A Long Way From Snow


Fran Pelletier felt anything but festive. The end of 2022 was in sight, but when she thought about Christmas and New Years, all she could feel was lost and lonely. Her junior year of high school hadn’t started out particularly well. Back in September, she’d been working three hours after school every day and as many hours as she could get on the weekend. Even so, what she earned got sucked away by an ever-increasing pile of bills thanks to circumstances beyond her control.

She kicked a rock, swearing when it refused to break free from the muddy path she was on, bruising her toe. “Stupid, cheap sneakers.” It seemed like everything in her life was stupid, cheap, or unfair.


Fran remembered her first experience with heartbreak and betrayal, something her classmates back in Simonton, Maine quickly forgot, an impossibility for her. It had been in November two years ago, just before Thanksgiving. Her father, who she loved and could confide in, left their apartment, saying he needed cigarettes and would be back in time to watch Jeopardy with her. Most weekday nights they’d sit on the living room couch and try to one up each other by answering the most questions correctly. Fran lost consistently until she started reading trivia books from the public library.

That night, she waited through the show, a half hour news program and two cop dramas before starting to worry. Her mother was no help, having already passed out in the bedroom her parents shared. By eleven that evening, she’d dressed as warmly as possible, grabbed a flashlight and gone in search of her father.

She found their beat up Chevy pick up parked near the bus station. A note on the seat was addressed to her.

“Dear Sunshine,

I don’t expect you to understand or forgive me. I know you’re aware that things between your mother and I have been bad for a long time. If I were a stronger, or better man, I would take you with me, but I’m not and am taking the coward’s way out. I left a bag for you in the garage under my tool chest. Keep it for emergencies because I’m sure they’ll come fast and furious. If I had any hope your mother would snap out of her drunkenness, I might try to stay, but I have no illusions. Maybe I’ll get lucky and make enough to come and get you, but I don’t think either of us should hold our breath.


Fran had no license, but knew how to drive, so she waited until her tears dried and drove home.

She hoped her father’s absence might shake her mother up. After two weeks, she realized holding out hope for either parent to come to their senses was an exercise in futility. What little money remained in their bank account was being drained by her mother’s increasing alcohol consumption.

That was when Fran realized she had to be the adult. She hit all the businesses in town she thought might be willing to hire her. Several turned her away rather abruptly and it didn’t take being a rocket scientist to realize she was the victim of her parent’s dysfunctional reputations.

She was down to two options when a very compassionate woman offered to give her a trial as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant. It only paid minimum wage, but Fran would have the option of taking home any food sent back by a customer. Ms. Chen, the owner, always seemed to find something extra to tuck in that day’s doggie bag, so Fran was in no danger of starvation.

Covering the rent and utilities, however, was a real challenge, but Fran managed for almost two years before disaster struck. In late August, her mother, now more skeleton than human, got behind the wheel and ran a stop sign, T-boning a Toyota driven by an elderly woman. Her mother’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. That, coupled with the injuries to the driver, resulted in a two year jail term, and Fran’s worst nightmare.

At first, it looked like she might be placed in a foster care situation, or an adolescent group home, either of which would allow her to continue working. Then, out of the blue, her social worker announced that Fran would be moving to a small town in North Carolina to live with her mother’s older sister, an aunt she’d never heard of.


So here she was, a barely tolerated addition to a household where all the kids were grown and on their own. She felt resentment, disguised as family obligation, the moment she stepped into the airport accompanied by her case worker. The woman had met briefly with her relatives before wishing Fran the best and hurrying to catch a return flight.

It might be a new state and new school, but the same feeling of loneliness and less-than enveloped Fran as she stopped to watch a vee of geese high overhead. Wish I was one of them she thought. It wasn’t that her aunt and uncle treated her badly. They were polite and made certain she had food and decent clothing, but they had no interest in getting to know her, nor was either a willing listener.

