I wrap my scarf more tightly around my neck and then turn to lock up the door to my house. When I tuck my keys into my pocket, I walk back to where Artie is waiting on the sidewalk, spinning circles on a patch of ice. "Your mom would kill you if she saw you doing that," I point out and Artie looks up, grinning that cheeky smile of his.
"I know. I'm such a badass," he says in that matter-of-fact tone of his. I can't not laugh at that and I fall into step behind him as we head for his house. Today it's actually a blessing to have the handles of his chair to hold onto as we make our way down the icy sidewalk, because I slip more than once. Way more than once. When winter hits Ohio, it hits it hard. There is already a good half-foot of snow on the ground and the clouds are promising more for tonight.
"Tee, you okay?" Artie asks, trying to twist and look over his shoulder as I stumble into him again with an alarmed squeak.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I say, blushing as I get my feet back under me the right way. Artie smiles at me and then tries to roll forward but his wheels spin idly on the ice and he doesn't move. "You okay there, Artie?" I ask teasingly.
"Now I remember why I hate winter," he grumbles under his breath. After a second to get my laughter under control, I help him get his chair off the ice.
"I love winter," I say, slightly dreamily, when we're moving again. Artie looks up at me curiously. "The snow's really pretty."
"I've never liked the snow," Artie says with a shrug. "I was really short for my age as a kid so playing in the snow meant it was up above my waist most of the time. Which is really cold, by the way. And the cold weather doesn't agree with the chair much either," he adds after one of his wheels emits a dull screech.
We round the corner onto his street and pass the park. There is a group of kids having a snowball fight on the playground and a little way away there are a couple of really little snow angels swept into the snow. Artie is staring at them as we go past, his expression neutral like always but I can see something else in his eyes.
"Artie?" I ask curiously. He seems to startle and then looks up at me and smiles. He doesn't say anything about it for a few minutes, but by the time his house is in sight he has that thoughtful look in his eyes again. "Artie, what are you thinking about?" I press.
"I've never made one of those before," he says abruptly and I frown, not following. He glances up at my face and gives a little smile at my expression. "Snow angel," he clarifies, pointing at one in his neighbor's yard.
"Really?" I ask in awe, thinking of the what must be hundreds of times that I made them as a kid.
"Yeah, well, like I said I was short and by the time I was tall enough to troop through snow I was on wheels," he says and even though it would probably sound normal to anyone else, I can tell there's a bit of bitterness in his laugh. "And this thing is definitely not equipped with four-wheel drive."
I laugh indulgently at his attempt at humor, but my mind is whirring. We are passing his yard on the way to the driveway when I suddenly grab his handles and dig my heels into the concrete. Artie jerks as he is forced to stop and he looks back at me in confusion. "Tina?" he asks, raising an eyebrow at my determined expression.
"C'mon," I say and I walk around to stand in front of him, holding out my arms. Artie stares at me like I've gone insane.
"Tee, do you want to fill me in on what's happening here?" he asks, glancing from my face to my arms and back.
"You're making a snow angel," I inform him and then offer my hands to him again.
Artie laughs hesitantly. "You do know that would require the use of some limbs I can't actually move, right?" he says sarcastically.
"I didn't say you were doing it by yourself," I say, setting my expression and moving my hands to get his attention on them. "I'm helping."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," he says and bites his bottom lip like he does when he gets nervous. "You really think you can do this? I'm heavier than I look, and getting me down is easy but getting me up is a lot harder. And I don't–"
"What happened to that badass I was just talking to?" I ask, pretending to be annoyed but not able to stop myself from smiling. Artie stares at me in surprise and then laughs.
"Alright, I'm still not sure about this but if you're going to bring badassness into the question then I suppose I don't have much choice," he says, smiling, but I can tell he's still uncertain.
"You sound like Puck when you say that," I tell him and he bats at my hand playfully. We make sure his chair is angled toward the yard and as close to the snow as we can get it, so we're moving him the shortest distance possible. He locks his wheels in place and then moves his footrests out of the way so his toes are hanging limply to the sidewalk. I step in front of him again and we meet eyes, nod determinedly, and both hold our arms out simultaneously.
Leaning in to him, I wrap my arms around his waist and I feel his arms secure tightly around me. I try very hard not to focus on that. "Ready?" I ask and he nods into my shoulder. Bending my knees, I throw all of my strength into lifting. It surprises me just how easily I get him upright, and for a moment my crazy dysfunctional brain is fixated on the fact that he's actually really tall. Then I try to turn to lower him into the snow and any balance I had goes straight out the window. In a wave of vertigo, we tumble into the snow, both of us letting out a yell of surprise that gets cut off into umphs as we land, Artie on his back and me on top of him.
