Author: xenolith PM
Fontaine loses herself in the wild.Rated: Fiction M - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Words: 1,390 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 1 - Published: 04-15-12 - id: 3013685
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Fontaine woke to the warmth of a fire. She lay on a loosely packed straw mattress, the wooden frame of the cot digging into her side. Her head whirled, colors dancing out of place. She shifted into a sitting position and rubbed her temple. Blinking, forcing her vision to clear, she looked up at the vague shadow of a man.
He held out a bowl; she took it warily, mind twisted with fog. Shafts of moonlight tried to penetrate her thoughts but her memory was dim, and it hurt to concentrate. She cupped the bowl with both hands and brought it to her lips.
Broth, thin and salty. But warm. She sipped at it hungrily.
"Where am I?" she asked. "What happened?"
The man moved around the cabin. His back to her, he stood at a wood burner stove and poured hot tea from a canteen into a tin cup. "You're safe," was all he said. He sweetened the tea with a lump of sugar and brought it to her.
Fontaine set aside the bowl, half drained already, and took the cup with a wan smile. "Thank you."
He sat down on a chair next to the bed, and nodded.
Now that her thoughts were clearer she was able to observe him properly. He was an old man, very tall and very thin, nothing more than sagging skin draped over a lanky set of bones. His eyes were a brilliant blue, alert and full of spark, and he had a perfect set of straight, white teeth. But his face was too long, his hair too white, his skin scorched with sunburn and mottled with freckles.
"My name is Willis," said the old man. "Willis O'Hara."
Fontaine held out a hand, which he shook lightly. "Mrs. Fontaine Clement," she said. "Nice to meet you."
"And why are you all the way out here by yourself, Mrs. Clement?"
"Why, I'm looking for my husband, of course."
"Is that so?" Willis drew back in his seat. "Well I'll be."
"I know you're probably thinking it's no place for a woman to be looking for a man. But he's all I've got." She let the tea warm her hands and spread throughout her body. It had been a long time since she felt this good.
"Ain't there anyone else to help you?"
Fontaine shook her head. "No sir. My brother was killed working on the railroads and my Mother and Father live out East. Besides, they don't want nothing to do with me. Not since I married Paul and moved out here. I don't have any other family, except an Uncle I've never met and know nothing about but that he did something real bad and no one ever talks about it. And Paul's folks died back in the depression. So it's just me."
"Don't you have any friends? What about the law?"
"The law gave up on my husband nearly three months ago. They say he's dead."
"Might be he is. This is a wild land, to be sure. All kinds of ways to die out there in the cold."
"Mr. O'Hara, I appreciate you rescuing me, and lord knows I appreciate you letting me into your home and all, but my husband ain't dead. I know he ain't. I can feel it in my heart. If he were dead I'd be the first to know."
Willis shrugged. "If you say so. I ain't gonna argue about a woman's instincts on account of they're usually always right. But I didn't rescue you, Mrs. Clement. My son did."
"Oh." Fontaine flushed and pulled the blanket up to her chin. It was bad enough lying in a man's bed in her underclothes, even if he was an old man and a decent one at that. But to expose herself to his son was entirely inappropriate. "I didn't realize, I'm sorry."
He waved away her distress. "Don't think on it. But he'll be back soon, so you might want to put your dress on if you feel that bad."
"Thank you. I will."
Willis made himself busy at the stove again, bustling around with his back turned as Fontaine hurried into her clothes. She felt a little better with her heavy dress covering her pale arms and bulging chest. Her boots were at the foot of the cot; she put those on too, bending down to do up the intricate laces.
A banging came suddenly from outside, and Fontaine jumped in surprise.
Willis cast a quick eye in her direction, saw she was clothed and out of bed, and chuckled. "It's alright. It's just Luke."
There was a scuffling on the porch, then a cough. The door handle rattled and the door swung open, hinges creaking. A man appeared, half-hidden under a great trench coat and hunched against the cold. He closed the door and set a rifle against the wall. He rubbed his gloved hands absently.
"Going to be a good frost this morning," he said to his father.
Willis nodded, setting the table with hot food. "Come eat something."
"In a second."
The man turned to Fontaine, who stood calmly. "Hello," she said.
"Much better. Thank you." She paused, and smoothed her skirts. "For everything."
"I'm Luke," he said.
They stared at each other. Willis clanked bowls down on the table, drawing their attention. "Food," he said bluntly, and his eyes were dim and unreadable.
Fontaine swiped her hair back behind her ears and made her way to the table. Luke hesitated, then held out her seat. She settled down with a quiet word of thanks, and he sat opposite, eyes darting to and from her face. Willis spooned broth into their bowls and cut into a loaf of bread, handing out thick white slices. The lantern spluttered and cast a wavering yellow light on the walls of the cabin. Outside the sky was pitch black and studded with pinpricks of light. It was warmer closer to the fire in the oven, and the broth filled her insides with heat. They ate in strangely companionable silence, until Willis set his spoon down and fixed her with a searching look.
"I need to ask you a question, Mrs. Clement, and I hope you don't take offence but it needs to be said."
Fontaine pushed her bowl away and folded her hands in her lap. "Alright," she said.
He thought about it for a moment, chewing the words over in silence. Luke stopped eating as well. He had frozen in place, shoulders rigid. Willis sighed. He narrowed his blue eyes. "Are you sure your husband is missing? Are you sure he didn't just run away?"
Her face drained of color. She was so mad she could have hit him. Only the fact that they were at the table and he had shown her the hospitality of his home prevented her from slapping him on the cheek.
Willis was unapologetically quiet. Fontaine closed her eyes, struggling against her emotions. She thought of Paul, his smile, his hand at the small of her back, the feel of his shirts and the smell of his skin. That he loved her was the miracle of her life. "Yes," she said at last. "I'm sure. I'm sure my husband loved me. I'm sure he didn't run away. He would never." She swallowed. "He would never do that to me."
"I'm sorry. Forgive me. I had to ask."
She nodded stiffly. When she opened her eyes, Luke was glaring at his father. He rose from his seat, and without a word he walked back to the door, grabbed his rifle, and went right on out again.
Fontaine was too surprised to do anything but stare. Willis smiled at her, sadly but with real warmth. "Don't worry about Luke. He'll be fine."
She didn't understand. Her mind was foggy again and men were a mystery. Willis hurried her back to bed and set about clearing up. She sank into the mattress and fell asleep to the outline of the old man, moving slowly in the dark cabin.