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Steady as the Snow Falls(47)

By:Lindy Zart

There were lights on him, but she could tell it wasn't full dark out,  and she wondered if he'd had the press conference immediately after  dropping her off. Was that the exchange he made earlier in Logansville?  For them to give him time to get her home before agreeing to speak with  them? Her heart squeezed.

The living room was quiet, filled with the sight of Harrison, and when  he spoke, his voice was the only one permitted. Though harsh with  discontent, the warmth of his timbre washed over her, made her scalp  tingle. Jennifer grabbed Beth's clammy hand in hers and held it.

"To be quite frank, in instances like this, I view the media as  savages." A titter of nervous laughter followed that. Harrison's hard  face remained so, his eyes trained forward. Anyone who looked at his  face knew he wasn't joking. "Because of my career, I realize the media  feels as if I should expect to be in the spotlight, that it's part of  the job, in a sense."

His jaw tightened. "Let me be clear about one thing: I don't owe anyone  anything. I realized that soon after I was diagnosed with HIV. What I do  in my personal life is my business, no one else's."

Harrison inhaled, his chest compressing and releasing as he let out the  air. "But it's also wrong of me to hide away like I am ashamed of  myself. I'm not." He stood taller, as if only now realizing he believed  his words.         



"Which is why I've decided to turn this affliction into something  positive. Being ill sucks." The outline of a smile appeared.  Uncomfortable laughter sounded, like people weren't sure if they should  laugh or not. "But living shouldn't. In the near future, I'd like to  talk to communities about necessary precautionary actions they can take  to lessen the chances of contracting and spreading HIV, help others  struggling with the illness. I'd like to be a mentor to those who need  one. But my personal life, and those within it, are to be left alone."

He paused, his eyes narrowing like he might say more, and then he nodded. "Thank you for your time."

The screen went to a reporter. Beth stared at the television monitor,  seeing blurry faces and hearing muted voices. Harrison's speech was less  than two minutes in length. One hundred twenty seconds of words that  took him from a statistic and spun him into a voice, a hero. Harrison  ruled the screen, and seeing that, Beth knew he would excel at being a  spokesperson of HIV and how to prevent contracting it, and also on how  to live with it. Not die. Live.

Beth's body hummed with pride.

"That's a good man there," her dad said, nodding at the television.  Admiration glowed from his face as he watched the clips of Harrison's  life and career displayed across the screen. A narrator highlighted his  accomplishments as the photographs shifted from one to another.

A knock at the front door had Beth frozen. She looked from Jennifer to  her mom to her dad. They looked back expectantly, her dad with his eyes  wide and mouth full of food.

Jennifer gave her a small shove when she continued to sit like an unmovable boulder. "Answer it."

Needing a moment to collect herself, Beth smoothed her green tee shirt  and made her way to the door. She told herself it wouldn't be Harrison,  even as her brain screamed that it was. It had to be. She wanted it to  be. Please.

She opened the door and was met with dark chocolate eyes, and her heart.  Her heart looked back at her. She'd missed it. Beth hadn't known, but  it stopped beating when he left, and only now did she feel it start up  once more. Fast, powerful, pure and sure. Beth swallowed, instinct  telling her to get as close to him as she could as fast as she was able.

His eyebrows were lifted, a question in his eyes. Beth opened her mouth,  and then she shook her head, reaching for him. Hand around the front of  his jacket, she tugged him inside and grabbed his face, smiling all her  love at him. Beth didn't know what to say. No words would suffice.

She settled on, "I'm proud of you."

Harrison opened his mouth to reply, and she kissed him, tasting  something sweet on his lips. His hands slid up the back of her neck,  causing her skin to break out in tiny convulsions, and when his fingers  found her hair, tightened against the locks, her breaths came more  urgent. The kiss lasted a lifetime, and ended prematurely. He clutched  her to him with arms wracked in tremors, his chest shifting against her,  his heart racing for her.

"I love you," rumbled across the crown of her head.

