We went out there every day after school once the first real snowfall had landed and stuck. And every day of Christmas break felt like a cycle of playing out there and warming up inside so we could go back out.
I think about those days a lot now even though they happened so long ago, and there’s one day in particular I think about a lot—and it always brings a smile to my face . . .
We had a few days of Christmas break—and a few weeks of work on the fort—under our belts, and it was the day before Christmas Eve. We all agreed to meet at the fort at 10:30 that morning, but there weren’t many of us left. A few boys had taken off for the holidays with their families and one or two others were grounded. But Evan and I were there at 10:30 sharp, like always, and so were Mark and his little brother.
We worked for a couple hours, fixing what had broken the night before, building up sections of the wall, digging more tunnels, and then went to Evan’s house to warm up and get some lunch. Mark’s mom called while we were eating our PB&Js and did not sound happy. Mark hung up the phone and turned to us dejected.
“We’ve gotta go.”
Evan and I knew the look and knew not to ask any questions. The two boys left, and Evan and I sat watching a Christmas cartoon. Then he turned to me, grinned, wide and devious, and ran downstairs without a word.
I ran down after him and saw him seated at the family computer.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m going to see if I can get us some help.” He kept grinning.
“What do you mean? Everybody’s either gone or grounded.”
“Not everybody.” His grin widened, his eyebrows raised, I knew exactly what that smile meant.
“No,” I said. “You can’t be serious.”
“I can be serious, and I am.”
I pulled up a chair and sat next to him while he logged into MSN messenger. He scrolled through his online friends, stopping at one name and hovering his mouse over it.
“What? Carly told me Katie was coming over today. I want to see Carly and I know you want to see Katie.”
“So? I doubt she wants to see me.”
His grin returned. “That’s not what I heard . . . ”
“Wait—what’d you hear?”
Evan said nothing but his grin continued.
“You have to tell me!”
He laughed—the laugh that made everyone his friend—and said, “Ok, ok, I may or may not have heard that she likes you.”
“Like likes me?”
“No. Just thinks you’d make a good friend.”
“Oh.” I looked down.
“Of course she like likes you!” He hit me in the chest. “Why would I bring it up if she didn’t?”
I looked at him skeptically. “Who told you?”
“Ok, but let me see what you type before you send it.”
“Easy, easy,” Evan said. “I’m just saying ‘hey’ first. Gotta ease into things.”
He hit send and a few seconds later, Carly replied with a ‘hey’ of her own and added a smiley face.
He typed, “What’s up?” and then looked at me. “That all right with you?”
He hit send.
Carly’s reply read, “Nm. Just hanging with Katie. U?”
Evan told her what we were up to and then asked her if they wanted to come help us with the fort.
Carly responded quickly with, “Sure!” and Evan turned to me with a smile.
“No going back now,” he said. “Let’s get ready.”
We went upstairs, grabbed our snow gear off the heater and threw it all on—snow pants, coats, boots, hats, gloves—ready for work, to go into battle, or talk to the girls we liked.
“Ready?” Evan asked.
He laughed. “Don’t look so scared. You’ve talked to a girl before.”
I rolled my eyes. “Let’s go,” I said pushing him out the door.
We walked to the fort and began working. I kept digging and widening my tunnel, and Evan returned to the wall he was building. We worked like that for maybe fifteen minutes, but it felt like an hour to me. I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting to see the face of a pretty blonde girl at the end of the tunnel.
I heard Evan say, “Hey, guys!” loudly and scurried out of the tunnel. Evan stood next to Carly and Katie, greeting our new recruits wearing matching pink and blue snowsuits.
“Hi, Luke,” Katie said with a smile and wave.
I smiled back and waved but couldn’t force a word out.
“This is really cool,” Carly said looking around the fort. “How long have you guys been working on it?”
“A few weeks,” Evan replied. “But we have to fix parts of it almost every day.”
Both girls nodded. “Still really cool,” Katie said. She looked at me and the tunnel behind. “What are you working on over there?”
“I’m making this tunnel wider and then adding a little room down there.”
“Oh, cool!” Katie said. “Can you show me it?”
I felt my already rosy cheeks blush even more. Evan and Carly smiled at each other.
“Uh, sure!” I said quickly.
She smiled and stepped into the fort. We walked to the tunnel and bent down in front of it.
“Well,” I said. “Here it is.”
She peered into the hole. “How far does it go?”
“I’m not really sure, but it’s pretty long I think.”
“Let’s go in.” She started crawling through the entrance, not waiting for my response, and I followed.
We crawled through the snow-packed tunnel, hardly big enough for a twelve-year-old, that grew narrower as we continued.
She looked back. “Did you do all this by yourself?”
“Not all of it, but most of it.”
“Wow! That’s impressive!” She turned back around and kept moving.
We crawled a few more feet and then got to a wider section where a trowel and plastic bucket waited for us. There was enough room for her to turn around and face me, a big smile spread across her face.
“So this is the room, huh?”
“Yep,” I replied. “It’s not much but—”
She cut me off. “Let’s get to work!”
She grabbed the trowel and started chipping away at the hard snow, making little progress. I scooted next to her and scooped loose snow into the plastic bucket with my hands.
We worked like that for a few minutes, and then she stopped and said, “It’s kind of hard. I don’t think I’m really doing much.” She pushed a few strands of blonde hair away from her face in a huff.
“Want to switch?” I asked. “You can use this bucket to take out all the snow.”
She smiled. “That sounds like a great idea.” She handed me the trowel and we started working again.
I dug, she scooped, and we talked about school and Christmas and our upcoming basketball tournaments. She carried out bucketfuls of snow, and I tried thinking of funny things to say. I don’t know how long we worked like that, but I didn’t want to stop, and eventually the little room was big enough for two kids to lounge comfortably.
We stopped digging and scooping and sat beside each other looking through the tunnel, only a sliver of the outside world visible.
She grabbed my gloved hand with her mittened hand and held it. Our hands rested on the patch of snow between us.
I tried playing it cool—acting like I’d done this before—but I couldn’t keep a smile from digging its way across my face. I glanced at her. She looked straight ahead. I turned back, and we sat there holding hands for I don’t know how long.
And then she turned and kissed my cheek.
I froze, only for a moment, and she started crawling through the tunnel. I followed her and stepped into the glaring afternoon sunlight.
Katie stood over Carly, whispering in her ear. Carly giggled and stood up and announced that they had to go.
Evan stood up too and told them how much we appreciated their help.
“You’re welcome!” Carly replied. “We’ll have to do it again sometime.” She smiled at Evan, then turned to me and waved. “See you later, Luke.”
I returned her wave and looked at Katie, worried I had done something wrong—had messed everything up.
She looked down at her snow boots, then up at me, and smiled. I smiled and waved, and she waved too, and then they left.
Even now, many years after that day, that kiss, that Christmas, I smile whenever I think about it. Even now, as I sit in front of a Christmas tree in a room by myself, knowing there won’t be anyone filling it on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, knowing how much everything has changed since that day, I still smile when I think about it. I smile because I know nothing can touch that day, nothing can change that memory or what’s been done long, long ago. Even now, even now.
Now it’s time to answer the question. Would you keep reading? (Or in this case, read it again or read another story like it?) If you would, give a like and leave a reply to let me know why below. Thanks for reading!