Cruiser Lake - Part 2 of 5

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"SHUT UP! You got NAKED with me! And you sure don't look like you minded it! Was this your plan all along?"

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Cruiser Lake
Part 2 of 5

by Sigh
Copyright © 2012 plaintivesigh
All Rights Reserved.

CHAPTER 4

Jocelyn coughed yet again, as she had off and on all night. This cough woke her up, barely. Over the next few minutes, she became gradually aware that she was awakening in a foreign place. Foreign, yet she wasn’t alarmed. She if anything felt secure. And nice and warm, except for the cold biting her nose, forehead and the upper tips of her ears. She opened her eyes to see brown fabric right near her face. In a minute, she looked up and saw a mild light, like reflected morning glow, off of a wall. A log wall.

I wonder where I am. She also wondered slightly why she wasn’t alarmed, coming to in such a strange place. I feel… safe.

She took a deep breath. Then she heard another breath and felt her chest squeeze with it. But she hadn’t inhaled. She moved her head — and felt the unmistakable rub of skin on skin. Her left ear was scratching against a rough yet soft surface; a cheek with stubble.

Someone’s in bed with me. What did I do last night? Oh God — don’t tell me I got drunk and got with some stranger. That couldn’t have happened; I never go out drinking. I don’t even date. Think. I went home after work, then…no, wait. I drove in the car to pick up that guy to go to Helena…

Then she remembered the drive. And the narrow road. And the bull elk and the crash. And the fall through the ice…

I need to get up and figure this out. If I can do it without waking whomever this is.

She then tried to lift her arm and leg, but couldn’t. She twisted her torso, which was still difficult. Lifting her head, she was able to get a look at the face of her morning companion. He was asleep; an older guy, with a mustache, thinning hair.

Her heart stopped.

Alan!

She still couldn’t mobilize her arms fully, but by rubbing her arms against her chest by shrugging her shoulders she had a shocking realization.

It’s not there!

Alan said groggily, “Hey…you awake?”

“Y-yeah…. um (kaff), did you… undress me last night?”

“Yes. (yawn) You got hypothermic after you fell through the ice. Even delirious. I was afraid I was going to lose you. I had to warm you up with my body heat.”

Joseph considered that news. “Thank you, Alan. I (kaff, kaff) guess I owe you my life.”

“I’m glad you’re alive. Do you know how hard it is to replace a good I.T. guy?”

Joseph didn’t laugh. “Alan… did you remove the wrap I had around my chest?”

“Yes. It was wet. You got soaked through and through.”

He's acting so normal. Maybe he didn't see? How could he not notice? -“When you took it off did you… notice anything?”

“Um… yes.”

OH GOD! OHGODOHGODOHGODOHGOOOODDD!!

Joseph panicked. Sudden queasiness and migraine took hold. “Get... get AWAY from me… GOD DAMMIT, GET OFF OF ME!!”

Jocelyn now made no pretense of being male. She writhed and struggled to get out of the cocoon they were in.

“Whoa, whoa, hang on just a minute willya?” Alan reversed the log roll from the night before, but Jocelyn was pushing and yelling, and they rolled too far — off the end of the bed.

THUMP! Went two bodies, one nude and one nearly, on the floor. Jocelyn scooted to the far wall, sitting with her knees to her chest, crossed feet attempting to hide her groin, arms around her knees. She immediately felt the extreme cold hitting her all around, and started to quiver slightly.

Alan stood up and tossed her some blankets. They were still warm from their “burrito”. He then proceeded to put on his outfit from yesterday.

“DANG! I didn’t know clothes could freeze!” Adam got clad quickly and looked at his sleep partner. She was crying, scared, and furious all at the same time. He sat down on the floor and smiled.

“I’m sorry about the being in the buff together. You were dying — really. You were nearly frozen, and I couldn’t get you to speak or respond. I figured you’d be freaked out if you woke up with us like this. I was hoping I might wake up first-”

“You- you stay over there! Stay the hell away from me!”

“Joseph, I’m not going to-”

“SHUT UP! You got NAKED with me! And you sure don’t look like you minded it! Was this your plan all along? To get me somewhere alone with you so you could practically RAPE me? Are you some tranny chasing old pervert who somehow found out about me and decided to carpool with me to get me in bed-”

Jocelyn was now openly wailing and shedding tears, unable to talk further.

Meanwhile, Alan considered his situation carefully. He imagined what his sister Charlene would tell him to do.

"Alan, consider what she’s been through and experienced; try to put yourself in her shoes. Confront anger with gentleness. She's probably been hurt or abused before. She's not a freak; she's a woman in her soul, and trying to make her body conform to that soul. Although the old you - 'Old Alan' - was a bigot, you've changed, you've grown. You're a better man. Be that better man, for her sake."

Okay, Char, here goes nothing…

“Yes. You got me dead to rights. I used my mutant powers of persuasion to make you choose to take that curvy mountain road. I had the Air Force seed the clouds so it would snow heavily. I bribed forest rangers to put that trained big elk in the road, and had the highway patrol calculate the slide down the slope onto the lake. I manipulated you into staying by the car so you’d fall through the ice. I did all of that — just so I could get you into bed.”

“You had your arms wrapped around me!”

“To warm you up.”

