The Sound of Snow
by Stacia Seaman
Disclaimer: A bit of angst, and women in love.
Acknowledgments: Many thanks to the Bards' Village for all their support. Extra special thanks to Maura - I couldn't have done it without you.
Feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ana was curled up on the sofa in front of the fireplace with Jeanette Winterson's latest novel and a cup of dry desert lime tea. She looked up from time to time to see the snow piling up against the outside of the window, blocking out the last rays of the weak winter sun. With a sigh, she lay the book face-down on her lap and leaned her head back against the cushions. Please don't stay out there too much longer, Mavi. I hate knowing you're still out there when it's dark. Not wanting to analyze that thought, she picked up her book and once again began to read.
Some time later, she was awakened by the sound of hearty foot stomping and muffled curses. The door flew open to admit her roommate, barely visible beneath several layers of polartec, neoprene, and nylon. Her bicycle was slung over one shoulder and her helmet dangled from her fingers.
"Can you help me, please?" she asked, tracking snow into the apartment. "I think I'm frozen to my bike."
The snow fell slowly, big soft flakes that floated down through the night sky. There must be 6 inches already. Looking out her bedroom window, Ana imagined she could hear the soft plops as each flake hit the ground. Sleep had eluded her again and, stretching her arms toward the ceiling, she gave in to her wakefulness. After pulling on her slippers and robe, she quietly walked out toward the kitchen to make some chamomile tea.
The embers still glowed in the fireplace and Ana moved closer, intrigued by their red-and-black dance. Thinking that the warmth from the fire might put her to sleep, she turned toward the neatly stacked logs, then stopped when she noticed her roommate lying on the sofa.
When there was no response, she realized that Mavi was asleep. She knew that she should leave her alone and go either into the kitchen or her own bedroom, but she was drawn to the sleeping woman. Very, very quietly, she crept over to the sofa and knelt down beside it.
She'd known Mavi forever -- their mothers had been roommates in college -- but they hadn't seen each other for years, not since Mavi's family had moved to Oregon when she was in junior high. It had been pure coincidence that they'd both moved to the city after graduation, and sharing an apartment had seemed like the logical thing to do.
It had been a long time since junior high, though, and Ana missed the close, easy friendship they'd had. They still got along well, but Ana felt uncomfortable with the loud, boisterous crowd that Mavi spent most of her time with. It was only now, sitting beside her sleeping friend, that Ana was able to see the gentle, caring friend from her childhood beneath the vivacious woman that she'd become.
She remembered all the nights when she and Mavi had stayed up late sharing their hopes, their secrets, their dreams, and how she'd lain awake afterward, watching her best friend sleep. She wondered why this woman's life bore no resemblance to the future Mavi had described so many years before; while Ana was making steady progress toward her graduate degree and a career in academia, her roommate seemed content working as a bike courier. Mavi was the smartest person Ana had ever known, and she couldn't help but wonder where her ambition--and her dreams--had gone.
Ana's knees were getting sore, so she shifted slightly onto her hip, moving even closer to the sofa. Her roommate remained asleep, undisturbed by her presence.
The normally harsh light from the streetlamps was filtered somewhat by the snow, and combined with the faint glow from the fireplace, bathed Mavi's face with a warm glow. Her skin had always been tan, her eyelashes dark, and her rosy cheeks and lips made makeup unnecessary, even clownish. Ana had always envied her friend's dark, soulful eyes and the slight hint of a lisp when she spoke--there was no mystery beneath her own surface; her hair and eyes were far too pale for that.
Not for the first time, she found herself wanting to shake her friend, to demand answers to all of these questions. Ana didn't even know where she went when she went out. Mavi hadn't brought any of her friends to the apartment and never offered an explanation of where she'd been when she came in, usually half-drunk and reeking of sex, after staying out all night. Ana, of course, never confessed that she waited up, hoping against hope that Mavi would change her mind and come home.
What would she say? How could she explain to this woman, this stranger who had been her closest friend, that just the thought of her in a stranger's bed tore Ana apart?
What are you looking for, Mavi? What happened? She sighed, bringing her hand up and gently massaging her temples.
Her roommate spoke so softly that she almost didn't hear it. Lowering her hand, she saw the dark sleepy eyes that she remembered so well. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's ok. I was waiting for the snow to stop so I could go out. Guess I fell asleep." Mavi turned onto her side, nestling her hands beneath her cheek. "Why are you still up?"
Ana barely resisted the urge to brush a loose strand of hair off her roommate's forehead, and instead played with the belt of her robe. "Couldn't sleep."
"Seems to happen a lot," Mavi said, looking first at Ana, then quickly away.
"I'm sorry...Have I been keeping you up?"
