When Snowflakes Fall

By: Tara Wyatt

For Graham. I love you more than an official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.

Chapter 1

December 1

Luke Grayson’s phone buzzed against his chest from its resting place in the front pocket of his flannel shirt. Hefting his hammer from his right hand to his left, he slipped it back into his low-slung tool belt, and then fished his phone out of his pocket, checking the display.

“Hey, Robin. What’s up?” he answered, leaning back against the cabinets he was in the process of installing.

“Hey, Luke.” Her voice was higher than normal, tight and thin.

“What’s wrong?” Robin’s sons were friends with his son, Ethan, and she usually watched Ethan after school. He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, trying to soothe the hot, prickling skin there.

“I’m at the hospital. In the emergency room. With Ethan.”

Luke’s vision narrowed, his grip on his phone like a vise. “What happened?” He could barely swallow, his mouth was so dry, but he managed to get the words out.

“The boys were sliding on ice, and Ethan fell and hit his head. He seems okay, but I thought I’d better bring him in just in case.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Forcing himself to take a deep breath, he ran a hand through his hair and dropped his phone back into his pocket. He scribbled a note to Mrs. Norton, letting her know he’d be back first thing in the morning to finish with her cabinets. He’d promised her he’d have them all mounted by the end of the day today, but he felt confident she wouldn’t give him too much grief. Sometimes the single-dad angle really worked in his favor.

He tossed on his coat and stepped out into the chilly, early December air. Winter already had Cheyenne, Wyoming, tightly in its grip. A light dusting of snow covered his truck, but he didn’t have time to clean it off. The fluff would blow away as soon as he started driving, anyway. Despite the sprinkling of snow, the sun now shone weakly through the clouds, sparkling against the sparse, white flakes.

Key in the ignition, his truck roared to life, and he took off in the direction of the hospital, fighting against the urge to speed. If he got pulled over, he’d be stuck by the side of the road trying to plead his way out of a ticket instead of on his way to make sure Ethan really was okay. He knew he’d be on edge until he could see his son with his own two eyes. Ever since Angela had left five years ago, it had just been him and his little man. His little man, who had somehow become a smart, funny, loudmouthed, amazing third grader.

His foot weighed a bit heavier on the gas pedal.

He pulled into the parking lot and cut the ignition, taking a second to force in a deep breath, closing his eyes and trying to calm down. It would only upset Ethan if he thought Luke was scared. Ethan was still young enough to believe wholeheartedly in the infallibility of his dad, and Luke didn’t want to do anything to take that away from him.

The sliding glass doors of the emergency room whooshed open, and after stopping at the reception desk, he was directed down a hall to one of the small, curtained-off partitions. At the sound of his son’s voice, talking about the various kinds of Pokémon, he flung back the thin, blue curtain. He closed the distance between himself and where his son lay on a stretcher in a single stride. Without a word, he gathered Ethan to him in a strong hug.

He released him gently and held him away, his eyes roaming over his son. “What happened? Are you okay?”

Ethan tried to wriggle out of Luke’s hold. “I slipped. I’m fine,” he answered, drawing the word out on a long, exasperated sigh.

Stroking a hand over Ethan’s hair, Luke turned his attention to Robin, who was sitting in a plastic chair on the other side of the stretcher. “Thanks for looking after him. I really appreciate it.”

“Not a problem. Better safe than sorry, right?” She gathered her purse from the floor and slung it over her shoulder. “Ryan’s looking after the boys, and I need to get supper going. You okay if I head home? The nurse said the pediatrician would be in to check him out shortly.”

He shot her a grateful smile. “It’s fine. You go ahead. Thanks again, Robin.”