How to Break the Icebyleorastark©
Here's a little (okay, actually it's pretty long) story about love in the wintertime.
It's about two people who manage to melt the ice between them. It's also about ice fishing (seriously). I wrote it as a tribute to the Canadian winter which I am currently in the midst of.
I hope you all enjoy! As always, I welcome feedback and comments.
All the best, Leora
They'd spent the last two hours bumping along the rough, gravel road in their rented four by four. Rebecca cursed as her head slammed into the side window for the fifth time.
"Are we almost there?" she asked.
"I think so, the directions said we follow this road to the end then take a left onto a new road, that's ones supposed to be really bad, then drive another kilometer and we're there!" Leah replied brightly, clutching the printed directions in her hand.
"Wooo-hoo! Eagle Ridge here we come!" Tom shouted as he maneuvered the car around a particularly large dip in the rutted road.
"Yeah, I can't wait. No internet, no cable, just lots and lots of...snow. Sweet" Rebecca grumbled.
She'd initially been looking forward to this trip. They'd been planning it for months now. The cabin that they'd rented online was always booked and scoring it for a week in November had necessitated booking in late August. The thing was, in late August she and Liam had still been together. More than that, they'd been deliriously happy. The idea that they might not still be together in November had never crossed her mind. Now she was stuck spending a week in a cabin with her best friend and her best friend's boyfriend. She loved Leah and Tom but she knew watching them cuddle in front of the fire or soak in the hot tub was not going to be easy. At least she had this weekend to look forward to. This weekend they'd invited a few other friends to come and join them at the cabin so it was really just the Monday to Friday drag that she had to survive.
She was grateful she had remembered to bring her camera. She was looking forward to taking some great shots of the scenery up here. Photography was one of the few things that had kept her sane after she'd found out Liam was cheating on her—with one of her colleagues at Sweet, the fashion and lifestyle magazine she worked at, no less. Well, photography and alcohol. Oh, and hagen dazs. She knew she's become quite a cliché, drunkenly crying into her ice cream bowl night after night, watching trash reality TV, but she didn't care. Going to work every day and seeing the bitch that Liam had cheated on her with was no treat either. It had already been a bit of a trial there, she hated her managing editor and she knew the skills she'd picked up in journalism school and in the three unpaid internships she'd been forced to do afterwards to pad her resume were being wasted writing blurbs about mascara and miracle creams. She used to love reading Sweet...before she'd started working there.
She felt the truck turn onto a new road. They hadn't lied, this one was actually worse than the last one. She felt grateful she didn't get carsick...usually. She opened the window a crack to dissipate some of the stream that had built up inside the car from the defrost they'd been blasting. The cold air refreshed her immediately. It smelled ridiculously fresh out here, nothing like her downtown neighborhood where she enjoyed the tang of garbage in the summer and the stink of car exhaust and spilled fuel on dirty snow-drifts in the winter. She loved the city but sometimes she felt totally cut off from the world—the real world—in her glassed in downtown condo.
"We're here!!" Leah squealed, popping open the passenger side door.
Rebecca opened her door and stepped out into the crisp air. It was a beautiful afternoon and the sun glinted off of every snow-covered surface. The cabin was just as gorgeous as the pictures had promised. It was really a glorified log cabin, big enough to sleep up to ten people comfortably. Made from long, fitted slats of red pine, weathered to a beautiful finish and trimmed with red paint around each of the huge picture windows—it couldn't have been more charming. Towering trees stretched as far as the eye could see to the right of the house while on the left a towering granite rock face provided a stunning backdrop. Rebecca smiled.
Yeah, I can do this, she thought.
They took a few minutes to wander around the wrap-around deck to the front of the house. The deck became even larger at the back, with room for a table and chairs and a large hot tub. It was the view that really took Rebecca's breath away. The cabin was perched on a slight hill overlooking an enormous, sparkling frozen lake covered with what looked to be at least a foot of packed snow. Small, colorful ice fishing huts dotted the lake, some with smoke curliqueing out of the chimneys. In the distance, a line of dark pines marked the edge of the lake. It was amazing. Rebecca had a vague memory of going ice fishing with her dad when she was little and the huts called to her begging her to take their picture, to capture this perfect winter wonderland.
"Pretty great, eh?" Tom said, coming up to stand next to her.
