A Man on an Island Ch. 04


She sat back on his thighs just above his knees. He didn't seem to mind at all.

"Oh crap," she said after heaving an exaggerated sigh, "All right, what are we eating then?"

He smiled up at her softly, "Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches."

Her mouth fell open in delight. She hadn't had that since she was a kid, but had never thought of making it for herself in all this time. She leaned over him again and he looked up at her through her long blonde hair as it tickled his nose.

"Cream of tomato soup?" she asked hopefully.

He rolled his eyes, "Of course."

She smiled, "With pepper, right?"

He nodded, "Naturally."

Her eyes opened wider in childlike wonder, "And crackers, do you have any crackers?"

"Oh please, asking me that is like questioning my loyalty to uh, ... um, wherever it is that I live here."

She shook him, "Stop ducking the question! Crackers or no?"

He chuckled, "As much as you want, Kate," he held up his hand in a boy scout salute, "Scout's honor."

She looked a little desperate over a detail which came to her mind. "And lots and lots of ketchup, right?"

"All you can fit on the plate. I wouldn't hold out on you. Especially for something as sacred as tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Come on, what do you take me for?"

He heard the gasp and the small cry of joy that escaped her, and then she was hugging him tightly for a brief second. She raised herself to look down into his eyes with a slow smile, "You - and I don't mind saying it at all - are a mighty and wondrous god!"


They set about making their meal together since it would be more fun. There's obviously not much to it but a bit of time, but they traded small jokes and laughed about their situation. Cale reached over and lifted a large pot. He saw her puzzled look and just said, "You don't want to know what's in here. It's not pretty, but it's Rufe's dinner."

He set it on a burner and cranked it to high, "These are just a couple of meaty soup bones. I just want to get them warmed up again. I boiled them for him last night, but I'm not going to give them to him cold. With you here he thinks this is some special occasion, so he'll get these tonight instead of the usual."

Kate turned around, and saw Rufus lying in the corner. He was obviously expectant, but was on his best behavior. She laughed, and walked over to rub his big head. His toothy smile was instantly turned on.

After things had gotten well underway, Cale paused to listen as a strong gust of wind hit the old house, "Hey, Kate? Can you keep an eye on things here for just a minute? I want to get some things from upstairs. I'll be right back." She agreed and he went up the stairs.

Rufus looked after him curiously, "He's just gone to get something. Don't worry, Rufus, You're safe with me."

His look at her made Kate laugh. As if he were the one in any danger from all five feet, nothing of her. He easily outweighed her.

She suddenly had a thought that she just couldn't be in a better place in this storm than where she was and found that she was feeling pretty chipper for it. And so she began to dance in the kitchen.

Rufus stared, and then got up to follow her movements, since he couldn't understand what she was doing. This delighted Kate, who began to twirl around just to see him watch her with his head tilted comically in confusion, and that caused Kate to dance even more.

Cale came down the stairs to hear the sound of his dog's nails on the floor in the kitchen. He set the oil lamp down on a side table with the flashlight, and watched Kate dance. She stirred the soup with a flourish, flipped the sandwiches on the hot plate, and then lifted a couple of them to put them on the flat pan inside the oven to keep them warm.

She was still dancing a little as she made two more and got them started on the hot plate before she lifted the lid of the pot of soup bones. She twirled and then checked the temperature of the water before turning down the burner.

"We don't want you to burn your mouth, honey," she said to the dog before picking up the plates and bowls. She skittered to the table and had even set one down before she heard Cale's quiet laughter.

Kate looked up at him in some embarrassment, but he began to clap, "That was incredible, Kate! I don't know how you can do that. There'd be at least one more doorway through the wall if I even tried that. And look at him," he pointed to the very happy dog, who still had no clue, but thought it was a great game. To her own surprise, his gentle laughter made her feel good, rather than just stupid, so she bowed, "I try," she said.

She looked at the oil lamp, and Cale shrugged, "I'm getting that power outage feeling."

"Could you please light that now, Cale? Would that be ok to do? I'd just like to see it lit."

