A week passed and the two of them fell into a routine. Jason was up early and got his chores done as he always had. Willow slept late for the first couple of days and slowly began to join Jason for breakfast. He didn’t mention to her that she cried out in her sleep, or that he knew she was awake most of the night pacing the floor. He’d spoken to Betsy the first time it happened and made up his mind on how he would deal with it. When Willow was ready to talk, she’d come to him.
The days were filled with feeding the animals, mucking out the barns and keeping the road plowed as the snow began to fall. It got dark earlier and it was bitter cold some mornings. Willow was standing in the kitchen trying to decide if she’d rather freeze at the table or just stand next to the wood stove when Jason came in.
“Morning Willow,” he said.
“I guess,” replied Willow. She knew she shouldn’t be grouchy, but she hadn’t slept well and was achy from shifting feed and firewood yesterday.
“Didn’t you sleep?” Jason asked. He knew she hadn’t.
“NO. I didn’t. I… shit. I’m sorry Jason. I’m cold, I hurt and I can’t sleep,” she said at last. “I’m tired of crying myself to sleep and…”
Jason wrapped his arms around her and hugged Willow. “It’s okay. I know you haven’t been sleeping,” he said.
“Then why didn’t you say anything? You’ve been walking around here like nothing is happening!” she said louder than she meant to.
“Would it have changed anything?” he asked looking down at her.
Willow looked at him, her mouth hanging open. “Um…” she started and then thought about it. “Nnno, I think, I think I would have just kept feeling sorry for myself,” she said shaken by her own thoughts.
“That’s kinda what I figured. Everyone has been treating you like you were made of eggshells. When you showed up here, I heard you cry the first night. Heard you pace the floor. Not running to your rescue was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I figured you needed time to get your head together, but to be sure, I called Betsy. She agreed. So, I’ve just let you be. Let you find your feet. Figured when you were ready, we’d talk,” he said.
Willow put her head against Jason’s chest and cried. All the pain and worries rode through her and wracked her body. Jason just held her. His shirt was soon soaked with tears and snot, but he didn’t care. Finally, as the sobs subsided, he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her.
Willow took the handkerchief, blew her nose and then tried to dry off his shirt.
“Never mind the shirt Willow,” he said. “It’ll wash.”
She hiccuped and blew her nose again. “Ccan we go into town and get me some warmer clothes?” she asked at last.
“What do you need?” Jason asked wondering about this odd twist in conversation.
“Besides being soul hurt, I’m freezing,” she said.
“Oh. You should have said something earlier,” he said. “I have a bunch of my sister’s clothes upstairs. Some of them might fit you.”
“Okay. I… I was just so busy feeling sorry for myself, I ignored the fact that the weather was getting colder,” Willow said.
“Grab a cup of coffee and let’s go see what we can find,” said Jason. They got their coffee and headed upstairs to the room across from Willow’s bedroom.
“Here are some blankets too,” said Jason as he cleared some boxes from a pile.
Willow took them to her room. When she came back, Jason had a pile of long underwear, socks, flannel lined jeans and flannel shirts.
“How did you have all these clothes?” asked Willow. She knew when she left home, she took every scrap of clothing she owned. What she didn’t keep, she pawned.
“My sister went into the army. Said she never wanted to wear flannel or wool again,” said Jason. “Left all this behind in storage as Mom wouldn’t throw things away.”
“Did that work out for her?” asked Willow.
“Nope, she went through basic in Georgia and then got posted to Norway. Served her right,” said Jason with a smile.
“What?” asked Willow.
“She got sent to Norway. I laughed my ass off and so did my Dad. She even asked for her old stuff, and both my parents told her that they burned it. She sorta pissed them off,” said Jason.
Willow just shook her head and grabbed the clothes. She dumped them on the bed and began to shed her own lightweight jeans and sweaters. Jason closed up the attic room and headed downstairs.
Willow came downstairs ten minutes later. Jason could see that the clothes were a little big, but she’d belted up the jeans and rolled up the legs.
“Warm yet?” he asked.
“Working on it,” she said.
“Good. We have hay to get out to the livestock in the upper pasture today. Eat up and let’s get going,” said Jason.
Willow woke up, heart pounding, pulse racing. Sweat clung to her skin and soaked her nightgown. She sat up trying to figure out what had woken her. Granted, she’d been having nightmares about the rape again, but there had been a noise.
There it was again. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to bury her head under the covers or investigate.
She decided she rather confront the sound than hide. Slipping out of bed, she stuffed her feet into her slippers and tiptoed across the room. As she opened the door, she heard it again.
Thump. Swwwosh… Thump.
Willow crept down the stairs. Jason’s light was on and she could see it under the door. She knocked lightly. “Jason,” she whispered. “Jason, there’s a noise.”
