Max, Mia, and Leo talk in hushed, excited voices about the letter Leo received on our trip to town. I try not to pry into their personal business as I numbly wash dishes, alone in my own swirling thoughts.
“Elsie.” Mia says.
I flinch at her hand on my shoulder and cry out as I realize how hot the water is. I curse to myself as I leave the dishes in the sink and cradle my scalded hands up stairs.
I leave the door cracked and I can hear everything in the living room.
“What happened on the trip?”
I have to strain my ears to catch Mia’s interrogation. I know from observing that she is probably staring Leo down, trying to get an honest answer.
“Nothing happened.” He tells her.
I scoff, he rejected me, that’s what.
“Ever since you two got back, both of you have been avoiding each other more and more each day. When we last saw you, she was happy and talkative. She always sneaked glances at you and you did the same. Leo,-”
“Enough. I have a headache and I’m going to sleep. I will not discuss this anymore.” Leo hisses at the two.
I shiver at the fresh memory of what he said to me in the hotel room, playing like a broken record. I bury my face in my pillow and wait for sleep to take me.
September came to a close and October presented itself with a very cold morning. I rub the sleep out of my eyes as I go to the stairs.
The door opens and Leo steps out. Still groggy, I run into him, my face pressing against his chest. I inhale and almost whine. He smells like the forrest and soap, and he is still warm from his bed.
I step back and continue on my path, yawning and shuffling down the stairs as I do so. I grab another log and stoke the embers to a flame. I sling the kettle on the stove and let it boil. I dash back to the fireplace and add two more small logs while I stand by the fire and warm myself up.
I bundle up in layers to check on the solar panels. First two things I do is check the solar panels and water tank. I sweep pine needles and branches from the solar panel and wipe the frost off. I go back inside and wake Max up to go check on the ladies.
Mia starts on breakfast while I return outside to keep the water level steady. Four buckets of water to get it back up. I carefully trek down the slope since it rained last night with an empty bucket.
I concentrate on the smoke coming from the chimney, getting warm is my motivation as I power through the next three trips. I get relaxed on the last trip up the slope, and that is my grave mistake.
I veer off the safe path unknowingly and a ice covered branch makes me loose my balance. With one short yelp of alert, I feel myself fall. I know I’ve twisted my ankle as I tumble harshly down the slope.
Black dots cloud my vision as my head hits one of the bigger rocks on the shore of Strong Current. I can feel my left arm and leg being submerged in the icy, dark water as my last sight is the pale blue sky of the morning.
THIRD PERSON’S POV
Max hears a cry not too far and his head jerks up. The ladies squawk around in surprise as Max rushes out of the coop. He almost forgets to lock the gate as he investigates where the sound came from.
His eyes scan the back of the cabin. Nothing. His eyes follow the path Elsie has created and sees her. She is lying at the shore of the river, half of her body in the water already. She couldn’t have been there for a few minutes, but for someone her petite size, that could mean life or death.
Max, as quickly as possible, tramples down the path to help Elsie.
Mia looks out the window to see Max going down to the river. Strange, she thinks, as Max is usually with the ladies. She squints her eyes at the mass on the shore and realizes it’s Elsie.
She gasps and turns to Leo.
“Find the first aid kit and bring it to Elsie’s room. Pick out the warmest clothes of hers possible and get several towels. Max will bring her in shortly. Hurry.”
Leo doesn’t question her and scurries around completing her commands. He hears the door close and heavy footsteps as Max gently lays an unconscious Elsie on her bed with the covers pulled back.
Mia flutters around the girl. She checks her pulse and temperature first, then begins to peel her out of the drenched layers that she has on.
“I’ve got it from here, go downstairs.” Mia tells the two of them.
Both men nod and stay in the kitchen. Leo for once isn’t glued to his laptop trying to find a cure for Fred, and his leg bounces nervously as they wait for news.
Mia works on getting her clothes off and keeping her temperature up. On the bed side table there are bloody rags that soaked up the blood from the back of her head. Her pale cheeks are a sharp contrast from her blue tinged lips. Her skin is so thin, Mia can easily traces the veins that run underneath them. Her chest, clad in a dry white shirt, rose steadily as her forehead was beaded with sweat.
Most of Elsie was underneath the heavy comforter, all except her left foot, which was propped on a pillow with a bandage wrapped around it and an ice pack on top. Mia catches her eyes moving rapidly underneath her eyelids and moves to take her hand.
Mia’s heart practically breaks when she hears the young woman mutter something about her mother. Mia stays with her for thirty more minutes before going downstairs to her boys.
I groan as my head pounds brutally. My eyes are still closed, but I know I’m in home. For some reason, I’m so overwhelmed by everything that has happened that I start sobbing. It wasn’t quiet sobbing either, it was blubbering, snotty nose, wet cheeks sobbing. I can feel my body shake violently as I cry my emotions out.
I don’t remember a lot besides the fact that I stumbled down the slope. Carefully, I try to open my eyes. I manage to get them open and turn my head to the left where the window is.
It’s dusk outside. With what little light there is streaming through the window, I notice a figure some feet away. I make a surprised noise, or an attempt of one with my hoarse throat, and the figure snaps to attention.
“Elsie.” Max says with relief.
“I’ll go tell the others.” He starts.
“Stay.” I beg of him before I start coughing.
He is immediately by my side. He helps me sit up and gets more pillows to support me. As he is propping me up, I wrap my arms around his torso. He stops and sit down beside me on the edge of the bed.
I bury my face in the soft, warm sweater he has on as I return to the blubbering mess I was before. I feel his arms wrap around me and one hand rub my back slowly. My hands tighten into fists and quake as I keep replaying Leo’s rejection speech in my head.
“You’ve been out all day since I found you. I will get you some dinner.” Max quietly tells me.
I let go of him and wrap my arms around myself, shivering slightly. A few minutes later, Mia comes up with a tray and a gentle smile.
She sets the tray on my lap and turns on one of the lamps on either side of the table. She notices my shivering and gets a blanket.
“How are you feeling, Elsie?” Mia asks carefully.
I shrug. My head is still pounding, my nose is crusty from snot, my ankle has a dull ache, my eyes hurt when I blink from crying so hard, and the person I want right now won’t come near me.
“Tired.” I tell her.
My face is a swan. Everything seems fine on top, but underneath in the current of emotions, my feet are frantically paddling to maintain order.
She takes the tray seeing that I won’t touch any of the food. As the sound of the door closes, I sit in the silence that I am accustomed to.
As my eyes drift shut, I hear the knob turn. I keep them shut and hope whoever has entered my room leaves. My ears pick up the soft treading of socks on wood, tentatively making their way towards me. With my head leaning back against the pillow and to my right facing the door, I couldn’t get a good look at the person who is standing at my left.
I fight the urge to look.
“I know I hurt you. I don’t want to, I never have. That night at the hotel, I lied. I can never tell you when you are awake. I don’t want to see you in danger because of my feelings towards you. If they ever got to you. I don’t know what I would do. I think I would loose my mind.”
My heart is racing. I knew he liked me back. I was about to open my eyes when I feel lips brush against my cheek, practically on my jawline before I hear his footsteps retreat back to the door and he is gone.