Avalanche (15-21)

15.

She knew the kiss was meant to calm her down. She saw it on his face, the slightly downcast profile, the furrowed skin above his brow, the hand that rested on his thigh, and the other, on the table. He was feeling regret for having done it, and remorse for having given her hope. It was clear as lightning and her momentary euphoria dissipated as quickly as it came.

Her lips, the ones he touched with such tenderness closed resignedly on their own.

-Don’t worry about it -she said, doing her best to sound calm. It was not easy. She had always fallen for the good kissers, as she imagined them to be gentle and reliable in other aspects of life, too. But he did not fall into the same category: her instincts told her he was different. He may have meant it. But then why did he look so stern?

The hand on the table pushed his plate further, then started fumbling with its metallic edge. His indecision was so blatant that she felt for him, she really did. Other guys would have shrugged and snickered and perhaps they would have kissed her once more, just for the fun of it, enjoying how they made a woman weak. She had been fooled so many times… in so many ways. And here was a stranger, someone who was not totally sincere, but very caring, and bearing the consequences of his deeds, perhaps a little too much.

-I don’t know why I did that -he spoke. His voice was serious, his eyes were fixed on the plate, his fingers still toying with it. -I… I wish I knew what’s going on, okay? This whole thing is a big mess, and I am so part of it.

-If you’re a mess then I’m ten garbage-heaps -she replied with a short laugh. -Really, don’t worry about it. No sunlight, no food, no… real hope of getting out… it can get to anyone. I’ve seen worse. At least you didn’t hurt me -she added, giggling.

He looked at her smiling lips and weeping eyes. She looked so tiny, so forlorn, trying to show a brave face, trying to save her dignity. It struck him in that moment that she had feelings for him, and the thought flashed through his body like a bolt of electricity.

She resisted his eyes, then, his hands, then, his lips, but not for long. This time, his kiss was tender, but assertive and demanding. His arms were not letting her go, despite her feeble endeavours to escape.

After a while, she gave in to the softness of his lips, and when she did, he slackened his grip on her. His hands roamed all over her, sliding up her back, combing through her hair, rubbing her shirt against her skin, and she was losing control very fast. The gentleness and passion of a man always meant a lot to her, especially since she never really got any attention in her childhood and adolescence. It was all the love she had never had: her lovers, however mean and callous, were her only source of tenderness.

But he… he was so different. He touched her like an angel touches another, with reverence and generosity, promising immortality, if only for the duration of a kiss. She believed his every unuttered promise, not only because she was trapped between his tender arms, but because he was her only hope. She had given up on men, slowly, gradually, and she thought, for good. So many times, stumbling across a treasure which lately turned out to be trash…. her future had faded. He was like a beam of hope, lighting the way, lifting her up, a stranger who seemed to stand above everyone she had known.

She trembled when his tongue ventured across her lips, then deep into her mouth. She was only able to grab his shirt and hold onto him. She sighed, begging him to stay, stay, make her his in every way possible-

He grew scared of her devotion, and let go slowly.

-Hey you -he said without knowing why.

-Hey you too -she swallowed, searching his eyes.

He stared into her eyes, frowning, then stroking her brows.

-Your eyes are changing colour -he stated. -Wow.

-Blueish when I’m hateful or cold, olive when I’m happy, hazel when I want something very bad -she whispered. -What colour are they now?

He didn’t reply. Her eyes were turning into hazel, and he watched on, fascinated, marvelling at the rainbow irises and her dark pupils.

He cupped her face and caressed her cheeks with his thumbs.

-Are you sure this is what you want? -he asked with such careful tenderness that her heart leapt in her chest.

-I don’t know what I want -she replied, slowly disengaging herself from him. Then, she let go of his hands. -I always got what I didn’t want, and anything I wanted avoided me… so I stopped wanting things… a long time ago.

-What did they do to you? Why… why are you so… unhappy?

She stared at his hands, or hers, he never knew. Her eyes welled up with tears and they started to roll down her cheeks. Her face never flinched; she looked like a stone sculpture of a weeping Madonna, suffering without any sound. He lifted a hand to wipe down the tears but they kept coming, and coming, endlessly. His palms were insufficient, already overbrimming, and so was his heart, unable to watch her mute pain.

He resorted to the only thing that had never let him down.

His voice started out as a whisper, slow and careful not to startle her in her fragile place. She showed no sign of noticing him sing, but he continued, more bravely, knowing that his voice had helped so many others. Perhaps it would help her, too. When she lifted her eyes to look at him, he smiled through her tears, caressed her pained soul, sent waves of sympathy and caring to her broken heart.

-Don’t give up… it’s just the weight of the world… when your heart’s heavy I, I will lift it for you… Don’t give up… because you want to be heard… if silence keeps you I, I will break it for you… everybody wants to be understood… well I can hear you… everybody wants to be loved… don’t give up… because you are loved…

Her tears flowed incessantly, but they were tears of relief and happiness. She had never heard anything as beautiful, as pure and perfect. He sang to her, softly, carefully, not even touching her, but holding her tight with the deep, angelic love he was radiating. She stared at his face, wondering if they really were floating towards the heavens, or her mind was playing tricks on her. The words his lips pushed towards her, the voice his heart sent out for her to hold onto in her despair, and his beauty- they were blinding her. She forgot where she was, why she was there, what she had missed, and what she might never have. With his voice, she felt she had everything, a universe of promise and beauty and love.

When he finished, his rich baritone resounded in her heart, echoing in the silence between the four walls. His words kept coming back to her, reaching out to her repeatedly. His voice sang on within her, sweeping away the voicelessness of her soul, until she felt like somebody. She must be somebody if he decided to sing to her.

-My god -she uttered finally, when the reverberations inside her softly quieted down. -Is… is this how you sing? Are you… doing this, all the time?

-I sing, yes -he admitted, his eyes huge and apologetic. -I lied to you… I’m sorry.

-I knew -she said without any anger. -I heard you sing before I got up yesterday.

-Oh -was all he said, swallowing. -Why did you not…?

-I figured you must have had a reason to keep silent about it -she shrugged, brushing her hair back, wiping her eyes.

He blinked, then smiled knowingly.

-People tend to confuse… me, with my voice, if that makes any sense -he said, shifting on his chair. -They hear this… big, grand scale voice and they think, wow, he must be an angel, or a godsend, or someone from outer space -he grinned.

-But you must have been sent here -she replied. -What’s so strange about that? You have been given this amazing gift to help and heal others.

-I am… not very comfortable with that theory -he said, obviously disliking what she just said.

-Well, that’s how it goes -she shrugged simply. -A talent versus a normal life.

-I don’t care I have a hectic lifestyle nine tenths of a year, but to be called… all kinds of superhuman creatures… -he said, scratching his arm.

-You’re probably much more than just a singer for so many people -she told him, suddenly smiling. -Isn’t that wonderful? You can be anything you want. They will let you be all that, and more.

-All that, except someone like the guy next door -he retorted.

