NOTE: I will be posting this story on two other sites, under the same title. This was written for a competition in which the author was to avoid naming the characters or giving physical descriptions, so that readers could, hopefully, identify with one of the players. I hope I accomplished this. Any feedback or constructive criticism you care to give will be appreciated.
I remember the first time I noticed her. She was walking along the side of the road I take to come home from work every day. There was a lot of traffic, too much to allow me to take more than a glance, so all that registered on me was: female, roughly my age, jeans, t-shirt, walking the same direction I was going, and not looking like she was going to jump out in front of my car. I didn't see her face.
The next day, it was the same thing. Different t-shirt, but wearing blue jeans and sneakers, walking in the same direction I was going. Still no sight of her face.
I saw her every day that week on my way home. I started to expect her, and I finally saw a glimpse of her face in my passenger's side mirror one day as I drove past her. She seemed attractive, but I didn't get a good look.
For the next several weeks it was the same. I began to look forward to seeing her. I don't know what it was, really. I'm the kind of person who likes routine in his life, and seeing her became part of my routine. We didn't speak, didn't wave, didn't even make eye contact, but I came to want to see her. She became a kind of milepost on my drive home, since I always passed her at roughly the same place.
As summer moved into autumn, her attire changed. She began to wear sweaters or jackets to accommodate the weather, but she always wore a pair of jeans. She never carried a purse or backpack, which made me start to wonder where she was going, or where she had come from. It seemed to me that she would carry something if she was on her way to or from work or shopping, but she never seemed to have anything that couldn't be carried in her pockets.
Sometimes, when it was raining, she would be wearing a poncho or hoodie. I felt sorry for her then, and a couple of times I considered stopping to offer her a ride, but there was always a lot of traffic, and besides, that seemed a little forward. After all, it wasn't like I knew her, and she never turned to face traffic in an attempt to hitch a ride, so I always drove past.
Late in the fall, a crew began making repairs to the pavement and the gutters along the stretch of road where I always saw her, in preparation for winter. This slowed traffic considerably, and every day, I saw her as I crawled through the construction delays. One day, she walked past my car three different times in the stop-and-go traffic. The last time I saw her that day, she turned and smiled at me.
That started a different phase in our "relationship," if you could call it that. As I drove past her, I began to slow down so I could get a longer look at her. It seemed as though she was expecting me to pass her at that usual spot on the road, and she seemed to be looking over her shoulder as she walked, almost as though she wanted to see me. If she happened to glance my way at the right time, she would smile at me as I passed.
Winter was closing in. She traded in her sneakers for heavier shoes, and began wearing a warmer-looking jacket. Sometimes she wore a knit cap pulled down over her ears to ward off the cold. I always knew it was her, though. I knew every nuance of her walk, the length of her stride, the motion of her hips, the way she carried herself.
I was finding myself attracted to my "walking girl," as I came to call her. I don't know exactly why. She was physically attractive, to be sure, but then, a number of women are. I work with some really good-looking women, and I have a few pretty female friends, but none of them piqued my interest like this woman who walked along the road every day on my way home.
I guess that's why I finally decided to wave to her. I remember that it was on a Friday, the last day of my work week. I knew I wouldn't see her over the weekend, and something made me decide to wave that evening. It was almost dark on my evening drives now, but my headlights still made it easy to see her.
She was walking in her usual spot, glancing over her shoulder from time to time, and she saw me. I slowed down and waved, and she smiled and gave me a little wave back. As I drove past, we made eye contact through my car window, and her smile seemed warm and genuine. She looked happy to see me, and she was still smiling when I saw her in my mirror.
Where I live, the winters are very unpredictable. One day, it can be sunny and cool, but still very pleasant if you're dressed for the weather. The next day, we'll have sleet and freezing rain. Still other days, it will be blustery and bitterly cold. Other times, we'll get snow. Lots of it. The kind of snowstorms that bring everything to a halt, so that schools and businesses are closed.