"Are you okay?" Artie wheezes.
"I'm fine," I say and I'm trying really hard not to laugh even though my arms are stuck at a really weird angle underneath him, and a bunch of snow went up my sleeve, not to mention the fact that my legs have wound up wrapped around his and my knees are stinging from hitting the ground so hard with the weight of both of us. "Are you okay, you're the one that got smushed?"
Artie shifts a little underneath me and winces. "Ow, I think you twisted my ankle," he says in a pained voice. I instantly manage to untangle myself enough to sit up in alarm before it sinks in.
"Don't joke about that," I say, hitting his stomach as he bursts out laughing. "You scared me."
"Sorry, your face was priceless," he says between laughs. Just for good measure I hit him again (he makes another umph noise) before it occurs to me that I am currently straddling his hips. Trying not to blush, I extract my legs and clamber to my feet.
Artie props himself up on his elbows. "Well it may not have been the most graceful maneuver, but at least it was effective," he says. I look down at his legs and grin, realizing he was right. It was close, but I did manage to get him into the snow.
"Told you I could do it," I say proudly. Artie grins the grin that makes my knees shudder. Or maybe that's just the cold. "Okay, let's do this."
"I'm still not sure how you'll pull this one off," he says but he obligingly lies back again. "Should I be worried about you falling on me again?" I toss a handful of snow into his face in response. As he brushes it off, laughing, I stagger my feet and lean down to grab a hold of his leg. Gripping the hem of one pant leg in both hands, I begin to move his leg carefully from one side to the other. I pause when I've finished and look up in time to watch Artie spread his arms out and begin swinging them. The smile on his face is way too cute.
Moving my attention to his other leg, I go through the same motions. Stepping back, I see that Artie's sitting up again, brushing away the snow that's frozen to the sleeves of his sweater. He meets my eyes and smiles again and then glances at his chair. "This will be the fun part," he says, immediately pulling his lip between his teeth again.
"Don't worry about it, we can do it," I say and shrug.
"Without falling?" Artie asks, grinning mischievously, and then shields his head in his arms when I bend to scoop up more snow.
"Fine, maybe I'll just leave you there then," I threaten, working very hard not to smile.
"Okay, I'm sorry," Artie says hastily, and the look of innocent alarm in his eyes is so adorable all of my pretenses fail. Fast. "Please," he asks, holding out his arms. "It's cold."
I hadn't even thought of that, and I'm sure that, even if he can't feel his legs, letting them get numb with cold is not good for him. I approach him, stepping carefully so I don't ruin the angel, and we grab onto each other again. It's awkward going, getting him back to the sidewalk, but we eventually do it. I hold his chair in place as he heaves himself up into the seat, and I'm once again struck by just how easy he makes it look. I tried to do it when Mr. Schue had us all using wheelchairs that week and I could hardly lift my butt off the floor, let alone haul myself all the way up.
"I can't believe we actually pulled it off," Artie says, laughing as he bends over to fix his footrests and arrange his legs.
I look at the yard and smile, examining the snow angel. It's at a bit of an angle, and the bottom flares out more on one side than the other, but beyond that it actually looks really good. "And your angel turned out nice," I say. Artie looks up at me before he follows my gaze. For a minute he only stares at it, eyes wide, and then his face breaks into a totally dazzling smile. And that smile, it makes the whole hassle more than well worth it.
I shiver and realize that Artie must be even colder than I am. "We should probably get you inside so you can get changed into something dry," I say.
"What about yours?" Artie asks and I wrinkle my nose in confusion. "Your snow angel. You have to do one too." I want to argue that he really should go change, but he's got that stubborn little frown on that tells me I'd just be wasting my time arguing with him. Smiling, I walk a few feet away to some fresh snow, turn around, and let myself fall backwards into it. I feel like a little kid again, swinging my arms and legs like crazy, and it feels so good I can't help but start laughing. My heart swells when I hear Artie laughing along.
Sitting up, I drag myself out of the snow and turn around to admire the angel. Mine is several inches smaller than Artie's but other than that they look a lot alike. And in my head I know that's fitting, because even with all of our differences, when you break us down to the essentials, we're exactly alike.
"Beautiful," Artie says approvingly. When I look over at him he's not looking at the angel but straight at me, and I fight back another blush. His face is red too, but I'm not sure whether it's from embarrassment or just the cold. Then he suddenly looks concerned. "You're shivering," he says, even as his own teeth are chattering. "C'mon, let's get inside and we can change into dry clothes and I'll make us some hot chocolate."
