Every Thursday, Lethe takes a look through its vaults for its proudest releases. This week it's The Bears of Winter, one of the most recent releases from our Bear Bones Books imprints, edited by Jerry L. Wheeler. Collecting together a set of passionate and romantic stories of bears amidst the cold and snow, this collection is perfect for the winter months, and even better, it's just $10 for the paperback all week at the Lethe website.
Read the story 'The Psychometry of Snow' by 'Nathan Burgoine, or listen to the audio:
Almost everything has a voice.
It’s not what you think. I’ve done my research as much as anyone can. The theories are all right and mostly wrong. There are exceptions, but the joys of life settle far more often than the pain. I’ve touched real history in my travels, and I haven’t heard as many tales of blood and tears as I’d expected.
I have made a life from these voices. It’s an odd one that has forced me to adopt many names to disguise its levels, but it’s mine. I can and do help others understand what those voices say under one of my names, but mostly I use a second name to be a man who digs through random pasts. I have no real specializations, which rankles the academics. They cry I have no way to prove the stories I tell.
“He’s doing pop star history,” the grey-bearded men protest. “It’s entertainment, not archeology.”
Happily, so many lovers of stories enjoy being entertained and don’t care about proof.
My duffel is from World War II, and it’s mostly quiet these days, though the first time I lifted it to my shoulder, I felt the joy of putting it down and spreading my arms to hug a child I’d never even met but could now walk. I set it down just inside the door of my rented cabin and turn around to glance at the falling snow. Unable to help myself, I close the door and step back out into the flurries. I hold out a hand, and small white flecks land on my palm, melting just a second later.
Nothing. I love winter.
I smile and take a deep breath. I haven’t been here in nearly five years, but I love this mountain. It isn’t tall or sloped enough for skiing, but it has two dozen cabins for rental and a beautiful view. People rent the cabins and commute to the ski slopes a half hour away to cut their costs, which means for most of the day I can tell myself the mountain is mine. I rarely venture down to the main buildings, happy enough with the single room, kitchen, small bathroom, and large fireplace.
It’s calm. It’s quiet. No doubt there’ll be voices here, but they won’t be loud and won’t run deep.
I’m about to turn back to head inside when I hear someone come around the path, crunching through the snow.
“You’re not going skiing?”
I turn to the voice. “No, I —”
We break off and stare at each other. He is carrying a tied bundle of firewood in both hands. He wasn’t at the desk when I signed in. If I am honest with myself, I know I would never have missed his eyes, so dark brown his pupils are hard to spot, nor the neatly trimmed red beard he sports, or the way his neck widens into the collar of his coat. Barrel-chested, taller than me, and thick-shouldered, the bearded man is a lug, which is entirely my type. He’s handsome and masculine.
“I know you,” he says, and I’m a little off-balance. No one knows me. I’ve got three names and even if someone knows two of them, they never know the one I was born with. But this time his voice triggers a memory, and I fight off a wave of fear.
“You went to Oneida High, right?” I ask. It has been over a dozen years, and I can’t quite find his name in the gap, especially with the memories so blurred by chemistry.
“F…” He bites off the sound just in time and reddens. I know the name he almost says, and I flinch. How could I have forgotten my fourth name?
He tries again. “Luke, right?”
I feel a little sick. “Yes.”
“I’m Rick Barritt. You lived on the street behind me, I think.”
“You were on the wrestling team,” I say, remembering now. “And football with my brother, Alex?”
He nods, and a smile cuts through his short, neat beard. Despite the sickness in my stomach, I smile back. Another time, another place, and I would be happy to see him smile at me like that. But he knows me as someone I’d rather not have been.
Still, he’s definitely grown into his height.
“What brings you way out here?” he asks.
“Vacation. I came here once for work, and I kind of fell in love with the place.” It’s not entirely a lie, though I’m not sure I can really call it “work” since I didn’t ask for money. I never do when what I find is a body instead of a reunion. I pause. “You?”
“My aunt and uncle own the cabins. I’ve been working with them for two or three years now.” He puts down the load of firewood just beside the front door of my small rented cabin in a wedged-off area obviously designed to hold the logs. “I’m just bringing you wood.”
I try to fight off a snicker, and fail. He frowns. He has great eyebrows, thick and masculine, just like the rest of him, and I see the moment he realizes what he’s said. He smiles and shakes his head, rubbing his gloves along his jeans.
