They reached the town they all loved in good time, but in the darkness of the winter. The boys helped the girls with their luggage, and went up to their room to have a quick drink of whisky before heading to their own halls at the other end of North Street. They spent the evening in the common room, having lit the fire, enjoying more of the bottle of whisky Anatoly had had the presence of mind to bring with him and got reacquainted.
The next day they rose for breakfast, a little hung over, to be greeted with a world of white. It had clearly snowed over night.
“We can have a snowball fight. Do you think the girls would be game?” David asked as the other two joined him at the front door in thick coats, gloves, scarves, hats and heavy waterproof boots.
“We can ask them,” Julian agreed. “You game Toly?”
“Oh definitely,” Anatoly said, laughing at just how bundled up the other two boys were.
“What is so funny?” David asked as he tugged open the front door to reveal a world of white.
“You two look ridiculous, just how many layers do you have on?” he asked as they stepped out.
“Has it escaped your notice that it’s cold?” Julian asked him as he buried his hands in his pockets and followed David out into the snow. “I mean, its snowed, it’s pretty damn freezing.”
“It is a bit chilly,” he agreed, “but we will warm up once we are moving.”
“It’s because he’s Russian,” David muttered through his scarf as they started trudging down North Street towards the girls’ halls. “They must have a special gene that stops them feeling the cold so much. Am I right?”
“Trust me, you two have never felt real cold. This is a mild day by Russian standards,” he replied. Julian and David rolled their eyes as they walked quickly.
“It’s hardly our fault that we’re not built for snow and cold temperatures,” Julian said burying his face in his scarf, which had been a second Christmas present from Sally that she had sent with her letter. It was lovely and warm and he was glad of it in the cold air.
When they got to the girls’ dorms Anatoly led them around the side, digging through the snow with bare hands to find a few small stones which he threw up to hit the girls’ window.
Darrell’s dark head popped out of the window and smiled down at them, Sally’s joining it a second later.
“You’re late!” Darrell declared. “Did the snow confuse your sense of direction?”
“Come down here and say that Rivers?” David called laughingly, scooping up a handful of snow.
“No ta,” Darrell said primly. “Are you three going to suggest a snowball fight?”
“That is not a bad idea,” Anatoly called up, letting her think they’d not already suggested it, “what do you say?”
Sally and Darrell looked at each other grinning. “All right,” Darrell called back.
“But we’re not playing if it’s girls verses boys!” Sally called back.
“As if I would have either of these useless lumps on my team,” Anatoly said, grinning. “All they have done so far is complain how cold it it. How about you two and me versus them?”
David took the chance to lob his snowball at the back of Anatoly’s head as he insulted them. He and Julian were laughing so hard they were doubled up as the snow dripped down Anatoly’s collar.
Anatoly spun around, “all right, which of you was that?” he demanded.
“It was David!” Sally called down.
“Traitoress!” David shouted back up at her, causing Julian to pick up his own handful of snow as Anatoly advanced towards David.
Moving quickly Anatoly grabbed two handfuls of snow and squashed them into a rough snowball, waiting until Julian had thrown his snowball, which David managed to deflect before throwing his, catching him in the face
“Oft!” David said, wiping snow from his face as Julian laughed loudly and the girls collapsed with laughter from the window.
“Poor David, he didn’t stand a chance!” Sally said when she had got her breath back.
“Are you two ladies joining us then?” Anatoly shouted up, keeping an eye on David for fear of retaliation.
“Give us a couple of minutes,” Sally called down, closing the window again. They were already dressed warmly, in thick tights and warm skirts, both wearing cosy jumpers over their blouses, and so they pulled on winter boots, scarves, hats and their coats, sticking gloves in their pockets before heading downstairs and meeting the boys outside.
They were greeted by the sight of Julian and Anatoly hurling snowballs at each other, while David joined in, throwing one at each of them.
“You made it then?” Julian called as David’s snowball hit him on the cheek.
“Well we thought about just staying inside,” Sally admitted, laughing at them, “but we decided we couldn’t miss out on the fun.”
Anatoly darted around Sally, ducking another snowball to say hello to Darrell. He grabbed her face in his icy hands and gave her a kiss.
“Ooo Toly you’re cold!” Darrell squealed as he kissed her and a snow ball, aimed by David hit them both neatly on the side of the face.
“You are a git Morton,” Anatoly called over his shoulder, wiping the snow off of Darrell’s already pink cheek.
