It's too hard to get out of bed this morning, to rip the gray covers off her thin body and feel the chill. It's too hard to climb out of the safe bubble of her car and into the harsh, clouded corner of cold weather and colder people. It's too hard to walk through the day and feel the voices in the silver air catch on her like branches, tearing the cloth of her tiny red heart as she tugs herself away.
A dull, lingering loneliness soon settles in her brittle soul, leaving no room for warmth. She's terrified to find that the loneliness is turning her just as cold as everyone around her. Maybe once she's utterly bent and broken by the bleakness, she'll finally fit in this drab and lifeless world. She's going numb, growing cold from the inside out, and she's sure that she can feel her heart freeze inside her chest. If her heart is hard, she justifies, it's safe. It can't get hurt anymore. No wonder everyone is so cold.
For a little while, she looks for warmth, for color, for light, but her frantic searching soon turns to half-hearted efforts. After a last-ditch attempt to find illumination, at last she gives in to the gray, closing her eyes to feel her heart give a final, weak thump-thump.
But there—a light? Her eyes fly open. It's just a pinprick of a glow, but it's light all the same. She longs to seek it out, but she fears that someone will see her in her shattered, lonely state. She digs herself deeper into the darkness. The light grows closer, piercing her lonely bubble of safety, and she realizes—the light carries warmth.
She stills and holds her breath for ages, waiting and worrying for the time when the one with the light will arrive. The yellow light grows closer, held inside a golden lantern in the hand of a boy.
What can he possibly think of her, of the girl who is remarkably rundown and broken? He must find her so weak. She knows that she's too shattered to be worth wasting light to try fixing. But with one look, she knows beyond a doubt that the boy understands what it is to be surrounded and ready to surrender every day. He knows that her heart is breaking, and he knows how to help her heal. He extends the golden lantern toward her, and she takes hold, aching for warmth and hope. But the lantern is more than warm; it's blazing hot. The orange heat sears her skin, and she cries out. The ice in her chest starts to melt, and her heart quivers, then relentlessly slams against her rib cage. This isn't what healing was supposed to feel like.
"Why does it hurt?" she cries. She far prefers her apathetic life of darkness to this glowing, agonizing moment of feeling.
The look in his kind blue eyes somehow alleviates her pain just enough for her to breathe. Though she wants almost desperately to let go of the lantern, she needs to know if she truly can be whole again, and for some reason she trusts this silently understanding boy. She screws her eyes shut.
The agony lasts hours—days—weeks. She really can't be sure. Then it fades into memory.
She opens her eyes, blinking against the brightness. She's standing on a hill, the lantern held between her hand and the boy's. She's shocked to see that the world is beautiful again; it's colorful and warm. But the world hasn't changed at all—she has. She, like the lantern, is glowing, and she feels her softened crimson heart pump warmth to every part of her as yellow rays warm her back.
Yes, living hurts, but oh, how glorious it is to live.