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Steady as the Snow Falls(46)

By:Lindy Zart



They stared at each other, looking at ghosts from another time, a  different set of people. Words seemed irrelevant, but so did the  silence. He watched her, his eyes drifting over her features like he was  saying a final, quiet farewell. They would see each around town. They  might even talk once in a while. But Ozzy and Beth as a couple were  done. They would not be again. Her heart was no longer his to bruise, to  pick up only to put down.

She swallowed, opened her mouth, lingering and not sure why.

"Don't say anything else." A sheen of dampness covered his golden eyes,  made them shine like broken gold. He swallowed and looked down. "I'm  sorry I'm such an asshole. Be happy, Beth."

Friends, lovers, enemies, and now, nothing. It was funny how one person  could be so many different things to another. Funnier still how they  could go from everything to nothing. Her thoughts turned to Harrison as  she left Ozzy's. And they could go from nothing to everything too.





THIRTEEN





THERE WAS A small support group waiting on Beth's lawn as she parked the  Blazer near the curb. Her eyes swept over the trio huddled under the  glow of the Christmas lights, looking for a fourth person who was not  there. She turned the key, and the engine went quiet. Beth inhaled a  breath of calm, told herself to bottle it. Her mom reached her before  she fully got out of the vehicle, pulling her out and into a hug. A  layer of icicles covering Beth's skin melted in her mom's arms.         

     



 

"Well," she said as she straightened, staring into her daughter's eyes. "That explains a lot of things."

Beth wasn't sure if she was going to laugh or cry. She was grateful for  her mom's undisputed acceptance. Even though the day was a mess, in a  way, she was glad. The truth was out, and the relief of it made her legs  weak. No more secrets, no more hiding. She hoped once Harrison had a  chance to think things through, he would agree.

"Harrison Caldwell," her dad said, awe deepening his voice. Gray-haired  and short, Glen Lambert was a soft-spoken man who loved all sports and  his family-possibly in that order.

He drew Beth into an absent hug, bringing the scent of his peppery  cologne with him as he placed a kiss on her forehead and patted her  back. Not much taller than Beth, he craned his neck back to meet her  eyes. "You know he used to play football, right?"

She laughed softly, meeting Jennifer's eyes over her dad's shoulder.  Jennifer looked ready to burst with whatever she was keeping inside.  "Yes. I am aware."

"My daughter's dating Harrison Caldwell. And he lives here. Here, in  Crystal Lake, Minnesota." Her dad looked shell-shocked that she not only  knew who Harrison Caldwell was, but that she knew him. He shook his  head and stepped away. "This is amazing," he said to himself.

"It's a little more than that, Glen," his wife told him, motioning  toward the house. "Can we go inside before my fingers decide I don't  need them anymore and decide to freeze right off?"

Beth's eyes stung. Not a single word from either of her parents about  the disease running rampant through Harrison's body. Not a single look,  pitying or otherwise, to give Beth any reason to think they saw him as  anything other than a man their daughter had chosen to be with.

"I brought pizzas." Jennifer nodded to the garage door where two frozen  pizzas sat on the ground beside it. "Do you want to get the oven  preheated, Sandy? We'll be right in."

Her mom nodded, and with her husband's arm in one hand and the pizzas in  the other, she waited until Beth unlocked the door to sweep inside,  firmly shutting it behind them after telling them to not stay out in the  cold too long.

Beth jiggled her keys, pocketed them, and looked at her friend.  Jennifer's blonde hair glowed in the dark, her eyes large and sparkling  as they met Beth's. Jennifer embraced Beth hard, squeezing all of her  love for Beth into the hug. Beth returned it, glad she had such good  people in her life.

"I just want to know one thing," Jennifer began as she let go, sweeping wayward strands of jagged hair from her eyes.

She felt her lips curve. "What's that?"

"He has huge hands and feet." She paused, locking Beth in place with her gaze. "Huge."

Beth laughed. "Yes. He does. What did you want to know?"

Jennifer's eyes danced. "That was it. I just needed verbal confirmation."

"Pervert," she teased.

Her friend shrugged. "I need to know everything, but when you're ready. Not now, but soon. Very soon."

