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Steady as the Snow Falls(49)

By:Lindy Zart



Beth's throat bobbed as she swallowed around the thickness of it.

Mary's eyes filled with tears, making them shine like glittery silver.  "I don't think he could take it if he went back to that sham of an  existence."

"He won't," Beth choked out, hating the thought of losing him to  anything, even his own depressed mind. "I'll be with him." Forever was  left unsaid, but it was implied.

Mary took a full minute to assess her, and then she nodded, redirecting  her attention to the dinnerware. "Good. You're good for him. I can see  he's happy." She took a calming breath and reached for a covered dish.  "I brought homemade orange sweet rolls. Harrison loves them. Would you  like to try one? And maybe we could have some coffee? Do you like  coffee?"

"I love coffee," Beth said with enthusiasm, causing Mary to laugh.

The afternoon turned to dusk, and as Beth got to know Harrison's  parents, she saw where his goodness came from. They were generous, and  kindhearted, and they loved their son. That much was obvious.

After the meal was eaten, and the kitchen put back to order, Harrison's  mom and dad hugged them goodbye and headed back to their home an hour  away. They'd moved nearer to their son after he'd relocated here, but  far enough away that he didn't feel smothered. His mom told Beth over  dessert that they wanted him to have his own life, but they wanted to be  close enough to help out when he needed it. Beth understood, and her  heart made room for Harrison's parents.

With only the glow of the Christmas lights to guide her after shutting  down the laptop in the reading room, Beth walked into the foyer. She  reached around the back of the tree, the fake needles prickling her arms  as she moved, and scooped up the long envelope that was hiding behind  it. Harrison was reading his second story of hers in the bedroom, and  with her feet softly padding along the cool hardwood floor, Beth set out  for that room.

A lamp offered the only light, and it cast the room in romantic  fuzziness. Harrison was stretched out on the bed, looking sleek and  tawny, like a resting tiger. At the sound of her footsteps, he set down  the paper on the bed beside him and turned his head toward the doorway.

"Hi," she said, smiling.         

     



 

"Hi." He sat up and patted the spot next to him. His hair was  disheveled, and the sight of it made her want to run her fingers through  it and mess it up more. "Done writing?"

"Yeah, sorry. I just-I had to get something down before I forgot."

He was shaking his head long before she stopped talking. "Don't apologize. Just come here."

Beth climbed up beside him, resting her back against his chest. At his  nearness, her pulse spiraled down a dizzying track in response. She  breathed in the scent of his skin, thinking if they could never have any  more than this, she would be content. Harrison wrapped one arm around  her and set his chin on the top of her head. Beth raised her arm and  tapped him on the forehead with the slim white envelope.

"This is for you. It's nothing, really, but it is symbolic," she said  vaguely, smiling encouragingly when he shifted around and frowned at  her.

Harrison went to his stomach on the bed with his arms dangling over the  edge, fingering the white parchment. Eyes trained down. Not talking.  Nothing but his fingers moving. Impatient, Beth situated herself in a  similar pose and tried not to rip the envelope from his hands to open it  herself. When she was about to say something, Harrison carefully opened  the envelope, removing the contents.

His body went still, but she could tell from his profile that his eyes  skimmed over the lettering again and again. "What is this?"

"It's a brochure."

"I see that," he said evenly. "Why are you giving it to me?"

Beth moved to the floor and looked at Harrison, their eyes level with  one another if he ever looked up. When it was clear that was not going  to happen, Beth gently butted her head to his. He shifted his eyes to  hers, and she smiled. "Because as soon as the weather is warm enough,  you and I are going to hike the Appalachian Trail."

Harrison blinked at her, looked down. Looked up. Blinked some more. "How did you even know?" he asked in a low voice.

"I found an ancient article on you in one of my dad's old sports  magazines. You said that hiking it was one of your dreams. You should  get your dreams too, Harrison."

"No one-I mean, I didn't-I gave up on thinking I could ever do this." He took in a ragged breath of air. "You'll do it with me?"