It was like that one Friday in January. The weather forecast had called for flurries, but it had been snowing steadily all day. At first, the road crews were keeping up with it, plowing and salting, and generally keeping things moving. In the mid-afternoon, however, the storm picked up with a vengeance. A lot of my co-workers left early, although I stayed until my usual quitting time. I knew my car could handle deep snow, and I expected traffic to be light.
Things were worse outside than I had expected. Snow was falling heavily, and with the wind, we were experiencing near white-out conditions. There were a lot of drifts, and the snowplows were nowhere in sight. Had they given up? I knew it was possible. Sometimes, it seems as though they just stop and wait for the storm to pass. My car radio blasted alerts about the road conditions, saying that we were under a blizzard advisory, and that all unnecessary travel was to be curtailed.
I actually made decent time on my way home. Because the roads were terrible and visibility was poor, there were hardly any other vehicles moving. I was able to grind along at a decent pace. I glanced at the dashboard clock when I got to the area where my "walking girl" should be. Surely, she wouldn't be out in this weather. At least, I hoped she wouldn't be.
I almost didn't see her. She was standing along the road, not walking. She had her back to the wind, and was hugging herself against the cold. The snow was deeper than her boots, her jeans looked soaked, there was snow piled on the shoulders of her winter jacket, and the hair hanging from beneath her cap was caked with ice.
There were no other cars on the road. I stopped and rolled down the window. "Get in," I said.
"I can't. I don't know you," she replied.
"I don't know you either, but you can't walk in this. You'll freeze to death," I said.
"I'll be okay."
"Please, just get in the car. I'll take you wherever you're going. I'm not going to harm you or get weird on you, and it's not safe for you to be out in this. You'll get hypothermia or frostbite or something."
"I am pretty cold. I thought I was dressed warmly enough, but I guess I'm not."
"So, get in the car."
When she opened the door, my interior lights showed me how cold she really was. Her face was red from the cold, but her lips were blue and her teeth were chattering.
"I'll turn the heater on high. Put your seatbelt on."
She pulled the belt across her, but fumbled with the catch. "I'm shivering so hard, I can't latch the belt," she said.
I helped her, and then started to drive. "Where are you going?"
"There's a hill up ahead. At the top of the hill, turn right."
"You'll have to point it out to me," I said, straining to see through snow that was almost over-powering my wipers. At this point, staying centered between the utility poles was the only way I could be sure I was even on the road.
We were approaching the place where I would turn left off the main road to get to my place. Just beyond the intersection was the hill, which was blocked by stuck cars. "I don't think we can make it through there," I said.
"Huh?" she muttered.
"The road's blocked," I said. "I can't take you home this way."
"That's okay. I'll walk from here."
"How much farther is it?"
"I don't know. Maybe a mile and a half," she said softly.
"You'll never make it. You'll freeze to death. Look at you. You're soaked, your lips are blue, and you can't stop shivering."
"Where am I?" she asked.
Why wouldn't she know where she was if this was the way to her home? She seemed pretty sluggish, maybe even confused. "You're coming to my place. You'll warm up there and wait for the worst of the storm to pass."
"I can't do that. I have to walk home."
"No arguments. I'm serious. It's too dangerous for you out there." I turned into my road. From here, it was a straight, slightly downhill run. I was pretty sure we could make it to my place, but I knew that when I stopped the car, I would have a hell of a time getting it moving again.
The drifts were so deep in my driveway that it was hard to open my car door. She stayed belted in her seat, so I went around to help her. She was almost too weak to stand, and I had to help her into the house.
When I tried to turn on the light, nothing happened. Great. A power outage. This was going to be a problem in an all-electric house.
"We have to get you warmed up," I said.
"No, I'm okay," she mumbled. "I'm just so tired. I can't keep my eyes open. I need to sleep."
"You have to warm up first. Grogginess is a sign of hypothermia," I said.
She was hard to understand, but I think she said, "I'm so cold. I don't think I'll ever feel warm again."
I helped her to a kitchen chair and got out some candles. I lit one and put it on the table, and took the rest into the living room and lit them. At least we had a little light, but it was already getting chilly in the house.
When I went back into the kitchen, I found her with her head on her arms on the table, sound asleep. Now I was worried. I half dragged and half carried her into the living room and put her in an arm chair that I pushed in front of the fireplace.
