When I think about that day, I can feel how cold it was. At first it’s like a thousand tiny little bee stings, and then you don’t feel anything at all. I was sitting in the snow at the top of the hill, and my ass and thighs had gone completely numb. I was wearing that fucking hand-me-down navy and orange hunting parka that I had inherited from my cousin Ronnie, though, so that was the worst of it.
Russell hadn’t been there that morning like he usually was. We met on the hill every Saturday and Sunday (after church for me - his family didn’t go, which fascinated me) and played Star Wars or ET or whatever else we could think of. We’d throw ourselves down the steep hill, tumbling in the summer and sliding in the winter.
I had no idea how long I had been there. It was starting to get dark, so it must have been a long time, but I didn’t really have the sense of time passing at all.
I could see his house. It was down the hill and across a patch of land that nobody owned. In the summer it was choked with weeds that grew taller than me, but now it was an expanse of beautiful, undisturbed snow.
I saw someone leave the house by the back door. Probably one of his four brothers, since they were older. Russell had to go home when it got dark. I liked that he had a big family. I knew that when there were a lot of kids in the house already, parents usually didn’t care if there were one or two more neighborhood kids around. Maybe one day I’d be able to stay there most of the time. Maybe I could even live there. No, that was stupid, I thought. That kind of thing probably only happens in books.
As the figure made his way across the field - right down the middle, too, totally ruining the perfect, perfect snow - I saw that it was Russell. He climbed up the hill, sliding backwards a few times before making it to the top, and stood next to me.
"You should go home."
I looked up at him. He was different somehow. His face was different. “Why?”
"I can’t play with you anymore."
I blinked. “Why?”
He sighed. “My brothers were making fun of me for being friends with a girl.”
I didn’t say anything for a long time. I felt like I was supposed to say something. Eventually I said “Oh.” Then, “That’s stupid, though. Who cares what they think?”
He hung his head a little. “I gotta go back. I saw you out here and I didn’t want you to get sick or something from being out in the cold.” And then he left, going back the way he came. At least he had the good sense to walk back through his footprints so he didn’t ruin more perfect snow.
Coming in from the cold was the worst part. Being out in the cold hurt, but only for a little while. Walking into the warm afterwards - it was excruciating. There would be sharp, stabbing pains all over as the numbness melted and I started to feel things again.
So I stayed there a little bit longer.