“You probably tried to rape me.”

“Do you feel raped?”

Jocelyn squeezed her butt. No soreness. “No.”

“In any other circumstance, waking up like this would be totally inappropriate. But you were going into hypothermic shock. I had to get you warmed up. There was no other way. I am so, so sorry.”

Jocelyn was silent, frozen in confusion as she considered his words. She looked at the floor. Then she turned to Alan again, her face a mix of sorrow and bewilderment. A new tear began to trickle again down her right cheek.

“Why — Why are you being so nice to me? No one who knows about this-” she exposed one arm and motioned to her body “-is nice to me. Every one I’ve told — my family, friends, others — have left me for dead. Except my friend in Helena. So I know how to handle disgust and rejection; I’m used to it. But I can’t figure you out. That’s why I thought you must be a pervert with a fetish. Why don’t you hate me like everyone else?”

Alan raised one hand to explain. “Okay, just hear me out. My sister came out as a lesbian two years ago, and she is one of the finest people in my life. Long story short: she got me to be open-minded regarding gays and transgenders. Is that you? Are you a transgender?”

Jocelyn, tearful and a little suspicious still, nodded hesitantly.

Alan beamed reassuringly. “Then please forgive me, ma’am. We haven’t been properly introduced. My name is Alan Sarkisian, salesman and alleged old guy, and I consider myself to be your friend, even though I don’t know what to call you. May I have the pleasure of knowing your name?”

The woman huddling under the blankets sniffed, then coughed. She wiped her eyes, and then closed them as she said, “Jocelyn O’Donnell”.

~o~O~o~

Jocelyn shivered. The blankets were thick, but she could feel icy air tendrils around her neck and feet. They just weren’t form fitting enough to keep her naked body warm — not like when Alan had been next to her.

Alan came through the door triumphantly. “It took me a while to locate them under all that snow — man, it’s still coming down out there — but I found our bags!” And my belt, thankfully, he mused. “Hopefully you’ve packed some warm stuff you can change into.”

“It’s all female clothing,” said Jocelyn.

“Well I should hope so,” countered Alan. “I’d feel uncomfortable if you tried to dress like a man, Jocelyn. Cross-dressers make me nervous.” There was that toothy grin again.

“Don’t… don’t mock me.”

“I’m not. Look, I'm sorry - I joke a lot. Maybe too much, sometimes. But I’m fine with all…” he pointed at her and her bag, making a circle with his finger… “all this. And you waking up, thinking clearly, with all your fingers and toes still on — man, it’s got me in a good mood that no one can spoil!”

Alan caught himself. Maybe I shouldn’t say “man” so much when speaking to her.

“I really don’t disgust you? You don’t feel that I’m a freak? Or at least, ugly? (kaff, kaff) I’m sorry, I’ve met few people — and NO men — who are as accepting as you’re pretending to be.”

Alan pulled her snowy suitcase over by her and opened it up. “Somebody’s really hurt you over this, haven’t they?”

“A whole bunch of somebodies, actually.”

I need to sell her on the fact that I’m being truthful and accepting. Which shouldn’t be hard, because that’s really how I feel.

“Now it’s my turn to apologize, Jocelyn. I’m sorry for all the men — and boys — who have treated you with disgust. All the ones of my sex who have made you feel ugly. Because I have been one of those “somebodies” most of my life. But in the last two years, I’ve had to challenge most of my basic beliefs about life, and people, even” he sighed, thinking of his failed marriage, “about love.”

He looked off, suddenly wistful. “There is so much that I’ve done that I regret, so much carelessness and harm that I’ve caused to others without even fully realizing it. I’ve been treated badly too, but that’s no excuse for my actions. And I can never undo all of them. But with you — I have a chance to do some good, to maybe atone for some of the crap I caused. I’m trying to do right by you. Will you teach me how?”

There’s that strange feeling again, thought Jocelyn. Like I might be able to… trust him. “So,” she said with a faint smile, “I’m (kaff) just a way for you to relieve your guilt, huh?”

“Yep. I’m only keeping you around until my karma is adjusted, then you’re on your own, kid.”

Jocelyn laughed, as did Alan.

“So, why don’t you get dressed while I take a look around this place and see what we’ve got here.”

“Is there a heater? What about hot water? I could really use a shower — my hair feels grody, and I stink like pond scum. (kaff) It’s going to make me sick if I have to smell myself like this all day.”

“No heat, I checked last night. Let me see about the water, and somehow it feels like there’s cold outside air getting in here. I’ll be right back.”

~o~O~o~

Alan sealed the hole he punched in the window with some duct tape he discovered. That should take care of the air leak. Now he was taking inventory of the cabin. No food to be found except a can of hot chocolate mix and some peanut packets, handouts from one of those economy airlines. Some hurricane lamps, and a few jars of lamp oil. A Coleman 'dual fuel' camping stove gave him a bit of hope — where there’s a stove, there had to be some fuel, right?

Praying had worked yesterday. So he figured he’d try again.

Hey, God. It’s me. Alan. I need to find some fuel for this stove here, and a lighter. I mean, I still think I know how to start a fire, but a lighter sure would be easier. Or if you can arrange for an immediate miraculous rescue, that would be fine instead.

