Lilly walked over to the rose garden where her mother's ashes had been scattered, the flower beds were covered in a layer of crispy white snow,. The pale pink rose bush planted in memory of her dear Mum looked forlorn as its bare branches stood defiant against the harsh December winds which chilled Lilly to the bone as she stood there. Pink roses had been her Mum's favourite flowers and her Dad had always given Lilly's mother a bouquet of pale pink roses each Christmas morning along with his present for her.
Lilly was alone, she had lost her father to cancer two years before and her mother, who had never recovered from her father's death, had grown ill and finally succumbed to pneumonia three months ago. A single tear trickled down Lilly's cheek as the loneliness engulfed her on this Christmas Eve afternoon. She was 32, she had never really had a serious relationship in spite of having friends she could go out with, but gradually they had all got married or found someone to spend their lives with; Lilly felt that being single and alone would now be her destiny. She had been close to her parents and she missed them so very much!
Lilly turned and walked out of the garden of remembrance, pulling her coat tightly around her as she headed for home, just a few streets away from the crematorium. As she opened her front door she picked up the Christmas cards that had been delivered earlier that day. Aunts, Uncles, cousins and friends in faraway places sent cards each year without fail. Lilly made herself a cup of tea and sat down in the comfy armchair by the fire to open the new batch of Christmas cards. One of the cards surprised her, it was from someone she had worked with a long time ago. His name was Stephen and he had been a good friend when they worked together. However, Steve had been made redundant from the Accountant's office where they had been colleagues and Lilly hadn't heard from him for over 8 years. Stephen had always been a quiet person and a bit shy, but they had hit it off from the start and spent many lunchtimes together in the local park chatting and eating their sandwiches. Stephen had been engaged to another girl at the time so Lilly and he were just work friends, although secretly she had adored him. Stephen had put a little note in the card asking how Lilly was and he told her that he had moved up to Scotland after he had been made redundant, so there was quite a distance between him and Lilly, she still lived in Streatham in South London. He had put his phone number on the note and Lilly sat there pondering whether or not to ring him.
It was still early, 3pm, so Lilly decided to give him a quick call just to wish him a Happy Christmas, after all, she was curious why he had contacted her after all this time. Feeling nervous she picked up the phone and dialled his number. It rang and rang and just as she was about to give up and put the phone down, he answered. "Hello Steve" Lilly said and Stephen excitedly shouted "Hi!!", sounding really pleased that she had rung him. Suddenly the years rolled away as they got chatting, asking each other about their lives and how they were. Apparently Stephen had finally married his long term girlfriend, but things didn't work out and they had decided to part four years ago, luckily they had not had any children, so they both went their separate ways without too many complications. Stephen said he hadn't really put himself out to find anyone else as the failed marriage had made him a little dubious about taking a chance with someone new. Lilly asked him why he had decided to contact her and Stephen told her that he still looked at the Streatham Guardian newspaper on the internet from time to time to see what was happening at his old location. He said that he had read the obituaries in the newspaper and seen that her mother had died, which made him sad for Lilly. He had decided to wait a couple of months and then send her a Christmas card to see if she wanted to talk to him after all this time. Lilly told Stephen that she had never married or even had a serious partner over the years, and yes, it was lovely to hear from him!
Because they lived so far apart, Stephen suggested that they chat through the internet on Skype as well as on other social media sites. He also asked Lilly if she had an avatar in Second Life. Lilly said no, although she had heard of SL, she had never joined, but she liked the idea of trying it out. Stephen told Lilly the link for Second Life so she could register and create her avatar. They thought it would be great fun to meet up in SL later that night and Lilly told Stephen that she would call her avatar Lilly-Rose. They agreed to meet at 8pm in the virtual world and ended their long phone call. Lilly felt elated about Stephen contacting her, maybe Christmas wouldn't be so bad this year after all.
After Stephen rang off Lilly opened her SL account and chose a very glamorous avatar from the list of basic newbies. She entered the virtual world and started to practice moving around and finding out how the menus worked. She got a little bit confused and a little bit frightened in case anyone spoke to her, but she decided it did look like lots of fun.
It was teatime, Lilly logged off of SL and went into the kitchen to make herself a cheese and tomato sandwich and a cup of coffee; Sitting once again in the cosy chair by the fire, for some reason she wondered if she was doing the right thing talking to Stephen, as she gazed at the picture of her Mum and Dad on the mantelpiece. Although they were gone, she still felt the need to ask them for advice, as if they were still around; It gave her comfort to think they may be listening. She ate her sandwich and dozed off for a little while, the heat from the fire making her sleepy.
When she woke up it was 7.30pm so she decided to log into SL early to get used to her avatar again before Stephen logged on. She saw a notice in the top corner of the screen and clicked on it, she had been offered friendship from BlueSparc Resident, Stephen's avatar name. Lilly accepted the friendship and she saw his name flash up in the bottom corner of her screen telling her that he was already on-line waiting for her. She heard a little bell and spotted a glowing message icon, so she clicked on it and there was BlueSparc sending her a text. He was offering to teleport her to his location and she accepted.
