Avalanche (8-14)

8.

She stared into space with his foot in her hand, and he watched her face. She was so unaware of where she was- it was like something had jerked her out of reality to take her to the place of memories, or dreams, he was not sure which. He pulled the healthy leg under himself, careful not to break the spell she was in. He enjoyed having his foot warmed up like that, and he loved the silence that enveloped them, for some reason. He, the superstar, always on the move, always surrounded by dozens, hundreds, thousands, he, the one who hardly ever had a minute’s silent rest- cut off from the world there was nothing else to do but enjoy the silence.

She slowly stood up, carefully holding his foot like it was china, and gingerly let it sink into the covers. She did not look at him. He wanted to know what was going on inside her, but she never said a word; walking to the entrance, she took the guitar case and opening it, grabbed the instrument. He watched her with interest, alert and curious. She sat down on a chair after she had pulled it to the centre of the cabin; her fingers on the strings, she started playing softly, as if for herself.

-Words like violence, break the silence, come crashing in, into my little world, painful to me, pierce right through me, can’t you understand, oh my little girl… All I ever wanted, all I ever needed is here in my arms, words are very unnecessary they can only do harm… vows are spoken, to be broken, feelings are intense, words are trivial… pleasures remain, so does the pain, words are meaningless, and forgettable… All I ever wanted, all I ever needed is here in my arms, words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm… Enjoy the silence…

He stared with his mouth open- did the closeness fumble with their brains so that they were thinking of exactly the same thing? He had never had his thoughts discovered by someone in such a brief period of time. She seemed very distant, but at the same time she was very much in the same place as he was. Her fingers stroked the strings gently and her voice was just audible above the harmonies. It all sounded very clear and vital to him; she sang in a slightly raw voice filled with emotion, and he knew he could never picture her as a headstrong, almost arrogant woman again.

-I love these guys -she said as if to herself, her hand still playing the strings absent-mindedly. -They just know life so well.

She didn’t wait for any approval from him; she seemed to be lost in her own sheltered world, and yet, she was letting him in, a stranger. He forgot about his injured ankle that never hurt that much anyway, and he leaned forward to see her face more clearly. Her nose had a few tiny speckles around it, and her lips were full and shiny from her tongue that occasionally moistened them. Her eyebrows were thick and arched above her eyes, one rounder than the other. Her hair was hanging loosely, falling into her face on her left cheek as she leaned over her guitar. She hummed some melody, quietly contemplating the wall to her right, her eyes fixed on something. He had to find out what and he followed her glance, but saw nothing worth mentioning, so he brought his gaze back on her. Despite the song which spoke about words that needed not be spoken, he felt a mad desire to speak to her and ask her questions, give answers, real ones: reveal himself. Tell her who he was, not only in public but also privately.

-You said you played the drums? You could join me one of these days -she said quietly without looking at him. Her eyes were following her own fingers, as if transfixed.

He knew she expected no reply; she was performing, for an invisible audience, or for him, or for herself. Diving into the quietude of her inner journey, taking some time to focus herself and find the peace needed to go on. He wondered if she was scared, of him, or the situation; he also wondered which one of them would break sooner… Long days without enough food and water, buried underground in a large tomb. It suddenly dawned on him as clear as her voice that cut through the silence with a softness that warmed his whole being. She was probably soothing his own fears at the same time with her own, and he was grateful.

She started another song which did not promise anything happier, judging from the deep, sorrowful notes she was exerting from the guitar. He felt the sadness ascend on them both, but somehow he was happy to share it with her.

-The walls are thin here in this motel room, some fool is raging overhead… he’s preaching the gospel according to Johnnie Walker Red… Four hundred miles talking to myself, me and your memory end up here… I tell myself I’m gonna be alright, but it’s still not clear…
Did I just miss the last exit to Eden, is this the only love I’ll know… Like a Judas kiss did my heart betray me, back on the road I never chose… There are some sins that you can justify but not the one I’m guilty of, I had a choice one last chance ago but I turned my back on love… Did I just miss the last exit to Eden… Is this the only love I’ll know… Like a Judas kiss did my heart betray me… Back on the road I never chose…

She played the guitar for a while, distant and hurting… She looked very fragile, and her hands seemed even daintier than before. Even if the words did not speak of her precisely, he knew her heart was aching of something just as badly as that of the person in the song. Her hair trembled with her slight, unconscious movements, and her lashes covered her eyes as she was looking downwards. Never at him. She did not include him in her world but she did not exclude him either; she did acknowledge his presence, he knew it, more than she would have needed to.

-I can hear a man upstairs, he’s crying out… ‘Fall on your knees, the end is near’… we both may need a saviour, tonight I fear that mine is the one that I left waiting far from here… Did I just miss the last exit to Eden, is this the only love I’ll know, like a Judas kiss did my heart betray me back on the road I never chose… Did I just miss the last exit to Eden, Did I just miss my only way out of here… Did I just miss the last exit to Eden, did I just miss my only way out…

She murmured the last lines but he heard her every word very clearly, as if not his ears, but his whole being was intent on watching, listening to her. She gave away more of herself through the songs she chose to pass the time with than with anything before, and he felt connected to her in a surprising way.

After silence took over once more, she kept the guitar in her hands, the fingers on her left hand resting on the neck of the instrument, her right hand stroking the curvy body of wood with tenderness.

-You sing nicely -he said, breaking the peacefulness. His words sounded harsh and noisy and he was almost sorry he spoke in the first place. -Your voice is very expressive.

She smiled vaguely, still staring into space.

-I don’t have time to write my own songs, so I just pick my favourites. This one was by Amanda Marshall, probably the best she was given. She writes into her songs but mostly sings stuff written for her.

-Nothing wrong with that -he replied, suddenly self-conscious.

-Of course not. Especially if someone has a really good voice. She does. I don’t really… but I’m just doing this for my own fun.

There was a lot he could have reflected on this time: his own life came into the picture without her knowing it, but he knew that she was in a place where she needed sympathy or at least, peace.

-You should drink -she said out of the blue, looking at him finally. She got up and placed the guitar on the table, then took a cup from the shelf above the fireplace and filled it with water from one of the bottles. She walked to the bed and gave him the cup, her face impassable. He took it with a quiet thank you, and drank slowly. Water felt nice, cool, reviving.

-You drink too -he told her when she went back to the table and sat down with her elbows on the table.

She turned to him as if surprised: she was obviously deep in her own world, not really caring about what was going on around her.

-Sure. I will -she said absent-mindedly. Looking at her hands, picking at one of her nails, she looked like someone in bad need of a hug, but he was not in the position to give it to her, so he averted his gaze instead, finishing his water.

-Maybe you should take a nap now -he suggested in the silence of the room. -To make time go faster.

She looked at him and collected her hair together.

-I’m sorry -she said, rubbing her eyes then blinking several times. -I should play happy songs, not depressing ones.

-I like sad songs -he said gently. -I loved both that you chose. I do love Depeche Mode, and you got me interested in Amanda, too.

-Good -she smiled more happily. -How’s your ankle?

-It’s fine -he replied, happy to avoid one more lie.