When he straightens, he doesn’t leave. “It’s been a long time. How is Alex?”
“He’s good,” I say. “Married, three kids, all girls. He’s a good dad.”
“And you? You’re doing well?”
I know what he’s really asking. I force a smile. “Don’t worry. I’m not crazy any more.”
He winces. “I didn’t mean …”
I shake my head. “It’s okay. Really. I remember, believe me.”
Rick Barritt regards me for a couple of seconds, like he wants to say more, then apparently decides against it. “Well. If you need anything else, you can call the front desk. If you’re not going to ski, there’s some great snowshoeing on the tree line.”
“I know,” I say. “Maybe I’ll try that tomorrow. It was a long flight.”
Rick nods again, then starts down the shoveled path back to the main buildings. I reopen my cabin door and am about to head inside when he speaks again.
I look up.
“You weren’t crazy.” It’s nice of him to say.
I nod once, then go inside.
It doesn’t take much to bring back thoughts of the time before I had a grip on what was happening. Words and memories chase themselves around in my head for hours before I go to sleep, and even in my dreams I am uncomfortable. Synaesthesia. Hallucinations. Schizophrenia. MRI. Algolia. Perphenazine. Clopamine. Institutionalization.
I’m walking through a street in a hometown I haven’t seen in years, and I’ve already lost my jacket and my shirt. I’m leading myself toward the stone of the statue in front of the courthouse. Words and voices and memories drill into my thoughts when I think about that statue, and it makes some of the other noises in my skull back off for a while. I close my eyes, and consider kissing the statue when I get there, but it’s taller than I am.
Instead, I decide to take off my pants.
I wake up with my hands closed tight and pressed to my chest, fingers aching from the effort of holding them closed. The sun isn’t up, but I know better than to try and get to sleep. I am three hours ahead of the day now and will be chasing the real hours for a day or two until my body catches up.
It’s chilly enough that I spend some time resuscitating the fire from the night before, and then fill the kettle with water and put it on the small stove to boil. I make a whole pot of tea and enjoy my first cup just watching the fire. There’s a striped hand-knitted blanket on the back of the small couch, and I smile when I tug it over my shoulders. Rick’s aunt made it, a way to use up old stashes of wool and add a homey touch to the cabin. Knitting it reminded her of her grandmother, I think, but I don’t press any further, and the blanket falls silent again.
The tea, the cabin, the fire. It’s exactly what I want. I take a deep breath and relax in a way I normally can’t. I’ll make breakfast in a bit, from the bits I brought with me and stuffed into the fridge yesterday without sorting. And I decide that when the sun does come up, I’ll head down to the main building and see about some snowshoes.
The older man at the counter comes out to meet me as I approach.
“You must be Luke,” he says, offering his hand.
I flinch. “Yes.” I’m not used to being recognized. Recognition has never been good.
“I’m Hal. Rick told us about you,” the man says, and I force myself to remain smiling as I shake his hand. I’m pretty sure Rick hasn’t told him much, given that the man isn’t treating me like I might explode or strip at any moment. Looking at him now, I can see a family resemblance in their stature, though I’m fairly sure that this man has never had ginger hair like his nephew, even before it turned white. He has the same dark eyes, however.
“Ah,” I say, out of my depth. I have to clear my throat. “All good, I hope?”
Hal laughs and nods. “He had a good childhood in Oneida. Before his parents.” The man nods at me like I know something I am pretty sure I don’t know. “Well. Years ago. What can I do for you?”
“I was hoping for some snowshoes,” I say. The snow is still falling lazily outside, and my short trek down had provided me with a gorgeous view of the mountain covered with the pristine whiteness. I am all the more excited about the thought of following the trail now that I’ve seen the snow in the daylight.
Hal agrees. “Perfect morning for it. Go ahead around back, right through there.” He gestures at a door at the far end of the large sitting room through an alcove from where we stand at the front desk. “Rick’s out there now. He’ll get you set up.”
“Thanks,” I say.
I find Rick outside, his wide back to me, looking out over the mountain. He holds a mug of coffee still steaming in the cold morning air. I clear my throat, and he turns. Again, he smiles, and again it feels uncomfortable. Why would he smile at me?
“Good morning,” he says. He isn’t wearing a hat now, and I can see the deep red hair that he’d always worn shaved short is even shorter now and greying a bit at his temples. “How’d you sleep?”
