A boy learns why sometimes it is better to protect one's self.
The crunch of fresh snow under bare feet was much more satisfying than the one achieved in boots or shoes. The snow flakes drifted lazily onto my arms and stuck there – little pockets of cold on my warm body. I walked in the freezing temperatures and looked at the pristine beauty forming all around me. Short bursts of wind kicked up white dust into dunes against the brick walls of my dorm. It was a short walk to the bench outside, where I sat down and lit a cigarette. The crackle of burning tobacco was a worthy companion as I watched the people walk by. They trudged through the snow, bundled up to their fragile ears in wool and synthetic jackets. Their noses barely poked out from under their scarves and hoods. I judged them. They had never felt the press of fresh powder on their skin. They had never ran outside naked and made snow angels. I told myself that I was more free and open than they would ever be.
As I took a deep drag on my cigarette, I heard a noise off to my right. I shouldn't say I heard it. I sensed it. I couldn't tell you what it sounded like, but I was acutely aware of it. I turned my head and saw a girl standing on the bench next to me. Her head was cocked like a puppy's, and the tassels on her flapped wool hat hung around her face. I opened my mouth to speak, but she started first.
“Are your ears cold?”
“Nope. Aren't yours sweltering, under that smothering wool hat?”
She giggled. Her laugh was not beautiful, but it was light and heady. It was a very self-conscious laugh. I chuckled. I didn't think about it. I didn't even realize I was doing it, but it was a chuckle from deep within my chest. A genuine amusement.