The snow had stopped, and for the first time all winter, the mountain peeked out with yards of white draped over its shoulders like a cloak. The hill itself huddled in protection against the unusually cold that winter had become. I stood against the wrought iron balcony rail with a mug of hot apple cider, ready for the sounds of children sledding nearby as I knew they would soon.
My own protection against the elements came in the form of a robe, thick and fluffy, and I could keep it for only a couple of hundred dollars if I paid the hotel.
There was something in the stillness and the way the air moved. The mountain seemed to coil up into itself and, through the steam of my cider, seemed to shiver and shake. Sure, it was cold, but it wasn't that cold. It never got that cold in the Pacific Northwest. Still, watching the shivering through my cider smoke, I couldn’t resist tucking in a little tighter.
“You coming back inside anytime soon?” they asked. Scarlet, my partner, lover, and best friend, checked on me. I shook my head. My shoulder-length hair brushed against the puffy robe and tickled my scalp. I only notice when I’ve just had a shower, which I have, and all of the oils and other products haven’t been replaced yet. A chill cut through the air and whipped my hair back.
“I’ll come in in a few minutes,” I replied, taking another short sip of cider. The sourness of the apples, combined with caramel sweetness, ran over my tongue and down my throat. The warmth of the drink is extended as it falls down my esophagus and the rum grabs onto the sides as it flows downward, and the friction of its slipping fingers heats my chest and belly even more.
“The mountain is out,” they told me while I cup both of my hands around the coffee mug. It says “his” on it, and mostly that’s fine, I guess. One of us had to get it, even though it’s been a long time since I’ve considered myself a “he” or “him,” and Scarlet never did, even when they had the parts. I can’t help but smile at how we were in high school together—Scarlet fierce and unapologetic, me? Ambivalent and naive. But that didn’t matter anymore, not here in Edgewater, finally celebrating our wedding.
“Room service?” Scarlet asked. They hadn’t yet asked me to close the door to the balcony. I knew they were cold because I was cold. Whatever money the hotel had spent on the thick robes, they hadn’t bothered to spend on the slippers. Paper thin and like walking on cardboard, the sandals shattered the illusion of luxury.
“Sure,” I said, turning back toward the room. Scarlet was always so elegant. They reclined watching, of all things, Animal Planet, as she often did because the animals were so innocent and cute. “What are our choices?”
“I’m doing avocado toast,” they said, their finger extended against the menu with vivid red polish at the end. Scarlet took their name seriously, and I completely approved, especially with how they looked in red heels. I bit my lower lip at the mental image. “But also, they have eggs benedict, which I know you like. Lox too. Also steak, but I don’t think….”
“Eggs benedict,” I interrupted. “With…”
“..ham instead of Canadian Bacon,” Scarlet says. They turned to look up at me from the bed as one leg slipped clear of the robe. They smiled up at me. “I know you.”
I crossed the threshold back into the room. I placed the mug of cider down on the carpet as I kicked my slippers off, relishing the thick, warm carpet between my toes. I lowered myself to my knees at the foot of the bed, my face inches from Scarlet’s.
“I know you do,” I said and gave Scarlet a kiss that turned into three before Scarlet finally withdrew at the sound of their grumbling tummy.
“I’d better order, or you’re going to get more of that,” Scarlet said with a wink. Seconds later, they ordered, and I took the opportunity to climb into bed beside them. We watched sordid and scandalous episodes of Meercat Manor until a knock interrupted our resting. Scarlet, clearly driven by their stomach, got to the door before I did. A pair of eyes peeked over Scarlet’s shoulder.
“Kai?” the person said, a person I didn’t recognize until they pushed past Scarlet, shattering our privacy. “Kai, good. I found you!”
Scarlet looked toward me. Their eyes were confused, and they held the check in their hands. “Excuse me?”
The intruder turned back toward me.
“I have to speak to Kai. It’s important.”
“Aren’t you room service?” Scarlet asked. “Please tell me you’re not posing as room service to get into our honeymoon suite.”
