At the time, taking the precarious drop down the backside of the mountain had sounded like a good idea. An avid skier, Lena had spent many a summer on the slopes that unravelled from the doorstep of her family’s ski resort - just one of many in their hotel chain - and even the black diamond trail had lost its appeal, no longer a challenge for her.
After a couple of days taking the familiar path down the mountain, only to be brought back up on the chairlift and repeat it once more, Lena had gotten it into her mind to go off-trail. She was a good skier, swift and agile, flying over the snow with the practised ease of someone who spent every Christmas of her childhood vacationing at various ski resorts across the globe. Surely she could navigate her own path down the mountain.
Her first mistake had been deciding to go down the complete opposite side of the mountain, away from the slopes filled with families on vacation, excitable children playing in the snow at the top of the slopes, behind the sprawling lodge where the backside of the mountain ran down in craggy snow-covered juts. Perhaps she should’ve taken a moment to consider the black jagged rock poking through the snow at random intervals, but she didn’t. Instead, skis strapped to her feet, poles clutched in hand and adrenaline coursing through her, Lena skimmed the tamped down snow to the cusp of the decline and threw herself down the mountain with reckless abandon.
That’s not to say that it didn’t go well, at first. She didn’t fall the whole way down the mountain - only a small portion of it. Cutting side to side in an easy zig-zag, around coniferous trees with green needles capped in mounds of snow, dodging nefarious looking lumps that loomed before her as she picked up speed, the wind biting her cheeks and feeling like fire as it burned down her throat.
Her stomach dropped with the thrill of each dip and her heart pounded in her chest, thinking about how much fun it was to be taking on the mountain without the familiar worn tracks of the crowded slopes. No shouts of joy interrupted her peaceful solitude as she navigated through the increasingly thickening forest, the challenge growing more precarious with each passing moment as the slope grew steeper.
In a sudden, nearly vertical drop, Lena hit a rock that was so buried in snow that the small lump was indistinguishable from the pristine whiteness of the rest of the mountain, ski getting stuck and unclipping from her boot as she was launched head over heels. Lena fell face-first into the snow, before momentum got ahold of her and coupled with gravity, falling and falling, until the steep slope started to even out.
The lonely ski fell with her, and as she slammed heavily into the hard-packed ground, a low groan slipping from her lips, the ski landed just behind her, stuck in the ground. Blinking back the dizzying black spots that flickered across her vision, Lena slowly wriggled her fingers and pushed herself upright, her body protesting at the movement. Nothing felt broken, but she was definitely going to be sore tomorrow.
Clambering to her feet, Lena collapsed back to the ground as a white-hot needle of pain stabbed into her right ankle, leaving her sprawled out in the snow as her face twisted with a grimace. Breathless and flushed, she heaved herself up again and gingerly managed to get her poles securely in the ground to help push her to her feet, before she hesitantly tried to put her weight on her right foot again. It protested at the slightest pressure and Lena softly swore, her breath pluming before her.
It suddenly occurred to Lena that she was stuck a few hundred metres from the base of the mountain with a twisted ankle, no phone or way of contacting help, and no possible way of going back up. There was a town at the bottom of the mountain - she knew that much - and it was with a plummeting stomach that she realised that the only way to go was down. Even with her bad ankle. It wasn’t like she could stay on the mountain all night, on the slim chances that someone from the hotel realised she was missing and sent out a search party. She’d be frozen solid, encased in her Chanel ski gear and still clutching the ski poles, before they managed to find her. The sudden mental image was enough to motivate her to move.
Strapping her ski back to her bad foot, with the knowledge that she’d just have to grit her teeth and deal with the spike of pain if she wanted to get off the mountain, Lena resolutely readied herself for a wobbly descent, potentially rife with further falls and perhaps even frostbite. And then she saw it. Just barely. A thin finger of smoke that was almost like a haze against the blinding brightness of the white sky, and her hopes were buoyed for a brief moment.
Sharp eyes surveying the landscape, she determined that wherever the smoke was coming from was closer than the town clustered around the base of the mountain. Perhaps she could find help there and wait out her rescue, as opposed to adding further bruises to her wounded ego and failed attempt of a challenge.
A determined set to her jaw, Lena propelled herself forward, swallowing the cry of pain that worked its way up her throat, and cut an angle across the gentle slope, aiming for her left. Winding through the still forest of trees, she clumsily dragged her skis through the snow, silently praying that she was heading in the right direction, until she was rewarded with the faint smell of smoke carried on a strong gust of wind.
It took her the better part of an hour to shuffle her way through the woods, taking the gentle decline towards the source, until she eventually stumbled upon a sturdy cabin set onto the side of the mountain. One end was right up against the rocky side of the cliff, and the opposite end stood on thick pillars of wood where the mountain continued its slope down, before it fell to empty air a few feet from where the cabin ended. Just the sight of it wedged between the sheer cliff-face and another drop was enough to fill Lena was unbridled fear, wondering how someone could live with a twenty-foot drop just outside their home.
Still, it was a home nonetheless, and Lena wasn’t picky about who her rescuer was - if they chose to help, that was. Tired and sore, she pushed herself onwards, fuelled by some renewed motivation to make it to the cabin, the snow-capped, shingled roof, coupled with the redwood planks, making it look like a gingerbread house.
“Hello?” Lena called out as she drew nearer, her breath misting before her as she shuffled forward on her skis, trying not to put pressure on her right ankle.
It made for an awkward and arduous process, using her poles to try and slide herself along the blanket of undisturbed snow as she made for the foot of the wood stairs leading up to the door of the snow-capped cabin. Sweating beneath her layers, her breathing slightly laboured, Lena leant against the railing of the staircase and exhaled forcefully with a cloud of white.
“Hello? Is anyone in there? Hello? Help.”
Stomach plummeting with disappointment, Lena slumped, exhaustion washing over her as she turned to look out at the expanse of pristine whiteness shining brightly in the pale, wintry sunlight. The only things in sight were craggy glimpses of rocks and skeletal trees or coniferous firs poking up through the tamped down layer of snow. Even if she could spot a town through the sloping forest crowding the mountain, Lena wasn’t sure she’d be able to make it the rest of the way down; it had been bad enough following the tendril of smoke to the cabin.
Muttering and swearing under her breath, Lena angrily stabbed the snow with a ski pole out of frustration, before parking herself on the soggy bottom step, legs awkwardly splayed out before her, and resigned herself to waiting for the owner to make an appearance. Someone had to be nearby, what with the clear signs of a fire burning inside, filling the air with the faint tang of woodsmoke, and she’d even take an axe murdering old man at that moment, as long as he invited her inside for a few minutes to rest.
Now that she wasn’t moving, generating her own body heat as she navigated the treacherous slopes, Lena found a chill seeping into her bones. Teeth quietly chattering and the occasional shiver wracking her shoulders, she glumly waited outside the cabin as a cold wind swept through the silent forest, bare trees ominously creaking and groaning.
Ice cold uneasiness ran down Lena’s spine and she suddenly found herself unwilling to linger any longer. Whoever lived in the cabin clearly wasn’t home, and while she wasn’t above breaking and entering, the thought of being caught on the slopes of the mountain after dark was unappealing.
Hauling herself to her feet with the help of her poles, Lena bit back a groan as her ankle protested, and started her graceless shuffle across the snow, carving a trail in her wake as she inched towards the gentle beginnings of the next slope down the mountain with the intention of giving in to gravity. She barely made it a few metres before a loud bark shattered the hushed stillness of the forest.
A jolt of alarm ran through Lena’s body as it snapped to attention, shoulders taut and heart pounding in her chest as her head whipped around. Eyes wild with panic, she spotted a large mass of fur hurtling towards her in an indistinguishable blur. A choked scream worked its way up her throat as she tried to shuffle backwards, burning her throat with the efforts and just managing to escape her parted lips, when she was cut off by a heavy mass slamming into her chest and bowling her over backwards.
Slamming into hard-packed snow, Lena blinked back the dizzying black spots that burst across her field of vision and let out a croak of indignation as something hot and wet swiped across her exposed cheek. The odour of wet fur filled her nose as she struggled in the snow, churning it around her as she tried to push herself upright, skis popping free with the effort, and heard a piercing whistle and a shout, before she was freed from the snuffling beast on top of her.
“Krypto. Down boy,” a woman called out.
The sound of wood striking wood was audible as Lena pushed her ski mask up off her eyes, a scowl creasing her brow. A wet nose gently pushed into her cheek and a loud bark made her stiffen on the ground, unease prickling her spine as she stared into the drooling, open mouth of what could easily be mistaken for a bear, given the sheer size of it.
“Hey,” came a scolding command as the voice grew nearer, slightly laboured from wherever they’d trekked from. “Krypto! Here!”
The dog bounded away with a spray of snow, leaving Lena spluttering with indignation on a mouthful of ice as she tried to push herself up. She was aware of footsteps crunching through the crisp layer of ice on top of the blanket of snow and peered up at the silhouette looming over her, blocking out the weak sunlight, features hidden in shadow.
“Oh, God, I’m sorry. He’s friendly, really. Just a bit excitable.”
The babbling washed over Lena as she lay spread-eagle on the ground, skis abandoned by her feet and poles still clutched tightly in her hands. Blinking rapidly as she tried to focus on the woman above her, she felt relief sweep through her body. It could only have been the owner of the cabin, and her whole body went slack with the knowledge that there was someone she could ask for help.
“What is that? A fucking bear?” Lena breathlessly gasped.
“Here, let me help you up.”
A hand was thrust down towards her and Lena let one of the ski poles drop from her hand so that she could reach out and take the gloved hand. With a great heave, the woman yanked her to her feet and as Lena came down heavily on her right foot, it buckled beneath her weight, a mewling cry of pain working its way past her lips.
Hands darted out to steady her, even as she reached out to grab the woman in a desperate bid to not collapse back onto the cold, hard ground, and Lena felt her wind-bitten cheeks flood with heat as she finally got a good look at the woman.
She’d been expecting someone older, a weathered, hardy sort who maybe hunted or hauled felled trees through the snowy landscape. Instead, she looked into a youthful, kind face, unlined and soft, and was struck with a sense of bewilderment. The woman could barely be older than her, and Lena was left with the burning question of what she was doing in the middle of nowhere.
“Oh, shit . Did he hurt you?”
Lena wobbled in the woman’s grip as the mass of fur nudged up against her for attention, and she glanced down, finding herself staring into a pair of dark, liquid eyes. Shying away from the dog, Lena winced as her ankle protested.
“Out of the way, you big goofball,” the woman ordered, a smile in her voice as she nudged the dog away from her, before she looked back at Lena, who watched as the dog bounded off, leaping through the snow and snatching at snowflakes. “Sorry. He forgets how big he is and-”
“I twisted it skiing,” Lena cut her off, giving her a sheepish smile as she shrugged. “It wasn’t your … bear.”
With an air of relief, the woman laughed, flashing Lena a quick smile, “he’s a Leonberger. A mountain dog. I guess he’s a bit … big.”
“Sorry to trouble you, I just- I’m a bit lost. I was hoping you could call for help for me.”
“Oh, yeah, sure! No problem at all. Do you want to come inside? It’s getting a bit cold.”
Body going slack, Lena gave her a tired smile and nodded, “that would be great. Thank you so much.”
Waving a hand dismissively, the woman brushed few flakes of bark from the front of her puffy coat and tucked a lock of blonde hair behind her ear as she eyed Lena with pursed lips. Humming with a perturbed expression on her face, her mouth turned down at the corners into a slight grimace, and her blue eyes darted up to meet Lena’s stare.
“Do you think you can manage to get up the stairs?”
“Yeah, I should be fine, but my skis-”
“I’ve got them,” the woman firmly assured her, smiling as she eased the ski pole Lena had kept ahold of out of her hand, before reaching down to scoop up the other.
Fetching both skis, and abandoning the collection of branches and small logs that she’d been carrying - the source of the sound Lena had heard - the woman balanced it all onto her shoulder and sharply whistled for the dog. It raced towards her, tongue lolling, and bounded up the short staircase in two giant leaps, leaving Lena to grip the railing and hop up a step.
The woman let out a quiet snort of laughter, before her arm wrapped around Lena’s waist, and she peered down at her with a sympathetic look. “Lean on me - it’ll help.”
Silently accepting the help, Lena held onto her shoulder and let her bear the brunt of her weight as she hopped up the stairs, step by step, before they reached the top. The massive dog sniffed at her coat as the woman fished a key out of her pocket, softly chiding him as she nudged him aside and unlocked the door.
The dog rushed inside and settled down before a blazing wood stove set in one corner, the cherry red embers visible through the grate, and Lena relinquished her hold on the woman to gingerly step inside, leaving her to bring the ski gear inside.
It was sweltering hot inside and Lena lingered in the open space of the cabin as she watched the woman shut the door and lean the equipment against the wall. Removing her helmet and beanie, Lena ran a hand over her face, feeling frazzled and flushed.
“You can take a seat on the sofa if you like,” the woman said, reaching for Lena’s helmet and setting it down on a sturdy wooden table.
