I received a few complaints about yesterday’s brevity. Just one or two [ahem]. Which is really kind of awesome. So, in an effort to make up for that horrendous insufficiency, today I will put up two posts, full of many words for you to read. Thousands of words. You will feel inundated and replete, reading these words, and never yearn for more, ever again. Well, until tomorrow.
I continue to be somewhat baffled by this, but it seems there are one or two [ahem] new people reading or following this blog every day. Who knew fiction was such an attraction? For those of you who are new and perhaps confused about what the hell I’m doing over here, I’m posting a 26,000-word (okay, maybe 27,000) novella in several installments as a gift to my long-term readers. Perhaps you’re intrigued, as well as confused, and would like to read the rest of the story? If so, you can find the beginning of it here.
Here is the ninth installment of the story. I hope you enjoy it.
A Place to Start
A McIntyre Novella
Book One: Winter
by KD James
Mac heard the sound of a truck approaching his cabin and cursed whoever had decided to disturb his solitude. He’d spent the day reliving old memories and contemplating the feelings provoked by new ones, not yet sure what to make of it all. He’d split more logs than was probably good for a man and last night had made a not insignificant dent in a very fine bottle of scotch.
The peace and quiet he cherished, the serenity of this place that he sought out whenever he could make time, was gone. In its place was stark loneliness, a silence that seemed to echo in his soul. But he didn’t need the company of whoever had just driven up and he sure as hell didn’t need Jo Mitchell in his life.
He’d almost convinced himself of that when the cabin door opened without so much as a knock and there stood his brother, Cam. “It’s a sad, sad day when Ma has me tracking ye down like a stray dog, Duncan McIntyre.”
Mac suppressed a growl of irritation. “It’s a sad day when you feel obliged to do it.”
“She’s been trying to call for days and couldn’t get through. She worries about you this time of year. Ye know that, Mac.”
“She sent you up here to check on me?”
“I was in the area. She said I was to put hands on ye, and nothing less would satisfy her.”
Mac muttered a low oath. “I’m not a wee bairn in need of looking after.”
Cam shrugged in dismissal, as if he thought the argument weren’t worth the effort. Mac knew different and Cam’s next observation confirmed it. “I see you’ve been whittling again.”
Mac looked at the small pile of wood shavings on the floor. “Passes the time.” It also helped him process his thoughts, but they both knew that.
“Speaking of which, I stopped in town on the way here. Saw your girl at the diner.”
“I don’t have a girl.”
“Such lovely sad eyes she has.”
Sad eyes? “She does not have sad eyes.”
“Ach, I know sad eyes when I see ‘em. Seems I’ve spent a lifetime looking into sad eyes. I recognize a need for comfort. Your girl has that look about her.”
“She’s not my girl. And she sure as hell doesn’t need your comfort.”
“So you say. Heard she stayed here with ye for a couple days. Complained a lot, did she?”
Mac thought about it. “No. She never complained, not once.”
“Now that’s hard to believe, knowing you. Squeamish, then? You make her your famous rabbit stew? City girls can get right queasy about the sight of blood.”
“She wasn’t squeamish about the blood. It was the–” It was the fact that it was a rabbit. “She wasn’t squeamish.”
“Hated the quiet and the forest? Couldn’t wait to leave and get back to the bright city lights?”
“She loved it here.”
“What then? She’s allergic to firelight? C’mon, Mac, there had to be something that has you holed up here sulking instead of in town celebrating the holiday with a beautiful woman.”
“I’m not sulking. And I don’t do Christmas.”
His brother just stood there and waited, silent.
“She’s from the city, Cam. She doesn’t belong here.”
Cam’s expression was one of disbelief. “You do realize that you live in the same damn city, don’t you?”
“That’s different. I’ve lived here, as well. I know the mountain. She’s not suited for life up here. Jesus and Mary, you should have seen her the night I found her, near frozen to death. Her car was wedged halfway off the mountain in a ditch.”
“She looked pretty damned healthy when I saw her just now.”
Mac got up off the couch, needing to move. “She doesn’t belong here, Cam. It’s not a safe place for a city girl. She doesn’t have the skills to survive. Even if she did, I’m not looking to get involved.”
“I see. So that’s it, then. You’ve made up your mind.”
“Then ye won’t mind if I pay her a call next time I’m in Atlanta. Maybe take her out for a nice dinner? I bet she likes to dance. I’m verra light on me feet.”
Mac glared at his notoriously charming brother, narrowing his eyes in warning. “Ma sent ye here to take a beating, did she?”
“Well, if ye don’t want her, it hardly seems fair– ”
Mac felt his patience snap and he roared. “By the gods, man, you will stay away from that woman.”
Cam laughed at him. Laughed. “You’re being an ass, Duncan McIntyre. Would serve ye right if she did go back to the city and never again crossed your doorstep. Have a care what ye wish for, big brother.”
“It’s none of your concern, Cam.”
“Maybelle’s a pretty good judge of character. She and old Charlie have taken quite a shine to your city girl. So has everyone else in town. And that young deputy sheriff– Thom? Is that his name? Nice looking guy, dark hair, sincere smile? He’s over to the diner even as we speak, doing his best to erase that sadness from her eyes. Not that ye care, of course.”
“The hell, you say.”
“Aye, the hell I do say. Crawl out of your cave and do something about it before it’s too late.”
Mac added a log to the fire and poked at it, hard, sending sparks flying up the chimney. “Speaking of pain-in-the-ass younger siblings, you heard from Drew of late?”
“Not since the call in June.”
“Damn, that was six, seven months ago.”
Mac stared into the fire, pensive. “Aye. He’s in the wind, Cam. Seems our little brother is plagued by demons, just like the rest of us.”