Jason opened the door. “Willow?” he said puzzled.
“There’s this thumping noise,” said Willow. “Listen.”
Jason walked over to the window. During the night, the storm that had been predicted had hit hard and heavy. He saw what had made the noise and smiled. “It’s just the snow sliding off of the roof,” he said.
“Huh?” asked Willow as she looked out the window. The world had transformed into a white swirling mass. As she watched, a clump of snow slid off the tin roof and made a thump as it hit the porch and then the ground below it. “Damn.”
“No, Damn is later when we have to get to the barn. Looks like three feet at least at the moment. Still two hours until dawn. Good thing we went to town yesterday,” he said. Then he noticed that she was shivering. “Get back to bed before you freeze.”
Willow nodded and ran back to bed. Her room was warmer than the hall and she dived under the covers still amazed that the snow had come in that fast.
She woke hours later, realizing that she had slept well. She got dressed and looked out the window to see that the world was still being covered in snowflakes. She added another sweater to her layers of clothing. Then she headed downstairs for breakfast. She could smell the coffee before she got to the second landing.
“Morning,” said Jason.
“Morning,” she replied. She grabbed a cup of coffee and joined Jason standing by the wood stove. “Does this kitchen ever get warm?” she asked.
“Yeah. About June, and it lasts about three days,” said Jason with a smile.
Willow looked at him and then realized he was teasing her. She laughed.
“Honestly, in the winter it is miserable. I need more insulation between the front wall and the porch,” said Jason.
Willow looked where he pointed and nodded.
“Once we check on the animals, we are done for the day,” said Jason.
“Okay, that shouldn’t be so bad,” said Willow.
Jason just smiled. He knew that today would be exhausting. They ate breakfast and headed outside.
The first thing Willow noticed was that she sank into nearly three feet of snow. Then she realized that if she didn’t follow Jason, she could barely walk. Once they got to the barn, Jason got the tractor out and cleared a path from the house to the barn, piling up snow in a berm on the far side of the corral. Next they loaded up a snowmobile sled with hay and headed out to the upper pasture. All the livestock were trying to hide under the trees. Jason broke and tossed bale after bale of hay. Then they headed back to the barn and loaded it up again. Willow hung on to Jason, unable to see a thing, and wondering how he knew where to go.
After they parked the snowmobile back in the shed, they fed the animals in the barn, closed up the barn and headed for the house. They hung the outer clothing on hooks and left a pile of snow on the porch that they had dusted off one another. Jason grabbed an armload of wood and headed for the living room. He had the fire roaring in the wood stove before Willow had managed to make coffee. She came into the room with two cups and the heat almost overwhelmed her.
“Oh damn. That feels heavenly,” she said.
“I agree. As soon as we warm up a bit, I’ll make dinner,” he said.
“Dinner? What about lunch?” she asked.
“It’s nearly 4pm,” said Jason. He’d kept track of time and knew that they should have come in sooner, but the storm had slowed them down.
“I… I had no idea it was so late,” she said. She curled up on the couch and sipped her coffee.
“Tomorrow will be just as rough, so be ready,” he said.
He took his coffee with him to the kitchen to start supper. It was stew again, but it was easy to leave in the crock pot. He added a few spices and then filled their bowls. He added bread to the tray and walked into the living room. He had the tray sat down before he realized that Willow was asleep. He walked over to her and touched her on the shoulder.
Willow had been dreaming. When she felt a touch on her shoulder, she struck out screaming. Next thing she knew, Jason was holding her and stroking her hair trying to calm her down.
“Shhh, it’s okay. Sorry I startled you,” he said.
Willow blinked. She still wasn’t totally awake. Her heart was going ninety miles an hour. Looking into Jason’s eyes, she could see that he was concerned. She realized that she had hit him in the nose too, as blood trickled down his lip.
“Oh! Oh god. I’m so sorry,” she said trying to wipe the blood off of his face.
“It’s okay Willow. I startled you,” he said. “Dinner’s ready.”
Willow looked to where he pointed and saw the steam rising up out of the bowls. She still felt terrible, but got up to eat.
After dinner, they sat in the living room. Jason read a book while Willow played solitaire on her computer. She looked over as he added another log to the stove.
“How’s your nose?” she asked.
“I’ll be okay. I’ve had worse from Bunny,” he said.
“Who’s Bunny?” asked Willow.
“My pony when I was little. She head bumped,” said Jason.
That made Willow laugh. Jason walked over to Willow and sat down beside her. “Still having nightmares?” he asked. He knew the answer, but wanted to hear it from her.
“Yeah. I keep thinking that they will go away,” she said.
“They will in time,” Jason answered. He grabbed his book and sat back down next to her. “You okay with me sitting here?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said and went back to playing solitaire.