School wasn’t any better. There were just over two hundred students there and almost everyone seemed to have known each other since they got out of diapers. Extracurricular activities were limited and since Fran wasn’t athletic and the idea of acting in plays terrified her, she’d learned to smile politely and keep her head down.

It was the next to last Saturday in December and she was probably one of a handful of juniors and seniors who were not going to the Christmas dance. That was a painful choice. Fran loved dancing and hadn’t missed a school dance in Simonton since junior high, but the last thing she wanted to do was go somewhere and stand against the wall while everyone else had a good time and she felt miserable.

This was why she was walking alone by the swamp bordered by what passed for a walking trail. It was half a mile from her aunt’s home and the only spot where she felt her homesickness ebb. It reminded her of a place in Simonton where a similar wetland bordered an abandoned railroad bed that had been taken over by several conservation groups and converted into a fifty mile multi-use trail.

The one she was on now ran less than a mile, but distance didn’t matter to Fran. She came here to listen to nature and vent to whatever creature stayed still long enough so she could.


The girl intrigued him and had since the moment he’d first seen her entering the high school. Each time he saw her after that, his pulse and breathing spiked. He tried to avoid staring at her so he wouldn’t be exposed. The last thing he needed was to be caught.

He’d been walking aimlessly not wanting to go home, or end up having a conversation with someone he didn’t particularly like. It happened frequently if he allowed himself to slow his pace while near the center of town. Sometimes, he resorted to using his unique talent when he really wanted to escape such a situation, but using it too often was risky.

When he saw her start down the path, he hesitated, but this might be his best chance, so he followed at a safe distance.


Fran winced. Her injured big toe was beginning to throb. Maybe she should give up and return to the house. Had talking to God’s creatures accomplished anything? Despite her pain and sense of despair, she sat on her favorite rock and looked around. She carried the small bag her dad had left her. Fran had never opened it, preferring to imagine its contents, but something had compelled her to bring it with her this evening. She opened the bag. Inside was a handmade card. She held it up to the light and read “this entitles the bearer to one wish. Use wisely.” Lotta good this is going to do me, Fran thought, but despite her cynicism, a tiny spark of hope flickered inside her.

A frog sat near her feet, half in and half out of the water. She bent over and started talking. “I bet you have a tough life, eh, frog? Warm sun until you dig into the mud and hibernate. Plenty of bugs and a lady frog to entertain on moonlit nights with your unique croaking. Too bad you aren’t that prince in the fairy tale who was changed by the evil witch. Then I could kiss you and we’d dance the night away. Who am I fooling? This is going to be another empty, lonely Christmas.” She bent her head down so the frog wouldn’t see her sadness.

“I might not be your prince, and you wouldn’t like it if we did kiss, but if you turn around, you might find a better option.”

Fran’s head shot up and she looked at the frog warily. “What did you say?” When she heard a scraping sound behind her, she stood and whirled around. A boy was watching her from a spot on the back edge of the path. She had seen him at school and remembered thinking he looked kind and interesting, but when she’d tried to catch his eye, he’d turned and looked in another direction. “How?” She wasn’t sure how to phrase the question in her head.

The boy smiled and shrugged. “I’m not good at athletics, or much else that’s cool, so I decided to learn something unique. I’ve been a ventriloquist since I was ten. I don’t use it much unless I’m by myself, because people make me nervous, but ever since I saw you the first day of school, I’ve been trying to be brave enough to talk to you. When you started talking to the frog, I decided this was my chance.”

Fran smiled as she wiped the last tear from her cheek. “I see you at school, but I don’t know your name.” She walked over and extended her hand. “Hello, I’m Fran Pelletier and you are?”

“Brian Dawson, and the pleasure is mine. Shall we walk while we get to know each other?”

Fran nodded and impulsively took his hand, stealing a glance to see what his response was. Brian was blushing, but grinning like a fool, so she didn’t let go as they walked together toward the other end of the swamp.

Fran looked up as the first star appeared overhead. Maybe this is my Christmas present, she thought, unaware that Brian was thinking the exact same thing.


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