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“I have to say, I never considered wine and bath bombs to be winter weather essentials, although it appears today’s sales report would strongly disagree,” Patrick said with a laugh, as he tore the tape from the register and laid it down on the counter in front of him before settling in to count down the cash drawer.

“Mmm… well, clearly you have never met Stevie Budd before. Or me.”

“Or Jocelyn, or Ronnie, or Gwen. Or Darlene’s cousin. Pretty sure we sold more wine today than we did actual food. Or other things you might need for a snowstorm.”

“Twyla did buy that knitted hat and mittens. Besides, what’s that you’re always telling me? A profit is a profit, no matter where it comes from or why?”

“How come the only time you ever remember anything I tell you is when you’re getting ready to use my words against me?”

A wry grin tugged at one corner of David’s lips. “I’ll have you know, I remember a lot of what you say,” he said, his voice low and a little sultry as he leaned over the counter and pressed his lips to Patrick’s in a kiss that lasted several seconds longer than anything they usually did in the store.

“And yet somehow, you always manage to forget when I ask you to sweep the floor.” One side of Patrick’s mouth quirked up into a matching grin as he looked up at David, eyes sparkling with mischief.

“Ugh! Fine!” David threw his hands up in the air, pushing off the counter and walking toward the closet where they kept the cleaning supplies. He could hear Patrick snickering behind him as coins dropped, one by one, back into the register. “See? I’m sweeping the floor.”

David took out the dust mop and started to push it around the store, collecting all of the salt and other debris that had been tracked in during a very, very busy morning at Rose Apothecary. The past few days’ weather reports had been warning of an impending snowstorm, and the day had finally arrived -- with thick, gray clouds hanging overhead for most of the morning and early afternoon before finally starting to give way to snowflakes a couple of hours after lunch. It hadn’t taken long for the heavier bursts of snow to cover the streets and the sidewalk out front, slowing their customer traffic to a crawl, and eventually the stop that had led them to make the call to close early.

By the time they finished closing up, the roads were completely covered, making David glad Patrick was the one driving. Being behind the wheel sometimes made David anxious under normal conditions, and not actually being able to see the road felt like a recipe for certain disaster. They made it home safely -- albeit quite a bit slower than normal -- and Patrick warmed up some leftover vegetable soup on the stove while David took a shower and changed into his designer sweats.

After dinner, they curled up together on the sofa in front of the fireplace, watching The Holiday as snow fell outside their little cottage in the country, making David feel like he’d somehow stumbled into his very own rom-com on the day he’d gone to Ray’s office to file his incorporation papers.

When they went to bed that night, limbs tangled and Patrick’s chest pressed against David’s back as large, white flakes continued to drift past their bedroom window, all David could think of was how perfect his life was now. How lucky he was to have finally found the one thing he thought he’d never have. How the worst thing to ever happen to him had somehow become the best, all because of Patrick Brewer.

***

David rolled over in bed, squinting at the bright light streaming in through the window. As happened almost every morning when David woke up, Patrick’s side of the bed was already empty, and David was sure that his early-riser husband was probably downstairs having tea and reading a book. With a stretch and a yawn, David stood up, shivering at the feeling of the cold hardwood floor on his bare feet as he shuffled his way toward the window. Opening the blinds made the bedroom even brighter than it already was, as the sunlight glinted off of the fresh blanket of snow outside.

Everything was covered, and judging by how high it came up on the shrubs in their backyard, there had to be close to a foot of snow. After sliding his feet into his favorite Ugg slippers, David padded into the bathroom, taking care of the most vital steps of his morning routine before tugging a hoodie over his head and going downstairs.

As predicted, he found Patrick in the living room, his favorite mug on the coffee table, a book open in his lap, and the single morning news shows out of Elmdale playing on the TV.

“Morning,” Patrick said, looking up from his book and giving David the fond smile that never failed to put butterflies in his stomach. The knitted throw Marcy had given them for Christmas was draped over his legs, and he’d already built a fire in the stone fireplace.

“Morning,” David echoed softly, turning his attention to the image on the television -- a news reporter standing near a highway with her camera crew, doing a live report as a snowplow passed behind her.

“Sounds like everything’s shut down.” Patrick paused to mark his place in his book with the leather bookmark David had given him for his birthday, setting the book aside on the coffee table and picking up his tea.

