Crash

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“What’s your name?” I asked.

“It’s not important.”

I frowned at the ceiling. “What do you mean? What am I supposed to call you?”

“Whatever you want.”

“Who are you?” I half sat up, regretting my question instantly. What if he said, “Your worst nightmare?” I would have a heart attack. But that was ridiculous. My anxiety was on overdrive because of everything that had happened, and the pain was making me nauseated again.

His fingers were on my waist and I realized what he was doing a second too late. When he undid my snap and slid my zipper down I was stunned into silence.

“I’m the man who saved your life by accident. I didn’t come to this part of Alaska to have a name, so just call me anything.”

He had cut my jeans all the way up both sides so that when he undid the zipper, the front was just a flap that fell down between my thighs, leaving me from the waist down in nothing but my panties and shredded denim. His fingers brushed over the front of my panties as he gripped the remains of my jeans and pulled them away from my body. He tossed them on the floor. Goosebumps raced up my legs and spread out over my body. It seemed desperately important that I know his name.

“Are you hiding?” I asked. “Is that why you won’t tell me your name?”

He paused, knife still in his left hand. His eyes narrowed, but then he gave me a smile, the corner of his mouth turning up and making him look younger, more approachable. “Everyone here is hiding from something. From their past, from people in general, or someone in particular. But I’m not wanted by the FBI, if that’s what you’re asking.”

He flipped the corner of his comforter over my exposed lower body. The initial breeze it created was replaced by the soft warmth of the down. Between that and the socks, I was getting the shivering under control. But now I was fixating on him. “So then just tell me your name.”

The man bent over me, and studied my face. His eyes swept upwards and downwards. “You’re very beautiful,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a woman.”

The scrutiny made me uncomfortable, aware of how isolated I was, how utterly alone I was, how utterly alone I was with this man. His words sounded a little creepy, yet he didn’t look dangerous. He was intense, with a presence that filled the room, his movements sure. But he didn’t seem like he wanted to hurt me in any way. Though maybe that’s just what I wanted to tell myself. What I had to tell myself.

“I can’t even see you,” I said. “You’re bundled up. Like a mountain man.”

“I guess I am a mountain man.” Then he seemed to snap out of his musings and he went over to the dresser again. He came back with a flannel shirt and sweat pants. For me, I had to assume.

Despite the pain in my arm and the awkward binding, I probably could have removed my sweater and put on the warm and clean flannel. But for some reason I just lay there, on my back, and let him skim my sweater up over my breasts and carefully remove my arms from the sleeves. His hands were rough, callused, a workingman’s hands, yet he was gentle. He’d put his knife between his teeth, and I focused on the shine of the blade, the sharp gleaming edge that had torn through thick denim like it was butter. My eyelids felt heavy, like I was being dragged under into anesthetic pre-surgery. A drugged sensation.

The man rolled me slightly onto my side and popped my sweater off over my head. Then I felt his fingers on my back, fumbling with the clasp of my bra. “What are you doing?” I asked, trying to shift away.

“There’s blood on you,” he said. “But I can leave it if you prefer. Do you want me to leave it?”

It sounded so ridiculous when he said it like that. A glance down showed that blood had soaked through my sweater and was smeared on my stomach. My previously ivory colored bra was stained a rust color in two spots. It wasn’t a lot of blood, but it did make my stomach flip because it reminded me of that dripping sound on the plane and the puddle that had been reaching for me on the floor. The man had a voice that made me feel deferential. Or maybe it was that he knew what he was doing, and I didn’t. Either way, it felt childish and unnecessary to insist he leave my bra on. He wasn’t hitting on me. He had saved my life. My modesty seemed conceited and insulting to him. Seduction wouldn’t be on his mind. Helping me was.

“No. It’s okay. Take it off.” Then I added, “Thank you.”

He popped my bra open and eased the straps down over my arms, taking care with the bandage. When I was bare-chested, nipples taut from the air and my still-chilled body, I felt the ache for a man out of instinct. For him to turn and cover my breast with his mouth and lave at my nipple. My sexual experience of late had been non-existent. Life had been too complicated for relationships and I’d never been one for going online or to a club in search of a hookup. But it was a ludicrous time to be aroused. I told myself it was because I had almost died. Because here I was alive, and his touch was kind, his aura very masculine. Besides, he was undressing me and by association that meant sex.

I hadn’t been touched a lot. Not really. So my body was as confused as my thoughts. He didn’t have the touch of a nurse. It was that of a man.

But the man didn’t bend over and flick his hot tongue over my tight nipple. But he did let his eyes drift casually over my nudity. There was no reaction and I found myself disappointed, stupidly so. I wanted the comfort of a lover, not clinical efficiency. He got me into the flannel shirt the way you would with a baby, and buttoned me up.

“Sit up,” he urged, “and get under the covers. I’m going to get some warm water for your fingers to unthaw them.”

