Lately it’s been storming more often than it hasn’t. I guess winter is truly here to stay. For how long we have no idea. It is so cold that it almost hurts to breathe when we are outside.
We have been exploring a little further from our cave. A storm had just ended and we felt safe going beyond our last exploration point and this took us over the next hill. It was tough going for both of us. Donovan could have made better time if he hadn’t had to wait for me but the snow in places came up to my waist and when I fell in it took Donovan’s help to get me out. The little hollow we discovered didn’t take near the beating that ours did though there was damage enough up on the ridge. We finally made it to the bottom of the steep, tree-covered area to find a short bridge that crossed what appeared to be a shallow gully. The bridge was damaged on one side but we didn’t pay too much attention to that because everything is damaged these days. About half way across a brutal slap of wind caught me in mid-step and I lost my footing, going over the damaged area of the bridge where the railings were missing.
I braced myself for impact with water but I had forgotten that there was nothing but ice. What I hit was neither water nor ice. It made that distinctive “thump” you hear when something lands on the hood of a vehicle.
Donovan started to scramble after me before I had even finished falling. I was trying to decide which I felt more; thankful that I wasn’t hurt or irritated that that sort of stuff always seems to happen to me. As I was grumping my way through being thankful – not the best compromise – Donovan and I were brushing the thick snow off of whatever I had fallen onto. I finally cleared the foot of snow away from a section when I was startled into a soundless scream. I back pedaled into Donovan, spilling us both into the true bottom of what must have been a runoff creek during certain times of year.
Donovan caught my shoulders and asked, “Hey, you OK?”
I drew a deep breath and wish I hadn’t. The air was way far on the other side of crisp. I coughed a little and then said, “Yeah. Donovan I … I think it’s like those other cars.” I was referring to the cars we salvaged from after we left the bunker all that time ago.
Donovan crawled back onto the hood of a large, nose-down vehicle and brushed away more snow to look inside. “Looks like three … no four … adult-sized males. All but one dressed in hunter’s gear. Vehicle is a … Ford Explorer I think, but it’s been modified. There’s a layer of ash sitting directly on the car’s finish and it has eaten the decal off. It’s a Ford of some type, likely an older explorer model. Stay back Emma.” He proceeded to try and open the driver’s side door.
He couldn’t so he busted out the window and avoiding the corpses as much as possible tried to determine what had happened. When he pulled his head out I saw him in true security chief mode, something I hadn’t seen in quite a while.
“The damage is primarily to the front driver’s side quarter panel and the front bumper area where the vehicle landed in mud. It’s frozen in place. There is also solid ice all in the front floor board encasing the corpses’ legs. There’s no water in the gully now but if I had to guess I would say that there was water when the vehicle went in. Driver’s front wheel is probably a spare; it’s different from the other three tires. It’s bald and showing tread. Both front tires are flat; could be from impact or it could be the cause of the accident. All four corpses show significant damage with associated blood loss. The corpses in the front driver’s and front passenger seats were not wearing seat belts. Corpse three was wearing a seat belt but it looks like he had significant head trauma. See where the passenger door’s window is spidered and blood on the inside? Corpse number four … that would be why they were on the road most likely. He had a significant pre-mortem injury. There was some attempt made to bandage his chest; it is completely blood encrusted. He was strapped in using two of the three rear seat belts and his head was in the lap of his rear seat mate.”
Donovan sighed and then said, “How does this sound? Four hunters back in the woods and one has an accident. Definitely something life threatening from the look of the blood loss. They call out, no one answers their plea for help or they can’t get a signal or something. They try to bring their friend out themselves, something happens on the bridge and they go off into the water filled gully. No one ever comes to check on them so here they remain.”
“Could they have been blown off the bridge post Impact?”
“I … don’t think so. No side panel damage on the other side of the vehicle.”
“Then I guess without any other proof your explanation is as good as we are going to get.”
Donovan grunted, “Here, come up here and help me hold this camper top open. Grab that rail down by your feet. We’ll use it as a prop.”