-Would you give all of this back? To be the guy next door? -she asked, leaning forward, taking his hand. -When you can change the lives of so many?

He looked at her, watching her eyes turn a gentle olive green above the golden hazel brown.

-You are gifted -she rubbed his hand gently. -You can’t escape your fate, but I would give… ten years of my life to know I had an impact on someone… like you probably do, every single day -she finished, squeezing his hand.

They sat there holding hands, quiet, taking in what the other had said, pondering about their respective lives.

-If I managed to cheer you up, then I’m happy -he said, with eyes that meant every single word, she knew.

She only squeezed his hand, under the impression that words would have not meant anything. She smiled at him, then got up to stretch her legs and put away the empty cans.

-Hey. Water’s all warm -she said in a happy voice, pushing her finger into the bucket.

-I’m starting to get used to washing like this.

-Our grandmothers did, and their ancestors too, and they lived. It’s an economical way of self-cleaning and it will save a tree a day, at least -she joked, sticking her tongue out.

-We’ll save a whole bloody forest by the time we get out of here -he grimaced, watching her as she pulled out the basin from its place.

-Mmm -she nodded, pouring the water in. -You want to be first?

He shook his head.

-Then help me secure the sheet -she said.

-We don’t need that -he replied, turning his chair so that his back was towards her.

-And why should I trust you? -she asked, her heart beating in her throat.

-You don’t have to trust me -he shrugged. -If I peek, you can peek too, later.

Her mouth open from the shock, she decided to start washing to preserve some of the water’s warmth for him, too.

16.

Kat, aged six, standing naked in front of the whole playground full of boys and girls her age, daring her to strip and jump into the shallow kids’ pool in her parents’ garden. She had done it, shamelessly, unaware of what it meant, unaware of her father’s anger and shame for her, unaware of so many things. The beating she had received after that would haunt her for a very long time. Until her third boyfriend, to be more precise. Only then did she feel ready to show herself freely to someone else.

Kat, aged thirty-six, standing naked in front of a basin full of water fastly growing cold, in a mountain cabin under the snow, with a guy sitting a few inches away from her, a guy she’d only met a few days before, a guy who already had her heart. The feelings the situation evoked in her were numerous and puzzling, her unpleasant memories standing in the way of a more hopeful present.

-Hurry up or the water will get cold -Josh told her, moving his head slightly.

She froze, wondering if he would do it. Turn his head. She felt shame rise from her toes, upwards, reach her thighs, her breasts, her face. She felt red and exposed. At the same time, her wildly drumming heart was wishing with all its might that he would turn, look at her, and just- just see her. She wanted him to see her, but she was not brave enough to act on it.

Stepping into the basin, she stooped to soak a small towel into the water, then started rubbing herself. Oh god. What was he thinking. Was he wondering what she looked like. Was he longing to touch her as she longed to be touched by him.

The bandage slipped off her thumb, and the water was stinging her wound, but she tightened her lips. She had had worse injuries before.

All this time, with her splashing and rubbing and rinsing, he never moved. He was leaning forward, his hands clasped, his head hung. She was so curious she had to pop the question.

-What are you thinking?

He straightened in his pose a little, his hands still clasped.

-I’m thinking that they should have found us by now.

She acknowledged his lack of interest with a resigned bitterness.

-We’ll be fine -she said flatly, stepping out of the water, quickly drying herself, as she was rather cold. Then, she pulled up her clothes hastily.

-Here. All ready for you -she said, stepping aside, hanging the towel by the fire to dry it at least a little before he had to use it.

As he pulled off his sweater, she was still halfway towards him, deep in thought.

-Would you mind…? -he tentatively asked while his hand was on the button of his pants.

She looked up, deeply embarrassed. He might have asked, would you mind helping me undress, or, would you mind turning away. The fact that the first alternative even crossed her mind was proof enough that she was a nympho, or desperate, or both. She quickly turned her flushed face, but she knew he had seen her blush. She stepped to the chair and sat down on it, staring at her wound, lightly scratching the area around it.

-Here -she heard his voice behind her ear, and a hand pushed the dropped bandage under her nose. She took it, sensing her face turn deep red. She heard him step into the basin right after that, so he must have been totally-

Oh god. She squeezed her fingers with her wounded hand, pain or no pain.

-What are you thinking now? -he asked, and she started.

I’m thinking of you, naked, inside me, she thought, shaking.

-I think I’ll try to get out today -she said, the words coming out unexpectedly.

She heard him stop washing for a moment.

-What? You said it was too dangerous.

-If I don’t try, we might just die here -she replied.

-And what’s your plan exactly? -he asked, and the watery sounds continued behind her back.

-I’m not sure. I might tie a rope around myself and you can always pull me back if anything happens.

-Like… pull you back? How? Through the snow? You’re insane -was his opinion, and she agreed.

-I have to try, alright?

-What if I go?

-You? You could never make it past the window -she said, her confidence returning.

-Because big city singer boy is incompetent -was his reply, and he sounded ironic.

-Yes. I’m sorry but that’s the truth -she retorted, trying to sound persuasive. She knew his pride was hurt, but for once, she would not let him be a hero.

-You would be surprised -he said, calmly, but bitterly, and she lifted her hands in despair.

-God, you men. What is it about you always knowing everything, always wanting to prove you can? What if you can’t? The world won’t collapse if women do some things instead of you guys. No one will think less of you.

There was no reply and there was also no sound of splashing around any more. She reckoned he must have dressed back up already and turned her head, only to see him pull up his pants. On his bare hips. He was looking down and did not notice her, and she turned back, gasping, trying to steady her hands. Oh my… god. Cloth pressing into soft, white flesh, exposing dark hair below and around his navel, and- his hand pulling up the zipper. The. Button. His navel. The sexy line of hair travelling all the way down to-

She wanted to bury her head in her hands. And disappear. He must have noticed. Why was he saying nothing? Was he testing her? After all that happened? The kiss? Kisses? After he sang to her? After all that sincerity talk? Why?

-Finished. You can turn now -he said slowly.

She could not possibly turn right away. She was red as a beetroot and shaking of desire and shame.

-I’ll look for that rope I knew I’ve seen somewhere -she said, briskly standing up to search in the pantry, under the shelves. She made all the noises she could, mainly to hush her heart’s drumming and sweep those mental images out of her mind.

When he had emptied the basin and returned it, he stood there, waiting for her to come out, so that he could put the object back to its place. She stepped aside with a blush. Oh god. Was it always going to be like that now? She turning deep red whenever he was around? It meant being in a constant overdone make-up.

-Do you have the rope? -he asked, apparently deciding not to notice her confusion. She was very grateful. Until she figured out what to think of the situation, she could not deal with any possible reciprocated feelings.

-Here -she said, presenting the thick rope, long and heavy.

-Wow. Sailor’s rope. Can you make knots? -he asked, his voice suddenly eager and boyish.

