Friday, March 19, 2010

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter 16

Been a while since I’ve sat down to write; been too tired most nights, or busy. I’ve been confused and feeling like I only understood about half of what has been going on. And guilty. Guilty pleasures. Pleasures, guilty or otherwise, wasn’t exactly in my vocabulary before this point in my life.

The morning after I last wrote Donovan (I helped) fitted another door for the entrance from our living quarters into the big cavern. Even as tight as Donovan made the fit there was still a cold draft that would come from under the doors so I made draft stoppers, filled them full of dried corn, and laid them along the bottom of the doors. Doing that allowed us to keep the living quarters in the 60s on most days. At night it gets colder but it is still warmer than it has been.

The storm let up about two days after I tripped and banged my head. Donovan stabilized the barricade to the outside with several overlapping pieces of sheet metal. He isn’t happy with it at all but finally let it go because we have so many other things that need doing.

“Donovan, it may not be as pretty as the other doors but it is secure and keeps the wind and snow out.”

“Just because something is utilitarian or plain doesn’t mean that it can’t be nice looking.” When he saw my mouth hanging open he said defensively, “Uncle Shem taught me.”

“I’m … Donovan my dad made stuff too so I know what you mean. I just didn’t … I’m sorry. That was rude. You just surprised me.”

“What? I’m too big a redneck to use the word utilitarian or expect stuff to look nice?” he said as he curled his lip in disgust.

“Hey! That’s not what I meant! Not at all,” I said defending myself. “I meant it just sounded like something my dad would have said and it just … caught me off guard. I just don’t want you to think I’m projecting on you, or have a Daddy-complex, or anything else like that.”

“Oh.” It sounded at least like he accepted that he might have been a tad on the defensive side. “So, your dad made stuff too? Carpenter? Metalworker? You never said.”

I smiled remembering, “More like a Jack-of-all-trades. If Momma wanted it Daddy would most times be able to figure out how to fix it for her. I … sometimes … sometimes I miss them so much that it hurts. And in some ways you remind me of my dad more than anyone else ever has. I just don’t want you to think that is the only reason why I like you and …”

“So … you like me do you? How much?” Donovan asked with that wicked look he’ll get.

See, that is part of what was driving me nuts. I knew what I was doing wasn’t something I necessarily should be doing or would have done under any other circumstances. Nothing had been said about forever. Nothing had been made permanent. We never talked about much beyond the next few days in our lives. Yet on the other hand … I liked it; and I liked him. I knew there was a good chance what I was doing was wrong but I wanted it – reality or illusion – so much I did it anyway.

That’s not all we did by any stretch. We worked. We worked hard and we worked long and a lot of nights all we did was fall asleep, too tired to do much but snuggle together for warmth.

As soon as we could get outside I helped to find several straight cedar and pine trees. We only took the ones that had already blown down because we didn’t want to thin the forest out any more. The cedars and pines Donovan sat aside in the big cavern for later and then we got serious about gathering more wood.

Dragging those suckers was no easy task. Up and down the snow drifts. Sometimes one or the other of us would fall in because the snow wasn’t as packed as it appeared. The worst time was when Donovan went down to his armpits and got tangled up in a tree that had been leaned over in the storm but hidden by the snow; the “hill” turned out to be a covered up tree. Every time I tried to dig him out he just sank a little further. We finally managed to get him out but he was terribly chilled and we were both exhausted. We stayed out of that area afterwards and stuck to the fallen trees closer to the cave entrance.

After we had a large pile of trees, Donovan handled chopping the bigger pieces of hardwood in the mornings while I pulled the branches that I could over to the cave entrance. He chopped the branches for a little while after lunch then we would stack for the rest of the day. We stuffed the outer room as full of wood as we could; just in time too because another storm came out of nowhere. We were snug in the cave with the doors to close out the cold … mostly close out the cold; it still appears I won’t be running around in shorts and a tank top any time in the near future.

And without the hard work of finding and chopping wood there was time for other stuff. Most of it was constructive but not all of it. First thing I did was figure out a way to have a bath and wash my hair.

Donovan had found an old-fashioned hip tub under a pile of what he thought was scrap metal in the big cavern. There were also a couple of those really large igloo coolers, one of which was one of those old metal ones. The plastic one we are using for drinking water that has been processed all the way through our filtration system. The metal one is what we keep our wash water in. The wash water one is on a small metal table next to the fireplace. There was also an old cast iron kettle in there and that is what I use to get really hot water with. I mix the hot water from the kettle with dippers of water from the metal cooler.