“Who are you?” I asked, genuinely curious because I didn’t recognize the auburn, shoulder-length hair, slightly broader nose, or thick, bleached eyebrows.
“It’s me, Kai. It’s Cambridge.”
I knew a Cambridge, though everyone called him Cam back in school because, at Seattle High, a name like Cambridge was too pretentious—perhaps especially at Seattle High. He’d even had a crush on me for some time and even wrote poems and for a brief minute we had gone out. I recalled a lot more sweating from him than anything else. I blinked and tried to visualize the brace-faced awkward teenager with the grown man in a stolen waitstaff uniform.
“I love you, Kai. I have…”
“Stop right there,” I said. “What happened to the person whose uniform you stole?”
That wasn’t my only question, but his uniform was clearly too tight. The spaces between the buttons on the top opened enough to see chest hairs peeking out.
“And how on earth do you think it’s okay to barge into our honeymoon suite?” Scarlet asked. They slammed the check down on the table and pulled the cart inside. “You should leave.”
“I know. You love Kai. Everyone loves Kai here, but there’s only one Kai, and they love me.”
Cam addressed me first.
“I found the uniform in the laundry downstairs,” he said, then turned to Scarlet. “That’s not what….”
I shook my head.
“Doesn’t matter, I guess,” I said. “You do see this clearly, right? You stole a uniform and snuck up to my room on pretenses. And right now, you’re ruining our honeymoon. Leave. Now.”
I was being cautious now not to let on that I wasn’t wearing any clothes under the blanket. (We may have been watching less Animal Planet than I’d initially implied).
“Roses are red….”
Cam had never been very imaginative. I shook my head. He had to be going on twenty-eight and still hadn’t learned how to write good poetry.
“If poetry’s going to be your go-to, you should learn how to write it.”
His lips clamped together. But not for long enough. Cam made no effort to leave.
“If you just hear me out,” he tried to explain. At this point, Scarlet moved toward him. He was big, but Scarlet was intimidating for their size. I noticed him back up a step. “Your mother said….”
Scarlet turned and looked at me and raised one perfect eyebrow. I looked at them and shrugged. There was a reason my mother hadn’t been invited to the wedding. I sighed with the realization that Cam’s appearance and even this plan had likely all originated with my mother. The poor, sad creature that he was—Cam couldn’t have planned this out. Scarlet rubbed their eyes.
“Have a seat, Cam,” Scarlet said, pointing to the chair by the coffee table. Cam shuffled in and took the seat. Scarlet handed him the coffee. “I think you probably need this more than I do.”
“I can’t believe she did this,” I said, feeling my face flush simultaneously. Turning (only my eyes) to Cam (after a quick glare at Scarlet for their excessive and often ill-advised compassion), I tried to relax my eyebrows.
“What did my mother tell you?” I asked. “And turn around while you answer.”
Cam did turn and spoke to the mountain. I took the opportunity to retrieve my robe from the floor and slip it over my body. I tied it closed as the mountain shivered in the distance. This confused me until I realized the mountain was still separated from me by coffee steam.
“She said you were going through with this relationship against your will. She said that Scarlet had put some love spell on you and that you needed a good boy like me to come to rescue you.”
“And this seemed reasonable to you?” I asked. Scarlet’s eyes darted toward me and back. “Those were her exact words?”
“Oh, I didn’t believe her completely,” Cam said. “But I thought that maybe your mom saw something that you didn’t. Maybe there was a chance for me still. So I drove in from Spokane, and they wouldn’t let me into the wedding.”
“We haven’t spoken in ten years, Cam. How could you possibly have thought this would be a good idea?”
“He wasn’t thinking,” Scarlet said, defending him for some reason. “Who knows what else your mother put into that head of his? You lived with her. You know how manipulative she can be.”
“I thought that maybe….”
