Snow-Kissed (A Novella)

By: Laura Florand
CHAPTER 1



The snow fell over the black granite counter in a soft hush of white. Kai focused on the sieve she shook as she brought a winter of sugar to the dark world, letting the powder slide across her thoughts the way snow on a falling night would, taking all with it, even her, leaving only peace.

That peace lay so cold. She had almost forgotten how cold she felt, until he showed up.

The man who, once upon a time, had always made her so warm and happy.

Now he stood at the window, looking as cold as she was. Destroying all peace. Past him and the pane of glass, only a few flakes fell against a gray sky, rare and disinterested, nature as usual failing her. Her fall of powdered sugar could not come between her and him, could not blur him to some distant place cut off by the arrival of winter. Could not hush him, if ever he chose to speak.

No, all she could do was concentrate on the sugar-snow. Looking up—looking at him—undid everything.

“I don’t think they’re coming,” the man said finally, and she swallowed. It was funny how her whole body ached at his voice. As if her skin had gotten unused to his vibrations running over it. As if she needed to develop tiny calluses at the base of every hair follicle so that those hairs would not want to shiver.

Light brown hair neatly cut, he stood angled toward the window, shoulders straight, with that long, intellectual fitness he had, the over-intelligent, careful man who had played sports almost like he might study for a test, maintaining perfect physical fitness as just another one of his obligations. She still remembered when he had discovered Ultimate Frisbee, the awkward, unfamiliar, joy-filled freedom in him as he explored the idea of playing something so intense just for fun. It had been rather beautiful. She had gone to all his games and chatted with the other wives with their damn babies and even played on his pick-up teams sometimes, although unwilling to put forth the effort to be part of his competitive leagues.

Those fun, fun years full of weekends of green grass, and friendly people, and laughter. They had had too many happy days. They clogged in her all the sudden, dammed up too tight, hurting her.

She had screwed them all the fuck up. Forever.

She didn’t know what to say to him, after what she had done, so she concentrated on shedding snow, like some great, dangerous goddess bending over her granite world, a creature half-formed from winter clouds, drifting eerily apart from all humanity. She wished he had not come, but the thought of him leaving wrenched a hole in her that filled up instantly with tears.

Hot, liquid tears that sloshed around inside her and wanted to spill out. That in itself was terrifying and strange; she had thought she had tamed her tears down to something near-solid and quiescent, a slushy of grief that lay cold in her middle but no longer spilled out at every wrong movement, every careless glimpse of happy couples or children laughing in a park.

She had so hoped that she had reached a point where she could—see him. Where all that long process of coming to peace with herself and her losses would be strong enough to withstand a glimpse of him. But all of her, every iota of strength and peace, had dissolved into pain and longing the instant she saw him step out of his car, a flake of snow catching on his hair.

Damn it, his mother was supposed to be here. She was supposed to come with her magazine staff for this shoot, a whole entourage to make it easier on both Kai and Kurt. How could they have abandoned her to this reopening of wounds because they were afraid of a few flakes of snow?

She focused with all her strength. She had to get this sugar exactly right, not too thick, not too shallow, not too even, not too ragged, leaving perfect graceful curves and fades into black at its edges. It was soothing to work on that white against gleaming black. To focus on those tiny grains, almost as tiny as cells of life.

She could control these grains. She could always get them right. If she worked hard enough. If she really, really tried.

“The snow is supposed to start from the south and close us off,” Kurt said from the window. “They probably didn’t want to chance it.”

Now why would Anne Winters’s staff do that to her? Leave her alone with him just to avoid bad roads? Those selfish people, it was almost as if they had . . . families. Reasons to live that were far more important than she was.

Kurt shifted enough to watch her, but she didn’t look up. She shouldn’t have let him come, but for God’s sake, his mother was Anne Winters. First of all, Anne had only rented the cabin to Kai so affordably on the condition that Kai maintain it for her use in photo shoots when she wanted it. And even without that agreement, Kai was a food stylist who regularly contracted to Anne Winters’s company. She could hardly refuse this photo shoot for next year’s holiday edition, Anne’s biggest. And accepting it, she had to jump through Anne’s hoops, even the famous multi-tasker’s insistence on having her lawyer son with her for the weekend so she could work on contract negotiations simultaneously. Her formidable presence and the bustle of her staff should have helped dissipate all this miasma from their past and saved them from any need to linger in it.

Besides, Kai was supposed to be strong enough for this now. She had worked so hard to heal, to grow strong. To still and chill those tears down to something—bearable.

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