It was late afternoon in the small town of Armonk, New York. The sun was just starting to set behind the horizon in a mass of brilliant hues—pink, tangerine, and lilac—and a few brave stars were already beginning to shine far above. Snow was in the air; with one good, long breath, the familiar scent would tickle the nose.
While the sun and the stars and the weather went about the natural order of things, a little boy named Jared was sitting at the top of the stairs hidden behind the banister. He was listening to his parents. They were fighting again; it didn’t happen often, but often enough that it broke an eleven year old boy’s heart.
He sighed as he leaned his head against the wooden post. Wide hazel eyes turned and fell upon the scene below, to the Christmas tree that sparkled as if jewels adorned its many branches, to the knit stockings that were hung with such care from the mantel of the fireplace, and then to the stacks of colorfully wrapped gifts under the eight foot-tall spruce; garlands, strings of lights, and handmade snowflakes decorated the stair railing heading down into the family room. It was his favorite time of year.
Jared’s attention was drawn away from it all and he slipped further behind the banister when his father, his face pinched tight in a frown, appeared from the kitchen and walked silently out the front door; it slammed shut behind him. Jared swallowed. A lone tear fell from his eye leaving a glistening trail down his chubby cheek.
Parents weren’t supposed to fight. They were supposed to smile and laugh and love… not this. He got up and ran to his room.
He sat on his bed, socked feet hanging above the floor, and pulled Mr. Skittles into his lap, hugging him tight. The teddy bear was old and frayed, but it still brought comfort to Jared when it was needed. Jared tightened his grip on the stuffed animal and pressed his wet face into the napped material, breathing in its familiar scent.
Something tap, tap, tapped at Jared’s window. He lifted his head and looked over his shoulder at the window. Tap, tap, tap. He slowly set his bear down on the navy blue comforter beside him and got up to walk across his bedroom to see what the noise was.
Tap, tap, tap.
Jared jumped at the sound, but then he smiled when he saw what the source of the noise was: the spindly fingers of a tree branch just outside his window were caught up in the wind.
Tap, tap, tap.
Jared unlocked the latch on his window and pushed it open. Tendrils of cold air immediately curled about him and he shivered. He turned and looked around the floor. When he spotted the hoodie that he’d worn yesterday, he grabbed it and pulled over his head before drawing a chair up to the window to sit down.
He leaned over, crossing his arms on the sill, and rested his chin on his forearms. It wasn’t late, but the sky was quickly darkening as it did at this time of year. Even as he watched, more and more stars blossomed in the deep cobalt of the coming night. In the east, the pale moon hung full and heavy behind a blanket of thick clouds.
As Jared watched, a shooting star streaked across the heavens. He closed his eyes and made a wish.
The wind outside the small house at 37 Quinby Ridge Road picked up, blowing Jared’s unruly bangs across his face. The bare branches of the trees around town rustled and knocked together like old bones. A green, silken scarf got caught in the naked limbs of a tall maple. It pulled and twisted until it came free and fluttered like a butterfly through the crisp winter air. Although appearing aimless, the meandering path it danced along was taking it somewhere in particular.
A little boy had made a wish.
There were things to be done.
Jared’s nose twitched and he rubbed at it when something cold alighted upon it; he reached up and wiped the sensation away. When he opened his eyes, he saw snow falling from the sky, huge, billowy, cotton ball-sized flakes that were thick and wet, the perfect mix with which to build a snowman—Jared grew giddy at the thought. It was quickly collecting on the ground adding to the pile that was already there from the storm that had come through early last week.
It was still early enough that he could go outside for a while as long as he stayed in the yard. On the way out, he could stop by the kitchen. He wanted to make sure his mom was okay after what he’d heard earlier.
Jared pulled his window closed and re-latched it before going off in search of his boots. One was on the floor at the foot of his bed. The other? Nowhere to be seen.
Jared kicked through the piles of dirty clothes on the floor. Nothing. He looked in his closet. Nothing. Finally, he got down on his stomach and crawled under the bed. “Ha!” Jared shouted in glee as he spotted the stray piece of footwear. He reached out, fingers barely catching on the toe of the rebellious boot. He pushed a little further under the bed, the frame digging into his spine. “Gotcha!”
He shimmied back out from under the bed and tugged his boots on.
Clump, clump, clump… he ran down the stairs. When he rounded the corner into the kitchen, he found his mom at the counter, a cup of tea in her hands; the rich scent of the herbal mixture wafted through the air. She set the cup down when she saw Jared running toward her. He wrapped his arms around her and held on tight.
“Jared, sweetheart. What’s wrong?”
“Love you, Mom,” he said, voice muffled against her sweater.
“Oh, honey.” She pulled away from him, tucked his hair behind his ears, and then leaned down to kiss him on the forehead. “Don’t worry about your dad and me. We’re both just having a bad night. It’ll be okay in the morning. You’ll see. Aaand,” she drew the word out, “before you know it, Christmas will be here. I know how much you’ve been looking forward to it.”
Jared nodded and stepped back. He subconsciously rubbed at his eyes and pushed a smile onto his face.
“Are you going outside?” his mom asked as she looked pointedly down at his boots.
He nodded again. “It’s snowing.”
His mom glanced out the window over the sink. “So I see. Well, young man, you make sure to bundle up warm. That means hat, gloves, and scarf, not just your coat.”
“I know you know, Jared, but as your mom, I have the right to remind you,” she teased as she turned back to the counter and her mug. “I just don’t want you freezing to death out there. The weatherman—”
“Yes, Mom. I know it’s cold out. I’ll be all right.”
Jared stepped out into the mud room and pulled his scarf down from where it was hung on the hook on the wall. He wrapped it around his neck twice before putting his coat on and zipping it up snugly. He picked his beanie up from the bench and tugged it down over his head making sure to cover his ears and then slipped his gloves on.
“I’ll be in the backyard,” he called out as he opened the door and ran outside.
The wind kicked up a notch and the green scarf tumbled down the sidewalk. It got caught up around the post of someone’s mailbox before the wind shifted and sent it toward its destination once more.
It sailed through the air gaining height and speed as another current of wind swept it up, up, and up. It spiraled and tumbled end over end.
Just a few houses away, the young boy was rolling a large ball of snow through his yard. The scarf gave an extra little wiggle as it somersaulted up the road.
The first ball, the largest one, was already finished. It sat on a clear patch of ground next to the tall birch tree out by the shed. A bald track of earth led up to it distinctly showing where the eleven-year-old had rolled it in from.
Jared huffed as he finished up with the second ball of snow; it had grown somewhat cumbersome over the last ten feet. His cheeks were pink from both the cold and exertion.
“Just a little… further,” he panted, white puffs of air swirling up from his lips.
Jared collapsed to his knees when he was done and pressed his sweaty forehead to the icy sphere. When he caught his breath, he stood up and scrutinized the ball of snow that would make up the snowman’s midsection.
