I have taken a look in the mirror … and gone eeewwwww. I don’t mean a literal mirror because that would definitely depress me, especially after what has happened. No, I mean that mirror that makes you take a good long look at yourself. Unfortunately I’m not near as satisfied with myself as I used to be … because I just realized I am the exact same person that I used to be.
OK, that makes very little sense. What I mean is that I think when Moshe … no, be honest with yourself Emma, it started before that. When my parents died I think that I slapped about ten coats of lacquer on who I was and called it good. That was OK because I was a kid and I wasn’t a bad kid back then. The problem is I’m still the same person I was, only I’m not a kid anymore and it’s no longer OK or good that I’m the same person.
Oh Lord, that still doesn’t make any sense. I just … it feels … this is ridiculous. It’s like I buried a part of myself when I buried my parents. And then a good friendship died of betrayal and I buried it too and along the way buried another piece of me with it. And then the world died and I … sometimes it doesn’t feel like there is very much of me left and the part that is left is all iced up and afraid of something else dying and that there won’t be anything of me left. Ugh, that sounds so dramatic. I despise the idea of being a drama queen but it looks like maybe I’ve been a closet drama queen; I felt so smug and self-righteous that despite it all I was standing on my own two feet and didn’t need anyone’s help. Oh how wrong I’ve been and too scared to admit it.
I’m not quite sure what to make of recent developments. I’m not used to feeling this kind of stuff. Maybe it is more honest to say that I’m not used to letting myself feel this kind of stuff.
The snow did bury us just like I was afraid of. It took two hours for us to break through the plug that had built up around the entrance only to find that it was still snowing hard. Even with gloves and mittens on Donovan’s hands were badly frost nipped. I looked it up in an old encyclopedia set that I found in the big cavern and I’m pretty sure they weren’t frost bitten because within the hour they were back to normal with no apparent tissue damage but it was a close thing. They stayed sore but even that went away during the night. We decided since we had plenty of wood – and other stuff to burn if the firewood ran out – that we’ d allow the snow tunnel that we dug to close back over.
Donovan did take some thin tree trunks he’d drug into our shelter for cutting later and lashed them together – looked like a river raft when it was laying on the ground – and then put that against the cave opening to keep the cold wind out and the cave’s warmer air in. The cave rose to a balmy 48 to 52 degrees F when we kept the outside cold from creeping in. The deeper into the big cavern you go the more stable the temperature is, averaging 50 degrees F. Compared to what some of the weather has been that feels tropical. There are a couple of little alcoves off the big cavern that are still freezing cold but that is a good thing because that is what I’m using them as – a freezer of sorts. I’ll explain why in a bit.
The first day we were essentially trapped I was OK. I worked and tried to act like everything was normal. Donovan sat in front of the fire whittling wooden pegs for the bedsteads he was planning. That’s one thing about Donovan that I have always admired. He’s like a cat; he can pace like a caged lion one minute and then turn about and be like the panther that has found a good spot in the tree and can stay up there quiet and full of patience for as long as it takes. Me, if I don’t have something to do I’m going to go nuts. I just can’t seem to make myself sit still. When I’m forced to sit still I have to be doing something like studying or something that occupies my hands like sewing; my mind has to be engaged.
That first day I managed to work myself good and tired doing nothing more constructive that moving piles around in the big cavern. I’d do a little work and then run back to the fireplace to check on the bread I was baking. Donovan asked if I wanted him to keep an eye on it and I said, “No! You just relax and do what you need to. This is my chore so I’m going to do it.” He shrugged his shoulders. I kept to myself that I didn’t want a repeat of the soup incident.
I finally managed to separate and organize the food from the other flotsam in the cavern and that included what we had brought in from the half-track. Most of the food that was in there must have come from the kid bringing stuff from his house. When I showed some of it to Donovan to ask what would still be good and what would be bad he said it looked like everything but a couple of the cans were still OK. Even the lard was still good because it had basically been frozen all this time. That has been a lucky deal because we don’t have any oil or anything like that to cook with.