He pulled my good arm, and I sat up, the room spinning slightly. Then I did what he said, moving backwards until I reached the headboard, sliding beneath the comforter after he pulled it back for me. It felt good to be in the flannel, and under the “covers. I didn’t lie back down though, choosing instead to prop myself up with pillows, my fingers trembling and burning painfully. I’d never been so aware of all the pieces of my body. From my throbbing ankle, to my icy fingers and my stinging arm, the pain rolled in waves, sometimes crashing into each other. My nipples brushed against the flannel. I never went without a bra. It felt too decadent, too sexual. But now it felt freeing. I had the strangest feeling of comfort, my eyelids hooded, because I needed it and he was providing it, even if his manner was silent, efficient.

The man- he of no name- brought a bowl over to the nightstand and he took both my arms out from under the blanket and submerged them in the water. I winced. “That’s too hot. It feels like it’s burning.”

“It will feel better in a few minutes. It’s not hot water, it’s just room temperature.”

He walked away and finally started to peel off his own layers. First he took off his hat, exposing light brown and unruly hair, and hung it from a clothesline that ran from one corner to the other of the cabin. There were other random pieces of clothing on it already. He unzipped his jacket and hung it on a hook by the door. Then he sat down at the chair by the small table and unlaced his boots. He dropped them in front of the wood stove, which was burning. I could hear the crackling on the fire inside its belly.

I wondered how far from his cabin the plane had crashed. How long had he carried me? He must have heard the crash and gone to investigate. “Did you see the plane crash?” I asked, swallowing hard. I felt thirsty, my throat tight, and I briefly closed my eyes, not wanting to remember the way the dead men had looked.

“I saw it and heard it. We don’t get a lot of plane traffic here. He was way off course.”

“Oh. I don’t know. We were going to Fort Yukon.”

He had no comment. He just peeled off his sweatshirt and hung it on the line. Then he stripped off his Henley shirt and undershirt too. I could see the white fabric was damp with sweat. From carrying my weight. His chest was a powerful display of muscles. He had no tattoos, only a scar on his upper chest that was at least four inches in length. His skin was a golden tone- not from the sun, but just his natural color. His jeans hung low on his hips and I was staring. I couldn’t help myself. I’d never seen a man honed with muscles from hard work. The beard scruff wasn’t unusual. I was from Seattle, where lumbersexual really was a thing. Flannel had been a fashion statement since grunge and Nirvana, when I was still a baby. But this was different. This was flannel worn for its original purpose and a body carved from manual labor.

He was a woodsman. An Alaskan bush person. A man who survived because of his own strength and skill.

I was grateful that he’d found me, saved me. “What’s your name?” I asked again. “Please tell me so I can properly thank you.”

He finished hanging his shirts on the line then turned slowly to me. His expression evaporated the sense of safety I felt. “Don’t ask me that again. It’s not a fucking game or a coffee date.”

It was so rude and unexpected I jerked, instinctively wincing.

It sounded harsher than maybe he meant it. Or maybe he did mean to be an asshole. Either way, it was like a slap in the face. I pulled my fingers out of the bowl and raised them to my eyes, tears threatening to spill that I didn’t want him to see. I was just trying to be polite. Why was I being polite when he was being weird and I was the one who had almost died? Well, fuck him. I didn’t need to make small talk, he was totally right about that.

I heard him swear. Something clanked when it fell but I refused to open my eyes. My wet hands cooled my cheeks, which felt wind-burned and chapped. Then the bed creaked as he sat down on it next to me.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

The unexpected touch of his hand on mine forced me to jerk my eyes open. “What are you doing? Just leave me alone. Please.”

“Let me see your face.”

“No.”

“I just need to see your face,” he coaxed, his voice low, soothing.

Without meaning to, I dropped my hands down. How did he do that? Just a few commanding words and I listened. It was something about his confidence in my compliance and the seductive timber of his voice. Or maybe it was just my senses were numb, my reserve down from my trauma.

He was staring at me intently, his blue eyes cool. Was there remorse there? Was there fire, passion? Lust, curiosity? I didn’t see anything. Or I couldn’t interpret it. It was like he had mastered the art of shielding his thoughts from others, which seemed so unnecessary here. Alone.

Why did he hide?

“I don’t spend much time with people anymore. My social skills are rusty. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

I wet my dry lips with my tongue.

His eyes dropped, following the movement. I hadn’t meant to attract his attention. Yet when he noticed, I felt a shiver of pleasure that I had no business feeling. “It’s okay. Can I have some water?”

“Of course you can.” His thumb reached out and wiped dampness from my skin. “Are you hungry? You should eat before I give you some pain medication.”

“My stomach is upset.”

“I’ll make you soup.”

“Okay.” The pain in my ankle was growing. I wanted to close my eyes again, but when I did, the image of those men danced in front of my eyes like macabre marionettes. I popped them back open. He was still looking at me. “John?” I asked, because I needed to call him something, and he looked like a John.

The corner of his mouth turned up. “Yes?”

“I almost died.” It was a totally obvious statement. What, like he didn’t know that? But I just wanted some reassurance that I was alive or something. I wanted comfort.

“But you didn’t.” John, I was determined to think of him as John, gripped my chin gently. “And now you’re here. With me. Safe.”

I nodded, shivering. I was safe. With him.

His grip tightened, pinching my skin. “Just do what I say. Always. And everything will be fine.”