Donovan for his part took three old wooden screen doors and then used some smaller hinges to connect the doors together to make a self-standing screen. In the holes where the screen would have normally gone he nailed sections of old tin roofing that he had snipped to size. Then he took an awl and poked holes so that they made this really cool design. It looked like those old metal lanterns that you would find at the craft bazaars around the holidays. Those lanterns went for an arm and a leg – I ought to know, I bought one for Mrs. Epstein’s birthday – so I can’t imagine what a screen like this would have gone for.

The first bath I took the water turned disgusting. I was so embarrassed that I wouldn’t even let Donovan help empty the bucket. My hair took three washes and soaks with shampoo (from the bunker supplies) and then a rinse with vinegar (from the stuff we found in the cave) before I was satisfied with it.

I hadn’t realized how heavy with oil and dirt my hair had become. I felt like I’d gotten rid of a huge load. I couldn’t run around with a wet head so I pulled a chair near the fire, combed my hair out, and then started to doze while it dried. I woke up to find Donovan playing with the curls that the fire had caused across my forehead.

He was right in my face and startled me, “Oh! Oh no, how long have I been asleep?”

“Not long.”

“Long enough; my hair is mostly dry. I hope the water is still warm. Let me move and I’ll let you bathe and …”

“You don’t have to move.”

“Um. Uh.” I must have turned six shades of red. Even I could feel my face getting hot.

“Emma …,” he started, but then he just shook his head.

“What?”

“Girl, are you ever going to get over acting like this?”

“Like … like what exactly?” I thought he was referring to the fact that I’d fallen asleep rather than getting something constructive done.

“Like I’m a stranger.”

That completely flummoxed me. “I don’t treat you as a stranger. I mean we … you and I … well honestly, you don’t really think I’d do what we do with a stranger do you?” I scooted a few inches off, I was getting upset.

“Now see, that’s what I mean. You’ve got to have your space to make you feel safe, like you expect me to take something I don’t have any right to.”

“Donovan, either I don’t understand what you mean or I’m in way over my head. I’m learning as I go here. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” When he gave me a look, “OK, I haven’t been living in a pumpkin my whole life, I just mean how I’m supposed to act. How … I mean … Donovan, I just wonder sometimes if you are only making up to me and stuff because I’m … you know … the only game in town. And I like you … like I’ve never felt this way before and I just don’t want to mess it up making you think that I’m a … a floozy … a loose woman. Please be … be patient. I just don’t know how you want me to act.”

“How I want you to act? I’m not asking you to act at all.”

“At least give me some clue how … Just forget it. I’m messing things up.” I really felt like I was putting my foot in it. I was afraid to ask how he felt because I was afraid of getting an answer I didn’t want to hear.

I got up and took the kernels that I had been soaking and made fried corn using the lard as the grease and some powdered butter from our bunker supplies for the flavor. Wasn’t bad at all if I do say so. I also made unleavened bread … Mrs. Epstein taught me that one … and we used a jar labeled blackberry preserves from the cave supplies to sweeten it up. For “dessert” we had some of the so not delicious faux shortbread survival bar.

Donovan was mad at me and was pushing me pretty hard by taking his own bath without any embarrassment while I was trying to cook. I could tell he was just trying to make me react by the look on his face how he was being. He was in a better mood after eating which I was thankful for, but it didn’t last. I’ve dealt with angry guys before but never when it was personal. Daddy … well he was pretty even tempered. It’s not that he didn’t get angry and upset, it’s just that he handled it different; he was sure never angry like that with me. Occasionally disappointed in how I acted or forced to deliver some justifiable parental correction but he was never angry at or with me. Mr. Epstein, I don’t even know if he knew how to get angry; he was always so good natured even with the worst juvenile defendant; it used to drive Laura up a wall. Moshe could get wound up but he was a lot like his dad; or at least the Moshe I knew was like that. I dealt with anger at school and that sort of thing, everyone in public school has; but, just never anything directed am me personally. What Donovan was directing at me was very personal and he was about to make it more so.