She beamed when he had it lit and he'd turned off the room lights, "Now that's perfect!"

They got the bowls and plates filled and Rufus was no longer confused about anything. He was busy gnawing on his soup bones.

"I always ask for the meatiest bones they have for him," Cale explained, "One of these days, I'm going to blow his mind by bringing him a whole haunch. I just haven't figured out how to cook it for him yet."

Cale watched the look of absolute pleasure on Kate's face as she tasted the first mouthfuls of her dinner. She sat with her eyes closed sighing.

Cale knew where she was coming from, but was certain that her face told the story better than his ever could. They were about halfway through dinner when the power went out. Kate sat with a spoonful of soup hovering near her mouth, "Please tell me that you can do the same thing with the stock market."

Cale shook his head sadly

There was a few minutes of silence between them, but neither one felt uncomfortable for it. They just heard the wind and sometimes the snow as it pelted the windows. But Kate saw that he was beginning to look a bit uncomfortable about something and touched his hand, "What, Cale?"

"I just had a thought, that's all. I've had the power out here for as long as three days before. I can manage that with no trouble alone, but I've been trying to figure out a way to suggest to you that if you want a shower or bath, soon would be the time for it while there's still hot water in the tank if you're still feeling chilled at all.

I just haven't got a way to say that - other than straight out like this. I just wanted to suggest it; I don't want you to think the wrong thing here. There's another way to get hot water, but it's more work than just hitting the button on my generator to run the water pump."

Kate was surprised at a few things in his statement, and though she felt like laughing, she smiled and nodded, "Duly noted, thank you."

After dinner, Kate noticed the glow from the inlet damper of the wood-stove and sat on the floor to watch in fascination. Cale saw her and brought her cushions and blankets from the couch and chair before turning the oil lamp down more to let her see the glow better. The flicker of the flames through the grate of the damper lit the room dimly and her face was cast in a warm glow. She smiled at him and patted the cushion next to her and he sat with her.

Rufus had chewed better than his first pass on the bones, taking all of the meat off and had gotten well into going for the marrow. He stopped and looked at Kate for a second, before walking slowly to her to lie down with his back to her feet. She smiled at him and pet him, and then grinned when he groaned loudly.

Cale was amazed, "Well I'd say that you've thoroughly charmed my friend. He never lets anyone get near him, mostly."

She shrugged and smiled at him, "I'd say that you're a lot alike in that way. I have no way of knowing that, but it's what I sense from you both. I think I've been very lucky today. I don't imagine that you guys let anyone too close to you. I feel a little special to have gotten this close, sitting here with all this power and kindness."

He wasn't certain that it had been his bullshit detector that he'd noticed, but Cale wondered what it had been that had gotten his attention just then.

She caught Cale's look, "What?"

He screwed his face up, "Power and kindness? What the heck does that mean?"

"Well what would you call it, Cale?" she asked, "Try to look at it from my perspective. The men in my world are all about chest-beating. They need to loudly proclaim their greatness and masculinity by making sure that everyone knows what they've done, what they wear, what they drive and own. It's all just advertising, and like most advertising, it seeks to portray things as being better than they really are.

You two don't make any noise at all. You don't proclaim anything, you don't wear symbols, you just quietly are you. To me, it's like a whole new male subspecies. You make the statement by saying nothing at all - I think that's refreshing.

Rufus is a wild thing, mostly. He's not like a normal dog, he's here because he wants to be here. He doesn't need anything at all from me, yet he's made a couple of attempts today to warm my feet, and for nothing. He's lying there where it must be too hot for him in that fur coat because maybe he thinks I still need him to warm my feet. By the standards of how most people see dogs today, he's a beast. But I've already figured out that it's just how he's made - what he needs to survive alone if he has to. And you're the same as him."

"You picked me up out there with the same effort as I'd imagine that you'd use to pick up a two pound bag of sugar. You took care of me just because you saw that I needed that - before you did anything about yourself. I saw you out in the cold shed busting apart wood in wet clothes with your shirt steaming - because we all needed that. I know you were just replacing the wood that we hadn't even burned yet, but might need for this storm. And for you it was nothing but what needed to be done.

