Upon first glance, it would be impossible for anyone to recognize the contents of the gift - for you, it was just a strange mass of shapes and noise - but soon enough, realization struck with the force of a metal baseball bat.
You nearly dropped the cardboard right then and then, but doing so would have shattered the glass window of the wooden box inside, thereby destroying the one barrier keeping you and everyone else safe from the bees milling about in the case. So, naturally, you gave the second-best reaction possible.
And in that instant, everybody in the room stopped whatever they were doing or saying, and instead turned their attention - along with their startled and confused gazes - towards you. Embarrassment turned your face a dark red as your focus jumped from person to person, vaguely aware of the soft droning box in your hands.
"S-Sorry... Sorry, everybody,"
Thought your apology was mumbled and soft, it seemed to do the trick, and the conversations continued once again, until the noise around you seemed to mirror the noise in the case.
"Alright," you sighed to yourself, "That's it, I'm going home and I'm throwing this away,"
You marched off towards the cellar, planning to grab your bag and possibly leave the box in its stead, but your attempt at escape was quickly derailed when you heard an all-too familiar voice calling out your name.
"Hey," Lewis said, as he hurriedly approached you, "Is everything alright?"
Within a few swift strides, he was hanging over your shoulder, seeming to try and catch a glimpse of your present. The moment he noticed the box, though, he quickly took a step back, just in time for you to give him a cold glare.
"What is hell this?" you asked, showing him the box of bees - bees Lewis probably collected and bred over the summer. At the sound of your voice, he gave a nervous laugh and looked up at you before quickly turning his attention to the floorboards.
"Um... My White Elephant gift," he answered.
"It's bees," you said, "What on earth could have compelled you to make bees your White Elephant gift?"
"I don't know," he shrugged, still grinning nervously, "I just thought it'd be a funny idea. I genuinely didn't know you were going to get my gift, though,"
You could tell from the nervous smile on his face, that Lewis was desperately trying to lighten the mood, but ever since the night began, you had slowly gone from apathetic to skeptical, then skeptical to annoyed, and so on and so on, until you were just about ready to snap.
"Well, I'm leaving," you said bluntly, and the shock in Lewis' eyes showed that you had caught him off guard.
"What?" he asked
"I appreciated the invitation when you first asked me," you began, the bite in your voice growing harsher with every passing second, "But after tonight, I see how horrible of a mistake this was. So thank you for the bees, I will probably throw them out later tonight, and, please, when you consider inviting me to the next White Elephant party, just don't!"
To your surprise it seemed that your little rant had gone completely unnoticed by everyone around you - well, almost everyone. For a moment, Lewis simply stood in front of you in shock, the voices around you seeming to become a blur of white noise, but he was quick to give you a smile. The slight knit in his brow, however, was enough to show that you'd hit a nerve. Slowly, you began to consider the words you had just spouted out.
"I'm sorry," he sighed, still smiling, "I didn't know that you were having such an awful time; I wouldn't have had you stay for the gift exchange if I'd known. Well... I've got to go make sure that Simon doesn't get too drunk and do something stupid,"
You watched, silently, as he walked right past you and began to head back into the sea of people, before turning back to you, giving you a quick chance to catch the slightest hint of dejection in his smile.
"Happy Holidays," he said, before vanishing in the crowd.
The moment Lewis left your sight, all of the voices and commotion around you came back to life, bombarding you and making you feel even tinier than before.
"Shit," you grumbled to yourself, "...You fucking idiot,"
You would've continued belittling yourself until you finally left the party, were it not for a voice calling out your name.
"What was that all about?" Alsmiffy asked as he, Ross, and Trott eased their way out of a nearby crowd and were soon standing on either side of you.
"You were screaming bloody murder back there," Ross said, immediately slinging an arm over your shoulders and pulling you closer to him, "You must've gotten something really horrible. Was it porn?"
"It's bees," you answered, practically spitting out the words.
Trott inhales sharply, wincing as he did so, before looking at the case.