-I can -she replied proudly. -My dad used to be in love with boats and sailing and marine stuff. He taught me several knots and I used to brag about them in high school. It silenced all the big-mouthed boys -she added with a short laugh.

-Show me one -he said, his eyes sparkling, like black opals.

She giggled and took the end of the rope in her hands.

-Okay. Watch and learn. This is a Flemish bend, alright? It’s a basic knot, and you take the end and just follow the rope backwards, like tracing it back.

-Nice -he said, fascinated. -Show me another.

-This is a bowline. It looks great, huh? It took me some time to learn this one… looks easy but I messed up for days. It is not the safest knots…

-I hope you won’t be using that around yourself, then -he said, glancing at her for a moment.

It was an automatic response of someone worried for the well-being of the only other person alive and breathing next to them; nevertheless, it warmed her heart, and she smiled at him.

-Don’t worry. I’ll be fine -she said, lingering without purpose in front of him.

-Okay -he replied, shoving his hands in his pockets.

He smiled, and she smiled, and she was starting to get comfortable, when:

-You peeked. What punishment shall I find for you? -he asked, lifting his eyebrows.

17.

She stared at him for a moment before she fully realized what his words implied, and then she felt shame and the wish to disappear cover her from head to toe. This was bad. This was very bad.

-Yeah. I decided to be mean today -he said, smiling in a “oh hey, I know it’s a crappy situation but I’m enjoying at and so will you, sooner or later” kind of way. -I think it would be punishment enough if you had to talk about yourself more, so… I will choose just that. Talk.

She averted her gaze, not really thinking about the dynamics of the game he was making up. She did not care about the punishment business. Her brain was still focused on the tiny, seemingly insignificant detail that once again made a total of her. He had noticed her look at him and he was probably aware of her feelings by now, and he was making a game out of it. Our of her.

She took a step to the side and forward as if to go, but his arm grabbed hers.

-No way -he said, eyebrows lifted, eyes huge. -Did you think I was going to just let it go past me? It’s funny how people always think men are the sneakiest. You would be such a lovely exception in a research.

She opened her mouth to reply, her indignation almost prompting her to spit words of hatred into his eyes. He must have noticed she was ready to erupt and he quickly added.

-If you don’t wanna talk, you can redeem yourself with a kiss.

-What?! -she exclaimed, unable to contain herself. -What makes you think I have to do anything? I don’t have to talk and I don’t have to… kiss you.

She swallowed, blushing. Bloody hell and all the fallen angels- why? Why couldn’t she act like she didn’t care? She should have agreed to learn play poker with Barry…

-Well, I am not letting you go until you do one of them -he said, holding her strongly by the arm.

She blushed more, exasperated. He meant it. He was playing her like he wanted to, and she was helpless because she was under his spell and he SO knew it, and furthermore, she was simply helpless when it came to men acting irresistible.

And then, seeing the mischievous twinkle in his right eye, it all became clear. It was HE who wanted to kiss her. But being a man, he did not want to risk his dignity, so he resorted to this… sly game to force her to choose the least painful option for her, which incidentally happened to be the thing he wanted. Oh man, he was quite something. She almost broke out in a grin, but she had to keep it a secret, and she was not going to give him what he wanted.

-I’ll talk -she replied simply, watching his face.

It was priceless. His eyes fluttered as if to blink, but he checked himself and she almost heard his braincells screach and grind against each other in the vast effort to keep his face from falling.

-Okay -he grinned. It was a grin underneath which she was sure he trembled in frustration and anger for being found out, but it was a grin nonetheless. He was a good actor, indeed, and the thought made her wonder just how many times he must have put up an act in the past two days.

-Can I sit or will you interrogate me standing? -she asked, recuperating some of her powers back.

He let go of her arm and backed towards the bed, throwing himself down on it.

-And what would your majesty like to know about me? -Kat asked, sitting down on the chair with a flourish of her hand.

-The reasons why you are like this -he said, pulling his healthy leg under himself.

Damn. He was back to doing it. Pinning her down emotionally, forcing her to choose once again. She would either have to lie or be honest and show a part of herself that she was not yet ready to share with anyone.

He was inwardly fuming, angry that she didn’t choose the easy way out. Was a kiss that difficult to give? It would not have been the first time, and he was pretty sure she enjoyed the previous two occasions. Was she merely trying to show herself strong and superior to him or what? Well, in that case, he would force her give serious answers to questions she was not prepared for. At all.

-Like what? -she asked, her face impassable.

-Bitter and beligerent.

-I’m belligerent?! -she asked again, biting her lip.

-Very -he replied, resting his hands between his legs, occasionally fumbling with the soft surface of the blanket. -You’re ready to face my curiosity about matters you don’t want to talk about only to avoid another situation that might put you in a weaker position.

Her face went blank.

-If you’re such an expert on the human psyche tell me this: wouldn’t it have been easier to just ask for a kiss instead of finding this… twisted method of making ME choose, knowing well that I hate to talk about my personal life?

This time, it was he who gasped. Almost unnoticeably, but luckily for Kat, only almost.

-I guess we’re even -he smirked, scratching his ankle.

She swallowed. Was she supposed to just relax and grin and get over it?

-No, we’re not -she replied, surprised at her own braveness. -You like sneaky games but I don’t. Yes, I peeked, but I would not twist your brain out to make you decide the way I want you to.

-Well, maybe you should -he shrugged. -Men like games.

-You have no idea how right you are. My life consists of relationships that started out as beautiful and genuine, but ended up emotionally mutilating me a little more each time. I just don’t get it, though: why does it have to be me? I have many friends who are happily married, have not been cheated on, have not been forced to do things against their will to keep their boyfriends, have not been dumped for someone else. It’s like I collect the world’s worst boyfriends.

She was staring at the table, then, the wall in front of her. He could see her profile, the frown above her eyes, the obstinate tightening of the lips.

-Wow -was the only reply he could give, and he looked at her really shocked.

-I mean, I’m not a cripple, I have a life, I am healthy, I get by financially, but… the only thing I really want is to belong to someone -she said, lowering her voice, confessing to thin air.

-We all want that -he replied softly. -I want the same thing, but with my career and all there is no chance for me to even start thinking of a serious relationship.

She swallowed. There. He said it, loud and clear. If she had any lingering hopes, any vague ideas that he may, just may like her a little bit, they were crushed now under the sole of his statement. He probably said it to keep her at a distance, too.

He realized the implications of his words and he mentally slapped himself a couple of times. Great. Just great. What the frickin’ hell did you just do, you moron? You imbecile.

She could not be angry with him only because he did what he had to. He was not in an easier situation than her; even if he had liked her, there was the problem of getting out, back to their respective lives. He could not possibly accommodate her in his busy and probably hectic lifestyle. He did the right thing to avoid getting hurt, and protect her at the same time.

-It must be hard on you -she said in a hollow voice. -Must be difficult, living the life of a celebrity. Have you had a girlfriend since you became famous?

