"What do you mean I'm not going to see you until January? Evan! You told me we could be together for part of the holidays. We talked about going away for New Year's Eve!"
Evan cringed as Kathleen's voice grew shrill. "I'm sorry if I misled you. My family always goes to our home in Telluride for the holidays."
"Misled? Misled? You call telling me that something special would happen when we were together at the stroke of midnight misleading? How could you do this to me?"
"Kathleen, I'm sorry, really I am. Maybe I was caught up in the moment," Evan said, desperately trying to dig himself out of the hole he had dug. Kathleen was a nice girl, in a middle-America sort of way, and a real good piece of ass, but she really wasn't his kind. Mother and Father had pointed that fact out to him over Thanksgiving. "Come on, baby -- say you'll forgive me. I'll make it up to you when we get back to campus next year. It'll be worth the wait, I promise."
Kathleen refused to let him know she was crying, and covered the telephone with her hand. Now she was stuck. She had told all her friends how great Evan was, the little things he was always doing for her, how he made her feel like a princess, and how he was making big plans for the holidays. Now -- nothing. She couldn't even imagine what they would say when they found out. It was a good thing most of them had already left for home. Christ, what a miserable drive home she was going to have. Back to "Hicks-ville" for Christmas. Big fucking deal. Could anything else go wrong?
Dark gray clouds began to cover the sky, turning the early afternoon into the look of evening. She didn't relish the six hour drive out to the country, and would have gotten on the road sooner, if Evan hadn't called with the bad news. Damn him! She had put up with his pompous attitude, even giving up seeing some of her old friends, because they weren't the type of people he wanted her to associate with. He kept telling her she was worth so much more, and had to start acting it. Now, he blew her off.
"Come on, sweetie, come on. Don't die on me now," she begged, hoping her words would coax her fifteen year old Corolla into turning over. "Come on, we just need to make it to spring. Then you can rest." A couple more minutes and finally the engine started. By the time Kathleen had her car all warmed up and loaded, the clouds had begun to release their burden. Huge, wet snowflakes began to fall, mixed with icy rain. She prayed that she would be driving out of the weather, as she maneuvered her car through the village streets of the college town.
The snow and rain mixture fell faster than Kathleen had expected. An hour into her trip, she was wishing she had stayed in town. But the dorms closed for Christmas vacation at three o'clock, and she would have had to stay in a hotel. She certainly didn't have the money for that. Her nursing text books had used up any additional funds she assumed she would have. Because of the ever-changing field she had chosen, used text books were not an option.
Kathleen turned the radio off so she could drive in silence. Her eyes strained, trying to look through the wall of white. The accumulation on the road was starting to affect the traction. Heavy, wet snow caused her car to slide every so often. She couldn't remember how long it had been since she saw a snowplow truck.
She dropped her speed and glanced at her clock. She was three hours into her trip and knew full well it was going to take a lot longer than six hours to get home. She tried switching to her high-beam lights, but it made matters worse. It was as if the snow was coming right at her.
It was instinct that caused her to slam on her brakes. She had been navigating a curve, woods on either side of the road, when the veil of white opened a bit and she saw him -- a ten-point buck standing proudly in the middle of her lane.
So many thoughts were racing through her head, her white-knuckled hands gripping the steering wheel. Her mind screamed at her -- foot off the brake and down shift! It was all she could do to lift her foot, downshift to second and then first gear, on her little automatic car, but it was too little, too late. Her car careened off the road, into the snow covered trees, finally stopping with a huge thud.
Kathleen sat stunned for a minute, before taking a physical inventory. She had not hit her head, her shoulder was a little sore from the seatbelt, but she felt fine. She carefully moved her legs and arms, turned the key to the off position, and finally opened the door. She had to push against a sapling right next to her door to get out. She almost lost it when she saw the front of her car. The front end was now curved and hugging a large tree. There was no way she would be driving away from this.
She quickly surveyed the area and realized there was nothing around. Making her way to the back of the car, she popped the trunk and started to rifle through her bags. She took off her coat and layered on a sweater and a hooded sweatshirt, before putting her coat back on. She dumped all non-essentials out of her school backpack and filled it with a pair of dry sweatpants and jeans, socks, sneakers, shirt, panties, a couple of toiletries and her wallet. She remembered her cell phone was in her pocket, and quickly opened it to call 911, but there were no bars, no reception, whatsoever. Okay Kathleen, start walking, she thought, and start walking fast.