-Maybe I’ll try to get us out of here… at some point -she said, jumping to the world of hope and possibilities in a second.

-Like… how? -he asked, feeling dumb, really trying not to annoy her.

-I could try to climb up the roof from the side. Look around. Maybe the area is not so covered in snow.

He pondered her reply.

-Could you do that?

-I could try -she said calmly.

-I could help -he said cautiously, expecting a mocking remark.

-I’ll see what we can do together to get us out of here -was her reply. She smiled vaguely, she was still miles away.

-Alright, but now you come here and lie down and take a nap -he said authoritatively, standing up. -There’s no rush, no meeting to get to, no deadline to keep… if you can sleep through the whole week, good for you -he added with a merry twinkle in his eyes.

She stood up and smiled at him gratefully.

-I would not leave you alone in this mess -she said simply. -I’ll probably wake up in an hour or so.

He stared at her hair while she stooped to straighten the sheet and the blanket. Did she just say she would not leave him alone?

-What am I doing? You have to lie down too. Your ankle -she realized, picking up the sleeping bag. -I’ll sleep in my place.

-You sleep here -he said gently but resolutely, grabbing her arm for a moment before discovering where his hand was. Then he let got of her quickly, swallowing. -Please -he added, rather embarrassed, stepping aside to avoid all further misunderstandings.

She turned to look at him, searching his eyes. He averted his gaze and sat down on the chair, suddenly very interested in the guitar. His fingers slid over the smooth surface of the wood, swiftly brushing the strings, stopping the vibration with his palm to make any sound. He was more than lovable in that moment, and she felt warmth in her heart, the familiar warmth that had caused her so much heartache in her life already.

-Thanks -she said; without any further conversation, she snuggled into the sleeping bag, then turned to her side facing him, and closed her eyes.

He pretended to examine the guitar some more, and she could freely watch his profile with the slightly large nose and the beautiful curls against his creamy skin. His stubble was visibly growing and it gave him an air of maturity that she saw in him at odd moments. The sight of him playing with her guitar, letting her sleep in his bed, made her feel so safe that despite her wish to look at him, she drifted into a peaceful sleep.

9.

She was dreaming of a warm room with a fireplace and large windows through which the sunshine came in at full blast, playing on her closed eyelids. She knew it was Sunday and she could act like a lazy duck if she wanted to; she knew she would want to, so she stayed with her eyes closed, smiling inwardly. What a lovely life, being with a perfect guy, planning a wedding, buying a house, enjoying work with the youngsters eager to save the planet… and all of this, on a perfection called Sunday morning. It was all good. Above all, the man of her dreams was humming next to her. He probably thought she was deep in sleep, so he kept it low, but she heard him distinctly: his voice was rich and velvety, full of emotion and possibilities- it was a voice of the shiniest stars. She frowned a little in her pretended dream, somehow not recognizing Barry’s voice: he never used to sing. Why now? Why…

She woke up slowly and remembered where she was. In her friend’s cottage in the mountains. With a handsome stranger. Since there was nothing else but them in the cabin, and she could say with almost a hundred percent certainty that she was not singing, she had to deduce with awakening suspicion that he was the one humming in the silence. She kept her eyes closed not to give away her being awake, and listened.

– The sun’s still above all the rain that’s coming down, and I can feel the clouds drifting away, and now the sky is open wide…

He whistled a jazzy tune, and she wondered what he was doing, but she could not open her eyes, so she kept paying attention.

-Turn the light on, you will see things so much clearer… Ohh, but there’s no heart, oh, there’s no heart, and I’ve spent all this time feeling something you can’t feel at all… you’re a machine… oh, you’re a machine…

Nice voice, she thought. Quite a nice voice for a drummer. In fact, he sounded like a diva of some sorts. She could not believe he was put behind the drums with that voice. What kind of a crappy, unjust world…

Oh. Uh-uh. No way. He was not playing drums at all. He had lied to her.

She had no idea why, but her stomach turned and her heart leaped. Why would she mind that he was not saying the truth about himself? He had no obligation whatever. He did not know her, and she had behaved nastily from moment one. Moreover, she was not exactly the embodiment of honesty with him. Only fair.

She stirred noisily, stretching, yawning. He did not stop humming, and she saw his eyes fixed on her when she opened her eyes. He smiled and hummed on, then looked back at his hands on the table. He was writing something.

-Whatcha doin’? -she asked, sitting up.

-Writing a song. Band’s been out of it lately… we need fresh meat.

-Ugh. So do we -she replied, hearing her stomach groan. She checked her watch: it was seven pm.

-Why did you let me sleep so long? -she asked in a whining voice. -I won’t be able to sleep at night.

-You will. There’s nothing else to do around here… Besides, you were sleeping so soundly you never noticed that I was shaking your shoulder for like five minutes.

-Really? -she asked, lifting her eyebrows. She yawned, feeling absolutely done in. -Dammit. Too much sleep will always destroy me. I can do nothing else but yawn for hours now. Get ready for it.

-Be my guest -he replied with a smile, not taking his eyes off his sheet of paper. -Oh, by the way, I borrowed some paper from your notebook, if that’s okay.

-I can’t help it now, can I? -she said, brushing her tangled hair back. Remembering to add in a sleepy voice: -It’s okay.

She leaned forward, moving her head to the left and right, then up and down to ease the cramp in her neck muscles.

-I’m starving. We should eat -she said, standing up. Feeling dizzy. Sitting back down. -Great. Low blood pressure.

He eyed her silently. She held his glance, only to be lost in those gigantic eyes. He could certainly stop a girl’s heart from breathing. She searched her fried brain for a conversation topic she could throw in, but her sleepiness, dizziness and the fact that he kept looking at her without any movement stopped her mind from working. Totally. She looked away, forgetting her train of thought before his eyes had pierced her to the bed.

He stood up and turned his back on her. She let her breath out, blinking to revive herself. While he opened the pantry and took a can of meat out, she yawned a few more times, curious at how the heck she could have mistaken Barry for Josh. Josh for Barry. One was tall, muscular, arrogant, the other short, thin, and-

What was Josh like? Josh. Even his name sounded strange, but somehow while putting things together of him in her mind she felt forced to think of him as Josh. Joshua. No, Josh. He was certainly Josh. Funny, playful, sweet- kind of… Kind. At times. Easily silenced. A dork.

-Dinner’s served, mylady -she heard him bring her back to reality. Looking up she saw he had portioned out the meat, and put two halves of a bar of chocolate next to the plates. She got to her feet, more cautiously this time, and stepped to the table. It was only a few steps but she already felt exhausted. Dropping to the chair she yawned and rubbed her forehead, then brushed the hair from her eyes.

-I need some exercise- she said, biting her dry lower lip. -My legs are turning into rubber.

-You can climb up the roof like you said -he grinned, taking a bite from his food on the other side of the table.

She noticed he had given her a slightly larger portion.

-Huh? Why do I get more? -she asked, puzzled.

-Last time it was you who gave me more -he stated simply, eating on.

