“...It’s snowing,” I breathed, sweeping my eyes along the frosted scenery. A winter cabin sat several meters in front of me, the surrounding area occupied with dozens of snow-glazed trees ranging from Maple to Evergreen. I glance down, suddenly making note that my feet were sporting a pair of boots I hadn’t put on since I was twelve.
“Oh!” I gasp, finally realizing why I felt oddly out of place. “I haven’t seen snow ever since-”
“Noelle? Why are you just standing there?” An unfamiliar voice startles me, and I whip my head around, frowning at the figure standing behind me. It wasn’t until I studied his outfit when I recognized who it was.
“Oliver? What are you doing here?” I ask in surprise. How weird...he looks older than I remember.
Oliver lets out a small laugh, amusement in his eyes. “I should be asking you that. I thought you were right behind me until I turned around and you weren’t. Then I come back here, only to see you staring at the trees like you’ve never seen snow before.” he pauses. “I forgot-this is the first time you’ve ever seen snow.”
I stare at his face in bewilderment, trying to make sense of what he was saying. “Sorry-I was just so mesmerized by this new change in weather...and it's beautiful too, at that.”
“You’ll have plenty of time to gawk at all this snow as we walk there. Let’s go.” He turns around and begins to stroll where his footsteps trailed to and fro.
“Where are we going?” I questioned, stumbling across the snow piled just above my ankles to catch up to him. He passes me a look of concern.
“To the lake, remember? I want to show you how nice the view is there, especially when there’s snow.”
“And that secret hiding place of yours, right? The one you always used as a kid.” I suddenly remember this conversation, though muddled in my head, as if it was something I had seen from a movie.
“The best stop of this tour, of course.” Oliver joked.
I blow out a cloud of fog, watching it dissipate into thin air before trailing my eyes up towards the sky. Light snowfall flurried its way down, eager to rest upon the first thing it touched. Though I was aware of how cold the temperature was, it didn’t feel bitter-rather, the cold was comforting, something I didn’t realize I had missed so much.
“How have you been sleeping lately?” Oliver takes a cautious step over a tree that has fallen, taking his hands out of his pocket to balance himself.
“Not very well...most nights, I can’t close my eyes without reliving the nightmares.” I give a small shrug. “My mom says that I’ve been missing out on life because of it.”
“...I’m sorry. Maybe a change in scenery will help.”
“Yeah...it’s odd though, because I feel like I’ve known this place my entire life.”
“That’s what one visit does to you,” Oliver responds with a grin.
We continued to stroll down the forest, bringing up random instances of our childhoods that made us laugh and catching up on everything that had happened in my life once he moved away. It was the feeling of nostalgia that made me realize I hadn’t heard much about Oliver’s life after he left our hometown.
“What about you? I want to know more about your life here.”
His eyes linger to the ground. “I told you what happened. The school here had us go on a field trip to the mountains, and I learned to sled for the first time…”
“Those were things that happened when we were still in elementary school, though. What about middle school? Or high school? Have you thought about coll-”
“Noelle, we’re here. Look.” He peers ahead of him at a large, frozen lake that I hadn’t thought of observing until mentioned. The ice ran smoothly across the surface of the lake, reflecting the view of the mountains and houses beyond it, snow-frosted trees completing the calm, alluring look of the landscape.
“It’s beautiful,” I awed, wishing I could stare at a view like this forever. Unlike the cold surrounding us, the lake and its nature emitted some kind of warmth and happiness inside me. I turned to look at my close friend, realizing that he was also why I felt this way too.
“I miss you, Oliver.” I wasn’t aware that I had wanted to say that for a while, from the moment I saw him until now.
Oliver glances at me, his hazel eyes staring into mine as if trying to figure something out. He settles for a small grin, an eyebrow slightly raised at the unexpected profession. “It’s been a while, Noelle.”
I playfully nudge him and study the area we came from, looking for anything that could be considered a hiding spot. “So, where’s your hiding spot? Is it somewhere around here?”
Oliver makes his way back into the forest, soon stopping in front of a tree. He bends down and parts away all the branches and snow that lay against the bark, revealing a small hole big enough for a child to crawl into. I peek inside with curiosity, astonished by how much bigger the space inside was compared to the entrance itself.
“This is where I used to hide as a kid,” Oliver explained, “especially when I first moved here. I’d often run away from my parents whenever they tried to get me to adjust to this place.”
“It looks cozy,” I noted, hugging my knees while examining the gap inside the tree.
“Noelle, come here.” he bent down and motioned for her to take a look. She squatted next to him, trying to catch her breath after chasing him through the forest.
“What is it?”
“My secret hiding spot.” his gloved hands grabbed a bundle of branches covered in snow, moving them to the side. She gasped in surprise when the branches revealed a small gap inside the tree, as she attempted to poke her head inside to take a look.