By the way, good job on saving my friend yesterday. That was great work. Thanks a million. Sorry that I’m not saying this stuff right; I’m out of practice talking to you. So… hallelujah and praise thy holiness. A lot. Amen.

Alan looked inside the kitchen oven to find various pots and pans. He pulled them all out in hopes of finding something else, but didn’t.

He then noticed a small door next to the pantry that he had missed. Opening it up, he discovered two whole gallon containers of liquid fuel for the stove. Later, he found a long nosed butane lighter on the fireplace mantle.

God… wow! I should’ve asked you for food too, before I found there wasn’t any. Okay, please, some food for us too. And anything else we might need that I can’t think of right now. Glory to you, and the sun, and the ghosts. Amen.

~o~O~o~

Alan knocked on the bedroom door. “Jocelyn? Are you decent? Can I come in?”

“I’m back on the bed under the blankets, come in (kaff).”

He walked in with the Coleman and lighter and a stew pot from the kitchen filled with snow from the outside. “It’s still coming down out there. I hope we don’t get snowed in. Anyway, good and bad news. Which do you want first?”

“Please — just good news. I can’t handle any more bad.”

“Sorry, you get both. OK, bad news: we don’t appear to have running water. There’s a ground level water tank out there, but no response when I turn on the faucet. The lines are either frozen, or they were disconnected and drained before the owners of this place last left here.”

Jocelyn’s eyes grew wide. “But… how do we wash? How do we flush after… you know?”

“Good news: I think I’ve figured out a way to get you some warm water to bathe with. Mediocre news: It’ll have to be a sponge bath.” With that, he walked into the bathroom. In a minute, he emerged empty handed, closing the door behind him.

“The bathroom’s pretty small, so give it an hour before you go in there. Hopefully it will be warmer — scratch that, let’s say less freezing — in there by then.”

He left to the kitchen area, and then came back with two coffee cups that were steaming.

“Before I set it up in the bathroom, I used that little stove to melt some snow and heat it up for some hot chocolate. I figured-”

“You figured correctly!” said Jocelyn. She tried to work out how she could stay warm under the covers and sit up to drink. Finally she sat up in bed, pulled the covers over her head and around her body with just her face showing through. “Um… I need my hands to keep the covers tight around me. Would you mind…?”

Alan nodded, and brought the cup of brown ambrosia to her lips. She blew on it, and then sipped. “Mm… so warm, and I’m so hungry.”

She drank all of her cup, and half of Alan’s; he offered it to her because he saw she was still cold.

“Oh, thank God. That’s better. And thank you too, Alan.”

“Think nothing of it, ma’am.”

She eyed him quizzically. “You know, I had you pegged as an older, schmoozy guy who rubbed shoulders with all of the other ‘good old boys’. I mean, I was pleasantly surprised with our talking on the drive — at least the latter part.” She stopped to cough a few times. “But there is no way on earth that I would have expected you to act so casual, so — normal — after learning my “secret”. How did you get so accepting of the transgendered?”

Alan smiled. “That voice you’re using today is higher. Very feminine. Is that your natural voice?”

“Oh. Thank you. It’s the voice of my true self, but it’s not really natural to me yet; I still have to concentrate a little while speaking this way.”

“Well. To answer your question. You remember I told you about my sister?”

“Just that she’s a lesbian.”

“Yeah. Charlene came out and made that announcement to Mom two years ago last August. So Mom calls me to go over to Seattle to talk some sense into her. I was supposed to cure her of temporary insanity — that was my attitude, anyway. I thought that she was just going through a man-hating phase.

“When I get there, she’s more fulfilled and peaceful than I’ve ever seen her. She asked me to hear her out fully. So I did, and at the end of a few hours I had decided that I’d prefer my sister to be happy than to be the depressed, angry person I’d known since childhood. Instead of just a phase, I found she’d been feeling attracted to women for most of her life.

“I also learned a little empathy for what she’d been going through. She’d been treated like dirt by some of her previously closest friends. It especially hurt when she told me that in the past, whenever I had told a joke about 'dykes' or 'lezbos', that it ripped her up inside. I still feel horrible about that. I'd never been a militant 'fag hater' - but I definitely wasn't sensitive to the plight and struggles of gays and lesbians. I had to face the fact that I was a bigot, even if a 'soft' one. Anyway, I swore to change, apologized to Charlene, and since then I've tried to be more open minded.

"Then my sister tells me about transsexuals, and how they face more crap and stigma and discrimination than anybody. Sooo… I made a vow that if I ever met a transgender, I was going to respect her and treat her like the lady she really was. Unless the transgender was a female to male, then I would treat her like the man she really was. I mean, treat him like the man he really was. Or is. Now. You know what I mean. I mean, do you know what I mean?”

A wide-eyed Jocelyn stared back at him. “Yes, except maybe for the last four sentences.”

“OK. And then last night happened, where I saw your… assets, and as I’m trying to warm you up, I think back to how many of your features and actions and speech are really more feminine than I’ve noticed before, and realized that you were probably transgender, and that here’s a chance for me to put my vow into practice. And that brings us to right now.”

“Wow… wow. I owe you a huge apology. Thank God for your sister, and thank you for your attitude with me. If you were someone else, I could be beaten up or even dead now.”

