We make a halfhearted attempt to get Chase to stand up and walk into the cabin, but it’s a lost cause—he’s barely conscious. Finally, Jake lifts him up and carries him again. When I get inside the cabin, I’m horrified to discover it’s just as cold in here as it was in the Ferrari. And so dark. Jake lays Chase down gently on a ragged sofa next to a dimly lit fireplace while I hug myself for warmth. I glance around and see only a few candles burning to keep the room lit.
“Where’s the light switch?” I ask.
“There isn’t one.”
“So how do you turn on the lights?”
“I don’t. No electricity.”
“You mean the storm knocked it out?”
“No. I mean the house isn’t wired.”
No electricity ever? But… I need electricity! I use it to power my phone and my television and my electric mixer.
“But how…” I glance at Chase, who looks no better than he did in the car. “How are we supposed to get warm if there’s no electricity?”
“Relax, Princess,” he says, and my toes curl at the words. “I’ll get the fire going again. Unless you want to do the honors?”
I glance over at the smoldering logs. I have absolutely no idea how to get a fire going, keep it going, or put it out. I know if a fire happens in the microwave because you put tin foil in there, you turn the microwave off. That happened to me a few months ago, and I was quite proud of myself for handling that situation without requiring the fire department. But that’s about all my experience with fires.
“That’s okay,” I say.
He jerks his head toward a door at the edge of the room. “There are blankets in the linen closet. Grab a bunch of them and get him covered up.”
I walk over to the closet while Jake takes off his ski mask. Underneath, his hair is long and wild, and he’s got a beard like Rumpelstiltskin. It looks like he hasn’t combed his hair or his beard in months—if ever. I’m guessing he doesn’t entertain much. His eyepatch went askew, and I stare at him, trying to catch a glimpse of what’s under it. But he quickly adjusts it, and I look away before he catches me. Maybe I don’t want to know what’s under there.
While Jake fiddles with the fire, I pull three thick woolen blankets from the closet. They feel like they’d be extremely itchy, but beggars can’t be choosers. I’m lucky to even be alive, so I can’t complain about an itchy blanket. I bring them over to the couch, where Chase is still shivering violently. His lips look blue. I call his name and he doesn’t answer me.
“Are you sure we shouldn’t get him to a hospital?” I say.
Jake pokes at the fireplace with a metal stick and orange flames jump in the air. “I told you it’s not safe.”
“He really doesn’t look good…” I touch his fingers, which are like ice cubes. “He might have frostbite.”
“I don’t think so.”
“His fingers are freezing.”
“I don’t think he has frostbite.”
I frown, frustrated that he doesn’t seem to appreciate how sick Chase might be. “Well, how can you be so sure?”
Jake pulls off his gloves one by one. I gasp as I get a look at his hands. It was impossible to tell with the gloves on, but now I can see he’s missing large chunks of his fingers. Both his pinky fingers are abbreviated—no sign of the left one and the right is just a nub. On his left hand, he’s also missing half of his third and fourth fingers, and his index finger looks shorter than it should be too although his thumb is intact.
“I know about frostbite,” he says. “Okay?”
I nod, only noticing after a second that my mouth is hanging open. It’s bad manners, but I can’t help myself. “Okay,” I mumble, averting my eyes.
“If you’re worried, then make him some warm compresses.” Jake puts his gloves back on. “I’ll go get your bags from the truck. His clothes are soaked, and we need to find him something that’s dry.”
I obediently march back over to the closet and locate a couple of washcloths. They seem clean enough, at least. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the “no electricity” deal—how does he live like that? I go over to the sink in his tiny kitchen and am relieved that at least there’s running water. I was scared he was going to tell me I was going to have to go retrieve it from a well. Except when I stick my hand under the water, it’s so cold, I let out a screech and yank my hand away.
Jake has dragged our luggage into the cabin and he’s got one of them open. He’s holding up a dress of mine—a cute black number from Ann Taylor that’s just the right amount of short and slinky. His mouth is hanging open.
“You brought a cocktail dress, but not gloves?” he says.
My cheeks grow warm. In retrospect, maybe that dress was a little… impractical. But it seems like around Chase, impromptu parties are always breaking out. So I figured I should come prepared. “What’s wrong with bringing a dress on a trip?”
He glances up at me. “Things must be really different in the world you live in.”
I glare at him. “You mean in the world of electricity?”
He arches an eyebrow at me, and I feel a flash of guilt for snapping at him. The guy just risked his own life to save mine—I should be grateful just to be here. But on the other hand, I don’t appreciate how he’s rifling through my stuff. I’m a private person, and this makes me very uncomfortable.
