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Steady as the Snow Falls(12)

By:Lindy Zart

Harrison glanced over his shoulder at her, his dark expression turning  to amusement when he took in her snow-caked form. His gaze swept up and  down the length of her, one corner of his mouth lifting. The humor she  caught a glimpse of was refreshing. Dizzying. "Or to frolic in the  snow."

"I fell," she admitted sullenly. "Three times. And I lost one of my  boots. I now have a foot, frozen by a layer of snow, inside my boot. I  can't feel it anymore."

"Are you thinking amputation?" he asked, his head tilted thoughtfully.

"Did you just make a joke?" Beth quietly mocked.

He faced forward without comment, his arms rigid at his sides, and took  in the view. Beth sighed, deciding they weren't quite to the teasing  stage yet, if they ever would get there. She wanted to ask him if he was  feeling okay. Even as he stood straight, the air around him crackling  with life, it was clear he was fatigued, shadows under his eyes and all  the color drained from his lips. She knew better than to ask it, biting  her tongue when it became hard to keep the questions unspoken.

He was standing. She focused on that.

When the quiet got to be too much, Beth followed Harrison's gaze, going  still as awe washed over her in tones of pink and blue and yellow,  reminiscent of the scene before her. Down the hill was a forest of trees  surrounded by water. The trees were silhouettes, dark and spindly  against the snow, mirrored back from the dark waters below. A thin layer  of ice covered parts of it, adding character. It was like looking at an  image that couldn't be real but was, nature twisted in blackness and  beauty. She glanced at Harrison, thinking of what life and death had  decided for him, and seeing similarities between him and earthen artwork  they studied.         



"I didn't realize there was a lake back here."

"It's the main reason I bought the house, and the land. You should see  it in the spring, when the ice and snow are melting." Harrison's voice  went soft, turned lyrical. "It is life and loss, meshed together in  green and brown. Like a goodbye, and a hello. And the smell-everything  is fresh and new." He inhaled as if he was experiencing it. "It reminds  me that I am nothing, and I like that."

He looked at her, a slash of emotion before blankness, and then he  stared ahead. "I don't matter. I'll live, and I'll die, and the world  around me will continue. Knowing my place, my irrelevance-it frees me."

Beth choked as she inhaled. She'd felt those words. She could see the  seasons clashing, competing for dominance. All worthy, none relenting. A  bitter fight until the water overtook the snow, or the leaves refused  to not flourish. Until all the elements melded into one another and  merged, life and death and loss and hope, together, as one.

She could hear his words resonant through her being, promises and  confessions whispered to her soul. I am much more than you see, they  said. I am much more than you know. Dare to uncover all that I am. They  were Harrison's words, but they didn't come from his mouth. They came  from his heart, from his center. The part of him untouched by the  tragedy inflicting his body and mind, that innocent part of a person  that remained unscathed, no matter what happened to the shell. The part  that could see beauty even as an ugliness ate away at them.

"What did you want to be when you grew up?" It was a generic question,  asked more times by society than should be allowed. Beth didn't expect  an answer, her blue eyes trained on the horizon. It would be dark soon,  the nights coming earlier with winter, and it would be time for her to  go. She wasn't ready to go.

"An astronaut."

Beth turned to Harrison. "And why did that change?"

He shrugged, his head angled down. "It didn't seem possible, and my dad  was big into sports. He had me play anything I could, as early as I was  able. Football stuck with me. I liked football. That seemed possible."

"You were a linebacker, right?"

His answer was softly delivered. "Yeah."

Beth shifted her feet. The only details she knew about the sport were  the ones she's found online, and she was aware her knowledge was less  than lacking. She felt silly talking about things she didn't understand,  but it was better than awkward silence. Maybe-maybe it was better than  awkward silence.

"Chicago Bears?" When he didn't reply, she added, "You went to the Super Bowl a few times, even won one. That's impressive."

In a sharp tone, he told her, "I don't want to talk about it."