“It’s always hard with the time change,” I say, dodging the truth a bit. I am rusty at conversation. I spend most of my time alone.
“You’re still in Ontario?”
I nod. “I live there.”
“That’s right. You said you came here on work. What do you do?”
I hesitate, and he catches it.
“Sorry,” he says. “If you don’t want to…” He doesn’t finish the sentence.
If I didn’t want to what? Small talk? Discuss my job?
“It’s fine,” I say. “Mostly these days I write. I sort of freelance.” This is such a wild misrepresentation that I can feel my face burning.
But Rick smiles. “That sounds good.” He has the darkest eyes, and the years have drawn their first few lines beside their corners. Smile lines.
“I thought I’d give the snowshoe trail a try this morning,” I say, because this former friend of my brother is looking at me, and I’m enjoying looking at him far too much.
Rick puts down his cup. “That’s a great idea. Do you know the trail?”
I don’t. “Uh,” I say.
Rick smiles. “I’ll show you.”
I’m worried about more discussion, but instead Rick lets me set the pace and keeps the silence I obviously prefer. He walks with me, and we follow the tree line for a good twenty minutes. The slope is just pitched enough in places to make it a bit of a workout, but the view is worth it. Higher up the mountain, the valley suddenly appears around a short curve. I step out of the trees and see a beautiful white world below me, edged in rows of green trees and deep below the palest whites of ice and reflected sky in the river.
“Wow,” I say.
“It’s pretty amazing.”
I nod, not turning when I feel Rick move up beside me. He stretches his back, then points off to the left. “See those falls?”
I squint and raise my hand, trying to see where he is pointing, but I don’t find it. After a few seconds, he moves closer behind me and puts one hand on my shoulder, then points again, turning me slightly. The pressure of his hand, even with my coat and his gloves, is palpable. So is his strength.
“Cold?” he asks me.
“No, I’m okay,” I manage. I catch sight of what he was trying to show me. “Oh! There. You can see some steam or something.”
“It’s a natural spring,” Rick says. “Sometimes the falls freeze solid in the middle of winter, but right now they’re just iced over.” He pulls away, and I shiver again, though I don’t think he notices.
It really is like going back in time. At least out here, surrounded by snow, there are no voices.
“Ready to head back?”
I nod. “Sure.”
He pauses just a second, and the weight of it makes me look at him.
“Would you like to have dinner tonight?” he asks.
He laughs, a little scornfully. “Wow. I guess that’s a no.”
“No,” I say, then realize what that sounds like. “I don’t mean no, I mean…” I close my eyes. “Sorry.” I feel sick and a little dizzy. Thank God we’re alone out here, and thank God there is nothing out here with a voice I can’t ignore. I take a deep breath and look at the big man again. “I’m just not sure why.”
It is his turn to stare. “Why what?”
“Why you’d like to have dinner.”
“I thought we could catch up.”
Now I am even more confused. “Rick, you were friends with my brother.” We both know I mean more than what I am saying.
“Fluke…” he says, and then as fast as he can, he says, “Luke. I’m sorry. Luke.” He bites his lip, and his wide shoulders drop.
There it is: my fourth name. Fluke. An entire missed childhood and young adulthood all in one epithet. One insult. I am surprised to find it doesn’t sting nearly as much as it should.
“I’m ready to head back,” I say.
He leads the way.
If I press against the stone of the statue, I can feel the musculature of the horse being carved from solid rock. If I close my eyes, I can see a woman chipping away in a large empty room. When I rub my lips across the stone, I can even smell the smoke from a cigarette that dangles from the lips of this woman. These noises and feelings and smells are so fucking real, and there is a part of me that is desperately trying to tell me they are not. But pressed skin to stone, my eyes closed, reality is hard to understand.
Tiny pinpricks of cold are landing on my back and shoulders. It’s snowing.
I smile. Snow is always real. Then the smile fades, because real isn’t what I’d like. Real is pills and doctors and time in small closed rooms where I seem to get better just long enough to come back to the world and get worse again.
I hear a car, and I wonder if it’s a real car or not right up until I can see the headlights through my eyelids. I open my eyes, but I don’t turn my head.
Snow falls into my exhalations and melts in midair.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been out on the little porch, but the mug of tea I brought with me isn’t steaming anymore. I’ve been catching snowflakes on my fingertips all morning.
I didn’t hear him approach. I jump and turn.
