He’d thought about Ms. Rose all through the night and found himself tossing and turning until early morning. He hadn’t slept a wink because of her. He couldn’t wait to put a permanent end to her shooting her mouth off at him. Who did she think she was anyway? Kicking back crisp, white linen sheets, Tobias shot up from his bed and found himself standing staring absently out the front room window, in the direction in which Winter took. Suddenly, snowflakes entered his vision and a small smile formed over his lips. This was his favorite time of the year but the hole in his heart reminded him that something was missing.
Though it may sound silly, his mother made the best popcorn, she even took the time to make a white cloud of garland out of it. His mother cooked side dishes and pies the night before Christmas which made him twist in anticipation for the impending dinner to come. His insides curled up with excitement of presents his mother had tucked up under the Christmas tree that he could hardly sleep.
Karen made every winter feel like magic, as if the impossible could happen. Tobias knew when his mother read him stories of Santa Claus that he wasn’t real, but the way his mother’s eyes lit up with passion and voice sang as she read to him, she’d made him believe against his own will. Besides, how could a fat man fit inside a narrow chimney? Santa was an ass, he even mistreated Rudolph! He remembered watching those old claymation films. He chuckled to himself at how cynical he was as a child.
When he was in elementary school and December rolled around, the teacher instructed the class to write down what presents they wanted so when she mailed their letters to the North Pole, Santa could make sure not to miss a present. Tobias shot up from his seat and declared that Santa wasn’t real and that they were all stupid for believing it. He had caused pandemonium throughout the class for the remainder of that day. Classmates began crying, throwing themselves on the floor! A few kids wailed for their mother’s while others ransacked the classroom. Tables were overturned and one distraught girl let the class hamster loose, she even sat Indian style in a corner with her hands over her ears chanted, “Santa’s real, Santa’s real!” while rocking at a frantic pace.
The teacher drug him out into the hall and gave him a what for then sent him to the principal’s office for his behavior. While he waited in the office to hear his fate, he saw parents filter in one after the other with distraught looks across their faces. Tobias figured the teacher ratted him out to all the parents because when they spotted him, they twisted up their mouths at him. He didn’t care, he’d say it again and watch his classmates fall to pieces all over again.
My, my, how time flies. Time seemed to fly by in an instant. He was thirty-five and he was no more happier than when he’d left Aspen at twenty-one. While lost in his own thoughts, he hadn’t heard or seen Winter come in. She watched him stare out into nothingness sometimes smiling, then frowning. He wore nothing except heavy cotton sweat pants while his wavy jet black hair was ruffled. His 6’4″ frame was well honed with lean muscle, and his chest rose on an inhale and fell on an exhale. One thing Winter noticed was when his guard was down, it made him look vulnerable. He looked as if he was longing for something. When he tore his gaze from the window, he turned and saw her staring at him. It startled him because everything was covered except her eyes.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Well good morning to you too.”
“You just don’t come to someone’s house unannounced.”
“I have a key. I can come and go as I please.” she jingled her keys partly to annoy him. “Besides, I told you was coming over bright and early last night.”
“You need to knock from now on.”
She jingled her keys again. “I’m here to make you breakfast.”
“You heard me. I made breakfast for your father, now I’m making it for you.”
“I don’t need you to cater to me. I’m more than capable of taking care of myself.”
“You enjoy picking fights, don’t you?”
“I told you I wouldn’t be making life easy for you.”
“Well I’ll tell you what Mr. Thiebaud, why don’t you keep your mouth shut, go to your room and put a shirt on while I make you a lovely breakfast.” she added sweetly.
Taking off her coat, she hung it up and walked into the kitchen to pull out eggs, butter, buttermilk, and bacon from the refrigerator. Spinning around, she brought down the canister of flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and maple syrup. Rounding the coffee table, he watched her keenly even though all that he saw was her back.