Nodding in compliance, Lena slowly eased her way towards the worn leather sofa set before the fire, breathing in the comforting aroma of the fire, smokey and smelling faintly of pine, and she unzipped her coat and shed her gloves, shivering slightly with pleasure. The dog eyed her with a doe-eyed look of hopefulness from where it lay.
Glancing around the cabin, Lena took in the sparse furnishings, the reds and greens of Christmas decorations and the touches of homeliness, intrigued by the woman in the woods. Mostly everything was constructed from wood, from the creaky floorboards, the thick walls and the shingled ceiling. It was draughty too, the rafters leading straight up to the peaked roof, and she was glad for the fire, imagining how cold the nights must get.
A stack of wood sat in a wicker basket beside the stove fire and she eyed the bookshelf bursting with books and puzzles and board games with a faint feeling of sorrow in regards to the latter, safe in her assumption that the woman lived there alone as she turned to watch the woman hang her coat upon an empty hook, no bulky man’s coats hanging beside it.
“So, I didn’t catch your name,” the woman said, kicking off her boots beside the door and padding over to Lena.
She wore thick socks patterned with Christmas trees and it was so absurd to Lena that she had to swallow a laugh as she watched her host take a seat in a wide armchair, sinking into the soft cushion with a serene expression on her face.
Kara reached across the gap separating their seats to extend a hand, her grip calloused and warm as it enveloped Lena’s pale, slender hand. She didn’t want to let go as she took in her purple nails and the tremor in her hands as she leached the warmth from Kara’s grip, but she did a moment later with a pang of regret. Curling her hand into a fist, Lena sat rigidly on the sofa and eyed the woman.
“So … what possessed you to come down the mountain this way? It’s hardly fit for skiing.”
“I see that,” Lena replied with a wry smile, her ankle throbbing in her boot. “I guess you could say it was a, ah, sense of … adventure? Pride? I don’t know. I thought the black diamond slope was a little too easy and was trying to challenge myself. A hidden boulder and a sharp drop and … well, here I am.”
Wincing slightly, Kara gave her a grim look of sympathy and gestured towards her, “want me to take a look at it? It might need some ice on it if it’s swollen.”
Pressing her lips together for a moment as she contemplated the offer, Lena finally let out a soft sigh and shrugged in defeat. “Sure.”
Unlacing her boot, she pulled her sock off and glanced at Kara, who moved to kneel before her, cupping her foot in her warm grasp as she handled her like glass. With gentle, probing touches, she inspected the swollen ankle and gave Lena an apologetic look as she elicited a sharp hiss of pain by pressing a little too hard at one point.
“I don’t think it’s broken,” Kara informed her, gently lowering her foot, “but you definitely need to keep it elevated and iced. It’s already starting to swell, and you might have a nasty bruise tomorrow.”
“Perfect,” Lena heavily sighed.
“I’ll be right back; you put your feet up.”
Unlacing her other boot, Lena followed her advice and stretched her legs out before her on the sofa, feeling her muscles relax as she leaned back against the cushions. As an afterthought, she glanced over the back of the sofa and watched Kara move towards the small kitchen, with its row of cupboards and old gas stove, and gently bit her lip.
“Hey, just checking but … you’re not an axe murderer are you?”
Letting out a loud, light-hearted laugh, Kara glanced back over her shoulder and raised her eyebrows as she leant down and opened the door to the freezer. Stooping to pull out a bag of peas, she slammed the door shut and grabbed a clean dish towel from a drawer and wrapped the frozen vegetables inside.
“Well, seeing as I’m all you have, does it really matter?”
Face softening with faint amusement, Lena shrugged indifferently, “not really. I’d like to at least be able to prepare myself for it, though. I’m not a big fan of surprises.”
“Rest assured that although I do own a nice, big axe, it’s never chopped anything other than firewood. So, you’re safe with me.”
She pressed the makeshift ice pack into Lena’s hand and nudged her glasses up her nose, before giving her a warm smile, eyes crinkling at the corners in an endearing fashion. “Rest up and I’ll try and get ahold of someone up at the resort. I’m assuming that’s where you’re staying?”
At Lena’s nod, Kara gave her a small smile and turned to go in search of a satellite phone or a radio transmitter, or whatever else Lena imagined she used to get reception from the slopes of a mountain. Reclining on the sofa, Lena listened to the other woman shuffle about the place as a quiet rumble sounded in the background, a repetitive soothing sound that was almost peaceful as Lena warmed herself by the fire, the wrapped bag of peas numbing the throbbing ache in her ankle.
Feeling less anxious, Lena allowed herself to relax, lulled by the rumbling and the crackling and popping of the fire as the sprawled out bear of a dog quietly panted. Eyes closing, Lena breathed slowly, feeling a calmness wash over her as she fell into a sort of stupor. It was a few moments later that she realised that the rumbling had grown louder, and was getting louder still.
As Kara returned with a bulky brick of a radio in hand, Lena gave her a perplexed look. “Can you hear that? That rumbling sound. It sounds like it’s getting … louder.”
Cocking her head to the side, Kara listened intently as they both descended into silence, listening to the sound.
“I might’ve left the dryer on,” Kara slowly said, a crease forming between her eyebrows as her eyes strayed towards a closed door that Lena assumed was the laundry room. “Let me-”
As she spoke, a faint tremor ran through the cabin, rattling the windows and anything that wasn’t firmly planted to the ground. Pausing, they listening as the rumble turned into a roar and the whole cabin seemed to shake, cutlery rattling in the drawers, the logs rolling off the neat pile in the basket beside the fire, books and board games leaping from the sturdy shelves. Lena could even feel it through the sofa as it shuddered against the thick wooden floorboards.
“Shit,” Kara swore, her eyes wide with panic.
“What is it?” Lena asked, bolting upright and swivelling until her feet were pressed to the woven rug set before the sofa.
“An avalanche. Get away from the windows! Krypto, here boy.”
Mouth opening and closing with disbelief, Lena unsteadily rose to her feet, putting all of her weight on her left foot as she turned towards the windows. The rattling was intensifying, almost like an earthquake, and she felt the blood drain from her face with the realisation that Kara was right. Standing there, she was frozen as Krypto leapt towards his owner, and it wasn’t until Kara pulled on Lena’s arm that she broke out of her daze.
Hobbling, she let out a cry of pain, and Kara quickly swept her legs out from under her, lifting her with the ease of someone with muscles formed from carrying heavy loads, and Lena’s cry trailed off into spluttered surprise. Carrying her towards another door, Kara nudged it open with her foot and stepped over the threshold with Lena in her arms like a bride, the smell of wood shavings and pine filling the air, before Lena found herself deposited on a stool.
“Sorry about that,” Kara brusquely apologised, “it’s just better to be safe than sorry.”
Feeling slightly faint with fear, Lena shivered in the vast room, cold seeping from every direction, and listened to the approaching rumbling, growing so loud that it was starting to sound like thunder. She’d never been caught in an avalanche before, and the thought of being caught outside made her stomach plummet, fear knotting her insides at the idea of being trapped beneath the heavy weight of a tonne of snow, suffocating as her body froze from the cold.
“So, what now?”
“Oh, well, this happens maybe once a year for me, so if it hits us, we’re stocked enough to hole up in here for at least a month.”
Eyebrows shooting up, Lena’s mouth fell open as her heart seized with panic. “Wait, what? We’re going to be trapped? Trapped in here? For a month? I can’t get trapped here!”
Giving her a soft smile, Kara reached out to squeeze her shoulder, although Lena saw the slight wince as the thundering sound of the landslide of snow grew closer with each passing second, planks or wood shuddering against each other and tools leaping from the wall of pegs, saws and hammers clattering against the floor in a cacophony.
“The longest I’ve ever been snowed in was a week, if that makes you feel any better,” Kara apologetically replied, “I’m just prepared for the worst. If it’s heading right towards us, we’ll probably be snowed in for a day at least. The cabin’s sturdy though, so it won’t tip us over the ledge.”
Throat constricting, Lena let out a high-pitched, strangled laugh, giving Kara an incredulous look of mystification. “Oh, well that’s a relief! I was actually just thinking about the worst-case scenario, so thank you for adding that to the top of my list!”
Suddenly, the comfort of the cabin on the slopes of the mountain didn’t seem quite as safe as she’d imagined. The worrying thought that the thick walls and shingled roof were nothing more than a flimsy barrier against the roiling mass of snow sliding downhill towards them made Lena’s stomach twist with nausea, her breathing shallow in her chest as panic set in.
Distracting herself from her thoughts and the increasingly louder sounds outside, she looked around the vast room and realised it was a workshop. Windowless and wide, it must’ve slightly jutted into the rockbed of the mountain, given the fact that the cabin definitely wasn’t big enough outside to be hiding it. Dotted around the place were what looked like soon-to-be tables with only three carved legs, a rocking chair waiting to be varnished, a dresser without drawers and a dozen other half-finished carpentry projects.
Lengths of unnamable planks of wood were stacked and shelved, some red and some green, honeyed or marbled and mingling with a slightly sweet tang in the air. Long curls of shavings littered the floor and machinery were strewn throughout the place with reckless abandon. Lena was surprised by the sight and glanced back towards Kara with renewed interest.
“Did you … make all of these?” she hesitantly asked.
Looking a bit peaky herself, Kara gave Lena a wan smile and ran her hands over her thighs as Krypto nuzzled against her waist. “Yeah.”
“Oh. That’s … really cool.”
And then they both fell into a hushed silence, bodies tensing and hearts pounding as the sound boiled to a roaring, all-consuming sound that blocked out anything else. Lena felt as if her ears had popped, or had been stuffed with cotton wool, the sound seeming far away, yet so close. The floor trembled beneath the stool, which trembled beneath her, and she squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the roof to collapse in on them, for the cabin to be swept away on a tide of snow and debris.
And then it quieted and stilled, and Lena opened her eyes to find Kara white-knuckled and round-eyed, listening for something. Neither of them moved, and even the dog was still, ears pricked with alertness, and then Kara breathed out slowly, seeming to deflate slightly as the tension bled out of her.
“Okay, it’s passed. You stay here while I check on the place. Make sure there’s no broken windows or anything like that.”
Eager to obey, yet finding herself mildly concerned for the stranger’s safety, Lena gave her a hesitant nod, knowing that she’d only be a hindrance if she tried to accompany her. With some agitation, she stayed put as she watched Kara venture out of the workshop and into the rest of the house, each creak of a floorboard or sound of something precariously balanced giving into gravity, Lena jumped and had to bite back the urge to call out and see if Kara was okay.
Despite her reservations about the hulking mass of fur, she was somewhat glad for the company as Krypto shuffled to the side of her stool and sat to attention like her personal guard dog. With trepidation, Lena even steeled herself enough to dip her fingers into the soft, fluffy fur at the back of the dog’s neck, relaxing slightly as his tail thumped heavily against the legs of the workbench she was seated at.
After a few minutes of weighted silence, she couldn’t keep quiet any longer, feeling the anticipation and tension heavy in the air as she waited for Kara to return. Biting back an impatient sigh, Lena cleared her throat in an attempt to ensure her voice didn’t come out wavering and squeaky out of nervousness.
“Is everything okay out there?”
“Yeah,” came the distant reply, steadily growing louder as Kara made her way back towards her, “nothing’s broken. Gas and water are still on, and the generator’s still running. Signal’s out though - it must’ve moved the antenna.”
“So we can get out?”
“Ah, well, that’s the thing,” Kara said, appearing in the doorway, shifting from foot to foot in a sheepish manner as she gave Lena a grim smile, “the door’s blocked.”
Blinking slowly, Lena let the sentence hang heavily in the air, before giving Kara a blank stare. “Blocked? What do you mean it’s blocked? Blocked by what?”
Spreading her hands in a helpless manner, Kara shrugged nonchalantly, “with … snow. You know … from the avalanche.”
“So we are trapped?”
“For now, yes. But, listen, it’s been a pretty warm winter, there’s no storm about. We’ll be out of here in days, as long as it doesn’t freeze solid.”
Spirits sinking, Lena’s chest cave as her shoulders stooped into a hunch, defeated and tired, and she ran a hand over her face as she sighed heavily. “So, now what?”
“It looks like you’re stuck with me. Like I said, I’ve got a whole bunch of supplies set aside for this reason. Plenty of water and firewood. We just have to wait it out.”
“But … that could take weeks . You did say that, right? That you’ve been stuck for weeks before? I can’t stay here for weeks. Christmas is in two days!”
With a quiet snort of laughter, Kara’s eyebrows rose and fell quickly in a mildly amused look of surprise at Lena’s tone. “Got somewhere to be?”
Making a low sound of irritation at the back of her throat, Lena ground her teeth together as she brooded, arms crossed over her chest. “Yes,” she snippily replied, “actually, I do. I’m supposed to be in the Swiss Alps on Monday.”
“Oh, you’re on a skiing vacation, huh? Might want to stick to the black diamond slopes next time. That way you won’t have to deal with the inconvenience of imposing on someone else after an avalanche.”