The men in my world would have been just as helpless as I was out there today; though they'd have made damn sure that any females around would be paying attention, just in case they did something right. And yeah, Cale, I was watching you. There was nothing in this about impressing the damsel in distress here. The only looks I got during all of that were from my buddy here."

Cale looked over and tried to figure her out. "Damsel in distress?" he asked, "I don't know about that. This isn't the frozen tundra. You picked likely the only day that you might have gotten into a bit of trouble in, that's all. With respect, Kate, if you hadn't gotten a little windblown and stayed between the driveway markers, I think you'd have been ok. That's partly my fault and I'll try to mark it out better in the spring with signs.

I didn't know you were watching me bust up firewood, but there wasn't anything to that other than trying to avoid the 'aw shit' moment when I realize that I've burned all the firewood and have only tree trunks that have to be sawn and split and they're not dried out. I only made that mistake once. You want to say I'm good at something, just leave it at woodstove management. There was a time when everybody had to know that stuff or freeze, that's all."

Cale smiled at Rufus, "Maybe he just likes the way that you make him feel. He's the outgoing one. I uh, ... I keep to myself mostly. If my life depended upon impressing a woman, I'd be a dead man because I haven't got a clue."

"But you do what needs to be done, Cale. It's pretty simple, and that's why I said that you guys are like a separate species. You're very ....."

"Primitive?" he smirked, doing his best not to add 'oh please'.

"No," she smirked right back at him, "not primitive. More like essential, or pure. That's about the best lousy way that I can say it. I'm here in wherever this is with the wind howling and moaning out there and no power. The world is a different place tonight from what people like me can live in, and this just happens, but city people never know it.

So here I am with you, and all is right with the world. Even if I were here alone in this jeezly big solid house, I'd be pissing myself in fear. To you, it's just a shrug and a smile."

Cale was listening but he'd also been thinking as he looked at Kate. He had a feeling that he knew what might happen here – or rather, what was possible. He was just trying to decide if it was what he wanted. The damndest thing to him was that he wasn't sure, but he knew that the more that he thought about it, the less he wanted that to happen.

He found that he wasn't all that impressed with the way that she seemed to paint him as some kind-hearted forest god, a mighty he-man hewer of wood and all of that. It made him a little uncomfortable to listen to it. He thought that she sounded a little like a saleswoman herself and it turned him cold.

She looked around at the thick beams of the building, "How did you come to be here? I can see that this place predates you..."

Cale said, "I used to have a girlfriend.-"

"I'd imagine that you've had a lot of girlfriends," Kate began, but stopped when she saw him shake his head. "Sorry. Go on, Cale."

"No, only a very few. I just never felt like I really fit in. I got married young, and that didn't work out, so I lived alone. A few years ago, I met a photographer and we fell in love. She wanted to take some pictures of me, but needed a setting. I thought of this place and took her here. She fell in love with it.

So we did the shoot and then we were together for a bit. I started doing what I needed to so that I could buy it for her. I never actually got a chance to tell her that. Anyway I broke that all apart because I'm stupid, or I can be. Or maybe it's that I just don't think sometimes. So I went down the road kicking a rock and came back here.

The people who were going to sever the lot for me needed the money for their business. Since they're good friends to me and Rufus, I completed the sale, sold my house and came here. I didn't really know him then, but I'd come here every couple of days as I was thinking about living here and what needed to be done. I always saw Rufus hanging around and we just became pals.

It's not much, but I like it and it's paid for. I'm not pining for my lost love, Kate. I'm just here and it's where I want to be. I'll tell you straight, I'm just a working guy."

They sat in silence for awhile. She nudged him, and he looked at her, "What?"

"Aren't you going to ask me to tell you my story?"

"I figured that if you wanted to tell me, then you would."

