It was almost the end of another boring lesson when I heard Inoue's whisper, "Look!" and we all turned our heads in unison to see what she wanted to show us. She was smiling radiantly, pointing her finger at the window. The air outside was full of spinning snowflakes, they were floating in the wind so slowly it seemed almost unreal.
"First snow," Inoue said noiselessly, grinning and almost bouncing on her chair.
I felt some kind of excitement, although I wasn't willing to demonstrate it. It was that kind of a feeling like when you get a gift you've dreamt of for a long time - you want to jump all around because of happiness but you know it's good only for children so you stay in place and acknowledge it with an ordinary "Thank you." Because of that I only nodded, sitting still. I saw Ishida smiled; even Chad raised the corner of his lips. Probably they felt the same as I did. Only Rukia was gazing on the snow as if she saw it for the first time in her life. For a short moment I thought she would jump out of her chair and run to the window like a child would do. Like all of us would do a few years ago. Of course she didn't and returned to writing some exercises in her copybook, peeking at the window from time to time.
I've liked snow since I remember. When I was little and the first snow appeared, my parents always took me to a nearby park and I played with my mother all afternoon. Later, on such days I would go to that park with my sisters. Even though I couldn't stop thinking about my mother then, I liked that times. Karin always wanted to knock me over into a snowdrift and Yuzu asked me to go sledging with her. I barely smiled when I recalled these scenes from the past. I thought that they might want to go together to the park again since it was snowing so heavily. And, I can't deny it, I imagined that Rukia would go with us. I wondered if she liked playing in the snow. Judging from her face, she was really excited about that white down which was covering school's playground and the roofs of houses in neighbourhood.
The lesson ended and we went to the locker room. Of course, no one was prepared for such weather. It was quite cold lately but nobody really assumed it would snow. I couldn't care less as I didn't wear any kind of hat during winter but it appeared to be a problem for Inoue.
"You should wear something on your head, Kurosaki-kun," she said, raising her finger. "You know, it's very unhealthy, you can have sinus trouble…"
"Inoue," I interrupted her, "You're the one who doesn't have any head covering as well, so…"
"Oh, right," she laughed, being a bit embarrassed.
"Inoue, Kurosaki's right," Ishida interjected, "You shouldn't get wet, your hair's so long… I mean…" he glanced at me uneasily. "I happen to have an umbrella with me so…" was it only an impression or Ishida blushed slightly? But he continued bravely, ignoring Chad's and my presence, "I could see you home."
We both were truly impressed. To say such things in front of his friends! He looked as if he defeated the legion of hollows. Inoue clapped her hands happily.
"How thoughtful of you, Ishida-kun!" she smiled to him sweetly, "So maybe we will see Kurosaki-kun home first?"
Really, sometimes she was cruel.
"Thanks but I'm not going home yet," I said, irritated. Inoue looked as if she wanted to ask about something, Ishida scowled at me. I shrugged, "I must be going, so see you tomorrow."
Leaving, I saw them talking in a more relaxed manner. Chad also left them saying his goodbyes and they were standing there alone. She was smiling while squinting her eyes. Ishida looked at her with something so tender in his eyes that I turned my head away, not wanting to steal his precious moment. I wished Inoue understood some things at last.
I went out of the school and frosty air hit my cheeks. Because I told them I wasn't going home, I couldn't go there straight, not to encounter them somewhere in the way. I turned left on the first crossing and walked ahead, not thinking about the destination. Karakura looked strange being so white. Snowflakes were still floating in the air, more and more of them. The wind wasn't so mild I'd thought it was in the beginning, my bare skin began to sting. I slid my hands into my jacket's pockets and headed to the park I was thinking about before. People disappeared from the streets, it was still quite early so the majority remained at work. Others were probably discouraged by the weather. However, I heard some children's laughs. Yeah, they definitely were the ones who appreciated that hard frost. I was walking fast to warm up. I felt snow melting on my face and I couldn't see well as the wind blew the snow in my eyes. I cursed thinking that some things were probably more exciting when you were younger, then you definitely possessed more patience. I wiped my face with my hand, numb with cold, and then I saw her.
We usually weren't coming back from school together so as to not let nobody have any suspicions about her place of residence. That in fact she lived in my wardrobe. Maybe the way I'd chosen today was her usual way back home. I saw only her back but I would recognise these tiny features everywhere. Her navy-blue coat was short enough to make her grey dress visible and I thought she must have been really cold with almost bare legs. Her hair was nearly white because of the snow but she didn't seem to have anything against it. What's more, she appeared to be happy – she wasn't walking but hopping, kicking and scattering the snow on the pavement. She must have been sure nobody saw her; she stopped and took a handful of that white blanket and threw it up in the air, letting it fall on her hair and face. She was behaving like a small child who saw the snow for the first time. And then I realised that maybe it was\s the first snow Rukia was seeing.