She grabbed her fork, putting a piece of stuff in her mouth. It tasted chewable and swallowable, so she chewed and swallowed. She looked at him from under her lashes just when he lifted his glance to meet hers. She knew she had blushed, but her brain was too much of a sponge to feel awkward about it. So, he noticed about the food. Also, he cared enough to be considerate, or, cared enough to think of her well-being. Also, you need therapy, Kath, she fumed. A guy looks at you and you think you’re the centre of the universe. Well, to begin with, there’s no one else here he could look at. Second, he-

Losing trail of her thought, she swallowed the food from her mouth. It sounded real loud in the silence. Embarrassed, she listened to him eat, hoping to hear some really disgusting and manly burps, farts, hiccups, whatever men usually did when they ate. At least, Barry did all those. Okay, if she wanted to be fair, he did not fart. But the rest, he did them all. So, she focused her ears to catch the sounds of a vulgar and barbaric man eating.

-This was quite good -he said, leaning back in his chair, licking his mouth like a satisfied cat. She stared at his lips, aware that by now he had defied her expectations more often than she would have liked to admit.

-Have my chocolate too -she replied, pushing her half-bar towards him on the table. -It’s not dark, but what the heck. It’s still chocolate.

-Thanks -he grinned, munching on his half, looking aside, then up at the ceiling. -Is this your cottage?

-My friend’s. Hugh’s. We usually meet up with the university gang once a year. One of us comes first, prepares the terrain, buys provisions, cleans the house, etc. This year it was my turn. They are scheduled to arrive in… six days. Well, five tomorrow.

-Time’s flying, eh? -he asked with a wink. -It always does… whether we want it or not.

-Do you have anything urgent to attend? -she asked back, finishing her food. She stood up and took the bottle of water from beside the wall.

-A long shower perhaps. Nothing else right now -he replied.

-Don’t tell me- she moaned, pouring water into the two cups he had neatly placed next to the plates and forks. -My hair feels like… ugh. I’d rather not say the first thing that came to my mind when I touched my hair just now. I was stupid enough not to wash it for five days. I thought I’d do it here. I know. I’m a serious case.

-We can wash our hair, right? Warm water and stuff. There is shampoo left. I wouldn’t mind it either, to be honest…

-I can warm water right now -she said, perking up. The thought of clean hair brightened her up a lot, and she briskly walked out, gathering snow in the bucket, then placing it next to the fire. -Sh*t. I really can’t waste another log just to warm water for hair-washing. It will melt and warm, eventually, but it will take longer.

-No problem. We can talk, or you can play your guitar -he smiled without the smallest trace of malignancy in his voice.

-Or you can sing -she blurted out before she could check herself. It came naturally to her, she realized. Picking on people.

He looked at her in surprise.

-More like, hum -he said, scratching his almost-beard, a little embarrassed.

-Whatever -she replied, shrugging her shoulder. She did her best to sound nonchalant- but had he noticed? She so wanted him to be faced with his lie. She wanted him to blush and admit to his falsehood. Admit he had made a mistake. She wanted him to apologize to her.

-Let’s play truth or dare, leaving the nasties out -he offered, walking to the bed and lying down on it.

She had followed the muscle movement in his thighs and hind area and she nearly choked on her own swallowing when he hopped to the bed with unexpected swiftness, and looked at her.

-Depending on what you call a nasty question -she mumbled, looking away, making a show of pushing the bucket closer to the fire, poking at the log, then straddling the chair to face the embers.

-Okay, how about this one: what’s the thing that can make your day, no matter what?

-But that’s a nice question -she said, staring into the fire.

-I know and I’ll do my best to keep them like that -he replied. His voice was really soothing, she thought. Sometimes deep, sometimes higher, but endlessly gentle and soothing.

-A cup of latte. A smile. A dog’s furry head on my knee -she said, her mind picking odd happy places from the string of her memories.

He propped his head on his hand, looking at her profile. He smiled at all the things that always made his day, no matter what. It seemed they had more in common than he would have thought…

10.

-What about you? -she asked. -What makes your day?

-Sleeping in… a latte… my dog’s furry face on my knee -Josh replied with a playful smile.

Kath opened her mouth, then closed it. Was he making fun of her? Was he taking it as a game, or was he taking it too seriously, like she was?

-So, you said you played the drums -she said to change the subject. -Do you have any other job, or… do you work in the band full-time?

-Music is my life -he said simply, trying to keep to the facts. Damn, she was curious. She would find out. Why did he mind that she would realize he had lied, and that she would probably not like it?

-And you, have you always worked in that area? Saving the environment? -he asked quickly, perhaps too quickly, he thought.

She looked at him in a way that made him very uneasy. He had the impression she had seen through his disguise, but was playing along with it. He squirmed on the bed, feeling as if she was scrutinizing him without his awareness to the fact.

-My father was the most adamant environmentalist I have ever known -she replied after a while, turning her glance. -He used to tell me, Kathy, if you throw that piece of plastic into the bin with the cardboard, a tree in the forest will die. A child of five can be terribly sensitive, and I had nightmares about it. I pictured all the dying trees and cried myself to sleep, and took very good care to do what he told me. The wish to save as much of the planet as possible grew up with me, but because I know it’s not easy to explain to a child or a youngster how important it is to think of nature as… as our own flesh and blood, I decided to work with them.

-He meant good -Josh said, shifting his hand under his head a little. -But yeah, I can see how tough it must have been on you.

-I see it daily -she continued more passionately. -You know? Try telling a black kid who spends his life watching TV and then playing hide and seek with a gun in the street that it’s important to preserve life. For some kids, life is… anything but sacred.

They remained silent for a while, both immersed in their thoughts. She was struggling to come to terms with her wishes to do good and encountering obstacles every day, while he wondered what a great person she was.

-I’m sure the kids love you -he said, sitting up to stretch his legs ahead. He moved his ankle carefully, then looked at her. -You’re doing an important thing… showing the right way to people, that’s… that’s admirable.

She smiled, a bit bitterly, he found, but kept her reply to herself.

The silence grew tense in the cabin, as both of them tried to break the barrier so customary between two strangers. Looking for conversation topics, things to discuss, practical things to attend to. There was nothing practical in their situation, mainly because they had nothing to do but wait for the water to get slightly warmer.

Josh lost his focus on her and looked into the dying fire, his thoughts taking over. He knew how worried everyone was over his disappearance… his parents must be beside themselves. He hung his head in desperation, so unable to do anything to let them know he was alright. It had been several days already… they must be searching for him. He wondered if the fans knew… if Brian was smart enough to be sercretive about it, or if the news leaked out anyway. Sweeney must be restless… Chris… everyone. He clenched his fist, feeling his temper rise- trapped in a cabin, buried alive, without anyone’s knowledge- how was he supposed to stay put and quiet and chit-chat with a stranger when his world must be in a turmoil?

-I can’t stay here -he suddenly said, tightening his lips. -I mean… they must be worried sick about me.

-And the more you think about it the worse it will get -she replied in a maddeningly calm voice.

He lifted his head to look at her. She was in the same pose, staring at her hands.

-What the fuck do you mean? Do you mean I shouldn’t think of my family, my friends, my fans? -he asked angrily.