It was nice and round. Well… sort of.
Jared used every bit of strength he had to lift the heavy ball up and push it onto the base of his snowman. He collected some loose powder from the ground and packed it into the crevice between the bottom ball and the midsection to help keep the middle from wanting to tip and roll off.
He looked around the yard. The trails he’d left behind were already starting to disappear under the falling snow. The sky had grown darker in the time he’d been outside, but he had made sure to leave the back porch light on so he could see what he was doing.
“Okay, just one more,” he said to himself as he dusted the wet snow off his gloves.
The head was always the easiest part. Jared started by making a small snowball between his gloved hands and then carefully set it down on the ground and began to roll it. Minutes later, the head was being hoisted up onto the first two balls. Jared took his time and packed more snow around it to keep it in place.
Now, it was time for the finishing touches.
Before he’d started, he’d collected small branches for the arms and rocks for the eyes and mouth while it had still been light enough outside to find them. (His mom had stuck her head out the door earlier and had passed him a carrot for the nose.)
After he pushed the carrot into the center of its face, Jared stepped back and admired his work. Considering he’d done it all on his own, he was pretty darn proud of himself. It was definitely better than last year’s snowman.
But there was something missing.
Jared stared at the snowman and frowned. It smiled back at him with its perpetual grin.
A gust of wind tore through the trees and he pulled his coat tighter around his body. He heard a car door close. His dad was home. Jared looked back at the house, where his mother was, and wondered what was going to happen. He hoped they were done fighting.
He looked up at the sky again and wondered about his wish, whether it would come true or not. Probably not. They never did.
The scarf flew across the final few feet. It reached out and wrapped itself around a low-hanging branch. It flapped and fluttered wildly as it attempted to draw the attention of the boy.
It must have worked because Jared suddenly looked up. “Where did you come from?” he asked. He looked around, but there was no one in sight.
He shuffled forward, his boots clump, clump, clumping through the snow, until he was right below the scarf. He reached up and pulled the scarf down from the tree. As soon as his hand made contact with the scarf, it shimmered in the fading light.
But Jared didn’t see the soft glow.
Loud voices rang out from inside his house and his eyes snapped toward the sound. He could see his parents’ silhouettes through the curtained window and pressed his teeth into his bottom lip worriedly. He’d heard other kids at school talking about their own parents getting divorced and Jared didn’t want that to happen. He didn’t want to live in a broken home, spending weekends and holidays at one parent’s house and weekdays at the other’s. He wanted his family to stay together.
Jared looked down. He didn’t realize how tightly he’d been clutching the silken material in his hands. His fingers smoothed over the wrinkled fabric and he felt a tingle against his skin. He’d never felt something so soft before. And the color was beautiful, like the color of green glass.
Jared suddenly knew what was missing from the snowman. He walked up to it and wrapped the scarf around its neck. He adjusted the ends of it so they hung evenly.
“There. Now you’re done.”
There was more yelling from inside and Jared tried to ignore it, but he felt the prickle of tears in his eyes. He backed up against the snowman and slid down until he was sitting on the ground. He didn’t feel the cold as it seeped into his jeans.
“Mom, Dad… please stop fighting,” he whispered.
Tears began to spill over from his eyes as the snow continued to fall around him.
Jared must have dozed off. It was dark out, much darker than before when he blinked his eyes open. He might only be eleven and a half, but he knew that anyone sitting out in the cold for as long as he had should be feeling signs of frostbite by now. He didn’t. As a matter of fact, he felt fine, warm even.
Something behind him shifted. Jared stilled. He didn’t want to get bitten by a raccoon or sprayed by a skunk. He’d seen both animals in the yard over the years. Once, he’d even seen a turkey, but he wasn’t scared of a turkey.
“You’re awake,” an unfamiliar voice said from behind him… or, rather, from above him.
Jared stilled. He slowly looked up… only to see his snowman looking down at him with bright green eyes that reflected the light of the porch. It was smiling. Not smiling like the he-has-six-rocks-shaped-like-a-smile kind of smile, but actually smiling. Jared yelped and fell back into the snow.
“Hey, breathe, kid,” the snowman said and Jared looked up at it with wide eyes. He was freaking out, breaths coming in short gasps. But why shouldn’t he? A snowman was talking to him. Maybe he did have frostbite and his brain was frozen.
The snowman moved closer and rubbed at its chin with twig fingers. “Sorry, I’m a bit rusty at this. You gonna be okay?” It waved a hand in front of Jared’s face and Jared scrambled back another foot.
“You… You’re talking,” Jared squeaked as he stared up at the snowman… his snowman… that was now alive?
“Snowmen don’t talk.”
“No, they don’t. But I’m no ordinary snowman.” The snowman looked up at the sky, then back down to Jared. “Jared, sometimes wishes do come true.”
“My… My wish? You mean…”
“Yes. That’s exactly what I mean. You needed someone… and I came.” The snowman moved closer to Jared and reached a twiggy hand out to him. “C’mon, let’s get you up out of the snow before you freeze.”
Jared’s gaze flitted between the snowman’s face and the outstretched hand. If he took hold of that, the thin fingers of wood would snap and break.
“But you’ll break.”
“I won’t. I promise.” The snowman wiggled its fingers as it waited.
Jared reached up. He hesitated briefly before closing his eyes and taking the proffered hand. He was hauled up from the ground as if he weighed nothing. When he was back up on his feet, he stared at the snowman in wonderment.
He tilted his head and looked at it, then walked a full circle around it. The snowman arched its brow and remained quiet as he did.
“How are you even real?” Jared finally asked.
“Magic.” The snowman wiggled its fingers and made a noise that had Jared giggling.
“My dad says there’s no such thing as magic. It’s all made up.”
“But you believe,” the snowman said quietly, “or I wouldn’t be here.”
The door to the back porch squeaked and Jared turned to see his mom leaning out. He glanced back at the snowman. It was no longer moving. It was just standing there like a regular snowman. He looked back at his mom.
“Jared, it’s time to come in. It’s getting late. I’ve got some hot chocolate for you.”
“Uh, sure. I’ll be right there.”
With one last glance over his shoulder at the snowman—had it all been just his imagination?—he turned and followed his mom into the house.
The snowman let out a heavy sigh as the porch light turned off, throwing the yard into deep shadow. There was nothing he could do about Jared’s parents. Fate was fate. What befell them was already written in the stars. All he could do was be there for Jared, be a friend to him, someone Jared could talk to.
A little while later, a light came on in an upstairs room spilling a soft yellow glow over the ground outside. The snowman looked up and saw Jared at the window, face pressed close to the glass. The snowman waved to him.
Jared smiled and waved back before disappearing from view.
A moment later, the light went out.
Morning came. The adults showered and drank their coffees and got in their cars to head off to work. The school buses and their precious cargo of children were missing from the lines of traffic since the schools had started their winter break just a few short days ago. Instead of being hauled off to their classrooms, the children were still in their pajamas in bed or sitting at their kitchen tables eating breakfast. Most were eager to go outside and play in the few extra inches of snow that had fallen overnight.
