Authors: Suzanne D. Williams
She ran a finger over his jaw and across his lips. “Like a satisfaction only you can fill. People don’t fall in love in three days.” She rushed the last sentence, her cheeks pink.
“Sure, they do when God’s put them together.”
She bit her lip, a facial gesture that made her appear so much younger, like a girl, afraid to speak before the class.
“Answer my question,” he said. “I keep asking but receive no answer.”
She exhaled, the rush of heat from her breath warming his cheeks. “You are a persistent man, Ezekiel Knapp.”
He grinned. “My mom used to tell me that.”
“She’s right. I’ll make you a promise, since you’ve made one to me.” Clementine curled her arms between them, her fingers curved into fists. “Just as soon as we reach a hospital and the doctor says you’re recovering, I’ll agree.”
A delay then.
It wouldn’t change his feelings for her. He couldn’t marry her anyway until he was physically able. No way was he spending his wedding night in a hospital bed.
His mouth turned up, her words sinking in further. “You’re going with me,” he said.
She ducked her face. “Anywhere you go even to the end of the earth.”
Her devotion wound around his heart. Was that what Nathan had fostered?
That kind of subservient, self-effacing sacrifice?
“Clem, look at me,” he said.
She brought her gaze up.
“You’ve got it all wrong.”
Worry lines appeared at the corners of her eyes.
“It’s not anywhere I go you must follow, but anywhere you are I have to be. I’m half a man without you and nowhere at all.”
Her eyes dark, the simmer in her gut sparking, Clementine shot out of the teepee into the frosted air.
“Clem, come back,” Ezekiel shouted.
For all his fine words, all the things he’d said to win her heart, this was too much.
She walked to the edge of the pond, the ice crunching beneath her shoes. But he was right and that hurt the most. He was no longer able to travel, and she couldn’t shift him anyway. He’d stay warm and alive here, but over time, the infection would eat away on the inside. She had to leave, go for help on her own.
She stared at the remains of a beaver mound. This water would be unfit to drink in the spring. Beavers carried disease with them. Disease that moved about unseen like the poison in Ezekiel’s leg.
“Clem.” His voice was faint with the distance.
He’d drank the broth well enough, complaining about their lack of salt, then come at her out of left field with this craziness.
She turned around and gazed southwest. She could get there in a day, but not return. That meant leaving him overnight, a thought which terrified her. The fire could go out. His weakness could return. A thousand things could go wrong.
But she simply couldn’t do nothing like she had with Nathan. This time she had to leave. There wasn’t any choice.
She stared up at the sky, her thoughts turning toward all Ezekiel had said about God. If they were true and God had brought them together, then perhaps God would keep him safe as well. She could pray. But what were the right words to give? She had no understanding of prayer past the one she used to say as a child.
Surely, God wasn’t deaf, and if she spoke from her heart, He’d hear her. Unless He was busy. But seems like then He wouldn’t be God. God would make time to listen. She shivered in the frosty air and dug deep within.
“I lost Nathan
through my own stupidity,” she said. “I’ll not lose Ezekiel, too. I think you won’t send me a third man to love, so if it’s just as well, I’ll keep this one.”
wind gave a soul-screeching lament in return.
“You’d do best to keep him warm and alive until I return. Thank you.”
With that, she traced her steps back to the teepee. Crawling inside, she faced Ezekiel on his pallet. “I’ve said my prayer on your behalf. I’ll leave at first light. God help me if anything goes wrong.”
Ezekiel stretched out a hand his fingers dusting the tips of hers. “That gives me hours to feel you at my side. Come.”
She shed her jacket and curled herself against him.
Her kisses drying on his cheeks, Ez
ekiel laid back, the emptiness of the teepee swallowing him. He took hold of a long piece of wood and prodded the fire, emotion clogging his throat. Two days was a long time to be alone, a long time to occupy his mind and ward off thoughts of death. Because he felt it creeping ever closer. Twice, before she’d brought him here he’d thought he was gone for good, and twice, she’d kept him alive.
Now, there was on
ly himself to consider, and he was insufficient to the task. For all his words to her, his encouragement of God’s plans for them to be together, he was in reality so small and defenseless.
Ezekiel whistled and Timmy returned
, her nose frosted with snow. He scratched her behind the ears, and she gave a contented wag.
“Too bad you can’t talk to me,
girl,” he said. “I could use the distraction.” At least, she was something warm and alive to hold onto.
the dish at his side, and he dug in and drew her out a bite.
“Can’t let you have too much of that
, or we’ll both be hungry before tomorrow ends.”
down the morsel and poked at his hand with her snout. He shoved her away. “No, now, that’s enough. We’ll have more later.”
Later, when Clementine
would still be far away and headed in the opposite direction.
He blew out a puff of air. “Waiting
Loneliness stunk as well, and he couldn’t live like that
anymore. There was nothing admirable left of solitude.
He’d built his cabin to embrace it.
A man only needs himself
, he’d said. But look at Clem. She’d lived alone and become someone she didn’t want to be.
Solitude in itself
was a selfish thing. The very idea you didn’t need anyone was you proclaiming you needed only yourself. A lie.
What would have happened if she hadn’
t found him? He’d been miles from her cabin, in a place he’d had no knowledge of and mostly likely, wouldn’t have found.
he would have survived, it would have been by tenacity and after days traveling on a bad leg. Days that someone could use to, what? Burn down his cabin?
