Cascade just didn't get snow. It fell; it turned to slush; it melted. It didn't lie deep and crisp and even, and so it wasn't worth buying Daryl a sled.
The boy still wanted one.
Year after year, it made his wish list, incongruous, as time went by, against all must-have gifts Joan and Simon lined up to buy along with other exhausted, irritable parents.
Each year, Simon thought about it, looked at the forecast over the Christmas break (rain, with a possibility of wintry showers usually) and shook his head.
The first Christmas after he'd moved out, he did more than think about it. He bought the sled, sleek, fast, red, and he found a place in the mountains where snow was guaranteed. It was a long drive, sure, but he'd gotten Daryl for the weekend (not the day itself, no, but you couldn't expect -- and he'd eaten at the Taggarts' and spent the evening with Jim Ellison and a buzzed-on-eggnog Sandburg, so it hadn't been as -- no, it had, it'd been hell, but still…)
They got to the ski slopes, Daryl slumped in his seat the whole way, words doled out grudgingly, the scenery around him sniffed at, and Simon took out the sled from the trunk and handed it over, his smile wide, expectant, feeling like Santa himself.
Daryl looked at it and for a moment, just a moment, his eyes lit up, but then he glanced away and said, his voice flat, "You're joking. I'm not a kid, okay?" Simon's face must have shown his hurt, because Daryl cleared his throat. "There's a place over there I can rent a snowboard. They're cool, I guess. Got some money?"
Numb, Simon dug out some bills from his pocket, his fingers chilled, and Daryl took them with a nod of thanks and disappeared, lost in the crowd of bright hats and bulky, colorful jackets.
Simon stared down at the sled and kicked it in an excess of pain that needed an outlet. It slid obediently, smoothly, over the hard-packed snow, the crunch its runners made strangely enticing.
Simon picked up the nylon rope that doubled as a handle and a way of steering, and walked over to a slope that was too short to be worth skiing down, too steep for a beginner to use.
It had been a long time…
The lurch as the sled began to move tugged a yell from him, a whoop of surprise, and then the wind was screaming around his head and the tears in his eyes were whipped away, gone. He was flying, skimming the snow like a flung stone on water, steering through instinct, not memory, guiding his sled -- his! -- toward the gap between two trees and coming to a slow stop just beyond them.
He sat still for a moment and then craned his head back to look at the tracks the runners had made.
He'd come a long way.
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