“Sorry!” He raises his hand almost comically. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“It’s fine,” I manage. He has something under his other arm, and when he pulls it forward, I blink in astonishment.
“I wondered if you’d sign this for me.”
I can’t breathe. I step back and bump against the railing.
“Luke,” he says again.
“How…?” I shake my head.
“I read it,” Rick said. He’s still holding out the book.
I catch my breath. “Come on in.”
Inside, I pour out my cold tea and refill the kettle while Rick hangs up his coat and tugs off his boots. When I come back into the room with the teapot and two mugs, he’s sitting on the small couch, and the book is lying on the little table.
“I really hate that cover,” I say.
“It’s a little pink,” Rick says, and I can tell he’s trying to be neutral.
Pink cover, a pile of random stuff that barely had anything to do with the content, red letters in a terrible font. A false name. One word.
“It’s ugly,” I said. “The second printing was much nicer.”
I cross my arms and look up. He’s sitting almost primly, his large hands clasped on his knees. His expression makes me laugh.
“You look so contrite.”
He blushes. It suits him. I try not to look at the dark red hairs that are visible where the top button of his shirt is undone, or the way the shirt is straining across his chest. I fail. I sit down beside him. God he looks good, thick and strong and so comfortable in his skin.
“So you read it,” I say, and to stop myself staring, I nod at the offensively pink book.
He nods. “A few times.”
“And you figured out it was me?”
“Class ring, missing student. You changed the name, the province, a bunch of stuff. But you kept the mascot.” He looks up at me, and I can tell he’s actually a little proud of figuring it out. He’s talking about one of the first chapters. It was the first time I realized what was actually going on with me, between two cycles of medication and one of the few times my mother had put her foot down and overruled my father’s desire to use every chemical option under the sun to make me “better.” I’d almost had my wits about me. Then Bailey Haliburton had packed a bag and gone missing, and her mother had come to our home to talk to my mother because they were friends. Bailey had left behind her class ring. They hadn’t even noticed me walk up while they were talking. I’d picked up the ring, and that ring had spoken to me.
“She swapped it for the ring he gave her.”
Both women had turned to stare at me. Mrs. Haliburton had looked uncomfortable, but my mother’s face was a practiced mask of gentle concern.
“Honey, do you need to lie down?”
“She’s in love with him. He’s tall. He’s native. They like the same plays.” I saw it all unfolding in my head, and even saw the very moment she put the ring on her bed to trade it for the plain band he offered her. It wasn’t as fancy as half the other jewellery in her room, but it made her heart so full. I heard her say “Yes.”
“Oh my God,” Mrs. Haliburton said. “Oh my God.”
They’d caught up with them both after that. Bailey Haliburton’s father had been furious about his daughter running off and marrying someone he felt was “inappropriate.” In the book, I’d avoided using the word “racist” on the advice of my lawyer and editor, and I’d changed all the names and places and every other detail they figured could possibly matter.
None of us had caught my inclusion of a teenager in a giant bird costume.
“Tommo the hawk,” I say. “Who’d’ve thought a stupid bird would out me?”
Rick smiles. “I’m sorry.”
“You talked about what it was like. In high school. When they were putting you on drugs, when everyone called you names…”
“Fluke,” I said. It hadn’t translated for the book under my pseudonym. I can’t actually remember what word they came up with that worked with Simon. Psycho? Sicko? Something like that.
“I’m so sorry.”
I looked at him. Really looked. His dark eyes were open, and I could see the sincerity. I wasn’t sure why in the world… Then I remembered.
“Rick… I was out of my mind. Literally. They had me on so many drugs, I had no idea what to think or do. You and Alex, you both got me home when I was pretty damn messed up…”
“And we made fun of you the entire ride home.”
I can’t help it. I laugh. It surprises him. “Rick, I was wandering around downtown in my underwear in the middle of winter.”
I lean forward. “Seriously, forget it. If you two hadn’t found me, I’d have had another visit with the cops.” I shake my head. “I had quite a few of those, before I got off the meds.”
Rick nods. “Okay.” I don’t think he actually believes there’s nothing to forgive, but it’s the best I’m likely to get. My mother was the same when she finally understood. My father was gone by then, and my brother still doesn’t quite get it.
He rises. “I should go.”
I’m not sure I want him to go, but I can’t quite think of anything to say. He puts on his jacket and boots, and I rise and stand in the door while he leaves. I hold my hand out into the air and catch a few snowflakes, enjoying their silence.