-Yes -he replied, biting his lip. He could not believe what he had said. He basically told her to back off. -It lasted for two years.

-Why did it end?

-She could not put up with my continuous absence… I was always on tour, and when not, then in the studio, and when in neither of these places, then giving interviews and making appearances in different shows.

-So she left you? -Kat asked, turning towards him, a flicker of sympathy behind her sadness.

-It was not that simple -he spoke, closing his eyes for a moment to rub his forehead. -I let her go before the relationship could have ended up in repeated efforts to settle things and smooth the ripples. When there are too many compromises it’s time to move on -he finished.

-At least you were both ready to make them. I can safely say that in all my relationships it was always me who was ready to give something up.

-You were just unlucky. It doesn’t always have to be that way.

His voice was so velvety, so soothing. She could have listened to him speak for hours and hours…

-That’s still my motto, after countless fucked up relationships. Doesn’t always have to be that way -she giggled.

-You never know when you get lucky. That’s the great side of life, you know? I was the underdog for so long… you should have seen me in high school. It all ended when I started singing.

-Well, I don’t have any hidden talents to make the world see how brilliand and beautiful and smart I am -she said, stretching her arms a little, arching her back over the table like a cat.

You are brilliant and beautiful and smart. Please say it, she begged.

You are all those things, and more, he wanted to say, but swallowed the words.

-Yeah -she sighed, returning to reality. -Oh crap. Enough of this. I’m fed up with myself now. Can we change the subject? Did I provide enough information for you?

He averted his gaze, his fingers touching, his hands clasping together.

I probably scared the shit out of you, Jock, she thought, viewing his lovely curls fall into his forehead. Who would want a complaining bitch for a girlfriend?

-Right. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll use the outhouse and then climb up to the roof -she said resolutely.

18.

When the door closed after her, he stood immobile, trying to process all the information that had accummulated in his head. The impressions he got of her, the words she said, and didn’t say, the fact that she was, in the end, unhappy. That was all that was to it. Her unhappiness prompted her to be callous and sarcastic. He was almost sure that underneath the uncouth surface she was just as tender, loving, sweet and passionate as all women he had had the pleasure of meeting. Well, not all of them- but most of them. He believed in the universal gentleness of women, without whom the world would collapse into itself. He had been taught to be courteous to girls and women alike, and considering that most of his fans were of the female gender, he was terribly grateful that it wasn’t only his upbringing, but also an inner urge to respect the weaker vessel that enabled him to smile at all the adoring women with sincerity.

Slumping down on a chair, he cracked his knuckles with a big yawn. He had to face it: he was a women’s guy. He had the looks, he had the behaviour, he had the whole presence that was making women excited and weak. There was no hiding it. A burden, true, but sometimes he felt is as a gift. Why not make so many women happy with a mere gesture or a note he sang? There was no end to the jokes the band cracked to his expense. Hey Groban, you know what you should do one day? Tear your shirt open on stage. That should keep the ladies entertained for a year! Tariqh’s grinning face was joined by a Lucia who almost dropped her bow as her usual unrestrained guffaw broke out of her throat. Josh had blushed and grinned and blushed again and missed a few notes on that rehearsal day. He had laughed with them, and at himself, but later, sipping pitch black coffee to wake himself up after the countless shows and rehearsals and interviews and talk-shows the effect of which seemed to be concentrated on that particular day, he remembered Tariqh’s joke and did not feel like laughing any more. Yes, he had power over them, so much power… Men loved his voice and his personality but undoubtedly, it was women who were fighting over hia drumsticks, screaming his name, lining up after his shows, dying to touch his hand during his walk through the crowd. That day it all became clear as daylight: he was an idol, and it was frightening, a huge responsibilty, and a cross he had to bear.

Nevertheless, that cross often changed into a perfectly light scarf that was not only weightless, but cool enough to soothe him in the heat.

And if he could make millions of women happy- perhaps he could make one more… smile. Have hope. Be satisfied with herself. It can’t be that hard, Groban. You can do it. Just smile and be nice and joke with her and tell her she is wonderful.

-So, are you up to it?

He started to see her stand in front of him, her hands on her hips. First, his line of vision only covered her waist and hips, but he quickly lifted his eyes to meet her perfect breasts and with a blush, he ended up looking at her face.

-Up to what? -he swallowed. What he still remembered from his train of thought was that he was supposed to make her happy. Was he up to that…?

-Up to helping me climb up the roof -she replied.

Her voice was resolute and so was her face, smooth and clean and very strong.

-So you really want to do this -he stated the obvious, scratching his head and standing up.

He was a good head taller than her. She was standing very close to him, emitting a very subtle scent, a bit sweaty, a bit unique, somehow… defensive. She stood there as a rock, a tiny but unchiselled rock, resisting the sea, the wind, the assaults of the elements. He looked into her eyes, searching for traces of a vulnerable Kathleen in need of sympathy and gentleness, but all he saw was a tough, resolute, firm person, ready to fight. Fight whom? And what? Was she going to fight him now? Why did she think she had to fight him?

-It’s a chance to get out -she shrugged. -You should be happy I’m volunteering.

-With your wonded hand and you being a woman, I’m not sure this is the best idea -he bit his lip.

-What do you mean, me being a woman? -she asked, folding her arms. -Do we have to go there, again?

-Well, I just… -he started, but she cut him off.

-I know what you just. I’m a woman, hence, weak and fragile and in need of protection, unable to do physical stuff. Let me tell you I did karate and I did cross country skiing and I did weights. And I bet that I can beat you at any sport you can come up with -she finished defiantly.

He looked at her in awe, not caring to reply: her eyes were flashing and she looked positively diabolic. She was so insecure that he had to mentally wrestle himself against hugging her tight.

-I’d gladly swim or play tennis with you but this cabin is hardly a pool or a court -he said after a while, still looking at her. She had beautiful eyes the colour of which he couldn’t really tell in that moment.

She snorted and smirked at him, and wanted to turn away but by that time he had lost his patience. What was she so puffed up about? The constant wish to prove herself to him was nerveracking and annoying, but also… endearing. He grabbed her arms and held them tight.

-You cut that grinning right now, Kathy -he said very slowly, looking into her eyes. -Why you need to be on the alert all the time, it just beats me. You told me about men wanting to prove things… well, you are basically no better than us.

He noticed the shift in her nonchalant mood when he said her name. Her eyes had opened wide and he coud have sworn she trembled in his grip.

-I told you not to call me that -she said, and tried to shake him off, but his hands were holding her strong.

-Why? Because it sounds sweet? It sounds gentle, and pretty? It would shatter the image that you like to build of yourself, of someone strong and able to cope, despite men?

-I’m not trying to build any image… -was her feeble reply, her eyes almost scared by now.

-Sure you don’t. You only want to prove to me that you can fucking climb up that roof and probably kill yourself.

-I’m trying to save your guts here, in case you forgot! -she retorted with the flame returning to her eyes.

