5. Ice

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'St. Nicholas? As in Santa Clause?' Freddie asked after a momentary silence. He felt for his head, wondering if he had bumped it during the storm. His mind thought of all the times he fell, but he was always protected by a cushion of snow. Never did he actually bang his head.

'Yes, my boy. Santa Clause,' Nora repeated. She strolled over to a cabinet and opened it. Freddie leaned over to see what she had pulled out. It was a blanket, and she nodded to the people nearest him. 'Take his coat off and see if his clothes are damp. He will most likely catch a cold now.'

'I don't get colds,' Freddie protested, but allowed the strangers to take off his coat. As his last arm slipped out from the sleeve, he stopped them. 'Wait!' he said. He put his hand in one of the pockets, and then the other. The gravity of his face indicated the plummeting of his heart. 'No! No, no no!'

'What's wrong?' said the woman sitting next to him.

'My... my snowflake! It's gone!' Freddie cried with a tremor breaking his voice. His eyes filled up instantly. 'I'm so sorry...'

'You've lost your snowflake?' Nora asked as she set the blanket next to him on the armrest.

'It... it was given to me. It was a present.'

'Who gave it to you?'

Freddie paused. 'A friend.' His crying calmed as he thought about what he said. It stunned him, his own words. He couldn't find the courage to say the words out loud – his boyfriend. Unless he really was just a friend now.

Nora shattered the silence. 'I'm sure you will find it, but first you really need to get warm. I have a full bath upstairs that I was about to go into. It will take me a while to cook a hot dinner for you, though, and I may have to rummage around to find some pyjamas, but...'

The man standing behind the couch spoke up, 'I have plenty of pyjamas that will fit him. My son won't miss them.'

'And I can get a hot Christmas dinner from the local market for you,' one of the women said. 'Saves you the time and it should be ready for Freddie when he gets out of the bath.'

Freddie looked around at all of them. Their smiling faces looked back at him, and his heart was overwhelmed with their genuine hospitality. 'You don't need to make a fuss over me,' he said in a timid voice. 'Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.'

One of the women rubbed his knee. 'You just get warmed up. We will be right back with everything you need.'

Before the strangers could leave, Freddie called after them, 'You wouldn't mind bringing back some of that gingerbread I could smell earlier, would you? I would be ever so grateful.'

Nora helped Freddie up and said, 'Why don't we make our own when you come out of the bath and get changed? We have some things to discuss.'

Freddie worried she might scold him about running away. Her eyes looked down on him, almost in disappointment. He nodded and then waved goodbye to his saviours.

Nora helped him to the upstairs landing and into the bathroom. Freddie bathed and changed into the pyjamas the kind man had given him. They were a couple of sizes too big for him, but the extra room proved comfortable.

He departed the steam-filled bathroom and made his way through the upstairs landing. He passed one of the visitors in the hallway, and despite the late hour, he was dressed in a jumper, jacket and scarf.

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