His body gave him a jolt that reminded him that he was still male. Against his will, his eyes traveled down her body and landed on her bottom. It was perky and as round as two melons. The way her turtle neck sweater hugged her torso, he knew that she had to be a full C cup, maybe more. Shaking his head he chastized himself, she was the enemy and he couldn’t give her an inch of ground. There also was the fact that he wasn’t looking for a relationship. Besides, she still wore her wedding ring even though her husband was dead. Tobias was wondering why he was even having this silent conversation in his head. Retreating to his room leaving the door partially ajar, he rustled through his bags for a pair of jeans and a tee shirt and a fresh pair of boxer briefs.
Winter traveled from the kitchen towards Tobias’ room and pushed open the door only to find him pulling a shirt over his head and unzipped jeans riding his hips, with a patch of his boxer briefs showing. Her eyes traced the waist band of his briefs to hidden places she hadn’t seen in two years.
“What are you looking at? Do you see something you like?”
“Not in the least. I just came to tell you your breakfast is waiting for you on the table.”
Turning, she left him to fix his appearance then headed back to the kitchen to clean up. When he emerged from his room, he stood by the table and watched her wash dishes with her back facing him. Finally taking a seat, he eyed his food and asked, “Are you eating as well?”
“No. I ate before I came.”
“Uh huh. So, what did you lace my food with?”
“Love.” she threw over her shoulder and continued to wash dishes. “By the way, your truck is sitting outside. Today is your first day at work, and you’re supposed to be at the lodge by 5:30 am, the pastry shops between 7 and 8 am, and by the diner around noon.”
“Hold it! What truck are you talking about?”
“It’s already 3:30 and you haven’t touched your breakfast. Eat up.”
“I said what truck are you talking about?!”
Winter pulled off her rubber gloves and turned towards him leaning against the sink.
“Your father left you a truck. I took it in to have it serviced. Here.” Digging into her pant pocket she fished out the keys and tossed it to him. “I have your schedule for the remainder of the week.”
“You have a few meetings and you need to introduce yourself to your employees. In short, you’re going to have to earn everyone’s trust and respect.”
“Hey I just got here, I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“If you need help-”
“Wait a damn minute, you can’t just thrust all of this on me at once! Give me a minute to process this first.”
“…you can always ask me.” she finished. “I’m here to help if that’s what you choose.”
Tobias looked frightened to her, very frightened. It was like watching a baby trying to walk for the first time. You know the baby will fall, it’s just a matter of when. Luckily Tobias wouldn’t fall head first if he accepted her help. “Eat.” she said in a soft voice, “I’ll get your things ready for you.”
While Winter flitted through the cabin, Tobias had managed to take bites of his food. Outgoing he wasn’t, he was more the loner gyspy type, never staying in one place too long. After his mother died and the end of his quicky marriage, he’d made sure people didn’t stick to him. It’d become difficult to trust when the people you loved the most leaves you. Setting his fork against the plate, he’d noticed he’d eaten all its contents. Reaching over, he wrapped his hand around a tall, cold glass of orange juice and gulped it down in four swallows. As he looked up he watched Winter plant herself at the opposite side of the table with a briefcase before her.
“What’s in the case?”
“Everything you need to make your transition a bit smoother. This…” she pulled out an Apple tablet, “has all the current information you need just in case you want to review anything while on the go. This tablet is simple, practical, and clean. And this…” slidding a matching Apple laptop, “can and should be used for when you’re in your office. Namely here.”
“I have an office in this cabin?”
“Yes. I set it up before your arrival. It’s in your mother’s old room.”
Flinching he rocketed to his feet.
“What made you think I wanted an office here? You can’t go touching things that don’t belong to you! What else have you desicrated in my home?!” he barked at her.
The only reason she hadn’t ripped his head off was that she saw the hurt in his eyes over the loss of his mother. Her bladed words melted into puddles of compassion and patience and therefore spared his feelings.
“At your father’s request-”
“Just great! At my father’s request…did you roll over and play dead at my father’s request as well?” he mocked.
Backing away, Winter scooped up the empty plate and glass from the table and placed them in the sink with the remaining utensils. Slipping on the rubber gloves she made quick work of the cleaning and wiped down everything. Walking past Tobias not sparing him a glance, plucked her coat from its resting place then shrugged into it snapping, zipping, and securing herself tightly against the harsh elements to come. The only sound Tobias heard was the howling wind when Winter opened to leave, and a soft click of the door when she exited.