“Wow, it looks so much bigger on the inside,” she commented, observing the jagged texture of the carved walls.
“Come in.” he dipped his head and shuffled into the tree, then waved for her to do the same.
She tilted her body to examine the remaining space, a look of uncertainty on her face. “I don’t think the both of us can fit…”
“We can-it’ll just be a little tight. Look, there’s plenty of space now, see?” He scooted over into the left corner of the tree and pressed his legs together. She hesitantly climbed in, adjusting her legs so that her knees settled right below her chin.
“It’s so much quieter in here, right?”
She nods, a beaming smile on her face. “It’s so cozy in here I could fall asleep…”
“...Noelle, are you okay? You’ve been staring at the tree like you just heard it talk.”
“Huh?” I blink, turning to face Oliver, who’s now standing beside me with a worried look. “I’m fine. I was just daydreaming,” I assure him, leaving out the fact that whatever I had just daydreamed about left chills down my spine.
“Are you getting tired?”
“No...Oliver,” my eyes shift to the ground as I stand up. An anxious thought clouds my mind when I meet his gaze again. “I never told you about my sleeping problems.”
Oliver blinks in surprise, scratching the back of his head. “Noelle, if you’re tired, it’s alright...we can always come back tomorrow. You’ll be here for the rest of the week, right?”
“I...ah, forget what I said. I guess I just have some brain fog. It was a long flight.” I flash an encouraging smile in an attempt to convince him I was okay and drive out the uneasy feeling growing in my chest.
“Let’s head back to the lake, then.” Oliver reluctantly says after a moment. He seemed like he wanted to press for more answers but decided to remain quiet in the end. We begin to head back, overstepping the footprints that we previously left, neither one of us saying a word to the other.
“The reflection...it's beautiful,” I remark as we neared towards the edge of the lake again, the serene look of a white winter easing my mind.
“Want to walk across the ice?” Oliver suggested, already cautiously planting his foot on the frozen surface.
“Hey! Be careful-how do you even know it’s safe?”
“Don’t worry about it. The ice looks pretty strong,” he mentions. “If you’re scared, I’ll hold your hand.”
“No, I’m scared…” she shakes her head in defiance, frowning at the boy in front of her. “What if the ice breaks?”
He puts the other foot down on the glazed surface and glances back at her. “The ice won’t break. Look, I’m standing on it, and nothing’s happening. Give me your hand…”
“My hat!” A strong gust of wind suddenly rushes through the air. I run my fingers through my hair, letting go of Oliver’s hand.
“It’s on your right, Noelle.” Oliver points out.
I turn to my right, spotting the baby-blue knitted hat a few feet away from me. “It suddenly got so windy…” I mumble to myself, picking up the beanie topped off with a white pom-pom. My hands abruptly stop moving when I spot something written on a blank label inside the hat, in black, scrawny letters:
I stare at the label, thoughts racing through my head, that uneasy feeling I had earlier consuming my chest again. “Oliver,” I begin, distress slowly inching its way into my voice, “something’s not-”
I spun around, expecting to see Oliver right beside me until I spotted a figure standing several meters deep into the frozen lake. “Oliver!” I call after him, my eyes widen in shock. “How did you get there so quickly?”
“Come here, Noelle! Don’t worry, this ice is sturdy,” he calls back, waving an arm in the air.
Thinking about crossing the vast ice surface in front of me ignited a fright that I couldn’t seem to shake out of my senses. I watch Oliver’s carefree figure, his arms still waving in the air.
“I can’t...I’m scared.”
“I can’t do it!” she pulled her hand away and took small but frantic baby steps back to solid ground, eager to get her feet off the ice as soon as possible.
“We only took a few steps!” he protested, watching her take a wary step off the lake before continuing across the frost himself.
“Oliver, don’t go too far!” she shouted after him, pursing her lips in worry.
He threw a single wave in response, his confidence in how safe the ice was unwavering. The only thing that could be heard was the occasional whispers of the wind before a voice made him stop in his tracks.
“Oliver!” she cried after a few minutes, the worry overwhelming her to the point where she couldn’t dismiss it anymore. “Isn’t that far enough? Please, let’s go do something else.”
Though she was but a small body in his vision now, he could still make out the fear thick in her voice and concern burning in her sapphire eyes. He wrestled his options in his mind before settling on making his way back, mostly due to the sympathy he felt for the poor girl frightened nearly to tears.
“Alright, I’m coming back,” he informed her.
She anxiously watched his frame grow closer in her view, pacing back and forth in her snow-sooted boots. After a few moments, she was relieved to see that he was only a couple meters away.
“Slow down! The ice might-”
“...break.” I barely get the last word out before a split on the ice echoes across the lake, leaving me shell-shocked, my eyes locked onto Oliver’s.
“Oliver!” I scream, panic erupting from my chest, drowning out all other thoughts.
