Blizzard — Chapter 10 by Redsliver* * *
Holding Sam’s hands and smiling were the easiest things I had ever done. I was lighter. I pushed the door closed against the cold stillness. The snow would need to be shoveled, and I didn’t trust that my landlord was going to clear it like my lease assured me he would. For the moment, I didn’t care. None of us were going anywhere. My only wish was that there were marshmallows for the box of hot chocolate packets I had in the back of the cupboard.
“Take a deep breath. Look at me.” I coached Sam through her panic. “It was a big night, c’mon upstairs and we’ll talk or cuddle or say sexy things at Max. Whatever makes you happy.”
“I want to do all of that… I don’t know why I’m being crazy,” she murmured. She squeezed my fingers back. She looked down at herself. “Last night was the best night I ever had, and I see something different this morning. Thank you for not letting me get away.”
“Yeah, I will keep my beautiful girls in my frosty winter fortress forever, mwa ha ha ha.”
She pulled me into a hug and I led her back upstairs. She wasn’t smiling when I sat her on the side of my bed, but only Alex was. Max looked ready but solemn. Her eyes flicked down to Alex.
“You’re reading the rules?” I saw Alex flipping through the pages.
“Of course. It’s not fun if I don’t claim victory, break you, and leave you an empty husk.” She smiled. I turned back to Sam. The power flickered. It stayed off. Alex recaptured my attention and said: “Fair warning: I mount my trophies.”
“I’m getting you all a cup of hot chocolate the moment I can power a kettle.” I yawned down onto the floor across from Alex. And there was light and He saw that it was good.
“Finally!” Alex exulted. She started shuffling the game deck.
“Yeah, those guys out in that are fucking rock stars.” I pointed to the curtains. Light was getting through, but there was snow caked up and covering the bottom third of the windows.
“I’m going to let boys do that,” Max stated. “I belong in the kitchen.”
“My kitchen,” I declared; she blushed. I saw Sam slump; I leaned over Alex and squeezed Sam’s fingers.
“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I can handle myself.”
“But you don’t always have to.” I leaned forward, intent on giving her a little kiss. Her frown dissuaded me and I squeezed her shoulders as I straightened to my full height. I rubbed Alex’s hair as I stepped by her. Max was sitting on the arm of my chair.
“The cushion’s less hard on your butt,” I told her.
“You’ll be sitting there,” she said. I shrugged, and set my kettle on its heating element. I pulled out the hot chocolate packets. One per cup. There were three left. I’d have tea. I usually had tea. I wasn’t disappointed too much. Alex was flipping over cards. Max was on her phone. Sam was sitting there morose. I put the first cup in her hands.
“No marshmallows.” I rubbed her fingers. Rubbed her hair. Rubbed her cheek. She made an awkward semi-smile. Alex took her cup next after an insistent eye-slinging I got from Max.
“Thanks, Gene,” Max said as I handed her the third.
“You’re welcome, Max.” I leaned over and kissed her head. I was grinning as I sat down across from Alex.
“You don’t have a cup,” she noticed.
“I’ll make some tea after you’ve been schooled,” I promised. I looked up to the other girls. “You guys mind watching game one? She’s been chomping at the bit.”
“Of course,” Max nodded.
“I think I’m going to call my mom.” Sam picked up her phone and walked to the washroom—the only place for privacy in the apartment.
“She going to be OK?” I asked her friends.
“Yeah, she’s going to be awesome,” Alex assured me. “How do we figure out who goes first?”
“I usually flip cards to fill the board like this.” I put the deck she’d been shuffling at the top of the game board, and handed her one of the ten-card starter decks. “You, me. Highest first. Dreamer’s Glass 5, Nihilmancer 3. You’ll be going first.” I filled out the rest of the board. Alex shuffled and played.
“Why does Minotaur have a red circle but everything else has white triangles?” Max asked me.
