Snow Snippet………..CJ Hansen
"Lee, would you go out and get the mail for me?" Sarah Morton, Chip's mom, asked. "It seems like the rest of the men around here must be crippled. I haven't seen one butt cheek lift off the couch since the game started." Sarah paused in the kitchen doorway, cynical eyes taking in the messy living room.
Potato chips and pretzel crumbs littered the carpeted floor, popcorn intermittently mixed in. Beer bottles cluttered the coffee table, most of them empty. Two of the empty bottles contributed by Chip and Lee. Her husband Michael never let the boys drink more than one beer each; they had yet to reach the legal age for consuming alcohol. Sarah sighed, hands on hips. If they thought SHE was cleaning that mess, they were mistaken!
"Michael Morton, if you plan on eating dinner, that living room better be clean before you set one foot at the table."
Michael waved one hand in an absentminded acknowledgement of his wife's long suffering statement, not bothered enough to try moving. Everyone else but Lee ignored her; Lee had bounced up from his sprawled position in front of the couch and was already pulling on the closest jacket. It was cold out and still snowing. He realized after beginning to pull it over his shoulders that it wasn't Chip's as he first thought. He glanced over to Chip's Uncle Mitch.
"Do you mind, Mitch?"
Mitch's eyes remained glued to the large screen TV. Michael stretched out a foot without budging from his reclined position in the loungechair and kicked his brother Mitch in the ankle. Jerking into an upright position on the couch, Mitch drew murmurs of protest from Chip - who was seated on the floor leaning back on the couch - and Chip's brothers-in-law, Sandy and Terry as his sudden movement rocked the couch cushions. Mitch glared ominously at his pesky little brother. Michael had been a pain growing up and was still a pain grown up.
Michael nodded towards Lee. His brother noticed the jacket, half on the lean, too-skinny frame. Lee was going to drown in that. Mitch smiled. Chip's friend was a card.
"Sure, Lee, whatever you need." Mitch was relieved actual movement wasn't required of him; Lee simply wanted to borrow his jacket. "Take the jacket, take my wallet. Heck! Take my brother. What's mine is yours.
"Ouch!" Mitch rubbed his smarting ankle.
"Try and remember whose beer you're drinking, will you?"
"Mine." Sandy muttered, still focused on the game.
Mike ignored the interruption. "More important, whose TV you're watching!" Stretching out his arm, Mike's hand fell inches short of reaching the bottle of beer he was aiming for. He looked at Mitch. Mitch smirked.
"Chip, pass me that beer if you want to live through the night."
Chip grumbled, his concentration on the game broken. It was only then that he noticed Lee in the huge quilted jacket. He leapt to his feet. "Going somewhere, Lee?"
"Chip. The beer?" Chip's father was persistent. His son ignored him.
"No, just getting the mail for mom."
"Oh, Chippie? I'm dying of thirst here…" Michael Morton's singsong voice rang out.
"Where's your scarf? And mittens?"
Lee's eyes rolled, Chip must think he was a five-year old.
"And you're not going out there in those shoes are you?" Chip began to rummage around in the entryway closet.
Mike could hear shades of his wife in Chip's bossy tone. It was a mystery how Lee consistently put up with Chip's smothering behavior.
"Chip! The beer!"
Lee huffed, rolling his eyes again. "I'm going to be out maybe a total of 20 seconds. I think I can manage to survive that long in the desolate, expansive, frozen wasteland of your front lawn." Lee's voice was full of irony. "If I don't make it back in five minutes, you can send a dogsled team after me."
"How about that beer, son?" Michael didn't bother even trying to get his brother or his sons-in-law to cater to him. And if he tried taking advantage of Lee's good nature to let him fetch and carry, despite Lee's perfect willingness to oblige, both Sarah and Chip would make his life a living hell. He grunted again. Those two were too much alike for his comfort. Both strong willed and intelligent—and both had a way of getting mad and getting even. No one took advantage of Lee in that household - he sighed in irritation - unless it was Sarah. Lee set a bad example for the rest of the Morton men, getting things out of the cupboard that were too high for his wife to reach without a footstool, taking heavy objects from her hands, setting the table without being asked, carrying the dirty dishes to the sink… Lee spent countless hours indulging the Mortons of the female persuasion—and their young. It was too much; men—and Lee was shaping up to be quite a man—weren't supposed to act that way. Lee was such a sweetheart. Mike smiled sappily at his adopted son. Mitch and the two in-laws nearly fell off the couch in shock.