-The fuck you do -he cursed angrily. She kept denying and it made him unreasonably angry. He forgot she was a woman: he only saw someone he had to defeat. -You’re doing it to save your own guts. I don’t matter to you in the least, I never did. I’m just another pawn in your game of martyrdom and surrender. How handy that you found me in the snow! You can use my gratitude in this twisted thing you live in… this… sick life of a battered, abused, exposed woman. Another guy who warms up to you, and then uses you, right? This is what you have planned, have thought of, am I right? I wonder how many of those previous bastards actually knew you manipulated them. I guess some of them might have liked to get closer to you, but seeing how you keep pushing me away, I wouldn’t wonder if it turned out it was actually you who never let them love you.

What… was… that? Groban? His brain stopped processing. Had he lost it? Was it being trapped? Was it her? Was it… what was it?!

She seemed to have lost it too. Her arms were limp in his hands and he noticed her lips were slightly quivering.

-I… I’m sorry -he mumbled. -I had no… no right to say that.

She was definitely defeated. She resembled a tiny bird with broken wings, and he still didn’t loosen his hold on her. He enjoyed his moment of power, but this time, it was bitter joy. He had probably touched upon the truth, and as she was visibly dwelling on his words that may have not been spoken to her before, he saw a tear roll down her left cheek, despite her tightened lips.

-My father used to call me Kathy -she said slowly. -He never loved me. Not really. I did all I could to prove I… I was worthy and capable of things he admired.

It all clicked in his head then. Yes, her sporty, almost masculine behaviour. Her defiance. All for a miserable man who was blind enough to ignore a perfect daughter.

Josh let go of her, carefully, relinquishing his anger. It was just like an idiot to judge before he knew what he was judging about. He was angry, but it all turned against himself now.

-I’m sorry -he said again, wishing he could take it all back.

-No need to be -she replied, wiping her face. As soon as the tear was wiped, another one appeared in the corner of her eye. And then, another. And another. -You were right.

He shook his head.

-No, I wasn’t. I hardly know you… I should keep my big mouth shut. I didn’t want to hurt you, Kat.

She wiped her face repeatedly, turning sideways to hide the fact that she was crushed, but there was nowhere to go really, and he felt even sorrier for her.

-You don’t have to be alone in this -he said, touching her shoulder, very gently this time. -I’m really sorry I hurt you… please let me make it up to you… okay?

She sniffled and kept wiping her face. She was nowhere close to a strong, resolute woman, and his heart was breaking.

-Don’t come closer, Josh -she spoke slowly. -I only bring harm and sadness. I am the biggest mess in human history and you are a very nice guy. No need for you to do this, I mean it. I’ll live as I’ve lived so many times before.

He heard her words, but to him, she seemed to be crying for help, and he was not one to leave a person stranded like that.

19.

His left arm reached out to embrace her shoulder, but by the time he could have touched her, she had turned away and grabbed the rope from behind the door of their pathetic pantry. She seemed to be in a world of her own, moving in a daze, not looking at him or anything really. He watched without a word as she twisted and turned the rope on her waist into a complicated-looking knot that he could not have reproduced for sure. When she took her jacket on and started to pull her shoes on, too, he couldn’t keep silent any longer.

-You want to go on with your silly plan? In this state?

-I’m not dead -she replied, wiping her nose.

-Yet -he said, eyes large and scared, but she only stared at her shoes and her fingers that tied the strings slowly.

-There’s purpose in death, too -she said in a neutral voice that scared him even more. -What a glorious way to leave this world. Saving the life of someone much more important that oneself.

He looked at her unable to reply at first. She sat on the chair for a few moments and then placed the end of the rope into his hands, still avoiding his gaze.

-What are you saying? -he asked in exasperation.

-I’m not saying anything -she shrugged. -Relax.

-How can I relax when you’re totally freaking me out? It’s like you’d tell me to stay cool because you’re going up and saving my life. I’m not asking you to do it, you know.

She seemed to contemplate his reply for a second, but his words were lost on her by the next one.

-Hold this tight, only loose enough to let me move ahead -she told him. -As soon as you don’t feel a pull, it means I stopped for some reason. Make sure I’m fine, okay? Just pull the rope and if I’m fine, I’ll signal on my end by pulling back.

-What if you don’t?

She pursed her lips and bit the lower one.

-Well, I guess then you have to pull harder to get me out of the snow, or something -she said.

-No. This is insane! -he raised his voice, grabbing her shoulders. -Listen to what you’re saying. Do you want me to just nod and let you go kill yourself?!

-That sounds very dramatic -she smiled. It was not a healthy smile as her eyes were dull and her cheeks pale. -I don’t think I’m doing that.

-Then what exactly are you doing? Explain to me or I’m not letting you out of this house -he said, grabbing her shoulders harder.

She laughed, a laugh verging on insanity, letting her head back, and he saw her lashes fall.

-The knight in shining armour -she smirked after her merriment subsided. -You are very touching… but uhm, if I want, I can a, tie you to the table, b, knock you down unconscious. I prefer b, as it would take less time.

She sounded like someone who had lost her mind. The flash in her eyes was threatening, and he let go of her, not because he was scared of the strong, albeit petite amazon standing in front of him, but because he feared for her own mental health.

-Just what I thought -she grinned.

He was lost for arguments. He had never been in a situation that he could not talk his way out of, and his brain was running in circles to come up with something to stop her sickly plan.

Turning her back on him without further ado, she stepped to the door to open it, and then his instincts woke up and unable to think of anything better to do, he pulled hard at the rope, almost making her lose her balance. She turned to face him angrily.

-Fine. If you’re such a stupid jerk, I will not need your help at all -she hissed through her gritted teeth, unzipping her jacket and undoing the knot on her waist. The heavy rope fell on the wooden floor with a loud thud in the terrible silence.

-Kat, what’s going on? -Josh asked slowly. -This is not you. What have I done? I am sorry, I already apologized, yes, I am a stupid jerk, but is that a reason to kill yourself on purpose?

-Haha. What makes you think I would even consider for just one moment ending my life because of… you?! -she gurgled up the words. -You’re hardly a halfling. I have no idea how young you are but you sound very much so, and you even look like one of them, now that I look at you better.

-Go ahead and say whatever there is on your mind -he replied with a swallow. -Call me anything you want but for heaven’s sake, come to your senses.

-I think you’re a spoilt brat, and I think that you think you can solve every problem in the blink of an eye. Wake up, Joshua. The world works in a different way -she said, looking at him sadly. -Saying stuff to people won’t make it all go away, you know?

-I know. I only…

-I’m a person fucked up so many times over that I don’t even remember what it feels to be normal -she cut him off. -So what if you discovered a few of my secrets? Gosh, that makes you a knower of the human existence, right? Sitting in the corner, throwing a few words at someone, kissing them, lulling them to believe that… that there is something more -she added, and her lips were quivering. -We don’t know each other now, and we never will, and you may show signs of wanting me but the moment we get out of here, you will go ahead and never turn back. I know that as sure as I am standing here right now -she finished with a resolute look in her eyes.