-You can be angry all you want but you will not get out of this place earlier -she said, turning to face him. Her eyes were distant and cold- why?

-But I… I just can’t be so fucking calm about it, okay? I know my mom is dying of anyxiety and so is my dad and everyone else I know.

He seemed desperate for her affirmation, or approval or just a word to show that she understood. She did understand. She envied and hated him for living with the certainty that he was loved. She felt terribly lonely suddenly, and did not want to talk anymore.

-Then don’t be calm about it -she said in a resigned voice, turning on her chair to check the temperature of the water.

-And you will just… j-just sit there and check that damn water and then wash your hair and…? And then?

He sounded almost like someone on the verge of hysteria and she did not have the patience to deal with him.

-I said I would try to climb up the fucking roof, okay? -she yelled, facing him. -What do you want me to do? Swim across the snow to the nearest place where humans might be found, which is about… thirty miles from here? You act like this was only happening to you. Hello! Do you see me here, trapped? Stinking and hungry? Shut up and try to be a man about this whole damn thing.

Her eyes were aflame and so were his. She was flushed from all the anger she had relieved herself of, and of the unsaid things that bothered her about her own life. Things she’d been scared of, things she’d been running from- they all seemed to catch up with her, and she had nowhere to hide, literally.

-Just what exactly is the definition of “man” in your dictionary? -he asked through teeth that were so tight he was expecting them to break any moment.

-Oh, there we go -she laughed, tilting her head back. -Someone has a very small opinion of himself, doesn’t he? Well, I think that a boy of ten can be manlier than twenty grown-ups. It all depends.

-I assume I’m not the boy in that sentence -he said quietly.

-Whatever -she said, brushing her hair that fell into her eyes in the angy gesturing. – Just let me be and at least try to be less… explosive about all of this, okay? I… I can’t help your self-esteem -she said in a more subdued tone. I hardly have any myself, she added in her thought. -Do whatever you think necessary to boost your ego.

To her surprise, he stood up and stepping to the table, he took her face between his hands. His fingers were strong and callous, and so were his lips, almost biting into hers. His breath was not pleasant, his beard was grazing her skin and his tongue claimed possession of her mouth in no time.

It was over before she could recover from the shock to push him away. He distanced himself from her, holding her hair with his left hand, staring into her eyes. He wasn’t exactly causing her pain, but his grip was strong enough to stop her breathing.

-I like to be angry, and I like to worry about things. I am like that -he hissed, his eyes gigantic and hanging before hers as bottomless pits. -You are sarcastic. You like to criticise people. You are like that. Let’s just try to accept each other for these five days, okay?

He let go of her hair, but before the physical contact between them was broken completely, his thumb touched the skin on her cheek, just where the cheekbone protruded a little to give her face a strong character.

He went back and sat on the bed, biting his lower lip, looking at her with an impassable face. She was- flabbergasted. She knew she would have to start breathing soon. Her lips closed, and she swallowed with difficulty. She averted his gaze, whatever he was thinking, and turned to check the water once more. Her finger never felt anything, and her brain was circling around those few moments when he kissed her. Moistening her lips she felt a drop of saliva, probably his, disappear. She felt exposed, she felt weak, she hated him for using her to prove… to prove what? That he was a man? Ridiculous. They were all like that. They thought they were so men because they could kiss and make a girl want them.

She fumed inwardly, staring into the fire. She would never, ever let him touch her again.

11.

He surveyed the fire, her angry posture, the bucket. He could not explain why he had done what he had done. He hardly ever acted on impulse… but she had annoyed the heck out of him. She was still fuming, even though she looked terribly subdued and humble even. He just had a tiny feeling that she was not as calm on the inside as she showed on the outside… But there was nothing he could do now. The kiss was the only thing he could have done to… well…

Right. He did not need to do it. He knew that now. So what? He still did it and it was…

She kept staring into the fire, motionless and seemingly hurt. Or at least, pouting. Her hair fell forward, leaving her back and part of her neck exposed. Her shirt did not cover her waist, and her exciting tattoo was visible again. He just couldn’t get enough of watching her tattoo, but he only saw part of the phoenix’s head, and a very ornate tail. The rest was still part of the unknown.

He felt hungry. Also, ill at ease with her. Their fragile relationship, a kind of truce, had been broken again, mostly because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut about his worries. She obviously knew that he was worrying about his family. There was no need for him to start emphasizing. She had been right: he was everything she said he was. Lead by his manly pride which was not yet ready to show defeat, he swallowed the urge to apologize on the spot.

She got up then, and took the basin out once more, pouring the water inside, taking the towel from where it was hanging by the slow fire. She produced an almost empty bottle of shampoo from somewhere, and after placing the basin close to the fireplace, she turned to him without looking in his eyes.

-I’ll be quick.

With that, she already dipped her hair in the water. She was leaning forward, using her hands to splash water on her longish hair. After a while, she reached for the shampoo and applied some of it on her hair, making a lot of foam with the circular movements of her hands. She scrubbed and rubbed her scalp, and he was not sure whether to be angry for missing out on the chance of washing her hair, or to be happy that he was granted the view. Her shirt was slowly slipping forward, and he could clearly see the taut stomach with the fine muscles. There was also something else he thought he saw… she had her eyes closed, so it was okay for him to look on, until the shirt revealed her breasts. Oh wow. He averted his gaze, blushing terribly. Then, to ease his remorse, he stood up and limped to her, and as if to placate her, he took hold of her shirt and pulled it back.

-To keep it from getting wet -he stated, clearing his throat.

She said nothing, only kept washing her hair, then rinsing it. She was definitely angry but it had a bizarrely arousing effect on him. He bit his lip, holding the shirt, being a mere few inches from her, or to be more precise, from her hips. He rolled his eyes, grinning silently. Oh, she was so right. Men could only think of that thing. Here he was, buried alive, with hardly any food and water to survive, with a woman who hated his guts and whom he not exactly appreciated, and the sight of the thin stretch of skin just below her waist, with the fancy tattoo on it caused him to fantasize of hot and steamy encounters with her. He swallowed inaudibly, then looked down to survey her perfectly curved bottom. As long as she didn’t know, he was safe.

But that wasn’t enough. He knew he was walking on very thin ice when his fingers, as if by mistake when tugging on her shirt again, touched her skin. In fact, he rested his left hand on her back as if to keep the shirt from moving while his right hand was fumbling with the edge of the shirt, just below her stomach. He wondered when she would snap, but apparently, she either didn’t notice, or didn’t want to enable him, or… or she enjoyed it. He kept his left palm glued to her back, keeping the shirt in place, his thumb moving ever so slightly to invisibly follow the curlicued tail of the phoenix. As she rinsed her hair, her whole body moved under his touch, and he loved the feeling. Her skin was warm and soft, even her backbone was soft under his palm. He pressed his hand a little tighter down her back, his fingers ready to feel the small dips and valleys between the small protruding bones. And then, noticing that she was almost finsihed with her hair, he slid his right hand a bit under her navel and holding the edge of the shirt, he tugged a little, only holding it between his index and third finger, lightly pressing his palm to her skin.

