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Shamrock Snow, part 4
by Leslie Ann Miller
“You know,” Gussie said slowly. “In some ways I envy you. You have freedom. You can go anywhere you like, do anything you want. Become who you want to be. You’re young, just starting out. As they say, the world is your oyster. You’re not locked into a career yet. You can experiment and explore…if you don’t like one thing… try something else. You can enjoy the diversity of life’s experiences. I never did that, you know. I was always so focused. Hell, I never had time for anything except my career, even before I had it.” She shook her head. No wonder I don’t have a life outside the symphony.
Dale seemed to consider these words for a moment then smiled.
“What?” Gussie asked, eyes narrowing, wondering if her words, spoken in all seriousness, were going to be dismissed with a laugh.
“Well, I’m horribly allergic to shellfish, so if the world is an oyster, I’m in serious trouble…” Dale grinned, then rolled her eyes. “I guess that figures, actually.” She paused a moment. “And my freedom is somewhat limited by finances. Money sucks, particularly when you don’t have any, which I don’t. It would be one thing if I had a plan…”
Gussie watched quietly as her guest seemed to struggle with her words and emotions.
After a moment Dale continued. “I guess, I guess I always thought that my future would find me, you know? That some grand cause would come along, and there I’d go… off to save the world or something. I’m horribly impulsive that way… and hopelessly romantic.”
“Is that how you wound up in the Texas panhandle in the middle of a blizzard on Christmas Eve?” Gussie asked gently with a smile. “Off to save the world in California?”
Dale frowned, avoiding eye contact by staring at her feet. “No. No, this is more like running from my past. And I don’t think I’m equipped to save the world anymore. In fact, I’m obviously the one needing to be saved these days,” she said morosely.
Gussie sighed inwardly when the girl fell silent again. Speaking of shellfish, Dale certainly could clam up. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to pry.”
Dale shook her head. “It’s okay. I just…I don’t really want to talk about it, if that’s okay.”
“Sure,” Gussie nodded, standing up. She picked up the poker beside the fireplace and stirred the fire again, noticing that the supply of dry logs inside was almost gone. “Listen, I need to go out and get some more wood from the woodpile so it’ll have a chance to dry a bit.”
“Can I help?” Dale asked, finally looking up.
“No thanks, just stay comfortable. It won’t take me long.”
The wind was still blowing, but the snow had lightened up considerably when Gussie pushed through the drift that had built up against the back of the house. As a kid, she’d always enjoyed walking through virgin snow, being the first to make her mark on the pristine landscape, leaving her trail for all to see. As an adult, she’d been happy to leave its cold mess behind for warmer climates. Today, she enjoyed it as a treat. She smiled in the crisp air as her feet crunched a path through the knee-high snow to the woodpile stacked against the back fence.
Maybe I’ll have to take up skiing in Tahoe.
She cleared the snow from the top of the woodpile with an arm and was lifting a heavy log when something smacked into the back of her coat. “What the Hell?” she thought to herself, turning to see what was behind her.
Her brain barely had time to register the word “snowball” before it exploded in her face, sending icy powder showering down her neck and front. She firmly bit back the startled cry that threatened to escape her lips, not wanting to squeal like an undignified six-year-old, and calmly wiped the snow out of her eyes with one gloved hand.
Dale stood by the backdoor, hand covering her mouth, puffy eyes as wide as they could be. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” she stammered. “My overhand throw isn’t usually that good, especially not when I’m wearing gloves… I’m so, so sorry!”
It had been so long since Gussie had been pelted by a snowball - or been in such a position that someone had actually attempted to initiate play with her - that she was temporarily stunned. Her cold-numbed mind didn’t know how to react.
I could get angry, she thought as the snow slowly melted in an icy trickle down her face. I must look completely foolish. It would be justified to lash out in defense of her wounded pride.
But the kid looked so completely mortified – terrified, almost – that she couldn’t quite bring herself to muster the necessary emotion. Instead, she found herself biting down a laugh.
Or… I could get even.
Using the look of stern disapproval that was known to cow even the most unruly musicians into solemn obedience, she brushed the snow out of her wilting hair. “Did you come out to help me, or simply to ambush me?” she asked, trying to sound as cold as the water now running down behind her ear.
“Help,” Dale squeaked, and Gussie wasn’t sure if it was an answer or a plea.
Unable to contain herself any longer, she turned back to the woodpile with a snort, hoping it didn’t sound too much like the laughter it really was. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Dale slogged through the snow to the other end of the woodpile.
As Dale reached out to clear the top of the pile, Gussie held up her hand. “Wait,” she said, taking the two steps to close the distance between them.
Dale froze in place.
“Allow me,” Gussie said, and, using her arm as an improvised snowplow, proceeded to bury the girl’s face and front in a shower of white.
Dale did squeal very much like an undignified six-year old and lost her footing as she tried to take step backward in surprise.
Gussie chortled gleefully as the girl fell over, sprawling in the deep snow. Pouncing quickly, she grabbed a handful of snow and playfully dumped it onto Dale’s astonished face. “Isn’t it time to ice your nose?” she grinned evilly.
Dale laughed. “Why yes, it is. How good of you to remind me,” she chuckled.
Gussie saw the devious look enter Dale’s eyes the moment before the girl launched herself up at her. Ah, the exuberance of youth, she thought as she went over backwards, wondering if she really had the energy to get into a wrestling match with a woman eight years younger. “Ooff,” she said, as Dale landed solidly on top of her, giggling like a banshee.
Oh, what the Hell.
To be continued in part 5