Nibbling the cookie like a hamster, Gretchen banishes the pain of never having her own Christmas tree by focusing on how good the cookie tastes. It tastes good indeed, and her smile is as wide as the thread of time that passes between the two versions of her that exist in these pages. It’s a secret smile—one as delicate and as beautiful as a snowflake. The chocolate on her lips has a cinnamon kick, and as she reaches for it with her tongue, the stillness of the moment makes the taste seem all the more heavenly. Savouring every nuance, she nibbles it more and more. The heat kicking out of the heater only intensifies her pleasure, and in her little bubble, time and everything else ceases to exist. Before she knows it, the cookie is almost gone, and without realising, she pops her hand in the paper bag and brings out another. This one isn’t as big, but it’s thicker, and as soon as she sinks her teeth in, she shivers from the explosion of taste. To anyone looking in from the outside, they might’ve been tempted to pity little Gretchen. Alone in the corner of the living room in the early hours of the morning. No Christmas tree. No siblings. Only the hot air of the heater and a bag of cookies to keep her company as the rain lashes down outside. It certainly wasn’t ideal. It certainly wasn’t what you would call fun, and yet she found a sense of solace in her situation that seemed to balance the light and the dark in her heart like no other. It was strange then as it is now, how she yearned for affection yet only felt at one with herself when she was far from the arms of another. She was a lonely kid dreaming of acceptance, but isolation was the gift that allowed her to exist on a plane where she danced free of chains.