“Hmm. No luggage, no camping gear. Here are a couple of guns but that’s it. Let’s see if we can follow the road backwards and see where they came from. But not too far in case a storm comes up.”
“The last one ended last night. We’ve got a couple of days until the next one.”
“Never assume darling. Just as soon as you think you know what the weather is going to do, it’ll change track on you and leave you up the creek. As vicious as these storms are getting I don’t want to get caught out in one. As it is I need to make time to further reinforce the barricade door.”
The road was fairly easy to follow. The only gap in the trees turned into what looked like a narrow and winding, snow-covered lane. Around the second bend a fairly expensive hunting lodge rose out of the rocky ground. It had some exterior damage but significantly less than any other standing building we have seen. Two additional snow-covered vehicles were parked in a covered parking area that had been built of the same stone as the house. The roof was collapsed from where a large tree had fallen on one end destroying the snow mobiles that we saw there. Donovan had a few choice words to say about that tragedy. Then we broke into the house and started looking around.
I found him about ten minutes later after we went in separate directions, “Donovan?”
“Yeah, I know. If I could find a sled we’d take some of this stuff back with us.”
“Can you make some out of skis?”
“Skis? I suppose.” He was only half way listening to me and then he turned around real quick. “Hey, did you find skis?”
“Yeah, they look like skis … sorta,” and I handed him what I had found.
“Older but these are definitely cross-country skis.”
“There are five or six pairs down there. Poles too.”
“What are you making such a face for?”
Curling my lip in disgust, “It smells really funky down there.”
Donovan followed me down a flight of stairs to a finished basement that didn’t have any windows or door to the outside.
“Smells like summer in a kennel down here only … I don’t know something else too,” he muttered from behind the sleeve he put over his mouth a nose.
About that time we heard something in the wall. Without warning I felt something clamp onto my leg. Looking down I screamed at the top of my lungs and started kicking but it wouldn’t come off.
“Oh God, get it off. Get it off!!”
Then another one attacked Donovan as he bent to try and help me. He was wrestling, trying to get the thing off his shoulder. Three other shapes lunged out of the dark, both of them tearing into the horror that was attached to my leg and nearly shredding it. I helped Donovan to rip off the one that was on him and threw it away where it was pounced on and shaken like a rag doll. But there was more rustling and we quickly retreated up the steps. The three shapes followed us but not quickly enough, one of them was attacked right below the top step. Donovan reached down and pulled the animal up and then detached the two attackers and broke their necks, but it was too late.
At our feet lay a terrier. A main artery had been bitten and it didn’t take long for the poor thing to bleed to death. We tried to save it but it was no use. It licked our hands and whined submissively but she was just here one moment and gone the next.
I was in tears, “Oh Donovan.” I sat on my haunches covered in dog blood. The two other dogs stared with hackles raised at the now closed basement door alternately growling at the basement and growling at us. But they were shivering too. Donovan grabbed a cover off of the nearby sofa and wrapped them both together and as nasty as they were he still stuffed them inside his jacket. Neither dog seemed to know what to make of it but the warmth seemed to reassure them.
I looked up from where I was still on the floor and found myself looking at a portrait of a man standing beside a fence with two dogs almost identical to the ones we had found.
The non sequiter threw me off. “What?”
“They’re rat terriers. Looks like the guy in the picture bred show dogs of that breed.”
I finally noticed the trophies and ribbons that adorned the wall. He continued, “These two don’t look like much more than puppies. Look how small they are. The one that … that died was a female, probably their mother. You can tell she’s had puppies. The sire dog could have died down there looking for food for his pack. I don’t see any sign of another dog and the smell isn’t bad up here.”
“Why would he leave his dogs like that?!” I cried, still upset.
“Emma … Emma. Think darlin’. Dog vs. injured human … the man probably shut his dogs down there with plenty of food and water thinking he’d be back for them. He had to get the injured man to medical care or he was going to die.”
“Yeah, I guess. Sorry about … about not thinking. It just sounds awful to leave your animals like that. I’m surprised they didn’t starve to death.”