“Can you just… not go through my bags please?” I say. I was going for “firm but polite,” but I have a feeling it came out sounding bitchy. I should be kissing this man’s feet for having saved us, but something about him is rubbing me the wrong way.
He straightens up and drops my black dress. Even though he’s not as tall as I had initially thought, he towers over me—and I’m not short. His good eye stares down at me. He could probably crush me with one arm if he got the thought into his head. And considering how unkempt he is and that he’s been living here alone off the grid for God knows how long, I have no clue what he’s capable of. It makes me uneasy, to say the least. It’s like being in a cabin with a wild animal.
“I’m trying to find warm clothes for your boyfriend over there,” he says. “But all I see is fancy, useless crap.”
So my clothes are crap? I take a deep breath and bite my tongue. He saved your life, Natalie. Don’t forget that.
He looks down at the washcloth in my hand. “That’s not even wet.”
“The water was cold.”
“Well, we don’t have hot water here.” He looks at me like I’m an idiot for even thinking we would. “You have to heat it up on the stove.”
Jake yanks the washcloth out of my hands. “Let me do it. You find some clothes that aren’t a fucking cummerbund or silk shirt.”
That is so unfair. Chase doesn’t have a cummerbund. He does have several silk shirts though.
“Also,” Jake adds, “you need to find some dry clothes for yourself.” He gestures at my useless boots. “I’m betting your feet are soaked. Get out of those boots and warm yourself up. ASAP.”
He may have a point. My feet are completely numb, although I can still move my toes. But I’ll be okay. Chase is the one whose life is in danger—I’ll deal with my wet feet later.
I rifle through Chase’s luggage, and I have to say, he brought a lot of useless stuff. In his bag, I find a gigantic bag of toiletries that takes up a third of the luggage, containing moisturizers, three kinds of soap, shampoo, conditioner, and a bunch of other stuff I don’t have time to sort through. The clothing is all really weather-inappropriate. Why did he bring a silk vest? I know Chase believes a vest should always be worn with a suit, but why on a trip to a cabin? Also, why did he bring a suit in the first place?
I do finally manage to dig out a single pair of jeans and a cashmere sweater. The socks I find don’t seem particularly warm, but they’ll have to do.
“Chase.” I crouch down beside him and hold out the clothing. “We need to get you out of those wet clothes.”
Chase lets out a low moan. His eyes are open only to slits. Again, I can’t help but think we have to get him to a hospital… or else. But every time I look out the window, the snow is coming down harder than it was the last time.
Jake emerges from the kitchen, and now that he’s walking on an even surface, it’s obvious the way he was limping before wasn’t entirely due to the snow. He winces every time he puts weight on his right leg, but that doesn’t slow him down. He’s carrying a pot of water that has steam emanating from it. I want to dunk my body in that pot. The chances of getting a hot shower in this cabin are zero.
“I can’t wake him up,” I say, my voice breaking. “I think… he’s really sick.”
Jake lowers the pot onto the coffee table. He seems completely unconcerned. “We just need to warm him up.”
“What about calling for an ambulance?” I lift my eyes. “They might be able to send some EMTs out here, at least…”
“I don’t have a phone.”
“You…” I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this one. My phone is my life. I’d have it surgically attached if I could. “You don’t have a phone?”
“At all? Not even a landline?”
“Then how do you call people?”
“But…” I shake my head. “What if it’s an emergency?”
“There’s a phone at the general store five miles down the road. If I really need it.”
I blink a few times. He lives out here all alone. No wife, no kids, no family, no friends. And he has no phone to even communicate with the outside world. “Don’t you get lonely?”
And that’s apparently the end of that conversation.
Jake bends down next to Chase. He lifts his eyelid with the only intact finger of his left hand—his thumb. Chase’s eyes flutter and briefly come into focus. He startles at Jake’s appearance—not that I can blame him.
“Hey, buddy.” Jake shakes his arm. “We need to change your clothes. Can you hear me?”
Chase just stares at him for a minute, and when he finally speaks, his voice sounds slurred: “Who are you?”
“My name is Jake. What’s your name?”
“Can you sit up for me, Chase?”
Chase is acting like he does when he’s had a few too many bottles of red wine from his private cellar. But Jake is really good with him. He manages to sit him up and get him out of his wet clothes and into the new dry ones. He’s nicer to Chase than he was to me. I guess you have to have hypothermia for this guy not to be a jerk to you.
“What about the warm compresses?” I ask. The pot of water is still steaming. I dip my fingers into it, which is heavenly. “Should we put the compress on his hands? They were ice cold.”
“No,” Jake says. “That will force the cold blood back to his heart, lungs, and brain, and he’ll die.”
“Oh,” I say. Good to know.
“Put it on his forehead.”
