“Good Morning” Stephen greeted Kat tenderly as she materialized from the bedroom. Her hair was clean, and the tangles had been finger combed out. The newly brightened strands of ruby red hair hung down past her waist and the clean white shirt she was wearing made her look fresh. She felt better than she had in a long time, years even from what she could remember. She stretched her good arm and flattered a yawn to signify a good sleep. The cabin was clement, and she felt renewed from her sleep as well as safe in Stephens company. Yes, good morning indeed, she thought to herself. She could already taste the fresh pressed coffee from the fragrance greeting her. The sweet rolled oats that Stephen had pre-emptively put the honey on for her.
“Good Morning” She reciprocated the pleasantry and nestled into a chair across the table from him. He smiled and took a sip of his coffee.
“I assume you slept well?” He looked her up and down, she had a new air about her.
“I did. I am feeling so much improved, the heat in my face is gone.” Touching her hands to her face, she remembered what the sick fever had felt like in her cheeks. Forcing her to swelter even when she touched her hand to the frozen window. She recalled the hours she was left alone in the cold cabin. It was frightenedly chilly from the abandonment she felt, and the air was stale, frozen from the death of the wood stove. She would stand at the window with her forehead pressed against the glass, sweat would continue rolling down her neck even with the ice crystals melting on her temple. Hallucinations from the fever crept in quickly. Left to her own devices she would simply cover her head with the pillow when she saw images of her captor appear again. His shadow would be on the other side of the window, taunting her that he would return. Rechain her and steal the last bit of humanity she had left.
She had found herself laying in the corner at one point, opening her eyes when she thought she head the door open. The cabin was all black, not even moon light snuck in to rescue her. Her voice had been weak and would do nothing to scare an intruder away if one had been there. She called Stephen’s name and listened for a response. Her throat pinched, and she felt she would stop breathing from fear. Another wave of fever knocked her out as she was trying to get herself off the floor. Even if the dream like state that she had been in, she could still recall the pain when she would try and fail to get herself back on the bed. Over and over again she would fall, hitting her head on the floor. Smacking her arm on the door frame when she used it as leverage. Ripping her arm sling when she had slammed her right arm out to stop a face front fall. The relief that over took her when he returned, to see his strong face full of concern while looked at her.
She had not liked the needle, it reminded her too much of not being in control. Shortly after that needle though, proper thoughts began to fill her head. She knew the captor man was far away, she remembered how Stephen had saved her and protected her. He even made her feel like a woman again, the solace she had found when he made her laugh in the woods. It was like the iron lung, forcing the anxiety and fear out of her chest and filling her instead with elated feelings of happiness. An emotion that had become so alien to her, she had to really meditate on the idea of what it was she felt.
Kat smiled widely, “I can even feel my toes again” She stood and wiggled her pink toes on the wood floor.
“Yes, I can see you feel better. The arm will take longer” Stephen grinned from the sound of her toes tapping under the kitchen table. He could just picture the small fleshy phalanx flexing and releasing in their new-found health.
“Thank you. I can never say thank you enough.” Kat offered up, even though he would wave his hand each time she tried for a heartful thanks. As Superman would just stand and smile as the woman threw themselves at him in thanks, Stephen just waved off Kat’s honest sentiments. As if it really was just another chore in his day on the ranch.
“Don’t mention it” Stephen repeated the typical response through a large mouthful of oats.
“I need to though.” She persisted. They had yet to talk much and she had so many questions. She didn’t even know where to begin really. “If it wasn’t for you….” She trailed off, not sure she wanted to finish the sentence. It was still hard remembering, the images burnt in her mind were a never-ending carousel of tormenting visions.
“Why do you live here alone?” Kat decided was a safe question, but the way Stephen dropped his spoon answered it for her, it was not a safe question at all.