Chip pulled his head out of the closet ready with a cutting reply only to find Lee heading out the door. Snow particles blasted through the entryway in a swirling cyclone of icy wind. Chip shook the thick woolen cap and crocheted scarf he was holding. "Lee! It's freezing out there! Get back in here and dress properly before mom sees you…" Chip cursed vehemently as the door slammed shut in his face.
"Charles Phillip Morton! We don't use that language in this household!"
Not for the first time, Chip was convinced his mom had bionic ears. Chip steamed, then an unholy glow smoldered devilishly behind his blue eyes. Michael got his own beer.
Lee was regretting not wearing at least the scarf; shivers raced up and down his spine as he shuddered from the cold. Shards of wind-driven ice pierced his unprotected skin and blew frigidly down his back. He huddled into the padded jacket. Lee felt like an intrepid explorer headed for the North Pole instead of a suburbanite out to get the mail. He grinned, imagining himself crossing the barren tundra, caught up in a deadly blizzard. The Mortons would discover his dead body after spring thaw. The grin faded rapidly as a stronger gust of wind practically froze him solid in his tracks. He clenched and unclenched numb fingers. His ears ached with cold. Now he really wished he'd listened to Chip. But there was NO WAY he was letting that overprotective, pushy blond know that. As far as Chip was going to be concerned, this was a walk on a Florida beach.
Prying open the mailbox, Lee grabbed the mail with clumsy hands, stuffing the envelopes into large pockets along with his frozen fingers. Head ducked, he trudged valiantly back up the drive. The breeze whistling through the evergreens decorating the huge lawn caressed his ears; it affected him in the same manner as a seagull's cry, instilling a bittersweet ache in his soul. A wish and desire for what he had seldom experienced as a child tugged at his heartstrings. Lee paused beneath one of the tall trees. Staring up at the warmly lit windows of the house, Lee's heart swelled with emotion. This was home. The lost, painful look in his eyes disappeared as a shy smile spread across his face. Chip and family had not only taken him into their home but into their hearts. As far as they were concerned, Lee was family. It gave him a feeling of security he treasured. He looked forward to each holiday break from Annapolis at the Mortons'. It was the only good thing that soothed the pain of his mother's frequent absences. He still missed her, even if he should have been accustomed to her holiday disappearing acts by then.
Lee's head cocked to the side as an unknown object flew overhead; he looked up.
"Bull's-eye!" Chip laughed hysterically as the Frisbee impacted with the branches above Lee's dark head. An avalanche of snow cascaded over his friend, hiding the young man from view until the wind carried off the drifting remnants. The pine tree looked naked, its branches dark and no longer decorated in clumps of white. Chip wrapped an arm around the snowman his little sister Missy had made. It had made great cover to hide behind. He snorted and choked, doubled over.
Lee was still in shock; snow covered him from the outside in. His jacket was full of it, he could feel it melting against his spine and seeping down the back of his pants. Somehow, it even filled his socks and shoes. He stared at the bundled up figure that was howling with laughter and clutching Missy's snowman like a drunken fool. Heat dissolved any symptoms of the cold that had enveloped him earlier.
"Bet you wished you'd dressed properly now, Lee!"
Getting a good look at Lee's face after Lee shook the snow off his head and shoulders, Chip bolted for the door, Lee on his heels.
Pandemonium exploded in the living room as the front door burst open; two whirlwinds sped across the carpet, a blizzard of snow at their heels. Four men lurched crazily out of their seats in an effort to dodge the snow and the miscreants.
"Dammit!" Mitch flung himself backwards onto Terry, knocking the both of them into Sandy; they ended up sprawled on the floor. The pain was worth it as Mitch had managed to avoid breaking the coffee table Sarah had only recently purchased.