There was one cracked canning jar that made an absolutely disgusting mess in a box of odds and ends; and a couple of other jars that Donovan told me to not touch because their seal was broken and looked like a major science project. He took those outside carefully and dumped them down in a small gully we are using as a dump (but we don’t plan on throwing much away). Looking at all the food – looks like a lot but probably isn’t as much as I think – I decided to try my hand at baking a loaf of bread; I was tired of crackers. The recipe was in a little recipe book I found.
I made oatmeal for breakfast and made enough extra to make the Baked Oatmeal Bread. You take three cups of thick cooked oatmeal and add to it two tablespoons of fat (that’s where the lard came in), one and a half teaspoons of salt, two tablespoons of molasses and stir it up good. Then you mix a packet of yeast with three-quarters cup of warm water and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Then you mix that in with the oatmeal gunk. Then you need to start adding flour to the oatmeal gunk until you get a dough that won’t stick to the mixing bowl but isn’t too dry either. It took nearly five cups of flour. I covered the bowl and stuck in near the fire so it would stay warm and rise, then I followed the directions of kneading it again and then forming it into loaves, putting it into greased loaf pans and letting it rise again and then baking it for about 45 to 50 minutes or until browned. I had to use this old reflector thing I found. My dad had helped Laura and I build something similar during Girl Scouts and it brought back memories that I usually tried to stuff down.
While I was working on the bread I caught Donovan watching me. I was running back and forth between what I was doing in the big cavern and every once in a while I’d catch the tail end of a grin. I put it down to chauvinism at first but then I got it into my head that he was laughing at me for some reason. He was, I just didn’t understand why at the time. It made me more anxious than I already was. I was absolutely going to prove … something; I still don’t know what but I was determined.
The bread was a lot better than a first attempt had any business being. I know why now but I didn’t then. I’m glad I didn’t crow the way I felt like doing or I would have felt like an even bigger fool.
The garbanzo soup I made to go with the bread was all me though. I made it from a dry mix but I know how to make it from scratch because Momma taught me (that was another thing I did with Laura). I wish I could have made it with more chorizo but all there was in the food supplies was some stick pepperoni and while you can use that it’s not quite the same. I made more broth by tossing in a couple of ham bouillon cubes and some more water. It wasn’t like Momma made it but it wasn’t bad either.
After lunch I cleaned the dishes and then went back to working in the big cavern. I had a lot of nervous energy and needed to work it off. I made pretty good headway and then when it was close to dinner time I went back to the living area to find Donovan toasting some of the bread to make something he called “rarebit.” For dinner we finished the soup and the bread with rarebit on it.
“You need to eat more fat and this cheese should help,” he said pointing to a can of cheese we had in our supplies.
“How do you know how to … um … make this stuff? The rarebit?”
“We made it out in the field with canned cheese that the company would send out to us.”
After the first few bites I was able to eat it without worrying that my stomach was going to do something it shouldn’t. It was actually very good. Again, I got the feeling that Donovan was laughing at me and I just couldn’t figure it out.
I cleaned up after dinner and went back to the cavern and back to work. A little while later Donovan came into the cavern where I was and said, “You got some big project going?”
“Trying to get this stuff organized.”
“Uh … why?”
“Because … it is a mess in here and there might be useful stuff to find. If I hadn’t started to clean I wouldn’t have found that other ax handle when you needed and …”
“OK. But it’s getting late. Don’t you think you should sit some too?”
He looked at me with what I’ve come to realize is his thoughtful look. “You don’t sit still very much do you?”
“I … I can’t.”
“Are you ADD or something?”
“Huh? No. No … it’s just too hard.”
“It’s too hard to sit?” he laughed.
“Donovan, please don’t laugh.” I hated sounded like a little girl afraid of getting her feelings hurt but that’s pretty much how I felt.
He realized suddenly that I was serious. “Something bothering you?”
