Just Call Him Snow White


                Snow days were Nik’s favorite. The snow had begun the previous afternoon, and snowfall had been heaviest during the night. Now, nearly a day later, it was beginning to back off, leaving nothing but beautiful, white snow covering everything. It was a gorgeous winter wonderland in the town of Stokes, and the boys in the mansion found themselves happily housebound.


                Nik was overjoyed at the prospect of having a full, lively house for the next day or two. In his opinion, there was absolutely nothing better for a snow day than a mug of hot chocolate.


                Nik loaded up the tray and decided he should begin downstairs. He wore his snow bunny outfit- cobalt blue pants and a light blue jacket that came halfway down his thighs. It was trimmed in thick white puffs all around the hem, the buttons up the front, and the hood. He left the hood down, but it could be pulled up and drawn tight with strings that had pompoms at the ends.


                The downstairs was dark, as usual, but loud noise could be heard from either side of the house, competing against each other. Nik was immediately reminded of why they’d installed those sound dampeners.


                The rec room was closest, so he went there first. The room was pitch black with the exception of the large flat screen television which was bursting with color. It was an action-packed shoot ‘em up game. Nik couldn’t discern which, because they all looked the same to him. All he knew was that there was a guy on screen wearing black and holding a sizeable gun. As something large and ugly jumped onto the screen, Nik piped up with a perky, “How’re you doing?”


                On the couch, controls in hand, Sweetie jumped, startled to hear Nik there. He fired at the big and nasty whatever it was, but the whole screen exploded in white bursts and red blood. “FUCK!” Sweetie threw down the wireless controller. “I died, that’s how I’m doing. Thanks a lot for distracting me!”


                Nik held back a chuckle. Sweetie took his games way too seriously. “What level did you get up to this time?” Nik asked, trying to be supportive.


                “Ah, eight,” Sweetie said, sounding fifteen years younger than he was and pointing at the television screen. “That’s why there’s that big number eight there in the corner. Are you blind or something?” He sat back against the cushions, crossing his arms over his chest.


                “Whoa. Sthomeone’sth grumpy today. Can’t be the thsnow. We got a whole lot more than thisth back in New England. What givesth?”


                Sweetie shrugged, but fumed still. “You ruined my game.”


                “Didn’t you have your game sthaved?”


                With reluctance, Sweetie nodded.


                “Then sthtop being a bitch and drink your hot chocolate.” Nik lowered the tray and Sweetie helped himself to a mug and a handful of mini marshmallows. Not even Sweetie could stay grumpy in the face of mini marshmallows. “And when you feel like rejoining the world, I’ll be upsthtairsth. Until then…”


                Sweetie took a big gulp of hot chocolate then retrieved his controller. He brought up his saved game and began playing immediately.


                “…good luck,” Nik finished. He stayed there a few seconds longer, which was long enough to see Sweetie’s big, tough character slide off the side of a wall to its death.


                “Fuck it!” Sweetie cried, stomping his feet. But after another gulp he started again.


                And, again, Nik refrained from chuckling as he left the room.


                He went to Pit’s bedroom next, kicking the door with a white slippered foot until a shout from within told him he could enter. Nik was careful not to spill anything as he let himself in. Pit’s bedroom was just as dark as the hallway, but three times as loud. There was a black light bulb in the lap without a shade, making  everything from some of the posters on the walls to the white trim on Nik’s jacket glow brilliantly. The sound system was practically smoking it was working so hard to crank out some heavy metal song that didn’t make sense to Nik’s ears. There were automobile magazines spread out upon the bedspread.


                Pit lounged on the bed, wearing nothing but boxers. He had a motorcycle magazine resting open on his thighs and a homemade bong in his lap. “Hey,” he said languidly. He flicked his lighter open and gestured down at the pipe, filter, and Gatorade bottle duct taped together. “Want a hit?” Nik shook his head and Pit shrugged. “More for me.” He wrapped his mouth around the mouth of the bottle, lit the pipe, and inhaled deeply. There was a familiar bubbling sound and the contents of the bottle were thick and cloudy. Pit lifted his head after a minute, holding his breath. He smiled at Nik, then exhaled. “That’s the ticket,” he muttered. “Nothing like a little wake and bake on a snowy day.”


                “The only thing better isth hot chocolate… and sthome munchiesth.” He tossed a bag of Doritos to Pit, who opened it at once with a pop. Pit wolfed down several chips, then reached for the steaming mug of hot chocolate. “Be careful with that, now. Don’t burn yoursthelf.”


