Authors: Suzanne D. Williams
She pushed him back down in the sled and tucked the covering around him. “It will delay us, and it’s important you get to help.”
He stared up at her. Something in the way she’d said that was wrong. She thought too much, and it would be her downfall if she didn’t stop. He raised a hand and snatched hold of her wrist.
She scowled at him.
“Don’t do that,” he said. “Whatever’s going through that pretty head of yours, tell yourself you’re wrong.”
“There is nothing
going through my head right now but continuing on our way,” she replied, detaching herself.
He fell back in the sled, and the vision of her disappeared. The snowmobile cranked again.
Continuing on their way so she could run from him.
The truth rose up inside. But she was wrong; there was no way he was leaving without her. One way or another, his future was tied to hers. She simply had no idea how stubborn he would be about it.
Their troubles began mid-afternoon. Checking the traps had definitely delayed them, but she’d done it anyhow because he was right, there was money to be made, and if he would be gone from the area, then whatever was in them would go to waste. Checking them, however, meant altering their course due west and following the river for quite some time. Therefore, when it finally came time to cross, they weren’t at a location she would have chosen.
She’d crossed the river before
. During the winter, it was mostly frozen, but below the snow there’d sometimes be pockets of water that had escaped the ice. You never knew where they were, and so at any time ran the risk of getting stuck.
etting stuck was not in her plans. The more the day wore on, the more she wanted to rid herself of Ezekiel and all the feelings he created in her. With him gone, she’d be free of the desires and longings he’d uncovered and could relegate such weakness back to where it belonged—in the past. He
taught her one thing though. She’d have to plan better for her future, make the trip to town for supplies, and acquire more of what she’d need for safety measures.
Clementine halted the sled on the bank of the river and scanned the far bank. There really wasn’t any way to know how strong the ice was here except to risk it. Gripping the
handlebars she revved the gas and started the trek across. But nearing the other side, the snowmobile’s treads sank up to the frame.
She shot out an oath.
It was as she’d thought.
“What is it?” Ezekiel asked.
She glanced back at him. “Overflow.”
slushy mix of snow and water flowing over the ice had effectively wedged the machine in tight. She dismounted, her feet sinking into the mix, and eyed the predicament.
’ll have to unhook the sled to get us out.”
Unhooking the sled first required removing Ezekiel from it. This proved difficult because over the hours, he’d gotten stiff.
And heavy. Her arm around his shoulders, she hefted him upright best she could. He uttered a series of grunts and moans, then their corporate efforts failing, fell down flat on the snowy bank. His face was uncommonly pale.
She patted his cheek.
“Should be only a moment.”
But after shifting the sled and dragging it onto solid ground, the snowmobile remained as stuck as ever. She seated herself at his side, raising his head in her lap.
“What is it?” he asked with chattering teeth.
“We won’t be getting there today.”
He was amazing
ly calm, considering.
“No,” she said.
“The ice will have to freeze for me to get it out, so we’ll make camp here, build a fire. Let’s get you more comfortable.”
She rose from the ground, pillowing his head on some of the covering from the back of the sled, and trudged away
from the bank. Selecting a location beneath the trees, she scraped the snow down to the hardened turf and formed a bed of scattered spruce branches. She lined this with the emergency bedding she’d insisted they bring and returned to Ezekiel. He was shivering now, his body visibly shaking.
said. “Give me your arms, and I’ll drag you.” Not the easiest task, but he’d be unable to walk that far.
It was a good twenty minutes before he was situated in place. She wrapped him tight, up to his neck
in the blankets, and moved to make a fire.
It paid to always be
prepared. He’d made fun of her supplies, but she’d learned it was better to carry what you didn’t need than to find yourself without it. This only proved her point. They could both die out here in the upcoming cold if not for her forethought.
Nathan had preached that at her.
You never have enough,
he’d always say.
he fire spit higher, its red-orange flames consuming the branches she’d formed into a cone. She collected a portion of the meat and set it in the frying pan over the heat.
Yet once t
he food was cooked, Ezekiel wasn’t inclined to eat it. “I’m sorry, Clem. I’m not feeling so hot. I don’t suppose I can trouble you for companionship?”
and, feeding his portion to the dog, crawled beneath the covers to his side. She curled them both tight in the blankets.
“You make things worthwhile,” he said.
She had her doubts about that.
“Tell me a story, anything to take my mind off this.”
Her cheek pillowed on his arm, she exhaled. “I’m not good at storytelling.”
He gave a pained laugh. “No, I expect not, but do your best.”
“What would you like to hear? I have only my own memories to share.”
“Tell me about your wedding.”
She glanced up at him. His eyes were closed.
“I hardly think …”
“I want to picture you as a bride,” he said, interrupting her.
For his own benefit? Asking was on the tip of her tongue, but she buried it. What did it matter if that was the case? She had no intention of taking him up on his proposal. In another day or so, they’d be separated, and he’d have only what she’d said to remember her by. Plus, he was in obvious pain, so she’d be providing a needed distraction.
She shut her own eyelids and thought back to that day. “It was outdoors.”
“No church?” he asked.
“No, though the minster was from a local congregation. He was a friend of my father’s and had agreed to do the ceremony.”
