Frosty air nips at my nose. I stand almost knee deep in fresh fallen snow, letting the diffused sunlight hit my face. There is no sound. Peace settles over me. In this moment, I truly feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere.
Something cold and wet explodes on the back of my neck. For a moment, I fear the worst. A boil. Pus. My father’s description of my mother’s face plays out in my mind.
But then I hear Andrew laughing behind me. I touch the rough skin on my neck and bring a shaky and damp glove to my face. Snow. It’s just snow.
It’s the middle of the day, and my face is uncovered. To make everything worse, it’s bright outside. Freezing and overcast, but bright.
My hands fly to my face automatically.
“Are you going to let me get away with that?” Andrew laughs again.
I twist around and peek at him through my fingers.
He stands before me, his arms spread wide. A thick coat covers his arms, and in his gloved hands, he holds another snowball. “You have two seconds to stop me!”
I flip my hood over my head and drop down to gather snow in my hands.
Another snowball bursts against my head. The wetness plasters my hair to my face. I hurl my deformed ball in his direction. It misses him completely.
Another wad of snow lands on my neck while I gather a larger, rounder ball of snow. “Cheating!” I throw my handful at him. It lands weakly by his knees.
“Here, let me help you.” He climbs towards me and gathers a nice, solid ball in his fist. He hands this to me, and then stands back and spreads his arms wide again. “Try again.”
I throw it square at his nose.
“Ow!” He covers his face and cries out dramatically. “It’s in my eyes!”
“Stop it! Are you serious?” I navigate closer to him, and he falls back into the snow. I run to his side and hear laughter bubbling out from behind his hands. “Jerk!” I shovel snow over his body, and he laughs all the while.
Then he goes still. I stop.
“Andrew?” I lean in close. “Andrew?”
He lunges out of his shallow grave and tackles me to the ground.
A panicked scream leaves my body as he lands on top of me, heavy and warm. Then a strange sound comes out of my mouth. Something that’s never come out of it before. Laughter.
His braid hangs down, inches from my sunken cheek. Suddenly aware of how close his head is to mine, the laughter dies in my throat, and I slap my gloves to my cheeks.
“You have such beautiful eyes,” he says.
My breath is trapped in my chest. It hurts. I don’t know how much he can see of my face—my hood is pulled low and my hair and hands cover everything else—but I fear it’s too much.
“Andrew . . .”