They'd had the first snow of the season the previous weekend, so she hadn't been able to see Calvin on Saturday. She'd never thought she'd miss seeing him that much. It was just lunch and hanging out a little, right? And yet, without him there, there was an emptiness. She missed hearing him talk through the storylines for his comic, and telling him about the latest dorm drama. They'd chatted a little online, but it wasn't the same.
Fortunately, things had cleared up by Tuesday, so they'd had lunch together and now he was driving her home for dinner again. "So, I got a little bored on Saturday without you," he said.
They turned the corner onto his street, and she saw the front yards of both his house and the house next door filled with tiny little snowmen. Towering above them all, a giant snowman was holding one in a stick arm, about to drop its smaller cousin into its gaping maw.
"You didn't," she said, laughing.
"It wasn't all me. Sophie helped make the little ones."
"Corrupting the young, now?"
He looked over at her with big innocent eyes she didn't buy for a second. "Who, me?"
Final exams were over; she'd done well, she thought, but wouldn't know for sure until she got her grades. She'd met up with Calvin for one final lunch before she flew to Florida for Christmas break. Calvin had gotten the first of his grade reports - as expected, he'd gotten A's in his art classes, and D's in English and math.
"I passed, at least," he said, and she shook her head.
"If you want that internship, you're going to need better than just 'passed'."
He shrugged. "Awesome Tales is growing now. If it keeps this up, I could survive on that. Everybody loves the crossover between Spaceman Spiff and Tracer Bullet. The first T-shirt went up at Topatoco last weekend, and is already selling well."
"Don't you want an education?"
"Meh. I want to do cool things. The art classes are helping. I may see about taking more of those next semester, although they're a lot of time each. Oh, speaking of which..." He reached into his backpack, pulling out a small wrapped package. "Merry Christmas," he said handing it to her.
"For me? I didn't get you anything..."
"That's okay," he said. "Open it."
She pulled back the wrapping paper, revealing a frame around the drawing of her he'd made. He'd inked it carefully, and it had come out looking even better than the sketch had. "It's beautiful," she breathed.
She thought he mumbled something that sounded like, "So are you," but she wasn't quite sure. He cleared his throat and said, "Thank you. I got an A on it. And here you said you'd never help me with my homework again."
"So, I'll pick you up again on the third?" Calvin asked as they approached the security line.
Susie nodded. "Yes. Oceanic Flight 416, gets in at 8:15. Sorry, it's the earliest flight back I could get."
"You don't want to spend more time with your parents?"
He paused, nodding. "Okay. Take care of yourself, okay?"
"You too." She looked at him, then decided to follow her impulse and give him a farewell hug. Her arms fit around his chest, and after a moment's surprise, his nestled just right on her shoulders. She breathed in the smell of him, comforting and oddly familiar. This felt right in a way she couldn't describe.
She stayed in his arms for a timeless moment, until he took a deep breath and released her. "You need to go or you'll miss your plane," he said softly.
"Yeah." She picked up her backpack and put it on, taking the handle of her suitcase. "I'll see you next year." She entered the security line, looking back at him. He was leaning against the wall, looking at her with a wistful smile. She thought about what his arms had felt like around her, and could almost feel them there still. With a wave to him, she headed off toward the security scan.
Susie's mother came into her room the day before Christmas. "Oh, that's a lovely drawing of you. Who did that?"
"A friend from school," Susie said carefully.
"It's very nice. Would you mind if we moved it down into the living room? I'd really like my friends to be able to see it."
"That's fine, Mom. It feels kind of weird to be hanging a picture of myself anyway."
Her mother looked at it closely, apparently reading the signature. "Calvin? Wasn't that the name of that...imaginative...boy we used to live next to? The one your father thought was so awful?"
"He's not so awful anymore," Susie said defensively.
Her mother turned to her. "Wait, that Calvin drew this? How did you end up modeling for him?"
"He asked. We met up at lunch one day, he helped me out of a jam. He's not as bad as he was at six."
"That's not saying much, Susie."
"Granted. But he's a really nice guy now. A bit flighty, but better than he was."
"Is he the one you keep talking to on the phone?"
Her mother looked unimpressed. "What was this 'jam' he helped you out of?"
Susie sighed, sitting on her bed. "Somebody slipped me alcohol at a party. Calvin got me home safely."
"Alcohol...Susie, I warned you..."
"I know, I know. I wasn't thinking." She paused. "I thought Billy was safe. I was wrong, and if it hadn't been for Calvin..."
"He sounds like a good friend, then. Or...?" Her mother raised an eyebrow.
"More than that?"
"No! Not at all," Susie said, blushing.
"Not interested? Or just not yet?"
Susie slumped on her bed. "I don't know? Not yet. I think."
Her mother laughed. "I'd just like to say I called this eleven years ago."
"What?" Susie shouted at her mother's retreating back.
"Dad couldn't believe it was the same Calvin," she said. "He walked away muttering about you costing him thousands of dollars when they sold the house."
"Sorry," Calvin said over the phone.
"He shouldn't complain. Mom reminded him that he got the house at a bargain price for the same reason."
Calvin laughed. "They liked the drawing, though?"
"Oh, Mom loves it. She showed it off to all her friends. From the way she talks, you'd think we're dating," she blurted out.
A long silence followed, and she cursed herself for the slip until Calvin quietly said, "...yeah. I've been thinking about that."
"Me too," she confessed.
"Would you like to? When you get back here?"
"I would. But you're not supposed to ask. I signed a contract, remember?"
"But...wait, you're going to hold me to that?"
She laughed. "I'm joking. Yes, I'll go out with you. I'm looking forward to it."
She exited the secure area, and didn't see him, so she turned on her phone. One message, sent just before the plane landed, from Calvin.
sorry running late flat tire
She shook her head and rolled her suitcase down to baggage claim to wait for him, claiming a seat against the wall. She'd drifted off into thoughts of what to say to him when he suddenly sat next to her, startling her.
"Sorry I'm late," he said.
"It's okay," she said, looking over at him shyly. All her pre-planned conversations flew out of her head, leaving her speechless.
He gently reached over and took her hand, his warm fingers pressing into her palm. She squeezed gently, and he smiled.
"Were...you serious about the dating thing?" he asked hesitantly.
She nodded. "Yes. I was. Actually, I've been thinking about your contract."
"And?" He looked nervous.
"I don't think the contract specified what happens if you break it. So since you broke it, I presumably get to choose the penalty."
He exhaled. "Oh. So...um...so, what would the penalty be?"
She smiled. "Well, as you said about Billy, we should let the punishment fit the crime. So the worst punishment you could have thought of when you were six...would be to be my boyfriend."
His eyes widened, and he smiled. "Oh. I think I could get used to that."
She squeezed his hand. "Me too."