Snow

The day it snowed, we were in the library. Jaime was reading an old Western, laughingly repeating scraps of cowboy talk under his breath. I was watching him read, imagining all the things I would do to him when he finally let me. It was late November, I'd just turned fifteen, and we still hadn't had sex.

Seems implausible, doesn't it? That two teenagers in love could spend every moment of every day together, watch each other strip down to wash, sleep nestled together each night, for nearly a month, and not be boning like bunnies. But we weren't. Jaime wasn't okay with it for some reason.

I was pretty sure it wasn't some trauma that made him like that. He just wasn't ready. He could tell me over and over that he loved me, call me pet names, kiss me for hours; he wasn't afraid that doing it would make his gayness real, he wasn't in denial. But even when I got him gasping and shaking, with blown pupils and a raging hard-on, if I put my hand on the fly of his jeans he'd push me away and tell me don't. Frustrating, confusing, a bit tough on the ego.

But I knew he'd cave sooner or later. So I waited, and I tried not to push him too hard or beg too annoyingly. I wasn't very good at not begging, but I did try. When he got me too riled, I'd go into the freezing bathroom of our squat house and take care of business myself. I fantasized about him when I did, and he knew it.

Compared to the salty caramel skin and throaty Jaime-whimpers in my imagination, first snow was no big. I'd noticed it a while back, but didn't think of mentioning it. When he looked up from his book and saw it coming down outside the window, though, his face lit up.

"How long's it been snowing?"

"Like half an hour," I told him.

"Think it'll stay?"

"It's cold enough."

"Snowball fight!" He jumped up, then hesitated, looking at his book, obviously torn between the idea of a snowball fight and the stack of books we were going to check out on his card, which would be wrecked if they got snow on them.

"It won't be deep enough for a while," I said, and that decided him.

"Let's take these home and then go out again."

We checked out the books, getting a sweet, pitying smile from the oldest librarian. She knew we weren't in school, and was embarrassingly pleased that we were reading anyway. She knew we used the library as a place to keep warm, and did her best to keep the other librarians from kicking us out, even though the rest of the patrons were made nervous by our tattered, dirty, giggling presence. Today she learned we were a couple, too.

"You look happy," she said.

"I am happy," Jaime beamed. "It's snowing! And I have books! And I have the best boyfriend in the world. He's going to buy me a double mocha and a brownie. Right?"

"I ah." I blinked at him. "Sure."

The librarian hesitated a little, but kept smiling. "That sounds lovely. You boys be careful walking, now. People will be driving funny."

"We will, thanks!" He took my arm and towed me out past the line of middle-class mothers supplying research material for their kids' school projects. I could see them all thanking fortune that we weren't theirs.

When we were outside, I took the books from him so he could grab at the fat flakes falling. "Why'd you do that?"

"Which?"

"Tell her."

He watched a snowflake melt on his palm, then gave me a worried look. "You think she didn't know?"

I had, in fact, but now I rethought that. "She could pretend she didn't. Now she can't."

"Anybody can see we're together. There's like, little hearts in your eyes when you look at me. Like in a cartoon." He grinned.

"It's cuz whenever I do, the background goes all flowery. Like in a Japanese comic," I added quickly to his look of confusion. "When somebody sees the person he's in love with, the background turns into flowers. Or like, bubbles."

"Bubbles?" He wrinkled his nose adorably.

I shrugged. "It's true. You want that mocha?"

"And a brownie."

"Okay." We set off toward the nearest coffee shop. I had six bucks in my pocket, so I was feeling generous. Jaime's new panhandling technique had paid off.

He'd noticed early on how badly my personality lent itself to begging. Being denied made me mad, and being ignored made me madder, and there's a lot of both in panhandling. Our success was slightly better if he did the talking; he was too timid to catch people's attention, but the ones who did notice tended to take pity on him. Still, I couldn't help being worried someone would hurt him, and my glaring presence scared people off. Finally he'd hit on the solution of composing a clever line and sticking to it, like a script.