“Noelle,” he takes a step forward, immediately followed by a series of cracks on the frozen surface.
“Noelle, don’t move!”
“But I have to help you,” she responded in a shaky voice, tears now streaming down her face.
“No. It’s too dangerous. I’ll be alright, go find some help.”
“I-I can’t leave you here like this. It’ll take too long.” she managed in between sobs.
“Noelle,” he kept his voice as steady as he could, desperately trying to suppress the fear that was steadily consuming him from the inside out. “I know you’re scared. You don’t have to do this-”
“-you need to help me.” Oliver doesn't take his eyes off me as if waiting for an answer.
“I-” My feet refuse to budge as I stand there paralyzed, with fear and shock, tears rapidly flowing down my cheeks.
He takes another step forward, and seeing the cracks double on the delicate floor beneath him was enough to force me to move.
“Don’t move! I-I’m coming over.” Taking in a shaky breath, I cautiously stepped on the fragile ice, trying my best to swallow the knot in my throat. It wasn’t until I saw my hands when I noticed that my entire body was shaking out of pure terror. I shut my eyes in an attempt to focus on my breathing. This isn’t the time to be freaking out, Noelle. You can save Oliver. You have to save Oliver.
“Noelle, you need to hurry.” I shift my eyes back to Oliver and notice with dread a change of temper on his face; his eyes bored a story of betrayal, his expression turning from shock into a disappointed frown. “It’s only a matter of time before I drown, and it’ll be your fault if you don’t save me.”
A pang of guilt runs through me as I get on my knees and palms, never keeping my gaze off him. “Don’t move, okay? You’re not going to fall. I’m going to get you out of there, Oliver.” I assured him.
“Noelle, I need you to look at me.”
She lifted her head up, one foot still on the ice, now in a squatting position. “I k-know. I n-need to stop crying or-or else the ice will break,” she said in an unsteady voice, hastily wiping her tears away.
“No. Noelle, I need you to know something.” he forced a smile on his face, pushing back tears of his own. “This isn’t your fault. I’m sorry for being careless and for scaring you.” he stopped to inhale a shaky breath. “This isn’t your fault. It’s mine. Stop blaming yourself for something you couldn’t have prevented.”
“What?” I blink, and there in front of me was the Oliver I’d been daydreaming about all along, still with that smile on his face, though I knew that he was terrified deep down.
“Oliver… I’m so-”
“Noelle, remember what I said? It isn’t your fault. It was never your fault.” he passes me a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry I made you feel that way.”
“No, please-” I let out another whimper, the sorrowful look in his eyes causing me to lose control of my emotions all over again. “Please, I can’t lose you again,” I whisper.
“Noelle, you need to go to sleep now. Don’t let this accident eat you up for the rest of your life.”
“Don’t say that…” I shake my head, my eyelids growing heavy as the sudden weight of fatigue and over-exhaustion take over my body.
“Sleep well, Noelle.” he gazes at me with a soft expression on his face. “I miss you too. But just because you miss someone, it doesn't mean you should stop living without them.”
The last thing I remember is the collapse of the frozen surface ahead of me and a scream before my unconscious took over.
“Noelle, honey? Are you awake?”
The door creaks open, and I adjust my eyes to the light peering from my window.
“Oh, so you were sleeping this whole time. That’s different, did you have a good dream?”
I groggily sit up, the events that took place in my dream last night still fresh in my mind. “...I’m not sure,” I reply. “What time is it?”
“Noon. I would’ve let you sleep for longer, but Amy’s family had invited us out today...I know you said you didn’t want to go, but I just wanted to double-check with you.” she sighs, walking over to sit on the foot of the bed. “Look, I know that incident six years ago is still troubling you, but you need to at least try, Noelle. Do it for him, at least. Hm?” she gazes at me with gentle eyes.
I glance over to my nightstand, where a photo of our families sat. His carefree, optimistic smile beaming from the frame reminded me of the words I heard last night.
“I miss you too. But just because you miss someone, it doesn't mean you should stop living without them.”
I turned to face my mother, who sat eagerly waiting for a response.
“Are you sure you don’t want to hold my arm?” Amy asks in concern.
“I’ll be fine. You can go on ahead,” I encourage her.
“All right, if you say so...if you ever need help, just call for me, and I’ll head right over.”
I nod, and she starts to head off, suddenly slowing down after a moment. She turns her head back to face me.
“You look like you’re doing well, Noelle.” she grins at me, her eyes glazing over. “I’m really happy for you.”
I give her a warm smile, overwhelmed with emotions of happiness and relief myself. Taking a deep breath, I tentatively step onto the ice rink, the memory of his smile lingering peacefully in my heart.
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This is beautiful. Your descriptions are great, poetic.
Thanks for the feedback!!
Liked how you described everything-from the looks to the fog being blown. Also, solid opening