“Hell, Mac, you’re just a shining ray of bloody fucking sunshine. I’m headed out. I’ve got a deposition in Charlotte tomorrow.”
“Always a pleasure to see ye, Cam. Don’t let the door hit you.”
Cam walked over and wrapped him in a bear hug. “Aye, and you’re a prince among men.”
Mac allowed the hug, returned it. Then pushed away and punched his brother’s shoulder. “Give Ma my love when ye talk to her.”
“Call her yourself, ye thickheaded dolt,” Cam said, returning the punch. “She was worried sick. Cell phone reception up here isn’t that bad.”
It is when you have your phone turned off. “Aye, I’ll call.” Cam gave him a skeptical look. “I promise, I’ll call her. Safe travels, Cam.”
“And to you, Mac.” He paused. “Go mend fences with your girl. She’s a keeper.”
And then he was gone and Mac was alone again, missing Jo. So she’d caught the attention of Thom Dawson, had she? Thom was a good man. Solid, reliable, kind. Dull as an old blade, but a good man.
Jo would be wise to move on, to find a man who’d treat her better than he had. A man who would offer her more than he could. But damned if he was going to show up in town and stand witness while some other man did his best to “erase the sadness” from her eyes. Thom was a friend, but Mac had no doubt that he’d resort to violence if the man so much as put one finger on Jo in his presence. Better he stayed away.
Besides, Cam didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Jo did not have sad eyes.
He turned on his phone and called his mother, wished her a Merry Christmas and apologized for worrying her. They talked long enough to allay her concern about his well-being and Mac assured her he was still coming down to visit her in the spring. He even managed, just barely, to stop himself from issuing threats involving bodily harm to his brother when Ma asked whether he was bringing his new girl with him so she could meet her.
He hung up and turned the damned thing off again and stalked around the cabin a few times, muttering about interfering family members, before grabbing his jacket and the keys to his Jeep. He suddenly felt the need to take a drive.
* * *
The conversation around her seemed to fade away as Jo saw Mac’s Jeep pull into the parking lot of the diner, every nerve suddenly on high alert as she waited for him to come inside. But he turned off the headlights and just sat out there, alone.
She knew he didn’t celebrate the holiday, and she was starting to understand why. It had to be a tough time of year, bringing with it reminders of Carly’s death. Her heart broke a little at the thought of him being so isolated while just a few steps away, here inside the diner, was a world of warmth and welcome and friendship. Things he claimed not to want.
Someone distracted her with a question and the offer of another piece of fudge. Then Thom Dawson came over, taking his leave and wishing her a Merry Christmas again and telling her to be careful on the roads tonight. He was a nice young man, although he seemed overly cautious for someone his age. Perhaps a hazard of the job.
When she looked out the window again, Mac’s truck was gone.
A half hour later, the celebration was finally winding down and she was exhausted from all the talking and smiling. And stuffed full of good food. She retrieved her jacket and the empty brownie plate and slipped out the door before anyone could subject her to another round of hugging.
Night fell quickly here when the sun dipped below the top of the mountain and it was full dark when she drove home. The day had been warm and sunny and most of the snow had melted. But the roads were wet from downhill runoff and Thom had warned everyone that there’d be a freeze tonight, with black ice in the usual spots before morning. She didn’t know where the usual spots were and was glad to be home before the temperature dropped.
She parked the truck and wandered around to the front of the cabin, looking out over the vast stretch of darkness broken only by scattered pinpoints of light trailing away down the mountain, mirroring the first few stars sparkling in the clear sky overhead. Even at night, the beauty of this place was breathtaking. And the loneliness she felt in that moment was heartbreaking.
“Merry Christmas,” she said, whispering it to herself on a frosty breath.
She crossed her arms, hugging herself against the chill and turned to go inside, deciding tomorrow was soon enough to call her mother. She opened the door and her foot nudged something sitting on the top step. What on earth? She wasn’t expecting any deliveries.
She picked it up and carried it into the brighter light of the kitchen. It was a small wooden box. Plain but smooth, it looked handmade. She pulled off the lid and a ragged scrap of paper fell out and landed on the counter. She set the box down and unfolded the paper. The words were a bold masculine scrawl.
“I was wrong. I’m sorry.” It was signed with just the letter M.
Oh, Mac. Her hands trembling now, she picked up the tissue-wrapped object in the box, carefully folding back the layers. It was a small piece of carved wood that fit comfortably in her palm. She turned it over.
Oh, dear God. It was Steve, the rabbit from her stories. The detail was exquisite and the likeness incredible, right down to the saucy smirk on his little rabbit face.
She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so she did a little of both. Mac must have read her story, seen her sketches. And then he’d made this for her. She was stunned by the time and thought and sheer artistry that had gone into the gift.
But the simple words of apology were what touched her the most.
She wanted to see him, needed to talk to him. But it was late and the mountain was dark and the thought of black ice made her hesitate. She pulled out her cell phone and the business card he’d given her. One bar of service. She hoped it was enough and punched in the numbers. The call went straight to voice mail.
She disconnected without leaving a message, not sure what to say. “Thank you” seemed inadequate. “I forgive you” seemed inappropriate, especially once she realized she wasn’t sure, exactly, what he was apologizing for.
Her thoughts an unresolved jumble of doubt and hope, she went up to bed, turning off lights behind her. She set the little hand-carved rabbit on her nightstand and stared at it for hours as the light of the almost full moon shone in through the sheer curtain, painting a pale slanted beam that slowly shifted across the floor as night wore on toward a new day.
She finally drifted off to sleep, comforted by the certainty that she’d track him down tomorrow. There were words that needed to be said, words they both needed to hear. But she wasn’t going anywhere and tomorrow was soon enough. They had plenty of time to sort things out.
* * *
Part 10 has been posted; check the sidebar for a link.