Our best to date was, "Can you spare five bucks for a copy of 'Hamlet' to continue my interrupted education?" I experimented with different titles. People seemed to like to hear titles they knew; something like Lucretius didn't work well. Folks would inevitably smile if we mentioned a book they'd read themselves, and produce a fat handful of pocket change. Someone had once given me a five for 'Cyrano de Bergerac'.

The coffee shop was stiflingly warm, and smelled wonderful. The guy behind the counter watched us carefully as we picked a table and settled into it. There's a certain aura of grime and hunger you pick up, being homeless, and people notice it. The stack of books bought us a bit of slack, though. I left Jaime arranging them on the table, and went to get him his chocolate overload. For myself, I got a large plain coffee, as usual, and put so much sugar in it that the level of liquid in the cup went up visibly. I had half a ham sandwich in my pocket, wrapped in a napkin, so I couldn't justify a donut or anything. Needed to have something left to live on tomorrow, if it snowed so much there was no foot traffic.

"You're thinking way too hard," Jaime told me when I returned. He flashed his chocolate a grin and started unwrapping the brownie, then looked back at me grinless. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"You have a line. Right there." He reached out to poke the middle of my forehead. "It's cute. Oh, there, it's gone. Want some?"

I consented to one bite of the brownie. He took a bigger bite, rolling his eyes in bliss. Then he scooped up some whipped cream from his mocha and sucked it off his fingers. My face flashed hot and my heart turned over, but I was used to that happening.

When he'd finished inhaling the brownie -- and licking his fingers clean, to my dismay -- he turned to the window and put his chin in his hand. He watched the snow, and I watched him watching it.

"I love snow. It's so clean."

"God you're beautiful," I said quietly.

He glanced at me with a slight smile, then away. "Coming from you..."

"What do you mean?"

"Coming from you that's funny."

This was a new one. "I don't get it."

"Well, I mean, you could totally be a model. You're like, perfect. You always look so gorgeous, even when you're freaking out or when you're sleeping or -- or when you have dirt on your chin." He reached out to rub at the smudge in question.

I leaned forward so he could do that. "I'm so not. You just think so cuz you like me."

"Nuh-uh. When I first saw you? I thought, I'm so close to dead I'm seeing angels."

"No way," I scoffed.

"Really."

I gave an uncomfortable laugh. "Well, I'm pretty fucking far from angelic."

"Bull. Maybe you get pissed off kinda easy, but only when people are being assholes. You're so good to me, I mean really good, you take care of me, you're so, you do nice things, you're so gentle and, and --"

This didn't sound like the kind of conversation for a public place. "Jaime, it's okay."

"I don't give you what you want but you're still so nice to me. Even though I don't give anything back."

I blinked at him in disbelief. "You think it's a trade?"

"There's -- you know -- give and take. Right?"

"You think there's a fucking trade imbalance in our relationship?" I was incredulous, not angry, but it still made him flinch a bit, so I brought my voice down almost to a whisper. "I'm happy just to be with you. There's no trade."

"I still feel bad. I don't give you anything."

"That's not true."

"But still."

"Jaime, you give me something to live for."

He stared at his hands. After a while he drank some of his drink. He wiped off his whipped cream mustache and licked his fingers, and this time, as he did it, he watched my face. Examining the effect he was having; the first baby steps of seduction. I actually saw the room get brighter as my pupils dilated.

Scooping up another gob of cream, he offered it to me. There could've been a nine-man varsity gaybashing team standing right behind me with baseball bats, and I would still have leaned forward and opened my mouth. I sucked the sweet off his fingers, eyes locked with his, and there was no rest of the world. His face flushed, dark rose under the brown of his cheeks. The fingers that had been in my mouth, he touched to his lips.

Then he looked past me, hunched his shoulders and turned away in obvious embarrassment.

