After the big personal reveals by both of us we had to find our comfort zones again. We’d keep running up on the subject and then backpedaling quickly in hopes the other one didn’t notice. We didn’t want to hurt each other. I’m not sure why I cared that Carmine now knew the whole truth; I mean honesty is a good thing. I guess I kept expecting him to do the same thing that Asa did and change his mind. The thing is I could see that he didn’t like the wall that had grown between us. He wasn’t relieved, he was irritated by it.
I kept wanting to ask him … what I didn’t know precisely but I guess for some unknown reason I wanted reassurance that he wasn’t grossed out by me, by my past, by the things I had done to survive.
A few days later we had our answer … I was not pregnant. I wasn’t sure how to broach the subject with Carmine because I wasn’t exactly regular, mostly due to the fact that my general diet was low in fat. I also wasn’t used to discussing my feminine nature with the male of the species, it had just never been an issue. All of the regular staff at the facility I had been confined at had been female. My cycle also righted itself, at least partially, due to the halting of my endurance type lifestyle and the sudden inclusion of things like the pemmican that cleared up the earlier problem.
Carmine was whittling some wooden pegs to use to fit together a table he was making. “Uh … Carmine.”
I sighed, sometimes you just have to be blunt. “I’m not pregnant.”
He continue to whittle for about five seconds before all four legs of the chair he’d been leaning back in made floor contact. “Uh … you sure?”
“Do I absolutely need to spell it out for you?”
He shook his head and grinned and said, “No, I’m not that big a chucklehead. You sure you’re OK with that?”
I shrugged. He said, “That’s not really an answer.”
“What do you want me to say? I hadn’t thought seriously about making babies after things blew up with Asa and even then I wasn’t for sure that it would happen. Finding out that we can make them together was a bit of shock if you want to know the truth. But then you said you don’t want to make them and …”
“Whoa,” he said. “I didn’t say I didn’t want to make babies with you. As a matter of fact the idea of it gives me way too much satisfaction and turns my libido inside out; but I’m a man not a rutting stag. I need a place to tuck you up and keep you safe when you get pregnant and I still haven’t decided if this hole in the ground is it.”
Something inside me I hadn’t realized was tied up, loosened. “This isn’t a hole in the ground, it’s the basement of a nice cabin.” When he hiked up his eyebrow I said, “OK, it could be a nice cabin. I know what dilapidated is and this cabin isn’t it. It needs some work but even I can see how it could be done.”
He started to whittle again. “You don’t want something bigger?”
“Bigger means more space you have to heat and insides you have to take care of. This place has a big fireplace in the main room and a fireplace here in the basement, plus that Franklin stove over there. A couple of the other places around here have wood stoves that we could dismantle and bring over here too … could even put one in the kitchen and we would only have to use the fireplace for baking.”
“I was thinking that for the warmer months I could rig up a summer kitchen; build a mud oven. A lot of people use summer kitchens out here to keep the house cooler, keep the mess out, and to lower the risk of burning things down. We’d need a smoke house too so we wouldn’t have to dry everything though we will certainly need to continue doing that. I could even dig a hole back into the hill and make us an ice room – always wanted one of those just never had the time to do it – but the real challenge would be to get domesticated animals and have a place to grow crops.”
“Grow crops? Carmine we don’t even have seeds for that.”
“Actually Saloli we do. When I said I outfitted my getaway caches I didn’t do it by half measures. I always wanted a place of my own so I tucked away for it, just in case.”
Curious I asked him, “Why didn’t you do it before now? Get your own place I mean.”
“Didn’t have the time or more honestly didn’t make the time. Didn’t have the place. But mostly didn’t have the woman. Got the time, got the woman. Not sure though if this is the place.”
“You’ve got …?! Well aren’t you arrogant!”
Giving me a grin he said, “You saying I don’t?”
“No that’s not what I’m saying and I hope you know it. I just mean … I mean what if I’m totally unsuitable? What if I’m ..?”
I didn’t get the chance to finish what I had started to say because he was on me like a cat on a mouse … just that fast too. “Don’t you ever, ever use that word again. No one is more suitable for me than you. Got it?”
I looked at him and hated that I felt so needy and inexperienced. “Carmine are you sure? You … you heard what I was like before. You’ve seen what I can be like now. I don’t do people really well. I tried with your family but … but I was kind of glad when they went on own the road.”
Expecting him to be upset I was surprised when he said, “You and me both. I love my family but they give me a headache after a while. I’m afraid you’ve got a man that don’t play too well with others.” I thought back to when I first met him and started to grin.
“Being cooped up with Rob must have been hard.”
He read my mind and smiled. “Oh Gurl, you have no idea. I just don’t do rainbows, Skittles, and unicorn farts.”
Never having heard the phrase I asked, “What’s skittles?”
“You don’t know wha … maybe you wouldn’t. They are a kind of chewy candy I was fond of. When I was a kid there was an old Teevid commercial where they would fall from the sky like rain and make everyone happy.” At my disbelieving look he held up his right hand and laughed before saying, “I swear it’s true.” At my continued strange look he said, “Pick some of the newer candies and I’ll try and compare them for you.”
I shrugged, “I don’t know. I’ve never had candy.”
“You’ve never had … now you’re pulling my leg.”
I shrugged uncomfortable for some reason. “Street rats learned that anyone bearing candy wasn’t to be trusted and if you’re so smart you can guess why without me having to explain it. At the facility they closely monitored all of our food intake, especially sugar. I came in with real bad teeth and I was forbidden to have any kind of sugary treats, even if I won a competition.”
