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Steady as the Snow Falls(43)

By:Lindy Zart

She placed her palm to the sharp bone of his cheek, and smiled. "I would love that. I want to spend all the holidays with you."

He let out a breath, shadows she hadn't noticed were there dispelling  from his frame. "This is … this is different for me. I don't want to  assume anything. You have to understand that I didn't see myself in any  kind of relationship, ever again. I had everything mapped out. And then  you showed up, eight minutes late, and destroyed all of my plans."

"They were terrible plans."

Half of Harrison's mouth hitched up.

"And … " Beth grabbed his large hand. "Technically, I was at your house on time."

"You were right on time, Beth, eight minutes late and all."

With the sun to Harrison's back, it haloed him, turned his hair to fire  and added a shimmer to his porcelain skin. Looking at him made her heart  pound in a way it only did for him. It made her want his bare skin on  hers. Beth was a mess, and it was all because of Harrison, and it was  the best kind of mess. He made her body hum and her mind work in triple  time and her soul speak.

Her mom had commented on it, saying she looked happier than she had in  years. Jennifer had asked her who she was sleeping with. Beth had  smiled, not answering.

"What are you thinking?" Harrison asked, his head cocked as his eyes drilled into hers in a way that made her pulse escalate.

"I'm thinking I need coffee." And your mouth and hands on my body. But first-coffee.

People passed by, and they were inconsequential. Unnoticeable. It was  Harrison with his dark chocolate eyes that could see all of her dreams  and demanded her to reach them. Beth opened her mouth to say something,  and paused. She glanced behind her, a mark on her back saying eyes were  there, staring into her, but Beth saw nothing, no one. She shook off the  unease and smiled at Harrison, pulling him into the coffee shop that  also had a small supply of unique gifts available for purchase.

A bell above the door signaled their entrance. Beth and her mom liked to  stop in for coffee whenever they were in Logansville, which wasn't more  than a half-dozen times a year. The room was divided in half, the left  part set up as a quaint coffee shop and the other part filled with  books, knickknacks, tee shirts, purses, and other goods. What could be  seen of the walls showed that they were pale yellow in color.

Not a lot of light shone through the row of small windows that lined the  tops of two walls, making it darker in the building. The floor creaked  as they walked. A robust scent of coffee wrapped around them and Beth  sighed with bliss, briefly closing her eyes. When she opened them,  Harrison was there, studying her with rapt attention. He looked at her  like he wasn't sure what he was looking at, but whatever it was, he  liked looking at it.

She self-consciously rubbed her nose and shifted her feet. "What? What is it?"

He wordlessly pulled her behind a rack of books, tugged off her stocking  cap, and with his cold fingers framing her face, Harrison kissed her.  Beth's body immediately responded, sparked to life with the fire of his  touch. Her thoughts mirrored her heartbeat, proclaiming: I love you I  love you I love you I love you. Beth didn't allow sadness into their  union    . Like Harrison said, it was one day at a time. Today was only  one day, one good day.

Someone nearby cleared their throat, and they broke away. With stars in  her eyes, Beth smiled at Harrison. He grinned back, looking younger than  his years. Looking free of his worries and fears. She didn't know how  her love alone wouldn't be enough to keep him with her until her last  breath was taken. Beth almost thought it could.

The woman cleared her throat again. "Would you like to try a latte sample? It's pumpkin spice."

Beth looked around Harrison, meeting the amused eyes of Midge, the owner  of Coffee and Trinkets. She was shorter than Beth and about thirty  years older, on the heavy side, and whenever Beth had seen her, she was  in a dress. Today it was a long-sleeved purple one with white snowflakes  along the hem. The dark-haired woman held out a small Styrofoam cup to  Beth and Harrison, who each took it with a thank you.

They spent the next hour drinking cups of coffee as they scanned the  display of items for sale. Beth bought a shirt that read ‘No talkie  before coffee' for her dad and an ornament in the shape of a desktop  computer for her brother Jake. Harrison procured a stack of books and  journals. They thanked Midge and stepped outside.         