When I head back inside, the book is still on the table.
“Where are his clothes?”
The second voice is my brother’s, but the first is harder to place. I want to keep my eyes on the statue and the snow. I want to press against it and feel my skin touch the cold stone because then the carver woman is there, and she’s louder than everything else. One voice instead of dozens. It’s so much better, even if I’m shivering, and my toes are starting to hurt.
“C’mon, Fluke,” my brother says, and his hand is on my shoulder. He’s not gentle with me, and for a second I think about shaking him off; I’m already losing the voice of the woman who carved the statue, but his grip is too tight, and he pulls me back and down from the stone pedestal.
I lose the carver, and the rest of the world rises up in its usual chorus. I press my hands against my ears, but it doesn’t help. The voices aren’t from outside.
My brother gives me a shake. I try really hard, and make my hands move away from my ears. I listen as hard as I can to what he’s saying, and I try to ignore everything else.
“Where’s your pants? Your coat?”
I shake my head.
“Dude, he’s gotta be freezing.” I look at the other guy with Alex, and I can almost recognize him. He’s got red hair, and he’s taller and bigger than even my brother.
“I know,” Alex says. “He has to go in the back seat. He tries to grab the wheel sometimes.”
“I’ll sit with him.”
My brother’s hand is tight on my arm again. As he leads me to the back of his car, I try to say goodbye to the stone carver, but my brother tells me to be quiet, and that I’m coming with him.
They never understand who I’m talking to.
I’ve just caught a few snowflakes when he comes around the corner with more wood.
“You like to do that, don’t you?” he asks.
“Snowflakes are very quiet.” I smile at him, and I think of his copy of Psychometry and how often it looks to have been read. He knows what I mean.
He unloads the lumber onto my porch and wipes his hands across his jeans. His smile is almost lost in his beard. “And I guess they don’t last.”
I smile back. “They’re my favorite. Rain is good, but snow… I don’t know. It’s better.”
“Is it everything? Always?” he asks.
I look at him a long while, and I think we’re both wondering if I’m going to answer right up until I speak. “Yes and no. Everything has a voice, but sometimes there’s not much to say. It needs to matter to someone, but it’s not as simple as that. It’s not exactly purposeful, but there’s intent in a way.” This is the distilled version that I have used on my investigator friends and the rare police I have worked with.
Unlike them, Rick nods. “Like Bailey’s ring.”
“Yeah. I don’t have to listen if I don’t want to,” I add, because he knew me back when I didn’t know how not to hear everything at once.
He waits a moment, and holds out his own hand, catching some snow on his fingers. His hands look rougher than mine.
“About dinner?” I ask.
He turns. One eyebrow creeps up, and I see the smile lines beside his eyes. “Yes?” The deep rumble in his voice makes me shiver again.
“Did we skip the whole coming out to each other thing, or did I miss it?” I can feel my face burning.
“You missed mine,” Rick says. “But you told me you liked me quite a while back. I’m just running on the assumption that things haven’t changed, because that’s a good scenario for me.”
“I told you I liked you?” I try to remember, and I’m afraid I know when it was.
He confirms. “You were wearing little blue briefs at the time. It was memorable for me.”
I flinch. “The horse statue?”
He laughs. “Was it a horse? I was having a really hard time not staring at you in front of your brother and pretending everything was cool.”
“As I recall, it was freezing.”
He nods. We stand in a silence that is comfortable.
“Do you like steak?” he asks.
“Can you crank the heat? He’s really cold.” The red-haired guy beside me in the backseat unzips his jacket and holds it out to me. My teeth are chattering, but I don’t want to touch his jacket. I can already hear it humming and whispering. It wants to tell me something.
“It takes a second,” Alex says from the driver’s seat. Then he sighs. “I need to get him back in the house without my parents seeing him. They’ll flip out if they know he snuck out again.”
“Here,” the guy is saying, and now that the car is moving, it’s a bit easier to ignore everything else as the voices drop away behind us.
I look at his coat. “It’s too loud.”
“Fluke,” Alex’s warns. “Don’t be a jackass.”
“It’s okay,” the guy beside me says. His eyes are really dark. I touch his jacket and flinch.
“It’s hard to hide in a uniform all the time,” I tell him. He looks startled. I put the jacket on slowly, because it turns out that it’s the good kind of loud. It feels warm against my skin. “You’re not ugly,” I tell him.
