Naomi surveyed the frost-burnt Boston fern that hung from the hook screwed into the porch roof. Her neglect had caused its bushy leaves to shrivel and turn black. Now that the plant was dead, Naomi felt guilty.
What to do with the dead plant? She loved to hike the deer trails there and her favorite stop was an old oak tree. Itís largest limb swooped to the ground and leveled out making a perfect bench seat. Naomi drank many a thermos of coffee there. Burying the fern under that limb would give her an excuse to enjoy another trek.
Hurriedly, she dressed and packed a lunch, a peanut butter sandwich and an Oreo cookie. As an afterthought, she dropped two more cookies into the bag. Since sheíd turned 40, sheíd noticed an extra pound on her frame every couple months, but she didnít care. What man would fall in love with her now? She had her farm, raised and sold horses. She was content.
Naomi guessed it to be near nine a.m. The early autumn days were still warm. Everything outdoors wore a bright mantel of frost. By lunch time the flamboyant white would be gone.
Using a camping spade, Naomi dug a deep hole under the bench-like limb. Her breath puffed white as she exerted herself at her task. She placed the fern in the mouth of the soil mouth.
She packed the dirt down and stood, brushing herself off. All was quiet, save a chipmunk voicing irritation at her presence. A noise drifted to her. Maybe an animal shaking a tree branch, or quietly pushing through the undergrowth. She expected to see a deer step out to drink from the stream. When she heard the sound again, it brought with it a shower of frost from above. Figuring on a squirrel, her gaze traveled up an oak. A man sat on the highest limb, staring back at her with pale blue eyes. He shifted, causing more frost to rain down on her.
Naomi ran like the Devil himself was at her heels. By the time she arrived at the farm, panting, she realized that she had left her spade and good thermos behind.
The following morning, instead of her usual donut for breakfast, Naomi prepared a boiled egg and a slice of dry toast. With a warm coffee mug in her hands, she stepped outside. On the porch steps sat her thermos, lunch, and spade.
And a white rose.
Naomi delicately picked up the rose. The whole flower was fashioned out of frosted ice, every petal in exquisite detail.
The other items were coated in heavy frost. He mustíve returned her belongs during the night
Every morning after that, Naomi discovered an icy gift on her porch steps, from bachelorís buttons to a grass basket full of leaves, gourds, and apples. All the gifts were either solid ice sculptures or the real items, frozen stiff. She began putting the icy treasures in the deep freeze, for they were too beautiful to let them melt away.
Should this attention from a strange man worry her? Unless the fellow did something to cause alarm, maybe she should just sit back and enjoy the attention.
Late October, she developed a severe case of the flu and didnít leave her bed for days. Naomiís hired hand, Fred, enlisted his wife to clean Naomiís house and cook a kettle of soup that would last a few days. As the woman prepared to leave that afternoon, she checked in on Naomi and inquired about the array of frost-burnt autumn flora outside.
"Getting ready to make fall arrangements for the house when the flu got the best of ya?" she surmised.
Later, weak and shaking, Naomi crept to the front window and peered out. The porch was littered with bouquets and icy gifts.
Would her admirer think he had offended her because she hadnít been taking his gifts inside? Naomi hoped not. She enjoyed the attention, and secretly, she hoped to find out more about him.
Her head spun dizzily. She noticed Fred had built a fire in the hearth. The heaters were on low in all the rooms. So why were her teeth chattering?
Starting back to bed, Naomi fell face first on the braided rug.
Sunshine on her face awakened her. Naomi glanced around the bedroom. The heaters were out and there was ice on the insides of the windows. Someone had placed blankets over her, pulling them up to her chin.
The clang of a pot and the rattle of ceramic drifted down the hall. Shortly, the tread of feet paused at her door. Too ill to move, Naomiís heart beat expectantly. Then she remembered Fredís wife and relaxed.
When the door opened, pale blue eyes gazed in at her. Naomi could only stare.
"Hello," he said, "Iím glad youíre finally awake. I found you on the floor suffering from a high fever. It passed during the night." His odd blue eyes noted her frightened expression. "Do you feel like eating, or maybe some coffee?"
When she didnít respond, he added, "I wonít hurt you. When I stopped seeing you come out to get your gifts on the porch, I looked inside and saw you lying on the floor."
Naomiís gaze raked over his body. He possessed a tall, willowy frame. His platinum blond hair was long, and his fair complexion made his eyes intensely blue. Faded jeans clung to long legs that ended in a pair of simple brown suede boots. A white, long-sleeved tunic of soft suede covered his torso. Strangely, his odd attire suited him.
"I must apologize for the cold rooms," he murmured as he pulled a chair next to her bed. "I tend to get very ill if the temperature gets over fifty." He sat down. "Feel like a little food?"
