single dance did not make her his forever.
He still managed to find people that were willing to listen. Somehow, he would always be found. Just as it neared dinner, someone would open the door and invite him inside. He would sit down and eat his food, chatting and laughing with whoever had been kind enough to let him in. Then in exchange he would tell his story.
They would always wish him luck. They would always tell him they hoped he would find his girl with no name.
And eventually he started wishing that, too, though he had long since given up believing in Santa.
“It is good to be home,” Giotto said as he placed his fork on his plate. “You really do grow to like being at home, when you spend so many Christmases away.”
“Come off it,” G. said. “You have not been away for Christmas for three years.”
“True, but that does not make my words false.” He smiled warmly. “Still, It is good to have the entire family here.”
“Except for Alaude,” Knuckle said with a roll of his eyes. “And Daemon.”
“Daemon is a…special case,” Giotto said. “And Alaude has his reasons.”
“If those reasons are ‘being a jerk’,” G. grumbled. Giotto chuckled and nodded as a maid took his plate.
“So, are you going to tell it?” Giotto looked up, throwing a questioning glance at the Japanese man to his left.
“Tell what, Asari?”
“Your Christmas story.” The man grinned. “Do not pretend. You tell it every year.”
“I was not aware the tale had become so tired.”
“Of course it has not. That is why I am asking you to tell it.”
“Really, I am sure you all know it by now. I do not wish to bore you.”
“Bore us?” Knuckle asked. “It would not be Christmas without your story.” Giotto frowned and looked at G. The man shrugged and leaned back in his chair.
“…Very well.” Once again, Giotto closed his eyes and began, “It was nine years ago. A party. G. and I decided to go, hoping we would be able to meet up with Cozart. Unfortunately, he was not there. We stayed, hoping he would show up. G. was desperate for me to dance. I was not particularly in the mood for it…and then she walked in.”
At this point, G. grinned. As Giotto took a breath, he launched in, “’I had never seen a girl as pretty as she was. She had on this beautiful dress and her hair was done up…and I got nervous. I had been to plenty of parties like this and had danced with perhaps dozens of girls, but for some reason I just could not bring myself to ask her.’”
Giotto stared. He had not thought they literally knew it by heart by now. He thought perhaps only G. had heard it that many times, but this theory was crushed when Asari took up the story.
“’Finally, I decided to leave, at least to get rid of all the butterflies this girl gave me. The thing is, she was leaving at the exact same time.’”
“’G. pushed me into her,’” Knuckle added. “’For a moment I seriously considered running away–something I had never thought of doing before. But then it hit me: The party was going to be over soon and the thought of this girl was going to plague me for the rest of the evening, at the very least. So I took a deep breath and asked her.’” When no one continued, he looked pointedly at Giotto. “Well, what happened?”
“You seem to be getting along quite well. Why don’t you finish it?”
“Because it is your Christmas story.” Giotto sighed.
“Come on! Do not leave us hanging.” Asari laughed. Giotto narrowed his eyes, but smiled again as he finished.
“She said yes. It was love at first sight. And ever since then, I have hoped that I would see her again someday…at least long enough to learn her name.”
“You will, Giotto,” Knuckle said solemnly. “Even if it is not until death that you can be together again.”
Silence covered the room again as the rest resumed eating. As sad as it made him to admit it, Giotto was sure that that was exactly as long as he was going to wait.
This was another Christmas eve alone. This time, however, there was no hope of going home. This was Giotto’s last long journey and he had never felt so far away from his friends. The streets of Japan were similarly covered in snow, and yet…and yet they seemed alien.
Giotto shook himself, more to clear his thoughts than to gain any warmth. It was not running away, his retirement. Though he did not approve of Daemon Spade’s actions, nor the direction his family was going, Giotto could not blame them for his coming to Japan. He planned it, many months before Daemon Spade had put his plans full into action.
But he had thought to tell G. first, and Knuckle. He had thought of asking Asari of the culture there, before setting foot into the country. At the very least, he had planned to wait until after Christmas. They would be hurt, him leaving them without a word. But it could not be helped. They would manage without him and he would, somehow, continue living without them. Maybe someday they would meet up again, even if it was, as Knuckle claimed, after they died.
The sliding of a door caused Giotto to look up. A woman was standing on the porch, shoes half on as she eyed the stranger in front of her home. The snow flitting onto her hair seemed to bother her not at all, nor did the cold air slipping through the crack in the door.
“Ah, I am sorry,” Giotto said, making to leave. He had merely wanted to look at the Christmas decorations she had set up in her lawn. He was not sure if he would appear rude to her, standing there without her permission. He bowed his head and made to leave.