I was feeling pretty nervous by the time dinner was over with. I couldn’t sit still. All the dishes were done. I folded what clothes needed folding. I couldn’t really start anything else and Donovan was just sitting there on his pallet by the fire reading some technical manual. I was ready to climb the walls and hang from my feet like a bat.

“Don’t you ever sit still?”

“Sorry.”

A brief growl and Donovan demanded, “Will you stop saying that? Did I ask you to apologize?”

“Sor … uh,” and I closed my mouth on yet another apology.

“You know, you were never like this in the bunker.”

“Donovan you only saw me a few minutes a couple of times a week. How do you know how I acted?”

“The other women talked … gossiped … whatever.”

“You listened to women yakking about other women?” I laughed in disbelief.

“Yeah, well security detail isn’t all 007 and adventure. Sometimes it is just knowing what is going on and trying to prevent it from turning into something it shouldn’t. Besides the Major asked me to keep at an eye on you so there wasn’t a repeat of that incident that put you in the clinic in the beginning.”

That gave me a brief pause and I wondered if I’d ever get to say thank you to the Major. “Well in the bunker I had a lot of work to do, even if it was just busy work. It kept my mind off of things.”

“So what are you trying to not think about?”

“Not making mistakes.”

“Not …?” I could tell he was getting as wound up as I was. “Emma, just sit down and stop turning everything into a drama.”

“I’m not … never mind.” And I did my best to find a spot where I could sit still and not bother him.

I thought I was doing pretty good. I wasn’t squirming or doing anything. Then he had to go and spoil it by saying, “Girl, if you try any harder to not move you are going to freeze that way. Get something to do. You never read your book anymore.”

So I pulled out my Bible and it was like the deck was stacked against me. Every page I opened was like a brand on my skin; 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 1 Thessalonians 5:22-23, Exodus 22:16-17, Matthew 5:28 … I just couldn’t get away from it. I slammed it shut a lot harder and louder than I had meant to and tried to cover it by getting up and putting it back into the box that I kept my few personal possessions from before in.

“What is your problem now?” Donovan growled finally getting fed up.

“Nothing. I’m sor…”

“Don’t … say … it. If you can’t sit still at least be quiet.”

I was exhausted but unable to find any rest. I got out of the firelight so he couldn’t see me and leaned up against a cabinet we were using to put our dishes and cooking utensils in. Finally I must have hypnotized myself enough that I just fell asleep sitting up. I don’t know how much later it was when Donovan woke me. “Are you crazy on top of everything else?! You’re sitting over here in the coldest corner of the cave and let yourself fall asleep. What am I supposed to do if you get sick?!”

“I’m sor…” POP!

No one had ever hit me. I’d certainly never been slapped before. It wasn’t a little tap either, I tasted copper from where the inside of my cheek got cut on my teeth. I scooted back real fast but only came up against more rock.

“@#$% it!! Now look what you’ve done! I’ve never hit a woman in my life! Why couldn’t you have just … Get away from me!!”

Away from him? Where was I supposed to go? I’d never dealt with anything like that. I felt like I was caving in on myself. I stood up and looked around and couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do. You’d figure given my personality that I would have gotten angry right back at him but … I just stood there scared and feeling even more alone and uncertain.

“Oh for @#$% sake! Go over there. Lay down near the fire. Just leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.”

How on Earth I got to sleep that night I don’t know. I woke up the next morning to Donovan in the same place I was last night and he was shivering in his sleep. I didn’t know if it was time to get up or not but I knew I had to get out … outside and breathe no matter what. But I couldn’t just leave him like that so I took my covers and laid them over him. He didn’t wake up so I felt safe trying to escape for a little while. I was still in all my clothes so I grabbed my outdoor gear and snuck out the door to the outer cavern, dressed in the cold which woke me up the rest of the way, and then slid the barricade open so I could step outside.

The sun was just coming up and I stood there and watched it and prayed. It wasn’t a specific prayer. I just needed help and I needed it badly. I didn’t know what to do. Felt so lost. I knew I had to have done something but I wasn’t sure what. I didn’t want to make the same mistake again and I didn’t know how to fix what had already happened.

I brushed some snow off my face and felt the lingering tenderness there. I figured the cold would help with that but it only made it hurt worse. I was about to go back inside when a wild eyed Donovan tumbled about the barricade with his boots unlaced and his jacket only half way on. He saw me and stopped dead in his tracks. He was breathing so heavy that his breath billowed out reminding me a huge steam engine. He looked at me and then blanched.