“I noticed your teeth are a little on the perfect side and remember you telling Rob you’d had some dental work done. But you aren’t just talking candy are you. No cakes or cookies or things like that?”
“Eh, some at the end when I was being groomed to be sent out but they were made with these artificial sweeteners that always gave me heartburn.”
“Well that explains why you’re so fond of those fruity teas with honey in them. One of these days I’ll fix it so you don’t have to only have the memories of that facility in your head or your hard life on the streets.” He sighed looking around the shook his head. “It might take a while but … wait, just wait one minute. I got an idea. It’ll have to wait until we get a fresh snow fall but I’m pretty sure I can remember how it’s done.”
The wicked gleam in his eye made me suspicious. “Remember how what’s done?”
“You’ll see. But for now, you feel up to going with me to check the traps or you need some time to yourself?” When it was obvious I didn’t understand what he was referring to he pointed and said, “Your monthlies, most women seem to need their menfolk to vacate for a while or they get cranky or weepy.”
“One, I’m always cranky. Two, I make it a personal policy never to get weepy because it gives people the idea that you’re weak. Three … I’m not most women; the most that happens is I get the munchies and since I can rarely indulge I usually just keep myself busy until it’s over with.”
He barked a laugh and said, “Well, good to know. So do you want to go or not?”
“No reason not to.”
That made him bark another laugh. About half the time I didn’t understand what he found so funny but if it made him happy so be it. We took the solar wagon but not deep into the woods. The big tires worked as well on snow as they did on sand but we still drove real slow.
“I don’t want to be out long. The battery on this bucket is charged but cold makes it discharge faster than normal. Just a quick check. Good idea to bring the buffalo hide. Hopefully we won’t get it wet and we can put it back on the bed tonight.”
“I’ve almost got the other hides sewn together for another one.”
He looked at me and said, “Been meaning to ask, you seem to have taken to the sewing and cooking and such a lot better than I would have expected.”
“You mean why would a street rat know all of that stuff?”
He shrugged as he carefully navigated the path we were on. “I could lie and say that isn’t what I meant but it wouldn’t be the complete truth. It just seems odd if you don’t remember being with your own Ma that you seem to be so good at the housewife stuff.”
I snorted. “How exactly do you think I kept clothes on my body as a street rat? I didn’t exactly have a fairy godmother you know. I clothed myself, fed myself … you learned or you went naked and starved. And trust me some of that did happen. There was no one to take care of me so I was forced to learn what I could. Besides, I aced household management at the facility. There’s nothing wrong in taking pride in something … as long as you don’t let it be used as a weapon against you.”
“Why the heck would they make you take home ec if all they wanted you for was …”
Caught off guard by his bluntness I said, “Hey! Watch it bud.”
I shrugged as I quickly settled back down at his apology. “To be honest you are more right than not. But they had to make themselves feel like they weren’t just doing what they were doing but make it look like they were trying to improve the human race. That meant we were to be educated sleeping buddies and we needed to shine in all areas to prove how good, how magnanimous, and how right SEPH was.”
He shook his head. “Kilbrian was a piece of work but the ones in charge now seem like they are living in la-la land.” I shrugged, there wasn’t much I could add to it that we hadn’t been over already.
The traps were disappointingly empty. Carmine said, “Well, I didn’t expect a lot because of the storm but it would have been nice …” I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye and then crowed in glee when I got a big rabbit. Carmine looked at me and grumbled, “Smart aleck.”
I grinned and jumped out of the wagon and a yard onward I went down through the snow. Carmine, worried at first, started roaring with glee of his own when I popped up covered in the white stuff. I told him, “I would be careful getting that buggy out of here. The ice is holding up the snow in places and it’s a lot deeper than it looks. Ow!”
“What are you owing about? Didja twist something?” He was back to being worried again.
“No. Stay in the wagon. If I’m making this break you certainly will. Let me grab the hopper and I’ll be right back.”
“But what …”
Calling back over my shoulder I told him, “The ice is sharp. It scraped me a little.”
When Carmine saw I was leaving little pink dots on the pristine surface of the snow he really started fussing. “Get back here right now! How bad is it?”
I had the rabbit and had turned back when I froze. Carmine saw my look of horror and asked, “Gurl?”
“Cat. B…b.b.b.big cat. In … in the tree just behind you.”
It was Carmine’s turn to freeze. My run in with the other cat kept floating through my brain as did the fact that not only was I on my monthly but that I was holding a dead rabbit and dripping blood on the snow. The cat … could have be the twin of the one that I had already had a run in with … was sniffing the air and looked like it was ready to get extremely interested in me. I’d never out run it. I was one dead rat.
Then the forest rang with first one and then another rifle shot and the cat fell from its perch and didn’t move. Carmine. He hadn’t really frozen … but I still was. I tried to move but just couldn’t do it.
Carmine jumped out of the wagon and made his way over to me, intentionally breaking through the snow and ice to make a path for us to return by. I felt stupid. The danger was over with, I just couldn’t make myself move. Carmine took the rabbit from me and tossed it into the back of the wagon then picked me up and carried me back. That did it.
“Pppput me down. I …”
“Hush. A man likes to know he can play at rescuing the damsel. Besides you’re frozen through. We’re going back as soon as I put that cat in the back.”
Totally appalled at the idea I asked, “Why?!”
“Because you need a better coat that’s why and with as big as that thing is and the coat that thing appears to have, it’ll make most of one for you with just a little piecing out.”
I opened my mouth but then closed it. It was true, I needed a better winter coat. I had to be practical but when Carmine tossed the cat’s carcass into the back of the wagon I swear I could still feel its eyes staring at me