For most 8th graders, the end of Christmas break is about as dreary a thought as anything in the world, with the possible exception of the first day of school after summer vacation. But for Evan, it was a day he’d been looking forward to since Christmas day, which, not coincidentally, was the last time he’d seen his new girlfriend Renee.
Girlfriend. His girlfriend. His girlfriend, Renee. The words just didn’t seem like they should all fit together. Much like he felt he and Renee didn’t fit together. She was tall and smart and beautiful and kind and bubbly. He was none of those things. Okay, to be fair, he was tall and smart. But no one would accuse him, he thought, of being handsome. Nor did he feel particularly kind. And bubbly is the last thing he would ever think of to describe his personality. What word would he use? Awkward. Yeah, awkward was the perfect word.
And yet, there she was, standing at the end of the walk outside the cafeteria, waving her swanlike arm at him, a smile as bright as the sun emblazoning her face. He had trouble swallowing. But then, as quickly as she appeared before him, she vanished again, along with the all but the vaguest outline of the large brick building. One moment it wasn’t snowing and the next, huge, wet flakes the size of tennis balls were pounding straight down as if they were being magnetically drawn to the ground. By the time he made it to her, he looked like a Yeti and felt just as cold. But he was quickly warmed by her lilting laughter. She helped him wipe away the caked snow as they made their way into the cafeteria to wait for the bell to dismiss them for first period.
“Where in the world did that snow come from?” she asked, pulling a tissue from her purse and wiping his face. Her hand smelled of cocoa butter. It made him think of the beach. Which made him think of her in a bathing suit at the beach. Which made him blush. Luckily, he was red-faced already from being soaked with barely frozen snow.
“I don’t know. It just came out of nowhere,” he said. “Thank you.”
She smiled. “For what?”
“You made it out of the snow without any help from me.” She took his hand in hers and curled her slender fingers between his. His mother had told her when she’d come to their house the evening of Christmas day that she had pianist’s fingers. She promptly sat at their piano and played a lovely, sad, complicated song that he’d never heard before. When she finished and looked up, his mother was crying.
Renee looked like she’d just run over a kitten. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” she’d said. “I should have asked before I just started playing your piano.”
“Oh no, sweetheart!” exclaimed his mother, wrapping Renee in a hug. “It was just so beautiful and it’s been so long since I’ve heard anyone play this piano. Since my mother died.”
Renee and his mother were fast friends from that moment on. Same for his father and sister. She seemed to be able to make a friend of anyone. Yet another trait of hers he both admired and lacked.
As he came back to the present, he looked into her eyes, which were filled with mirth and congeniality. “I didn’t mean from the snow.”
“Then what are you talking about, you goof?”
“Whatever.” She looked around to make sure no one was watching and, to his great surprise, gave him a quick peck on the lips. He would contemplate that first kiss many times over his lifetime. For the moment, though, he was too shocked and elated to contemplate much of anything. He just stood there with a big goofy grin on his face. Luckily, before she said anything he would have to respond to–he was aware enough to suspect he would be tongue-tied until at least lunchtime–the bell rang, signaling to the sad lovers that they would not see each other again until 4th period.
They walked hand in hand out of the cafeteria and down the hall, stopping long enough to open their lockers, which were just a few dozen feet apart from each other, and meet in the middle of the hallway. He was too self-conscious to kiss her in the midst of the wild throng of students, so he started to just wave and walk away. Happily, she felt no such restraint.
She grabbed the collar of his coat, pulled him to her, and planted a longer kiss on his lips, after which she playfully slapped his cheek. “You weren’t going to give me kiss goodbye? Don’t you love me?”
“Aww,” was all he could manage to say in reply.
“I take that as a yes. See you 4th.”
Somehow he made his way to first period. At least he thought he’d gone to the right class. No one told him to leave and the teacher looked vaguely familiar. Put a gun to his head, though, and he would have been completely incapable of telling you one word spoken the entire period. Luckily, it wasn’t a subject, like science, that required him to pay attention lest he blow himself up.
