Authors: Katlyn Duncan
I want to get him something extra for Christmas, but there isn’t much other than food in the store. Plus, he insists on paying.
As we drive through the small village, decorated for Christmas like a perfect snow globe, the silence stretches between us. I turn my focus to the road. Huge snow mounds line the street and I hope we’re able to get up to the cabin without a lot of issues. Will doesn’t seem too concerned. About anything, it seems.
“It’s just a few miles up ahead,” I say, pointing into the distance, filling the silence. He hasn’t turned the radio back on since we got into the car.
He glances at his phone and nods, reaching for the radio again. I guess I spoke to soon.
“I’m excited to get there,” I say.
“Yeah,” he mumbles, his eyes on the white-coated road.
Maybe he’s concentrating? I turn my attention to the window, watching the people in the village pass by. Some of them carry several bags of packages, while others enter little quaint cafes along the strip. I even see a group of carolers dressed in old-fashioned costumes walking two by two down one side, singing a song. I can’t hear over our music.
At the edge of town the trees thicken and there is more space between the houses. Eventually the trees take over the space completely. I watch the phone screen as our location nears the red flag signaling the cabin. But as we get closer, I don’t see any sign of it. Within a few minutes, we pass the red flag.
“Shit.” Will leans forward. “Did you see the entrance?”
I turn in my seat and squint. I hadn’t seen anything but trees. “No.”
He maneuvers the truck around and slams his palm into the volume button, silencing the car. We move at a slow crawl down the road.
“Becky said there is a one-lane road through here.”
I sit up in my seat and try to help find it, but I don’t see anything. My overactive imagination thinks this is a sick joke and there isn’t really a cabin, and we’ll be stuck traveling back to the City in massive traffic. That or the opposite, getting snowed in for weeks...
“There it is,” Will says as he turns the wheel.
“There what is?” I ask, trying to see what he sees. A small rectangular wooden sign sticks up about a foot from the ground, half of it covered by snow. I can faintly make out the tops of letters etched on the sign, but I’m more focused on the narrow path Will’s truck has to fit through.
“Are you sure—?”
“Yeah, we’ll be fine.”
I pull my arms close to me as if it helps to make the truck smaller. The vehicle rocks back and forth, creating its own path in the snow. Branches
against the truck and I catch Will cringing with each one. It’s as if he feels each dent and scratch being made by the trees. As old as the truck is, he keeps it in good shape.
I check his phone again but the progress hasn’t changed since I last looked. It appears to be frozen, but the ‘No Service’ at the top of the screen suggests otherwise. I turn my attention back to the road. His mouth is pursed with concentration and I strain to keep my eyes open, wanting to close them and cover my face with my hands at the nail-biting journey through the woods.
After only a few minutes the road starts to widen. Will’s shoulders relax as he presses the accelerator. I sit back in my seat, letting out a relieved sigh.
The corner of Will’s mouth lifts and I hope this is the start of a more positive attitude change.
The trees on either side of the truck push back further from the road and surround what looks like a large meadow. Or might possibly be a meadow if it wasn’t covered with snow. A wooden gazebo sits in the middle of it. I imagine it might be a nice place to sit during the long days of summer. I scoot to the edge of my seat, scanning the rest of the land for what brought us here to begin with. The cabin.
Will keeps to the trees, the truck making a path towards the cabin. I vaguely remember Becky saying the cabin isn’t too far away from the gazebo.
I sit up in my seat, not caring that the Christmas music isn’t playing and trying to ignore how quiet and moody Will has been on this journey. We are here. I have the strong sense Will might have been protecting himself all these years, pretending not to care that he missed out on Christmas, but I will make this one of the most memorable for both of us.
Step one is right in front of us.
Will turns the truck around a copse of trees jutting out from the rest and just beyond is the cabin inside a nook of trees.
The sun reflects off the snow covering the roof and ground around the cabin. A stone chimney climbs the side of the house closest to us, reaching up to the second floor. I imagine us sitting in front of the fire already. A porch wraps around the front of the cabin, offering shelter above the front door.
It’s even more perfect in person.
