Snowflake Strikes Again
Silence...except for the ticking of the hall clock and the hum of the refrigerator...
"GRAN!... Where the hell are you?" Luke Snyder slammed the front door behind him, his white face and worried eyes belying the strident sound of his voice. Suddenly, his grandmother's garbled message asking him to come home - passed on from a slightly confused secretary, who hadn't actually been able to tell him much of anything other than that she'd ‘sounded stressed' - took on a whole new meaning. He knew his gran; she wouldn't call him at work unless it was an absolute emergency. In fact, she never called his office because she knew he checked his mobile messages regularly; the messages she did leave tended to be shopping lists and instructions for errands; they didn't ever require him to answer - just to obey.
Luke made a thorough sweep of the downstairs, his eyes darting from room to room, his panic escalating. Where the fuck could she be? It wasn't as though her health allowed her to travel very far without help, for fuck's sake! He tried to remain calm as he took the stairs two at a time, striving to keep the fear from his voice as he continued to call out. If his gran were able to hear him, he didn't want to add to the fear that she was probably already feeling. She was all he had, goddammit!
It didn't take long to determine that the house was empty. The garden! Of course, she was bound to be in her favourite place on such a beautiful afternoon. Luke was almost to the bottom of the stairs when the front door opened and his gran stepped into the hallway.
"Gran!" The feeling of relief was almost overwhelming. "Are you okay? Are you hurt? Where've you been, for God's sake?" Luke couldn't get the words out fast enough, his heart beating frantically as he swept her into his arms and hugged her to him. "I was so worried when I was told about your call. What happened?"
"Luke. Luke, dear! You're crushing me," his gran breathed out, laughing shakily as he let her go and stepped back, his hands still holding on to her arms, his eyes ranging across her face to assure himself that she was okay. Luke reached up to cup her soft cheek gently, his heart in his eyes as spoke softly.
"I was so worried when Amanda told me you called. You never call the office. I knew it had to be an emergency. What happened? Why did you need me?" He smiled as his gran's hand came up to pat his cheek affectionately and leaned into her touch slightly.
"You are such a good boy, Luke. I knew you'd be as worried as me when Snowflake didn't come home. Now you're here, we can both go and look for him, yes?" She started to turn back towards the door, clutching Luke's hand to pull him with her.
"Wait. What? Snowflake? That's the emergency?" Luke spluttered as his gran turned back to face him. "Snowflake is the reason you called me at work and I rushed home in a panic?" He took a deep breath, stemming the anger he could feel bubbling up inside him as he took in the almost childlike look of hurt on his grandmother's face. Her eyes wide, lips trembling slightly, her voice hitched as she explained,
"Snowflake is all I have when you're not here with me, Luke. I haven't seen him since this morning. You know that's not like him. Something must have happened." She paused, her breath catching on a tiny sob, "I can't lose him; he's all I have left of you grandfather. He brought us together, you know?" Guilt flooding through him, Luke stepped forward and gently enfolded his grandmother back into his arms. She felt so frail as he stroked her hair and waited for her to calm herself. Her confusion over the Snowflakes of past and present told him more than anything how truly upset she was; it was unusual for her to mix up the original Snowflake - matchmaker extraordinaire, so family legend went - with the current reincarnation.
"It's okay, Gran. You did right to call me." Luke kept his voice low and soothing as he continued, "Together, we'll find Snowflake in no time, alright?" He pulled back and smiled at her as she looked tearfully back. "Come on, then. No time to lose. Detective Snyder is now on the case of the missing cat." Tears were forgotten as she giggled like a schoolgirl and they were both laughing as they left the house together.
Several minutes later, they stood opposite their house, having taken a left-hand turn at the gate and walked the length of the street in that direction, crossing over the road at the other end and continuing back. It was a slow process, as Luke's gran couldn't walk very fast, but it gave Luke a chance to look carefully in each garden and show her that he was taking his detective duties very seriously. He kept up a stream of light-hearted chatter in order to keep her spirits up and stop her worrying.
"We've done half the road, Gran. Do you want to go in and rest for a while before we carry on? I could carry on alone if you want." Luke was genuinely concerned that she might be tiring. Before she could reply, however, a plaintive cry came from somewhere close by. He turned, trying to pinpoint exactly where it was coming from.
"Did you hear that, Luke? Snowflake...Sno-owfla-ake?" Eagerly, Luke's gran looked around, trying to locate the missing cat as she singsonged his name once more. The pitiful ‘miaow' came again, louder this time, and obviously coming from somewhere above them. Both looked up, but it was Luke who spotted the tiny white face looking out from amongst the branches of a rather large tree. He pointed,
"There, Gran. Over on the left - can you see him?"
"Oh, Luke. My poor little Snowflake. He's stuck - he'll never get down from there on his own." She clutched his arm, as if to emphasise the seriousness of the situation. "You're going to have to call the fire brigade, Luke." Her tone was the no-nonsense, don't argue with me when I tell you to do something, one he recognised from his childhood. But he wasn't a child any more, and he was damned if he was going to be forced into calling out the emergency services for a cat, for fuck's sake!