Lena at least had the gall to look ashamed, a red flush creeping her neck as she turned away from Kara, snatching her hand away from Krypto as his wet nose pushed against her fingers. She heard the sound of retreating footsteps as she was left alone to wallow in her unfortunate circumstances, and try and let go of some of her prickly pride as she realised that she was unjustly taking her frustration out on someone who had been all too willing to invite her into her home and to share her supplies with Lena in the wake of the avalanche.
She was behaving like a spoiled child, petulant and uptight, and she focused on trying to abate her annoyance so that she could apologise to the stranger whose house she would apparently be occupying for the unforeseeable future. As she turned on the stool and slid off it, right foot lifted from the floor like a flamingo, Lena paused at the sight of the woman appearing in the doorway with a grim smile on her face. It seemed like she was incapable of not smiling, even in the face of rudeness and natural disasters, and Lena felt even more cowed.
Ducking her head so that her dishevelled hair fell in a curtain around her face, Lena fiddled with her fingers. “Sorry. I’m being very selfish and rude. I just- well, I don’t even know you. I feel awful for putting you in this position, but I understand that it’s not your fault and I shouldn’t take it out on you.”
“Hm,” Kara hummed as she stepped into the room, a faint smile curling her lips as she gave Lena a crinkly-eyed look of warmth, “you’re good at apologies. Do you have to give them often?”
“No,” Lena quietly scoffed, some of her icy demeanour thawing. “Quite the opposite actually.”
“Then I’ll count myself lucky to be on the receiving end of one. Now, come on. You need to get those peas back on that ankle before it swells even more.”
She moved towards Lena, who meekly accepted her help, and they hobbled out of the chilly workshop and into the oppressive warmth of the living quarters. Lena breathed in a hot lungful of smoke-laced air, feeling the heat from the fire prickle over her skin as it banished the cold, and she sank onto the sofa with merciful gratitude, swinging her legs up and pressing the bags of peas to her ankle.
Kara disappeared for a few minutes, pottering about in the kitchen as she banged and clanged and slammed cupboards and drawers. Lena assumed she was righting the disturbed contents of her kitchen, setting chopping boards back on the rack and knives back in the holder, and she felt her mind drifting as she stared up at the exposed beams. It was soothing, being inside the cabin, and different to the luxurious rooms up at the lodge. Although she vacationed at the resort to retreat away from the city, it was by no means rustic, and Lena found that she rather liked the homeliness of the cabin.
Warm and resting, she felt a bone-deep weariness wash over her as her eyes slipped closed, the urge to sleep nagging at the edges of her mind, and Lena was on the verge of giving in when she heard footsteps pad towards her. Cracking open one eyelid, she turned her head as Kara stopped beside her and held out a mug. Shifting further up in her seat, Lena blinked in surprise and reached out to take the mug, her brow creasing with bewildered surprise.
“It’s hot chocolate. I took a guess and figured that everyone likes marshmallow and whipped cream.”
“Thank you,” Lena murmured, taking the cup and wrapping her hands tightly around it as the warmth seeped into her extremities.
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had hot chocolate - surely not since she was a child - but she took a wary sip despite herself and smiled slightly at the richness of the chocolate. It was exactly what she needed and she sighed contentedly as she leant back against the pillows, turning her head to watch as Kara took a seat in the old armchair she’d previously occupied.
“So … you live here alone?”
“Mhm,” Kara mumbled around the rim of her mug, wiping a line of cream from her upper lip and smiling as she swallowed. “For two years now.”
Kara let out a quiet chuckle at the bluntness of the question, her nose scrunching slightly, and she shrugged with an air of embarrassment as she rubbed the back of her neck. “I like it. I know it’s- it’s lonely. Isolated. Cold. But … I guess I was sick of life. This place was a retreat before, you know. It comes with a Christmas tree farm just near the base of the mountain, and they offered a homestay. I came for the winter, three years ago now, and I chopped down the trees for people to buy, I learned how to make tables and chairs in the workshop, how to hand carve bowls and spoons and all sorts. I woke when I wanted to, I went into town when I felt like socialising, and I snowboarded in my spare time. It was … perfect. So, when I tried to come again the next year, I found the cabin and the land and the farm up for sale and I put an offer in without even thinking about it.”
“That easy, huh?”
Spreading her hands in a helpless manner, Kara smiled softly, “it was the first time I’d ever done something for myself. For my own peace of mind. My family thought I was crazy, tried to talk me out of it, but I just- I felt so rooted here. So close to nature and myself - the person I wanted to be. In the warmer months I plant the trees on the farm. I hike up the mountain and sell my furniture. It’s … nice. I have Krypto to keep me company now, too. I don’t need much else.”
“Don’t you get lonely?”
Kara’s face split into a wide smile, an impish look on her face as she nudged her glasses further up her nose and took another sip of her drink, prompting Lena to take another sip of her own, savouring the sweetness as it coated her tongue.
“Sure. Sometimes. I made a few friends down in the town, but I go home a few times a year. Catch up with my sister, visit my mom and college buddies. You know. It’s always a nice break, but it’s … too much. The city life doesn’t agree with me anymore.”
“How old are you, Kara?”
“Isn’t that a little young to become a recluse?”
With a soft laugh, Kara’s cheeks dimpled as her shoulders rose and fell in a weary manner, “I just- okay, don’t get me wrong, technology is great - that’s not my problem - but all these influencers and YouTubers that are somehow celebrities just … grates on me. Before this, I was interning at a fashion magazine and it was all just shallow and vapid and I couldn’t do it anymore. You can be the most awful person, and become famous for it, and it’s just … how? I don’t want to live somewhere where that’s normal. I’d rather become a recluse before my time, if those are my options.”
Eyebrows rising slightly, Lena shrugged and took another sip of hot chocolate, feeling rejuvenated by the warmth pooling in her stomach and the sugar seeping into her bloodstream. She felt surprisingly calm, given everything that had happened, feeding off of Kara’s mellow, unbothered energy, and she almost entirely forgot that they were barricaded inside by a landslide of snow and debris. If it wasn’t for that, she imagined she would’ve content to stay there in the cabin in the woods forever.
“And what about you? What do you do? How old are you?”
“Twenty-six. I … travel a lot. My family is in business.”
The lie came out so easily that Lena almost didn’t acknowledge it for what it was. It was, in a sense, the truth, but it didn’t answer what Kara was asking. She travelled, yes, but as the wealthy heiress to the most prestigious hotel chain in the world, it wasn’t exactly work, so much as a string of vacations or flightful interests that caught Lena’s fancy. There was that year in France where she learnt how to make wine, six months in Greece learning ancient history, or a six-week retreat to a Tibetan monastery for meditation and mindfulness.
“Oh, cool. I bet that’s fun.”
“So, is that why you’re here? For business?”
With a dour look of mournfulness, Lena slumped against the cushions, thinking about her king size bed in her suite, about the five-course dinner she could be having in her rooms, the bathtub that was almost the size of a swimming pool, steaming with flower petals scenting the water. It was definitely not for business, and she wished she was back in her suite now, wrapped up in a monogrammed bathrobe, instead of her sweaty cashmere with an elevated, swollen ankle.
“Well, we’ll have you back to your vacation in no time! I’m sure of it.”
Lena didn’t reply as she brooded over her hot chocolate, absentmindedly sipping until she found the cup empty, and then brooded some more over the fact that it was all gone. Sensing that she wasn’t in the mood for idle chit-chat, Kara was quiet, enjoying her own drink and then climbing to her feet and leaving her be. Grateful for her intuitiveness, Lena sank down and stretched out fully on the sofa, her left side warm from the wall of heat radiating from the fire, while her right felt strangely cold, almost empty, even though she wasn’t necessarily cold.
She must’ve fallen into a stupor, halfway between sleep and consciousness, her field of vision blurring but her eyes not quite closing, because the next thing Lena knew was that callused hand that she craved the warmth of was thrust before her, two white pills nestled in the palm of it, while another held a glass of water.
Blinking back her surprise, Lena pushed herself up into a sitting position and roughly cleared her throat, her eyebrows furrowing together as she brought herself out of her daze. Glancing at the pills, she hesitated and her eyes darted up to Kara, who was giving her a placid look of patience.
“What are they?” Lena cautiously asked.
With a quiet laugh, Kara extended her hand further. “Tylenol. For your ankle. Don’t worry; if I wanted to drug you, I would’ve put it in the hot chocolate to mask the taste.”
Lena’s eyes went wide as a jolt of panic ran through her, her whole body tensing in response, and Kara’s face mirrored her expression of shock, lips parting and cheeks flushing pink.
“No, that’s not- I didn’t , obviously, but like … logically speaking- well, anyway, it’s just plain Tylenol. I just figured that you probably have a few other bumps and bruises too and it might help- you don’t have to take them, of course. But, well, they’re here - or I can bring you the sealed packet-”
If only to derail her nervous babbling, Lena reached out and took the pills from her hand, swallowing them try and then taking the glass of water. Truthfully, she had a banging headache and her whole body felt sore, whether from her tumble down the mountain or the efforts of skiing, and at that point, she couldn’t bring herself to care if Kara was trying to drug her and chop her into pieces with her axe. Either way, she was trapped inside the cabin for now, so she might as well take whatever was offered in hopes of passing the time, one way or the other.
“Thank you,” she curtly replied.
“Are you hungry?” Kara blurted out, a soft expression on her face, “I can make you something to eat. It’s almost dinnertime too.”
Pausing for a moment, Lena debated whether or not to accept the hospitality, when Kara had already given her shelter, but with the realisation that she couldn’t starve herself for what potentially could be weeks , she reluctantly dipped her head in a nod.
“Sure, that’d be nice. Thank you.”
“Do you like mac and cheese?”
Nodding with an air of indifference, Lena gave her a thin smile. “Sounds good. Can I give you a hand?”
Thrusting her hands out in a defensive manner, Kara gave her a stern look as she held Lena at bay. “No, no, you’re a guest. Just keep that foot elevated.”
Relaxing back against the pillows as Kara bustled off, Lena folded her hands in her lap and stared up at the rafters again. Boredom never sat well with her, but she didn’t want to intrude on Kara’s life and be so demanding of her home and belongings, so Lena did nothing but twiddle her thumbs and wait for the headache to slowly recede, leaving her mouth with the powdery taste of the pills coating her tongue and throat.
Still, it was peaceful with the popping sound of logs in the woodstove, the quiet panting from the dog stretched out before it, so close that Lena thought that he would singe his fur, and the sound of Kara cooking in the kitchen. It was homely, and the feeling that came with it was so unfamiliar to Lena that she felt out of sorts. Was this how people really lived? They cooked their own food and lived in small homes and had old sofas that were so soft from use that they sank into the cushions. Everything in the cabin seemed worn from love, from the thick knitted blanket over the back of the sofa to the cracked spines of the books. It was a life far removed from Lena’s.
She was still dwelling on the thought when Kara made her way back to her, carrying a steaming bowl in each hand and passing one off to Lena. It burned in her hands, but she craved the stinging warmth, hugging it to her chest as she gave Kara a wary smile.
“No problem. There’s more if you want a second helping. And I’ve got coffee brewing - do you like coffee?”
Lena’s expression softened and her heart swelled slightly as she gave her a genuine smile, tiredness making her softer. “Yeah, I like coffee.”
Perking up, Kara beamed at her and shovelled a burning hot forkful of macaroni into her mouth, seeming to realise her mistake in her enthusiasm as she clamped her mouth closed and forced herself to swallow. She masked a cough as she wiped at her streaming eyes and gave Lena an uneven smile of embarrassment.
Nodding in acknowledgement, Lena gently blew on a forkful and then slowly took a bite, finding herself pleasantly surprised by the taste of it. She’d never had mac and cheese before, nothing so commonly comforting and unhealthy, and she found herself enjoying it as they ate in silence, the aroma of coffee filling the place and making her blood sing as it called out for caffeine.
She didn’t take Kara up on a second helping, feeling that it would be rude to take advantage, but she did accept the cup of black coffee brought to her, before Kara went off to wash the dishes, swatting aside Lena’s offers to help. She wasn’t sure how much help she’d be, never having to bother with menial household chores, but she felt out of sorts in someone else’s home, having them wait on her. Of course, she did have people wait on her for her every need, but they were well compensated, while Kara was just being nice. Yet, Lena was left to drink her coffee alone, eyeing the massive dozing dog as the bag of peas defrosted.
A clock on the wall told her it was approaching eight o’clock, and despite the earliness and the strong coffee, Lena felt a bone-deep weariness take root inside her body, and she craved the sweet release of sleep but wasn’t sure how to ask. Falling asleep on the sofa seemed a bit too presumptuous for her liking, although Lena knew she wasn’t going to be heading back up to the resort that night. Luckily for her, when Kara had finished tidying up, she came back over to Lena and gave her a knowing smile.
“You look exhausted.”
“I feel it,” Lena admitted, grumbling as she stretched out her sore arms.
“I’ll get you a change of clothes and you can head to bed, if you want,” Kara offered.
Opening her mouth, Lena quickly clamped it shut again and decided to graciously accept the offer. Her ski pants and cashmere sweater wouldn’t make for a comfortable night’s sleep, and Kara was offering anyway.
“Let me help you up.”