"Yep," he nodded his head, like a doctor talking to a terminally ill patient, "That's a box of bees if I've ever seen one,"
"Ooh," Alsmiffy said, instantly taking a closer look at the box, "Those are high-quality bees; pristine stock,"
"Great," you sighed, "I scream at him after getting a present that actually required effort,"
"Well if you don't want them," Ross began, fingers drumming against the top of the case mindlessly, "We could take them off your hands - free of charge,"
In all honesty, you weren't paying attention to what Ross was saying; you were too focused on trying to isolate a certain spaceman from the rest of the party. Sure, the party was as less than ideal experience for you, but that was no excuse to be such a horrible guest to the one person who seemed to want you there. It was too late to take back the words, but a proper apology was certainly in order. Now, the only problem was finding Lewis and getting the chance to talk to him. However, your plans were interrupted when you noticed the tapping of Ross' nails against the glass, you carefully pulled the box away from him.
"I'd rather you didn't," you answered, "Now, I'm sorry, but I have to find Lewis,"
You hurriedly walked away from the trio, their voice soon joining the rest of the drone that was the party, and began your search. Sadly, you had no idea where he might be, and every place you looked bore the same infuriating results, until you finally came across Simon and an extremely intoxicated Duncan sitting on a sofa alongside Kim and Sips. That's right, Lewis said he was going to check up on Simon, but it seemed that the spaceman was, once again, no where to be found.
"Hey, Simon!" you called out, quickly approaching the group of laughing people, "Have you seen Lewis? I've looked all over the place and I still can't find him,"
Stopping whatever story he was telling the others around him, Simon looked up to you in confusion.
"I think he said something about needing fresh air; he might be outside, then," he shrugged, though his expression quickly turned from indifference to curiosity, "Is everything alright? He seemed kind of down when I saw him,"
"I kind of acted like a jerk and I want to make sure he's alright," you sighed, though your guilt was soon replaced with confusion when you heard Duncan giggling. Of course, everyone turned their attention to the drunken scientist as he continued to laugh, occasionally hiccuping and snorting.
"Someone's got a crush," he sang with an alcoholic slur, "You like him,"
"Go home, Duncan, you're drunk," you replied without missing a beat, before turning on your heel and making your way to the entrance of the tavern. You weren't even fully outside, and yet the winter air was already biting away at your skin.
"Lewis!" you called out, "Are you out there? It's me,"
As you expected, you received no reply. With a sigh, you carefully tucked your present under the stairs - bringing a box of bees outside during the middle of winter probably wasn't a wise idea - and stepped out of the building.
The cold crashed down on you like a wave of icy water, and instantly you began to twitch and shiver, but you simply took in a breath and began to walk along the porch. And, sure enough, you finally came across Lewis, leaning against a support beam as he looked out into the snow-covered fields below.
Hearing the sound of footsteps, he looked up with a half-hearted gaze, which was quickly turned into surprise and confusion.
"I wanted to apologize for what I said," you said, "I guess it's kind of obvious that I'm not exactly a people-person. You were just being nice, and I shouldn't have snapped at you like that. So... yeah, sorry,"
His expression never changed from surprise, and you could feel the awkward tension begin to settle. Trying not to fidget, you sighed.
"I'll keep the bees, but, in all honesty, they'll probably die in my care... So, I guess I'll see you around then... Bye..."
And with that, you turned and walked away.
"They'll be alright,"
You stopped and turned, confused by Lewis' sudden outburst.
"The bees," he explained, "They have enough honey from the summer, and the queen won't start laying eggs until mid-February. Plus, the box is insulated, so the bees won't freeze to death on the way home. Which means you should have plenty of time to decide what you want to do with them,"
"I see..." I mumbled. You were thankful for that he had said something instead of simply letting you walk away, but it wasn't enough to stop the awkward silence from talking over once more.
"Well... thank you for telling me; I don't really know anything about bees. Maybe I'll do some research and keep them,"
"Do you like bees?" he asked, his voice curious but hesitant.
"I think they're certainly interesting," you shrugged, "Though I don't think people expect them as a Christmas present,"
You gave a slight grin and, to your surprise, Lewis chuckled at the joke.
"I really am sorry about yelling at you," you sighed, "I'm not really good with big crowds,"
"If you want, we could just stay here and talk,"
You had assumed that Lewis was simply making a joke, but the honest hesitance in his voice and his genuine smile made you grin.
