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Steady as the Snow Falls(6)

By:Lindy Zart



It was dark out, the streetlamps with their holiday wreaths adding light  to the cold winter setting. A smattering of houses glowed with outdoor  lighting from a porch or garage. She parked near her unlit house, not  wanting to waste time shoveling the driveway even as she knew it was  necessary. She wanted to research, and write. Because of that, Beth did a  sloppy job of shoveling, her arms aching and her skin damp inside the  coat and gloves.

The call to find out details on Harrison was becoming irresistible, and  she felt like one of the town's nosy residents in her quest to uncover  all she could on him.

The growing roar of a diesel truck alerted her to a visitor, and with a  groan, Beth set down the shovel and leaned against the handle, waiting.  She watched as Ozzy jumped from the truck and sauntered over to her. A  glance here, a stare there, his eyes took in the scene before landing  and staying on her. His light brown hair was eternally in need of a trim  and a brush, his wiry build deceptive to the strength he had. He wore  blue jeans and a jean jacket most days, and on anyone else, it would  seem outdated, but not on him. Ozzy owned that look. It was his.

Michael Oswald Peck, or Ozzy, as he went by, was the first boy Beth  kissed at the age of nine, the first boy to hold her hand, the first and  only boy she told she loved, and the first boy to intimately know her  body. Both twenty-six, they had been a large part of each other's lives  for the past twenty of those twenty-six years. His mark on her life was  inescapable, even when she prayed for blankness. They had a history, no  matter where they were in their lives, or what came between them-and a  lot had.

Their history was thick, tangible. Constricting at times.

"Hey."

"Hey," she faintly replied.

"Why didn't you tell me you were on your way home? I would have shoveled  before you got back." Ozzy's brusque words were sweetened by a blinding  smile and a sweep of golden eyes.

"Why didn't you just shovel then? Why wait until I'm home?" Beth allowed  him to take the shovel from her, her tone belligerent. Ozzy was a lot  of talk and not as much action. "I'm done now."         

     



 

"You call this hack job shoveling? Watch the master." Ozzy shrugged his  shoulders and scraped the blade along the cement, whistling a Christmas  song. Ignoring her questions.

"You know I wouldn't have told you I was on my way home." Her voice was  low, but he caught the words, pausing to better listen. "You aren't  obligated to know when I'm home or not. We are not together."

It wasn't hard to figure out how he'd known-Ozzy's brother lived across  the street and two houses down. There wasn't much not known by others in  Crystal Lake. How did Harrison Caldwell continue to remain elusive to  the masses? How did he get his groceries? Where did he get his hair cut?  What about clothes? So many questions. Too many questions.

"How was your first day at the new job?"

Ozzy, along with being a self-proclaimed shoveling master, was a master  of delusions. If he didn't like something he heard, he pretended it  wasn't said. If he didn't want something to be a certain way, to him it  wasn't. At the moment, he wanted Beth and him to be together. At the  moment, they were not. Her choice, not his, which added extra chafing to  his pride.

"It was work. Work is work." She hoped her tone didn't give anything  away, hint at the energy she couldn't tramp completely from her voice.

He gave her a wounded look. "I can't believe you're actually following  your dreams instead of wasting your talent in the bar like the rest of  us. Where are your priorities?"

Beth's lips twitched and formed into a small smile. "I know, I really  should work on my selfishness. How dare I want to have a career?"

"Right? That's what I'm saying. The plan was to get married and travel the world, live on love."

"One of us had to be sensible."

They joked about it, but there was an edge to the interaction. A glint  was in his eyes even though his lips curved up; there was stiffness to  Beth's voice even though she tried to hide it behind layers of  friendliness. They both fell short.

Ozzy finished clearing off the short driveway and rested the shovel  against the side of the garage. He turned and strode back to Beth,  tapping out a beat on his thigh with his fingertips. There was a song in  his head at all times. Even when Beth had wanted him to be lost in her,  part of him wasn't hers to have, possessed by the songs in his head and  heart. Music lived in Ozzy. He had a gifted singing voice, but he  lacked ambition. His gift remained undiscovered because he thought the  world should come to him. Beth knew that wasn't how it worked.

