BONUS EPILOGUE FOR JACK: ALASKAN MOUNTAIN MEN
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Five Years Later
Nova lights a match and moves the flame onto the wick of an oil lantern. It’s been a rough winter with too many nights at thirty below. That’s thirty degrees below zero. And if you’ve never felt it in the raw, untamed wilderness before, than you don’t know how absolutely harrowing it can be. The tall pines surrounding us do a fair enough job blocking the wind, but we still catch the northerly gusts come evening.
Tonight is no exception, and the last few months it’s been evident that the cold and isolation is wearing on Nova.
“And the princess and the frog lived happily ever after…” she says the words sweetly to the children as she tucks them into their beds beneath layers of blankets and furs, we’ve collected over the years.
Cass is nearly five and has been homeschooling for the past two years. And Bryan turns two next month. The two-bedroom cabin is shrinking, there’s no way around it.
“Get right to sleep, I have a surprise for morning.” I say to the kids as I grab the lantern and close the heavy door to their room. I hear their excitement bubble behind the door. I shouldn’t have said anything so close to bed.
Nova looks towards me with wide eyes. “A surprise? What kind of surprise?”
It’s the first time I’ve seen her eyes light in weeks.
I grip her hand and take her into the bedroom, pulling out a blueprint from behind the dresser.
Her eyes narrow, “What’s this?”
I lay the paper flat out on the bed and grip her hips from behind, rocking her in place as I whisper in her ear.
“I’ve been building us a house.”
She twists towards me, her hand on my bicep, her long hair draped down over her shoulders. “What do you mean you’ve been building us a house? You’ve been here with me every day.”
“I know this cold weather, with both the kids, in this small cabin has been too much. So, when I went to town last month, I made a few calls. Next month at this time we’ll be in the warm sunshine talking to rainforest monkeys.”
Her eyebrows lift and a wide smile spreads onto her face. “What do you mean? How? We’re still laying low, right? I mean—”
“We are, but we can lay low somewhere warm. A guy I knew from Skagway can get us by seaplane to the mainland. Then he’s got a guy who can get us to Venezuela.”
She glances down at the blueprints, her voice excited. “Jack, is this a treehouse?”
I settle on the edge of the bed and point to the blueprints, showing her the different areas of the home as I talk. “It’s four bedrooms, three baths, and it sits up in the trees. There’s even a swing in each of the kids' rooms. They're going to go crazy, right?”
“I don’t know what to say. Does Dad know?”
“I told him last night. He’s excited as hell, Nova. The best part is there’s a little community of people there. A community with kids Bryan and Cassie’s age. A community with people your dad’s age. Maybe he can meet someone.”
“What about your family? Won’t they catch wind of us if we start moving? I don’t want to ris—”
I pull her into my arms and wrap her tight against my chest. “I promised I wouldn’t do anything that put us at risk. We need this Nova. You need this. The kids need this. I need this. I’ve taken every precaution. This is our time. It’s our time to be warm, happy, and finally break free from this tundra..”
She takes a deep breath, looks away, then back again. A soft shimmer in her gaze as tears peak onto her cheek. “Really? You really think we can do this?”
I brush her hair way from her face and take her hands in mine. “I think we can’t afford not to do this, Nova. I think this is our chance to find a new life.”
She studies my face long and hard and I can’t quite tell if she’s excited or scared.
“Okay. Let’s do it,” she finally says, a half-smile on her face. “Let’s do it Jack. The kids will be happy to stretch their legs. The sun will do us all good. And having more people around… you know how worried I’ve been about the kid’s socialization.”
I smile. “Well then, set your calendar. Because twenty-nine days from now we’re leaving this snow and ice for something a hell of a lot better.”