Good Man in a Bad Time
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Natalie dropped her car down to second gear as the mountain road became steeper. It was snowing hard by now, and with night quickly approaching it was almost impossible to see the small signs put up at every crossroads. And, she admitted to herself, the tears weren’t helping her visibility either. It was too painful to think about why she was crying, but the past two days kept replaying themselves in her head like a broken record she couldn’t switch off no matter how hard she tried. As the snow started settling on the road her mind flashed back yet again to the events of that morning and the day before it.
She had seen her parents off at Denver International Airport the day before – they were embarking on a month-long trip to Sydney in celebration of their twentieth wedding anniversary. Natalie was happy for them; they were hard-working and had never had a real vacation together. Still, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy that she couldn’t come along and soak up some sun as well. However, there were certain compensations to having the house all to herself, and spending uninterrupted time with her boyfriend was one of them.
Natalie had been going out with Nathan for almost a year; they’d started dating right before high-school graduation and were taking most of their community college courses together. But in a year she had never had sex with him, had never even let him slide his hand beneath her skirt. He had been patient with her at first, but in the past few months their relationship had gotten strained. Every time they went out now he would ask some variation of the same thing.
“Come on Natalie, it only hurts the first time.”
And, “Why don’t we go back to my house baby? My parents aren’t home all night.”
And finally, “Damn it Natalie! You’re such a little tease. Most other couple’s our age are doing it, why should you hold out?”
He had asked that one on their last date after he had asked her to go the “The Hill” with him and she’d said no. “The Hill” was a spot that overlooked the city and was a famous (or infamous depending on who was talking about it) place to find teens in a “less than decent” position.
She had apologized to Nathan, but she couldn’t answer his question. Why was she holding out? The most obvious answer was that she was scared, but she also had to admit to herself that it wasn’t just that. Whenever she thought about having sex with Nathan, it had just felt wrong… which really didn’t make sense, did it? she thought. He was her boyfriend, she should like the idea of making love to him, it should excite her. But it didn’t. Still, she knew if she didn’t give in to him soon his frustration and anger would end their relationship.
As she went to bed that night in the empty house, Natalie began to hatch a plan for a weekend with Nathan. Her parents owned a small two bedroom cabin up in the Rocky Mountains. It was Natalie’s favorite place to go — the scenery was beautiful all year long, there was a small river by their cabin, and it exuded a peace and privacy she didn’t feel existed in the city. Maybe if she were up there with Nathan she would be able to push her doubt and fear into the far recesses of her mind and finally give him what she knew he wanted. Her mind made up, she set her alarm clock and fell asleep.
When she woke up the next morning the weather was cold and frosty and the weather-man said there was a high chance of heavy snow later in the afternoon. She packed accordingly, adding a heavy sweater and second coat to the clothes she’d shoved in a duffle bag. Her packing complete, she made a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up some food that would keep well for the three hour drive up the mountain and the weekend at the cabin.
As she wandered the large department store she found herself in a section of lingerie. She had packed warm flannel pajamas for the cold December nights, but maybe Nathan would prefer if she brought a couple of “sexy” nighties along too. A particularly pretty lavender set caught her eye and she grabbed it on impulse along with a black slinky night dress in her size. Throwing them in the cart without even trying them on, Natalie hurried to the check out at the front of the store. If they fit, great. If not, Nathan would never know she had bought them.
The guy at the register was not much older than Natalie, and as he scanned the lingerie he smirked unattractively, “Big weekend with your boyfriend?”
Natalie was mortified to have been asked such a personal question, but keeping her cool responded, “My girlfriend actually, and I’m sure your manager wouldn’t be happy if I told him you were making inappropriate comments to customers instead of doing your job.”
The jerk’s mouth dropped open but nothing came out. Shaking his head in disbelief he finished tallying her things in silence and stammered out the total. When she’d put it on her credit card he asked “Do you, er, need help to your car?”
Natalie bonus veren siteler couldn’t help it, she laughed. “Help from you? You have got to be kidding me!”
Still laughing, she walked away just as he muttered “Jeeze, I have to ask that question to every customer!”
