“How are you three, on this night?” The Tinfoil Guy always talked like that, like life was a horror movie and he was the knife-wielding maniac. But he was generally agreed to be harmless. He’d asked all three of us the question, but he was looking only at me.
“Let’s see,” I answered. “Our car lost a wheel and I can’t feel my feet.”
“You looked very lonesome out there,” he said. “An epic hero against the elements.”
“Yeah. Okay. How are you?” I asked, to be polite. Why did you ask him a question! I chastised myself. Stupid Southern manners.
“I’m enjoying a most filling cup of noodles,” he said. “I do love a good cup. And then I believe I’ll go for another walk.”
“You don’t get cold, with the foil?” I couldn’t stop asking questions!
“What foil?” he asked.
“Uh,” I said, “right.” The Duke brought me the socks. I put on one pair, and then another, and then a third. I saved the fourth in case I needed dry ones later. I could barely squeeze into my Pumas, but nonetheless, I felt like a new man as I stood up to leave.
“Always a pleasure,” Tinfoil Guy said to me.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Merry Christmas.”
“May the pigs of fate fly you safely home,” he responded. Right. I felt awful for the lady behind the counter, being stuck with him. As I was on my way out, the woman behind the counter said to me, “Duke?”
I turned. “Yes?”
“I couldn’t help but overhear,” she said. “About your car.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sucks.”
“Listen,” she said. “We can tow it. We got a truck.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah, here, give me something I can write down the number on.” I fished around in my coat pocket and found a receipt. She wrote down her number and name, Rachel, in loop-heavy script. “Wow, thanks, Rachel.”
“Yeah. A hundred fifty bucks plus five bucks a mile, being a holiday and the weather and everything.”
I grimaced but nodded. An expensive tow was a hell of a lot better than no tow at all.
We were barely back out on the road—me walking with a newfound awareness of, and appreciation for, my toes—when JP sidled up to me and said, “Honestly, the fact that Tinfoil Guy is, like, forty and still alive gives me hope that I can have a reasonably successful adulthood.”
“Yeah.” The Duke was walking ahead of us, munching on Cheetos. “Dude,” JP said. “Are you looking at the Duke’s butt?”
“What? No.” And only in telling the lie did I realize that actually I had been looking at her back, although not specifically her butt.
The Duke turned around. “What are you talking about?”
“Your butt!” JP shouted into the wind.
She laughed. “I know it’s what you dream about when you’re alone at night, JP.”
She slowed and we caught up with her. “Honestly, Duke?” JP said, putting his arm around her. “I hope this doesn’t hurt your feelings, but if I ever had a sex dream about you, I would have to locate my subconscious, remove it from my body, and beat it to death with a stick.”
She shot him down with her usual aplomb. “That doesn’t offend me in the least,” she said to him. “If you didn’t, I’d have to do it for you.” And then she turned and looked over at me. I figured she wanted to see if I was laughing—I was, quietly.
We were walking past Governor’s Park, home to the biggest playground in town, when in the distance, I heard an engine, loud and powerful. I thought for a second it might be the twins, but then I looked back, and as it drove under a streetlight, I could see the lights above the roof. “Cop,” I said quickly, dashing off into the park. JP and the Duke hurried off the road, too. We hunkered down, half behind a snowdrift and half in it, as the cop drove slowly by, a searchlight arcing across the park.
Only after he passed did it occur to me to say, “He might have given us a ride.”
“Yeah, to jail,” JP said.
“Well, but we aren’t doing anything criminal,” I said.
JP mulled this over for a moment. Being outside at two thirty in the morning on Christmas certainly felt wrong, but that didn’t mean it was wrong. “Don’t be an asshat,” JP said. Fair enough. I did the least asshatty thing I could think of, which was to take a few steps through the calf-high snow away from the road and into Governor’s Park. Then I let myself fall backward, my arms out, knowing the snow would meet me thick and soft. I lay there for a moment and then made a snow angel. The Duke dove down onto her belly. “Snow angel with boobs!” she said. JP got a running start and then jumped into the snow, landing sprawled out on his side, the Twister wrapped in his arms. He stood up carefully next to the imprint of his body and said, “Outline of body at homicide investigation!”
“What happened to him?” I asked.
“Someone tried to take his Twister, and he died in heroic defense of it,” he explained.
I scampered out of my angel and made another, but this time I used my gloves to give my angel horns. “Snow devil!” the Duke shouted, gleeful. With the snow all around us I felt like a little kid in one of those inflatable moon walks—I couldn’t get hurt by falling. I couldn’t get hurt by anything. The Duke ran toward me, her shoulder low, her head down, and barreled into my chest, tackling me. We hit the ground together and then my momentum rolled me over her, and her face was close enough to mine that our freezing breath intermingled between us. I felt her weight beneath me and something dropped in my stomach as she smiled at me. There was a fraction of a second when I could have slid off of her but didn’t, and then she pushed me off and stood up, brushing the snow off her coat and onto my still-prone body.
We got up and stomped back to the road and continued on. I was wetter and colder than I’d been all night, but we were only a mile from the highway, and from there it was just a quick jog down to the Waffle House.
We started off walking together, the Duke talking about how careful I needed to be about frostbite, and me talking about the lengths I would go to in order to reunite the Duke with her greasy boyfriend, and the Duke kicking me in the calves, and JP calling us both asshats. But after a while, the road started to get snowy again, so I found myself walking on the fairly fresh tire track of what I assumed was that cop car. JP was walking in one of the trails, and me in the other, the Duke a few steps in front of us. “Tobin,” he said out of nowhere. I looked up and he was right next to me, high-stepping through the snow. “Not that I’m necessarily in favor of the idea,” he said, “but I think maybe you like the Duke.”