Today was Tuesday and Jared’s neighbor, the elderly Mrs. Andrews, would be keeping an eye on him again while his parents were at work. Thankfully, he was allowed to stay outside and go between the two houses as much as he pleased.
He couldn’t wait to get back outside to check on his snowman. After a full night’s rest, he began to wonder if it had all been a dream.
Jared trudged through knee-deep snow keeping his eyes locked on the snowman. It seemed taller than it had been last night. And there was a bird perched on its head.
When he reached it, he saw that, in fact, it was taller than before.
“Um, hello?” he said, feeling a little awkward talking to something that shouldn’t be able to answer back.
There was no response, but the bird—a cardinal—responded by flying away.
Jared took a step closer and peered up at it. The snowman looked the same but not, if one knew what to look for. He carefully placed a bare hand on its midsection and ran it over the smooth snow. The ice tingled against his warm fingertips.
The snowman wriggled under his touch. A noise that sounded like a snort came from above and Jared quickly pulled his hand away. He looked back up at its face. It was looking down at him.
“Do you always wake people up by tickling them?” it asked, voice playful in tone.
“I… No. I thought—”
“You thought you imagined me.”
Jared nodded. “Why are you here?” he wondered out loud.
“Because you wished it.”
“You said that, but I don’t understand.”
“Not everything in this world can be explained, Jared. You were in need, so I came. That’s the important part.”
Jared raised his brow in disbelief. “You really heard me?”
“I did.” The snowman reached out and tugged Jared’s beanie down to cover his ears. “I also know why you called me.”
Jared felt his throat tighten. He knew what the snowman was talking about.
“Will they be okay, my parents?”
“Oh, I’m sure they will be.” The snowman leaned down so he could look Jared in the eye. “But what’s more important than that is making sure you’re okay.” He tweaked Jared’s nose causing the little boy to giggle.
“Do you have a name? I mean, if we’re gonna be friends, I can’t keep calling you Snowman because that seems a little weird.”
The snowman gave a hearty laugh at that, green eyes glittering with mirth. “No, I suppose you can’t. My name is Jensen.”
“Jensen,” Jared tried out. The name was different; he’d never heard of anyone with that name before. But he had manners and didn’t say anything. Anyway, it started with a J, so it couldn’t be all that bad. “Well, then, you should call me Jay… because that’s what my friends call me.”
And with those words came the beginning of what was to become a rather strange but wondrous friendship that would span the length of the next few winters.
On Christmas morning, Jared came running outside. Jensen opened his eyes. He’d been napping in the shade of the birch tree. He smiled when he saw Jared, coat unbuttoned and scarf trailing behind him, running toward him. The little boy’s cheeks were bright and rosy already from the cold.
“Jensen! Look! I got the book on birds that I wanted.” He waved a thick book in the air.
“Well, someone must have been on Santa’s ‘Nice List’ this year then. Merry Christmas, Jay! And shouldn’t you be inside celebrating with your family?”
Jensen’s words had Jared stopping in his tracks, the book dropping down to his side. He looked up at Jensen, face falling slightly. “You’re here,” he said quietly. “Don’t you have a family to go home to for Christmas?”
Jensen was taken by surprise at Jared’s question. No one had ever asked him if he had family. He didn’t. Maybe once eons ago, but not anymore.
“No. Not in a long while,” he replied.
Jared tilted his head and looked at him, a thoughtful expression on his face. “Would you like to be my family? I mean, I know you can’t do family stuff with us, but—”
Oh, what star had this young soul fallen from to have a heart like he did? Jensen wondered. He was such a selfless child.
Jensen reached out and ruffled Jared’s shaggy hair. “I would like that… very much.”
Jared grinned brightly. “So, would you like to see my book?”
Jared spun around and plopped down into the snow at Jensen’s foot and together they pointed out birds that they liked and learned the names of them all. Jensen already knew them, but he enjoyed the company.
Jensen began to wonder if this trip was just as much for him as it was Jared. He had been lonely for so long.
Over the next weeks, Jensen watched over Jared. Jared’s confidence began to grow with his company. He looked happier. He was happier.
Winter peaked and the snowman and the boy saw each other nearly every day. They raced through the woods behind Jared’s house. They took to sledding in the darkened evenings when no one was around. A couple times, they’d even hit the skating pond. But what they enjoyed the most was gazing up at the stars.
Before they knew it, spring was on the horizon. The temperatures started rising more often than not above freezing.
One evening, Jared looked up at Jensen. A small droplet of water had slid down Jensen’s carrot nose and was clinging to it. It fell.
“Are you going to die?” he asked.
Jared had had a hamster. It had died two summers ago and he knew what death was. He knew it was forever. He didn’t want to think of what his life would be like without Jensen there anymore.
They had had so much fun this winter. Jared couldn’t go back to that place where it felt like his world was crashing down around him. Even though, now, he knew none of it was his fault. Jensen had explained how things just happened. Sometimes moms and dads grew apart. Sometimes things could be fixed; other times, they couldn’t. Things had been quiet in the Padalecki household lately and Jared prayed every night that his parents would stay together.
Jensen leaned up against the shed. Jared could hear the soft snow squelch against the weathered wood.
“I don’t die. I just go away.”
“Will you come back?”
Jensen held an arm up and Jared fell into the snowman, letting himself be hugged close. He didn’t want to lose Jensen. Jensen had become his best friend.
“Of course, I will. My time with you isn’t done yet,” Jensen said as he poked Jared in the ribs, tickling him and making his smile come back.
“Promise?” Jared held out his pinky finger and wiggled it.
Jensen laughed. He wrapped a thin, twiggy finger around Jared’s little finger. “Promise.”
There was no good time to do this.
A few days later, Jared was sitting on the porch steps reading a book under the pale light from overhead. Jensen leaned over and whispered into Jared’s ear: “I have to go now.”
The paperback fell to the wet ground at Jared’s feet, instantly forgotten. Jared looked up, eyes already glistening.
Jensen closed his eyes. He hated this time of year. He didn’t like having to leave, but it was just the way things were; it was how he was made. The way he’d learned to look at it was it gave his young charges some time to gain the independence they needed. Jared was still fragile, but he’d grown stronger with Jensen’s help. He’d learned that there were some things in his life he could control and others that he couldn’t.
“Hey, it’s been a good run though,” Jensen told him. “And there’s next winter to look forward to… more hills to sled down, more stars to look at. You can teach me a few more of those constellations you seem to know so well.”
“But… what am I going to do until then?” Jared’s lower lip trembled. “What do I do if they fight? I won’t have anyone… What if I cause a fight?”
“Jared, you know better than that,” Jensen chided him. “Don’t let yourself fall down now. You’re strong, stronger than you think. And your parents love you. Don’t ever forget that.”