He had a full microsecond to feel the warmth of her flesh at her waist, and the sudden contraction of her muscles under his cold palm. She instantly straightened up and bumped into him, sending him wobbling backwards until his bum reached the edge of the table. She also turned swiftly to face him, the sudden movement of her head sending a thousand drops of water onto his face and shirt.

He stood there wiping his face, rubbing the bone above his bum that the edge of the table hit. He deserved those. He didn’t really mind, either. Her skin just below her navel had felt fantastic…

-Don’t do that again -she hissed, her eyes flaming. She rubbed her hair with the towel, walking away from him in disdain.

-I was only holding your shirt… -he tried, and failed.

She tossed him the towel which half landed on his face.

-Hey, this is not cool -he said, starting to lose the patience and understanding he had forced upon himself.

-And groping me is cool -she retorted, throwing herself onto the bed.

-For me? Kindof -he admitted, waiting for her reaction. He only got the proverbial look on her face that could have killed him had they been characters in a comic book. -Okay, I apologize -he sighed, looking at the water. He stooped but he was nowhere close to the basin when he felt a pain in his ankle. -Uhm, I think I need some help here -he uttered the words, trying to sound as apologetic as possible. -I can’t put weight on my foot but if I wash my hair, I can’t prop myself either.

-So I get to wash your hair! -she concluded triumphantly, glaring at him with a smile that meant everything but appreciation.

He looked at her without a word. He had the eyes of those dark, melancholy heroes, a bit clumsy, a lot more romantic, usually failing to impress at first sight, but winning the girl in the end. She tightened her lips. Standing up, she threw the towel on her shoulder, and stepping to him, she basically pushed his hair down into the water.

-Oops, sorry -she smiled, not giving him time to be indignant. -Just hold on. It will be fast and painless.

At first, she rubbed his hair rather roughly, making sure to splash as much water on his neck and face as well as his ears as she could. He kept silent despite the fact that it was probably nothing like a dream hairwash, and after a while her heart was softened by his mute endurance. He did not deserve to be treated like that… after all, he was a man. Who obviously… liked her. Or, was attracted to her. If he had found her repulsive, he would never have wanted to touch her. She smiled inwardly, recalling his groping fingers, the tentative touch, that cool pam on her stomach. Not to mention the vague memory of him standing right next to her, almost touching her in a way that was undoubtedly…

It was her turn to feel something dangerously close to desire, and she quickly composed herself. She applied shampoo to his hair, washing out the remnants of it from the bottle with water, and rubbed the silky hair thoroughly. Her fingers dived into the lukewarm water and the soft river of his hair, enjoying their feel. He had gorgeous hair… Her fingers slowed down a bit, moving across his scalp at a softer pace, automatically really. She had no control on her fingers. She was so angry with him she could have pushed his face into the shampoo water to make his eyes sting. But her fingers… they moved slowly, gently, making sure to touch his scalp everywhere, and wash that hair well. She imagined it when it would be dry, encircling his face like an aura. She also imagined it still a bit wet, the playful curls still holding water in them, tiny drops shining at their ends. She pictured her hands dive in his hair while she was looking up into his eyes. Damn. She imagined a lot of things while her fingers made love to his hair.

Alas, it was soon time to end the heavenly activity, and she was supposed to switch back to grumpy mode. She rinsed his hair thoroughly, then squeezed his curls a little, and finally placed the towel on his ehad, rubbing his hair a little while he straightened himself. Before he could make eye contact, she lifted the basin full of rather dirty water and went outside the cabin to pour it into the snow.

Josh stood there looking after her, his scalp pleasurably tingling, his hair feeling soft and silky under his fingers. Her massage felt divine, and he wondered if he should tell her or not. He sat down on the chair, rubbing his head. The towel was almost soaked, but it was better than nothing. And, it smelled nice. Of shampoo, and of their hair.

One day had gone, somehow, with some good momnets and some horrible ones too. He knew he would have to be careful not to annoy her again; he honestly wanted peace and quiet, but sometimes he just couldn’t help himself. Obviously she wasn’t used to his tantrums, otherwise she would have laughed and thrown a kiss on his cheek, like Loosh. Or Tariqh. Josh grinned at the memory of the giant man towering above him with angry eyes, then picking him up like a feather and kissing him on the cheek, thus providing material for teasing jokes for the other band members for about two months. He missed his band… he missed his family. He missed Sweeney terribly. He combed through his hair, feeling the tension rise in him again. He had to find a way to let them know he was alive.

She returned, slowly closing the door behind her. Her gestures were slow and she looked suddenly tired. Also, her eyes were suspiciously shiny. He watched her silently while she went to the bed and sat down on it to stare at her hands, her back hunched, her face sombre.

-Thanks for washing my hair -he offered quietly, hoping to break the ice.

She nodded, never looking at him.

-Anytime -she said in a resigned tone. What was going on, he wondered, but he had no time to ask, as she stood up and took her sleeping bag to the fireplace. -I’m very tired and I’d like to sleep now.

She sounded very… off. He raised his eyebrows but said nothing, only watched her get inside her sleeping bag and turn towards the ashes.

There was no point in him staying up to watch her sleep. He shuffled to the light switch and put the light out, then shuffled back to the bed. He had no idea what time it was but he didn’t really care either. Perhaps if he didn’t pay attention to it, the minutes would fly by faster.

Although he was not exactly sure he wanted that to happen.

12.

It was so dark that when she opened her eyes, her heart missed a few beats, then resumed its beating so fast she had to sit up and breathe deep to steady herself. She was sweating in her sleeping bag, so she scrambled out of it and sat with her knees pulled up. Her dream had been something very distressing but she could not recall anything from it. The feeling of dread pervaded her whole body as she tried to compose herself, her eyes wide open, scanning the objects around her that should have been familiar but seemed extremely scary in that moment. The fireplace led to a dark way upwards, God knows where, and she expected something horrible to jump out of it the next second. The table seemed to be looming above her, waiting to tower over her and crush her with its massive wooden legs. She was a responsible adult and she was scared by the chair which, she could have sworn, had moved an inch closer to her while she was surveying the furthest corners of the dark room.

There was no one to protect her from her fears, whatever they were; she buried her face on her knees and willed them to go away and let her go back to sleep. Her wish was not granted; in fact, she felt she would suffocate- lifting her head she saw the ceiling move closer, the walls shift soundlessly, the objects grow. She rubbed her eyes and pinched herself to wake up- it was not a dream- and she was not imagining things- when she opened her mouth to scream, no sound came-

Sitting up, she sweated for real this time. It was dark. She had dreamt that she was having a dream about waking up after a nightmare. It was pretty serious, she concluded, wiping her forehead. God, it was dark. She trained her eyes, blinking many times, looking around, watching out for any transforming objects, but everything was peaceful as it was supposed to be.

She reached for the bottle that was almost empty, and drank some water, then finished the whole portion, all two sips while she was at it. She would need to get snow in the morning- whenever that would arrive. It was so dark she could not possibly see the face of her watch, not that she really cared to know how slowly that goddamn time was passing.

