Sunday, August 23, 2009

Year's Long Night, IV

Jack stirred, blinking awake as Beth settled back on the couch.

“I’m up,” he mumbled, pushing himself half way up, and then he blinked again, running a hand through his hair. “Why am I up?”

“You fell asleep. On me. And you’re up because I had to climb over you to get to the bathroom.”

Jack vaguely remembered sitting on the couch, next to Beth, and then her tucking the blanket around him….


“You almost were.” Beth pressed her wrist to Jack’s forehead. “No more two cups of cocoa before bed for me. How do your feet feel?”

“My feet? Oh, right. Um, fine, I think. Kinda… sore?”

Beth sighed, then stood up, holding out her hands. Reflexively, Jack took them, and she pulled. Jack struggled out of the blankets, his feet throbbing as he kicked them.

He winced as he got up, shifting his weight away from his right foot.

“Okay, maybe it’s more than just a little bit sore,” he said.

“Hot or tingly?’ Beth was backing up, and Jack had to take a step to keep from losing his grip on her hands. Then another, and another. Beth was leading him around the dining room table.

“Ow… Kinda like… a sunburn, I guess. Not tingling any more.” Jack winced as he turned around the table. “Why are you torturing me like this?”

“Because your sister told me to.”

“She told you to—”

“You need to generate heat.”

“Aren’t there any ways that don’t involve —”


“So why don’t we—”

“No!” She let go of his hands, and walked quickly into the kitchen.

Jack hobbled around the table. “I don’t know what the big deal is all about,” he said. “I wasn’t out all that long.”

Beth poked her head around the corner. “Jack. It was really cold. And wet. And windy. Those are bad when you add them all up. And…” She glanced at the candle in the window, burned halfway down, but still bight and steady. “It wasn’t entirely natural.”

Jack paused, looking at the door, and then over to Beth. He shivered. Beth scowled.

“Keep walking,” she said, shaking the spoon in her hand at him.

Beth returned several laps later with a steaming mug. She set it on the table, in front of Jack’s chair, then sat at her place at the table.

Jack eased himself down into his chair.

“None for you?”

“I’m already over my limit.”

Jack sipped at the hot chocolate, peering at Beth over the rim of the mug.

“You look tired.”

She smiled, but it wavered. “I’ll be fine.” Her eyes fluttered closed, and she took a deep breath. She pressed a hand against her stomach.

They sat in silence for a long while, Jack sipping at the hot chocolate, feeling it warm him up on the inside.

Jack gave a short laugh. “Some pair we make. How am I supposed to take care of you when I’m hobbling around like an old man?”

“Take— Jack, I don’t need taking care of.”

“I stole your hot water bottles.” He took another sip of cocoa. “You can have them back, I think my feet are warmed up enough.” He put the mug down, and got up, walking stiffly to the couch. He dug out the two hot water bottles, and made his way to the kitchen.

Beth tried to intercept him at the doorway.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked, reaching for one of the containers.

Jack snatched it away, and shouldered past the girl, into the kitchen. He emptied them into the sink, and reached for the steaming kettle.

“I’m supposed to be up and moving around. Generating heat.”


Jack carefully filled one, and then the other hot water bottle. He handed them to the girl, then shuffled out of the kitchen. He put a hand on the bannister.

“Well, I guess we should get some sleep.” He winced as he went up the first step.

“Jack, you shouldn’t—”

He turned.

“I mean, your bed is probably all cold, with the heat being out. Your sister said to keep you warm.”

“I’m fine, Beth. All warm inside and out.”

He turned to take another step up, and felt a tug at the hem of his shirt. He looked back, and Beth stared up at him.

“Come back down here,” she said.

He backed up, and she pointed to the couch.

“This time, you lay over there. I don’t want to have to climb over you again.”

Jack swallowed. “Are you… sure?”

Beth smiled, and this time, it stayed. “I’m just following your sister's orders.”

“Keeping me warm?”


“I can do more laps around the table—” He made to start towards the table again, and Beth tugged at his shirt.


He paused.

“You’re not the only one that could use some keeping warm, you know.”

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