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Episode 7

“Yeah, I watch TV.” He’s smiling, but his focus stays on the road.

“Do you have a favorite show?” This is good. I can learn more about him. Maybe we have things in common other than liking Alaska.

“Sure, depends on my mood and how much time I have. I binge-watch shows sometimes.”

“Oh, me too! Once I binge-watched an entire season of Criminal Minds, which was a really bad idea. I got all paranoid and thought I was going to end up kidnapped by a serial killer.” I glance over at RJ, nerves going haywire.

He’s huge, much bigger than me. And even though I’ve taken self-defense classes, I’m not sure they’d be useful against someone as large as him. What if he’s planning to take me to his cabin and keep me there, like a pet? Or a hostage. I should be panicking more at that thought. As it is, my heart is racing.

He takes his eyes off the road for a second. “I promise I’m not a serial killer.”

“Are you a mind reader?” What the heck was I thinking, getting into a truck with a guy I met on a plane? I can actually hear my mother losing her mind over this poor decision-making. If he does kidnap me, I’ll never hear another one of her lectures again. I’m uncertain how I feel about that. I love her, but one of the reasons I’m all the way out here is because the smothering is overwhelming.

RJ laughs, reminding me that I asked a question before I got lost in the anxious spiral of my thoughts. “No, but your expression sort of says it all. I’m just a guy hanging out in the wilderness for a few weeks, planning to catch some fish. You’re safe with me.”

“I hope so.” I wring my hands, anxiety making my mouth dry and my palms damp. Dammit. Why do I have to worry about everything?

He takes his foot off the gas, pointing to the passenger side window. We pass a red mailbox that reads Sweet View Home. “That’s my driveway. You’re not too far down the road.”

A minute later he makes a right on a narrow dirt road, the center of which is overgrown with a strip of foot-long weeds. Tree branches brush the mirrors as we pass them. It’s a bumpy ride that makes me wish I’d used a bathroom while we were in town.

The lane finally opens up to a clearing and a tiny cabin.

“Oh! It’s so cute!” I clap my hands, excited that I’m finally here and I’m still alive.

For the first time in my entire life, I’m going to have a real adventure. On my own. This won’t be anything like my short time at the University of Seattle. It will be peaceful, and I’ll be totally safe. Nothing bad will happen to me here. It’s going to be awesome. At least this is what I tell myself as enough knots to keep a professional escape artist busy form in my stomach.

As we get closer to the cabin, the cuteness becomes questionable. The cabin is actually pretty run down.

RJ frowns. “Are you sure this is the place?”

I dig around in my purse for the paper copy of the confirmation email. I smooth out the crumpled sheet. The number on the side of the cabin matches the address on the email, but the cabin looks a lot better in the picture. “Yup, this is it. Maybe the ad was old?”

“Yeah. Maybe. Can I help you get settled?”

“You’ve already done so much. I’m sure you have some settling of your own to do.” I grip my purse strap to keep from wringing my hands again. Of course now I’m worried that I should invite him in and that he’ll want to stay and hang out, but I’m tired, and I don’t think I smell very nice under this parka.

“I don’t mind. At least let me help you get your stuff in the cabin.”

I shove down the paranoia that he’s only offering so he can chain me to my bed. If he was really a serial killer, he would have just taken me to his bunker, not dropped me off at my cabin. Besides, it would be awkward for me to carry my stuff in while he sits in the cab. “Okay. Sure. Thank you.”

I grab the groceries, and RJ brings my suitcase to the front door. I find the key under the mat like the instructions said and slip it in the lock, hoping the outside just needs some fresh paint and that it won’t be a reflection of the inside. The door creaks its protest as I shoulder it open. I flick on the light and stare at my new home for the next six weeks, coughing as I breathe in dust.

“It’s rustic.” It smells musty—and possibly like something rotten.

RJ sets down my bags and also coughs several times into the crook of his arm. “That’s one way to describe it.”

He turns a slow circle, taking in my little home away from home. It’s basically a one-room cabin with a bathroom and a closet. In one corner is a double bed made up with a comforter that may have been fashionable when my great-grandmother was my age.

A nightstand also doubles as a side table for the seventies-era recliner in a color that resembles infant poop—sort of a yellowish, browny green. A very old tube TV is set against the opposing wall, complete with rabbit ears, which I didn’t even know still existed.

I’m not sure the information about satellite service was accurate, based on what I’m seeing. On the other side of the cabin is the kitchen, if one could even call it that. There’s a hot plate, a microwave, a sink, and a tiny bar fridge. The kind I had when I lived—very briefly—in off-campus student housing.

The biggest piece of furniture, other than the bed, is the two-seater table pushed up against the far wall. It’s conveniently located close to the tube TV, which is situated in the center of the room. Lucky me: I can watch TV from my bed, the recliner, or the table while I’m eating my noodles, which, based on the hot plate, are going to be my primary source of nourishment. And maybe fried eggs and bacon.

“This is great!” My voice is high and reedy. This place is the opposite of great, and I think I’m on the verge of a panic attack, which I’d like to avoid while RJ is here. So I fake enthusiasm, hoping I can trick my brain into believing it’s true until he’s gone. I clear my throat. “I love it! It’s perfect.”