I twisted in my chair to see what had made him do that. There were two sleek, artsy middle-aged men looking at us, smiling indulgently, and they were holding hands. I blinked at them. One of them gave a small wave. I suddenly had an idea.

"Wait for me," I told Jaime, and jumped up. I went over to the couple and said, "Hi."

They looked puzzled, but the one who'd waved said, "Hello."

"Can you bum me a couple bucks? I really really really need to buy him flowers."

The other one chuckled. He arched an eyebrow and said, "It looks as if you're well past the flowers and dinner stage."

"There wasn't one," I blurted. "I wish. I wish I could give him diamonds and cars and airplanes and like, the moon. A flower, I can almost afford."

"You're adorable. Buy him a dozen." The first man pressed a bill into my hand. I looked at it in astonishment: it was a twenty.

I goggled at them. "Thanks!"

"Go, go. Don't keep him waiting."

Backing out the door, I waved to Jaime, who had his head tilted like a puzzled dog. Outside, I ran. Dodged pedestrians, nearly collided with a light pole, skidded into a florist's just as they were about to close. The woman paused in pulling the gate down, looking at my excited face and the twenty clutched in my hand.

"You'll have to be quick," she said.

Up until she said that, I'd meant to be. I was going to grab a dozen red roses, like every other blue-balled swain on earth. But just then, an idea jumped through my head and out my mouth: "Do you know the language of flowers?"

She did a double-take. "Well. There's quite a bit of it. I know a few things."

"I know red roses are for love. Is there anything stronger than that?"

"Hm." Looking me up and down, she smiled slightly, and beckoned me to the flower cooler. "Dwarf sunflower means adoration."

I thought Jaime would love those, and nodded. "Yes. Those."

"And may I suggest they'd look lovely with bachelor's button, which stands for hope."

Vehement nodding on my part. "How much adoring hope will twenty bucks buy?"

I came back into the coffee shop with the bouquet behind my back, to find Jaime sitting with the middle-aged couple, fidgeting with his empty cup and nodding at something they'd said. All three of them watched me approach.

"Um," I said, with no idea how one presents flowers. So I just brought them out and thrust them at him. "Here."

His eyes went perfectly round. He squeaked like a mouse. I glowed like a furnace. One of the men said, "Oh, those are lovely. Stuart, when did you last give me flowers?"

"Your birthday last year," the other replied absently. Then he chuckled, because Jaime was still staring goggle-eyed at the flowers, and I was still staring at Jaime with my face burning. "I envy you boys. This is a good time for you. Never hide what you feel."

Ignoring his fatuous advice, I touched the petals of a sunflower. "These are for adoration. And the blue ones are for hope."

Jaime blinked, and his lashes were wet. "But I don't get it." His voice cracked. "I said I don't give you enough and so you, you give me more..."

"I like to."

He hugged the flowers and said something in Spanish. The only word I caught was corazón, because that was one of his pet names for me.

"Just love me," I told him. "Just stay with me."

Eyes squinched shut against the tears that were beading at their corners, he nodded, and croaked, "I do, Star. I will." He bent to hide his face in the bouquet.

When I just stood there staring at him, the man nearer me gave me a little shove. "Now take him home," he commanded.

I was annoyed at their meddling, but couldn't show it because they'd given me money for the flowers. And Jaime gave them a watery smile as he got up, so I told them, "Thank you. It's -- I really -- thanks." I gathered up the books and fled before they could do any more vicarious living through our youth, or whatever the hell they were doing.

As we left, I overheard the couple talking: "They can't have been more than sixteen." "If that. Poor things."

Maybe their meddling had affected me after all, because I put my arm around Jaime's shoulder right in the middle of Uptown where everyone could see. I was a bit surprised how little attention it drew. The few looks we did gather were benevolent; little smiles for young love, pity for urchins, pleasure at the bright flowers -- and at our beauty, I realized as I watched us walk by in shop windows. Against the lowering sky and whitened air, my hair looked very red, and the cold put color in my pale face. Jaime stood out dark against that paleness, the color of his skin echoed in my hair, his eyes shining red-amber like tea. I found myself wondering what we'd look like when we were older. How tall we'd be. Whether we'd grow up to be handsome men, whether we'd be strong and confident; whether we'd be witty and successful and comfortable with each other, as the couple in the coffee shop had been.