All I could do was roll my eyes and say, “Something must have been bothering me for a long time then. I just … just can’t be still. When I’m forced to I don’t feel very good. My head gets in a whirl. My mouth runs away and says things it shouldn’t. Just … it’s not good when I don’t stay busy. OK … you might as well laugh. I know it sounds ridiculous,” I added defensively turning away, waiting for the verbal blow that always came when I tried to explain it to people.
“I’m not laughing Emma. My Aunt Rachel was the same way. Uncle Shem said when she got a scrub brush in her hand it was time to go out to the barn and get out of her way. You want me to get out of your way?”
“Why should you be the one that has to get out of the way? You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I’m glad to hear it. I was beginning to wonder.”
I never got a chance to ask him what he meant by that because there was a woosh that went straight through us both.
“Grab the coats! Let’s get them on!” I could barely understand what he was shouting over the roaring of the wind. “The wind knocked down the barricade!”
I hadn’t felt wind like that since that storm we were in when we found those cars and somehow this felt even worse; it snatched the breath right out of your lungs and shoved ice crystals under your skin. We were both shaking so bad by the time we got our coats on it was hard to think. Without warning Donovan backed me into a corner and was using his own body to protect me from the wind. He was shouting but had a hard time making himself understood. “We … need … to … get … that … barricade … back up! You … with … me?!”
I nodded and we fought our way into the outer cavern and everything was already covered with ice crystals. My nose hairs felt like they were trying to crawl up into my brain to escape the cold. Moving that barricade was like trying to row uphill or push a kite against the wind. It took almost an hour to get it up, prop it with some additional tree trunks, and then pile the remaining woodpile against it to hold it in place.
Just getting the barricade up was exhausting and then doing the rest of it bled both Donovan and I dry of energy, but eventually it was accomplished. I felt like a limp noodle but at the same time I was flying because it felt like we had won a major battle. I turned to give Donovan a high five just in time to see him stumble and grab the leg that he had only recently stopped limping with. I got under his arm and let him use me like a crutch and got him back into the living quarters and then over to the pallet he had been sitting on while he whittled. It was near the fire and I threw another log in trying to drive out the painful cold that had come in.
I looked around the room and it was a mess. Snow had blown in and stuff had been knocked all over the place. A grunt from Donovan brought my attention back to him. “Are you all right?” I asked.
I got a look that embarrassed me. I hate sounding stupid. “OK, so that was a less than smart question. Is there anything I can do to make it better?”
Donovan looked at me a second and then barked out a laugh and shook his head. “Emma, you take the cake. If you tried to leave yourself any more open you couldn’t. Just tell me I haven’t used all of the ibuprofen in the first aid kit.”
I rummaged through the pack trying to figure out what he was talking about. After I checked I said, “No, there’s nearly half a bottle left. Even if you had, there are a couple of more bottles of other stuff in here that Laine told me I could give you if it got bad.”
“Well, it’s not bad, just nagging at me. I don’t want anything that is going to affect me that strongly in case that barricade goes again.”
“How about … um … how about cold and hot compresses? Is anything swollen? Here let me …”
“Girl you would try the patience of a saint! Keep your hands to yourself and just get us something warm to drink and then we need to get some sleep. Tomorrow you’re going to need to help me go through some of that stuff in the big cavern and see if we can fabricate a barricade or gate of some type that is more durable. And we need one on this room as a second barrier.” So we did; go to sleep I mean. Him on his pallet and me on mine. We were both so tired I don’t think it took either one of us long. Unfortunately I acted like a nutcase in the middle of the night.
I’ve always had vivid dreams that I remember but I learned as a very little kid that dreams were all they were. Once I realized that the pictures my head made at night weren’t real even the scariest ones didn’t bother me too much once I woke up. But every once in a while I’ll have a doozey and my brain decided to pick that night as the date for a good old fashioned nightmare based a little too much in reality, both present and past, for me to be able to just throw it off as easily as normal.
