I thought about it. “Uh, I’ve got a new comforter Bridge just bought. Also, there’s an emergency kit that came with the truck. I think there’s a bag of peanut M&M’s.”
“You had me at M&M’s,” she said, making me smile.
“Stay here,” I said and wedged myself through the door.
Eugie tried to follow, but Cricket held him back.
A blast of blistering cold permeated me to my bones within a second. My body began to shiver, and I had to fight the strong, chilling wind the five feet to the truck. I hit the key lock in my pocket and jumped inside.
“Oh. My. God.” I shivered.
I didn’t want to waste any time, so I found an old trash bag that had laundry in it and tossed the clothes inside and started tossing anything I thought we could use inside, including the comforter, the emergency kit and the M&M’s. I also found a lighter, an old metal flashlight that belonged to Jonah, and a bag of candy bars hidden underneath the passenger seat so frozen they could break a window. No doubt put there by Bridge because her doctor told her to start watching her carbs.
I ran as fast as I could back into the school with my loot. Cricket had pushed the door open as far as she could, and I wedged myself through with the bag.
Once inside, I jumped up and down and shouted, “Hooo!” making Cricket howl with laughter.
“Cold, city boy?”
I returned her earlier look. “Um, excuse me? But you’re skinny ass would be a solid Popsicle five feet outside this door.”
“Hey! I’ve got some insulation, buddy.”
“Oh yeah, Skeletor, sure you do.”
Her jaw clenched. “Come on. We have to search the building in case the electricity goes out.”
I followed her, reveling in my Skeletor reference because
A) Masters of the Universe rocks
B) It got under Cricket’s skin.
The schoolhouse wasn’t very big, hence the reason it was called the “old” schoolhouse. Basically, it was three rooms total, a stage area that probably doubled as the cafeteria and two classrooms.
We checked the classroom closets, but there was nothing worth pulling out.
“Hey,” I said, pointing to what looked like a janitor’s closet.
I pried open the door and dust came billowing out. I let it settle before stepping inside. “Here’s an old candle,” I said, picking up a red pillar candle probably used at Christmastime fifty years ago.
“See anything else worth using?” she asked.
I checked the shelves. “Score!”
“What is it?”
“A bottle of whiskey,” I said, dusting off the label. “Unopened from about twenty years ago.” She didn’t say anything. “Cricket?”
“Did you hear me?”
“Yeah, a bottle of whiskey, cool,” she said, unenthused.
I pocketed the whiskey and shut the door to the closet.
“Not a fan of whiskey?” I asked.
“You could say that,” she said vaguely.
She started walking back toward the stage area. “You could force down a shot if it got too cold. It’d warm you up.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t do that even then,” she explained, or didn’t explain.
“Okay,” I sang, letting it lie.
“I wonder if there’s anything behind the stage.”
Eugie had stayed behind and was pacing the end of the stage waiting for us. I sat our meager findings on the edge and helped Bridge back up. I didn’t have the heart to tell her there were stairs hidden behind the curtain. I helped myself and began our way to the back when the lights went off and the electricity powered down.
“Dang,” Cricket said.
It was pitch dark, so I grabbed the flashlight I’d tucked in my jacket just in case that very scenario played out.
“Oh!” she said, when I turned on the light. “Good. A flashlight.”
“Yes, a flashlight.”
I smiled and led the way.
There was nothing to the left of the stage but the pulley system and the stairs, so I led us back over to the right side. There was a tiny stage room tucked in the corner, and inside there were rows of Christmas costumes.
“That’s it then,” she said. “What we see is what we’ve got.”
“Let’s grab a couple of these wise men beards.” I snatched one off a shelf and put it over her head. “Got to keep that mug warm, Thumbelina.”
“Hey!” she said, laughing and tugging off the beard.
She placed it back on the shelf.
“How about these capes,” I suggested seriously.
Cricket ran her hands along the length of a crushed velvet one. “Yup, these are our best options.”
I tossed them over my arm and we retreated back to the stage. I layered them on the floor for some nice cushioning and Eugie immediately curled up at the end and fell fast asleep. I emptied the bag on top and we went through my findings. I lit the candle to conserve the flashlight.
I held the candle under my face. “Once upon a time, there was a devastatingly handsome young man and an okay-looking girl and they were stranded...in a blizzard...in Montana,” I bellowed menacingly.
She rolled her eyes.