“Don’t thank me yet. If we’re snowed in all winter, I’ll probably have to eat you to survive.”

Jocelyn’s eyes got even wider.

Alan flashed his pearly whites at her. “KIDDING! I’m kidding.” He checked the bathroom. “Hey — this is probably as warm as it’s gonna get. If you’re to bathe, you might want to get started.”

“Thank you. Could you hand me those green sweat pants and top that are just inside my suitcase, and some socks too?”

~o~O~o~

Alan walked outside. He had crawled out the window because the snowdrifts forming all around the cabin blocked the doorway. The snow had come down all night, and was still doing so. He looked at the grey sky.

If someone even realizes we’re missing yet, they probably aren’t going to send out a search party while it’s snowing so heavily. And I’ve got to find a way to keep us from being trapped inside. Okay, God. I need some help again. Send a search party to RIGHT HERE, please. And I need a snow shovel. Please, our father Art in heaven, hello to thy name. Amen.

As he waded through the powder to the back of the cabin, he saw a small building.

A tool shed. With a padlock. I’ll bet these keys that were hanging in the kitchen unlock it. You really must be up there, Big Guy.

~o~O~o~

Jocelyn was in the bathroom. The stove had melted the ice in the pot to warm liquid, and the small area was a little warmer than the bedroom. She’d already done a quick washcloth bath with soap and water; she now squirted her shampoo into her hands while dipping her hair in the pot.

After finishing and wrapping up her hair in a towel, she looked at her face in the mirror using the dim stove fire glow. Let’s see if I can use some makeup in this dim light and not look like a clown.

Later, checking her work with her compact mirror while using the daylight at the window, she felt gratified. Not bad. I’m getting better at this.

She then got out panties, a bra, an extra sweat suit, t-shirts, 2 socks, a camisole, 2 pair of leggings, a sweater, 2 thick scarfs, her faux fur hat with the ear flaps and her big floor length padded coat, and put them all under the blankets on the bed. She then crawled in there with them and began dressing.

~o~O~o~

Alan came in the front door, heart pounding, face flushed, and gasping. He’d forgotten how exhausting it could be when shoveling snow. He’d had a snow blower at home. Now it was Lacy’s.

He rested for a few minutes, then began filling up the hurricane lamps with lamp oil.

“How’s (kaff) it going in here?” Jocelyn came in from the bedroom.

“Okay. Hey! You look pretty.”

“Pretty covered up, you mean. I feel almost Iranian — all you can see is my eyes.” She had thick scarves wrapping her low neck up to her nose.

“Don’t be culturally insensitive. I’m a secret operative for the PC police. I’ll have you prosecuted for hate speech.”

He then examined her face more closely. The eyelids were a smoky lavender hue, descending into lilting lashes. “Your eyes… they’re beautiful. Is the rest of your face made up too?”

She nodded yes.

“Could you take the hat and scarves off so I can see the whole effect?”

Jocelyn blushed some at this suggestion. “My hair’s not the greatest. It’s still damp, and I have no way to fix it without electricity.” She exposed her lower face and removed her head covering.

Alan was amazed. Although he knew this face belonged to the Joseph he knew yesterday, there was no ‘guy in drag’appearance. This visage belonged to a woman. Pink glistening lips were in a nervous smile. With her long straight darkish hair and small chin and slightly thin face, she appeared to resemble one of his childhood crushes — Cher Bono. Not the multiple facelifted tabloid queen of this century, but the Cher of the 70’s, the sleek goddess on TV that wowed the nation in her Bob Mackie gowns week after week.

She's smiling. I'd forgotten how good it feels to have a pretty girl smile at me. She's really quite fetching... Alan, stop. You know where infatuation leads to - attraction, then love, then pain and yelling and abuse. Never again. Remember - you're living a monk's life from now on.

Jocelyn's smile grew more nervous. He's just staring at me with an open mouth. "Well, what do you think?" Are you amazed? Disgusted? Disappointed? Having a stroke? Say something!

“Wow. You’re gorgeous. Stunning.” Alan caught himself — Was I staring? Yes. I only hope I wasn’t drooling. Time to change the subject. “Ah… I see you have another heavy coat, thank God.”

“Yes. Like it? This color is called creamy chiffon. I brought it to be fashionable; turns out it might be a life saver.”

“A pineapple lifesaver. Yum, my favorite.”

She blushed. Was he being… flirty? “By the way, Alan… did you just say ‘thank God’? I thought you said he didn’t exist.”

“Well… let’s just say, in our current situation, I’m looking for all the help I can get. And believe it or not, I think I’m getting some.”

He looked around. “We’ve got that camping stove with fuel here, but no food. At least it’s a heat source. But I’m going to try to start a fire in the fireplace. There are only a few pieces of wood in here, but it’s enough for maybe six hours of burn. And — check out the custom-made fireplace tools! They’re not flimsy like most; looks like they were specially welded. The poker’s the most impressive; it’s so thick and solid, it’s almost like a weapon.”

“That’s… nice.” Jocelyn wanted to direct the conversation to a more useful discussion. “Do you think smoke from the chimney will be a clue for any rescue team? Or would they be expecting people to be in here this time of year?”