Pieces of lots of old nightmares made an appearance in the new one but it wasn’t until the big cavern got mixed up in my recent past that things got out of hand. Donovan said I woke him up mumbling in my sleep and tossing and turning but it wasn’t until I stood up and started heading towards the cave entrance that he really woke up all the way.
I remember fighting with him and saying, “No! You can’t make me go back in there. I won’t live like that again.” Then I woke up and didn’t know what was going on for a few seconds then I remembered what I had been dreaming and I could have just crawled into the nearby hole.
“You awake now?”
“Oh God Donovan, I’m .. I’m sorry.”
“You’ve mumbled in your sleep before but this is the first time I’ve ever seen you sleep walk. Do you make a habit of this?”
“No. If I’m under a lot of stress about something it kind of bleeds into my dream cycle. I’m really sorry. I …”
“Hey, long as you don’t snore no harm no foul so stop apologizing. But look at you, you’re cold again. Come on, come over here closer to the fire.”
“Donovan, I’ve disturbed your sleep enough. I don’t want to be more of a problem.”
“You’re talking to the wrong guy Emma. I’m selfish enough that if it was a problem I would have just told you to sleep it off so I could get back to sleep. It isn’t a problem but now I’m cold too so come on, let’s warm up together.”
We rearranged everything and even pulled an extra cover over the top of both of us. I thought Donovan had gone back to sleep and was laying there trying to let the fire hypnotize me so I could do the same when he asked, “You ready to talk about it?”
“You can’t want to hear …”
“I wouldn’t have asked otherwise Emma. Satisfy my curiosity if nothing else.”
I gathered up my courage and the confessed, “It’s that stupid big cavern. For some reason it reminds me of Level 5. Sometimes I just have to get out of there.”
He didn’t say anything for a while and I wasn’t sure what to think of the silence. Then I felt him drape an arm over me. “It’s OK Emma. We left the bunker behind a long ways back. And even if someone tried that again they’d have to come through me first.”
God forgive me but I snuggled into his arm; I wanted the comfort and closeness he was offering and hang the consequences of whether he decided I was an “easy” girl despite what I had said before. And I slept better than I had in days.
The thing is there were no consequences. The next morning he was up and massaging his leg and heating water when I woke up. I was almost embarrassed but part of me didn’t care either. I got up and fixed an omelet using powdered eggs … they are like death on toast if you try and scramble them and eat them plain but the omelets I make are pretty good. Nothing was said about the previous night by either one of us. After breakfast we started working on the new doors.
That was not so easy. First off it still sounded like there was a freight train outside. We could see through the gaps in the barricade that the wind had scoured the snow away and it was simply flying around rather than being packed down against the entrance as it did when there wasn’t any wind. And it was so cold that we couldn’t stay in the outer cavern very long, even fully dressed as we were. Temporarily we’ve decided to leave the outside door alone, at least until the wind dies down some or we need more wood. For the entrance to the living quarters area Donovan framed in the opening and squared it off then we cut down and planed one of the old solid wood doors that were in the cavern.
I found out that Donovan is persnickety when it comes to his carpentry. Rather than just cut everything off from two of the sides he cut bits from all four sides so that the door still looked symmetrical when it was hung. He definitely has more patience than I do. I had to paw through a chest of old door hardware to find three matching hinges that would work and then watch as he figured out a way to latch and secure the door so it would stay closed.
We stuffed all of the gaps between the wood and the door frame with the remains of some dry rotted drapes for insulation and then he used more wood and somehow or other sawed and then sanded it so that it fit over those gaps. It was actually very nice looking when he got finished. I mean like real nice. Even better, the living quarters was warming up since we weren’t heating the colder outside room. Donovan said he would start on a door over the entrance to the big cavern after lunch and that would help even more.
That never happened. I went into the big cavern to grab a quart of canned soup and … I really don’t know what happened. I had to have tripped on something but I just can’t remember. Donovan said he’d given me plenty of time to come back but when I didn’t he called my name. When I didn’t answer him he came looking for me. He actually stepped on me and I have a pretty awful bruise on the back of my leg.
