By Cassie Lawson
I grew up in southern California and saw snow for the first time when I was eighteen. It gets cold fast in Chicago, swift winds and rising breath that come unexpectedly. Walking outside from a show, my friend Matt and I headed toward his car. The air was stiff, like being shoved from both sides, and there was something like fly specks floating around my head in the dark night sky.
Little white specks drifted down on us, like we had wandered into the middle of a late night, spur of the moment ticker tape parade; it swam in the air, like fairy dust or being trapped in a gigantic snow globe. My breath was blooming lazy clouds when I asked Matt if this was snow.
He kept his head down, his car keys jangled in his gloveless hand. “No. It’s sleet.”
“Sleet,” I repeated slowly, a baby mouthing its first word. “Sleet.”
I stopped walking and craned my neck to watch the dots fall. It looked like snow. I opened my mouth to catch something, but nothing dropped into my net. I stood for a minute watching the circus of spots flutter around; I wondered how snow differs, how you could so quickly tell the difference. I stood, transfixed, looking heavenward, faint music from the club wafting into the November night.
Matt grabbed one of my cold, outstretched hands, tugging me toward the car parked on the mostly deserted street. The backseat of the car was jammed with music equipment: two guitars, an amp and part of a drum kit. The front passenger seat was pushed forward by the mass behind it and I was consequently perched close to the dashboard.
I watched the flutters and my steamy breath disappeared into the car. There were a few figures walking out from the club behind us, scattering to cars. I closed my eyes. I wanted to get home and go to bed, so I could get up for my 8am history class. It was already 1 am.
Matt murmured my name and I nodded in response, my eyes shut. He was silent and when I turned my head to ask what was wrong, it was too late because he pressed his mouth against mine and grabbed my shoulders.
And for a moment, I didn’t know what to do.
I pressed back, my mouth gentle but ready, somehow waiting for this inevitable moment. I sensed this action had been working its way to fruition for some time, but had never allowed myself to fully admit it to myself. It seemed egotistical to actively believe someone liked me. Surely, I repeatedly chided myself, he is being charitably kind for spending time with me.
My seatbelt tensed against my neck as my mouth slowly guided Matt back toward his side of the car. His hands were on my neck, like he was drinking from a bowl. Our mouths were open against one another; I could feel his breath on my teeth and this made me smile.
Finally, I pushed him away with my hands and sat forward, my face nearly touching the windshield.
Out of my peripheral vision, I could see him staring at me, mouth gaping and panting, eyes wide and clear. I watched the sleet continue to dance onto the hood of the car. It was hypnotic.
Matt said something again and I forced my eyes to return to him. I hadn’t heard him. He leaned forward and I flinched. I smiled wearily as if this has been happening to me all day, as if this is all everyday and casual, as if friends were constantly trying to reinvent themselves as something more in my life.
I mean, what else should I had expected after four months into a friendship, after I had napped in his bed while he did homework, after I went to lunch with his entire family and he had met half of mine? I suddenly flipped through our entire relationship: from the day before the semester started in the cafeteria to the second after I just shoved him away. I was trying to decide if I liked him enough to kiss him again. If this was taking so long to consider, that may be my answer.
I smiled again and snapped my seatbelt off, it slithered back against the door with a hollow thump. “Look Matt, I think maybe it would be best if maybe I took the bus home. I don’t want anything to be weird and if we just think on things tonight, it’ll be clearer in the morning.” This was the best I could come up with and he looked at me as if I were headless.
A beat of silence, then he spoke while staring out the front windshield, obviously avoiding looking at me. “You can’t wait for a bus in this weather. They’ve probably stopped running for the night anyway and…and it’s just silly.” His voice was soft, and I couldn’t tell if he was angry or sad or both.
He reached for my hand and I let him. The car vibrated as it warmed itself, sort of grumbling at having to work in the cold. The sidewalks were abandoned and calm. I was more tired than before and suddenly remembered I had a library book to return. Like a week ago.
Matt pulled out onto Fullerton, west toward Elmwood Park.
“I really thought this was snow.” It was all I could manage to offer to the quiet car.
“It’s okay. It’ll snow soon and then you’ll be sick of it. It’ll be everywhere and you’ll just want to be rid of it.”
I thought about this all the way to my house, where I stepped out of Matt’s car with a quick goodbye. I don’t remember what else Matt said that night, but he was right: it did snow soon, two weeks later, and it became tiresome and I wanted it gone as badly as I had wanted to see it.