“Smoke wouldn’t hurt. Hopefully your girlfriend — your friend who’s a girl — has alerted the authorities that you’re missing.”

“Yes, she should have. She worries about me. But I told her our route would be along the two interstates, and I failed to call her when we changed plans. Blast it — that’s not like me.”

“Speaking of phones, mine is still in the car, at the bottom of the pond. Yours?”

“Mine too. I keep it on the dashboard. It’s not like we’d get good reception up here anyway.” Jocelyn’s eyes got watery. “Are we going to make it out of here? Please tell me yes (kaff).”

Alan smiled and put his gloved hand on Jocelyn’s scarfed cheek. “Ma’am, I promise you, we’ll get back to normal boring Missoula life before you know it.”

Behind his brave front, he pondered. That was the diciest sales pitch I’ve delivered in a long time. God, back me up on this, please. I don’t need her to think I don’t keep my promises, okay?

~o~O~o~

CHAPTER 5

Alan arranged the chopped logs in the fireplace. “This is all the wood I can see here. At least it looks good and ready to burn.” He crumpled up pages from an Edgar Allan Poe book he found nearby. “We don’t need any horror stories right now, anyway.” Placing them under the wood, he got the lighter out. “Well, here goes nothing.”

“Heat. Glorious heat. I can’t wait,” tittered Jocelyn.

Alan lit the pages. They caught well, and Alan stuffed more in with the huge thick fireplace poker. The wood eventually started to catch fire. “Oh yeah, baby. Make Papa some Fahrenheit!”

“Alan…”

“Look at that! Ain’t it beautiful?”

“Alan-”

“Almost as beautiful as your eyes, Jocelyn.”

“ALAN!”

What, she didn’t like the compliment?

“ALAN, THE SMOKE!”

Alan looked up. He had been focusing on stoking the base of the fire. Now he saw that all of the smoke, instead of going up the chimney, was billowing out into the room.

Immediately he realized - he’d forgotten to open the damper.

He tried to reach his hand in, but the fire was too intense by now. Grabbing the poker, he jabbed it in, but he couldn’t see the latch, and didn’t seem to be able to find it by passing back and forth. Meanwhile, smoke was really filling the room now; the top of the arched ceiling wasn’t visible anymore. He was going to need to put out the fire. How? Looking around frantically for an extinguisher, he began to panic.

FWOOSH!

A pot of fresh snow had been thrown on the fire. Jocelyn had a second potful in her other hand, and threw it on too. She ran back out the door to get more. It turned out the first two had done the trick.

Alan watched her, impressed and feeling sheepish.

“Alan (kaff, kaff), could you get up in the loft and open some windows up there to let this smoke out?”

“Sure… OK. But it’s going to get colder in here as a consequence. So you might want to get some blankets back over you, even with how you’re dressed.”

He climbed up the ladder on the side of the room to reach the upper level. The windows were opened just long enough to clear the majority of the smoke. Closing them and descending to the main floor, he noticed how much more frigid it had become.

“Jocelyn?” Where had she gone?

Then from under a mass of blankets on the couch, he saw a little gloved hand stick up and wave.

He sat down on the couch. “Are you okay in there? How are you breathing?”

“By inhaling (kaff) and exhaling,” came the muffled reply.

“Ha, ha. You’re a laugh riot.” Alan smiled weakly. His mistake had made things worse, not better. And all their firewood was wet.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he mumbled.

“Hey! I know I’m not (kaff) as funny as you are (kaff)…”

“What? No, I mean myself. My stupidity just screwed things up. Sorry.”

“Your bravery saved my life yesterday, Eagle Scout. I thought you said (kaff) you didn’t remember any of that stuff?”

“I didn’t — at least not until we wrecked. Then at times, exactly when I needed it, I remembered the instructions from my handbook and the accessory handouts I got from the survival training. I mean, the words on the pages actually appeared in my brain. I’m amazed. Maybe it’s a God thing. You know I prayed to him for you not to die, and you didn’t? Plus he helped me find the stove fuel. Maybe he’s been putting all those scouting lessons in my head. Then again, maybe not. I sure couldn’t figure out how to put out a fire just now.”

“Or,” said the blanket pile, “maybe he provided someone to help you so you don’t have to try to save us by yourself.”

“Ah. So in Webelos, you were trained to put out fires with snow?”

“Sure. (kaff). Got my ‘cabin-fireplace-fire-putter-outer’ badge.”

Alan chuckled. He reached over and patted one of the lumps of the blanket, hoping that it was the head lump and not a breast lump.

~o~O~o~

The camping stove lit without the drama that had occurred in the fireplace. Alan took a plastic end table from the far side of the couch and placed it before his blanketed companion. He then placed the stove there.

“Careful — I’ve got the Coleman right in front of you. It’s on.”

As Jocelyn peeked out from her self made bunker, Alan went to try to open the damper. The handle was easy to find, but after multiple mighty tugs he couldn’t get it to budge. Saying “open, sesame” with a flourish was of course futile. He looked in with his penlight, but didn’t see a blockage or lock. Lying on his back and kicking it a number of good thwacks still produced nothing.

“Dammit!”

“S’okay, Alan. We don’t have anymore fresh firewood anyway.”

