Matt woke to the sound of whispering softness against the window and a distant creaking as the roof, four stories up, began settling under a slowly accumulating weight. There was a bite in the air, crisp and metallic and wet, and a low pressure system was banging on Matt’s sinuses. He stifled a sneeze, groaned, and pulled his pillow over his head, burrowing deeper into the warmth of his blanket cocoon. A moment later, his clock started intoning the time, telling him he was going to be late if he didn’t move.
The door opened with a creak and a whisper of hair and flannel announced Foggy shortly before a pillow struck Matt on the ass. “Hey, man. You oversleep or something? We got Torts in like twenty minutes.” Foggy poured a cup of yesterday’s coffee, the scent of burnt grounds adding to the miasma of ozone, dead leaves, Ivory soap, and dirty laundry which had wafted in with him and which were slowly filtering through the many layers of blankets currently protecting Matt from reality. “I’ve been up for an hour. It started snowing last night. Looks like about a foot already and it just keeps coming down. Harrison is down there, actually building a snowman. I don’t think he’s ever seen snow before. Isn’t he from Texas, or something?”
“Dallas, I think, yeah.” The accent was distinctive. “I think all they get is ice storms down there.” Matt uncovered his head and sneezed. “I hate snow. I hate ice more, but I really hate snow. Take notes or something for me. Tell Carlton I’m sick.” Matt had no idea how someone’s face looked when there were trying to look pathetic, but he gave it his best shot.
Foggy burst out laughing, coffee spraying nearly to Matt’s bed in a fine aerosol. “You look like a duck, man. How do you even make your face do that?” He picked up a dirty shirt, or something else equally soft, smelly, and on the floor, and wiped up the coffee. “Don’t slip. There’s a wet spot about five feet from your six o’clock. That’s right, right?”
“Yeah, I think, if it’s right in front of you.” Moisture radiated up from the fan of drying liquid, store-brand crap coffee Foggy had bought last week that they were trying desperately to use up so they could get something better. “You’re getting good at the clock face. Any coffee left?” Day old and cheap as it was, it was caffeine. If Matt was going to have to face a world blanketed in snow he would need all the alertness he could muster. Overhead, the heater clicked on, stirring the dust in the ducts and blowing a welcome stream of warmth across Matt’s face. He swung his legs out of bed and sat up, rubbing his eyes.
“There’s about a cup. Black, right?” Liquid gurgled and then a hot cup was pressed into Matt’s groping hand. “How can you hate snow?”
Matt took a sip of the disgusting brew and grimaced. “You are never buying the coffee again.” It was oily and tasted like burned toast, chlorine, and prunes. “This is revolting.” Matt took another, longer drink. The floor was cold under his bare feet and a draft coming from under the door shilled up his calf. Someone downstairs had opened a door, and the moist icy cold tickled his palate and forced out another sneeze.
By the time the cup was empty, the coffee had actually started tasting kind of good. Either that or Matt’s tongue had gone numb from shock. Setting down the cup, Matt went to his closet and began feeling for wool and cotton, his fingers dancing over the identifying buttons sewn to the necks. He picked out a green sweater and brown pants and hoped there were no clashing patterns to worry about.
“These match?” He pulled the sweater on over the undershirt he had slept in, not wanting to bare any more of his skin than necessary.
“More or less, yeah. I like the flowers. Nice embroidery. Why do you hate snow?” Foggy was shoving papers into his bag and brushing his long hair off of his forehead. “No one hates snow. It’s not normal to hate snow. At least the first snow of the year. Later, yeah, everyone hates it. When it gets all gritty and grey and nasty and slushy. But right now, it’s perfect.”
Matt ran his fingers over the smooth front of the sweater, just to be sure. No flowers. Right. “Ah…it’s hard to explain. I get around by knowing where things are, counting steps, listening for landmarks. In the snow, everything sounds different. Plus, my cane gets stuck in drifts. I get lost more. It sucks.” He finished dressing quickly and ran a comb through his hair. “Is there anything left to eat?”
It was more complicated than that, of course, but he couldn’t explain to Foggy how his senses went all wonky in the snow. Echoes changed, yeah, and smells and pretty much everything. The edges of things softened and shifted and became deceptive, and everything was muffled…
“Like being in fog?” asked Foggy.
Matt blinked, surprised at the insight. “Yeah, kind of, I guess. I remember how the fog used to roll in off the Hudson some mornings and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Like that, yeah. Plus, I don’t know this area as well as I knew my old neighborhood. I got around ok there,” from roof to street level and every alley in between every building, he’d known them like he knew his room at St. Agnes, or his old apartment with Dad, “but I’m still learning Columbia.”
“Gotcha. And yeah, we have some oatmeal, I think.” Foggy rinsed out the coffee cups and put water in the microwave to boil. “Well, no prob. I’ll get you to Torts, anyway. I’ve got Criminal Adjudication this afternoon, but I can get you to Spanish beforehand. Mi elbow is su elbow.”
The simple offer stilled Matt’s hands as he was pulling out a packet of oatmeal and a bowl. “Really? You don’t mind?”
Foggy didn’t say anything for a minute, and Matt thought he might be regretting his offer. Then he said, “Yeah, man. I know you’re Mr. Independence and everything, but it’s no big deal. Whenever, y’know?”