“Jensen…” Jared stood from his spot on the steps and hugged Jensen tightly. The softening snow around Jensen’s middle gave way under Jared’s hold and Jared immediately let go, looking up at Jensen. “I’m s-sorry. Does it hurt, the melting?”
Jensen shook his head no. “I’m fine. Just think of the snow as the container that holds the essence of what I am. You know, all the sweet stuff.” He grinned and Jared snorted.
Jared was a smart kid though. He immediately went all somber on Jensen again.
“You will be back, though, right?” Jared fidgeted. He was waiting for Jensen to tell him things had changed, that he wouldn’t be coming back next winter.
“I’m gonna be honest with you, Jay, because you’re old enough to understand. There will be a time when I have to leave for good, but now isn’t it. I will never hide the truth from you.”
Jared’s eyes snapped up to Jensen’s with that admission. “When?”
Jensen knew that was coming. “Believe it or not, it’s up to you.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to let you go.”
Jared’s words warmed Jensen’s heart.
“So, now?” Jared’s voice was quiet.
“I think so, yes.”
“Where will you go?”
Jensen glanced over his shoulder toward the trees. He’d always liked the woods. “I think maybe I’ll just go for a little walk.”
“How will I know when you’re back?” Jared asked.
“Jared, trust me.” Jensen started to turn. The longer he stayed, the harder it would be for both of them.
Jensen didn’t have much time. His carrot nose was starting to sag. His left arm hung at a not-so-normal angle. His middle was beginning to slip and he was starting to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Even if it was only a degree or two above freezing, he wasn’t going to last much longer, maybe another day before he lost his head—and not in a figurative sort of way either.
Suddenly, Jensen had five feet and then some of solid boy crashing into him, almost toppling him over to the ground. Funnily enough, Jensen’s only thoughts were of how big Jared was going to be someday. He was already taller than most boys his age.
“Please don’t go,” Jared pleaded against Jensen’s side.
“I have to, Jay. You’ll be fine. And before you know it, winter will be back; I’ll be back.” Jensen used his one good arm to gently pry Jared from him. “Look at me, kiddo.” Hazel eyes turned up to Jensen. “Believe me when I tell you, I don’t wanna go, but I’m startin’ to fall apart here. I’d rather you not see that. It’s not a pretty sight, all my guts spillin’ out and everything.”
“You don’t have guts,” Jared stated matter-of-factly. And then his eyes grew wide. “Do you?”
Jensen laughed. “Have you ever seen a snowman with guts?”
“Well, there’s your answer.”
“You’ll be back?”
“Okay.” Jared trailed his fingers down Jensen’s side causing him to shiver. Jensen could tell he didn’t want to let go.
“Hey, enough with the tickling,” he said with a smile. Jared smiled back, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Yeah. Sure. See you soon, Jensen.”
Jensen turned, then, and made his way into the forest.
Jared watched the snowman, his friend—Jensen—until he disappeared into the woods. When he was gone, Jared sighed and turned to pick up his sodden book from the ground. With one last glance over his shoulder, Jared slowly walked up the steps and into the house.
He didn’t see the soft burst of blue light that flooded the trees behind him. It lasted but an instant before it shot off into the sky above.
The first days after Jensen left were, for lack of a better word, dull. When Jared wasn’t sitting in a classroom staring at a blackboard and listening to his teacher drone on and on, he whiled away the time in his room reading or drawing. If he wasn’t in his room, he could be found walking the familiar paths out in the woods behind the house, the ones he and Jensen had spent many hours on. He missed Jensen; Jensen had brought the color back into his life.
The very last of winter soon thawed into spring. Yellow daffodils and purple hyacinths poked their sleepy heads from the ground. Songbirds sang as they emerged from their winter hiding.
Easter came and went. Spring slowly warmed into the heat of summer. School rolled to an end. Bare feet came inside dirty at the end of every day.
The Fourth of July passed by with an unspectacular bang. Jared became another year older. A pool party or two came and went with a splash. Long summer days slowly faded into the brilliant golds and crimsons of autumn.
School started. The leaves on the trees curled up and fell to the ground. Autumn slowly cooled off into winter.
Jared ticked off another day on the calendar.
It was the first day of winter.
Jared smiled brighter than he had in months.
The weathermen on every news station were talking about snow… lots of it. A nor’easter was inching its way toward Armonk and would be here by nightfall. Schools had already been called off for the rest of the week adding to his already long winter vacation coming up.
His gloves and hat were laid out on the bench in the mud room; his coat and scarf were at the ready. Even his new boots were both where they could be found.
Jared leaned over the back of the couch looking out the bay window of the living room, excited eyes turned up toward the sky. Jared had always loved the snow, more than most kids his age, but he was even more impatient for it to arrive this year. Nothing more than a flurry had fallen in the last few weeks.
“C’mon,” he mumbled with a vein of eagerness.
He had no idea how this was going to work, how Jensen would come back, but building a snowman seemed to be the most obvious start. By tomorrow morning, there would be plenty of snow with which to do it if the weather reports were right.
By the time Jared had settled into bed that night, the storm had set in, fierce and relentless. Come morning, there would be a number of fender benders and snowed in vehicles; an army of snow plows would be moving through the southeastern portion of the state.
The house settled around Jared, creaking and groaning as the wind whipped outside. He’d left the shade to his window up and his curtains drawn so he could watch the huge flakes fall. It made for a grand showing.
“Jensen,” Jared whispered as his eyelids grew heavy and finally slipped closed.
A star fell through the sky.
The scarf dipped and weaved in the wild wind of the storm. It frolicked along the snow-dusted sidewalks in a merry dance, happy to be back after so long.
It soared up high near the dancing tree tops like a streamer, then dipped low and daringly slipped between bare branches. It got snagged up for a moment before it tugged itself free and caught flight again.
If only a scarf could smile…
Jared awoke to a winter wonderland. Everything outside was white for as far as the eye could see.
The branches on the trees were bowed under the heavy weight of the snow. The cars in the driveways were buried under mountains of white. Everything looked so clean and pure and new.
He was whisked out of his reverie when a snowplow scraped noisily down the road, clearing a path for the traffic.
He had to get dressed!
Five minutes later, he was running down the stairs… thump, thump, thump, his socked feet hit the steps.
He crossed into the kitchen where his mom was just setting down a plate of scrambled eggs in front of his father.
“Unh-uh,” she chastised, eyeing Jared with a knowing look. “Food first, then outside.”
“But mom,” Jared whined, upset that his plans were being interrupted.
“Jared, please don’t argue with your mother,” Jared’s dad said as he took a sip of his coffee. “And you like eggs. The snow isn’t going anywhere. Believe me, there’s about three feet of it out there.”
Jared deflated. He plopped down into his seat at the table and waited for his mom to serve him a helping of eggs and bacon. He had to admit, it did smell delicious. His stomach growled telling him it was the right decision.
“Ketchup?” he asked.