I rest the warm compress on Chase’s forehead. His eyes are shut and he moans softly, but doesn’t open them. He looks terrible. His complexion is pale and waxy, and he’s barely said two words. I’m still convinced he needs a hospital, but Jake doesn’t seem like he’s going to give in on that.
“He’ll be okay,” Jake says, as if reading my thoughts. “He’s got the blankets and the fireplace. Let him rest.”
I look around the small living area. “Where will I sleep?”
“I got a sleeping bag in the closet.”
“A sleeping bag?” I wince. I’ve never slept in a sleeping bag in my entire life. Even when I had sleepovers at a friend’s house as a kid, they always managed to rustle me up a bed. But as an adult, it sounds nothing short of horrible.
“Sorry, Princess.” He shrugs. “That’s all I got.”
I flinch the way I do every time he calls me Princess. He thinks I’m a spoiled brat, who can only sleep on silk sheets draped in satin without so much as a pea under my bed. Well, I’ll show him otherwise. “No, a sleeping bag is great,” I say quickly. “Actually, it’s more than I expected. Honestly, it’s not like I even need a sleeping bag. I can just… you know, sleep on the floor. I do that all the time when I’m camping out. I always say: sleeping bags are for the weak.”
Jake is gawking at me.
Too far, I think.
“Great,” he says flatly. “If you prefer the floor, I’ll just leave the sleeping bag in the closet then.”
“No!” I nearly yell. “I mean, since you have the sleeping bag, I suppose I’ll take it. It’s been a long day, after all.”
His lips curl into a crooked smile. He’s smirking at me. I’m not fooling anyone—he knows I’m full of it. “If you say so, Princess.”
As Jake goes to retrieve the sleeping bag, I look around the cabin, scanning the small living space. You could fit this entire cabin in my living room. You could fit two of these cabins in Chase’s living room.
“Where’s the bathroom?” I ask him when he returns with the thin film of fabric that I’ll be sleeping on tonight.
“No bathroom,” Jake grunts.
My mouth falls open. “There’s no… but how do I…?”
He jerks a thumb at the front door. “You go outside and there’s a shovel. You dig a little hole and you squat.”
No. Oh my God, no. I do not want to do that.
“There are some leaves for toilet paper,” he adds. “Just be careful not to take the poison ivy ones. Leaves of three, let it be. Leaves of four, wipe some more.”
I stare at him.
Jake holds my gaze for a moment, then bursts out laughing. “I’m just joking, Princess. The bathroom is right over there. It’s got a toilet that flushes and everything.”
I force a smile, even though inside I’m not laughing.
The floor of the cabin is even more uncomfortable than I would have imagined. The fabric of the flimsy sleeping bag does nothing to cushion my body from the hard wood. I toss and turn, intermittently emerging from my restless sleep to heat up some water and give Chase a new compress. God, I can’t wait until morning, when the blizzard is over and we can hopefully get the hell out of here.
At around two in the morning, I wake up with a crick in my neck. I stretch it out, but it’s ridiculously hard to get comfortable. I mean, I’m on the floor. Who sleeps on the floor in the twenty-first century? I look over at Chase, who is lying under four blankets. Maybe I could take one of those blankets so I’ve got another layer of cushioning between me and the ground. He’s not going to die if I take one blanket, is he? Is he?
Screw it. I’ll just spend the night tossing and turning.
The fire has died down and the cabin’s gotten colder again. I shiver, even with my heavy sweater on. I creep over to Chase to check on him, hoping he’s more alert than earlier. I touch his cheek and…
“Chase.” I shake his shoulder. “Chase, wake up.”
He groans like he did before, but doesn’t wake up—he won’t even open his eyes a little bit. It’s been hours—by now, he should be less lethargic, shouldn’t he? He’s really sick. Jake doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about—Chase needs to get to a hospital right now. I don’t care if there’s a blizzard outside.
“Chase.” I shake him harder this time. “Can you sit up?”
He doesn’t open his eyes.
When Jake came in, he hung his keys on the ring by the door. I look there now, and the ring of keys is still there. His car keys are on that ring. I could take his truck and go for help. Jake refuses to do it but somebody has to. I’m not going to let my boyfriend die on this sofa.
I shove my feet back into my useless non-waterproof boots, which are still cold and damp from last night. I throw on my Thinsulate coat, which suddenly seems nowhere near warm enough for what awaits me outside. The red scarf has dried out, at least, so I put that on, along with my hat. Then I grab Jake’s keys from the hook and quietly let myself out the front door.
The green truck is parked right in front of the cabin. The snow is still coming down hard, and my leg sinks into it up to my knee as I make my way to the truck. My feet were slightly damp before, but now they’re completely saturated with ice-cold liquid. But I’ve got to push through it—for Chase. I’m the only one who can save him now.
