Allie had never taken such delight in personal isolation.
The sporty Nissan Altima they’d rented whipped around the curves as they approached the resort. It took another half hour to get from the town of Mars Hill to Wolf Ridge. A twisting road off the highway became more and more tangled the higher they got into the mountains. Allie could count on one hand how many houses they passed. Soon they arrived at a quaint gatehouse with a lane on each side to enter and exit. Morgan told the elderly man moving as slow as turtle the address for where they were staying and what name it was under. He gave them a pass to stick inside their car and then pressed a button to raise the gate. His smiling gaze never left them as they drove off waving at him.
Suddenly there were cabins all around them. The directions Morgan’s phone was giving her took them up a paved road, winding of course and feeling like one lane. They soon arrived at the top and drove by a hotel and a large mountain lodge that was a combination pro shop for the golf course and a restaurant for the resort. Half a dozen cars were parked outside even though it was definitely not golf season.
“Think we can pick up some men there?” Morgan joked.
“Yes. As long as we bring walkers,” Allie said.
The directions led them to a dirt road that meandered on the other side of the mountain. Down a bit then up again, then turning around and then driving around and up and then back down.
A cold sort of gloom hovered over Allie, and she didn’t think it was the temperature.
“Is that thing really working?” Allie asked.
It took them right to a road heading upward at a sharp incline. The house had its number on a wooden sign at the top of its plunging driveway. It was a quaint little cabin with a tin roof and a smiling grin of a front.
“Can I just live here the rest of my life?” Allie asked.
“Maybe we will, don’t jinx us,” Morgan said, backing up and then slowly heading down the sharp gravel drive.
Once outside, the wind feeling colder than it did at the Asheville airport, Allie followed Morgan as she searched the winding deck that wrapped around three-fourths of the cabin.
“They said it’s under a mat that says ‘Welcome’ but I don’t—oh, here.”
Morgan looked underneath and then found the plastic bag with the key inside it. She held it up so that Allie could see she’d found it.
“Just like they said,” Morgan said.
“Glad they didn’t forget.”
“Yeah, me too.”
The key worked for the front door just right outside the driveway. It creaked open and the musty air inside greeted them with a choke and a cough.
“Smells like my grandparents,” Morgan said.
“Smells like freedom,” Allie said, walking in and embracing their remoteness.
“It’s very quaint,” her friend said, walking around and taking it in.
It’s very me very now very necessary.
“It’s perfect, Morgan.”
A smile and a flip of the hair and an assured glance.
“You don’t know how happy I am to hear that,” Morgan said.
Allie hugged her, then they proceeded to check the rest of the place out. This would make such a beautiful temporary shelter from the storm of the life they’d just left. Temporary being the word. Sooner than later, Bernardo would know and would come to this place. But for now, he wasn’t there. For now, maybe, just maybe, Allie could sleep halfway decently.
On a side table near the front door, an elaborate chess board with handcut wooden pieces sat waiting to be used. Allie picked up one of the black pieces and was surprised by how heavy it felt.
“You know how to play?” Allie asked Morgan.
Her friend glanced at the board and then shook her head. “Uh, no. But I’m willing to learn anything with enough alcohol.”
Morgan placed the handbag she’d brought in on a table while Allie walked to the back of the small cabin. She glanced outside one of the windows and saw something black streak by. She jerked back and let out a slight cry.
“What is it?” Morgan screamed coming to her side.
Allie pointed in terror outside as Morgan glanced through the window at the deck. On top of the flat wooden railing sat a fat black cat. Morgan looked back at Allie and then playfully slapped her arm.
“Don’t freak me out,” Morgan said.
Allie was looking out now, almost questioning what she’d seen. “I swear it looked bigger than that. ”
“It’s a cat. A very well fed cat.”
“Are you a superstitious person?” Morgan asked her as she moved away, uninterested in the feline outside.
“No. But—a black cat?”
“It’s not crossing your path, right? Isn’t that what they say? Come on. This has an upstairs, you know. Let’s check it out.”
Allie looked out the window again but the cat was gone. She wasn’t worried about the thing. It could go a few days without eating.
The pair of bedrooms awaiting at the top of the stairs reminded Allie of two equally-shaped valves in a heart. Each was cut by the narrow, sloping roof above it. Each one had a twin bed nestled against the slant, with a dresser and a bed table accompanying it. Between the bedrooms was a small bathroom with only one sink and one shower.
“This is cozy,” Morgan said as she ducked her head while examining one of the beds. “The pictures made it look a lot more—level?”