I gently shook her shoulder, but there was no response. I took her one hand in mine and squeezed it. It was cold and lifeless. I shook her again, harder, and she stirred and mumbled. "Wake up. Come on, open those eyes. You have to stay awake for awhile until you warm up. I'm going to build a fire in the fireplace."
I busied myself preparing a fire, stopping every few seconds to shake her, squeeze her hand, and talk to her. Eventually, I had a roaring fire going.
Now I turned my full attention to my guest. I knew the fire would help to warm her up, but I wondered how long it would take. Was the fire enough? How bad was her hypothermia? I pushed her sleeve up and took her pulse. It was slow, much slower than it should be, even for someone who is sleeping. I also realized that she was only breathing about half as fast the normal rate. I took her shockingly cold face in my hands and spoke loudly to her. "Wake up!"
She muttered something, but I couldn't understand it. When I let go of her head, it flopped back into the chair, and she started snoring. I shouted at her, and she said something I couldn't understand. "What? What did you say?" I yelled at her.
She mumbled something again, but it sounded like gibberish. What was I going to do? I had to get her out of this stupor. I was afraid she was in shock. I grabbed her face and squeezed her cheeks. "Talk to me!"
This time, I understood her. "I'm too tired to go to school today, Mommy."
I had to do something. Now. Then it hit me. She was soaked from head to foot. Even with the fire blazing behind the screen only a few feet away, I could still see some snow in the tops of her boots. She was never going to warm up in those wet clothes.
I went to my linen closet and grabbed a couple of blankets. When I returned to her, she was snoring again, slowly. I pulled her upright and worked her soggy coat off of her. I threw it and her cap on the floor behind her, and then set her back down so I could pull off her boots. Icy water poured from them onto the floor. I yanked her socks off and tossed them on the pile with her coat and hat.
Her feet were a very unhealthy shade of light blue-gray. I gently took them in my hands and examined the skin. Nothing looked frostbitten, but what did I know? The only thing I was certain of was that this woman needed warmth.
Melting snow was dripping from her head. Even where her cap had covered it, her hair was wet. I took a towel from the bathroom and made a sloppy turban for her. Then I took a good look at her. She was wearing a sweatshirt and her ever-present blue jeans, and both were completely soaked. Well, this could get me arrested, but what the hell? Those wet clothes had to go.
I pulled the towel off her head and spread it on the hearth to dry. I took her face in my hands again and squeezed her cheeks. This time, she opened her eyes, but I could see her pupils were dilated. Her eyes were pointed at me, but she didn't look like she was seeing anything. I said, "Your clothes are soaked. You are wet through and through. We have to get those wet clothes off you so you can warm up. I'm going to help you get undressed and wrapped in some blankets."
There was no response. I hadn't really expected one, but I felt better having told her that a complete stranger was going to strip her naked.
Taking off her soggy sweatshirt wasn't too hard. I struggled a bit getting it over her head, and she did nothing to help. I tossed the shirt on the pile with her other clothes and rewound the warm towel around her head. The blue jeans were a different matter. She was dead weight, and the wet denim clung to her skin.
By now I was getting pretty warm from the fire. I felt her arm. It was still cold. Her legs were no better. Even her belly, which probably had been best protected from the weather, was cold and clammy to the touch.
I got more towels and started to gently dry her skin. Her undergarments were soaked, too. I patted the moisture from them as well as I could. I draped her wet outer clothes over a drying rack I got from my laundry room and placed them a safe distance from the fire. Then I put her boots near the hearth.
The chair on which she sat was wet from the snow that had melted off her clothes, so I picked her up and put her on the couch. I considered leaving her there, but she was too far from the fire, which was the only heat source in the house. Besides, I didn't want her to get too comfortable. I wanted her to wake up.
I pulled an old wooden saloon chair into place in front of the hearth and draped a blanket over it. Then, I moved her limp body to the chair and wrapped the blanket around her and covered her with another blanket. I sat on the couch to figure out what I should do next.