His mom scrunched up her nose at the request, but went to the cabinet and got the bottle out for Jared.
“Thanks,” he said as he popped the lid and squeezed a more-than-generous amount of the condiment out onto his eggs.
They ate in silence as Jared’s father read the newspaper and his mom went about the kitchen cleaning. (She never was much of a breakfast person.)
“Do you have to work today?” Jared asked his dad as he stuffed a crispy piece of bacon into his mouth.
“I might go into the office later once the roads are cleared up,” his dad replied.
“How ‘bout you, Mom?”
“I’m afraid you’re stuck with me today, sweetheart,” his mom replied as she rinsed out a glass and put it in the rack to dry. She looked up at him with a smile.
A wisp of emerald flitted by the window over the sink. Neither of his parents noticed it since they were otherwise occupied, but Jared did. He knew that green. It was Jensen’s scarf. If Jensen’s scarf was here, then that meant…
Jared’s knees knocked against the bottom of the table, jarring the dishes still resting on it. His father looked up with an arched brow over his reading glasses as Jared jumped from his chair and pushed it in.
“Sorry! I gotta…” he trailed off as he ran toward the mud room, heart pounding excitedly in his chest.
Jared shivered. Maybe it was because his coat wasn’t zipped and his hat was haphazardly tugged over his head. His boots weren’t buckled and his gloves were in his hands, not on his hands.
He looked around the yard, eyes steadily searching for the punch of green that should stand out in the bright white of the snow.
Wherever the scarf was, Jensen had to be somewhere close by.
“Jensen,” he called out, being careful not to be too loud. He didn’t want his parents to think he was losing his mind. “Jensen,” he tried again when there was no answer.
Jared trudged through the heavy snow. It was up to his thighs and probably up to chest level in certain parts of the yard where it had been piled up by the wind.
He pushed through the snow, jeans soaking through. His skin would probably be red and raw by the time he got back inside, but Jared didn’t care.
Jared was about to turn the corner of his house when something smacked him in the head and blinded him. He yelped out in surprise and grasped at whatever it was that had wrapped itself around him and pulled it away.
Jared’s grasp gentled on the silken material and he laughed when he realized what it was; his fingers slipped through the feather-soft fringes at the ends. Even as cold as it was outside, the scarf felt warm in his chilled hands.
Jared looked up, half expecting to see the snowman come traipsing around the corner. But it didn’t happen. His face screwed up in thought as he looked down at the scarf, then back up to the pure white landscape of the backyard and out toward the trees. As he thought about it, the idea of a snowman just magically appearing did seem kind of silly. The scarf tugged and pulled as the wind caught hold of it bringing Jared’s attention back down to it; it felt as if it had a life of its own in Jared’s hands.
His bangs blew into his face and his jacket was blown wide open as another gust of wind curled around him. Jared shivered as he rubbed his thumbs along the silken material. The fringed end snapped up in another swirl of wind and flicked him in the nose. He blinked and smiled.
“Okay. Give me a little while here. It’s not gonna be easy with the snow as high as it is.”
Jared carefully wrapped the scarf around his neck and tied it in a loose knot so it would stay put. He buttoned his coat, slipped his gloves on, and pulled his hat down to cover his ears.
He had a snowman to build.
Jared didn’t quite understand how this whole thing worked with Jensen. And it had nothing to do with the fact that he was a young boy. Not even Jensen fully understood how things worked. They just… were.
It happened moments after Jared wrapped the green scarf around the snowman’s neck…
Jensen blinked. The world around him slowly came into focus: cloud-covered skies, white snow-covered everything… and Jared.
Not three feet in front of him was a big, toothy smile framed by deep dimples. The first thing out of Jensen’s mouth was “Wow! You’ve grown another foot!”
Jared practically jumped into his arms as soon as he spoke.
“I’ve missed you, Jensen… so much.”
“Missed you, too, kiddo,” Jensen said with a smile as he hugged Jared back. “So, how was your summer? How’s school?” he asked as he pulled back and set Jared back onto his feet.
“Long. Boring. How about you? What do you do while you’re—you know—wherever you go?”
Jensen looked up. He saw so much further than just the skies above. There was no way for him to explain how he… became one with the great beyond, no form, no shape; he just drifted. The nine or so months that he was gone could feel like nine seconds or nine eons depending on how one looked at it.
“That’s a little hard to explain. I just kind of…” he trailed off looking back up at the sky, “go out there.”
“Oh.” Jared’s expression fell some. “That seems sort of, um, scary. Aren’t you afraid you’ll get lost, that you won’t be able to find your way back?”
Green eyes turned back to Jared. “I’d never lose you, Jared.” He reached out and flicked Jared’s nose causing the boy to smile again and relax. “So, what would you like to do today?”
“I have something for you,” Jared said one evening after he’d been out with his mom. His hands were hidden behind his back, but he was smiling.
“Oh, yeah? And what might that be?”
Jensen leaned to the side and playfully tried to peek behind Jared’s back, but Jared shifted his stance so he couldn’t see.
“Close your eyes.” Jared bounced on his toes with near unbridled excitement.
The snowman narrowed his eyes at Jared. “You’re not gonna do something, are you?”
Jensen was specifically addressing the time Jared had made two big snowballs and stuck them to his head making him look like a giant teddy bear, or Mickey Mouse. He had put them far enough back on Jensen’s head that Jensen hadn’t been able to remove them on his own. They’d stayed there until Jared had finally taken pity him and plucked them off. But that was only after Jared had laughed so hard he’d had tears in his eyes.
“I told you I wouldn’t do that again.” Jared smirked. “Even if it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I looked like a dork,” Jensen muttered.
“Anyway, I promise, you’ll like this.”
“Okay. No funny business.”
“Cross my heart.”
Jared watched as Jensen closed his eyes. He waved his hand in front of him and when the snowman didn’t flinch, Jared reached up and plopped his surprise onto Jensen’s head.
“You can open your eyes now.”
Jensen rolled his eyes upward to see what it was. He could just see the black brim of the hat. His smile grew wide. “You got me a hat!” He reached up and plucked it off his head to look at it.
The hat wasn’t new. It was a bit tattered around the edges, but Jared had been so excited when he’d seen it at the second-hand store when he’d been out with his mom. And he had been able to pay for it with his very own money.
“Thank you, Jay.”
Jensen swept Jared up from the ground and crushed him in a chilly hug. Jared squirmed and laughed. Jensen had done so much for him that he’d wanted to do something in return.
It was a quiet Saturday evening in early March and Jared’s days with Jensen were quickly winding down. It had been another great winter, but no matter what joy Jensen had brought to Jared’s life, it hadn’t changed what was going on at home. The silence that had fallen between Jared’s parents was worse than the shouting.
Jared was sitting at Jensen’s feet, his back resting up against the snowman. “They’ve been quiet.”
Gentle fingers fell to the top of his head and he closed his eyes letting himself drift away for a bit.