Looking over to him, she envied his perfectly calm sleep. The sleep of someone who had a clear conscience, she thought bitterly. If only she could say that of herself.

She thought of things, random things, making an effort to make the flow of thought slow and monotonous. Of Jake, her favourite student, almost a friend, tall and lanky and the sweetest dork she had ever seen. He was so eager to preserve nature that it touched her profoundly; when was the last time she had felt as dedicated to anything as he was to nature? Her father, the monument of dedication, now gone since two springs before, would forever scold her and tell her to keep trying. Be better at what you do. For your own sake. Better in what way? What did she do anyway? A bit of everything all the time, nothing specific, nothing she could pinpoint as crucial or world-saving. Jake, lanky Jake… he had collected her the most beautiful maple leaves she had ever seen, glued them on a paper and framed them. It was hanging in her living-room, just above the photo of her parents while they were still happy, and that was a long time ago. A pity really, two such great personalities… it wasn’t meant to be. They probably started quarreling when she was born. She had always been the breaking point of their marriage: her upbringing, her schooling, everything around her they wanted in a different way. She would never have kids unless she was sure they would get all the love she and the future he could give them. Looking at her life, perhaps there was no future he. Maybe she would need to adopt. Why not, so many orphans out there… Jake was an orphan. And so kind-hearted and zealous. And stop circling around him like you’d be infatuated with the damn kid.

She was more alert than ever, and bored to death. She could not sit there forever in the dark, she was too selfish to do that.

-Hey- she said. Her voice sounded deeper than she remembered it to be, and it definitely woke her up, if not him. -Hey -she said again, louder this time.

He shifted in his sleep, murmuring and perhaps swallowing once, then he fell back asleep. She would not let it happen.

-I need to talk to somebody -she whined.

-Mmm? -he asked, half asleep.

-Wake up, please.

He turned to his back, sighing and clearing his throat, probably wondering what was going on.

-Wh… what is it -he mumbled, sniffling a little. He sounded so like a man after a good sleep, heavy, cosy, cuddly. Someone to be woken up with a large coffee and a hug. She missed waking someone up… she missed being there for someone. Not many people had been there for her, but she was loneliest when she realized there wasn’t anyone in her life really, anyone to love. She felt so lonely that she sometimes caught herself fantasizing about a teenager. Ugh.

-I can’t sleep -she blurted out.

-Is everything okay? -was his first question. He sounded fully awake and his concern was delicious and touching.

-I can never sleep -she admitted. -Only half the night. At home I sometimes read or cook for the following day or clean the house or chat online. There’s a lot to do at home, but here…

He swallowed again, apparently looking for the right words. Her eyes had gotten used to the dark by then and she saw him rub his thoroughly.

-You sleep very well -she remarked. -That’s great… it’s a gift you should appreciate.

-Not when it’s eleven and my band is kicking my bed to get up -he replied with a snort.

She bit her lip. Again, the band. She wanted to ask him about his music and make him be honest with her. It bothered her that he was still lying.

His arms fell on the bed with a soft thud, and he took a deep breath.

-Okay, I’m up. Talk.

-It doesn’t work like that -she giggled. -I’ll talk when something comes to my mind but right now, it’s empty.

-So you just woke me up to keep you company? -he asked incredulously.

She nodded in the dark, forgetting that he couldn’t see it. Or maybe he could. His head was turned sideways towards her, and his eyes were sparkling in the dark. Even now they seemed to be darker than the night, and they were fixed on her directly.

-Okay -he replied, without the slightest trace of irritation in his voice, and she bit her lip once more. Why was he not angry with her? -Is there any other way to make you sleep, though…? Other than chatting the night away? I don’t mind… I have no urgent matters to attend to in the morning… but I love to sleep -he concluded, and she discerned from his voice that he was grinning.

-Sometimes music helps -she replied, grinning back at him in the night. Oh, when she said the words she knew she had said the right thing. YES!

He shifted uncomfortably. What now, Groban?

-Perhaps you’re cold -he said after what seemed like forever, and her heart sank. He knew that she had heard him sing, so what was going on? He was being impossible. Pretty soon she would snap and shake him by the shoulder and-

-I can move to your place and you can come up here -he said. -Warmer on the bed.

-Don’t think so, but thanks -she replied with a slight bitterness in her voice. -Inanimate objects can’t radiate proper warmth in this place… At one time I spent a few weeks here, in mid-January. God it was cold! I was on the verge of abducting a bear and chaining him by the bedpost to keep me warm.

-Because obviously papa bear would have appreciated you using him as a hot-water bottle -he said cautiously.

She shrugged but kept silent, feeling snippy. It was no good. She should have let him sleep. At least him.

-You can come up here, then. And I’ll stay too -he added.

Her head turned to face him in the dark. What?

-What?

-We can warm each other up -he said in a matter-of-fact tone. What?! -What? Stop being paranoid.

-I’m not paranoid -she retorted.

-Then come up here and shut up and let me sleep -he said with equal sauciness.

-Why?

-Why come up here? Because you’re probably cold.

-Why not sing instead?

It slipped out of her mouth, unexpected. She was not planning it and it surprised her just as much.

-Why not… what?! What’s wrong with you?! -he was exasperated by then. -What do you mean instead?!

She sighed, feeling lonely. He was lying to her face. Why did she want to corner him? He was only trying to be nice. If he wanted to keep secrets from her, he probably had his reasons. Not to mention that he was under no obligation to be honest. They were mere survivors of a winter incident, and a few days locked up together didn’t mean they would have to share their innermost secrets with each other.

Her loneliness won in the end. Getting to her feet, she slowly walked to the bed, while he shifted backwards to the wall, making space for her, very much space. She cautiously lowered herself into the warm spot his body had left on the sheet, and he covered her with the soft blankets.

-If you want to talk, we can talk -he said very quietly. Almost whispering. His back was turned to her, and she looked at him, curled up, protective-looking, a man next to her. Someone who would wake up in the same bed with her. Even if he probably hated her every cell.

-No, just go back to sleep -she said softly, turning sideways, feeling his warmth radiate onto her back. She instantly felt better, and smiling gratefully into the dark, she whispered: -Thank you.

There was no reply, and after a while she eased in her pose, sighing. He had fallen asleep. Wow he was a damn good sleeper.

-You’re welcome.

She started at his voice, so gentle and boyish. Like that of someone who meant the words.

-Good night, Josh -she offered her truce. Perhaps he would not hate her that much if she said his name properly.

-Good night, Kat.

He accepted it. He did. She smiled in the dark, biting her lips to keep from giving out sounds of happiness. She had no real reason to feel that way but she did, and it covered her from head to toe, along with his safe warmth.

It even drowned out her real worries about her friends possibly not coming for her after all. She closed her eyes, chasing away the dark thoughts. She would deal with them later.

13.

Kathleen woke up to the cosiest sound in the world: someone breathing in her ear, with a soft snore occasionally breaking the calm rhythm. She didn’t need to open her eyes to picture her own home, the sprinkled cream walls of her bedroom, the beige-coloured curtains, the rusty orange lampshade in the corner, and her pride, the leaf-painting Jake had made for her. Waking up on a Saturday, late, knowing there is no rush, no need to do things, no duty to attend to. The day is yours, a glorious, sunny, happy half-weekend, yours to spend with someone.