“You buy heroes and constructs with runes. The white triangles,” Alex declared as she turned over apprentices. Three triangles. She pulled the nihilmancer to her hand. I shook my head. Alex frowned. “Where does it go?”
“With these.” She pointed to the cards she had used to buy it.
“Those are still in play.”
“Oh, I get it now,” she grinned.
“I don’t,” Max said.
“Watch a bunch of hands and you’ll see. It’ll make more sense to play and learn.” I grabbed her knee and squeezed.
“What about the red circles?” Max rubbed my fingers. It was clear she was asking Alex this time. I hadn’t seen this deference last night or the days before. It reminded me that there was a ton left to get to know. I looked over at the washroom door.
“You use power, red circles.” She turned over her other two cards: Militia, two red circles. “To fight monsters.” She dinged her nail on the Cultist. “Boom! Dead. What do I do with him?”
“He’s there to take a beating no matter if there are monsters in the middle or not,” I told her. “Take a white crystal and discard your cards from play.”
“Score, sweep, draw my next hand.”
“Oh, so the cards she buys will be in her deck next time?” Max understood.
“That’s how deck-builders work.” Alex ran her finger over the words on the box. “Dad has a bunch, Dominion and Lord of the Rings and stuff.”
“Your dad, eh? I was wondering where you got your taste for games, if it wasn’t Max. Engineering math nerds are the biggest game people on the planet.” I grinned. “That’s awesome. I wouldn’t have expected that from your dad after meeting him.”
“He says it’s the only way he knows to put the math they forced him to learn in school to good use,” she told me.
“I suppose it is.” I laughed. I looked up to Max. “Do you want to check on Sam?”
She hmmm’d. “It’s only been a couple minutes. I think we should let her talk to her mom.”
So, I squared off with Alex. She was beaming. She tugged my bathrobe around her, but it continually fell off one of her shoulders. Whenever I had to think about my move, she’d show more cleavage. She was devious. I loved it.
As for the game... well, I didn’t get to five runes before her second turn. That first card I had flipped up? It’s really good. She had it in play on turn four and, even learning, she managed to make her OKish deck really fast really quick. I knew more, knew how to play the cards better, but Batman still can’t outrun The Flash. If my brother had made those first two purchases, I’d be salty for weeks. Alex’s smile made the entire loss a great time.
“Boom! Victory!” She shot up with a grin after we had counted. She’d won by six.
“You’re going to get really good.” I looked back to the bathroom door. “I’ll—”
“I’ll check on her. This time, trounce her.” Max stood up and skirted around my chair. I looked at Alex.
“Maybe I’ll just retire as champion. Undefeated and legendary!”
“Is that how it is?” I laughed.
“Perhaps, if you prove yourself, I could be enticed to return to the arena.” She affected a haughty dismissive accent and waved at her face with an imaginary hand fan.
“Oh, milady,” I bowed. I overacted only slightly less than Bruce Campbell. “Whatever could you need of your humble servant?”
She sipped her cup, and couldn’t help but giggle and crack a smile. She didn’t get to answer. Max’s fingers ran through my hair as she walked behind the back of my armchair. Sam approached at my elbow.
“Can I sit here?” Sam worried.
“Of course,” I said with a grin. I expected her to perch herself on the arm like Max was doing on my right. Sam stepped over my knee and floated her butt down onto my thigh. I had nothing to do but wrap an arm around her shoulders as she laid her head on my collarbone. She was almost too tall to hold the pose without slipping her ass off of my knee.
“You feeling alright, Sam?” Alex asked. I brushed away Sam’s brown hair. She had huge grey eyes and a smile.
“I think I’m going to be,” Sam answered. “I like the way you smell, Gene.”
“Really?” I was surprised. I generally assumed my smell was not in my pros column. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” she said.
“But we’re stuck here for a few hours.” I frowned. Diligence wasn’t my forte but after last night, work wasn’t an option, weather or no. I did have responsibilities. I did not have a usable phone. “Can I borrow a phone to call off work?”.