"That sounds nice," you answered, though the mood was cut short when a breeze of wind passed by and chilled you to the bone. An involuntary shudder crawled out your throat and you felt yourself twitch.
"I should've brought my coat with me," you grumbled, "Hang on a second, I'll be right back,"
But before you could turn to leave, Lewis stepped forward and began to remove his coat.
"Here," he said, draping it over your shoulders, though he kept his hands on your shoulders before slowly stepping away.
"You know I can just get my jacket from the cellar," you said, heat slowly returning to your body and turning your face a light pink, "Besides, now you'll be cold,"
"I'll be fine; I'm used to the cold," his simile was confident, but you were less than convinced by the statement, "I'll just have a hot tea later to warm me back up,"
"Alright," you sighed, faint smell of ashy wood tickling your nose, "But don't come complaining to me if you get sick later,"
You spent the rest of the night standing outside in the not-as-freezing cold, simply talking and appreciating each other's company, and enjoyed every second of it. Time seemed to come to a standstill, but soon enough, you could see people leaving the tavern and the moon was disappearing behind the horizon.
"Ah well, I guess it's time to head home," you smiled and watched as Duncan and Kim flew off into the night sky. Lewis' jacket came off with ease and you handed it back to him, though the faint smell of smoke and pines still clung to your clothing. You smirked to yourself as he hurriedly put it on and kept his hands in his pockets. The two of you headed inside the mostly empty tavern and you quickly retrieved your jacket and your present.
"I'll see you around," you said after putting on your coat and picking up the box from the floor, "I'll try and take care of them as best as I can,"
"I'm sure they'll be fine," he smiled, "But maybe I can stop by and see how they're doing?"
"Sure thing," you nodded your head in agreement at the both of you stepped outside. You pause for a moment to enjoy the sight of fresh snow in the moonlight before carefully climbing down the stairs and starting the long trek home.
"I told you," you smirked, hanging Lewis another tissue, "I fucking told you. You should've just let me get my jacket,"
"I'm fine," he replied, quickly blowing his nose before resting his head on your kitchen counters, "It's just a little head-cold,"
"Bullshit," you chuckled, leaning against the other side of the counter , "You were out in the cold too long and you got some sort of virus,"
"But the cold weather doesn't just instantly give you a cold," he replied, lifting his head to look at you, "The cold just suppresses the immune system, it doesn't just make you stick if you stay outside for too long,"
"Regardless," you said, quickly pushing away and searching through the cupboards, "You're sick and you need something to make you feel better. Drink you're tea and I'll see what else I have,"
Lewis watched with bloodshot eyes as you continued to search through drawers and shelves until you finally returned with a victorious smirk and placed a jar on the counter in front of him.
"Honey?" he looked at you with a smile.
"It'll help with your throat," you explained simply.
"Are these from the bees?" he asked, uncapping the jar and pouring some honey into his tea.
"They seem to be enjoying themselves in the new apiary," you said, taking a seat beside him, "You know you didn't have to help me build it; you are sick,"
"It's alright," he took a drink of his tea before placing the mug back on the counter, "Consider it a thanks for taking care of me,"
"I guess that makes sense," you shrugged, "But maybe next time you should just save yourself the trouble and put on a jacket,"
"Shut up," he laughed and you just rolled your eyes.
"Make me," you teased.
"Alright then," he spoke in a strangely monotonous voice.
Then, before you could understand what Lewis meant, he leaned forward, placing a hand on the side of your face and turning you to face him, and pressed his lips against yours in a chaste kiss. He pulled away just as quickly as he had moved in, but the memory was sure to leave an impression in your mind. Lewis looked at you with a smile - probably amused by your dumbstruck expression - and you could taste a hint of sweetened tea on your lips.
"I probably shouldn't be kissing you on the lips," he said, smiling down at his cup, "After all, I am sick. You'll just have to wait,"
"Hang on a second,"
You turned his head towards you and practically smashed your lips against his, taking a quick note of the startled yelp he managed to get out before you pressed yourself against him in a honey-flavored kiss. When you finally let go of him, his face was a bright red and he was struggling to form words.
"Alright," you smiled, "No more kissing until you're better,"