It’s twenty past ten when she notices the flurries of white descending upon the moist ground outside. The first snow of the year usually greets them in November, but as with many other things this year, it is a little different. Dalmi moves to unlatch the window behind her headboard, cracks it open so she can extend a hand out to catch a flake or two.
“Dosan-ah!” She exclaims into her phone, high on crisp, freezing air. “It’s snowing outside!”
There’s some shuffling on the other side, possibly Dosan shifting in his bed to get a look out his window. “It is.” A beat. “I don’t think it was in the forecast, but the temperature must have unexpectedly dropped below zero.”
She cares very little about why it’s snowing, it’s enough that it is. She doesn’t interrupt him as he goes on about the glaciers melting in Antartica, and the quickly rising risks of global warming. His voice is like a warm hearth in the background of her consciousness. She’s become used to the gentle rise and fall of his speech, the way his words are often punctuated by perfunctory pauses.
“I wish you were here.” She sighs. It hasn’t been long since she parted ways with him after another long work day in the office. It’s funny that she’s never been happier than she is now, but somehow, she keeps wanting more and more. Perhaps it comes with the territory, with the certainty, now that she knows where she is headed. It’s new, as frightening as it is exhilarating.
“I always want to be there.” She can hear the smile in his voice, can sense the sincerity that drips from every word he speaks, every breath he takes. There’s a series of movement on his end, possibly his covers being adjusted so he can burrow deeper. “Even when it’s not snowing.”
She pulls a throw off of her bed and wraps it around herself. The cold air filters in through the crack she has open in the window, brings with it the promise of a city blanketed in white. “I want to experience every season with you.”
“Me too. I’m excited we’re getting four different seasons. It was just chilly in San Francisco all the time. I often had to take a moment to think about what time of the year it was.”
She laughs, even though it still hurts a little when he talks about his time away. In hindsight, it probably could have been handled differently. They could’ve talked it out. They could’ve chosen to carry on this thing between them even with the barrier of constantly shifting days and nights between them. Or they could’ve ended things, only without the lies and deliberate hurt. They could have done it a million different ways, but Dalmi knows it in her bruised heart that he would have never left if he thought he was leaving her behind. A clean break was really the only option.
“What was your favorite thing about San Francisco?”
He huffs, thoughtfully. “Definitely not the exorbitant cost of living, or driving on the wavy streets downtown. Thank goodness for BART.”
“So, your favorite thing was the public transportation?” She asks, skeptically.
“Not my favorite thing, but it made life easier certainly. My favorite thing, huh?” He hums, a verbal tell that Dalmi has come to learn means he’s thinking hard. Thinking not with his mathematically calibrated, brilliant brain, no; Dosan hums when he’s asked questions that most people can answer on reflex.
What did you eat for lunch?
Pick a color that’s not RGB.
Can I keep this gold medal knowing I don't deserve it?
Dosan told her about the day he won the Mathematics Olympiads recently. It was the summer he turned thirteen, the same summer she was abandoned by not one but two people she thought would always stay by her side. Maybe there was something in the blowing wind that year, something sinister spreading misfortune across the city. She felt the burden of the incident weighing down on his slouched shoulders even after all this time.
You do deserve it, Dalmi had told him, but he didn’t look convinced. He smiled through the tears pooling in his eyes, and pulled her into an embrace.
“You really shouldn’t have to think this hard about it. Come on!” She insists, chuckling.
“Okay, okay,” he says, adjusting again as if to sit up straight. “There was this little coffee shop a few blocks down from our apartment. Total hole in the wall, squished between the back alley of two brick buildings. One of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind.”
“Uh huh,” she acknowledges to encourage him. Outside, the flurries are coming down harder, landing not on green grass, but a thin sheet of white that touched down not long before.
“There was a little patio outside, string lights hanging above. It was quite lovely,” he says. “But inside it was very dim. Come to think of it, it was more like an Irish Pub than a coffee shop.”
“What?” She can’t help but snort at the drastic shift in scenery.
“It was really a coffee shop,” he says, laughing lightly. “But it doubled as a bar in the evenings.”
Dalmi is howling with laughter now. Something about the mental picture of Dosan trying to order alcohol in a coffee shop is endlessly amusing.
“Shit. My battery is dying,” he says, suddenly. “I’ll call you back.”
The line disconnects before she has even processed his words. She can’t shake the smile off her face as she sets her phone down by the pillow, and leans more heavily against her headboard.
Will the snow stick around to see the morning?
A shrill gush of wind wooshes in, and Dalmi can feel goosebumps break out on the back of her neck. It’s probably not that bad outside, but she’s only wearing her pajamas with a throw on top. Nowhere close to layered enough for this weather.
She opens the window wider, peeks her head out, and takes one last deep breath.
It’s a shame that it started snowing so late. She misses the heat of Dosan’s touch, imagines their intertwined hands tucked in the wooly pocket of his coat, and the thought warms her heart.
The whipping of the cold wind gets louder as she shuts her window close.
Dalmi is dithering on the edge of sleep when Dosan finally calls back. The persistent buzz of her phone startles her awake.