I had a really bad headache when I came to but Donovan said I had been in and out of it for over an hour, mostly just talking out of my head. “You scared me girl. Don’t … don’t do it again. Understand me?”
Donovan said that I’d hit my head a glancing blow on an old coffee table as I was falling. I had meant to bring the table into the fireplace room but hadn’t gotten around to it. I thought we could use it to put our dishes on something more solid than our laps and had leaned it against the wall to get it out of the way. I can’t even remember tripping.
The first sensation I remember feeling was hair sticking to my ear. My hair was disgusting because on top of all the other nastiness in it, now it was all stuck together with dried blood. There was blood in my ear and down my neck and I could feel my clothes sticking to my shoulder.
After answering his questions about how many fingers was he holding up and what my name was and a few others that I thought strange I groaned, “Oh no.”
“What? Are you hurting? I’ll …”
“No. Sorry. I just meant … look at this mess I’ve made. I already felt gross, now I feel completely disgusting. I don’t know how you can even be around me.”
Donovan laughed and said, “You’re such a girl.”
I don’t know, something snapped, and I started crying.
My reaction surprised him. He talked to me like I was a little girl and that only made me feel worse and cry harder. “Hey! Hey. There’s nothing to cry about. Come on … stop it. Here, let me see.”
“I don’t want you to see me like this. I’m nasty. I … I smell and my hair is oily … oh just everything.”
“Well, in case you havn’t noticed, I’m not exactly fresh as a daisy either. Hold still, now that I know I’m not going to hurt you I’ll get the rest of this off.”
He moved my big pony tail out of the way and washed off the gunk on my neck. There wasn’t much that could be done about the rest of it but at least I felt a little better.
“Donovan I’m … I’m sorry. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I never cry. This is so stupid! Oh …” I groaned that last bit because my head started to pound really bad when I tried to sit up and act like something besides a whiny brat.
“Dizzy? Does it hurt? You gonna puke?”
“All of the above so move.” I crawled over to the waste bucket just in time but all that came up was spit. I felt like I was going to pass out and little black dots grew big in my sight.
“Here we go. Let me …”
“Donovan, what is wrong? I … I …”
“You have a concussion.”
“What? Wait. Stop that. What does a concussion have to do with my clothes?”
“Relax. You don’t have anything I haven’t seen before and you need to get out of these bloody clothes. I also want to see if you’re banged up any place else.”
“Donovan …” I said warningly.
“Emma. Look at me. You aren’t two years old and neither am I. I’m not playing doctor here. I’m trying to help. I’m not going to … do … whatever it is you’re afraid of.”
“I’m not afraid of you, you Neanderthal! I’m afraid of me!”
Donovan’s face went from blank, to surprised, to total male satisfaction and then outright laughter … and I realized I had said that last bit out loud without meaning to.
“Ooohhhhh nnooooo. Just bury me now and put me out of my misery.”
He just laughed harder which did nothing but make me grab my head because of the pounding. “Oh Emma, girl you are something else. I think we need to sit and have a talk. But first we need to get you into some clean clothes so you don’t look so pathetic.”
“Just forget it. Forget I said anything at all. I can take care of this myself. I’m sorry I’m an embarrassment and …” I scrambled off to throw up again. “Just … (heave) … leave … (heave) … me alone (heave) …”
I thought he was finally going to let me die in peace but right when I nearly nodded off in the bucket there he was again. He sighed, “Emma, just … oh the @#$% with it.”
That’s when I found out that I had absolutely no clue at all what guys are really capable of when they decide to ignore anything you have to say. I was way out of my league. I so thought I knew more than I did. I was a female chauvinist … and I was getting paid back big time. I was out of my dirty clothes and into semi-clean ones before I knew it; almost before I was able to get embarrassed.
“Now, you are going to stay put. I catch you getting up, moving, wiggling … anything … and you are going to find out just how much of a cave man I can be. Hey … hey, hey, hey … I said stay put, not go to sleep. I want you bright eyed and bushy tailed. Tell me about what your plans were for the cavern.”
