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Snow Angel

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Out of the Three Stages of Being Sick (laying in bed croaking into the phone that you really honestly think you might be dying this time, laying on the couch staring at the TV with the energy to realize how boring it is but not the energy to look for the remote on the floor where you dropped it and switch over, and knowing you're on the road to recovery when food starts to have a smell and a taste again), Chiaki has long decided that the second stage is the worst. The hours melt into each other, and you're not tired enough to just sleep them away any more, and there's only so many Korean daytime dramas you can watch. Even though she likes Korean dramas. Her mom loved Winter Sonata.

Her friend Reiko called earlier and asked Chiaki if there was anything she wanted, and scolded her in the way only Reiko can when she said on a whim yes, she wanted to go and play in the snow. The sensible part of her brain knows she's still not reached the point where she wouldn't be shivering and shaking within five minutes of going outside, but she can't help the urge the not-so-sensible and more Chiaki-ish part has had since she woke up that morning and the light on the walls and ceilings in her apartment was sparkly in the way that it only is when there's been an overnight snowfall. Not a damp slushy snowfall, either, but a proper snowfall - the kind Nishi calls 'Hokkaido snow' - that turns the smaller neighboring structures around her building into wedding cakes and makes her want to crunch the sugar it spreads between her teeth and beneath her boots.

On the TV, the hero has just discovered the heroine is a girl rather than the boy he took her for and is confronting her. Chiaki's been waiting for this moment in the serial for a while, but now it's come, she's lost interest, as if following the characters' day on the screen is a flat, rather shabby substitute for the real day going on outside. She hugs her arms around a cushion and frowns at the really quite good-looking leading actor over the top of it. Lets the frown fade and sighs. Coughs a little; not really much of it left now, just the memory in the back of her throat. After a minute or so, she releases the cushion and tucks it under her head. Maybe she should try and take a nap after all?

She only remembers when she decides to turn the TV off that she's lost the remote.

On the low table beside the couch, a few tinny bars of Hamasaki Ayumi emanates from Chiaki's phone, and she picks it up, looks at the caller ID. He's her friend, her best friend, nothing more and never will be, and she knows she should have accepted that a long time ago, but she still can't help the quick flutter, just a few sweetly painful little hiccups, that she feels inside when she sees his name there. She keeps looking at the display for a few moments before she picks up, knowing she can because he'll wait. A few times she's answered and caught him singing to pass the time.

"Hey, Shuta!"

"How's my beautiful girl doing today?"

The sound of his voice, rough and warm, instantly lifts her mood. "Not very beautiful with a runny nose and no makeup!"

"Oi, oi, oi! I'm not wearing makeup, and I'm still a sexy hunk, aren't I?"

They banter like this all the time. It doesn't mean anything, and Chiaki once again firmly banishes from her mind the tiny hope that it might. She's just grateful that five minutes ago she was sitting here in her pajamas feeling sorry for herself, and now she's smiling. She cradles the phone against her cheek, pressing into it, as if that were the way to bring him close enough for the bear hug she could do with round about now.

"So," Shuta is saying on the other end of the line, "how're you really feeling?"

She pouts, even though he can't see it. "Bored. Don't want to sit at home any more. Want to start rehearsals."

"Boss man says no way, not until there's no more chances of you passing your vile germs on to the rest of us - so you can stick your tongue out at him, not me."

Chiaki emits a peal of laughter, her first in days, that quickly turns into another brief coughing fit. "How did you know I was sticking my tongue out??" she finally manages to splutter.

"Shuta-sama sees all... he knows all. Certainly he knows the cure for boredom."

"He'll never, ever, ever find any cure unless he can fix the flu or convince Max to let me come back to work!"

"Well, he just happens to have the perfect one, and all Chiaki-san has to do is look out of her front window."

Just his suggestion has already taken the edge off her apathy. More intrigued now than tired, Chiaki slides off the couch and pads over to the window in her socks, still holding the phone. Her apartment's only a floor up, and she peeps out and quickly scans the small lawned area directly below. She giggles.

"Shuta, snowmen?"

"No ordinary snowmen!" Outside, where he's standing on the grass beside a row of random white boulder shapes, she sees Shuta wag his finger at her. "This afternoon I'm making special snowmen, and you're going to help me." And, causing passing pedestrians to stare at him curiously, he proceeds to draw a large 'AAA' in the flat snow with a stick.

Realizing there's eight of the snow figures, Chiaki gives an unashamedly childish squeak, her grey mood almost gone now. "It's us! Which one's me?"

"Patience, honey!" Shuta is alternating between fishing his phone out of his pocket to talk and scooping up more handfuls of snow to pat into place, making heads for each of the snowmen. He stops to consider the figure in the middle, standing back and sizing it up with tilted head. Taller? he pantomimes.

Chiaki shakes her head, laughing. *What??* she mouths back. He finds the stick again and scrapes out Naoya's surname. "Oh!" Yes! Taller! she indicates, wildly.

Snow-Naoya is duly built up until he stands a head above the others, looking quite dominant and leader-like. Chiaki puts on an extravagant performance in the stage of her window, gesturing and directing, pajamas and scrunched up hair forgotten, while Shuta labors cheerfully on the construction of their frosty alter egos with the dedication of a classic sculptor. A few kids are loitering around now, open-mouthed beneath warm hoods, teetering on the edge of the sidewalk, drawn to the activities like small winter bears to stored honey but still too shy to ask to join in. "D'you want to say hello to the pretty lady in her house up there?" Shuta asks one of about six, putting his phone to the youngster's ear, and Chiaki returns the boy a wave with a big eyes-wide smile, 'hey', but it's directed more at the man squatting beside him; not very tall, not very handsome, but whose grin looks as bright to her as the blue sky that's starting to whirl down a few more gentle powdery snowflakes between them. She can't remember when being sick last made her laugh so much.

Putting her phone down on the sill, she briefly touches her thumbs and fingertips together to form the classic shape of a heart. "Thankyou," she says, out loud. Whether he can read her lips, or her mind, she doesn't know, but she's convinced that she doesn't just imagine his smile becoming a little softer. He raises his hands, mirrors hers.

Before she goes to bed that night, Chiaki takes a last look at the snowpeople, their stick arms raised high in triumph and expressions of happiness marked out on the faces of most, but resembling something closer to gleeful insanity on a couple. Maybe, if she feels better tomorrow, she'll go out and buy them some hats. They won't last long once a thaw comes, but for now, she likes to think about them out there, especially the two shortest, standing side by side at the end of the line.