Rem couldn’t help but release a small sigh of relief when a genuine smile spread across Birdie’s face. “I like your ma, and you’re right, she most likely would.” Birdie paused for a moment and then nodded. “One night. I don’t want to be a burden beyond that, and I’ll pay you back somehow. I can do some chores or whatever you need. I don’t want to be a charity.”
“We’ll settle your debt later.” Standing around and negotiating with this woman wasn’t an option. White puffs of air came from his mouth, and his own body began to shiver without the warmth of his coat. He glanced down at her feet once more and then without giving it a second thought, swooped her body into his arms. “You ain’t walking in the snow with no shoes.”
She surprised him when she didn’t offer up any resistance. Instead, she wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered, “Thank you.”
Transporting large blocks of ice made a man strong. His frame had to be as solid as the ice to succeed in being an icer, but Rem’s strength wasn’t needed to carry Birdie in the slightest. Hell, he had carried sacks of potatoes heavier than her. He wondered when was the last time she had a decent meal.
“I can walk if you get too tired,” she said in the softest of voices. It reminded him of a lullaby—soothing and calm. Something about her fragile nature made him want to handle her like his ma’s fine china.
“It ain’t much further,” he replied as they got closer to town.
His house sat on the outskirts of Boca Town overlooking the Truckee River. He and his pa had built it themselves, a pride he had never experienced until the day they hammered in the last nail. A grove of pines and aspens surrounded it, giving him the privacy he desired but still within walking distance to the town center. The house didn’t sit on much land, but there had been enough for him and his pa to create a proper garden for his ma, which over the years had become her pride and joy.
As he and Birdie emerged from the dense woods, his house came into view. The moon cast a light, assisted by the night’s stars. The stream of smoke coming from the chimney made his mouth water. Ma would have supper waiting and a warm fire to remove the chill that had found a home deep inside his bones. He wasn’t sure what his ma would think about their surprise visitor, but he knew enough to know she’d welcome Birdie with open arms.
Rem stole a glance at Birdie, trying to not make it obvious. Her face stared blankly ahead looking…sad. The close proximity of having her in his arms made it awkward, and they both just traveled in silence. He wondered what was running through her mind, what were her thoughts, her fears. Her pa had clearly done a number on her, and Rem wondered if she was in any pain. Was he holding her too tight? Being that she was so close to him, he could really take stock of her injuries. The shiner might very well swell by morning, to the point where she wouldn’t be able to open her eye. Her busted lip would heal but not without leaving a scar, he reckoned. But he also noticed old bruises that had barely healed before her son of a bitch father inflicted new ones.
It wasn’t uncommon in these parts for a man to use a little force to express his will. What happened under a man’s roof was no other man’s business. But to beat a woman, to make her bleed—well, Rem wasn’t about to stand for that. It was one thing to take charge by swatting a woman on the rear, and another to cause such harm as a split lip and a black eye. A little loving discipline, sure, but to beat a woman like Birdie…inexcusable. Jedson Bluebell better watch out. If he wanted to use his fists on someone, he better get ready for a fair fight.
Kicking the door open with his foot, Rem crossed the threshold with Birdie still in his arms. The heat of the cozy room washed over their frigid frames instantly. The smell of beef stew boiling in the cast iron pot over the fire attacked his grumbling stomach. He could only imagine what the fragrant aromas were doing to Birdie’s empty belly. Rem made eye contact with his ma as she stood next to the oak-wood kitchen table that sat next to the crackling fire.
With the aging lady’s mouth agape, her hands on her robust hips, she stood dumbfounded for several moments before snapping, “Well, shut the door before you let in the cold.” She quickly walked over to the rocking chair in the corner of the room and snatched the thick quilt that draped over it. Making her way back to them, she wrapped the blanket around Birdie’s shoulders as Rem placed her down gingerly, not sure how her feet would feel. “Welcome, Birdie girl. It’s about time you grace my supper table.”