“Dude…” My friend Troy, part owner at Holiday Brothers’ Bakery, stopped piping blue lines onto white frosted dreidel cupcakes to stare me down. “You want me to make what kind of cake?” He thought it was a bad idea from the start.
Avoiding his gaze, I studied the sequence of Christmas lights twisted into a pine garland scalloped across roughhewn wooden beams overhead—red, blue, yellow, green, orange, red, blue, yellow, green, orange. It wasn’t quite six A.M. and Troy was already hard at work. Though my day normally began two hours before his, I usually didn’t hit up Holiday Brothers’ until around eight. Troy was kind enough to let me in before they opened, for much needed sustenance and warmth after I loaded my delivery truck. Plus, I had a special request. “You heard me,” I said.
“I’m not certain I did.” His fingers left streaks of blue and white when he wiped them down the front of his solid red apron. It was more patriotic than Christmassy. “Maybe if you look me in the eye, Snowman…”
Noah Mann, to someone, sometime during middle school, it had sounded enough like “Snowman” to mark me for life.
“I can’t,” I said, but then I did. “Okay. Picture a pair of childhood sweethearts.”
Troy’s older brother, Spencer, the other half of Holiday Brothers’ Bakery, came in then. “Hey, Noah.” He shook my hand. “I guess brown shorts and bare legs weather is behind us, huh?”
The first brutal winter day had arrived more than two weeks before the official start of the season. I’d barely warmed up from the drive over. The heater in my UPS truck wasn’t the best. Spencer’s frozen hand made me shiver.
“Bundle up out there,” he said.
“He’s a big hairy blond sasquatch, bro. He’ll be fine.” Troy had once referred to me as half Kristoff, half Sven from the movie Frozen.
“We’re picturing childhood sweethearts,” I said to Spencer. “You play, too. What do you see?”
Troy answered first. “A little girl in pig tails, and a little boy handing her a dandelion, like it’s a perfect rose.”
“Same thing, I guess…more or less.”
“And you’re the gay one!” I shook my head. “What about your childhood sweetheart, Spencer? What about mine?”
I thought back to my second first day of school.
* * * *
“You ready for us to go?” my mother asked.
The kindergarten classroom looked like a rainbow had exploded in there. The walls were deep blue, the carpet red. There were three teal bulletin boards with brown and orange paper leaves around their perimeter. The desks were yellow, and the plastic chairs green.
“Jesus. Check out the rack on his teacher.”
I didn’t know what a rack was at age six. I did know enough to be embarrassed by my father when some of the other parents looked over at us. He was way too loud in public. My mom said that a lot, and suddenly, I understood.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I told her.
“Good.” She smiled. “I’ll see you this afternoon, then.” With a kiss atop my head and a sniff of my coconut scented hair, “Mmm,” she said, like always. Then she headed out.
Standing at the door, I watched her walk down the hallway as far as I could see. When I couldn’t see her anymore, I turned to face my new classmates, and promptly burst into tears.
“It’ll be okay. Come here.” The little boy who tried to comfort me spoke like someone older. “There are all kinds of neat games over in the corner.”
His rich, brown eyes were friendly. When he took my hand, I instantly felt better. We didn’t play with the blocks, the toy trucks, the farm set, the doll house, the magnetic letter board, or the tic tac toe rug with large plastic X’s and O’s. We just stood there holding hands, this boy and I, until the teacher, Miss Mahon, told us to take a seat.
“Come on.” He patted my back down low.
Naturally, I sat down right beside him.
Miss Mahon called on us one at a time. I was toward the middle of the list. A colorful sign featuring our first names, each letter a different shade, was taped to the front of our desks when we called out “Here.”
I raised my hand. “Here.” My voice was still a bit shaky.
After a few more names, she said his. “Angel Ramos.”
His name was Angel, and as was appropriate, from that day forward, whenever someone said it, a heavenly chorus sang out in beautiful harmony.
* * * *
“Earth to Snowman.” When I returned to the present, Troy was waving a dishtowel in front of my face. “Where’d you go?”
“A little walk down memory lane. My childhood sweetheart was definitely another boy,” I told Troy and his brother. “I can’t believe it never occurred to you such a thing is possible, Spencer Holiday!” I shook my head some more. “For shame. For shame!”
“Okay.” Spencer smiled as he warmed his hands on a big mug of coffee. “In my case, I didn’t come to think about other guys in a romantic way until I was a teenager.”
“I knew from the moment I first saw Steve on Blue’s Clues,” I said. “And it was only reinforced when my world expanded beyond Nickelodeon.”
“Point taken. I apologize.” Spencer turned toward the kitchen when a timer went off. “Troy taking care of you?”
“He wants a custom cake, Spenny.” Troy’s smirk made me want to deck him. “A really custom cake.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?”
“Um.” Was I blushing? Where had my youthful devil-may-care attitude gone, the one I’d developed sometime after crying my eyes out on the day I’d met Angel. “Actually, I’m not even…I haven’t…I’m still bouncing a couple of ideas around.”
Troy thought my side-eye and angry scowl was funny.