Once home, Natalie packed the food and drinks into a cooler, grabbed her duffle bag, and placed it all in the large cargo space of her Volvo wagon. She left a message on her parent’s cell phone, telling them she would be spending a few days with her best friend Stephanie. She felt a little guilty about the lie, but she knew Steph would back her up, and she could hardly tell her parents her real intention. She looked around the empty house, and satisfied she hadn’t forgotten anything, locked it and headed for Nathan’s.
As she pulled up to the large Tudor style house Natalie was surprised that Nathan’s car wasn’t the only one in the drive. Parked next to the small black Saab was Stephanie’s Toyota Corona. It was winter break, but was there some sort of assignment she was supposed to be working on with them that she forgot about? Walking in without bothering to knock, Natalie looked around the empty living room, then turned and headed up the stairs. “Maybe they’re studying upstairs in his room,” she said naively to herself as she reached the landing. But as she swung open the door, she realized that what her best friend and boyfriend were doing on Nathan’s bed wasn’t something they had covered last semester.
As the guilty party looked up in surprise, Natalie took in the scene as if it were a movie set in slow motion. Stephanie on all fours facing the foot of the bed, her bottom high in the air and her naked breasts flushed. Nathan, positioned behind Steph, both hands on her hips and obviously deep inside her. Nathan’s expression was one of pure horror at being caught, Stephanie’s was a strange mixture of guilt and relief. As the two disentangled from each other and started grabbing their clothes off the floor, Natalie could only look on in silent disbelief.
Once she got her panties and tee shirt back on, Steph was the first to make an attempt at conversation. “I’m so so sorry Natalie. I came over to Nathan’s house looking for you and it just sort of happened…” Stephanie trailed off as
Natalie shook her head. “You were always a bad liar Steph. I just can’t believe you would do this to me.” She looked at Nathan, who had pulled on his boxers and was struggling to untangle his inside-out football jersey — the one she had gotten him for his birthday. Her eyes swam with unshed tears and all she could do was leave. She turned and ran down the stairs, not stopping when she heard Nathan’s shout to wait up. She pushed out the front door and was fumbling with her keys when Nathan grabbed her arm and spun her around.
“Damn Natalie, I said to wait. I can explain, I really can.”
Natalie laughed as the tears finally spilled over and streamed down her face. “What is there to explain Nathan? You were having sex with my best friend. If you were going to cheat on me, couldn’t it at least have been with some girl I didn’t know?”
“We never meant for it to happen!” Nathan protested, “But she came by and we both sort of… well we… shit Natalie, what do you want me to say?”
“How long?” she asked him bleakly. “How long have you two been doing this behind my back? Don’t bother lying to me Nathan, I can tell this isn’t the first time it’s happened. It was written all over Steph’s face.”
Nathan looked away, and she thought he wasn’t going to answer. But as they stood there in the driveway, the wind starting up around them, he finally whispered “Three months.”
“Three months,” Natalie thought, “Right after he really started pressuring me to do it with him. I guess he found someone else more willing.”
“I see,” she said aloud. As she turned back to the car he grabbed her arm again.
“It’s not my fault you know. If you had just been less of a frigid bitch I wouldn’t have had to -”
SMACK! The sound rang out clearly in the air as Nathan grabbed his face in pained surprise. Natalie wanted to scream and rage at him, tell him if he had been that unhappy he could have broken up with her, or really talked to her… or something besides sleeping with her best friend. But she didn’t think she could ever truly convey to him the magnitude of her hurt, so she got into the car and slammed the door. Nathan didn’t try to stop her as she reversed down the driveway, and as she drove away the last thing she saw was Stephanie coming out of the house and tentatively reaching out to him.
Without any clear knowledge of having made the decision, Natalie had found herself at the foothills of the Rockies and heading up the road that would take her to the cabin. She wanted the time away — she certainly did not want to be at her house for the next few days. She knew if she stayed there that Nathan would try to call, that Steph would bedava bahis come to the door and beg to talk to her… and she just wasn’t emotionally prepared to deal with either one of them for a while.