“You … you …”

“I just needed some air. I’ll start breakfast now.”

He followed me back inside and I was trying not to be afraid, trying not to look and see how angry he was, trying not to feel anything. We brushed off the snow and stomped our boots clean and then he followed me into the living quarters. I felt surrounded.

The room was cold again, the door to the big cavern hanging open. “Uh, I … I thought you were in there. I couldn’t find you. I was calling your name.”

“I was outside; didn’t hear you.”

“Yeah. I … uh … see that now.” He added some wood to the fire and closed both doors. I felt the tension building and did everything I could not to get in his way but he was just there every time I turned around.

“Look, I don’t … have any … excuse. I don’t know what happened last night,” he stumbled along saying. “I don’t expect you to believe me but I’ve … I’ve never hit a woman Emma. It was … it was wrong. Your … your face … I … God Emma, I’ve never hit a woman before.”

I looked at him from the corner of my eye and he really did look traumatized. His face was pale and his eyes big and dark. There were dark circles under his eyes too. He looked, in a really strange way, like he’d hurt himself way more than he’d hurt me.

“Forget about it Donovan. I don’t know what happened last night either. I don’t know what I did wrong. I mean I kind of do but not completely. Next time just tell me what I’m doing wrong. Don’t … don’t hit me again, OK?”

“Emma … I ….” Then he just sunk into a chair we had sat against the wall and sat there staring at his hands.

I made breakfast – instant oatmeal again – and then tried to decide what I was supposed to do. “It … it’s stopped storming. Do you want me to help with the wood or …”

“No. No you stay inside where … I’ll … I just need some space Emma.”

“Oh. OK.” My answered bounced off his back. He was already three quarters through the door to the outside. So much for that; I decided that obviously it was over and neither one of us knew what to do about it or how to continue on. I turned to my beloved stand-by … work. I worked my rear off that day, and the next, trying not to be scared and wondering where it was all leading. I wanted things to go back to where they were, back to the oblivion of living in limbo but still having my guilty pleasures. We barely spoke and the only reason we ate is because our bodies craved the calories and wouldn’t let us sleep otherwise. We weren’t even sleeping next to each other.

The third day it was storming again and we were stuck inside together. I remember feeling so … odd that morning. Like all the light bulbs inside me were going dim. Like the effort to breathe just wasn’t worth it anymore. I went into the big cavern to start digging around, move one pile just to make another one in a different place but not necessarily getting anything better organized. There was this dark corner that was darker than all the rest and I just sat down and let the blackness swallow me up.

I put my head on my knees and sat there for I don’t know how long. I knew the floor was cold but I couldn’t seem to care enough to move even though my rear was betting numb. I could feel the tears on my face but I don’t know if I was there enough mentally to really be experiencing them. I didn’t hear Donovan call my name, or find me, or sit down beside me and put his arms around me.

“I … Emma … I … messed up. I swear I never have hit a woman before. Not even my ex-wife . I don’t know what came over me. Uncle Shem and Aunt Rachel would have disowned me for this. I … I don’t know how to fix this. I … I don’t even know if you want to fix it. Emma?”

“Will you … will you tell me what I’m doing wrong before it gets to that point anymore?”

“Emma you weren’t really doing anything wrong.”

“Then … then why Donovan? Why did you get so angry?”

“I’m not angry at you, I’m angry period … Try and understand this from my side of things. The only reason you are with me is because you don’t think you have any choice. You’re … you’re pacifying me but you aren’t really all that into the relationship. That is what makes me angry.”

“Wait. You think that I … that I’m only doing stuff with you because you think I’m feeling pressured into it?”

“The cave, everything else … it reminds you of Level 5. I guess I didn’t really get it back at the bunker; how much it really affected you. You dream about that place every couple of nights. This cave reminds you of it. I’ve seen you bolt out of here like the hounds of hell are after you, just to get outside. I’ve tried to make it better; I put the doors there, brought in the furniture to make it better … but nothing does. It just seems that you’d rather be anywhere else but here with me.”

Wow. That isn’t what I was thinking at all. I didn’t have a clue that was what he thought. He never showed it. “Donovan … I wasn’t … I wouldn’t …” I stopped trying to pull my head together enough that I didn’t make a hash of this. Even if things were over I at least wanted to try and keep Donovan as a friend.

