Once they were mostly out of earshot of the cabin—not entirely, for Liz wanted to be able to hear should Will wake—she stopped, found the mostly snow-free trunk of a fallen aspen, and motioned for Einar to sit beside her. “We have to decide what to do about Juni.”
He was surprised. It wasn’t what he had expected. “Now?”
“Yes, now. Because…well, some of the things we talked about up there earlier, about you needing to get stronger, start heading in the right direction again so you’ll be able to stay here with us…I hate to say it, but some of those things are probably going to be easier done while she’s here, and I want to know how long I have.”
“Why should it matter if she’s here or not? Don’t really understand.”
“No. Just believe me. If she can help with Will now and then, or with chores like firewood, this thing will go faster and you’ll be ready sooner to take back over where you left off.”
“I’m ready now. Never yet left off in the first place. Not making a lot of sense, al of this.”
She sighed, drew the parka closer around his neck, for he had begun to shiver after less than a minute of stillness.
"I know you’ve never left off yet, but you’re going to have to. That’s part of what I wanted to discuss with you out here. You’ve said you can’t just lie around and let me take care of things, and I understand that, but if you go on using up all the energy you take in, and more, you’re never going to make any progress really, and the first time we have to leave the cabin for any extended period of time, you’ll end up right back where you are right now. Where you were up on the mountain yesterday. And you’ll die. So that’s why I need to know what we’re going to do about Juni, and when. So I can plan what we need to do with you.”
“Ha! I don’t like the sound of that, you know? Not easy for me to…doggone it, Liz. You’re really serious, aren’t you?”
“Yes. Dead serious, and I don’t want you to forget how serious you were about it this morning, either. Because I know you were, or you wouldn’t have been willing to shut down your week of instruction with Juni to come back down here with me. Even if just for a little while, you were starting to admit to yourself just how far you’ve let this thing come, and how badly you need to start down a different path if you’re going to stick around. Weren’t you?”
He shrugged, felt trapped and wanted to run but knew he had no business doing that sort of thing to her, particularly seeing as she was correct in everything she was saying. Had heard his thoughts plainly as if he’d spoken everything aloud, somehow, and intended to hold him to all of it. Well, wasn’t that what he had wanted? What he had known must be done? It was, he supposed, only he’d intended to do it himself and without any interference from her, or from Juni or anyone else. Was the way he did everything, and he simply couldn’t fathom responding with anything other than strong and immediate resistance should anyone try and push him to do such things, from the outside. Especially now that Liz had given him release from the agreement he’d had with her. Had his freedom, meant to keep it but sensed that she was asking him in her somewhat indirect way—tended to confuse him, and he wished she’d just come straight to the point, state whatever it was she was wanting him to do, and let him say yes or no—to allow her once more to have some say over the course of his day-to-day life. Some surrendering of his liberty which, though surely temporary, would prove to him no less intolerable, and this confused him also, for he’d thought she said not twenty minutes ago in the cabin that she was intending to do no such thing.
He rose, leaning on a tree and staring off into the snowy woods for a good minute before looking back in her direction. “What is it you’re wanting me to do here, Liz? You said we were out here to talk about Juni, and now…”
“I want you to consider letting Juni stay for a while longer, if you’re willing and if she is. I know at some point we have to decide how to part ways with her for good, but let’s not even be too concerned with that right now. How about another three weeks or so for starters, and then we’ll see how things are going at the end of it? Maybe your day of ‘instruction’ yesterday has changed her mind, but I know at least prior to that she would have jumped at the chance to stick around for a while longer, and I really think it would free me up some to focus on improving things for you and getting you to the point where…”
He squirmed uncomfortably, didn’t like to hear her talk in those terms. “It’s not safe. If I do this, and really keep up with eating and all…well, you’ve seen in the past. Things can tend to get a lot worse before they get better, I get all sick and legs swell up and all that goes with it, and if she decided to make a move while things were like that…I just wouldn’t be too well equipped to protect the two of you or to make a hasty exit from this place if things got bad in a hurry.”
“You’re not prepared to do that now.”
Silence. Wanted to disagree, but couldn’t. Well, he could have, and could have made a pretty good argument of it, too, could have taken off up the mountain to prove her wrong, but instead he sat back down, met her eye.
“She can stay, and I’ll do it. Whatever it is. But you may have to keep reminding me from time to time that I said so.”
A smile from Liz, an embrace, a whispered prayer of thanks as she pulled him back to his feet and led the way to the cabin; have to get that firewood carried inside, because I'm pretty sure a storm’s coming…