Except the fact that in the past… year or so there had been no one to spend her Saturday mornings with, her fantasy was perfect. She kept her eyes closed, envisaging hot coffee floating into her nostrils, eggs and bacon melting in a pan, milk and jam sweetening her mouth afterwards. Served by him.

She was past thirty… well past thirty. Thinking of her age brought her daydream to a painful end. Constant reminders that she, like everyone else, was not getting younger. Time to marry, time to have children. Your time’s up, Kathleen, she heard day in, day out, even if the actual words were not spoken in her presence, for most of her friends and relatives were tactful enough to keep silent. But their silences were very telling.

It was not her fault that her paths kept crossing those of the most idiotic males on the planet. If he wasn’t arrogant, then he was pretentious. If he wasn’t impatient, he was vain. If he did listen to her, he wanted sex to be a live performance show involving leather and a whole Victorian set, lace and frills and chastity belt thrown in. Gah.

Chasing away her most recent no good memories of a man in her life, she calmed herself to stay in bed a little more. From the shreds of thought and remembrance it slowly sank in, where she was, who she was with, what had happened, what had not, what would, hopefully. Josh. Handsome, saucy, fitful, sensitive, witty Josh. Bashful Josh. Manly Josh. Seducing Josh. He was so many things that her head was spinning. Maybe he was, after all, an actor…? One who switched from one mood, one face to another, thus tempting all women types available. Would be quite a cunning strategy.

His gentle snore made her feel at home, in her flat, happy, relaxed. Not fearing her past or her future. Had they met under different circumstances… would they have noticed each other? What did he look like when he was washed, combed, dressed up for an occasion? Singing? She pictured him on stage, walking slowly, gesturing with his feminine hands, looking at pople in the audience. He must be quite a sight, she concluded, and stirred a little to move her legs which started to fall asleep.

She touched his calf by mistake and he moved in his sleep, swallowing comfortably, and-

His arm was all around her. Her arm was under his. She saw his hand dangle in front of her breast, almost touching it. Oh my god. She bit her lip, realizing that whenever she breathed in, her nipple touched his fingers. Holy breakfast. She tried to hold her breath back, but of course it didn’t work: she felt hot from the exertion and when she finally inhaled greedily, the whole of his palm met her breast. Shit.

Her first thought was to retreat slowly, trying to slip further back from his hand, the result of which was that she met his curled up body, the warm valley between his abdomen and thighs. To put it bluntly, her bottom was pressed to his hips. Her breath stuck in her lungs, for real this time. To make things worse, his arm moved, the whole of him moved, and she felt everything. A warm body tight against her, so tempting, so wonderful. He felt perfect… She blinked in confusion, biting her lip, trying to enjoy the feeling, fighting between abandon and shame. What would he say… that she was desperate. Pining for a man.

His breathing became faster and she stiffened under his arm- oh god- she wanted to disappear. Become a snowflake and melt with the rest of them in the bucket. She could not have lived if he had woken up- but mercifully, he only stirred and slept on, mumbling incoherently, sighing onto her neck. Her neck. Was he that close now? Oh dear god.

Between guilt and curiosity, her instincts awoke, and her painful wish to feel respected and loved by someone, not only looked at, prodded on, flipped over for masculine desires. What bad would come out of playing along a little? Was she to be despised because she longed to soak in the warmth of someone?

She relaxed in the cave of softness that his sleeping body provided, allowing her senses to feel the bliss of connecting with another human being, albeit an unconscious one. If he was unconscious, that is. She was not entirely sure he was: after all, he seemed to enjoy pranks and embarrasing situations. But if he wasn’t, and he was waiting for her reactions-

Well. The devil in her forced her to rub against his hips slowly.

Nothing.

Then, after a few moments, once more.

He moved this time, turning to his other side. His arm was gone, his warmth was gone, and now she felt his bottom against hers.

She held her breath to listen to signs of his being awake, but his breathing was even and relaxed, with the occasional snore thrown in. Whew. She exhaled slowly, letting her fright out, and with it, the wonderful dream which only lasted for a microsecond: the two of them together in some way, connected, belonging. She was positively gloomy when she got up a few minutes later, trying to move silently to let him sleep as long as possible.

When she went out and closed the door behind herself, he let out the longest breath he had ever held inside. He breathed quickly, wiping his forehead that was full of sweat. He curled up a bit more to help his arousal pass, but it wasn’t a momentary thing. Her perfect body up against him like that, her breast almost in his hand, her hips rubbing against his- oh, shit, shit, shit. She almost found him out, too. He stifled a moan, burying his face into the pillow.

When the terrible desire dissolved in his cells, he lay on his back, staring at the ceiling in the dark. She had not put the light on, to let him sleep. He thought about her, that strange woman, so insecure and unable to let go of… something, at the same time fighting an urge to… to be loved. He saw it in her eyes, in her gestures. She was hiding it but he knew, and he felt for her.

She returned to the cabin and quietly closed the door. Walking on tiptoes, she brought a bucketful of snow with her which she placed next to the fire. He watched her from the safety of the darkness as she lit a piece of wood and stared at it for a while, until the flames went up. Then, she got some cans out and started serving the frugal breakfast. Her moves were very slow and quiet and his heart welled up for the woman in her who tried to make the best of a shitty situation and keep it all together.

-Good morning -he yawned, turning on his side to look at her, officially now.

-Hi -she said with a smile. Even in the dark, her smile was gentle and contagious, and he felt his lips stretch into a happy grin.

-Did you sleep well? -he asked. He was dying for some silly small talk.

-I slept wonderfully, thank you -she nodded, opening a can of something. -Thanks for letting me spend the night there.

-No problem -he replied. -Well, if we want to be honest about it, you saved my life, you let me stay in your cabin, uhm- it was a far deal. Furthermore, we can save on the logs this way… we can keep each other warm.

She swallowed, hoping to do it unnoticeably. The sentence and everything it implied sounded so wonderful that her heart suddenly beat faster.

-Wouldn’t you need the lights? -he asked, sensing her uncertainty.

-Naaah. There’s not too much to s… shit -she finished abruptly, hissing and putting the can down.

-What? -he asked, sitting up.

-I think I cut myself -she said bitterly. -Dammit.

He switched the lightbulb on and stepped to her to see a rather long cut between her thumb and forefinger.

-Eww -he said, squinting. -That’s not a good place for a cut.

-Do you know any good places for a cut? -she asked, and he grinned. Her sarcasm was alive and kicking.

-Have I told you I can’t bear to see blood…? -he whispered, pretending to shake on his feet.

-Oh, drop it, Jock -she grimaced, sitting down. -I just have to wash it and tie it down with something.

-Do we have bandages?

-And a nail file and my grandmother’s iron. Absolutely -she said.

-Well, where do I get a strip of cloth from? -he asked, scratching his head. Before she replied, he smacked his forehead. -I know. Wait.