David hummed as he took a seat on the couch next to Patrick, snuggling up to his side and pulling his feet up onto the cushions as Patrick lifted up the blanket so David could slide under it as well.

“So, I guess we’ve got ourselves a snow day,” Patrick said, taking a sip of his tea. “I mean, technically we could open, since we’re a general store, but I seriously doubt anyone’s going to be out. Also not sure my car is going anywhere in this.”

Transferring his tea to the other hand, Patrick turned to look over his shoulder toward the window, where large snowflakes continued to float down from the sky, disappearing as they landed on atop the thick blanket of snow that already covered everything.

“Mmm… a snow day sounds fun,” David murmured, his fingers finding their way to Patrick’s free hand as thoughts of spending the day just as they were -- curled up on the couch by the fireplace, maybe with some hot chocolate and a movie marathon -- started to dance through his head.

“I haven’t had a snow day since, well… since I was in grade school, I guess.” Patrick’s voice was wistful, his sentence ending in a soft sigh.

“Yeah, you don’t get snow days when you live on campus.” David paused as Patrick turned and raised an eyebrow. “Boarding school, remember?”

“Ah… yeah. University pretty much put an end to it for me too. Not that we got many in grade school. I mean, it was Canada, so…”

“Yeah.”

“I remember being so jealous of some of my cousins on my mom’s side who moved to the states, and they were off for a whole week one winter because of a snowstorm. I mean, a whole week of sledding, building snowmen, playing outside, drinking hot chocolate…” Patrick sighed again, taking another sip of his tea. “I have to admit, that still sounds like the best week ever.”

“Mmm… so the outside part sounds wet… and cold. But the hot chocolate I can definitely do.” David leaned in, pressing a kiss to Patrick’s lips, tasting a slight hint of peppermint tea. “Maybe with some holiday rom-coms thrown in for good measure.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve never played outside in the snow.”

“I’ve been skiing, does that count? I won’t say it ended well, but it should count. And I have built a snowman… in Lake Tahoe… with Adelina. And Alexis.” David paused, his head suddenly awash with memories of the woman who would always feel like a mother to him, because she had been. She’d been there for him -- and Alexis -- when their parents weren’t. Scraped knee? Runny nose? Broken heart? Adelina was there. He cleared his throat, feeling Patrick’s fingers wrap themselves more tightly around his. “Anyway, yes, I’ve played outside in the snow, and let’s just say that cashmere sweaters and snow don’t mix.”

“Did she ever take you guys sledding?”

“Excuse me, but have you met me? Considering that Adelina wasn’t trying to kill me or leave me permanently maimed, no, she did not take me sledding.”

“Aww, David, that’s really sad.”

“Is it, though?” David squinted his eyes, giving Patrick a skeptical look.

“Yeah, I mean… sledding is kind of one of those… childhood rites of passage I guess.”

“Well, the last time I checked, I’m pretty sure I’m a grownup, so…”

“I wanna take you sledding.” Setting his tea back down on the coffee table, Patrick turned to face David, taking both of his hands as he turned those big, brown eyes upon him. The eyes that might as well be classified as weapons of mass destruction for the effect they always had on David. “I just hate that you missed out on so many things growing up. I can give you this one, though. Mom and dad brought my old sled when they brought me the rest of my things from their house, and it’s just sitting in the garage, and there’s that park around the corner with the big hill… Let me take you sledding, David.”

“It’s wet and cold out there, though… and it’s nice and warm in here,” David whined, turning his gaze as he gestured toward the fireplace, just so he wouldn’t have to look at Patrick’s soft, loving eyes that were already working their magic to melt his heart (and his resolve).

David felt Patrick’s hand come up to the side of his face, gently turning it back as he leaned in for a kiss. “I’ll keep you warm,” he murmured. “I promise. And then when we get back, we’ll watch all the movies you want. We’ll put the Hallmark Channel to shame.”

David let out a breath and rolled his eyes. “Fine. We’ll go sledding, but that’s it. Then, we’re coming home and having a Julia Stiles movie marathon with hot chocolate, under the blanket, by the fire.”