Within a couple of seconds her avatar arrived and BlueSparc, a very handsome avatar with black hair and sparkling blue eyes stood in front of her. She saw a message appear as he offered her a hug, accepting the offer, she found herself in his arms, amazed that one avatar could hug another. He stopped the animation and they stood facing each other. "Would my lovely Lady Lilly-Rose allow me to buy her an outfit?" BlueSparc asked. Lilly, with a smile on her face, typed that Lilly-Rose would be very happy to let BlueSparc take charge and thanked him. When Lilly looked she could see they were surrounded by SL shops with beautiful long formal dresses for sale. BlueSparc told her to follow him into one of the nearby shops. He asked her which gown she liked and gave her the money to buy it. She chose a gorgeous ivory satin gown with a softly swirling organza skirt. BlueSparc asked her to follow him to another shop where she picked out a pair of shoes to match her gown. Finally he took her to a different location to choose a new hair style. Lilly was amazed at the fashions and designs on offer and she had great fun trying on the hair demos until she found an 'up' style with lots of shiny auburn curls to complete her attire.
Stephen told Lilly how to use 'voice' in SL so they could talk to each other without typing; He then took her off to a sandbox where she could unpack her new outfit and put it on. Stephen and Lilly chatted as if they had never been apart and he said that he had often thought about her. She said it was the same for her, she had wondered how he was, although because he had already been in a relationship, she hadn't considered getting in touch with him. She said how sad she had been when he had been made redundant, knowing that she would never see him again.
Lilly-Rose, dressed in her beautiful new gown, sexy high heels and upswept glossy hair, looked amazing. BlueSparc, who had already put his tux on, asked her if she would like to go dancing. "Dancing? People dance in SL?" she asked. "Of course" he said, laughing at his little newbie! He took Lilly-Rose to one of SL's famous Jazz Clubs, all white columns, marble floors and moonlight, with stylish couples already dancing the night away to the smooth Sinatra style music. Lilly felt as if she had died and gone to heaven as she became accustomed to being an avatar; She actually felt the closeness of Stephen as they took to the dance floor. He led her through a series of different dances until they finally danced cheek to cheek as he told her how pleased he was that he had found her again. Christmas Eve had turned out quite differently to how Lilly imagined it would be, for the first time in months she felt happy, what a thrill this whole experience was.
It was getting late and Stephen suggested that they say goodnight, asking Lilly if she would like to meet him in SL on Christmas Morning at 10am. Lilly agreed, reluctant to log off from such a lovely evening. BlueSparc once again offered Lilly-Rose a hug as they said goodnight and Lilly felt so emotional in this handsome avatar's arms knowing it was really Stephen virtually holding her.
After logging off and switching off her laptop, Lilly decided to go to bed, it was 11.30pm and she looked forward to meeting Stephen in SL on Christmas morning. Taking the picture of her parents off of the mantelpiece, she said goodnight to her Mum and Dad, kissing the photo before gently replacing it on the mantel.
Lilly awoke at 8am on Christmas Day and lay in bed thinking about the night before when Stephen had taken her to the virtual Dance Club. She smiled to herself, who could have imagined that her life could change like this, she realised that she had always loved Stephen, but things had been impossible when they were working together. She got up with a spring in her step and got ready for the day ahead.
She made herself a cup of tea and a slice of buttered toast and gazed through the window at the winter wonderland outside. It had been snowing all night and the flawless white blanket of snow glistened in the pale winter sunlight. Lilly turned on her laptop and logged into SL, once again a little early, arriving at 9.30am. Stephen, as before, was already there waiting for her. Stephen told her that he had been worried this morning in case she had changed her mind and decided not to meet him. Lilly took the plunge and told him that she had always been in love with him and that she wasn't about to lose him again. BlueSparc offered Lilly-Rose an avatar 'hug', this time, however, it was an SL kiss. Stephen whispered that he had always loved her as well, but he had tried not to because he was already engaged to his girlfriend when Lilly and he first met.
BlueSparc told Lilly-Rose that he had a virtual Christmas gift for her, as he handed her a little jewellery box. Lilly-Rose opened the box and there inside was a gold chain with a heart shaped diamond pendant. Stephen wished her a Happy Christmas. Lilly said she would have to buy BlueSparc a gift later on when she got the hang of SL shopping! They laughed and chatted, loving every minute of being together. They spent most of the day in the virtual world; Who cares about real life when they could talk and dance and explore together and have so much fun just being in each other's company on this Christmas Day. Finally it was time to log off, but not without making arrangements to meet in SL the following day. Stephen suggested to Lilly that she might like to move to Scotland in real life, he loved it there and he was sure she would too. Just before they logged out of SL, BlueSparc said he had another gift for Lilly-Rose. Lilly accepted the item from him, an item that brought tears to her eyes, it was a bouquet of pale pink roses. "How did you know that pink roses would mean so much to me?" she asked Stephen. "I don't really know, he told her, I saw the pink roses and somehow knew that they would be the right thing to get, I looked at the other colours, other flowers, but it had to be the pink roses." "Happy Christmas Lilly" "Happy Christmas Steve" she replied "It's been wonderful" she added, as they finally exited out of Second Life.
Lilly looked at the picture of her Mum and Dad on the mantelpiece and was startled to see a single pink rose laying there in front of the picture frame. Having no idea how the rose got there, Lilly whispered 'Thank you' to her parents, the tears running down her face.
It was their Christmas gift to their precious daughter, a daughter whom they loved so very much. When they were alive they had worried about Lilly spending all her time with them and not making a life of her own. They also knew how upset Lilly was when she lost contact with Stephen. Somewhere, somehow they had worked their plan this magical Christmas, Lilly would never be lonely again.
Have a lovely Christmas everyone!