“I don’t even know where to start but I can tell you that you may be a hunk and this may be a real end of the world situation, but I wouldn’t be doing any of that stuff we used to do if I didn’t want to. I don’t sell myself just to have a place to stay or a protector.” He got a strange look on his face but I continued. “The cave is … it’s nice. I think the stuff you are building is really, really nice.”

“But …”

“But, I’m not sure how invested I’m supposed to be in all of this. I like being with you but at the same time being with you makes me feel guilty. For a while the pleasure of being with you made me forget that I don’t know exactly what kind of relationship this is supposed to be. I don’t know how to play these kinds of games; they are way over my head. What I want doesn’t always line up with what I know I’m supposed to be about.”

“What you are supposed to be about?”

“Donovan, I don’t know if I can even explain it without making this worse.”

“Try.”

“OK, just remember, I warned you.” I took a breath and then took a leap of faith. “Donovan, we aren’t … aren’t … aren’t married. We haven’t got any long term plans. We haven’t made any promises. Heck, I don’t know if I even qualify as your friend anymore. And if I did I don’t know if I can live with just being a friend-with-benefits, it makes me feel … cheap.”

“That’s what all of this hesitancy has been about? The walls?”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean. I don’t really know what I’m doing or how you want me to act and …”

“Emma, I don’t want you to act. I want you to want to be with me and then everything else will fall in line from there.”

“I do want to be with you. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have cooperated. That’s the problem. I want to be with you so much, I like being with you so much, that I forget that I’m supposed to have some core values that supersede my wants, that I’m supposed to have rules to live by that are supposed to keep me out of trouble.”

“You’re saying that … that you feel … immoral … just because you and I are sleeping together?”

“It’s … how do I explain this? It’s not the act; it’s what we don’t do.”

“Emma, now I’m the one that doesn’t understand.”

“Commitment Donovan. A common goal that is specific to … to us … to this.”

He sat there for a minute then said, “You want me to tell you I love you?”

“That’s not … not exactly what I mean.”

“You don’t want me to tell you I love you?!”

“Donovan!”

“Well, then speak so I can understand you!”

“How am I supposed to figure it out when I don’t even know what you want with me?! For two years we were adversaries as often as we were close acquaintances. In the end we were mostly friends. I still want to be your friend but I don’t want to just be your friend.”

“Emma I’m not a romantic guy if that’s what this is about.”

“What the heck has romance got to do with it?!”

That set him back on his heels. “Donovan I … I don’t know how to explain it but I feel like I’m just drifting along, enjoying something that I have no confidence is going to be here the next day. Suddenly whenever I think about that part I can’t … can’t enjoy it the same way. I keep wondering just how bad I’m going to hurt when it ends. Part of me wants to bury my head in the sand and pretend and part of me knows that is just the coward’s way out. I’m supposed to have absolutes.”

“You mean morals.”

“Morals … absolutes … whatever you want to call them. They are there to guide me and help me to make healthy choices. I feel like I’ve tossed those all overboard in favor of just being with you for as long as you’ll have me. And it is driving me crazy. Don’t you think I know how stupid this probably sounds to you?!”

“I think that we need to get something cleared up. And this is something you are going to have to accept Emma because if you can’t I don’t know how we are going to go forward from here.” He scrubbed his hand across his face. I couldn’t see it, the wind up lamp had slowly gone from dim to dark, but I could feel what he was doing and the frustration that marked every action. “I’ve been burnt twice … badly. Both times I … I thought I was in love or convinced myself that I was because I thought it was the way it was supposed to be. It completed that imaginary picture in my head. I was able to check off something on my to do list of life. And both those times were nothing but illusion. Losing Bobby, that was just about the worst but I was young and … as callous as it sounds I eventually got up and started living again, but I was different and approached things differently. My ex killed the rest of it … she made sure that there was nothing left of that idealistic man I used to be. I … I can’t say ‘I love you’ and I can’t give you romance.”

I was trying really hard to listen and hear what he meant and not just what he was saying. I wanted to interrupt and tell him that I didn’t expect romance but that would have sounded like I did expect love and … and that was a different can of worms that I didn’t want to open.