"Yeah, it's pretty great," she replied smiling.
A car rumbled up the drive and they walked back around front in time to see a smiling, heavy-set woman bundled up in a brightly colored wool coat step out of its driver side door.
"Hello! You must be Rebecca," she said extending her hand. "Welcome! We're so glad you decided to come here. I just came by to give you guys the keys and then I'll get out of your hair, I'm sure you're keen to get settled after that long, bumpy ride," she handed Rebecca a keychain with a big fake moosehead on the end.
"Thanks, you must be Mrs. Mitchell, it's so great to put a face to the voice. The place is beautiful."
"Oh it is, I know you'll have a great time here. If you need anything just give me or my son Ben a holler. Our numbers are next to the phone." She shot them a wide smile, then, good as her word, took off.
"Should we go in and check out the rest?" Rebecca asked. Leah and Tom nodded enthusiastically.
The cabin was just as beautiful inside as out. The main room comprised a kitchen to the left with a large granite island and a table big enough for at least ten and a large, airy living room area in the centre dominated by a huge stone fireplace. Cozy sofas were placed at right angles around the fireplace and a worn antique rug covered the floor. Off to the right of the living room was the master bedroom with an adjoining bathroom while upstairs in the partial loft there were three more bedrooms, two with queen size beds and one with two single bunk beds. Rebecca knew as the only single this weekend she'd be stuck in one of those bunks.
Oh well, she thought, it's only until Monday when everyone packs off for the week then I can snag a big bed.
She heard a car rumbling down the driveway and looked out the window to see another black 4 by 4—the only kind of car that could make it on these rough, icy roads—pull into the drive. Four people got out—well, two couples really, James and Riley and Doug and Marc. Despite their presence forcing her into the "kiddie room" she was glad to see them. You could always count on James to be the life of the party and Doug and Marc, two die hard gay-hipsters would definitely be amusing as they adjusted to this more countrified lifestyle for the weekend (well, she reflected looking around the place, not exactly countrified, more like cushy-countrified). Riley, well, Riley was her own thing. She and James had been together for about six months now and if anything, Rebecca would have bet that it would have been them, not her and Liam who wouldn't make it to this November get-away.
They all settled in with a flurry of suitcase, duffel bags, shopping bags packed with groceries, and twice as much beer and wine as they needed. A big soggy pile of boots lay dripping inside the door and seven parkas were strewn carelessly over the banister. Everyone had come prepared with their fiercest winter gear. They'd read that the cabin was equipped with sleds and other sporting equipment and they were as eager as any city folk off for a weekend in the woods to experience it all...after a few drinks by the fire of course. Rebecca headed upstairs to unpack her stuff, automatically heading into the room with the two bunk beds.
"Oh my god, this is soooo cute!" Riley squealed, popping her head in the bedroom door. "Don't you love it?"
"Yeah, it's great. I'm really glad we're doing this." She smiled cheerily at Riley, hoping she'd take the hint and disappear.
"It's not, like, too weird or anything is it? I mean, being here, you know, without Liam? But how cute is this room? I mean, don't you just love bunk beds!?"
"I guess it is a little weird Riley, I just feel...so sad, like there's a big hole inside my chest and...and...I'm so angry too, you know? I really feel like I just need to get it all out, really vent..." Rebecca pinched her hand behind her back sharply, willing tears to come into her eyes. She knew Riley avoided any kind of genuine emotion like the plague and she hoped the younger girl would leave her alone for the rest of the weekend if she thought she might want to cry and moan about her break-up.
"Ohhh...poor you," Riley said awkwardly, her eyes darting into the hallway, "I guess I'd better go help Jamie unpack, he'll probably just throw everything on the bed, ha ha..." she trailed off as she backed slowly out of the room.
Rebecca sniffed loudly. "Yeah...Liam was just like that..." she wiped her eyes as she pretended to choke back a loud sob. Riley almost ran down the hall in her haste to get away.
Well, that worked like a charm, she thought with satisfaction.
