It turned out Ainsleigh was more capable than she thought she would be in the shower. When they had both returned to Finch’s cabin, the thought of changing into the new clothes without a wash didn’t feel right. It would be good to be completely cleansed. Fresh.
Finch’s bathroom was small and simple. The shower was in the corner of the room, just a shower head protruding from the dark tiled wall with a drain sunken into the tiled floor. But it was functional, and Ainsleigh was rather thankful for the lack of confinement. She unravelled her bandages and peeled off gauze over her stitches. They were spotted with old blood, but not enough to fear that the wounds had opened.
Lifting her arms high pulled at her stitches, so she had to stoop as she attempted to wash her hair. She didn’t have a lot of it, another thing she was very thankful for at this moment in time. Washing her body was much easier. She didn’t scrub at her injured side, just let the soapy water run down from her chest. It turned slightly pinkish as it trickled to her ankles and down the drain.
Drying and reapplying fresh gauze was a bit of a challenge but she managed. She had bought the most functional outfit she was able to cobble together in the shop. A simple, loose cream long-sleeved button down of incredibly soft cotton, a thick cable knit cream roll neck jumper, and brown corduroy trousers. It wasn’t too far off what she would usually wear. There had been jeans, but the stiffness of new denim did not appeal to her at present.
She found Finch outside where he said he would be. He called to her to make herself comfortable while he wandered around the back of the cabin for his tools. Carefully settling herself down onto a tree stump, she hugged her mug of coffee with both hands. Her second cup of coffee that day. Coffee instead of vodka? Was Finch a positive influence on her? That was a slightly terrifying thought.
She still didn’t understand people’s obsession with coffee. It set her heart hammering and made everything far too clear. She much preferred the opposite.
The man in question returned from his shed with a nasty looking long handled axe resting easily on his shoulder. He looked liked he belonged in the woods. That had become much more apparent when they had stopped at the café. She had claimed a table by the window as he ordered from the counter. It had been a cosy little place, as all the businesses were on the High Street. A gaggle of middle-aged women had been sitting at the far back, picking at a tower of scones and tarts while they bobbed their heads excitedly at whatever each other was saying. At one of the tables outside sat a young couple with a dog, a scruffy little thing with inquisitive eyes and an excited tail. They were dressed up in comfy, winter walking clothes. Scarves, waterproofs and boots ready for any weather. Ainsleigh had looked down at her own attire, suddenly feeling embarrassed. She was wearing Finch’s shirt and jacket which almost fit perfectly, but the combat trousers were her own and still had dried blood staining the waistband.
Finch dropped into the seat opposite her with a tray of two mugs of coffee and two brownies.
“Couldn’t help myself.” He grinned and took his slice.
While they relaxed in an easy silence, she couldn’t help notice how he contrasted with everything and everyone around them. There was a very strong sense of neatness, of order, within the small family run café, with its soft pastel colour scheme and net curtains.
Finch gazed out of the window, the sun highlighting that wonderful strip of blue in his dark eyes. His posture was one of a man with no worries. Shoulders back, legs spread as he scrubbed his beard for brownie crumbs. She couldn’t quite put her finger on why he looked so out of place. There was just a sense of wanderlust about him- a feral energy coursing just below the surface. Perhaps it was his hair, left a little too long so it curled under his ears and flicked out just below his eyebrows. Maybe it was the memory of his scarred back.
His knee bounced beneath the table and she caught the moment he grabbed his thigh to still it. He must have sensed her attention on him because he turned and smiled but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“So, this is what you do all day?” Ainsleigh now asked, sipping at her coffee beneath the shade of the trees. The winter sun was surprisingly warm and she felt very snug in her new jumper.
Finch set a log upright on a wide stump and slammed axe down the middle of it. The log split perfectly in half.
“Yup. Pretty much.” He heaved a laboured breath, squinting over at her. “Too boring?”
“Boring is good.”
“You haven’t told me what you do. Got a job?”
Ainsleigh frowned. “Not right now.” She watched him as he grabbed the halves and placed them upright, ready to drop his axe down to quarter them. “Can I have a go?”
He blinked up at her, axe gripped in both hands. “You sure?”
She got up and placed her mug on her stump. “I’d like to help.”
“But your side-”
“I can lift an axe.” She cut him off. He smiled in that tight-lipped, polite way, immediately yielding to her determined tone, and handed her the axe.
He pushed the chopped logs to the ground and grabbed a new one, setting it upright for her. The weight of the axe felt good in her hands. The handle was worn smooth from use and her fingers fit nicely in the soft grooves of Finch’s grip. Sucking in a breath in preparation for the pull at her injury she lifted the axe over her head and swung down with measured strength. The log split with a satisfyingly smooth sound.
“Nice!” Finch hollered from behind and loaded her up with another log.
Again, Ainsleigh swung the axe down. Her wound groaned in protest but she pushed the annoying pain to the back of her mind as Finch continued to load new logs and she continued double their number. A smile split her face as adrenaline coursed through her veins. The thick wool of her jumper clung to her arms with fresh perspiration as she lost herself in the methodical dicing and lifting, dropping, dicing, lifting, dropping, dicing, twisting, filling, turning, dropping, twisting, filling, turning, dropping.
The axe slipped in her grip but she clenched her fingers tighter, knuckles whitening as the onslaught of memories threatened to pull her back to the previous night. The weight of the axe felt like the shovel. The clatter of the logs dropping off the stump felt like the dirt hitting flesh. Her heart burned in her chest, the adrenaline turning to fury. She brought the axe down on the new log and then again on the stump, gouging out a clunk from the middle.
“Hey, wait for me to grab a new one.”
Finch’s voice was barely heard, like he was calling from the top of a mountain. She was back there. Back before the woods. Back when she swung that punch. She should have kept swinging. Kept punching. Because she deserved it.
And where was Cass? Why had she left without Ainsleigh? They were supposed to run away together.
All of this would have never happened if Cass had taken Ainsleigh with her.
Ainsleigh was swinging the axe in a blind rage. Chunks of the stump flew in all directions as she chopped, chopped, chopped, losing herself in the thrill of destruction.
She hadn’t meant to do it.
It had been an accident.
Then why had it felt so good?
Because she was sick. She was wrong. Just like her mother said she was.
The weight of the axe was forgotten, she barely acknowledged she was holding it as she swung, cleaving off a piece of the stump the size of her head. Dust plumed and it stuck to her wet cheeks, the itch making her belatedly realise she was crying.
But she couldn’t stop. She continued chopping through the itchy haze, heart pounding so viciously it made her dizzy.
She felt the smile on her face, huge and wide and feral as she lifted the axe above her head and swung down with her real strength. Her teeth clattered together at the impact of steel against solid wood. The cracking of the stump was so loud it sounded like she had broken open the world.
“Ainsleigh, stop!” Arms wrapped around her middle and pulled her back. “Drop the axe!”
The pressure against her injury shocked her.
Her grip loosened and the axe clattered onto the pile of split logs. Finch’s body was hot against her back and his bicep pressed hard against her stitches but she let herself be dragged away. Her legs suddenly buckled and her steady tears turned into raking sobs. Finch held her close, his lips against her temple.
“It’s okay, I’ve got you. It’s okay.”
His voice had returned to its softer cadence as he hugged her tight, refusing to let her trembling take her down.