“Oh shit! I’m sorry again!” Alex hopped up and went over to my computer chair which held all of the girls’ clothes and bags. I had forced neatness on myself for six days, but I was running at my limit before I regressed to the mean. They had defaulted to neat. I was going to have to step up. I was still stinging from Sam’s “dad bod” comment yesterday. I had even more to do.
“Thank you, Max.” The redhead had supplied her phone before Alex had unearthed hers. She stowed it back in her bag and came back over with an impish smile.
“I had that.” She pouted. She was going to be a great actress if she practiced this often.
“I’m sorry.” Max seemed taken aback. “Next time I’ll—”
“You’ll do your best like you always do.” I rubbed Max’s knee. She ran her fingers through my hair at the base of my skull. I had to smile at such affection. I ended up with one hand on Sam’s head and the other going through Google to find my work number. When I was a kid, I could remember dozens of phone numbers. Now it seemed like I had to choose between my own or my brother’s. The number to our old house was ingrained so deep in my brain, I’d remember it if I was blackout drunk, stoned, and concussed. That would be the last thing Alzheimer’s would take from me.
I got through. Left a message with the receptionist to give to HR. There was an employee call-in number but I hadn’t found it. I was going to be dragged into an HR talk the next time I went in.
“Thanks, beautiful,” I smiled, and handed the phone back to Max.
“You’re welcome, Gene.” She grinned back. There was something missing in her playfulness today. I had flashbacks to my dream. I frowned. It had just been a dream.
“OK, I think I know how teams play now.” Alex announced. “Will you join me, Max?”
“Of course.” Max went to kneel down with Alex on the other side of my coffee table.
“Teams play across from each other, like in Bridge or Hearts,” I explained.
“Yeah, is your partner going to detach before she’s sucked enough blood to feed her eggs?”
“What?” Sam frowned at Max.
“Like a mosquito. A girl mosquito.” Max explained with elaborate hand gestures. I smiled, seeing the awkward nervous girl mixed with the knowledgeable STEM student. I liked it. “A mosquita?”
“I don’t think I like that neologism,” said Sam the English Lit major.
“Yeah, I was playing with how it’s Latino Latina, kinda thing,” Max said meekly.
“She’s a mosquitx,” Alex declared. “God, my social justice professor would love to hear me saying that.” She laughed. She tilted her head and flashed her megawatt smile. “Dad would plotz.”
“So, are you up for a game, Sam?” I asked. She sat up on my lap. I moved my hands down to hold her hip and her knee.
“I’m not really interested in learning to play,” she said. “Maybe I can use your computer or watch TV or something?”
“Go ahead.” I tapped her butt. She stood up, smiled with less horsepower than I’d come to expect, and headed over to move the girls’ clothes from my computer chair to my bed. I turned and looked at Alex and Max, kneeling and waiting for me like a pair of harem slaves at my beck and call.
I got spooked.
I stood up faster than I thought I could. Barely 12 hours ago, I had the sense to see myself as too old, too atrophied, and too lots of things for these three girls. For any one of those three girls. My dam breaks and it’s all easy peasy lemon squeezy now?
Max’s lips curled up higher than Alex’s, and so Max’s smile looked more energetic. Alex’s eyes were bright and intelligent. I saw her confidence to take care of herself. I looked over to Sam. My computer was still booting. She waved. She was overwhelmed. She had lost her virginity last night. I had been crazed when I had lost mine. I didn’t have a literal part of me break for that disaster.
“I’m gonna go shovel the step,” I decided. “I think a breath of fresh air and a clear head could help me.”
“It’s not something that needs to be done right now, right? I mean, we’re not going anywhere.” Alex pointed out. She dropped her voice a couple octaves and rasped like a zombie. “Sta-ay! Play games with us!”
“Do you want some help?” Max climbed to her feet. She shed her robe before walking over to her clothes to get dressed. Natural redhead. Alex saw me and Sam looking, and smacked Max’s ass. The engineering student jumped.
