Snowbound, Part 14

Sam stepped inside the cabin, closing the door against the swirl of snow that threatened to follow. Still troubled, he sighed as he peeled off his wet hat and gloves and shrugged off his coat. That dream of his had shaken him up but good and he just couldn't seem to push it out of his mind. As naïve and stupid as it seemed, a small part of him still desperately wanted to believe that Josie had never meant to hurt him, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Sam feared that her prolonged proximity was undermining his common sense. He felt dangerously off kilter and out of control; like Alice walking through the Looking Glass. Suddenly, everything looked and felt just a little bit different, even though he could not put his finger on what had changed. Shaking his head as if to clear the image, Sam headed to the kitchen to rustle up some breakfast.

-

In the dark, Josie awoke to the smell of frying bacon. She closed her eyes and took a deep sniff, just able to hear the popping and crackling of the cooking meat over the howl of the still whipping wind. She cracked one eye open and found that the day appeared as snowy as ever, which meant at least one more day in Sam's company. After their confrontation last night, Josie wasn't sure if she could handle it. Sam's presence was definitely getting to her; her heart ached just at the thought of him.

Josie wondered for a moment whether Sam was making a breakfast for one or two. Well, there's only one good way to find out…

Sighing loudly, Josie pushed aside the covers and sat up. In such a small cabin, she couldn't possibly avoid Sam forever. Might as well get it over with, she thought grimly, reaching for her bathrobe.

-

Sam's mind was elsewhere as he turned bacon strips and flipped pancakes. No matter how hard he tried, he could not seem to keep his mind from straying back to the contents of his dream…and from the pain he'd seen in Josie's eyes last night during their argument. An ache settled in behind his ribs to the point where he began to stretch his back, thinking he'd pulled a muscle from shoveling. But, to his dismay, he realized the pain was not muscular. Instead, it smacked of a guilty conscience.

Regardless of what had happened between he and Josie in the past, Sam knew his mother would be mortified if she could have seen how he'd been treating Josie. He'd been brought up to treat women with respect, and—up until now—had never failed to do so. But in the past 24 hours, he had let his emotions get the better of him, and had taken out his frustrations on Josie.

Sam felt out of place within his own skin. Never before had he needed to remind himself to be polite…even with Lara, who had certainly earned more shoddy treatment than she received over the years. Never before had he lashed out the way he had with Josie yesterday. All that he thought he knew about himself seemed to be different with Josie around.

Again, it made Sam feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland, which brought Lewis Carroll's words to mind. Mostly to himself, he recited:

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…

But before Sam could continue, a soft voice behind him cut in and completed the famous stanza:

…All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Sam turned to find Josie in the doorway, her eyes downcast, her hands twisting together nervously. With a mental vow that he would endeavor to be polite and respectful today no matter what, he greeted her with a cordial, "Good morning."

"Morning…" Josie mumbled in return. Stepping across the threshold, she asked Sam, "Would you like some help? Or perhaps…this was a private breakfast?"

Sam frowned and his eyebrows drew together in confusion. "What? Of course you're invited, Josie… In fact, I'm just about done if you'd like to sit down…"

"Are…are you sure?" Josie hesitated, not wanting to intrude. "I wouldn't want to…"

"It's fine, Josie…" Sam interrupted. "Really."

Solemnly, Josie nodded, still not meeting Sam's eyes. She slid out the chair closest to her noiselessly and sat down, meekly keeping her eyes on the table.

Sam slid the last of the bacon onto a paper towel-lined plate and poured the remainder of the liquid fat into an old metal coffee can on the stove's upper shelf. As he placed the breakfast pans into the sink, Sam stared out the window and let out a long sigh as the swirling snow completely blocked his view. Okay, Sam…you can do this, he coached himself. No more outbursts…just calm, cool, collected.

Squaring his shoulders, he grabbed the plates and utensils and brought them to the table, placing one set in front of his spot and one in front of Josie. Then he turned and grabbed a couple of potholders so he could safely transport the hot plates holding the bacon and pancakes to the table. "Here we go…" Sam said, setting them down in the middle of the table so they could both reach.

Sam slid out his chair, prepared to sit, when he realized the table was still missing one thing. "Oops, hold on a second…" he said, even though it was more to himself than to Josie. He disappeared into the pantry for a moment before returning carrying a glass bottle.

Setting it down next to the pancakes, Sam settled into his chair, sliding it forward into place. Peeking at Josie through his lashes, he noticed her eyes were still studying the wood grain of the table. Again, he felt that pang beating against his ribcage.

Trying to sound pleasantly neutral, Sam offered, "Feel free to help yourself. There's plenty, trust me…"

Josie gave Sam a brief look of acknowledgement and quickly lowered her eyes again. She was determined not to give Sam any reason to snap at her today. Her already battered heart couldn't take it.

