Snowdrop in a Storm
Ava Kelly © 2019
All Rights Reserved
“We are so going to regret this,” Daniel said with a sigh.
He smiled as he blew over his teacup, and from across the breakfast counter, Jeff grinned at him. He’d already packed their lunches for Daniel’s last day of work and Abby’s last day of school. Their suitcases were waiting upstairs, almost ready. In the morning they’d be on a plane.
For the first time in his many years working as a teacher, Daniel Wu’s winter vacation would begin a week early. As a supervisor, he would accompany a handful of lucky eight-year-old chess club enthusiasts for a training tournament in the picturesque snow-covered Austrian Alps. Daniel looked forward to showing Jeff and Abby one of the places he’d enjoyed the most during his travels.
A pancake flipped through the air and returned with a sizzle to the pan. Jeff shook his head, his excitement contagious.
“We’ll be fine. Between you and me and Amber and Nick, I think we can wrangle a bunch of kids.”
Jeff had a point. It shouldn’t be much harder than keeping an entire class in line during museum trips, especially with so many adults supervising. He just couldn’t help but worry a little, planning for disasters and busted knees and special dietary requirements.
“Besides,” Jeff continued, “other teachers will be there, won’t they? With the other teams.”
“Yep,” Daniel agreed.
The pension hotel they’d be staying at had been reserved to host a mini-tournament of the International Chess Club that Amber had convinced Daniel to join. As a novice teacher, Amber had needed someone else to co-supervise the school’s club. Honestly, it had been a good thing. Some of the kids—Abby especially—had taken to it incredibly quickly during the first months of the semester, and now, they were set to start participating in competitions. One of the perks of the ICC was the winter gatherings that served as practice before the summer tournaments. And some of next year’s teams in Abby’s age group would be present at the resort. It opened up opportunities to meet new kids, learn new things.
Nothing came without a price, however, and Daniel suspected he’d pay for this trip with his patience and a few white hairs. He was excited, for several reasons, and yet—
Some of his ambivalence must have been visible because Jeff said, “Don’t pout,” his smile just as bright as he pushed over a full plate.
“I’m not pouting.” Daniel pulled the flattest expression he could. “My face is poutless, see?”
“Sure.” Jeff looked at the ceiling. “Abby! Breakfast!”
She came thundering down the stairs, hair tied crookedly in two braids falling over her shoulders. She’d been getting better at doing them herself, with a determination Daniel figured she extracted from her passion of all things Wednesday Addams, but she still had a ways to go. It was a matter of practice. Abby waved the tip of a braid at him, a question mumbled around her mouthful of pancake.
“They’re better today,” he said.
“The best,” Jeff added with a pat to her head.
Abby’s teeth were smeared with jam as she grinned.
“Mouth closed,” Daniel chastised, gently, and heard Jeff’s lips smack against each other.
He laughed—couldn’t not with his precious persons. The happiness of it stung behind his eyes for a moment, and he took a deep breath.
“What am I going to do with you two, huh?”
“I guess you’ll have to love us,” Jeff singsonged in a bad rendition of The Addams Family tune, and Abby snapped her fingers at the end.
Daniel shoved a forkful in his mouth just so he wouldn’t blurt, “Marry me,” to Jeff right then and there.
Abby finished her breakfast first and, at Jeff’s suggestion, went to her room to see if there was anything she’d want to take with her that needed cleaning. Jeff had taken the day off specifically to deal with the last of the packing and household chores before they had to leave.
Despite himself, Daniel sighed at the plate he was washing. Jeff’s arm came around his waist, chin on his shoulder.
“Still at this?” he asked in a whisper. “I packed two first aid kits. We’ll handle everything; we can do this.”
Daniel grabbed a mug, rubbed at it with more force than necessary. “It’s not the kids.”
“Hmm, what then? Oh,” Jeff said before he could answer. “Nick?”
With a nod, Daniel turned off the water. Holding the wet mug, he stood there, but so did Jeff, silently supportive. Probably thinking the same things. Daniel and Abby and even Amber attending the chess tournament would’ve meant Jeff spending the holidays alone. Besides, Amber’s long-distance girlfriend would be there, plus her brother, leading another team. Daniel suspected they were the reason Amber had gotten so passionate about chess, of all things. In any case, Daniel and Jeff had agreed to make it a family vacation as well, and along the way, it was decided Nick would join them. The parents of the other kids had been more than happy to approve the extra chaperones.
Outside the window above the sink, the ground was covered in a thin layer of snow. Not enough to interrupt any traveling, but visible enough to have Daniel roll back over the last two years of his life and the cornerstones that had changed it. Seemed like the most important things happened to him in the snow. And the next one would, too, if nothing interfered with his plans.
He set the mug down and pulled Jeff’s arms tighter around him.
“He can’t even look me in the eye,” Daniel said.
Jeff didn’t reply, not with words. Instead, he pushed his face against Daniel’s neck and breathed there deeply.
When Daniel got together with Jeff two years before, it meant Abby would also be in his life. The little girl and her adoptive father had swiftly and enduringly pulled Daniel into their world. By last winter, his circle of close friends also included Jeff’s longtime bestie, Amber, who, as the school’s newest teacher, had managed to outshine even Daniel’s starting semester there. They’d taken to each other so quickly Jeff claimed to have gotten whiplash.
The same hadn’t happened with Nick, though. One fateful winter day last year, the man had appeared, trying to reclaim Abby as his daughter. Biological contribution wouldn’t—couldn’t—erase the fact that Nick had taken off the night Abby had been born, the same night his wife had passed, the same one Jeff had lost his twin sister. As if his entitlement hadn’t been enough, Nick had been outright judgmental toward Jeff and Daniel’s relationship. They’d set him straight, under the looming threat of lawsuits, and Nick had changed his mind. He’d been in their lives ever since—mostly because of Jeff—and had surprised them with how easily he settled into the role of uncle for Abby. But while Nick and Jeff’s rapport had been improving, things between Daniel and Nick weren’t as rosy.
“Give him some more time,” Jeff said quietly. “Please.”
Daniel nodded, petting at Jeff’s forearm as it squeezed around his chest.
All relationships worth anything were works in progress, so Daniel held onto his patience with metaphorical claws. His little family deserved the effort. What helped was that Nick seemed to be trying just as hard. Two weeks, though, in close quarters with him nearby? Daniel was understandably anxious.