My fingers tap along my legs as we get closer. Will parks the truck to the side of the house and I don’t wait for him to turn it off before I’m out of there. I zip my coat up around my neck; the wind is stronger than it was in town. I shade my eyes with my hands to admire the place I’m actually going to be staying in for the next week.
“It’s beautiful,” I say.
Paper bags crinkle behind me. Will is already unpacking the bed of the truck. I inhale deeply, taking in the fresh air surrounding us, before helping him with the bags.
The few snowfalls in the City this year turned to a brackish slush before I had the chance to enjoy it. Here the snow is untouched and pristine, with only our boots making the first marks. I lag behind, taking in the expanse of land the cabin looks out upon.
I hurry to catch up with Will just as he opens the front door. A blast of warm air heats my cheeks and I remember Becky saying that someone cares for the house when they aren’t here.
Will moves out of the way, giving us both the full view of the place. Against the right wall is a wooden staircase with the same rustic feel as the rest of the cabin. The rest of the floor is open. The doorway spills into a living room with numerous chairs and a plush couch that has seen better days. The corner of the room is a perfect spot for a Christmas tree and my mind whirs with possibility.
At the back of the room is a small kitchen with a table and chairs for the dining area. It’s a small but cozy place. I can’t wait to explore the rest of the house.
Will crosses the room and puts his bags on the table. I follow him and do the same. I turn around to reach for him, but he’s already across the room again and before I know it he’s out the door.
Now I know something is wrong. I reaffirm my silent promise to make this a Christmas he won’t forget.
Instead of unpacking, I wander past the kitchen down a small hallway. The first door opens to a utility closet with a few cleaning supplies. The next door is a half bathroom. I close that door quickly, a strange smell coming from somewhere in that room. We’ll have to stick with the full bathroom which I assume is upstairs, and I hope that one at least smells normal. The last door in the hallway is a pantry. It’s not lit but I find a string hanging from the ceiling and pull. The room is wall to wall shelving filled with soups, jams, peanut butter, and assorted non-perishable items.
I check a few of the cans and everything is still within the expiration date. At least if we get snowed in for a few weeks we’ll be all set. I also find flour, sugar, and other supplies for baking. I get the idea to make Will some of my mom’s famous sugar cookies. He used to go insane over those. That would definitely brighten his mood.
The front door opens again. A fluttering takes over my stomach and building excitement flows through me. I turn off the light and leave the pantry. Will’s already out of the cabin again and I find my bag by the door and race towards it.
Even though I wasn’t sure if there would be wifi—I found it rude to ask—I brought my laptop and my bluetooth speaker. I move the curtain aside and see Will is still at the car stacking my boxes of gifts. I hurry across the room and hook up the speaker to one of the plugs in the kitchen. My annual tradition since getting my own phone in the early years of high school is my Christmas playlist. And just as Will walks into the cabin, he’s met with a jazz version of ‘Jingle Bells’.
He winces as he tries to close the door behind him, but I sprint across the room and get it for him.
He says something but I can’t hear him.
“What?” I ask.
“Where do you want these?” he shouts over the music.
I point to the empty corner across the room that I’ve marked out for the Christmas tree. I pick up the rest of the grocery bags and hum along to the song as I unpack them in the kitchen. At the store I’d grabbed a small frozen turkey in anticipation of a big Christmas Eve meal, so I put it in the refrigerator to thaw. I’ve never cooked one on my own, but how hard could it be?
‘Jingle Bell Rock’ comes on next and I dance around the kitchen, putting the groceries away. Will finishes stacking the gifts and comes into the kitchen.
“You hungry?” I ask.
“Are you hungry?” I say a little louder.
He cuts a glare at the speaker before heading over and turning it down. His eyes seem far away as he heads into the living room and plops down on the big fluffy couch.
I glance at the speaker, trying to remember if he doesn’t like that song. But instead, I finish putting the groceries away. A wound ball of embarrassment tightens my chest and I’m fighting back tears, even though I have no idea why I’m about to cry. Was coming here a mistake?
I stack the bags on the counter and head for the stairs. I don’t want Will to see me like this.