“See how they jiggled?” Alex whispered with glee.
“I did.” I smiled. “You don’t have to. Besides, I’m just doing the step in front to our apartment and our downstairs neighbor.”
I stopped. I had said “our apartment”. Well, they did just come in like they owned the place. I was in way over my head. None of them seemed to respond as if I had said something unusual.
I smiled. I floated a step. I thought. No, this wouldn’t do. I needed a bigger place. I needed rooms. Sam scurrying off to the bathroom when she needed a moment to herself was unacceptable. I could afford better. I could live better. I could do this. Plus, I could move somewhere I never had to shovel.
“You going to get dressed to shovel?” Max asked. She had already put on her clothes and was suiting up in her winter jacket and white rubber boots.
“That would be a good idea.” My clothes were in the closet along with our winter gear. I didn’t own a wardrobe or a dresser. I pulled a pair of pants from a Rubbermaid bucket and a shirt from a hanger. My socks and underwear were on the top shelf with my gloves and toques. My boots and shoes were at the bottom of the stairs.
Sam whistled when I flashed them my ass. I smiled back at her but she swiftly turned back to her Instagram and whatever her other five tabs were.
“10/10.” Alex said. I grabbed the shovels from behind the buckets. I handed the smaller one—it was collapsible, and had been in my brother’s car before he had replaced it—to Max. I had a longer-handled plow. After my first winter in the building, I had learned the importance of having something more heavy duty.
“Watch your toes!” I retreated back as I knocked over the bucket and scattered my clothes across the floor.
“Let me clean it up,” Max suggested.
“You’re going to shovel, I’ll do it,” Alex said.
“I can do both,” Max declared. I shook my head.
“Let her help. Builds character.” I wore the sarcasm with honor.
“If you want me to call you Daddy, Gene,” Alex said as she squatted down, “There are better ways to ask.”
I shut up, smirking as I led Max around the railing. Sam was engrossed. I frowned. I’d talk to her later. She probably wanted to do it solo anyways. I know I’d have hated having an important conversation with any of my past girlfriends with my guy friends around. I pulled the door open, and skimmed the first shovelful off of the step.
Max grabbed my sleeve as I lifted the snow to throw it.
“Merr-ow!” The cat belonged to Mrs Rabinovich in apartment Four, and was leaving a trail of pawprints along the flat wooden railing. The cat stopped and eyed me critically; I had almost slapped a shovelful of snow in her face.
“Thank the pretty girl, cat,” I said with a smile. The cat pawed at Max’s sleeve and continued off along the railing. I stepped forward to fire the snow safely over the mailboxes.
“It’s OK, let me clear the doorstep and we can work together when there’s room.” I turned but she shook her head.
“My boots are shorter than the snow.” She lifted her foot. I saw what she was asking.
“You want to shovel in heels?” I gestured up.
“Being hot’d keep me warm,” she grinned.
“Go. Thanks for volunteering to help,” I said; she had vaulted up half the staircase on “Go.”
I should’ve got my mittens, they’re thicker and warmer but they didn’t hold the shovel as well as my gloves. I started throwing powder over my mailbox. They were going to soak through by the time I was done.
“Really, Max?” I heard Alex ask.
“He said I could!” she beamed, before I heard the first zipper. I smiled. I was so amazed that the stranger-in-the-night’s leavings made the three of them so happy. Whatever I did, I wasn’t going to let only one girl own them.
I was overexerting myself. I stretched. The snow was wet and heavy. I hadn’t needed to fill the shovel with every throw. I didn’t want the girls to see me half-assing anything so I was one-and-a-half-assing the chore. I frowned. I’m sure they didn’t want me groaning in pain and useless by the time I was done.
“You want me to use the big one?” Max’s voice made me jump. I hadn’t heard her clomp down the stairs in those boots. They had huge, but not crazy tall, heels. I frowned.