“You want me to … Donovan, I don’t know that I had plans for the cavern. I was just sort of cleaning things up.”
“So, this place doesn’t mean anything to you?” he asked while he started heating water.
“Why do I have the feeling that I’ve been the butt-end of a joke you’ve been playing?”
“Huh? Why would you say that?”
“You … you’re … that’s food … and you’re cooking it.”
“Yeah, about that. I was just ribbing you. I … uh … was just getting a little of my own back. I expected you to make a big deal out of it and then I was going to … I don’t know. But then you tried to be nice about it and once I’d started it I wasn’t quite sure how to stop. Frankly you’re a good cook. My ex … you don’t want to know. We spent more on fast food than we did on our car payments.”
“So … so it was just a joke. You … you didn’t really need me. To … to cook I mean.”
“Back up there. You meant what you said, not …”
“Donovan I’m tired and just …”
“Whoa … no sleeping. Period. Let me see your eyes … come on … how many fin … are you crying again?”
“Just leave me alone. I don’t know why I’m crying. Stupid, stupid, stu …”
A piercing whistle sent a shaft of pain through my head. “I said no sleeping sweetheart. The broth is almost warm. Keep wiping your face with this wet rag.”
I shifted my focus and tried to remember that I couldn’t sleep no matter how much easier it felt to just doze off. I was slowly losing the battle when Donovan sat down beside me holding a mug. I tried really hard to drink it but I was only able to get half of it down before my stomach started rebelling.
“You’ll finish it later.” It felt like a threat. “Now, back to what we were talking about.” That was most definitely a threat.
“Donovan please. I’m sorry I caused you problems. I’ll try really hard not to let it happen again. Just don’t hold this against me. I don’t know what the problem is. I’m always more in control than this.”
“Yeah. I get that. I don’t like to lose control of things either. But that isn’t what I want to talk about. You said ‘then you don’t really need me’ like you meant more than just the cooking.”
“I don’t know what I meant.”
“Ha. You aren’t getting out of this as easy as that. I’m done running this around in circles. First I get the feeling that maybe you like me especially well but then you brush it off as friendship. Then I think maybe it’s worth another try and you act like you haven’t got a clue so I decide the friendship thing is all there is to it. Now you say it isn’t me your afraid of but yourself. I need some straight talk girl, not all that female secret code stuff. Am I just your friend or are you saying that you want more than friendship with me?”
I was prepared to die right then and right there. But there was a part of me that was saying, “What did you expect? He’s a grown man, you’re a grown woman even if he doesn’t always talk to you like you are. This was bound to come up at some point.”
“I’m waiting for an answer Emma.”
“Well … I don’t know how to answer you. Sue me, I’ve never done this before.”
“You’ve never done … are you kidding me? I know options were limited in the bunker and things were a little … unusual. But before that surely … I mean … What about that Moshe dued?”
“You know good and well that I didn’t do what some of the other women did in the bunker and that things were a whole lot more than ‘unusual.’ As for Moshe, I told you, he was just a friend.”
“A friend … or … a friend with benefits.”
“A friend with … if I wasn’t afraid of puking I would so hit you right now. What kind of girl do you think I am? Oh wait, that’s right, I was a 5 and where there is smoke there has to be fire.” Suddenly I ran out of steam and said, “Although the way I was acting like a floozy and climbing up in your lap every time you turned around … what else were you supposed to think of me?”
I was almost too tired to cry but that didn’t keep me from feeling like it. It made my head hurt and my stomach role. I put my head between my bent knees and tried to breathe through my mouth slowly to keep ahold of what dignity I had left.
“Emma, I’m gonna ask you something and I want an absolutely truthful answer. Are you telling me you … that you … I don’t even know how to ask this without sounding like an idiot. Emma exactly how much experience do you have?”