Matt smiled and felt a warmth rise in his chest. He ducked his head to hide his face and reached for the water in the microwave, testing the temperature by holding his fingers into the rising steam. “Thanks, man. I…I owe you.” What had seemed overwhelming suddenly seemed possible. The snow hissed against the windows and he could hear the wind picking up outside, but he didn’t feel cold anymore.
Before the moment could stretch into some kind of maudlin bro-fest, a message ping sounded from Foggy’s laptop. Matt heard him cross to his desk and tap a few keys, and then was startled by a loud yawp of pleasure. “Luck is on your side today, my friend, “ Foggy crowed. “Carlson has cancelled class. Apparently we are experiencing not only the first snowfall of the year, but the first blizzard. Class has been cancelled for the next three days. Booyah! Free day! “ There was a whoosh of displaced air, followed by the sounds of creaking bedsprings and the shuss of fabric and a muttered rendition of “School’s Out for summer…School’s out for-ever….” The mental image was of one Foggy Nelson doing a victory dance on his bed, and Matt almost dropped the oatmeal laughing.
With a final leap, Foggy landed and grabbed Matt by the shoulders, startling him only a little. “I’m going to brew up some more of my delicious coffee and then you and I, pal, are going to have a snow ball fight. I’m going to show you just how much fun snow can be. I’ll bet we can make a better snowman than Harrison, too. I’ve seen pictures of the pathetic, grass-covered excuses for snowmen they make in Texas. We’ll show them what a couple of boys from Hell’s Kitchen can do!”
And so it was that Matthew Michael Murdock found himself behind a hastily constructed snow fort, packing snowballs as fast as Foggy could throw them, and pitched in a heated battle. Harrison had joined forces with Miller and Khandepur, also from Texas, and seemed bent on re-enacting the Battle of the Alamo.
“Remember Goliad! Remember San Jacinto! Have at ‘em, boys!” A hail of cold missiles flew over the barricade, mostly missing.
Matt’s fingers stung as he gathered up a fresh double handful of powder. “Your aim sucks! No wonder Santa Anna won! Down with the Texians!” He stood and hurled his cannonball at their foes. From the sputtering, he’d scored a direct hit. Unfortunately, a fresh volley caught him full in the face before he even thought about ducking.
Cold was everywhere, overwhelming, filling his mouth, his nose, his ears. The wind tugged at his coat, and he staggered a step, his foot catching on a patch of ice under the snow. Down was up and up was down and everything was cold and soft and where the hell were his glasses, his cane, his damn wits!
One flailing hand was caught, and then a strong arm was behind his back, grounding him. “Shit, man. You ok?” Foggy was blocking the rising wind, the blowing snow, and how the hell had he ended up sitting in a snowbank? “Did you hit your head?” Patting hand brushing off the snow, wiping it from his stinging cheeks, ruffling it from his hair. “Say something, Matt. Are you with me?”
“Yeah…sorry...yeah....” Matt scrambled to his feet, embarrassed and still a little lost. The sturdy hands stayed with him, steady on back and arm, until he was standing stable again. Then they pressed cold glass and metal into one hand and his aluminum cane into the other.
“You got good aim, dude,” Foggy said proudly. “You got Miller right in the chops. He’s the one who got you in the face. Asshole.”
“No…no harm done,” Matt pushed his glasses onto his face, cutting the wind off from his drying eyes. “Hey, he picked the losing side. Not my fault the Mexican army won that particular battle. Can we go in now? I’m freezing.”
Foggy laughed. “Yeah, man. I think we’re done for now. The wind is picking up again and the sky is getting a lot darker. Let’s accept their surrender and go get some hot chocolate or something.”
Back upstairs, Matt stripped off and jumped into the shower, water on as hot as he could stand it. His skin stung and tingled, but his shivering slowly subsided. Out in the main room, the microwave beeped, and Matt could smell cocoa, instant milk, and sugar wafting up from the paper packet Foggy was ripping open. He could smell the Bailey’s, too, and he hurried though the rest of his ablutions. Foggy was a generous bartender, and Matt needed warming inside as much as outside.
He toweled off and pulled on something flannel and warm and probably mismatched, but what the hell. As he left the bathroom, Foggy pressed another warm mug into his hands. “Thanks, pal,” Matt said, and took a long sip.
“I just hope you left me some hot water, Goose.”
Matt slung the towel around his neck and settled back onto his bed, pulling blankets up and over his toes. “I thought you were Goose.” The hot chocolate was instant, and off-brand like the coffee, but with enough Bailey’s Irish it was palatable. “I’m Maverick.”
“No way, man. You’re totally Goose. I look much more like Tom Cruise than you do. I got the chin and everything.”
Matt laughed. “Like I know what Tom Cruise looks like. I’ll take your word for it, Mav.”
The wind was howling outside, and more snow was falling by the minute. A tickle in Matt’s sinuses told him he was heading for a cold within the next few days. And they were out of ramen. Just at the moment, though, Matt was content.
He still hated snow, but he was going to make it through this winter. A strong hand had reached in through the fog and helped him find his way back to the warm. It was starting to feel like the hand of a friend.