"It's kind of stupid," I said, "talking about forever. It's kinda... abstract."

"I guess," Jaime said uncertainly.

"But still, I want to see what you'll be like when you're old."

He put his face in the flowers again, and let me steer him along.

In our cold little room, he put the flowers in the water bucket. While I lit candles to warm the place, he said slowly, "I asked those guys about something."

"About what?" I asked warily.

"About. You know. Not wanting to. I told them I can tell it bothers you but you stop when I tell you. I told them I was scared you'd get tired of that and ditch me."

I didn't like that he'd told them anything so personal; I kept my back turned so he wouldn't see my anger. Took my time messing with a wick that didn't want to light. "I won't."

"The one guy said to go at my own pace and not push it. But the other guy said..." A pause to remember it. "He said, 'You'll never again love as intensely as you do now. I regret not making more mistakes when I was your age.'"

"Oh."

"So I started thinking, if it would be a mistake, what would go wrong. And I guess I'm afraid once you get what you want you'll -- you won't -- want me anymore."

Slowly, I turned to face him. "Jaime..."

"You say you won't. But then, you would say that."

"But. Jaime."

"Then I realized it doesn't matter. I'm so yours. I don't get to decide. I'm all yours, all of me, all the time. If you stop wanting me, I'm yours to throw away."

I set the candle carefully on the shelf, then just as carefully gathered him into my arms. "That won't happen. I mean it."

"There's one way to be sure."

I knew I ought to look at his face, to find out whether he was serious. But letting go wasn't much of an option at the moment. After a while, he turned his face to nuzzle my neck. His hands slid down my back, and he deliberately placed them on my ass. Pulled me closer and ground against me a little. I bit my lip against a groan, begging silently: please please please let this happen.

"I don't know what to do," he whispered against my neck. "Show me."

I answered with a desperate kiss, hands immediately scrambling at his clothes. He pulled me down on the sleeping bag by the hem of my shirt, then pushed it up, hands hot on the skin of my stomach. It took a long time to get through all the layers of our clothes. I was naked first, being less afraid of it. Making a surrender of it, I let him look at me as long as he wanted, though I was freezing; let him touch the safe parts of me and resisted the urge to push his hands downwards. Finally he met my eyes, frightened and wanting, and took off his underwear himself. I wrapped us in the bedding. He flinched when I pulled him toward me -- then suddenly melted against me and clung there, shivering.

"Don't be scared," I whispered. "I won't hurt you. Don't worry."

"I'm not. I'm cold." He gave a breathless laugh, and bit my shoulder so hard I yelped. I retaliated, not quite as hard. Then I kissed him gently, slowly, no longer quite so desperate now that we were really going to do this.

I'd planned to go down on him. But as our kisses grew more urgent, he began to rub against me a bit, and that felt so wonderful that I lost sight of my plan. I'd expected to blow his mind; I hadn't expected to be amazed myself, but I was. I'd never been with someone, not just to get off and get done, but to get as close as I could; never made love. This was definitely making love, however clumsy and adolescent it was.

And however short -- because once he started squirming half-rhythmically against me and breathing fast into my mouth, I lasted about thirty seconds. He made it maybe another ten before he lost it too.

When our rasping breath had slowed a bit, he began to roll off me, but stopped at the stickiness between us. He giggled. "Glue," he said.

I cleaned us up with a sock. We pulled the covers over our heads and lay together in the warm darkness. Eventually I said, "I'm still here."

"Yeah," he breathed.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah." He settled his head against my arm, and I felt the movement of his face when he smiled. "Let's do that about a million more times."

"That'll take years," I grinned.

"Good."