Patrick leaned in again, this time pressing his lips to David’s in a slow, lingering kiss before pulling back, his lips turning up into a fond smile. “I promise you won’t regret it.”

***

Getting ready to go out in the snow involved a whole lot of clothing that David deemed “incorrect,” including having to don a pair of Patrick’s wool hiking socks and mountaineering shoes, since there was no way he was wearing any of his designer boots to walk through a foot of snow. He did, however, manage to rustle up enough of his own clothing that he didn’t mind getting wet -- jeans, a t-shirt, and a hoodie -- before completing the ensemble with his black down puffer jacket and a black and white knitted cap with matching gloves.

“I think you look very cute,” Patrick said, standing on tiptoe to kiss David’s cheek as he unlocked the door to the garage.

“Yes, well, the last time you said that I ended up taking a baseball to the back, so let’s hope that’s not a harbinger of things to come.”

“You’ll be fine, David.” Patrick grunted as he leaned over a pile of boxes and started to drag out an old wooden sled that definitely looked like it had seen better days.

“Are you sure that thing is safe?”

“It’s a classic; they don’t make them like this anymore.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“Yes, David, it’s safe. We’re gonna be six inches off the ground. What could possibly happen?”

David had no sooner opened his mouth to list off all the possible misfortunes that could befall them on this sledding adventure than Patrick was pressing a single finger to his lips, shushing him.

“Don’t answer that. You’re gonna be fine. We’ll both be fine. It’s fun; you’ll see.”

***

David figured the “fun” part must come later, because it sure as hell wasn’t slogging through the snow on their street and around the corner to the highway, where there was a large park with a playground and several walking trails. Nor was it walking uphill in a foot of snow, especially when some of it was icy and would hold you for a second, then give way and leave you trying desperately to keep your balance and not end up sliding down the hill on your ass. It also wasn’t listening to the screams of about a dozen children whose parents had already brought them to the park.

“You didn’t tell me there were going to be kids,” David sputtered, his right foot slipping in the snow as he continued to trudge along behind Patrick.

“C’mon, David, it’s a snow day; of course there were going to be kids.”

Before David could respond, Patrick suddenly stopped, causing David to nearly trip over him.

“Are we here?” David paused and looked around. “Don’t you want to go all the way to the top?”

“I thought we’d start small, since it’s your first time and all.” David recognized the familiar grin on Patrick’s face as the one he wore when he was teasing David mercilessly -- often involving something David’s privileged upbringing had caused him to “miss out on.”

“Well, I say go big or go home.” Raising his eyebrows, David looked at Patrick, then up the hill, then back at Patrick. “Might as well get the full effect, right?”

“If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure. Let’s do it. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can be back home, watching rom-coms and drinking hot chocolate.”

“What makes you so sure you won’t want to stay and do it again? You might like it, you know.”

David didn’t respond, instead following Patrick the rest of the way up the hill, where Patrick carefully set the sled down before climbing on, patting the small empty space behind him where he somehow expected David to fit. Eventually, David managed to get all of his limbs either secured on some surface of the sled or around Patrick’s body. This whole thing looked a lot easier for the kids around them, many of them with simple plastic saucers they were using to glide across the snow. Patrick’s sled was vintage and old-fashioned, and David wondered if it might have belonged to Clint or been some sort of family heirloom, passed down for multiple generations.

“Ready?” Patrick’s voice shook David back out of his thoughts, prompting him to tighten his hold around Patrick’s shoulders. Once David had nodded against his shoulder, Patrick pushed off, beginning their descent.

It started off slowly, and David’s first thought was that maybe this wasn’t so bad after all -- maybe Patrick was right. Although he could have done without the cold air, the sensation of gliding effortlessly along the surface of the snow was pretty enjoyable, as was being in such close proximity to his husband as they made their way down the hill. Then, they hit a bump and a dip, and started to pick up more speed as the angle of the incline changed, and David pulled his arms even tighter around Patrick, ducking his face as far down behind Patrick’s shoulder as he could. Soon, they were careening down the hill at a speed that felt very much out of control, heading right for the cluster of pine trees at the bottom.