I didn't remember the first time when I saw snow, it was so long time ago. It excited me every year but at the same time remained something normal. I knew it and that was why I longed for the first day it would appear in the sky. Was there no snow in Soul Society? Didn't she have any memories from the previous life about snowflakes floating on her head and shoulders? I thought that it might have been to personal to ask about but I was curious. There were so many things I wanted to know about her but she remained a mystery. The idea crossed my mind that she resembles snow in so many ways which she didn't realise…
I was following her, watching her every move carefully not to lose her. Visibility was limited more and more with every moment. If my hands weren't so cold I'd shield my eyes from the sticky snowflakes blown into my face and clinging from my eyelashes. I was blinking and hiding my mouth beneath my scarf as air was so cold that breathing was painful. She should have felt my presence by then but it looked like she was too much engaged in fooling around to concentrate and sense me. She didn't care about the frost at all. I thought I should take the next turning and let her enjoy herself alone. I was pretty sure she wouldn't be pleased if she knew about the company she had. I really wanted to do so but something made me walk after her as if I was led on an invisible string. The wind became stronger and even more snowflakes appeared in the sky. I couldn't hear her voice – was she saying anything to herself? I doubted it. Maybe she was laughing? I started to walk a bit faster. Just in time, it seemed, because she slipped on the frozen puddle and fell back. Well, I knew that probably she would recover her balance, she was Shinigami after all, but I reacted faster than I thought and at once appeared next to her, catching her elbow and not letting her fall.
She looked surprised and a bit embarrassed when she realised who helped her.
"Ichigo?" she said questioningly, her eyebrows wrinkled. "What are you doing here?"
"Walking home," I replied with a shrug. She was already standing before me, shaking the snow off her coat and dark red scarf. Her cheeks were flushed, her hands and nose reddened because of the cold. She also didn't have gloves and after brief grooming she hid her hands in her pockets. "Are you coming with me?" I asked nonchalantly as if I didn't care. Yeah, hell right.
We continued our walk, both of us holding hands in our pockets, without a single word. Only our breathes formed steam as if we were communicating like in a comic book. There was more and more snow everywhere. Wind was blowing and I had the impression we were underwater: snowflakes were glittering and forming streams in the air, breathing was difficult. I couldn't recognise houses and streets in the neighbourhood, that little blizzard managed to change them, covering with silky carpets and curtains. We didn't hear any noises apart from our steps; snow was quietening down every sound coming from outside that flurry, our private snowstorm.
I knew it wouldn't last for long, such things never lasted long. But for that short moment the world became a different place. It didn't matter in which world we were, was it earth, Soul Society or any other dimension. She was there, I was there, we were alone in the blizzard and I didn't want it to cease so I stopped, rebelling against time and nature. Such a childish revolt – close your eyes and you'd disappear, stop walking and the world would come to a halt, waiting patently until you decide to move on. She also stopped and looked at me, raising her head to look me in the face.
Snow falling on my face was almost warm; the stillness of the scene was so unusual that I was almost certain it's not the world we both know. And in such places you could do things you would never do anywhere else. She was staring at me expectantly; something in her eyes was smiling to me so I smiled too. I saw a snowflake on her forehead. Its shape was so detailed and sophisticated in a way, even though it remained cute because of its tiny size. One touch and it would melt immediately. It was impossible to keep it for too long. She was such a snowflake herself, I realised. And then felt almost desperate need to touch that snowflake, to feel it melting on my skin. But it was too cold to take hands out of pockets so I bent down and touched it with my lips.
It truly was a different world. In our dimension she'd tell me not to touch her or just beat me up immediately. But she was standing there still, eyes wide-opened, small smile on her lips. I stared at her face. For the first time I noticed how long her eyelashes were. Maybe she also believed we were lost in the blizzard, for a several minutes we opened the door to another place where different rules were obligatory. So I took advantage of it and kissed off the snowflake on her nose as well. I didn't have a chance to see the one on her upper lip, maybe there was none, because she stood on her tiptoe and although her mouth was so cold, the fire came down my spine when she kissed my lips.
A few moments later we were heading home, shoulder to shoulder but hands still in our pockets. It was freezing cold. The blizzard was almost over. Snowflakes were floating silently as they were before, only there were not so many of them. The city came back into sight, or maybe it was us who returned there from the other dimension. It wasn't so difficult to recognise familiar places anymore, apart from them being changed by the white covering. I knew it would melt within a day or two. In the nearest future it'd change into an awful slush and everyone would complain about it. But I'd already learnt to cherish these little moments of perfect happiness.
I may not remember my first snow but there are first things I'd never forget.
November 20, 2009