He opened his mouth as he wanted to reply, but he was unsure what to say. He didn’t choose to live alone; his wife was gone, and he had done everything he could to cling to her. Even with him fighting and pleading to higher beings, her soul still slipped from him. The pretty girl in town had shown interest but his guilt over losing his wife prevented him from moving on. They had moved away from all family and friends shortly after their marriage to live a more natural lifestyle in the woods. All these thoughts rushed into Stephen’s mind, he couldn’t sort through them fast enough to choose an answer. The woman sitting across from him had obviously seen the pain stretch on his face. She had quickly turned her attention back to the bowl of oats. Stephen wanted to respond, his own soul was willing him to say something, but he sat with his mouth gaping open, unsure of even wanting to say he was not alone.
Katarina had instantly seen how Stephen’s face pinched and furrowed with anguish. She instantly felt guilty for blurting the question out. She really had just wanted to change the submit, make it a little more personal. Keeping her head down while she ate, she could feel his eyes on her. She could sense the apprehension he was pursing towards her for the question and she wished she could take it back. Maybe he went through more aversion than what she had. There was no telling what he had survived to chose to move to the middle of the dark forest and life off the land so far north from most civilization.
“I didn’t…” He began, his voice laced with pain. Kat could even hear him swallow hard before his next words. “I’m not alone.” Kat looked up at him and he managed a humble smile. She returned the kind gesture and turned her attention outside the window. The landscape was foreign to her, it was breath taking. No question about that but she really had no clue where she was.
She thought for a few minutes before trying a second question. Digging through them inside her mind as a librarian digs through the card index. Finally, she settled on the simplest one that formed in front of her eyes. “Where are we?”
“Northern British Columbia, about 4 hours from Lemoray. That was the town I travelled to last week to get antibiotics for you.” He picked his spoon up and Kat relaxed knowing this was a better conversation.
“Lemoray” She repeated the towns name, it didn’t sound familiar to her, however she knew she was from BC. She couldn’t conjure up the name of the city that she believed she had lived in, but she knew it was in BC. “It doesn’t sound familiar”
Stephen laughed, “No, it doesn’t sound familiar to most, I suppose.” He glanced out the window, his eyes full of love for the winter landscape.
“Have you always lived here?” Kat treaded carefully now, knowing he had demons in his mind too. She didn’t want to ruin the pleasing atmosphere.
“No, I moved from the interior after,” He paused, “after I lost my wife.” His eyes turned glossy, and to her surprise shot his glance straight up to catch her own. The despair was deep in his blue eyes, it stung even as the silent tears welled up. Kat couldn’t recall ever seeing a man cry. Especially not a large burly woodsman like this one. A man that she held on a pedestal now for saving her own life, he was so strong and brave how could he cry?
“I’m sorry to hear that” Kat reached across the table to put her hand on his forearm, he jerked his arm back and stood suddenly. Pushing his chair back he turned to busy himself with his back to her now.
“I don’t want to talk about that” Stephen dumped out the French press full of spent coffee beans and began brewing a new pot. The coffee going into the trash still smelt wonderful to Kat, but he poured a new heap of black crushed beans into the cannister and filled it to the brim with boiling water. Pushing down slowly on the stainless-steel lid to produce blackened water below the silver lining press. His muscles flexing ever so slightly under his shirt, Kat was mesmerized by such a simple task.
“How did you kill the elk?” Kat needed to break the tension in the room, it was filling quickly and even the elephant wouldn’t stand a chance to it. Stephen looked so handsome in this new light, Kat didn’t want to ruin it. The new question was like a breath of fresh air and the mood swung back to pleasant. He returned to the table holding two mugs of fresh brew and placed one in front of her.
“I hide in a tree” He stated so simply. Kat looked at him for a moment trying to decipher if he was kidding or not, and she couldn’t help but laugh when she realized the seriousness of his response.
“Oh yeah,” She caught her breath enough from laughing to respond and wiped a tear from her eye, “So he had no chance at all?”