She nodded. The man reached behind her shoulders and gently slid her into a semi-sitting position. He patiently spoon-fed her soup, and when the coffee cooled, he slipped his hand behind her head so she could sip the brew.
Naomi watched as he placed everything back on the tray. She noticed his lashes were pale, almost nonexistent. His aristocratic nose was perched between high cheekbones. He wasnít handsome, but he had a lean, woodsy appeal.
"Whatís youró" Naomi croaked painfully.
He fixed that uncanny blue gaze on her and smiled showing perfect teeth.
A few days later, Naomi was feeling better and moving around for short spells. Jack took excellent care of her. He turned the heat up in her room and kept a fire in the hearth. True to his word, Jack stayed in the cool kitchen or out on the freezing porch.
A fire snapped in the hearth as she passed through the living room. Peeping out the door, she spied Jack perched on the porch railing, watching the horses out in the pasture. Hurriedly, Naomi bundled up and joined him outside.
Jackís glacial gaze smiled upon her as she settled next to him. He offered her another rose fashioned of ice; it glittered prettily in the weak morning sun.
"I donít suppose the rest of your name is Frost, is it?" Naomi questioned softly.
He didnít answer, merely watched her closely, a faint smile upon his lips.
"Show me," she murmured, leaning into him.
Naomi expected him to be as cold as the frost his magical touch produced, but found instead that he was wonderfully warm. She snuggled deeper into his arms, feeling him relax, and noticed that a sigh of contentment escaped him. Jack kept one arm around her, but turned his other hand palm up. There was a faint shimmer like snow in sunshine, and then a transparent sphere was in his hand. Inside it was Naomiís farm, blanketed in a deep snow.
"It will be a hard winter," Jack breathed into her ear.
"How do you do that?
He shrugged. "I donít know. I only know I have for a very long time."
Jackís chuckle reminded her of a roaring fire on a cold night. "Longer than I care to remember."
Naomi raised her face to him. "I always thought you were a myth."
"Most people do."
"Where do you come from? Where do you go when spring arrives?"
"When warm weather returns, I go north until it is cool enough to suit me," Jack said and favored her with an amused look. "I was born into this world just like you, only I guess the Creator had some unusual plans in store for me."
Watching her breath come out in billowing puffs, Naomi replied, "This is incredible. I mean, how can you be real? How can you be everywhere in this world when autumn arrives?"
His laughter rang out across the lawn. "There are others like myself in this world. Weíre just one of the many mysteries in this universe."
Naomi looked into the cerulean windows of his soul. "Will you stay?"
He plucked a snowflake from the air and placed it on the tip of her nose only to kiss it away. "Until spring arrives, then I must go."
The winter months were hard just as Jack predicted. Fred was snowed in most of the time so Jack helped Naomi with the horses, proving he had a curiously easy way with the creatures. Naomi kept the heat turned down for Jack and wore heavy sweaters in the house.
She unpacked clothes she hadnít worn in ten years. Sheíd dropped all the weight sheíd put on over that time, and it took years off her appearance.
Christmas she and Jack spent together on the window seat, sipping mulled cider and watching the sky dump snow. It was also the night that Naomi took Jack into her bed and discovered a love sultry enough to banish winterís cold breath.
March arrived and to her relief, the weather remained cold and bitter. In town, Naomi shopped for groceries as Jack waited outside listening to folks complain about the lingering cold weather.
Jack was quiet during the ride home. Naomi put their purchases away, then joined him outside.
"Iíve been selfish," he told her.
"I donít understand." Naomiís heart knocked against her ribs.
"Iíve been postponing spring so I could remain here with you." He wouldnít look at her.
She touched his long fair hair, a loverís caress. "You donít want to leave?" Jack favored her with the warm emotion in his wintry eyes.
"When will you go?" Her voice threatened to betray her tight reign on her heart.
"Tomorrow morning," he answered. "Iíll return in the fall."
That night he loved her, melting away the remainder of winter with his warm kiss. The next morning Naomi took her coffee and one Oreo outside and sat on the porch steps. In the spot where Jack always sat was a sprig of fern, its roots in dirt wrapped in a piece of white suede. A note with Jackís sprawling penmanship was slipped inside it. Heíd passed by the place where heíd first seen Naomi. Where sheíd buried the dead fern, he discovered newborn fronds. He would look to see how much it grew when he returned in October.
Naomi sat down on the step and cried as she cradled the little suede package with its tiny green life. She had been privileged to discover a few of the worldís many secrets. She felt a better person because of them. She knew Jack Frostís friendship and love were everlasting.
Everywhere on the farm, water was dripping from melting ice. Looking out over the farm water dripped everywhere. Naomi welcomed the warmth.
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