I groaned out loud. I wasn’t really embarrassed of my particular condition but still, it isn’t something that I’m used to discussing with anyone of the male persuasion either. Not even Moshe ever asked me that kind of question.
“Emma I’m waiting for an answer.”
“I know you are. Look, I’m … I don’t … I’ve gone out a few times but no one ever … I’ve never …”
“Am I to take from all of that hemming and hawing that you don’t have any experience or just a little or what?”
“I’m trying to tell you. Have a little patience already.”
Donovan just laughed again. “Emma I’ve been a heck of a lot more patient than I even knew I could be. Look at me. I won’t force anything on you but I won’t live in limbo land either. It is either one way or another. I had to deal with enough games during my marriage. I won't do that again.”
“I’m not playing a game!” I shouted and then had to grab my head.
“See what you get?”
“You aren’t making this easy Donovan. I’m sitting here talking about sex with a guy whose first name I don’t even know. I’m not used to talking about this stuff with anyone. Not even Laura.”
“Laura is that dude Moshe’s sister, the one that was your best friend.”
“Yes. And why do you keep saying ‘that dude Moshe’ like that?”
“Because I don’t like him and that is the most polite thing I’m ever going to call him. Aldwyn.”
I thought I hadn’t heard him right. “What?”
“Aldwyn. It’s a family name from way back on my dad’s side of the family. He wished it on me thinking his family would take some notice of me. He was wrong. I ran into another boy with the same name when I was in middle school and that was the first time I’d even met anywone from that side of my family. His parents, my paternal aunit and uncle, came to the school and made a big stink about me being in the same classes as him.”
“Aldwyn … Aldwyn Donovan …”
“Don’t strain yourself. I haven’t gone by Aldwyn since I left school. I’ve gone by A.E. Donovan so long that no one has called me anything but Donovan for years now. Even my ex called me Donovan.”
“A.E.? What does the E stand for?”
He sighed and said, “Ebenezer.”
I thought for a second and then shook my head. It sounded impossible. “They didn’t really do that to a kid, especially not their own. You’re … you’re yanking my chain again.”
“Aldwyn Ebenezer Donovan. Named after both of my grandfathers and neither one of them would even acknowledge my existence. How’s that for irony?”
“Uh … do you want me to … I mean …”
“You call me anything but Donovan and not only will I not answer you I’ll make it hard for you to use your sitter for a week,” he said giving me the eye. “You want me to start running around calling you Emmaline Josephine?”
“Well … you can if you want to; you call me Emma already. You’ll probably get tired of the mouth full though. I was named after my grandmothers, but that doesn’t bother me at all. Just don’t call me Josie, then we might have to fight.”
I was getting comfortable again but I relaxed too soon.
“So now that you know my first name and my middle name, something very few people knew even before the world turned to ice, that should remove your objection to continuing our previous discussion.”
“You aren’t going to drop this are you?”
“What do you think?”
I rolled my eyes and tried really hard not to get defensive. “I don’t have any of the ‘experience’ I think you are talking about. I got asked out a few of times in highschool and once or twice in college but mostly because Laura arranged it when she wanted to double date or when that was the only way to keep her parents off her back.”
“So that means that …”
“Just assume that whatever you’re thinking that I haven’t. It'll probably be true 99.9% of the time. In fact, just assume I’m a complete idiot and don’t have a clue what I’m doing which is true 100% of the time apparently since I’m making such a hash of this.”
“Whao. No need to go that far.” He gave me a thoughtful look, “Though I’ll admit that it isn’t exactly what I expected of a modern co-ed nor is it what I’m used to. But … this Neanderthal finds it a little fascinating and …” He started laughing. “I swear, all this blushing is something I never expected out of the Ice Maiden.”
Now it was Donovan’s turn to look embarrassed. “Don’t worry about it. What I meant …”
“You mean … you mean me. I’m the Ice Maiden.” I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know but I asked anyway. “Did you make up the name or … never mind, I can see it on your face. That’s what all of you called me isn’t it?”