The silence dropped on them like a load of a thousand avalanches. She was waiting for him to speak, and the responsibilty was growing on his shoulders. Whatever he would say would be grabbed by her, twisted, used in the intricate net of her sad mind.

-You can have no idea of what I’ll do when we get out, as not even I have the faintest clue what I’ll do, okay? What makes you think you know me? Have you ever considered the fact that I may be more than what you see, hm?

She had expected him to either keep silent, or avoid her, or start explaining himself, but he sounded a little irritated and that caught her off-guard.

-It’s the second fucking day in this hole, and we have no idea where our families, friends are, if they have given up hope on ever seeing us alive or not, and instead of making it easier, you just keep… pushing me away, after you let me closer, because heaven forbid I see your true colours. Do you have any colours, Kathleen? Or are you what you show yourself to be? A sickly black?

-Even if I am, what’s it to you? -she asked defiantly, but her eyes were frighteningly moist.

-I don’t know -he shrugged. -What’s it to me? Not much. You know what? Go ahead, go on and kill yourself.

Yes, perhaps she should, too. Staring into the void between them that seemed like the distance of two galaxies, she felt lonely and ashamed. He did not care. Why should he? In his place, she would have helped herself do it a long time ago.

Lost in thought, lost in her lonesome universe, she only noticed his proximity when he was standing right in front of her. She looked up startled to see his black eyes hover, but she would have none of his sympathy. She was not a charity case. Wanting to take a step back, she found herself trapped in the cage of his arms and ribs. That made her so furious that with the force that surprised him, she disengaged her arms and started pummeling and hitting with her fists and palms whatever she could touch: his head, his chest, his shoulders.

-I hate you -she hissed, and he had to use all his power to keep her locked in his arms.

-Hate me all you want, but you are not going anywhere -he grinned, trying to avoid her fists.

-Let me go, you bastard!

-As soon as you stop acting like a lunatic, I will -he promised.

-Just let me go, let me go out there and die -her voice lost its strength and so did her arms, as she kept hitting him and panting.

-Over my dead body -he said, facing her despite the relentless hands, one of which sent a slap so harsh onto his left cheek that he wobbled with her in his arms.

-Jesus Christ, Kat -he moaned. -Is this your type of foreplay? No wonder all of your men left before the real thing…

She was powerless against his dark eyes and his voice that sent waves of warmth up her thighs. Her arms fell limp against his chest that moved fast against her to keep him fuelled with oxygen.

-Are you done? -he asked, panting.

She did not reply, only tried to catch her breath.

-Thank god -he said with one cheek as red as Rudolph’s nose.

She looked away, wishing dearly she could collapse onto the bed and sleep. Forever. Lose the memories of them fighting… though it was a delicious trap she was in, and his breath was sweetly warm and ticklish…

-Is it safe to let you go now? -he asked cautiously, and when she didn’t respond, he slowly eased his grip.

But she stayed glued to him, her hands on his sweatshirt, clutching at the soft material. She stared at his neck in front of her, at the valley between his collarbones, and the vein pulsating fast on the side.

-You’re free -he suggested, half jokingly, wanting to ease the tension, but in fact he just made matters worse.

She took a step back abruptly and with hatred in her eyes, she lifted her hand to hit him again.

-That is not going to happen -he told her calmly, catching her wrist, his free arm going behind her waist. He pulled her to him and gave her a kiss that should have melted the whole of the Big Belt Mountains.

Her senses exploded and before she knew it, he was pinning her down on the bed, his weight on her, his hands under her jacket, hastily peeling her out of it, his lips tearing at her mouth, his hips pushing their way between her legs.

-This is so wrong -she said, her body telling her otherwise.

-Too late -he groaned, letting his tongue roam her mouth.

-This is not us -she tried again, gasping as his hand grabbed her breast under her shirt.

-Then I’m a total psychic, because I feel stuff quite strongly -he nibbled at her ear, licking her neck before his lips touched hers once more.

-We’re using each other in a desperate situation -she looked at him, drowning in his perfect eyes.

-Shut up -was the decisive reply before he eased himself on her completely, pushing her deep into the softness of the bed.

20.

His weight was crushing her, even though he was not what one could have called ample. He was verging on slender, and he was definitely lean, strong, and seemed to be in total possession of her, physically and mentally. Her brain was on the lowest function mode possible, as she merely felt those lips on hers and that breath fill her and fuel her desire. Trying hard to breathe in between a moment of hard kissing and another of unexpected pangs of hot lust, she seemed to be back to her starting point.

Men.

They were good to her until they got what they wanted. So many gifts and smiles and invitations to dinner and the theatre, and even profound conversations on morality, God, trust, politics, medicine, and what not. Someone she could finally talk to, she decided each and every time, as if each time, her memories of her previous failed relationship had been miraculously erased. The strange thing was, she never considered herself naive or too trusting: she kept telling herself everyone deserved a second chance. And she kept giving those chances to all of them.

Later, in bed, past the moment of brief ecstasy, she would stare at the ceiling, listening to them snore, or mumble, or just breathe. It should have been a peaceful time, each time, but those were the storms of her existence that kept gathering on her skies, waiting to crash, waiting, until a suitable moment presented itself, usually a week later, when he was watching TV and picking his toenails, or taking a leak and not flushing, or throwing his dirty socks into the corner of her kitchen, fake marble and mock mahogany- but her kitchen nonetheless, one that she loved. She usually snapped then, and they were gone before the sun could set the same day.

She could not help it. Their touch, their hot breath, their promise of earthly delights. She loved to feel them inside herself. Was that a sin? If it was, she was a sinner, and retribution was certain to come very shortly. And it did, each and every time.

So many men… so many moans, so much sweating, so much desire, sometimes left unfulfilled. Her life seemed to revolve around them, the sickly hunt for the perfect specimen, and the waiting period to become the hunted, and then, the blind surrender. Her whole being yearned to go past that accursed moment of bored indifference, but after they got what they wanted, they seemed to accept the situation and relax into it like it had been their life, their flat, their sofa, their TV set. She felt she was left alone to struggle with the pushing forward of that heavy moment, to take it into another setting. Into the clear. But she was weak, and she gave up soon, because they never helped.

She now recalled what Josh had said. That it was probably her fault. She did close herself to them, he was right. But it was the only way to preserve some of herself to herself, after they had taken over her whole tangible life. She had no more peace, or solitude, no time to sit and ponder on her plans, especially since none of her hunted ones were fit to keep her pleasurable company, not in the easy, coffee-drinking, smile exchanging, carefree way. Nevertheless, whatever her reasons were, he was right. She shut them out, cut them off. Quickly, efficiently. And then, collapsed a little more into herself to contemplate her loneliness and sip her latte in the silence of her chosen martyrdom.