“I know, but I could have taken apart the couch, or broken some of the dining area chairs and used them to make a fire. Not if the flue’s blocked, though.”

“This stove here is helping me some.” She had her gloves off and was warming her hands over the burner.

“Here,” Alan brought over the peanut packs. “Getting some calories in you will warm you up a little.”

“I thought you said we had no food.”

“This isn’t food. It’s a small snack. Still, it’s calories. Now, Mama’s souvlaki, with some tiropita, hummus and stuffed grape leaves. That’s food.”

“Alan, split the nuts with me. I know you’re hungry.”

“Look at this,” he said, patting his belly. “I’m not gonna starve for another five months. Now please, ma’am. Eat them. I’ll feel guiltier if you don’t. Remember your job as my ‘guilt easer’.”

We could be stuck here for days, even weeks. She needs — we need — something more substantial. There were fishing supplies in the back closet. I could ice fish back at that lake and see if I could catch us something. If I only had some bait.

Another page appeared. “There are four types of ice fishing bait: grubs, minnows, lures, and meat.”

Okay — none of which I have. WAIT!

He pulled off a glove and reached in his inner pocket on his winter coat. There was the beef jerky he had bought at the gas station yesterday.

Don’t know if this qualifies as bait, but it’s what I’ve got. Alan rushed over to the back closet, emerging with a pole, lines, tackle box, and even an ice auger to drill a hole with. God, if this is you doing this, then please take it all the way — in other words, get me some fish, please. Hail Mary, Phil and Grace. Amen.

“Alan — where are you going?”

“Off to work, honey. Someone’s got to bring home the bacon. Or trout, or sturgeon. Sorry I can’t go with you to little Johnny’s parent-teacher night. Enjoy your junior league meeting. I’ll be back by or before sundown.”

Jocelyn shook her head, half smiling as she watched him leave. This guy is certifiably nuts. I like it, she thought.

~o~O~o~

It had taken nearly to dusk to get a bite, but when one came, it was a winner. A large trout, about five pounds, Alan figured. He wrestled it out of the hole, and then laid on his back in exhaustion for a few minutes while the fish flopped furiously on the ice. All of the physical activity from yesterday and today was catching up to him. He didn’t even regularly exercise, normally. Adrenaline and urgency had been powering him so far, but now it was time for his muscles to pay the piper, and they were aching. Especially after drilling that ice hole with the auger. He had packed some ibuprofen; he thought he’d better take some when back at the cabin.

“Luuu-cyyy, I’m hoo-ooome!”

“Oh, thank heaven. I was getting worried- OH! MY GOD! What a huge fish!”

“Bring the stove over to the sink so I can have some light. I’ll clean this sucker and then cook him up so we can have a little more on our stomachs.”

There were salt, pepper, and various seasonings in the cabinet by the kitchen oven. Alan cooked all the trout save for a portion set aside to use as future ice fishing bait. Both he and Jocelyn were extremely hungry after smelling the fresh fish cooking. They sat on the couch, huddled together under blankets, eating by hurricane lamp light.

“That was the best fish I’ve eaten in my life,” she said.

“It’s the ambience. The firelight, the sub-zero weather, the threat of death staring you in the face... makes the food taste better.” He took his last bite. “Mm. The company’s pretty awesome too.”

“Alan?”

“Mm-hm?”

“Merry Christmas.”

He looked at her and saw that she was starting to cry. He sat quietly by her, not knowing what to do as she began sobbing out loud. Eventually he carefully reached his arm around her shoulders, and she buried her face in his chest as she gushed more tears.

“…Merry Christmas, Jocelyn.”

They sat that way as the lamp fire flickered on.

After a while, Jocelyn was all cried out, and continued to rest on Alan’s chest. His eyes grew heavy, and he began to nod off to sleep. She raised a gloved hand and tickled his chin to wake him.

“You’re exhausted. Let’s get you lying down so you can get some proper rest.”

“Not yet. You get in bed now, so you can get warm. I’ll gather up the dinner mess. When I do lie down I feel like I’ll sleep for a month.”

~o~O~o~

The lamp Jocelyn had placed in the bedroom gave it enough light to walk around with, but was dim enough to allow sleep. When Alan finally came there, she had brushed her teeth and was already in bed, completely covered head to toe once more in blankets.

“Hellooo, in there. Are you warm enough?”

“I’ll live. I still have two pairs of sweats and socks on.”

“You know, I’ll bring the stove in here. We need to not use up the all the fuel, but if you get too cold, light it up.”

He looked at her form under the insulation. Should I even bring it up? Oh, well. Here goes. “You know, if you needed to use my body heat again, you could. This time it could be with our clothes on.”

She peeked out from under the covers. “Thank you… I’m just not ready to, yet. Thinking about how we were last night is still really embarrassing to me.”

“Okay. No pressure.”

“I’m sorry. You probably think I’m so hateful and ungrateful. I will be forever in your debt for all you’ve done. But I want to sleep alone tonight.”

“Did I do the wrong thing putting my arm around you earlier?”

“No! No, that was fine. I appreciated that. But I was awake. When I’m asleep, I’ll be… vulnerable. It’s just my stupid trust issues. But I’m asking you to please humor me.”

“Okay, but promise me something. If you need anything, please wake me up. I mean anything.”

