Chris parked beside a detached garage that he informed her housed his dad’s deer dressing equipment. Jess decided she’d rather not find out what that entailed, and followed him to the cabin. What was left of it, anyway.
Picking her way carefully across the pine cone-laden drive in her stilettos, she hugged herself against the nip in the breeze and tried not to panic. The tree looked like it had been struck by lightning, great charred fingers of black snaking in jagged patterns from the place where the trunk had split. White slivers of wood had showered on all sides. The air still smelled of sickly sweet sap and rot. It was a skinny pine, but tall, and it had crashed right through the roof and taken a tree-shaped bite out one exterior wall, and whatever it had gone through inside.
“I really don’t think it’s that bad,” Chris said as he paced the corner of the cabin where most of the damage seemed concentrated.
“You’re right,” Jess said dryly. “Nothing but a little scratch.”
“You know what I mean.”
“No, Chris, I honestly don’t know what you mean.” She massaged at her forehead, and the headache building there. “There is a tree in the middle of the cabin.”
“I’ve got eyes; I can see that,” he said in a surly voice that reminded her too much of her father. “And it’s not in the middle. It’s on the side. There’s a whole half the cabin with no tree in it.”
He braced a hand on the trunk and found a toehold in the ruined cabin wall, and started to climb.
“Be careful,” she admonished, and sounded, she realized with chagrin, like her mother. They were turning into her parents. “Your leg – ”
“Is fine,” he cut her off. Peering down into what was supposed to be the bedroom, he said, “Damn. There’s some water damage. And…”
“You don’t want to know.”
Silently agreeing with him, she tiptoed down the flags of the front path, searching for more carnage. There didn’t seem to be any. Little piles of leaves had collected in the corners of the porch, beneath the spindles; a few spiderwebs, intricate orbs strung up between corners, masterworks of arachnid engineering. Up close, she could see through the windows that the gingham drapes had lace trim: a contribution from Paula, no doubt.
Chris’s hand sliding around her waist startled her. “What?” she asked, turning her head to find him watching her. His expression was an obvious apology, awkward and boyish despite the laugh lines.
“Do you wanna go home?”
She didn’t want to stay here. But more than that, she didn’t want to give up on their week. They needed it, in more ways than one.
She took a deep breath. “No. Let’s see what the inside looks like.”
He grinned and she knew she’d made the right call.