Her coffee cup was taken from her hand and Kara helped hoist her to her feet, standing impossibly close to Lena, making her heart thunder in her chest with nervousness. She wasn’t in the business of getting close to people in such a harmless manner, and she looked down at the floor as Kara’s strong grip held her upright and helped her around the sofa.
She led her to the bathroom and deposited her onto the toilet seat to wait for her to fetch some pyjamas, and Lena took in the round wooden tub with interest, a showerhead above it and taps hanging over the edge, wondering if Kara had made it herself. Her host was back a few minutes later with a pair of plaid pyjama pants and an old sweater that had faded letters spelling out NCU on the front. Kara left her to change, and Lena hopped outside in the baggy pyjamas with her old clothes in her arms.
Then she was led to a spacious bedroom with a double bed, a patchwork comforter covering the white woollen sheets, and Kara eased her down onto the mattress with surprising gentleness, her blonde hair brushing Lena’s cheek and bringing a cloud of pine and sandalwood with it.
“I’m guessing you don’t need to be tucked into bed,” Kara joked, taking a step back and lingering to make sure Lena didn’t need anything else.
“I’m okay. Thank you.”
Nodding, Kara retreated to the door, waiting to switch the lights off for her as Lena set her dirty clothes down in a crumpled heap and then slipped beneath the turned down sheets. Glancing towards the door, she gave Kara a warm smile as she leant against the pillows.
“Thank you. Really. You’re … very kind.”
Shrugging off the gratitude, Kara gave her a bashful look, rubbing the back of her neck as she shifted from foot to foot. “It’s no problem at all. The company’s welcome.”
She shut the lights out and eased the creaking door closed, and Lena listened to her footsteps retreat as she burrowed beneath the blankets. The room wasn’t that cold, but she missed the fire and hugged herself as she waited for sleep to snatch her away. It wasn’t long before it snuck up on her, and she was out like a light.
It was dark when she woke, curtains drawn with not even a sliver of sunlight seeping in through the packed snow covering the window, and Lena stretched out her leaden limbs with satisfaction, feeling well-rested after a deep sleep. There was a clock quietly ticking somewhere in the bedroom, but in the dimness she couldn’t quite pinpoint the location, but judged it to be morning at the very least.
Lena stayed in bed for a while longer, anxiously listening for any sounds that signalled that Kara was awake, to no avail. Eventually, she grew restless and a pressure on her bladder finally roused her from the warmth of the blankets she was nestled beneath. With grim resolution, she slipped out from beneath them and hugged her arms to herself, lips trembling slightly as she was wracked with a shiver, and she padded towards the door and eased it open with a long, drawn-out groan of the hinges.
Gingerly gritting her teeth, she hobbled out of the room on her bad ankle, hand touching the wooden wall as she used it to guide her to the bathroom she’d been in yesterday. The cabin was pitch-black and there was a lingering warmth, just a smidge too cold, from the closed wood stove, holding the grey ashes of last night’s fire. She couldn’t make out any distinct features in the dark, except the vague shadowed outlines of furniture, but managed to fumble for the door handle once she hit the bathroom.
Trying her hardest to be quiet, with no knowledge of where Kara’s bathroom might’ve been in relation to the small area of the cabin she’d seen, Lena was quick about her business and was just creeping out of the bathroom again when a light switched on. Jumping out of her skin, she fell back against the honeyed wooden wall of the cabin and clutched a hand to her rapidly beating heart, face a mask of surprise as she stared at the figure blearily looking at her from over the back of the sofa, hand dropping from the lamp on an end table.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Lena breathlessly managed to squeak, a cold sweat covering her body from the fright. “What are you doing?”
“I heard a noise.”
“What, did you forget I was here?” Lena shakily asked.
With a quiet scoff, Kara ran a hand through her dishevelled hair and blinked owlishly. “No.”
It was then, watching her eyes narrow as she blinked, looking childishly innocent with the absence of her glasses, that it suddenly struck Lena as odd that Kara was on the sofa. That she looked like she’d just woken up, and not, in fact, been sitting in the dark. Understanding dawned on Lena’s face as she looked at her, eyebrows rising a fraction as the beginnings of guilt crept up on her.
“Were you sleeping out here?”
“I- well … yeah.”
“You put me in your bed?”
“Well I wasn’t going to make you sleep on the sofa. That would’ve been a bit rude.”
Spluttering, Lena gave her a horrified look as she berated herself. Not once had she questioned whether she was taking Kara’s bed, and not actually in a guest room, and the easy acceptance of it made her feel horribly entitled as she stood in the dimness of the halo of light thrown from the light.
“But … why would you do that? You can’t- you can’t just give up your bed for strangers! You should’ve told me you were planning on sleeping on the sofa,” Lena scolded her, a peevish look on her face as she jut her chin forward.
Caught off guard by her anger, Kara cocked her head to the side and gave her a bewildered look, “so … you’re mad that I … gave you my bed.”
“Yes!” Lena hotly replied, before her mouth snapped shut and she exhaled forcefully through her nose in a huff of irritation. “I mean, no. I’m not- I’m not mad , I just- you shouldn’t do that for people you don’t know! I’m a stranger! It’s your bed and you’ve already done enough for me, and I just- I don’t even know you.”
“If you feel bad that I slept out here, you should know, it’s really not a big deal. I sleep out here all the time in the winter. Really. You’ve probably figured out that it’s a hell of a lot warmer than the bedroom.”
She let out a quiet laugh, giving Lena a placating look, and Lena let out an exasperated sigh as she rolled her eyes.
“So … breakfast?”
Mouth pressed into a flat line, Lena stared at her for a few moments, giving her a scrutinising look as she tried to unravel the mystery of the woman before her, not entirely convinced that someone could be that friendly towards a stranger who’d stumbled upon their home and was no trapped with them. But she quickly resigned herself to the fact that it didn’t matter what Kara’s motives were, and at least she was friendly, instead of hostile, and she quickly relented with a grudging look.
“Do you like pancakes?”
“I guess. But I’m helping this time.”
“How about you help by getting the fire going?”
Opening her mouth to tell her than Lena had never built a fire before, had no idea what the best method was, and if she’d been a smoker, most likely would’ve had someone to stand there with a lighter and light her cigarettes for her too. Instead, she found herself agreeing without even meaning to, the words falling from her lips with more optimism and enthusiasm than she’d thought she was capable of.
“Okay, yeah, sure, I can do that.”
Nodding to herself in what she hoped was a convincing manner, Lena crossed the open room and rounded the sofa as Kara stood up. They shared an amicable smile, friendly in the face of their predicament, and Lena rounded the low coffee table to stare down at the mass of fur spread out before the cold wood burner.
A pair of dark, liquid eyes peered up at her as she hovered in front of the dog, and Lena turned to give Kara a questioning look and found the blonde retreating to the kitchen already. Turning back to Krypto, Lena gingerly smiled down at him, the smile more of a grimace, really, and she stepped around his leonine form to reach for a split log in the wicker basket.
As she stooped down to pick one up, Krypto climbed to his feet and turned, tail wagging enthusiastically, and brushed up against her left leg, nudging her off balance and causing Lena to put undue pressure on her right foot. Biting back a curse, she muffled a low groan and gave the dog a scathing look as his mouth opened and tongue lolled happily, strings of drool dripping onto the carpet.
With a heavy sigh, Lena pushed the bear-like dog out of the way with a scowl, and dropped down to her knees before the closed stove. Prying open the door she peered into the dark mouth and took in the mound of cold ashes, before shoving the log in and dusting her hands of tiny bits of bark clinging to her fingers.
The sounds of Kara making breakfast sounded behind her as Lena tried her hardest to light the fire with the long lighter, the bark blackening yet no signs of flames catching the wood. Her frustration grew with each passing second, helped by the snuffling nose that pressed into her cheek, shoulder, thigh and anywhere else Krypto could bump into her, filling her nose with the smell of dog as the log lay cold and unlit amidst the ashes.
“Hey, Kara,” Lena eventually called out, managing to swallow her pride, “it’s not working.”
“The fire. It won’t light.”
Footsteps padded towards her and she glanced over her shoulder to watch Kara finish wiping her hands on a dishtowel and sling it over her shoulders, hands going to her hips. She had her glasses on now, and Lena couldn’t help but appreciate the way her biceps strained slightly against the fitted long-sleeved shirt she was wearing.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it won’t light. I’ve tried setting it on fire, and it’s not catching.”
Crouching beside Lena, Kara pushed her glasses up her nose and peered into the cold stove, before she let out a quiet chuckle. Giving Lena a sideways glance, she reached inside and shifted the log, before rising to her feet and stepping around to her other side. Kara watched as she reached for a few slender logs in the basket, tearing the bark off them and then carefully arranging them inside the stove so that they were slightly elevated, with the bark in the middle.
“You need to make like a teepee,” Kara said with faint amusement, “and use firestarters, like wood chips, bark, dried grass or leaves. Stuff that lights easily, you know?”
“No, I don’t,” Lena grouchily replied, jutting her chin forward, “I’ve never done … this before.”
“So you’ve never been camping? Had s’mores out in the yard? A real fireplace?”
Trying not to look too snooty, Lena swallowed her embarrassment and gave Kara a small, wry smile. “I’ve had a real fireplace; I've just never had to light it myself.”
“No? What, did you have a maid or something?”
At Lena’s silence, Kara turned to look at her, finding the answer written on Lena’s face, and her eyes widened as her mouth fell open in surprise. “No way.”
“It wasn’t like-”
“You’re rich. Like rich rich, aren’t you?”
“Well, yes, but-”
“Oh my God. This is probably the shittiest house you’ve ever been in,” Kara chuckled, “imagine if I made you sleep on the sofa last night. God, this must be like a personal hell for you. No wonder you freaked out about being stuck in here; you’ve probably got the entire hotel booked out and private jets waiting for you. Do you eat lobster for dinner every night? Because if I was rich, I would-”
“Can you please just teach me how to light a fire,” Lena interrupted with an exasperated look on her face.
Trailing off, Kara cocked her head to the side and observed Lena’s discomfort with innocently wide eyes, seeming surprised at the apparent embarrassment that shrouded Lena, who was kneeling with taut shoulders and her head bowed.
“Oh … yeah, sure. Well, anyway, you just- you light the little stuff first, and put smaller pieces near it and once we’ve got a good fire going, you can put on a bigger log. Here, you try it.”
Nodding, Lena raised the lighter and stuck it into the stove, clicking it on and watching as the bluish flame licked at the curled bark that Kara had carefully arranged. It took a few moments, but a yellow flame started to lick at it, and she moved to light a second piece, watching with a burning intensity as the fire caught and the twin flames started licking at the smaller split logs.
“There we go!” Kara triumphantly exclaimed, giving Lena a wide smile as she set the lighter down and glanced up at her.
Lena gave her an uncertain smile in return as she climbed to her feet, feeling somewhat shy in wake of the revelation of her wealth, and as she stood a few inches from Kara, who loomed over her by a few inches, Lena felt pressured to say something. Anything.
“I like your house.”
Nose crinkling as she quietly laughed, Kara reached out and gently touched Lena’s shoulder, before nodding towards the kitchen. “I’m going to finish making breakfast. Make yourself at home.”
Making her way over to the sofa, Lena sat down on Kara’s rumpled blankets, running her fingers over the carefully knitted wool and wondering if Kara had made it herself, or if a mother or grandmother had. It was the sort of thing that normal families did, the sort of thing that belonged somewhere made homely through love and use, and not a cold mausoleum of a home, full of old things and musty stone, like the place she’d grown up in.
The smell of breakfast cooking, of fresh pancakes and coffee, made Lena feel a pang of homesickness and nostalgia for somewhere she’d never been, for something she’d never had. This seemed like a normal morning for Kara, sans the stranger in her home, and Lena warmed herself before the flicking fire as she wondered what it would be like to live like that.
She filled her life with so many adventures and workshops and classes, trying to find some satisfaction in doing something, but, really, all she was doing was trying to fill a void. Trying hard to compensate for an empty childhood, devoid of love and starved for attention. No matter of skiing holidays and Tibetan retreats could account for that, could give her the comforting normalcy of an ordinary childhood. Lena would’ve killed for the mundane, and it made her feel sick to scorn her wealth in favour of it, yet she craved it, nonetheless.
“Blueberry pancakes, coming right up!” Kara called from the kitchen, smiling over her shoulder as she nonchalantly flipped one in the pan, a stack already forming beside the stove.
Lena couldn’t help the smile that curled her mouth, a feeling of contentedness settling over her. After a bit of rest and some food the night before, she felt less dour about their current circumstances, and as this stranger cooked her breakfast, doting on her with easy friendliness, Lena had the quiet thought that she hoped she was stuck there for the rest of the day. Perhaps she could stay for a day and dwell in the life she might’ve had, under different circumstances.
At the sound of footsteps, she craned her neck around and pushed herself to her feet, watching as Kara juggled cups and a coffee pot. As swiftly as possible, Lena rounded the end of the sofa and reached out, rescuing the coffee before it tipped in Kara’s embrace and spilt onto the floor, and she set it down firmly on the table, before trailing her host to the kitchen.
“How’s the ankle?” Kara asked.