“Some pups may have, or may have fallen to the rats. I’m not going down there to look for bones to find out one way or the other. I’m sure that the terriers took their fair share to dine on after their dog food ran out. The rat terrier is the perfect foe to go up against an army of those devils. I read somewhere that a rat terrier cleared a barn of over five thousand rats in a single day. Just try and not think about it for a while. I’ll bury the dog. You look around but be careful, and if you start smelling or hearing anything you get out of there.”
“Where do the rats come from? We haven’t seen any up here? We haven’t seen any in the cave? Thank goodness for that by the way. In fact we have seen any animals until now.”
Donovan squinted his eyes and scratched his head. My questions sometimes drive him a little crazy. He says I give him a headache making him think too much. I think it is because he doesn’t like not being able to answer them. “We know the cold and lack of food have a lot to do with that. We might have some hibernating animals but they could have died in their sleep of starvation. But the true omnivores … primarily rodents … may have just moved underground and tunneled to find food. They would have started with roots and then moved deeper as the cold settled in … basements, sewers, etc. Enough furry bodies and you have a pretty good heat source that is self regulating. Obviously the rats here are getting desperate. They are also pretty blood thirsty which suggests to me that either they are cannibalizing their weak or that they’ve been surviving off of scavenging corpses. But they don’t appear to be desperate enough to risk the cold. And we’ve likely thinned their numbers too. The cold and lack of food, possible cannibalism, depravation by the dogs, seems like it would keep their numbers down.”
Donovan ran out of hypothetical answer and it was enough to satisfy my sometimes uncontrollable curiosity; we both turned to do what we said. It didn’t take long for Donovan to cover the small corpse with rocks and then come back inside. The puppies didn’t want to leave his coat so he just carried them around. Every once in a while they would wiggle around or stick their nose out of his collar but for the most part they stayed docile.
Once he caught up with me on the second floor he asked, “Anything?”
“Lots of stuff but no rats. Not rat poop, no rat sounds, nothing.”
“Looks like I was correct. Cold probably keeps them underground. That means that anything we find on the first and second floor should be OK. I hate to say it but I need to go back to the basement to get the other skis.”
“No you won’t.”
“Emma …,” he started.
I know he doesn’t like it when I get over protective but this time I was right. “Seriously, there is a room downstairs that has all sorts of sports equipment in it including more skis.”
“Was there a kitchen?”
“Yeah, I didn’t want to look by myself.”
“Let’s go look together then. That will be the first stuff we have to take if there is anything.”
There wasn’t much that was salvageable. The cans were all frozen and misshapen. Nothing in the frig or freezer was any good. The bottles of booze where all shattered where they had frozen. There was some staple items like salt, pepper, and sugar as well as some other seasonings. We kept looking as we explored the rest of the house but we didn’t hit pay dirt until Donovan noticed that the wall between the master bedroom and the connected master bath on the second floor didn’t match. He looked for a second and then jerked down the whole clothing rack and threw it onto the bed where I started pawing through the clothing looking for anything worth the trouble of hauling back.
“Whoever did the man’s security wasn’t real smart. I noticed it within three minutes of entering.” He then put a booted foot through the back panel of the closet to reveal a small storage area. “Well, lookie here.”
It looked a bit like a panic room only a very flimsy one. There was some closed circuit security cameras and some kind of communication devices but it was useless at this stage. There was a supply of Mountain House foods in #10 cans and some other emergency food. Also three different sized ammo cans filled with bullets. Another box revealed some of those flimsy, roll up solar chargers. Donovan stuffed the puppies back down his coat collar while he said, “Looks like the guy tried to be prepared but I don’t know, doesn’t look like much. There is a water filter but no water; I see cans but no can opener. No way to boil water to reconstitute this food either. Nothing to provide any kind of warmth or light except that lantern … which the idiot would have suffocated if he had lit it in this enclosed space even if there had been fuel for it … and that folded camp chair that looks about as comfortable as an iron maiden. The only thing good I can say of the man is that he thought of his dogs … look at that pallet of freeze dried dog kibble.”