Was it because of the story of gold?
That tale had seemed far-fetched the first time he’d heard it. Yet it could be somebody believed it. People up here were inherently superstitious.
Taking this to the point of t
hreatening his life was extreme, however.
covered the bowls of pre-prepared food and shut his eyes. Best thing to do was sleep. Except the tiredness that gripped him now he couldn’t seem to shake. No matter how much he rested, he was just as drained as before.
He had to believe it was temporary, that Clementine wou
ld make it there and back by tomorrow evening. Otherwise, he might as well crawl out in the snow and freeze death. It’d be infinitely quicker than the slow, painful death facing him now.
Clementine kept her mind off of Ezekiel and instead, on reaching the homestead he’d told her about.
Up on stilts. Lot of cleared land. Couple named Paulson.
He’d only met th
em once, but they’d seemed nice. She eyed her gas gauge, the needle sinking ever lower.
t told him about the state of the gas. Carrying him and the supplies they needed hadn’t left much room for cans, and she’d used what little she’d brought already. If he died because she broke down on the way—
She cast the thought aside. She wouldn’
t go there, think that.
The day wou
nd past and the light faded. The snowmobile sputtered, the engine gasping for fuel. She urged it further, blind to her surroundings, the image of Ezekiel bright in her face. But the machine choked and died just the same. She pounded on the handlebars, curses flying from her lips, then raised her gaze. The soft yellow light of an immense cabin glowed on the horizon, only ten minutes’ walk or more. A miracle.
he climbed off and set her gaze for it, walking over the thick drifts. A dog barked at her presence and then another. The front door swung open.
“May I help you?”
Gripping the wooden stair railing, she climbed onto the front porch. A couple in their mid-fifties peered out at her, the man stroking a thick, gray beard.
“Name’s Clementine Button,” she said. “I’ve come to get help for Ezekiel Knapp.”
“Ezekiel Knapp?” the woman asked, her voice doubtful.
“You remember. T
hat feller who bought the land northeast of here,” explained her husband.
re Mr. and Mrs. Paulson?” Clementine asked.
The man nodded. “Please, come in. It’s too cold to stay out there tonight.”
The warmth of the cabin and homey atmosphere halted Clementine inside the door. She took in the comfortable surroundings, a pair of well-loved chairs set before a roaring fire, and sighed.
“Sit,” Mrs. Paulson said. “I’ll fix you some coffee.”
With a nod, Clementine lowered herself into a chair, guilt pecking at her. Ezekiel was out there alone, and here she was, safe and protected.
“What’s this about Ezekiel Knapp
needin’ help?” asked Mr. Paulson. “I wasn’t aware he had a lady friend with him.”
Clementine focused on his
kind face. “He didn’t. I live a good distance to the east. I was out shooting moose and found him in the snow. He’d been shot.”
Mr. Paulson’s expression widened with surprise. “Is he …”
“Alive, but barely.
I kept him with me for a day, but his leg has grown worse. I didn’t have a working radio, so he convinced me to go to his cabin, as it was closer. But on arriving, I found it burnt to the ground.”
“Burnt to the ground?” This came from Mrs. Paulson. She’d returned with a mug of coffee and pressed it into Clementine’s hands.
Clementine took a sip. “Yes, and deliberate.” She paused. Should she tell them about the footprints?
Mr. Paulson leaned forward in his chair. “It’s the gold. Someone’s always thinking it’s on that land and trying to dig it up. I haven’t seen anyone come by here recently though.”
“Miss Button, wasn’t it?” Mrs. Paulson asked.
“Where is Ezekiel? You said he needed help?”
Clementine sat the coffee on the table in front of her and stared at the light reflected in its dark depths. “He needs medical care. Infection has set into his leg
, and he’s too weak to walk. I left him in a teepee he said belonged to George. I must get back. I …”
“You can’t go tonight,” Mr. Paulson interrupted. “Beverly, fet
ch the radio, and we’ll call.”
His wife scooted from the room.
“But the weather’s picking up, and I suspect they won’t be able to fly in tonight,” Mr. Paulson added.
must leave in the morning,” Clementine said. “I have to be off at daylight. If you have some fuel?”
“Of course,” Mr. Paulson said. “But w
e can’t let you go there alone, so I’ll follow and bring medical supplies. Between the two of us, we can do what we need until help arrives.” He leaned back in his chair and waved at the coffee. “Drink up. You look like you could use it.”
Clementine obeyed, her thoughts
whirling, and her need to share about the footprints returned. Perhaps Mr. Paulson would have some insight. “I saw footprints,” she said.
Mr. Paulson looked across at her
, his eyebrows raised. “Footprints?”
Outside my place. Then, on a piece of charred wood at his.”
And you think they’re related to his injury? I wouldn’t think they’d be from the same man,” he replied. “Not that far apart. Unless we’re talking days travel?”
“Six, so far,” she replied, “
and they’re the same pattern. Man’s boots, larger than the span of my hand.”
“The gold,” Mr. Paulson said. “Best I bring a gun. You have one?”
Her stomach twisted. She’d wanted to leave it with Ezekiel, but he’d insisted.
You only brought one, and you might need it. I can’t fire the thing laying here like this.
Can’t fire, and him out there defenseless. If anything happ
ened to him while she was gone—
She reached for her coffee and hid her flushed face behind the mug.