“Like you wouldn’t have done the same to me!” David called out, laughing. Sally slipped over to Julian and kissed his cheek, before wickedly chucking a snowball at David. It wasn’t a proper throw as she was trying to do is surreptitiously, so it hit his arm, but Julian came to her aid and lobbed his one at David, hitting his hat.
“Probably,” Anatoly agreed, laughing as David straightened his hat. “Shall we go someplace with more space for this snowball war?” he suggested, “the cathedral perhaps?”
“I don’t think we’ll get into the cathedral today,” Sally said. “They’ll be rigging up the fireworks for tonight. How about St Sal’s court yard?”
Anatoly shook his head, “too open, no good for a proper snowball fight,” he said. “What about the smaller graveyard behind the cathedral?”
“Depends if we can get there, but we can try, otherwise we’ll have to go to the botanic gardens!” Julian said with a smile, putting his arm around Sally’s shoulders and kissing her cheek. “Lead the way Toly,” he added as Darrell linked arms with Anatoly and David shook the snow off his hat.
They walked briskly, laughing and joking about as a few snowflakes fell, Anatoly and Darrell leading the way to towards the cathedral ruins, and then off to the left around to the newer, smaller grave yard. It was deserted and the gates were open.
“Perfect,” Darrell said with a smile. “Are we having teams or shall we just play?”
“Teams?” Anatoly suggested. “I want you on mine of course dorogoy,” he added, giving her a squeeze.
“Three against two, hardly balanced,” David pointed out. “Or were you thinking, two and two verses one?” he asked folding his arms.
“Oh get over yourself,” Julian told him, punching him on the arm. “I’m on your side. I want to see if we can beat Toly.” He looked down at Sally and smiled at her. “Whose side are you on Sally?”
Sally chewed on her lip, looking between Julian with David and Anatoly with Darrell. Darrell was beckoning her over and so she gave Julian an apologetic kiss on the cheek and joined her.
“Two minute truce to find a good place to hunker down?” David suggested.
With that agreed Anatoly put an arm around Sally’s shoulders and led the girls up to the higher level of the graveyard, to the best vantage point where they could defend themselves the easiest, giving them hurried instructions along the way. He made them split up, each taking a defensive position behind large gravestones as they waited for David’s two minute signal.
Julian and David were also crouching behind large gravestones, and had chosen ones with good reserves of snow. David gave Julian a smile when the two minutes were up and gave a shrill whistle, waiting for someone to dash from behind their gravestone.
Anatoly wasn’t sure exactly where the boys were hiding, though he had a vague idea, and so he waited for some sign that they were going to move as he quietly continued making a pile of snowballs.
He rolled his eyes as he caught a flash of red from his left, as Darrell dashed out and lobbed a snowball towards where she thought the boys were, and gave herself away.
David smirked as he saw Darrell moving, and throwing a snowball in the wrong direction. He dodged forward quickly and lobbed one at her, hitting her on the coat as Julian moved as well to lob one at Sally who had moved from her spot as well.
Anatoly moved out too, trying to defend both girls as he hurled snowballs at the boys who were hitting the girls all too easily as they giggled and shrieked, their returning aim poor as they laughed. He ducked back and forth between graves, making himself a much harder target, only getting caught by a snowball once or twice. He hissed at the girls, trying to remind them they were supposed to stay hidden as much as possible as he caught Julian in the face before diving back behind a large cross.
Julian spluttered as the girls laughed when he got caught in the face. Sally squealed when David’s next snowball caught her in the back of the neck as Julian ducked Anatoly’s next snowball, which sailed on to land on Darrell’s leg.
“Hey!” Anatoly yelped as Darrell turned on him, flinging a snowball at him, “you are on my team!”
“It was your snowball!” she laughed as they just began flinging snowballs everywhere.
Julian dashed out and caught Sally by the waist, kissing her on the cheek. “Caught you!” he called with a laugh.
Sally squealed and grabbed a handful of snow off the top of a grave and shoved it down his neck, under his scarf.
Julian let go of her, shivering as the snow slipped down his neck. He laughed as Anatoly sent a barrage of snowballs at him. He closed his eyes as two hit him in the face and David sent Anatoly some in retaliation.
Anatoly tried to dive out of the way, but unfortunately for him Darrell was on the attack again and he almost crashed into her. He altered his course at the last minute and went sprawling over a low grave, landing on his back in the snow with a thud, the air escaping his lungs in a rush.