RJ adjusts his ball cap and squeezes the back of his neck. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay here?”

“It’ll be great!” I pull the curtains open to let in some sunshine and release a cloud of musty dust. This time I cough for a full thirty seconds before I can speak. “It just needs a little fresh air and a good dusting!” I’m much more careful when I open the curtains over the sliding door. The glass is covered in a layer of grime, but the view beyond that is incredible. Trees dot the front yard, framing the lake and the islands beyond, the bright-blue sky reflected in the water.

I turn the lock, lift the security bar, and slide the door open. Or I try to. It takes some serious effort, at least until RJ gives me a hand. A gust of cool air comes off the water, and I pull the lapels of my jacket together. I take a couple of steps onto the deck—which creaks—and almost fall through a hole. Thankfully, RJ is there to save me with his lightning-fast reflexes.

He grabs me by the waist, pulling me up against him. “I really don’t know about this place, Lainey.” He sets me back down inside the cabin, away from the danger.

“It’s fine. I’ll just call the rental people tomorrow and let them know the deck needs a couple of new boards.” Half a board is now missing, thanks to me. An animal scurries around under there. I’ve probably disrupted his home. On the plus side, this is going to be a great place to observe the wildlife. I pat RJ on the chest, noticing how solid it is, much like his arm. “I promise I’ll be fine.”

he doesn’t believe me, which riles me a little. He doesn’t even know me, and he’s making assumptions. Ones my parents would probably agree with and which are possibly accurate, but I’m determined to prove myself while I’m here.

I’m twenty-five years old. I can be independent without the world falling to pieces. I can handle living in a rustic cabin for six weeks on my own. “Honestly, RJ. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.” I start unloading my groceries so I have something to do with my hands other than wring them.

“Okay. Well, if you’ve got a handle on things, I guess I’ll head to my place?” It’s more of a question than a statement.

I glance over my shoulder. “Thanks so much for all your help, and sorry about falling in your lap, and . . . the Cessna.” I cringe, wishing I’d left it at thanks.

“No problem, and it happens to the best of us. You mind if I take your number down?” He taps the old-school rotary phone. The number is stuck to the front with one of those adhesive labels.

“Sure. Go ahead.” I stuff my hands in my parka pockets. It’s not particularly warm in here, but I’m still hot for some reason.

He takes the number down and shoves the piece of paper in his hoodie pocket. As an afterthought he picks up the receiver.

“What’re you doing?”

“Making sure there’s a dial tone.” He sets it back in the cradle and rocks on his heels. “Okay. Well, I hope I’ll see you around.”

“Me too. I mean, yes.” I try not to be too enthusiastic about my nodding. “Thanks again for everything.”

“It’s been a pleasure, Lainey.”

I walk him to the door. He hesitates and takes a half step toward me. I decide I want to hug him, because he’s been nice. And also because he’s attractive, he smells good, and he’s warm like a big teddy bear.

“Thanks again.” I wrap my arms around his waist and let my whole body make contact with his.

“You’re welcome.” His arms circle me. For a second I worry that he really is a serial killer and I’ve just embraced my doom. But all he does is give me a squeeze before he releases me. His tongue peeks out and drags across his bottom lip, gaze fixed on my mouth.

I hope I don’t have something stuck in my teeth. And that he’s not thinking about me being sick on the plane. I rub my lips self-consciously, and his gaze lifts to mine again.

“I’m just down the road if you need anything. It’s probably a fifteen-minute walk along the beach, but I’d wait until morning before you go exploring.”

“I’m probably just going to unpack and maybe tidy up a few things. It’s been a long day.”

“Tell me about it. I’ve been going since five.”

“You must be beat.”

“Kinda, yeah.” He glances around my cabin and seems disinclined to leave, but since there isn’t much else to say, he finally heads for his truck. I wait until he’s disappeared down the long driveway before I close the door.

“It’s fine, Lainey. You’re fine. Just put on some music and enjoy the beginning of your first-ever adventure,” I mutter to myself.

I find my portable speaker in my bag, plug it in, and put on some happy, upbeat music.

I resume unpacking groceries, putting away the fridge items first. It’s not very big, so it’s a bit like a three-dimensional food puzzle, but if I close the door fast, everything stays put.

Next I move on to the dry goods. Everything is fine. I can totally do this. I don’t need a big place or an actual oven to cook. I can get by with a hot plate and a microwave.

I open one of the cupboards and am greeted by a mousetrap—with a very dead mouse in it that smells absolutely putrid. I scream, because the black holes where its eyes used to be are staring at me, and it’s disgusting. I stumble back and fall on my butt in the middle of the kitchen. The floors are rough-hewn wood, and I manage to get a palm full of splinters.

“It’s fine. You’re fine,” I say, for what feels like the hundredth time already as I sit with a lamp aimed at my palm and pick each sliver of wood from my skin.

But I’m not fine at all. My vision blurs, and I suck in a panicky breath.

What have I gotten myself into, and how am I going to make it through the next six weeks on my own in this turd heap of a cabin?


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