“Nope. I had stalked him for a few days before I found him. His tracks had been littering my property, there were fresh wolf tracks following his tracks as well. I figured if I didn’t get out to take him, the wolf would surely. So, I hiked out early that morning and hid in my hunt blind. I didn’t even have to wait long,” Stephen smiled widely, the pride on his face easily showing through, “My coffee was still hot while I was skinning the buck.”
Kat was intrigued, the tale of his hike through the dark woods sounded dangerous. She was enthralled with the fact he was able to wake up just past the strike of midnight and hike. She could only imagine herself trying to wake before 7am and it made her cringe. She asked him to describe the hunt blind, it had a sort of sexy attraction to a mini fort high in the tree. How he held his arms up to explain the two hand holds he would use to flip his body into the enclosure. She sat and listened with her head in her hand, sensually listening to him.
“I would love to come one day” Kat’s eyes were large with excitement. She couldn’t remember her past, but she was sure it was never this exciting. Considering the letter to the sheriff went out over a week ago of her being found and still no one had come forward, she accepted the fact her family considered her dead. Or maybe her family was dead, she wasn’t sure. What she did know was the log cabin felt familiar and comfortable, two feelings she had not felt in so long.
“I would be honoured to take you” Stephen smiled and finished his downed his third cup of coffee.
“Maybe to…” Kat started but was interrupted from a knock on the door. Stephen almost spilt coffee on himself he jumped so high.
“Who’s that?” Kat asked, her curiosity spiking since she was almost positive now he lived alone. She had not seen another person since arriving. Besides, he had told her straight up that his wife had passed away.
“I’m not sure” He walked to the wooden front door and had to body slam the door to open it. The icicles were so thick they were near pushing the thin wood slabs apart from the door frame. Fingers of crystals snuck through and froze wedges causing the door to warp and nearly not open at all. Even from Kat was sitting she could see how the closer edge of the door buckled up and would give a fight to Stephen to open. Once the door finally swung open however, it opened away from her vision and she could see whom had knocked. Leaning back on her chair to get a better view was useless so she sat politely and listened to the voices.
“Oh, hello” Stephen greeted the smiling face of Dr. Dan on the outer side of his door.
“Hello Stephen” Dani replied to him, her dark brown fur jacket was pulled up around her neck. Her hair loose and falling down her chest, spilling out of the thick hood she donned. Her hands stuffed inside fur lined pockets and she was jumping from side to side, seemingly to keep her toes warm as well. She was obviously waiting for the invite to enter, Stephen was unsure he wanted to offer it. She was beautiful, a charming vixen standing on his door step waiting to enter his simple abode, for what reason; Stephen could only infer. Full well knowing she had always seem him alone, she was sure to assume his cabin was empty as well.
“I wanted to check on your pig, make sure she was okay” Dani persisted, growing her smile to show she was not leaving.
“How did you find where I live?” Stephen asked coldly. He had not meant so much intenseness in his voice, it was unintentional, and he saw that his response stung Dani. She blinked several times before trying to pursue her convincing him for entry.
“Everyone knows you bought this old ranch,” She answered honestly, her face looking bewildered that he had left her standing this long even. The temperature was only dropping outside; it had to be below 40 degrees Celsius now. Her breath freezing almost midair and floating upward to join the thick snow clouds above. “You’re not that secluded”
“I guess not” Stephen chuckled awkwardly. He still felt an uneasiness bubbling up his throat, or possibly it was heart burn from too much coffee. It was burning him now, the insistence that Dani was showing, and from his peripheral vision he could see the red head injured doe listening intently at the kitchen table. She was still fragile from infection, her arm fighting to heal. Also, unstable; her nightmares haunted her sometimes even midday he would find her crying in the bathroom. She had both leaned her chair back and edged forward to try to no avail to see who he was talking to.
“May I come in? It’s freezing out here” Dani threw away the pleasantries and took a fleeting step forward. Insistent that she would be allowed to enter. He could only imagine how long it would take a city girl such as herself to navigate these winter roads. He thought to say no but before he could muster the courage, Kat appeared behind him.