“I’m sorry, Jay.”
“Jensen, I’m scared.” A tear fell down Jared’s cheek and he turned his face into Jensen letting the cold of the snow numb him. He sniffled.
“I know you are, kiddo. But you will be okay. You’re strong. You have great friends… even if that Chad kid does seem a little weird.” Jensen’s comment about Jared’s best friend got him to laugh. “And I’ve told you this before: your parents love you. Sometimes people just grow apart. You might not believe me right now, but sometimes it’s for the best.”
Jared nodded. He knew what Jensen said was true. He and Jensen had talked about this possibility. Jared understood nothing was his fault and that his parents loved him. It was more the idea of change that scared him.
“Will you be back next year?”
The snowman was silent for too long causing Jared to look up at him. Jensen was looking down at him with soft eyes.
“I think so, yes” was his reply.
Jared wrapped his arms around the snowman. He didn’t know when Jensen planned on leaving permanently, but he knew he would miss him sorely when he did.
Two weeks and three days later, Jared stood on his back porch waving to Jensen.
“Stay outta trouble, kiddo,” Jensen said with a parting smirk. “And stop growing so damn fast.”
Jared snorted. “I’ll see what I can do—but I can’t promise anything.”
Just like last year at this time, Jared watched Jensen’s silhouette disappear into the trees.
This time he watched long enough to see the bright, blue light streak up into the sky and then dart toward the third star on the left.
Jared remained where he was standing until his mom called him into the house.
April… May… June… July… August… September… October… November… December…
Minutes shifted into hours.
Hours rolled into days.
Days blurred into months.
Jared grew another four inches. (He blamed the organic vegetables his mom insisted on buying.)
His parents got a divorce.
Jared started his final year of middle school, just another statistic.
But everything was okay.
The snow came late that year, nothing more than a dusting here and there until after the New Year. Even then, it was only five measly inches of wet, sloppy snow that made everything look dirty after only a few minutes.
Jared was sitting by the window in his room eating an apple and catching up on some homework when he saw a flash of green out of the corner of his eye.
Jared flipped his notebook shut. He grabbed his old hoodie from the foot of his bed and pulled it down over his head.
He hadn’t forgotten Jensen, but Jensen hadn’t been at the forefront of his thoughts lately either. Jared had been bogged down with schoolwork. He’d also joined the basketball team this year and was hanging out with his friends more often than not. Jared was getting older; his life was changing.
But he did still miss his friend.
It took no more than five minutes for Jared to find Jensen’s scarf. It had gotten caught up in one of his mom’s rose bushes on the side of the house. Jared carefully untangled it making sure not to tear the delicate material on the sharp thorns.
Once he got the scarf free, Jared smoothed his fingers over the slip of fabric with a smile before draping the scarf around his neck and tying it into place.
The snowman was built in half the time it took just a couple years ago. Jared pushed the last of the rock buttons into its midsection and placed the top hat on its head. He stared at it for a long moment before he pulled the scarf from his neck.
“Here you go, Jensen.”
Almost reverently, he draped the scarf around the snowman’s neck. Jared wasn’t sure why, but there was a sadness in him. Something deep inside told him this would be the last time he would be doing this. Jensen had never hidden the fact that someday he would leave and never come back.
His melancholy thoughts fell by the wayside when Jensen suddenly flashed to life and shook his whole body as if to—ironically—shake the snow off his shoulders.
Smiling green eyes met contemplative hazels.
“Hey, you okay?” Jensen asked, noticing Jared’s less-than-cheerful expression right away.
Jared nodded. He forced a smile onto his face. “Yeah. I’m good. It’s been a while.” He gestured to the snow. “Winter had a late start.”
Jensen looked around noticing the lack of any real snow around the yard. When he looked back at Jared, he said, “You grew.”
The old comment had Jared grinning. (It had been Jensen’s first observation last year, too.) And Jared was definitely gaining on the snowman. “But you’re still taller than me.”
Jensen sized him up, moved around Jared. When he was back in front of him again, he said, “I give it another couple years before you hit six feet.” He clapped his hands together then. “So, what’ve I missed since spring?”
Jared highlighted the events of the past three-quarters of a year. A full spectrum of emotions played over Jensen’s face during the next couple hours as Jared brought him up to speed. Jensen gave bits of advice here and there when Jared asked, but for the most part, he sat and listened. Jensen had always been known to be a great listener.
“And you’re really okay?” he asked, watching Jared closely as he waited for the teen to answer. He couldn’t believe Jared was already thirteen.
“Yeah. I really think so. It was tough in the beginning, but all the things you told me helped. I don’t know how I can ever thank you for that.”
“Just don’t ever stop smiling, Jay.” Jensen patted Jared on the back. “That’s all I ask.” Jensen never wanted to see the light leave Jared’s eyes.
Things were a bit more low key that winter. There were less of the usual antics and more talking. Jared and Jensen didn’t run off doing the things they’d done together just two years ago. Jared had basketball practice. He had homework. He had friends who wouldn’t take no for an answer when they wanted to drag him out to the mall or the movies.
Jensen watched from the sidelines. He enjoyed seeing the person Jared was growing into. In just a few more years, Jared would become a young man. He was so much more mature than many boys his age. It didn’t surprise Jensen in the least.
Jensen gave a watery smile knowing this was going to be the last year he would be here with Jared. Where he was going to go after, he didn’t know. If he was honest with himself, this might be the last of his wanderings. There was some kind of spark deep within his soul that he’d never felt before. He had a feeling leaving Jared was going to hurt… more than a little.
They were lying on the ground in a small clearing late one frosty night in February. Jared still knew all the constellations by heart and, like the other times they’d lain out there, he pointed them out to Jensen. Jensen couldn’t deny it, even after all these years, the night sky was an amazing sight to behold.
Jared became quiet after he’d exhausted the extensive list of constellations. It was a comfortable silence that fell between them, their eyes never leaving the heavens.
The moon continued its slow path across the horizon like the hands on a clock marking the passage of time.
“How do you say goodbye to your best friend?” Jared asked quite out of the blue.
Jensen turned his head and looked at the boy. Jared was wiping at the side of his cheek where Jensen knew there to be fresh tears. Jared could never hide from him.
“You’re not coming back, are you?” It was more of a knowing statement than a question.
“No,” Jensen said in a hushed whisper.
“I…” Jared cleared his throat and tried again. “I know I haven’t been the best—”
“Hey,” Jensen cut Jared’s apology off before it could start, “none of that now. Jay, you’re growing up. You don’t need me anymore, not like you did when you made that wish. And I’m proud of you for that.”
Jared opened his mouth as if to say something, but then he closed it. He gave another nod.
“I’ll miss you, Jensen.”
Jensen reached over and tweaked Jared’s nose. “I’m gonna miss you, too, kiddo.”
The day came all too soon. Jensen had pushed his time to its limits; he had never been so dangerously close to collapsing in on himself. With every move he made, his body creaked and crunched, pieces of melting snow falling to the ground.
