Marcus woke up to a layer of winter snow 8 inches thick covering the land as far as the eye could see. Some cold had gotten into the cabin, which he chased out by stirring the coals in his fire and adding some wood from the pile nearby. He had a propane heater of course, but the company didn’t come by often enough to fill it for daily use and besides, he liked the exercise.
Seeing the pile had dwindled to the last two or three split pieces, he put on his coat and hat, his boots and mitts and went out to the wood pile. The snow gave his footsteps a muffled quality that seemed to absorb sound rather than make it.
Marcus unfurled the canvas log carrier he’d made from an old Duluth Pack that had done it’s years of service and was now enjoying a mostly dry retirement by the fire. He conscientiously knocked the snow off each one before before placing it into the sling. It was this noise in the otherwise silent forest and the snow that muffled the approaching footsteps behind him.
Someone cleared their throat. “Mr. Marcus?”
He turned around. There in front of him was the girl who he’d rescued from the Snowmobile accident on his land at the beginning of the winter. She was dressed in a red fur-lined down parka, snow pants and snow shoes and had a small green canvas back on her back. and “It’s-“
“Even at my age I’m not likely to forget.”
“I suppose not.” she said.
“Well, what can I do for you? I don’t see any downed snow mobiles, nor do I see any wolves chasing you. To what do I owe this visit Ms. Jessica?”
“Well actually, I wanted to thank you for your help the other day.”
“No need for that. I just did what anyone did.” He hoped his voice wasn’t too gruff but wasn’t sure. He attempted to put a twinkle in his eye under the stern expression.
It must’ve worked, because the tension broke with her smile and Jessica asked, “Can we go inside?”
Marcus nodded his assent and they headed back in muffled silence to the log cabin with the smoking chimney.
Once inside, they stamped off the snow from their boots and hung the coats on the back of the door. Jessica pulled up a footstool by the stove and warmed her hands. Marcus gave her time to get settled before either of them spoke.
“Thank you Mr. Marcus, I really don’t know what would’ve happened if you hadn’t come by.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. He very kindly did not point out that they both knew what would have happened if he hadn’t happened by.
“Well, I know it’s not much, but I brought you this.” From her pack she brought out a pie and a thermos. The pie appeared to be still warm, having been wrapped in a box and a towel to keep out the cold.
Marcus raised an eyebrow in pleased surprise. “Well this is a surprise. Usually, isn’t it the grandmother who receives the goodies and is saved by the woodsman at the last minute? Not that I’d mind being rescued by a grandmother, assuming she was a stout handsome woman.” He held his grave expression before breaking into a grin. “This is very kind, but unnecessary Jessica, you didn’t have to go to the trouble.”
“It was no trouble, I needed to use the last of the Rhubarb we froze this summer and there wasn’t enough to make preserves. Besides, I heard it was your favorite.”
“From the waitress over at the Chocolate Moose. She says you come in once a week when they have it and order a a coffee with cream and sugar and a slice of rhubarb pie, with a side of ice cream.”
“hmph.” he said and then immediately brightened as she brought out a small container of ice cream. He got up and set to the task of setting the table, bringing out red and blue Fiestaware dishes, saucers and mugs. The forks for the pie and spoons for the coffee were real silver, old, but serviceable. Out of the drawer, he pulled a second place mat and cloth napkin and set it down opposite his own.
After they’d eaten, he wiped the last crumbs out of his beard and focused on the girl.
“That was the best pie I’ve had in a long time.” He said, “Do you know why?”
“Lard in the crust?” she asked. He smiled.
“Good company. But yeah, the lard in the crust helps too.” He sat back quietly for a moment and thought a bit before getting up to stoke the fire. “What is it you really want Jessica?”
“Well, it occurs to me that you’ve come some way out here with something on your mind and it’s more than just bringing an old man some pie. So, what’s on your mind?”
“Well… I’m not sure how to say this, but I’d like to be like you.”
“What do you mean? Old? Cantankerous? Keen on pie?”
“No, it’s just that most people I know wouldn’t have known how to help me, or might not have noticed that any help was needed. I feel like it makes sense that if I can learn how to be that person, I should be that person.”
This opened a wound in Marcus that he’d managed to ignore most days. It was Jack’s words coming back to him from the mouth of this girl.
“Oh I don’t know about that. Lot of meddling foolishness helping people. I was just being neighborly. I don’t go out of my way looking for trouble.” he said.
“I’m not so sure that’s true. And even so, I want to learn the skills it takes to help people who are stuck in the woods, or need help somehow. I’m not taking about becoming a cop or joining the army.” Another pang.
“Hmph, that would put you in the role of young apprentice and me in the role of old hermit. Not sure I relish becoming the old hermit. Too many of them die before the hero is properly trained.”
“Then don’t die,” she said. “I’m sure you had no plans to before I came by this morning. I don’t see why you should change them just to give me drive to accomplish things on my own.”
“What’s your dad think of all this?”
“He hasn’t said anything against it.”
“Because he hasn’t heard anything about it, am I right?” Jessica looked away a bit sheepishly.
“I did raise kids of my own, you know. I’m older and meaner and craftier than you, so don’t think you can pull one over on my missy.” he remembered to but the ‘kindly old man gleam’ in his eye at just the last minute. “Normally, I believe that it’s customary to make a would-be apprentice wait outside in all weather for three days and nights to test their resolve, but as it’s winter in Minnesota and you’ve just brought me pie…”
“… I’ll have to meet your dad and get his approval. I’m not so sure most dads would like their daughter hanging out with some old guy they’ve never met. If- and I mean if, you get his approval, you’ll start out helping me around the place and I’ll pay you for your work. If you can handle the work, you might just learn what it is that makes me, me. Do we have a deal?”
“Good. Now I have one more question for you,” he said gravely.
“What is it?”
“Would you like another slice of pie?”