David’s brain was suddenly flooded with thoughts of certain disaster, of having to have a second nose job after smashing his face against the trunk of a tree. Before he could question the sanity of making such a move, he bailed off of the sled and into the snow, which was instantly cold and damp against his jeans and his gloved hands. He looked around, expecting Patrick to have done the same thing, but a quick scan of the area at the bottom of the hill revealed the sight of his husband, in his navy blue puffer jacket and matching hat, making a futile attempt to bail out just as the sled crashed into a tree.

Scrambling to his feet, David ran as fast as he could -- which wasn’t very fast in a foot of slippery, wet snow -- to the bottom of the hill, where he found Patrick at the base of the tree, writhing in pain and clutching his right arm to his chest.

A woman David didn’t recognize had gotten to Patrick first and was kneeling beside him.

“I’m fine,” Patrick gritted out, his tone belying his words. “It’s just my arm.”

“Are you sure we shouldn’t call 9-1-1?” the woman asked, already pulling her phone out of her pocket.

“No,” Patrick said breathlessly. “I’ll be okay.”

“Honey, you’re--”

“Good god, Brewer, you’ve really done this time, haven’t you?” Ronnie’s deadpan voice came out of nowhere, interrupting David. He looked up to see her standing behind him, arms crossed, a bored expression on her face. Beside her was another woman that David recognized as the town’s only florist. “No ambulances,” Ronnie said, waving her hand dismissively at the woman kneeling beside Patrick. “I’ll take them.”

Less than five minutes later, David and Patrick were in the back seat of an SUV emblazoned with the “What in Carnation?” logo, on their way to Elmdale with Ronnie and the florist, whose name was apparently Vanessa. David was still a little surprised that Ronnie was doing anything to help Patrick -- even providing him with an ice pack from the first aid kit in the back of the car, where Patrick’s damaged sled now lay. Of course, she insisted that the ice pack was really to help David, so Patrick wouldn’t be moaning so loudly in his ear all the way to the hospital, but David chose to interpret it as an indicator of progress in Patrick and Ronnie’s still-tenuous relationship.

David kept his arm around Patrick, fingers gently carding through the fine hair at the nape of his neck, in hopes Patrick would find it comforting. Even so, every bump in the highway caused Patrick to whimper and hold his injured right arm tighter against his chest.

Finally, they made it to the hospital, and David checked Patrick in while Ronnie and Vanessa parked the car. David had half expected Ronnie to abandon them there, especially since the injured party was Patrick, but it sounded like she and Vanessa both planned to stay, which David was grateful for.

The longer the wait stretched on, though, the more agitated Patrick seemed to get. Once he was done grousing at David for being the cause of this accident because he’d bailed out too early and caused Patrick to lose control, he moved on to worrying about work -- reminding David that he was in the middle of working on their quarterly taxes and he needed his right hand for that.

“What if I need surgery?” Patrick whispered, in between breaths that were a little too quick. “I’ll be out for weeks. We can’t afford that. Especially not when our taxes are due on--”

“Honey.” David gently cut Patrick off, making tiny, circular motions on Patrick’s shoulder with his fingertips while Ronnie rolled her eyes in the chair across from him. “We don’t even know if it’s broken or not yet. Let’s just wait until we see the doctor, okay?”

Patrick nodded and squeezed his eyes shut, his next exhale coming out as a soft groan. David pressed a kiss to Patrick’s temple and continued tracing random patterns on his shoulder, hoping to soothe and ground his anxious husband.

Finally, a nurse called Patrick’s name and he and David were led to an exam room, where they waited for several minutes until a doctor came to examine Patrick and sent him off for x-rays. David tried his best to keep Patrick calm, but it seemed like the pain was only ratcheting up his agitation as he continued running through all of the same scenarios he’d gone through a thousand times over in the waiting room.

“Honey,” David said again, this time leaning over to lay a hand on Patrick’s knee. “Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out. Together. Isn’t that what you’re always telling me?”

Patrick snorted, the sling that was now holding his arm against his chest shifting slightly with the movement as he leaned his head back into the pillows. “And now I know how annoying it is.”

A smile tugged at the corner of David’s lips. “Well then, maybe you’ll think about this the next time you’re dismissing one of my legitimate concerns as if it doesn’t even matter.”

“David, if we get the paint color wrong in the dining room, we can get some new paint and do it over again. It’s not that big of a deal.”