Jared was all too quiet beside him. When Jensen looked at the boy, he could see his lower lip trembling. Every so often, glistening eyes would turn his way and a choked sob would escape instead of words.
Jensen draped an arm around Jared’s shoulders in silent comfort.
“It’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. When you’re feelin’ down, just look up. C’mon, Jay,” he gave Jared’s shoulder a squeeze, “look up at the sky with me.” Jared wiped at his cheeks with the back of his hand and looked up. “See that star, the bright one off to the left there.” He pointed to said star, hoping his arm could hang in there a little longer.
Jared sniffled. “Yeah.”
“Just look for me there and know that I’m still watching over you.”
Long, thin arms wrapped around Jensen then. The embrace was gentle enough that he didn’t have to fear being squashed to pieces by his friend. Jared knew how unstable he was right now.
“Can I walk with you?” Jared asked.
“No. I wanna go with you… into the woods. I wanna be there when you go. To say goodbye.”
Jensen studied Jared. The kid could be the definition of stubborn when he wanted to be and this was one of those times. And Jensen knew he couldn’t say no.
“Please,” Jared pleaded when Jensen didn’t reply right away.
With a precarious nod, Jensen conceded. “Okay. Yeah. But I have to go now, before I can’t. You know, snowman guts and all that,” he said with a sad grin.
The smile that showed up on Jared’s face was short-lived. “I kinda figured as much. You’re startin’ to look a little…” He gestured to Jensen’s not-so-rotund state.
Jensen looked down at himself. “I might’ve had better days. So, are you ready?”
“No, not really.” But Jared turned and took hold of Jensen’s hand anyway.
Hand in hand, they made their last journey together into the long shadows of the forest, a boy and his snowman.
Not long after, a bright blue bolt of light spiraled into the sky, did a little dance, and then shot off to regions unknown.
When Jared’s vision cleared moments later, he looked down at what remained of Jensen.
There was nothing left except for a puddle of water, a few rocks, a carrot, two sticks, a top hat… and a scarf.
Jensen had left his scarf behind.
Christmas Eve 2014
On the edge of an ice-encrusted lake stood a small house, more of a cottage really. It had a detached garage, a tool shed, a bird feeder, and a beautiful wraparound porch. The neighborhood around it was quiet, quaint; most of its residents knew each other by name.
Inside the cozy-looking home a young man paced.
Christmas Eve was supposed to be a joyous occasion.
This one wasn’t.
“I can’t believe he took the tree,” Jared muttered as he stared at the empty space in his living room next to the fireplace. “Seriously? Who does something like that?”
He was still floored after coming home from work last night only to find all of his boyfriend’s things gone. But it wasn’t just that. He’d taken the Christmas tree, too, along with all of its lights and ornaments. All that had been left were the presents Jared had bought. He’d at least had the decency to leave those.
“Apparently ex-boyfriends who are assholes,” he replied to himself. “Goddamned Grinch.”
Anyway, he wouldn’t let something like this ruin his holiday. Jared never was the type of person to fall victim to someone else’s pettiness. He still had an old, fake tree kicking around somewhere that he could put up.
Of course, knowing you have a certain thing and being able to find it are two entirely different beasts. One hour later, Jared was covered in dust and sneezing. The tree wasn’t in the basement; it wasn’t in the garage or the storage closet. He stood in his hallway with his hands on his hips and stared at the tiny square that was called an attic door in the ceiling above his head. It was his last hope.
He blamed his mother for putting the Christmas spirit in him. She’d always been a Christmas fiend. Thinking of his mom put a smile on his face. He was surprised she hadn’t called yet. He supposed it was only a matter of time; she never let a Christmas Eve go by without calling to wish him a Merry Christmas.
He reached up, grabbed the string on the door, and pulled it down. Yeah, this is gonna be fun, he thought as he unfolded the stairs until they dropped to the floor at his feet. He hadn’t been up here in well over a year. Jared wasn’t claustrophobic, but he didn’t care for attics all that much.
At the top, Jared blindly reached out until he caught another string, this one attached to the lone light bulb in the room. He pulled it and squinted against the bright light of the naked bulb.
All around him, cobwebs lit up reminding Jared of Halloween. He scrunched up his nose and pushed through them. Being careful of his footing so he wouldn’t fall through the floor, Jared moved toward the pile of boxes in the corner.
Most of the boxes were meticulously labeled: College Crap, Books and Crap, Other Crap, More Crap. Chad, always the creative one, had labeled them.
He didn’t see the artificial tree anywhere, so he started to move the boxes around. He stacked them in a pile to the side as he worked his way further into the mound. The pile wobbled precariously behind him. The box on the top shifted and toppled to the floor spilling its contents.
Jared crouched down and started picking things up. He grinned when he saw his old teddy bear from when he was a kid.
“Hey, Mr. Skittles. Long time, no see.” He pressed his face into the soft, nappy fur of the bear and inhaled. He wrinkled his nose. The stuffed animal didn’t smell like it used to, but it was almost as old as Jared; he hadn’t expected it to smell Tide fresh after so long. Jared gently tucked the bear back into the box alongside some old comic books.
His hand stilled when he went to pick up the next item from the floor.
It was Jensen’s scarf.
His fingers smoothed over the silky fabric before picking it up. Even after all these years it felt warm in his hands. His heart swelled almost to breaking with fondness and love for his old friend. Jensen had never judged. Jensen had never treated Jared like he was just some brat kid. Instead, he’d treated Jared like something to be revered. He’d also gotten Jared through a very difficult time in his life for which Jared would be forever grateful.
Memories flared to life and Jared was quick to lose himself in them remembering his snowman, remembering Jensen, his best friend. It all seemed like a dream to Jared now. It was one of those things he’d never been able to speak of to anyone for fear that they’d think he was crazy. But he’d never forgotten.
“God, Jensen, how long’s it been, eighteen years, almost nineteen?”
He wondered if Jensen was even still out there somewhere or if he’d just kept going and had never come back.
Jared couldn’t get himself to put the scarf back into the box. Instead, he wrapped it around his neck and kept searching for his tree.
Not five minutes later, he found it. And his box of ornaments, the ones he’d kept from his mom’s house. They were the same ones that had hung on the tree during the winters Jensen had been in his life.
Putting a tree up, even an artificial one, was no small task. It took Jared the better part of three hours to make sure it was just right. It was smaller than he remembered, but it was perfect. The colored lights blinked and winked, painting their blues and reds and greens across Jared's face as he admired it.
He was older than the last time he'd stood in its glow, his body taller, his face sharper. His dimples still caught the light though; and his eyes were still as bright.
His mom had called earlier and he’d told her what happened. She’d tried to talk him into flying down to Texas, where she now lived with her current husband, but Jared had declined. Jared had reminded her that he was a full-grown man; he could survive a Christmas on his own.