Sam began filling his plate with breakfast items, yet Josie made no move to fill hers. Shrugging one shoulder, Sam buttered his pancakes and poured on the syrup. Assuming Josie's reluctance to share in the food was because she had quite a bit to say to him about his outburst last evening, he tucked into the food, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But it didn't come. Longer and longer the silence in the room stretched on, smothering Sam until he couldn't take it anymore. Softly, he said, "Josie…"

"Yes?" she mumbled, not meeting his eyes. In fact, she was sitting so still that Sam could scarcely believe her lips had even moved.

Sam leaned forward, leaning against his elbows. "Josie…" he repeated, more urgently now, "Josie, please look at me."

He watched Josie as her chest heaved and she let out a long sigh. Her shoulders slumped forward as if in defeat, and then she slowly raised her eyes to his.

"Is…" Sam paused, swallowing past the nervous lump in his throat as he tried not to tense up, "Is there something you wanted to say to me?"

Josie's eyes crinkled in confusion. What did he want from her? What did he want her to say? Was he looking for some sort of apology? As desperate as she was to maintain peace between them, she was not going to apologize for something she didn't do…and she couldn't think of anything she'd done wrong. He was the one who had snapped at her, after all. "N..no," she stammered finally.

Sam let that sink in for a moment. Apparently Josie had no intention of calling him out on the carpet for his rudeness, even though, if he were honest with himself, he deserved it.

After a moment's pause, Sam began tentatively, "Well, I have something to say to you."

He hesitated and felt his conscience sting as he watched Josie almost physically flinch. "I'm sorry."

Josie was so stunned; she thought she must not have heard Sam correctly. "W…What?"

A hint of a smile played at the corners of Sam's mouth due to Josie's obvious confusion, but he bit it back, wanting to remain serious for the moment. "I'm sorry for the way I've been treating you."

Sam lowered his eyes, afraid to read reproach in Josie's face…and also to gather his thoughts. "I…" Sam trailed off, not sure how to start. After a moment, he tried again. "Regardless of what happened between us in the past, I haven't been treating you fairly."

"I…It's been hard…seeing you again," Sam admitted softly, staring off at nothing, immersed in his own thoughts. "More difficult than I anticipated, I think. But that doesn't excuse how boorish I've been to you. I've been treating you like an interloper, when in reality I invited you here."

Tears stung at Josie's eyes. She couldn't believe it; Sam was actually apologizing. When Sam finally raised his eyes to hers, she could tell that he truly meant it, too.

Sam saw the unshed tears glittering on Josie's lashes and took that as a positive sign. With a soft smile, he continued, "I assure you that my mother raised me with more manners than I've been displaying in the last 24 hours. I shall endeavor to prove that for the remainder of your stay. I promise."

It took a moment before Josie could find her voice. "Thank you," she whispered hoarsely.

Sam nodded self-consciously. He felt a bit awkward having admitted to something so close to the vest, but accepted it as punishment for his behavior. Changing the subject, he asked, "So, how is your head this morning?"

Josie turned her neck this way and that, tentatively checking for aches and pains. "Seems all right," she admitted, shyly reaching toward the plate of pancakes at last to fill her plate.

"And the muscle stiffness? Is that better, too?" Sam pressed, stabbing at a bite-sized stack of pancakes on his plate.

Josie felt her cheeks flame with embarrassment at the thought of having been so exposed in close proximity to Sam. "Uh…fine." Although it was true, Josie gladly would have lied through her teeth about it just to prevent another experience like that.

Sam chewed and swallowed before replying. "Good." He paused for a moment before continuing, "So, I was listening to the weather last night…and it sounds as if it could be a while yet before the storm breaks."

Josie looked up from pouring syrup on her pancakes and had to forcibly hold back a sigh. Figures, she thought. That's just my luck…

"Really?"

"Yeah. I was already out this morning shoveling a path to the generator and refilled that, so at least the pipes won't freeze anytime soon, but we might need to bring in more firewood before it's all over."

"Any idea how much snow we've gotten so far?" Josie asked.

Sam's fork stopped halfway to his mouth. "Hard to tell with the wind blowing as hard as it is. The drifts are everywhere. But if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say around 14 to 16 inches so far." He bit off the end of a strip of bacon attached to his fork.

"God, it'll take us a week to get out of here…" Josie moaned in frustration.

Sam shook his head as he swallowed and then said reassuringly, "No it won't. The Blazer's got 4-wheel drive. Besides, Will knows we're here…"

Josie's eyebrows scrunched up in confusion. "Will? Who's Will?"

"Oh, sorry. Will Parker…the sheriff you met at the accident?"

Josie nodded her understanding.

