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The Way the Mind Works
The car pulled into the empty parking lot, and a dark mountain unfolded slowly out of the night sky. It was covered in powdered white snow that glowed brightly against the surrounding black. It stretched so high, it appeared to touch the tiny sliver of silver moon hanging above.
“Ready?” Sam asked. I nodded slowly. Of course I was ready. We exited the car, and the cool night air stung my face. I walked around to the back of the car to help Sam get the toboggan out of the trunk. We giggled nervously at the sight of each other. He looked ridiculous, and I knew I must look absurd, too. Each of us was dressed in at least three shirts, two pairs of pants, and puffy coats to combat the bitterly cold air. He pulled the toboggan out of the trunk and lifted it over his head as he began the walk towards the towering mountain ahead. I followed a few feet behind.
“Do you want help?” I asked, knowing he wouldn’t let me assist him.
“No, it’s okay,” he answered predictably.
Something felt different. We had been sledding together before, but there had always been other people accompanying us. Now it was just the two of us and a vast mountain. I was careful to keep distance between us as we continued forward, afraid of giving away my true feelings.
As we approached the chain linked fence surrounding the mountain, a small propped up whiteboard came into view. I bent down so my nose was almost touching the sign. “No… something… sledding… something else,” I read laughing. “It’s too dark. I can’t read it,” I told Sam. “Should we go back?”
“No, we can’t read the sign. For all we know it could say, ‘No daytime sledding.’ I’m sure they love nighttime sledding,” he improvised. I was almost sure the sign forbid nighttime sledding, and I was already shivering despite my many layers of clothing. I knew we should probably go home, but I was so eager to spend time with him, so eager for an excuse to be as close to him as I would have to be when we shared the sled.
“Okay, let’s go.” He dropped the toboggan so he could drag it by its string, and we began running up the mountain. The powdery snow flattened quickly under my feet to reveal the thick layer of crusty ice underneath. We raced up the first slope giggling and gasping for breath.
“Should we go from here?” I asked.
“No, let’s go higher!”
“But I’m scared of heights,” I told him.
“Okay, we’ll go from here then.”
He spun the toboggan around so that the front of it was facing downwards. It was a long wooden plank with raised slats to separate one seat from another. A piece of red Styrofoam meant to cushion the hard wood had come detached and hung loosely off of the toboggan. Pointing at the sled, Sam asked shyly, “Do you want front or back?”
“I don’t care,” I responded. “Which do you prefer?”
“Either one.” Our timidity and caution with each other was almost painful.
“Okay, I guess I’ll take the back.” If I wasn’t decisive, we would spend all night choosing who would sit where. I sat towards the back of the sled, craving the moment when he would be in front of me and I would have an excuse to put my arms around him. He sat down and placed his legs on top of the small ledge on the front of the sled. Moving forward cautiously, I circled my arms around him. I didn’t care if the sled ever moved or if we ever got down the mountain. I could’ve sat there all night holding him, cherishing the feeling of his body so close to mine.
“Ready?” he asked.
No. “Mmhmm,” I responded. My feet lifted up, and the sled began to move forward. The air was cool and crisp with a hint of wood smoke. Wind rushed past me stinging my cheeks and whipping my hair out behind me. We sped down the mountain, loose snow flying into our faces. My arms tightened around him, and I began to laugh uncontrollably. I felt like I was flying - flying to another world where it was a possible reality that Sam felt the way I did. I wished the journey down would never end, but the sled began to slow as we reached the end of the slope.
“Let’s go again!” I shouted quickly, afraid that if I waited too long he would want to leave. I leaped up and reached for the string of the toboggan, but his hand stopped me. “I’ll carry it,” he said shyly. Giggling at his chivalry, I began running back up the slope of the mountain.
“Should we go a little farther this time?” he asked.
“Let’s go from here one more time; then we can go higher.” The idea of starting from any higher up the mountain terrified me, but I hoped the promise of going further next time would make him want to keep sledding. I took the front of the sled this time and reveled in the new feeling of his arms around me. We flew down the mountain once more, and I found myself laughing wildly again. I wished for the ride to never end, for him to never remove his arms from around my waist. The toboggan soon slowed down as we reached flat ground.
We came to a gradual stop, and Sam kept his arms around me. Wondering if this was intentional, I considered leaning back so that he would have to continue holding me. But what if he pulled away? Maybe it was too soon; we’d only been friends for a few months. Just do it, I told myself. As I leaned back, I felt him lean back with me so that he was lying on the ground, and my head rested on his stomach. He smelled of Old Spice and fresh laundry, and his body felt warm against mine despite the frigid air.
A breeze picked up then, scattering stray bits of snow and tousling my hair. I looked up at the stars scattered above and was amazed by their brilliance. I was awestruck by the intricate patterns, the pure night air, and the closeness of Sam’s body to mine. The outline of dark mountains formed a backdrop that set off the stars’ radiance perfectly. “Wow,” I breathed. “It’s so beautiful.”
“So are… umm…” Sam’s voice trailed off.
“What?” I asked quietly.
“No, never mind. It’s too early to say that.”
“No, just tell me,” I pleaded.
“I was just gonna say, ‘So are you,’” he said softly. An insuppressible smile crept over my lips as I took in his words. Taking a chance, I placed my gloved hand in his and squeezed gently. When I felt his fingers return the squeeze, my smile stretched to an uncontainable grin, and I was thankful that he could not see my face and the pathetic jubilation it revealed.
“Do you think we could readjust?” he asked. “My leg is starting to fall asleep.”
“Sure,” I responded. Readjust? Was that his subtle way of saying he didn’t want to do this? Or was it really simply that his leg was falling asleep? I moved off of the sled and lay on my back in the snow. This would allow him to dictate what happened next. The snow felt hard under me, and the cold seeped through to my skin as if my many layers of clothing were paper thin. Sam lay down next to me, and I was relieved to feel his renewed presence next to mine. I sat up briefly to adjust my sock inside my boot, and when I lay back down, Sam’s arm was stretched out waiting for my shoulders to return to the ground. My body lay astounded for a moment before I inched cautiously closer to him, until a moonbeam couldn’t have fit between us. Throwing caution to the wind, I turned onto my side and wrapped my arm around him. When he didn’t protest, I glanced up to find a soft smile playing on his lips, his gaze glued to mine. Everything I felt was reflected in the blue-green of his eyes. I could’ve stared into those eyes for days.
We lay under the stars for what felt like hours, several moonlit nights, forever. “Should we go?” I asked him, worried that he would be in trouble if he went home too late.
“Probably,” he answered, “but I don’t want to.” He paused. “It’s interesting the way the mind works. I’m freezing, you’re shivering, and I know it’s past midnight, but something makes me want to keep lying here with you.” We shivered simultaneously, and our arms tightened around each other. White snow gleamed all around us, and the night’s darkness engulfed us, binding us together.