“Hello,” She offered to the lovely woman standing on the front step, “who are you?” Kat had sugary sweetness just pouring from her voice. Stephen was shocked at how forward she was in asking Dani outright.
“I’m the town veterinary, my name is Dani” Her smile faded slightly, but she politely pulled her hand from the warmth the jacket offered to shake Kat’s hand. It was a strange handshake, the type where you put your right hand out before you realize that one person has an injury and then you offer your left hand but that’s just wrong.
“Stephen, I was unaware that you were married.” Dani blushed, “I shouldn’t have….” She began but Kat cut her off. “Oh, I’m not his wife.”
Stephen was standing between the two women, but his face shot to Kat and his wrinkles appeared to deepen. He stared at Kat whom was warmly welcoming the strange woman off the door step and into his house, he hadn’t okayed her to enter but he had no choice but to step back slightly to allow Dani to enter. She stomped her feet to knock off the snow before fully allowing herself in, Kat was helping her out of the thick jacket and smiling softly.
“Kat, this is Dani” Stephen offered, standing inelegantly to the side of the two women. They seemed to be talking amongst themselves, he felt as a third wheel in the room suddenly. Watching the strange women speak and smile as old friends would.
“Yes, we established that.” Kat said to Stephen and then turned her attention back to the young woman.
“This is not my house, I am just a visitor as well.” She explained, to not overstep Stephen’s boundary, he has been so kind to her. It was his decision to allow her in or not. She looked to him for direction of what he would like. Dani stood at the door with her jacket now in Kat’s hands, she was unsure of what to do next. Both women looked to Stephen quizzically.
“Yes, well, you’ve come all this way Dani, please join us for a coffee.” He walked the short few steps to the kitchen table and pulled out the last good chair, the fourth one was sitting in the boot room now disassembled from creating the pillow for his head. Dani looked to the make shift sleeping arrangements, the blanket that was casually tossed on the floor in front of the wood stove. Her eyes shifted from the floor bed to the sling on Kat’s shoulder. The three adults converged in the small living space together. No one seemed to want to start the conversation. Kat couldn’t help but feel she was being read, from top to bottom by this woman that had appeared. Apparently, the town veterinarian that was now sitting at this man’s table, not talking about pigs. Stephen again busied himself brewing a fresh pressed coffee pot. Kat figured it was the third or fourth pot he had made this morning.
“Such a beautiful drive out here” Dani started, “I am surprised they plow the road even along the river bank.”
“It’s not that it’s plowed, I just use that trail often enough that it stays packed down” Stephen replied, he was squirreling about the kitchen, he was not ready to sit across at that table. He opened cupboards two or three times in a row, seemingly to have forgotten where his coffee makings were. Kat could see his hands were shaking from where she sat. She shrugged it off to the fact he went from no one in his house to now two women here.
“Up that trail there he has a hunt blind. He shot an elk over a week ago now.” Katarina grew passionate about the story, having given the privilege to retell the tale his of hunt made her proud for him.
“Is that so? How impressive!” Dani smiled and gratefully accepted the warm mug of coffee.
“I will check on that pig for you, you enjoy your coffee” Stephen threw his jacket on and left the cabin. Kat sat beside Dani and took a sip of her own coffee, which had turned cold too quickly. She got up to pour a top up.
“Oh, do you want help?” Dani offered, watching Kat struggle to hold the lid of the coffee press on as she poured the coffee with one hand only.
“No, I’m okay. It will be a while yet for this to heal. I will need to figure it out on my own, thank you though.” Kat smiled at Dani. “What did you say brings you here?”
Kat was welcoming of the company, it had been too long since she had got to carry on a normal conversation with anyone. Stephen seemed lost in agony half the time she spoke to him, so another woman was a welcome change.
“Stephen came in for antibiotics for a sick animal last week. I wanted to make sure she was healing properly.” Dani explained. Kat nodded her head in understanding, understanding that was the cover story for her appearance at the log cabin.
