It was the 23rd of December. Two days before Christmas. Tom was standing in the snow opposite my front door, dumping me.
The party had happened barely a fortnight ago. And I genuinely liked the guy. The times that we had had had been good and I'd felt like this relationship might last longer than the standard two moths it took for a guy to lose interest in me or cheat.
In fact, this had been the shortest yet.
"It's not because of another girl," he promised me. I doubted I could believe him. "It's just ... I've come to regard you as a friend. You're funny, great to be around, and a decent person..." His words were starting to sound rehearsed. "... But I don't feel that same ... attraction as I did in the beginning."
"You're dumping me," I stated, hiding the hurt that was in no way new to me but was just as unpleasant as every other occasion on which a guy had announced it was over. Never the other way around, I noticed. Maybe I was too soft. Dimly I remembered the tears I had shed upon Derrick and Aaron's announcements and my mask of calmness which made it appear as if I believed this event had been inevitable tightened to cover the pain. Even still having foreseen this day did nothing to help.
Tom looked apologetic. And suddenly the sincerity of the expression made me wonder if another girl was involved after all.
"As my girlfriend, yes. But we can still be friends, right? I don't want to lose you altogether."
I suddenly felt weak and like resisting my feelings was futile. Tom wasn't breaking the relationship completely. Somehow, that made it worse.
"Would you change your mind if I said no?" I asked, letting go of the mask, allowing myself to not be in control.
Tom looked pained. "You don't want to be my friend?"
"I do," I whispered. "But I'd rather be your girl."
He stepped up into my porch and put his arms around me. I hated the awkwardness of it: just a few days ago, an embrace had felt warm, safe.
"It would be forced if I made love to you again," he murmured: "unnatural. Like trying to take a girl who'd been nothing more than my friend for years. I love our closeness, Belle, but this is not the right form of relationship."
"I still love you," I told him, clinging on tightly. I wanted to fight. Pointless as it was, I wanted to push Tom into a metaphorical corner and force him to change his mind.
He let go of me, gently pushing me away when I didn't do the same.
"Belle, I can't lie to you. Would it honestly be better if I pretended with you?"
"No," I murmured, casting my eyes down because the admission was painful.
"I'm sorry," he told me. "At the very least, there are plenty more fish in the sea."
"Am I doomed never to have one for longer than a few months, then?" I asked, raising my eyes to Tom's in something like defiance, but my heart wasn't in it; it insisted on moping around in my ribcage.
"You'll find someone some day," he promised. "And maybe if you don't, and I don't either, I'll try again. But first we have to know that for certain, Belle. I don't want to prevent you from knowing a better love than anything I could produce."
I sighed, naturally still discontented. I had listened to everything that he had said but knew even then that I was losing something.
"Goodbye, Belle," he whispered, kissing my cheek before leaving, walking down my street and climbing into his car. He drove away without a single backward glance.
As I trudged up to my room to lie on my bed and cry until my eyes ran dry, I realised that I had felt more for Tom that I had for any other guy since that first boyfriend, Derrick Hunter, who had been the recipient of my very first kiss.