Beth kissed his warm forehead, pushing hair back from his brow. "Of course. We're a team, remember?"

Harrison scooted from the bed and drew her into his arms and against his  chest. "Thank you. I missed out on a lot of things I didn't have to."  He went still, his held breath telling her there was something he was  hesitant to say. "Promise me, Beth, that if this doesn't happen, you'll  do something equally as great, even if you have to do it alone."

She dropped her eyes to her hands. "It will happen, Harrison."

"But if it doesn't," he insisted.

"Something great like what?" Beth asked in a voice that cracked.

"I don't know. You'll go on adventures, and write about them, and you'll dance. You'll be happy."

Throat thick, Beth nodded jerkily. "I promise."

He released her, a mischievous gleam to his eyes smoothing away the clouds. "I got you something too. Something small."

Harrison got up and stretched, the shirt lifting and exposing his torso.  Beth studied the expanse of flesh, wanting her fingers and lips to  replace her eyes. With a pop in his knees, he walked across the room to  the closet, pulling a small box down from the shelf. He offered it to  her as he knelt before her, his dark eyes dancing with light.

Beth smiled as she turned the box upside down and gently shook it.  Laughing at the scowl Harrison gave her, she said, "I hope it isn't  breakable."

"Kick it around a few times and see," he replied dryly.

She grinned and popped open the top, taking out box-shaped Styrofoam.  Cringing at the sound of it shifting and contorting as she worked, Beth  maneuvered the protective layer from around whatever was inside it and  was rewarded with a white coffee mug with black lettering that read: I  am Writer. Hear me type. She snorted and fondly touched the cup.

"I love it," she told Harrison, lifting her eyes to his. "Thank you."

His eyes darkened to ebony, and he outstretched a hand. "Beth."

"Yes?"

"It's later."





EPILOGUE





WEEKS TURNED INTO one month, and then another. On and on it went, until  it was spring, and the snow melted, bringing new life to the earth. Why  couldn't it bring new life to Harrison? That was Beth's first thought,  and she knew Harrison would resent it, tell her everything had its time,  and other stuff she knew but didn't want to hear.         

     



 

Beth practically lived with Harrison, only going home when she had to.  If it came to it, and every day she prayed it did not, she would be with  Harrison until she could no longer do so, and then she would finally  make a town other than Crystal Lake, Minnesota, her home. Go on  adventures, write about them, dance. Be happy.

She vowed it to Harrison, and he vowed to stay with her.

Harrison visited a handful of schools, and each time he did, he left  with straighter shoulders, a burning light in his eyes. He had purpose,  and it draped over him like a well-fit suit-or cape. To her, he was a  conqueror. Beth went with him, at first staying in the background.  Eventually, after urging from Harrison, she stood with him, talking  about her experience as an HIV-negative person involved with an  HIV-positive person.

She began a website, sharing her thoughts and stories, and soon, she was  asked to write articles for papers, and then magazines. Beth talked of  the biases she once had, and how she overcame them. She talked of  ignorance, and how that hurt the uneducated person more than anyone  else. She talked of how having awareness was a choice more people should  make.

Her dream of writing professionally happened, and it happened in a way she never would have believed.

And she loved Harrison-every day, every night, she loved him.

Every day he walked with a straight back and his head held high.

Every night his shoulders drooped, and fatigue ringed his eyes.

And she loved him.

Every day.

Every night.

It was after nine in the evening on a Saturday night when she typed the  last word of a story she never wanted to end. In a way, it wouldn't. The  story would live in her, in her thoughts, and her smile, and her words.  And it would always live inside the pages.

Alone in the reading room, Beth printed off the three hundred pages of  her thoughts and feelings, all for Harrison Caldwell. There were more,  so many more she didn't know how to say. Other than the joy she received  in creating, there would be no payment for this. Tearing up the checks  he'd given her, Beth had told Harrison the money he'd meant to pay her  for the book would be better used for another purpose. He told her to  pick something, and she did. AVERT, one of the first HIV and AIDS based  charities, received a large donation from Harrison Caldwell, in Beth  Lambert's name.

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