She felt the shift in the atmosphere as soon as they left the shop.

Something was wrong, different. The air was energized, and it was coming  from the group of people standing on the corner next to them. It wasn't  a pleasant sensation. It felt like nails being dragged down her skin.  Beth looked at Harrison, watched the color drain from his face, how all  the muscles and bones of his face went sharper, vengeful. Tight-lipped,  his eyes blazed with black fire.

"What's going on?" she stupidly asked, even though it was obvious.

"They know who I am." His head jerked once toward the mass of suited men and women.

"How?" It was a whisper, and she wasn't sure Harrison even heard her.

Soon they were surrounded by people. Eager, hungry people. People who  didn't see Harrison Caldwell as a person, but as a story. Harrison's  hand tightened on hers and he moved in front of her, as if to keep her  safe. It was too late. She knew that as soon as she caught sight of the  news van parked along the street across from where they stood. His body  was taut next to her, living armor against a horde of teeth and eyes,  and voices, so many voices.

The coldness in the air sank into Beth, froze her. She was numb, unmoving. Stunned.

"Harrison," she said in a choked voice, clutching his arm.

Harrison partially turned and spoke closer to her ear. "It's okay, Beth. Don't say anything."

They were swarmed, people thrusting microphones toward Harrison and voices shouting over others.

"Mr. Caldwell, is this your first public appearance since being diagnosed with HIV?"

"What's it like to live with HIV?"

"Is there a chance you'll come out of retirement?"

"Harrison, is this your girlfriend?"

"How does having HIV affect intimacy with one another?"

"Mr. Caldwell, have you made Logansville, Minnesota your home?"

"Were you aware that Nina Hollister, the woman from whom you contracted  the disease, died less than a week ago? How does that make you feel?  Does that make you more worried over your own health?"

Harrison stopped breathing. The air left his lungs, but did not return.  He turned to stone. The fingers around her hand went limp. Beth felt him  sway, and she set her arm around his waist, anchoring him to her,  holding him up if she had to.

"Harrison," she whispered against his arm. "We have to go. Let's go."

"What does your girlfriend think of the fact that you're putting her at risk?"

"What's in the future for you, Harrison?"

"Come on, man, you've been hiding away for years. Give us something," an especially belligerent reporter demanded.

They were turning something good into something ugly. Each question  chipped away at her, each one brought her pain, but it was all for  Harrison. They were hurting him. Beating him down. Morphing him into  something bad instead of the man he was. She wanted to scream at them to  shut up, she wanted to clap her hands over Harrison's ears so he  couldn't hear them.

He straightened and looked at her. There was nothing on his face. It was  empty. Empty face, empty mouth, empty eyes. It was like staring into a  void. "Go to the truck, Beth. I'll come as soon as I can."

"No." She shook her head, her jaw taut with resolution. "I'm not leaving you. I refuse."

"Go to the truck." He pressed the keys into her palm. "Please. For me. I'll be there shortly."

She stared into his eyes. They were the mountains, and the valleys, the  earth, and the sky. They were everything in the world that meant  anything, and they were crying. Bleeding black. Sobbing sorrow. Fading  into nothingness. Beth's body trembled and she turned her gaze to the  swarm of vipers, hating them all, wanting them all to be crushed with  guilt for what they were doing to this man. He was better than them,  better than all of them.

Beth focused on Harrison, and spoke clearly. Firmly. "I love you."

Emotion flickered in his eyes, brought a twitch of life to his visage. Harrison's face softened. He nodded, once.

When she broke away from him and headed in the direction of his truck, a  newscaster made a beeline for her. Harrison blocked him, stating,  "Follow her and things are going to go bad for you real quick."

Beth saw the man's face blanch before she turned the corner and lost  sight of them. She tried to walk fast, but her legs were leaden.  Hurrying made time slow. What was happening? What were they saying to  him? What was he saying back? What was he feeling? Her hands were fisted  tight, her fingernails abrading the flesh of her palms.