“Dosan-ah,” she croaks, pulling her knees to her chest, a feeble attempt to cocoon herself. “I thought you fell asleep.”
“No, I didn’t,” he says, and asks after a pause. “Did you?”
“A little bit."
“How do you fall asleep ‘a little bit’?” This would be a dig from anyone else, but Dosan sounds genuinely curious. She can’t help but smile.
“It takes practice,” she says, rubbing the last wink of sleep off her eyes. “Maybe I’ll teach you someday. If I feel like it,” she adds, cheekily.
“Someday,” he repeats, contemplatively. “How about today? Could you give me a few tips right now?”
She laughs. “It would require a visual demonstration, I’m afraid.”
“No problem, I’m standing outside your gate right now.”
“Yeah, right,” she scoffs, takes a moment to actually consider what he said. “Wait, are you really?”
“Yes,” he says, chuckling.
Dalmi jumps out of her bed and runs to the window facing the front of the house. Sure enough, she can see Dosan standing outside the gate, waving his hands wildly at her. He’s bundled up in his tan Columbia puffer jacket, and wearing a pair of red mittens.
“Layer up before you come out,” he says, and she can see the white wisps of his breath even from a distance.
Dalmi has thrown on three layers of clothing and dashed out of her room before she even knows what she’s doing. She tiptoes across the living room in a desperate bid to not wake anyone up, but out the front door, she’s running again.
“Why are you here?” She asks, stepping out of the gate. It feels like the smile on her face has been frozen in place, but she knows it’s not at all because of the cold. Dosan is really in front of her, standing tall on the slope of the concrete on her street. Stray bits of snow have made their home in his hair, and she instinctively reaches out to shake them off.
“To give you this.” He pulls something out of his pocket.
“A heating pack?” She’s amused and fond, even though she can’t imagine why he needed to come all the way here for this. As it is, she will never question any opportunity to see him.
“What?” He asks, surprised. “Oh, wait—”
He pulls something else out of his pocket, something pink that contrasts against his red mittens. “I mean, that’s for you too,” he says, eyeing the heating pack. “But I came here to give this to you tonight.”
She’s looking at a beanie. It’s pink, and soft, and has a ridiculously fluffy white pom pom hanging off the top.
“Knit this in the fall. I wanted to give you something on the day of the first snowfall,” he says, moving closer to dust the flakes of snow off her hair. “Something to keep you warm.”
He puts it over her head, pulls it low enough to cover her frosty ears. Dalmi stares at the light in his eyes in wonder. They excitedly roam above her own, as he fusses over her bangs. He looks as warm as she feels, his face beaming under the dim light of the streetlight that hangs above them. She feels the heat of his fondness emanate within her chest. It moves swiftly from the confines of her rib cage to the tip of her tongue; three words that are just hanging by a thread.
“It looks good on you,” he is saying, still smiling. “Okay, you’re all set. Head back in now. It’s cold.”
He is finally looking into her eyes.
This is her chance.
The moment she’s been waiting for.
Plucking every bit of courage, she wants to tell him that she can’t hardly wait to take his hand in hers and weave the tapestry of the rest of their lives together; that tonight and tomorrow and every day that will come after, he will be the one she thinks of when she sees the sun, and the moon, and the stars scattered across the boundless skies; that she intends to plant her roots in the vast expanse of his heart, because he’s set his roots down in the barren landscape of her own already.
“Dalmi-ah,” he says, with a mix of concern and confusion. “Do you not like it?”
“I...” she begins, voice shaking. “I love… I love it.”
In the end, it’s the thought of saying goodbye in the very next moment that makes her stumble. She decides to save it for a day she can appropriately spend hours melting in his arms after she tells him. Dalmi exhales, mirroring the dopey smile he’s wearing. “Thank you.”
“Go back in. Get some sleep.” He rubs the sides of her arms, as if to shake the chill off of her body. “I’ll call you when I get home.”
She doesn’t want to leave though. She steps closer instead.
She takes a hand out of her coat pocket, stands on her tip toes and reaches over to delicately pick out the fraction of a flake stuck to his eyelashes.
Loving Dosan is the easiest thing she has ever done, like setting sail on a bright morning when the wind is blowing just right. She neither needs to exert any effort nor expend any energy, she knows how to love him like she’s known him all her life. Not any other version of Nam Dosan. Just the aggressive knitter standing in front of her with clumps of snow stuck to his hair—the only one.
“There.” But he grabs her hand before she can shove it back into the comfort of her pocket.
“Next, you’re getting some gloves,” he says, pulling her bare hand, ensconced in the red of his mittens, into a pocket in his puffer jacket.
Being loved by him is a different story. It can be overwhelming at the most innocuous of times, like right now when he is just being his thoughtful, kind self, and it has her heart pounding like a jackhammer. She is grateful every moment that she gets to be on the receiving end of this everyday, uncomplicated love. It feels like a marvel that she stood out to him in a sea of people, even as a nobody.
Dosan grounds her, and he lifts her up, at once.
She knows now that she’s not a nobody. Never was one.