As the Snow Falls
Alex Whitehall © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Above, the gray sky blurred, an out-of-focus television that he couldn’t reach to change the channel. He breathed carefully—shallow and through his nose—so he could watch as the first snowflakes tumbled down. It was hard to track them, white on a pale-gray background, but he found one as it danced above him on an air current, and then began the steady descent toward him. All too quickly it landed, a bright spark of cold on the tip of his nose, and then it was gone, only a teardrop remaining in its memory.
The crunch of frosted grass beneath sneakers alerted him that he wasn’t alone, and then the face appeared, blue eyes sparkling with mirth, nose and cheeks glowing red from the chill, black wavy hair already glistening with the diamonds that had fallen from the sky. Byron smiled down at him. “Hello.”
“Hi.” Kade’s breath fogged above his face, briefly obscuring the view.
“Watching the sky fall.”
“Yeah? How’s that going for you?”
He blinked, sniffled, and shrugged. “It fell.”
Byron sighed, and Kade could feel the weight of his frustration in that sound.
He tried to smile, to look repentant for wandering off. “Sorry.”
“So you say.” Yeah, Byron didn’t sound like he believed Kade. Or maybe he was sick of his bullshit. Though he had come looking rather than leaving. “But if you’re done, can we get going? The weather’s supposed to pick up, and I don’t want to be stuck driving in it.”
Oh. Right. Because snow made the roads dangerous, and Byron had been nice enough to drive him to the outlets to do some last-minute shopping. And Kade had seen something outside and gone to investigate, and had gotten here somehow. He sat up—making Byron jerk back to avoid getting a bloody nose—and looked beside him. The bags with all the presents he’d bought were with him, at least. So there was that. He gathered the multitude of handles and rolled onto his feet.
This time when he smiled at Byron, it felt much more natural. Earnest and thankful and it didn’t take any work at all to make it appear. “Thank you. I’m sorry for not telling you I was done.”
Byron reached up with his free hand and ruffled Kade’s short red hair, letting loose a spray of droplets. “Forgiven, as always, my curious friend. Now come on, I’ve got hot chocolate waiting for us at home.”
Kade perked up. “Irish hot chocolate?”
“I’m not sure I’ve got any Bailey’s, but I think I have Kahlua, will that work?”
“I’m feeling warmer already.” Heat spread across his chest at the thought of going home with Byron, curling up with hot chocolate, and spending the snowy night inside. He leaned hard into his left stride, bumping his shoulder against Byron’s—along with a few bags against Bryon’s leg.
Byron bumped back and flashed a grin. “Maybe that has more to do with not lying on the frozen ground.”
“Maybe.” Kade thought it had more to do with sharing the night with Byron, but he couldn’t say that. Especially since sharing the night sounded like they were going to fuck, and Byron wouldn’t want to hear that, as he’d made very clear five years ago when Kade first made the suggestion and was turned down.
They never said I couldn’t learn. Eventually.
“Huh?” He jerked his head up and met Byron’s gaze over the roof of the car. Oh, look, they were at the car.
“Need a hand with those bags?”
He stared down at his very full hands. “Um, yes.”
Byron chuckled as he came around the back of the car and popped the trunk. “Come on.”
Kade held out his hand so Byron could lighten his load and, once one hand was free, added the other hand’s bags to the trunk. “Wow, I bought a lot.”
“Welcome to saving all your holiday shopping for two days before Christmas.” Byron closed the trunk. “Did you get everything you needed?”
“I think so.” Recalling what he’d gotten Byron, a smile rushed to his face.
“Something must be good for that look.”
Heat blazed across his nose and cheeks, warming him even before he got in the car. “Yeah. I think I got some perfect stuff. Thanks for driving me.”
“Thanks for coming over and helping tomorrow. I don’t know…” Byron sighed as the car rumbled to life beneath them. “Baking for the whole family alone would have been a bit much for me.”
“You would have been fine. But I’m happy to be here,” he quickly added. “I still don’t get why you didn’t take your mom up on the offer to handle everything.”
Byron’s hands squeezed the wheel, leather squeaking against leather. “It’s a thing. A coming-of-age ritual. It means I’m an adult.” Another leather-on-leather squeak. “I’m an adult, dammit!”
“You are. It doesn’t take a girlfriend to prove that.” He winced. “I mean—”
Byron didn’t have to do much more than sigh heavily to silence him. Kade should have known better than to bring up the girlfriend. The one that had broken up with Byron two weeks ago under vague circumstances that Kade still hadn’t been able to pull from Byron.
It was kind of funny that Kade had spent the last year and a half avoiding talking about Erin and now he was the one mentioning her.
“Sorry,” he whispered.
“It’s fine.” Another sigh that said it wasn’t, really.
“We’re going to make an awesome Christmas Eve dinner, I promise.” He shouldn’t have been so happy to be the one to do it with Byron. He shouldn’t have been so happy that the girlfriend was gone. He was a terrible friend. His best friend was hurting and he was rejoicing. Still.
“Thanks. I can always trust you to have my back, eh?”
Yes, always. Warmth suffused his chest again. “Only seems fair since you’ve always got mine.”
Byron’s chuckle spread the heat a little farther. “That’s what friends are for, right?”
Even though he’d just thought similarly, the words doused cold water on Kade, and he looked out the passenger window to hide the hurt on his face. “Yep.”
Friends. Always and forever. And Byron couldn’t seem to stop reminding him of it. As if flat-out turning down sex that one time hadn’t been a big enough indicator. Kade got it. Friends.
He schooled his features and turned back toward Byron, whose eyes were on the road. The snow wasn’t yet sticking, but it was falling harder. “Yeah?”
A glance over, those big blue eyes so unfairly sad. “Hot chocolate tonight, right?”
Kade smiled, hoping it would lead to Byron smiling too. “Definitely. Unless I get a better offer.”
Byron chuckled again. “I’ll have to see what I can do to tempt you.”
Kade’s heart lurched, wanting to hope…even though he knew what Byron meant. Hot chocolate was going to have to be enough.