“Deal.”

“Goodnight, Jocelyn.”

“Goodnight, Alan.”

~o~O~o~

Jocelyn awoke shivering. The room was severely cold, and very dark. Did the lamp already burn out? I didn’t check the oil level in it. I’m freezing, even under all these covers. She heard Alan cough - from the next room. Is he sleeping on the couch?

She reached for and found the stove and lighter. Firing it up, she lifted it and used the light to walk into the big room.

Alan was asleep in all his clothes and coat. Lying on the couch, he exhaled vapor with every breath. Is he cold? He doesn’t act or look like he is. Should I wake him and ask him to… warm me up?

After considering for a while, she decided against it. She took the stove into the small bathroom, balanced it on the sink and turned it up as high as it would go. Sitting on the toilet top swaddled in her blankets, she warmed her hands.

~o~O~o~

CHAPTER 6

Alan awoke gradually. He sensed he was sore all over. It was day, though only a pale glow came through the windows instead of bright sunlight. His body felt relatively lukewarm except for his feet — the cold was biting through his shoes and socks — and his face. He put his gloved hands to his mouth and directed his breath steam to his nose and cheeks.

Sheesh! If my schnozz were any colder, it’d fall off.

Stretching his arms and legs — OW, ow ow ow — he willed himself into a sitting position.

“Hoo boy. I’ll have a large coffee and a plate of ibuprofen, Rosie. What? No coffee, just hot chocolate? I gotta find a new diner.”

Looking now up at the windows, he faced an unwelcome sight.

It’s STILL snowing? Not good. That’ll slow any search effort.

“Jocelyn? You up?” There was no answer. If I’m feeling a little cold, she might be freezing. I left her with all the blankets, though.

Slowly, he forced himself to stand, then to start walking. As he got to the bedroom, he saw that the bed was empty. Maybe she was using the toilet. Speaking of which, my bladder’s pretty full.

He gently knocked on the closed bathroom door.

“Are you in there? You okay?” he asked in a low voice. No answer. Suddenly worried, he turned the doorknob and spoke louder. “Hey, if you’re in there, tell me and I won’t come in. But say something at least, to let me know you’re alright.” No answer.

“Okay — I’m coming in.” If you’re there, please be dressed. Or at least don’t think I’m trying to be a pervert.

An unusual scene greeted him. The camping stove was on the sink, the last vestiges of flame anemically licking the burner. It was somewhat less cold in here than the rest of the cabin, he noticed. On the floor, lying on top of and under a mess of covers, was a still sleeping Jocelyn. Her face was lying next to the base of the commode.

Waking up with your head next to the head. That’ll be unpleasant. He felt simultaneously sympathetic and amused. Until he realized that he’d either have to wake her, or pee outside.

If my pecker freezes off, I’ll give her such a guilt trip, he thought as he readied to go out in the weather. Hell, she might even be jealous of me at that point. She’s the one who wants a dickectomy.

“Shut up, ‘Old Alan’. Go back in your mental cave,” he muttered through gritted teeth while he made amber snow.

~o~O~o~

Jocelyn shuffled bleary-eyed into the big room, covers draped on her shoulders, and plopped on the couch beside Alan. He glanced at her.

“How did you sleep last night, ma’am?”

“Oh, it was… ROTTEN. I stayed cold, and I’m so achy right now.”

“That’s what sleeping on tile and porcelain will do to you.”

She looked at him meekly. “You saw.”

“We’re a couple of sad sacks, you know? Big king size bed in this place, and neither of us use it,” he shook his head and snickered.

“I saw you last night on the couch. I’ll bet you didn’t sleep good either.”

“My whole body is just one big ache. But I think it’s mostly from being so physically active. Most of my life I’m either on my butt in my car or standing around giving a pitch. Are you up for some hot chocolate?”

“Can you just make me a tub full and let me stay in it all day?” shivered Jocelyn.

“Bathing in chocolate. Hm. NOW who’s the fetishist?” shouted Alan as he got the stove from the bathroom.

“Watch it, mister. Don’t mess with a woman when she’s got PFS.”

“PFS?”

“Post-freezing syndrome (kaff, kaff).”

Alan laughed at the joke while simultaneously becoming concerned. “I thought that cough had resolved itself.”

“It’s almost gone. It’s getting better. I’m fine.”

“Okay. If you say so.” Why am I not convinced, he suspected.

~o~O~o~

After fixing multiple cups of hot chocolate from melted snow, Alan went outside. He shoveled the front doorway clean again, then contemplated as he caught his breath.

How can I signal to show someone that we’re here? The continued snowfall is a big problem. Makes it difficult to achieve a good outdoor fire, and if I laid that big red blanket out as a signal — I could cut a white cross out of the middle of it — the flurry would cover it up in minutes. Surely someone is out looking for us. But can a spotter plane fly in all this snow? I need some ‘words on a page’ for this situation, God. Help me out, here.

He waited for an answer.

…..okay…. any minute now would be fine…

After what he was sure was ten minutes, he still had nothing.

“Don’t tell me I was just imagining that I was getting supernatural help the last two days,” he grumbled.

He walked back in the cabin. Jocelyn perked up at his entrance.

“How’s Mr. Eagle Scout Hero?”