"No, not at all." Mavi drew a deep breath, then began picking absently at the pillowcase. "You just look so tired sometimes. I worry about you." She looked up through dark lashes. "I wanted to ask you about it, but--" She sat up abruptly.
"But what?" Ana placed a hand on Mavi's knee. "What is it?"
Mavi stared at the hand for a moment, then looked up at Ana, her expression unreadable. "I didn't think you'd want to talk to me."
Ana hesitated, unsure what to say. "Why would you think that?"
"The way you look at me," her full lower lip trembled, "You don't look at me the way you used to."
"I don't understand."
"You used to smile whenever you saw me, and now..." she drew in a shaky breath, "it's as though you can't stand to be around me."
Stunned into silence, Ana was unable to respond.
"And then I wake up and I hear you and I want to come talk to you, the way we used to when we were kids, you know?"
Ana nodded mutely.
"But I know you don't want me to." She laughed bitterly. "Besides, I don't know what we'd talk about. You're already doing everything you wanted to do, and I don't even remember what I wanted anymore."
"Oh, Mavi..." She scooted closer to the sofa and put one hand on her friend's shoulder. "I'm so sorry." She winced at the inadequacy of her words even as she spoke them.
Mavi only shook her head. "It's all right, I didn't expect you to understand."
Something in her friend's voice pulled Ana back in time, to the day when she'd discovered a truth about herself, a secret that she couldn't bring herself to put down with ball-point ink onto notebook paper. "This is my fault," she whispered.
Dark eyes looked at her in confusion.
She stared into the fire, seeing in it the ashes of the letters she'd written and then burned so that her mother wouldn't find them. After a while, unable to distill her thoughts and emotions into words, she'd simply stopped writing. But even now, with Mavi back in her life, she'd kept part of herself locked away. After all those tearful nights she'd spent wishing that she could talk to her friend, knowing that Mavi would understand her as nobody else ever could, she'd spent their first night in their new apartment cleaning, first the kitchen, then the bathroom, until Mavi finally, sadly, closed her bedroom door.
The soft hum of the refrigerator lulled her; her head fell forward onto her bent knees. She felt Mavi's long fingers in her hair, on her scalp, and closed her eyes, enjoying the exquisite torture.
"What's your fault?"
The low, dusky voice gave a weight to the words; Ana almost imagined that she could see them in front of her, shimmering, before they dissipated into the air. She moved up onto the sofa and pulled in a breath as she tried to think of what she should say. She just shook her head. She could not look at Mavi, could not let her friend see in her eyes what she had been unable to say for so many years.
Mavi moved closer. "What did I do, Ana? Why did you stop writing to me? I missed you so much."
"I..." Ana brushed angrily at the tears that forced her to open her eyes. "I wanted to, but I couldn't. There was so much that I wanted to say but I knew that if I told you, you wouldn't want to see me again."
The tension of the moment was too much for Mavi. "You didn't go out with Josh Schroeder after I left, did you?"
Ana laughed in spite of herself. "Not hardly."
"Good. He was a doof. I can't believe I had a crush on him." Mavi smiled for a moment, then said, "Seriously, Ana. What could you possibly have said that would have made me not want to be your friend?"
Years of silence engulfed Ana like cotton wool. She wasn't sure she could unwrap herself from it. Which was worse, losing her friend to a lie, or losing her to the truth? "I can't," she said. "It doesn't matter anymore anyway."
"It does," Mavi said, moving closer still. "It does."
"Does it?" Ana looked up at Mavi's face, only inches away.
"Yes." It was a whisper, carried away by the winds of the past.
The first kiss was desperate, almost brutal, with each woman trying to claim the territory that they had both denied themselves for so long. The urgency soon passed and the kisses became slower, deeper, longer, signaling a shift from conquest to discovery, then passion.
The fireplace was cold, the glow of the embers long since replaced by the darkness of grey ash. Mavi lay on her bed, sleeping soundly, not moving at all when Ana slipped out from the covers.
After they'd made love, it had been almost as she'd remembered, the two women lying side by side, talking about their lives and their hopes. Mavi had confessed her dream that she and Ana would make a life together filled with love, laughter, and children, and Ana had hummed her understanding, stroking Mavi's hair until she fell asleep.
Now, as she stared out the window waiting for the water to boil, she felt herself being buried beneath the falling snow. "You're already doing everything you wanted to do." The statement echoed in her ear, mocking her with its truth. She was so close to finishing her coursework and then she would leave, move to Europe to spend her days in the labyrinths of the Communist archives while she wrote her dissertation. There wasn't any room in her life for Mavi and her dreams.
She watched the flakes of snow falling, hearing the plop of each tear as it landed on the counter.
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