"I can't say no to hot chocolate," I say and he grins as we turn and finally make it into his house. Artie goes into the kitchen and puts on a kettle of water to boil (which I think is the coolest thing ever, because at my house we just use the microwave) and then rolls down to his room. He pulls a pair of sweats and a Cleveland Indians teeshirt out of a drawer and hands them to me.
"You can change in the bathroom," he says. "And just hang your wet things in the shower. We'll toss them in the dryer before you go home so they're warm." I nod and leave him to change, going into the bathroom. It's kind of hard work stripping out of my dripping clothes, but I manage to get out of them and it feels a thousand degrees warmer when I'm into the sweats. Or maybe that's just the blushing from realizing I'm wearing Artie's clothes. Disregarding that, I drape my clothes over some of the various bars in the shower (it's rigged with all sorts of things so Artie can shower on his own) before going back out into the house.
The door to Artie's room is still closed so I go down into the kitchen and sit in one of the dining room chairs, folding my legs underneath me. It's only a minute later when Artie rolls in, dressed in flannel pajama pants and a white teeshirt. He tosses a ball of white at me and I catch it in surprise, looking at it and figuring out it's a pair of socks.
"I forgot to give those to you, thought your feet might be cold," he says, smiling shyly. "Although it looks like those sweats are so long on you that you could just tuck your feet up in them."
"You're a lot taller than me," I agree but put on the socks anyway, which are quite a bit too big for me like the rest of the clothes. The kettle on the stove starts screeching and Artie rolls over to turn off the heat. I want to offer to help, but I've seen him working in the kitchen enough to know he's more than capable of doing it himself. And sometimes he gets defensive when people try to help him, and it's been too great of an afternoon for me to risk ruining it.
Only a few minutes later, Artie and I are curled up on the couch, watching a Christmas movie and enjoying our hot chocolate. "This tastes really good," I say, taking another swallow of it. "Like way better than normal cocoa. What'd you put in it?"
"Peppermint discs," he says in a conspiratorial whisper. "My parents don't like peppermint, but I think it tastes really good in chocolate, and I knew you'd like it because you love candy canes."
I'm flattered that he's even noticed something like that, but then again Artie tends to notice a lot of things that nobody else does. It's one of things I like most about him. We finish our hot chocolate and Artie pulls over a blanket that was folded on the arm of the couch, draping it over both of us. I have to scoot closer to him so I'm completely under the blanket, but I wasn't about to complain about that.
I was half-dozing, feeling really warm and comfortable, but his abrupt statement gets me wide awake again. It's not so much the fact that he's just starting talking as the fact that his voice is really serious. I tilt my head to look up at him curiously and he smiles.
"For the snow angel thing," he elaborates. "People don't go out of their way to do things like that for me much. It meant a lot." I can't conjure up an answer because I'm too stunned by the look on his face. That's another thing Artie's really good at; he is smiling and his face looks soft and innocent like usual, but there's something really sincere in his eyes, all mature and intense. It makes my breath catch in my chest.
Artie smiles and lifts one hand to brush a strand of my still damp hair out of my face. "I think you're a real angel," he says. And then he gets a really embarrassed look on his face and laughs. "I'm sorry, that sounded really stupid, didn't it? It sounded a lot more Humphrey Bogart in my head."
"No, it's okay," I say quickly, and I'm amazed he can't see my heart pounding out of my chest with how hard and fast it's beating right now. "It was cheesy, but it was really sweet too." Artie blushes with that same shy smile he had that time we kissed. And before I can stop myself, I go for a repeat. Artie stiffens for a moment but then I feel him smile against my lips. It's a short kiss but so beautifully sweet (and not just because it tastes like chocolate and peppermint.) I can't help but melt a little inside.
When we pull apart we're both looking awkward, neither of us knowing what to say. So I blurt out the first thing that comes to my mind: "Here's looking at you, kid." Artie stares at me in shock for minute and then erupts into laughter, and even though I'm blushing like a maniac I join in.
"You are amazing," he declares, and even though my comment was an obscure and random Bogart reference, he makes me feel like it was the wittiest thing ever. Eventually our laughing calms down and we go back to watching the movie, which is almost halfway over already. A few minutes later, in true Artie fashion, he pulls an over-exaggerated attempt at the 'yawn and put your arm around her shoulders' trick, but I just smile and curl closer to his side. Because really, who can resist the wonderful cheesiness of that one?
"Hey Tee," Artie says about twenty minutes later. I 'hmmm' to show I'm listening. "I think I like the snow."
I laugh quietly. "I knew you'd come around." Artie laughs too, a deep thrumming that I can actually feel vibrating through his chest, and he kisses the top of my head lightly. The last thing I think before drifting off is that snow angels just might be the greatest invention ever.