Her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She knew it had been almost forty-five minutes since she saw any signs of life, so when she reached the road, she walked towards her destination. There was no sign of the fucking deer, but she did look up and say a silent thank-you that she hadn't injured it.
Kathleen began to slide her way down the road. Stupid, cute boots, she thought. You have to have them, he said. It's what all the girls are wearing in Chicago, he said. She scraped, saved, and went without meals in order to pay for these god-damned boots with their fucking three-inch heels and pointy toes. Yeah, she was a real fashion-statement trying to walk in them, through the slush on the road. She walked for a good thirty minutes before the heel broke on her cute boots, and she came crashing down in the road. She was immediately soaked from above her waist to her feet.
"Son of a fucking bitch!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. If she hadn't been so pissed at that point, she would have cried. It wasn't fair -- none of it. Out in fucking the middle of nowhere, soaked to the bone. She scrambled to her feet. Kathleen scanned her surroundings -- nothing but fields with patches of wooded areas. There was no place to take shelter, nowhere to change her pants, assuming any of the clothes in her backpack stayed dry when it hit the wet road.
She limped along with her broken heel. The rain had stopped and now it was just constant snow. Kathleen knew she had to get warm and dry soon, or she would risk getting hypothermia. She could hear a noise far off in the distance that sounded like a chainsaw. There were no other roads so she had no idea which direction the sound was coming from. She started shivering a lot more and feeling a little nauseous.
In her mind, Kathleen knew she was getting into trouble. It was so hard to walk with her body shivering violently. She stumbled, not quite sure of what was happening. Her face was very pale and her lips had turned a blue tone. Her pace had slowed so much there were times that she wasn't sure she had actually taken a step.
The noise of the chainsaw was louder, but she couldn't see anyone. A cloud appeared in front of her, as she stood swaying. She dropped her pack, but couldn't move to pick it up. The noise and cloud got closer -- along with a single shining beacon. That was the last thing she saw before darkness overtook her.
She tried to wake, but was drowsy and confused. It was quiet and warm, and more than anything, she wanted to sleep.
"Hey, can you wake up?" she heard him ask.
"No," she whispered and fluttered her eyes.
"Come on, you can open your eyes for me, can't you?" "No," and then she slept.
She looked like an angel, he thought. Strawberry blonde curls circled her head like a halo. Her eyes looked blue/green when she barely opened them, and they reminded him of the sea. She was tall, athletic, and she was all woman.
Everything was warm and soft; Kathleen thought as she turned over on her side and stretched. What a bizarre dream. She curled up under the warm blankets and listened. She heard soft music and the clanging of pots and pans in the background. This is nice, she decided.
"Shit!" Kathleen half shouted as she sat straight up. "What the hell?"
The blankets slid down her bare breasts and the chilly air immediately caused her nipples to stiffen.
Oh God, oh God, where the hell am I? She looked around the log paneled room searching for anything she might recognize. Her backpack was lying on a wooden trunk. Glancing around, she crept out of bed to get it. Empty, nothing at all. Oh God was all she could think.
Kathleen snatched the blue patchwork quilt off the bed and wrapped it around herself, when she heard heavy shoes coming up the stairs. The first thing she could lay her hands on was an iron candlestick. She took a position in the far corner of the room and waited.
If he hadn't stopped to steady the tray, she probably would have killed him as she let the candlestick fly across the room, crashing against the door.
"Help," she screamed. "Help!"
Alec just stood still, watching the young woman scream for help. His eyes were laughing at her, infuriating her even more. When she finally stopped screaming, panting to catch her breath, he asked in a quiet voice, "You done?"
"Stay away from me you sick, son-of-a-bitch! I'll kill you! I swear to God, I'll kill you!"
"Now are you done?"
Kathleen's eyes looked around the room, and she was filled with a feeling of frustration and desperation. Tears started to form in her large eyes, and she tried to be brave, but her trembling lip gave her away.