"I am not calling the fire brigade out, Gran. Snowflake managed to get up there on his own - I'm pretty sure he can get himself down again. All we have to do is wait - he'll come down when he's hungry." He started to turn away...
"Please, Luke," his gran's voice was emotional, but so quiet, "he's been gone since this morning. What if he can't get down?" Face turned away, Luke took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. There was no way he could ignore the plea in his grandmother's voice - and she knew it - and she knew that he knew it. Godammit! He took a deep breath before turning back to look at her.
"I'll climb up and get him, okay? How hard can it be?" Luke swallowed nervously as he tipped his head back to look up at the cat, which was now licking a paw and washing its face nonchalantly. "I just need to check it's alright with the owner befo..." his voice trailed off as he suddenly realised whose tree this was. Oh my God! There was no way he could knock on that door. No fucking way! Hadn't he humiliated himself enough already?
Luke stood for a moment, staring up at the cat, but lost in the memory of twenty-six days past; an ordinary day, much the same as every other ordinary day of his very ordinary life...until everything changed. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, he'd fallen in love at first sight and had his heart broken, all in the space of less than five minutes.
Luke had arrived home from work in the early afternoon. He didn't have to go in on a Saturday, but he never really had much else to do, especially if his gran had plans of her own. He knew that probably made him sound pathetic, but he didn't really care.
As Luke had been locking his car door, his attention was caught by the sound of very male, and very sexy, laughter coming from the empty property across the street. Okay, so now not quite so empty, apparently. Coming around the side of the house was the most beautiful man Luke had ever seen. Tall and dark, his laugh rolled over Luke like warm honey and he felt his heartbeat quicken. Before he knew it, their eyes had caught and locked and he was gazing into the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. He was drowning; suffocating; his breath caught in his throat and he could feel his face suffusing with colour; he couldn't control this reaction, even if he wanted to; and he didn't want to. Without volition, Luke's feet began to move, his body drawn towards this unknown man.
Suddenly, however, the moment was gone. The dark-haired Adonis broke the connection to turn away as a voice called out,
"Noah! This place is fantastic! I can't wait to get started on that jungle of a garden." A petite woman bounced down the steps, her actions mimicking the enthusiasm of her voice as she threw herself into the stranger's arms and hugged him. He hugged back...and Luke felt sick. He backed away, unable to take his eyes from the couple in front of him, the masochist in him drinking in every nuance of the scene. It was obvious that these two were together...in every sense of the word...and he couldn't get away fast enough. Would he never learn? Was he always doomed to be attracted to straight guys? Since his last total disaster of a foray into the world of attraction, Luke had withdrawn into himself, convinced that he was born to be alone. It looked like no further proof was needed.
So...Luke had spent the past twenty-five days avoiding his new neighbour - Noah. At the most, he'd said ‘hi' when their paths crossed, but made it plain that he had no time to stop and speak on the occasions that Noah looked like he might want to start a conversation. For some reason, he always seemed to be leaving or entering his house at the same time as Luke. Fate really was a cruel bitch. However, he never intended to be trapped in those beautiful blue eyes again if he could possibly help it.
Luke took a deep breath as he opened the gate and moved towards the steps.
He didn't know if Noah was home - and prayed fervently that he wasn't. Then he'd be able to climb the tree, rescue that damned cat and be gone. Turning back for a moment, he spoke to his gran, as it seemed she was about to follow him.
"You stay there, Gran. There's no need for you to come up the steps. I'll only be a few moments." He was raising his hand to knock on the door when it was suddenly opened from within, making him step back and almost miss his footing. He blushed hotly as he regained his balance and looked straight up into the eyes he'd sworn never to look into again. Fuck! Fuck! His mouth dried instantly and he stood there, totally drowning in the blue...again.
"Hi, there," smiled Noah, who obviously had no such problems with his voice. Its warm cadence reached out and enveloped Luke, who continued to stare. "What brings you to my door?" Luke made a conscious effort to swallow past the lump in his throat before he even attempted a reply, and he tore his eyes away, glancing down at his shifting feet.
"Uh...we're really sorry to bother you, but, um...my grandmother's cat is stuck in your tree and I...uh... was wondering if you'd mind if I tried to get him down?" Luke risked a glance upwards, his eyes skittering away quickly as Noah's smile widened.
"Sure. Of course you can. Do you need any help? I'm pretty handy with a ladder, you know? I'm a fireman, so I've had plenty of practice." Before Luke could form a suitable response, his mind stuttering to a halt as he pictured the man in front of him in a fireman's uniform, his gran answered from below.