"He's a friend of mine…and he's got a plow. Once the storm is over, he'll probably be by. After all, I'd think he'd want to check in on you to see how you're doing…"

"Oh," Josie said meekly, dropping her eyes back to her plate. Even though Sam seemed optimistic, she couldn't help but see the time they spent together as a problem. While Sam had apologized for his behavior from the day before—and had truly seemed to mean it—it made her wonder; wonder just how long Sam's "good manners" could last before the frustration of cabin fever set in again.

They finished the rest of their meal in silence that was both comfortable and stifling to Josie. There didn't seem to be any hostility in the air, but being left alone with her own thoughts only made Josie feel sad. After all, while Sam had expressed regret for his rude treatment of her, he'd made no attempts to revisit what they'd been arguing about; namely, discussing the past and letting her explain her actions. And as the moments ticked by, she felt as if something precious were slipping through her fingers.

- -

As Sam drained the last dregs of coffee from his metal cup, he stood, gathering both his and Josie's dishes and carrying them off to the sink. Grabbing the dishtowel laying across the drip-dry rack, he wrapped it around the front of a pot of near-boiling water he'd left heating on the stove and picked it up by the handles. Over his shoulder, he said, "I'm just gonna do up these dishes…"

Josie's chair legs scuffed against the linoleum floor as she stood up. She walked over to stand next to Sam, where he was filling the sink basin with the hot water. "Please let me help."

Sam's eyes flicked toward Josie, taking in the thick pink terrycloth robe with the over-long sleeves before replying, "It's all right, Josie; I've got it. Why don't you go rest in the living room for a bit?"

Josie put both hands on her hips and huffed her impatience at him. "Look, it's not all right," she said plainly. "Not with me. You haven't let me do one thing since I got here. I'm not an invalid, you know. I know how to do dishes…"

Sam took one look at Josie's stubborn expression and had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. She just looked so darn…adorable glaring up at him like that! He put the hot pot aside and put up his hands in a signal of surrender. "All right, if you really want to help…"

"Yeah, I do…" she cut in, still looking petulant.

"Fine," Sam said, turning his eyes away from her and slinging the towel over his shoulder. "You wash and I'll dry."

Mentally, Sam could have kicked himself for saying it. He already didn't like the way his heart was pounding because of his proximity to her. And his reaction certainly didn't improve when she untied the sash to her robe and let it slide off her arms, catching the terrycloth in her hands and tossing it onto the nearest chair back.

Pushing the sleeves of her flannel pajama top up over her elbows, Josie sank her hands in the almost scalding, sudsy water. The warmth surrounding her hands made the rest of her shiver from the temperature difference. Then she grabbed the sponge and started to rinse off a plate.

Standing beside and slightly behind Josie, Sam couldn't keep his eyes off her. That strange feeling of being off-kilter had returned. The moment felt so mundanely domestic; something that couples would normally do together without giving it another thought, but yet it felt so…right that it scared him.

He couldn't help but notice that, even though Josie was covered head to foot in flannel, the soft material still clung to her and flattered her figure in all the right places, making him think of things he shouldn't. Sam thought back to his dream and wondered idly if the real Josie could ever be as mischievous as the dream one was…

A poke in the ribs from Josie's elbow pulled Sam from his reverie. "Hey…you're getting a little behind, there…" Josie said with a hint of teasing in her voice. Sam looked at the drip strainer and found a stack of clean, wet dishes waiting for him.

"Sorry…" Sam mumbled, fumbling with the wet cast iron pan on top before yanking the towel from his shoulder to dry it. Dang it, but she shouldn't be affecting him like this!

"No problem," Josie replied before returning to her washing, humming softly to herself as she worked.

Sam let out a sigh of relief as he realized that Josie hadn't realized anything was amiss with his behavior, but his preoccupation disturbed him. As he'd feared, without his shell of anger to protect him, Sam found himself in a very precarious situation emotionally.

Setting the pan aside, Sam reached for the next item just as Josie was setting a clean coffee cup in the strainer and their fingers brushed. Heat blistered up his arm and settled in the pit of his stomach as he accepted the cup and Josie's hand went back to the sink. Twisting the terrycloth material inside the metal mug, Sam closed his eyes, trying to force his mind to behave.

Yet, it was hard to tune out the way that Josie's breath had caught when their hands had touched, hard to forget the way her eyes closed from the momentary shock and reaction. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, Sam knew he wasn't the only one being affected by their nearness…and that thought scared the hell out of him.

The next ten minutes was pure torture for Sam. Whether it was due to some subconscious desire, or perhaps some previously undiscovered masochistic tendency he had, his and Josie's hands had brushed more times than he could count. And every single time it happened, he experienced a jolt of awareness that was as if he'd been struck by lightning.
By the time the last dish was dry, Sam's heart was pounding so hard, he felt lightheaded.

He pulled out his chair at the table and flopped into it wearily, the internal struggle of fighting off his feelings for Josie having temporarily sapped his strength.