“Forget it. It is what it is. Look, I’m really tired. Can I lay down and sleep yet?”
“No. Not until this is finished.”
“It’s finished. I told you what you wanted to know.”
Now it was Donovan's turned to get defensive. “You have to admit you do freeze people out.”
“Don’t play that game. You knew exactly what you were doing.”
“If you say so. But tell me why I should have even suspected that anyone cared one way or the other. I saw what, maybe a handful of people outside of the Level 5 personnel? I wasn’t even allowed out of that area unless it was for a committee meeting or a command performance at one of those stupid socials. I was angry Donovan. It still makes me angry thinking about it. Maybe people got a little of the spillover from that but I didn’t exactly see them standing in line to help me out either.”
I shrugged out from under his shoulder and tried to stand up but the room kept tipping. “Sit down Emma.”
“Stop telling me what to do.”
Finding the energy to get angry hadn't been easy but I managed it. “Why do you even care anyway? Admit it, you have absolutely no respect for me do you? You never have. You’re the same as the rest of them. I …” Every time I tried to take a step or two the room would tilt and I’d have to close my eyes and stop moving or risk falling, barfing, or both.
I jumped when I felt him gently turn me around and say, “This isn’t going quite how I planned it. Stop moving or you’re going to fall. Where do you think you’re going to go? Back to work?”
“I don’t know. Anything beats sitting here feeling sorry for myself and worrying this lame conversation to death. Nothing changes. Ever. I should have figured that out by now.”
“That’s enough,” he said less than gently. “Come here and sit down. I’m not going to ask again. Now.”
“Stop telling me …”
“No. Get used to it. Drove my ex crazy too but I’m not about to change, not right now. Look at you. You’re weak as a kitten. You’ve lost more weight than I thought and you’ve got a nasty bruise that is spreading from your ear to your cheek. You look like some guy slugged you. I’m sorry I pushed you as hard as I have but I’m tired of living in limbo. I need an answer.”
“An answer to what?!” I had to grab my head again because it felt like I’d just shoved an ice pick into my skull.
“I’m not asking you to play Eve to my Adam … but I think it’s possible that we can build something out of this situation. Is that so hard to understand?”
“No, it’s not hard to understand. What’s hard to understand is why you would want it with me? I know I’m the only game in town but I still just don’t get it.”
“Come here and let me show you.” Well, his type of convincing was pretty powerful. It made my head ache but not enough for me to make him stop. He’s not pushing me but I know his patience is finite. I know one of these days I’m going to have to … well, it’s wrong just to string him along; I have to decide what I want. And … and we’ve left the pallets together.
What a mess. Part of me is jumping up and down in excitement that I’m finally the one that got the guy. And another part of me cringes every time I realize I got the guy because I’m the only girl around to get him. And because I just have to act like I have multiple personalities part of me is wondering if I’m still a “good girl” or not. What happens to us when the snow stops falling and he wants to go off and find other people? I don’t even know if there is an “us.”
The next day I still had a head ache but the cave didn’t move when I was up and walking around. I heated enough water to wash out all of our underclothes and to kind of wash my hair out. I tried to wash the rest of me a bit but it was so cold even with the fire going that I got badly chilled and had to lay down under the covers. Donovan came back from squirreling around in the junk in the big cavern and found me there shivering. He made me stay there and he made something he called Hoppin’ John and Rice, after which he made me eat one of those Millennium Bars. Not a good combination. It had the same effect on him and we made an early night of it. I think he fell asleep faster than he had intended. I had to get up and write some of this stuff out of my system.
One last thought before I crawl back into the bed that I’ve made for myself … figuratively as well as literally. I’m a little jealous of Noah’s daughter in laws. At least they married before the flood and knew that their husband’s picked them out of a crowd. I don’t know if Donovan picked me because there wasn’t anyone else to pick from or not, I don’t know if I’ll ever know for certain. I don’t even know if this is the real and lasting type of relationship. I’m not sure I want to know badly enough to deal with getting an answer I don’t want.