She sat and stared in disbelief as he took off his sweater and his T-shirt. He was standing right next to her, bare-chested, and he pushed the cans aside on the table, ripped the soft T-shirt open at one end with his hands (after helping a little with his teeth), after which he started tearing off long strips of cotton.

-Your T-shirt -she said stupidly, trying to keep her gaze on the table, her hand, whatever- anything but his chest and arms.

-It was my least favourite one -he replied with a grin. He took a strip of cotton and soaking it in the icy water, he crouched before her, taking her hand. -I guess this will hurt a little.

It must have, but she was beyond pain. His touch, so direct, his proximity, so overwhelming, his whole presence, his gentleness. His curls were falling into his eyes, his lips were parted slightly and his tongue was sticking out for a moment- he was trying very hard to do a good job and she started to shake.

She was in love.

14.

-I have never done this before and I’m sorry if I suck at it -he said apologetically, viewing the ribbon-like bandage around her thumb. -It keeps falling off. Annoying -he added, still holding her hand, trying to gently keep the strip in place.

-You’re doing great -she replied. Her voice was barely a whisper and she cleared her throat. -It’s fine. I’ll live… thank you.

Looking at her hand. She had a pretext now: checking her bandage. When in fact, she was staring at his hands, the fingers which fumbled with that silly strip of T-shirt.

-Women tend to run into these accidents -he joked. -Should have seen my mom. Every second day she had a burn, a cut, or a blue spot on her hand.

-Well, it’s us who spend a significant amount of our time in the kitchen -she retorted. She was smiling at him, though.

-Yes, and we men love that -he grinned. -Oh, to smell something warm and delicious, some chicken on pasta and mash and pickles and sushi, not that sushi would be warm but still. Food -he moaned, rubbing his stomach.

-I was on it -she said ruefully, eyeing the top of the can, a bit bloody after its encounter with her hand.

-We can still eat something, right? You just sit. I’ll… I’ll do whatever there is to do -he said with a light frown.

There was not much to do, indeed. She sat with her head propped on her hand, the wounded one on the table, watching him without a sound. He put his sweater back on, a fact she acknowledged with an inward sigh, and took the plates and forks out. She couldn’t stop staring at his hands. They were not particularly long or slender, but they had a very flowing movement about them. She had noticed how he kept gesturing with them when he talked. It was as if his hands were part of the conversation. It was the same when he touched anything with them: his fingers cared for the objects they encircled or brushed. She stared at him as he was scraping out the mushrooms and the canned meat with a fork, and found herself wishing she was a fork or a can. It was such a bizarre idea that her lips stretched into an involuntary grin.

-What? -he noticed, and asked.

-No, nothing. I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing at myself -she said, looking at him with a smile.

-I didn’t think you were laughing at me. I was just curious that’s all -he replied, taking the other chair and sitting down on the other side of the table. -Mmm, nicely warm with the fire at my back. Are you cold?

Before she could reply, he pulled his chair to the side and motioned her to sit next to him. She decided to swallow her reply, whatever it would have been, and placed her chair next to his.

-I’m sorry about my mood swings -she said suddenly, chewing on tasteless mushroom. -I didn’t mean to act all gloomy last night, I just…

She stopped in the middle of her sentence, trying to compose the idea in her head so that it would sound sane and acceptable. It didn’t, so she kept silent.

-I’m the same way, don’t worry -his voice was reassuring and she was grateful. -I apologize for being a nutcase whenever I remember something important for me. That scene about my family was totally unnecessary and out of place. At home there are plenty of people to tolerate these fits of mine… in fact, there’s a girl called Sam whose only task is to be there and show a brave face whenever I start throwing plates and toothpaste at her.

-But I understand, I do -she said assertively, ignoring his funny remarks, making an effort not to sound too persuasive. -I… I can imagine how worried they must be. And how hard it is for you -she finished, swallowing her food and the sadness that came out of nowhere.

He glanced at her sideways, questions already on his tongue, but seeing her sombre profile he chose to save them for later.

-Anyways -he went on, so obviously doing his best to switch the subject that she tightened her lips. -May not be the best time to ask, but what about the great escape plan?

-Great escape plan? -she giggled. -I don’t know… I’m scared to do anything, to be honest. Snow can be very treacherous… it’s fuzzy and soft-looking and welcoming on playgrounds and pine trees at Christmas, but once trapped in it, there’s nowhere to go.

-So there’s nothing we can do, right? -he said calmly, placing his fork down.

-I wish I could say there was -she replied, her appetite gone. -I’m sorry.

-It’s not your fault -he said, turning a little to gently rub her back. His voice was kind and his touch stopped the air in her lungs. -Stop acting like anything would be expected of you, okay? -he added, resuming his pose. -Besides, your friends are coming for us.

She hung her head and bit her lip.

-Aren’t they? -he asked, sensing her uncertainty.

She took a deep breath, unable to keep it all inside.

-One time, they simply forgot about me -she whispered. -It was summer, and I was fine. I called them two days later and then they came, but they had forgotten about me.

-How… how is that possible? -he asked, turning on his chair to face her, his brows in a frown.

-I don’t expect too much of people -she shrugged. -And they never disappoint -she laughed, looking at him fleetingly.

It was a quick glance but he saw right into her. He wanted to connect with her, tell her he understood, he wanted to understand, she should trust him, and let him-

Do what, Groban? Save her from whatever she needs to be saved from? Why did he feel compelled to give, to help, even strangers? Despite her being very nice, very… intriguing in her often annoying, but nevertheless endearing way, and… well, very pretty- she was a complete stranger. She would go her own way and he, his own, when their week was over. They would continue as strangers. That was how life worked.

He pondered for a short minute, thinking of possible alternatives, trying to be reasonable and quit being a wuss and stop trying to avoid getting hurt. But instincts and the mind are in a constant battle, and in this case, his mind defeated the shy feelings that did not have time to spread from his heart to his hands. He kept his hand on the table, and the other one on the back of his chair.

-Don’t be so negative -was the only thing he could safely say, and it sounded shallow and empty. He cursed himself, seeing the loneliness deepen in her eyes.

-I’ll live -she replied with a brave little smile and when she looked up, he saw her eyes were glistening. -Hey, let’s… uhm… dunno… talk? Sing? Dance? Just… sit?

-How about something else -he said without knowing he said it.

He leaned closer and kissed her. Softly this time. He kept his hands away from her, showing he was using no force. He might have just pushed her with one finger and she would have fallen into his arms, though. She trembled when his lips reached hers, he felt so soft and gentle. Just a soft pressure on her lips, moist and slow, his breath smelling of mushrooms and meat, but behind all that, he tasted of kindness and generosity. Only a truly generous person could kiss like that. She melted into the kiss, wishing to know what he was thinking of, and longing to feel his hands on her.

But he merely kissed her, taking his time, not pressing her, not forcing her to respond in any way. Only when he was ready to pull away did his hand reach her face, tentatively stroking her cheek.

After what seemed like an eternity staring at her in the shape of his large, moist eyes, he turned away and folded his hands on the table.

She was unable to move. Would she need to explain? Would he do it for her? Did he do it out of pity? Or just male desire?

Which one of them would break the silence… with words that would change the course of events forever.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*