“Oh my goodness, Toly! Are you all right?” Darrell squealed, hurrying over to him and kneeling down in the snow as David, Julian and Sally stopped to see if he was all right.
Anatoly filled his lungs again, sure he wasn’t actually hurt as the snow had cushioned his landing somewhat. “I think I will live,” he said with as much dignity as he could muster, lying on his back in the snow, one leg propped up on the grave he’d fallen over.
Darrell found herself being pulled in for a kiss, which was more than happy to give. Her lips brushed against his before she found herself playfully pinned to the snow. She shrieked as Anatoly tucked some snow under her scarf before her friends came to the rescue and pelted him with snowballs.
“I surrender, I surrender,” he yelled, holding his arms up as the four of them ganged up on him.
Darrell laughed and pulled him close for kiss as they all stopped. The boys helped Darrell to her feet, Sally wrapping her arm around Darrell’s waist. They helped Anatoly up and laughed as he had to brush snow from himself.
“Shall we go for a hot chocolate in the cafe?” Sally asked after a moment, where they had brushed each other down, put gloves and hats back on, rosy cheeked and cold.
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Darrell said, giving her a squeeze. “Toly?”
Anatoly nodded, “even I would like to get warmed up again now,” he said.
“Hot chocolate it is then,” Julian said with a grin. “Lead the way ladies!” he said with a smile, motioning them out of the graveyard as the shortest way to the path.
Soon they were all sitting around the roaring fire in their favourite cafe. Darrell was sitting with Anatoly’s arm around her shoulders on one of the sofas and Sally was sitting against Julian’s legs on a low stool as he and David sat in the two armchairs. The lady in charge brought their hot drinks over with generously deep filled mince pies.
“Now this is the way to spend a snowy afternoon,” Sally said as Julian handed her the cup of hot chocolate she had ordered.
“Would you not rather be in the library?” Anatoly teased her, making Darrell nudge him with her elbow.
“On a cold day like this? No thank you,” Sally said easily as Julian stroked her hair. “This is what I like thank you.”
David looked at the two couples from his chair and felt a lump in his throat. “Excuse me,” he said abruptly, getting out of his seat and pulling on his coat again, to go and find the nearest phone box to call Peter.
“Poor David,” Sally said as the door banged shut behind him, “he must miss Peter when he’s so far away from her.”
“I don’t think us being coupled up helps,” Julian said. “I might go and see if I can catch him up, and have a word.”
“Well he won’t like tonight much will he?” Darrell asked looking down at her cup. “Being the only one not being kissed at midnight.”
“Well, we could,” Sally said, much to the boys astonishment. “You and I, Darrell, could give him a kiss on the cheek each? What do you think?”
“Yes, I think that’s a good idea,” Darrell said with a smile. “I just hope our two won’t get jealous,” she teased.
Anatoly squeezed Darrell a little tighter, ashamed of the hint of jealousy that did flare up as she agreed to Sally’s idea. “Just as long as my kiss is not on the cheek,” he said a little gruffly.
“Don’t be daft Toly,” Darrell said, patting his leg as Julian squeezed Sally’s shoulder for being so unselfish. “You don’t get a kiss on the cheek anyway,” she said lightly, though her heartbeat quickened.
“Does that mean you are going to kiss my forehead?” he teased her. He felt bad for David, but it was so hard for him to keep away from Darrell when she was near him. He’d never felt like that about a girl before, and he always felt like he had to make the most of every minute with her in case he should be suddenly sent away or worse, told he had to pack in his studies for the sake of the job.
“You are dense Anatoly,” Darrell said, smacking his stomach as Julian dropped a kiss on Sally’s head and got up to find David. “You get a proper kiss of course.”
“A proper kiss?” he asked as Sally turned to watch the fire instead of them, “remind me, what is that like again?”
“I don’t think I should as you’re being so very cheeky and forgetful,” she said, haughtily, winking at Sally.
Sally laughed, happy for Darrell that she and Anatoly had been given a chance to see if their relationship would work, and that so far it seemed to be, despite the age gap and his awkward job.
“Cheeky?” Anatoly said, turning towards her a little more, “I have been nothing but extremely polite to you dorogoy, as if I would dare be cheeky to you!”