“Easy dear … we can’t all be chief of security for a highly classified government survival bunker.”
All I got in return was a snort and a shoulder bump which was about all the comment was worth. We hauled the small stash to the top of the stairs and left it there and then tried to figure out how we were going to get the stuff home. There were things in the house that I practically lusted after but the food – human and canine – took priority.
Going through the sports gear we found a couple of large snow saucers and a good sized children’s sled. Had any other human beings seen us we would have made the cover of some Ripley’s Believe It Or Not type magazine. Donovan had the sled loaded with several cases of food from the panic room and I had some floppier bags piled onto the two saucers. The skis we tied onto the back of our packs. And I shoved a few odds and ends as well as the rolled up solar chargers into my pack. You talk about trying to get used to something … I tried to not trip as I walked – first uphill and then down – with long skis attached to my back, pulling two snow saucers tied tandem. I felt ridiculous and clumsy so I can just imagine what I looked like. But we did it.
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig. The puppies were positively fascinated with our living quarters and then promptly found a corner and piddled in it. I looked at Donovan he sighed. “Fine. I’ll take puppy duty this time.” They’ve been a lot easier to house train than I expected but the first couple of days were not fun. When it is storming and they can’t go out, they have an area of the outside cavern that they can do their business on. It is covered in astro turf we ripped out of the little house near the cave so all we have to do is roll it up and take it out and shake it off. It’s still nasty but given how much fun the puppies are and how amazing it is that they survived we aren’t going to complain.
We considered trying to go back for another load that first day but it would have been dark before we got back and neither one of us wanted to stay a night in that house. Donovan bathed the dogs while I fixed us all dinner. We had our soup straight. For the puppies I put some of the freeze dried kibble into a bowl and then dribbled some of the broth over it to rehydrate it. They didn’t know what to make of it at first; they’d obviously been used to eating fresh kills. But in no time they were wolfing the food down and then sniffing around our chair. Donovan warned me not to be tempted to feed them from the table or it might be impossible to break them of the bad habit.
The puppies wouldn’t settle down. They kept smelling and looking around. I think they were looking for their mother. Finally they were just exhausted but were still too upset and started whining and were on the border of howling when Donovan said, “Emma, where’s that blanket that I had them in inside my coat?”
He took the blanket and made them a bed in a box near the fire. They scratched at it and then curled up together. I don’t know if they ever quite went all the way to sleep. I imagine being stuck down in that basement with those monsters they learned to always been on guard.
The next morning we got up and the puppies refused to be left behind so Donovan carried them in his coat again and we got three trips made to and from the house. The last one didn’t see us home until thirty minutes after night fall and it was so cold it felt like ice crystals were forming in my brain.
“Emma, I don’t want to risk that again. We either get an earlier start or we keep our trips down to two.”
We got three trips in the next day by starting earlier and simply accepting that we’d have to take the dogs with us if we wanted to go in a timely manner; but the day after that a storm slammed into us before we could even question whether we’d be able to make another trip or not.
The next four days were spent training the dogs and adding the new stuff to our inventory. The storm broke and we went back to the house. Two more days and we had everything out of it that was remotely useful that we could haul using our eccentric form of transportation. While Donovan was looking around to see if there was any way we could transport the wood stove from the older of the two kitchens the lodge had, I stood at the big windows that overlooked what probably was the river but is currently frozen and snowed over. I blinked thinking my eyes were playing tricks on me.
“Bu … bu … bu …” I stammered.
Donovan asked me what I was yammering about and I hit him with a small decorative pillow from the window seat.
“Hey! You’re the one that is stuttering and I’m the one that gets hit?”
I pointed to the window and he looked out, did a double take and then went, “Bu .. bu …”
“Yeah, that’s what I said! Now how do we kill one?”
That rather naive comment broke Donovan from the spell he was under. He looked at me incredulously and then started laughing. I’m glad he was so amused but the truth of the matter is I knew that if the Native people had been able to do it with arrow and spear, surely we could take one down with a gun.