After she'd finished unpacking her small bag she wandered down to the main room, settled into one of the oversize leather armchairs and idly picked through a magazine entitled Outdoorsman. It was pretty much the antithesis of Sweet—chock full of advice on hunting, fishing, snowshoeing, and other rugged activities. The pictures were all of burly men in winter gear or camouflage toting guns, rods or other phallic equipment. There was a section at the back called "The Trophy Wall" where men (and they were all men) posed with their latest kills or catches. Rebecca wasn't a die-hard animal rights crusader, her inability to give up meat or leather really interfered with that, but she still couldn't get her head around the idea of killing things for fun. Or for sport, she supposed she should say. She wondered if any of these guys actually ate what they killed or did they just snap the photo, whack off the head and mount it? As she said this her gaze drifted up to the wall just above the big French doors leading out onto the balcony where a large deer head presided.
The deer gazed down at her with glassy eyes. It made her vaguely uncomfortable so she decided to go out and take some pictures before the light faded. She pulled on her bulky Sorel's, a warm Canada Goose down jacket, a knitted tuque and her finger-less gloves and stepped outside with her camera around her neck. She walked a little way down the driveway and was about to turn into the woods when she heard someone approaching.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," a deep voice said, "if you head in there in those boots you're likely to get stuck in the snow. It's four, five feet deep in places and the ground is uneven. You'd be better off sticking to the road."
She turned to see a man standing a few feet away. He was tall and well-built, at least 6'2", wearing jeans tucked into heavy, studded boots and an old worn plaid flannel jacket. His hands were bare and his shaggy brown hair was tucked most of the way under a blue wool tuque.
Underneath the dark scruff that covered his cheeks and chin he had strong cheekbones, the picture was completed by a pair of pouty lips and clear blue eyes. His expression, however, wasn't overly friendly and dispelled any thought Rebecca had been forming about him being cute.
"Oh, well I just wanted to get some pictures of the trees with all the ice on them. I won't go far," she said eyeing him curiously, "are you the caretaker?" When they'd made the booking with "Sandy" they'd heard that her son, Ben, might drop by occasionally to see if they needed anything. He worked as a caretaker for this cabin as well as five others the family owned in the area.
"Yeah. I'm Ben," he said, tucking his hands into the pockets of his coat and leaning back on his heels. Apparently people around here didn't shake hands.
"I'm Rebecca, I'm part of the group that just arrived..." as she said it she felt idiotic.
"It's a beautiful place you've got here. We're really excited to explore the area. Do you have any recommendations?"
He stared at her for a moment, seemingly eyeing her up, taking in her pristine boots and coat (that she'd picked up just last month, partly just for this trip, but, she'd reasoned there wasn't anything more practical for a Canadian than a really great pair of boots and a parka).
"Well, I don't really know what you guys are into. There's some equipment in the shed. People always seem to like sledding for some reason, there's a nice big hill just east of here. I guess there's the ski hill too, it's about an hours drive North, they have fancy restaurants and stuff," he said, in a condescending voice. Obviously sledding and skiing were activities only city folk enjoyed. That kind of attitude always set Rebecca off.
Why bother to try and entice people to come out here and enjoy themselves if you're going to judge them the minute they get here? she thought with annoyance.
"Okay, thanks. I'll let the others know," she said shortly determined not to let Ben make her feel ashamed of not being 'country' enough.
If he only knew where I grew up. Rebecca thought.
Her childhood in Pictou County, Nova Scotia hadn't exactly been cosmopolitan.
He nodded curtly then continued walking towards the house. He turned after a few steps, "Y'know, if you're really determined to get into the woods you could just strap on a pair of snowshoes. They're in the shed."
"Oh, okay thanks," she called back. Snow-shoes sounded like fun. She'd never tried them before.
She had visions of the huge birch and hide versions she'd seen in those old educational movies in grade school that taught you all about Mic Mac culture but when she unlocked the shed and looked in she saw ten pairs of small oval shaped shoes with a slight elfin curl at the end made of what looked to be lightweight fiberglass. They had buckles that allowed them to be snuggly fitted onto any kind of boot. She grabbed the nearest pair and strapped them on then practiced walking a bit down the road. They were remarkably easy to use, and much lighter than she'd expected. She decided to test them out properly. She stepped over the drift at the side of the road and gingerly placed her foot onto the packed snow. It held. She began walking slowly. With each step her feet dipped slightly into the crusty snow but she stayed on top. It was amazing, she felt like she was walking on water. So much easier than trudging though the snow! She wondered why she'd never done this before. The late afternoon sun was shining brightly through the trees, and everything was illuminated in a bright wintery sparkle. She could vaguely make out the snow covered shapes of boulders, small bushes, and fallen logs as flashes of brown, green and grey breaking through the white landscape. The tree branches glittered with ice.
