Snowflakes and Ice Skates by Brittney Mulliner

 

One

This was notme giving up. This was not forever. I was not a quitter. I was not a living statistic. I was here to plan my next move and then I’d be gone.

Right.

I’d been telling myself that for the past two hours. Returning to Roseville was not a permanent thing. Once I found a new job in Chicago, I’d be back.

My parents’ brick-and-column home was right in front of me. Waiting.

I just needed to pull into the circular drive and park.

This was not the end.

I gave up and parked in my old spot. I got out and hurried to the trunk to get out my two bags. I’d put most of my things in storage. A little motivation to get back to the city as soon as possible. The snow crunched beneath my feet all the way up to the front door.

This was it. I was home.

For now.

I let myself in and set the bags down. “Hello?”

There were sounds coming from somewhere within the house, but I couldn’t tell where.

“Mom? Dad?”

I walked through the foyer to the living room. It was empty. I looked at the kitchen, but it was empty too. Where were they? I wandered the halls until their voices got louder. I followed them to the second, more formal dining room.

“Hey guys.”

All activity in the room ceased.

“Harlow!” Mom dropped the ribbon she was holding and rushed to me. “I’m so glad you’re finally home.”

I hugged her back before being pulled into a hug by Dad. “Hey, sweetie. I’m so happy you’re back.”

I stepped away from them. “I’m happy to be home too, but this is only temporary, remember.”

Mom huffed. “I don’t understand why you think it’s such a terrible thing to live here.”

She knew my argument. I’d been reciting it since I was eighteen.

“Yeah, are we really that terrible to be around?” Dad was trying to look wounded but ended up laughing. He understood my reasons for wanting to be out on my own, but he still missed me. I was just glad I had at least one parent on my side.

“Where’s Steven?” I hadn’t seen my brother in over six months, since my graduation from Northwestern. When I came home for a week during the summer he’d been out of town for business. It was the longest we’d gone without seeing each other, which was extra ridiculous since we lived two hours apart.

“He was just out running an errand. He should be back any minute.” Mom smiled, but there was an extra twinkle in her eye. What was she up to?

“Let’s get your bags upstairs.” Dad ushered me out of the room and back down the hall. He picked up both bags and led the way up the stairs. “How did you like your internship? Marketing still as amazing as it was in school?”

I knew he was teasing. He didn’t understand why I loved marketing so much. I tried to explain how it allowed me to be creative and tell the story of the brand or product. It also yielded results I could see. I could see the sales I brought in or the traffic to a site. It was rewarding.

“Yes, Dad. I liked the internship, but I don’t think I want to work at an agency. I prefer working for and representing one company.”

He opened the door to my bedroom. The same one I’d had since I was born. “I’m glad you still enjoy it. If you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life.”

I smiled. He’d told me that all the time when I was growing up. As a chemical engineering professor, he practiced what he preached. He’d occasionally consulted on private sector projects, but his passion was teaching.

My room was exactly the same as it was the day I moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern when I was eighteen. Soft pink walls with gold accents. A pink, lace comforter covered the bed with a gold rug and desk. I’d been such a girly girl back then.

I guess I still was, but I’d learned to appreciate the simplicity and sophistication of black.

“Come down after you’ve freshened up.”

“Thanks Dad.”

Once he was gone I began unpacking my bags. It wasn’t because I was planning on staying long. It was just something I always had to do. Even if I was staying at a hotel for one night, I had to unpack. It was a strange compulsion.

I touched up my makeup and checked my curls. I debated throwing on a sweatshirt and sweats, but Mom would get after me for changing into my comfies so early in the day. Instead, I pulled on a navy cable knit sweater and brushed off my jeans. This would have to appease her.

When I got back down to the main floor I heard voices in the kitchen, so I headed that direction. I turned the corner and stopped short. Mom, Dad, and Steven were standing around the island. And so was Vince Travers.

My breathing stopped.

He looked every inch as delicious as he did when I was in high school.

My eyes raked over him while I still had the chance before they noticed me.

He was taller. At least six inches over me. His dark brown hair was short on the sides and swept back on the top. His perfect, ocean blue eyes were behind black rimmed glasses. Those were new, but I was not complaining one bit.

He was the same. Just older. Filled out. Yummy.

Ugh. Why was I thinking about him like he was a red velvet cupcake? He wasn’t delicious or yummy. He was handsome. So very, very handsome.

“Harlow, you’re here.” Steven was walking toward me, and I pulled my eyes off his friend just in time to see him coming to hug me. I squeezed my arms around him. “I’ve missed you.”

“I missed you too.” He stepped back and looked me over. “I can’t believe you’re a college grad. My little Harlow is all grown up.”

I shook my head. As if he hadn’t changed? Gone was the golden haired-high school quarterback that the town loved. He had turned into a mini version of Dad. His blonde hair had darkened and was grown out enough to tuck behind his ears and his brown eyes held whispers of crow’s feet. The same old charming smile though. The one that got him out of trouble with our parents growing up, and into a lot of trouble with the ladies.

“Look who’s here, Harlow.” Mom cut in between us and led me to where Vince was standing, silently. He was usually the loudest person in the room. Always making people laugh. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen him quiet.

“Hi, Vince. Good to see you.” Mom nudged me forward until I fell against him. He caught me and wrapped his arms around me.

Oh my gosh. I inhaled. He smelt the same. Teakwood and spring soap.

He released me and smiled down at me. “Hey, little Harry.”

My heart dropped to my feet.

Really?

Still?

Almost four years without seeing each other and he still saw me as little Harry?

I wanted to punch him. Instead, I glared and turned around.

“Who invited him?”

My family laughed, but I was serious. This was family time, and he most certainly was not a Springer.

Mom put her hand on Vince’s arm. “Oh honey, Vince is just as much a part of this family as you are.”

Not true.

I continued to glare.

“He’s a part of the family business, so I guess that’s true.” I turned to face Steven, confused by his words.

“What?”

Steven laughed. “I sold my restaurant app and decided to start another business. I brought Vince in as my partner.”

“You sold OrderUp?” He’d been working on that app for three years. How could he have sold it, and no one told me?

“For five million.” Dad boasted.

“What?” I looked around the room. How did they all know this but keep it from me.

Steven shrugged. “I’m reinvesting it so it’s not like my account has seven digits.”

Vince laughed. “Is that why I had to buy dinner last night?”

They all laughed together. Ha ha. Everyone’s in on the joke.

I lived two hours away. Two hours! Not on the other side of the world.

“How could you not tell me?”

I knew I sounded a bit pathetic, but I was hurt.

His smile disappeared. “Harlow, it only happened a few months ago.”

“A few months?”

He cringed. “Sorry. I guess I didn’t think you’d care.”

“Of course I would.” I shook my head. This was not how I imagined our first day going. Ruining the day wasn’t on my to do list so I swallowed my hurt feelings. “I’m happy for you.”

“Thanks, sis.”

I smiled but didn’t really feel it. Everyone seemed to buy it though and changed the subject. Everyone but Vince. He was looking at me with a question in his eyes. I turned away and went back to my room.