“Girl, I swear, with you around I’m going get a hernia from busting a gut laughing. You want me to go out and kill you a buffalo.”
A little chagrined at how blood thirsty I had been … it’s been a long time since we’d had any fresh meat … I blushed and said, “I know it sounds crazy but …”
He gave me a one armed hug indicating he was just fooling and then said, “Girl, give me a chance to think. Maybe I can get you that buffalo blanket you are wanting.”
“Forget the blanket, I want the steak.”
He laughed and then stared out the window with a serious look on his face. While he did his contemplative thing, I was wondering where they could have come from. Donovan must have heard my wheels turning because he said, “Buffalo are indigenous to the US – they’re actually bison by the way – but they don’t roam like they did in the early 1800s when over fifty million of them roamed freely all over. As a boy I used to love to watch movies about the west and how the pioneers and Native Americans lived. I was out to Yellowstone a few years back and was amazed at how many there were in the park alone. People had smaller herds all over the US, and they were used to cross-breed in some specialty cattle markets to make an animal called a ‘beefalo.’ I know for a fact, growing up, they had some buffalos at the museum over near Land Between the Lakes. These could have bred from that population or they could have been pushed east back into their former habitat by the results of Impact Day. There may be no telling for sure. How many you count?”
“I see …. Mmmm … at least four dozen.”
“Yeah. That’s what I get more or less. I suppose taking one won’t impact their breeding cycle and … what the …?”
About the time he was agreeing to hunt the big animals a herd of reindeer … I swear, it really was reindeer … walked into our line of sight. He turned around suddenly and headed into the office where all of the trophies and ribbons were and looked more closely at the pictures and pulled open a couple of the filing cabinets.
“Well I’ll be John Brown. This guy might have been an idiot when it came to survival but he had a good head for business. Check this out Emma. This wasn’t just some rich guy’s house but was a commercial hunting lodge with all the specially permitting required. Somebody had a heck of an operation here. You have the lake down below,” he said pointing to where the lake would have been if everything wasn’t frozen and snowed over. “And up here you’ve got prime hunting land. Explains more than it doesn’t. These papers show he stocked a few exotics so there had to have been a tall fence encompassing the property. Must be blown over and buried under the snow. The animals that have survived are the exotics that can make it in the bitterly cold weather … I see invoices for big horn sheep, antelope … yeah, and here’s one for buffalo … and another for mule deer and reindeer … and elk. There might be more than one reason why we haven’t seen any local game if he imported any exotic predators. We’re going to need to be more careful when we are out and about. A hungry animal is going to be a dangerous animal. The rats were proof of that.”
Hunting had to wait another day because we weren’t prepared. Only in the movies do you just go pick off a big animal like you are going to go get your hair done. We still haven’t gotten a buffalo though it is on Donovan’s list of things to do. We had enough just to do just to finish clearing the lodge of what we could. Instead of reindeer or buffalo, Donovan brought down a medium-sized elk. We smoked and dried a lot of it and froze a good bit of it too. I never realized how big those things were until I had to process one.
I vaguely understood the whole science project but without any books to follow the procedures I had to completely rely on Donovan’s experience he gained by helping his aunt and uncle. He built a smoker and dried a lot of the meat into jerky. Using an old sausage grinder I made a bunch of pounds of ground elk burger and made patties with it and then froze it outside. This was stored in the “ice room” that Donovan and I built by bringing in blocks of ice – made using clean water from the underground spring and frozen in same shape/size containers at night – and placing them in one of the smallest caverns that led off of the big storage cavern. We also cooked some of the chunks in soup bases and stews and then froze it in plastic freezer containers and these were also stored in the ice room.
The puppies went nuts for the offal and we froze what they didn’t eat immediately. This saved us having to feed them our own food supplies. Donovan and I even boiled the bones down for broth and froze that for future use as well.