Lee arched forward in an expert tackle. Hitting the carpet with an oomph, Chip regretted the extra practice he'd given Lee in playing football. Chip had lettered in it in high school and was on the first string at Annapolis. He yelped as Lee began stuffing melting snow up his winter coat and sweater. Writhing as the icy wetness melted on his skin, Chip twisted in an effort to throw off his friend. Lee howled as Chip's gloved fingers danced ticklishly up his ribs.
The angry bellow had both boys stilling immediately. Michael glared ferociously. "This room is strictly for watching the game. If you two want to play, take it outside or take it to your rooms."
Chip took advantage of Lee's embarrassed immobility and squirmed out from under him to stand. He hauled Lee to his feet.
"What is going on in here?" Sarah poked her head through the kitchen door, not sure she really wanted to know. At least she hadn't heard the sound of anything breaking. She stared at her wet and snowy boys in surprise. Snowflakes blew past her face. No one moved.
"Michael, honey, would you mind shutting that door before Missy starts building snowmen inside the house." She was disgusted, warily searching the room for broken objects. "Mitch, Sandy, and Terry. How many times have I told you not to roughhouse in the living room?" Her arms folded across her chest. "For god's sake, you're grown men, get off the floor and confine yourselves to watching football instead of playing it like children."
At the sound of their husband's names, Cara and Kelcie checked out the disturbance. Cara eyed Terry sardonically.
"Terry, if you're not watching the game you men could always take over watching the kids while we fix dinner."
Four men instantly flew to seated positions on the couch and armchairs, concentrating on the TV.
"I'm sorry. It's my fault." Lee admitted, shamefaced. "Chip and I were… were…"
Sarah softened with a sigh, the battle gleam in her eyes dissolving. Her folded arms dropped to her sides. She smiled. "I can imagine what you were… were…" Eyeing her son suspiciously, she added, "Chip teasing you again?"
Lee felt the heat of that glare; quickly staring down at the floor and praying for a look of innocence. He peeked up at Chip through his lashes. Yep, still mad, but wavering. Lee's look of wide-eyed, innocent appeal switched focus, hitting Sarah like an arrow to the heart.
Inwardly a pile of mush, Sarah didn't have the strength to press Lee for answers. She straightened. "Where's the mail?"
Lee looked horrified. He exchanged worried glances with Chip as he dug in the jacket's pockets to drag out limp, soggy, envelopes. Some of the address labels had bled like watercolors on wet paper. He blushed from head to toe and offered them to Chip's mom.
Everyone held their breaths as Sarah looked at the damp offerings. Chip exhaled loudly as his mom merely reached out to take them. "Thank you, Lee."
She silently exited into the kitchen.
Lee almost sagged with relief. It could have been worse, she could have noticed…
"Lee, get out of those wet clothes and into the shower before you catch your death of cold. I don't know what you were thinking playing in the snow with Chip dressed like that. Chip, could I speak to you a moment." There was an ominous tone to her voice as that last sentence came out.
Chip swallowed hard, he looked at Lee with a doomed expression. His mom's request may have been framed in the form of a question, but there was no question about the expected response.
Lee fled upstairs, abandoning Chip to his fate. The other men watched with pity as Chip reluctantly headed into the kitchen.
Glorying in his long, hot shower, Lee worried over Chip, afraid he might be angry with him for getting him in trouble. He vowed to talk to Chip's mom. Lee was responsible for his own actions, no matter what Chip or mom believed. He'd been taking care of himself since he was a young boy.
Stepping into his bedroom, towel wrapped around his waist, Lee was startled to see a steaming mug on the bedside table. His eyes widened as he lifted it; the aroma of rich milk chocolate wafted past his nostrils. Tiny multi-colored marshmallows floated on the surface. Lee grinned. At least now he knew Chip wasn't mad. Chip was the only one who put those in Lee's drink.
Lee made himself comfortable on the bed, savoring the chocolaty warmth that soothed him, warming him from the inside out. Like Chip's family had done. Warmed him from the inside out with their genuine love and acceptance, melting through the frozen walls of his self-imposed barriers to reach his heart and soul.
He smiled in contentment.