Shrugging non-committedly, Lena gave her a small smile, “hurts. Just a little.”
“Do you want some more Tylenol? I’ll get some ice for you after we eat, but if you need something-”
Lightly touching Kara’s arm to stop her babbling, Lena gave her a mildly amused look. “I’m fine. Honestly. Now, do you have plates so I can lay the table?”
Anxious expression brightening, Kara pulled two mismatched plates from a cupboard and handed them to Lena. They set the table together, on opposite sides and slowly circling, as if partaking in some coy dance, and a few short minutes later, they were sitting across from each other, pouring syrup over fluffy pancakes and stirring cream into coffee. Krypto sat at Kara’s side, tail thumping against the table leg as he panted, not quite begging, but eagerly awaiting any scraps he could coerce out of her.
“So … what’s it like? Being rich, I mean.”
Rolling her eyes, Lena bit back a sigh and swallowed her mouthful. “I figured,” she murmured, before falling silent for a few moments.
Setting her knife and fork down, Lena leant back in her chair, cocking her head to one side with a clouded expression darkening her face. “It’s … it’s not how you’d imagine it. I mean, I’m sure for some families, it’s great. Perfect. Everything they dreamed of. But … it wasn’t like that for me.”
Letting out a forlorn sigh, she shook her head, dark hair fanning out around her shoulders, and picked up her knife and fork again, wearily cutting a triangle off her pancake. She paused for a moment, glancing up at Kara who was silently eating as she watched her.
“It’s nice, having the freedom to do what you want. And I get it; for normal people, with a loving family and a wife and dog and everything they ever dreamed of, money would just- it’d make it even better for them. They’d be gaining something. I didn’t really … gain anything. I was born rich and the rest of it, the stuff you need to be a normal functioning adult, well … I was born without that. So, for me, at any rate, it’s not so much the picnic everyone thinks it is. But it sure is nice to have money to blow on fixing the unfixable and thinking it’s working. So, cheers to that.”
She dropped her knife and picked up her cup of coffee, raising it in mock salute and then taking a sip. Letting out a short laugh, Lena set her cup back down and shoved the pancake into her mouth, feeling a bit on-edge, hackles raised as if in defence of some unseen attack. The mere topic of her family was enough to make her bristle, and the serenity of the cabin she’d been revelling in only a short while ago seemed to dissipate, leaving her feeling irritable as she ate her breakfast.
“I kind of understand that,” Kara eventually replied, a tentative smile on her face as she tried to break the waves of tension radiating off Lena. “I mean, I left everything behind for a cabin in the woods. The life that I had just wasn’t fulfilling. I was comfortable, I made ends meet and had nice things, but I’ve never been happier than now, without it all. I might not have been rich rich, but I guess I did okay enough to have the liberty to leave it all behind and come here to try and fix things.”
“And what are you trying to fix, Kara?” Lena quietly asked, her voice low and soft.
A nervous smile crossing her face, Kara let out a shaky laugh, seeming to hunch over her food as she cut it, as if it would make her small enough to be invisible. Her shoulders rose and fell and she shifted self-consciously.
“That’s a bit of a heavy topic for breakfast.”
“The heavy ones are the ones worthwhile.”
“Perhaps. But you can learn so much from someone just by how they take their coffee. The small things are worthwhile too. Favourite colour, favourite book, favourite food. They make a person.”
“Sure,” Lena flippantly replied, eyebrows rising quickly as she cut another piece of pancake. “If you care enough about the little things.”
With a questioning look, Kara smiled, “you don’t?”
Gesturing off-handedly with her knife, Lena grimaced slightly. “Not particularly.”
“Oh. Well, I’ll be sure to keep the conversation philosophical and thought-provoking for you for your stay.”
With a bark of laughter, Lena narrowed her eyes slightly and pursed her lips, giving Kara an appraising look. Slowly sliding the food off the prongs of her fork, she chewed thoughtfully, before tilting her head to the side.
“You know, I can’t quite tell if you like me or not. Do I get under your skin?”
“I wouldn’t say that. I don’t even know you, although you seem very … cynical. I normally don’t hold with pessimists.”
“I’ll try and be on my way as soon as possible, then. Any chance I’d be able to tunnel through the ice outside?”
With a heavy sigh, full of weary resignation, Kara shook her head. “No, I doubt it. I’ve got a friend in town who comes up and checks on me when something like this happens. He normally gives it until the ice starts to thaw and then helps dig me out. He’ll probably be up today once he’s heard.”
Spreading her hands matter-of-factly, Lena’s expression brightened minutely. “There! So, I’ll be out of your hair soon.”
“If the ice has melted,” Kara warned her in a low voice, morose and boding ill for them.
“And I thought I was the pessimist.”
“Well, this isn’t my first avalanche.”
Finishing off her last bite of food, Lena gave her a droll smile as she swallowed. “Hopefully it’s my last. The pancakes were really good, thank you.”
Lena stubbornly insisted on washing the dishes afterwards, ignoring Kara’s innocent question as to whether she knew how and trying to pretend that it didn’t rankle her pride to have her competency questioned. She wasn’t completely useless or detached from ordinary life, and she ensured that each plate, pan and fork was sparkling in their homes once she’d finished with them.
Kara had watched her with interest as she hovered about, folding blankets, stoking the fire and other menial tasks, and Lena wasn’t oblivious to the furtive glances, giving Kara her own sideways ones as she moved about the kitchen. Feeling hot from the fire and the steaming water she’d been elbow-deep in, Lena ran a hand over her forehead and gave Kara an apologetic look.
“Do you mind if I shower?”
“Oh! Oh, yeah, sure, of course! No problem. Do you want a change of clothes too?
The thought of putting on the itchy cashmere sweater again was enough to make Lena’s skin crawl from the ghostly sensation of the wool, and she welcomingly accepted the offer. With her arms full of Kara’s practical clothes, Lena limped to the bathroom and stared at the round tub, her body yearning for a long soak in it. Instead, she settled for a brisk shower.
It took a few minutes for the cold, sputtering water to warm up, but eventually, Lena found herself relaxing beneath the hot steam cascading over her skin. Unsure of Kara’s water resources, and hyper-aware of the fact that she potentially could be stuck there for an extended period of time, she didn’t linger, despite her strong desire to. With a mournful look on her face, Lena shut off the hot water and stepped out of the round tub, wrapping a towel around herself and hastily drying off.
Kara had given her a plaid shirt and a pair of sweatpants, both soft with wear and smelling faintly of cherry blossoms, and Lena dressed quickly as she shivered from the cold emanating from the wooden walls and floor. She had to cuff the clothes, but they were warm and comfortable, and she pulled on the pair of thick socks and deposited Kara’s pyjamas into the laundry basket. Hobbling back outside, she found Kara stoking the fire and all evidence of her makeshift bed gone.
“Hi!” Kara beamed at her as she spotted her, climbing to her feet and dusting off her hands. “Can I get you anything? More Tylenol? Ice? Do you like reading? I’ve got some books. Coffee? Tea? I can make-”
“I’m okay, thank you,” Lena gently interrupted her, eyes widening slightly with bewildered amusement. “Really, you don’t- I’m fine to just … sit. If you have things to do-”
Shrugging, Kara gave her a helpless smile, “not really a lot to do, to be honest. I was supposed to be heading home tomorrow, to spend Christmas with my family, but seeing as that’s out of the question ... yeah. At least I most likely won’t be spending Christmas alone - that’s something.”
With a short laugh, Lena crossed the wooden floor and leant against the side of the sofa as she gave Kara a rueful smile. “You know, I was thinking the same thing. I think this will be my first time in … God, maybe six years - I don’t know - that I’ll probably be spending the holidays with someone.”
Cocking her head to the side, Kara gave her a look of surprise, “what about Switzerland? No one will be waiting there for you?”
Lena’s smile wavered slightly as she shrugged, gripping the couch pillows tightly. “No, I don’t imagine so. That would require someone caring enough to want to meet me there. Unfortunately, my family are somewhat lacking in that department. I prefer my own company anyway; it’s no real loss. But Christmas this year should be … unusual, to say the least.”
“I’ll try and make it memorable for you,” Kara weakly joked, a wary look in her eyes, as if she pitied Lena.
The thought irked Lena and she rolled her shoulders and cleared her throat, before rounding the end of the sofa and settling down onto the sagging pillows. Kara hesitated for a moment, before she picked her way through the cosy living room, Krypto following behind her with his devout loyalty, while Lena eyed the bear-like dog with suspicion. As Kara stepped past the sofa, her footsteps paused, and Lena glanced over her shoulder to see what had stopped her, only to find Kara looking down at her with apprehension.
“I’m going to work on some of my projects in the workshop. I- do you- would you like to come and watch?”
Eyebrows rising in mild surprise, Lena bit her lip as she hesitated. “Sure.”
Kara’s expression brightened and Lena felt a warmth spread through her, different to the wall of heat radiating from the fire, which Kara quickly closed the door on to dissuade any attempts at burning the cabin down. Climbing to her feet, Lena found a thick fleece being shoved into her hands by Kara, and glanced down at the navy-dyed wool with surprise.
“You’ll be cold,” Kara said by way of explanation, giving her a small smile before stepping away.
Lena shrugged it on, breathing in the aroma of wood shavings and polish that clung to the wool, enjoying the feeling of being wrapped in its softness, and she followed after Kara, who was making a beeline for the door she’d dragged Lena through only yesterday.
The mess of tools had been cleaned up, as had the long curls of wood shavings and a fine carpet of sawdust. Lena lowered herself back down onto the stool she’d previously occupied as the frigid air wormed its way through her thick fleece. It was surprising to her that she couldn’t see her breath before her, and she buried her hands into the sleeves as her eyes tracked Kara across the room.
It was soothing, watching the other woman work, and Lena found herself slipping into a stupor, the sound of sawing seeming distant as she watched Kara cut a long plank to length. Time seemed to slip quietly by as that plank became a table leg, raw and unfinished in comparison to the rest of the table. It was slow work, but she watched Kara chisel it into shape on a lathe, until it was finally finished and the whole room smelled sweet from the maple wood.
Watching Kara work, the muscles in her forearms taut, the safety goggles covering her face giving her a practical look and the canvas apron covering her pyjamas seeming a little eccentric, Lena found herself watching with rapt attention, mildly confused as to why she found herself enjoying watching Kara so much.
It was nearly lunch when Kara finally finished, tiny flakes of wood in her hair and the goggles pushed up high on her head as she wiped a hand across her forehead and gave Lena a wide smile. Her returning smile was somewhat strained as Lena found herself a little unbalanced by the disarming smile. She’d noticed how beautiful Kara was, naturally, but Lena hadn’t intended on sticking around long enough to appreciate it.
Now, she felt a little out of sorts from sitting there watching her, watching her slender, callused fingers chisel away at the wood, the way her lips pressed together in a flat line as she sanded the piece down, how a small furrow appeared between her eyebrows from intense concentration. They all felt like small, intimate things that Lena shouldn’t have been privy to, yet she’d sat as a silent witness, chin propped up in her hand as her stomach clenched every so often with the gut-reflex of desire as she watched Kara work.
“You okay?” Kara asked, already moving towards her, goggles pulled off and set down on the workbench and her hands going to the apron strings.
Blinking herself out of her reverie, Lena let out a quiet, nervous laugh. “Oh, um, yeah, fine.”
Kara smiled at her, oblivious to Lena’s inner monologues, moving towards her with a doe-eyed look of innocence as she gestured to Lena. “You should let me take a look at that ankle. Make sure it’s not too swollen.”
“I- uh, sure. It feels better today.”
Dropping down to her knees at the base of the stool, Kara tipped her head up to Lena and gave her a grave look, making Lena feel a little hot beneath the collar of the fleece she was wearing. The chill of the room couldn’t touch her as Kara gently reached out and cupped her foot in her hand, stripping off the sock and carefully rotating Lena’s foot as she bowed her head over it.
Lena felt a prickle of heat run down her spine at the burning touch of Kara’s warm hands, her fingertips like brands where they lightly brushed her skin, handling her like glass. She looked down at the crown of her blonde head and found herself admiring Kara’s practicality of everything. As much as Lena couldn’t quite comprehend why she’d want to retire to a life of solitude at such a young age, it seemed to agree with the Kara that she’d come to know so quickly.
“Hm, well it’s not bruised on the surface, but it’s a little swollen still. At least you can walk on it better today, but you should try and not do that though,” Kara said, peering up at her with a sternness to her gaze that made Lena smile. “I’ll get you some more ice and you can keep it elevated while I make lunch. Do you like grilled cheese sandwiches?”
“I- yeah. That sounds great.”
Smiling, Kara slipped the sock back on, carefully rolling it up Lena’s foot and leaving the brunette’s cheeks flushed pink with embarrassment and more than a little bashful as she let her dark hair form a curtain between them.
As she slid off the stool, Kara’s strong arm wound around her waist to bear some of her weight and steady her, and Lena felt her gut clench slightly with the freefall sensation of her stomach dropping before she eased her way out of her embrace in a manner that didn’t come off as her shirking Kara’s help. Limping out of the workshop, Lena made her way back over to the all-too-familiar sofa and sank down onto it.