By the time second period rolled around, he had gathered himself enough to actually know what room he was supposed to go to next. He even remembered his math teacher Mrs. Hartline’s name. He hoped ardently, though, that she wouldn’t call on him, because no matter what the problem was, he was pretty sure the result he would come up with would simply be Renee. What’s two plus two? Renee.
Somehow, he made it to Mr. Beck’s fourth period science class. He knew he had a class in between, but he was at a loss to remember what it was. The excitement of seeing her again was just too much for his fried circuits. He was going to kiss her this time, crowd or no crowd. But he was distracted from his goal when Mr. Beck stepped out the door.
“You seem a lot happier than you did before Christmas break. Glad you finally worked up the courage to ask your lady friend out.”
Before he could respond, though, he smelled the unmistakable scent of cocoa butter, turning just in time for her to plant yet another kiss on his unsuspecting lips. Would he ever get to kiss her first? He wasn’t sure, but he was even less sure that he cared, as long as she didn’t stop.
The windows in Mr. Beck’s room faced out across the long front lawn of the school, so Evan saw clearly for the first time that the snow hadn’t let up since that morning. The pale greenish tan of the grass had been replaced by a heavy blanket of white, and the blanket was getting deeper by the minute.
“Think we’ll have a snow day?” was the first question asked of Mr. Beck, who was widely acknowledged as the best predictor of snow days on the entire staff. Legend had it that one year, he announced in September every single snow day they would have that year and he was right every time. No one ever asked him if it was true; most preferred to just believe it because that was more fun than finding out that it was nothing but a story.
“Definitely no school tomorrow,” said Mr. Beck, gazing out the window. “Maybe not the rest of the week.”
For a moment Evan was elated, but then it struck him–no school meant no Renee. For the first time in his young life, Evan found himself praying for a thaw. But then, even the idea of missing his new lady love was slowly supplanted by a thought almost exciting enough to get him to hope for more snow. Sledding. It was the one thing he loved most about winter. The one thing he looked forward to every single year. Maddeningly, where they lived, it was often too warm. Some winters it was cold enough, but too dry.
“I can’t wait to go sledding!” he said, not really aware that it had been out loud.
“I’ve never been,” said Renee. “Is it fun?”
“Fun? Only the most fun thing in the world. You’ve never been sledding? You have to go sledding with me!”
A smile crept across her lips. Then she frowned. She was even adorable when she looked sad. “I don’t have a sled.”
“We have extras. And besides, we can ride together.”
“Where do you sled?”
“We have a great hill right behind our house. It goes on forever. We build a fire and roast marshmallows in between trips. Sometimes my mom even brings up a thermos of hot chocolate. Then, when we get too cold and wet to stand it anymore, we go home and gather around the fireplace. Mom makes us grilled cheese and tomato soup. It’s the best thing in the world. You have to come.”
She looked like she might burst with excitement. “When? When?”
“But it’s a school night.”
“Yeah, technically, but look out there!”
If anything, the snow had picked up in pace. It seemed impossible that there would be school the next day. In fact, the principal came over the intercom and said that the buses would be delayed because the roads were snow-covered and slick. Neither Renee nor Evan rode a bus, though, both walking. Each, it turned out lived less than a mile from the school, though in slightly different directions.
As they ate lunch together, a plan emerged. It would require parental permission, but it seemed like it would work.
“Okay, when you get home,” said Evan between bites of peanut butter sandwich, “if your folks say okay, I’ll walk to your house and get you. Make sure you’re dressed in layers. Do you have good, heavy rubber boots?”
“Yes. Are you sure you don’t mind walking all that way?”
“It’s not that far. I’d walk twice that far for, well, for…”
She smiled, wiping a speck of bread crumb from her mouth with her napkin. “For what?”