“No, but I couldn’t really use that one through the door.” I nodded back inside. I hit the front step. Good. I was ready to switch. Max folded up against my back. I hadn’t dug out a big enough stand for two.
“That’s mine.” She grinned and picked the shovel from my hand. She didn’t even try to fill it. Quarter-full shovels over railing. I put my hand on her ass to inch around and get the fatter plow. I also did it to put my hand on her ass.
“I’m surprised at myself.” I closed the door so I could speak to Max alone. I hadn’t had that option since I had folded my willpower and my morals. “I wanted what’s best for you girls, and I abandoned that for what’s best for me.”
“How so?” Max asked.
“Three beautiful, adventurous, and intelligent girls?” I grinned. “I don’t remember rubbing a magic lamp.”
“You rubbed my butt,” she grinned. “Maybe it’s just as magic.”
“I like the way you think.” I was skimming down the pathway to the stairs and digging apartment One out of her mess.
“I thinks really good,” Max agreed. “So what’s your next wish?”
“Oh,” I was half blinded as my breath fogged in front of my eyes. “You’re not wish number 1 and Alex and Sam are wishes 2 and 3.”
“Nah, Team Girlfriend, package deal.” She leaned forward and kissed me.
“Hmm…” I grinned. I reached over and started rubbing her butt. She wiggled and laughed. I was hit in the face with a snowflake.
“Trying to get you to wish for less snow, don’t be fooled,” Max declared.
“I wish you, Alex, Sam, and me to be able to love, to fight, and to get along without cracking up and hating each other,” I wished. I slapped that cheek and reached across to the other. “I wish to be man enough to be worth all of this.”
The wind blew the snow back off of Max’s shovel and into our faces. The shock shut us up but we laughed as we swatted the snow off of each other’s hat, noses, and shoulders.
“Let’s get our work done,” I declared. She nodded and clicked her heels. We smiled at each other and put in the work. It was a heavy chore but the area I was willing to clear away—our step and the short couple of feet to the sidewalk—wasn’t very big. I let out the most pitiable and weak sigh once I had shoved the last bladeful of snow onto the bank the street plows had made.
“Oh…” Max grinned as she hugged me from behind. “I just want to go back to bed and be warm again.”
“Well, that might be our best move.” I bumped my butt back to break her grip. She held her shovel to her chest as I turned her around and marched her up the stairs. Number One’s door opened.
“Morning!” I grinned at Winter. She looked Max up and down. She wasn’t happy, but I had to assume it wasn’t often that Winter was the low rung on the pretty-girl pecking order. She wasn’t at her best. The apartment shook in the wind, she likely didn’t know that when she signed the lease. She looked like she hadn’t slept in weeks. “Not used to the building shaking?”
“Or the ceiling bumping that much,” Winter grumbled. I figured I’d never like her. Max was blushing like a firetruck.
“Don’t slip while you’re out,” I said. “Bad weather last night.”
“I see that.” She threw her scarf tails over her shoulders. They muffled her pretty face.
“You’re not going to say thank you for us shoveling?” Max snarked. She didn’t like her either. Though, I was self-deprecatingly suspect about Max’s judgment of character.
“Why? It’s in my lease that it be done. Just because he put you to work doesn’t mean he’s not getting paid for it.”
“I’m not, actually,” I shook my head. “Our landlord’s a sketchbag. He’s gotta pay for a truck to come by and clear the parking spaces but that might not happen for days. Sometimes, even when you think you got someone looking out for you, you gotta do it yourself,” I said.
“Yeah, you never know how capricious things can get,” she agreed. “Bye then.”
“Have a good one. Hope your day is better than your night seems to have been.”
“I don’t,” Max said after we were back inside with the door closed. “She seems to dislike you.”
“Well, can’t all be as smart as you.” I pulled off my gloves and knelt down for my boots. “Now get your heavy warm clothes off. We need to go heat up.”