It was almost an indulgence for Lena to have Kara gently ice her foot, shoving pillows beneath it to elevate it, popping Tylenol for her to chase down with water and opening the door of the stove to ensure she was warm enough. The simple act of being cared for in such a tender way was as unfamiliar to Lena as the homeliness of the cabin, and as eager as she was to be on her way and fend for herself, there was a strong part of her that relented and leant back against the pillows as Kara draped a blanket over her legs.
“Lunch is served!” Kara announced, picking her way across the room with a laden wooden tray that Lena assumed she’d made herself.
She shifted higher up on her pile of pillows and let Kara set the tray in her lap, taking in the steaming bowl of tomato soup, a plate piled high with haphazard triangles of grilled cheese, and another mug of hot chocolate topped with a small mountain of whipped cream. Kara wrung a dishcloth in her hands as she gave Lena a shy smile.
“This smells amazing,” Lena honestly replied, her words coloured with gratitude as she looked up at Kara, “thank you.”
Cheeks turning pink, Kara tossed the dishtowel on her shoulder and rubbed the back of her neck with her hand as she let out a quiet chuckle. “It’s nothing special-”
Eyes shining with delight, Kara opened her mouth to reply and was promptly cut off by a muffled shout coming from somewhere outside. “Oh. Oh! Mike. That’ll be Mike.”
Lena lay pinned beneath her tray, half propped up, and watched as Kara speedily crossed the room, going to one of the frozen shut windows overlooking the drop down the cliffside and managed to crack it open an inch. A waft of cold air cut through the room like a knife, and Lena watched as Kara squatted, putting her face to the small gap.
She turned her head to listen, and Lena strained her ears in hope of catching stray words too. The reply was distant and indistinct and Lena clutched the sides of her tray in two hands as she waited expectantly.
“How deep? Okay. Yeah. I have someone here with me. No, she’s not my- she’s lost. How long do you think? Shit. No, that’s fine. Can you call my sister for me and let her know I won’t be there? Thanks, Mike. Yeah, merry Christmas. Get home safe.”
The conversation was brief and Lena only caught Kara’s end of it and deduced that they were still stuck for the time being. As Kara pulled back and jerked the stiff window back down its tracks, Lena stared at her expectantly and was met by a grim look when Kara finally turned around.
“It’s pretty solid. He’s going to try and get back up in a couple of days with a snow shovel and a pick and try and dig us out.”
“What is he, a fucking dwarf?”
Kara choked on a quiet laugh, moving towards the sofa and dropping down at Lena’s feet, careful not to jostle the bag of peas free from where it was slowly freezing Lena’s ankle.
“So, we’re stuck.”
“For now,” Kara said, mustering as much optimism as she could, “must’ve been a pretty bad avalanche, but it’s warm out so it’ll thaw quickly.”
“Four days is quick? Can’t we just … I don’t know, get that window open all the way and climb out?”
With an incredulous look, Kara stared at her with wide eyes as a bubble of laughter worked its way up her throat. “It’s a twenty-foot drop down to rock and more trees, and that’s if we could get it open. Trust me, I’ve been snowed in enough times to know my options. I’m sorry about Switzerland though.”
Staring down at the bowl of orange soup, curls of steam drifting up to her face as cheese congealed on the plate, Lena smiled slightly and reached for a triangle of grilled cheese, picking it up and giving Kara a level stare.
“I know I’m coming off a bit … prickly, perhaps even a bit of a spoilt bitch, but … well, the truth is that I haven’t felt so comfortable in … forever. No one’s ever … looked after me before. Not like this.”
There was a slight pause as Lena brooded over her slice of grilled cheese before she let out a short laugh and glanced up quickly.
“Not that I’m saying you should . You’ve been far too kind to a stranger imposing herself on you, but I want you to know that I truly am grateful.”
Arm slung over the back of the sofa, Kara tilted her head to the side and gave her a small smile, eyes gently creasing at the corners, “you’re very welcome. Now, eat up before it gets cold.”
Kara climbed to her feet and vanished around the sofa, her soft footsteps disappearing towards the kitchen, before she returned with her own tray of food. She set it down on the coffee table and sat cross-legged on the floor, back resting against the sofa, near Lena’s feet.
Taking her first bite of the grilled cheese, Lena chewed thoughtfully, finding that it tasted better than it had looked, with the gooey cheese and flattened bread, and she took another bite, casting furtive glances towards Kara, who was dipping her own into the soup, after plucking the crusts off and tossing them to Krypto, who snapped them out of the air.
Copying her, Lena found that it was even better that way, and despite the mountain of food Kara had made for her, she ate nearly all of it, hesitantly holding out a few leftover bites of crust for Krypto to eagerly take from her greasy fingers with surprising gentleness. As quickly as she’d wolfed down her food, Kara had finished before her and was sporting a creamy moustache as she turned to smile at Lena, mug of hot chocolate in hand, and Lena let out a quick laugh as she picked up her own mug.
“Thank you. That was the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had.”
She forgot to mention it was the first she’d ever had, just so she could watch Kara’s face light up with delight. As Kara rose to her feet, Lena quickly nudged off the bag of defrosting peas and climbed to her feet with her tray in hand, giving Kara a stern look.
“I’ll wash up.”
“You don’t have to,” Kara earnestly insisted.
“Yes, I do.”
“You’ve already done the dishes today.”
“And you’ve cooked twice . It’s only fair.”
Scoffing, Kara shifted restlessly from foot to foot, before Lena smiled and stooped down to stack her dishes on her tray so that she could carry everything at the same time. Straightening up, she gave Kara a wide smile, a real smile, watching her eyes widen a fraction, before she turned around and limped off towards the kitchen.
“You know, I’ve never had to do the dishes before,” Lena mused as she set the pile down on the scoured wooden counter beside the sink, reaching for the plug and turning the taps on. “It’s quite relaxing.”
“You’ve never - well, I guess that’s a perk of being rich,” Kara murmured, her voice growing nearer.
Lena glanced over her shoulder to watch her step into the kitchen with two mugs of hot chocolate, setting Lena’s down on the counter beside her, before hopping up onto the countertop.
“Do you have to make your own bed?”
“Cook for yourself?”
“No. My family has … maids and housekeepers and groundskeepers. A person for every job imaginable. It’s … a lot. I don’t go home often.”
Pale eyebrows rising, Kara eyed her curiously as Lena squirted detergent into the sink and pushed the sleeves of the fleece up over her elbows.
“Sounds like the dream.”
“A bad one, perhaps, once you look beneath the surface,” Lena muttered, dipping an orange-stained bowl into the soapy water and roughly scrubbing away the lingering coat of soup dried to the sides.
They lapsed into silence as she washed everything, scrubbing the pan with dried lumps of cheese in between sips of her cooling hot chocolate, and at some point, Kara slipped off the counter, softly thanked her and disappeared.
Afterwards, feeling irritable for no discernible reason except for the fact that she was embarrassed to be so hateful of her family’s wealth, Lena limped back over to the fire, paused at the sturdy bookshelf, and fished out a battered volume from amidst the stacks of board games and other clutter. The spine was so cracked that she couldn’t quite make out the name until she glanced at the cover, with its curling corners. Emma.
Stealing the blanket from the sofa, Lena parked herself in the armchair this time, draping the knitted wool over her lap, and cracked open the well-loved book as the muffled sounds of someone else moving around the house made themselves known to her. The snow-capped cabin seemed outside the ordinary constraints of time, and Lena allowed herself to get swept away in the familiar story as the afternoon slipped by, although she lingered in perpetual dusk with the gloominess of the cabin cut through by the orange ambient glow of the fire.
Kara reemerged what must’ve been an hour later, showered and dressed down in similarly comfortable clothes as Lena wore, a basket of folded laundry beneath one arm and damp hair curling at the temples. Glancing up, Lena gave her a small smile and raised the book, giving it a small wave.
“I didn’t take you for the classics kind of person.”
“Why, because I chop wood for a living?”
“That certainly didn’t help your case.”
“Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken,” Kara recited with a crooked smile.
A slow smile spread across Lena’s face as a spark of humour lit up the depths of her green eyes, and she set the book down in her lap, pages splayed and spine limp, and steepled her fingers.
“You’re just full of surprises.”
“A life of practicality and solitude is not for a lack of sophistication,” Kara gently chided her, “I think you would be surprised at the person I was back home, in National City. Dresses and heels and fetching coffee for my boss-”
“Well now, that part I can believe.”
Snorting with laughter, Kara set the laundry basket down on the table and moved to perch on the arm of the sofa. “I had a nice loft I bought with the money I inherited from my parents, and I had an easel that I’d paint on sometimes. I basically lived off takeout - I was never much of a cook - and loved karaoke night.”
“It sounds like a nice life.”
“It was. I just needed some time for myself, you know?”
A clouded expression flitted across Lena’s face as she cocked her head to the side. “I do.”
They were quiet for a moment, staring at each other with an unspoken sense that they did understand each other, despite their differences. Clapping her hands on her thighs, Kara heaved herself up off the arm of the sofa and gave Lena another smile. She was always smiling, and it made Lena feel a little less lonely, to know that a stranger liked her, at the very least.
“Well, I’m going to make some tea. Would you like a cup?”
Kara came back with the aforementioned cup of tea and a glass of water as well, two Tylenol tucked into the palm of her hand which she passed over without a word. Lena sheepishly accepted them with murmured thanks, and then went back to her book as Kara selected her own and slumped on the sofa.
They read in companionable silence over the rest of the afternoon, until the room was inky blue with the dusk seeping in through the frosted windows. Sleep was nagging at Lena and she found herself reading the same line over and over again, and glanced over at Kara, to find her sprawled out, mouth open and glasses askew.
Biting back a laugh, Lena silently climbed to her feet, setting her book down on the cracked leather seat of the armchair, and gathered up the knitted blanket. As gently as she could, she draped it over Kara, careful not to wake her as she tucked it in, and then slowly eased the frames from her face and set them down on the coffee table.
Creeping into the kitchen, Lena refilled her empty glass of water and rubbed at her tired eyes, before glancing down and starting slightly at the giant ball of fur sitting at her feet, two liquid dark eyes staring up at her.
“Fucking- stop that,” she hissed at the dog.
Krypto cocked his head to the side and made a low whining sound, shifting on his feet as he stared up at her, tail swishing across the floor.
“Shoo. Go on, dog.
Much to her ire, the dog didn’t shoo, and Lena sighed as she stared down at him, before hesitantly reaching out to gingerly pat the top of his head.
“What? What is it? Are you thirsty? Hungry?”
Glancing around, Lena spotted the large dog bowls set in the back corner of the cabin, away from the kitchen. Padding over to it, she took in the swimming pool of water and the empty food bowl and softly sighed, turning around to scan the kitchen, trying to figure out where Kara kept the food.
She found a door to a massive pantry, fully stocked with every kind of canned and preserved food imaginable, enough to, well, survive being buried beneath an avalanche of snow. Included in the horde were a few bags of dog kibble, which Lena scooped into the metal bowl she was carrying, before taking it back out to set down beside the bowl of water, where Krypto was patiently sitting, awaiting his meal.
As Lena stepped back, his massive head tracked her movements and she frowned as he stared up at her with those big eyes. “Um, eat?”
The dog happily dove towards his food and started wolfing down the biscuits, and Lena watched for a few moments, before returning to the kitchen. While not particularly hungry at that moment, Lena set about figuring out something to make for dinner, hoping it would be a nice gesture for Kara, and raided the fridge of foods that would expire soon.
In the end, the only thing that fell within the realm of her capabilities was an omelette, and Lena hunted down one of the sturdy chopping boards and a sharp knife and set about dicing a selection of vegetables. By the time she’d finished with the onion and tomato, she was starting to feel a bit peckish and enjoying the simple act of cooking for someone else, and was so lost in her own reverie and the comforting rhythmic sound of the knife that she didn’t hear the footsteps come up behind her.
“Are you cooking dinner?”
Whirling around, knuckles white on the handle of the knife, Lena clutched her other hand to her chest and let out a strained laugh as she took in the sight of Kara, cheeks indented with the pattern of the pillow she’d been sleeping on and eyes bleary as she cleaned her glasses on the hem of her shirt.
“Christ. You scared me,” Lena breathlessly replied, feeling her cheeks warm. “Yeah, I, uh, I’m making omelettes. Or … hopefully am. Do you- do you like omelettes?”
Face softening with a tender look, which Lena attributed to the sleepy-eyed slowness of the freshly awoken, Kara smiled. “Yeah, I do.”
“Are you hungry now? I was just going to wait until later, but if you’re hungry …”
“I could eat.”
“Great, well, I’ll get started on it then.”
“I can hel-”
“I’ve got it,” Lena gently interrupted, giving her an earnest smile.
Chewing on her lip, Kara hesitated a moment, before nodding and retreating back to the warmth of the fire. Whisking eggs in a bowl while the chopped ingredients sizzled in a hot pan, Lena glanced over her shoulder to study the dark outline of Kara as she curled up on the sofa, quietly chatting to Krypto, who was half up on the sagging couch with her, and she smiled, feeling like she was glimpsing Kara’s ordinary life from the outside. Lena could imagine her like this when she was alone, talking to her dog and pottering around the house without any real purpose.