"Look, please don't hurt me. Just let me go, please? I won't say anything, just please let me go."
The man standing before her set his tray down on the trunk and backed out of the room. With a quick turn, he bent, picked up an armful of clothes, brought them in and set them on the bed.
"What did you call me?"
"I looked in your wallet to see who you were. I found you on the road when I was out on my snowmobile last night. I came upon you and you just keeled over. You were soaking wet and blue, so I brought you here to help you. You know, hypothermia is no laughing matter," Alec said calmly. "I had to get your clothes off and get warm, moist cloths onto your neck and groin -- your pulse points. I just kept the warm cloths coming while I dried your clothes. When your color came back and your temp felt close to normal, I covered you up and let you sleep. I tried talking to you but you weren't quite ready to wake up."
Kathleen looked at the man before her. He was about her height, muscular with red curly hair and a beard that was starting to show a little gray in the mustache. His eyes were sapphire blue, and they were kind. As much as he looked like a tough woodsman, everything about him was kind. She exhaled slowly, feeling just a little relieved.
"My name's Alec and this is my home. It's not much but you have the run of it. I brought you some chicken broth and your dry clothes. If the broth stays down, maybe in a little while, we can get you something a little more substantial," Alec said as he turned to leave.
"Alec, my name is Kathleen. Thank you. I'm sorry I screamed at you, but I was really scared."
"Yeah, I kind of caught that, Kate. Look, you get dressed. The bathroom is around the corner here to the left. Take a shower if you like. I'll be downstairs when you're ready."
Alec left Kathleen to herself. What time is it, she wondered. The drapes were still drawn, and she knew it had been about five o'clock the last she had checked. The clock next to the bed showed ten thirty. She opened the drapes and was greeted to a blinding white glare. It was still snowing and as far as she could see there was only white.
After a hot shower and the chicken broth, Kathleen felt a little more like herself, and only a little shaky. She pulled on her jeans and sweater, and swore at the curls in her hair. She would have given anything for her flat iron and makeup, but those had been nonessentials. She slid her feet into a pair of socks and made her way downstairs.
Alec's home was a log cabin A-frame structure. His bath and bedroom were in the loft. Ahead of her, as she walked down the stairs, was a two-story wall of windows. The snow was pressed up against the glass a good three feet. The way the snow was blowing around in front of her, it looked like ghosts dancing.
The downstairs appeared to be one open expanse of room. There was a fire going in the stone fireplace and a potted evergreen tree stood nearby. It was draped with little white lights and strings of popcorn and cranberries. The simple sofa and chair looked soft and comfortable. The decor was sparse and decidedly masculine; no sign of a woman, at all.
Alec was stirring something cooking in a large pot, on the stove. He jumped a little when Kathleen joined him, not hearing her approach in her stocking feet.
"You feeling better, Kate?"
"I am thank you. By the way, my name is Kathleen."
"Yeah? It doesn't really suit you. You look like a Kate to me. How's the appetite? Do you think you could eat something? I've got some stew here and some brown bread in the box."
Kathleen looked a little miffed at his insistence at calling her Kate -- but let it go. Pick your battles wisely, she thought. "I'll try a little something. I'm not really all that hungry, but I haven't eaten since yesterday, so I'd better try."
Alec put bowls of hot, steaming stew on the old oak table. The carrots and potatoes seemed to swim in brown gravy. He brought out the bread, cut off a few slices and put them on a plate. He poured a couple glasses of water, set them down, and joined Kathleen at the table.
"It's simple, Kate, but I promise you it won't make you sick," he said as he handed her a cloth napkin.
Kathleen tentatively tasted the stew and was pleasantly surprised. She began to shovel the tasty fare into her mouth. The bread had a nutty and oat-y taste to it and was the perfect complement.
Alec smiled and sat watching her down the hot food. She looked up to see him grinning at her. Her cheeks took on a distinct pink glow.
"God, I'm acting like a pig, aren't I? But geez, this is so good. And the bread tastes homemade. It's all so amazing."
Alec chuckled, "I bake my own bread and I caught the rabbits myself"
"Rabbit?" Kathleen gulped. "I would never have tried this if I had known it was a bunny, but..." taking another spoonful, "it's so damn good."