The night after spending all day processing the elk Donovan and I shared an incredible elk steak. First we marinated it with olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, minced garlic, onion powder, ground ginger, and pepper. Then we grilled it over a drip pan to catch the juices and keep them from falling into our fire place and making a mess. The drippings I poured over the dogs’ kibble. As I’m sitting here writing this my mouth is watering just remembering how good it was. For once even the dogs were satisfied and didn’t come begging for scraps.
To go with the steak I made mashed potatoes, fried corn, corn meal biscuits, and I fixed a rice pudding for dessert. The dogs weren’t the only ones that went to bed with full bellies. Donovan acted like an old bear that was ready for hibernation. So much so that his belt wasn’t the only thing that loosened up after dinner. We were sitting on the sofa staring at the fire, almost too tired to go to bed, when he made that noise in his throat that is a cross between a growl and a grunt that usually comes right before he says something incredible chauvinistic and then mumbled, “A woman that can put a meal on the table like that is worth going buffalo hunting for.” He closed the statement with a snore. I came very close to driving my elbow into his full belly but then I caught myself and realized that we really have returned to a chauvinistic world.
I thought about it and I’m more and more convinced that some men used to almost fantasize with glee that the world would one day devolve into complete chaos just so that they would get their shot at living some male fantasy of what they thought their existence could be if the modern world would just stop emasculating them. I don’t think that Donovan ever had that problem. He’s always been a chauvinist pig to a certain extent – which is kind of adorable in reasonable doses now that I’ve gotten to know him better – but I wonder about some of the other men I’ve known in my life. My dad? Heck, he was always a real man in my eyes and what I measured all other men against. Mr. Epstein? Well … not exactly my cup of tea but again, he never seemed to have a problem with who he was and was always full of self confidence. On the other hand I’ve seen some of the boyfriends my former roommates had and they always struck me as either over the top and trying too hard to prove what a he-man they were or they came off really … uh, whipped to put it politely. Now whether that was their own fault or the fault of the women they choose to hang with isn’t my concern but it still drove home the fact that I owed Donovan quite a bit for my continued survival.
The next day that topic was still on my mind; enough that I would have walked into a low hanging ledge in the spring room if Donovan hadn’t grabbed my hoodie and jerked me backwards real quick.
“Girl, where is your mind? You do realize you just about knocked yourself out on that rock?” Donovan set the wind up flashlight on a handy ledge and had turned me around, tilted my chin up and was looking in my eyes like he was checking to see if I was sober or stoned.
I brushed his hand away and said, “I have a lot on my mind is all. Thanks for saving me … again … another bruise I don’t need.”
Something in my tone or comment must have caught his attention. Donovan plays at being a Neanderthal but I’m slowly learning that some of that is camouflage that hides a really sharp mind. “Hmmm. You got a problem with me saving you?”
“No. I just wish you didn’t have to do it so often. I’m beginning to wonder exactly what I bring to the table … between us I mean. I know the … the sex and all … but I mean more than that. What makes you want to stay around? Put up with the things I do that I know drive you crazy.” I shrugged lifted the buckets I had filled and put them on the yoke I used to carry the heavy buckets with.
“What’s got you worrying at that again?” I expected him to be impatient about it but he honestly seemed interested if not exactly concerned about the topic.
“Girl, when you think you can drive the oxygen out of a room. You worry more stuff to death than anyone I’ve ever met. Come on. Help me bring in some wood.”
I tried to let it go, I really did. Bringing in wood while keeping track of the pups takes a lot of energy and concentration. They naturally wanted to be outside quite a bit now that they’d discovered it but they couldn’t because of their paws. I’d asked Donovan about making coats and boots for them and that is one of those times he nearly “busted a gut.”
For a hearty lunch/dinner I made a big pot of wheat berry chili that used a couple of different kinds of beans, some of the ground elk, canned diced tomatoes, some dried corn, seasonings, and a cup of whole wheat berries to piece all of the other ingredients out even further. I made fried cornmeal cakes to go with it. I finished cleaning up the last meal of the day and poured the drippings from frying the elk over the pups’ kibble and then sat down to work on the inventories. I was determined to stop feeling sorry for myself.
