House in the Woods
Kevin ran his fingers through the hair at the back of her neck while he described the place to her and to Mandy who was messing around in the back with the seat belt of her booster. Kevin Jr. was sacked out in his baby car seat, and it was about time; he had been inconsolable on both planes over. Nicole leaned into the dozen red roses Kevin had given her at the airport to catch their scent. It had been three months since he had left her and the kids in Vegas for his training on the oilrig, but finally, their family was together again.
Their plan had always been to leave Vegas. Nicole had never wanted to raise the kids there, and now that Kevin’s parents were gone, there was no reason to stay. They just needed to save enough money to get out. She took as many telemarketing shifts as she could, but Kevin couldn’t seem to hang on to any gig for long, only odd jobs he picked up here and there. More and more, he’d keep himself holed up in the apartment during the days, his mood worsening. It was like he had forgotten who he was, who Nicole knew he could be, and the farther away he got, the angrier and more unpredictable he became. Nothing Nicole did helped him shake it.
Their connection at Doyon Drilling seemed like the quickest solution. Once Kevin had income and purpose again, she knew things would get better for them. He would have to travel sometimes, and there was no question the work would be difficult, but the trade off was worth it. He left for Alaska just after Kevin Jr. was born.
Where the road narrowed, Kevin slowed and took a right onto a gravel driveway. Several yards ahead was a white-shingled rambler with three cement stairs leading up to a storm door that swung out, half-open, over a modest porch. The house sat on seven acres. There was nothing but forest and open space around them, tundra beyond that. And no neighbors either, except the Clarks next door who had sold them the place. They never would have been able to buy otherwise. Bob Clark had helped Kevin get hired at Doyon; he was the one that could make it easier for Kevin to get a contract once he proved himself.
Before Kevin had the keys out of the ignition, Mandy shrieked and unbuckled the seat belt of her booster. She leaped up the steps, scooted past the partly-open storm door, and charged into the house.
Nicole hoisted the baby car seat out of the car, and Kevin got their suitcases. “You can leave the door open like that?”
“No, I need to fix that lock again.”
The place was about twelve hundred square feet, double the size of their apartment in Vegas, and smelled like must and dirt and old beer. The bedrooms had wood paneled walls with mirrors on thin sliding closet doors and were mostly bare. Kevin had gotten some furniture second-hand; Nicole brought the baby into the smallest bedroom and laid him in a lightweight portable crib. She hesitated a moment as she looked at Kevin Jr.’s sleeping face, his lips puckering between soft puffy cheeks into a pout, and then she closed the door softly behind her.
Mandy jumped off her new bed where she had been bouncing and catapulted herself into Kevin’s arms. “Can we go next door and see the sled dogs, Daddy?”
He swung her around. “We’ll have to wait until the Clarks are home, Buttercup.”
Sled dogs. When Kevin first told Nicole the Clarks kept four of them, she thought he was kidding. It was so different from their old life, so storybook Alaska, she could hardly believe it.
Nicole unzipped her coat on the way over to Kevin who was stamping snow from his boots on the doormat. She shushed Mandy who was still screeching in bionic preschool volume about all the bedrooms.
Kevin’s arms had gotten bigger in the three months he had been up on the rig, and he looked like a local in his green flannel shirt. His jaw was rough when she ran her hand along it, but underneath, his skin still looked like he’d been dipped in honey.
“Thank you,” she said, moving against him, “it’s perfect for us.” Her mouth found his. She felt their kiss deepen; his arms tighten around her. For the first time in months she let her body rest.
She breathed him in.
“Nic, they moved the start day up a week for my rig. I’m going in two days.”
She pulled away. “Two days? But you said it was two weeks on, two weeks off.”
“That was when I was in Beta group, they just switched me to Alpha. You remember, I told you that.”
“But we just got here. Can’t you tell them you need to go later?”
“I can’t go later, I have to stay with the team. That’s how it works. How I get the choice gigs.”
“Nic, it’ll be all right, it’s good news.” He kissed her hand. “You’ll see.”
Nicole moved to the open front door for some air. Older snow, its crisp surface marked with air holes, clung in icy patches on the ground. In the clearing directly in front of the house only three spindly Aspen trees had been allowed to grow, the rest were stumps. A house the color of Comet cleaning powder sat one hundred yards away to the left, a chain link fence behind it, a porch in front, woods all around. The trees and houses were flat and cold in the sky’s dim light. The last warmth from the sun had flickered out. It was quiet, like the land was holding its breath waiting for night to fall.
After she put Mandy to bed, Nicole snuggled next to Kevin who held the cooing baby. How was it possible that the man was more handsome now than when they had met? She had been taking care of everything in Vegas by herself for so long, to be with him now, the relief she felt to have them all together again for this fresh start just like she’d planned, made her giddy. She swaddled the baby, put him in his crib, a
nd rested her hand gently on his chest until his body sank into the mattress and his breath slowed.
She padded back into the master bedroom, her insides fizzing around again. Kevin’s lips were on hers before she made it to the bed, their bodies wrapped around each other in the yellow light of the bedside lamp. The stubble on his jaw scratched her skin as his mouth tr