Josie turned and looked at Sam as her brow furrowed thoughtfully. She dried her hands on the towel Sam had left in the drip tray and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Sam…are you all right? You look kind of…peaked."

Sam closed his eyes for a long moment, trying to block out the sensation of Josie's soft, warm hand on his shoulder. Then he said, not looking at her, "I'm fine…I just didn't sleep that well last night, I guess."

"Well, that won't do…" Josie said, leaning down to grasp Sam's upper arm and tugging him to a stand. Then, still holding on to his arm, she started dragging him out of the room.

Flustered both by her touch and her actions, Sam stuttered, "Josie…what…what are you doing?"

"Come on," Josie insisted, pulling him out of the kitchen and around the corner into the bedroom.

Sam didn't know what to make of this newer, more assertive Josie; he had seen so little of this side of her last spring. But he certainly didn't like where his mind (all right, his hormones) thought this was leading to…

Once she'd succeeded in yanking Sam into the bedroom, Josie let go of his arm and turned toward the bed, trying to hide an enormous blush that suddenly covered both cheeks. Being alone in a bedroom with Sam Coulson was doing funny things to her insides and her legs suddenly felt like rubber. Stay on task, Josie cautioned herself. Don't think about how you can still feel the warmth emanating from him, or

Josie broke off her own train of thought as she stared at the bed in horror. Sam's sweater was still boldly draped across the pillow she'd slept with last night. Quickly, she yanked the offending article of clothing off the bed and tried to surreptitiously drop it onto the floor at her feet as she yanked the covers down.

Sam felt as if he were in some sort of trance. The only thing that moved was his gaze, and it was firmly affixed on and followed Josie. He watched her hastily remove the sweater from her pillow and try to hide it from his view, which (in his mind, at least) only verified that she had slept with it on purpose.

It was as if pieces of a puzzle had slid into place. Heat spread through him like wildfire at the sudden revelation: no matter what the truth was about what Josie had been doing last spring, it could no longer be denied…whether she admitted it to herself or not, whether she was even aware of it, at least some part of her yearned for him, perhaps even wanted him. Sam closed his eyes, trying to force the irrational urge to pull Josie down on that bed with him and make love to her out of his head.

Feeling the heat in her cheeks subsiding somewhat, Josie finally felt it was safe enough to turn around. Sam was still standing right where she'd left him, an odd pained expression on his face. Concern for his welfare pushing to the forefront of Josie's mind, she softly grasped his hand and pulled him down into a sitting position on the bed.

The sudden change in position brought Sam back to the present. Staring up at Josie standing over him, Sam asked, his voice tight and hoarse, "What are you doing to me?"

Josie's eyes shot up to meet Sam's for a moment, wondering if his question was some sort of Freudian slip before shaking her head to push the thought aside. "Tucking you in," she said, pushing against Sam's shoulders to coax him to lie down.

Sam's eyebrows crinkled in confusion even as he felt his body shiver with awareness. Josie still had her hands on his shoulders and was leaning over him. It would be so simple to just slide his hand up her arm, tuck his fingers into those gorgeous golden curls and pull her down to him…

But the moment was gone as fast as it had arrived. Josie stood back up, turning and tugging at the blankets so that they covered Sam up to his chest. Then she reached forward, as if to brush his hair off his forehead gently, but caught her motion midstream and lowered her hand back to her side. Softly, she repeated, "I'm tucking you in. You look worn out; you need some rest."

Leaning up on his elbows and shaking his head as if to clear it, for the first time Sam realized exactly what was going on. "But, wait…what about the fire…and the…"

And now Josie sat down next to Sam, smoothing at the blankets on his chest in a motherly fashion, "Don't worry about it; I'll watch the fire."

"No," he protested, "I don't want you lifting…"

Cutting him off, Josie argued, "…what? A three-pound piece of wood?" She patted his arm as if humoring him. "I'm a big girl, Sam…I think I can handle it."

"But what if…" Sam trailed off as Josie gave him a quelling look.

"No buts," she insisted. "I'm fine; nothing's going to happen to me while you're resting. I promise. Now, would you please get some rest?"

As if I could actually sleep with the scent of her on the sheets surrounding me, Sam thought, feeling his stomach muscles tense in reaction. But by the look on Josie's face, it was clear she wasn't going to take no for an answer. Sighing in defeat, he replied, "All right. I'll try."

Josie nodded in approval. "Good." She stepped backward and half-shut the door. "Sleep well." Then she turned and walked out of Sam's line of sight.

Sam let out a long, painful sigh. God, it was pure agony lying in that soft, warm bed with Josie's peach blossom scent wafting around him! Sam's limbs all felt so heavy and warm that he closed his eyes against the sensation. Distantly, he thought to himself that there was no way in these circumstances that he could, would ever possibly

He was asleep.