It was a little life, but she found it quite charming, the thought burrowing into her mind. Perhaps she should look into buying a vineyard with a nice chateau in France, or a ranch in the midwest. Lena had cobbled together enough passable talent in several interests to whittle away the days with her own company, living off her bottomless trust fund while her brother and the board handled the running of their hotels. But Lena didn’t think she’d be happy by herself, not after a while. She was always alone, and although she insisted to herself that she preferred her own company, it left her cold and empty after a while.
But not at the moment. Not in the cramped cabin with a woman she barely knew and a dog that was mildly terrifying by the sheer size of it alone, with nothing to do except eat and read and relax by the fire. Lena felt more full and content than she’d felt in a long while. It wasn’t so much a curse but a relief to have been snowed in, even if the sensation of being trapped brought on a mild, unknown fear of claustrophobia.
Brooding over the small stove, Lena poured in the mixture of eggs and nudged it with a spatula. The smell of her cooking wafted through the cabin, and she slid out the golden mass of eggs onto a plate and poured in the rest of the mixture, before carrying the plate over to the table. Kara perked up at the sight and quickly scrambled to her feet, beaming at Lena, who set the plate down for her.
“Hey, do you drink?” Kara asked.
“Yes,” Lena replied, arching an eyebrow with apprehension.
“Should we open some wine? It’s Christmas Eve so …”
Brow furrowing, Lena pursed her lips slightly, “oh, right. It is. I almost … forgot. Wine sounds nice.”
She walked back into the kitchen with Kara in tow and started forming ridges with the eggs as Kara fetched two wine glasses and disappeared into the pantry. There was a bottle of red clutched in her hand when she reemerged, looking ecstatic as she popped the cork.
“It’s Malbec. I’ve been waiting to open it, but it seemed like a waste to drink it alone. So this is the perfect opportunity!”
Lena gave her a thin smile as she flipped the omelette and pressed down on it, giving Kara a sideways glance as she watched her pour healthy amounts of wine into both glasses, before carrying them over to the table. It was a few minutes before Lena cut the gas and slid her own omelette out of the pan, picking up her cutlery and walking over to the table, where Kara was patiently waiting for her.
“Oh … you didn’t have to wait for me.”
Waving her concerns aside, Kara shifted in her seat and picked up her knife and fork as Lena set her plate down and sank onto a seat. They didn’t speak much over dinner, cutlery scraping against their plates as they sipped wine in between mouthfuls, but Kara was full of compliments and gratitude once she was finished.
Firmly ordered to sit down while Kara did the dishes, Lena added a log to the fire and then picked up her discarded book, settling down in the big armchair and continuing where she’d left off, finding her eyes heavy and stomach full. Sleep wouldn’t be long to come, and she found it amusing that she felt so at home in Kara’s home, a place she’d know all of two days. Not quite two days, at that.
She was blinking back the burning feeling behind her eyes when Kara came back, hands pink from the hot water and her sweater splotchy with dots of water. Running a hand over her face, Lena straightened up from her slumped position and cleared her throat, feeling just a little too warm before the fire.
“You look half-asleep,” Kara quietly chuckled, giving Lena an appraising look. “You don’t have to stay up, you know. You can go to bed.”
“And let you trick me into taking the bed again?” Lena said with a wry smile, “not this time. I’m fine; I’m just … comfortable. I never realised how cosy a small cabin could be.”
With a soft laugh, Kara shook her head as she narrowed her eyes slightly at Lena, looking bewilderedly amused. “You’re very stubborn, has anyone ever told you that before?”
Lifting one shoulder in a languid shrug, Lena smiled, running her fingertips over the worn leather arm of her chair, “it’s my defining trait. But really, you take the bed tonight. I’ll be comfortable enough out here.”
“And if I’m stubborn too?”
“Then we’ll be in for a long night,” Lena dryly replied, her head lolling to the side as she gave Kara a challenging stare.
“I can do long nights,” Kara murmured, a playful smile curling her lips. “Plenty of long nights spent playing Scrabble and doing puzzles. I know how to pass the time.”
Arching an eyebrow at the slight edge of challenge in Kara’s voice, Lena straightened up slightly, jerking her chin forward as she bristled. “Scrabble? If you must know, I’ve never lost a game.”
Eyes lighting up, Kara shot to her feet and quickly crossed over to the crammed bookshelf, finger scanning the boxes shoved into every possible gap not taken up by books, before she let out a small sound of triumph and plucked a battered cardboard box from the bottom of a stack. Turning around, she gave Lena a mischievous look and crossed back over to the coffee table, setting the dusty box down.
“I’m game if you are.”
“Oh, darling ,” Lena haughtily chuckled, leaning forward with a spark of eagerness in her eyes, “I’m always playing some game. How about loser takes the bed?”
Clapping her hands together, Kara smiled widely. “I’ll get us some coffee then.”
Lena pried the flimsy lid off the box and pulled out the bag of tiles, moving hand-carved coasters off to one side, Kara’s abandoned book off to the other, before she unfolded the board and spread it out over the table. Upending the bag of plastic tiles on top, Lena started to mix them up and turn them all over as the smell of coffee permeated the cabin.
“Hey, you better not be cheating,” Kara called from the kitchen as she pulled out clean mugs, “I can’t see what you’re doing from here, but I trust you.”
With a quiet scoff of laughter, Lena’s lips curled into a crooked smile as her fingers moved the plastic squares around in random patterns. “I would never cheat. It takes away from the smug satisfaction of winning.”
“If you win.”
“There’s no if about it.”
She was waiting patiently, sitting on a pillow on the floor, right leg extended as she rested her ankle on another pillow, when Kara finally returned, her long fingers clutching two mugs and a coffee pot in her hands. Setting it down onto the coffee table, Kara made herself comfortable and filled both cups with dark coffee, sliding one across to Lena, who wrapped her cold hand around it.
Silently, they both picked their tiles and placed them on the small stands before them, sitting opposite each other, the fire warming Lena’s back while Kara wrapped the blanket around her shoulders, and they fell into the familiar game.
It was thrilling to Lena, to play with someone so competitive, as she’d conveniently forgotten to mention that the only time she’d ever played Scrabble was on an app on her phone, where she typically did always win. Beating Kara was even easier, and she couldn’t bite back her smiles every time Kara let out a spluttered protest or tried to argue a rule with Lena.
“Coniines? That is not a word!” Kara scoffed.
“Yes, it is.”
“In English? You agreed that you wouldn’t use any foreign languages again.”
With a weary sigh, Lena rolled her eyes, reaching for her cup of coffee. “Yes , it’s an English word. It’s the alkaloid in the poisonous part of hemlock.”
Kara made a choked sound of indignation, a crease forming between her eyebrows as she pouted, “well that’s just- who even knows that word! Did you swallow a dictionary growing up?”
Shrugging, Lena smiled as Kara scribbled down the points for the word. “Something like that.”
“When you said you were good , I didn’t think you meant I was going to embarrass myself this badly! How am I supposed to make a good impression on you now, when you’re going to think I’m a terrible Scrabble player?”
Lena laughed and gestured for Kara to take her turn, watching her eyes flit across the letters, lips pursed in a thoughtful manner as the crease between her eyebrows deepened. It took her a long while, but Lena patiently watched her, enjoying the simple act of observing her, taking in the way she chewed on her bottom lip, brushed stray locks of hair out of her face and grimaced. She felt like she knew Kara more than she should’ve after such a small amount of time, but she knew her all the same.
They played three long games, Lena winning the first two by a landslide and then, surprising herself, let Kara win the last by strategically creating short words and not using the letters with high points. The small dent to her pride was worth it to watch Kara throw her arms up in triumphant relief as she laughed, loud and warm, making Lena’s stomach clench slightly as her heart twinged. She was helpless to laugh along with her.
Afterwards, Kara pulled out chess, and then checkers, once she’d realised Lena was an indomitable force at chess, and then Guess Who and Monopoly , hours slipping by, overshadowed by laughter and teasing. A bottle of peach schnapps was opened when they reached Jenga, the loser taking a sip each time they sent the wooden blocks clattering onto the coffee table. Then it was Connect Four and Lena’s eyes were burning and she felt sluggish from the wine and peach schnapps, yet her whole body was alive, brimming with caffeine and the thrill of staying up late with someone, doing something as innocent as playing board games.
“Oh my God, it’s six o’clock ,” Kara eventually said, blinking owlishly at the clock, before taking her glasses off and rubbing her tired eyes.
She put them back on and raked her fingers through her messy hair, looking mildly shocked as she looked at Lena, as if she hadn’t realised how long they’d spent hazing each other over various games, enjoying their Christmas Eve as much as two strangers trapped inside a cabin could. At that point, it didn’t seem right to call Kara a stranger though.
“Well … merry Christmas.”
Kara’s face lit up as it dawned on her that it was Christmas, and she smiled widely at Lena. “Merry Christmas.”
She smiled as Kara yawned widely, her jaw quietly popping, and let out a quiet huff of laughter, “you should go to bed.”
“You should go to bed too.”
“I will,” Lena placatingly replied, blinking back the burning feeling in her eyes as she climbed to her feet, grumbling as her leaden limbs protested. “On the sofa.”
“We made a deal,” Lena reminded her with a coy smile, “loser sleeps in the bed. I think I won, at almost everything. I have to give it to you, you play a mean game of Guess Who.”
“You have a tell.”
Lena let out a squawk of protest, her mouth opening with a look of outrage creasing her features and she stilled, bristling as she stared down at Kara with hard green eyes, flashing with indignation.
“I do not have a tell! I’ve cleaned up at poker tables in Monaco. You’re bluffing.”
With a snort of laughter, Kara’s eyes creased at the corners and she gave Lena a satisfied grin, “I am. But you’re so easy to get a rise out of.”
Mouth wordlessly opening and closing, Lena felt the tension bleed out of her as her taut shoulders lowered and a stuttering laugh worked its way up her throat. Rolling her eyes as her cheeks turned pink, she helped neatly stack the boxes of games, while Kara collected their empty glasses and mugs.
“Leave all of those. I’ll put them away in the morning.”
“What do you want me to do with the fire?”
“Just shut the door; it’ll burn itself out.”
“Does the dog sleep out here?”
With a quiet laugh, Kara padded off towards the kitchen, “well, he’s too big for the bed. I’ll take him in with me if it makes you feel more comfortable.”
“It’s not- it’s fine . I was just wondering if he likes to sleep on the sofa or whatever. Didn’t want to be smothered in my sleep.”
“He usually sleeps by the fire.”
They both pottered around the place, straightening pillows, tidying away the mess and making a bed up on the sofa, before they parted ways for the night, although the light filtering in through the window that was frozen over with ice was already tinged with blue. It felt decidedly un-Christmassy at that time, but Lena didn’t care for the holidays much anyway, feeling no kindling excitement that made her want to stay up, eager for eggnog and sugar cookies. Instead, she sank onto the sofa cushions and buried her face into a pillow smelling of sawdust and pine, like Kara, and was out for the count.
She woke with a start to something wet pressing against her hand, blinking back sleep as her slow mind tried to process where she was and what was happening, and before Lena could sit up, the scent of raw meat was in her face as Krypto slobbered all over her cheek. Letting out a cry of protest, she scrambled up the sofa, until she was standing over the massive dog, scowling down at him with irritation. Wiping the cuff of Kara’s fleece over her cheek, she made a low sound of annoyance at the back of her mind.
“Bad dog,” Lena snapped, mouth turning down at the corners in disgust.
“What’s he doing?”
She whirled around at the sound of Kara’s voice coming from the dark mouth of the bedroom door, losing her balance as she put her weight on her bad leg, and tumbled onto the sofa with a soft thump. Cheeks flaming with embarrassment, Lena found herself staring at the rafters.
“Scaring the shit out of me while I’m sleeping.”
“Mm,” Kara murmured, voice thick with sleep, “I think he’s hungry. God, it’s already past noon. Coffee?”
Sitting upright, Lena peered over the back of the sofa and watched Kara shuffle towards the kitchen, flipping light switches and flooding the room with the soft amber glow. She was wearing a plaid robe and her hair was a bird’s nest of blonde curls, and Lena’s eyes tracked her movements as she fetched clean mugs and set the coffee on to brew, before fetching Krypto’s bowl and filling it with food.
“I’m starting to regret my competitiveness,” Kara said, the words muffled behind her hand as she yawned widely. “I didn’t sleep nearly enough.”
“It’s a good thing you don’t have anything else to be doing today.”
“It’s Christmas! I can’t waste it on sleep,” Kara scoffed, seeming scandalised by the mere thought.
Giving her a pitying look, Lena gingerly bared her teeth in a grimace, “sorry to break it to you, but it’s not like you’re going anywhere.”
“I know, I know,” Kara sighed, “but I can at least … I don’t know, do a jigsaw puzzle or finish up some projects in the workshop. It’ll be a waste to just spend the day sleeping. Not that you shouldn’t; feel free to take the bed if you feel like a few more hours.”
“I’m fine. Want me to get the fire going?”