He wanted to say he’d walk twice that far and more for her, but something in his adolescent mire of a brain wouldn’t let the words come out. He just felt too stupid. So he did the best he could. “For a good sled ride.”
In response she looked sullenly at her sandwich. “Oh. Well, okay. I don’t know if my folks will let me. And I have homework.”
He was blowing it! What was wrong with him? “With you.”
“It’s only worth the walk if, well, you know.”
“No Evan, I don’t know.”
“Only worth it if I get to be with you.”
She smiled and took his hand. “Was that so hard?”
He smiled back. “Yes.”
He got home at 3:00 pm and waited the three hours until she called at 3:20 to say that, after a titanic struggle, her parents agreed to let her accompany him, with the proviso that she be ready to be picked up promptly at 8:00 pm. Her father would take her to his house in his SUV, but he didn’t get home from work until after 5:00 pm, and that was just too long for the lovebirds to wait to see each other.
The temperatures were dropping quickly as the precipitation slowly tapered off to a still steady but lighter amount, ensuring that the eight inches they had already received would stick around. The weather on the radio said that another two to three inches were expected overnight and schools in the region were already closing. So, dressed in enough layers to make it impossible to walk, minus one, Evan set out for Renee’s house. What would normally be a ten-minute walk was now an epic hike. It would have been worse, but he marched in the ruts of a large truck that had passed by as he left his house. It was the only vehicle that he’d seen and the amplified silence of the thick white blanket told him that there were no other vehicles about. He worried that he was underdressed against the wind, but by the time he got to her front door, again looking like a walking snowman, everything on him was warm except his nose, which had mercifully gone numb.
Renee’s mother opened the door and insisted he come in at least long enough thaw out while Renee finished layering up. They had a glassed in front porch, which served as a sort of mudroom for the main house, so there was no worry about getting the floors wet.
“I’ll tell Renee you’re here sweetie.”
He liked it that she called him sweetie. His mom called him that. “Thank you, ma’am.”
She smiled. “I have some water on; would you like a cup of hot chocolate while you warm up?”
“That’d be great!”
“It seems like Renee told me you like marshmallows in your cocoa. Is that right?”
He was surprised she remembered. He’d mentioned it in passing on Christmas day. He wasn’t sure why, but it made him feel good that it mattered enough to her to recall such a trivial detail. “Yes ma’am, that’s right.”
“Oh please, don’t call me ma’am. It makes me feel like an old lady. Call me Mrs. J. All of Renee’s friends call us Mr. and Mrs. J.”
“Okay Mrs. J,” he said with a smile.
She stepped back into the house, only to be replaced less than a minute later by Renee, holding two steaming mugs of cocoa, his complete with miniature marshmallows. She handed him his cup. He put it on the coffee table and, as she was zipping up her coat, he quickly kissed her.
She smiled. “Finally.”
“You kissed me.”
“You never gave me a chance. You always kissed me before I had a chance.”
“Fair enough. I’ll let you take the initiative from now on.”
“No! It’s okay. I don’t mind if you kiss me first. Really.”
“Okay.” She kissed him. This one was more than a quick peck. And she even moved her lips a little. He thought he might literally die from excitement.
But he didn’t. They finished their hot chocolate and chattered excitedly about the evening to come as she pulled on and tied her green rubber boots.
“You have on enough socks?” he asked.
“In case you didn’t notice, these are my dad’s boots and I’m wearing so many layers of socks that they fit.”
Renee took the empty cups back into the house and came back, her mother trailing close behind. She, being a mother, ordered her daughter to be careful and not to break her neck. Renee promised she would come back in one piece as they stepped out into the blustery cold. Happily, the wind had died down as evening approached, so the snow, now small, fine crystals, was coming straight down. Despite the fact that it was barely after 4:00 pm, the low, thick clouds were already snuffing out the weak light of the January sun. After experimenting with walking single file, they decided to each take a tire track so they could walk side by side.