“Emma, I’m sorry. I know you’re young and you haven’t … haven’t had a chance to have any of that. But … but what I can offer is … constancy. I can promise you I won’t betray you with another woman. I’ve felt that pain and won’t inflict it on someone else. Of course that isn’t saying much right now because there aren’t any other women around. I can promise to use all my talents to keep us safe and see us prosper as much as we can. And … and I can promise that, assuming you want to, that I’m … I’m committed to this long term … forever even if that’s what you want. It won’t matter if we meet up with other people now or later, I’ll continue to be a lot more than a friend-with-benefits. If that’s what you want.”

I know I needed to say something. “Donovan? Do you even know what you are saying? Are you only saying this because … because you feel like you have to to keep the peace, maybe because you think it is what I need?”

“I’m saying it because … To be honest Emma I wasn’t thinking about this … in the beginning. I was fine keeping things casual, even wanted it that way … in the beginning. But when it started feeling like you were the one that wasn’t committed, that you were the one keeping me at arms length rather than the other way around, it made me angry. And the harder I tried the less you seemed to notice. And the angrier I got. That’s no excuse for what I did. But it was hard to swallow that I was in the same exact situation I’d found myself in before, working my butt off for a woman that didn’t want what I had to offer.”

“But … but that’s not what I meant. I told you, you remind me of my Dad. You know how to do all of this … this stuff … and …”

“Emma, how would you feel I told you that you reminded me of my mom?”

“What’s your mom got to do with it? I mean, you said she … Oh,” I said finally remember his mom wasn’t so good to him. “Well, I … I wouldn’t like it. But my parents … they were great. I … oh, maybe … maybe you didn’t know that.”

“Apparently there’s a lot of things I don’t know.”

A little defensively I said, “You never ask. I don’t know what you’d be interested in knowing and what you wouldn’t. Usually when I come up with something to say I’m afraid of boring you or saying something stupid.”

“I never meant for you to feel that way.”

“I know that. I just never wanted you to have to point out my short comings. I’m aware I’ve got a bunch of them.”

“Why did you say that?”

“Why did I say what?”

“That you have a lot of short comings?”

“Well, duh. Look at everything that has happened. Look how things went in the Committee Meetings. I’ve always stayed out of trouble better when I’m busy and working otherwise my foot seems to take up full-time residence in my mouth.”

“Why don’t we test that theory out. A little less running around trying to work yourself into a coma and a little more sitting around with me … talking.”

The very idea of that scared the bejeebers out of me but I’ve been giving it my best shot. The problem is sometimes my tongue seems to get hinged in the middle and it starts running at both ends. I’ve put him to sleep twice doing that.

That night all we did was sleep. I think we were both just too tired but the quiet at the dinner table wasn’t so intimidating. In the next few days we moved things around a bit more and built a sort of kind of fold up bed inside of a rough hewn cabinet. Donovan called it a Murphy Bed. When it is time for bed we open the cabinet and pull the bed down. It took a little getting used to after sleeping on the ground for so long but it was nice except the one time I rolled out and hit the floor, knocking the wind out of myself. Donovan laughed until the big spring he’d used sprung and he started going upside down as the bed slowly tried to close. Then it was my turn to laugh even though it hurt. We sleep with our heads on the other end now and our feet towards the wall. Donovan also pounded a ring into the floor and attached a rope from the big that we tie to the ring to make double sure we don’t get closed up unexpectedly.

We also brought a little two-seater sofa into the living quarters. We had to take it outside and beat it a long time to get the dust out of the cushions. Even then it was pretty thread bare in places. It was comfortable so I took care of that with a large sheet draped over it like a sofa cover; think shabby chic.

On the clear days we tried to spend several hours out of doors. Donovan has some weird theory that we’re not getting enough Vitamin D because we aren’t getting enough sunlight. I asked, “Then why didn’t we have that trouble at the bunker?”

“Because they put supplements in our food.”

Well you could have knocked me over with a feather. I never even thought to be suspicious of the food we were eating. Donovan then told me, “Loosen your tinfoil helmet a little bit and let the circulation back in. The supplements were just that, supplements to replace not getting the fresh food we needed.”

But we aren’t taking supplements now so we need to be careful to prevent and alleviate medical problems the natural way. I think he is still looking for some reason for why he slapped me.

One result of “the slap” is that I’ve noticed Donovan isn’t near as rough when we wrestle or play. We were tossing a softball around outside and I wasn’t paying attention and caught a bad bounce off of a rock and bent my thumb nail back even through the mittens. He almost refused to play with me anymore. He also avoids touching my face. But neither of those things even comes remotely close to the overreaction he had when we were pulling this one tree closer to the cave entrance for cutting.