With Kara’s approval, Lena set about arranging the logs like she’d been shown, adding in chips of wood and strips of dried bark, before setting it alight and watching with satisfaction as the fire caught and quickly filled the small wood burner with its cheerful glow. Orange light bathed her skin and the heat that blossomed within was nearly enough to singe her eyebrows off her face as she lingered before it for a moment, before backing away.
Kara was approaching with the coffee and Lena took hers with grateful thanks, the stale taste of alcohol coating her tongue and leaving her mouth dry. She quickly washed it away with the bitter taste of fresh coffee and felt it pool in her stomach. They stood a few feet apart before the blazing fire, lapsing into silence for a moment, before Lena arched an eyebrow.
“So … are you any better at jigsaw puzzles than board games?”
“I wasn’t that bad.”
“But I still won, and I’m going to savour my victory for as long as we’re stuck with each other.”
“Will I be able to redeem myself by shocking you with my impressive puzzle skills?”
Cocking her head to the side, Lena deliberated for a beat, before giving Kara a lopsided smile, “possibly. I don’t see how we can turn this into a challenge, but if you impress me … maybe so.”
With childlike eagerness, Kara fished a dented puzzle box with a scenic art piece of a log cabin on a snowy mountain, which Lena could only assume had come from some nearby gift shop in town, and they cleared off the coffee table with purpose. Bickering over whether it was cheating to do the outside pieces first, or if they should just piece it together as they went, they worked over the puzzle with the weary squabbling of an old married couple, a thought that crossed Lena’s mind and amused her to no end as she sipped her coffee and purposely teased Kara, watching her become more and more desperate to solve the puzzle, her stubbornness shining through.
They chatted as they worked at it, Kara telling Lena all about her family and their usual Christmases, about her old job and the friends she only saw on occasion now. Lena surprised herself by telling Kara of her travels, of the places she’d been and places she wanted to go to, of all the workshops and classes for fleeting hobbies she’d dabbled in, all the things that had never stuck as Lena drifted through life in luxury. She felt strangely vulnerable, before the fire on the mountainside as she finished a jigsaw puzzle, but Lena didn’t feel self-conscious as she spilled things she’d never told anyone about before. There had been no one to tell.
It was mid-afternoon when they finally stopped, the sky already bluish through the warped layer of ice, and Kara cracked the window open to let in a bitter stream of air, cleansing the stuffy, smoke-filled room with the smell of freshly fallen snow and pine. Kara seemed optimistic that things would settle down enough to free them tomorrow, and Lena didn’t know how to explain why she felt sad and elated at the same time.
Instead, she brushed the thought aside and offered to cook breakfast, which was, in actual fact, technically dinner. Kara insisted on helping and they monopolised the kitchen, side by side, cooking a pile of scrambled eggs and thick cuts of bacon, the greasy smell filling the space and drawing the attention of Krypto, who surreptitiously shuffled about nearby, his intentions clear.
They ate breakfast for dinner at the scarred dining table, while Krypto wolfed down his own serving of bacon as a Christmas treat, and Lena felt strange. The unusualness of the day was not lost on her. Time seemed turned upside down and it was the most bizarre Christmas she’d ever celebrated, yes simultaneously the best. Late nights and breakfast at the wrong time and something as quiet as doing a jigsaw puzzle somehow felt more like a holiday made for comfort and family than any other day she could ever remember with her own family.
Kara cracked open another bottle of wine after they’d finished eating, and they sat before the fire, wearing sweaters and plaid, warm and cosy with nowhere else to be, and Lena felt so at home that she forgot for a moment that she’d be leaving soon. Not that day, but soon enough to make her heart ache with the thought. Just a taste of a life with someone else, someone smart and funny and kind, was enough to make her yearn for it so strongly that she was considering making a very big mistake, deluding herself into thinking that she could have something like that for herself.
She barely took a sip of her wine, swilling it around in her glass and breathing in the flowery bouquet of it as she brooded before the fire and watched the whirlpool that formed in the centre of the deep purple liquid. Wine would make her relax, make her forget herself further than she already had, and Lena wasn’t in the habit of forgetting herself.
Yet, all thoughts went out the window when Krypto started batting something across the floor, watching it skid as he bounded after it, and Kara craned her neck over the back of the couch, cutting off midway through what she was saying, and leapt to her feet so quickly that it started Lena. Kara’s wine glass was set on the coffee table before she leapt over the back of the sofa with a sharp shout, and Lena slowly set hers down, before walking around the back of it and lingering near Kara’s crouched form.
“What is it?”
“He’s torn down some of the mistletoe. It’s poisonous. Give it here you goofball. ”
Lena watched with apprehension as Kara managed to get the clipping of greenery and white berries from between the dog’s jaw, a grimace of distaste on her face as she held it aloft between thumb and forefinger as it dripped with saliva.
“Gross,” Kara muttered, giving Lena a dour look.
Moving to the kitchen, with Lena trailing after her, Kara turned on the tap and rinsed it and her hand beneath the stream of water, before shaking her head and tossing it into the trash. Lena cocked her head to the side and stared at her with heavy-lidded eyes as Kara turned back around and took a step towards her, the gap between them growing smaller.
She paused for a moment, staring at Lena, and there was a flicker of some unreadable expression in her eyes that made Lena’s stomach soar with butterflies, almost nauseating with its nervousness. Kara’s lips parted slightly and she drew in a quiet, sharp breath as she leant in, so slowly and with a hesitant purpose that it was almost maddening. Lena couldn’t stop herself from closing the gap between them, bearing down on Kara, despite the height difference and pushing her back against the kitchen counters.
“Oh,” Kara murmured, her lips a hairsbreadth from Lena’s as she reached up and brushed her dark hair out of her face, staring at her with wide blue eyes, pupils dilated.
“Is this just because of the mistletoe,” Lena whispered, arching an eyebrow as she looked up at Kara, her heart hammering in her chest.
With a barely audible shuddering laugh, Kara’s fingers ghosted Lena’s cheek with a featherlight touch and her nose crinkled with a smile. “It’s in the trash. There’s no mistletoe here,” she quietly told her, “no excuses.”
Lena shrugged minutely, a nonchalant gesture that belied her inner turmoil, her desperate want for someone. Just once. Someone who she would never see again, once she was free of the cabin.
“Sure there is. We’ve had some wine.”
“You didn’t touch yours.”
“It’s Christmas Day. It’s just a little holiday fun.”
“Do you normally kiss your friends on Christmas?”
“It’s because I just really want to kiss you,” Kara admitted, her voice low and uncertain as her cheeks turned pink, almost as if she was embarrassed by being so forthright.
A smile curled Lena’s lips as she reached up to cup Kara’s cheek in her hand, tilting her head to the side and bumping their noses. Kara rested her forehead against Lena’s, and it was such an intimate gesture that Lena felt a spasm of panic ripple through her, before she seized control and crossed the mere hairsbreadth of distance separating them.
Kara’s lips were as soft as they’d looked, as warm as the rest of her body, which seemed to radiate heat like a small furnace, and she pressed herself deeper into the kiss as Kara pushed back against her, looming over her and letting one hand glide down Lena’s spine to pull her closer. Bodies flush, they let their hands wander as they kissed, and Lena’s skin felt like it was on fire, feeling flushed beneath the collar of Kara’s fleece as her whole body came alive beneath her touch.
Mind blank of any thoughts, Lena wasn’t sure who led who to the bedroom, only that she was aware of the door clicking shut and then the mattress springs were groaning beneath their weight as Kara loomed over her. It almost felt like a fever dream, and Lena wondered if perhaps the past three days had just been a hypothermia induced delirium and she’d gotten lost in the cold instead of finding her way to the cabin, because it all felt too good to be true. The culmination of the strange tension that had been hanging over them as they coyly tiptoed around each other in the intimate closeness of the cabin had led right up to that moment though, and she gave in willingly, embracing it for all its worth. Just for one night.
Lena didn’t even remember falling asleep, but she woke to a shout some unnamable amount of time later, jerking up in bed, beneath a pile of blankets and the heavy weight of Kara’s arm thrown across her waist. Hair half in her face, Lena glanced around, her whole body thrumming with adrenaline from some unknown threat, and she cocked her head to the side, listening intently.
Any thought of sleep long gone from Lena’s mind, she scrambled out of bed and moved towards the snow-obscured window, pressing her hand against the frozen pane, before turning back to the bed at the sound of groaning springs. Kara’s blonde head emerged as she peered sleepily at Lena, eyes narrowed and face youthful without her glasses.
“Someone’s outside,” Lena informed her. “I think it’s Mike; they called your name.”
“Mike!” Kara eagerly exclaimed, scrambling out of bed and scrabbling on the floor for her lost pants.
Lena watched her shove one foot in and hop towards the door, nearly tripping over herself as she struggled to get her other foot in. Slowly drifting towards the door, Lena scrubbed a hand over her weary face and blinked at the brightness from the lights they hadn’t turned out the night before, watching as Kara darted over to the window and shoved her weight against it to break the layer of ice keeping it partially sealed. It squealed in protest as she jerked it up a fraction, crouching to put her mouth to the gap.
“Mike? Hey! Great, yeah, no, yeah, we’re fine. No, it’s actually been nice. How was your Christmas? Oh, nice. Yeah, it was … quiet. How long do you think? Sounds good. Okay, I’ll let you get to it.”
Pulling away from the window, bright-eyed and smiling, Kara moved back over to Lena.
“Mike said it’s sunny today and the snow’s a bit slushy on top, so it sounds like good news! It’ll probably take him a few hours to dig us out, but it looks like you won’t miss much of your trip to Switzerland.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s … good.”
“Sure,” Lena softly replied, a pang of sadness striking a chord inside her heart at the fact that they would be parting ways before the day was out, not more coffee and breakfast and sitting by the fire swapping stories. “Coffee sounds perfect.”
With the feeling of time slipping by like sand falling through her fingers, Lena sipped her coffee beside Kara on the sofa, hunching forward as Kara slung her arm over the back of the sofa, and she felt a heavy tension descend over the room. Lena didn’t know how to act, given their actions of the night before, given how little they really knew each other, and, of course, the fact that she’d be gone soon.
She’d come back to her family’s resort, of course, but it wouldn’t be the same. If she visited Kara, and that was a big if , despite Lena’s desire to, it would be the awkward visit of someone dropping in to say hi and reminisce over their small stint of imprisonment together, and she wasn’t sure she’d be able to handle it. Lena wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say next, or do, so she sat in silence, waiting for Kara to take the lead.
Time slipped by, the sound of hacking and digging growing louder outside, and Kara yanked the door open to reveal a wall of packed snow. In the meantime, she pulled out another puzzle, this time with a forest landscape that looked like a glimpse of the mountain in spring, and they sipped more coffee as they sat on the sofa and silently worked on it.
“So, about last night,” Kara haltingly started after a long stretch of silence spent listening to the muffled scraping sounds outside.
“I, uh, I had fun.”
With a quiet snort of laughter, Lena turned and gave her a smile, leaning back in her seat and angling her body towards Kara. Their knees bumped and the thought of Kara’s arm around her shoulder, albeit not touching her, warmed her insides and she felt a little bit tongue-tied.
“So did I.”
“Right, well, that’s- that’s good. Because I- I was hoping that if you- if you visited again - you’ll visit the resort again right?”
At Lena’s curt nod, Kara continued with a look of relief on her face and in the way her shoulders drooped.
“Good, good. Because I thought that maybe we could- we could get dinner sometime. Next time. I know you’re off to the Swiss Alps, but when you come back-”
“That sounds great.”
Both bashful and pink-cheeked, the sat shoulder to shoulder, nursing their cups of coffee as they filled in the puzzle while Mike chipped away at the icy barrier keeping them trapped inside. Feeling terribly pleased with herself, Lena couldn’t stop smiling and peeking sideways at Kara, finding her staring at her too. Just the mere thought of having a reason to come back, to come back without the awkwardness of not knowing where they stood, was enough to make Lena’s spirits soar.
Even when twenty minutes later the last crust of ice was broken through, sending chunks of quickly melting snow onto the floor to be nosed at by Krypto, Lena didn’t feel the same heaviness of sorrow weigh down on her. She was all smiles when Mike finally broke his way in, wet all the way through and red-faced from exertion, scruffy beard caked in flakes of ice and snow, and Lena didn’t so much as move as Kara walked over to the door to poke her head through the tunnel he’d hacked through the snowdrift, gulping down her proper first lungful of fresh air in days.
“Looks like you’re free to go,” Kara said as she stepped back inside, giving Lena a warm smile as Mike stomped his way to the kitchen to pour himself some coffee. “I’ll get Mike to take you back up on his snowmobile. It’ll be quicker that way; you might still be able to catch your flight if you’re quick.”
Waving a hand dismissively, Lena gave her a smile, “I’ve already missed my flight, and besides, we haven’t finished our puzzle yet. You still have to impress me, remember?”
“So, you- you want to stay?”
“For as long as I’m welcome to.”
Mouth curving up into a warm smile, Kara gave her a tender look full of warmth. “That’s going to be an awfully long time.”
“Then it’s a good thing I’ve got nowhere to be.”