I had no idea where we were going. We’d been driving for hours, heading north up interstate 95 to some destination Tomas kept a mystery to me. We were in his car – a black Nissan something sedan. The fingers of his left hand kept the steering wheel straight with the slightest touch, his arm relaxed against his armrest. The fingers of his right hand wrapped loosely around the stick shift, though he hadn’t changed gears in a couple hundred miles. I kept asking where we were going, but he refused to let me in on the secret. “North” was his only reply, which he gave with a smile.
We’d started our road trip in Gainesville, Florida after lunch. We’d crossed into Georgia a couple hours later and were now passing the state line into South Carolina just as the sun was setting to our left. “So where are we headed?” I asked again.
“North,” he replied, turning his head to smile. His eyes darted toward me for just a second, then back to the road. “You’re going to have to come up with something else to ask.”
“Okay,” I said, pausing. “Favorite food?”
“Turkey sub.” The laugh that escaped my lips was so sudden I immediately clasped my hands to my mouth. “What? Why are you laughing?” His eyes danced this little two-step between me and the road.
“It’s just so plain.”
“I’m a simple guy, Alana,” he said through a grin that brought out his dimples. I could only see his right cheek, which was almost a shame, because when he smiled this wide his left cheek had a double dimple that I adored.
“Can’t even say it with a straight face,” I leaned over and kissed the single dimple on his right cheek.
We’d been playing this little question game a lot over the couple months since we’d met. That same little get to know you back and forth people always do. During that time I learned lots of little trivia about him. His favorite color was green, he was twenty-five, he’d moved to Florida in high school, he was born in Michigan and raised in Pennsylvania. But the stuff I learned that really mattered weren’t answers to background questions. I learned how he’d rub the top of his ear with his right hand when he wanted to say something, but was still searching for the right words. I discovered what it meant when he’d nod and look away – the three words he knew I wasn’t ready to hear. I knew he always made a wish at 11:11 and that whatever he was wishing for, it had to do with me. He never said as much, but I could tell from the way he’d look at me and smile as he opened his eyes.
Stuck in the car for however long he was going to keep taking me north, there was no escape from the questions. Each one we asked was aimed at making the other uncomfortable. My questions were flirtatious, vaguely sexual. His were all serious.
“If you could kiss me anywhere,” I asked, “where would it be?”
“On the beach in the rain,” he said, answering without a second’s deliberation.
“Not what I meant.”
“I know.” I hated when he said that. “What about you?”
“Everywhere.” He let out a breathy, quiet chuckle.
“What’s your biggest regret?”
“I don’t have one. You?”
“Regret means wanting something different,” he said. “I couldn’t want anything but what I have right now.” I turned my head away and looked out the window. He was making me blush. I wanted to be mad at him for it.
The tree line was getting closer to the road. I don’t know trees, I couldn’t tell a spruce from an oak, but whatever else those trees were, they were massive, towering things with branches that didn’t start jutting out until at least twenty feet up. The road began curving to the right and when I finally looked back to the left I noticed the lanes going south had disappeared between a median as thickly wooded as the forest to my right.
“Where are we going?” I tried again. He didn’t answer. Of course he didn’t answer. But he took his hand off the black leather shift knob for the first time since Florida, and without looking over, he took mine. He held mine in his for a moment, squeezed softly, and then weaved his fingers in mine. His hand was warm, and as he gently brushed his thumb back and forth along the outside of mine, the warmth spread like wildfire through my veins and up into my heart. I sighed, my pulse slowed, and I let myself smile – just smile. A smile that wasn’t trying to get anything in return, that wasn’t hiding anything from the world.
“What’s your greatest fear?” I asked. It wasn’t flirtatious or hiding an innuendo and that fact didn’t escape him. He looked into my eyes and locked them there and gave me a smile that parted his lips – something I’d never seen him do before. He looked back at the road then and answered.
“It’s a tie,” he said. “Forgetting who I am and having to face who that is.” I’d asked, but it was more than I expected, more than I could grasp. Yet he said it so matter-of-fact, and still he was smiling. It was then that I realized my eyes were watering, though I didn’t know why. I used my free hand to dab at them, not wanting to let his go.
“Have you ever been in love?” He asked.
“Yes.” I wanted to add ‘you’re my second,’ but I swallowed that back and instead went with “Once.”
I didn’t know what to say then. Normally when people ask me about my first love I just tell them he was a jerk and that’s the end of it. This time, it didn’t feel like enough. I stared then, unfocused, at the line of trees rushing by. I don’t know how long I waited, but a few of those little blue call boxes passed across my gaze, so at least that many miles went by. He didn’t push, though. He just waited. And eventually I said “he could take me or he could leave me. And it was in his indifference that he’d never let me go.” I blinked a couple times and turned my head so I could look at Tomas. He just nodded, so I continued, “Eventually I got smarter. I moved on. The getting over him part I’m still working on.”