"Well I do now," she said with a laugh, "but there's not much to tell, and that's my own fault too. I was just always about my career, and I'm just so damn good at what I do that now I've had enough time to wonder about it and why it was so damned important to me in the first place. I've just never made the time for anybody in my life. I've never been married, and that's probably a good thing because my stupid job would have been more important at that time, and that would've broken any marriage apart. Other than the really rare one-night thing, I've never even had the time for a real relationship, and lately I'm seeing that it's a pretty hard judgement on me, and I did it to myself. I'm home alone most nights, working on business stuff even when I shouldn't be, always looking for an in, or an edge for my employer.

About a third of the year, I'm all over the world, getting things done and managing their empire. I've been everywhere, and never stopped to think in terms of what it was costing me. Shit, I'm sure that I'm the only one in that company who does this crap and really doesn't have a life of their own. Sitting here with you guys, I'm seeing a lot of what I've been missing, or maybe might have had."

She looked at him, "I've learned a lot of things today. I showed up in jeans even though dress-down Fridays are off the board at my level. I'm finding that I don't give a damn about that. I figure that I've earned that at the very least. I was only there today to prepare for a debrief meeting to go over my latest conquest for them. When I get back, I'm going to tell a few people that in the future, I'm not going to come in for crap like that. We can just teleconference like we do when I'm on the road. I want to be able to do that in my fuzzy PJs if I feel like it."

She caught his expression. "What?"

Cale was smiling, "I was just enjoying the visual."

She smiled at him, thinking that she might like to let him see that while she was wearing a whole lot less, but not knowing if that would or could happen. "Anyway, more importantly, I've also learned that I've found a couple of great guys out here, and I'm having a better time than I've had on any rushed and hurried and cut-it-short-because-something's-come-up-and-we-need-you, Kate vacation. To you, this is just another stormy night, and you're fine with it, probably like you'd be fine with anything just short of the apocalypse. But to me, this is just wonderful. I can't get over it - tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches,.."

She shook her head with a grin. "I'm here with two guys who can handle anything between them as long as one gets grilled cheese sandwiches, and the other gets a meat-covered soup bone to chew on. You guys are awesome. Don't ask me whose life is better between us Cale. You probably just see it as living. But I see it as living a whole lot better than I do."

She sighed, "I'm trying not to think about it, but sooner or later, I'm going to have to turn on my phone and find out about the latest crisis that I have to handle. Don't cells work here?"

"They don't work really well right here, but you can get a signal sometimes. That's one of my favorite things about living here. I live on a leash too, Kate, though not as bad as yours must be like. I haven't told anybody at work, but I can almost always get a signal if I head to the top of the hill behind here. But I make a point of never going there with my phone turned on anymore. I have a land line phone, but the number is unlisted, and I don't give out the number."

He listened as she told him a little of what she did and he had a bit of a vision of her in a boardroom making an entrance with a laptop under her arm and yelling something along the lines of "Avast, ye corporate swabs!"

It brought to mind the way that these sorts of things were done. One company ate another as the best way to remove its competition. Not long after that, the cuts would begin and a lot of people would be on the street. He thought back to the two times that it had happened to places that he'd worked when he was in industry. How good you were at your job meant nothing when someone like Kate passed judgement with the stroke of a pen from a thousand miles away. He hadn't been affected very much, other than the inconvenience of having to find another job, but he'd seen many regular hard-working folks whose lives were hard hit by it.

Kate wondered what had happened or changed after that, because before she knew it, Cale had a bed made up for her on the couch, and after asking her if there was anything that she wanted, he told her that he was glad to have met her and that he'd help to get her on her way in the morning. As she blinked at him, he said goodnight to her and went upstairs to bed.

Kate sat on the cushions on the floor looking into the flames that she saw in the stove as Rufus sat next to her and looked down at her.

"I thought we were doing pretty well for a while there," she whispered to the dog as she reached to scratch his ear for him, "What did I say?"

The next morning, Kate awoke to the smell of coffee being brewed and only Rufus there with her. She heard a roaring sound and walked to the large window. Cale was out there, and he had the driveway cleared almost all the way to her car using an old tractor with a shovel on the end of it. By the time that she'd made herself a cup of coffee and gotten halfway through it, he'd gotten her car pulled out. She wondered how he'd managed that, but then she guessed that she'd probably left the keys in the ignition.

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