“You would indeed,” Darrell said pretending not to look at him, teasing him. “Julian wouldn’t ask Sally to remind him of a proper kiss,” she said dragging her friend’s boyfriend into this. “So your request is cheeky!”
Anatoly’s grey eyes were sparkling with good humour as they verbally sparred, determined he was going to get a kiss in the end. “Sally would not make Julian ask for a kiss, I am sure she would give him one freely,” he said, reaching into his coat pocket and pulling out a small flask.
“Don’t bring me and Julian into this!” Sally said with a laugh.
“What on earth have you got in that flask Toly?” Darrell asked, finally giving in and looking at him.
“Vodka,” Anatoly replied, as if that should have been completely obvious. He glanced around carefully before pouring some into his mug.
“Toly!” Sally said, her mouth dropping open. She looked at Darrell who was shaking her head. “What does it taste like?”
“What?” he asked, “everyone in Russia does this!” He looked at Sally and then shifted forward and handed her the mug. “Try it for yourself.”
“Sally, you’re not actually going to try it are you?” Darrell asked, shocked at her friend.
Sally smiled and nodded. “I don’t see why not Darrell,” she said, taking Anatoly’s cup carefully and taking a sip. She smacked her lips together when she finished and gave a little shudder. “It’s not so bad in the hot chocolate Toly. There’s the after taste, but it takes the sharpness out of it. Gosh I feel all warmed up now!”
Anatoly grinned as he took it back from her, “vodka is the absolute best for warming yourself up when it is cold, that is why everyone drinks it in Russia, even at breakfast.” He offered the mug to Darrell too, wondering if she was really that shocked or just trying to wind him up. Darrell took it out of curiosity and had a sip.
Anatoly watched her face as she screwed it up, laughing at her as he took the mug back. “Did you not like that?” he asked.
“Too much vodka!” she gasped. “Gosh Sally, you’re a braver woman than me!”
Anatoly laughed again and kissed her hair before taking a gulp of his drink. He sighed, tipping his head back against the back of the sofa, “that is good,” he said.
Sally smiled at Darrell as the door opened and David and Julian stomped back in, David looking much happier.
“Sorry about that,” he said, sitting back down in his chair and taking a sip of his drink. “Just suddenly came over all funny, and needed to call Peter.”
Anatoly sat forward again, setting down his mug and getting out the flask again. “Add some of this to your drink, I guarantee it will make you feel better,” he said.
David looked at the flask and shook his head as Julian laughed into his own drink. “I’m feeling better now, thanks Toly. Are you sure you should be drinking on an empty stomach anyway?”
Anatoly shrugged and sat back, sticking the flask in his pocket. “I am hardly going to get drunk on a dash of vodka in my hot chocolate,” he said wryly.
“It’s never just a dash of vodka though, is it?” Julian butted in, winking at Sally. He stroked her cheek as he spoke. “And that’s the proper Russian stuff to boot, so I hate to think what the percentage is.”
“You make me sound like some sort of alcoholic,” Anatoly sniffed, taking another drink.
“It’s not that bad,” Sally found herself defending him, “honestly, have a taste.”
“I did wonder,” Julian said winking at her. “You be careful drinking that Sally,” he warned as Anatoly passed him the mug. “Toly’s got a higher threshold for alcohol than us!”
“She only had a sip,” Anatoly told him as Sally rolled her eyes.
“And how do you know that Julian?” she asked, “by drinking too much with him I bet!”
David was laughing hysterically in his chair by now as Julian floundered.
“We do have a drink occasionally, and Toly drinks us under the table,” David told Sally. “But don’t be harsh on Ju. I understand his concern. The good stuff is powerful.”
“You call it the good stuff, David,” Anatoly interrupted, “yet you cannot even take a drink of it without screwing up your face. Honestly, the way you lot go on you would think I was making you drink bleach.”
“It is an acquired taste Toly,” David said with a shrug as Julian tried the vodka hot chocolate. “I don’t screw up my face as much as I used to.”
The banter continued for a while, as they drank their drinks, poked fun at each other and ate too many mince pies, which lead David to declare;
“I shan’t be hungry by the time we get to the festivities tonight!”
Eventually they left the cafe and wandered about the town, ducking in a few shops, watching the great Market Street being transformed into a fair ground and market place for later. As the sky darkened, they went their separate days, planning to go back to their halls and wrap up warmer before meeting to enjoy the fair later, before watching the fireworks.