Once I’ve reached the truck, I fumble with the keyring. He’s got three keys on it, and I frown at them, trying to figure out which one opens the door.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
I look up, startled. Jake is standing by the door of the cabin in his thick coat with a normal hat that covers his unruly hair. The snowflakes form white dots as they fall on his heavy beard. He’s peering at me with his left eye.
“Uh…” I back up against the truck, my heart pounding. “I, um…”
He takes a menacing step towards me. My eyes are drawn to that eyepatch covering his right eye—now that I’m close to him, I can see there’s a thin white scar snaking out below the patch. “Are you stealing my truck?”
Oh my God, he’s going to kill me. This man is going to snap my neck with his bare hands and throw me into the woods, and they won’t find my body till spring.
“I was borrowing it,” I say in a tiny voice. “Just… you know, so I could get help for Chase.”
“I see.” He takes another step toward me. “Borrowing it…”
I consider making a run for it, but it’s pretty obvious how that would go. He could chase me down in a second in this storm. But he wouldn’t have to—if I disappeared into the woods, I’d freeze to death before morning in my inadequate coat and boots and not even any gloves.
“Chase is really sick,” I manage. “I could barely wake him up.”
He stops moving toward me. He cocks his head to the side. “You ever drive a truck before?”
“No.” I lift my chin. “But I’m sure I could figure it out.”
The menacing look vanishes from his face, replaced with a look of amusement. “All right, then. Go ahead.”
I stare at him. “What?”
He waves his arm at the truck. He’s not wearing gloves and I can see the stubs of his missing digits. “You refuse to believe me that it’s not a good idea to go out in this storm. So take the truck. Go for it.”
“I…” I look at the truck then back at him. “Fine. I’ll do it.”
“Be my guest.”
I fumble with the keys, still uncertain which one opens the door. The fact that my fingers have become numb and pink doesn’t make it any easier. I select one of the keys and try to fit it into the lock with shaking hands.
“It’s unlocked,” Jake says.
I squeeze my left hand into a fist, trying to get back some of the circulation. Then I yank open the door of the truck. I climb inside while Jake watches me, nearly tripping on the snowdrift that formed right outside the door. When I glance back at Jake, that look of amusement is still on his face. I look down and…
Why are there so many pedals down there?
Shit, this is a manual transmission. And I… well, Chase gave me a few lessons on how to drive a manual transmission, but this doesn’t look anything like his Ferrari. But it’s probably the same once I get going. I’ll be driving really slowly anyway.
“Everything okay in there?” Jake calls to me.
“Yep,” I say.
I can’t let him know how freaked out I am. I’ve got to be strong. For Chase. I’ve got to help him or he could die. I’m his only hope. So I put the key in the ignition and…
Damn it, why won’t it turn?
I push as hard as I can, but it won’t budge. I jiggle it. What the hell? Is this the wrong key? But no, it fits in the hole. It’s got to be right.
“Having a problem, Princess?”
I peer out through the window, and Jake is grinning at me. It’s the first time I’ve seen him smile since he found our car. Considering he’s been living in the backwoods for God knows how long, he actually has pretty nice teeth. Fairly white. Not gleaming and perfectly orthodonture-straight like Chase’s, but that slightly crooked left incisor gives even more character to his face. He has, actually, quite a nice smile.
I want to smack that smile off his face.
“The key won’t turn,” I finally say.
He cups his hand to his ear. “Eh? What’s that?”
“The key won’t turn!” I pound on the steering wheel in frustration. “I can’t start the truck!”
“Huh.” He shakes his head. “Well, maybe the truck’s trying to tell you something. Maybe the truck knows there’s a fucking blizzard outside and it’s not a great idea to get lost in it. Maybe the truck’s smarter than you are.”
“Oh, is it?”
“It would appear that way, yes.”
I want to scream in frustration. I bang my fist against the steering wheel and it lets out a honk of protest.
“Get out of the truck,” he says.
Reluctantly, I climb out of the vehicle, my boots sinking down into the snow before they hit the ground. I barely feel the cold wind whipping at my face. All I feel is the sting of frustration. And humiliation. He holds out his right hand and I drop the keys into it.
“I’ll get the fire going again,” Jake says. “That’s why I came out—to check on it.”
“Thanks,” I mumble.
“Don’t worry,” Jake says. “Your boyfriend is going to be just fine. He’ll live to apply hair product another day.”
I want to knee him in the groin. He may have saved our life, but I’m sick of being polite while he insults me and Chase. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He raises his eyebrows, which aren’t as bushy as his beard. “Don’t I?”
Whatever. This storm will be over soon and then we’ll go get help. This nightmare will be over soon. Chase just has to hang in there a little longer.
To be continued....