"I told Luke we should call the fire brigade but he wouldn't let me. Snowflake could have been home safe and sound by now." She sounded slightly aggrieved at this and Luke turned to make a retort. However, Noah got there first, saying,
"Luke's quite right, actually. This isn't really the sort of emergency situation that they should be wasting their time on. Not..." he continued, correctly interpreting her look of utter indignation, "...that this isn't an emergency. It's just, maybe, one we can deal with ourselves. Okay?" He brought his gaze back to Luke and winked deliberately. "So...you're gonna climb that very tall tree and rescue the poor, defenceless pussy cat, are you?" he drawled. "Maybe you should join the fire brigade, huh? I'm pretty sure I have a uniform that would fit you, if you want." Luke, who was trying so hard not to look into the face of this beautiful man, thought he had to be hallucinating the flirtatious note in Noah's voice. Surely this straight guy hadn't just offered to dress him up? Had he? Before he could fully process this thought and formulate some sort of casual reply, he was interrupted.
"Luke, dear? Are you ready? I think Snowflake looks like he might fall at any moment. Please hurry. He must be starving by now." Luke glanced apologetically at Noah.
"I'm coming, Gran. Snowflake'll be home before you know it." Halfway down the steps, he turned to look up. "Thank you...?" There was an unspoken question in his voice.
"Noah. Noah Mayer at your service..." he paused deliberately, "...Luke Snyder."
"So...do you need an assistant, Mister Rescuer? I think I have just the right tool to help you." He grinned disarmingly as Luke's eyes widened comically, his mouth falling open into an ‘o' of stunned disbelief. Oh my God! Noah Mayer was openly flirting with him! Suddenly, Luke was filled with a feeling of pure hope, of possibility - something he hadn't felt in such a long time - and he smiled, openly and blindingly. In response, Noah blinked and it was his turn now to look stunned, before he, too, smiled in return, just as open and unguarded.
"Luke, dear?" Both Luke and Noah were pulled from each other's eyes by the querulous sound of the elderly lady they had forgotten existed.
"Sorry, Gran." Luke bounded to her side and looked up at Snowflake, still perched on one of the topmost branches. Suddenly, his fear of heights was a thing of the past and he was filled with a sense of fearlessness. He felt like he could fly right at this moment and he hoped the feeling never went away.
"Wait, Luke," Noah called out. "I really do have the right tool for this job. Just wait there." He disappeared into the house, returning several moments later and bounding down the steps.
"Right! First rule of every fireman, in uniform or out..." he leered lasciviously, waggling his eyebrows suggestively at Luke, "...always use the right tools for the job." From his pocket, he produced a can opener and a tin of cat food. Grinning, he proceeded to open the can as noisily as he could. Once opened, he shook off the lid and placed the open tin on top of the garden wall.
"Here, Snowflake," Noah called in a singsong voice. "Dinner time, boy," and he flipped the can opener open and closed a couple of times. Before either Luke or his Gran had time to comment, Snowflake was daintily leaping from branch to branch and landing effortlessly on the wall as if he'd done it a million times before.
"Snowflake!" cried Luke's gran in obvious relief. "You are such a naughty boy. What am I going to do with you, hmmm?" She picked him up, cradling him gently in one arm whilst holding the tin in her other hand. She wasn't about to stop him from having his reward, now. She turned to Noah, beaming brightly. "I don't know how to thank you, young man. Where did you learn how to do that?"
"Tricks of the trade, ma'am. And you are very welcome." He doffed an imaginary cap, smiling as he executed a small bow. "Always happy to be of service." Luke laughed quietly.
"Oh, yeah. I just bet you are!"
"Well...I'd better get this naughty boy back home. I think he's had enough excitement for one day. I know I have. Are you coming home, Luke?" She looked enquiringly at Luke, who turned to look at Noah.
"Actually," interrupted Noah, holding Luke's gaze, "I was going to ask Luke if, maybe he could show me around? I've only been here for about a month and..."
"Twenty-six days," muttered Luke, before blushing becomingly, realising exactly what he'd just given away. Noah smiled gently,
"...twenty-six days," he corrected himself, "and I haven't really had time to get to know the place yet. If you want to, that is?" Noah was suddenly not quite as confident as he had been.
"I'd love to." Luke smiled, his eyes shining.
"Well...you boys go and have fun and I'll see you both later. Luke? Be sure to bring Noah back for dinner, you hear?" Luke grinned widely.
"Yes, Gran." Suddenly he was laughing and he swept her up into a hug, Snowflake and all. She laughed girlishly and kissed him loudly on the cheek.
"Go on with you. I'll see you both later," and she was off across the street, talking to Snowflake as she went. Luke watched her go, before Noah grabbed his hand and pulled him up the steps.
"See you later, Gran," he called out breathlessly.
"Don't worry, Em. I'll have him home in time for dinner," laughed Noah, as he pulled Luke through the door and into the house.
"Hang on a minute. How do you know my Gran's name?" The door shut on the answer to that question.
As she reached her own door, Em kissed Snowflake gently on the top of his snowy head.
"You've gone and done it again, my lovely boy. Snowflake - matchmaker extraordinaire - strikes again." She was still laughing as the door closed behind them.
Just in case y'all didn't notice - I shamelessly stole Snowflake (aka Snowball) and the can opener trick from Steve Martin's classic movie, ‘Roxanne'.
"Irony? We haven't had any irony here since about, uh, '83, when I was the only practitioner of it. And I stopped because I was tired of being stared at."
I really wish I could have got this line in. Oh, well...maybe next time!!!