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Pepper stood in Times Square.
All around her the world moved, people rushing to and fro. All trying to get somewhere quickly to escape the chill outside.
Many clutched bags as the shouldered past one another, all trying to beat the last-minute rush and get their shopping done sooner rather than later.
Normally she too would be participating in the mass rush.
But not this year.

Her parents had both died years ago. She hadn’t been very close; she’d moved away when she was young and rarely visited. The most she ever got from them recently was a phone call, if they managed to remember. They certainly did love her but out of sight always equalled out of mind for them, so she was never a concern. Then they died, no longer did she need to remember to keep her phone charged and on loud as no one was going to call.
No siblings or relations for whom to buy gifts. Her parents had both been only children and so their was no one else to shop for. Christmas had always been a quiet affair when younger.
Her job had been taking up all her time. Pepper had once had friends from back home but as messages got more and more sporadic, she had just stopped replying. No point in trying to stay connected when you never met up and barely knew one another anymore.
Now with Tony dead it meant she had nobody. All her time had revolved around her job to him. Always keeping track of meetings, to do lists and anything else he could foist onto her to do.
But it had been 6 months already – she had basically moved on.
She should have moved on.

But then the Christmas advertising started, all showcasing perfect model families coming home, living together, celebrating together, sharing gifts with one another.
She had no one now.
Tony never made it back from Afghanistan.
That stupid product demo that he just had to do even if he got there late. Then he just had to ride apart from Rhodes, had to be the centre of attention.

There was an ambush.
The vehicle he was in was shot at.
He had bled out onto the dry Afghan dust alone.
He never had a chance.

She felt so bad that she couldn’t have even said they were really that close, there was always the chance that they could have been something – but with him being such a playboy and herself never willing to get too involved it never occurred; even if others thought it had.
Maybe if he had made it back it would have been different. But he didn’t.
That led her to now, standing utterly alone yet surround by others.
This year she wouldn’t be giving nor receiving any presents; she doubted that next year would be any different.
For that was how she always ended up in the end – alone.