The bonfire had been a good idea. The smoke smelled sweet coming off the old wood, and the heat sank through Dayva’s coat, through her boots, through her skin, chasing the brittle chill out of her bones. She took a deep breath and rolled her shoulders forward to catch the warmth. Bouncing on her heels, she smiled to herself, happy with how smooth motion felt.
That, she decided, was the worst part about winter – not the dark that crept in too early in the evening and stayed too late in the morning, not the starkness of the trees and the bare ground and the midnight moon – but the cold ache that worked itself into her, starting at her hands and her feet, seeping down inside her lungs. It made her narrower, it made her thin, and she was never quite sure which motion might break her.
She heard Lin’s footsteps behind her, crunching in the scattered stones that bordered the front stair. Dayva didn’t turn to face her until the last moment. The fire beat into her shoulder and her cheeks burned in the cool air.
It was cold outside. Cold enough to chill Deira’s toes through the leather of her boots. She had her coat buttoned tight to her chin, but her cheeks were still numb, and her hair couldn’t keep the chill off her ears. Hands as deep as they could go in her pockets, she walked in short steps, because the ice was slick, and she didn’t want to drag that much air into her lungs. She had her chin tucked into a knit scarf, and her breath held gray in the air.
It was miserable. Like turning to metal in the winter air, picking up the cold, hardening, stiffening, as if she had forgotten she had blood to keep her warm.
But when she got to her door, kicked her boots on the stoop and knocked the wet off herself as best she could, when she opened the door and stepped inside to meet the steady coals in the fireplace, warmth had never been as dear, nor the dark outside seemed so calm.
“This is the sort of place you get homesick for, even when it’s never been home,” Andie said, holding her cup of coffee.
Leah put her handful of strange small coins onto the counter and waved the scarf she was purchasing at the vendor. She had said hello a few moments before, asked how much, and exhausted her vocabulary frighteningly fast. She was holding tight to the word, good-bye so it would still be whole in her mind when she turned to walk away.
The man across the counter pulled the coins into his palm and counted them, smiling as he got the end of the rough stack. Then he handed one back, and nodded to her.