“What are you doing alone, sir,” she asked his retreating back, “On Christmas eve?”
”I…just got here,” Giotto answered. He wished he could summon up some form of his usual chivalry to speak to the woman, but tonight it was not forthcoming. When he turned to meet her eyes, it was not with his typical smile. “To this country. I had to leave my friends, my family. I simply wanted to share some of the holiday cheer you placed outside this season. I apologize if I have intruded.”
The woman stared and Giotto turned to leave once more. “Wait.” He paused. “I know this is sudden. I do not have…a feast, or anything, but you could eat something, and maybe sleep. It is not right to spend Christmas alone.”
“That would be wonderful. Thank you.”
The woman smiled and slipped her shoes back off before heading inside. Giotto followed suit, but she was already in the kitchen by the time he found the table. It was only a matter of minutes before she placed the food in front of him.
“It is not much,” she said. “But I am happy to have someone to share it with.”
“Thank you,” Giotto said. Without thinking, he grabbed the chopsticks and began to eat. She, however, left her rice uneaten as she watched his face.
“Sir, if you do not mind me saying so, you seem very sad. Is there anything I can do?”
“No. I am sorry. I know you mean well…I just feel as if this Christmas, nothing is going to cheer me up.
“That is…quite sad,” she said. She took two bites of rice and then stared toward the door, “You know what always cheers me up? A Christmas story.”
“I am afraid I am not in the mood to tell any this year.”
”I know. But I have one of my own. Would you like me to tell it to you? It is my favorite.” Without looking at her, Giotto nodded. He did not really want to hear her story. He was already reminded distinctly of his own, but after letting him into her house and giving him her food, he felt it would be rude to tell her otherwise.
The woman closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“It was ten years ago. A party. I had not been in Italy long, but my father needed to visit for some business. It took longer than expected and I think my parents could tell how sad I was to not be able to visit my friends. When my mother heard tale of a party to take place that night, she searched the entire town for a beautiful dress. She surprised me with it when she got home. I had not heard of such a party and would much rather have stayed with my family…but she had searched so long, I could not bear to tell her no. I got dressed and went.”
Giotto nodded, barely paying attention as he watched the frost make patterns on the glass.
”When I got there, I was nervous. Mother had mentioned something about the mafia and I was afraid they were going to try and stop me. They did not. The whole town seemed to be there. There was so much noise, so many candles…it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.” Giotto looked up. “I had come late. I did not expect to be asked to dance, so I went to look at the food, to see if there was anything I could take back for my family. And then I saw him. The most beautiful boy I had ever seen. He made my heart race just look at him…but I knew there was no way he would ask a girl like me, a foreigner with no place in such fancy lodgings. I decided to leave. There was no point in staying since I was full and looking at that boy made me sad. I was just about to step outside when something miraculous happened.”
She smiled, clearly happy he was showing some interest. “He crashed into me. Maybe his friend pushed him, maybe he just tripped, but I was so scared. I thought he might be coming to kill me for crashing his party! That was the only reason I could think of that a boy like him would ever come to speak to me. Then he did something I never in my wildest dreams expected: He asked me to dance.”
“Did you accept?”
“Was it love at first sight?”
“Yes. I only wish I had stayed long enough to get his name. I might have been able to leave a letter for him at least…still, how silly to think that might have changed anything. I am sure that one dance does not make him mine forever.”
And Giotto’s heart felt almost like it might explode.
You grinned at the memory. Ten years and it still had not faded. You remembered the way his hand felt in your, the way his lips felt as they brushed across your fingers. You remembered his eyes and the exact way the candlelight flickered inside them. Ten years and you had never stopped loving that boy.
You shook your head and looked back at your guest. You hoped that that, at least, had raised his spirits just a little. He, however, was gaping at you.
”What? What is it?” you asked. “Do I have something on my face?”
He said nothing. You frowned slightly, leaning in closer and wondering if he had a fever. You opened your mouth, words forming on the top of your tongue when you caught sight of them: His eyes, and within them, the flickering of the candle you had lit in the center of the table.
”I think I am…” you said, hardly daring to believe it. Your eyes widened as the blond man smiled and got closer to you, taking both of your hands in his own as he stared down into your eyes.
”Please, tell me. What is your name?”
”[Last Name] [First Name],” you answered, tears filling your eyes. “And yours?”
”Giotto,” he said, and he wiped the tears off your cheeks before pressing his lips to yours. “[Last Name] [First Name],” he whispered. “My girl with no name.”
And, like the best of Christmas stories, this one was able to end with a happy ever after.