The dim light from the single bulb in the lamp cast a cloudy orange glow over the room. The wood beams on the side looked weathered with age, like the wrinkles of some wise grandfather. For Allie, everything appeared inviting, like the thick comforter over the bed or the half-moon rug under the mattress or the ancient round alarm clock that looked like it was bought in the seventies. There was a book on the table next to the bed with a picture of the Smoky Mountains on the cover along with the word “Journal” at the bottom. A sidekick of a pen hovered right next to it.
“So what theme would you like?” Allie asked, noticing the shape of the animal on the lamp standing on the dresser. “Bear or dear?”
“No, no, no, you get to pick first.”
“Bear,” Allie said as a finger touched the outline of the black bear at the base of the lamp. “Are there really bears up here?”
“How about we don’t find out? I like deer better, anyway. I’m surprised you chose bears.”
“It’s my frame of mind,” Allie said. “No, make that my frame of life.”
“I hope you’re not going to be a bear to be around the next week.”
Allie didn’t even smile. “With bad puns like that, yes, I most certainly will.”
“Let’s check out the rest of the place. That might take about thirty seconds.”
Before they left the bedroom, Allie had to ask her.
“Tell me something. Were you and Sterling going to sleep in separate bedrooms or something? I mean—it’s not like there’s one master bed. It’s more like two minis. You know?”
Morgan gave her that college mischievous sort of grin. “I didn’t book this place thinking of sleep. It looked kinda like my grandmother’s apple pie, the kind I might want to—”
“Stop. Right now. I know where that filthy mind of yours is going.”
“I’m just trying to say–”
“Don’t,” Allie said with a laugh. “I don’t want to even think of apple pie anymore. I’m afraid to.”
“Sterling would have hated this place anyway,” Morgan said.
“I adore it. It’s like a poem you can live inside.”
“We haven’t even seen all of it.”
Allie glanced back at the journal. She wondered if it had been written in. It didn’t matter, because she planned to fill some of its pages. It had been too long since she’d actually put thoughts and feelings of hers onto paper. Onto literal paper, the kind you could tear off and crinkle up and toss aside.
Paper was a lot like emotions. It was too much like emotions. She wanted to pour herself onto some of them and then hide them away so that the monster didn’t come and toss them into the fire.
“You coming?” Morgan asked.
She nodded and followed her down the steep steps. This wasn’t merely a cabin. Not to Allie.
This was a safehouse. Where nobody knew her name and number.
The absolute favorite thing in this cabin had to be the stone fireplace in the center of the family/living/main room. Whatever you called the room you walked into that comprised three-fourths of the cabin. Two couches you sank into made a V-shape in front of the fireplace. Just beyond it was a table with a few chairs. Not four but three for some reason. Then next to it was the small kitchen. No island, no bar stools, no wet bar, no extra amenities.
It took them a few trips to get all the groceries. Once the kitchen counters were covered, Allie slipped back into the main room to continue examining their home.
“No television anywhere, huh?” Allie asked.
“Doesn’t look like it. And my cell reception isn’t that good.”
Allie had turned her phone off and wanted it to stay off. For a day or a year. Something like that.
“This is really perfect,” Allie told her friend, dusting off the top of the low coffee table in front of the two couches. “I love this place.”
“It’s remote. Did you bring any books?”
“Remote is wonderful,” Allie said, then added. “I have about five hundred on my Kindle.”
“You didn’t bring an axe, did you?” Morgan asked.
“No. What? Why?”
“I don’t want you going The Shining on me or anything. No ‘Redrum’, okay?”
Allie simply laughed. “As long as I don’t see or hear and smell Bernardo, I’ll be fine.”
“I always thought he smelled good.”
Allie looked at Morgan and shook her head. “Expensive cologne can’t cover up a cheap soul.”
“You go girl,” Morgan shouted out as she headed into the kitchen to organize their supplies.
Allie simply settled in on this couch and decided she didn’t want to move. For an hour or a day or maybe a few.
It would take her quite a while to start taking off the armor that had been stuck on her. Rusty and worn armor that had started to corrode all over her heart and soul.
It’s time for a cleansing. Time for some peace and quiet.
A dance-pop sugary-sweet song suddenly began playing in the kitchen. Allie knew that Morgan had connected her cell phone to the wireless speakers.
Okay, maybe forget the quiet. But the peace will come. It has to come eventually. Right?
She’d been wrong many times before. All she could do was hope. And keep the doors locked.