From the thoughts that seemed to live a life of their own inside her brain, she returned to the present with a jerk. His hands were pushing her sweater up, and his lips fell onto one of her nipples, making her arch into him involuntarily. Her moan was sincere; after all, it felt so good, so goddamn good. He pulled her sweater off and sat up on his knees, looking at her from under dark and thick lashes. She held his gaze, almost seeing herself through his eyes, knowing how pretty she was- and it was all good. She should be pretty for him.

He thought he felt a little reluctance on her part, despite her resting on her back like a kitten that expected extra cuddles. Her face was impassable, but her lips were parted and if he stopped breathing, he could hear her own breath travel from her lungs out into the cool air of the cabin, a peaceful way of waiting for him to do something.

Was it too rushed? They had only known each other for a couple of days. Of course, it had been a stormy couple of days, and they probably knew more about each other than many people after weeks of going out. Nevertheless, he suddenly felt like being cautious and cocked his head to look at her askance.

-Is everything alright?

She stared at him with her eyes open wide. No one else had asked her that. Not before taking her.

-Yes -she blurted out quickly. Yes, everything was very alright. How it was possible that he created such comfortable warmth inside her with a simple question and an innocent look on his face, it was a mystery, but he looked so concentrated- on her, and nothing else. With his hands on his thighs, kneeling in a way that he didn’t weigh down on her too hard.

She watched with consternation as he got off slowly and eased himself down beside her, his face propped on his hand. She turned to look at him, puzzled, disappointed, and a little scared. That he did not want her, after all. Swallowing, she turned to look at the ceiling, and grabbing her sweatshirt, covered herself with haste.

-Listen, I… -he started, sounding just as confused as she was.

-Don’t -she cut him off, biting her lip. What use? The moment was gone.

-Please -he said, his free hand reaching out to turn her face towards him. -Listen. It’s not that I don’t want this… because I do.

She didn’t reply, only forced her chin out of his gentle hand to keep staring at the ceiling and the lonesome lightbulb that had one moth circling around it aimlessly.

-I only have a feeling you… you would be doing this for me. As weird as it may sound, I don’t want that.

The moth settled on the lightbulb and instantly flew off to circle some more. Kat suddenly felt more exposed than in front of all her previous lovers, naked and in shameless poses, or on the brink of losing her control with them. He saw through her in a way that made her scared more than for her own life. She really would be doing it for him, giving herself up for him to have his way, like so many times before. Risking another part of herself, even though there was soon nothing more to risk, because she had been trampled over so many times. Was it worth it? Trying to make him love her? He was doing his best… he was the closest to her ideal man than anyone before, and the realization alone would have caused her to lose her mind, but now she also realized he was at stake. If he used her, and then let her go…

-I thought we both wanted it -she replied to say something, to break the silence and break the weirdness.

-You clearly didn’t -he said, settling on his back beside her. -It’s fine. Honestly.

Another gasp cut the breath in her lungs. He was… he was amazing. He considered her feelings. Despite the appearances, he seemed to… care for her? Why?

She turned sideways to see if he was still there, and not a dream her sad brain had forced to materialise into the cabin.

He was there, and noticing her stare, he turned to face her.

-What? -he asked, not impatiently, not angrily.

-Who are you? -the words fell from her lips. The question was silly, but her messed up mind was fighting hard to grasp the situation and the words seemed befitting her emotional state.

-Kat, are you alright? -he chuckled.

She dropped her sweatshirt and kissed him, making him roll on top of her. He was quick to notice the change of plans and his lips claimed hers eagerly, while her hands impatiently roamed up his back under his shirt.

-I’m… confused, but glad -he groaned as her hands pulled his hips tight between her legs.

-That makes two of us -she replied and tugged his shirt off. His hair got tussled and the curls fell into his eyes, but she had no time to get lost in them because his lips started assaulting her mouth with kisses that were alternately slow and firy. He felt soft and his chest hair slightly tickly on her bare stomach, and so incredibly warm.

She knew she was going to regret it. She knew it would lead to both of them being embarrassed in front of each other: his future did not include her, and for her, he was too good to be true. It obviously had to happen in a twisted fairy-tale setting: there was no way she could have made him even turn his head to look at her under normal circumstances.

Despite, or because of all of these, she knew she would have been a fool not to take what he had to offer.

He seemed impatient, but it was fine: he felt soothing and safe inside her, and as he propped himself on his elbows and his hands rested on her face, he kissed her gently, pushing them further towards the edge. He was everything she could have wished from a lover, but her terrifying thoughts stopped her from giving herself to the moment. With his every thrust that grew more and more urgent, she felt herself slipping away from him. He looked into her eyes, begging her to join him, so eager to give her pleasure that for reasons unknown to herself, she wanted to make him believe he had made her happy: her faked moan mingled with his real one, and she embraced his shaking body, reaching out for the blankets to cover him and keep him warm.

Holding him close without showing her eyes to him, she felt safe. She knew she would have given herself away, but she also felt her strength return as his breathing became regular once again, and by the time he lifted his head from where it lay nestled between her cheek and her shoulder, she was herself, able to lie once more.

-I don’t know about you, but I vote double portion of food for lunch -he smiled at her, giving her a stubbly kiss on her lips.

-You got it, mister -she smiled back, composed and brave. -But after that, I am really going to check the roof.

He rolled his eyes, stroking her forehead and looking at her with a heavy sigh.

-I just can’t talk you out of it, can I?

She shook her head playfully, feeling the tears gather in her eyes at his genuine concern.

-Right. Food -she said, pushing him away energetically to be able to turn away and wipe a tear stealthily off her cheek. -God, I could do with a shower now…

She stood up and dressed so fast that he hardly had the time to revel in her perfect figure. She set out to put food on the table with gestures that were so full of life they were suspicious, so he followed her move for a few moments to try and figure her out, but his growling stomach made him give up shortly and got dressed up to join her.

21.

Second day… the second day only, and she made a complete idiot of herself. She scraped the food out of the cans onto the plates, biting her lips, trying to hide behind her hair, sensing his presence next to her. She also sensed his presence inside her, finding its way slowly out, soaking her underwear. A man’s fulfilled desire. That’s what she always was, that’s what she’ll always be.

-Sit down and eat -he told her, gently pushing her down, taking the spoon out of her hand. -Sorry I can’t do too much here, but I swear to you, if we had warm water, I’d do the washing up.

-There’d be nothing spectacular about that now, would there? -she asked, slightly tired, feeling bitter. Remembering to smile when he cast her a glance of surprise.

-Is there something wrong? -he asked, sitting down at the other side of the table.

-Apart from the fact that we’re buried alive under the snow, we’re running out of food, we have no drinking water left, I have no idea if my friends are coming for me or not… not much.

He watched her silently as she ate without an appetite. What was going on? Was she feeling regret for having slept with him? Was it completely horrible for her? She seemed like having a good time… did she fake it?

-You said yourself that water’s not a problem. I’ll bet my voice on the fact that your friends will not let you down… so, where’s the fire? -he asked, munching on some dry meat and corn.