I grab my bag, forgetting how heavy it is without the wheels. I nearly fall over but I catch myself on the railing. Will doesn’t turn around as I jog up the stairs. I’m almost at the top when I hear splitting wood. And before I’m able to register what happens, a sharp pain rips through my leg. A strained squeal escapes my lips and my body falls forward. I drop the bag on the landing, almost face planting but the stupid bag that made me fall protects me. I look down again and now feel the sharp edges of wood digging into my ankle.
All of the frustration in trying to make Will happy and his grumpy attitude towards everything today explodes out of me in a choked sob as I try to dislodge my foot from the stair.
“Hadley?” Will says from the first floor.
Now he talks to me? I turn my head towards the wall, my vision blurred by tears.
“Hadley?” he repeats. “You okay?”
“No!” I cry, swiping at my face. “I’m stuck.”
I’m still not looking at him, but he races up the stairs until he’s at my side. His fingers move over my ankle and I imagine spending the rest of the week in a hospital. How else could I ruin this vacation?
“Can you move it?”
I swivel my body in his direction. “If I could, I would have by now.”
He presses his lips together and looks down at my foot. His close-lipped smile quivers as he rotates my foot out of the stair, slowly at first. If pain wasn’t shooting up my leg I’d hit him for laughing at me.
Will maneuvers my foot and gently lifts it out of the stair. But now that the pressure is gone, my ankle feels ten times its size. I push myself up the two steps to the landing and sit up, pulling my foot towards me. I peer down at the stair, which now has a gaping hole in it. I wiggle my toes. Those are in place. Next, I try my ankle and wince at the first movement.
“You’re moving it. So I think it might just be twisted,” he says, sitting back against the railing.
“It’s not funny,” I grumble.
His smile widens. “I’m not laughing.”
Every fiber of me tries to hold onto my anger, but his smile and the fact that I actually broke something with my body weight amuses me for some reason. A giggle seeps between my lips and soon enough we’re both laughing hysterically. I’m doubled over, hugging my arms around my stomach and Will’s shoulders are shaking uncontrollably.
“It’s almost as bad as Lily’s fall,” Will says through bursts of laughter.
“I’d forgotten about that!” I squeal. During a school awards assembly Lily was on stage as a nominated speaker and right as she sat down the chair broke underneath her. While most of the school forgot about it a week later, Will tortured her for months about it.
“It was close,” I say, wincing at the pain in my foot as I stand up on the landing. “But you better not tell her.”
Will holds his hands up in front of him. “What happens in the cabin, stays in the cabin.” He stands next to me and puts his hand under my arm, holding most of my weight. I lean into him. “You should rest it though.”
My lower lip juts out before I can stop it.
Will grins. “You wanted to relax remember?”
I squeeze his arm. “This wasn’t what I had in mind.”
I lean forward, expecting us to descend the stairs together, but let out an embarrassing squeak when my legs are lifted from under me and I’m airborne for a second before Will’s strong arms wrap around my body. He tucks me close to his body as if I weigh much less than I do. “There’s that Southern gentleman I missed all these months,” I tease, nuzzling against his neck.
“Well ma’am,” he says, playing up his somewhat faded accent from the two years he spent in Texas. “I’m what you’d call a city boy now.”
I laugh and kiss his rough cheek. He brings me down the stairs and gently lowers me to the couch. He’s about to walk away when I grab the collar of his shirt and bring his lips to mine. He doesn’t protest as he lowers his body over me and we fall back against the couch. Our bodies sink into the plush cushions and a surge of tingles spreads through my body. We’re finally alone and Will’s mood has improved significantly. I can’t help but feel like we’re finally getting back to where we were this summer with our relationship.
Will deepens the kiss, almost as if he feels my fervor and is trying to top it. I rake my fingers through his soft hair and pull him closer to me. A sigh escapes his lips, sending ripples of pleasure between my legs. I twist my body, allowing his arms to wrap around me. But when his leg lands on my foot, those tingles and ripples turn to white hot agony.
“Ah!” My body goes rigid and my head slams into Will’s forehead. The throbbing heartbeat in my foot matches with the soon to be gigantic bump on my head. Will jumps off the couch and my head falls against the cushion.