Which brought her back to the present, and the fact that she wasn’t quite sure whether or not this road was the right one to the cabin. Visibility was decreasing by the minute and Natalie knew she couldn’t afford to get lost in a blizzard. Leaning over, she opened the glove box and started shuffling through the maps. Finding the correct one she opened it one-handedly and quickly glanced at the route her parents had highlighted years ago on their first excursion up here. Yes, there it was… she was on the right road and would be turning left in a few miles. She was searching for the road name on the map when movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention.
She looked up just as the deer sprinted into the middle of the road. As the doe stopped and looked at the oncoming car in a state of frozen terror, Natalie couldn’t think – all she could do was react. She turned the wheel hard to the left, narrowly missing the guard rail at the side of the road. As her car went down a narrow slope, the only thing Natalie could see was the large Evergreen looming up out of the growing darkness. When her head hit the steering wheel a mere three seconds later, she couldn’t see anything at all.
“Hey, hey there… it’s okay, you’re safe.” The deep voice filtered in through the fog that seemed to have invaded Natalie’s brain. She opened her eyes slowly and could just make out a blurry but unmistakably concerned face above her. When a large, black head appeared next to the face, she gave up her struggle for consciousness and slipped back down into a mercifully dreamless sleep.
When Natalie opened her eyes the next morning, it was to find herself alone in a cozily warm cabin room. At first glance she thought she had ended up at her parent’s cabin somehow, but on further inspection she realized that nothing in the room belonged to her family. When she sat up the room spun crazily and a wave of nausea passed over her. Her head ached and reaching up, she felt the large swell at the top of her forehead. “The steering wheel…” she murmured to herself. Cautiously she slipped out of the large bed and stood a little unsteadily. Looking down she realized she was dressed only in a man’s oversize shirt. In embarrassment she grabbed the quilt from the bed and wrapped it around herself. Feeling slightly less exposed she opened the door to the bedroom and stepped out.
She found herself in a large living room that also served as a kitchen. It was empty, so she turned around to search the rest of the cabin. All she found was a tiny bathroom, and it too was vacant. She rushed back to the main room of the cabin and looked out the window. The sky was extremely overcast, and the storm had dropped well over two feet of snow. Not seeing anyone in the immediate vicinity and growing increasingly uneasy about being left alone in a small cabin in the middle of nowhere, all she could do was sit on the couch and wait.
As is was, she hadn’t been sitting there long when the door crashed open and a large man walked through. Natalie jumped up, startled, and blurted out “Where were you?” Immediately she blushed, embarrassed that that was the first thing she’d said to the person who had most likely saved her life.
The man looked almost as startled by her outburst as she had been at his sudden appearance in the doorway. “I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have left you alone except I honestly didn’t think you’d wake up until this afternoon sometime. I went to get your things.” It was only then Natalie noticed he was wearing humongous snowshoes and had her duffle bag slung over one shoulder, her cooler in the other hand. Depositing them on the ground next to the fireplace he bent to un-strap the snowshoes. Propping them up against the wall he turned back to the open cabin door and let out a piercing whistle. Less than ten seconds later a large black Labrador came streaming through the door. From his shoulders downwards he was covered in bits of snow, which he commenced to vigorously shake off.
Natalie was edging away from him, partly because he was so big, partly because he had doused the quilt with a fair bit of the wet powder. The man saw this and said scoldingly, “Cujo, be a gentleman!”
Natalie took another healthy step backwards. “You named your dog Cujo?”
The man grinned at her. “Well he’s got some white markings on his muzzle that sort of make it look like he’s foaming at the mouth. And besides, he’s big enough to be a “Cujo” anyways. Don’t worry though, he’s harmless. Are you afraid of dogs?”
Natalie looked again at the Lab, who was now happily settled by the fire, tail thumping crazily on the floor. “Not exactly,” she muttered. She looked at the man, who was studying her as if she was some wild thing he had deneme bonus taken in and didn’t know quite what to do with. Finally she managed to ask “Um, would you mind if I took a shower and changed into some clothes?” She gestured to the quilt, “as you can see I’m not exactly decent.”