Within minutes her bowl was empty. Kathleen sat back and just stared at her empty bowl. "I feel so good right now."
"I'm glad," Alec smiled, "and you look a whole lot better than when I found you. I'll be honest; you had me scared last night. I wasn't sure if I'd remember what to do. Now that you're feeling better, maybe I can give you the bad news." Alec got up, reached to the top of the refrigerator, and set a small object down in front of her. "I'm afraid this didn't make it."
Kathleen looked at her badly cracked cell phone. "Oh no -- can I use your phone?" she looked at him with pleading eyes.
"I don't own a cell phone. It makes no sense out here, and I'm afraid the phone lines are down. It's been snowing since yesterday afternoon with no end in sight. What I do have is a CB radio, so I can stay in touch with my neighbors. We could maybe get a message out, and see if they can keep passing it on to someone with a working phone. We'll be able to get a message to your family that way."
"Well, can't you just take me into town so I can get a tow and maybe rent a car?"
"Oh Kate, there's no way. I can't get my truck down the driveway to the road, let alone even guess that a snowplow's been through. I'm afraid you're going to be stuck here for a while. The only thing I've got is my snowmobile, but I know I don't have enough gas to get us into town. I'm sorry, Kate."
She looked so sad right then. "I really need to talk to my mom."
Alec went, knelt in front of her and took her hands in his. Tears had welled up in her big eyes. He wasn't sure what he would do if she cried. "I promise you, Kate, you'll be okay with me, and we'll find a way to get a hold of your mom. Come on, let's try the radio."
Alec held out his hand to lead her over to his paper covered desk, surrounded by filled bookshelves. It was a while before he could raise anyone on the radio. He explained Kate's problem and passed along her mother's telephone number. The man's voice on the other end promised he would pass the message along until someone with a phone could make the call. It was a minor accomplishment, but Kathleen felt a little better.
She walked around the room and wondered what the hell she was going to do to pass the time. Alec had turned off the CB, after chatting with his neighbor, and started to put on his coat.
"Where are you going?" Kathleen asked.
"Out to get some more wood and check on my horses. I heat this place by oil, but I like a fire going too. I'll be back, Kate. Don't worry."
"Can't I go with you? Can't I help?"
"Now that's real nice of you to offer, but I'm afraid your boots are in need of some major repair. Just stay inside and keep warm. I can't risk you being exposed to the cold so soon after your little adventure. Help yourself to anything you like, I'll be back in a while."
The back door slammed open as a huge gust of wind blew through the house. The cold seemed to cut right through to Kathleen's bones. Alec was right; it was too soon for her to be outside. She watched him fight his way through the snow, towards a red barn. Soon the blowing snow made it impossible to see anything.
She turned and looked back into the house. She decided to busy herself by washing dishes, putting the leftover stew in the refrigerator. She wiped down the counters and stove and then turned her attentions elsewhere. She found a rag and decided to dust the living room, picking up magazines and straightening things.
When she got to his desk, Kathleen decided a little organization was in order. She was just going to straighten the papers into a neat pile, when a couple fell on the floor. On the pages she saw, was some of the most beautiful verse she had ever read. A poet? This backwoods bearded man was a poet? She decided she didn't want to pry further, so she did her best to put things back.
When Alec came back into the house, he sensed something was different. He couldn't put his finger on it, but there was definitely a different feeling to his place. Kate was nowhere in sight, so he went upstairs to see if she was okay. She was curled up, under a knitted throw, sound asleep in the middle of his bed. She looks good there, he thought. Maybe that's why the place feels so different.
Kathleen woke to savory smells coming up from the kitchen. She ran her fingers through her dreaded curls and went down to see if she could help. Trans Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo" played in the background and she laughed out loud as Alec danced around the kitchen. Now it was time for him to turn red. He tossed a kitchen towel in her direction and told it was all hands on deck.
They feasted on roast chicken and baby potatoes. "Don't even tell me you chopped off the poor chicken's head and plucked out its feathers," she warned Alec.
"Now Kate, I'm offended. Do I look like the type to kill an innocent chicken?"