“Oh yes, she wasn’t doing well at all.” Kat motioned toward the small barn, “Stephen had said he just went to check” She stood against the counter and sipped her fresh hot coffee. Even to stand was a nice change from laying in bed all the time. She examined Dani, the way she sat in the chair she gave off an aura of intelligence. She could tell this woman had a higher level of education then herself, yet her soft face and young features made her look friendly.
“You look familiar,” Kat said suddenly, “Maybe we went to school together?” Kat figured she had to be about the same age as herself. Dani received the question with a stunned look on her face.
“No, I don’t think so” Dani stammered, shifting in her chair as if the question made her uncomfortable. Suddenly uneasy sitting in the room, she began twisting her hands around themselves.
“How do you know Stephen?” Dani asked.
“He saved me” Kat replied nonchalantly, and Dani almost choked on her coffee.
“Excuse me?” Her eyebrows shot straight up “What do you mean he saved you? Did your car break down or something?”
“No, he saved me”
“From what?” Dani asked innocently but the question was more loaded than Kat anticipated. The question made her knees tremble and her hand began to shake violently, spilling coffee onto the floor.
“How did you break your arm?” Dani questioned her voice boasted sympathy, but her eyes screamed concern.
“How” Kat repeated, and an image of her captor flashed in her mind. The mug slipped from her hand as the flash back over took her.
His hands forcing her down into the mattress, her own hands tired and cold from lose of blood circulation. The hand cuffs so tight on her wrists that she could hardly feel her fingers. Left for hours face down, some days in a pool of sweat he left. Her tears muffled by the pillow, the saltiness only forgotten once she fell into a fitful slumber. In darkness for years with no one to speak to. Hidden from the world she would stare at a black wall of nothing. Feeling as if she were losing her mind, forgetting people and places and willing herself to not give up.
“Jesus!” Dani shrieked as Kat hit the floor, her eyes spun into the back of her head. Her skin cold and clammy she was crying but her cries sounded more demonic than human. Heaving and sobbing, she clawed at her face with her one free hand. Dani jumped up and threw her boots on, she bolted to out the door to find Stephen. The cold air slammed into her, she had forgotten to put her jacket on. It bites and prickled at her sensitive, city climatized skin. She ran through the snow, as fast as you could run through deep wet snow. Threatening to make her fall before finding help, she could still hear Kat crying in the cabin.
“Stephen!” She yelled. He appeared in front of the cold storage shed, slamming the solid wooden door closed he frowned at her.
“What happened?” He growled at Dani and made her stop suddenly, causing her foot to slip. Her legs flying up as a cartoon would and she landed in the cold snow on her bum, with bare arms.
“Kat” Dani gasped, trying to pick herself up from the wet snow, “She’s, she’s not okay.”
“I know” Stephen replied and walked past Dani, in no apparent hurry.
“What?” Dani finally clambered to her feet and followed Stephen back to the house.
“You’ve over stayed your welcome.” He pushed the front door open and plucked her jacket off the deer rack hanger on the wall. Kat was curled in a ball on the floor beside the fridge. She was shaking and crying, repeating “How”
He turned and met Dani’s anxious face. “The pig is fine. Thank you. Next time, on invite only.” He pushed the large jacket into Dani’s arms and stood at the door. She looked at him in honest confusion, then looked to the ball of a woman on the floor. She was chewing on her fingernails, all five off them from one hand in her mouth at once. Sighing heavily, Dani turned and left the cabin. Leaving the crying woman inside the cabin by herself, whether she wanted to be there.
Stephen closed the half-frozen door and immediately encased himself around Kat. Lifting her off the floor, he carried her into the bedroom and tucked her under the blanket.
“I’m so cold” Her lips quivered as she looked at him, her eyes swollen and red from the fear that had spilled out.
“You’re safe” He replied and turned to leave the room, closing the bedroom door.