Friday, December 3, 2010

Last Winter

I forgot how cold winter can be. The air feels like a thousand tiny pinpricks on my face as I follow Brant down the path between our houses.

“Come on, Avis,” he shouts at me over his shoulder. His breath is a thick white cloud against the night sky. “California hasn’t made you soft already, has it?”

“Ha. Ha.” I stick my tongue out at him and think how he’s got it backwards. He was the one that made me soft. California has made me strong.

It’s been months since anyone called me Avis. In Valencia, I’m That-New-Girl-Avery. As in, “You’re that new girl, Avery, right?” I like being new. When you’re new, people listen when you talk. They find you interesting. You can be anyone you want when no one knows who you were.

Out there, I’m not Avis, the geeky trumpet player. I’m Avery, the mysterious, artsy girl so brave she chose to move across the country for her senior year.

I slip-slide my way to the back of the house. Brant waits at the edge of his backyard, where the land drops off. He watches me fight my way through the snow, amused. The grin that used to melt my heart isn’t enough to keep me warm and I’m glad. It took the California sun to show me there are things that shine brighter than Brant.

I focus on the crunch of my boots as they sink calf deep in the snow. I make my own footprints instead of using Brant’s. I want to take it all in. I’ve never paid attention to the scent of winter before, but I do now. It’s bitter and sharp and thick with pine.

When I reach the ridge, I look down at the pristine slope waiting for us. The perfect sledding hill, if only it didn’t end ten feet from the road. Across the street below, the Johnsons have put up their annual Christmas display. The whole house glows with a rainbow of colored dots. Even from up here I can read the glitter-covered letters that spell out WINTER WONDERLAND.

Brant has his hands behind his head, enjoying the view. “I can’t imagine living somewhere that doesn’t have winter.”

“Yeah,” I say. Not because I agree, but because I can’t picture him living anywhere but right here. He fits in this tiny town in a way that I never will.

Brant turns to me. Snowflakes stick to his eyelashes and the earflaps of the corny hat he always wears. I want to brush them away, but I don’t. “Ready?” He scrunches up his face like he’s not sure I can handle it.

I give him my best badass stare. “I was born ready.”

He laughs, but his eyes pierce mine when he reaches out and takes my hand. It’s the same look he had when I answered the door tonight. Like he’s searching for something he expected to see.

Butterflies flit around in my stomach and I shoot them down. It’s not supposed to be like this. I force a smile, breathe in the crisp air. “On the count of three?”

He squints at me for a second, but then he nods, back to normal. “On three.”

I get the same rush I have every time. I want to fly down this hill. He squeezes my hand for courage even though neither of us need it anymore, and I squeeze back. In this moment, we’re me-and-Brant at six, or ten, or any age before things got complicated.

Back when we still had all the time in the world.

We count together. “One. Two. THREE!”

I can’t hold in the squeal of joy when we break into a run, giving ourselves over to gravity. All my layers strip away in the wind until I’m the old me. The girl who ran screaming and giggling down hills with her best friend and didn’t care what anyone else thought. The girl who believed love could conquer all.

It’s over too soon. We land in a tangled heap at the bottom. I can’t remember snow in my face ever feeling this good. I grab a handful and shove it in Brant’s face so he can feel it too. And then we’re at war, flinging snowball after snowball at each other. Running and falling and laughing until we’re breathless.

Brant holds up his hands in surrender. “Truce.”

The cold air burns my throat but I gulp it down and shake my head yes. Truce.

We walk together to the only patch of snow we haven’t destroyed. Brant stretches his arms out and I move next to him and do the same. When we’re side by side and fingertip to fingertip, we fall back into the untouched snow. Icy powder slips down the neck of my jacket but I hardly notice. We go into a flapping frenzy, trying to outdo each other with the biggest, best snow angel. And then finally, we stop, exhausted but exhilerated, and let the stillness of the night settle over us.

I want to freeze this moment. To etch every detail into not just my memory, but my bones.

The blinking colors of the Christmas lights turn the sky into a kaleidoscope. Flakes so fat they don’t even look real float down. The neighborhood is hushed under its blanket of snow and if I stare straight up it’s like being inside a snow globe. Just me and Brant in our own private winter wonderland.

Before I left, living in this town made me feel trapped. Like there was this better world on the other side of the glass, but I couldn’t reach it. Now, being inside those same glass walls feels sacred. My time here is fragile and rare and I know I can’t stay.

I hear the rustle of Brant’s hat against the snow as he shifts his head to face me.

“Hey, Avis.” He sounds different, soft.

I want to look at him, but I’m afraid of what I might see. “Yeah?”

“Are you happy out there?”

I am Avery, I think. I am funny and interesting and brave. I am who I’m supposed to be. “Yeah,” I say to the clouds. “I think I am.”

When I don’t meet his gaze, he turns back to the sky. “Good.”

I picture what we must look like from above. Two fallen angels in the snow, our innocence long gone. But even as I try to paint the image in my mind, I see it all spinning away from me. Everything. Graduation. College. Life. Brant on the inside of the glass, me locked out. This last winter already drifting out of reach. And all I can do is lie here and watch me-and-Brant become the past.

Brant taps my foot with his, his voice hoarse. “I miss you.”

The whole world is silent.

I want to tell him he’s too late. He should’ve missed me all the summers I went to band camp, or the times I went to visit my dad. But it’s too late for that, too. “You’ll get over it.”

The wind picks up, swirling the snow around and making me shiver. The stars listen to us breathe. In and out, side by side, our breaths more ragged than they should be by now.

“I know.” He lets out one long sigh. “That’s what makes it so sad.”

Come back Monday when we get together for an all new tangled short started by Lacey!

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