“So you didn’t attend any place?”
“We were never religious.”
This seemed like a simple statement, but evidently, it sparked something in him.
“It isn’t about religion, Clem. It’s about your heart.” He laid his palm
against her chest. “Right in here. I never went much either. Hard to when there’s nowhere to go. But I believe God watches over us. I believe he brought you and me together.”
“Fate?” she asked.
His hand caressed her neck, resting along the slope of it. “Not fate. That implies it was random. I was thinking more deliberately planned. God wanted me and you together.”
Not likely. Why would He?
She kept these thoughts to herself. What Ezekiel believed was fine for him.
not in a church.” He returned to the story.
in the yard behind my parents’ house. It was early summer, and the daylilies were in bloom. They grow wild there along the roadsides.”
“You had a
“My mother’s dress.
She wanted me to wear it.”
He exhaled, his breathing
ragged. “I’ll bet you were gorgeous with that crown of hair.” He lifted a lock in his hand. “I love your hair.”
Nathan used to say the same.
It’s like having the sun in my hands,
he’d tell her, and she’d felt flattered to have it appreciated for once and not made fun of. Kids at school were cruel, and she’d suffered plenty of humiliation, as if being born with red hair was a curse.
“Was it up or down?”
Ezekiel’s hands slid upward
to her cheek. “I can picture that. I’ll bet he wanted you all to himself right then.”
She didn’t respond.
“I would have.”
“I hardly think that’s
decent to say,” she replied.
“Who’s going to hear it? You’re a beautiful woman. I saw that right after I thought you shot me. And here we’ve been keeping each other warm at night, I can tell it, too.”
It went both ways. Nathan had been bulky, broad in the shoulders and stout at the waist. Ezekiel was much leaner, the shape of his body somehow the perfect fit for hers. She shouldn’t have noticed that, but it’d been hard not to.
“What are you thinking about, Clem?” he asked.
“That it will be cold tonight, and all this talk is wasting energy.”
He brought his hand behind her head and turned her face upward. The press of his lips came as no surprise, nor the reach of his tongue. No, the surprise was her welcome to it. How, in the face of Nathan’s memory, with talk of their wedding, could she kiss another man like that?
She was unfaithful. She was setting aside all he meant to her for the passion of someone else. She pulled back. “Stop. Please. I can’t.”
“Sure, you can,” he said.
“What would he have wanted you to do? Shrivel up and die out here?”
She twisted her face away. “You didn’t know him at all. He was a jealous man. He would have killed you for this.”
She exaggerated. He would’ve been unhappy, inclined to fight maybe, but not violent.
“That’s because he had the best wife, and I don’t fault him for that. I can imagine what he was thinking on your wedding day, you coming across the lawn toward him. I
a man, Clem.”
“You are not Nathan Button.”
He laughed. “I told you that. He sought to isolate you, keep you to himself. The fact he brought you out here tells me that. He didn’t even want your family to know where you were.”
Her stomach twisted. He was more right than he knew.
I’ll have your face looking at only me for the rest of our days,
he’d said on their wedding night. Then he’d taken what he wanted and left her lying there, bereft. She’d loved him, but been unsatisfied.
“I’m different,” Ezekiel said, breaking into her thoughts. “I don’t want to steal you away. I want to teach you
how to live. There’s so much more out there than this. I love Alaska, and I come here in the winters. But I go home after. I visit my family. What do you think yours is wondering about you?”
“If they’ll ever see me again,” she said.
Her mom had taken her aside after their wedding.
Nathan is a good man, but I’m thinking you’ll be gone from here forever. I’ll pray for you, my sweet daughter, that you’ll find in him what you’re seeking, and someday, I’ll see you again.
“Wouldn’t you like to go back? Aren’t you tired of being alone?”
She huffed. “I’m tired of you fostering dreams in me I cannot have. I am happy here. Can’t you see that?”
“What I see,” he replied. “What I
when you kiss me is how much more you want to have.”
“You are a dreamer,” she said.
He shook his head. “No, I’m a man falling in love with a woman who’s everything I’ll ever need. My question is, when will she see that?”
Ezekiel had plenty of time to think the next morning, Clementine having gone down to the river to hack the snowmobile out of the ice. She left him warm and comfortable enough, though the bed she’d made was empty without her in it. Unfortunately, knowledge of that caused his mind to wander. He allowed it, picturing her in ways he should not, more to avoid the numbness that had crept into his leg and fend off the worry.
But soon, two hours
having crept by, a chill entered, one not from the snow or the cold air, but from far within his core, and it consumed his flesh. His hands shook, and his legs trembled. Shivering violently, he tried to still his body, tucking his hands beneath his head.
is fear rose to a new height. He couldn’t die. His loss would send her into a spiral she’d never get out of. For her, he had to live. But he had to live for himself as well because to go unfulfilled, to leave this world without having known the love he’d begun to have for her, was unthinkable.
He’d never expected to find love
in the wilds of Alaska, miles from anywhere. He’d always figured one day it would drop into his lap, but more civilized and requiring him to give up more—his forays across the ice for months in the winter, his need for solitude sometimes. No female would ever want to accompany him through that. He’d prepared his thoughts to give up his freedom, resettle, for her sake, and put it all in the past.