“Not feeling too heroic, sorry. I thought I’d try to catch some more fish.”

“I tried opening the damper myself. It’s really stuck.”

Alan grabbed the auger, fishing materials and the leftover raw trout to use as bait. “Wish me luck.”

“I feel so useless. Can I help you? If we had two people fishing in two different holes, wouldn’t that be better?”

“No, no. You’re already constantly chilled as it is, and believe you me, it’s much colder outside. I don’t want you getting frostbite, or for that cough to get worse. If something happened to you… I just need you to stay here and try to keep warm. Please.”

Jocelyn was worried. Alan seemed preoccupied, distant; not jovial and joking like usual. I wonder if I’m irritating him in some way. Maybe he’s having second thoughts about accepting a transsexual. At the very least, I’m a burden to him right now. “Alan… is something wrong?”

Alan flashed his best imitation smile. “Absolutely not, dear lady. I’ll be back.” He trudged off towards the lake.

~o~O~o~

Since he had the fish flesh to use as bait now, Alan chewed the rest of the beef jerky for sustenance and warmth. The fishing so far wasn’t going as well this time. He had to take a while clearing snow off of the ice. With all the buildup he couldn’t find the hole he drilled yesterday, so he used his sore limbs to drill another. Now an hour into actual fishing, there was nary a bite. He pulled up his hook to find it stripped clean of bait.

“Danged sneaky sons of fishes,” he quipped. He pulled out the trout meat to bait the hook once more. Even with gloves, he had difficulty feeling his fingertips and it was hard to manipulate the flesh to pull off a piece. When it finally came apart, it did so suddenly, and the hook he was holding inadvertently jabbed into his finger.

“AGH!” he yelled, letting go of the hook — and the bait meat. Following Murphy’s law, it fell on the ice and bounced into the hole, vanishing.

Alan stood stunned for a second. Then he dropped to his knees and stuck his arm in to see if by chance he could save it. He pulled up nothing but icy water.

Leaning back on his heels, he slumped his head and shoulders down in shocking defeat. He ground his teeth together. All of the crap and frustration of the last two days and more bubbled to the surface as he slung his face skyward and screamed.

“fffFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU…….”

~o~O~o~

Jocelyn finished bundling up and grabbed the mug of hot chocolate she had made for Alan. She wanted to do something to help. He might not like her disobeying his wish for her to stay indoors, but she didn’t like the thought of him freezing his behind off out there with nothing to warm him up.

She stepped out of the doorway and started off in the direction she had seen him leave. But after about twenty steps, she heard his voice. She stopped and looked up.

Alan had his back to her, leaning against a pine tree, cradling his arms around his head.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid, STUPID! You damned fucking idiot! You’re nothing but a worthless, spineless piece of shit! Fucking failure! It’s always this way — whatever you do may start out good, but it usually ends as a pool of piss! This is why you’ll never amount to anything worthwhile… you’re an embarrassment to the human race!”

The raw emotion — and the severe language — rattled Jocelyn. She suddenly became very afraid, and quietly retreated back to the cabin.

A few minutes later, Alan walked back in through the door. His eyes were red, and cast down towards the floor.

“Hey. I’m back. No fish. Not now, or ever.”

He didn’t wait for a response as he flopped face down on the couch. Jocelyn didn’t want to give one. She was huddled in the corner of the big room by the fireplace, brandishing the thick poker in her hands to protect herself.

As Alan began weeping into the couch cushion, Jocelyn’s head and heart began an argument inside of her.

What have you done? You’ve allowed an unstable maniac into your life. All of the acceptance, the happy nature… it had to be too good to be true. First he screams at the tree; next he’ll be screaming — and beating — on you, warned her head.

Her heart countered. Look at him. See anything familiar? Maybe not with the yelling, but with the grief? Some of what he said outside has been said to you before, and it’s taken years of therapy to get you to just start not to believe it yourself. He’s suffering. Be brave, and try to help him.

Jocelyn swallowed hard, and decided to follow her heart. She laid down the poker and walked slowly to the couch. Kneeling by his head, she put her hand on his shoulder.

He pushed it away, face still in the cushion. “Leave me alone. I screw up everything, and I’ll screw your life up too,” he sniveled.

Her head warned that this might be a threat rather than self-pity, but Jocelyn stayed put. “Alan… who’s been saying this?”

He remained limp without moving. “Who’s been saying what?”

“This stuff about you. This evil stuff. That you screw up everything, that you’re worthless, spineless, a failure — all what you were saying to the pine tree out there.”

He lifted his head from the couch to look at her. “You heard what I was saying earlier? I thought I was far enough away from… Oh man. I’m sorry you had to listen to that.”

“I know those hateful words didn’t originate from you. I know they didn’t. Someone has been telling you a bunch of lies. Who is it?”

Alan’s face began to screw into a knot. He sunk it back into the couch and began to weep violently. Jocelyn threw her arms across his back and rested her head on him, while starting to tear up herself.

***************************
TO BE CONTINUED 11/30
***************************

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of these characters to any actual person living or dead is coincidental.

Thanks to Sephrena Lynn Miller for a quick first read!

Thanks to all the "BCTS Closeteers" - especially Jana - for help with the pic!

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Thanks for reading! **Sigh**



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