                “Thanks Nik.” He sighed deeply and closed his eyes. Then he opened them again, looking around his room. “I was thinking of adding a detailing department to the shop…” He held his hand up in front of his face, watching his fingers wiggle. “What do you think?”


                “I think you should wait on that until you’re sober.” Pit laughed and crunched on another handful of chips.


                Nik took the staircase in the exercise room all the way up to the second floor. He poked through the hallway, checking rooms, even though he had a general idea of where everyone was. The first room with an occupant was Sin’s. The door was closed. Nik held the tray with one arm and knocked. “Hey, Sthin? Happy sthnow day!”


                There was a pause, then a strangled “Hold on!”


                Nik pressed his ear to the door and heard the familiar soundtrack of a porno as well as a soft, repetitive slapping of skin on skin. Nik chuckled and waited patiently. It was only a minute until the door opened. Sin stood in the doorway, wearing flannel pajama pants, the drawstring undone. His cheeks were bright red and there were beads of sweat on his forehead. He was calm, but Nik caught his scent, which was unmistakable. “Enjoying your day at home?”


                “Um… yeah,” said Sin, blushing furiously.


                Nik grinned knowingly, but had no intention of teasing the kid. “I’m making the roundsth with hot chocolate. Would you like a cup?”


                “Absolutely!” Sin helped himself to a mug, hesitated, then topped it off with a few marshmallows. “Need any help distributing the rest?”


                Nik shook his head. He’d poured half of the mugs full of hot chocolate, but the rest was in a well-insulated thermos to ensure that everyone’s hot chocolates were piping hot. “I’ve got it, but I appreciate the offer. You just… enjoy yoursthelf.”


                Sin disappeared back inside his bedroom and Nik continued on.


                The good doctor was next. Olly’s bedroom door was wide open, and he was watching a movie as well. But he paused it when he saw Nik and Nik saw that it was an innocent action film. “Hot chocolate?” Nik offered.


                “Ohhhh yes please!” Olly set his laptop aside and scrambled off his couch. He shivered as he walked over and took the cup in both hands. Accordingly, he sighed happily after the very first sip. “I swear, every year it gets colder and colder here. One of these days I’m just going to up and move to Florida.”


                Nik nodded. “You alwaysth sthay that. And I don’t believe it thisth time, either.” Olly was tethered to Stokes by his clinic, his family, his friends, and his occasional lovers. While he had weather waiting for him down south, that’s about all he had. Nik set the tray down for a moment and grabbed a blanket from Olly’s bed. He wrapped it around Olly’s shoulders and hugged him.


                Olly smiled and murmured, “Maybe I’ll stay a little longer.”


                “That’sth good to hear,” Nik whispered into his head. He moved back as the phone rang. Olly might have been snowed in, but he was still available for his patients.


                Given that Auntie Al was not downstairs in his room and not in the kitchen, Nik had a feeling he knew where the man was. Next to Olly’s room was the rarely-used multi-purpose room. It was part office and part sitting room… but once upon a time it had been a bedroom Al and Fredrick had shared.


                Auntie Al was indeed there now. He was stretched out on a couch in front of the enormous window. The curtains were drawn to the sides so nearly all of the front yard could be seen, until it disappeared into a cluster of trees before hitting the main road. Nik could see the tractor with the plow attachment on the front slowly making its way along a portion of the long, curving driveway.


                Then Nik turned and saw Auntie Al slowly awakening. Nik set the tray down on a coffee table and squatted down beside the couch. “Hello there, sthleepyhead.”


                Auntie Al yawned fiercely and smiled back. “These snowy days… always make me a bit… sleepy.” The fact that he was also thoughtful and nostalgic went unsaid, naturally. Fredrick had adored the winter. And he had passed away just there, in Auntie Al’s arms, while watching the snow fall. “Looks like you beat me to making the hot chocolate this time.”


                Nik poured him a cup and handed it over. Then he took a few tissues out of the box he had been carrying around on his tray, and slipped them into Auntie Al’s pocket just in case. Nik kissed the man’s cheek and let him be.


                The rest of the upstairs, to Nik’s surprise, was vacant. He checked the main floor as well, popping into the rooms but finding them all empty. Disappointment was just about setting in when the door to the garage at the end of the left wing opened and Jamie came in.


                 The man stamped the snow off his boots and shook the snow off his shoulders. He took off his jacket and hung up his things to dry. He waved to Nik and started down the long hallway.