I was uniquely uncomfortable now. Bare. I didn’t even know if what I said made sense, but somehow I knew he understood. He didn’t say anything. He just kept holding my hand. A few moments passed and I asked him “How many times have you been in love?” I knew it wasn’t a matter of if with him, but how many.
“Seven,” he said, again, so matter-of-fact. Maybe what I should have felt was jealous, but all I felt was warmth. And all I could do was laugh.
He glanced at me then. “You’re surprised?”
“No,” I replied, smiling. I took my right hand and looped it around his arm and leaned my head on his shoulder. “Not a bit.”
I closed my eyes as I rested there and wondered briefly if I was number eight. I squeezed his arm tight, just for a second, as it occurred to me I couldn’t be; that I’d already been counted.
I don’t know how long my eyes had been closed, but when I opened them again I noticed we were no longer on the interstate. We approached a curve and he reached across his lap with his left hand, grabbed the shift knob, pushed in the clutch, and changed gears. I smiled and sat up. “Looks like you need your arm back. Where are we?”
“North-” He turned to look at me with that smug smile of his while a wave of frustration at the answer washed over my face. “Carolina,” he finished.
My eyes went wide and I looked around. We were on a road headed up a mountain in the fourth state of our journey. “What are we doing here?”
He shifted gears again. “Remember our first date?”
Of course I did. He’d picked me up, opened the door for me, and taken me out to eat. He’d called it a date and I called it lunch. “Wasn’t a date.”
“If you like.” He winked. “I asked if you’d lived in Florida your whole life.”
“You said you had and I asked whether you’d ever seen snow.” He pointed up as I blinked away my disbelief. I looked out the windshield again, my eyes wide. “That’s not rain that’s falling, sweetheart.”
I couldn’t believe it. I rolled down the window and stuck my hand out. The air was painfully cold, like a thousand needles pressed into my skin. I didn’t care. I stuck my head out the window and tried to catch snowflakes on my tongue, but I was so numb with cold I really couldn’t say if I’d caught one or not. I pulled my head back in and rolled up the window. Without looking over he put his hand in mine again. I held it tight and looked over at him, never wanting to let it go. He was beaming with this radiant glow. So sincere, so pure. I unbuckled my seatbelt, hopping up to crouch on the seat and wrapped my arms around him, kissing his cheek and squeezing him tight.
I looked at the clock. It was just after midnight, nine hours after we’d left Florida. We drove a few more miles up the mountainside until there was actual snow on the ground. We got out in t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers and we didn’t care. We made snow angels right there by the road where the snow wasn’t quite white – where it was tinged a light gray and was more slush than hard-packed whiteness. I threw snowballs at him; he threw them back at me, missing on purpose.
His little black Nissan sat beside the road, hazard lights blinking their orange-yellow glow which the whitest bits of snow soaked it up and reflected it back. We trudged a ways farther up the mountain where the snow was thicker. We rolled it up together, no gloves, and made what may have been the feeblest, stupidest, saddest excuse for a snowman of all time. I found some twigs for arms sticking out of the ground where the mountain became rockier. When I came back he’d used his pen for the nose and made a smile out of pocket change.
Once we’d put the final touches on our already wilting snowman, we got back in the car. My shoes and socks were soaked through, the bottom of my jeans was heavy and the denim was clinging uncomfortably to my calves and ankles. I couldn’t feel most of my body and the rest I wished I couldn’t. Back in his sedan with the heat blasting in an attempt to thaw ourselves I realized my whole body was shivering almost violently. Tomas reached into the back seat and pulled out a couple of blankets. He wrapped one around me as my teeth chattered incessantly and draped the other across my lap. He leaned over and pulled my shoes and socks off. “How are you not frozen stiff?” I hissed, trying not to bite my tongue. He kissed me and I instantly felt like he’d dunked me in a hot bath – that spectacular stabbing heat that’s almost too much to handle.
We drove south then in silence. My body finally welcomed the warmth and I pulled the blankets tight around me, pulling my legs up and made myself into a ball with only my face peeking out of my cocoon. His fingers snaked their way through the maze of fleece and he rested his hand on my thigh, sending a whole new shiver through my body. I stayed awake long enough for us to get back on the interstate, staring wordlessly at him. Once we were on I-95 south I shimmied closer in my wrappings, leaned my head on his shoulder closed my eyes, and drifted off to sleep. It was just before sunset when we arrived back in Gainesville. He began driving to my apartment, but I put out my hand, ensnaring his wrist in my fingers. “No. Take me back to your house.” And that night, in his bed, I finally said the words he’d been waiting to say himself.
Ian Wright lived a little bit of everywhere, but has made a home in Tallahassee, Florida. Ian is studying Media and Communications at Florida State University, but can’t seem to stop writing fiction. Ian likes Dr. Who, pandas, and wearing gold short shorts while theatres full of virgins and sluts scream lines from Rocky Horror at him. “Winter’s Kiss” is Ian’s first publication, but not his last.