From the front seat, my brother sighs. “Just ignore him.”
It takes me some time to get the jacket on, but when I do I tilt my head to listen as hard as I can. “It’s like a costume. For an actor.” I look at the brown and white bird on the front of the jacket, and I think of the same jacket on my brother. His jacket doesn’t talk like this. I look at the guy beside me, and he’s watching me intently. He’s a big guy, the kind of guy that most of the time I think I should be afraid of, but there’s a softness to him that makes me think he’d rather use his size to protect someone.
“We’re halfway home,” Alex says, turning a corner. I rub my temples a little with my cold fingers and lean back on the seat, closing my eyes. My hands drop. I’m so tired, and it’s nice to be warm.
“You’re not ugly,” I say it again, because the jacket is insisting the opposite, and it’s just wrong. “You’re strong and you’re nice and you don’t have to act forever.” I open my eyes just a bit and look at the man. “I really like your eyes. You’re handsome.”
“Okay, Fluke,” Alex’s voice is rising. “Enough.” He’s embarrassed. “He doesn’t really know everything he’s saying. He doesn’t mean to sound so faggy.”
“It’s okay.” The voice of the guy beside me is quieter than before.
“It’s okay,” I say. “I can keep secrets.”
I close my eyes again. I’m so tired. The voice in the jacket finally falls quiet. I sleep.
Rick brings the makings of dinner to my cabin — a bottle of wine, the steaks, and baked potatoes with all the trimmings.
“Are there more people coming?” I ask looking at the thick cuts of steak, but he just smiles at me.
“You could use a few good meals.”
He cooks on the small stove and grill of my rented cabin with an easy grace that I envy. I shouldn’t be surprised. What bear doesn’t know his way around a grill? The third time he catches me staring and smiling, he asks what I’m thinking and I say so.
“Woof,” he says, and when I laugh, a part of me completely relaxes for the first time in years.
We drink the wine, and eat the meal, and I eventually hand him back his copy of Psychometry with Simon’s name inscribed inside it.
“This is the only signed copy. You could probably get good money for that online,” I joke.
He shakes his head. “It’s a keeper.”
Outside, it has begun to snow again. Rick asks me about my jobs and for the first time in my life, I tell someone what I do for a living without euphemism or omission. I tell him what it was like when I touched Hadrian’s Wall and heard the voices of Roman soldiers, and that leads to more stories of the places I have been. He listens, and I realize how incredible it is to have that luxury. Even though it is cold, we go outside, and I catch a few snowflakes on my hand. Rick scoops up some of the snow and starts to pack it into a snowball, and I give him a wary look.
“Trust me,” he says.
He doesn’t throw it. He closes his eyes, and presses his hands against the snow, shaping it. He turns it over in his hands, and I watch his rough fingers work, and feel my skin shiver when I imagine those rough hands touching my skin. Arms like Rick’s would make you feel safe, if you were in them.
He doesn’t complain about the cold, and he works the snowball back and forth, alternating his hands, twisting and compacting. I watch, not sure of what he’s doing.
Finally, he looks at me. He holds it out, and I realize.
I open my hand, and he puts the snowball in my open palm.
“I’m going to go get him some pants and shoes and a shirt,” Alex says. “I’ll bring it back out, and then we can get him dressed and get him inside.” He scowls. “You okay to stay with him for a second?”
“Sure,” Rick says. “Don’t worry. It’s okay.”
Alex shakes his head. “It’s not. It’s all the fucking time.” But he gets out of the car and closes it as quietly as he can, and then heading off down the street toward his house.
Rick looks at Alex’s brother. Fluke is still fast asleep, burrowed up in Rick’s jacket. He’s cute. The thought comes faster than he can stop it, but this time the shame doesn’t show up on its heels.
“I won’t have to act forever, eh?” Rick says to the sleeping kid.
Every morning when he puts on his jacket, Rick thinks of it as a costume, thinks of himself as an actor playing a role. Hearing Fluke say that back to him was pretty intense. Rick swallows.
You’re not ugly. You’re strong and you’re nice and you don’t have to act forever.
Rick feels tears spring to his eyes, and he wipes them with his thumb. “Jesus,” he says.
I really like your eyes. You’re handsome.
Rick leans over and kisses Fluke’s forehead. Fluke doesn’t wake.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” he says, then waits for Alex to get back.
The snowball melts.
I touch my forehead.
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