Dreams had to be chased, or they were never caught.

He stopped when only inches separated them, quietly perusing her  features, searching, always searching. His animal eyes stole her air  with that serene smolder. It was the kind of look that could steadily,  endlessly burn until there was nothing left of its target.

"How did it go, really?"

Beth rolled her shoulders under his scrutiny, wishing away the  familiarity that didn't seem to have a place to go. "It went okay."

"Yeah?" He touched a lock of hair near her shoulder. "Are you sure?"

She shrugged, stepping out of his reach so she didn't fall into it. His  eyes told lies, his mouth told more. "There were hiccups, but that's  normal, being a first day and all. I'm sure it'll get better." She  smiled, but she feared it wasn't convincing.

The only information Beth had divulged about her upcoming job was that  she was hired to write a biography of someone not well known but who had  money. It was assumed her employer was old. It was assumed he was a  she. It was assumed they were in a different town.

Beth never said anything either way, because she hadn't even known who  she was working for. And after knowing, she still wouldn't say anything,  because she'd promised, with a contract, with her words. She wasn't  naïve-she knew there was a good chance the truth would come out at some  point, but it wouldn't be because of her.

He rubbed the small of his back and looked to the side. "You know, you  didn't have to get another job so you had less time to spare for the  bar." Ozzy dropped his hand and turned to her.

"Yes," she said evenly, her eyes unwavering from his. "I did."

With his mouth set in a hard line, he shook his head. "What did you do?  Drink tea and reminisce about their younger days?" Ozzy smiled, but it  was fake.

"Something like that." Beth put a hand in her coat pocket and jangled  her keys, wanting to grab her laptop case and run to the warmth and  solitude of her home. The cool air froze her lungs as she inhaled,  showed in a visible puff of white air as she exhaled. "It's been a long  afternoon, and I'm tired. I think I'm going to make it an early night.  So … I'll see you around."         

     



 

"Oh." Ozzy's face fell, his charismatic looks even more interesting when  there was a crease of dissatisfaction between his eyebrows. "I wanted  to buy you a drink at The Lucky Coin, celebrate your new job. As  friends, of course." He smiled when he said it, but it was small and  didn't touch his eyes.

"You don't pay for your drinks at the bar," she pointed out.

"I've worked there since I was sixteen. They should pay me to drink their drinks."

"Don't they?" Beth laughed when his eyes narrowed.

Ozzy lifted his hands, his eyes entreating, and hopped back a step. "So … no? Yes?"

Saying yes to him felt wrong, but so did saying no. "Just as friends?"

"Yeah. Of course." He put his hands in his pockets and waited, a hopeful lift to his eyebrows.

"And just one drink?"

"Just one drink. Unless you want more." Ozzy's full lips curved up on one side.

"Um … " Beth looked behind her to the beacon of her house, and then looked  at the Blazer. Her laptop waited inside its case on the front seat of  the vehicle, beckoning her forth. All she really wanted to do was put on  pajamas, snuggle under a blanket with a cup of coffee, and spend the  night with her computer. Learning all she could about Harrison Caldwell.

Sighing, she tugged the stocking cap lower to her head. "Okay. Just one. Let me put my stuff inside quick."

"I'll be right here," he called after her. "Waiting. In the cold. Being cold."

Beth rolled her eyes. "Come on in, Ozzy."

He jogged past, smacking a kiss on her cold cheek. "I knew you still loved me."

She stiffened at the kiss and his words, and then moved quickly. She  grabbed her laptop case and followed him inside. It had never been about  whether or not Beth loved Ozzy. It had been about how many times, and  in how many different ways, she would allow her heart to be broken. It  always came back to one word: endless. Endless ways with him.





OZZY THRUMMED HIS fingers on the tabletop, his eyes taking in the scene  around them before coming back to Beth. "When I said a drink, I was  thinking of something more, I don't know, alcoholic."

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