I guess I had been working for about thirty minutes – work is still a balm for my troubles even if I’m doing better about keeping it under control – when Donovan came up behind me, leaned over and slowly closed my notebooks.
“What?” I asked.
“Come on. We’ve both been working all day and the fire is warm and sofa is soft.”
I didn’t want to upset him by turning down his request to snuggle so I willingly put things away and went to sit with him.
“Now isn’t this better than going blind looking at those endless lists you make?”
I smiled a small smile and said, “Of course it is but what I want isn’t always what I need. I’ll have to work on those inventories tomorrow instead of finishing them tonight.”
“You’ll have time enough. There’s another storm brewing from the feel of the wind when I brought in that last load of wood. But what I want tonight is to know what you meant this morning. And don’t give me that look, you know exactly what I’m asking about.”
“Donovan, it isn’t …”
“Don’t even start. You’ve got a permanent line between your eyebrows. It gets deeper every time you start worrying at something. Now out with it. I can’t fix it if I don’t know what it is.”
That hit a nerve. “That’s just it Donovan, I’m tired of you constantly having to fix things. I fall down in the snow and can’t get up without your help. I fall off a bridge and you have to run and save me. Stupid rats nearly chew my leg off and you get attacked trying to save me. I can’t carry my share of the wood. I didn’t even know what to do with that elk even though I’m the one that instigated the hunt to begin with. And all of that is just in the last couple of days.”
“Are you keeping track or something? And what do you mean instigated …”
“I know I sound like a whiney brat. I’m just tired of feeling useless … being useless. I wasn’t like this before. I worked my rear off to pay my own way. Even in the bunker I did my best to pay my own way without compromising who I was any more than I could help. Now look at me. I’d be dead so many times over if it wasn’t for you.”
“And you resent that?”
“Yes … no … argh! That’s not what I mean.”
“Then what do you mean?”
“I mean I want to save you right back!”
My energy level was kicking way up and I had a bad case of the fidgets. I tried to get off the sofa and walk it off only to have Donovan grab me from behind and drag me onto his lap. “Girl, you save me a little bit every day, every morning when we wake up together, with every idea I come up with to try and make things better for us, every time I come close to getting too serious and you say something outrageous whether you mean to or not. You save me every time you look at me with those big beautiful eyes like I mean something besides a warm body that will put up with your cold feet at night.”
“I do not have cold feet … or I wouldn’t if you wouldn’t hog the covers. And what does that have to do with anything anyway?” I tried to wiggle off and he only held me closer.
“You are worse at wiggling than those puppies are. Your energy amazes me Emma. You throw yourself into everything with a confidence that drives me crazy. You are willing to try just about everything even when you know you failed at it the other times. When you fell off that bridge my heart nearly leapt out of my chest. Look at me, I don’t do the romantic thing Emma, you know that … but if I did, I’d want to do it for you. You make me feel needed, wanted, like I matter … not just my muscles but me. I can’t say for other men Emma, but that’s what I’ve been missing. It’s why my marriage failed. She didn’t need me, no matter what she said in the beginning.”
“Oh Donovan … you are important to me. I just worry …”
“There’s that word again,” Donovan interrupted.
“Yeah, I know, it’s just … what happens when I no longer make you feel like you matter but like I’m a burden? The Major or Capt. Chandler would never have …”
“Nope, they wouldn’t have. In fact, they nearly left me to the best end they could imagine for me. You didn’t. You wouldn’t even in the face of everyone else’s objections. I can’t pretend that I understood it then – have a hard enough time just accepting it even now – but … but I’m glad you did Girl. Life, even under our current circumstances, is definitely worth living in a way I’m still learning to appreciate. Just stay with me Emma. Don’t turn away. Don’t create a problem that doesn’t exist. I can’t pretend to know what the future holds, but whatever it is, I know with you in it it will continue to be worth living.”
And he claims he isn’t romantic. Honestly … men.