                By the time he finally reached Nik, Nik had the cup of hot chocolate all ready for him.  Jamie drank a good third of it down at one time, then took some marshmallows and topped his cup off with them. “This really hits the spot,” he said, smacking his lips and sniffing from the cold. “Thanks.” He was grinning ear to ear.


                “Did you have fun out there?”


                At once, Jamie nodded. “It’s almost like having my own Zamboni.” He sniffed again. “The whole driveway is cleared now and it’s…” He pulled the cuff of the GWU sweatshirt back to read his watch. “It’s almost two. Which means it will probably be covered again by three.”


                It wasn’t quite that bad out, but Nik had no doubt that it would require another plowing or two before the end of the week of wintery mix. “I take it you’d be happy to volunteer for another go?”


                “Oh yeah. More than happy. Let me at that snow!” He drank down another third of the hot chocolate and some marshmallows along with it.


                “Good man,” Nik said, patting his arm. “Sthay… have you stheen Trip at all today?” There were two mugs left on his tray and Nik only needed one for himself.


                Jamie’s demeanor changed. Slightly more reserved now, he looked down to avoid Nik’s gaze. “I tried to talk him out of it twice…”


                Nik cocked his head. “Out of what?”


                Jamie looked apologetic. “He’s out front, shoveling the walk.”


                Nik’s eyes widened. Through gritted teeth, “All right. Thanksth. I’m going to go kill him.”


                Nik was only steps from the front hall closet, but he passed it completely. He put the tray on the side table, glancing at  himself in the mirror to make sure his angry face was properly in place, then he threw the front door open and stormed out onto the stoop. “Trip, you assthhole! Get in here right thisth minute or God help me I’ll come over there and drag you back in and you’ll be embarrassthed in front of all your little sthailor friendsth.”


                Trip stood about ten feet away, down the stairs and the path between the front door and the driveway. He was bundled up and holding a metal shovel in his hand. Toby was bounding around beside him, trying to catch the snowflakes as they fell from the grey clouds overhead.


                “Right now, misthter!” He hugged his arms to his chest, trying to make it look like a stern gesture instead of the truth- that he was freezing cold.


                Trip hung his head and headed inside, Toby at his heels. Nik took the shovel and leaned it against the house, beside the door, then followed them in and shut the door behind. “What…” said Nik, simultaneously defrosting and helping Trip off with his coat. “Did you think…” Off came the gloves, scarf, and hat. “You were doing out there?”


                Trip put on a sad puppy dog face, looking at Nik with eyes akin to Toby’s. “Shoveling?” he tried. Then his nose wiggled and he turned his head away. “hyh-IH-Shihhh!


                Nik picked his tray back up and then took Trip by the shoulder, leading him to the main floor rec room. “Maybe in the Navy you have to be tough and work when you’re sthick, but there are stheven other people in thisth housthe who are perfectly capable of doing the shoveling.” Nik paused. “Well, sthix. I’ll freezthe my assth off if I go back out there and you know that’sth my bestht assthet.”


                Trip smiled in a way that said he didn’t believe Nik for a second. But he did not reply and, instead, cupped his hand over his nose and mouth. “huh-huh-HUH-IhhhhhShhhh!Kihshhh!


                “Ooh, a double blessth you.” Nik directed Trip to the couch and immediately wrapped him in a thick, down comforter. He forced the tissue box on the man and then poured two cups of hot chocolate.


                “Thanks, man.” Trip sniffed. He took a tissue and rubbed his nose. “ehhh…” He took another tissue, just to be on the safe side. “ehhShihh! ehShuhh! ihhShihh!


                Nik sat down on the edge of the couch and petted Trip, fingers stroking the buzzed short blond hair. Trip flinched and wriggled away from the touch. “Sthorry. I forgot you’re not into that mushy shtuff.” Trip shrugged as part confirmation and part apology. “Maybe I should justht drink your hot chocolate mysthelf then…”


                “Ohhh no you don’t!” Trip reached out for it, wiggling his fingers playfully.


                Laughing, Nik emptied the rest of the thermos into the two mugs and topped each off with the remainder of the marshmallows. He handed one to Trip and drank his own. It was even warmer and sweeter than he had anticipated, practically melting him into a little, relaxed puddle of Nik. There was nothing like having a house full of friends and a cup full of hot chocolate. Of all of Nik’s favorite things, snow days were definitely right up there at the top of the list.