“The devastatingly handsome young man hid a deep, dark secret,” I said, dropping an octave. Cricket shook her head. “At,” I began and looked down at my wristwatch, “exactly nine thirty-seven in the evening every evening, he turned...into a vampire! He knew that the okay-looking girl didn’t stand a chance against him, so he did the only thing he could,” I said, setting down the candle. “He cut off his hands!” I cried, pulling the sleeves of my coat over my hands.
I held the stumps up and Cricket eyed them for a second before bursting out laughing.
When she caught her breath, she said, “How would cutting off the hands of a vampire stop him from eating her?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t think he could overpower her at that point. Have you ever tried to do anything without hands?”
“Do you know anything about vampires? They’re super strong. Hands or no, he could still pin her down.”
“Oh my God,” I exaggerated. “I’m so sorry! Excuse me!” I shouted to the empty room, causing Eugie’s head to pop up then back down. “I have the world’s foremost leading expert on vampires in my midst! Alert the papers!”
“Shut up,” she laughed.
“I still think she could throw him off,” I tested, holding up my fake stumps and examining them.
“No,” she insisted, having no idea where I was going. “He could definitely overpower her.”
“Hmm. We should definitely test that theory,” I said, tossing myself on top of her and flapping my handless cuffs at her.
“Stop,” she laughed, trying to roll me off, but I pinned her beneath me.
She fought me, giggling uncontrollably and causing me to roar with laughter.
“Stop,” she sighed but her laughter was dying.
It suddenly got very quiet and we both stopped squirming. I was very aware that I was laying on top of Cricket Hunt. We watched one another, our chests rising and falling against each other. My hands found the pile of capes beneath us and I pushed myself up, rolling to my side and sitting up.
I cleared my throat. “Sorry,” I rasped, refusing to look at her.
She sat up as well and fixed her mussed hair. “It’s, uh, okay,” she acknowledged, staring at her lap.
“M&M? I asked, pulling the bag out.
I poured a few in her hand, careful not to touch her.
I laid down on the capes and tucked one hand behind my head while tossing M&M’s in the air and trying to catch them. I only missed one and only choked on two.
“How long do you think before the storm blows over?” I asked.
“Not sure,” she answered, laying down beside me.
“Think they’ll cancel the auction?”
“Nah, they’ll clear the roads and we’ll be out and about in no time at all.”
“You’ve lived through these often then.”
“Hundreds of them.”
“Cricket?” I asked after five M&M’s.
“Do you ever talk about your mom?”
She studied me. “Not really.”
It was silent for seven more M&M’s.
“I was young when she died.”
“Sarah, right?” I asked, thinking on the first day I met Cricket Hunt.
She gazed at me, surprised. “Yeah. Sarah.”
I kept silent.
“I was seven, but I remember it like it was yesterday.”
“How sad. How old was she?”
“Too, too young.”
“Too.” She grabbed a handful of M&M’s. “She got sick when I was about five. For the longest time, I had no idea what was going on. Then, one day, she came to me and told me she would be in the hospital for a few days but she would be back and I would be with Grandma and that Grandma would bring me up to see her in two days.
“I cried and begged her not to go, but she convinced me she’d come back, so we marked my calendar for two days ahead and she promised me Grandma would take me to see her.”
My breathing got deeper, heavier, sadder.
“So, the next day I made a big X on the calendar when the day was done and the day after that, I woke very early and dressed in my Sunday dress and shoes. I packed a bag because I didn’t understand that she was actually in nearby Kalispell, and I waited very patiently for my Grandma to come upstairs so we could go visit Mama.
“But breakfast passed, lunch, and we were approaching dinner and I still hadn’t gone to see my mom. So I grabbed my suitcase and found my grandma’s room and knocked on her door.
“She said it was okay for me to come in, so I did, and when she saw my face she broke down crying. I had no idea what she was crying for, so I asked if she was okay. I asked if she was crying because we wouldn’t be able to visit Mama that day.”
“Oh my God,” I couldn’t help but breathe.
Cricket looked at me and gave me a half smile.
“Grandma said that we wouldn’t be visiting Mama and sat me down at the edge of her bed.” Cricket turned thoughtful. “I still remember the feel of the weight of my dress shoes as they dangled.” She shook her head to clear it. “She set my suitcase on the ground next to her knees and grabbed my face as she so often does, even still, and she said, ‘Cricket, I have something to tell you.’ I had no idea what she was saying. I had an idea of what death was, but I had no idea how permanent it was.
“I nodded that I understood, but after a few days, I started to feel sick without my mother, and I told my grandma that I was ready for her to be alive again, that I wanted to see her.”
“Cricket,” I said, turning on my side.
Tears cascaded down the sides of her face.
She turned on her hip and faced me. “Yes?”
“I am so sorry.”