After a few minutes, I checked on her. She was still unresponsive. Her feet, which were closest to the fire, had started to regain some color, but they were still too cold for my liking. I unwrapped the blankets to feel her skin. It didn't feel any warmer than it had before I wrapped her up. Her pulse and breathing were still very slow. This wasn't working.
If only I had electricity! I could take the electric blanket from my bed, wrap her in it, and crank up the juice. The blankets she had would hold in the body heat of a healthy person, but my "walking girl" wasn't generating enough heat on her own. She certainly wasn't getting any colder, but I knew I had to do something more aggressive to warm her up. If only I could apply heat directly to her body without worrying about burning her.
That's it! Apply heat! Warm compresses might do the trick. I reasoned that heat applied to the pressure points in the body, around the neck, under the arms, and in the groin could help. But I had no electricity, which meant no hot water. Or did it?
A few months ago, I had installed a new water heater. My old one had given up, and I hated having to stagger dish washing, clothes washing, and my shower. I wanted to have the freedom to do more than one of those things at a time, if I chose, so I went for a big heater, larger than the plumber said I needed. How much hot water did it hold?
I turned on the faucet in the tub. Almost immediately, a strong flow of hot water poured out. I turned the water off again. Could there be enough to fill a tub for her? If there was, it would probably be the best way to warm her up. It was worth a try.
Returning to the living room to check on her, I saw that the fire was starting to die down. I stirred it and added more wood, and then examined my guest again. She still would not answer me when I talked to her, and her limbs were still limp. She seemed to be breathing a little more normally, and her pulse was a few beats faster than it had been, but the thawing-out process was taking too long.
The bath was my best bet. Now I had to see how much hot water I really had. I put the stopper in the drain and turned on the water. I adjusted it to make it warm, a little warmer than my body temperature, but not hot. When it was almost half full, I turned the water off and gathered all the dry towels I had. I was going to soak her and thaw her, then allow her to dry herself and put her to bed. I prayed that, when this was all over, she would understand why I had taken such liberties with her. I got some of the candles from the living room and put them on the vanity so we would have some light.
Back in the living room, I spoke loudly to her again. "Can you hear me?" When there was no response, I held her face in my hands again and squeezed her cheeks to try to get a reaction from her. "You're not warming up fast enough under these blankets, so I'm going to unwrap you and help you to the bathroom. You're going to soak a while in some nice warm water. Maybe that will get you going. Okay?"
Again, I realized that she probably hadn't heard me, but I hoped that, somehow, she was registering this information so she wouldn't be quite as upset at waking up half-naked in a stranger's bathtub. Then I removed her blankets and carried her into the bathroom. I removed the towel I had wrapped around her head and rolled it into a sort of pillow to support her head above the surface of the water. She was still as limp as a rag doll when I put her in the tub.
It didn't take long for her to slide off the towel so that her face started to go into the water. Quickly, I reached in and cradled her head so she wouldn't get water in her mouth and nose. I repositioned the makeshift pillow several times, but the same thing kept happening. When I moved her body so that her feet were pressed against the front wall of the tub, her knees bent and separated, allowing her to start to submerge again.
Shit! This wasn't working at all. It wouldn't do much good to warm her up if I was going to drown her in the process. I couldn't think of anything I had around the house that I could use to prop her up. Finally, I decided that the only thing I could do was kneel there and hold her.
This created an awkward situation. Throughout this ordeal, I had touched her face, her hair, her hands, even her bare abdomen. I had rubbed her feet, inspected her eyes, taken her pulse, and watched her breathe. I had undressed her down to her lacy bra and panties. I guess my concern for her in this crisis had suppressed my male response to her as a woman. Now I was kneeling, bent over her, holding her head in my hand, and looking at her body, dressed only in undergarments that had become nearly transparent in the water.
I really tried to concentrate on her face, telling myself I needed to keep my eyes there to check her breathing and her level of consciousness. I remembered her warm smile that I had seen so many times as I drove past her. That led me to my memories of watching her ass move as she walked, the way she carried the body that now lay, practically naked, just inches from my face. Her perfect areolas and erect nipples were plainly visible through the flimsy fabric of her bra, and the symmetry and beauty of her feminine mound were openly displayed.