The man blushed. “I’m really sorry about that… when I got you back here you were pretty wet, and I had to remove your clothes and get you dressed in something dry so you wouldn’t get hypothermia…anyway, of course you can use the shower, help yourself.” He picked up her duffle bag and handed it to her.
Taking it from him she said “Thank you…?”
“Jeff,” he finished for her.
“Thank you, Jeff. And I’m Natalie.” He nodded and she headed to the bathroom as quickly as she could, which considering she was holding the quilt protectively around her while being thrown off balance by the large duffle bag, was admittedly not very fast.
The hot shower had a wonderful recuperative effect, though Natalie had to be careful not to touch the swelling on her forehead, which still hurt badly. When she’d dried off she quickly pulled on her favorite pair of jeans and her college sweatshirt, then steeled herself to look in the mirror. Her eyes were puffy, but the nasty bruise on her forehead took precedence, and after a few minutes she found a way to brush her hair so that it hid a fair bit of the bump. Feeling more presentable and less like a homeless stray, she exited the bathroom and made her way back to the front of the cabin.
The man (Jeff she reminded herself) had shed his winter coat and boots, and she realized with those articles of clothing gone he was not half as bulky or foreboding as first he had seemed. He was crouched in front of the fire, and as she watched he stirred it and threw on another log. When he stood she stepped further into the room. Turning around, he caught sight of her and veritably started; he was obviously a bit taken aback by her transformation. However, before either of them could say something she was ambushed by Cujo, who had trotted out from the bedroom and was now weaving happy circles around her, tongue lolling as he waited for praise. Cautiously Natalie gave him a pat, and when all she got in return was an enthusiastic hand-lick, she figured he was probably not really a vicious St. Bernard with Rabies.
Jeff seemed exasperated by his dog’s lack of manners and taking him by the collar hauled him away from Natalie. “Why don’t you come sit down,” he offered, gesturing toward the couch. “Would you like some coffee, tea…?”
“Do you have hot chocolate?” Natalie asked, settling down on an over-stuffed cushion.
Jeff nodded, “I’m pretty sure I do. Let me just make some up, then we’ll have a little talk.”
Natalie watched him bustle around the kitchen, grabbing a pan to warm the milk and switching the coffee-maker on. He was really quite handsome, she decided, with his disheveled sandy hair, strong jaw, and broad shoulders. His face had laugh lines, but there was also a sadness she could detect lurking beneath the surface. He sat down on the couch a polite distance from her and handed her a mug.
“Thank you,” she murmured, blowing on the steaming contents.
“You’re welcome.” He took a sip of his own coffee, then fiddled with the mug. “Do you want to tell me what happened out there?”
Natalie took a gulp of her drink, then choked a bit on the burning liquid. When she felt she could talk without spluttering, she said “I was driving up to my parent’s cabin for the weekend. The storm started and I could barely see what road I was on. I looked down at my map, and when I looked up again there was a deer in the middle of the road. I swerved around her and… well I don’t really remember the rest, just waking up here.”
“You’re not supposed to swerve around deer you know,” he lectured her, “If you can’t brake safely, the best thing to do is hit it.”
“I know that,” Natalie retorted, a bit annoyed at being treated like a five-year-old. “But in that split second I looked in her eyes, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything else. Can you say for certain you would have plowed into her?”
Jeff shook his head, “In theory, I’d say yes, but never having actually been in that situation, I guess I don’t for certain what my reaction would be.”
Feeling vindicated, Natalie nodded. “How did you find me anyway? And how did I get back here?”
“Well, Cujo and I were securing a few things around the outside of the cabin, it was getting extremely windy and I knew a big storm was coming. You must have hit that tree pretty hard, and with the wind blowing in my direction I could hear the impact clearly. I grabbed a sled and my snowshoes and started walking down the road. I could see where your car had skidded, and I found you unconscious against the steering wheel. I put you on the sled and got back to the cabin. That’s how you got wet. I couldn’t feel any broken bones, but there was nothing to do for your head except keep you flat and warm… and hope you would wake up. Concussions can be tricky things, you’re actually very lucky it wasn’t worse.”
“I wasn’t going all that fast,” Natalie murmured, then added, “thank you Jeff, you saved my life.”
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