“Cam, stop. No is the answer. I love Scarlet. We’ve been together for over a year. There’s nothing you or my mother can do to break us up. Tell her you tried, and I said to stop interfering in my life. Do you understand?”
His crestfallen face fell toward the floor, and he nodded. In another situation, perhaps on a big screen, the situation would have been hilarious. He sat there holding the coffee he still hadn’t sipped and nodded twice. The hotel uniform looked like a bowling suit, and the way he sat had bunched up around his belly, so not only chest hair but belly hair flashed us. Hilarious had my former ex not been in my honeymoon suite on my honeymoon. I often wished I could go back in time and slap myself before going out with him.
“Y-Yes, I get it,” he said. “She used me.”
“It’s not just you. It’s everyone around her.”
“But she used me this time, didn’t she,” he said. “Look, I’m sorry, Kai. She said I would need a huge romantic gesture, or it wouldn’t work. I paid the guy twenty dollars to let me bring the tray.”
He took a sip of the coffee. The mountain shivered over his lips. I padded through the carpet and sidled up to Scarlet to bring my point home. They put their arm around me as he brought his cup down.
“She said this is your favorite coffee,” he said as he brought the cup down. I smiled.
“I don’t drink coffee,” I said and let out a quick laugh. His face screwed up into a scowl.
“That’s weird. She kept saying that,” he said, and put the cup down on the coffee table. He scrunched his eyes and blinked as he stared at me. He looked toward Scarlet then and blinked once more. “It tastes funny. I guess Christmas blend or something.”
Scarlet went white. Well, whiter.
“It tastes like lavender?”
“Yeah,” he said. “And lemon.”
Scarlet crossed the room toward him. I trailed behind them, unsure of what to expect. He blinked some more, and now the confusion I had formerly seen in their faces captured his.
“I feel strange,” Cam said.
“You were courting my fiance,” Scarlet reminded him. They were close enough to take the coffee from him and hold it to their nose. “You should feel very strange. Ugh, is that rose?”
“In coffee?” I asked.
“No,” Scarlet replied. “This is a love potion.”
“But she knows I don’t drink coffee,” I said. “I wouldn’t have drunk it.”
“I don’t understand,” Cam said. “What happened? Kai?”
“You don’t remember being madly in love with me like thirty seconds ago?”
“I don’t love you,” he said. “I remember…I remember liking you in high school, but it’s been years. I have a girlfriend. She works in a coffee shop on second.”
He paused for a second.
“But I’m here. And I’m doing this—I remember. But why?”
“To break us up,” Scarlet said, rubbing their eyes.
“My girlfriend,” Cam cried out. “I-I dumped her. I remember just like that. We were out at dinner, and she’s…I told her I didn’t love her. Why would I do that?”
His eyes shimmered with tears, and he looked at me when he spoke as though I knew anything about anything. I shrugged and directed my gaze toward Scarlet.
“She wanted to break us up,” Scarlet said. “The coffee was for me. Imagine me falling madly in love with a man. I don’t think it would even have worked, but she was going to try. Me falling for Cam and Kai needing a shoulder to cry on. That’s what she was going for.”
“After so many years, she still doesn’t get it,” I said.
“My girlfriend,” Cam muttered.
“Go to her, Cam,” I told him. “And stay away from my mother. There’s a reason I don’t talk to her anymore.”
He staggered from the room out into the hallway. I looked at Scarlet.
“My mother’s a raging bitch,” I said.
“I know,” they said, sliding the door shut behind Cam with their foot. “You want to really piss her off?”
“It doesn’t bother you that my mother ruined Cam’s life.”
“That’s something we can deal with after our honeymoon, right? Don’t let her be in her with us.”
I smiled and shrugged out of my robe. Scarlet was right. We were on our honeymoon and my mother hadn’t even been invited to the wedding, let alone up to our honeymoon suite.
Later, Scarlet followed me to the window and wrapped their arms around me. I lay my head back on their shoulder and watched the mountain. With new cups of cider, it seemed restive and peaceful, warm and happy in its white robes of snow.