It was so quiet the crunching of her feet on the snow was the only sound. She began taking pictures, letting the branches form architectural patters against the blue sky. She had to change her lens and her setting a few times in order to truly capture the bright, clean snowy vistas.
After a few minutes she stopped, her ears tuning into the sound of boots on the crunchy road. She turned to look and saw Ben headed down the road away from the cabin, whatever task he'd had to do there apparently finished. He seemed to sense her looking as he stopped and met her eyes. Their gazes locked for a minute and she began to feel uncomfortable.
I guess he's the gruff, silent type? she mused.
She was determined not to speak first. She wasn't going to try and win him over just because he'd been rude to her—though that was usually her first instinct—she was a born people pleaser but that was something she'd recently begun to question, especially after a few of the girls form the office had decided to shut her out of their social circle a few months back for no reason at all. She'd spent weeks trying to figure out what she'd done, she'd been sweet and funny to them, even gone so far as to manufacture reasons to help them at work. None of it had worked and she'd gradually given up. Now she'd resolved that if someone didn't like her, fuck it. So she didn't say anything just shot him a 'yes, can I help you?' look. Ben looked a little taken aback but then he smirked, nodded and walked off.
Whatever, she thought, mentally shaking off the encounter.
She spent the next hour or so enjoying the silent company of the woods. It was so rarely quiet in the city that it felt incredibly strange—wonderfully strange—to be surrounded by such peace. When she eventually got cold and returned to the cabin she found everyone draped on sofas around the fire, drinks in hand.
"There you are! We thought maybe the evil lumberjack had carried you off into the woods!" Marc said snickering.
"Did you meet that guy? What an asshole," Leah said grimacing, "I guess he's the caretaker or something."
"Yeah, I met him on the road. He was kind of an asshole," Rebecca laughed. "What did he want?"
"Oh, he just came by to scowl at us and give us condescendingly obvious advice about how to operate things. He also told us it gets cold here at night...like, newsflash! It's northern Canada motherfucker of course it gets cold here at night," Leah rolled her eyes.
"He was cute though...," Doug broke in, "you know, in like a rustic, burly-man way."
"Yeah, you obviously go for the big burly type," Rebecca laughed, gesturing to Marc, whose slight form barely took up one of the sofa cushions on which he was perched.
"I'm just saying...if you like that kind of thing. Me, obviously, I don't," Doug said, giving Marc a kiss on his cheek.
"Ah, lover. Well, I do like that kind of thing actually. You're a bit of an anomaly for me actually. I usually date men more his type, I had a bit of a bear fetish going on for awhile there y'know," Marc said breezily.
"I saw your last boyfriend Marc, if that was a bear then I'm goldilocks," Jamie broke in laughing.
"Whatever," Marc retorted.
Rebecca chuckled as she listened to her friends continue to tease each other. She poured herself a glass of red wine and joined them on them around the fire.
Maybe this week won't be as hard as I thought, she thought.
The next morning Rebecca awoke with a slight hangover. The night had turned into a bit of a party and they'd ended up playing some crazy role playing card game, drinking too much and sitting in the hot tub until three am. It had been fun though. She sat up and immediately hit her head.
Right, bunk beds.
She eased herself slowly out from the lower bunk and headed to the bathroom. Once she'd gotten dressed and cleaned up she went downstairs to the kitchen. They'd organized the meals by person (or couple really) so each couple was responsible for one meal over the weekend. Jamie and Riley had made dinner last night and this morning it was Rebecca's turn. She'd prepared her staple breakfast treat last night—overnight French toast—and all she had to do now was flip it and throw in the oven. Garnished with some maple syrup and berries, it would be delicious. She started the coffee maker going and got out the milk and cream, setting up a little "coffee station" to the side of the island. Her hangover faded quickly as she drank the strong filtered coffee. She wandered out the side door and onto the deck. She breathed deeply and closed her eyes, allowing the morning sun to warm her face. It was cold out but not unreasonably so, she was perfectly fine for a few minutes in her fleece pajama pants and pullover.