Beth craned her neck to meet Harrison's gaze. It was dark, but full.  Bottomless, but shining. It was so much it appeared to be nothing.  "We're in this together, Harrison. All the way."

He frowned, his expression doubting her words. It passed, and when he nodded, she knew he believed her.

"I wanted it to be my decision, and I resented that that was taken  away." Harrison swallowed and looked down. "I'm worried you think the  only reason I decided to publicly talk about it was because I had no  choice. It makes it seem like I was ashamed of us, that I was trying to  keep you a secret along with everything else." He settled his gaze on  her. "I want you to know that isn't true. You're the best part of my  life, Beth."

"I would never think that, not in a million years. I know your heart."  Beth grabbed his hand and threaded their fingers, bringing his hand  between them and settling her other hand on it, clasping both of her  hands around his. That was them. Two into one.

He studied their joined hands, and his mouth twisted with pain. "Hearing  about Nina-it just made it all more real. I don't feel nothing anymore.  I feel sad, really sad," he said quietly, not lifting his eyes.  Harrison took a deep breath, his frame shuddering around it.

Beth pressed a kiss to his jawline.

He closed his eyes, his lips pressed together. Harrison inhaled again  and looked up. "Thank you for making me see what I couldn't on my own."

"Thank you for seeing me," she whispered back.

Half of his mouth lifted. "You're all I've seen since you showed up at my house."         



A female sigh and a sharp intake of breath told Beth they had an  audience. She'd forgotten her parents and Jennifer were at her house.  She'd forgotten everything but the man next to her. The three of them  were squeezed side by side into the hallway, waiting. Beth dropped his  hand, and Harrison stepped back, looking unsure of himself in the face  of her guests. She reached for the hand she'd abandoned, holding it  tighter than she ever had before.

"Hey. This is Harrison Caldwell." It was a lame introduction, and Beth's  face flamed at the shaky deliverance. She felt Harrison's amused smile  without looking. It was obvious who he was.

"My boyfriend," she added firmly, feeling him tense in surprise beside  her. His hand squeezed hers, and she smiled for him even as she looked  straight ahead.

"That's my mom, Sandy. My dad, Glen. And my best friend, Jennifer."

Her dad worked his jaw, looking like he'd lost his voice but was still  trying to talk. Her mom had the customary suspicious look of a parent  when meeting their child's love interest for the first time. And  Jennifer played with a lock of hair as she studied him, paying special  attention to his hands and feet. Beth rolled her eyes, and Jennifer  grinned.

"Hello," Harrison said politely. "It's nice to meet you."

"You too," her mom replied, the calculating gleam disappearing and  friendliness replacing it. "Are you hungry? We made pizza. Come in, come  in-don't just lollygag in the hallway. Beth, get him some food. We'll  find a movie to watch."

Beth's mom reached for Harrison's hand and pulled him into the living  room. He looked at Beth once over his shoulder, and she smiled  reassuringly at the flash of panic in his eyes. Beth watched her mom  with her boyfriend, warmth crashing over her at Harrison's allowance of  her mom's touch, and her mom doing so without another thought. It wasn't  a big deal unless someone turned it into one. To her mom, he was a  boyfriend. To her dad, he was a football star. To Jennifer, well-

"Nice. Very nice," Jennifer commented. "Think he has any football  friends he can introduce me to? Tall ones, with big hands and feet."

Beth laughed and shook her head. "You'll have to ask him."

"Oh, I will."

As she filled a plate with pizza in the kitchen, Beth heard her dad ask Harrison, "Can I get your autograph?"

CHRISTMAS EVE WAS spent with Beth's family, and Harrison seemed to enjoy  the time with them more than even Beth did. They played board games,  laughing at her dad's star-struck expression each time Harrison  addressed him. Her brothers took turns telling embarrassing stories  about Beth as a child and teen. The highlight of the males' day was when  Harrison agreed to play football outside with them. He was fluid and  graceful, not missing a catch. Spiraling the football with each throw.  Beth watched him, knowing her heart was shining in her eyes and not  caring who saw it.