I was a little too close trying to get a better grip on some branches for dragging and his hand slips on the branch he is pulling and he clips me in the ear with his elbow. If such things had been the way they used to be I could have expected to see an ambulance and a fire and rescue truck at the very least. I decided to implement a little shock therapy. I pulled him down into the snow where he had plopped me and kissed him.

“What did you do that for?” he asked, shocked.

“Because it was the only thing I could think of to stop you from treating me like I’m made of glass. It was an accident Donovan. No harm, no foul. You didn’t mean to. I’m not hurt.”

“You could have been. And …” he stopped and sighed. “I … I just can’t stop thinking about …”

“I forgive you.”

“You … you what?”

“I forgive you. In fact, I forgave you right after it happened. Stop beating yourself up. You’ve said it won’t happen again and I believe you. Let’s just get passed it. OK?”

He looked at me like I was some creature from a different dimension and I thought maybe I had made a mistake until he said, “You’re just willing to let it go and forget it. Just like that?”

“Yeah.”

“You have got to be the strangest girl. You sound like Uncle Shem.”

“OK … is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

He snorted, “Depends on your point of view. But … mostly good I guess. Let’s get out of this snow and get back to the cave. If I’m not mistaken that’s another storm coming over the ridge.”

The way I look at it is that if I expect to be forgiven for things I have to offer forgiveness to other people. It’s not a *** for tat or karma thing. It’s … well, that’s what we are supposed to do. It isn’t always easy to do but that is the way it is supposed to work.

As a surprise I’d been inventorying all of the food we had and trying to make a menu so everything gets used up the best way possible. We’ve still got over a year of food if we are careful but it won’t always be interesting food. But last night I wanted something fun. I think we both really needed it. I’m not really much of a chocoholic but I do like the taste and texture of fudges, not necessarily only chocolate fudges which was good thing as I couldn’t figure out how to make fudge with the type of chocolate we have in the supplies. However I was able to make butterscotch fudge and it wasn’t hard at all.

I saved a quarter cup of milk from my breakfast, mixed in a six-serving size of butterscotch Jell-O pudding mix, added a little bit of powdered butter and then cooked it just until it boiled a little around the edges. Then I took it off of the fire and mixed in two and a quarter cups of powdered sugar. I think someone must have gotten a ton of that stuff in an after holiday sale or something. There was easily thirty pounds of the stuff in boxes and bags. After the powdered sugar was all blended in I poured it into a small aluminum pan I lined with wax paper then hid it in the dish cupboard and just in time because Donovan came in from chopping wood in the front cavern.

I wish I had a picture of his face when I brought it out after a dinner of rice and beans. The look was even funnier, though maybe not quite complimentary, when he found out I made it from scratch.

After cleaning everything up I was just about ready for bed. Some days I feel like a bear that wants to hibernate, especially when we snuggle in front of the fire. I had my eyes closed and wasn’t all that awake when I felt Donovan playing with my left hand and then something cold sliding onto my finger.

I opened my eyes and it was a ring, but not one like I’d ever seen in a store. The main body was a wide beaten ring of silver. The stone was an oddly shaped piece of opaque quartz that was attached to the silver ring because it was wrapped with fine silver wire.

“I’ll … uh … find a real ring one of these days. I … I just … I thought you would like something to remember that I promised that I wouldn’t leave you. If you don’t like it or …”

“Donovan, no one has ever given me a ring before. Not … not even my parents. They were going to … to … for my graduation. They were going to buy my class ring. They never got the chance. This … this is so pretty. You made this didn’t you?”

“I know it isn’t much but …”

“Donovan, thank you. No matter what, this means … so much … to me.”

I don’t know exactly what is going to happen. Will the sun come out in our life time? How do we find food when what we have runs out? Will we ever see other people? But now, now I know that I won’t have to find the answers to those questions by myself. I won’t have to live the answer to those questions by myself.

I don’t know if you call this being married. I do know that whatever it is isn’t the modern concept of marriage. I don’t know if Donovan even wants to think of it like that, or if there will ever be “love” between us. But whatever it is there is forever and there is more-than-friendship. That’s going to have to be good enough.

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