Harrison removed the black stocking cap from his head, revealing rumpled  red waves. He seemed agitated, and she realized she'd pushed too hard,  too soon. Beth stared at the strands of his hair, wondering at their  texture. Coarse silk, that's how she imagined them to feel. Her stomach  swirled as she pictured her hand lifting to find out.

"Okay." Beth blinked, the acidity of his voice stinging her skin. "Sorry."

He rubbed a hand against his head before resituating the hat. He sighed  and glanced at her. "What about you? What did you want to be?"

She shrugged, a self-conscious smile hovering on her lips. "I wanted to be a writer."

Harrison frowned at her. "Always?"

"Always." Her smile grew. "Of course, I thought I'd write one book and become famous, all by the age of twenty-two."

"Why twenty-two?"

"I have no idea." She laughed softly, feeling him go still beside her.  "I must have liked the number. Or I thought I'd be mature and  responsible by then. Shows what I knew."

"You have a nice laugh," he said in a low voice, and it was her turn to go motionless.

She raised her eyes to his. They were dark, and deep, and said so many  things. The snow melted, the sun faded, the cold never existed-all while  she looked into Harrison's eyes. Time was a lock, but it was also a  key. She understood that as they studied one another, and time held  still. Beth swore she caught a shadow of fear, outlined in the furrow of  his eyebrows, in the speed of his pulse at the base of his neck. Fear  or something else.

"I'd like to hear your laugh," she said in a voice that wobbled.

He jerked his head to the side as if to clear it, breaking the stare. "How old are you?"

Beth shot him a look, her pulse racing and her throat tight. She strove  for calm as she replied, "What, all your detective work and you don't  even know my age?"         



Two red splotches appeared on his cheeks and he turned his head away from her view.

"I'm twenty-six," she answered, her tone quiet.

"And have you written a book?"

Beth's face heated up, at odds with her cold cheeks, and it caused a  burning sensation. "One or two. Nothing good," she said vaguely, looking  down.

She studied the thick purple laces of her black boots. Her toes were  turning into icicles. Beth hoped he wouldn't ask any more about her  previous book endeavors. Writing was about baring her soul, and when  others couldn't see how much of her essence was in her words, it stung.  She'd asked Ozzy to read pieces of her work, and he'd always had an  excuse. The one time he'd agreed, he'd acted like it was an  inconvenience, and his input consisted of a shrug. Beth kept her  expectations low. There were fewer chances of being disappointed that  way.

"How do you know if your work is good or not?" Harrison questioned.

Snorting, she shoved her hands in the pockets of her jacket and bounced  on the balls of her feet, the cold stripping away the layers of her  clothes to pierce her skin. She felt naked, as if no barrier at all  stood between her and winter. "I know."

A pause, a glance. "Why did you come up here?"

"Why did you?" Beth retorted.

"Fresh air is good for you."

"So is being warm."

He faced her, tall enough to envelop her whole. His eyes were brighter  surrounded by the paleness of his skin and the white world around them.  Dark chocolate, brimming with unsaid ideas and uncertainties. "Did you  stay up all night Googling me?"

Beth wanted to deny it, but she wasn't good at lying, and she didn't  like it. She nodded, careful to keep from looking directly at him.

"Find out anything interesting? Other than the fact that I was a linebacker for the Bears and I'm sick," he specified.

It felt like a trap. He was luring her in only to snap at her if she  prodded too much. Beth shook her head. She wasn't falling for it. The  questions stayed inside her head, tormenting her. What happened to Nina,  his girlfriend of six years? Did she go, or did he? What about his  parents? He was cut off from everything, everyone. Everyone but her.  That detail shouldn't seem noteworthy to her, but it was.

"How … " Beth scowled at her timidity around him. It faded at times, but  it always came back. Her mettle ran in the opposite direction when she  was in Harrison's company. Straightening her shoulders, she started  over. "How does your identity stay hidden? What do you do for groceries  and other things you need? You completely stay out of Crystal Lake? I  don't understand how you can live out here without someone knowing  you're here."