"Tell me something," he said, stretched across the old rag rug woven by my great grandmother. Five years in the making, she finished it just before I was born. Faded and soft to the touch, it was where I’d taken my first steps, danced my first dance, stomped many an angry heel at long-forgotten teen outrage. I’d thrown countless suitcases on it, returning from schools, long stretches of backpacking, two failed marriages, bankruptcies both financial and personal. It had taken the impact of my knees when the hospital called to say my mother had passed in the night. Forty years and a thousand shifts in furniture, paint and fixtures, it was my one constant reminder of home.
"Like what?" I draped a hand across his beautiful flank, my fingers curled across his belly, brushing the curve of his appetite. I couldn't see his eyes; only the outline of his nose, his brow, his wet, just-washed beard in the firelight. He was more sensitive to the cold than I was, I had learned over the weekend. I could be naked in the snow while he needed two blankets and a pair of socks to function.
"Anything. But not a story. I hate stories. Tell me something you believe in; that's more interesting," he cozied his back into my body like a child settling in for the night.
I thought about lying; I was a very good liar. One of the best in my family. But he was still enough of a stranger to deserve something true.
"Well…when I was your age…and I was heartbroken over some silly love affair, my mother once told me that...summer love is a lighter love that doesn't last the test of winter."
"How does that work?" He turned around, pulling the blanket off me in the process, eyes playfully guarded.
"Well...love in the summer is light, I guess," I said, picking at the edge of the rag rug. "It's abundant and hot, fast and social. But winter, that’s when you have to share your heat and cooperate to survive, in close quarters. So...love made in the winter is already tested. So it lasts."
I looked at him, the very gentle youngness of him...the tattoos and pink fleshy delight of his body that was strong without struggling against gravity, and no scars, inside or out. How he, too, was picking the carpet now. And I knew...the way you know about rain on the wind or moss on bark, or the sound of snow cracking in the subzero, we wouldn't last.
"Well that's just stupid," he finally declared. "I've had plenty of relationships where—" he trailed off at the realization of his foolishness.
"It's just an old saying," I reached for him, pulled him around, cupping his body in between my knees, settling the blanket back around his body. "You asked for anything but a story,"
"I can't wait until I'm old," he said. I laughed and he struggled against me, but I held him with my knees and pressed into him lightly. He yielded, because he had no choice in the matter, and I wasn't ready for the fantasy to end just yet.
He was sullen and silent for a long while, then "You're not cold?"
"No. I'm never cold, sweet man," I clasped my arms around his torso and kissed his fuzzy cheek.
"Keep me warm?" he asked, quietly.
"For the whole night, I promise," I said, nuzzling the perfect curls on his shaggy neck.
"I wrote 'Winter' as an homage to my mother's romance novels, but with a more bittersweet tone. You don't always get the prince; the princess is quite often in the other castle. And sometimes you're better for it."
Tom Stephan is a Texas native who has spent a little time being a bit of everything: teacher, actor, playwright, writer, and traveler. When he’s not doing any of those things he’s living in Austin and eating well. He has a BA in English, an MFA in Acting and a curious collection of hats and suspenders. More of his work can be found at medium.com/@dyer9380.