He saluted the glittering tree with a tumbler of eggnog heavily splashed with both rum and cognac. It wasn't how he'd envisioned spending Christmas Eve, but somehow it still felt special.
He knocked back his drink and poured himself another, and if he went a little heavier on the liquor this time he really didn't notice.
It's a Wonderful Life was playing on the television in a continual loop, the volume turned low. Large, billowy flakes of snow fell outside covering the dark roads and turning them white.
Jared sprawled out on the couch, sad yet oddly content despite the circumstances, and sipped his drink.
Jared bolted upright and groaned. He’d fallen asleep. When he glanced at his watch, he saw that he’d been sleeping for a couple hours. His eyes landed on the half-empty bottles on the table. He didn’t recall drinking that much. It was no wonder his head hurt.
He glanced out the window and saw that it was still snowing.
A bit of fresh air would do him some good; it always did. He still loved the snow as much now as he did when he was a kid.
He got up and slipped into his woolen pea coat. He found his gloves, hat, and boots. When he reached for his scarf, his hand stopped mid-motion when he remembered he still had Jensen’s on. He neatly tucked it down into his coat as he buttoned up and then stepped outside.
The brisk wind hit Jared in the face as he stood on the front porch, fingers wrapped around the rail. He closed his eyes and basked in it. It felt good against his flushed skin.
Jared tilted his head back and looked at the stars above, eyes automatically turning toward “Jensen’s star.”
“I hope whatever you’re doing, it’s more fun than what I’m doing. I miss you, Jensen.”
The star winked at him and Jared smiled.
Jared was struck with a weird sense of nostalgia then.
“Screw being an adult.”
Jared was going to do something he hadn’t done in years.
Sometime later, Jared was staring at a snowman.
There was one thing missing though.
Jared reached down into his coat and pulled the scarf out. He slowly untied it and slipped it from around his neck. He bit his lower lip as he draped the silken fabric around the snowman’s neck and re-tied it.
For just a few seconds, he stood back and waited with bated breath. And then he laughed and shook his head when nothing happened. He dropped his eyes to the ground at his feet and kicked at the snow.
“You’re an idiot, Jared.” He glanced back up at the stars. “I hope— No. Jensen, I wish that, wherever you are, you’re happy.”
A star fell from the sky then. Jared watched it as it travelled from one end of the horizon to the other. When it was gone, Jared looked at the snowman again, hope burning in his eyes once more.
The snowman remained unmoving. Not even a twitch.
Jared reached out and ran his long fingers down the side of the snowman’s face. He blinked back the sudden burning sensation in his eyes and gave a weak smile.
“Hey, it was worth a shot, right?” He let out a forlorn sigh. “Well, Merry Christmas, Jensen.”
Jared turned to go back inside and jumped when he practically plowed into a man standing right behind him. A very handsome man, even in the dim light of a waning moon, Jared could tell, with glittering emerald green eyes that peeked out from under a knit hat.
“You always talk to snowmen?” the man asked, crooked grin on his face.
Jared didn’t hear the question. In a fraction of a second, he had gotten lost in the other man’s eyes. Jared knew those eyes. He was a stranger, yet, Jared felt drawn to him; it was as if he knew him somehow.
Jared blinked, forcing himself out of his sudden daze. His gaze briefly swept up and down the man. He was tall, just shy of Jared’s six and a half feet, and even under a heavy winter coat, Jared could see he was lean-muscled.
The man gestured to the snowman. “You seemed to be having a conversation.”
The silky smooth voice sent a pleasant shiver up Jared’s spine. “Oh, um, just a little nostalgic for Christmas past, I guess.”
Jared glanced over his shoulder at the snowman. His eyes fell to Jensen’s scarf, the scarf that was the same shade of green as Jensen’s eyes… the same color as—
Jared’s eyes snapped back over to the stranger so fast, he felt like he had whiplash. The man was still smiling at him… knowingly. There was a familiar twinkle in his eye.
“It’s not possible.” The words were so quiet, Jared barely heard them himself. “Jensen?” His voice shook when the name fell from his lips. The man’s grin grew impossibly wider making his eyes crinkle at the corners. The tears Jared had pushed back earlier were suddenly threatening again, but for a whole other reason this time. “But—”
Jensen took in the man Jared had become. His first thought was that he was beautiful: the strong jawline, high cheekbones, and multi-colored eyes. And even as flustered as Jared was at the moment, Jensen could sense the strength and self-confidence in him. He’d grown up well, in more than just the obvious way, Jensen thought as he looked up at Jared.
“You’ve grown, kiddo. I always said you’d be taller than me someday.”
Jared was still frozen in place, unable to move. His brain was still trying to connect “Jensen the snowman” with the gorgeous man standing not five feet in front of him and complete sentences eluded him. The more Jared stared at him, the more he started to notice the finer details like the strawberry-blond five o’clock shadow, the long eyelashes, the full lips, the freckles…
Jensen shrugged, wide grin still in place. “I don’t know. Maybe a bell rang or something.”
Jared laughed at the reference to the very movie he’d left playing on the television in his living room.
“You’re not an angel…” But then Jared trailed off at his own words. “Are you?”
“Nah.” Jensen waved Jared off. “They’re no fun. Besides, I don’t go for the whole feather and halo thing they’ve got goin’ on. Not my style. So,” he shuffled his gloved hands together; he was ready to get the introductions out of the way and get back to just being them, “it’s been a while. What would you like to do? I’m sure you’ve outgrown the snowball fights and the sledding, but maybe there’s something else?”
Jared wiped a tear from his cheek, but he was still smiling. “You think we could start with a hug? I could really use a hug.”
“I think that’s perfectly doable.” As a matter of fact, Jensen had been dying to do just that. He was in Jared’s arms faster than a heartbeat, a heartbeat which he now had by some miracle.
Jared’s arms tightened around Jensen and held on. He never wanted to let go again. “God, I’ve missed you… so much.”
“Missed you, too, Jay.”
Jared squeezed Jensen even more tightly and pressed his cold nose into the warmth of Jensen’s neck. “Don’t ever leave me again.”
Jensen stepped out of their embrace and took Jared’s face between his hands. He looked Jared in the eye when he spoke. “I seem to recall someone making a wish recently… something about me being happy wherever I am. You make me happy, Jay. And I promise, I’m not going anywhere this time.”
Instead of tweaking Jared’s nose like he had done so many times when Jared was a kid, Jensen placed a chaste kiss to the tip of it. Jared’s already pink cheeks turned even rosier at the gesture.
Jared couldn’t help but pull Jensen back into his arms. “Welcome home, Jensen,” he whispered into Jensen’s ear.
The snow continued to gently fall from the sky dusting their shoulders. All around the neighborhood, Christmas decorations sparkled like little fairy lights. If one listened closely, carolers could be heard in the distance.
And the stars in the night sky above shone brighter than ever as a boy and his snowman were reunited… this time, for good.
~ The End ~