“That’s what you--”

“Alright, Mr. Brewer,” the doctor’s voice interrupted David’s retort as she breezed back into the room, tablet in hand. “You’ll be pleased to know there’s no break; looks like it’s just a sprain.”

David heard Patrick let out a breath, prompting David to reach out for Patrick’s good hand, giving it a squeeze.

“Now, that’s not to say that it won’t be painful, and there will definitely be some appreciable recovery time, but no cast, and no surgery. I’m going to recommend rest, ice, anti-inflammatories, and keeping it above your heart as much as possible to limit swelling, especially for the first few days. We’ll fit you for a brace that I’d like you to wear for at least the next month, and I think that sling is probably going to be your friend for the first couple of weeks, but after that, you should be good as new, as long as you take it easy.”

Patrick nodded, exhaling with a relieved sigh. “Okay,” he whispered. “I can do that.”

“Good.” The doctor smiled as she closed the cover on her tablet. “Any other questions for me?”

“No, I… I think we’re good,” Patrick said.

“Excellent. Someone will be in shortly to fit you for your brace, and then you’ll be ready to go.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” David said, giving her his best ‘winning smile’ before turning his attention back to his husband as the doctor left the room.

“Thank god,” Patrick breathed, letting his head fall back to the stack of pillows behind him as he gazed up at the ceiling.

David brushed his thumb over the back of Patrick’s left hand. “See? I told you we just needed to wait for the doctor.”

“I still say we wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for you.”

“Mmm… well, considering that your nonexistent crystal ball is just as accurate as Twyla’s tarot cards--”

“Hello, Mr. Brewer.” An unfamiliar voice broke into their conversation as the door swung open again, this time revealing a man in green scrubs with an armful of boxes who quickly set to work fitting Patrick for the brace that would help protect his wrist while it healed. Fifteen minutes later, Patrick and David were once again in the back seat of Vanessa’s SUV, and an hour after that, David was carrying two mugs of hot chocolate into their living room, where his husband sat on the couch, his right arm propped up on a stack of pillows.

David took his usual seat alongside Patrick before handing him one of the mugs. “So,” David said, pausing to take a drink of his hot chocolate, “I have now been sledding.”

Patrick snorted as he brought his own mug to his lips for a sip. “Can’t say I thought this was how it was going to turn out.”

“Well, Ronnie did say she could fix the sled. Although I’m a little surprised she just volunteered to do it… Maybe she’s developing a soft spot for you after all.”

“More like a soft spot for you. And since this whole thing was your fault…”

Excuse me? If I’m remembering correctly, I was perfectly content to sit here in the safety of our living room and watch rom-coms all day. You were the one who insisted on going outside in the cold and careening down the side of a mountain atop a wood-and-metal death trap that’s probably older than the both of us combined!”

Leaning his head back into the sofa pillows, Patrick huffed out a laugh, his eyes closing as he took a deep breath, his mug of hot cocoa coming to rest on his thigh. “You’re right,” he said, opening his eyes and angling his head toward David. “I shouldn’t have made you go sledding.”

David bit his lip as he reached out for Patrick’s good arm, fingers wrapping loosely around his wrist. “I’m sorry I ruined your snow day.”

“No, I’m sorry… sorry for blaming you. Accidents happen.” Patrick paused, a small smile just beginning to curl over his lips as he leaned forward to set his mug on the coffee table. “Although they do seem to be a good bit more likely where you and physical activity are concerned.”

“Let this be a lesson to you then.” The corner of David’s mouth curved into a teasing smile of his own. “So, what movie do you want to watch?”

“You pick.” Patrick’s voice was soft, and his eyes drifted closed again as he brought his head to rest on David’s shoulder. “Think I’m gonna take a nap.”

“Okay, honey,” David whispered, turning his head just enough to kiss the top of Patrick’s.

“Thanks for taking care of me today.” Patrick’s voice was barely above a whisper now, his words already a tiny bit slurred by sleep and pain medication. “For making everything okay. You always do.”

David wrapped an arm around Patrick’s shoulders, his fingers tracing a gentle pattern over his bicep, knowing that there was literally nothing he wouldn’t do for the man who was currently falling asleep on his shoulder -- whose weight provided a comforting pressure against David’s side… grounding him. Showing him what it was to love and be loved. Just like he always did.