She poked around her food, feeling her bitterness grow. Where was the fire? There was no fire. Her life was an endless field of cinders and dying embers. No fire, no feelings, no life. She would have given anything to actually feel the burning flames engulf her, even physically so.

-You’re right -she said, forcing a mellow neutrality onto herself. There was no point in making him depressed, too. He seemed so eager to find out what was wrong. As if he actually cared. -I’m sorry, it’s just that… this whole thing is slowly getting to me, you know? My life is not the most glorious, but I don’t wanna die just yet.

Which was a downright lie. So big that she felt her cheeks burn.

-Who says we’re going to die? -he asked, placing a gentle hand on her reluctant one. No. No no. Why was he so kind? At least he should have the decency that he didn’t give a rat’s ass what she said, what she thought, how she would end her life if she ever decided to do it. -I certainly don’t intend to, not until I release an opera album, and that is going to be waaaaay into the future. Twenty years from now or something like that. Okay? No one’s gonna die this week, not here, not with me.

She swallowed her food and her sudden sadness. So optimistic, so serene he was. Of course, he had every reason to be like that. He was sitting on top of the world, unlike her, who rather felt like someone hanging deep inside, under the surface, trying in vain to pull herself up from the rotting marsh of a miserabe existence.

-Okay mister -she nodded with a smile that she accomplished by tightening all her facial muscles to hold the tears back. -In any case, I need to go up that roof.

-I’d rather you didn’t, but whatever -he mumbled, stuffing his mouth with the last bits of his food.

-Pardon?

-I said I’d rather you didn’t, but fine -he repeated after he swallowed.

-Why?

-Why what?

-Why should I not go? -she asked, feeling provocative and angry.

-Kat, you’re a total wacko, you know that? -Josh asked, scratching his hair. His stubble was covering his chin and gave him a look of tired maturity. His eyes so full of anxiety were threatening to spill all over her, she felt. He could simply look at her and make her knees go week, while sitting. -We just made love, like, eighteen minutes ago. What did you think I was going to do after? Act as if nothing had happened?

She sat in silence, trying to grasp the meaning of his words.

-You certainly act like an amnesiac. Why? Did it mean nothing to you?

She was crushed under the weight of his accusations. Meant nothing? It meant the world to her… he meant the world to her. But there was no way he would ever see that, or accept her love. No one in their right minds would stay with her.

-Kat. Talk to me -he broke her silence, looking at her with eyes that were melting the skin off her face.

-I’m… I’m sorry -she managed to blurt out, quickly swallowing. -I am a wacko. First thing after I get out, I’ll visit a shrink. Promise.

He smirked and buried his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes and cheeks with his palms. He looked tired. Of her. No wonder, as she was getting tired of herself, too.

-I’ll give you a chance to wash up today -she suddenly said, standing up briskly, brushing her hair back. -And myself, a chance to save us.

He stared ahead, biting his lips. He was so confused he hardly knew what to say or how to react to her moodswings. Whatever was gnawing at her, she kept it all inside. Relying on a smile and a happy face, as if she could do away with all of it by pushing her head in the sand. Or, as the matters stood, in the snow.

She quickly tied the knot around her waist and put her jacket on. She dressed so quickly that he had no time to think of a suitable retort. By the time he composed himself enough to stand up and face her, she was already at the door.

-So, as I said, you keep it tight, and if you don’t feel me pull at it, you have to act fast, okay? Unless you want me dead, which I wouldn’t be surprised at -she added with a sarcastic smile.

He had so many questions and thoughts to express that they blocked his reasoning and he was unable to say a word.

-Wish me luck -was all she said, and before he knew it, she disappeared.

He stared at the door left ajar, and stepped closer to follow her lithe little body start climbing, upsetting the layers of snow glued to the cabin, sending smaller amounts swirling downwards. The dusty snow filled the air, making him unable to see anything. How tall was the house? He turned to quickly check: the ceiling wasn’t too high. He tried to judge from the noises where she was then, but between that and trying to make sure that the rope in his hand was tight to feel her moves with its help, he soon started to lose his head.

Her cryptic reactions were not something he was used to. Women either wanted him, or they didn’t. There was no middle way. The ones who wanted him were loud and outspoken and left no doubt as to their intentions. The ones he had wanted and who refused his approaches were quite adamant and harsh, too. He always knew. Always. With Kat, he was completely lost. One minute, she melted into his kiss, the next one, she bit his head off like an angry praying mantis. He was actually surprised that he was still alive after they made love. Snickering at the mental image of Kat slowly and contentedly chewing his head off, he quickly grew sombre, wondering how he could be making a joke out of the situation. The damned snow was getting to him, as well…?

She had felt so wonderfully safe and soft. His stomach and the area below it jerked suddenly at the memories of such a brief time before. Her way of overpowering him, and then giving him the reins to let him know he was the one in command. Or was he?

Did it matter at all?

Oh, Kat, you awfully complicated girl, he thought, wanting more than anything to have her in his arms again and make her realize he was not playing games. To kiss her and stroke her forehead until she fell asleep. To hum to her in her dreams, make her forget all the bad things that ever happened to her. In a moment of ridiculous sentimentality, he wanted all of those, and more. Yes, she was strange, yes, she was annoying, yes, she was a weird, wacky person. But underneath, she was loving and emotional and amusing. And she cared for him, he was certain of it, despite her endeavours to hide her feelings. Even a hedgehog will venture outside to feed and smell the scented pine needles under his feet, and she had ventured out on one occasion too many for him to believe that it was an act.

Lost in thought, he slowly came back to reality to notice that the rope in his hand was loose and unmoving.

-Kat? -he said loudly, trying to peek out from under the wooden planks. There was no reply and no sound, either. None. -Kat!

He froze for a moment, feeling terror seize him. Oh god.

-Kat! Are you alright? Kat!

No reply came and he panicked, not sure what he was supposed to do. Jerk the rope? Go after her? How was he to pull her back? What if she got stuck somewhere and would get hurt while…

There was no time to contemplate, god knows how much time he had lost trying to clear up the mess in his head. He gave the rope a strong pull and felt it tighten again. The mental image of Kat on the other end, unconscious, made him lose his head completely and he pulled again, stronger, and again. The rope was slowly gathering at his feet- how much more was there?

He felt something obstruct his pull and he froze, dreading the image of Kat being hit somewhere. He was litrally shaking when he tried to pull again, but he couldn’t move the rope any more. He was close to a mental breakdown when his fear made him jerk the rope strongly, risking whatever happened. He had to bring her back or she would die out there.

Something came through the plank, breaking it in two, letting snow fall on him, covering him, making him cough and fall on his side.

When the swirling of whiteness subsided, he scampered to the mound before the door, quickly digging with his hands, dreading what he would find but aware that he had to get her out of there.

After he cleared away the snow, he sat on his knees, staring with hands shaking from the cold and the fright.

He knew for certain that he could only be dreaming.

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