She smiled faintly and looked at the dark house across the street,  crossing her arms and shuffling her feet to keep warm. Patricia Mumm, a  retired piano teacher, lived there. She went to bed as the sun went  down, and she got out of bed as it came up. Never seeing the moon, never  knowing the wonder of the night.

Beth let her head fall back, stared at the circular nightlight in the  sky. It was full, whitish yellow, so big, so far away. She used to tell  her dreams to the moon. She'd never known this dream, the one that  involved Harrison, and it was one of the most cherished. Life never went  as she planned, but Beth had to appreciate that right now. If it had,  she'd be a different person, living a different life, and not the one  she should be. She would be like her neighbor, stuck inside a dark house  with dreamless, moonless sleep.

"You love him."

Beth glanced at Jennifer, caught the knowing look. "I love him," she agreed.

"That's all that matters, Beth. This is a fucked up world. If you can  find someone good to love, and they love you back, fuck everything else.  Love them, let them love you."

Neither spoke for a time, letting the night wrap around them and their thoughts.

She took a breath into her lungs, slowly let it out. "Have you ever felt  something, and you couldn't really explain how it happened or why, but  it just felt so right?"

"Yeah. I think so."

"That's how I feel when I'm with Harrison. Everything makes sense when I'm around him, even the things I don't understand."         

     



 

Jennifer kicked a patch of snow, bouncing on the heels of her snow boots. "Then why aren't you with him now?"

Beth blinked her eyes, a vague ache throbbing through her heart. "He left. He said he would be back."

She set her arm around Beth's shoulders and turned them toward the door.  "Then he will be. Can we go inside now? My nose is numb."

Beth wasn't aware of how cold she was until she stepped into the warmth  of the house and her skin began to thaw. She wiggled her frozen toes and  rubbed her icicle hands on her jeans. The low hum of the television  reached her ears and she spied her dad reclined in an overstuffed chair  across the living room. The herb and garlic scent of melted cheese and  red sauce hit her senses and Beth's stomach growled with hunger.

Her phone vibrated, and Beth fumbled in her coat pocket for it, anxious  to see if it was Harrison. Her shoulders slumped as she read the name  and number. It was her brother Jake. "Hey, Jake."

"Hey, you. I didn't realize my sister was famous."

Beth cringed and hung up her jacket. She walked into the kitchen where  Jennifer and her mom were getting out plates and glasses. "She's not.  Unless you count possible infamy."

"Close enough. How are you doing? Are you okay?"

"I'm okay," she told him, sitting down at the table. Beth immediately  stood, needing movement. She walked the length of the kitchen, turned,  and walked back.

"Okay. Good." Relief could be heard in his voice. "So … you think Harrison would ever want to throw a football around with me?"

Beth smiled as she heard Jake's wife scold him in the background.

"I mean … never mind. Sorry. You're tough. Hang in there. See you at Christmas."

They said goodbye, her phone alerting her to another incoming call.

Benny didn't give her a chance to say hello. "You picked a motherlode of a secret to harbor, didn't you?"

Beth laughed quietly and pushed hair behind her ears. Jennifer offered a  plate with pizza on it, and she shook her head, turning from her  friend's narrow-eyed look. "You could say that."

"You know what is important? If you're happy. Are you happy?"

"I'm happy," she said, her words clear and steady. Beth looked up and  found her mom's eyes on her. Her eyes softened, and she turned back to  the stove where she was dishing pizza onto plates.

"Turn on the news."

"What?" Beth frowned, her eyes shooting to the living room.

"Turn on the news," Benny repeated. "We'll talk soon."

"What was that all about?" her mom asked, walking toward the living room with a plate of pizza in each hand.

"Benny said to turn on the news," she told her, following with her pulse sprinting ahead of her.

"Glen."

"It's already on," he replied.

An image of Harrison was on the screen, determined stiffness to his jaw,  eyes of impenetrable black aimed at the monitor. Beth recognized the  pretty green siding of his house behind him. He looked powerful,  invincible. An invisible breeze fluttered the longer locks of his hair  and her fingers itched to smooth it from his face. She sank to the couch  when her legs refused to hold her up any longer.

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